Monthly Archive for February, 2007

Lady in the Water

Lady in the Water (2/28/07) Netflix (2006 *½) Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Like a lot of people, I was a big fan of The Sixth Sense. And like a lot of people, I’ve been waiting with each subsequent movie for Shyamalan to create something anywhere near as good. The Lady in the Water definitely wasn’t it. The backstory was that its plot grew out of an original bedtime story Shyamalan told his daughter. Those humble (and gentle) beginnings were clearly evident. Unfortunately, it was a total misfire (in several different dimensions) from beginning to end. I could see what he was trying to do as a writer, but he forgot one important thing: His audience. In my mind’s eye I could see this material working as a fantasy novel, but it definitely did not work as a feature film.

The Ultimates, Vol. 1: Super-Human

The Ultimates, Vol. 1: Super-Human (2/21/07) Graphic Novel (2002 ***) Written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Brian Hitch. This was an updated, “realistic” version of The Avengers. Brian Hitch’s illustrations were superb, but the writing felt a little flat at times. While I appreciated the attempt to add a heightened degree of nuance and weight to Bruce Banner (and the Hulk), Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, The Wasp and Nick Fury, the results weren’t always that interesting. Still, it was a decent read and a visual feast: The high point for me was the realistically-depicted rampage of the Hulk through the streets of Manhattan as he attempted to find and kill — believe it or not — Freddie Prinze Junior.

The Pro

The Pro (2/19/07) Graphic Novel (2004 ***) Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Amanda Conner. 72 pages. I picked up this hardcover volume at my local used book store on a whim. I’d never seen it before and scanning through the interior I got a sense of the intriguing premise: A single mom who just happens to be a prostitute is given super powers. It was certainly a fun idea and an opportunity to crack wise at the expense of super heroes in general and the Justice League in particular. I enjoyed it for its shock value as much as anything. Be warned: This book contains a lot of cursing, gratuitous violence and adult situations. One example: When the main character is hit by a power beam during a fight, her response was to beat the living crap out of the villain and then pee on her. The Pro is definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of… er, tea, but I thought it was a fun read.

Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 3

Essential Fantastic Four, Vol. 3 (2/17/07) Graphic Novel (1999 ***) This 520-page volume collected issues #41-63 and Annuals 3 and 4. Somewhere in my storage unit I actually have all of these comics, with the notable (and valuable) exception of issue #48, the first appearance of the Silver Surfer. I haven’t read these stories in more than twenty years. Produced during the mid-to-late 1960’s, it marked a period when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were really hitting their stride. But you know what? I didn’t enjoy these stories as much as I’d remembered, nor as much as earlier issues. I think something got lost somewhere along the way. The earlier stories were more self-contained and considerably more plot-rich. As the series ran on, the plots became more episodic, with subplots like “Will Johnny Storm and Wyatt Wingfoot find Crystal and the Inhumans?” stretching out for half a dozen issues or more. On the art side, Jack Kirby was in his prime; it was actually during this period when he established the style that would last him for the remainder of his career. As exciting as that was to witness, the flip-side was that the writing took a back seat to the visuals. The unfortunate side effect of the famous “Marvel method” of comic production (in which finished dialogue was added after art was completed) meant that Stan Lee’s dense — some might say wordy — writing in the early years of The Fantastic Four gave way to extended battle scenes. As a result, the individual issues felt much “lighter.” Let me put it another way: Each of the first twenty or so issues felt to the reader like they were watching feature-length science fiction movie from the 1950’s; By contrast, each of the issues in this collection felt about as weighty as a half-hour sit-com.

Breach

Breach (2/16/07) Glendale Mann 10 (2007 **) Directed by Billy Ray. Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe starred in this factual story based on one of the U.S. Intelligence communities biggest breaches. Honestly, given the intriguing premise, I expected more spycraft and less interpersonal drama. The weakness, I suspect, lay in the screenplay; the actors didn’t have much to work with.

The Kingdom

The Kingdom (2/14/07) Graphic Novel (2000 **½) Written by Mark Waid, illustrated by various artists. Unlike Kingdom Come, which was originally written and presented in four high-quality books, this follow-up was presented in a more conventional serial format, with different artists on each chapter (or issue). The beginning and end were fairly solid but the middle meandered and sagged badly. While the idea of a powerful villain marching backward in time, killing Superman a different way each day was interesting, devoting a chapter/issue to Plastic Man’s relationship with his son was less so. To me, it seemed as though Waid wanted to do his own version of Kurt Busiek’s wonderful Astro City, only set in DC’s proprietary parallel Kingdom Come universe.

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come (2/12/07) Graphic Novel (1997 ***½) Written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Alex Ross. I recently brought home a box of graphic novels from my storage unit, and this was one of the first ones I pulled out. It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since I first bought and read what is one of the top ten landmark graphic novels of all time. Reading it again for the first time in about three years, I was almost immediately more aware of the interplay between Waid’s writing and Ross’s spectacular drawing/paintings as they contributed to the overall experience. You know what? It didn’t work as well for me as it once did. In particular, I didn’t find Waid’s story nearly as compelling this time around. I’m still giving it a fairly high rating, just not as high as I’d expected.

MI-5, Series 3

MI-5, Series 3 (2/10/07) Netflix (2004 ***) This was the season (or series if you prefer) where the three “Spooks” we started with all left MI-5 (the organization and the show) for various reasons. They all departed over the course of the ten-episode season, impacting the tone of all the episodes. On the whole, I didn’t find the situations quite as involving this time around. I don’t know why that was. I also noticed these episodes didn’t feel as plot-dense as in seasons past, which is one of the things I really loved about the show. I’m not sure if that was my imagination or not; It’s also possible the soap opera aspects had begun taking over. Having said all that, it was still enjoyable, and I look forward to seeing what happens in season 4.

Idiocracy

Idiocracy (2/8/07) Netflix (2006 *) Written and directed by Mike Judge. Luke Wilson played a statistically average army corporal selected for a special experiment and cryogenically frozen until the year 2505. Thanks to the perpetual dumbing-down of the planet, when he awakes he finds he’s the smartest person alive. I rented this because I thought it was a wonderful premise and a great opportunity for social satire. Also, I had heard on NPR how the studio tried to bury the film. Having watched it, I understand why. This was the worst film I’ve seen in a long time. One big lesson for all you aspiring comedy writers out there: Watching scene after scene populated by people with operational IQ’s in the 40’s isn’t really that funny.

Babel

Babel (2/8/07) DWA Screening (2006 ***½) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. This was a powerful film about four (well, maybe three and a half) stories taking place around the world that were all connected, some of those connections being stronger than others. It was a fun film for post-viewing analysis: There was much duality and multiplicity at work, with echoes of actions and themes from one story showing up in the others. It wasn’t a perfect film; the use of fractured chronology was sometimes distracting and there were three or four story elements that didn’t work for me. Still, the film captured the drama of the human condition masterfully. It’s clearly a strong contender for Best Picture. I won’t be surprised if it wins, though I personally preferred Martin Scorceses’ The Departed.