Monday, February 28, 2005

New comics 2/23

Powers #9 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Avon Oeming, Marvel/Icon)
This remains my one pillar of faith in Bendis, who's once again set up an intriguing mystery and lets the pieces fall into place in this issue. The reveal of the murderer actually reminded me a bit of Identity Crisis, which I'm sure wasn't intentional, and it's not really all that similar. I like the simmering subplots of Deena's powers and Walker's tutelage of the new Retro Girl, and it looks like both of those are going to come to a head soon.

Savage Dragon #120 (Erik Larsen, Image)
It's a shame that Larsen is almost four months late with his version of the election, but since it has little to do with actual politics, I suppose it doesn't really matter. Although, I was surprised that Larsen did include a few real jabs at Bush, since this storyline seems more designed to move Dragon in a new direction and probably would have gone on no matter who was in office. The political content was unnecessary, but I liked this issue for two main reasons: The first is that Larsen has yet again found another way to shake up his status quo that feels like a genuinely interesting development for the characters, and the second is that Mr. Glum, who always amuses me, had a bunch of good lines. I also like the building subplot of Dragon potentially losing his powers, and Jennifer feeling helpless without hers. It'd be nice if this book came out on a more regular basis, but I still enjoy it when it does.

Uncanny X-Men #456 (Chris Claremont/Alan Davis, Marvel)
Ugh. This is it. This is a momentous decision for me. I have been reading this book for almost 200 issues. I have, I believe, every issue from #279 through #456. But I can't do it anymore. It's not that this issue is that much worse than previous issues. It's not even that Claremont is that much worse than at least the two writers (Chuck Austen and Joe Casey) who directly preceded him. It's that I haven't actually enjoyed reading this book in I can't remember how long, and I can no longer justify spending $2.25 and 20 or so minutes of my time every month (or more often) on it. I love the X-Men. I love a lot of what Claremont did in his first run, which was before my time but I've read much of in trades. I love Alan Davis's art. But I don't love it enough. And Claremont, great as he once may have been, is just rehashing his same tired themes (we get more mind control in this issue). I will still read Astonishing X-Men, which I absolutely love and has been extended for another year with Whedon and Cassaday. I will give Peter Milligan until the rest of his first arc to convince me that he can do something interesting with X-Men, and if he can't, I will drop that one too. Because it's stupid to keep buying comics that I don't like, for years and years. I don't do it with anything except the X-Men. If and when another writer comes on board this book, or X-Men, I will give it a chance again, because I want to like the X-Men. I will keep buying X-related mini-series that interest me. But I am through being a sheep for this franchise. It's the last vestige of the 12-year-old reader in me, and it has to go.

X-Men #167 (Peter Milligan/Salvador Larroca, Marvel)
As I said, I'm giving Milligan his first arc to impress me. So far, he hasn't done it. I seriously had no idea what was going on in this issue. Last issue, I blamed much of it on Larroca, whose storytelling seemed unclear to me. But this issue I don't think it's Larroca's problem. Milligan is jumping around in his plot, the pacing is very confused, people are acting out of character (possibly on purpose?) and I can't figure out what it's all supposed to be about. Maybe by the end it will all make sense, but as of now my newly ruthless attitude has this going the way of Uncanny in a few issues.

X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong #3 (Greg Pak/Greg Land, Marvel)
On the other hand, Pak shows here that it is still possible to tell an interesting and well-written story within the confines of editorial mandates for the X-Men. Obviously this is setting things up to coincide with the next X-Men movie. Obviously it has to include certain key characters, whether they fit or not. Obviously any changes it makes will be reversed by other writers down the line. But Pak makes the story exciting in that context, and makes you believe that these are real, important, life-changing events for his characters. He uses continuity to his advantage, not his detriment. I'm a little disappointed to see the Quentin Quire subplot pushed to the side in this issue, but I'm sure it'll pick back up. I'm even warming to Land's art, which I found stiff and artificial in past issues. Some of his storytelling here has a genuine organic feel. If only Marvel would fire Claremont and put Pak on Uncanny, I wouldn't have to stop buying it.

Y The Last Man #31 (Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra, DC/Vertigo)
What to say about this issue that hasn't already been said? Vaughan continues to impress, and here follows the solution of one mystery with the introduction of another, and sets his heroes back on the road for a different sort of quest. I guess this is always going to be a book about traveling, which is fine, but I was sort of looking forward to a little settling down and the establishment of a status quo for a bit. But I trust Vaughan, and I especially like the way he's handled Hero, who here appears to have undergone a complete turnaround but retains an air of menace about her. I look forward to seeing where this heads next.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Well, I can at least say this much: I won my Oscar pool. Of course, I won it by betting on Million Dollar Baby to sweep, which is a shame because I think it's grossly overrated. I would have much rather seen The Aviator take home the top awards, although that would have taken away Scorsese's distinction as the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. The only other positive thing besides winning the pool was seeing Charlie Kaufman win the Citizen Kane Award, aka Best Original Screenplay, for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which would have swept the awards if the Academy had any taste and/or sense.

Otherwise, I keep my expectations low and thus am rarely disappointed. It's a silly spectacle, and as such this wasn't really any worse than past years. I thought Chris Rock was at least as good as Steve Martin, and had a strong monologue and a number of good lines. Not everything he did was perfect; the bit at the Magic Johnson Theater was good but the Adam Sandler bit was terrible. As expected, I wanted to kill Beyonce, and how insulting was it that they wouldn't even let Minnie Driver sing her own song from The Phantom of the Opera? Maybe if the song nominees weren't universally dreadful I would have been more forgiving, but every time they started singing I took a bathroom break. Giving out the awards in the aisles or with all the nominees on stage was especially insulting, as was having the nominees for Costume Design read by an animated character who is a parody of costume designers. I mean, not that they don't deserve parody, but at least show them some respect when you're about to give one of them an Oscar. Also, respect to the Sound Editing guy who noted that his category (and the other "ghettoized" categories) is artistic, too. It's one freakin' night a year; let these people who do such important work have their moment in the spotlight without belittling them.

I'll have to do a post soon with all the positive feedback I've gotten from my negative review of Million Dollar Baby. I'm sure after tonight, I'll be getting plenty more.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Movies opening this week

Cursed (Christina Ricci, Joshua Jackson, Jesse Eisenberg, dir. Wes Craven)
I haven't actually seen this one, and therein lies my dilemma: I'm a big fan of Wes Craven (overall; he's definitely made some bad movies). I'm sadly obsessed with Christina Ricci. And I even have a soft spot for Kevin Williamson (yes, I watched several seasons of Dawson's Creek). But this movie underwent extensive reshoots and was delayed over a year, and wasn't screened for critics. That's a sure sign that it's bad. I know I probably won't like it. More importantly, since there was no press screening, I'd actually have to spend money to see it. I know that's a bad idea. And yet...maybe I can hold out for video. Wide release

Monday, February 21, 2005

Weekend viewing

Being Julia (Istvan Szabo, 2004)
The last of the films nominated for a major Oscar that I hadn't seen, and really watched more for completism's sake than anything else. It's a pretty mediocre film, notable only (if at all) for Annette Bening's Oscar-nominated performance as the title character. Even that isn't necessarily all that impressive - she plays a London theatre diva in 1938, and while at times she is wonderfully catty, at other times she just overemotes and hogs the spotlight. The character is quite reminiscent of Bette Davis in All About Eve, although Davis of course gave a much more full-bodied performance and, furthermore, was working from a much better script. The story here is thin and poorly paced, and Shaun Evans, as Julia's love interest-cum-rival, is flat and vastly overshadowed by Bening. A trifle, and certainly not worth any attention if not for Bening's performance.

Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987)
I don't have the time or inclination to get into the thorny sexual politics of this film, but I have to give Lyne credit for two things: First, he clearly never backs down from the possibility of being labeled a misogynist, and second, damn does he know how to shoot a sex scene. That said, this was one of those movies where a lot of the wind is taken out of the sails because I already knew what was going to happen and was waiting for the iconic moments like the bunny-boiling. Still, it's a good thriller, with some very hot sex and an interesting look at both feminism and its backlash, depending on how you read the film, in the 1980s. Ultimately I took it as a very pro-feminist movie. Look at what the patriarchy has driven women, too, it says: Either completely psychotic because they're denied marriage and family by the relentless pursuit of a career, or bland and unappreciated because they've decided to stay at home and raise a family. Michael Douglas is the real villain here, treating both Glenn Close and Anne Archer like toys to be used for certain purposes when it suits him. In the end, the choices for these two women are just as awful: Either end up dead from your attempt to join the male-dominated corporate world, or be attacked into submission and stuck in suburbia with your philandering husband. It's actually a frightening and illuminating portrait of sexual politics, and probably worth a more thorough examination than I'm giving it here.

Get Shorty (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1995)
Preparation for seeing and reviewing the sequel, Be Cool, next week. It's really hard to believe that it's been 10 years since this first came out, although all you have to do is look at how much fatter John Travolta is now to understand. Also, what the hell happened to Rene Russo? She was really awesome and now she's just drifted into obscurity, which is a real shame. Anyway, this is still a very entertaining movie, probably my favorite Elmore Leonard adaptation after Out of Sight (not coincidentally, both had screenplays by Scott Frank). Sonnenfeld keeps things light, and while he may not be the visionary that Tarantino or Soderbergh are, he strikes a perfect balance here and makes excellent use of the talented cast. I think this was the last time I saw Travolta in a movie and didn't want to punch him in the face; I wonder if that'll change with Be Cool?

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
Another classic that didn't live up to my expectations. Actually, the things about this that are considered classic - the rapid-fire overlapping dialogue, the quick-witted jokes, the sharp acting - did live up to my expectations, more or less, but the plot just left me sour. This is one of the prototypical romantic comedies, and it has your stock rom-com plot: Cary Grant is a cynical newspaper publisher whose reporter ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) comes to tell him that she's quitting the newspaper biz and marrying a milquetoast insurance salesman (Ralph Bellamy). Now, of course she won't end up marrying the boring insurance salesman, and of course she won't quit the newspaper biz, and of course she'll get back together with Cary Grant (I mean, come on, he's Cary Grant). That's all fine. The problem is that Grant's character does so many incredibly odious, cruel and devious things to get her back that I ended up rooting for them not to get back together because he came off as a completely reprehensible person. In every other way, Russell's character is revolutionary for a woman in a movie from 1940 - she's strong and independent and successful in a male-dominated industry (Grant often refers to her as the best journalist he's ever met). But then she falls right into Grant's horrible chauvinistic traps, and treats the poor insurance salesman like dirt. I guess the dialogue and the jokes and the performances (Russell especially is wonderful) weren't enough to overcome the way the plot left a bad taste in my mouth.

Return of the Seacaucus 7 (John Sayles, 1980)
Sayles' first film, and widely credited as an inspiration for The Big Chill, which came out three years later. It's got some typical hallmarks of a low-budget first feature - stiff acting, limited locations, choppy editing - but the script, always Sayles' strong point, is smart and insightful, and it falls perfectly into one of my favorite subgenres: talky movies with aimless twentysomethings trying to figure out what to do with their lives. It's also not trying nearly as hard as The Big Chill did to be generation-defining, and as such it comes off as a lot more genuine.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

New comics 2/16

Astonishing X-Men #8 (Joss Whedon/John Cassaday, Marvel)
I think this is the first time I've had any criticisms for this book. Whedon's story is still as engrossing as ever, although the ending appears to lead into a fairly cliched plot (the Danger Room itself as the villain) that reminds me of the old "the Enterprise is attacking us!" episodes of Star Trek. Still, I trust Whedon either to take the conventional plot in another direction, or to have it turn out to be something else entirely. That's not the main problem; the real trouble is that for the first time I can remember, certain pages of Cassaday's art looked rushed and ill-formed. It's not even that they look bad, but for an artist known for being so incredibly meticulous and detailed, it actually takes you out of the story to see something a little less focused and, dare I say it, sloppy. I know there was just an issue of Planetary out, so maybe Cassaday is getting spread thin. I hope he's back in top form in the next issue.

Cable & Deadpool #12 (Fabian Nicieza/Patrick Zircher, Marvel)
I'm still enjoying this book probably far more than I should be, and glad to see it's getting past the 12-issue death knell of most new Marvel books these days. Nicieza offers up some great dialogue in this issue, uses elements of past Deadpool continuity, and wraps up story elements from the last arc without sweeping everything under the rug. This is just good, well-written superhero comics, and I look forward to it each month far more than X-Men or Uncanny X-Men.

Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #3 (Joshua Dysart/Sal Velluto, Penny Farthing Press)
I'm definitely getting into the groove of this retro tale and the way it evokes old adventure serials and Golden Age comics. It's kind of hokey in a way, and a little too straightforward, but it's a well-told tale with some beautiful art from Velluto, and I'm glad I took a chance and picked it up.

Ex Machina #8 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
I still feel like I want to like this more than I do, but Vaughan is building an interesting, complex backstory for Mitchell, and presenting a compelling mystery in the present. Honestly, the thing I liked most about this issue was the relaxed chemistry of Mitchell and the reporter on their date; Vaughan writes some really natural, fun dialogue. As always, Harris's art is evocative and at times creepy. I love Vaughan's work so much on Runaways and Y that this tends to get overshadowed, since it's not always as flashy or shocking, but it's an interesting slow build with a lot to it.

Livewires #1 (Adam Warren/Rick Mays, Marvel)
By the time Warren took over as regular writer on Gen 13, I'd stopped reading it, but I greatly enjoyed his two Gen 13 mini-series, and I picked up a Dirty Pair trade a while back that was also entertaining. This is definitely more of the same, which isn't a bad thing at all. First, it's great to see Warren loose in the Marvel universe, and better still to see Marvel launching a book featuring completely new characters and concepts. The team here are androids with vaguely human qualities and silly codenames like Social Butterfly and Gothic Lolita. They're a top-secret government project whose job is to shut down other top-secret government projects, a thoroughly amusing and meta idea. Mostly this is just an excuse for Warren's trademark blend of mayhem and wisecracks, with Mays working from layouts by Warren for art that looks very similar to Warren's own stuff. There are enough Marvel universe references to make it work in context, and Warren's style hasn't been toned down at all, making it a very fun, if entirely superficial, read.

Noble Causes #7 (Jay Faerber/Gabe Bridwell, Image)
Faerber mostly takes a break from the multiple ongoing plots to focus on Race and Liz's romantic day without superpowers and, while it resembles other similar stories, it's a sweet and well-written way to get a glimpse into their lives. Guest artist Bridwell does a pretty good job, although it's nice to see regular artist Fran Bueno return in the last few pages for a look at what the hero team is up to on the alien world. I hope after the relative downtime, we'll pick back up with the ongoing drama next issue, but this was a nice little respite.

Ocean #4 (Warren Ellis/Chris Sprouse, DC/Wildstorm)
After finding the plot a little underwhelming last issue, I'm more intrigued now, as Ellis lets us learn a little more about the characters and where things are headed. There are still a few stock Ellis elements (at one point the Doors manager says "Find me something to have sex with," making him...pretty much every Ellis character ever), but the story is intriguing and developing at a good pace, and Sprouse's art remains very nice to look at.

Promethea #32 (Alan Moore/J.H. Williams III, America's Best Comics)
Since the story actually ended last issue, this is more of a summary of the concepts of the series, presented all in splash pages of a naked Promethea against an abstract painted backdrop. Allegedly you can take the comic apart and reassemble it into one big poster (or you can just buy the poster version if you're so inclined). I realize that past issue 10 or so, this book was just Moore spouting off at great length about his mystical beliefs, but it did have enough interesting and challenging story elements to keep me reading, and Williams' art has been nothing short of phenomenal from the beginning. Basically in this issue Moore does exactly what people have been complaining about in previous issues: He lectures directly about his beliefs in the interconnectedness of the universe without any of that pesky plot getting in the way. I found much of the reading tedious, although there are some elegant turns of phrase. In fact I probably would have given up on the series if it weren't for Williams' amazing art, and once again that's what makes this issue worth the trouble. I might sit down and read the whole series over one time, and in that case the mystical diversions might not be as tiresome, but looking back I think this was a promising series that kind of went off the rails around halfway through its run.

Runaways #1 (Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona, Marvel)
I realize I was kind of lukewarm about Ex Machina above, but believe me when I say that Brian K. Vaughan is my idol. This is hands-down the best book Marvel is publishing right now, even better than the stellar work that Whedon is doing on Astonishing X-Men. This is probably the lamest thing for a reviewer to say, but really this is exactly the kind of book I'd want to write if I were writing comics. Vaughan has introduced an awesome new concept into the Marvel universe while still paying attention to continuity and using established characters in interesting new ways. His concept of Excelsior, the support group for former teenage heroes, has tons of potential, and he cherry-picks perfectly from other series to get the right mix of characters to use. He successfully sets up a new mission for his central team while developing their personal relationships, and as always his dialogue is impeccable. I love the small continuity touches - there's a reference to one of the Astonishing X-Men supporting characters that I wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't happened to read Astonishing right afterward - they're a great reward for Marvel geeks but don't get in the way of the story. I don't understand why people don't read this book. It's fresh and different enough for people tired of 18 X-Men and Spider-Man books, it's accessible to new readers but it doesn't disregard years of continuity, it has great dialogue and characterization and beautiful art. Seriously, this has something for everyone, and if there's one comic I could convince anyone to start buying, this is it.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The joys of Felicity

I've been watching the Felicity season 3 DVDs that I got for Christmas and, man, this is just one of the greatest shows of all time. It's definitely better than anything I'm currently watching on TV, with the possible exception of Veronica Mars. It's the only show I've ever bought on DVD, although most of my favorite shows are now out on DVD as well. There really aren't many others that I'd want to watch straight through from beginning to end (or, well, at least to the end of season 3 - season 4 wasn't so good). It's just a perfect specimen of serial storytelling, with organic character development, rich continuity (again, until season 4 when it went a bit wonky) and sharp writing. They dealt with so many things on this show - date rape, alcoholism, cancer, adoption - that are so easy to turn into sappy and cliched storylines on other shows, and never did. This is the best season, I think, with Molly the British roommate, the shooting, Avery who was obsessed with Ben, and Sean's testicular cancer, which was the episode I just watched and was absolutely flawless.

I think part of the reason I loved this show so much is that it perfectly mirrored my college experience - Felicity was a freshman when I was a freshman and graduated when I graduated, and when college ended for me, so did the show. Even though the fourth season was very uneven, I totally cried at the episode where Felicity graduates, especially when she writes "Felicity Porter '02" (I was also an '02) on her closet wall. Sad confession: My senior year, inside my desk drawer there were all sorts of names of past students written on the bottom. Instead of writing my own name, I actually wrote "Felicity Porter '02." That's how much I loved this show.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Movies opening this week

Constantine (Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, dir. Francis Lawrence)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Another mediocre comics adaptation, although a surprising number of critics have given it favorable reviews. Not as bad as Elektra or, presumably, Catwoman (which I didn't see), but not exactly good either. I do think that this deluge of mediocre-to-bad comics movies is bad for the industry, and you can read my thoughts on the matter here. Sadly, this will probably make money, and only fuel more crappy movies based on comic books. Wide release

Added 2/20:
The Merchant of Venice (Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, dir. Michael Radford)

I fully admit that I don't always get Shakespeare, so I probably can't parse the social implications of this one as well as I should. I've never read the original play, so I don't know to what degree Radford (who also wrote the screenplay) changed things to make it more sympathetic to Jews. It still comes off, especially in the climactic trial sequence, as quite anti-Semitic, or at least grossly unsympathetic to the money-lender Shylock. Shylock is vengeful and cruel, but his comeuppance seems more than he deserves, and is constantly described as entwined with his Judaism. He is evil not so much because of choices he's made, but because he's a Jew and it's in his nature, and that's where things get sticky. That said, I suppose you have to admire Radford for not turning away from the ugliness inherent in the play, although he does attempt to mitigate it with a screen crawl at the beginning of the film that describes how Jews were marginalized and discriminated against in 16th-century Venice.

The problem to me wasn't so much the way the potential anti-Semitism was handled as it was Pacino's performance as Shylock. While everyone else in the cast (including Shylock's daughter) speaks with a British accent, as is usually the case in a Shakespeare film, Pacino goes with this mealy-mouthed, nebulous accent that's sort of Borscht belt and sort of Brooklyn and not at all convincing or appropriate. Also, I gather from reading reviews that much of the play is meant as a romantic comedy, but Radford takes Shylock and the thorny issue of anti-Semitism so seriously that the rest of the film feels anemic, and is not at all romantic or funny. I suppose it's hard to navigate such a minefield with grace, but ultimately Radford steps on too many explosives for his film to work. Opened limited Dec. 29; in Las Vegas this week

Monday, February 14, 2005

Weekend viewing

The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Obviously with my relatively recent viewing of The Godfather, I had to see this as well. It's got a reputation as being better than the original, so my interest was certainly piqued. While expectations were higher in one sense, they were also lower, since this doesn't have the same number of iconic lines and/or scenes that you are just waiting for to come around. In fact I only recognized two well-known lines ("We're bigger than U.S. Steel" and "You broke my heart") and one iconic scene (taking Fredo out to the middle of the lake), and none of those are as well-trodden as the horse's head in the bed or "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." In fact that last one must have gotten into the pop culture lexicon really quickly, since De Niro does a variation on it that has to be a little jokey. As for the actual movie, I did think it was very good, and I like how it showed the outside consequences of mob life (Congressional hearings, dealings with foreign governments, going to jail and so on), but I still prefer the first one. Michael's journey in the original is very powerful, and while he's still fascinating here (and the flashback at the very end shows just how far he's come), I think the first film is richer in many ways. This is more of an ensemble piece and an epic, and it's a brilliant one, but I like the original's narrower focus.

When Will I Be Loved (James Toback, 2004)
I absolutely loved Toback's 1997 film Two Girls and a Guy - it was one of those movies you flip past on TV, think looks interesting, and before you know it you've seen the whole thing. Sure, it was overwritten and unrealistic, but it also had wonderful dialogue and great performances and a certain undeniable emotional truth behind it. The films that Toback's made since then, this one included, have gotten atrocious reviews, and he really seems to be a love-or-hate filmmaker for most critics (with the majority erring on the side of hate). So despite the fact that this got mostly bad reviews, I wanted to see it because of my love for Two Girls and a Guy, and the isolated good reviews, including from Roger Ebert and one of my favorite critics, Ed Gonzalez of Slant. First off, Neve Campbell is indeed wonderful, and between this and Robert Altman's The Company she's really turned into a daring and accompished actress. But the plot is paper-thin, and, unlike Two Girls and a Guy, the overwrought dialogue doesn't always carry things. Toback is either a radical feminist or a rampant misogynist, depending on who you read, but I think it's more that he's just self-centered and likes the idea of telling hot chicks to get naked and masturbate in the shower. Which is all well and good, but you need more of a story to cover up putting your sexual hang-ups onto celluloid.

New comics 2/9

Batman: The Man Who Laughs (Ed Brubaker/Doug Mahnke, DC)
Not the kind of thing I'd normally pick up, but it came in my latest DC press pack, and it was in time for this week, so I figured I'd give it a short review. I'm fairly indifferent to Batman and, honestly, to most of Brubaker's writing (even Sleeper doesn't do much for me), and I'd never pay $6.95 for this, but given that it was free, it was a decent enough read. It reminds in some ways of the plot of the 1989 Batman movie, with the Joker first coming on the scene and killing people by turning them into smiling, white-skinned, green-haired corpses. Some have complained online that this gives too definitive an origin for the Joker, whose origin has always been shrouded in mystery. It still seems pretty ambiguous to me; my biggest problem with it is that it seems to be going over old ground, and doesn't tell me anything new or interesting about the Batman/Joker relationship. Not bad if you're a Batman fan, but otherwise easily skipped.

Captain America and the Falcon #12 (Christopher Priest/Greg Tocchini, Marvel)
I guess my expressed hope in my review of the last issue that this would bring a resolution to the storyline was in vain, since this book is cancelled with issue 14 and Priest seems to be doing an uber-storyline running through every issue. Which is fine, and maybe when it's over I'll sit down and read it all and it will make more sense than it has month to month. This issue is easier to follow than the last, and behind the confusing plotting Priest is doing something interesting with the Falcon character. I already miss Joe Bennett's art, as Tocchini is mostly competent but some of his faces look sort of deformed. It's still better than the crap Bart Sears churned out in the first few issues. I'm looking forward to the coming resolution, but I won't really be that sad to see this book go as long as Marvel gives Priest something else to work on.

Fables #34 (Bill Willingham/David Hahn, DC/Vertigo)
This is the beginning of one of Willingham's short side stories, like the Bigby in World War II story, this one about Jack in Hollywood. It's amusing enough, but I miss both the focus on the ongoing story and Mark Buckingham's art, which has really become an integral part of the book. At least they do fill-ins when the story takes a break as well, and Hahn is perfectly good. His art is rougher than Buckingham's, but it tells the story well enough. I'm more intrigued to see where this is going than I was with the WWII story, but I'm still glad it only lasts two issues before we get back to the main tale.

Ojo #5 (Sam Kieth with Chris Wisnia, Oni)
The mini-series wraps up in a fairly predictable fashion, with Annie coming to terms with her mother's death as represented by letting go of little Ojo. Kieth is an old hand at this sort of symbolism, and it just feels a little too obvious. Maybe if this was the first time he'd done it it'd be fresher, but we've seen strange creatures and/or powers as symbols for repressed emotions in The Maxx, Zero Girl and Scratch, and I just couldn't get invested enough in Annie as a person to care. I still think Kieth is a great talent, but this wasn't his best work.

Vimanarama #1 (Grant Morrison/Philip Bond, DC/Vertigo)
After loving We3 so much, I was really looking forward to this, and while it's very different from We3, it's still a great read. Morrison takes on Indian culture and the way it integrates with the West, while telling a totally wacked-out supernatural tale as well. The protagonist, Ali, is a good balance of Westernized and traditional, willing to marry his arranged bride but openly praying she won't be ugly or boring. Bond's art captures the mystical and the everyday equally well, and the humor works both visually and in the dialogue. Not as mind-blowingly original and powerful as We3, but looks to be a fun ride.

Young Avengers #1 (Allan Heinberg/Jim Cheung, Marvel)
Much-maligned before it even arrived thanks to its connection to the whole Avengers Disassembled deal, but I've never been an Avengers reader (and I'm still not), so I came at this just looking for a good, fun teen superhero book, and that's exactly what I got. Heinberg's got a great ear for dialogue thanks to his time on Sex and the City and The O.C., and the character interaction works well here. Yes, the opening sequence with the cast of The Pulse is a little drawn-out, but Heinberg wrote a more interesting version of The Pulse than the actual last two issues of that book. And I like that he's tying things in to the Marvel universe, both the new Bendis stuff and the history of the Avengers. This isn't groundbreaking or shocking, but it's good, solid, fun superhero storytelling with great art, and that gets me on board for the next issue.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

TV update

24 (Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m.)
I was so optimistic when this new season started in November, and gave the show a positive write-up in Las Vegas Weekly. But they've really squandered much of the potential of the supposed clean slate (no regular characters except Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer returing) and fallen back on many of the devices that have already been used in previous seasons. My biggest problem with the show remains that they never seem to plan out the season's arc in advance, which is really important with a show that's structured like 24. It seems like in every other episode they've written themselves into a corner and have to force the plot to take an inane turn to keep things going. The other major problem is that they got rid of most of the main characters only to replace them with characters who do the exact same things. There's no sense of new life being infused into the show with all the new characters, and honestly the most enjoyment I've gotten out of this season has been from returning characters Chloe (who I really miss now that she's gone) and Tony. This show probably should have only run one season, since there are only so many ways to tell this kind of story and make it exciting and interesting. It still has plenty of good elements, but it's a shadow of the great show it used to be.

Alias (ABC, Wednesdays, 9 p.m.)
Another show that underwent some drastic changes this season and is showing mixed results. I like the idea of doing more self-contained episodes, but at times it seems awkward for a show that was always built on long, involved arcs. Creator J.J. Abrams has done best when working on serialized stories (Felicity, Lost), and too often the self-contained stories on here feel inconsequential. Not all shows can pull off this sort of thing; The X-Files did it brilliantly but too often lately Alias episodes feel like second-rate X-Files episodes without the supernatural elements. There is still clearly a long-term arc building in the background, though, and I believe the next two episodes are a two-parter with some ramifications, so I have hope that a bigger picture will eventually become apparent.

Desperate Housewives (ABC, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
I know everyone loves this show, and I love it too, but as far as new shows go this season, it's still nowhere near as good as Lost or Veronica Mars. I like most of the characters, and for the most part the dialogue is still sharp and funny, but the plotting is sloppy, the mysteries are dragged on way too long and have way too many holes, and as time goes on more and more flaws are becoming apparent. I can't stand Lynette (Felicity Huffman); she's self-important and shrill, and, furthermore, she feels like she's on a completely different show from the rest of the characters. They're all dealing with murders, prison, divorce, infidelity, cover-ups and so on, and Lynette's big problems generally involve her inability to find a good nanny. The show could drop her entirely and not lose anything. I think as long as I keep my expectations relatively low, I'm always entertained by this show. But it's not quite great television, as it's been made out to be.

Numbers (CBS, Fridays, 10 p.m.)
I generally don't like procedurals, but this show and NBC's Medium (which I watch on and off) have managed to get me interested by putting a twist on the formula. It's not so much the obvious twist (adding math on this show, or visions on Medium), but the way the shows focus more on characterization and personal matters than on crime-solving. Sure, the crimes are okay, but what I like about this show are the relationships, between math geek Charlie and his FBI agent brother, the two of them with their father, the agent with his female partner, Charlie with his mentor. It helps that the cast is great, with David Krumholtz, Pete MacNicol and Sabrina Lloyd all excellent players I've liked on other shows, and the brilliant veteran Judd Hirsch as the dad. Even though Rob Morrow is kind of bland as the FBI agent, he balances out the quirks of the other characters. Not the kind of show I ever thought I'd like, but one I find myself looking forward to watching.

The O.C. (Fox, Thursdays, 8 p.m.)
I have been trying valiantly to defend this show this season, since a few of my friends think it just sucks hardcore now. I maintain that it's still better than the Oliver episodes from last season, and moreover that saying it sucks now really gives it too much credit for being good in the past. Like Desperate Housewives, I like most of the characters and the dialogue is usually sharp and funny. But the plotting is almost always predictable and obvious, and of course Mischa Barton is the worst actress on TV. I admit that this season has been less strong, as the writers seem unsure of where to take the characters, but, again like Desperate Housewives, if I don't expect too much I'm usually entertained.

The Surreal Life (VH1, Sundays, 9 p.m.)
I will be the first to decry the sad downfall of VH1, with its endless talking-head shows and countdown specials, most of which are mind-numbingly awful. But this goofy reality show, with washed-up celebrities living together in a house, is pure entertainment gold. I kind of lost interest about halfway through the last season, despite the weird dynamic between Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. Now that those two have overexposed themselves to death and worn out their welcome with their own show, I'm enjoying the much more normal romance of America's Next Top Model winner Adrianne Curry and former Brady Christopher Knight. This show manages to find the perfect balance of mockery and sincerity, and always find participants who will be entertaining. Almost every season, I hear about someone they've got to be on the show and wonder, "Who wants to watch that person?" and I'm almost always wrong. I can't wait for the next installment.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Weekend viewing

Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-Wai, 1991)
Wong's second film, but only recently released on DVD. I actually haven't seen any of his more well-known films (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love), but a friend recommended this and it sounded intriguing. My reaction was mixed - there are some really beautiful moments, but I couldn't quite engage enough with the main character, an angry womanizer searching for his birth parents. This is one of those films where characters behave in extreme ways without a clear motivation, and while it does represent the often capricious nature of love, it can be a little off-putting. I'm still ruminating on this, though, which is generally a good thing, and I'll probably try to see some of Wong's better-known features to get a firmer grasp on his style.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Nicholas Meyer, 1991)
I am such a half-assed Star Trek geek. I never really got into the original series, and have only seen a couple of the original cast's movies (The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home). I was much more dedicated to Next Generation and especially Deep Space Nine, but every once in a while I enjoy the charms of Kirk and his crew. This is generally considered the best Trek movie after Khan, and I agree it was great fun. An interesting political allegory about the end of the Cold War, continuity ties to Next Generation stuff with which I am familiar, some sharp humor and nice character arcs about aging for Kirk and Spock. A much better send-off for Kirk than the mediocre Generations, I think. I should go back and see all the original cast movies again; even Khan I only saw on TV and probably over a decade ago. With Enterprise (of which I watched only the first season) getting cancelled, and no Trek on TV or in immediate development at the movies for the moment, it's a good time to look back and enrich my knowledge of the franchise (which I sometimes find myself liking more in theory than in practice).

A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)
I always find it sad when these classic films disappoint me; I wonder if there's something I don't get, or if I'm expecting too much. I've never seen Streetcar on stage or read the play, so I came to it fresh here and I have to say it didn't impress me. Vivien Leigh, who won an Oscar as Blanche and gets effusive praise, is so overwrought and all over the place it made my head spin. I realize that both the character and the general acting style of the time call for it, but there was not a single moment when I believed Blanche as a person in this film. I much preferred Kim Hunter as Stella, who kept with the melodrama but was much more nuanced and effective with it; I believed her even as I thought Blanche was a raving loonie from the get-go. And, after seeing this and The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris I think I have finally figured something out: I can't stand Marlon Brando. Perhaps that's even more blasphemous than not liking Streetcar, but in every role he's just so mumbly and mannered and actorly that I can't buy him as anything other than an actor showing off in an exercise. I breathed a sigh of relief when Don Corleone bit it in Godfather, I could barely stand his rambling in Last Tango, and here I just wanted Stella to up and leave Stanley so I wouldn't have to see him anymore. Granted, part of that is actually an effective performance; we're supposed to find Stanley brutish and discomforting. But I found him more annoying than anything else, and, again, I just didn't buy into any of it, from his fits of rage to Blanche's spells to the tension between them. Only Stella, trying valiantly to hold it all together, made any sense to me as a character.

The Twilight Samurai (Yoji Yamada, 2002)
It's strange to think of how broad the world of cinema is; this is Yamada's 77th film as director, and I had never heard of him before. A single series he made (Tora-san) is the longest running theatrical series in the world, at 48 installments. And this is just gleaned from the IMDb trivia page. It doesn't really have much bearing on discussing this film, which is a stand-alone piece, although it does deal with aging and being an underappreciated craftsman in one's field. In a way this is the antidote to all those heavily stylized martial arts films like Hero that are all the rage right now, especially in the U.S. The Twilight Samurai is about a warrior who doesn't want to fight, a samurai whose passion is his family, not bloodshed. The drama is so tense and effective that when there finally is a fight scene, it's startling and visceral, not at all balletic or hyper-real like in those Zhang Yimou pictures. This is an interesting examination of the changing mores in Japan in the late 1800s, and in general the conflict between an honor-based code of fighting and the simple demands of family life. A low-key but fascinating film.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

New comics 2/2

The Monolith #12 (Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray/Phil Winslade, DC)
I guess I was wrong in my review of the previous issue when I lamented the fact that Winslade wouldn't be back for the final issue of the character he co-created. This is a good conclusion to the book in that it doesn't feel the need to wrap things up neatly or somehow sum up everything the past 11 issues were about. It's just a nice little story that, while it feels final in some senses, could easily have just been another issue. There's plenty here for other writers to pick up if they feel so inclined, and I always think that's the best thing to do. Somewhere someone is reading this book who will, someday, become a comics writer and have fond memories of it, and bring the characters back. I have to say that I was never as in love with this book as some reviewers were, and, while I am always sad to see something new and different get cancelled, I probably won't miss it all that much. I picked up the entire run of The Resistance for less than a dollar, so I'll get around to reading that at some point, but I don't know that Palmiotti and Gray's writing so impressed me that I'll be buying their next project unless it's something that sounds really inherently intriguing (like this did).

Uncanny X-Men #455 (Chris Claremont/Alan Davis, Marvel)
Okay, this is ridiculous. The last issue just came out last week! I said last week that there isn't really any point to my reviewing every issue and saying the same things, and that's true. So here's what's new: Davis is back on art, and that's always welcome. But this issue features yet another return of a dead character (Psylocke, who was killed off by Claremont himself) for no reason. The return of Colossus in Astonishing bugged me, but at least Whedon seems to have some idea of what to do with him. I have absolutely no faith that Claremont will find a good reason to have Psylocke back. Knowing him, he'll forget all about her in a few issues. I am seriously thinking of dropping this book, which I have been reading for something like 12 or 13 years, because it's just silly to spend money every month (or more often) for something I don't even remotely enjoy.

X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong #2 (Greg Pak/Greg Land, Marvel)
Especially when I can still read about the X-Men in books like this. Really, there is no reason why this isn't a storyline in a core book except greed on Marvel's part. This story is way more significant than what Claremont or Milligan are doing in their respective books, and also much better. It's not spectacular, but it tells an interesting story with good characterization, builds on past continuity (both from Claremont's original run and Morrison's) and, yes, features the return of a dead character, but for a much clearer reason. Also, it's not set in stone that Jean will stay returned after this series ends, and, as some have pointed out, the whole concept of the Phoenix is that it rises from the dead anyway. Not to make like this is the greatest X-Men story ever - it's still a little slow, and I still find Land's art a little stiff and static, but it's far better than the crap Claremont's been writing.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Movies opening this week

Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton, Phil Davis, Alex Kelly, dir. Mike Leigh)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I guess Oscar nominations are good for something, because after months of delays this is finally opening in Vegas. It's an excellent film, tough to watch at times but absolutely worth the effort. I've yet to see any of Leigh's other movies, but I've got All or Nothing in my NetFlix queue and I'm sure I'll add more soon. Of course this deserved more nominations than it got, but for the tangible positive effect they're having, I'm grateful for anything at all. Opened limited Oct. 10; in Las Vegas this week