Sunday, October 31, 2004

TV update

Drawn Together (Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10:30 pm)
I really will watch nearly anything, as evidenced by my (barely) sitting through this really bad animated reality-show parody. The idea is kind of funny: A bunch of cartoon-character stereotypes (rip-offs of Superman, Pikachu, Betty Boop, Porky Pig, Josie of Pussycats fame, a Disney princess, SpongeBob SquarePants and some sort of video game character) shack up in a house reminiscent of The Real World. If the show focused more on parodying the typical antics of reality-show contestants (which it half-heartedly does to middling success) instead of engaging in lame, vulgar humor, it might be funny. Instead, we get the pig character, voiced by comedic genius Adam Carolla, defecating in various receptacles. This is the show's top running gag: Where will the pig shit next? Ugh.

LAX (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 pm)
As it's gotten to the point in the season where I realize I can't possibly keep watching all the shows I started with, I've given up on this one. I was sort of ready to do it anyway, since while I liked a lot of what they were doing, they weren't able to settle on a consistent tone or level of quality. But NBC's moving it Wednesdays opposite Lost, which is the best new show of the season, just sealed the deal. There's no way I'm going to go out of my way to tape a show I'm not that interested in in the first place. I didn't even watch the last episode in the old time slot, which tells you how dedicated I wasn't. Still, it'd be nice to see the show succeed, since it's better than most of the other crap out there, and network TV in general would be poorer without Heather Locklear on the air.

Life as We Know It (ABC, Thursdays, 9 pm)
I've also given up on this one, which I never really liked in the first place, but kept watching because I wanted to see if it would eventually justify the critical buzz. It hasn't. Just another bland, predictable teen drama, with mediocre acting and disappointingly pedestrian writing, especially since the creators are former Freaks & Geeks staffers. Even the appearance of former Freaks & Geeks star Samm Levine in the last episode couldn't save it. Really this season's biggest let-down as far as I'm concerned.

South Park (Comedy Central, Wednesdays, 10 pm)
A good start to the latest season, with a political soapbox episode that also manages to be pretty funny. The parody of P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" nonsense was totally spot-on, and the message about the over-emphasis on voting, while seen as irresponsible by some, was something I definitely agreed with. This show has been really hit-or-miss for a while now, but this one was a hit and bodes well for the latest batch of new episodes.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Movies opening this week

Birth (Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, dir. Jonathan Glazer)
This one appears to be a love-it or hate-it film. My colleague at the Weekly who reviewed it hated it, but I actually found it quite compelling. Nicole Kidman plays a woman whose husband died ten years ago and is only now able to move on, getting engaged to another man (Huston). Just as it seems she's comes to terms with her grief, a little boy (Bright, perhaps the creepiest kid in film today) comes along and claims to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. Wackiness ensues.

Well, not so much wackiness as confusion, anger, hurt and disgust, in varying degrees on the parts of the principal characters. The premise is, indeed, a little tough to swallow, and you have to wonder about the bathtub scene between Kidman and Bright. But this is a really well-made attempt at what might be a questionable idea, and I think it has something interesting to say despite its flaws. Kidman is awesome at convincing the audience of the depths of her grief and love, so much so that she could fall in love with a 10-year-old boy based mostly on faith. Bright, who has cornered the market on creepy-possibly-evil kids with The Butterfly Effect and Godsend, does what he does effectively. The production design and cinematography are perfect, capturing the alienation in clean, cold urban spaces. The film has a lot in common with Rosemary's Baby, not limited to Kidman's haircut. There's the urban isolation, the invasion of the supernatural into a calm everyday life, the reconciliation between the fantastic and the mundane. The ultimate explanation for what's going on is a little disappointing, but this is a film that really explores the sometimes devastating powers of love and grief in a unique way. Wide release

Ray (Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, dir. Taylor Hackford)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really do think Jamie Foxx will get an Oscar for this, unless there's some really exceptional and high-profile acting in something that comes out in the next two months. I'm fine with that, too - he gives a great performance, and really is a good actor. His subdued performance in Collateral might even be better, but it's too low-key for the Oscars, especially when there's a showy performance like this to reward instead. The movie, alas, is very conventional, but I think there are enough positives to recommend it. Wide release

Saw (Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, dir. James Wan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I think people are too starved for good horror movies and they're overrating this one. It's a really showy, vapid movie, and its only assets are some decent set-pieces. It'll probably make good money around Halloween, but you're better off renting Seven or Silence of the Lambs and staying home. Wide release

Thursday, October 28, 2004

New comics 10/27

Planetary #21 (Warren Ellis/John Cassaday, DC/Wildstorm)
This book comes out so infrequently that I've given up on trying to remember what happened in the previous issue. At some point, when the series limps to a close, I'll sit down and read all the issues in a row and it'll undoubtedly make a lot more sense. Until then I am just kind of taking each issue as it comes, and this one is easy enough to appreciate on its own. There's actually a recap of sorts in the dialogue at the beginning - apparently Elijah Snow killed one of the Four in the last issue. I totally don't remember that. Anyway, this issue reminds me a lot of some of the metaphysical stuff in Alan Moore's Promethea, with Snow going to visit some mystical shaman who feeds him drugged tea that gives him helpful hallucinations. This being Warren Ellis, it's all couched in techno-speak about femtotechnology and strangelets. I was struck again, as I was when reading Orbiter, about how much genuine, non-cynical awe and wonder Ellis must have toward science, and it's cool to see him get it across in a story. He really does make you believe in the possibilities of the universe. Cassaday's art is, as always, phenomenal, and as much as I like his stuff on Astonishing X-Men, it's nice to see him on a book where he can do more creative visuals that aren't tied to the looks of decades-old characters.

We3 #2 (Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely, DC/Vertigo)
I hadn't been planning to pick this series up, but I am on DC's press list and they sent me a copy of the first issue at work. I'm glad they did, because that issue was great and this one is just as good. Morrison's created a really original story here out of a goofy premise (cybernetically-enhanced housepets!). He manages to give the dog, the cat and the rabbit distinct personalities with only the few words that they each can utter, and says something about the way we treat animals in our society and the way we view warfare, all while telling an action-packed and suspenseful story. There's nothing quite like those dense pages of security-cam views in the last issue to be found here, but Quitely's still doing some of the best work of his career and pressing the bounds of sequential storytelling with his panel arrangements. Without a doubt one of the best mini-series of the year.

X-Men #163 (Chuck Austen/Salvador Larroca, Marvel)
Thank goodness only one more Austen issue to go. There is a whole lot of deck-clearing going on here, as it seems like Austen has been given a mandate to get rid of all the characters he created or brought into the team, so Annie and Carter are rushed out of the mansion, Northstar decides to quit, and Sammy the fish-boy, who was a lame character from the start, is killed off. I'm sure Gambit will be regaining his sight soon, too, which makes this issue almost entirely pointless. The X-Men fight the new Brotherhood and I can't muster up the energy to care. Maybe many of the problems with Austen's run can be blamed on editorial, but that doesn't make it any more enjoyable to read. Larroca's art, as always, is very pretty, but can't salvage this total waste of time. I can only hope that Peter Milligan figures out some way to make this book worth reading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Weekend viewing

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951)
I'm a sucker for these Cold War-era sci-fi films, especially the ones with undercurrents of political commentary, so I enjoyed this one even though it's a bit slow and plays at times like an extended Twilight Zone episode. What's remarkable is how little Wise relies on special effects or action to tell his story - the main alien character is just a guy in a jumpsuit, and for most of the film he's not even wearing the jumpsuit, dressed instead like the average 1950s businessman. The anti-war and anti-nuclear proliferation message is pretty forward-thinking for a major film in 1951, and I kept thinking that this is a film that could really say something relevant if it were remade today, the way Jonathan Demme's Manchurian Candidate remake did. Even without remaking it, the film has deep resonance to today, and if you can get past some of the sci-fi cheesiness, it's quite touching.

Roger & Me (Michael Moore, 1989)
Honestly, the thing that struck me most about this movie is how thin Moore is in it. He's barely overweight at all! Seriously, that kept distracting me from the actual content, which is probably not good. In many ways, this is Moore's best film, because it's focused on a single issue and doesn't lose itself trying to address all the problems that exist in America. Moore is concerned with job losses in Flint, and that's what he deals with in the film. It's also got a much cleaner narrative arc - one of the things that bugged me about Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 was that they were so loosely structured, just kind of throwing out ideas until they stopped because they'd hit the 90-minute mark. This still has the standard Michael Moore problem of harassing people who have no control over the issue Moore is trying to address, using people like dumb celebrities and low-level functionaries (secretaries, security guards) for comedic value without conveying anything of substance. Still, for anyone who finds Moore overly bombastic, this film is worth checking out, since there's no way to deny the real, deep emotional hurt he felt over the destruction of his hometown, and the genuine desire to help people by making the film.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

New comics 10/20

Cable & Deadpool #8 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
I admire Nicieza's ambition here, making Cable into this grand figure who's changing the world a la the Authority, but we all know that he's going to have to hit the cosmic reset button at the end of this storyline, so it makes it seem a little redundant. Still, he's doing a decent job of developing Cable as a character, getting in supporting characters like Irene Merryweather, Domino and GW Bridge, and he's definitely got a good handle on Deadpool. In fact I'd kind of like to read a Deadpool solo title by Nicieza without the burden of shoehorning him into what is essentially a Cable story. I'd even read a Cable solo book by Nicieza - he's very good at exploring the minor corners of the X-universe. This book is not as entertaining as either of those would be, but it's still got some good dialogue and character moments, and is trying to tell a meaningful story, so for now I'm enjoying it. I just feel like Nicieza could come up with a really great story that made use of both characters and would make this book a must-read instead of just a fun little second-tier title.

Madrox #2 (Peter David/Pablo Raimondi, Marvel)
Now this is what I want out of a second- or third-tier X-book. David takes Multiple Man and makes his powers something unique and interesting, taking them to their logical extreme and not just using them as generic tools in fight sequences. The superhero private-eye concept owes a little to Brian Bendis's Alias, but David approaches it in a different way, and he's set up an intriguing mystery that has me looking forward to the solution. Rahne and Guido are used a little more sparingly in this issue, and I could go for some more of their banter, but overall the story is the kind of high quality I expect from David. Raimondi's art is also really nice, very detailed and clean while still conveying the gritty atmosphere of Mutant Town. I could go for a crossover with this book and District X, a sort of street-level X-books team-up. (I also couldn't help but notice that the silly cover copy promises "4X the Multiple Man Action!" which just sounds dirty.)

Noble Causes Vol. 3 #3 (Jay Faerber/Fran Bueno, Image)
I was all set to drop this book, and then this issue had a great cliffhanger ending that made me want to keep reading. This has always been a book that I liked more in concept than in execution. Faerber's done some good writing, and the idea of a superhero soap opera really appeals to me, but I've never gotten to the point of caring about these characters or getting that excited about where the story's going. Maybe it was the constantly-shfiting art teams, the stop-start mini-series, the shift to black and white and then back, or all three. Honestly, the main thing right now is that the price is $3.50, which is more than I pay for any other regular series. I figured it was time to let it go, but Bueno's art has been improving, and it looks like he'll be sticking around. And that damn cliffhanger really got me. Maybe I'll give it one more issue.

Ocean #1 (Warren Ellis/Chris Sprouse, DC/Wildstorm)
I was pretty harsh on Ultimate Nightmare last week, and, honestly, this is just as slowly paced. But it has a sense of purpose that Ultimate Nightmare lacks, and Ellis is able to really cut loose with his out-there sci-fi concepts when he's not working with company-owned characters. Sprouse's art also really justifies the widescreen approach - there are some beautiful panels here. In a lot of ways, this is vintage Ellis - a tough-talking, no-nonsense lead character, space-based sci-fi, exploration of future governments and corporations, etc. But it's an interesting exploration of his pet themes, has some gorgeous art, snappy dialogue and an interesting premise, about some mysterious coffins found a planet that's one big ocean. I'm looking forward to the rest.

Uncanny X-Men #451 (Chris Claremont/Alan Davis, Marvel)
Ugh. I could probably write a whole essay on why I still read the X-Men, but Claremont's current writing is not one of the reasons. Maybe editorial told him he had to throw X-23 into these last two issues, and it's not his fault that he got stuck with a lame female clone of Wolverine. But all of his other weaknesses are still on display here. The main plot is just a dumb misunderstanding between a bunch of characters we've never seen before and will never see again. There about 10 different subplots from the last several issues that have never gone anywhere, and a couple more introduced this time. At least the Sage-joins-the-Hellfire-Club plot seems like it will come to a head next issue, but I'd still like to know what happened at Braddock manor, what Viper's motivation was for co-opting Murderworld, what the Bacchae were up to, who was behind the attack by the Fury, and so on. Actually, I don't even care about any of that, but it'd be nice to see Claremont demonstrate some sort of coherent plan or grasp of basic serial plotting. I could even deal with the excessive narration, hackneyed dialogue and overwrought thought balloons if there was something like a compelling plot, or a plot at all. At least Davis's art is pretty, even if that costume for X-23 is hideous.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Movies opening this week

A day late thanks to spending Friday-Saturday watching TV 24 hours straight for a story.

The Grudge (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Bill Pullman, dir. Takashi Shimizu)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Not much to say that's not in the review, except that there is an interesting undercurrent of cultural commentary that's probably unintentional, thanks to setting the remake in Japan but replacing all the main characters with Americans. It thus turns into a film in which the spirits of a murdered Japanese family haunt and terrorize Americans, who are interlopers both in the house where they were killed, and, in a larger sense, in their country. This is an idea that could have been explored more thoroughly, and might have given the film more to recommend it other than "scary things go bump," but is probably more of a coincidence than a thematic intent. Still, something to keep your mind occupied while you wait for the next jump moment. Wide release

I Heart Huckabees (Jason Schwartzmann, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, dir. David O. Russell)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I'm too lazy to figure out how to make the twee little heart symbol that's supposed to go in the title. I had very mixed feelings about this film, wanting very much to like it based on Russell's past efforts, finding much of it funny and admiring Russell's ambition, but at the same time finding it overly pretentious and self-important and wildly overreaching. It seems like a love-it-or-hate-it film for most, but my reaction was neither. At the screening I went to, which was for critics and press only, half the people walked out. Any movie that can polarize people like that is probably worth seeing, and despite my half-hearted approval in the review, I would recommend it. On another note, Russell and I both graduated from Amherst College, and he spoke during the week of my graduation in 2002, when he received an honorary degree. He came off as a total self-important asshole in that talk, and also earlier in the day when he crashed a talk by Antonin Scalia (which he talks about a little in this interview with the Onion AV Club). Siona, who was also around Amherst at the time, has some more interesting insight into Mr. Russell's asshole-itude here. Opened limited Oct. 1; in Las Vegas this week

The Yes Men (documentary, dir. Chris Smith, Sarah Price, Dan Ollman)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Anyone experiencing left-wing documentary fatigue should still check this one out, which is less about Bush-bashing than about following this band of merry pranksters as they punk the WTO. A little too smug, perhaps, but an amusing film that shows not all activists have to take themselves so dreadfully seriously. Opened limited Sept. 24; in Las Vegas this week

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Weekend viewing

The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)
It's upsetting how many of these classic films I rent end up disappointing me. I'm still kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, it's actually quite boring, with the entire plot being about two cops following some shady guys who may be conducting a drug deal. That's the story: "We think something might be going down." There's little in the way of conflict, as the heroes and the villains don't have anything tying them together except business and the duties of their jobs. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that's actually the point of the film, that stuff like this isn't usually glamorous or exciting, and that drug dealers and cops are just two different brands of crude thugs. The villains are rarely portrayed as particularly villainous here; they just do their jobs. There are no sadistic torture scenes or rapes or anything like that, and very little violence until the end. After it was over and I had time to reflect, I could more appreciate the amoral structure of the whole thing, especially the ending title cards that tell you how the bad guys mostly got away or barely served any time at all, and the one who went to jail for the longest time was the one who had the least to do with the whole deal. There is also the famous car chase, which is not even really a car chase at all, but Gene Hackman in a car trying to catch up to a train running overhead. It was the only point during the film that I actually sat up and took notice, and it is incredibly well-constructed. The rest is interesting in retrospect, but a bit dull to actually watch.

Pieces of April (Peter Hedges, 2003)
This one is just total crap. My friend Jason called me while I was about halfway through it, and when I told him I thought it was awful, he was shocked. And indeed it has a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I guess most critics were fooled like he was, but it's really just sitcom-level plotting and a Lifetime-movie-style story dressed up in indie-movie grit, shot with digital video and populated with decent actors. Luckily, two of my favorite critics, Ed Gonzalez and Walter Chaw, rightfully tore it apart. Katie Holmes is fine as the pseudo-rebellious heroine, and Patricia Clarkson is affecting as her cancer-afflicted mother, but the story is painfully predictable and sappy. I mean, this is a movie in which we learn to appreciate the meaning of Thanksgiving. How much more Charlie Brown can you get? It's just really condescending, too, with the painfully multi-ethnic residents of April's apartment building helping her cook, the grandma who's got Alzheimer's except when she needs to have a moment of clarity to say something significant, the sick mother whose illness helps her appreciate life, blah blah blah. There are some sad attempts to seem hip, like the mom who loves the music of "Smack Daddy" and Holmes' Hot Topic-esque wardrobe, which uses clothing as a substitute for actual character development. A total waste, and even worse for hoodwinking people into thinking it's meaningful.

New comics 10/13

District X #6 (David Hine/Mike Perkins, Marvel)
I was really taken with this book at first, despite its being the 234543757th X-related book Marvel is putting out. Hine has a good handle on the Mutant Town concept, with some really interesting ideas for mutations that illustrate how being a mutant doesn't mean having "powers" or abilities that are useful in any way. But this opening storyline might be a victim of the TPB pacing at Marvel these days, as it really felt padded and meandered all over the place. It bugged me that in this issue Hine turns a sympathetic character into a villain really abruptly and with little motivation. I also miss David Yardin's art; this is the second issue he's missed since the book began. Perkins does an okay job filling in, but it's not quite the same. I'll give this another issue or two before deciding whether to drop it.

Ex Machina #5 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
I think Vaughan is finally firing on all cylinders here. He's got a good mix of the political, with the current-day exploits of Mitchell Hundred as mayor of NYC, and the fantastical, with his past as the Great Machine. Although this book has gotten plenty of critical acclaim, it hasn't blown me away like Vaughan's work on Y The Last Man and Runaways. It gets closer to that level with this issue, although the resolution to the Snowplow Killer plot seemed a little out of left field. Harris' art is, as always, stunning, and I have no doubt that the writing will go from very good to great very soon. Worth checking out for an interesting take on superheroes.

Fables #30 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham, DC/Vertigo)
I'm so happy that Buckingham is back with this issue; the WWII storyline from the past two issues just wasn't that great, thanks both to a last-minute plot change (as Willingham explains on his website) and some lackluster art. Buckingham's attention to detail here is awe-inspiring, with everything from background touches to the panel borders contributing to the story. That's not to minimize Willingham's contributions - this is a wonderful story, dealing with both the Fabletown election and the birth of Snow and Bigby's, er, litter. Some fun twists, touches on ongoing subplots and set-ups for new ones. Comes back strong to remind me why this is one of the best comics on the stands.

Fallen Angel #16 (Peter David/David Lopez, DC)
David just announced that DC has committed through issue 20, and I'm really glad to hear that. I still don't understand why they don't just move this over to Vertigo, since it's creator-owned, not about superheroes, designated for mature readers and quite dark in tone. Everything about it looks like a Vertigo book except the DC bullet on the cover. I think Vertigo fans would really like this book, and DC has to realize that, too. Anyway. This issue gives some nice background on Boxer, develops the relationship between Lee and Dr. Juris, and sets up for a showdown next month. I realize as I'm writing this that one of the reasons more people don't pick this book up is probably because it's so hard to describe what it's "about." There's a powerful woman who protects the innocent, but she's not a superhero. There are bad people, but they're not really villains. It's a noir-ish horror story, but it's remarkably low-key. It is, however, as many have noted, the best work David's done since the early issues of Supergirl, and really deserves to go to issue 20 and beyond.

Kinetic #7 (Kelley Puckett/Warren Pleece, DC Focus)
The penultimate issue, and I wonder if anyone told Puckett to wrap things up since the book was being cancelled. This issue is all set-up, continuing the astoundingly slow pace that this book has set for itself. Puckett's done a great job establishing characters and mood, but good lord does the story move at a snail's pace. I made a habit of counting how many dialogue-free pages are in each issue, and this one's got five, a relatively low number if you can believe it. It sounds like I'm complaining, but I actually like the leisurely pace, as it seems more calculated than in some other books, where you know it's just because editorial has mandated stretching things out. Puckett's really spent time exploring the main character's psyche, but that kind of pacing doesn't work when you've got to come to some kind of closure in one more issue. The whole Focus imprint was an obvious failure from the start, and I wonder how long Hard Time, the only other Focus book left, will last. If they're smart, they'll move it to Vertigo like they did with Transmetropolitan when Helix folded, and let it build an audience. I won't be part of that audience (I read the first four issues and couldn't get into it), but it'd be nice to see them salvage something from this experiment.

Powers Vol. 2 #5 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
The relaunch really has invigorated this book, and this issue does a great job showing how much Walker cares for Pilgrim as he tears the town apart looking for her. The ending is a great shocker, although I question the long-term ramifications of giving Pilgrim powers, since this book was always about how normal people dealt with superheroes. But I trust Bendis to take it somewhere interesting, and this book has always shaken things up and kept readers on their toes, anyway. It definitely has me really looking forward to the next issue for the first time in a while.

Savage Dragon #118 (Erik Larsen, Image)
It's hard to believe that I have been reading this same book, by the same guy, since I was 12 years old. Sometimes I think that's the only reason I'm still reading it, as Larsen's plotting and dialogue is so hokey and old-school sometimes that it's just too much for me to take. Last issue had some nice humor with the romance comics-style narration from She-Dragon, but this issue it's back to punching and kicking, which is, of course, what Larsen does best. I'm curious to see where he's going with the whole Dragon for president subplot, though, and next issue promises an appearance from Dubya, and, given Larsen's reputation, it's likely Dragon will be kicking the shit out of him.

Secret War #3 (Brian Michael Bendis/Gabriele Dell'Otto, Marvel)
I haven't been reading Bendis' destruction of the Avengers, but from what I heard it seems that this book is a far better example of how he should be handling a big superhero crossover. We've got the big guns (Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil), but we've also got characterization that makes sense, an intriguing story that builds on rather than tears down Marvel continuity, and my favorite part of Bendis' Marvel work, appearances from totally obscure characters (the female Dr. Octopus?!) that he somehow makes interesting. Dell'Otto's painted artwork is sometimes a little stiff, but it's mostly very pretty. Maybe it's because I spent my formative years reading stuff like The Infinity Gauntlet, but I'm a sucker for a sweeping crossover when it's done right. This is done right.

Ultimate Nightmare #3 (Warren Ellis/Steve Epting, Marvel)
This one, however, is not. I've tried to be supportive of Ellis' "year of whoredom" projects, but I get the distinct impression that he's running on autopilot and laughing all the way to the bank. I bailed on Ultimate Fantastic Four after two issues, and I'm only sticking with this one because I don't like quitting mini-series halfway through. I won't however, be buying Ultimate Secret, and the Iron Man preview on Newsarama didn't exactly get me excited for that one, either. I'll be saving my money for Ocean and Desolation Jones and the things that Ellis obviously gives a shit about. Something finally happens in this issue, but it's not interesting, we still don't know what the hell the point is, and I don't care enough to bother going any further into it. Not worth your time, or mine.

X-Men: The End #4 (Chris Claremont/Sean Chen, Marvel)
Despite my total disinterest in everything Claremont is doing in Uncanny X-Men right now, I enjoyed the first few issues of this series. Maybe it was my weakness for sweeping crossovers (see above), maybe it was Sean Chen's beautiful, detailed art, maybe it was just a little bit of joy that Claremont didn't completely ignore every character and plotline he didn't write himself. Whatever it was, it's gone, and this issue all I noticed was everything that bugs me about Claremont's writing these days. Plots picked up and then dropped, characters introduced with no explanation, clunky dialogue, over-narration, etc. This issue forgets all about the ongoing story to focus on the death of a bunch of X-Force characters. While I'm glad that Claremont is taking advantage of the "End" format to do some damage, we did not need a whole issue devoted to the deaths of people like Feral and Warpath. I mean, really. To say nothing of the fact that he offs Apocalypse in like two panels, which is completely ludicrous given how powerful the guy is supposed to be, and also thematically stupid considering how important an antagonist he's been for the X-Men for years. I don't want to get any further into fanboyish, nitpicky problems, but suffice it to say I will be buying all 18 fucking issues of this series, and no doubt cursing myself the entire time for doing so.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Movies opening this week

Team America: World Police (dir. Trey Parker)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly.
My brother and sister, who went to the screening with me, were not nearly as impressed with this as I was. It's certainly not as good as the South Park movie, but I still found it funny. Wide release

Head in the Clouds (Stuart Townsend, Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, dir. John Duigan)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly.
Charlize Theron continues the grand tradition of Oscar winners picking shitty follow-up roles (see also: Cuba Gooding Jr., Mira Sorvino, Halle Berry). To be fair, this might have looked like an Oscar-winner on paper (historical epic, star-crossed love story), but it just bites. Notable mainly for featuring a nice shot of Theron's breasts (not covered in blood as in past films) and a kiss between Theron and Cruz. That, of course, is like a minute's worth of a two-hour film. Opened limited Sept. 17; in Las Vegas today

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

TV update

Rescue Me (FX, Wednesdays, 10 pm)
I've been back and forth on this one all season, but I thought it went out on a high note. It's not easy to create a show in which most, if not all, of the characters are total unrepentant assholes, and there have definitely been moments where I thought, "I hate all these people. Why am I watching?" I'm still not sure I like any of them, but I find myself strangely sad that the season is over and I have to wait probably almost a year for another one. Denis Leary, despite playing the same role in everything he's ever been in, has turned into a pretty darn good actor. There are still tons of flaws, including the fact that it's probably the most misogynistic show on TV, but for now I'm looking forward to the second season.

Veronica Mars (UPN, Tuesdays, 9 pm)
I really want to like this show. It's so the kind of show I usually love - sassy teenage heroine, snappy banter, intriguing mysteries. And I do like it, although not as much as some critics and not as much as I feel like I should. I plugged it twice in my TV column in the Weekly, and deservedly so I think, but I just haven't found my groove with it yet. Of course, it's getting lower ratings for UPN than The Mullets did in the same time slot last year, so it probably won't be around long enough for me to get to really love it.

LAX (NBC, Mondays, 10 pm)
Another show I've plugged a couple of times in my column, although not with as effusive praise as Veronica Mars. I unreservedly love Heather Locklear, and the pilot for this show was a lot of fun, but I have this week's episode on tape and I can't quite motivate myself to watch it. Again, the ratings are bad and, unlike Veronica Mars, this show does not have the critical acclaim, so it'll probably be gone before I have time to make up my mind on it.

Survivor (CBS, Thursdays, 8 pm)
It's been said elsewhere, but I'll add my voice to the chorus: The most boring season in a long time. It really makes me wonder if they've run out of steam on the concept. All the little twists that they throw in to try and keep things fresh never amount to much, and sometimes it just seems like people going through the motions, fulfilling character types the show has developed and behaving the way they've seen past contestants behave. I'm still watching, as it's one of the few reality shows I actually enjoy, but I'm not eagerly anticipating each new episode like I have in the past.

Two shows I am not conflicted about: Lost (ABC, Wednesdays, 8 pm) and Desperate Housewives (ABC, Sundays, 9 pm). If you are not watching these two, what's wrong with you?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Weekend viewing

Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1966)
Preparation for seeing and possibly reviewing the upcoming Jude Law remake. This film was not exactly what I expected - I kind of thought it would be a swinging '60s comedy, but it's actually pretty dark. Michael Caine is great as the title character, a London playboy and womanizer who refuses to settle down, but the movie is unfocused and the tone uneven. Alfie is an unrepentant douchebag, and although Caine does an excellent job of making him likeable despite all that, it's hard to watch a whole movie about a protagonist who refers to his various girlfriends as "it," abandons his young son and buys a back-alley abortion for one married woman with whom he has an affair. Interesting for the way it deals with the sexual mores of the time, but ultimately I was disappointed.

The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
I know, I know, how can I be a film critic and not have seen The Godfather yet? So I've rectified the situation, and I'm glad I have, but I must say this wasn't the revelatory experience I was perhaps hoping for. Of course, the problem with seeing any iconic film after seeing and hearing references to it for years is that many of the powerful or shocking moments are simply cliches at this point. The horse's head in the bed? "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"? Brando's entire performance? Parodied to the point of insignificance for any modern viewer, me included. That said, this is clearly a powerful and incredibly well-crafted film. The scene of Sonny (James Caan) being gunned down at the toll booth? Awesome. And I was really surprised at how small Brando's role was, and how this was much more Pacino's film than Brando's. I honestly almost didn't even recognize Pacino at first because his acting was...subdued! No "hoo ha!" moments in this film. So I'm glad I've seen it, and it's a great achievement, but honestly more of an academic exercise for me at this point. I've got to add the sequel to my NetFlix queue now.

Silver City (John Sayles, 2004)
I'm a huge Sayles fan, but was, like many, underwhelmed by this one. The problem isn't even necessarily the politics - what Sayles has to say about the Bush family is, ultimately, pretty mild. The problems for me were more in the structure and the characters. There are far too many minor figures that each get a few minutes of screen time, and the story meanders all over the place. The mixture of political satire and character development is clumsy at best, and Danny Huston, as the default lead character, is really awful. He seems like he's smirking his way through the entire film, amused that someone actually cast him in a lead role in a feature film. I must say I was as befuddled as he seemed to be. The discovery of a dead body that leads to the exposure of dark secrets and scandal was done much, much better in Sayles' 1996 masterpiece Lone Star, which remains my favorite Sayles film and one of my favorite films overall. This one is a minor work at best.