Monthly Archive for April, 2007

JLA: Syndicate Rules

JLA: Syndicate Rules (4/29/07) Graphic Novel (2005 **½) Written by Kurt Busiek. I bought this book because I’m a big fan of Busiek’s writing. I have especially appreciated the degree of verisimilitude he’s often injected into books like Marvels, Astro City, and Superman: Secret Identity. Perhaps I expected too much, because I was disappointed by Syndicate Rules. Overall it just felt stale. Busiek didn’t appear to be bringing much of his talent to the project. I was also put off by the “multiple universes in crisis” storyline, which has been a cliche’ for at least a decade.

Killer Wedding

Killer Wedding (4/29/07) Novel (2000 **½) Written by Jerrilyn Farmer. This was the third book in the “Madeline Bean Culinary Detective” series, and the second one I’ve read. My primary reason for reading it was that I’m taking a class taught by the author and I wanted to get a sense of who she was as a writer. As a man, I’m not the primary audience for this book; its bright pink cover motivated me to take steps to avoid reading it in public. It was a generally decent read but the storyline seemed to wander an awful lot. In particular, the main story took too long to get off the ground, primarily due to pages spent on an ongoing sub-plot (a legal battle over the status of Mad Bean Catering) that wasn’t particularly interesting. I also felt the series’ supporting cast of characters wasn’t utilized effectively: They didn’t contribute to the advancement of the main plot and only really served as foils for dialogue.

Justice League Unlimited, Season 2

Justice League Unlimited, Season 2 (4/24/07) Netflix (2007 ***¼) It’s a pity this series has been canceled, which explains why there were only thirteen episodes in this season. I wonder if the things I liked about it were precisely the reasons it didn’t find a bigger audience among children: There was a lot of adult humor and implied adult relationships. I liked that it jumped around the DC universe, highlighting esoteric heroes and villains, instead of focusing on the big three: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. If nothing else, watching this series, which I started doing more or less on a whim, has shown me that great strides have been made in the writing and production of animated programs since the days of Super Friends and Scooby Doo. As a result, I’m far more likely to rent and watch this kind of program in the future. I’m giving this collection a slightly lower rating than the first season because there was a deliberate focus on Lex Luthor and the other villains in the Legion of Doom; I found that story direction less interesting that focusing on the multitude of heroes in the DC universe.

I’ll Be Seeing You

I’ll Be Seeing You (4/18/07) Netflix (1944 **½) Directed by William Dieterle, starring Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple. Set during the Christmas holidays, Rogers played a woman released from prison for a ten day furlough and Cotten played a shell-shocked WWII sergeant with secrets of his own. Based on a magazine story that stretched credulity, this was not a particularly great movie. It fell into the category of “good” movies I’ve never had occasion to see. At one point I added a couple dozen of these movies to my Netflix queue. I’ve never been a rabid fan of either of the two main stars, but it was certainly fun watching Shirley Temple play a seventeen-year-old sexpot wannabe

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (4/16/07) Netflix (1989 ***) Directed by Alex Kirby. This DVD contained adaptations of two separate Narnia books, books I’ve never read. In my view, it would be a mistake to watch these videos with a cynical eye. With that in mind, I did my best to allow my inner child to enjoy them for what they were, not what they weren’t. The result? I learned there are more ways to get to Narnia than just through a dusty old wardrobe. Yes, I had a good time and look forward to the next in the series, The Silver Chair. I may even try to make time in my busy schedule someday to read the books on which they were based.

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (4/10/07) DVD (2006 ***¼) Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. Some part of me really wanted to see this movie in the theater when it was released late last year. I’m very glad I didn’t let the cynical half of my inner voice talk me out of final watching it on DVD. Considering the mixed reviews it received, I didn’t expect much, and was therefore happily surprised. Rocky Balboa captured much of what made the first Rocky film — which was released thirty years ago — great. While watching Rocky’s struggle to demonstrate his continued viability as both a man and a fighter, it was impossible not to see Stallone going through the same thing. It was clear from his performance and direction that Stallone truly loved his character. Nicely done.

American Splendor

American Splendor (4/9/07) DVD (2003 ****) Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. I hadn’t watched this movie for a couple of years. When it was first released I was about two-thirds of the way through generating material for My Comic Journal, my own 100-page collection of autobiographical memoir stories in comic book form. Truth be told, because of the timing I was a little nervous about people thinking I was ripping off Pekar, when in my view I was just following in a well-established tradition. The movie was wonderful; it took advantage of an interesting, almost postmodern mode to play with what constituted an autobiographical movie. As for Pekar himself, I confess I identified with him and his middle-aged inner drive to be recognized. I was an undergrad student when I saw him for the first time on Letterman’s NBC show back in the mid eighties, and I still vividly recall a mesmerizing energy in the way Pekar interacted with David Letterman.

Creature Tech

Creature Tech (4/9/07) Graphic Novel (2002 **½) Written and illustrated by Doug Tennapel. This was another one of those situations where I picked up a graphic novel at the low, low price of $4.95 at my favorite used book store. Not much to lose, right? The premise was intriguing enough: The scientific genius son of a pastor works at a secret government laboratory dedicated to researching “unsolved mysteries.” The plot was somewhat convoluted, and so I won’t even bother trying to explain it here, but it included ghosts, monsters, aliens, freaks, mutants, demons and the shroud of Turin. With all those great ingredients, I wish Tennapel had managed to spin a more compelling tale. Too bad he didn’t.

Volver

Volver (4/8/07) Netflix (2006 ***½) Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Volver was highly visible this past awards season and much was made of Penelope Cruz’s acting prowess when working in her native tongue. Watching it, I couldn’t help but think that this story might not have been made in the U.S. There was a definite European sensibility to it. It was also interesting to note that all the major and most of the minor characters in this film were women. While I very much enjoyed this movie, I must admit I managed to put together all the pieces in the story’s puzzle long before they were revealed.

The Middle Aged Man and the Sea

The Middle Aged Man and the Sea (4/8/07) Short Fiction (2005 ****) Written by Christopher Meeks. Chris Meeks was the instructor of a terrific UCLA Extension class I recently completed, entitled “The Writer‘s Workout.” Though I started reading this collection shortly after the class began, I’ve been so busy with my own writing projects that I only just finished it. That was actually quite appropriate for the material; it gave me time to savor the individual stories, which explored various facets of human relationships, often with a touch of humor. I both admired and enjoyed Meeks’ writing style; His word choices and overall narrative voice were similar to my own, though richer and more developed, and this wonderful collection of stories provided an excellent example of what my own writing can be if I continue to push the development of my skills.