Saturday, December 18, 2010

Duran Duran reading Fightin' Army Charlton Comic in "Rio" video! Name that issue!

"Bill Everett Archives"! Choose the cover art, win a copy!

On Wednesday, we announced the release of "The Bill Everett Archives" reprinting Bill's 1938-42 work for companies other than Marvel Comics. The book will feature never-before-reprinted stories starring Everett creations like Amazing-Man, Skyrocket Steele, Hydroman, The Chameleon, Sub-Zero and more! Our "Name the Book" contest is now closed (winner to be announced shortly), so long live the "Choose the Cover Art" contest! Below is ten cover images (click on them to enlarge) from stories that appear in the Archives series and we'd like you to help choose the cover image!

Contest rules: You have until Tuesday EOD. Post your choice (one choice) in the Comments section below or post on the appropriate thread on my Bill Everett Facebook Page (these are the only two places you can post to qualify). After the contest closes, if you chose the image that will adorn the cover, your name will go into a hat and one winner will be chosen at random to receive a free copy of the book when it's available (tentative release date is this year's San Diego Comicon in July, 2011). When you look at the images below, focus on the best image versus the one you think everyone is familiar with.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Announcing "The Bill Everett Archives"! Choose the title, win a copy!

You've read my Bill Everett artbook/bio (right?) - "Fire and Water" (picture left) - and now we can reveal that Fantagraphics and myself are again teaming up to put together a reprint volume of Bill Everett's non-Marvel Golden Age work (from 1938 to 1942). This will be very similar to my "Steve Ditko Archives" series (full-color, 240 pages, introduction by me). We're aiming for a San Diego Comicon 2011 release date.

So how can you win a copy of the book? We'll speak more to the contents (and how you can earn a free copy by helping out with scans) in the coming days, but what we're looking for now is your help in choosing a title for "The Bill Everett Archives". What we need is something in the vein of my Steve Ditko Archives series. Volume one for that was "Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives v1" and volume two was "Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives v2". A play on words from a title Everett worked on, or from a character that Everett worked on, is ideal, but it doesn't have to be that. It can't be more than 3 words in front of "The Bill Everett Archives".

So, in the Comments section below, post your title by Friday EOD and if I pick it over what I already have come up with, then you get a copy of the book! You can also post it on my Bill Everett Facebook Page. Here are the titles I already have: "Amazing Men: The Bill Everett Archives v1"; "Heroic Comics: ..."; "Heroic Tales: ..."; "Golden Age: ..."; "Deep Blue Sea: ..."; "Raging Waters: ..."; "Just Add Water: ..."; "Raging Sea: ..."; "Thicker Than Water: ..."; "Hell or High Water: ... "; "Troubled Waters: ..."; "Above Water: ..."; "Waterworks: ..."; "See More Glass: ..." (ok, I was losing it by that last one...).

Post your title below and I'll report back next week on this Blog what the winning selection is!

"Uexplored Worlds: Steve Ditko Archives v2" out now!

Okay, we're back in the bloggin' business, in part owing to the release of my latest book - Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives v2. It picks up from where "Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives v1" left off. We're now at 1956 with Marvel but the vast majority within is 1957 Charlton Comics gold from Ditko!

This is where Steve Ditko became Steve Ditko! Both volumes are also available at It's 240 pages which includes a 5000+ word essay on this period in Ditko's career. Stay tuned this week for news related to my next project; another collection of a certain famous Golden Age artist...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Launch party in Toronto last night w/ Wendy Everett

Yesterday's Book Release Launch in Toronto for my Bill Everett book was not to have been missed! It was a far better presentation than what Wendy Everett (who flew up from Cambridge, Mass.) and me had done at the San Diego Comicon. Not that what we did at San Diego was a reflection on Wendy at all but, for this presentation, I had a great deal more time to refine my approach and achieve a better flow with my questions for her. We also changed up the format. I opened with a 15-minute slideshow review of Bill's career and key images from the book, and then Wendy and I sat down and had our chat and took questions for just under an hour.

Chris Butcher, Manager of the store The Beguiling who hosted the event, tweeted this during my on-stage chat with Wendy Everett: "This presentation is utterly amazing. The story of Everett's battle with alcoholism coming from his daughter... Heartbreaking." Aaron Broverman, also in attendance, said, "I hope Wendy knows that her contribution to Daredevil in making him blind when she was just a teen, suddenly christened possibly the first disabled superhero. In doing so, she and her father provided a source of possibility, hope and inspiration for millions of kids with disabilities, including me."

Luckily, the presentation was recorded and we'll share it with you soon. The response to it has been so good that Wendy and I are looking at holding another event in New York City before the end of the year. Stay tuned for more details!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

TIFF: Deep Thoughts

I'm sitting two seats from a beautiful French brunette, waiting to be seated for "Little White Lies" starring Oscar Winner Marie Cotillard. Just came out of a showing of "Never Let Me Go" that starred...Spider-Man! Andrew Garfield (cast to replace Tobey McGuire in the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise) has to match up with Oscar noms Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley (more on the film later). Last night was dicotomy central. "Casino Jack" with Kevin Spacey & Jon Lovitz, followed by "The Butcher, The Chef & The Swordsman", a first for the festival from mainland China...featuring the director with only one name: Wuershan! It was his first feature and was a mash-up to end all mash-ups (more on this one later too).

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Bill Everett Book Launch starring Wendy Everett on Sat Sep 25 in Toronto!

On Saturday September 25, 2010, a book launch party for my new Bill Everett book will take place in Toronto, Canada (Everett being the creator/artist of the Marvel Comics' character, the Sub-Mariner, and co-creator/artist of Daredevil). The launch party will be hosted by the world-renowned book store, The Beguiling, and doors will open at 4pm. This is taking place at Innis College Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, just barely off St. George St, just south of Bloor St (the Hall is part of the University of Toronto).

My book hasn't hit stores yet, so this will be an opportunity to be one of the first to get a copy. And we have two special treats for those who attend. At 4:30pm, proceedings will begin with a presentation by me on Everett's work and career, but the real treat is that I will be joined during the presentation by our very special guest, Wendy Everett, who is Bill Everett's daughter and first-born child. She's making a special trip up here to Toronto for the launch of the book and this is a unique opportunity to hear her share stories about her Dad, the man, the father and the artist. Wendy is incredibly articulate and exceptionally versed in the details of her father's life and career.

The second treat is that anyone who buys a copy of my book at the launch party will receive a very limited bookplate signed by myself and Wendy Everett.

A Facebook Event page has been set up with all the details. What's also unique about Sat Sep 25 is that, in the same location, our launch party is being followed up by a Louis Trondheim event, so it's really a two-for-one special when you come out that night. Hope to see you all there!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TIFF Review: "Rabbit Hole"

Monday night at the Toronto International Film Festival saw the world premiere of the new Nicole Kidman-driven film Rabbit Hole, also starring Aaron Eckhart and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. It's the story of a well-off couple who, eight months later, are about to hit a breaking point regarding their reaction to the death of their 4 year-old son. The boy was killed outside the family's house after the boy chased his dog out into the street and was hit by a teen aged driver.

  • For pictures from the premiere and to view the trailer, scroll to the bottom of this post.
  • Follow me on Twitter @blake_bell for more TIFF quick hits.

I'll put my cards on the table right up front. During a particular unpleasant period in my life (centered around 2007), John Cameron Mitchell's two films - Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus - were instrumental in keeping me from slipping into a greater sense of despair that I already thought was unimaginable. And it wasn't  just because I identified with the characters or the themes expressed in them in a way that young music fans of the 1980s identified with Morrissey's lyrics in The Smiths; it was because both films were phenomenal pieces of work, one man's vision completely realized in a way that few films do and make it above the waterline of public awareness.

Partly because of Mitchell's Woody Allen-like devotion to crafting all elements of those two films, and partly because of the time required to raise funds for such low-grossing films, Mitchell's output on film in the first decade of the new millennium has been unfortunately relegated to those two movies.

I'd have followed the man over a cliff with any project, so much so that I didn't even blink an eye when I hear he was getting a crack at something a wee bit more mainstream. Mitchell was hand-picked by producer Nicole Kidman to direct Rabbit Hole which is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire. I figured the greater the name Mitchell receives for himself, the more likely he'll get to finance another Hedwig or Shortbus.

That may still come true, but imagine my disappointment at the Visa Screening Room (i.e. the Elgin Theatre) on Monday night as I watched (what one reviewer called) an "admirable" movie, yet one bereft of almost any unique element bestowed on its story, characters, or delivery. For once, in my TIFF Reviews, I'm going to move my experiences at the premiere to the bottom of this post because I don't want people to think they influenced my opinion of the film (which they didn't - nothing could have rendered me desireless to see a Mitchell film send him rocketing to a higher platform of marketability for his works). Let's get right into my concerns with the work itself.

The Review (spoilers)
  • The film begins eight months into their mourning period, husband Howie Corbett (Eckhart's character) aware that he and his wife, Becca (played by Kidman) are "in status" but doesn't see the pathway out; Becca about to veer very close to a cliff with a long drop. After Becca rejects group therapy as an option, husband and wife take different journeys that converge at the end to pull them through to the next phase of their grief. Howie ponders having an affair. Becca incites a relationship with the teen aged boy, Jason, who ran down her son, and also trips into deeper conflict with her family. Her wayward sister has been knocked up, and her mother (played by Dianne Wiest) draws unappreciated comparisons between the early death of her son (Becca's brother, who overdosed on recreational drugs) and Becca's tragedy.
I Loved:
  • Very little about this movie (explanation below).
  • Jason's comic book. In a movie with very few unique ideas layered in, the one element that stood out was the inventiveness of the comic book (entitled "Rabbit Hole") that the boy who ran down the Corbetts' infant son gives to Becca. We see early in the movie how Jason meticulously hand-crafts the center-spread and, while a bit crude, it is the most compelling emotional piece in the whole movie. I'd rather have seen a movie based on the story in the comic book than what was offered on screen.
I Liked:
  • John Cameron Mitchell's direction. Not that I doubted Mitchell's ability to adapt his comparatively "flamboyant" directing style to this low-key material (there are plenty of moments in even Hedwig where the effects of isolation and withering pain of regret are deeply moving and quietly delivered). The pace of the movie, given the dreariness of the subject matter, moves along quite well, and how Mitchell slowly unveils the comic book also shows his deft touch. Kidman obviously saw Mitchell's acumen for quiet, tender scenes in his earlier movies and Mitchell adds his stamp on the direction without indulging himself once by standing out ahead of the material.
It Lacked:
  • Originality in the source material. The horror slowly began to creep over me as each minute passed that there wasn't going to be one interesting or unique facet of this story that seemingly wouldn't fit the textbook telling of a "loss of child" story. While watching, I had difficultly believing that this material won a Pulitzer Prize for how it handled its subject matter - oh, it's all very proper, and you are challenged to not say "well, that's the reality of that experience, isn't it?" I sat there mesmerized by the thought that either there wasn't another play that could have been nominated for a Pulitzer that year, or that this was the first story ever told about parents' reaction to the death of a child...the very first.
  • Unique or interesting emotional moments. Unless you're the TV show 24, you as a writer are compressing time into a 2-hour period where you have to decide on pivotal emotional moments to put on display that will make a viewer see an age-old story/theme in a light that they haven't thought of before. In this film, almost every moment chosen is so "Loss-of-a-Child 101" that you're stunned the writer chose them as a way to reach for a deep emotional response. For example, Howie is seen by Becca looking at the video of his son and...that's it. Moment ends - the absolute expected response. Howie also considers having an affair with another parent who's lost a child...but he decides against it. Not a slight hint in the script of this being delivered with any unique spin, or even engaging dialogue (out of Eckhart's mouth comes the words "I love my wife" - end of conflict, very cookie-cutter). Becca is in a grocery store and sees a mother having a difficult conversation with her child. Guess what's going to happen? Becca inappropriately approaches, as if she's never been in a grocery story in 8 months or has seen a mother and child interact. What would have been interested is to see Kidman's character attempt to repress the urge to interfere and have that emotional manifest itself in a way that would give Kidman something challenging to do.
  • Emotional honesty. All along the story, when a moment arises where the choice is presented between a cliche and the willingness to make something unique out of a character's reaction to a circumstance, we get the cliche, something absolutely expected. What truly disappoints then is the inference that I as the viewer am supposed to imbue the film with my own sense of empathy or identification to give weight to the film's emotional resonance. That's a form of cinematic manipulation that is far below the standards of all the stakeholders involved. It's "a bitch" when you're dealing with source material that's standing on a Pulitzer platform, but I should be able to come into a movie without a single relating experience and have the story-writer earn my emotional response by making narrative choices that go beyond the cliche and make me look at a story (told many times) in a new light because of some new insight brought in by the writer. Otherwise, watching a documentary would produce better results. This movie has none of that. I was shocked that the movie had not one moment that I couldn't predict what was going to happen in the following moments, since I'd seen it happen so many times before in the same fashion.
  • "Likability" for the lead characters. Was there anything redeemable about Kidman's character throughout, other than the manipulative nature of the story to say that you have to empathize with her or you're an uncaring, bad person? Echkart's character was more likable because he stood in contrast to this harsh bitch who was annoying when wallowing in her self-pity. He was borderline buffoonish, and is allegedly redeemable because he didn't jump in the sack with Sandra Oh's character (I'll give him credit for that, being married to such an unresponsive ice queen who admonishes him for daring to even think about physical intimacy after eight months). Of course, when he tars and feathers the teenager who ran over his kid, he loses a lot of that and, much like the rest of the film, he doesn't earn it back; you as the viewer are just expected to give it to him. I don't have to "like" a character in a movie, but I do have to respect them for the strength of their convictions (even if I don't agree with them, or they're struggling with them).  I also wasn't enamored with the writing for the supporting cast either. Dianne Wiest plays it dutifully pitiful, and the sister is dutifully wayward, but we are manipulated into "liking" them only because they stand in contrast to the hammer that Kidman's character bashed them all with, not because those characters redeem themselves on their own two feet.
  • Better acting. It's fascinating to watch an industry convince itself that the actors involved in an "admirable" project ("admirable" being code for "a worthy subject matter, rendered in a banal fashion, but told inoffensively") are giving "career-defining" performances solely based on the subject matter. Eckhart's always going to come across as a "affable" actor but how different is his character here from his character in that god-awful film he did with Jennifer Aniston, Love Happens. He's really just the same character just emoting at a different degree than the previous version. And Kidman fails to truly make us care for her character beyond the attempts of the material to manipulate us because we should care for a mother who lost her child. There's not a single reaction or emotional moment by Kidman in this movie that ventures beyond the expected that makes the viewer see her grief in any new light. Her conversations on the park bench with the teen aged driver were opportunities to do something different - and no, not over-the-top melodramatic flourishes - but building up to a cry-on-queue is perhaps all the material allows for. I doubt the blame should rest to heavily on these actors' shoulders. There's not much to do here beyond cry a lot, or look sad a lot, or get angry and yell some; again, all in an "Acting Responses 101" cliched manner.
Final Analysis: C (or 2 stars out of 5)
  • Reaction to this film is going to be utterly fascinating. It's a morose enough subject, in morose times, that unless the studio's marketing machine can convince an audience that there's a bevy of Oscars to be had here, Kidman's track record of "late" is not that of a star able to pull in heavy box office numbers on her name alone, and Eckhart's in the same boat. We're already starting to see that dichotomy; the initial reviews clearly were trying hard not to appear to harsh because of the subject matter, because the film is so "inoffensively well done", and now some mentions of the movie are discussing whether it's lightweight fluff or actual Oscar material. Sometimes Hollywood loves to see a once-acknowledged actress come "back into the fold" (Kidman won for "The Hours" in 2002), but if she does receive a nomination, I have to believe it will be token at best, and a dismal sign of the lack of quality roles for women this year (something I don't believe, but Hollywood subjects women to a different standard, I find, than men when it comes to scratching the surface to look at strong female performances that are out there if they don't feature a name actress).
  • John Cameron Mitchell will walk away from this with an enhanced reputation as a director capable of playing "with the big boys and girls" so that's a good thing.
  • I relate with this sentiment, from one of the discussions in the press of the movie - "There was widespread shock among New York theater wags when it won the Pulitzer Prize". I too was left stunned that so little was earned in this movie and so much was asked and taken for granted. You leave with the impression that the story was so reverent to its subject matter than it decided not to take a single chance to create anything unique to say about the subject matter.
The scene at the premiere
  • What a difference seeing a premiere at the Visa Screening Room (i.e., Elgin Theatre) makes compared to, well, anywhere else. If someone tries to sell you on this being the ideal place to see a movie, they are lying to you. Because of the height of the screen, obstructed seats abounded on the ground level and at the sides. The Ryerson Theatre, while not having ample leg room, is far superior a venue. Not as ornate in design, but then I'm staring at the screen, not at the trappings.
  • Outside the theatre, either the pretension of the "stars" or the "prestige" of the venue kept fans at a much greater distance then at somewhere like the Ryerson Theatre. Forget about pictures or autographs or any even distance interaction.
  • Even the Festival itself landed as elitist and segregationist, separating the public into the "regular" Visa credit cardholder line (god forbid where you were asked to stand if you paid in cash) and those who had a Visa gold, platinum, or infinite card. Of course, the Festival doesn't tell you to bring such a card and surprises you with the two line format, but then that's what elitism is all about, no? You only find out you're a second class citizen when it's too late and you can't do anything about it.
  • And for such an expensive ticket price, were viewers treated to a Q&A with its stars? No, I guess Kidman considers herself beyond such interactions. Her and hubbie Keith Urban were out the door to the after-party before the lights went up.
  • The best part of the entire experience? John Cameron Mitchell stayed behind to informally greet friends and acquaintances, and whomever wandered up to say hello. So, in the end, I did get to shake his hand and thank him for Hedwig and Shortbus, and he did seem genuinely pleased to hear about the impact he had on yet another person's life with his work. Not all is swallowed up into the Belly of the Beast, so that's a good news story to report on.
Photos from the showing
  • Follow me on Twitter @blake_bell for more TIFF quick hits.
  • Click on the pictures below to enlarge.
Outside the premiere on Yonge St.

John Cameron Mitchell after the showing.

Mitchell and actor Miles Teller, who played Jason,
the teenager at the center of the tragedy.

Scenes from the film

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TIFF Review: "127 Hours"

The second showing at the Toronto International Film Festival of Danny Boyle's 127 Hours (starring James Franco) took place at the Ryerson Theatre on Monday, and the line up started early and was long. Thanks to the second showing being so close to the first, director Danny Boyle (who also directed films diverse as Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting) was in attendance for a Q&A after the movie.

Photos from the showing

  • Click on the pictures below to enlarge.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the trailer.
  • Follow me on Twitter @blake_bell for more TIFF quick hits.

The Review (spoilers)
  • 127 Hours is based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) time spent in an isolated canyon in Utah where he must save himself after he falls into an rock opening and a fallen boulder crashes on his arm. He's trapped inside with little food or water, and no knowledge of his whereabouts by anyone. The film is not just about the journey of escaping his predicament, but of self-awareness, as the fact that he let no one know where he was going is an indictment of his attitude towards those who care for him.
I Loved:
  • The real star of the movie - editor John Harris. As Boyle admitted during the Q&A when I asked him, the pace of the editing is so crucial to the story. The opening scenes show a rush of humanity that, on the one hand, Franco's character embraces (he's hyper-frenetic in all his activities) but, on the other hand, rejects by ignoring those who care for him and by making the empty, isolated vastness of places like the Utah terrain his "second home". The movie blisters along until Franco gets him arm stuck by the boulder and then the pacing drops instantly. But, even as the main character literally can't leave the spot he's melded to, the editing of the dream and hallucination sequences (especially the flash flood scene) don't leave for a dull moment.
  • Danny Boyle's direction. The film I saw at TIFF prior to this was Passion Play and, while first-time director Mitch Glazer did an admirable job, it is immediate during the opening sequences of 127 Hours that you are dealing with a master of every aspect of the medium. You're in the hands of a person who's going to guide you through a unique experience and a bond of trust forms right away. It's not about razzle-dazzle, special effects, or really having the director stand out by over doing it with technical flourishes - it's acutely maintaining the balance of all aspects of the medium that a director has in their tool kit...and Danny Boyle has a deep tool kit. The amputation scene was note-perfect, especially how Boyle (and Franco) make you aware of the pace of the movie picking up when it begins, and how Boyle holds that pace until the ending.
  • The amputation scene. The side-shot of the inside of his arm when an object was going under the flesh was shocking in its uniqueness. The music used when Franco's character was touching a nerve in his arm was one of those little details that Boyle inserts and is another example of his mastery. Since you have a sense of what's coming when you enter the theatre, that moment when Franco falls into the crevasse and everything about the film screeches to a halt, the power of knowing what is coming is immense because of how Boyle's set you up at a different emotional level in the lead-up.
  • The running time of 90 minutes. Danny Boyle had to make the self-absorbed character likable, he had to make the time when Franco was stuck on his spot interesting for the viewer, and he had to make the self-awareness insights come to life without making the hallucination scenes laughable, and he picked the proper running time. Anything shorter would seem rushed; anything longer would have dragged on exponentially.
I Liked:
  • Franco's portrayal. He's an interesting actor, in terms of his choices, but I'm always interested in watching his actual acting to see if he's really got the goods, at a level of where one can tell he wants to be based on his choices. There's some Oscar buzz surrounding this role and, while it wouldn't be surprising to see this type of role receive a nod from the Academy, I'm not sure that Franco the actor deserves it...yet. He, as a projection of his personality, definitely has a high "likability quotient", but I still see a little too much of Franco in his roles to date to warrant an Oscar that should come from total immersion in a role (it's the actor's job to find out what that involves, and they can't just say "Well, he was just a normal guy, so I played it that way"). Sean Penn winning for Milk two years ago versus Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is another example of the emphasis in Hollywood (versus the rest of the world where Rourke dominated, e.g. Golden Globes, BAFTA, Independent Spirit) on a certain type of role being rewarded versus how far an actor was able to push the boundaries within a role. Penn was certainly a deserving candidate but Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich or Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side show how far off kilter that can lean (even Bullock acknowledged in her Oscar acceptance speech that this was a one-time affair).
  • The emphasis on the character's redemption as an impetus for hacking off his forearm. Without this added in, the movie would have been merely a technical exercise in how to survive without food and water...and perform surgery on one's self. The journey from self-centeredness to self-awareness could have been incredibly maudlin but once again the direction by Boyle kept them restrained emotionally and the editing by Harris brought them to life.
It Lacked:
  • Did it lack anything? Would a more accomplish actor than Franco have added even more to the role? But how many young actors are out there that would have done better?
Final Analysis: A- (or 4 stars out of 5)
  • From start to finish you're willingly swept up in the hands of a master film maker. Boyle didn't hold back on the amputation scene and he has to be admired for that because...
  • What will now be interesting is to see how this film's box office life will play out. Boyle and Franco are big enough names, the story's compelling and "well-known" enough, and there's sufficient Oscar-worthiness to have the studio put a good amount of dollars into marketing, but will the spectre of what happens down in the crevasse overshadow the uplifting aspects of the film (not just the character's personal journey, but of Boyle's craft) and keep the bulk of the audience away? Because of Boyle and Franco's name, it's not another The Hurt Locker scenario but will it be viewed in that light - more of an "indie" film that the critics thunder about, but audiences don't thunder to the theatres to see? It'll likely be a smash in the major centres, but what will its final box office draw be? This will be one to watch at Awards time and at the box office.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

127 Hours and Rabbit Hole tomorrow at TIFF

Back to TIFF blogging tomorrow. I'll be at two movies: the new Danny Boyle film (he of Slumdog Millionaire et al.) with James Franco, 127 Hours . This is the one that's made showings at other film festivals call for the medics: "127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary."

But what I'm really looking forward to is the world premiere of the new John Cameron Mitchell-directed movie, Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart: "A family navigates the deepest form of loss in John Cameron Mitchell's screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart deliver captivating performances as a husband and wife who fight to save their marriage in the life that begins again after tragedy." Kidman produced and hand picked Mitchell, who should be in town for the premiere (Mitchell brought us two of my favourite films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus). Look for my Loved / Liked / Lacked reviews of 127 hours on Monday and my Rabbit Hole report with pixs from the premiere on Tuesday.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

TIFF Review: "Passion Play"

Friday night at the Toronto International Film Festival saw the world premiere of Passion Play; the directorial debut of Mitch Glazer (writer of Scrooged) starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray, Megan Fox and Glazer's wife, Kelly Lynch. The red carpet featured all of the above at the Ryerson Theatre. I'm reviewing all the movies I see at this year's TIFF under the moniker of Loved / Liked / Lacked. I'll post pictures, discuss the scene at the showing, and then share what I loved about the film in question, what I liked about it, or what I thought it lacked.

Photos from the premiere
  • Click here to see what was happening outside and inside the theatre.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the trailer.
  • Follow me on Twitter @blake_bell for more TIFF quick hits.
The scene at the premiere
  • You wouldn't think it by looking at it but the Ryerson Theatre lends well to intimacy on the red carpet.
  • Executive Producer Rebecca Wang arrived first, followed by Glazer, then Rourke, then Murray, then Fox.
  • Murray apparently has more balls than men twice his size, coming up from behind Rourke and rubbing his head profusely til Rourke caught on.
  • The cast was introduced on stage before the movie but, like seemingly all of Rourke's pictures, he vacated the theatre. He still doesn't like to watch himself on the big screen.
  • The crowd reacted well to the movie throughout at the end. As much love as there was for Mickey Rourke in the theatre, people really love Bill Murray. Not too many more likable gentlemen in the history of the medium.
  • Glazer came up on stage at the end for a Q&A, relating how he and Rourke went to high school together and that it was Glazer's mother who showed them their first films; "A Place In The Sun" with Montgomery Cliff making a huge impression on Rourke.
  • The screenplay was written 20 years ago and is almost now as it was then.
  • Spoke to Kelly Lynch afterwards about one of my favourite roles of hers: Connie the Dyke from the 1993 movie Three of Hearts (which Glazer wrote). She had met Glazer during her Drugstore Cowboy era and told me that Glazer was the "secret director" of Three of Hearts because the original director had a nervous breakdown and Glazer had to step in.
The Review (spoilers)
  • Passion Play features Rourke as a down-on-his-luck trumpeter who is dragged into the desert to receive his just desserts for unknowingly sleeping with gangster Bill Murray's wife. Not much of a spoiler to say he escapes his death sentence, and wanders the desert until he comes across a freak-show circus that has Megan Fox as a "bird woman" but those wings are real. A love triangle ensues between Rourke, Fox, and Murray.
I Loved:
  • Glazer's balls. Slap wings on your lead actress and then cast Megan Fox as an angel, putting her up against Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray? Few people in North America are likely to pay money en masse to see a modern day fairy tale.
  • Mickey Rourke's performance. Rourke can infuse any line with whatever the moment requires, and there were numerous scenes where he made the most of the material. It's rare to see him play a character who takes joy out of the little things in his life, and I think Rourke smiled genuinely more times in this movie then in all his combined.
  • Bill Murray's performance. Much like Rourke, Murray is living large in the second phase of his career and every role he touches, he turns to gold. His physical appearance alone in this movie took the audience back for a moment but they loved it immediately. He's always been so a great ad-libber that you think he's creating the dialogue as he goes along, the character comes so natural to him.
  • Glazer's ability to shatter the fairy tale veneer. Numerous times in the movie the audience was jolted back to the reality that there were darker elements to this fairy tale.
I Liked:
  • The fact that there were two or three times when I thought the movie was going to end and it didn't.
  • The writing for Murray's character. You don't leave an actor like Murray with one note, and Glazer gave a little more depth to Murray's gangster than he could have settled for, but it was required to make the story go.
  • Glazer's concept that, in the last moment of your life, your mind can't handle the enormity of what's occurring, so your mind crafts its own ending. The "big reveal" at the end worked.
It Lacked:
  • Stronger dialogue. It had moments from Murray and Rourke but overall, it needed to be taken to another level. Fox's scene when she first opens her trailer to Rourke is an example. If you're going to pull off a character-driven love story, you'd best have those characters' dialogue rise above that which simply moves the plot forward, as it did here a few too many times.
  • More reason to believe these characters would actually fall in love beyond initial fascination. The greatest challenge of any love story is to create belief that two characters could fall in love with each other in a relatively short span of time. A writer has to craft specific events and made them unique and believable within the context of the characters to convince the viewer that there's a reason for the characters' connection. More efforts needed to be invested in this regard. The writing for Murray had more of this than did Rourke's, although Rourke played the scene extremely well when he came to Murray's house to retrieve Fox, as he did when they all happen to meet at the Museum benefit. Still, this is all after the fact; after those important initial moments that set the foundation.
  • A stronger female lead. It was going to be easy to take shots at Megan Fox in a dramatic role. And I do emphasize the word "stronger" because she wasn't horrible by any stretch, but if you're going to make me believe Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray would fall in love with your character, and that you are going to effectively convey that love back, you need more tools in your kit than Fox has at this moment in her career. You can't just look sad or mournful, it has to radiate right out of your eyes, and with every facial expression or change in your voice's tone. Fox certainly has the look down for an angel, but it's that frozen-face beauty that also limits her. If she's ever going to be taken seriously as an actor, she needs to work harder behind the scenes to get beyond what she's exhibiting so far in her career. I'm not suggesting that Helen Mirren would have been the replacement, but I worry that Glazer fell in love with that look of Fox as the angel and was not as focused on what she could do.
  • Enough Kelly Lynch. I suspect you may have had more of a story if Kelly Lynch had been tied to Rourke's character more throughout, that some kind of longing for him was presented in her (at least an awakening of this in the face of an angel from heaven making her realize what she would lose), and that she'd have to battle that within as Rourke grew closer to Fox. Plus Rourke may have had more to work off of if Lynch had been present on more of his journey.
Final Analysis: B- (or 3 stars out of 5)
  • Enjoyable, a strong concept, but didn't get to the top of the mountain for the reasons mentioned above, all of which land at Glazer's feet. Surprisingly, he showed more acumen than you'd expected from a first time director than he did as a writer on this particular project. Perhaps he was a bit to close to the material to see that mountain top.
  • A jaded North American audience will likely have three concerns: they won't buy Fox as an angel; they're likely to take pot shots at the CGI effects in the final sequence; and they're just not whimsical enough in nature to be sold on a gritty modern day fairy tale.
  • From a non-financial perspective, credit, though, goes to Glazer and the cast for committing to such a film. More films that make attempts like this with well-known casts are needed to diversify an entertainment landscape dominated by Megan Fox's other projects.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How do comics, Mickey Rourke, Steve Ditko & me connect?

Back in 2007, I was hired by Marvel Comics to write an essay for their reprint collection Amazing Fantasy Omnibus. It featured mainly reprints of stories by artist Steve Ditko and writer/editor Stan Lee, mere months before they would co-create the Amazing Spider-Man in 1962. These were 5-page stories, mainly with Twilight Zone twist endings. One of my earliest memories of collecting comics is coming across the story "They Won't Believe Me!" from issue 7 (of what was then titled Amazing Adult Fantasy). It featured a story very similar to the "shock ending" in Mickey Rourke's 1987 movie, Angel Heart. So, in my essay, I referenced his name and the movie. Mickey also starred in the movie Sin City, the original graphic novel being written by Frank Miller, who adores Steve Ditko (when I met Frank back in 2003 for the first time and he learned I was writing a book on Ditko, he shook my hand and said I was "doing the work of angels"). Steve Ditko was also the creator of Iron Man's consummate gold and red armour, and Mickey Rourke starred in Iron Man 2, coming out next month on DVD. Makes sense? Sitting in line now, about 20 deep for Mickey Rourke's latest movie, debuting at TIFF, called Passion Play, also starring Bill Murray and Megan Fox.

Blogging from the Toronto International Film Festival all week!

I'm hitting the Toronto International Film Festival hard for the next ten days and will be blogging and twittering from all the lines that they don't kick me out of for excessive drinking in public! Right now, I'm at Jack Astor's above Yonge & Dundas Square, waiting for my first movie to begin. It's Passion Play, playing at 9pm at the Ryerson Theatre, starring Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox (well, two outta three ain't bad). It's the word premiere for this one, and I'm thrilled to see two of my favourite actors in the same film, and excited at the prospect that both will be in attendance. Is there something wrong with me that I'm least interested in Megan Fox out of that threesome? She's no Kim Basinger, but Fox better not mash this up for Mickey and Bill. That's the Big Leagues, sister, not Triple-A. I've heard nothing re: buzz about this film, so that means it'll be a sleeper or it will blow. Kelly Lynch is in it too, a reunion between her and Mickey from the early 1990s flick Desperate Hours (which also starred Anthony Hopkins). Other films I'll be attending at TIFF: 127 Hours; Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell directs!); American Beauty; Casino Jack; The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman; Never Let Me Go; Passion Play; Meek's Cut Off. Check back for all the goods!

Bill Everett book on sale at SPX this weekend

I won't be at the Small Press Expo this weekend in Bethesda Maryland, but Fantagraphics will be and they'll be selling copies of my new Bill Everett book. And don't forget that you can go online to the Fantagraphics website and order both my Everett book and the new Mort Meskin book combined for 35% off, and (if supplies hold out) get a bookplate for mine, signed by myself and Wendy Everett!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Order Everett & Meskin for 35% Off from Fantagraphics!

Come back to this Blog every day because news is going to be heating up regarding the release of my Bill Everett book.

Item #1 is that the publisher, Fantagraphics, is offering a special deal if you order my Bill Everett book and their new Mort Meskin book at the same time. The offer is 35% off on both, plus there's a chance you'll get one of the signed bookplates with my book, signed by myself and Wendy Everett, Bill's daughter (quantities are extremely limited). It's a limited time offer so jump in now! Click HERE for all the details.

Item #2 is the unknown love Clint Eastwood has for Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner. Click HERE for all the details!

Sunday, August 29, 2010 on my Everett / Ditko slide show at Toronto Fan Expo

Click HERE to read a detailed account by's Aaron Broverman of my new slide show on Bill Everett and Steve Ditko. I unveiled the new slide show on Friday at the Toronto Fan Expo (typing this at my table on the floor - here til noon, then back from 4-6pm) and it will accompany me to the various events we do this fall for my two new books. I'm quite proud of this presentation, showing how (for example) the motifs that people associate with Ditko on Spider-Man were taking their roots in the Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives v2 volume of mine (reprinting Ditko's 1956/57 material) that will be out in October. We're also finalizing an event for September re: the release of my Fire and Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics book, so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

My "Spotlight On Howard Cruse" Panel at San Diego on YouTube

Want to see what I'm doing when I'm not involved with Ditko or Everett? The Spotlight On Howard Cruse panel that I moderated at this year's San Diego Comicon is up on YouTube (four parts, runs about 50 mins). I had the pleasure of learning a great deal about Howard's work on Barefootz (in the 1970s), Wendel, Gay Comix (in the 1980s) and his seminal graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby (in the 1990s) back in 2001/02 when I interviewed his husband Eddie Sebarbaum for my first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!. Truth be told, I have one or two more books in me on Golden/Silver Age comic-book artists, but then my next dream books would be on Dave Sim and chronicling the rise of the independent/alternative comics from the late 1970s that morphed into the graphic novel industry that we know today. If only March did have 32 days!

Sunday, August 22, 2010 piece on my books

Thanks to Tim Hodgson for pointing out this nice piece on me and my books at, a new site dedicated to all things Canadian. That's a Bill Everett piece I'm holding in my picture with U.K. superstar talk show host and raconteur, Jonathan Ross but other than that, a great piece.

And don't forget about my Steve Ditko / Bill Everett slide show this coming Friday at the Toronto Fan Expo. It's at 5pm and I'll then have a table for the rest of the night and at least Saturday. Even more exciting is that I'm making headway on the proposal for my next book project! I may be able to announce it in early September so stay tuned!

Friday, August 20, 2010

See my Ditko / Everett slideshow at Toronto Fan Expo!

On Friday, August 27, 2010, come to the Toronto Fan Expo (running from Friday to Sunday) and see my slideshow entitled "Steve Ditko and Bill Everett: Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil & Beyond". The hour-long presentation begins at 5pm in Room 103A and features tons of imagery and commentary related to my two new books Fire and Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner and the Birth of Marvel Comics (out in Sep) and Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives v2 (out in Oct).

I'll also have a table for the Friday and Saturday at the show - here's the seating plan and floor plan for the show. I'll have copies of my Strange & Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko and Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives v1 for sale that I'll be signing, or bring yours or any of my books to get them signed. I'll also have copies of my I Have To Live With This Guy! book and copies of the fanzine, Ditkomania, for sale.

Here's the promo blurb for my slideshow:
Steve Ditko and Bill Everett: Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, Daredevil & Beyond
Two Marvel Comics giants join forces! Steve Ditko is the co-creator and original artist of the Amazing Spider-Man, and creator of Dr. Strange and Mr. A. The late Bill Everett created and was the original artist for the Sub-Mariner (the first anti-hero and mutant of the Marvel Universe), and co-created Daredevil.

Join author Blake Bell for a slide show presentation and discussion on his two upcoming books from Fantagraphics: Fire And Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics, and Unexplored Words: The Steve Ditko Archives v2.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bill Everett book video preview & pre-order info.

Click on the image below to view a video preview of my Bill Everett book, out in September from Fantagraphics Books Inc. There are two ways you can pre-order the book:

1) Direct from Fantagraphics. This may get you the book a little earlier than through Amazon or store, and if you are amongst the first to pre-order, you can have included a free signed bookplate, signed by me and by Wendy Everett, Bill's daughter! These are extremely limited in supply, so order soon!

2) From You save 34% off the cover price (and I get a little referral-fee slice if you order by clicking through this link).

Want to see more of the book's insides? Check out the Fantagraphics Flickr page! And come back tomorrow for more exciting news about when and where I'll be appearing to promote the book!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Daddy, I Saw Dr. Who at The Met!"

Okay, my 10 year-old son Luke didn't see Matt Smith and Karen Gillan hovering over a painting by Vincent Van Gogh, but the power of TV is that it can, sometimes, influence a child in a positive manner.

Having just returned home from NYC yesterday, my son still speaks of an appreciation for our visit (his first) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This place is somewhat sacred to me, having first visited in 1987. You quickly realize that you could spend an entire day there, but I could spend hours walking my feet off in the Impressionist section, feeling strangely empowered and bristling with energy standing next to the real-life-painted-over/around-120-years-ago masterpieces from my heroes Degas, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh and the likes of Cezanne, Gaugain and Seurat.

How often do you get to stand within inches of beautiful timelessness, products of the human mind and hand that precede and will proceed your existence on this planet, that actually deliver on a blend of popularity and artistic credibility? I get a similar feeling holding, looking at a piece of Steve Ditko or Bill Everett original artwork, the B&W originals used to make the color comic books, but these paintings are the completed masterpieces right in front of you.

Back to Luke - this umpteenth season of Dr. Who featured the 11th incarnation of the famed British time traveler and his companion Amy Pond meeting up with the famed Dutch painter in the last year of his life. My son and I began watching my generation's Dr. Who - centered around the classic early Tom Baker years (the 4th Doctor) - half a decade ago when the DVDs began flowing in earnest. Luke carried the memory of the Van Gogh episode to NYC where we spotted a book on Van Gogh at the Borders on Broadway and he happily pointed out all the paintings (like the one above) he had seen in the show.

Fast forward to our attendance at The Met and he ran out ahead of us looking for Van Gogh and dutifully reported back when he had found each one. Me, on the other hand, I religiously start with a few minutes dedicated to the pre-Impressionists, just to set myself up for the change when Manet and Monet start down the path. Impressionism, as my art teachers in high school, Robert Montgomery and Hugh Elcock can still relate, saved my artistic life. Couldn't stand photo-realism (didn't see the point) and hated acrylics; the two seemingly tied together in my young eyes. Impressionism allowed my brush to break free and I never looked back; in fact, Mr. Montgomery suggesting I was the closest to a Fauvist (a painter who uses pure colors, as opposed to mixed) the class had.

The gallery was in fine form this year, with its Picasso exhibit extended past August 1. Below are some pics (no flash!) taken during my visit. There was a great emphasis on his Blue Period and his sketches (click on each image to see larger versions).

Okay, every one's seen the Gertrude Stein pic, but I don't ever remember the oral sex one on the left below:

Manet's never been one of my favs (like him but not close enough to what attracts me to the other Impressionists) but his pastels (below top left) are underrated, as I discovered on this trip. Of course, Degas is one of my secret loves (his dancers are lovely, but his bathers are underrated too)...

And you can take all the pictures you want of Renoir, buy all the books you want, but nothing will match seeing the colors burst off the canvas like they do in person, especially for someone like Renoir. Van Gogh's the same, but all the Impressionists have that quality too.

Obviously I'm not very good as this blogging thing because I'm only supposed to be sharing pithy, quick thoughts on topics that barely deserve more than that, but here we go - back on my old (soon-to-be-revived) Ditko Looked Up website, I live-blogged my June '08 visit to the Met (the first time there since 1989!), and here's that entry in its entirety...

I spent from 2:30 to 4:30pm ensconced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I hadn't been there since 1989, where I had an almost religious experience in the Impressionist section of the gallery on the 2nd floor. I remember walking towards that area, and noting how dark it was (they have the lights down low to protect Degas' charcoal drawings), but then I saw this incredible light coming from beyond that area. I thought it was going to be the most massively over-lit room I had ever seen, but it was the light coming off all the Impressionist paintings. That memory still sticks with me today, and I was back there for the first time in almost 20 years.

After drinking lemonade in the Balcony Cafe, my first stop was the "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" exhibit that is showcased until September 1st. It was a let-down, and the sign outside of the Met just says "Superheroes" and doesn't mention the "fashion" part until you get inside. The opening verbiage when you walk in lists the comic-book eras as Golden Age: 1938-56 (I'd say it ended in the late 1940s), the Silver Age: 1956-71 (damn that Flash comic, and I'd end it in 1968, when Marvel started putting out all the #1s), the alleged "Bronze Age: 1971-80," and the "Iron Age: 1980-87" (?). Not a good start, and it was pretty paltry from there.

The exhibit was broken into sections in the walls with (at best) one actual costume of a superhero from a movie, and then surrounded by famous designers' far-out clothing that is supposed to resemble superhero garb. To its credit, the Iron Man suit (silver, pre-color) that Downey Jr. wears in the movie looks strong and bold in person. Christine Bale's costume from Batman Returns, however, does not hold up under scrutiny in broad daylight. They also had a full-bodied Mystique figure on its own, slowly rotating, and that looked impressive.

From there, it was an hour-and-a-half of touring the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from 1850 onwards. On a comic-related note, one painting I stumbled onto just outside those rooms was Alphonse Mucha's Maude Adams (1872-1953) as Joan of Arc from 1909 (Mucha being a Czech painter) and it looks like every Vertigo "Books of Magic" cover in the 1990s! The real painting in the gallery is a treat to see, compared to the above digital reproduction. For those looking for a fabulous new book that has excellent reproduction of the 1800 to 1920's European painters' work, check out the Met's new book, Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I picked up the hardcover and it looks to be a beauty for getting as close to the real painting as possible.

For those not interested in painting, now's the time to cut out, and we'll be back on Saturday with more blogging from MoCCA and my Jim Hanley's Universe event Saturday night at 8pm. I have booked a hotel room at 35th St (right between 5th and 6th) just two blocks from Hanley's (and 7 blocks south of Times Square), so when the event ends at 10pm, I'll be super-close to my quarters and can live out my dream of staying out all night in Times Square!

Here's a bullet blow-by-blow (all entered into my Blackberry at a hundred miles a minute) of what struck on me return to the Met after 19 years away, when I was 18 and in Grade 13 and in art class, having been completely drawn to the Impressionist period because I loved the freedom it gave me that I never found in realistic painting. When you read the below, remember that I haven't examined this era in over 10 years with any depth, so looking at it all again was like seeing it new for the first time. I had forgotten so much.

Degas - The Dance Class, 1874: can't believe I'm looking at it again. The Dancing Class circa 1870, his first ballet piece (quite small) really marked a big change in his use of light compared to the work right before it. Degas' Woman with a Towel, 1894 or 1898, stands out from the others, quite highly charged with eroticism, with what is exposed and the suggestive arch of the back.

Got to get more Japanese art circa 1850s that influenced Impressionists (once commerce trade opened up between Japan and France) like Monet's Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. This one's not quite impressionist - still using the diagonal perspective.

The water reflection in La Grenouillere, 1969 is simple yet hypnotizing: his first true Impressionist work. The Parc Monceau, 1878, really takes his brushstroke work to the hilt.

Vetheuil in Summer: progression of brushstrokes and light on water, with such strong reflections of the shapes on the water, done 13 yrs later in 1880.

What a difference between Water Lilies painting from 1916-19 (Water Lilies, Reflections of Weeping Willows) vs. 1899's Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. The former is such a dark green, not tightly rendered at all, no brightness, as if done at night.

Pissarro was almost a Pointillist by 1880s but especially 1890s.

My art teacher in high school, Robert Montgomery, said (the last time I was hear) that I was closest to a Fauvist that we had in the class - pure, bright and unmixed colors - and the "free-ist" with the brush, yet I still have the fondest memories of the more subtly shifting colors of Renoir.

Wow, Renoir's Daughters of Catulle Mendes, Hughette, Claudine and Helyonne, for such an indoor, semi-posed scene, just has its colors leap off the canvas from another room. The blues are dominant, but are informed by the orange and brown that make for an almost red sheen.

Striking are the staring blue eyes and expression of the 5 year-old girl in Renoir's Marguerite-Therese (Margot) Berard (1874-1956), 1879, like she's almost alive on the canvas, and going to jump out at you.

Cezanne - still a little too "geometric" for me.

Never been a huge fan of Pointillism, but can't deny the power of Seurat's Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," 1884. I had forgotten the painted frame within the frame! Or his Circus Sideshow, 1887-88, seeing the difference in the lack of depth, and stiff coldness, versus "A Sunday..." is fascinating. Every print I see of "Circus..." looks like it's been brightened ridiculously in Photoshop. How Van Gogh and Seurat existed at the same time is fascinating.

Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889, still stunning with it's ripping, swirling movement across the sky and wheat fields.

Picasso's The Blind Man's Meal, 1903, from his blue period is wonderfully haunting. Love the brushwork on Mother and Child by a Fountain, 1901.

The Banquet of the Starved, 1915, by James Ensor, a Belgian, is almost a story on one canvas.

Would like to see more David Hockney, and quite enjoyed Marc Chagal's The Lovers, 1913-14.