Sunday, October 30, 2005

New comics 10/26

The Book of Lost Souls #1 (J. Michael Straczynski/Colleen Doran, Marvel/Icon)
I've been sort of hit and miss on Straczynski's work in the past; I really enjoyed the Midnight Nation series he did with Gary Frank for Top Cow (in no small part because I love Frank's art) and I liked the first few issues of Supreme Power, although I thought it was sort of slow and stopped picking it up (I'll probably read it in trade at some point). But his recent Icon one-shot Dream Police was awful, and I've never had any interest in his mainstream Marvel work. This is a new creator-owned ongoing series, with some very similar themes to Midnight Nation, and lovely artwork by the versatile Doran. Like Straczynski's other work, it's very slow, so it's hard to get a sense from this issue what the series is even really about. However, it's got the same forces of good and evil battling for the soul of a brooding protagonist that Midnight Nation had, and a wisecracking cat to boot, so I'll stick around for a little while and see if things pick up.

Jack Cross #3 (Warren Ellis/Gary Erskine, DC)
After three issues, I definitely think this is the weakest of the new creator-owned series that Ellis has launched recently. Especially in light of how excellent Fell is, this just comes off as sort of uninspired. I also remain baffled at Ellis's decision to forego sound effects in an action book. This issue has a lengthy fight scene that just plays very stiffly without any accompanying "bam"s or "pow"s, which people often think of as silly but generally effectively convey kinetic movement in a static medium. I'll keep reading, because the protagonist could be interesting, and the twist at the end of this issue sets up an intriguing conflict that explores his dual nature, but I'm not all that excited about it.

Loveless #1 (Brian Azzarello/Marcelo Frusin, DC/Vertigo)
I only read this in a black and white preview from DC, and I'm glad I didn't spend the money to buy the actual comic. I don't think I've read any of Azzarello's stuff before, but 100 Bullets always seemed like something I might like. This, however, isn't all that great. It was really hard to follow (I had to read it twice to get a rudimentary sense of the plot) and seemed constructed out of a bunch of Western genre cliches, and the main character was distasteful and unlikable. The reveal at the end was sort of interesting, but not enough to make me want to read another issue.

Revelations #3 (Paul Jenkins/Humberto Ramos, Dark Horse)
Not much new to say: Still find this an intriguing mystery, still find Ramos's art annoying. I've gotten good at not paying attention to the fact that all the characters look like children with growth hormone problems, but there is also some confusing storytelling in one sequence in this issue. Even so, the writing remains interesting, and this is probably the best thing I've read from Jenkins since the original Sentry mini-series.

Silent Dragon #4 (Andy Diggle/Leinil Yu, DC/Wildstorm)
Once again, a fun and exciting issue with great Yu art, and some very inventive character designs. The plot is turning into your standard revenge thriller, but Diggle throws in enough clever sci-fi elements and snappy dialogue to make it seem new. And every panel of Yu's art only reminds me of how disappointed I am that he's off to Marvel to draw Hulk and Wolverine, about which I do have some thoughts coming soon, I swear.

Young Avengers #8 (Allan Heinberg/Andrea DiVito, Marvel)
Christopher Priest fans who read The Crew (all two of us) will be happy to see that Heinberg picks up on continuity elements from that series in this issue. Like Runaways, this book takes advantage of its characters not being established icons to really mess with the status quo regularly, and it adds greatly to the sense of excitement and unpredictability of reading it. I am always excited to see what Heinberg will do next, and that's the most appealing thing about serialized storytelling (something that gets lost in the pacing-for-the-trade world). Once again, DiVito's art is fine but sort of generic (sometimes his figures even look a little like Rob Liefeld's work), and I'll be pleased to see Jim Cheung return next issue.

Also out this week: Noble Causes #14, but my local store never got #13 for some reason, so I'm waiting for that to show up before reading them both.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Movies opening this week

Saw II (Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Tobin Bell, Franky G, dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I have a feeling we are going to be stuck with this franchise for a while. I guess it could be worse - this could be The Butterfly Effect 2. Oh, wait. Wide release

Separate Lies (Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Rupert Everett, dir. Julian Fellowes)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
It's always annoying when a movie works really well until the end just goes off the rails. In this case, the last 15 minutes or so don't ruin the movie, but they detract from the overall tightness of the plot and the theme, and I came out feeling a little disappointed, rather than unreservedly impressed. But this is still a solid drama with very good performances, and the very end sets things back on the right track. Opened limited Sep. 16; in Las Vegas this week

The Weather Man (Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, dir. Gore Verbinski)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
The more I reflect on this one, the more I like it. I might even bump the rating up to four stars if I wrote the review right now. Yes, it's sort of slick and Hollywood-y, but it doesn't shy away from being dark and pessimistic, and I think it, in its own quiet way, it says something substantial about accepting who you are, even if your life is completely mediocre. This is a movie about learning to settle, and why that's actually not a bad thing, and I think it's a very interesting position to advocate. Worth seeing; don't let the negative reviews dissuade you. Wide release

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Weekend viewing

Coal Miner's Daughter (Michael Apted, 1980)
To give you an idea of the lag time between when I put a movie in my Netflix queue and when I finally get around to watching it, I added this to the queue after watching Robert Altman's 3 Women back in December and deciding that I really needed to watch more movies with the great Sissy Spacek. My Spacek mini-festival gets underway with this Oscar-winning performance in a pretty standard biopic about country singer Loretta Lynn. Standard doesn't mean bad, though, and like a lot of biopics, this succeeds thanks to the strong performances, both from Spacek and from Tommy Lee Jones as Lynn's husband. It does seem at times to be a little rosy, only briefly getting into any sort of real trouble in Lynn's life toward the end before backing off and then showing her happy and smiling at the close of the movie. It's actually sort of refreshing to see a movie about someone who, on the whole, had a good life, and the lack of extreme tragedy doesn't make the film less watchable or entertaining. Spacek is, of course, fantastic, and her singing is pretty damn good, too.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
My brother, who is quite the film buff himself and possibly more well-versed than I am in older films, brought this over for us to watch. I have to admit, I had only seen two silent films prior to this one: Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Abel Gance's Napoleon, which I may or may not have walked out of somewhere around hour three (that I don't remember is a sign of how closely I paid attention). Thankfully, this was not four hours long, and it was fairly riveting, especially the unearthly lead performance by Maria Falconetti. Shot almost entirely in close-ups, this is an intense and sort of creepy movie, with a very disconcerting feel thanks to the almost complete lack of master shots. I found it interesting how closely the plot paralleled passion plays (my knowledge of which comes almost exclusively from seeing The Passion of the Christ), and the way in which Dreyer is clearly comparing Joan to Christ, in whose name she was tortured and ultimately murdered. Fairly heady stuff for 1928.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

New comics 10/19

Astro City: The Dark Age #4 (Kurt Busiek/Brent Anderson, DC/Wildstorm)
The first book of Busiek's four-part epic wraps up, and it really does tell a complete story, which is nice. This could be a completely self-contained mini-series and it would be a satisfying read, with a clever ending and some interesting takes on the relationship between heroes and those they save. At the same time, it clearly whets your appetite for more, and promises the full story to be a sprawling and definitive take on the dark underbelly of superheroes.

Runaways #9 (Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona, Marvel)
Vaughan connects the characters to the wider Marvel universe with guest stars Cloak and Dagger and the New Avengers, picks up on continuity from the previous volume and explores the characters' relationships further. That's pretty impressive for one issue. While I still think that the exit of Karolina was hasty, Vaughan doesn't forget about it, and with it simmering in the background I'm sure it'll become important again soon. As with Excelsior, Vaughan takes underused characters (in this case Cloak and Dagger) and makes them interesting and exciting, making this the perfect series to explore the little-seen corners of the Marvel universe.

She-Hulk Vol. 2 #1 (Dan Slott/Juan Bobillo, Marvel)
I had been planning to buy the second collection of the first volume of this series, but never got around to it. Still, this was perfectly easy to follow, thanks in part to that lost comic book tradition, the footnote. Slott does a good job of bringing new (or new-ish, like me) readers up to speed, and once again puts on a really fun balance of characterization and continuity. He utilizes not only events in the last volume of She-Hulk, but also recent developments in New Avengers and some characters from Young Avengers, to make for a book firmly steeped in the Marvel universe. It's also perfectly accessible and continues exploring the absurdity of superhuman law in a light and entertaining way. The only thing that annoyed me was Slott's meta-commentary on comics and trade paperbacks, which seemed out of place and sort of petty. Otherwise, a solid start to a new and hopefully more successful outing. Now I'll have to finally pick up that second trade.

The Surrogates #2 (Robert Venditti/Brett Weldele, Top Shelf)
This is shaping up to be a really interesting series, with an old-fashioned murder mystery woven into the sci-fi high concept. I like both elements. Venditti has created a rich futuristic world with a lot of potential for conflict, and he's set up interesting relationships among the characters. Weldele's sketchy line art, which reminds me a lot of Ben Templesmith, adds to the surreal nature of the story. Good stuff.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Movies opening this week

Chaos (Kevin Gage, Maya Barovich, Chantal Degroat, dir. David DeFalco)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This is only playing a total of four times over the next two weeks in Vegas, but I thought it was interesting to note, and I did not only a review but also an interview with the director. This is a terrible movie, but it's really no worse than dozens of other straight-to-video horror movies that come out every month. What impresses me about this film is the way that the marketing campaign has so effectively built it up to be far more than it is, with their spin about "education," their well-designed website and, most notably, the feud between the filmmakers and Roger Ebert, who gave the film a savage review, and then responded point-by-point to the filmmakers' open letter disagreeing with his review. All the subsequent attention (including, hey, my interview) has come about as a result of that exchange. A columnist in Canada's Globe and Mail takes the Chaos filmmakers to task without even having seen the movie, the sure sign that the marketing has eclipsed the product. Which, of course, is best, since the product is completely worthless.

Hellbent (Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Hank Harris, dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
A very different horror movie from Chaos, but also pretty firmly in the straight-to-video-quality camp. Other than its "Wow! Gay people! In a horror movie!" angle, this is a predictable and perfectly competent slasher movie with passable acting, some okay scares and an anemic storyline. It's nice to see that gay people are becoming so accepted in movies that not every film about homosexuality has to be a Big Statement, but that still makes this more of a historical curiosity than a movie worth seeing. Opened limited Sep. 16; in Las Vegas this week

North Country (Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, dir. Niki Caro)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Good old Oscar bait. This is a sturdy but predictable Hollywood melodrama that takes on social injustice in a typically award-winning fashion. It doesn't come off as overly cynical, though, and even if it's a bit manipulative, I still think it's well-constucted and genuine, and it's full of good performances. You probably have to be receptive to a little sentimentality, but if you appreciate inspirational true stories, this does exactly what you want it to. Wide release

Monday, October 17, 2005

A couple of cool projects

These are endeavors that I really admire and would love to undertake myself but, sadly, probably would never have enough time for.

Over at the Slant Magazine blog, Ed Gonzalez is running through his top ten films from every year essentially since the beginning of cinema, jumping around for variety (the most recent entry is 1948). The fact that not only has he seen ten movies from each year, but has also seen enough to rank them with conviction (and include a few honorable mentions) is extraordinary to me. I believe he's only a couple of years older than I am, too, which means I have a daunting amount of catching up to do (something that I've known ever since starting to work as a movie critic). To his credit, Gonzalez is also listing "blind spots" from each year (notable films that he hasn't seen), allowing me to grant that he's still human and not some robotic movie-watching machine.

And then there's this blog, pointed out by the Blogger home page, in which a film buff and aspiring filmmaker watches one movie a day for three months. He's come up with an excellent balance of classics, obscure cult movies and new releases, and his reviews are detailed, well-written and well-observed. I've aspired over the last few summers, in the TV off-season, to watching a movie a day, and it's never quite worked out. With all the movies I see to review, I'm watching 3-5 movies a week anyway, but they are all new releases and many are, shall we say, less than notable. I keep filling my Netflix queue with interesting movies that I want to see, but the queue just gets longer and my time gets shorter, and I suppose I'll be on my deathbed with a long list of movies I never got around to watching. Isn't that a pleasant thought?

In other news, there were four people at my first screening for the Vegas Valley Book Festival tonight, and god bless all of them.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New comics 10/12

Cable & Deadpool #21 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
When the "next issue" blurb promises that the plot will start to make sense soon, you know you've got a problem. Nicieza's always had a weakness for these convoluted plot devices that end up being so far beside the point of the story he's trying to tell that they're almost irrelevant, and just because he makes tongue-in-cheek commentary about how confusing it all is doesn't excuse the fact that sometimes his plotting is incomprehensible. The dialogue is still fun, and it's nice to see Luke Cage and Iron Fist back in action together as they also acknowledge what Cage has been up to in New Avengers, but my patience is growing thin with the seriously impenetrable plotting.

Ex Machina #15 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
A nice switching of gears with this new storyline, which takes Mitchell out of New York and on the road, and deals with some issues from his past. This is low on political content for once, but that's fine since it ends with a nice surprise and looks like it's going to explore some new avenues in Mitchell's life and history.

Fables #42 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham, DC/Vertigo)
Willingham starts a new arc dealing with Middle Eastern fables coming to Fabletown, and he treads some interesting waters, politically speaking, laying it all on the line with regards to his portrayal of the Middle Eastern characters as barbaric, intolerant and xenophobic. Now, I know from interviewing him that Willingham is a political conservative, but I don't necessarily see this as an effort to push an agenda. I think it's obvious that the European fables and the Middle Eastern fables would have very different world views, and to pretend that they'd all just get along would be sort of disingenuous. The differing viewpoints of the sets of characters set up an interesting conflict that is miles away from the focus of the last few issues, and makes for a refreshing change. And Willingham doesn't skimp on developing ongoing subplots with characters we've already come to know and love, including a surprise at the end of the issue with Beauty and Prince Charming. At the same time, I think that some people may see this story as Willingham's effort to show how the culture of Islam is inherently hostile to the West, and that may come off as reactionary or racist. I don't have a problem with Willingham advancing his political views in the pages of this book, nor do I think he'll throw his storytelling skills out the window to make his points, but I do find it interesting that he's just jumped right into this quagmire with both feet.

Gravity #5 (Sean McKeever/Mike Norton, Marvel)
Although I got a little bored around the middle of this series, overall it turned out to be a very well-executed superhero story, and McKeever wraps things up nicely in a way that doesn't just trot out familiar cliches but still feels like a very archetypal superhero origin story. He tackles not only the idea of what it takes to be a hero, but also the idea of what it takes to be a hero in a world where there are already so many other heroes, something that only now with all its years of history is the Marvel universe able to address. I think sales on this series have been pretty weak, but I'd love to see more of Gravity's adventures, or even a team-up with some other young heroes in the pages of a new New Warriors series (either by McKeever or Zeb Wells, who's been handling the Warriors well lately). That doesn't seem too likely, though.

House of M #7 (Brian Michael Bendis/Olivier Coipel, Marvel)
Holy shit! Something happens! And it's sort of unexpected! Or maybe I just hadn't been paying enough attention, but I thought the revelation that Quicksilver was behind the Scarlet Witch's reality-warping was a bit of a surprise and a nice thematic touch. Somewhere in here is an interesting story about the dysfunctional dynamics of Magneto's family, but it's all just being used to further an editorial agenda and not tell a story, and it's not even an agenda that interests me. This issue has the Scarlet Witch declaring "No more mutants!" and the result of this storyline (as has been predicted for months) will be drastically reducing the number of mutants in the Marvel universe. I'm not sure I needed to buy eight overpriced issues of this incredibly padded story to get to that simple result, but whatever. What bothers me more is this mentality that Joe Quesada has explained that this is necessary to "fix" the Marvel universe, that having all these mutants around is a bad thing and what's really needed is to go back to the way things were 30 years ago. His logic is specious (as Paul O'Brien helpfully elucidates), and I hate this current trend of reversing any evolution that has come along in the past decade or two with regards to superhero universes (DC is doing the same thing with Infinite Crisis, which I will not be buying). Grant Morrison did a lot of really interesting stuff with the idea that mutants were a widespread minority, and books like District X and Muties and Madrox explored, to varying degrees of success, the evolution of mutant culture. The idea of this superpowered minority that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced 40 years ago has grown and changed in the way a real minority group might, and to hit a big reset button to send it back to the start just seems to me reactionary, misguided and, frankly, desperate, like an admission that they don't know how to handle these new ideas and thus have to go back to the status quo from when the characters were first introduced. It's just another example of how superhero comics are resistant to change, so it shouldn't really surprise me, but nevertheless, I am annoyed. Plus the story sucks.

The Middle Man #3 (Javier Grillo-Marxuach/Les McClaine, Viper)
It's still odd to me that this is a four-issue mini-series, since there's no overarching story. As an ongoing, this makes a fine third issue, but I have no idea how things are going to wrap up satisfactorily next issue. Still, fun dialogue, eye-catching, kinetic art, and if it were an ongoing, I'd keep picking it up.

Y the Last Man #38 (Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra, DC/Vertigo)
Nothing quite compares to last issue's top-notch cliffhanger, but one thing that Vaughan always does best is takes those shock moments and really deals with their consequences, so that's what this issue is all about. I love how this book is continually evolving, and it looks like this storyline will be opening up all sorts of new avenues for future issues.

Am I Jamie Kennedy's next victim?

I received an e-mail earlier this week from a Michael Addis, who's making a documentary about Jamie Kennedy called Heckler. According to Addis, he's following Kennedy on his current stand-up comedy tour, documenting both the comedian's live performances and the way he's dealt with negative criticism about his work. He asked if I'd be willing to do a short on-camera interview for the movie about the role of the critic, while Kennedy is in town playing two shows at Harrah's. I assume Addis contacted me because of my extremely negative review of Malibu's Most Wanted, in which I compared Kennedy to Pauly Shore (Addis, perhaps not coincidentally, was a producer on Shore's recent reality show Minding the Store).

I am always happy to whore myself out for free publicity, so at first I jumped at the chance to appear. I still plan to do it, but, remembering Kennedy's old WB hidden camera show, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, I'm starting to wonder if I and other critics who agree to appear are going to become the butts of jokes. I've seen enough episodes of The Daily Show to know how easy it is to use interview footage to mock someone. It's clear to me that Addis is a legitimate filmmaker, and a post on the official message board of Kennedy's site indicates that a documentary really is being made, so that's encouraging. And as long as I'm willing to laugh at myself, I suppose there's no harm in opening up to the risk of ridicule. It couldn't be much worse than having to sit through another Jamie Kennedy movie.

(Of course, since I e-mailed Addis several days ago agreeing to appear in the movie as long as it wasn't a prank, I've yet to hear back from him. Hmmmm.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Movies opening this week

Domino (Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Lucy Liu, dir. Tony Scott)
I expected nothing less than a total train wreck from this, and it delivered. I don't know what Tony Scott's problem is lately that makes him think that cutting eight times a second and treating every frame with overexposure or annoying filters or special effects is a good idea. This movie looks exactly like Man on Fire, which is to say that it appears to have been directed by a 12-year-old with ADD. At least this has a sort of po-mo metafictional story that could theoretically be served by such an approach, unlike Man on Fire's straightforward revenge tale. I think the idea of taking a real person (bounty hunter Domino Harvey) and building a fictional story around them is interesting, and this movie could have been a really smart examination of the intersection between fact and fiction, and the way that people create myths about themselves to the point where even they don't know what's true and what's not. My friend pointed out after the screening that Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a movie that succeeded in this way, so that you didn't mind that much of what was in the movie probably never really happened, since it all contributed to the portrait of Chuck Barris's mental state, the way he saw himself and the way he wanted others to see him. I think it's possible that if screenwriter Richard Kelly (the writer-director of Donnie Darko) had directed as well, it could have gone far enough in the surreal direction to really make a comment on personal and media-created myths. Instead it's just another annoyingly convoluted heist thriller that doesn't have the advantage of being either true or interesting. And it hurts your eyes to watch it. Wide release

Elizabethtown (Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, dir. Cameron Crowe)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I sort of feel sorry for Cameron Crowe, because this movie is obviously very personal for him, and it's been getting some really bad reviews, including some that I think are harsher than necessary. This is not a great film, and it doesn't stack up to most of Crowe's previous work (although anything is better than Vanilla Sky), but it has a lot of really good moments that work well and the romance at the heart of it is a success, I think. It just has way too much other stuff that doesn't work at all. I think this movie could have used a complete overhaul at the script stage, taking out maybe a third of the story and fashioning it into a leaner, more focused (and thus more affecting) film. Even so, I still kind of like it. Maybe I identify with Cameron Crowe too much. Wide release

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Weekend viewing

The Harder They Fall (Mark Robson, 1956)
The last of the trio of movies I'll be discussing at my film series for the Vegas Valley Book Festival (October 17-19 at 7 p.m. at the Winchester Cultural Center! Come watch me make a fool of myself!) and the one I enjoyed the most, mainly because it wasn't about a boxer. The main character is instead a washed-up sports reporter (played by Humphrey Bogart in his last role) who gets involved in the corrupt management of a naive South American fighter. It's dark and cynical, although it does have that redemption at the end, and is more about betrayal and deceit than it is about boxing (there are only a couple of fights that are shown at any length). I still think boxing movies are not my cup of tea, but we'll see if I can find something intelligent to say to make up for that fact at the screenings.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New comics 10/5

Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan #1 (Zeb Wells/Seth Fisher, Marvel)
I've seen samples of Fisher's art on projects he's done for DC with Green Lantern and Batman, and it's always looked really impressive and unique, but I've never picked up any of the comics. I like Wells's writing on the new New Warriors series, so I figured this was worth a shot. The story is mostly just an excuse for Fisher to draw really weird creatures, but his art is incredibly detailed and amazingly creative, and it's worth the price just to look at it. Wells does glance off of some interesting themes, including tying the decline of giant monster comics and the concomitant rise of superhero comics to the post-WWII period in Japan, and actually making it work as an allegory for East/West relations. But mostly it's about big, strange monsters, and it does a good job with that. On the other hand, Paul O'Brien makes a good point about the price and the obtrusive ads. It might be best to wait for the trade, although since I've already bought one issue of four, I'll probably just buy the rest.

Fell #2 (Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith, Image)
Another excellent issue, with a nice done-in-one story with roots in real events, and a continued building of characters. Ellis packs more story into his 16 pages than most comics get in two issues. And the back-pages essay is informative too. Rapidly becoming one of my favorite series.

Powers #13 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
A new story arc, and it's a real mystery, meaning that it's actually sort of confusing and just jumps right into things. It seems like Bendis is putting some of the ongoing issues (Deena's powers, the new Retro Girl, although she's on the cover for some reason) on the backburner for now, which is fine as long as the mystery remains interesting and he gets back to them eventually.

Spellgame #1 (Dan Mishkin/Ramon Perez, Speakeasy)
I admit, I only picked this up on a whim because it involved magic and Las Vegas, but it was a nice little read. I've heard good things about Mishkin's writing but never read any of it before, and I assume Perez is a newcomer. The story was a little disjointed but intriguing enough for me to want to see what happens next (especially the cool cliffhanger), and Perez's art (he does pencils, inks and colors) was pretty eye-catching, although his storytelling was at times confusing. I'll at least pick up one more issue to give it a shot.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Movies opening this week

In Her Shoes (Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Shirley MacLaine, dir. Curtis Hanson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
What saddens me most about this movie is that Curtis Hanson demonstrated such a nuanced understanding of human interaction in Wonder Boys, which I think is sorely underrated, and this time around he just goes for the same faux female empowerment bullshit that mars most movies about women bonding (whether, sadly, they are written/directed by men or women). This is not quite as bad as, say, Something's Gotta Give, but it similarly mistakes a few references to shoes and sisterhood for a deep statement about the ways that women relate to each other, and never earns a single one of the tears that it sheds. Wide release

Proof (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, dir. John Madden)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
As I said to a colleague, this is a wet blanket of a movie. Not horrible, and at times fairly effective, but overall it just kind of sits there lifelessly. And Gwyneth Paltrow really has never given a worse performance. Opened limited Sept. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Thumbsucker (Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kelli Garner, dir. Mike Mills)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Not that this is particularly relevant, but for a very long time I was convinced that this film was directed by R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, rather than graphic artist and music video director Mike Mills. Somewhere in some report on Sundance, I read that it was R.E.M.'s Mills, and in all the reviews I read when the film started to be released, I always wondered why the critics never mentioned Mills' musical background, instead only mentioning his music video directing (which I assumed, erroneously, that he had done for R.E.M.). Thankfully I was finally disabused of this notion before writing my own review, or I would have come off as a moron, much like whoever wrote that Sundance piece that I can no longer recall. Anyway, I really liked this movie despite the fact that it was not directed by a member of R.E.M. (which I think might make for a good movie). Opened limited Sept. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Waiting (Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, Anna Faris, dir. Rob McKittrick)
I will say in my feeble defense that a friend of mine cajoled me into going to this screening, and that it was hard to tell from the trailers whether it would be cleverly vulgar or just vile. It definitely ended up being just vile and repugnant and not even funny in the least, although everyone else at the screening seemed to think it was hilarious. It's a bad rip-off of Office Space (which I think is way overrated anyway) and Clerks, directed like McKittrick has never used a camera before, and full of half-assed characterizations that serve only to get the movie to its next repulsive joke. Clerks was great because it placed its vulgarity in the context of genuine twentysomething ennui; this film gives lip service to that but can't even bother to follow through on the plot's extremely modest ambitions. It also features the odious Ryan Reynolds, who might be my least favorite actor currently working, in all his odious glory, oozing smarm out of every pore and delivering his lines like they're golden gifts from joke-writing gods. The restaurant critic in my office saw this movie because of its food-service connection, and went on at length about how reprehensible it was. He said it should be shown as a training film for al-Qaida. I think that tells you all you need to know. Wide release

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, dir. Nick Park & Steve Box)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I love Wallace and Gromit. I saw The Wrong Trousers in a filmmaking class in high school, and since then I've had a soft spot for them. They are perhaps the only characters in recent years to catch on solely through short films, a lost artform. Now that they finally have a feature, I hope they'll become the superstars they deserve to be. That Animated Feature Oscar is locked up right here. Wide release

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Weekend viewing

Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)
I've been asked to moderate a three-part film series on boxing movies at the Vegas Valley Book Festival on October 17-19 (7 p.m. each night at the Winchester Cultural Center, if you're in town with nothing to do), so I'm watching the movies (which, to be perfectly honest, I'd never heard of before) to prepare and hopefully not come off as completely clueless. They're all about fixed fights, and this one is your typical classy old Hollywood melodrama (with a number of Oscar nominations), about the rise and fall of a boxing champ. It's all well done if predictable, but it didn't really wow me. Honestly, I've never been that fascinated with boxing movies, and they all seem to have very similar plots, which makes it hard for me to get excited about seeing more.

Open Your Eyes (Alejandro Amenabar, 1997)
I did not at all care for Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's remake of this movie, but I like Amenabar so I figured I'd give it a shot anyway. This is indeed better than Vanilla Sky, but since it has the same plot it still suffers from the monumentally stupid ending, which commits one of the cardinal sins of twist endings by basically disregarding everything that's come before it. Still, Amenabar does a better job at setting up the creepiness of the premise, and Penelope Cruz is very good, better than she was in Crowe's version. I didn't get a feeling of annoyance until the ending, and despite what to me is a cop-out, I found myself liking the movie, which is more than I can say for Vanilla Sky.

The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949)
The second of the boxing movies I'm to talk about. I found this more interesting than the first, because it's much grittier and simpler and more realistic. Although there's a sort of optimistic note at the end, this is a very dark and cynical movie about boxing and corruption, and it plays out in real time over 72 minutes. That gimmick creates a real tension and dread, and Wise only shows a single boxing match in the whole movie, but it too unfolds in real time, giving you all the gory and painful details, both emotional and physical. Boxing cliches abound, but it does more with them than most movies.

Monday, October 03, 2005

New comics 9/28

Cable & Deadpool #20 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
After last month's serious, talky interlude, Nicieza gets back to what he does best, which is: goofy dialogue, obscure Marvel characters and a quest for a random technobabble thingy. Which is to say, it's another great issue, with some funny quips from Deadpool and a good use of the B.A.D. Girls, who are exactly what they sound like. Nicieza also builds on the ongoing story of Cable running his weird floating island paradise, and I like that he's not dropping it and that he's retaining Irene Merryweather, who's always been one of Cable's most interesting supporting characters, as Cable's de facto conscience. The constant jokes about how no one reads this book are a little distressing, but it seems to be safe for a little while at least.

Jack Cross #2 (Warren Ellis/Gary Erskine, DC)
I'm not quite sure where Ellis is going with this. The primary story, about espionage between the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security, strikes me as a warmed-over 24 plotline, but the character of Jack, with his inherent contradictions, remains interesting, and I trust that larger themes will emerge to give the book a little direction. But especially after the strong debut of Fell, this is looking like the weakest of Ellis's new ongoing series. I'm also not sure that Erskine's art, which is sort of static, is best for an action-oriented book, and the complete lack of sound effects is oddly jarring in scenes with gunplay. This makes it sound like I don't like the book, but it's still got promise, and I trust Ellis enough to overlook the shortcomings for now.

New Warriors #4 (Zeb Wells/Skottie Young, Marvel)
We get our first cliffhanger of the series, which is typically bizarre (super-villains who look like famous historical figures!), as well as the introduction of a new Warrior, which seems a little late in the mini-series to be doing. Once again, it just contributes to the vibe that this would be an ongoing series, and I remain disappointed that it's not, although I'll hold out hope that Marvel has something planned for some version of the Warriors beyond the two more issues of this series.

Revelations #2 (Paul Jenkins/Humberto Ramos, Dark Horse)
I was iffy on the first issue, but the mystery definitely grabbed me this time, and my feeling that this plays like a good mystery novel is borne out. It doesn't look like it's going to veer off into the weirdly supernatural, and I like that, as well as the lead character, who is your typical crotchety detective from a million books and movies, but Jenkins writes him well. I'm still not too keen on Ramos's art, which again makes everyone looks like children and/or people with growth disorders, but it's not going to keep me from the intriguing story.

The Sentry #1 (Paul Jenkins/John Romita Jr., Marvel)
It's weird how it's been years since I've been interested in anything Paul Jenkins has written and now this week I'm buying two comics by him. I wasn't too impressed with this one, though, despite having enjoyed the first Sentry mini-series that Jenkins and Jae Lee did a few years back. I love Lee's art, though, which made up for the shortcomings in the old series, and I'd forgotten how much I can't stand Romita's blocky, ugly art (which everyone seems to love for some reason), so that probably just highlighted the shortcomings in this series. It's okay, but it relies a lot on stuff that was going on in New Avengers, which I don't read, and seemed only to highlight how hard it is to sustain the Sentry concept in the wider Marvel universe context. It might get better, but it's not worth Romita's unappealing art and seven more issues for me to find out if it will.

Silent Dragon #3 (Andy Diggle/Leinil Yu, DC/Wildstorm)
This series is really growing on me, to the point where I thought this issue was great, and the combo of the yakuza stuff and the sci-fi stuff is really clicking. It just makes me even more disappointed that after drawing all the crazy, off-the-wall stuff in this series (and his art here is excellent, kinetic and creative and eye-catching), Yu has signed an exclusive with Marvel so he can draw...Hulk and Wolverine. Sigh. This is a whole separate issue (about which I think there is a post brewing), but it's relevant here, I think. At least there are three more issues of this to enjoy.

Young Avengers #7 (Allan Heinberg/Andrea DiVito, Marvel)
After the first arc, I was kind of hoping the team would have some adventures of their own that didn't depend on the Avengers showing up, but I guess they are trying to keep the books tied together. I don't necessarily mind, since it makes sense in light of last issue, and I'm glad to see Heinberg sticking to his continuity. He also has another solid cliffhanger at the end of this issue, which continues his tactic of peeling back layers and revealing new things about characters that appeared so one-dimensional at first. DiVito's fill-in art is okay, but it's sort of generic, and I miss Jim Cheung.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Twin Peaks

After I finished watching my DVDs of the first three seasons of Felicity (season four was a disappointment and is not worth revisiting), I created a separate profile on Netflix for an entity I named "TV Bell" and put a bunch of TV show DVDs in the queue. I figure since I try to expand my knowledge of film to make myself a better film critic, it makes sense to do the same thing with TV. First up was the first season of Twin Peaks, which is only seven episodes long (something I didn't quite realize at first). Well, it's actually eight episodes, but due to some weird legal issues with broadcast rights, they can't include the pilot on the DVD. Lucky for me, I had actually seen a bootleg DVD of it a while back (it's a long story), so I had at least a vague idea of what was going on. Which, considering that the show is an intricate murder mystery (or at least started out that way only to eventually fall apart, if you believe the critics), was a good thing. The Television Without Pity recaps also helped.

Although I definitely enjoyed the season's worth of episodes, I'm not so sure that the mystery was the main appeal. Unlike, say, Veronica Mars, there isn't a real sense of urgency about solving the case, nor is there a sense that there is a big picture and that each piece of evidence is fitting into a larger puzzle. Again, from what I've read, by the time they get around to revealing who killed Laura Palmer, the show has kind of lost its way. It already seems like they're making things up as they go along, but the ride was entertaining in a very David Lynch-ian kind of way. There's a lot of humor on this show, of the off-kilter, random sort, and that was probably what I liked best about it. You really never know what's going to happen, and when all sorts of bizarre things go on, the characters just take it all in stride like it's an everyday occurrence. I suppose that's a hallmark of most of Lynch's work.

Kyle MacLachlan is perfect as the weirdly perky Agent Cooper, and Sherilyn Fenn is incredibly seductive as Audrey Horne, and it's amazing how many strong and sexy female actors were on this show (Fenn, Sheryl Lee, Madchen Amick) who went on to do basically nothing and the inert Lara Flynn Boyle was the one who became a semi-star. I guess she's not really that bad, but she's certainly the least notable woman in the ensemble cast. Overall, I was a little disappointed in the show so far, expecting something a little weirder and a little more engaging. But it was entertaining enough that I'll rent season two (which is a full 22 episodes) when it's released on DVD some time next year, if only to find out who killed Laura and to see the show descend into the train wreck it supposedly became.

Next up: The Prisoner.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Movies opening this week

A History of Violence (Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, dir. David Cronenberg)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I love David Cronenberg, and while it's nice to see him getting all sorts of critical and media attention for this film (which is indeed very, very good), I worry that it'll set him up for failure, since most of his films aren't nearly as straightforward or restrained. Of course, Cronenberg's built a career on being stubborn and contrarian, so if the success of this movie affords him a nice budget to make whatever he wants next, and he goes off and does some non-linear movie about exciting new orifices, it won't exactly be a surprise. And it's not like he's all of a sudden going to sell out, which is a good thing. Most likely, this will be a blip in his career, and he'll go back to making weird, demented movies that almost no one sees. Which is cool with me. Opened limited Sept. 23; wide release this week

Into the Blue (Paul Walker, Jessica Alba, Scott Caan, dir. John Stockwell)
I have to admit, I really liked John Stockwell's last movie, Blue Crush, and had a certain affection for the one he did before that, Crazy/Beautiful, as well. I've actually got his movie Cheaters in my Netflix queue right now. In Blue Crush and Crazy/Beautiful, Stockwell demonstrated a great visual style informed by glossy modern magazine photography and an empathy for young people that transformed sort of stock teen movies into affecting and affectionate stories with great entertainment value. So I found myself in the strange position of looking forward to a thriller starring Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, but it ended up being a disappointment. Stockwell's visual sense is completely intact - the movie looks amazing, and not just the gorgeous scenery of the Bahamas and the hot stars, but also the way he tells the story with color and innovative camera angles. But it just can't overcome the massively stupid script and awful acting. There's an interesting movie in here that would play to Stockwell's strengths, just something casual and fun about young divers/treasure hunters in the Bahamas, and the first 45 minutes or so shows signs of that. But all the thriller stuff is beyond lame, and drags on forever. Scott Caan is incredibly grating and if I heard him say "cheddar" one more time I was going to scream. Stockwell's previous movies really walked a fine line to great success, and this time he's just fallen right off it. Wide release

Serenity (Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau, Chiwetel Ejiofor, dir. Joss Whedon)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'm glad to see that this is getting good reviews, because while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was also a fan of Firefly, and it was hard for me to tell if critics who never saw the TV show would like it. I always thought Firefly was kind of overrated by its rabid fans, and the movie grabbed me more than the TV show ever did. It's just a fun space adventure with Whedon's typical sharp dialogue, and I hope it succeeds at the box office because I'd like Whedon to get the chance to keep making movies. Seth Stevenson argues in Slate that Whedon is better suited to TV because he's so good at serial storytelling (which is true, and one reason why he's done well in comics), but given that he's decided to dedicate himself to film for the foreseeable future, it's nice to see that he's off to such a good start. Wide release