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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Justice League: Cry for Justice #1

Justice League: Cry for Justice #1 (of 7)
Written by James Robinson
Art by Mauro Cascioli

Hal Jordan, The Green Lantern, is fed up. Martian Manhunter and Batman have died fighting, and many of those responsible are still roaming the streets. What's the point of the Justice League if criminals are never put to justice? No longer can heros be reactive, they must be proactive. After passionately appealing to the league, Hal leaves the league with Green Arrow to do what the other league members refuse to do: deliver justice.

Robinson's base concept for Justice League: Cry of Justice, a comic now more than a year in the making, is nothing original. Proactive justice has been the starting point for at least one incarnation of The Outsiders. It is also one of the many different directions that Brian Reed's Ms. Marvel has taken, around its second year, in the form of Operation Lightning Storm. Doubtless there are additional instances of bombastic super-heros taking a more authoritative approach to crime fighting. While the concept isn't quite stale yet, it certainly doesn't serve the series well. What inevitably happens in these types of stories is that the supposedly proactive team becomes reactive within two, or sometimes even in the first story. It's likely due to the difficulty of creating plots around heros who arbitrarily circle the globe looking for villains. Robinson's title may or may not fall into this trap, and fortunately it's a mini-series, so the likelihood is at least lessened. The trouble is it's still not very creative jumping off point.

Concept however, is secondary to execution. Unfortunately Robinson doesn't even have that to lean on. The dialog is never better than mediocre, is frequently horrid, and occasionally melodramatic bordering on hoaky. With lines like, "Remember back in the day... when I lost my millions and became liberal", and "Welcome to pain" readers should be able to tare this comic up in frustration without the slightest once of guilt over the 3.99 they spent for it. Even more disturbing is that early in the comic, Superman issue the line "We start again. We begin again. And we do the right thing and we stay united for all we hold true. I mean--, --isn't that what we do?" Ignoring the overlooked rhyme in the dialog, this is a line said by Superman in which he not only stammers but questions his position on justice and the league! A worse error in character is difficult to imagine without crossing into the absurd.

If that weren't enough, Robinson one-ups himself. The issue itself is more or less a string of scenes that touch base with several major characters in the story. Setting up personal motivations, the issue touches on the emotionally charged events -- that are all unsettlingly similar-- that will unite these characters. Virtually at the end of each scene, a character literally cries aloud for justice. It's the kind of melodramatic comic puke that can make a person swear off comics all together.

The artwork, meticulously hand-done by relative new-comer Maurd Cascioli, however, is absolutely stunning. His work is of the kind not often seen in comics where fine arts illustration and sequential art are happily married. It is largely because of Cascioli's work that this title has been so long in the making, and visually it's worth the wait. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he were to quickly become one of Marvel or DC's hot cover artists.

RATING: 4 out of 10
The rating is only because of the stunning quality of the artwork, and the unexpected additional material in the back of the book (DC once again proves it cares about its readers more than Marvel by giving them more material for their extra buck). If you want to read Cry of Justice, this is the first issue and on shelves now-- it will supposedly have an effect on Robinson's upcoming run on the ongoing Justice League title and may be worth it if you're on board for that. I'm just reading it for Batwoman.