Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TV premiering tonight: Big Day

Okay, admittedly I saw this pilot way back in August when it was scheduled to premiere as part of ABC's initial fall lineup, so my memory is a little fuzzy, but everything I remember about it is bad. We're far enough into the season now that so many of these serialized dramas have failed to hold people's interest, and the prevailing theory now is that viewers just aren't dedicated enough to commit themselves to more than one or two of these types of shows. Now we get a leftover from when serialized storytelling was the hottest thing going, and on top of that it's a serialized sitcom, which is a genre that's barely hanging on. Not that the plot - which follows one couple's wedding day basically in real time over the course of the season - is going to be as complicated as Lost or 24, but it's still structured in a way that people will assume they have to start at the beginning and watch every week.

But this is a perfect example of the kind of story you should not tell this way, as the first episode already exhausts nearly every cliche of the wedding movie/TV show: both the bride and groom get cold feet; the bride's dad disapproves of her choice in husbands; the bride's sister and the groom's best friend sleep together; and so on. And given that this is real time, that means all these things happen before 9 a.m. on the wedding day. I don't see how this show can last even a few episodes, let alone a whole season or more, and even if the plotting were better, the jokes are tired and unfunny and the characters almost universally unlikeable. I doubt that producers will have to worry about how to keep things going, though, as this looks tailor-made for cancellation in about a month. ABC, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

New comics 11/22

Jack of Fables #5 (Bill Willingham & Matthew Sturges/Tony Akins, DC/Vertigo)
I do like this book more and more with each issue, even as it continues to feel a little superfluous. This is the conclusion of the first arc, and Jack does indeed escape the prison camp, which is a good sign (in fact, Willingham and/or Sturges must have been paying attention to online complainers, because the issue closes with a caption telling off readers who thought the whole series would be a Prisoner rip-off). Although I'm happy to see Jack on the road to new adventures, I do hope that some of the interesting supporting characters from this arc show up again down the road, since our protagonist himself remains a bit of a one-dimensional cipher. I hope that he can carry a whole series, and now with a new arc coming up, it looks like I'll get to find out.

Noble Causes #25 (Jay Faerber/various, Image)
With this extra-sized 25th issue, Faerber brings in a whole gaggle of artists to draw various sections, including regular penciler Jon Bosco, former artist Fran Bueno and occasional cover artist Gabe Bridwell. I know that Faerber is a big advocate of giving new talent a chance, but honestly some of the art in this issue is atrocious, and only Bridwell and Bueno do work that I'd be interested in seeing again. Even when the work is relatively competent, the changes in style can be jarring. The story, with Liz accidentally traveling through the timestream to different eras of the Nobles, does lend itself well to multiple artists, but it's got so much information to take in that it's overwhelming. The issue ends with a good old-fashioned soap opera cliffhanger that I like, but it unfortunately also ends on Bosco's art, which I still can't get into. I wonder if it might be time to just drop this book.

Runaways #22 (Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona, Marvel)
Vaughan and Alphona start their final arc strongly, taking Chase further to the dark side (which I like) and balancing that with some sweet, fun banter featuring the team just sitting around. Since Vaughan has a habit of constantly shaking up the team roster, I wonder if we will see Chase become completely villainous and get written out before Joss Whedon takes over, or if he'll have to get rehabilitated, or even if another character will die. No matter what, I expect a lot of exciting stuff to be packed into the next two issues.

X-Factor #13 (Peter David/Pablo Raimondi, Marvel)
David revisits the infamous "X-aminations" story from his original X-Factor run, in issue 87 of the old series. (Which I remember reading, 13 years ago when it was first released. I feel old.) This means that the team gets therapy from Doc Samson, and it's fun and revealing and even cleans up some of Monet's apparently very complicated continuity. There's some taking stock of what's happened in recent issues, and setting up of things for the future, and overall it's a nice palate cleanser and shows that David has a very good handle on the characters. It's also great to see Pablo Raimondi, who drew the Madrox mini-series, back on art, after the revolving cast of fill-ins of varying quality. Raimondi's art is clean but noir-ish, perfect for the book's tone, and his storytelling is very good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Movies opening this week

Déjà Vu (Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, dir. Tony Scott)
It seems odd to say this about any movie, but thank goodness for Jerry Bruckheimer. Tony Scott made his name directing Bruckheimer productions - Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State - that had plenty of flaws, but were at least energetic, easy-to-watch action thrillers, for the most part. But Scott's last two films - Man on Fire and Domino - found him working without Bruckheimer and pushing a new visual style that relied on sensory overload, cutting relentlessly every other second and shooting from every possible angle except straight on, changing film stock repeatedly, throwing random words onto the screen and just in general killing the viewer with meaningless visual barrages. Man on Fire made a lot of money, but Domino was a flop, and in general Scott's new style is not exactly appealing or accessible for the average action-movie fan. So I'm certain it's no coincidence that Scott's return to working with the aggressively mainstream Bruckheimer also marks a decided scaling back of his manic style, and for that Bruckheimer deserves the audience's gratitude.

But, of course, this movie still pretty much sucks, and just because Scott scales back the stylistic excess doesn't mean that he does away with it altogether, and the pivotal (ridiculous) plot device of the all-seeing doohickey that views four days into the past allows him to indulge in all sorts of dizzying camera movements within the context of characters searching for clues to the central mystery. That mystery starts out somewhat interesting while the movie is just a standard crime thriller, but once the sci-fi stuff comes in, it's like it's a completely different movie, and the silly twists mount until finally the whole thing is completely untenable. I will give Scott credit for his inventive twist on the car chase, though, with Washington's character driving around chasing a car from four days in the past that he can see with his time-travel helmet. It's as exactly as stupid as it sounds, but at least it's novel. Wide release

The Fountain (Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really wanted to like this movie, and I tried really hard for at least the first half to believe that there was something amazing and profound right around the corner, but it just doesn't work. Aronofsky creates some beautiful images and has huge ambitions, and he deserves credit for never giving up on his vision even after numerous setbacks, but this is just ponderous navel-gazing without any real substance to its plot or characters. It's the kind of thing that's meant to make you think really deep thoughts, but afterward you realize that you didn't really care about what happened to the characters, or even remember specifically what they were trying to accomplish. Wide release

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (Jack Black, Kyle Gass, dir. Liam Lynch)
I've never found Tenacious D funny, but even my friend who went to this screening with me and is a big fan of theirs found the movie seriously lacking. It just seems a little regressive at this point to revisit something that had its little cult that peaked five years ago, and this movie obviously suffers from the standard narrative thinness of sketches turned into features. And the D's bit, their ridiculous self-importance in the face of their obvious mediocrity, gets old really quickly. Despite the fact that this movie was years in the making, it looks and feels cheap and tossed-off, like something Black came back and did out of obligation now that he's a big movie star. The characters don't make sense as people when they have to exist consistently for 90 minutes, the plot is nonexistent and the jokes aren't funny. Longtime fans will probably get some enjoyment out of the familiarity, but I really expect (and hope) that this puts the lid on the whole Tenacious D thing for good, which has long since run its course. Wide release

Robert Altman

What can I say about Robert Altman that hasn't been said first and better by someone else? Well, pretty much nothing, but I'd certainly be remiss not to note the passing one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and probably the greatest living American filmmaker until his death on Monday night. Altman was 81 and looked quite fragile in his recent public appearances (and allegedly had Paul Thomas Anderson ghost-directing much of A Prairie Home Companion for him), so it wasn't necessarily a surprise to hear of his passing, but it was nevertheless unexpected and very sad. I've seen nine Altman films, which barely scratches the surface of his extensive and varied filmography, and I have no doubt that there are many wonders for me to discover as I see more.

Keith Uhlich writes up a nice tribute at The House Next Door, and Ed Gonzalez posts a touching and personal eulogy at Slant. A.O. Scott has the standard, sturdy obit in the New York Times, with his usual understated intelligence. And there's a wealth of all sorts of writing on Altman from the House's Altman blog-a-thon back in April. (Also Lindsay Lohan's rambling, incoherent expression of condolence, which is horrifying and amusing and sort of sweetly misguided at best.) But the best way to pay tribute, of course, is to sit down and watch one (or more) of Altman's brilliant and inventive films.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New comics 11/15

Astonishing X-Men #18 (Joss Whedon/John Cassaday, Marvel)
Theoretically this is the end of the latest arc, but nothing is really resolved, and it's more just a set-up for the climax of Whedon's 24-issue story that he's been telling since the beginning. We do figure out what's behind the whole Hellfire Club, attack, though, and it's sort of disappointing - it's another mind control story, with Cassandra Nova pulling the strings, and Emma of course has not really turned evil. Which is good, but it's lame that there isn't really a new Hellfire Club, and even lamer that it's taken this long to get to this rather tame reveal. Plus, there's the whole "she showed us our greatest fears and we defeated them" bit, which is such a horribly overused cliche. Still, wonderful art as always, some nice character moments, and an effective merging of the Ord and Danger storyline with what's going on at the mansion, which sets up (hopefully) an interesting final arc as the characters are whisked off to the Breakworld to answer for what Colossus may do in the future.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #1 (Kurt Busiek/Brent Anderson, DC/Wildstorm)
Although this is a perfectly good issue that returns us to the story of brothers Charles and Royal Williams, I'm already a little fatigued at the idea of spending 12 more issues following them and not any of the myriad interesting heroes in the AC world (although they end up as significant supporting players). Busiek's epic about the gritty times in the superhero world is a little dour and downbeat to go on for so long, especially in a series that thrives on its sense of wonder, but it's a good story and this issue sets up some new circumstances that should provide for another intriguing tale.

Cable & Deadpool #34 (Fabian Nicieza/Reilly Brown, Marvel)
Cable is a little too omniscient in this issue, going from impressively capable to annoyingly perfect, although his smug condescension is probably meant to be a character trait. Nicieza wraps up this brief story with Cable's "I knew what you were doing all along, and it was all part of my plan," which is kind of a cop-out storytelling device. But it brings Domino into the supporting cast as a love interest for Cable, which is a development with some potential. I'm still not crazy about Brown's art, which is too cartoony, but I suppose it tells the story well enough.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Movies opening this week

Casino Royale (Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, dir. Martin Campbell)
I am far from what you'd call a dedicated James Bond fan (before this I had seen exactly one Bond movie - Tomorrow Never Dies, with Pierce Brosnan), so I went into this hoping for nothing more than a good action movie, and for a while I got it. The first action sequence is outstanding - exciting and dangerous and quite violent, and for a while the momentum continues well from there. But the plot is so insubstantial and the much-hyped "humanizing" of the Bond character so superficial that the movie is a complete drag whenever there isn't running and punching, and the pacing is way off by the time they get to the odd, drawn-out romantic interlude past the two-hour mark. I still don't know why all these big action blockbusters insist on being two and a half hours long, and this is another that runs that long seemingly out of obligation. Although reviews have praised the way that Craig and Campbell bring a grittier, more realistic feel to the franchise, I sort of missed the gadgets and the snappy one-liners (although there are a few of those) and the villains with the silly names, because as someone with only a cursory interest in the franchise, that's what I think of when I think of Bond. Without the cheeky, campy element, it's just another loud action movie.

But even if you buy into it as gritty and real, it's still totally ridiculous, and the producers can't bring themselves to entirely let go of the puns and in-jokes and sexism and most of the familiar elements of the franchise, and the result is a movie that looks like it wants to have it both ways, and ends up with neither. I suspect that people must have hated the last few Bond movies so much that any hint of change is being welcomed with open arms, but for me Bond has always been about self-conscious pomo irony, and a grim-faced superspy is something I can get from other movies. Also, poor Eva Green is devastatingly beautiful, but since her searing turn in The Dreamers has done nothing but play romantic accessories in big-budget male power fantasies, and that's a sad, sad thing. Wide release

Fast Food Nation (Greg Kinnear, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, Ashley Johnson, dir. Richard Linklater)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I really like Richard Linklater, and one of his greatest strengths is his versatility, but sometimes that means that he's frustratingly inconsistent. His other movie of 2006, A Scanner Darkly, is one of my favorites of the whole year, but this is a giant failure, a narrative non-starter with big, poorly delivered chunks of exposition. I haven't read Eric Schlosser's book, but I was a regular Rolling Stone reader when they serialized much of it in an early form, and even though I love fast food and don't care how they treat animals or workers or the environment, I still found what he wrote engrossing. This movie is the opposite of engrossing - it could probably even make people who are eager to learn about the evils of fast food tune out quickly. Wide-ish release

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

TV premiering tonight: 3 Lbs.

Or, more accurately, Dr. House, Neurosurgeon. Seriously, for all the talk earlier this season about how Shark was a ripoff of House except with lawyers, this show is an even more blatant ripoff of House, except with ... doctors. Okay, to be fair, they're neurologists and neurosurgeons, but all that means is that the kinds of cases they can encounter and patients they can treat are even more limited. Otherwise, Stanley Tucci plays a remarkably House-like character, a gruff, aloof genius who doesn't like to talk to patients, treats his subordinates with contempt and is tortured by his own ironically debilitating injury. Tucci is a good actor, but this is a one-note and tiresome character, and none of the supporting players are particularly interesting. Bland Mark Feuerstein is the audience surrogate, but he just wanders around looking lost (and actually at one point even says something like, "Is being an asshole a requirement for being a genius around here?" like, way to point out exactly what's hackneyed about the premise of your show, dude). There are some clever illustrations of the way that brain ailments affect people's faculties, but those are small highlights in an otherwise derivative and uninteresting show. CBS, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weekend viewing

Still catching up on notable 2006 releases.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
Man, this movie is just brutal. It's exactly as it sounds from the title - a nearly real-time, painstaking account of the death of one man. For two and a half hours, the title character deteriorates from having a headache and stomachache to ... well, you can guess. Along the way he is ignored by doctors and family members, passed from hospital to hospital and misdiagnosed several times. Although many reviews indicated that this is a scathing indictment of the Romanian healthcare system, the truth is that at least as many people try to help Mr. Lazarescu as ignore him, and Puiu throws up several no doubt rare roadblocks to his protagonist's getting help. At the same time, it seems mostly accurate, and indicative of the general indifference of the world to the suffering of those who have no one to care for them. My kind of film.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (Dito Montiel, 2006)
I expected a sort of bland coming-of-age tale from this movie, but while it does have some unfortunate hallmarks of earnest first features (pretentious voiceovers, pointless jump cuts), those are rather minimal, and overall Montiel does an excellent job of evoking his locale (Queens), era (1986) and time of life (late teens, of course). There's not much of a plot, which means that the overly weighty ending kind of comes on too abruptly, but for most of the film, it's a bittersweet and genuine portrait of the highs and lows of hard-scrabble teenage life.

The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
Although this has a really effective somber tone and some chilling, matter-of-fact violence, it all felt a little aloof for me to really be affected by it. Guy Pearce mumbles his way through the lead performance, and there are a lot of really pretty shots of the Australian countryside that seem to stand in for things like character motivation and dialogue.

Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
Graphic sex aside, this is a seriously lame movie. It's basically any low-budget, poorly acted, New York-set indie movie about whiny people's relationship problems, except with explicit penetration shots. I never saw Mitchell's first film, Hedwig & The Angry Inch, which is supposed to be a brilliant genre-busting musical, and it may very well be. But the only thing brilliant about this movie is the way it uses the novelty of explicit sex scenes (which, I admit, are handled artfully and with enough playfulness to be enjoyable to watch, unlike the dreary slog of 9 Songs) to distract from its amateurish writing, poor character development (which was done improvisationally between Mitchell and the weak cast) and rather ugly look.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New comics 11/8

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #4 (Zeb Wells/Stefano Caselli, Marvel)
Well, this was a waste through and through, and I'm kind of ashamed to have bought the whole thing. Wells wraps things up limply, having told only a rudimentary superhero story with no character insight or lasting impact on its main players; in fact, the entire purpose of this series seems to have been to bring Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy character back into continuity, not that Wells does anything interesting with him, or that other writers are likely to pick up on his return. Only the most cursory connection to Civil War is even mentioned in this issue, like Wells suddenly remembered why this series existed in the first place. And Caselli's art, while serviceable, still can't distinguish enough among the many teenage female characters to easily tell them apart. It's too bad that Young Avengers is still on hiatus and this is all we get to read of the characters, because it doesn't exactly do them a great service.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #2 (Brian K. Vaughan/Marcos Martin, Marvel)
More lively than the first issue, and thus more entertaining, although I'm not sure all the flashbacks to Strange's origins are completely necessary. I still don't much care about the character, but Vaughan is writing a fun adventure tale with some twists, and I very much like what he's doing with the Night Nurse character. She's a bit of a Mary Sue at times, but she's sharp and funny and her continued presence is unexpected; clearly the concept has potential for all sorts of different stories, and once this series is over I think it'd be cool to see Vaughan launch one for Night Nurse.

Fables #55 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham, DC/Vertigo)
Like last issue, sort of an info dump, but beautifully illustrated, especially a fantastic two-page spread on the hypothetical war between the Empire and the mundies. Willingham manages to get some nice character moments between Boy Blue and Rose Red in there as well, and a cute little backup story with the three blind mice. Even though this issue debunks the gruesome war detailed last month, the Adversary himself is still creepy and the ending is ominous about his future plans.

Y the Last Man #51 (Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra, DC/Vertigo)
The more the reasons behind the plague are explained, the less interesting they become, honestly, although I suppose that was inevitable no matter what the explanation turned out to be. This issue has a cool fight scene between 355 and Toyota and another good cliffhanger, but overall lately this book has seemed like it's going through the motions to wrap everything up by the end with issue 60.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Movies opening this week

Harsh Times (Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, dir. David Ayer)
I really have no idea what to make of this movie. If it's meant to be taken at face value, then it's a horrible failure - completely, laughably inauthentic in its portrait of ghetto culture, aimless and bleak and with the worst performance Christian Bale's ever given (and he's an executive producer, too). If it's meant as some sort of satire, it's still a failure, because it's not clever enough to point out exactly what it's satirizing. Mostly it's just a stupidly over-the-top mess, with Bale doing some weird mix of surfer-dude and cholo accents, and failing at both. There have never been so many unconvincing, disingenuous utterances of the words "dude," "dawg" and "homie" in the entirety of cinema. Utterly baffling. Wide release

Stranger Than Fiction (Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, dir. Marc Forster)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Marc Forster has had such an odd career - overcooked Oscar bait like Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland, forgotten thriller Stay, and now this, which is light and whimsical and actually quite well-directed. It never really comes together as well as it should, though, and left me feeling vaguely disappointed, but it's mostly entertaining, and Dustin Hoffman is hilarious playing the dedicated and slightly deluded literature professor. I don't know if it's a fluke for Forster (whose slate of upcoming projects continues to be tough to pigeonhole), but it'd be nice to see him continue making movies in this vein rather than trying to make people cry to win Oscars. Wide release

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The first rule of awards screeners is you do not talk about awards screeners

Thanks to my membership in the fabulous Las Vegas Film Critics Society, I get inundated with "For Your Consideration" screeners starting around the beginning of November through about mid-December. (Also the occasional soundtrack/score CD, and even some screenplays.) Right around the time I first joined the LVFCS, studios were all up in arms about how to combat piracy of screeners, and this led to some studios not sending them out, others using watermarks and one (Disney) even sending some groups (not ours, though) screeners that would only play in specially made DVD players that they also sent out.

Well, the furor has died down a little, and most studios are just sending regular DVDs with watermarks, but they are still very, very paranoid about movies leaking onto the Internet, and every package comes with a warning about how if you post the movie online, they will track you with the watermark and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. But the level of ridiculousness goes even further than that. The letter I got from Fox Searchlight today with my screeners of Thank You for Smoking and The Last King of Scotland had this paragraph on "disposing of screeners" after the standard warning about fines and jail time:

If you want to discard the screeners after reviewing it for awards consideration, please securely destroy them so your personal copies do not fall into the wrong hands. The easiest way is to just take a pair of household scissors and cut the discs in half.

Clearly, in order to protect the movies, we must destroy them. I think we are only a year or two away from "This awards screener will self-destruct in 30 days, or after the Oscar nominations have been announced, whichever comes first."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

New comics 11/1

Agents of Atlas #4 (Jeff Parker/Leonard Kirk, Marvel)
The pacing in this issue is a little odd, with a lot of plot development and time passing indicated via narration, but otherwise it's another entertaining little adventure, and I like that Parker isn't just blithely resurrecting old characters (in this case, Namora) without having something behind it. It lessens the sense that he's negating old stories rather than building on them.

Criminal #2 (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips, Marvel/Icon)
I wasn't really sold on the first issue, despite the relentless hype and gushing reviews, and at first this issue was sort of underwhelming as well. But once Brubaker gets to the heist (and I like that it shows up already in part two of a five-part story), he pulls out some neat twists that made me pay attention (it also helped that by that time I had figured out who the characters were again). Phillips also draws some nice, brisk action sequences. It's still not much more than your standard crime story, but it's a good crime story that I'm interested to read to its conclusion.

Ex Machina #24 (Brian K. Vaughan/Tony Harris, DC/Wildstorm)
The storyline wraps up with a sort of anticlimactic end to the fake firefighter plotline, but some interesting set-ups with Mitchell's powers acting up and some of his supposed allies conspiring against him. All of the elements didn't come together as gracefully as I hoped after reading the first part, but overall this was still a very strong arc.

The Exterminators #11 (Simon Oliver/Mike Hawthorne, DC/Vertigo)
Once again, this book is at its strongest when focused on interpersonal drama rather than sci-fi mumbo jumbo. This issue puts the focus on the enigmatic Cambodian scientist who works for Bug Bee Gone, and his creepy but sort of touching date with another researcher. It has ominous overtones that relate to the overarching mythology plot, but it works best simply as a story of two weirdos sharing a connection. I kind of wish Oliver would just do an all-out relationship-drama series, because he's very good at it.

Fallen Angel #10 (Peter David/J.K. Woodward, IDW)
A satisfying done-in-one story, contrasting the Angel's conflicting blase exterior with her deep-seated resentment of "the boss" (aka God). This volume has been a lot heavier on the religious stuff than the original series ever was, which isn't necessarily bad, but it does sometimes seem like David is belaboring obvious points that distract a little too much from the more interesting ongoing plot, which doesn't exactly move forward in this issue.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #2 (Robert Kirkman/Phil Hester, Marvel)
I realize that it's right there in the title that the main character is meant to be, y'know, irredeemable, but it's still hard to enjoy the book when the protagonist is such a complete dick. Since this issue kills off the best friend who was more sympathetic (and appeared in issue one to be getting set up as a possible alternate Ant-Man), there's really no one to care about or have any interest in. The vengeance-filled former colleague chasing after Ant-Man isn't any better as a sympathetic character, so I'm at a loss as to what about this book is meant to be engaging. At least if Ant-Man's assholery were amusing, I could be entertained, but he's really just a humorless jerk, and I don't think I'll be reading any more of his adventures.

She-Hulk #13 (Dan Slott/Rick Burchett, Marvel)
Well, Slott proves many of his critics wrong by scaling back on his retcons of Starfox and especially Thanos, or rather revealing the real story behind the goings-on that fits much better with established character traits. I'm not implying that this is a response to criticism - it's just that the full story is finally out there, and clearly Slott knew what he was doing all along. It still carries consequences for Starfox and explores some interesting aspects of his character, but it also makes more sense with what we know from older stories. This turned out to be a surprisingly rewarding storyline, and Slott still leaves the interesting relationship problems between She-Hulk and Man-Wolf unresolved for now, to carry over into future issues.

X-Men: Phoenix - Warsong #3 (Greg Pak/Tyler Kirkham, Marvel)
It disappoints me to say that this issue is unabashedly bad. I was a little wary at the start of Pak's delving into the origins of the Stepford Cuckoos and of Kirkham's dead-eyed, stiff, Top Cow house-style art, but the first two issues seemed to hold together reasonably well. Not so much anymore. Kirkham's art is just terrible - flat, lifeless and distractingly repetitive, and the story that Pak has concocted for the Cuckoos (positioning them as three of hundreds of clones of Emma Frost) is cliched and robs them of their uniqueness. The Phoenix feels more tacked-on than ever in this issue, and the story is generally just a mess. I don't know if I'll even bother with the last two issues to see how things wrap up.

Also out this week: The All-New Atom #5 and American Virgin #8, but with the large number of books I was already picking up and my general lack of interest in what's been going on in these series lately, I decided this was an opportune time to give up on both. Atom was just too generic a superhero comic, and Virgin suffered the same problem as Steven Seagle's last Vertigo series, The Crusades: intriguing premise, promising set-up, and then meandering aimlessly through more and more set-up for issue after issue until losing all my interest.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A little more on Borat

Lest I come off as the lone voice screaming in the wilderness, I thought I'd link to a few more intelligent dissenting voices on Borat, or aspects of the film. Paul O'Brien goes off on the cruelty of Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat, and while I don't quite share his level of vitriol, I do agree that the comedy of cruelty is pretty shitty (and this goes along with why I don't like Daily Show field reports). Noel Murray (who found the movie hilarious) explains why Borat is not meaningful social satire. Ed Gonzalez (who also liked the movie) points out the inconsistencies and laziness in the characterization, storytelling and social commentary. And Lewis Beale complains about journalists and critics becoming another cog in the Borat publicity machine.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Movies opening this week

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, dir. Larry Charles)
Let's get this out of the way right now: I did not like this movie. Thus I stand in opposition, apparently, to the entire critical establishment as well as nearly all of the American movie-going public. And that's an okay place for me to be, I think, but I acknowledge that this movie is almost universally praised and a lot of people are going to like it. And that doesn't necessarily bother me - this is not one of those movies whose popularity either with critics or audiences makes me despair for the state of cinema. It has ambition and intelligence, and that's always a good thing. But I didn't find it funny in the least - to me, it's a one-joke premise, and once you get what Borat's about, he just repeats the same bits over and over again. The film is just a collection of skits that quickly become repetitive, and certainly doesn't hold together as a cohesive narrative. And Borat himself is actually a poorly realized character, changing fundamentally to suit whatever purpose he serves in each different bit.

Not that many of these things would matter if the jokes were funny, but other than a few chuckles, I didn't laugh at any of the bits that had the preview audience I saw it with roaring. I've never been a fan of the "embarrass people" brand of humor, which is why I can't stand hidden camera shows or practical jokes or the field reports on The Daily Show. Essentially tricking people into acting like idiots is not funny to me. The worst thing, though, is all this talk of how Borat is some clever social satire that exposes the dark underbelly of American bigotry. While the movie does satirize the idea of bigotry, very few of Borat's victims actually express what could be called genuinely hateful ideas. The rodeo official who wants to jail homosexuals and the frat boys who hate women come the closest, but even then you can hardly call what transpires insightful or even satirical. Drunken frat boys act misogynistic? What a shocker. Some old white dude in Texas hates gay people? I am amazed. I mean, really. Even if you think it's hilarious, one thing this movie is not is sophisticated political commentary. Wide release

Flushed Away (Voices of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, dir. David Bowers & Sam Fell)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I hope that this movie makes a ton of money so that Aardman can spend how ever much time it takes to painstakingly create one of their stop-motion films and do another Wallace and Gromit movie or something. This is actually a fun and funny film that's good for kids and adults, but it's a little too mainstream and predictable in comparison to what the company has done before. Even so, any quality animated film that can bring success to a group of talented people like the Aardman gang gets my stamp of approval. Wide release