Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
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
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by J. H. Williams III
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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.