I put the comics before the movies, don't worry.

*Tom Spurgeon, as part of his weeklong quest to summon eight interesting bits of comics news for 2005, brings up a really excellent point in his ‘Catching Up to Manga’ entry:

I'm also interested to see if a used-book pricing structure for such books blossoms and becomes the norm. Such books could appeal to a reading public that doesn't have money to invest in the object as well as the story, and make it easier for the rest of us to find what we like even if we are a little late in sorting things out.”

Oh, I’m not just interested, I’m benefiting! I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had cruising around the internet, picking up nice deals on older manga that I’d missed in the past. Even rarer tomes, like the 1988 Catalan Communications compilation of Yoshihiro Tatsuiti works, Good-Bye and Other Stories, can be had for just over ten bucks, and that’s after shipping (speaking of which, get ready for a nice compare-contrast with D&Q’s upcoming Tatsuiti book The Push Man & Other Stories, once I get a hold of it, since there’s going to be some overlap between them). Old issues of Pulp are dirt cheap (if you can find 'em), considering that they’re anthologies, and there’s a ton of recommendations in there for future searches. Earlier collections, lovely work like Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5 and the excellent Comics Underground Japan can be had for around half their original prices, usually in excellent condition. You just need to check out the used sections of Amazon, plus Half.com and Bookfinder and the like; there’s a whole world of good, cheap, used manga out there, largely free of the pestilence of speculation. Truly, the future is now!

The Brothers Grimm (obviously not comics)

A pretty decent movie; it’s not Terry Gilliam’s best, and it bears some visible scars from its famously (considering who's directing, maybe that should be consummately) torturous, gap-laden production, during which Gilliam managed to shoot an entirely separate film (the upcoming Tideland), but it’s an able enough campaign in the director’s never-ending war to bring a little more class to commercial pop filmmaking.

Gilliam has a short interview in the new Entertainment Weekly; it’s good for some bitchy critiques of recent summer films (on War of the Worlds: “…Spielberg is a man who makes brilliant scenes but can’t make a movie anymore”; on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “…started brilliantly and Johnny is terrific - but he‘s all on his own. There‘s nobody around him, just people standing behind him looking at beautiful sets.”), though I expect most of Gilliam’s criticisms of other filmmakers can be doubled back upon him - disjointed stretches of miraculous ability sometimes fail to cohere, and certainly the main performances sort of get lost in all the scenery. It’s got the director’s signature stamp, though, even if it seems more apt to play toward the summer blockbuster bleachers than average.

I’ve heard that Gilliam didn’t care for the script, which he likened unfavorably to The Mummy (that’s the more recent franchise, of course); significant re-writes were allegedly performed on the fly, and the final picture does indeed seem to be thoroughly infused with Gilliam’s pet themes, while retaining a certain loud, garish CG beastie videogame aesthetic. Gilliam didn’t win every battle: his original pick for lead actress (Samantha Morton) was vetoed, and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini was fired from above Gilliam’s head mid-shoot, both events masterminded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who only became attached to the film themselves when MGM abruptly pulled out of financing. Money was obviously an issue to everyone, and I don’t know how well things will ultimately pan out in that regard: the 10:00 PM opening night show I attended played before a theater at barely 1/6 capacity. And this movie cost $80 million before advertising. I’m not predicting financial success.

But it’s not bad, not nearly the mess that many critics are claiming it is (do note that nearly every mainstream reviewer and film pundit in the country hated Gilliam’s last film, 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which has since undergone quite an impressive critical reevaluation). Certainly Gilliam’s pet theme of ‘imagination v. reason’ is strong throughout, incarnated in the title duo - when they were boys, bespectacled dreamer Jacob Grimm traded the family’s cow for magic beans instead of cash for medicine, a poor business decision that resulted in his younger sister’s horrid death. Brother Wilhelm never quite got over it, and the friction between the two follows them into their adult careers as traveling demon-buster charlatans, Wilhelm providing the charm and cunning to set up local rubes, and Jacob mustering his best storytelling creativity to concoct ‘spirits’ for the team to ‘vanquish’ - for money, of course. And if you haven’t already puzzled out that the brothers will be forced to confront real supernatural forces at some point, welcome to your first movie.

Gilliam also extends his theme to fit the villains. On the side of Reason is Gilliam regular Jonathan Pryce, playing a haughty French military officer, living it up in occupied Germany (where the action takes place). Pryce knows that there’s a logical (and doubtlessly subversive) explanation behind the disappearances of young girls in a nearby town, so he captures the Grimms and sends them out to investigate under the threat of death, figuring that it’ll take a pair of con-men to crack a con-game. Gilliam almost seems more comfortable with Pryce on the screen, loading his scenes with background detail and creative accoutrements (note the chamber orchestra that follows Pryce around everywhere - into the dungeons, or even outside, and I loved how Pryce's aide keeps handing him fresh pistols to fire after he's shot them only once).

Actually, that’s the real strength of the film - the little details, the small characters. The performances among the supporting cast are glowing with typical Gilliam-directed exuberance; a mean old village witch is utterly perfect, and surely no man was born more ready to appear in a Terry Gilliam film than Mackenzie Cook, aka Gareth of The Office fame. Only when such characters are used too much, like Peter Stormare’s scenery-chomping Italian torturer, do they begin to grate. Heath Ledger also turn in an entertainingly twitchy, nervous performance as Jacob; given Gilliam’s natural predilection to favor the imaginative, it’s maybe unsurprising that Matt Damon, as the grounded Wilhelm, doesn’t have quite as many interesting things to do.

And accordingly, the Irrational side of the villainous equation quickly becomes dominant, as the Grimms venture into the long-suffering village. The film also grows less choppy once Gilliam can get down to the magical details; references are made to many popular tales, and scary monsters come and go. There’s a wonderful sequence in which a possessed horse spews cobwebs from its mouth to entrap a young girl, which it then devours whole, spiriting her away in its engorged belly as the Grimms give chase. But editing scars remain: a subplot involving a beautiful local huntswoman (Lena Headey, in an initially promising role which swiftly devolves into typical girl-in-distress malarkey) and her long-lost father goes absolutely nowhere, and the catchy suggestion that the Grimms might have to reach back to the dank, violent, folklore origins of their much-collected tales proves to be only that - a suggestion. The notion of one particular villain collecting stories as magical spells is a nice one, though, and the film’s climax, while utterly nonsensical from a storytelling point of view, does subscribe to a tempting dream-logic, Gilliam again celebrating the success of unrefined imagination.

‘Unrefined’ is a good term for The Brothers Grimm - even the special effects seem to be oddly rushed, vaguely incomplete, and the plot isn’t exactly a miracle of structural rigor. But it has such neat moments, like a wicked queen gently blowing toward her tower window, a puff of air that grows to a hurricane gale, knocking away a whole regiment of French troops. That’s the sort of thing you ought to see this film for; you need to buy Gilliam’s preference for ideas and beauty and absurd fun over total cohesion. And even if this particular bowl of punch has been spiked with scary monsters jumping out and making LOUD NOISES and whipcrack-edited action scenes and the like, it’s still a very Gilliam production, which I assume most of his fans have been waiting seven years for above all else.

And just think - it’ll only be a few short months before the next one!