Saturday, September 5, 2009

Carver in the Rough

Artist types throw around their "influences" an awful lot, but generally I think they assign that title to the greats of their profession for the sake of an answer. At least, the number of times I've furrowed in my brow in doubt or confusion when reading or hearing of someones influences far outweighs the times I solemnly nod my head in acceptance. For me as a writer, one of the few people who I can undoubtedly call a true influence is minimalist short story writer Raymond Carver.

Before I read Carver, I don't believe I knew how to read like a writer, or at the very least, I couldn't do it as well. As is the minimalist tradition, themes, and often the very plot in his writing, is drastically understated. They exist in minute details, subtext, and symbols. This applies to length, of course as well. I don't know that I even consider it so much a style as much as an example of the level of subtlety every writer should strive for. A number of my stories, most notably The Murder, are directly influenced by his work. Needless to say, his work is important to me.

I recently read on the New York Times website that Library of America will be publishing a volume of all of Carver's work before it was edited by Gordon Lish for publication. It's no secret that Carver's work blossomed in the hands of his editors-- the level of subtlety he achieved cannot be discussed without some attribution to them. Despite my overwhelming curiosity, I can't help but worry about the significance of the transformitive abilities a liberal use of the proverbial scissors. Is it Carver who has helped shape my writing, or someone else entirely?

It's a precarious situation, especially because by the time Carver arrived at his final collection, Cathedral, his writing style was noticeably different. Not bad, far from it-- some consider it his best work-- but the stories become "easier" to read; The intent isn't nearly as shadowed. Will an unearthing of his unedited work reveal more of a direct bridge from one way of working to another? Was it more progressive than a simple early period, middle period, late period? Probably-- and given that my own favorite stories by Carver come from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love-- what would be considered a part of his middle period, it's likely the most significant number of changes will be in these very stories.

I learned as much about writing and reading from Carver than I have from any professor I've ever had, if not more and I certainly have more affection for him than any of them as well. I certainly plan to read the forthcoming publication (at least I will after I read several of his collections as they currently stand. My experience with Carver was with Where I'm Calling From, a 500+ page collection encompassing work from his entire career) and I'm pleased that what Carver deemed finished will finally get published but it remains unnerving. He is a genius regardless, but not necessarily my influential teacher.

P.S. Initial skimming of the comparison link on the Times Page is rather disheartening.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Justice League: Cry for Justice #3

Justice League:Cry for Justice #3
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mauro Cascioli

I read three pages of this and threw the comic down in frustration. That is all I have to say.

My previous reviews of this miniseries, which I desperately hoped would improve, should say everything that needs to be said.

RATING: N/A (Likely, 2 out of 10 for only the artwork).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Disney buys Marvel

I considered giving this blog a somewhat clever or inventive title, but when it comes down to it, I think the news is staggering enough. Early this morning Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for about the sum of 4 Billion dollars. While major news outlets focus on the buy, and what it mean for Disney shareholders, I can't help wondering what it means for Marvel Entertainment.

It's ironic that the buy should happen at the same time Marvel is celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The characters in Marvel Comics are American Icons; perhaps not to the degree of those at DC, but its difficult to doubt the notoriety of the likes of Spider-man, or Wolverine. Disney, in fact, is only about as old as Marvel itself; their first feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) hitting theaters the same year Marvel's, then Timely, first comic hit the shelves. This is perhaps the biggest reason the news is difficult to comprehend; both companies seem equally indestructible so the notion that one old fish has swallowed another is perplexing.

This aside, I think the buy means trouble for the Marvel stable. Disney is now notorious for its franchise buy outs: The company now own the rights not only to their own properties, but also to those of the Pixar Properties, the Jim Henson properties, and now those at Marvel. Not to be a negative Nancy, but consider the entertainment presence the Jim Henson characters since the buy out in 2002. The characters, it seems to me, have been exploited for merchandising purposes but have been used for little else. I could be wrong but nothing comes to mind aside from some DVD releases, and some toys.

The major reason I'm concerned is that I believe Marvel understood the success of their properties was dependant on comic sales. While they're not the most economically successful, they're what continues to generate fans, and keeps fans enthusiastic about other media releases. Of course Marvel itself has been doing a thoroughly disgusting job exploiting its material for toys, TV shows, and movies with the intent to move beyond the comics, so perhaps a de-emphasis is inevitable. I'm concerned because Disney-- a company that booted out hand drawn animation because it wasn't selling despite it being the backbone of the company, and that it wasn't selling largely because of the poor artistic decisions being made-- has a strong fiscal focus. You may say, "Well, yeah, they're a cooperation" but what I mean is that their decisions don't seems to be effected by artistic, traditional, or social influences. I wouldn't doubt for a second that their return to 2D animation musicals has been driven by the mixed success of their own (non-Pixar) 3D movies, and the ever building nostalgia for the Disney Renaissance. I think I'm just now waiting for the news that the company that remorselessly threw out their drafting tables will be doing the same to the printing press.

The other concern-- should Disney spare the printed page-- is artistic. Disney of course makes some wonderful material, but it's hard to ignore that even the darkest of material at Disney isn't that dark. Marvel, by contrast, is a very adult in its material. Captain America shot dead, Norman Osborn's usurpation of control, and others are just some of the examples of artistic decisions that would potentially have been hampered with by Disney Execs at the top. While I'm sure control won't be hands on, there is bound to be company mandates. I expect Marvel will very quickly become the "safe" comic company. Remember Disney is a company whose darker properties include Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney won't be interested in older comic readers, but young kids who favor the television shows. The movie properties are likely to suffer this as well: More like Spider-man, less Dark Knight or Iron Man.
I'm hardly trying to "sound the alarm" here-- I'm actually fairly indifferent at present. If and when what I expect to happen does, I imagine the feelings will be different; I grew up on these comics, but the fact is in the face of Marvel's radical story choices and commercialization, I've been moving to DC naturally, anyway.

DC is in fact now more accurately comparable to Marvel. DC is of course owned by Warner Brothers who have-- astoundingly-- been fairly hands off except in the way of movie production. However, I feel Disney has too much of its own agenda and is more focused on lining up a commercially successful pendant for boys to their Princess line for girls. The biggest threat to the Marvel Universe is no longer Dr. Doom; it's Mickey Mouse.

What do you think the acquisition means? Is this what Marvel meant what they told us to accept change? Are the Disney executives, in fact, skrulls?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh Look... An Affair... [A Movie Review]


Opened (U.S.) May 15th 2009

Directed by: Christian Petzold

Written by: Christian Petzold

Thomas (Benno Furmann), a former solider in Afghanistan, is down on his luck; he has no money, no job, and no prospects. On a walk home from the grocery store, he overhears the crash of a passing SUV. This is how Thomas meets Ali (Hilmi Sozer), an ill-tempered drunkard, and the owner of several fast-food-type outlets. After Ali's licence is suspended for drunk driving, he employs Thomas to take him to his various establishments. This also acquaints Thomas with Ali's beautiful wife Laura (Nina Hoss). Here things begin to get complicated. 

Foreign film is generally a very different beast than American film, and that's certainly the case with Jerichow. An American film with this exact same set up would have tight pacing, several major plot reversals, and very likely a character who was bat-shit crazy. It would be heavily suspenseful, with edge of your seat type tension. A thriller. And While Jerichow is billed as a thriller, it is also a foreign film, which means the approach, and the interests are very different. 

Jerichow is a surprisingly slow-paced movie that seems to have no problem taking a pedestrian look at this potentially explosive situation. It seems in many ways oblivious to the fact that it's supposed to entertain audiences. There are of course surprising moments, brutal moments, and a tenuous sense that something is going to happen, but rarely does it feel as though you're watching a movie in the American sense. This is fine until you begin to get tired and bleary-eyed, which is likely to happen to anyone save the diehard foreign film aficionados more accustomed to the pacing.

The film is generally fairly conventional, save for a major turn of events only ten minutes until the end. This aspect of the film, aside of setting the film apart from what you might expect, makes Ali a much more complex, fascinating character. In fact, it makes you question his motives for the entire length of the film. In this respect, the film succeeds. The characters in Jerichow are all fairly well crafted, and move on their own volition. In the case of Thomas and Laura, this might be why the film seems so mundane. 

Despite its better moments, Jerichow is too conventional for too much of the film, and-- seemingly-- too indifferent to its subject matter. Also, the ending, while powerful, feels lazy and doesn't come as a surprise. Hardly bad, hardly exceptional, its the kind of movie that prevents me from renting foreign films blindly. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #856

Detective Comics #856


Written by Greg Rucka

Art by J. H. Williams III 

The Question: 

Written by Greg Rucka

Art by Cully Hamner 

The thirteen cults of Gotham get ever stranger in Batwoman, as monsters step out into the shadows and complicate the standoff between Kate and Alice. Later, Kate's love life starts to heat up as more supporting characters are introduced into the series. In the Question, Renee fights for her life as the search for Louisa Soliz unfolds into something much worse. 

One of the significant ways in which super-hero comics are unique from other media is that the characters exist in an open-ended universe. Their stories aren't finite. At the same time writers are expected to make stories approachable for readers. With Greg Rucka's Batwoman run on Detective, I've tried to be patient, and I've chaulked a lot up to Kate Kane being a new character, and that her origin-- soon to be explored fully in upcoming issues-- would unfold at its own pace. I assumed that any backstory would at least be covered enough to fill readers in. Three issues in, I'm still pretty clueless as to what is going on. 

To be fair, the title isn't necessarily bad, but when approaching any Bat-title there is a reasonable expectation that it's going to be grounded in reality. Guns, knives, mob bosses and psychopaths as opposed to capes, monsters and alternate dimensions. With this issue there is a shift in tone from the bat-world to something more along the lines of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, or any other title related to the supernatural. As a reader unfamiliar with the character's history before her usurpation of Detective Comics, the shift came as a bit of a shock. When you say "cult" in a Batman comic it still generally means "crazy people." In addition to the unexpected change in tone-- which is an assumption in itself because of this next reason-- I have no idea of how these elements actually play into the characters story. Omissions forgivable at the title's inception are not becoming annoying. On the other side of the coin, I absolutely LOVE that he's continuing to pull characters and events from his run on Gotham Central. 

These problems aside, there's little to criticize the comic for. Rucka delivers a solid plot, and writes his dialog well. I do take issue that he puts both of the lesbian characters in tuxedos-- while certainly a realistic enough choice, it just feels too butch. Perhaps gender roles are simply too firmly ingrained in me, but I don't think so. 

J.H. Williams III panel design continues to be outstanding (though I feel he occasionally over does it), and the work is generally fantastic. Still, something has been bothering me about this run since it began and I believe it's in colorist Dave Stewart. When Kate is featured as Batwoman, the pages are generally very blue/cool palette, except Kate herself, of course, who is stands out with stunning blacks and reds. When Kate is depicted in her everyday life, she's often depicted as very pale-- seemly an attempt to single her out in the everyday, at which point in the comic Stewart uses more of a warm palette. The problem is that Kate looks like a corpse during the day, and the pages never feel right when buttressed up against the stunning Batwoman pages. The only image of Kate out of costume I had ever seen prior to reading the book was a picture of her from 52 in a red dress, and looking like an absolute bomb-shell. My idea of the character from that image turned out to be very different from what the character is actually like-- tuxedos and tattoos-- but I truly believe one of the major things standing in the way of my liking her is that its awful hard to relate to the walking dead. 

The Question continues to play out like a 40s serial-- due in large to the fact that Rucka has begun and ended each segment, more or less, with the character's life in danger. I've made my piece with this, but I've still yet to come to terms with the artwork. As readers will know I hardly ever comment on art, I really feel as though I'm unqualified, but the work of Cully Hamner and colorist Laura Martin feels so distinctly feminine I can't help but feel it's completely out of place in The Question. Renee, of course, is a very different character than Vic Sage, but the style in the 80s Question series was so effectively moody and noir that it's difficult not to compare the two to the female duo's disadvantage.  Hamner and Martin together create a comic that seems far too cartoony for the character. Hamner's figures are also very stiff--at the very least they are during fight scenes, and this certainly doesn't help the over-all effect. 

RATING: 6 out of 10.

Rucka is an entertaining writer, even if the story is a bit confusing for new readers, and the art is a mixed bag. Rucka's run began three issues ago for those looking to start reading but if you're at it you might as well pick up his Gotham Central run and the Crime Bible to help yourself out. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Mighty Avengers #28

Mighty Avengers #28
Plotted by Dan Slott
Scripted by Christos N. Gage
Pencils by Khoi Pham

The Mighty Avengers have been busy since they assembled. Between the unspoken threatening Earth, and a traitor in their midst it doesn't seem like things are going to be slowing down anytime soon. Quite the opposite, really. By all appearances it seems like things are about to boil over; the scarlet witch confronted, cameos abound, and the Earth facing extinction? The heat hasn't broken yet, and it doesn't look to be getting any cooler this Fall.

Gage's script is something of a difficult beast. On one hand, it's impossible to deny that events have moved foreword, and on the other, it seems as nothing was really accomplished in this particular issue of Mighty Avengers. Indeed, the "Scarlet Witch Vs. Young Avengers" promise advertised on the cover (in both image and logo) is little more than a teaser. Largely this issue is a lot of set-up, with little plot pay-off, but Gage at least makes it interesting. The light that's shed on this stories villain makes him exceptionally more interesting, and that alone makes the ride a lot more fun. In addition to this bit of character work, the issue also sets up a new major conflict, proves a few laughs, and delivers a sold fight scene for the action hounds. To be blunt, it makes a run down the checklist "necessary components" but doesn't do too much else. Solid, but unremarkable.

For this reason it's a difficult comic to review. Certainly Gage could likely have made better use of some of his precious comic pages/panels but it's hard to hold it against him. It's with issues like this that a person begins to understand the difference between good writer, and great writer, and that's often a difficult line to uncover. Even with Slott-- A solid plotter, hysterical character writer-- at his side, Gage's issue simply feels on the "good" side of adequate. The kind of comic you didn't hate, but might not pick up again. Money is tight after all.

I'm not one for ambivalence-- generally, I think it indicates ignorance, if not stupidity but tonight all I really can muster to say about this is "It was okay."

RATING: 6 out of 10.
To be redundant, it was everything you'd expect an issue of Mighty Avengers with Slott's name attached to be, but with nothing to write home about. Slott/Gage's Mighty Avengers has been a fun, if obscurely decorated ride and this issue is merely a breather in which characters are moved around for awhile so that the plot can continue. To hook into this title you'll need this issue, and issue 27 at the very least.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quality is Elusive, Sorta

It's hard being a film snob. These days movies are all made for thirteen year old boys, and to face facts-- the high-octane, CGI heavy, sexuality flaunting fare that makes them soil their pants is hardly for anyone else, but particularly not for a film snob. Confined in a small city-- the largest theater in which has a respectable but thoroughly inefficient twelve(?) screens-- it has been a difficult few months.

Typically I'm not one to go to the movies. Not because I don't love the experience, or movies, but because my transportation is limited (albeit willfully). Still, I take comfort in the fact that should I want to Savannah's Regal/Wynnsong 21-screen partnership could accommodate me. In Utica, however, and undoubtedly in rural, and "nameless" cities across the country there is no such luxury. An eight screen theater can only screen the standard studio turnout (Plotless CGI action movie, cookie-cutter romantic comedy, Pixar-type knockoffs, and volume-based "scary" movies). So as I've seen trailers for films such as Whatever Works, The Hurt Locker, (500) Days of Summer, and Paper Hearts-- plus countless movies I've read reviews for in EW-- I've been ripping my hair out in frustration. For the first time in a long time I have easy access to a movie theater, and where are all the films I'm dying to see? Wherever they are, they're not here.

As an admitted film snob, I'll be the first to say that I'm obviously in the minority. There are-- though I shudder to think of it-- millions of people more than happy to see Transformers or G.I. Joe. The question is why. The American public isn't so stupid as all of that, I assure you. They can't be, because if they were we'd be facing extinction tomorrow. Certainly these types of film will always have a market, there will always be people who were dropped on their heads as children, but the success of these mind-numbing movies can only be because of a limited marketplace. When you need food, you buy what you can get-- even if it looks awful, you hope it tastes better then it looks. If you want to go to the movies, you see what's playing.

I don't mean to give the American public more credit than they deserve. Fact: People will continue to like bad movies, and will continue to see them. Fact: People will continue to be unable to "read" trailers to determine what the quality of the movie will be. But, in a more diverse marketplace I can't imagine smarter films failing. Don't the good/great action movies end up doing better then the bad ones? Don't most good TV shows outlive bad ones? Yes, occasionally the American public drops the ball but more often then not something of quality will do better than its poorly constructed counterpart. Sadly, this doesn't include books as about half of the home-run success (Oprah picks excluded) are duds (Di Vinchi Code, Twilight, Mitch Albom), but whoever suggested the American public were readers anyway?

The American public doesn't know what it's missing, and frankly their ignorance is torture. I've always believed there is a complacency with the main stream-- and therefore an obstinacy about searching beyond it. That requires some work, and meanwhile we could be watching Scary Movie 13. In any event, its been a tough summer. None of the four movies I've seen this summer (Up, Public Enemies, The Proposal, Julie & Julia) won me over, and worse they're the only films I cared to see (save Bruno, which I didn't get to see) to come to theaters in the past eight weeks or so. District 9 might prove to be my savior, I truly hope it is, because otherwise this summer has been devoid of any good films.

The silver lining: we film snobs are not alone. After my four hour day at Munson Williams Proctor this Friday, I grabbed lunch and returned to the museum to go through a gallery I hadn't been to in awhile. To my surprise, the museums theater was open and tickets were being collected. I had largely been dismissive of the museum's film series, not even bothering to see what was playing, but with the Uptown Theatre playing the revolting trio of G.I. Joe, Aliens in the Attic, and The Ugly Truth-- I figured I didn't have much to lose. What I watched was a beautifully shot French film from 2008 entitled Seraphine, and while it didn't leave me starry-eyed, it was undoubtedly the best film experience of the summer. Who would have thought Utica had an art-house scene, much less a lively enough one to fill 1/3 of a museum theater at 2PM? And the upcoming movies? This years Academy Award Winner for best foreign film, The Hurt Locker, and (500) Days of Summer (though regrettably I'll be in Savannah for the last). No excuse America, you need to smarten up!

P.S.- Ironicly, this blog comes at a time when the major movie theater has two movies I want to see. Ah, Timing- you suck.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Adventure Comics #1

Adventure Comics #1
Superboy (22-Page feature):
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: Francis Manapul

Legion of Super-Heroes (8-Page co-feature):
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Clayton Henry

The super-hero comic has changed a lot since its inception in the 1930s. Characters are more complex, there are few moral absolutes, provocative social and political statements are far from unheard of, and events are rarely isolated incidents. Throughout his career, Geoff Johns has been able to continually do the impossible: weave well-plotted, character complex, pure super-hero genre comics without stepping into the post-modern quagmire. Adventure Comics, Johns' newest title, is no different and it promises to be as good as any of his previous endeavours.

First issues can often put a particular strain on a writer-- it's expected that a staus quo will not only be established but broken in a mere twenty-two pages while also setting up the necessary set pieces of the comic. Johns, expert that he is, doesn't miss a beat. Rather than bogging himself down with the exposition around how Superboy has returned from the dead (all previously revealed, I believe), he starts the narrative with him back on Earth, returning to the Kent farm. From here he seems to introduce every major supporting player (or at the very least alludes to their future presence) that will play a role in the stories to come. By the end of the issue Johns hasn't quite shaken up the status quo, but he has provided enough questions so that readers simply cannot refuse to come back.

Additionally it seems to be welcoming new comers to Superboy with open arms. A certain working knowledge of the DC universe is necessary, of course, but there are few lingering plot lines surrounding the character that would alienate anyone. The one remnant that may pose a problem does seem to be his return to Earth (and Life!), but the opening threads of the series seemed poised to answer even those questions.

Lastly, It should be noted that Johns seems to be making astounding use out of his co-feature. Rather than two separate narratives, he has melded Superboy and Legion of Superheroes into one, the co-feature literally supporting the feature with illusions to upcoming events. In addition, unlike Rucka, Johns seems to be doing wonderful things with the co-feature on its own as well. There were certainly some strong character moments in its short eight pages span. The last page of the co-feature, acting quite appropriately as a "next-time" preview melds wonderfully with the already movie serial feel they have.

RATING: 10 out of 10!
Johns is working magic! I haven't wanted to read more of a monthly in a long, long time. Please, read this comic. SUPERBOY IS BACK!

Academics Arn't Enough [A Book Review]

A novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Published in April 2009

With the slightest amount of trepidation (ever so little!) it's placed in the mail. It falls into the lap of an faceless judge. Their decision is life-altering. College admissions: An experience that is immediately relatable even years later, and a ubiquitous plague in adolescent culture. Jean Hanff Korelitz newest novel, Admission, is not only a behind-the-scenes look into the cloaked world of college admissions, but also a thorough examination of what Admission is. However, though Academically literary, the novel isn't without -- a rather odd set of-- problems.

Portia Nathan, an admissions officer for Princeton, is thoroughly invested in her work. She travels to high schools, has a strong commitment to the applicants whose files she reads, and she believes what she does it worth while. Her life, as it is, is comfortable. Her past, however, is not. Portia's life gets turned upside down when a secret from her past meets her face to face, and she's forced to make life-altering decisions that don't involve faceless knowledge-hungry teenagers.

The themes of Korelitz novel are almost immediately identifiable. Within the first one-hundred pages it becomes quite clear what Korelitz is working toward, and this is in itself problematic. The novel, and its themes are fairly straightforward and the intention seems to be that the reader is to be pressed to read further in the hopes of uncovering Portia's secret, and indeed; finding out if the charming teenagers in the beginning of the novel do indeed get into Princeton. The problem isn't with the latter-- in fact a majority of the emotional investment in the novel is bound to be for the young Jeremy Balakian, a character that is at once likable and attention stealing.

The problem-- ironically enough-- is with Portia herself. By revealing the novel's themes too quickly, the reader becomes too aware of the game Korelitz is playing. The reader has a firm understanding of the Portia's situation without any clear details and mere circumspection. This fact that Korelitz does not reveal the truth until late in the novel is unproblematic, what's problematic is Portia's thought process. She is exhaustive, and occasionally repetitive. She will leave you screaming at the book to hurry up *beep* up. She is the proof chauvinistic men everywhere are looking for that proves "women think too much." The problem of course, is that all of this is totally in character with the protagonist. The clearest solution would have been to keep her themes more aloof, because if the intent weren't so transparent-- built to lead to the inevitable-- there would likely be some large amount of patience for Portia's rambling thought process. As it is Portia feels stubbornly in the way of the reader trying to uncover her secret-- which isn't in itself that pressing anyway.

Less damaging, but no less infuriating is the novel's quasi-elitist position. A non-Ivy League reader can only hear how special everyone who applies to Princeton is before there is a sense of resentment-- yes, everyone who applies to Princeton is a shinning star, but what of the thousands of people who weren't the "Most likely to succeeds"? The novel makes no mention of the people who would have had no chance of getting in, and though a bit of silly immaturity, it breeds resentment. The "common man" will feel blown out of the water reading this novel in which the excellent are mediocre. It's demoralizing-- occasionally insulting, and perhaps appropriately-- tough to admit personal inadequacy. Will everyone feel this way reading it? Certainly not, but the reality is it's there and makes for a difficult stretch of reading.

Admission employs all of the tools that typically launch novels to literary success, but it's a frustrating read that evokes annoyance more than anything else. While Jeremy Balakian is a wonderful-- you sincerely hope he will get into Princeton-- his character is more minor than he perhaps should be. Korelitz novel simply doesn't quite make the cut. Maybe wait list.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rotten Ingrediants [A Movie Review]

Julie & Julia
Opened August 7th 2009
Directed by Nora Ephron
Screenplay by Nora Ephron

Bon Appetit!, The phrase, when carried by her unique voice is at once identifiable. Julia Child is a cooking icon and even those who didn't grow up in her heyday are familiar enough with her to smile at the thought of the charming, if awkward way she carried herself. Julie & Julia simultaneously strives to explore how Julia Child the woman became the icon, and what exactly her legacy is. The "Julia" half of the movie begins with Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) arrival in France, and her quest to find "something to do" -- which of course quickly becomes her track to cooking stardom. The "Julie" half of the movie follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) circa 2002, in the wake of 9/11, as she moves to Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina) and begins to literally work her way through Julia Child's first cookbook-- Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

If it needs to be said, let it be said outright that Meryl Streep is an absolute star, and-- if the trailer weren't evidence enough, let me assure you-- breathes life into the role of Julia Child. The entire "Julia" section of the film is a thoroughly charming experience, that is carried not only by Streep but by many the supporting players as well. If writer/director Nora Ephron had left the film at this, it would have been well on its way to being an uncomplicated, but nice and thoroughly entertaining film. Unfortunately this isn't the case.

The problems with the "Julie" section of the film aren't immediately identifiable. Largely it's buttressed by the "Julia" section, and so its problems are difficult to identify without a certain amount of retrospect. It begins innocently enough-- Julie is in a tough situation, and empathy is fairly easily found, but as this section of the film moves on its soullessness becomes obvious. When characters are laughing riotously at something the audience isn't, you know this to be the case. When a character is called a "bitch" and there's no evidence of it in the film, you know this to be the case. Be it actors or material, a lot of things just don't come out right in the "Julie" half of the film. It might be surprising to learn that the trailer-featured clip of Julie saying "No fear, Julia" to an old episode of Cooking with Julia Child is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of the film. It feels empty-- again, soulless-- and frankly poorly acted. There is very little heart in the Julie section of the film-- but good enough helping of sap. Chris Messina comes off as authentic as often as he comes across as fake, and it'd be surprising to learn Amy Adams was playing anything more than herself.

This most distressing, and nagging problem of them film is when the two sections come the closest to meeting. Julia Child-- still alive in 2002-- has a secondhand contact with Julie Powell in the film, and the result is dangerous. The unity of Julie & Julia is based on the similarity of the two narratives, which functions perfectly until this seemingly minor event. Within a span of less than five minutes a wedge is sledgehammered in between these two narratives in the way the film references the still living Julia Child. In a strange and unexpected way it puts the two protagonists at ends, and it's frustrating. If these protagonists are at ends, how can their narratives not be? Why have they been placed together? The event is no doubt is a true to life account, but it destroys all cohesion. Omission or prefabrication would have served the film much better, inaccurate though it might have been.

Julie & Julia is somewhat like a game of Janga. At the beginning the tower seems perfectly stable, but as pieces begin to disappear, so does the possibility of solidity. The Julia section of the film-tower keeps the game in play, but even this isn't enough to save it from crashing down.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays: Justice League: Cry for Justice #2

Justice League: Cry for Justice #2
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mauro Cascioli

Villains seem to always have the upper hand these days, and that's why Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern and Oliver Queen, Green Arrow, quit the justice league to pursue crime in their own way. Tragedy has struck several other superheroes, and they too are seeking justice. All clues seem to lead to Prometheus as the group begins to assemble itself for the first time.

James Robinson must have been reading the plays of Anton Chekhov when he wrote this issue because the number of scene omissions is outstanding. Unlike Chekhov, however, Robinson's omissions are aimless, frustrating, and destructive. The characters left last month screaming "Justice!" into the wind have now been on the trail of their enemies for three weeks, and it apparently hasn't been all sitting around time. Leads have been found, places attacked, and villains apprehended-- the missing terrain is so substantial that it feels an issue went unread.

If this weren't enough, the scene omissions cause destructive inter-issue confusion and frustration. Within these pages is a contrived, frivolous fight between Starman and Congorilla that does nothing for the issue (they become friends after!) but omitted is a fight between Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and a lot of super villain lackeys working for Prometheus. It's almost as if Robinson has lost all sense of storytelling structure! To make matters work, he spends an extensive amount of time discussing "off-stage" events that should have taken place between this comic and the last. The exposition is piss-poor, and bogs the issue down monumentally. There is virtually no foreword motion so much time is spent recounting details, and new events seem entirely coincidental and contrived because they've had no presence in-comic. If the events leading to Starman and Congorilla's fight aren't part of the narrative how can it not seem pointless? If Captain Marvel and others simply show up out of thin air with similar leads, how is it convincing?

Simply put there is just too much missing from this issue for it to be anywhere near decent. If Robinson needed a 9, 10, or 12 issue mini-series to put this story to paper then that is what it should have been planned to be instead of this confusing mess. This confusion is compounded by the fact that the issue is littered with references to major DC-universe events that more casual readers will find impossible to keep track of. The dead characters from the previous issue were difficult enough to keep track of, much less throwing in references to Identity and Final crisis.

Most annoying of all is Robinson's continued use if his own and Geoff Johns' friendly banter as the dialog for Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The source of inspiration is a good as any (although sounds pathetically juvenile), but when it reads like two comic writers talking as characters instead of two characters it becomes a major problem. Really. The most disgusting part of the whole thing is when the two characters refer to one anothers names in quotation marks ("Green Lantern", "Green Arrow") and the sneer-worthy in joke is shoved down the readers throat.

Cascioli's artwork continues to be the only redeeming aspect to this miniseries. It's gorgeous but unfortunately Robinson's long, boring dialog scenes to little to let the artist spread his wings.

RATING: 3 out of 10.
Last month I said that I was only reading this for Batwoman and the artwork. I'm no longer sure that's going to be enough as the artwork is all that saved this from getting a one. Don't read this title. If you're looking to punish someone you can likely find this and the first issue at your local comic book shop.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Running on Charm [A Movie Review]

The Proposal
Opened on June 19th 2009
Directed by Anne Fletcher
Written by Pete Chiarelli

The concept is rather dull and uninventive: A hellish employer threatened by deportation bullies her assistant into a fraudulent engagement. Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is a tough no-nonsense editor that's hated by the office underlings, and Andrew(Ryan Reynolds) is a dedicated wish full filler desperate for promotion and publication after three long years under Margaret's relentless business practice. Their business-like, mutually beneficial engagement brings them to Andrew's home town where, in order to convince immigration officials, they announce their engagement to Andrew's family. Surprise, surprise, once the playing field levels out (their fates tied together), they don't get along too well.

To talk about this film as something creatively written seems absurd. In truth, like most comedies today, it's a hodgepodge of plot and comedic elements already tired bordering on dead. An eccentric old person, an inexplicable foreigner, some slapstick, and of course two "incompatible" people destined to develop feelings for one another. However, should you hold that against the film is a personal choice. With a concept so unshamefully recycled it seems hardly fair. After all, you don't criticize the handicapped if they can't color within the lines. If you can stomach the conceit then it's likely the rest will go down without too many hiccups (and be certain there are a few).

There is nothing about the creative aspects of this film that make it worth watching, but what this film does have is a tremendously likable cast that shines more as themselves than they do as their fairly simplistic characters. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock have been in their fair share of clunkers (I don't believe there is a good Ryan Reynolds film. I've never seen an entire movie of his before now, but I've watched large sections of them for him alone) and The Proposal may not be much different but together the stars have a gooey warm chemistry (gross!) that makes you want them together, and maybe even sparks a bit of envy. When they're on screen it's often difficult not to smile, even under the bone-crushing weight of the films more abysmal moments. With any other cast this film would be nothing short of dreadful, but they make it work through their own force of will and charisma.

In short-- you can leave this film happy, and if the sick feeling of knowing you enjoyed a film from the Hollywood mastermold doesn't catch up to you, you might even remember it fondly. If pretty people with good personalities and solid chemistry isn't enough, and admittedly it's usually not, then avoid it without regret. However, if mind-numbing gut-level appeal is enough for a rainy afternoon go right on ahead.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #855

Detective Comics #855
Batwoman (24-Page feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III

The Question (8-Page co-feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Cully Hamner

In Batwoman, Kate confronts the new Lewis Carol inspired leader of the thirteen covens of Gotham, Alice. Desperate to know why the covens are interested in her, Kate stumbles down the rabbit hole for answers. It isn't long until things begin to spin out of control. In the Question, Renee confronts Varga and continues her search for her client's kidnapped sister.

Even before Batwoman debuted she was making headlines for one big reason: She's gay. Writer Greg Rucka, the character's modern creator and the major source of a "gay presence" in DC comics (he's also responsible for Renee Montoya's coming out), said before he took Batwoman to Detective Comics that he would not emphasize her sexuality any more than any of her other characteristics. It's for this reason that the early pages of Batwoman disturbed me so much.

Whether written in by Rucka, or drawn in by Williams there is undeniable sexual presence in the fight between Kate and Alice. In the fight, Kate disarms Alice-- taking away her various knives and guns-- and the panels are overt close ups of Kate touching Alice's upper ribcage and thighs. In another panel Kate and Alice's faces are very close to one anothers, a rather typical interrogation-type panel, and Alice is licking her lips for no discernible reason.

Depending on the situation, it seems Rucka should either be ashamed or upset. It seems silly in ways to point out something that takes up so little of the actual comic, but the respect that characters like Renee Montoya or Batwoman receive is incredibly important. The demographics of super-hero comics shouldn't be placated to, and the artist/writer shouldn't indulge in whims at the expense of the character. The significance of the fact that one of DC's major titles (their namesake, in fact) features two gay characters is huge, and because it's the first time Marvel or DC has put a gay character in the limelight on an extended run, the care taken is paramount. It sets a tone for not only how the characters themselves are treated, but how any gay characters can be treated for an indeterminate amount of time.

Personal positions aside, the second issue of Batwoman's time in Detective Comics answers very few questions, and does little to help define her character beyond what's already known. Readers are given a handful of single-panel images that allude to the character's past, but largely things are still left unknown. Rucka has promised an origin within the next few months, but until then reading about Kate continues to be somewhat of a detached process, however, an astute reader familiar with Rucka might be able to begin to connect small pieces of her origin already. Reader beware (R.L. Stine reference intended), there's a bit of a WTF type ending to this month's issue.

J.H. Williams' art work is still stunning, and the story is unfolding at as quickly a pace as can be expected, and it's only getting more intriguing at time goes on. Question continues exactly where it left off, and like last month feels somewhat lackluster due to its length. While the co-features are welcome additions they certainly don't do much for character work. The Question continues to play out somewhat episodically like old serials or new-paper adventure comics.

RATING: 7 out of 10
I'd recommend picking up this month, and last's issue of Detective comics not only because I believe Rucka's run will be promising but because I believe it's important to support the characters in the title. Good sales will continue to keep gay characters in comics front and center stage, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the stories seem promising.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Captain Britain and MI:13 #15

Captain Britain and MI:13 #15 (Final Issue!)
Written by Paul Cornell
Pencils by Leonard Kirk

MI:13 has come a long way since the Skrull Invasion; some friends have died, some have returned, relationships have blossomed, and Britain has been saved on more than one occasion, but now things have finally come down to the wire. Britain and Dracula's vampire army face off for the future of the English Island in the final chapter in Paul Cornell's outstanding series.

With only some foresight and a few months notice, Paul Cornell set out to write a satisfying end to the series he started more than 15 months ago, but in trying to tie-up all of his loose ends, it feels like Cornell lost some of the magic that made his series so outstanding. This final issue tries and more or less succeeds in bringing a close to virtually all of the plot-points that Cornell has written but none are given a satisfying amount of breathing room to appreciate them. The final issue of Captain Britain reads more like a Sparknotes summery of the conclusion of Vampire State than the actual end of the story.

I can only assume that Cornell was trying to fit his story into the time frame that Marvel gave him (I imagine they told him he had until the end of Vampire State to conclude the series, but if the end of the previous two stories are any indication, Cornell tends to have a "buffer" issue between stories). What I had hoped would be a fairly quick resolution to Vampire State turned out to be a somewhat lengthy conclusion, and unsurprisingly Cornell didn't have the time to put the metaphorical bow on the package to give the reader the sense of how far the story has come which I think is always the hallmark of an outstanding ending.

On one specific front, however, Cornell does manage to make room for the glimpse at the road traveled. In many ways this series has been more about Cornell's created character Faiza Hussain, starting her story in the streets of Skull invaded Britain as a super-hero worshiping groupie, plagued by insecurity, to love-struck hero in training, and finally a hero. The series has often focused more on Faiza, and her journey is one of the few things completely apparent in this final issue, and it's very rewarding.

Although its conclusion was generally lackluster, and not up to par with what Cornell has written in the past, the series as a whole has been a fascinating roller coaster of plot reversals and unexpected developments. Characters like Pete Wisdom, and Spitfire who were likely unknown to readers when the series began are now fully realized characters that can actually evoke pathos. Cornell even made the impossible-to-write vampire hunter Blade work in his series seamlessly. Captain Britain and MI13 has been a stunning series, and to great regret has been cut down well before its time.

RATING (Issue): 5 out of 10
RATING (Series): 8 out of 10
Please consider buying the volumes of Captain Britain and MI13 as they come out in trade. It's wonderfully entertaining and good sales could potentially mean a miniseries sometime in the near future!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Take It Back, You Suck.

Not too long ago while I was writing about the legal dispute surrounding J.D. California's rip-off novel of The Catcher in the Rye, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, I mentioned that I admired what Seth Grahame-Smith did in writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, slowly I've begun to find out more about the writer and the project, and with each new piece of information my admiration suffers a heavy blow. What I admired about Grahame-Smith's work (and to some extent still do admire) is that it seemed to me that he commenting on how sentimentalized Jane Austin has become. It's my great regret to admit I haven't ever read Austin, but I have some understanding of what her work is like. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but Austin writes romances that are often barbed, targeting mannered society-- where in the end it is more of a social commentary than a romance.

At least this is how I envisioned Austin's work. Seth Grahame-Smith's work seems nothing short of genius in this regard because it builds onto the mockery of manners, and helps to dismantle the made-for-TV-type adaptation that has painted the wrong idea of Austin's work in the public mind. To me it seemed absolutely appropriate to "revise" Austin so that her work was better understood. As I've said, it seemed flat out admirable.

The first piece of information I came across that tarnished my original opinion was that Seth Grahame-Smith's next novel would feature Abraham Lincoln fighting off werewolves. It didn't sound like the kind of project a respectable author would take on, but quotes from Grahame-Smith eased my fears a bit. He said something to the effect that Abraham Lincoln was a tough, woodsman type man and that often gets forgotten when we imagine him as a statesman. I thought to myself, "Oh! I get it. He's working with similar intentions, trying to get people to revise their preconceived ideas through exaggeration." The project didn't sound quite as strong as Zombies, but It didn't cause me too much worry.

The next thing I stumbled upon was a quote from the editorial director of Quirk-- the company that published Zombies. Three books are being published by different companies by the end of the year-- Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Darcy's Hunger, and Jane Bites Back. The first two reimagine Mr. Darcy as a vampire, and the last imagines Jane Austin herself as a vampire. My guess is that these blood-sucker publishers are trying to hop on board the Twilight express, and hoping to pick up the Austin fans along the way. In any case, In response to these "copy-cats" editorial director Jason Rekulak told Entertainment Weekly:

"I just thought it would be funny to desecrate a classic work of literature. For the longest time, Seth and I were the only two people who thought it was a really good idea."
My beliefs about respecting classic works aside, I feel like this quote paints the picture that it didn't matter what work of literature was revised, and that makes all of the difference in the world. Huckleberry Finn or Pip from Great Expectations dealing with Zombies likely would have offended me from the get-go. Deconstructionist literature is to reform people's opinions, not to just have fun with, especially if you're going to revise a classic work of literature like Pride and Prejudice. If you have no real reason to do it other than because you want to, you might as well be slapping the author in the face. Honestly, how is it any different than drawing a mustache and blacking out teeth on a portrait? It's likely everyone has authors or artists they'd like to "take the piss out of" but in the end, you have your opinion for that. You don't need to deface their work.

The final straw for me came with this weeks Entertainment Weekly, which details the release of a new novel published by Quirk due out in September entitled Sense and Sensibility and Seas Monsters. This novel is being authored by Ben H. Winters, rather than Grahame-Smith. Judging by the publishing date, I think it's fair to assume that the book was well underway before the success of Zombies, and because it's not penned by Grahame-Smith, I can only assume that Jason Rekulak at Quirk likes to deface classic literature. In fact Winters says of the novel:

"[Quirk] gave me the title [of the book], a copy of Sense and Sensibility, and told me to go to town."
I think a few things can be gleaned from the quote, the first of which is that Quirk doesn't care about literary merit if they're giving authors their titles [and thereby their subject]. The second thing that could be taken from this is that Winters may very well have never even read Sense and Sensibility before revising it. Thirdly, it's quite obvious they don't even really care how Austin is revised so long as there are some monsters running around.

Everyone is out there to make a buck, I'm not going to deny that, All I ask is that you have some artistic integrity. Grahame-Smith might well be in the clear, maybe Quirk latched to what he intended to do with Zombies and ran with it. In which case, Quirk's sin is tarnishing what Grahame-Smith accomplished, rather than Austin. Even as a commentary on the over-sentimentalised idea of Jane Austin, Zombies would have been something admirable but it seems we don't even get that. Be it Grahame-Smith, Jason Rekulak, or all of Quirk, someone is an idiot.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Mighty Avengers #27

Mighty Avengers #27
Plot by Dan Slott
Script by Christos N. Gage
Pencils by Khoi Pham

Before Blackbolt took power there was another king of the inhumans. He was erased from history, but now he's returned. Quicksilver and U.S.Agent on the mission for the international super-hero trust (or whatever it's called) encounter the Unspoken, the former inhuman leader. Meanwhile the other Avengers are finally shown Pym's ultimate creation-- Salvation-2.

Scirpting duties have been passed off to Christos Gage with this issue-- presumably Slott is too bust with other projects and thus has pulled a Brian Michael Bendis. Often when the scripter isn't the plotter the quality of the title plummets, but fortunately Mighty Avengers manges to stay safely in the zone. If the reader isn't aware of the switch beforehand (as likely they're not going to be; Gage isn't listed on the cover, and credits aren't in the books until literally half-way) they're likely not going to notice a change in the storytelling. Slott's kind of sense of fun, and smart character moments are still there but they're to varying degrees less effective.

For instance only one of several jokes in the issue actually makes its mark. One particular stinker, following the arrival of the (apparently) formally named "China force" goes "They're called the People Defense Force now, idiot." Character moments are also much farther in between. Gage clearly doesn't have the grasp on the characters that Slott has. U.S.Agent seems to have been reduced for more a caricature, and Quicksilver now seems incongruous. Additionally, Hercules and Amadeus Cho-- surprisingly big draws to the series-- are not nearly as effective in this issue as they have been in the past. Still, many of these criticisms only come in retrospect when it comes to attention that this issue wasn't written by a bad-day Slott. They hardly break the title, but they're certainly there.

The issue begins with a rather lengthy section of exposition which details how the Unspoken came to be the Unspoken. Normally these sections are complete bores to read and are point-to examples of bad story telling, but Slott and Gage manage to make the section entertaining enough to keep one's attention. There is something attractive about seeing the infamous inhumans as teenagers that makes the section captivating. Seeing these often arrogant characters are young well-intentioned upstarts suits them, almost so that you might want to read more.

As is often the case with the new villain there is a certain lack of threat to them. Nothing he accomplishes in this particular issue is awe-worthy, and words can only go so far as it is. The arc promises to be a open invite to just about every hero in the marvel universe, and the reveal of Pym's salvation-2 seems to support that.

RATING: 7 out of 10
Though not quite as strong as a script written by Slott himself, Gage manages to give it some charm. This issue would be a solid jumping on point if you're interested in following the series.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wonderfully Spun [A Book Review]

Let The Great World Spin
A novel by Colum McCann
Published June 2009

In 1974 Philippe Petit walked across a steel cable hung a quarter of a mile in the air. It connected the two towers of the World Trade Center. Colum McCann's new novel begins with Petit's first step on the wire, and then dives downward into the drudge-filled streets of New York in the seventies. The novel follows a diverse cast of characters that are united by coincidence, will, history and fate. McCann's novel is not only a portrait of seventies New York and it's people, but of the world today.

The attacks of September 11th 2001 have been milked of their emotional worth by artists and politicians alike and even almost eight years later when it's discussed as the basis for a work of fiction or film there is a certain tension that builds in a spine. Issues of bad taste plagued those that came right out of the gate, and now any attempt at the subject seems tired. As McCann's subject is supposed to act as a parallel to the attacks, and it thus brings about a certain level of scrutiny.

McCann's novel starts very promising as it builds the mounting tension surrounding Petit's walk. However in the following two sections, one about two Irish brothers in deterorated Brooklyn, and another about an aristocratic woman on Park Avenue there begins to build a feeling of discordance. The stories are complete in their own right, but they fail to amount to a novel. The disconnect is too large, to difficult to move from one to another. This seemingly unbridgeable gap, the "fault" is just part of the genius of McCann's novel.

As McCann guides the reader through seventies New York, he acquaints them with narrator after unexpected narrator. Footnote characters in one section inevitably end up carrying the book twenty or forty pages themselves. As the narrator's shift, the intricate web of lives McCann has woven becomes increasingly apparent until the great divide between these opening sections is little wider than the gap between cracks in the sidewalk. What seems at first to be a short-story-novel becomes interconnected short stories, and finally a novel as all the character's stories finally meld into one.

When McCann says that his characters are united by Petit's walk, he doesn't lie but he dangerously undersells his novel. In fact, only one of the narrators witnesses the walk for themselves, and it doesn't happen in the book. McCann speaks to the unity in New York post-9/11 not only by uniting the city in a single event but uniting their very lives. It's a book about humanity and history, unity and survival. It is the kind of book that can make want to believe in the world again.

Almost as impressive is what McCann achieves in the book's brilliant execution. Each narrator is powerful, and unique and none more important than another. As the lives collide, the book is stronger for already having been in a character's mind. It boarders on painful to watch the present narrator attack or watch in dramatic irony a former one. Already being aware of their thoughts and feelings, the reader can project exactly how substantially words and events weigh on them. McCann brings the readers as close as possible to a united consciousness with all the characters, and it only helps to further his goals.

This near-perfect novel is topped off with some absolutely stunning prose with pin-point specific word choice. The book is quotable on dozens of occasions, and specific lines will leave a reader reeling at their weight, craftsmanship, and exactitude.

McCann's novel is brilliant. It accomplishes so much, and it's so very wonderful. It's a shame that it took as long as it did to come out, because amidst the propaganda and zeitgeist riders it would have risen above and been so much more. In the end, it's still an outstanding achievement, and a wonderfully written book.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

It's Not Bonnie & Clyde... [A Movie Review]

Public Enemies
Opened July 1st 2009
Directed by Michael Mann
Written by Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, and Ann Biderman

In Michael Mann's newest movie John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) traverses the American mid-west doing what criminals do best: robbing banks and evading the police. In an effort to bring the well-known crook to justice, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) is appointed as head of the Chicago FBI office by a young J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). In the same press announcement, Dillinger is named Public Enemy #1. Amdist the choas Dillinger enters into a romantic relationship with a coat-check girl named Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard).

Seemingly among Mann's highest priorities in this biopic was an interest in capturing the frantic chaos that undoubtedly is the experience of being in a shootout. Between quick cuts, explosive lights, and unsteady hand-held cineomatography the auidenice forceably thrown into the crossfire. Like a unfortunate predestrine at the wrong place at the wrong time, all one can do is hit the ground and quietly pray for a quick resolution. Conceptually Mann's approach seems appropriate but he seems to forget that horrendous real-life experiences can only translate to bad cinematic ones. It's not quite bright lights and noise, but it's not much better. The frequency of shootouts doesn't help the film very much either. Curiously in some of these action scenes the rich quality of celluiod seems absent, as though they were shot on an expensive but not quite good enough video camera. The change of quality is apparent, and like a bout of hiccups is temporary but frustrating.

For whatever reason, this choatic style of filmmaking (perhaps it's quintessential Mann, I don't have the experience to comment) is consistent, although less severe throughout the entire film. Quick pans, and handheld shots often make it difficult to focus on the subject. The cinematography is overall erratic and distracting.

The biggest challenge any biopic faces is shinning a light on the individual, or individuals that the film is about. Like a biography, or biographical work of fiction it should give the viewer a fresh and clear idea of that person. Leaving the the theater after seeing Public Enemies, the auidience is really given very little detail on who John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis actually were. There is certainly a narrative with characters, but the historical figures seem somehow lost in it. In the film Dillinger behaves very much like you'd expect someone of his ilk to behave. He's brazen, and attention hungry-- hardly illuminating characteristics.

The unexplored seems evident in Dillinger's relationship with Billie Frechette. While the film wants the auidence to find their relationship substantial, perhaps touching, there is virtually nothing in the film that builds on the shallow whims that unite them in the beginning. Rather than simply presenting Dillinger's strange sense of loyalty, it would be better to understand where it comes from, and how it survives in a career like his. Melvin Purvis gets worse representation. The text that follows the film, detailing the lives of those involved after the film's end says more about his inner conflicts than the entire film. A vague illusion in one scene of the film, and Bale's attempts at showing the conflicts without script support are really all that's in the film to suggest what what happens to Melvin Purvis after the film ends. This omission is enough to make one wonder further just what might be missing from Dillinger's own story.

The film is capable enough. It's unsurprising, unenlightening, and not particularly moving but it's capable. Somehow it manages to keep attention for the entirity of its one-hundred and forty minute run time, although by the end you'll wonder what it was you spent all of that time watching. If you're compelled to go to the movies, you could certainly do worse.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Ms. Marvel #41

Ms. Marvel #41
Written by Brian Reed
Art by Sergio Arino

The M.O.D.O.K babies, better described as the second-generation storytellers-- A.I.M created reality shapers-- have been stolen under Norman Osborn and the new Ms. Marvel's noses by Deadpool. Meanwhile, the New Avengers struggle to piece together the information they have; finally revealing the identity of the spectral figure which have been plaguing Karla Sofen's life. Things are nothing short of chaos as Reed brings together the pieces leading up to War of the Marvels.

If one thing can be gathered from the summery above it's that things aren't just chaotic for Reed's characters, but for readers as well. Between the New Avengers, Deadpool, A.I.M, Norman Osborn, M.O.D.O.K babies and the now ancient storyteller plot lines it's difficult for even the most devoted fan of Reed's series to care about the current events. The old protagonist of Reed's series is presumed dead, and his new one has so little time on panel --and is so incredibly dislikable-- that there are really very little to root for in this convoluted plot that so far hasn't managed to make an once of logical sense.

If that wasn't enough, it's likely that most readers discovered the identity of these spectral figures long ago, possibly as far back as their first appearance. It isn't until a third of the way through the issue that Reed finally comes to restate the material he made perfectly clear at the end the previous issue. It is something forgivable enough if the pages did something for the story, or if Reed couldn't have used them more efficiently but as always is the case they don't and he could have. For instance, this issue contains two fight scenes that make up most of the additional two-thirds. Both are lackluster, and devoid of tension. If for nothing better Reed could have at least added more to these scenes by reducing his opening by two to four pages.

Even all the way down to the colorist there are issues with this particular issue. A discolored specter early on gives one the notion that there are five entities instead of four.

Reed's title has suffered significantly since he killed off Carol Danvers a few issues ago. The plot has been predictable, not engaging, and completely devoid of even a half-compelling protagonist. The near future of the series is only moderately more bright as it promises to bring back some focus to this series that has never quite topped the first year of it's publication.

RATING: 3 out of 10
Just don't read this title. I can't even suggest an appropriate jumping on point because of how long Reed had been pulling on old plot lines, and given its shaky sales I can't say it'll be around much longer once this story wraps up. Ah, it has fallen so far since that first wonderful story arc!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Academy Doubles Up

The Academy Awards have long been the highest honor for films and filmmakers, dating back all way to 1929. They in no way determine history (Citizen Kane was beat by How Green Was My Valley) but they do act as a contemporary looking glass, allowing us to see what we deemed as culturally significant both now and much later on. On June 24th (I apologize for being so late to comment on this), it was announced that this next year's academy awards-- Oscars-- will have a daunting ten nominees for best picture instead of the more traditional five. The possible motives behind such a move have been questioned, and the decision has been both praised and criticized.

In recent years, and arguably for a very long time, the Academy has been significantly detached from the public consciousness. The movies, and often even the actors that they choose to honor aren't always known to the public. The best picture nominees earlier this year were Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader and Milk. Slumdog Millionaire managed win public favor by pulling on audience heart strings and commenting on serious subjects. Benjamin Button's star cast and director gave it more notoriety than many of its competitors, but the connection between the three other films and public at large was virtually non-existent. Such it has come to be that ten films will be nominated so that well-crafted, big budget, public friendly films have a chance to slide into the running.

The problems goes deeper than those associated with the change in the number of nominees however. Having ten nominees does tarnish the honor of being nominated. It's plain fact that if something is easier to achieve it means less. It's not to say that bad films will get into the ten, but the ninth or tenth nominee is not going to be of the caliber that the others are. Even with five nominees, often you can often eliminate two or three from the running for best picture in making your predictions. In 2006 anyone paying attention knew that the race for best picture was between Crash and Brokeback Mountain. A year in which all five nominees could be potential winners would threaten 1939's title as "the greatest year in film." To suggest that ten films of Academy merrit could come out in a single year is ridiculous and to add nominations just humor the public or public-friendly films borders on insulting. You don't give the unathletic kid a chance at a free throw if he's just going to embarrass himself-- you acknowledge his good qualities elsewhere instead of highlighting his weak points.

To this some might argue "But the nomination is their award"-- to this you can only point to films like The Reader or Benjamin Button that were already in that same situation with only five films. It's their success that is diminished more than anyone else's.

However, as mentioned, the problem is more challenging than the number of nominees. The problem is that the best pictures of the year are seldom nominated for best picture. Adding more slots to placate to the public isn't going to help. This change points to a problem with the academy as a whole. Mainstream films are not considered worthy of nomination in the eyes of the Academy voters, and therefore will never be able to win even with nomination. Of this years best picture nominees, I only saw one-- Slumdog Millionaire. With all honesty and sincerity, setting my fanboy notions aside, I can say that I enjoyed The Dark Knight a hundred times more. Going on RottenTomatoes scores alone, The Dark Knight has a score on par with Milk, and Slumdog Millionare, all three of which barely score better than Frost/Nixon. The remaining two films stand at 22% and 32% lower than their competiters. Hardly the epitome of high quality.

If the Academy wants the public to watch the Academy Awards, if they want the precious ratings they seem to be searching for, they shouldn't be drawing in with empty promises, but making public-approved contenders legitimate. If Star Trek is this year's Dark Knight as I've seen suggested then it should be in the running best picture with four other contenders instead of nine. The "Best movies" and ones "favorite movies" aren't always two different things, and can't be. Continued avoidance of big budget blockbusters in a FIVE FILM RANKING is pretentious snobbery, and so is adding nominees to placate to the public. Films that deserve the title of best picture, and also have a large boxoffice gross are rare but not so rare that one or even two shouldn't be nominated each year.

The Academy's move may have precedence, and it may (though doubtfully) have best interests at heart but it feels disingenuous. If the Academy wants big-budget films, animated films and documentaries to slip into the running they need to acknowledge that those films are better on the whole than some of the traditional fare. No one likes to be patted on the back, or in this case carried on someones shoulders, when they know their work isn't worthy of it.