Friday, March 31, 2006

Review: INSIDE MAN

I saw Inside Man with a buddy of mine who figured out The Sixth Sense about ten minutes into it. He's good at figuring out twist endings and ruining movies for himself. Fortunately for him, Inside Man doesn't have a twist ending.

The thing about twist endings is that you're not supposed to see them coming. You think you're watching one movie, then suddenly you realize that you've been watching something completely different. When it's done well, you don't mind and you even get a thrill from it. When it's not, you've got two hours of eye-rolling ahead of you.

Mysteries don't count as twist endings. Everyone knows that there's a secret and that it's something we're all supposed to be figuring out. The mystery succeeds or fails on how well it conceals the solution while still playing fair with the audience. Inside Man succeeds by giving more than enough clues to its solution, but moving at so fast a pace that you don't have time to put them all together until the end when you're supposed to. It also keeps you good and distracted with great dialogue that's both funny and insightful.

The performances are also helpful in giving you something else to think about. They're all as excellent as you'd expect from Denzel Washington, Clive Own, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer. And they're better than you'd expect from a typical supporting cast.

And the music... I'm don't buy a lot of movie soundtracks, but I'll be getting this one. Mostly for the theme song "Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint" by Sukhwinder Singh, Sapna Awasthi, and Panjabi MC.

I do have a couple of criticisms of the movie, but they're minor. The solution to the mystery is revealed to the audience before Denzel figures it out and the movie slows way down at the end as he puts it all together, but it's worth sticking with to get to his reaction when he figures it out.

My other minor criticism is with Jodie Foster's character, but not with the way she's written. On the contrary, she's one of the most interesting characters in the movie. She's unlikeable, but not completely so. For example, there's a scene where someone calls her the C-word and you can see brief shock on her face before she smiles and decides to take it as a compliment. We completely believe her when she tells Denzel later in the movie that her bite is much worse than her bark (there's never a moment that she's not being almost obnoxiously pleasant), but in that one, brief moment with the C-word, we also see that she's human. I'd never want to spend any time with her, but I liked the character a lot.

What makes her frustrating is that she's so intriguing, but her purpose in the story is purely to serve as a device through which we learn certain behind-the-scenes information. She doesn't impact the story in any real way. But, like the dialogue, she's an awful lot of fun to be misdirected by.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Genre Artist of the Day: Capitaine Dub

I just learned about Dub on Steve Niles's message board and had to share him with you. I'm really into the European (especially French) look in comics lately and Dub pushes all my buttons. He draws pirates, sexy sci-fi stuff, and pretty much everything else that I like.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Power of Myth

Just a quick plug for a roundtable I participated in over at PopThought. The question was about the power of myth in everyday life. I'm honored to be on the same panel as some great writers like Jamie Delano, Mike Carey, and Mike Grell.

The Cownt 3.0

If you're new to this blog, you may not know that I'm writing a comic about a vampire-cow called the Cownt. If you've been reading it for a while, you're sick of hearing about it.

Either way, I'm excited about this new look that my cohort Gavin Spence came up with to reflect the new direction we're taking the character. I'm trying to strike a delicate balance between creepy and funny and I think this look serves that very well.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: The Comic Book

Wanna see some art from the upcoming Battlestar Galactica comic? I thought you would.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of the interior art yet, but at least we know that the covers are going to be pretty. This is by cover artist Steve McNiven. The interior stuff will be by a guy named Nigel Raynor.

The series will be written by Greg Pak, and if you're curious about his take on the show, there's a good interview with him at Comic Book Resources. The first story will be set in between the first and second seasons: after the return from Kobol and before the return of the Pegasus. According to Pak: "In our first issue... the Galactica discovers a group of human survivors in a small Medivac ship under attack by Cylons. Adama suspects a Cylon plot. But Roslin points to the Sacred Scrolls, which contain an ancient prophecy: 'The dead shall return in an ark of fire.' Who are the 'Returners?' Will they unite or divide the fleet -- and heal or break the heart of Commander Adama?"

My experience with comics based on TV shows is that they're often not very exciting. They're usually not allowed to change the show's status quo, so that robs them of all their drama. I'd think this would be especially true of a show like Battlestar Galactica, which is so daring in its willingness to take risks, screw around with its characters, and resist getting itself into a rut. I'm gonna try it out though. Pak is a respected writer and he says he's got good things in store, especially for Dualla and Gaeta in particular. Keeping an open mind.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Who Spin-Off?

I've got a longer post in me about Doctor Who this weekend and about science fiction in general thanks to some whining I did over on my LiveJournal and some helpful insights that I got in return, but while that ferments, here's some Who gossip for ya.

The Sun is reporting that there's a Doctor Who spin-off for children in the works featuring former Who Companions Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) and K-9. The characters are from the legendary and beloved Tom Baker (the guy with the scarf) era of the show and are rumored to appear in an upcoming episode of the new series.

I'm pretty sure that this rumor has been around for a very long time, and the BBC isn't confirming anything about it. But no one's outright denying it either, so who knows? Something to watch.

Good News, Everyone!

According to Billy West (via his message board), voice of just about everyone on the show, Futurama has at least another 26 episodes coming. The deal's still being hammered out, so no news on the where and when, but he sounds pretty confident about it.

Beat 'Em, Defeat 'Em, and Mistreat 'Em

I knew they were thinking about a Blade TV show, but I guess I didn't realize they were this far along with it. It's going to be on Spike TV and it's going to star rapper Sticky Fingaz from Onyx. Apparently, they were passing out DVDs with a trailer for it at WizardWorld LA this past weekend.

I don't have the ability to watch it at work, so I don't know how good it is, but you can check out the trailer here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Review: A BITTER FEAST

This isn't really a review of S.J. Rozan's A Bitter Feast as much as it is thoughts about her work in general. That's because A Bitter Feast, the fifth novel in her mystery series, is representative of her stuff up to that point and it's all excellent enough that -- if you like mysteries at all -- it deserves your attention.

Rozan is a New York woman who writes about a pair of private detectives named Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Lydia is a young, American-born Chinese woman who lives and works in Chinatown. Bill is a grizzled, middle-aged guy who works with her from time to time and has a crush on her. The series does something unique by alternating the point of view from book to book. The first novel, China Trade, is about Lydia's trying to track down some rare China that was stolen from a museum. The book is told in the first person from Lydia's point of view, and when the case gets complicated, we learn that she sometimes hires Bill to help out with her more difficult assignments.

In Rozan's next book, Concourse, the focus is shifted to Bill, who's hired to investigate a murder at a nursing home on behalf of an old friend who runs the security for the home. We learn that Bill's relationship with Lydia is reciprocal when he hires her to help him out.

The rest of the series continues this pattern so that Mandarin Plaid (about murder in the fashion industry) returns to Lydia's perspective and No Colder Place (about death at a high-rise construction site) comes back to Bill's. A Bitter Feast is about unionizing Chinatown's restaurant industry -- a proposition that quickly becomes violent for mysterious reasons -- and, of course, features Lydia again.

There are a couple of things that identify Rozan as an outstanding writer. One is her ability to shift moods with each book to match the personality of the main character. Bill's stories are dark and brooding; noir, really. He's had a hard life and you feel that in his books. Lydia brings out a lighter side in him though and that's evident not only in the scenes in which she appears in his stories, but also in the feel of the novels that feature her. The Lydia books are still filled with danger, but Lydia -- who feels she has something to prove to her family and her community -- is much more positive in her outlook. As a result, her stories are more fun to read than Bill's, though Bill's are deeper; more introspective.

It's easy to see why Bill has feelings for Lydia. She eases the emotional burden he always carries with him. And his feelings aren't entirely unrepirocated. He's the one person to whom Lydia doesn't feel she has to prove herself, and that means the world to her. So, though each novel is self-contained and doesn't really reference past volumes, you can see Lydia and Bill in this sort of tentative dance over the course of the series as they try to figure out just how they really feel about each other and what they're able to do about it without messing up their friendship and partnership.

The other thing that Rozan does so well is to bring New York City to life. I've only been to New York once, and only for a couple of days, so I don't know anything about it from personal experience, but I've learned more about the experience of living there from one S.J. Rozan novel than from countless Marvel comics, movies set there, and episodes of Sex in the City. Rozan knows her city and what she doesn't know, she researches until you can't tell the difference.

You'd also never know from reading the Lydia stuff that Rozan's not Chinese. And it's great that Rozan doesn't just throw in details to show you how much she's learned. She's too talented a writer for that. She knows that offering facts just for the sake of showing off inevitably pulls you right out of the story. Every detail she gives you immerses you further into the story and makes it more real; more tangible.

One thing I've learned from Rozan's novels is that New York is a wonderful place to visit. That's kinda how I felt during my two-day trip when I was younger and the feeling is reinforced by these stories. I usually feel the need to take a break after reading a Rozan mystery. Not from the characters, whom I love, but from the city, which is too big and too concrete for my tastes. Fortunately for me, the next book in the series is Stone Quarry and it takes place at Bill's cabin in upstate New York.

Ahhh. Trees.

I'm ready to dive right in.

Get Yer Jelly Babies

Tonight's the night. SCIFI Channel. 8:00/9:00 CST

I tell you, it almost makes me glad for Battlestar Galactica to be over for the season.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Force Will Be With You. Always. (No, Really. I Mean ALWAYS.)

In spite of the snarkiness in the title of this post, I really am very excited about this. Progess on the Star Wars TV show continues to be made.

Star Wars producer Rick McCallum told the BBC that they're planning to create at least 100 episodes of the series. That's kind of a no-brainer actually, considering that 100 episodes is what it takes to get a TV series into syndication, but it's good news for Star Wars fans that the producers are planning big. A hundred episodes works out to about 5 seasons, but there's no reason to think that the show wouldn't continue as long as there's an audience for it.

They hope to begin filming the show in 2008 (once George Lucas is finished working on the next Indiana Jones movie) and have it ready to air that same year. It'll cover the life of Luke Skywalker in between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars (which I'm old and cranky enough to refuse to call A New Hope). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they're expecting any of the movie actors to be in the show. There are rumors about Anthony Daniels maybe reprising his role as Threepio, but that's probably just hopeful speculation.

Van Wolf Man?

According to Variety, Benicio Del Toro has signed up to play poor ol' Larry Talbot in a remake of Universal's The Wolf Man. Del Toro is apparently a huge monster fan and even collects Universal monsters memorablia. He's also going to help produce the film.

The script's being written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who also wrote Se7en. That sounds like good news except that Variety reports that "Walker is updating the storyline with new plot twists and characters that would take advantage of modern-day special effects." I'm having Van Helsing flashbacks, that are helped along by the fact that the remake is being set in Victorian England.

Not that there's anything wrong with Victorian England as a setting, but since the original Wolf Man was set in a contemporary setting for its day, I just wonder why the change. The first thought that comes to mind is that someone liked Van Helsing and figured that the world needed another period monster movie with lots of CGI.

Still, Benicio is a great choice for a lead and it's especially nice to know that as a producer he's got some genuine affection for the project. My negative speculation is based on experience with other Summer Blockbuster Hollywood remakes, so hopefully I'm wrong to be concerned about this one.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Review: THE KING

I've got a review of Rich Koslowski's The King up at Comic World News. Not only is it an interesting detective story; it's also a love letter to mystery in general. Check it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Leap With Me, People

There are a couple of TV shows that I watch that aren't what you'd think of as obvious influences to my writing, but really are. I might talk about The Gilmore Girls and the importance of humor and dialogue later, but today is about Grey's Anatomy.

I bring it up because I just learned about the brilliant writers' blog for the show. After each new episode airs, the writer of that episode posts and explains the thought processes that went into why the characters behaved the way they did. There are also behind-the-scenes anecdotes and whatnot, but it's the character stuff that really interests me.

Characters are the most important part of any story, whether it features monsters, spaceships, elves, or hospitals. What I love about Grey's Anatomy, and what I'm influenced by, is its dedication to creating interesting, relatable characters and then having those characters behave in realistic ways.

In a post about last year's Thanksgiving episode, Shonda Rhimes, the creator of the show, talks about this: "Turkey One is the bird that Burke and Izzie spend the day cooking… What made me happy about Turkey One was that it gave us an opportunity to explore a relationship that had never really been explored on our show – Burke and Izzie. In writing the episode, I discovered how much of a gentleman Burke really is. Out of kindness, he takes over this potential turkey-making disaster and finds a way to bond with Izzie. Which tells us a couple of things about him:

1.) that he can make himself at home anywhere

and

2.) that he is in love with Cristina.

"Because why else would he do what he does on Thanksgiving? He loves her, pure and simple. And no one can tell me otherwise. I do wonder if they’ll make it as a couple. Because, I gotta tell you, it killed me to write that Cristina would rather spend the day in the operating room than with Burke. But it was the truth and I had no choice. Just like I had no choice but to let Derek choose Addison. People will tell you I had a choice but I didn’t. Really. I promise. I’m sorry. The characters made me do it! I’M SORRY ALREADY!"

Whether or not you know who Burke, Izzie, and Cristina are, you have to admire Rhimes's dedication to being true to her characters. The subject comes up again in a FAQ page that Rhimes wrote for ABC.com. Talking about a recent episode in which two friends slept together when they really shouldn't have, Rhimes says, "First of all, I told you that characters have to do what the characters have to do. In that one moment, Meredith was weak and George was brave and… it happened. But more importantly, Meredith is the one of only a few women on television who is truly flawed. FLAWED in capital letters…

"And here's the thing I really would like you to remember on dark nights when you lie in bed hating my guts: In movies and most TV shows, when two friends sleep together, it's a magical start to a wonderful relationship. In life, it's quite often a hideous beginning to a very long awkward nightmare. I wanted to take a leap and keep our characters honest. Come on and leap with me, people."

And that, folks, is why I love Grey's Anatomy.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Charles Vess and the Book of Ballads

I loves me some Charles Vess. I first heard about him from his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on Stardust, but it was his work on Rose, a prequel to Jeff Smith's wonderful Bone series, that first turned me onto him. It was Vess who finally got me off my butt to read Peter Pan.

"Magical" isn't a word I use to describe a lot of art, but it's fitting in Vess's case. His linework is as delicate as Elvin caligraphy and he loads his fantasy scenes with such detail that you have to stop and spend time with each one. Makes for a long, but oh-so-satisfying reading experience.

Anyway, Vess has collaborated with some of his best writing- buddies to create The Book of Ballads. In addition to Gaiman and Smith, Vess illustrates a story by Jane Yolen as well as some other folks whom I don't know yet, but am very much looking forward to meeting.

If you don't know Charles Vess, click on any of the links in this post and get yourself introduced. If you do know him, you already know you want a copy of The Book of Ballads.

(Thanks to Bookgasm for the heads up.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Review: FREE ENTERPRISE

According to the Internet Movie Database, Trekkies was released in 1997. It was a documentary about Star Trek fans, hosted by former Trek actress Denise Crosby, and was generally lauded for being funny, yet affectionate towards its subject matter.

Free Enterprise came out – again, according to IMDB – the following year. It upgraded its former Star Trek star to William Shatner, but was also touted as being a funny, affectionate look at Star Trek fans. Perhaps you’ll forgive me for confusing the two.

I didn’t watch either of them. I like Star Trek more than the average person, and when Next Generation was on, I wouldn’t have been able to argue too convincingly if you'd called me a Trekkie. Even went to a convention once to meet Michael Dorn. But I never went to another. Frankly, the hardcore Trek fans made me uncomfortable. Especially the ones who seemed unable to distinguish Dorn from Worf, the character he played on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. You’d think that the makeup would be a clue.

Anyway, I sure didn’t feel the need to run out and watch a couple of movies about them.

A little while ago, I posted about the fan-created series Star Trek: The New Voyages and was contacted shortly afterwards about reviewing Free Enterprise, since a special edition DVD of it has just been released. While I’d never wanted to pay money to watch what I thought was a documentary about hardcore Star Trek fans, doing so for free was another matter, so I agreed. What I learned is that a couple of major assumptions I’d made about Free Enterprise were way off.

First of all, it’s not a documentary. It’s an honest-to-Spock feature film with actors and a story and everything. You’ve even seen some of the actors before, like Erick McCormack from Will & Grace, or maybe Jonathan Slavin from Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

Secondly, it’s not just about Star Trek fans. It’s about fan-culture in general. The main characters of Free Enterprise aren’t just fans of Captain Kirk. They also groove on Luke Skywalker, Logan’s Run, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Shazam's old Saturday-morning partner-in-crime, the mighty Isis. They’re non-partisan geeks. But more on that in a second.

Thinking that I was going to be watching a geek-filled documentary, I decided to spare my wife the experience and watch it when she wasn’t home. She ended up coming home about two-thirds through it though and I found myself embarrassed to explain what I was watching. Just not for the reason you might think. I was uncomfortable with what the movie said about me, but not in the way you might think.

The characters in Free Enterprise are geeks, but they’re geeks with lives. They're funny, they have friends, and they don't live with their folks. Mark (McCormack) is a successful writer with a nice place and plenty of money; his best friend Rob (played by Rafer Weigel) has more sex than Colin Farrell. Mark has relationship problems too, but the film mainly focuses on Rob who, in spite of his between-relationship promiscuity, really wants nothing more than to have a long-lasting, monogamous bond with a woman he loves. His problem is that his relationships always end at the same point, with his girlfriends’ complaining about how he spends all his rent and utilities money on movies, comics, and statues.

That’s where I got squirmy explaining the movie to my wife. I knew that in explaining Rob to her, she would see some of me in the description of a guy who's financial priorities aren't always where they need to be. But that is also exactly why the movie is more than just a harmless homage to geek obsession. Whatever your fixation, whether it’s comics, sci-fi, sports, or shoes, there’s a message in Free Enterprise for you.

William Shatner sums it up best in the movie when he explains to Mark and Rob that as great as Imagination is, true happiness can only be found in Reality. That’s the point of the film and the Shatner sub-plot supports it. When Mark and Rob first meet Shatner, they’re immediately star-struck, but after spending some time with him they come to appreciate the reality of his life: he’s all too human and he has the same kinds of problems that they have. But it’s in reality where all the risk is. And happiness doesn’t come without risk.

I called Shatner’s story a “sub-plot” and that’s something else that will come as a surprise to people who’ve never seen the movie. For all his top-billing and the talk in the DVD’s “Making of” featurette about his being the lead, the movie isn’t about William Shatner. That’s another misconception about the film that, unfortunately, the marketers didn’t correct. It’s unfortunate because focusing on Shatner in the marketing limits the potential audience for the movie’s message, which is so universal.

We all long to escape from reality from time to time. Some of us do it in the pages of a new Batman comic or Terry Brookes novel, some by watching Battlestar Galactica or Lost, and some folks do it by immersing themselves in politics or professional sports. Everyone has an obsession. Free Enterprise happens to talk mostly about science fiction, but that’s really a metaphor for them all as it warns us that escaping from reality is no longer escape when it becomes reality. Retreat is great, but it doesn’t compare at all to the joy of being rewarded for having risked something that matters.

Free Enterprise succeeds in getting all this across because it makes its point with such affectionate humor. Mark and Rob are genuinely funny. They certainly have flaws, and they're a little weird in a geeky way, but they're not the kind of people who freaked me out at the Star Trek convention. They're the kind of guys anyone would enjoy hanging out with. Even for just a couple of hours as you watch them in a movie.

Now that I've seen Free Enterprise and understand what it's really about, I'm suddenly very curious to also see Trekkies and find out if there's also more to it. I'm certainly excited to see Free Enterprise 2 when it comes out later this year.

(By the way, you can view clips from the movie here and this site has details on how you can win free copies of the DVD by helping spread the word about it.)

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

So much for relentlessly posting day after day. Sorry about that folks. Back on track now.

The TV Remote is reporting some news about the third season of Battlestar Galactica. Twenty episodes (half of which we know will feature Lucy Lawless), starting in October.

Wait a minute. October? No summer episodes? That's a long frakkin' time to wait.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Scary Pan

According to ReallyScary.com, New Line has bought a pitch for a horror movie version of Peter Pan in which Peter is the villain and Hook is a policeman trying to stop him.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Review: The Artesia Role-Playing Game

I wrote a review of Artesia: Adventures in the Known World for PopThought.com. Adventures is an excellent fantasy role-playing game based on the Artesia graphic novels by Mark Smylie.

My review is part of PopThought's Review Club feature, so there are also reviews from three other people to provide a well-rounded perspective on the material. Even if you don't like role-playing games though, you really need to check out the Artesia comics for some of the best fantasy storytelling out there today.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Who Killed Poe?

The title of this post is a trick question. I have no idea and I don't know if Matthew Pearl does either. Maybe no one did. Pearl has written a book though about a guy who tries to uncover the true circumstances behind Poe's mysterious death.

The Poe Shadow won't be released until May 23rd, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon.com. It follows a Poe fan's quest to learn what really happened to the legendary writer with the aid (or hindrance) of a couple of guys who claim to be the inspiration for Poe's best-known character, Inspector Dupin. The subject matter and the nineteenth century setting make this one a Must Read for me.

Incidentally, Pearl has another literary mystery, The Dante Club, about a group of Dante scholars who attempt to solve a series of murders inspired by Dante's descriptions of punishments in Hell. Not being much of a Dante reader, I'm less drawn to this one, but it's an interesting idea. Just not as interesting as a hypothetical solution to a real-life mystery like Poe's death.

(Thanks to Bookgasm for pointing this one out.)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Review: PIZZERIA KAMIKAZE

I feel kinda bad just linking to other stuff I've written, but Pizzeria Kamikaze really is a good graphic novel and I want you to know about it. It's a fantasy story about life-after-death. Or, more specifically, life-after-suicide.

By the way, a movie's been made of it. Wristcutters: A Love Story debuted at Sundance this year and gets an 83% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes (that's 5 out of 6 critics who liked it, which isn't a big sampling, but still...). I'd love to see it when it starts making the art theater rounds.

And if you're interested, both Pizzeria Kamikaze and Wristcutters are based on the short story "Kneller's Happy Campers," which appears in author Etgar Keret's collection The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories.

My 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2020

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