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Comic book classics on screen

Ten Con cures

Bright night: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in Richard Lester’s Superman II.
Bright night: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in Richard Lester’s Superman II.

The banners are down, the fanboys back in their parents’ basements, and the convention center no longer a giant roll of flypaper used by corporations to ensnare the costumed souls that make it through the metal detector.

Instead of railing against the annual celebration of everything that’s wrong with contemporary cinema, I offer up ten cures for a Con hangover. The following list is made up of films based on comic books/strips or those that deal with the artists who create them. There was but one stipulation: other than Superman II — produced long before the superhero fad became Hollywood’s main source of revenue — the works of Marvel and DC were strictly verboten.

10) Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill’s Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938)

Pleasure seldom comes packaged with this much guilt. Who needs CGI when there are sparkler-propelled soupcans held afloat by fishing poles to grab and hold one’s attention? The second installment of Universal’s trilogy of Flash Gordon serials based on Alex Raymond’s comic strip finds our hero up to his neck in Clay People and feeble comic relief in the form of spaceship stowaway Happy Hapgood. There’s not much to the performances of interchangeable all-American Buster Crabbe and his scream-queen gal pal Dale Arden (Jean Rogers). If an intergalactic soap opera is only as good as the villain that powers it, Charles B. Middleton’s Emperor Ming makes Darth Vader look like the voice of CNN.

Movie

Popeye

thumbnail

He yis what he yis, but he ain't what he used to be. Stupefyingly dull demonstration that certain things work better in one medium than in another, that movies are not cartoons, that Robert Altman is not Max Fleischer, and that Popeye should have stayed where he was. With Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul Smith, and Paul Dooley; written by Jules Feiffer; songs by Harry Nilsson.

Find showtimes

9) Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980)

Though not a patch on the Fleischer Studio cartoons of the 1930s, Altman’s take on E.C. Segar’s mumbling mariner remains strong to the finnich’ due in large part to note-perfect casting (Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul Smith) and Wolf Kroeger’s unsinkable production design.

8) Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise (1966)

Blacklisted expatriate Joseph Losey, best known for his adaptations of Harold Pinter dramas, directs this immodestly mod adaptation of Peter O’Donnell’s comic strip. Andrew Sarris called this role-reversal sendup of James Bond films, “a more serious enterprise than it seems precisely because of the strenuousness of it’s levity.” It was Monica Vitti’s first film in America and the story goes she invited her mentor, Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura, Red Dessert), to visit the set. After Losey caught wind that Antonioni was feeding Vitti with directorial advice, he politely asked his comrade in celluloid to stay home. Antonioni complied.

7) Richard Quine’s How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

Jack Lemmon stars as a nationally syndicated cartoonist whose schtick it is to personally enact all of his alter-ego’s capers to make sure they don’t strain logic. He awakes one morning to find sleeping next to him (and with wedding ring on her finger) the Italian beauty (Virna Lisi) who just the night before entertained drunken revelers by popping out of a cake at a bachelor party he attended. His plan to use his bride’s calculated demise as fodder for his strip proves fatal when the cops peg him as a homicidal maniac. Quine keeps things moving, but George Axelrod’s dark (for 1965) script could have stood even more shading.

Movie

V for Vendetta

thumbnail

Comic-book adaptation, or "graphic-novel" adaptation, about an avenging superhero hidden behind the stiff grin of a Guy Fawkes mask: a kind of Frankensteinian composite pieced together of Zorro (the black hat and cape, the revolutionary politics, the carving of his initial on his handiwork), Blade (the adeptness with cutlery, the customized arsenal thereof), the Phantom of the Opera (the disfigurement by fire, the romantic longing, the underground lair), among others. Batman, Darkman, whateverman. But it's his superhuman powers, much more than his plagiarisms, that make him into a bore: a martial-arts magician, an invincible one-man-army, a rebel without a care. The Australian actor Hugo Weaving is the sonorous voice, and presumably the body, behind the disguise. And Natalie Portman, with a faint and fugitive British accent, and a political-prisoner haircut that martyrs her in the image of a Tibetan monk, is the tomato of his eye. The setting is indeed England, at a time in the near future when America, undermined by an unspecified war (illustrative news clips from the Middle East), has been reduced to "the world's biggest leper colony." England isn't much better, your standard totalitarian dystopia by way of Orwell, hard on minorities and nonconformists, explicitly homosexuals of both sexes, one of whom harbors a clandestine copy of the Koran. (For aesthetic reasons only, like one of the Book People in <em>Fahrenheit 451</em>.) The television voice of the regime, meantime, is a Bill O'Reilly blowhard, and its official head (John Hurt, promoted from his spot as the downtrodden hero in the 1984 treatment of <em>1984)</em> is a Hitlerian ranter and raver. The only thing the least bit out of the ordinary in all of this is the closeness of the correlation to the present day, the strictness of the equivalence, the bluntness of the political comment, the harness on the imagination. One might guess that the filmmakers -- first-time director and veteran ad man James McTeigue, screenwriters Andy and Larry Wachowski -- would stop short of equating terrorism and justice. But that can only be a guess. They, and their upright terrorist, to the inaudible cheers of Al Qaeda, do not stop short of blowing up Parliament. With Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry.

Find showtimes

6) James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta (2005)

The blockbuster that never happened, due in large part to a harebrained mid-March release. Why didn’t Warner Bros. sit the two months out and treat it like a summer thrill ride? That would have at least fooled a few more suckers into buying tickets. Instead, the film, based on the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel, barely recouped its budget. The real reason this sci-fi thriller flopped is because I like it so much. (Seeing as how it was not generally my genre of choice, and written by the sibling act responsible for the reviled Matrix trilogy, I’m surprised that I even bothered with it.) Why did it tank? Turns out it’s set in England (sometimes those foreign accents are tough for Americans to comprehend), proffered a left-wing propagandistic agenda, and featured a hero who never removes his mask. They probably could have released it on the 4th of July and no one would have noticed.

Movie

History of Violence *

thumbnail

Further unpleasantness from the always unpleasant David Cronenberg. Despite the pretentious-sounding title, this is in no sense an historical record of violence as a human fundamental (dating back, say, to Cain and Abel, or farther back to the appearance of the monolith among the apes in <em>2001)</em>, but merely a history in the archaic sense of a story, as in H.G. Wells's <em>The History of Mr. Polly</em>, and also in the sense of a past: a violent story, that is, about a man with a history of violence. More exactly, the bloody chain of events unleashed when the family-man proprietor (Viggo Mortensen) of the Main Street diner in Small Town, U.S.A., is forced to fight back against two homicidal psychopaths at his lunch counter. The unpleasantness on this occasion consists, not atypically for Cronenberg, in some gratuitous gore — stomach-turning makeup effects for a bullet through the top of the head, a nose pounded up into a skull, etc. — as well as in the oppressive mood of ominousness and dread. The latter is quite admirably achieved, especially in view of the conventionality of the plot: the past catching up with a retired killer, a staple of the American action film, whether Western or contemporary crime thriller. Through such devious means as the sedate and didactic tone, the clear-eyed and controlled cinematography, the deliberate pace, and a spot of uncommonly graphic sex between happily marrieds, the film <em>feels</em> unconventional, <em>feels</em> unpredictable. And it makes good use of William Hurt's widely recognized looniness for an unexpectedly funny climax, notwithstanding the expected gore. (Beyond unexpectedly funny, it may be self-defeatingly funny.) The ultimate purpose of the thing -- the unique distinction of the thing -- comes down to precisely those sources of unpleasantness and nothing more: the gratuitous gore and the feeling of unconventionality. But the unconventionality, such as it is, proves to be just a feeling rather than a fact: it tends to evaporate rapidly at the curtain. (One recommended point of reference would be Richard Fleischer's perfectly conventional yet subtly subversive <em>Violent Saturday</em>, 1955, where the celebration of the small-town family man who foils the big-city bad guys, with an assist from the pitchfork of an Amish pacifist, is as ambiguous as you please.) And the gore is simply too splashy for its own good. With Maria Bello, Ed Harris.

Find showtimes

5) David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005)

Cronenberg succeeds at smuggling artistic sensibilities into the multiplex with this thriller adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello star as a deliriously happy couple whose marriage is threatened when news arrives in the form of menacing Ed Harris that hubby may have a bloodthirsty past. Or does he? Some call it Cronenberg’s most accessible work, while others tag it as deceptively straightforward. From where I sit, it’s a masterpiece.

Movie

Ghost World ****

thumbnail

The heroine, out of a comic book by Daniel Clowes, is someone a critic could love. Not <em>only</em> a critic, rest assured. Fresh out of high school — or rather, jaded out of high school — she can produce an equal sneer for the wheelchair-bound valedictorian ("High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life") and for the hip-hopping black cheerleaders who follow. A tireless crapehanger, a walking crap detector, alienated, aloof, alert, aware, unaccepting, reacting, resisting, judging: Little Miss Raincloud. And yet the movie, directed discreetly if none too fluidly by the erstwhile documentarist Terry Zwigoff (most notably <em>Crumb</em>, profiling a real-life outsider, the underground cartoonist R. Crumb), never loses sight of the fact that she is still just a teenager; it never tries to puff her up into a self-worshipping Lara Croft cult figure, much less an all-knowing Susan Sontag arbiter of taste. (Is the band at the post-graduation bash almost so bad that it's good, or is it so bad that it goes way beyond good and back to bad again? How's a girl to know?) The focus of the episodic action is on her curious alliance with a fortyish bachelor and discophile, quiet and retiring, with slumped shoulders, a bad back, flat hair, no social life, and the face-pulling first name of Seymour (Steve Buscemi, surreptitiously brilliant in the part), whom she had come to know after answering his Personals ad as a practical joke. What he plainly has in common with the heroine, for all their outward disparity, is an acute awareness and unacceptance of the surrounding world: "I can't relate to ninety-nine percent of humanity." In addition to which, as a mark of his greater depth and maturity, he has an awareness and an unacceptance of himself as well: "Maybe I don't want to meet someone who shares my interests; I hate my interests." It's true that the movie, on behalf of its two principal outcasts, takes condescending aim at a lot of easy targets (the <em>faux</em> Fifties diner, the electric-guitar redneck "blues" band at the local bar, the "XXX" bookstore, and so on), but then again, there are so many beckoning targets in the world that some of them are bound to be easy. A tireless crapehanger can't be expected to let them pass without a sneer or a snipe. And it's a sizable accomplishment -- and compensation -- that the movie places so much weight on the importance of taste and temperament in the living of daily life, the forming of relationships, the getting through a day. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban.

Find showtimes

4) Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001)

Based on Daniel Clowes’s biting underground comic and directed by Terry Zqigoff (Crumb), Ghost World arrived as a poignant, hysterically funny, and unerringly honest antidote to countless botched comic-book attempts and lethal teen no-brainers. From the opening strains of Indian composer Shankar-Jaikishan’s toe-tapping arrangement, audiences knew they were in for something truly unique. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson were their generation’s enfants terribles and Steve Buscemi their Henry Orient. Old souls, memorabilia geeks, fringe-dweller, and fans of sidewalk theater are encouraged to rent this black comedy that accentuates the negative.

3) Richard Lester’s Superman II (1980)

At once a sequel that surpasses its original and a comic book movie that leaves all others in the dust. Christopher Reeve’s decision to play Clark Kent as a bumbling oaf flies circles around the otherwise sedulous competition. The villains (Terence Stamp, Gene Hackman, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran) pose an articulate menace, the romantic chemistry is palpable, the laughs are side-splitting, and the organically grown action set pieces are a thrill to experience. Richard Lester’s (A Hard Day’s Night, Petulia) visual wit makes the so-called Richard Donner cut look like the flat series of comic book panels that it is. Almost 35 years and dozens of effect-driven monstrosities later and Hollywood fanboys have yet to produce anything to rival it.

2) Frank Tashlin’s Artists and Models (1955)

Was it the Bat Lady or the fat lady? Unemployed artist Dean Martin finds a lucrative future in comic books when roommate Jerry Lewis’s night terrors — the Idiot inexplicably begins screaming classified government secrets in his sleep — provide him with endless pages of story content. Directed by former Looney Tunes animator Frank “Apex” Tashlin, which accounts for all the gravity-challenged gags and impeccable eye-popping use of Technicolor. Even something as simple as Dino crooning to a bunch of kids is made magical by Tashlin’s fluid long takes and breezy open air compositions.

1) Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Col. Blimp (1943)

Who knew the best movie to emerge from the funny pages is also one of cinema’s half-dozen greatest achievements? Find out how robust General Clive Wynne-Candy, aka Colonel Blimp, the celebrated British cartoon character by satirical artist David Low, earned his big belly as Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) escort us through an exquisitely entwined series of flashbacks that begin with the Boer Wars and end with Hitler’s rise to power. An epical ode to cinematic refinement, and one that will keep you guessing until seconds before the final fade out.

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Old Joe and the Border Boys

Now playing in wide release!
Bright night: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in Richard Lester’s Superman II.
Bright night: Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve in Richard Lester’s Superman II.

The banners are down, the fanboys back in their parents’ basements, and the convention center no longer a giant roll of flypaper used by corporations to ensnare the costumed souls that make it through the metal detector.

Instead of railing against the annual celebration of everything that’s wrong with contemporary cinema, I offer up ten cures for a Con hangover. The following list is made up of films based on comic books/strips or those that deal with the artists who create them. There was but one stipulation: other than Superman II — produced long before the superhero fad became Hollywood’s main source of revenue — the works of Marvel and DC were strictly verboten.

10) Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill’s Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938)

Pleasure seldom comes packaged with this much guilt. Who needs CGI when there are sparkler-propelled soupcans held afloat by fishing poles to grab and hold one’s attention? The second installment of Universal’s trilogy of Flash Gordon serials based on Alex Raymond’s comic strip finds our hero up to his neck in Clay People and feeble comic relief in the form of spaceship stowaway Happy Hapgood. There’s not much to the performances of interchangeable all-American Buster Crabbe and his scream-queen gal pal Dale Arden (Jean Rogers). If an intergalactic soap opera is only as good as the villain that powers it, Charles B. Middleton’s Emperor Ming makes Darth Vader look like the voice of CNN.

Movie

Popeye

thumbnail

He yis what he yis, but he ain't what he used to be. Stupefyingly dull demonstration that certain things work better in one medium than in another, that movies are not cartoons, that Robert Altman is not Max Fleischer, and that Popeye should have stayed where he was. With Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul Smith, and Paul Dooley; written by Jules Feiffer; songs by Harry Nilsson.

Find showtimes

9) Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980)

Though not a patch on the Fleischer Studio cartoons of the 1930s, Altman’s take on E.C. Segar’s mumbling mariner remains strong to the finnich’ due in large part to note-perfect casting (Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul Smith) and Wolf Kroeger’s unsinkable production design.

8) Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise (1966)

Blacklisted expatriate Joseph Losey, best known for his adaptations of Harold Pinter dramas, directs this immodestly mod adaptation of Peter O’Donnell’s comic strip. Andrew Sarris called this role-reversal sendup of James Bond films, “a more serious enterprise than it seems precisely because of the strenuousness of it’s levity.” It was Monica Vitti’s first film in America and the story goes she invited her mentor, Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura, Red Dessert), to visit the set. After Losey caught wind that Antonioni was feeding Vitti with directorial advice, he politely asked his comrade in celluloid to stay home. Antonioni complied.

7) Richard Quine’s How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

Jack Lemmon stars as a nationally syndicated cartoonist whose schtick it is to personally enact all of his alter-ego’s capers to make sure they don’t strain logic. He awakes one morning to find sleeping next to him (and with wedding ring on her finger) the Italian beauty (Virna Lisi) who just the night before entertained drunken revelers by popping out of a cake at a bachelor party he attended. His plan to use his bride’s calculated demise as fodder for his strip proves fatal when the cops peg him as a homicidal maniac. Quine keeps things moving, but George Axelrod’s dark (for 1965) script could have stood even more shading.

Movie

V for Vendetta

thumbnail

Comic-book adaptation, or "graphic-novel" adaptation, about an avenging superhero hidden behind the stiff grin of a Guy Fawkes mask: a kind of Frankensteinian composite pieced together of Zorro (the black hat and cape, the revolutionary politics, the carving of his initial on his handiwork), Blade (the adeptness with cutlery, the customized arsenal thereof), the Phantom of the Opera (the disfigurement by fire, the romantic longing, the underground lair), among others. Batman, Darkman, whateverman. But it's his superhuman powers, much more than his plagiarisms, that make him into a bore: a martial-arts magician, an invincible one-man-army, a rebel without a care. The Australian actor Hugo Weaving is the sonorous voice, and presumably the body, behind the disguise. And Natalie Portman, with a faint and fugitive British accent, and a political-prisoner haircut that martyrs her in the image of a Tibetan monk, is the tomato of his eye. The setting is indeed England, at a time in the near future when America, undermined by an unspecified war (illustrative news clips from the Middle East), has been reduced to "the world's biggest leper colony." England isn't much better, your standard totalitarian dystopia by way of Orwell, hard on minorities and nonconformists, explicitly homosexuals of both sexes, one of whom harbors a clandestine copy of the Koran. (For aesthetic reasons only, like one of the Book People in <em>Fahrenheit 451</em>.) The television voice of the regime, meantime, is a Bill O'Reilly blowhard, and its official head (John Hurt, promoted from his spot as the downtrodden hero in the 1984 treatment of <em>1984)</em> is a Hitlerian ranter and raver. The only thing the least bit out of the ordinary in all of this is the closeness of the correlation to the present day, the strictness of the equivalence, the bluntness of the political comment, the harness on the imagination. One might guess that the filmmakers -- first-time director and veteran ad man James McTeigue, screenwriters Andy and Larry Wachowski -- would stop short of equating terrorism and justice. But that can only be a guess. They, and their upright terrorist, to the inaudible cheers of Al Qaeda, do not stop short of blowing up Parliament. With Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry.

Find showtimes

6) James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta (2005)

The blockbuster that never happened, due in large part to a harebrained mid-March release. Why didn’t Warner Bros. sit the two months out and treat it like a summer thrill ride? That would have at least fooled a few more suckers into buying tickets. Instead, the film, based on the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel, barely recouped its budget. The real reason this sci-fi thriller flopped is because I like it so much. (Seeing as how it was not generally my genre of choice, and written by the sibling act responsible for the reviled Matrix trilogy, I’m surprised that I even bothered with it.) Why did it tank? Turns out it’s set in England (sometimes those foreign accents are tough for Americans to comprehend), proffered a left-wing propagandistic agenda, and featured a hero who never removes his mask. They probably could have released it on the 4th of July and no one would have noticed.

Movie

History of Violence *

thumbnail

Further unpleasantness from the always unpleasant David Cronenberg. Despite the pretentious-sounding title, this is in no sense an historical record of violence as a human fundamental (dating back, say, to Cain and Abel, or farther back to the appearance of the monolith among the apes in <em>2001)</em>, but merely a history in the archaic sense of a story, as in H.G. Wells's <em>The History of Mr. Polly</em>, and also in the sense of a past: a violent story, that is, about a man with a history of violence. More exactly, the bloody chain of events unleashed when the family-man proprietor (Viggo Mortensen) of the Main Street diner in Small Town, U.S.A., is forced to fight back against two homicidal psychopaths at his lunch counter. The unpleasantness on this occasion consists, not atypically for Cronenberg, in some gratuitous gore — stomach-turning makeup effects for a bullet through the top of the head, a nose pounded up into a skull, etc. — as well as in the oppressive mood of ominousness and dread. The latter is quite admirably achieved, especially in view of the conventionality of the plot: the past catching up with a retired killer, a staple of the American action film, whether Western or contemporary crime thriller. Through such devious means as the sedate and didactic tone, the clear-eyed and controlled cinematography, the deliberate pace, and a spot of uncommonly graphic sex between happily marrieds, the film <em>feels</em> unconventional, <em>feels</em> unpredictable. And it makes good use of William Hurt's widely recognized looniness for an unexpectedly funny climax, notwithstanding the expected gore. (Beyond unexpectedly funny, it may be self-defeatingly funny.) The ultimate purpose of the thing -- the unique distinction of the thing -- comes down to precisely those sources of unpleasantness and nothing more: the gratuitous gore and the feeling of unconventionality. But the unconventionality, such as it is, proves to be just a feeling rather than a fact: it tends to evaporate rapidly at the curtain. (One recommended point of reference would be Richard Fleischer's perfectly conventional yet subtly subversive <em>Violent Saturday</em>, 1955, where the celebration of the small-town family man who foils the big-city bad guys, with an assist from the pitchfork of an Amish pacifist, is as ambiguous as you please.) And the gore is simply too splashy for its own good. With Maria Bello, Ed Harris.

Find showtimes

5) David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005)

Cronenberg succeeds at smuggling artistic sensibilities into the multiplex with this thriller adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello star as a deliriously happy couple whose marriage is threatened when news arrives in the form of menacing Ed Harris that hubby may have a bloodthirsty past. Or does he? Some call it Cronenberg’s most accessible work, while others tag it as deceptively straightforward. From where I sit, it’s a masterpiece.

Movie

Ghost World ****

thumbnail

The heroine, out of a comic book by Daniel Clowes, is someone a critic could love. Not <em>only</em> a critic, rest assured. Fresh out of high school — or rather, jaded out of high school — she can produce an equal sneer for the wheelchair-bound valedictorian ("High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life") and for the hip-hopping black cheerleaders who follow. A tireless crapehanger, a walking crap detector, alienated, aloof, alert, aware, unaccepting, reacting, resisting, judging: Little Miss Raincloud. And yet the movie, directed discreetly if none too fluidly by the erstwhile documentarist Terry Zwigoff (most notably <em>Crumb</em>, profiling a real-life outsider, the underground cartoonist R. Crumb), never loses sight of the fact that she is still just a teenager; it never tries to puff her up into a self-worshipping Lara Croft cult figure, much less an all-knowing Susan Sontag arbiter of taste. (Is the band at the post-graduation bash almost so bad that it's good, or is it so bad that it goes way beyond good and back to bad again? How's a girl to know?) The focus of the episodic action is on her curious alliance with a fortyish bachelor and discophile, quiet and retiring, with slumped shoulders, a bad back, flat hair, no social life, and the face-pulling first name of Seymour (Steve Buscemi, surreptitiously brilliant in the part), whom she had come to know after answering his Personals ad as a practical joke. What he plainly has in common with the heroine, for all their outward disparity, is an acute awareness and unacceptance of the surrounding world: "I can't relate to ninety-nine percent of humanity." In addition to which, as a mark of his greater depth and maturity, he has an awareness and an unacceptance of himself as well: "Maybe I don't want to meet someone who shares my interests; I hate my interests." It's true that the movie, on behalf of its two principal outcasts, takes condescending aim at a lot of easy targets (the <em>faux</em> Fifties diner, the electric-guitar redneck "blues" band at the local bar, the "XXX" bookstore, and so on), but then again, there are so many beckoning targets in the world that some of them are bound to be easy. A tireless crapehanger can't be expected to let them pass without a sneer or a snipe. And it's a sizable accomplishment -- and compensation -- that the movie places so much weight on the importance of taste and temperament in the living of daily life, the forming of relationships, the getting through a day. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban.

Find showtimes

4) Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001)

Based on Daniel Clowes’s biting underground comic and directed by Terry Zqigoff (Crumb), Ghost World arrived as a poignant, hysterically funny, and unerringly honest antidote to countless botched comic-book attempts and lethal teen no-brainers. From the opening strains of Indian composer Shankar-Jaikishan’s toe-tapping arrangement, audiences knew they were in for something truly unique. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson were their generation’s enfants terribles and Steve Buscemi their Henry Orient. Old souls, memorabilia geeks, fringe-dweller, and fans of sidewalk theater are encouraged to rent this black comedy that accentuates the negative.

3) Richard Lester’s Superman II (1980)

At once a sequel that surpasses its original and a comic book movie that leaves all others in the dust. Christopher Reeve’s decision to play Clark Kent as a bumbling oaf flies circles around the otherwise sedulous competition. The villains (Terence Stamp, Gene Hackman, Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran) pose an articulate menace, the romantic chemistry is palpable, the laughs are side-splitting, and the organically grown action set pieces are a thrill to experience. Richard Lester’s (A Hard Day’s Night, Petulia) visual wit makes the so-called Richard Donner cut look like the flat series of comic book panels that it is. Almost 35 years and dozens of effect-driven monstrosities later and Hollywood fanboys have yet to produce anything to rival it.

2) Frank Tashlin’s Artists and Models (1955)

Was it the Bat Lady or the fat lady? Unemployed artist Dean Martin finds a lucrative future in comic books when roommate Jerry Lewis’s night terrors — the Idiot inexplicably begins screaming classified government secrets in his sleep — provide him with endless pages of story content. Directed by former Looney Tunes animator Frank “Apex” Tashlin, which accounts for all the gravity-challenged gags and impeccable eye-popping use of Technicolor. Even something as simple as Dino crooning to a bunch of kids is made magical by Tashlin’s fluid long takes and breezy open air compositions.

1) Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Col. Blimp (1943)

Who knew the best movie to emerge from the funny pages is also one of cinema’s half-dozen greatest achievements? Find out how robust General Clive Wynne-Candy, aka Colonel Blimp, the celebrated British cartoon character by satirical artist David Low, earned his big belly as Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) escort us through an exquisitely entwined series of flashbacks that begin with the Boer Wars and end with Hitler’s rise to power. An epical ode to cinematic refinement, and one that will keep you guessing until seconds before the final fade out.

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Comments
1

With the exception of "That's Amore", this number could have been the best song Dean ever sang during his time with Jerry. I can hear Scott now "You mean you've never heard of "The Parachute Jump"?"

Shirley MacLaine was never lovelier or funnier than this sequence with Dean, then Jerry. And the genius of Frank Tashlin was never more evident by securing laughs without Jerry uttering a word.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEE4WBWN2gU

July 28, 2016

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