Questions for THE DEPARTED


So I saw Scorsese’s new film The Departed this weekend. Overall, I really enjoyed it. It was a kind of a cartoonish throwback to the macho, violent movies of the 80s and 90s that seemed to dominant theatres. I was fascinated with those films when I was in my 20s but felt over-saturated by them into my 30s. Also, seeing them in many ways through Sari’s eyes over the years made me see how myopic, cheap, and manipulative they could be. Nonetheless, there were definitely some terrific, lasting films from that era (many of them made by Scorsese).

Anyway, there was something fun about revisiting those films through The Departed. Plus, how can you resist that cast: DiCaprio, Nicholson, Damon, Martin Sheen, Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga!? DiCaprio was particularly good at playing the tortured but well-meaning guy who just never gets a break. I was surprised at how powerful a performance he gives, especially in scenes he shares with heavyweights like Nicholson. Jack is pure Jack, gnashing up the screen in his best late-career devil-may-care way. (Sari summed him up perfectly in characterizing him as part algae and part wolf!) And Farmiga is excellent too as the only female character of note and in a very tough, pivotal role! The movie works really well in reminding us how similar the macho brotherhoods of cops & criminals are, while ratcheting up the action and suspense to the blood-soaked conclusion.

But that’s where I have some concerns and questions, and which I’d like to address after the cut…

War of the Worlds


Sari and I caught a showing of War of the Worlds on Sat. nite and we were unexpectedly overwhelmed. I had read a pan of the flick from Ebert, and a qualified “thumbs-up” from A.O. Scott of the Times, so my expectations were fairly low. But being a fairly dedicated fan of both Spielberg and Cruise, I figured it would at least be an exciting and fun way to take in two hours of movie theater air-conditioning.

Instead, I found myself having a profound emotional experience. As a native New Yorker who was in the city on September 11, 2001, I’ve long struggled with coming to grips with that day. It was truly such a shocking, unbelievable event that in many ways I feel like I never processed it. For me, the movie was actually cathartic, in the truest sense of the word. That terms get thrown around rather loosely, but in this case I think it actually applies.

Yes, on Sept. 11 our city was attacked — but neither I nor Sari were ever in personal danger. Yes, the Twin Towers were destroyed — but I had only visited them once, when I was a kid. Yes, thousands of people died — but I didn’t know any of them. And as much as I wanted to do something to help in the aftermath, there really was no opportunity (other than helping to gather and sort donations, which I did, and contribute a story to one of the 9/11 benefit books, which I also did).

Nevertheless, for many months after Sept. 11, I awoke in a panic imagining more planes were coming, this time for me; or I nearly jumped out of my chair any time a truck back-fired or an ambulance sped by. But then eventually, those feelings deadened as I got back the business of living my own little life. So settling in to see a movie of sci-fi escapism, I was shocked to see how much the movie paralleled September 11, right down to its New York-area location (in fact, some scenes were shot in nearby Park Slope).

The scenes of Tom Cruise running in pure terror as the aliens begin zapping — vaporizing — everyone around him, buildings crashing around him, was right out of the Towers falling. And when he scrambles back to his apartment to find his hair and clothes covered in ash — most of it the remains of his fellow human beings — that was truly chilling. And watching this all happen, I was as terrified as any of the film’s characters. For real moments during the movie, I actually forgot I was a viewer and that it wasn’t real.

I won’t spoil the film for those of you who haven’t read the book or seen the film yet, but there’s one more point to make. In a departure from typical summer blockbusting, this film does not feature a “hero” as its central character. Besides being a failed husband and father, Tom Cruise’s character is basically just a “regular guy.” He doesn’t end up leading the rebellion to repel the invaders. He doesn’t discover their secret weakness. He doesn’t pilot an F-14 into the mother ship and destroy its central command. For the most part, he’s just a working class guy caught up in protecting his family, trying to survive.

I think this was a brilliant decision by Spielberg and I can’t help but imagine that he was thinking of not only Sept. 11 but Schindler’s List when he put this film together. It was important for him to show helplessness, to have us truly comprehend that sometimes we can’t control our destiny, that the heroic individual doesn’t buck all odds and triumph. This is an important lesson — it teaches us empathy.

Sari and I came out of the film in some sort of shock. We hadn’t been prepared to feel that strongly — that’s why the film was so cathartic. Yes, it was a silly sci-fi popcorn flick. But because Spielberg has a heart (and a brain), and because Tom Cruise was willing to play this type of character, they helped me work through my emotions about a real life act of horror, unplugging a stoppage and letting emotions flow. This may be an indictment of me, or our media-based society, but I’m just glad it happened. Film is a powerful medium, and when it’s used in the right way, for “moral” purposes, it can be a potent force for good.

2005 A.P.E. Report

Review, Travel
Jeff Mason at the Alternative Comics booth

I headed out to APE this year to promote A Few Perfect Hours, and also to touch base with San Francisco, which Sari and I had left behind almost six years ago. Last time I attended APE it was still in San Jose. Nowadays, it’s held at the Concourse Center South of Market, in what seems like an old airplane hanger.

While the venue is a huge improvement over the old location, the show seemed a bit … lacking. Whether it was the beautiful weather outside, or the fact that the Giants were playing two home day games that same weekend, the show was pretty dead. I felt bad for my erstwhile publisher indymag cuz it’s hard to imagine he recouped anything close to table & shipping costs. Personally, I sold fewer than ten copies of my book, plus assorted random copies of The Vagabonds and Titans of Finance. And I was probably the top seller, after local boys Graham Annable and the Hickee gang.

It was great talking to readers and pals of pals, etc., as well as reconnecting with folks like Ribs Weissman, Justin Hall, Brett Warnock, and Eli Bishop, but I admit to some disappointment. Thank god Sari and I made a vacation of it and stayed an extra three days around the con to soak in the sights and take in a Giants game!

Also making appearances at the Alternative table were Lauren Weinstein, Graham Annable, Jim Campbell, Joe White, Razmig Mavlian, Joel Orff, Tatiana Gill, Bishakh Som, Andrice Arp, and Joan Reilly. Bishakh’s new Xeric-winning book Angel had a nice little buzz about it, but again, not too much in the way of sales. I didn’t do much walking around as I was helping indymag run the table, but I did get a chance to see Lauren Weinstein’s multimedia slideshow, which is always a hoot. She makes it a full theatrical experience, and y’all should check it out when she performs with Bob Sikoryak’s “Carousel” series. I also said hi to Seth, who was a special guest of the Con, and gave him a copy of Hours, which he seemed pleased to receive. Other highlights were scoring copies of Max Estes’s new book Hello Again from Top Shelf, Justin Hall’s True Travel Tales #4 and his mini Tsunami!, trading with Jason Shiga for a copy of Fleep, ditto with alibi_shop for An Inside Job #1, and getting Bishakh’s pre-Xeric mini, Angel, and Chris Juricich’s Tokyo Days. I also traded with Lauren McCubbin for an issue of Kitchen Sink, and I used the down time at the table to laugh my way through Graham Annable’s Stickleback and the new Hickee anthology.

My impression was that it wasn’t only Alternative that was hurting for business; my informal poll of other creators — and just looking around the convention floor — confirmed the low-density crowds. Top sellers seemed to be cute self-made artists books, cute T-shirts, and cute posters & paraphernalia. Seems that that the savvy Frisco crowds already had their new graphic novels/comics and were looking for unique and funky art objects. Can’t blame them — if you can get your new book at a fine local comic store like Comics Experience or Comic Relief, why wait ’til the con comes to town?

Sin City’s Sins, Sans Regrets


The less said about the Sin City advance screening the better. I enjoyed the first half-hour or so (most of the Marv storyline) purely on aesthetic levels — they really did bring the comic’s script and art to cinematic life — but by the end I felt like I had been bludgeoned and tortured. It reminded me why I stopped reading, and eventually got rid of, my Sin City comics (except for the original GN).

Going back to the original series, I find so much more to like than its filmic transmutation. The themes and content still leave me yawning, but the art is truly transcendent, unique to itself and much more sophisticated than memory alone represents it. Unfortunately, what started out as a fairly original homage to pulp novels became a pastiche of itself, Miller endlessly repeating himself and his sick themes of male angst. So boring! And what’s the deal with all the repeated castrations? The little Catholic schoolboy hitting his wee-wee ’cause he whacked off too much the night before? Yeeesh.

My mood was blue about the state of our culture as I left the theatre and it wasn’t helped when I found myself walking next to a fallen light from the fairly recent past. I don’t want to name him here for fear of embarrassment, but suffice it to say that he was a well-respected if not particularly virtuosic inker who worked with everybody from Miller to Byrne, Romita Jr. to Infantino, Marshall Rogers to Klaus Janson. Like I said, he was a loyal worker, dutifully putting in his stint in the assembly line that was mainstream comics.