Monthly Archive for December, 2006

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Killing Game

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Killing Game (12/31/06) Novel (2005 ***) Written by Max Allan Collins. This was kind of a strange choice for me, but it went hand-in-hand with recent books I’ve read by Sue Grafton. I read this book as a kind of research to help me flesh out a novel I’m currently working on. I’ve been familiar with Max Allan Collins’ work for some time now. He’s a native of Iowa, the state I called home for seventeen years. He has produced a great deal of work over the years and is probably best-known for writing the Road to Perdition graphic novel on which the Tom Hanks film was based. As for this particular book, I was impressed by how Collins was able to smoothly interweave character description, backstory, and plot. I found myself getting pulled into the mystery more than I’d expected to be. I might have been more engaged if I’d been more familiar with the characters; I’ve never actually watched any of the hugely-successful CSI series, and so this was virtually my first introduction to the characters that populate that series‘ world.

Akira (Graphic Novel)

Akira (12/30/06) Graphic Novel (1985 ***¼) Written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. I’ve reviewed the film version of Akira separately, so I’ll concentrate on the graphic novel itself. It’s worth noting that while the two versions shared many things, especially characters and relationships and themes, the stories were very different. The film version was absolutely not a condensed version of the graphic novel. Even the nature and appearance of Akira himself was different. The graphic novel stretched over six thick volumes, more than 2,000 pages of material. Reading it over the space of a month, it felt a little repetitive after awhile. Much of the action involved skirmishes in post-Akira-fied Neo Tokyo between warring groups. In many ways it was a celebration of Otomo’s visual dexterity as much as anything. Overall, I have to say it was still an amazing, Herculean accomplishment for an individual, and it was certainly a major landmark in the history of the comic book medium.


Akira (12/30/06) DVD (1988 ***½) Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, based on his graphic novel. Akira was a fascinating film, and I suspect you’ll either appreciate it or you won’t. I have to explain something: For the past month or so I’ve been reading the 6-volume graphic novel version of Akira, which I’ll review separately. I had nearly completed the last book when I decided (for reasons I don’t fully understand) to watch the movie, which I hadn’t watched in a few years. As an animated film, Akira was incredible and influential. I don’t pretend to understand Japanese popular culture, but it’s interesting to note that at the time it was made it was Japan’s highest-budgeted animated films ever — I remember hearing its budget was around $80M. It’s hard for me to comprehend how strongly-received the graphic novel (or Manga) version must have been received to have warranted such treatment. It’s similarly fantastic for me to imagine the business decision that led to first-time Otomo being permitted to helm the filmic version of his vision.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (12/30/06) Netflix (1980/2006 ***) Directed by Richard Donner, obviously. The story behind this version of Superman II is one for the ages: Donner directed Superman I and shot much of Superman II in parallel. For reasons I didn’t really understand, he was replaced as director by Richard Lester, who had directed (among other things) A Hard Day’s Night. Lester re-shot much of what Donner had filmed. Driven by fan-based pressure from the internet community and thanks to a great deal of archival effort, it was possible to locate nearly all the notes and original material. Subsequently this recreation of Donner’s original vision was assembled, thus representing an odd kind of parallel universe version of Superman II. This “filmic reconstruction” mostly worked, though there were a few continuity errors introduced by the process.

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants (12/29/06) DVD (1971 ****) Directed by Anthony Harvey, written by James Goldman. This quixotic film — about a delusional man whose personal tragedy has caused him to believe he is Sherlock Holmes — is one of my all-time personal sentimental favorites. I saw it for the first few times during my high school years; for some reason the local CBS affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska played it practically every week as their Friday night late-late movie. This particular viewing, just two days before New Year’s Eve, I shared it with my wife, who had never seen it before. As good fortune would have it, I watched it with the benefit (some would say under the influence) of two beers and one exceptionally strong gin martini. This combination of spirits and sentimental nostalgia proved to be nearly lethal emotionally and I cried more than a little bit. While in the cold light of day I might be persuaded to acknowledge some of the film’s faults, I take far more pleasure in ignoring them, and I stand by my four-star appraisal. (Favorite)

The Notebook

The Notebook (12/28/06) Netflix (2004 ***) Directed by Nick Cassavetes, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. This was a fairly conventional love story, told with the framing device of James Garner reading to his wife, played by Gena Rowlands. I don’t want to be too dismissive. It was a touching love story and certainly well-told. One’s enjoyment of this film at any given time would probably be a good barometer of how cynical one is.


Zoolander (12/28/06) DVD (2001 ***1/4) Directed by Ben Stiller. The first time I saw Zoolander was shortly after it was released, and at the time I thought it was pretty dumb. Somehow over time I’ve warmed to it. I now see Derek Zoolander as Ben Stiller’s answer to Mike Meyer’s Austin Powers. I don’t know if that was conscious or not. It was interesting to see the “usual suspects” showing up time and again: Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor and Vince Vaughn, as well as Stiller’s parents, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket (12/27/06) Netflix (1996 ***½) Directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Owen Wilson. This was a wonderful, quirky little movie. Obviously produced with more love than money, it demonstrated why Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers went on to do great things. It was interesting to note how solidly Owen Wilson had already established his well-known half-insecure, half-crazy character this early in his career.

Creating Unforgettable Characters

Creating Unforgettable Characters (12/27/06) Nonfiction (1990 **) Written by Linda Seger. I learned almost nothing from this book. Written in 1990, virtually all the examples Seger used were oddly dated. This wasn’t intentional, it was just that she apparently exhibited a fascination with B-grade TV shows like MacGyver and Beauty and the Beast. In addition to that, her analysis of characterization came across as frustratingly superficial; I kept waiting for her to get into greater depth. Finally, the word “unforgettable” in the title was clearly there for marketing purposes only, as the concept of what makes certain characters memorable never actually appeared in the book.

“A” is for Alibi

“A” is for Alibi (12/25/06) Novel (1985 ***) Written by Sue Grafton. I didn’t exactly do it purposely, but I read the second book (“B” is for Burglar) in this series before the first. I was particularly impressed by how well Ms. Grafton handled her descriptive passages. To be honest, I’m envious. With each new scene she seemed able to rattle off lean passages of fresh, richly-detailed description with no apparent effort. I would love to be able to do that. Comparing this book to the second in the series, Kinsey Millhone (the central detective character) exhibited quite a bit more personality in “A” than in “B.”