Thursday, November 30, 2006
I remember being disappointed with the first Tomb Raider movie, though for the life of me I can't figure out how my expectations for it were high enough to merit disappointment. It must have been bad enough of an experience that I didn't rush out and see the sequel when it came out, but I guess it must have been good enough for me to keep the sequel on my To See Eventually list.
Or maybe it was just the thought of seeing more of Angelina Jolie running around in a tank top and hot pants.
Anyway, "eventually" finally arrived this week, and I even went back and re-watched the first one for context. They're similar enough that in reviewing one, you're really reviewing both, so I won't differentiate much between the two here.
They're not great films, but they're fun to watch. Basically, they've taken all the cheesy things that I hate about the typical James Bond movie and put them into a new franchise. And that's okay with me. Crazy gadgets and outrageous stunts aren't inherently evil; they just don't belong in a Bond movie. Give them to a beautiful woman with a great accent though, and I'm all for them. No one's going to complain that you're ruining the character of Lara Croft by adding that stuff. It's mindless and it's gratuitious, but sometimes you just want to see stuff blow up.
On the other hand, even when stuff is blowing up, it's not too much to ask that it happen creatively. I mean, look at Die Hard. It's the perfect example of an action movie that skillfully avoids being mindless. The Tomb Raider movies, on the other hand, follow a simple, uncreative recipe. Take an ancient artifact with immensely destructive power; add an organization of villains who hope to sieze that power and use it to take over the world; mix together with a complicated map that leads to the artifact; sprinkle with stunts, explosions, and cheap CGI.
Even though I don't mind the stunts-and-explosions sprinkles, I do object to the uninspired plot and the cheap CGI. A major peeve of mine is when directors drop in CGI for something that I've already seen done a zillion times with real actors and props. For example, in Van Helsing there's a scene where Hugh Jackman is supposed to leap from a speeding carriage onto the horses that are pulling it. How many times have you seen a real guy do that in ancient, low-budget Westerns? It's inexcusable to substitute a CGI cartoon character for an actual stuntman in that scene. Same thing with the scene in Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life where Lara Croft fights a CGI shark. If Sean Connery can go up against real sharks in Thunderball, Angelina Jolie can do the same thing. Using CGI for that kind of stuff is lazy and insulting and it looks stupid.
I also object to the fact that in both movies, Angelina Jolie wears hot pants a total of one time, but that complaint comes from an entirely different source of motivation.
Having seen both movies now, I remember why I was disappointed in the first one. It wasn't that I went into it with great expectations; it was that it was fun enough and sexy enough that I was let down when the plot (and characters, by the way) turned out to be unimaginative. And the sequel suffered the same problem.
The rest of the description in the review isn't quite as compelling because it sounds like Kearney's world is overly magical. I like just a teensy bit of magic in fantasy stories, otherwise the magic becomes mundane; just a substitute for technology. One of the great things about The Lord of the Rings is that not everyone went around casting spells. Magic was special. The description of The Mark of Ran talks about witchcraft, magical gods, magical races, and a magical sword. That's a lot of magic for a one-paragraph review.
But then, it also talks about "the creak of ship's timbers and the flash of live steel," so I'm at least going to give it a chance to pass the 100-Page Rule.
Fraction got a lot of attention as the writer of the graphic novel Last of the Independents, but it wasn't until his 30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales story with Ben Templesmith that I read his work. That got me curious enough to want to try his next comic book series, Casanova, which turned out to be an insane dumping ground for idea after wonderful idea.
I wrote in a review somewhere that Fraction throws ideas onto the page like he's never going to run out. And, of course, he's not. But that doesn't keep a lot of writers from being stingy with their ideas anyway and I love that Fraction's not like that. It makes Casanova a brilliant adventure comic, and it makes me very interested in checking out Fraction's new stuff for Marvel: Punisher War Journal and The Immortal Iron Fist.
Maybe it's because I'm a bigger fan of The Office than Get Smart, but I think they've done it in this case by hiring Steve Carell to play Maxwell Smart. He may not be interchangeable with Don Adams, but he's funnier. And at least he's not Matthew Broderick.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Dark Horse Book of Monsters (eventually)
Batman/The Spirit (maybe)
Rush City #3 (featuring Black Canary)
Black Panther #22
Captain America #24
Immortal Iron Fist #1 (Fraction!)
The only problem is that Evanier blogs faster than I can read, but whenever I've got a few minutes of free time, he's always up on the latest stuff.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I've wanted to read more Dumas ever since I finished The Three Musketeers, but haven't gotten around to it yet. When I do though, I'll be using The Alexandre Dumas père Web Site as a resource.
Thanks to Karen Newman for not only reading it, but saying nice things about it too.
The difference is in how well the movies' themes and I connect with each other. In Mighty Aphrodite, I could relate to Woody's desire to help Mira Sorvino's character and to his confusing that desire with romantic attraction. In Anything Else, I identified with Jason Biggs' desperate need to hold on to what he's already comfortable with rather than bravely pursue something better, but uncertain. In contrast, Everyone Says I Love You is about rich people who sing and dance while meddling in each others lives, and Jade Scorpion is a cool homage to noir detective stories. They're both good; they're just not great. And Woody Allen always has the potential to be great.
Scoop also fails to live up to greatness. It's got a great premise in which a dead reporter uncovers a huge scoop on Charon's boat to Hades and uses a magician (Woody Allen) to help him contact a journalism student (Scarlett Johansson) so that he can feed her clues to solve and ultimately report the story. The scoop concerns the identity of a serial killer who may or may not be Hugh Jackman. Scarlett investigates and of course starts to fall for Wolverine.
Like Jade Scorpion, Scoop is a decent mystery, but Allen spends more time making the dialogue funny (and it is) than he does filling plot holes. I won't reveal the ending, but let it suffice to say that all questions are not answered by the time the credits roll. I also found myself very aware of Allen's preference for letting actors ad lib their way through scenes. That doesn't usually bother me in his films, but I was sensitive to it here for some reason. Maybe it was me, but maybe this cast just wasn't as adept at it as some others have been. As much as I like the cast, I can't say that I liked the movie and I don't recommend it unless you're just really itching to see a new Woody Allen film.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Kelly Sue used to review graphic novels for ArtBomb.net (subject of a future Link du Jour even though it's no longer updated), and she helped me develop a working philosophy for just what it is I'm trying to accomplish in my own comics reviews.
She translates manga into English, and it thrills me more than it has a right to that she and I have in common that we've both had short stories published as back-matter in IDW comics. She's also married to one my favorite voices in comics right now: Matt Fraction (whom I'll also be Link du Jouring later on).
At the moment, Kelly Sue's co-writing a 30 Days of Night mini-series with Steve. It's called Eben and Stella and I can't wait to read it. I've always felt that the 30 Days stuff works best as a romance story wrapped in a horror blanket, so it sounds like Kelly Sue's story might play to that strength.
Bookgasm has a rule that's changed my reading life. It's the 100-page rule: "If it’s not good by page 100, quit reading."
I gave George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones about 150 pages, and while no one could ever call it "bad," it failed to grab me. It's the first book in an epic, but it's epic itself in the number of characters that it asks you to keep track of and care about. Keeping track of them all isn't so hard -- Martin does a fine job of making them all memorable in some way -- but I can't care about them all. So I found myself impatiently reading about a spoiled little daughter of nobility and her tomboy sister, for example, when I really wanted to know what was going to happen to their bastard half-brother whose only future seems to be defending a bleak, wilderness wall against terrifying, unseen creatures (but you just know that bigger things are coming for him).
I don't want to suggest that Martin made a bad call in bouncing between members of his large cast. I don't want to suggest anything that makes it sound like Martin's a bad writer, because he clearly isn't. It's just that where my head's at right now, I need a tighter story. I don't know for sure where Martin's taking his Song of Ice and Fire series (of which A Game of Thrones is the first book), but it's obviously somewhere big. And probably somewhere interesting.
There's a lot of intrigue and political manouvering going on in A Game of Thrones and I'm halfway interested in seeing where it all ends up. But I'm much more interested in finding out what happens to that bastard kid and the crippled nobleman who accompanies him to the wilderness wall. I also want to read more about the former princess whose brother sold her to a barbarian warlord in return for military support in an endeavor to regain the brother's throne. Boy, I have a feeling that the brother's going to regret that.
I also have a feeling that I'll be coming back to A Game of Thrones when I'm able to be more patient with the parts that I'm not as into: the strained friendship, for instance, between a king and his right-hand man. Or the training of a young nobleman whose father has left the family holdings to fulfill his duty elsewhere in the kingdom.
But for now, I need something that moves faster and is more plot-oriented. I'm hoping that Terry Brooks' Armageddon's Children does the trick.
Updated to add: It didn't.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Which reminds me that I need to try At the Earth's Core one of these days. I also dig dinosaurs.
At any rate, Scifan's Edgar Rice Burroughs page has a great, chronological bibliography of his stuff, plus links to other ERB sites, so it's a valuable resource for anyone into Burroughs' stuff, or even just part of it.
The Mercantour National Park lies in the provincial southeast of France, home to a pack of wolves that cross over the Alps from Italy on a yearly basis. This year, the wolves seem to get out of hand. Sheep are savaged in the area, killed without being eaten. An investigation reveals that an extremely large wolf has killed the sheep: an abnormal beast – indeed, a monster.
Lawrence Johnstone studies the wolves and takes their side. He is anguished when the populace decides to hunt the wolves down. But the town moves beyond that stage quickly. Soon, there is talk that the attacks are not the work of a wolf, but of a man and wolf hybrid, a werewolf. A local person is implicated, and that person goes missing. And then it’s not just sheep that are being savaged, but humans that fall prey to the slavering teeth.
Enter Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, the hero of Vargas' previous book, Have Mercy on Us All, who gets involved in the case after hearing about it on TV. Bookgasm calls the novel a "magical noir" and leaves open whether or not the killings are really the work of werewolves or something more mundane. Either way, I'm fascinated.
Just like I'm fascinated with the idea behind Have Mercy on Us All, about a self-appointed town crier in modern Paris whose announcements begin to take the form of medieval texts that predicted the coming of the Black Death. When backward 4s -- once used in Europe as protection against the Plague -- begin appearing on apartment doors, Adamsberg -- who sounds something like a French version of Colombo -- investigates.
The trailer that I saw was about these four friends who go off into the woods and apparently unleash something evil. Morgan Freeman shows up later and seems to know something about it. The trailer and the movie poster focused on a strange woman, sitting alone in the middle of a snow-covered road, whom a couple of the friends nearly run over. Is she some kind of Native American mystic who brings all this down on the friends? The official site supports that interpretation with this description: "Four friends hung a dreamcatcher in their cabin. It's about to catch something it cannot stop." That's a movie I'd like to see.
Dreamcatcher, on the other hand, is Men in Black meets Stand by Me. I like the Stand by Me aspects of it: the four friends who've been a team since childhood and share a common secret. It's the Men in Black part that bugs me. Contrary to the website's claim, the dreamcatcher in the cabin catches nothing. It's an awkward metaphor for a mentally handicapped buddy of the four friends. Stephen King probably explains it better in the book, but the analogy is muddy in the film. Morgan Freeman does indeed know what's going on though, because he's the commander of a top secret military unit that's been protecting the Earth from an alien invasion for the last twenty years or so.
The movie's real problem is that the alien invasion twist comes out of nowhere. As far as you know, both from the marketing and from the first third of the movie itself, you're watching a story about Native American artifacts and people with mystical powers. Then, without warning, Morgan Freeman shows up and starts talking about stuff right out of Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and War of the Worlds that we're supposed to believe has been going on for the last three decades.
I'd hoped that having been spoiled about the alien invasion twist, I'd be prepared for it and just be able to enjoy it for what it is, but even then, it's flawed. King's novels work better for me as mini-series than movies, and I think that would probably be the case here too. The story's too rushed. It does a nice job of letting you spend enough time with the four friends to like them, but everything that happens to them feels like it's happening too soon. There's some spooky stuff, but unfortunately the film doesn't build enough tension around it to make it powerful. Even the strange woman in the road, so heavily featured in the marketing, is only briefly featured; just long enough to move the plot along to its next point.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Jean Cocteau's 1946 French version is a classic and I really can't explain why it's taken me this long to see it. I mean, I loved the Hallmark version with George C. Scott and even Disney's take, so it was given that I'd love this version too. And I did, for the most part.
The make-up and effects on this thing are stunning. Seriously, Cocteau isn't afraid to show close-ups of Jean Marais as the Beast and the make-up is flawless. He looks like an animal, complete with moving ears. And I don't know if this was make-up or just Marais, but when people talk about eyes glistening like pools, they're describing Marais. That's not me being overly in touch with my feminine side, that's an observation of fact.
The Beast's castle is absolutely magical. Cocteau uses disembodied arms (reminiscent of Thing from The Addams Family) to simulate moving, inanimate objects. Rather than have a tea kettle pour itself,for example, an arm sprouts from the middle of the table to perform the service. Arms also hang on walls to hold up candelabras or to open curtains. Statues are scattered around the castle, played by living actors so that they can turn their heads and silently observe the goings on of the Beast and his reluctant houseguest.
The special effects are as low tech as you'd expect from a 1946 film, but Cocteau knows the meaning of the phrase "trick photography" and uses it wonderfully. By simply switching back and forth a couple of times between camera shots, Cocteau makes you marvel as the Beast carries an unconscious Beauty into her room and you see her raggedy maid's dress transform into a beautiful gown as she goes through the door.
Marais is excellent as the Beast too. He's tortured, desperate, noble, and feral, all at the same time. Exactly the hero that the piece needs.
Josette Day is as pretty as she needs to be, but doesn't do much to make Beauty overly likeable. Her attitude towards the Beast changes overnight and she's a very stupid girl when she goes home to visit her dying father. That's all pretty faithful to the fairy tale, but it just means that someone -- either the screenplay writer or the actress -- has extra work to do to make Beauty someone who's worthy of the Beast's affection. Unfortunately, no one does the extra work in this version. I'm not calling that a flaw of the film though. It's just presenting the story the way it is, without improving on it.
The only thing I'd call a flaw about La Belle et la Bête is the ending with it's odd, never-explained connection between the Beast and the handsome young rogue who's been courting Beauty back in the real world. Marais plays both characters, and I don't at all get why they look alike or why what ultimately happens to the rogue happens.
It's a weird enough ending that it almost makes me not want to buy the film, but I'm enough of a fan of the story and the sheer magic that Cocteau enfused it with, that it's going to be something I'll want to watch again and share with others.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Dwight T. Albatross' The Goon Noir #2
Jack of Fables #5
Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M #4
Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes #24
Wonder Woman #3
Amazing Spider-Man #536
Heroes for Hire #4
Punisher War Journal #1
Is it going to be direct-to-DVD too?
At least they got Lucy Lawless to do one of the voices, but telling her to just "do Xena" for it is pretty unoriginal.
I've only read the initial trilogy in the vast Dragonlance series, but it was imaginative and unique and had some great visuals, so this is all pretty disappointing news.
I'd also heard great things about Brubaker's work on Catwoman and the spy thriller he wrote called The Sleeper. So, when Marvel announced that he was taking over the writing duties of Captain America, I got real curious about it. Turns out, Brubaker was up to the hype. He turned Captain America into something that's as much spy adventure as it is superhero comic, and he's reminded readers about how lonely a man-out-of-time like Captain America must be. It's exciting, dark, touching stuff.
He hit gold again with Daredevil, proving that he was probably the only person who could successfully take over the crime title from former writer Brian Michael Bendis. Brubaker's take on it has gone from prison drama to international caper story. That's Brubaker's strength, I think: the ability to take superheroes and figure out how to tell fresh stories about them by abandoning the typical superhero formulas and using a completely different genre. The only time it hasn't worked perfectly for me has been his space operatic take on Uncanny X-Men, but I cannot wait for his and Matt Fraction's upcoming stint on Iron Fist.
Anyway, Brubaker's talented enough that I wish he had a blog in order to talk more about his process, but his website is still very helpful for keeping up with the latest news about his projects.
That's the spoiler-free version. If you don't mind my talking about specifics and possibly ruining something for you, keep reading.
I've talked before about how the novel Casino Royale is my favorite Bond book. Actually, there are times when I think it may just be my favorite book of all time. It's definitely in the Top Five. So, how picky was I going to be about a straightforward adaptaion of it? Not very, it turns out.
Well, I guess I was picky on whether or not it captured the spirit of the novel, and I wasn't disappointed there. But as long as it managed that, I didn't care so much about most of the details.
The first half of the movie is all new story. The adaptation doesn't kick in until the second half. This isn't bad though because if the book has a weakness, it's that it takes a couple of chapters to get going thanks to some false starts that cover how the case came across M's desk and how he decided to give it to Bond. In the movie, Bond is led into the case more naturally, as the result of something else he's already working on. That gives the filmmakers lots of room in the first half to do some of the traditional stunt sequences that Bond movie fans are fond of. And they're great ones too. There's a footchase early on where you can't imagine how in the world Bond is ever going to catch a villain who employs Spider-Man-like acrobatics to get away. There were several times during that sequence where I couldn't figure out how Bond was going to make it out alive, much less get his man.
The one thing that the first half has that's straight from the book is how Bond gets his double-O status in the teaser sequence. You have to make two kills in the line of duty to get your "license to kill," and though the specifics of Bond's kills are a little different between the book and movie, the general idea of them is the same. One's neat and clean; the other is horribly, horribly messy. And the way that the teaser seques into the famous Bond-shooting-at-the-gun-barrel bit is so very, very cool.
The second half of the movie -- the adaptation part -- is also perfect. If I'm going to be picky, I'll express a little disappointment that the card game has been updated from baccarat to Texas Hold 'Em, but I'll live. The important things are the tension around the game, the character of Vesper, the torture sequence, the revelation of the story's real villain (the one that continues into the next several stories of the series), and what happens to Bond afterwards that changes his attitude about his work.
Daniel Craig is perfect as Bond. Just like in the book, he's a cold-hearted bastard who takes a little too much pleasure in his work at first. But, like in the book, that changes as the story progresses. Someone on a message board said that this was the first Bond he ever gave a crap about. Yeah, Connery was cool and the rest of the actors have had varying degrees of success at imitating that cool, but this is the first time that Bond has been a real character. Dalton gave us glimpses of this side of Bond, but it's fully explored in Casino Royale and Craig pulls it off flawlessly. I wanted to stand up and freakin' cheer at his response to the bartender who asked him if he wanted his martini shaken or stirred.
It's a Bond movie, so I didn't have a problem with the weird continuity of Judi Dench's having worked as M with Pierce Brosnan and now having to break in a new 007. Continuity has been weird with Bond films since On Her Majesty's Secret Service when George Lazenby gets beat up in the teaser and quips that "this never would've happened to the other guy." The only choices you have are to ignore it, or buy into the theory that the name "James Bond," like the 007 number, is something that England passes on from spy to spy. I hate that theory, so I choose to ignore it. As far as I'm concerned, this is the first Bond movie, with Daniel Craig as the real James Bond. In spite of my usual obsessive geekiness about this kind of thing, because it's a Bond movie, I can do that without taking anything away from my enjoyment of, say, Doctor No or Thunderball.
And as an origin movie: again, perfect. I loved seeing those first two kills and Bond's attitude about them. I loved seeing him get the Aston Martin. I loved watching him develop as a character. I loved how he doesn't introduce himself that way until the very end and how they save the theme music for that exact moment.
But the thing I loved most about the movie on any level; the most important thing of all: he said The Line. Not a line from another Bond movie, but the last line in the novel. The one that's my favorite line in the history of literature. The line that completely defines who Bond is throughout the rest of the series. I was nervous watching Casino Royale up until Craig said that line, but at that point, I knew that it was a perfect movie.
They'll never do it, but I wish they'd go ahead and remake the rest of the Fleming novels -- in order -- with Daniel Craig and the feel of this movie. Man, it was beautiful seeing "based on the book by Ian Fleming" in the credits again. If they could pull off an entire series like this, building the way that the novels do, it'd be better than Star Wars and Lord of the Rings combined.
Friday, November 17, 2006
It doesn't get much more perfect than that.
The Tripper is coming out early next year, but according to Steve Niles, selected cities are getting a preview of it this Sunday and Tuesday. Check your theater for exact showtimes.
SUNDAY: NOV. 19th
Los Angeles: The Bridge Cinema Delux
Panama City: Regency 11
Atlanta: The Plaza Theatre
San Jose: Century Capitol 16
Birmingham: Brook Hiland 10
New York: The E-Walk 13
San Francisco: Century Plaza 10
Las Vegas: Regal Village Square 18
TUESDAY: NOVEMBER 21st
Memphis: Muvico Peabody Place 22
Cincinnati: Eaton Town Center 30 (closest)
Phoenix: AMC Dear Valley 30
San Antonio: Regal Fiesta 16
Orlando: Universal Cineplex 20
New York: Regal E-Walk 13
Atlanta: AMC Magic Johnson Greenbriar
Salt Lake City: Century 16
Birmingham: Brook Hiland 10
Minneapolis: Crown Block E
Tampa: Veterans Expressway 24
Boston: No theatre listed
Roanoke: Chesterfield Town Center
So, the cover of Grave Descend with its fancy yacht and bikini girl immediately grabbed my attention. The praise lavished on it by Bookgasm puts it on my To Read list:
"...a wrecked yacht creates a mystery that attracts (thank God) all the wrong kinds of people, including our protagonist. If you want to study plotting 101, this is a book you should analyze for setting up a mystery that grows richer with each chapter."
" ...the hero is McGregor, a freelance diver hired to salvage secret cargo from the titular downed yacht, which he’s told went down mysteriously the day prior. Something doesn’t quite (add) up in McG’s mind, however, and when he does some sniffing around a few hours before an agreed-upon, pre-dive helicopter flyover, his suspicions are confirmed: The yacht hasn’t sunk at all.""John Lange," by the way, is Michael Crichton's old pen-name from the '70s, when this story was first published.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I wanted the first items available to have the Official Cownt version on them, but I'm planning on adding more options, so check back every now and then to see what new items are up. I know I'm not going to be happy until a Grant Gould "Dirty Cownt" mousepad exists in the world.
Sounds fun? No? Tough.
First up, I'm getting rid of the link to the Isaac Asimov Home Page. I originally put it up because I had this grand idea to educate myself by reading all of Asimov's most famous stuff and I wanted a handy reference as to what exactly that might be and in which order it might be best consumed.
But then, digging into it, I realized that I don't really like Asimov all that much. So: gone-dy!
I keep forgetting about that though. I hear "Pinocchio" and I flash back to childhood with "Give a Little Whistle" and "I've Got No Strings" bouncing around in my head. So, I don't know what I should've been expecting from Benigni's version, but what I got was an absolutely gorgeous take on a story that I can't stand. Benigni heightens Pinocchio's obnoxiousness with a manic performance, but to his credit, he also perfectly captures the puppet's gullible innocence. The film is undeniably beautiful, from the sweeping, Italian landscapes to the starlit, quaint village streets as the Fairy's mouse-drawn carriage glides through them. It really is a magical experience.
I just wish that the story was less painful.
The trailer for it can be seen before the animated penguin movie Happy Feet that starts tomorrow. Someone'll have to tell me how it is though since I'll be watching something else.
The plot device loses something when it's a grown-up who gets moved over, like in those fantasy books where a bunch of D&D players get sucked into their game world or whatever. Not only are they better equipped at physically dealing with the new world than little kids, but you have to go through long chapters -- if not the entire book -- of the characters' mental denial of what's happened to them. The children always seem to take their situations in stride while retaining a marvelous sense of wonder about the new world.
So, John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things about a 12-year-old boy who "is thrust into a realm where eternal stories and fairy tales assume an often gruesome reality" sounds right up my alley. The World War II setting, the inclusion of a wicked step-mother, and the re-interpretation of classic stories like "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel & Gretel" all seal the deal.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Hiaasen is known for writing quirky characters and Nature Girl doesn't sound like an exception to that. It has an unhinged heroine who plans to kidnap and terrorize an innocent telemarketer (if there is such a thing) and his girlfriend, a tabloid murderer, a sexually harrassing stalker, a drug-runner, a teenager who's over-protective of his mom, a half-Native American alligator-wrestler, and an accidental hostage: all of whom are connected to each other and converge in an isolated section of the Florida Everglades called Dismal Key.
That plot has the making of a really interesting story in anyone's hands, but in Hiaasen's it promises to be as funny as it is thrilling.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
By the way, from now on, I'm not going to list trade paperback collections and graphic novels since I don't buy them on Wednesdays with the regular, new comics. I buy those more like books, when I can afford them and have time to read them.
Birds of Prey #100
Civil War #5
Ms. Marvel #9
New Avengers #25
The Phantom #13
I was really excited to learn that a couple of Alias alumni, Amy Irving and Victor Garber, play Bledel's parents. Unfortunately, they don't have much interesting to do since they're just playing stereotypical, wealthy parents whose primary interests are being pretentious and controlling their headstrong daughter. Bledel's role isn't much better. She rebels against her folks by running away into the woods where she meets the Tuck family, who discovered a magical spring 90 or so years ago that made them immortal when they drank from it.
Now the Tuck parents (William Hurt and Sissy Spacek) spend their years hidden away in the forest near the spring while their sons (Scott Bairstow and Jonathan Jackson) travel the world and come home once every ten years. Bairstow is great as the tortured, older son whose experience with immortality has led him to see it as a curse. Jackson is much more starry-eyed about the whole deal.
Sissy Spacek is completely convincing as a woman who's satisfied with her life, if a little sad about the sacrifices that she and her family have had to make. She's easily the most interesting character in the movie. William Hurt was a strange choice to play the dad. His ubiquitous sad-and-weary performance works okay for the character once the Tucks learn that they've been discovered and will have to do something drastic, but he's not as good early in the film when he and his family are supposed to be care-free and confident in their isolation.
Another cast member that deserves mentioning is Ben Kingsley as a man who knows more than he should about the Tucks and is hunting them down for some reason. Kingsley's character is almost foppish in his mannerisms, but no less menacing or deadly. He does a lot with his generic, otherwise dull, villain role, but you can almost see him straining to do it. That's the way most of the actors are. You can see them fighting to breathe life into uninspired characters. The exceptions to that are Bairstow and Spacek who have some good material to work with and do great things with it.
More than boring characters though, the movie's major flaw is that it wants to make a point about living a full life, but does everything in its power to water it down. This all culminates in a decision that Bledel has to make at the end of the movie. After spending time with the Tucks and falling in love with Jackson's character, she has to decide whether to drink from the magical spring herself or live a finite life as a regular person. In spite of her natural fear of death and her love for her immortal boyfriend, she's haunted by something William Hurt said to her earlier in the film. "If there's one thing I've learned about people," he said, "many will do anything, anything not to die. And they'll do anything to keep from living their life." He says, "What we Tucks have, you can't call it living. We just... are. We're like rocks, stuck at the side of a stream." And finally, "Don't be afraid of death. Be afraid of the unlived life."
It's a nice idea for the point of a movie, it's just not the real point of this one. For all of Hurt's analogy of being stuck at the side of the stream, the movie paints the side of the stream as a very nice place to be. Yeah, the Tucks are going to have to make a change now that they've been found out, but for the last several decades they've apparently been doing just fine. They live in a magical-looking cottage next to a picturesque lake in the middle of a deep, enchanted forest surrounded by majestic mountains. The boys travel the world, seeing everything it has to offer, before coming home for a spell to visit and dance with their loving parents. Bledel's time with them is bewitching. The film spends a lot of time on beautiful scenery and creating spellbinding moments between her and Jackson. It all makes Hurt's speech sound empty.
Even Bairstow's character, as wounded as he is, has the potential to move past his pain and enjoy his existence if only he would. The usual argument against immortality in fantasy stories is that the immortal is forced to watch his loved ones grow old and die. But in Tuck Everlasting with its magical spring that anyone can drink from, that's not a concern.
All of this makes Bledel's conflict at the end much easier than it's supposed to be. And it makes her decision not to drink and to live a normal life look ridiculous given what we've seen in the movie up to that point. And the fact that we learn almost nothing about her post-Tucks normal life leaves us unsure about whether her decision ultimately ended up being the correct one after all.
Lots of other stories have done an excellent job of painting immortal life as lonely and tragic. Everything from Mary Shelley's "The Mortal Immortal" to the movie Highlander. I recommend checking some of those out instead. And if you're like me and just want to see what Alexis Bledel can do outside of The Gilmore Girls, Sin City is a much better option.
I recognize some of the authors who are writing the new pastiches. Ron Fortier, for example, used to do a great webcomic based on the further adventures of the classic Doctor Satan character. And Christopher Mills, who writes the introduction to one of the Captain Hazzard volumes, is an excellent pulp writer himself. Frankly, I'm disappointed not to see his name as an author credit.
Anyway, these deserve further investigation.
Monday, November 13, 2006
It's a forgettable romance movie with a gimmicky plot, but she's very good in it. I had a hard time buying her as a doctor, but I think that was the script's problem; not hers. We didn't get to see her being a doctor enough. In fact, we didn't get to learn much about her character at all. We don't know why she's so lost and alone, but thanks to Bullock's performance, there's no question that she is lost and alone.
Keanu Reeves, on the other hand, isn't a favorite actor of mine. I like him okay enough in certain roles (Bill and Ted, Parenthood, Speed, The Matrix), but whenever his character doesn't exactly match up with one of the stereotypes that he does well, I usually end up cringing. He's not too shabby in this, but that might be because the script spends a lot more time developing his character than it does Bullock's. We get to see him interact with his father and brother and even if we never do understand why he prefers writing to the unseen Bullock over actually dating the cute girl he works with (who's obviously interested in him), we feel like we know the guy and we feel badly that he's so unhappy.
Shohreh Aghdashloo is tragically underused as a colleague of Bullock's character. In fact, that and my earlier complaint about not getting to see more of Bullock as a doctor make me wonder if there wasn't originally some more hospital stuff in the movie that got cut out for length. 'Cause the movie certainly should've done more with that part of its story.
Still, the movie succeeds in spite of its flaws because it takes two broken characters whom we actually care about and uses them to help fix each other. There's also a nice point to the time-difference gimmick: that when you're in love, waiting for things to happen at the correct pace in nearly impossible to do, but worth struggling with anyway.
Variety reports that the role has gone to Lena Headey from The Cave, The Brothers Grimm, and Imagine Me & You. None of which I've seen, but am interested in for various reasons. I don't know if she's a good replacement or not, but I aim to find out.
Which no doubt influenced him later in life when he sat down to write stories like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Body-Snatcher, The Bottle Imp, Kidnapped, and Treasure Island.
Gonna see if I can swing by Long John Silver's for dinner tonight to celebrate.
Friday, November 10, 2006
By way of making that point, King refers to a scene from his latest book:
About halfway through my latest novel, Jim Dooley, a dangerously unhinged literary stalker finds himself in the study of his idol, Scott Landon, a famous writer. Although Scott has been dead for nearly two years, Dooley is overcome with awe. "He deserved a nice place like this," he tells Scott's widow. "I hope he enjoyed it, when he wasn't agonizin' over his creations."
Lisey Landon spent 25 years with Scott, and knows a thing or two about that creative process: She "thought of Scott at the desk he called Dumbo's Big Jumbo, sitting before his big-screen Mac and laughing at something he had just written. Chewing either a plastic straw or his own fingernails. Sometimes singing along with the music. Making arm-farts if it was summer and hot and his shirt was off. That was how he agonized over his smucking creations. But she... said nothing."
She keeps her mouth shut because Jim Dooley -- like Annie Wilkes in Misery, another book of mine that touches on the writing life -- is a walking land mine. But even were Dooley an English professor (as is the man who winds Dooley up and sets him in motion), I think she would have held her peace.
I bring all that up to say that I've been wanting to read that novel, Lisey's Story, ever since reading King's article. Which I'm sure was partly his point in bringing it up. I'm interested in other writers' perspectives on the writing life, but I'm even more interested in the idea of an English professor who somehow (unknowingly? knowingly?) encourages a man to become a (posthumous?) literary stalker. Lots of questions that need answering there, and I aim to find 'em out.
Anyway, it's out now.
I also love how he hasn't let himself be bound by genre. He writes fantasy, horror, comedy, science fiction, and children's books all equally well. He said in an interview recently that when he first started doing book signings back in the Sandman days, he could always tell by looking at the line who his fans were and who was someone's mom, standing in line to get a signature for a fan who was away at college or something.
These days, he said, his audience is so varied that he can't tell anymore. Those old Sandman fans are now middle-aged and respectable, and there are also a new crop of young, goth readers as well as six-year old little girls who loved The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish. How cool is that?
Anyway, he turns 46 years old today. So, Happy Birthday, Neil!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Maybe I just wasn't mentally energetic enough for it last night, because I could tell that there was more there than I was picking up, but one of a couple of things must've been going on. Either I'm too much of a rube to undertand all that thar simbullism, or they packed it with too much and I overloaded.
The story goes that the town of Northfork, Montana is about to be buried beneath a lake when the new dam starts working. Most of the town has left, but there are a few stragglers still hanging around. So, the state has sent in three two-man teams of Evacuators to clear the rest of them out. One of the people who needs evacuating is a young orphan named Irwin who's too sick to survive a journey to anywhere else. Some others are a quartet of weirdos who may or may not be angels looking for one of their own who's gone missing.
Angel symbolism is all over the place in this movie. Nick Nolte, the local priest who's stayed behind to care for Irwin, constantly refers to the boy as an angel. And Irwin seems to genuinely believe it. He's got surgical-looking scars on his back and on his temples where he claims his wings and halo were removed.
While trying to talk a religious man (who intends to ride out the flood in a homemade ark) into leaving, one of the Evacuators (played by James Woods) offers to give him a pair of cut-off angel wings if he'll comply. Then there are the small, white feathers that the Evacuators all wear in their hat bands. See, there's probably something angelic about the Evacuators' mission to rescue the Northfork stragglers, but how far are we supposed to carry the analogy? They're doing the job for the promise of some property by the new lake, so does that selfishness figure into the comparison? Is that why their feathers are small? And what do we make of the sub-plot in which James Woods has to decide whether or not to dig up and move the remains of his wife, which are buried in Northfork? I don't know, and it makes my head hurt to figure out.
And what of the weirdos? Are they real? Are they angels? Are they -- as Roger Ebert suggests -- merely constructs of Irwin's imagination? If so, how is it possible for James Woods to briefly see them in one scene? Is Irwin really an angel, or just a sick boy trying to cope with loneliness and the fact that he's dying? Why does one of the weirdos (Anthony Edwards) not have any hands? What's that all about? Why is he blind? What's up with the strange glasses that he wears that help him to read? Why is another weirdo mute? Why is that mute one named "Cod?" Is it coincidence that "Cod" sounds a lot like "God?" Why does Cod write in gibberish that can only be translated by the blind Anthony Edwards? Is there a "blind oracle" thing going on here? Why is Darryl Hannah's weirdo androgynous? Is that an angelic thing, or something else? None of the other weirdos are androgynous, so it can't be an angelic thing, right? Or is she the only angel? Where did James Woods get those cut-off angel wings he carries around in his trunk? Gahhhhh!
I have one good thing to say about Northfork. Nick Nolte's performance of the priest who cares for a boy who no one else will love, is heartbreaking. Especially as the father of a young boy myself, it tore me up to watch Nolte trying everything in his meager power to help Irwin. But that story could've been told much differently and much more effectively if it weren't hindered by all the other nonsense in the film.
The problem is, that doesn't work for writers, unless you run into one good-natured enough to play along. I've seen Steve Niles draw a smiley face with fangs for a fan, and that was funny and cool, but what if you could get art from your favorite writer that actually reflects the work that he or she is known for?
Wired magazine recently ran a Hemingway-inspired article in which it asked famous sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers to each write a story using only six words. One of my favorites is Alan Moore's: "Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time"
Check out the link, because there's more from the likes of Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Michael Moorcock, Kevin Smith, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Robert Jordan, amongst many, many others. But also, next time you're at a con and you run into Brian K. Vaughan or Grant Morrison, instead of just getting an autograph or having them scribble something foolish in your sketch book, consider asking them to write you a six-word story.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Dark Water: Excellent ghost story. Since it's a remake of a J-horror film, I was concerned that it was going to be Grudge-like, but it's not. The characters are all strongly written and expertly portrayed by the cast, and there's a solid logic to why things happen. Almost nothing is there on accident or just to make the visuals cooler. I say "almost nothing" because I watched the misleadingly titled "unrated" version (there's nothing especially gory or racy about it) that had a deleted dream sequence added back in. It's a gorgeous sequence, but doesn't add to the story, so it was wisely cut out of the theatrical version.
Frankenstein Conquers the World: Horrible, Japanese monster flick that has a resurrected Frankenstein's monster fighting a giant armadillo/beetle. And yes, just to keep things fair, Frankenstein's monster does grow to Godzilla-size. I guess if you just really like cheesy, giant-monster movies, it's got its value, but if you're like me and think that King Kong vs. Godzilla is an abomination; pass it on by.
Santa's Slay: Saw enough of this one on Spike to know that I want to see it uncensored and without commercials. Santa is really a demon who's been under oath to play nice for a couple thousand years, but now the contract is up and he's free to rampage. There's a great opening sequence with James Caan, Fran Drescher, and Chris Kattan that hooked me. The WWE's Goldberg plays Santa and -- though I didn't get far enough on Spike to see her -- Emilie de Ravin from Lost is one of the other stars.
MirrorMask: Exactly like reading a Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean comic; only in live-action. Nice story about parenting and raising independent children, but the real wonder is in the visuals.
House of Flying Daggers: I'll never get tired of watching Ziyi Zhang, but I'm now officially tired of the Crouching Tiger/Hero genre of beautifully filmed, tragic, wire fu movies. As they go, this one was okay with it's Robin Hood-esque plot, but can't one of these things have a happy ending?
Russian Ark: Yes, it's impressive as all get-out that they pulled off a single camera-shot that lasts for the entire hour-and-a-half of this movie. I just wish the movie was more interesting than it is. If you don't know your Russian history, you won't know any more after watching this. You'll understand better the relationship between Russia and Europe (at least from Russia's perspective), but that could've been accomplished in about ten minutes tops without all the overly-long shots of oil paintings. Probably a very important film for Russian audiences; not so much for this American viewer.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Here's what I'm getting:
GI Joe: America's Elite #17
CSI: Dying in the Gutters #4
Science Fiction Comics
Y: The Last Man #51
Battlestar Galactica #3
Rex Libris #6
Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #4
Furious Fist of the Drunken Monkey: Origin of the Species #2
Pick of the Week: Y: The Last Man #51
At last, the mystery of what started the male-killing plague in issue #1 is going to be revealed. Has it really been four years since this series started?
Friday, November 03, 2006
But where secrets are concerned, The Prestige does a lot better job of hiding them than The Illusionist. If these movies were magicians and the plot twists were their tricks, The Illusionist tries to misdirect you by amateurishly pointing behind you and yelling, "What's THAT?!" The Prestige, on the other hand, is a master magician. By using the non-linear storytelling that Christopher Nolan loves so much, The Prestige has no problem keeping your mind busy thinking about other things. You're too busy trying to figure out what's going on to spend any time predicting twists or guessing mysteries.
That said, the movie seems to reveal the same secrets several times for no reason. I really don't think I figured anything out before the movie made it obvious, but once I knew something, the film would explain it again later on as if I didn't know it. I don't know if that was on purpose for a reason I can't figure out, or a flaw.
The acting in The Prestige was also more impressive than The Illusionist. That's no fault of The Illusionist's cast, it's just that The Prestige's cast had more to work with in their script. As awesome as Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, and Rufus Sewell are, there's no beating Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, and David Freakin' Bowie. Especially David Freakin' Bowie. The man deserves an Oscar for disappearing into his role the way he did.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Unfortunately for Henderson, Virginia let him know that they already owned the land he'd bought from the Cherokees, which is a cool and funny instance of Native Americans sticking it to the Man for a change. Henderson got some land in compensation for his loss, but that was the end of the American Transylvania.
Still, it could make an interesting story if the American Transylvania was somehow connected with the European one in more than just name and their most famous citizens were to meet...