Archive for the ‘Graphic Novels’ Category

“Did you see the goddamn cast list?  It reminds me a bit of those 70’s films like The Towering Inferno, that had everyone you wanted to see in a film in them, all at once.  Red is a bit like that, only with more automatic weapons…  I mean if you don’t want to see Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, I’m not sure I want to know you.” – Warren Ellis (Writer of the graphic novel Red)

Two things right off the bat.  One, I did not see either of the films from this summer most often mentioned in comparison to Red, so I will not be able to say how they stack-up (DVD release dates: The Expendables comes out on Nov. 23rd, Knight and Day a week later on Nov. 30th).  Second, Red was a much more entertaining movie than Whiteout in my comics turned into films double feature.

“Consider Red as a short story being adapted into film.” – Warren Ellis

Ellis’ story has a fairly straightforward plot.  Paul Moses is a retired assassin from the C.I.A. – imagine Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino as a retired government killer.  The C.I.A. decides he is dangerous and needs to be eliminated.  The Company’s attempts to “retire” him allows Moses to get back in the game and show why he is the “best killer on earth.”  After Moses kills a countless number of faceless agents, we get a final showdown at the C.I.A. headquarters.  The end.  All accomplished in a tidy, economical 66 pages.  The story fits right in the “return of the retired operative” canon.  Cully Hamner’s artwork really shines and drives the narrative along beautifully. 

“The book we did had four characters… It would translate into maybe thirty minutes of screen time.” – Cully Hamner  (Artist for the graphic novel Red)

“Red – the book is something of a chamber piece.”  – Warren Ellis

The Hoebner Brothers’ screenplay for Red starts with the same basic premise as the book.  In the film,  we have Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) as the retired C.I.A. assassin.  He lives alone and his sole active relationship is on the phone with a low-level Agency clerk who deals with his pension.  And that is where the similarities to the book end.  The film is much more expansive (each of the new location opens with a gaudy, touristy postcards of the new city).  There are a lot of new characters in the film.  The screenwriters have also altered the tone from the book’s dark story to one that is much lighter and funnier one.  Red is an example of an increasingly popular genre, the action/comedy – it’s part buddy movie, part romantic comedy.  Red brings us the Bruce Willis of Die Hard and Moonlighting

In addition to Willis, we have an Oceans 11 level all-star cast.  Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Rebecca Pidgeon, James Remar, and Karl Urban all take their turns with the scripted banter.  Malkovich is the conspiracy nut (just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get him).  Cox plays the retired KGB agent (so there is plenty of vodka drinking and fluffy furs to wear).  Mirren gets to keep her clothes on as retired MI6.  Mary-Louise Parker is her usual goofy, wide-eyed self as the love interest.  And didn’t Richard Dreyfuss already play Dick Cheney?

“Perhaps there really is a new phase in Hollywood: a reminder that not only can our older generation still beat the blood out of us, but also that they’ve got money to spend.” – Warren Ellis

The above quote came from a great piece, “Action Heroes: Retirement is for wimps”  that Ellis wrote for The Guardian – read it here.  The audience that I saw Red with could have compared their AARP discounts with the film’s cast.  That is who this film is designed for and they loved every moment of this goofy, road-trip action/comedy.  Nothing much happens, the sum is much less than the parts, and it’s not very good.  But that is okay–it’s harmless, silly fun.  And sometimes that is enough. 



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“Steve and I did a graphic novel, and the goal was to tell a really good story in that format.  Somebody comes along and said ‘We will pay you to make this movie.’  We were like, ‘Thank you!  Okay!’… they had my blessing.” – Greg Rucka on having Whiteout adapted for the screen

“The coldest thriller ever made.” – Joel Silver (Producer of Whiteout)

“Frankly, I shouldn’t have approval because I don’t make movies.  I make comics and novels.” – Greg Rucka

Maybe he should have.  Whiteout had to have been one of the worst reviewed films of 2009 (my favorite line came courtesy of Anthony Quinn of The Independent: “we seem to be watching people fight inside a snow globe”).  An Antarctica-based thriller starring Kate Beckinsale, the film was based on the graphic novel written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Lieber.  The story follows U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko as she investigates a murder.

This project has been kicking around for a number of years.  At one time, the role of Carrie Stetko was to have been played by Reese Witherspoon (who, in some ways, would have been an interesting casting choice).  By the time the film was actually made, Stetko was played by Kate Beckinsale.  No matter how many vampire films Beckinsale makes with her husband Len Wiseman (Underworld), for me she will always be Flora Post from the British made-for-TV movie, Cold Comfort Farm.  Gabriel Macht plays the UN investigator Pryce as the obligatory meat-stick to Beckinsale’s Stetko.  Poor Tom Skerrit as Doc Fury is the one face in the cast which looks like it might have spent any time in weather below 72 degrees.

The film was directed by Dominic Sena – a Propaganda Films alum (more along the lines of Michael Bay than David Fincher).  Sena is perhaps better suited to the short form of music video and commercials than the feature film.  Having previously directed Gone in 60 Seconds and Swordfish, Sena’s poor Hollywood track record is unlikely to be helped by the much delayed release of the Nicholas Cage Black Death supernatural thriller Season of the Witch this January.

While the story and the storytelling don’t break any new narrative ground, it is in the relationships with and the details of the environment that the graphic novel really takes hold.  Relationships and details are not of any priority to the film and it suffers for it.  One of the biggest differences between Carrie Stetko in the book versus in the movie is her relationship with her environment.  The book Carrie has been banished to the pole and has made the best of it.  She has made herself comfortable.  She respects the dangers that the world holds.  In the film version, Carrie has come to Antarctica to hide from her past and herself.  For her, the environment is a constant threat.  And she can’t wait to leave. 

“The other big difference is one of space…[comics] are 22 pages long and that’s almost universally final.  To execute a story well, therefore, that space has to be used as efficiently and deftly as possible… it’s almost like playing a game of chess.” – Greg Rucka on the difference in writing for comics vs novels

I don’t have a lot of experience reading graphic novels – I think the last one I read was Art Spiegelman’s Maus.  It is nice to read source material (usually a book) before seeing a film, and in this case it was doubly so.  The graphic novel delivers a solid detective story that is nowhere to be found in the movie.  Whiteout was Greg Rucka’s first comic.  Although a published novelist at the time, Rucka really found his niche in the world of comics.  Whiteout was nominated for four Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards , and since then his career in comics has soared.

As adapated by the Hoeber Brothers (hopefully they had better luck with their adaptation of  Warren Ellis’ Red – now playing in theatres), the film is stuffed with just about every action/thriller cliche you can imagine.  Structured as a who-done-it, Whiteout is a by-the-numbers thriller.  While Stetko races-against-time to solve the murders before the big storm hits, the film spools out one superfluous moment after another.   For example, we have Beckinsale in a gratititous shower scene (not that you really see anything), multiple forensic scenes (thanks CSI), and flashbacks galore.  Even the musical score is pure Hollywood hocum.  And the list goes on.  While I agree with the critics that this film was not very good, there are a lot of thrillers like this one that have not recieved nearly as chilly a reception.  If you really want to see peril in the snow,  check out Howard Hawks’ original or John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing or maybe Stanley Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s The Shining.

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