Monthly Archive for May, 2007

Bullitt

Bullitt (5/31/07) Netflix (1968 ***½) Directed by Peter Yates. It’s hard to believe I’ve never watched this Steve McQueen movie, though I’m hard-pressed to name any of his films I’ve seen. In reviewing the film, it’s helpful to look at it in the context of the time it was made and also on its own merits. It was clear to me that great strides were made to make the film “feel real.” Real San Francisco locations were used and (according to the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD) real doctors and nurses played real doctors and nurses. Steve McQueen also did his own stunts, something that surely must’ve given the holders of the film’s completion bond ulcers. Mostly the realism (neo-realism?) worked, helped by the fact that the story structure itself was a conventional crime drama. For some reason the Matt Damon “Jason Bourne” movies come to mind, in that they’re a recent example of injecting a heightened realism into stories that would normally be presented in a slick Hollywood fashion.

Infinite Crisis

Infinite Crisis (5/31/07) Graphic Novel (2006 ***) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Phil Jimenez. This DC comics “event” series got a lot of bad reviews when it was originally published. I didn’t think it was so bad, but it wasn’t as strong as Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s original 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths. The purpose of the original Crisis was to simplify DC’s complex continuity and to allow certain characters to interact with other characters without weird “imaginary story” framing devices. Thematically, Infinite Crisis was a diatribe about a certain “sickness” in comics and in the world itself. It was highly critical about the DC comics of the 1990’s, and seemed to make a case for making comics “fun again.” However, the way it went about doing this was by turning Superboy (albeit the “Earth Prime” Superboy) into a mentally and emotionally retarded homicidal maniac. There was a lot of “uber-violence” in the series (faces punched out, arms pulled off, etc.) that served more to sicken than to shock. The underlying message of Infinite Crisis was that the world can be a better place if its heroes make better choices. It was impossible to read that without thinking about our current geopolitical situation.

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House (5/29/07) Graphic Novel (1990 ***½) Written by Neil Gaiman. While still quite good, this volume wasn’t quite as engaging as the first. This was probably due to the fact that the focus was not on Lord Morpheus (AKA “Dream”) but on minor characters Rose Walker and her brother Jed. The highlight of the collection (originally presented in The Sandman issue 8-16) was probably “Collectors,” a darkly comic story set in a convention of serial killers. A second standout was the stand-alone “Tales in the Sand,” in which an African boy hears a very special story about the lord of the Dreaming; it provided an early hint of Neil Gaiman’s ability to tap into the ancient tradition (and power) of storytelling.

13 Going on 30

13 Going on 30 (5/28/07) Netflix (2004 **½) Directed by Gary Winick. Jennifer Garner starred as a character who goes from her thirteenth birthday party directly to her thirties without passing go. It was kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life, with a main character who learns how life would be different if she grew up to be an asshole. 13 Going on 30 actually had a sweet message about how the choices we make early in life affect who we eventually become. Overall, I liked it more than I thought I would, due primarily to the likability of stars Garner and Mark Ruffalo. It was still decidedly lightweight cinema, though, and the end of the film was more than a bit problematic. Without going into detail, the filmmakers wrote themselves into a corner and their solution was kind of a cheat. I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t another way to handle it, one that might have been more satisfying emotionally.

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel

JLA, Vol. 7: Tower of Babel (5/28/07) Graphic Novel (2001 **½) Written by Mark Waid. This was another one of those worldwide superhero crisis books, but it did have some personal drama thrown in. The premise of the main story arc contained in this volume was that Ra’s Al Ghul had stolen Batman’s secret plans for taking down his fellow Justice Leaguers and then proceeded to do just that. Meanwhile, Batman had been lured away from the action by the theft of his parents’ bodies. Naturally enough, the members of the League felt betrayed by Batman’s secret plans. All in all, the story was readable but not particularly memorable nor special.

The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes (5/25/07) Graphic Novel (1989 ****) Written by Neil Gaiman. It’s been about four years since I last read through my collection of Sandman volumes. I figured the summer was a good time to start going through them once again. I’d almost forgotten how lilting Neil Gaiman’s writing voice could be. Lord Morpheus is definitely his greatest character creation; there was something about him in these stories that was so damned engaging. If you’ve never experienced The Sandman for yourself, I highly recommend picking up this volume.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (5/21/07) Netflix (2006 ***) Directed by Guillermo del Toro. I had heard wonderful things about this film — some people thought it was the best movie of 2006 — and perhaps my expectations were too high. That’ll teach me to listen to rave reviews, huh? Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, and would recommend it… for some. I think it’s safe to say it’s not for everyone. Set in WWII fascist Spain, much of it was… forgive me… a real bummer. While I appreciated the importance of contrasting Ofelia’s imaginative world with the horrible reality in which she lived, the fantasy elements were so dark they offered no relief from the suffering she endured at the hand of her cruel (and yes, evil) stepfather.

Barton Fink

Barton Fink (5/20/07) Netflix (1991 ***½) Directed by Joel Coen, starring John Turturro, Judy Davis and John Goodman. My motivation for putting this movie on my Netflix queue came from a filmmaking seminar I attended about six months ago, which used several scenes from Barton Fink as examples of good directing. It was hard for me to believe it’s been sixteen years since it was made. I hadn’t watched it in a very long time, but I was sure I’d seen it on video at least once since it was first released. As I watched this film, I was frequently reminded of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. In fact, I would go so far to say that one could think of Barton Fink as a more accessible version of that earlier film. That is not to say the stories are equivalent, only that the Coen brothers were clearly either influenced by David Lynch’s work or were exploring similar territory. Was there something in the water or in the zeitgeist in the early 1990’s that explains it? Perhaps.

Death: The High Cost of Living

Death: The High Cost of Living (5/20/07) Graphic Novel (1994 ***) Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Bachalo. I was going through some old books and came across this one. I was sure I’d read it before but didn’t remember it. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories, but I think I’m going to start working my way through the series again. This particular book, which centered on a version of Dream’s sister, Death, wasn’t Gaiman at his best, but even Gaiman on a bad days is still far better than most books out there.

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis (5/19/07) Graphic Novel (2003 ***½) Written by Brad Meltzer, Illustrated by Rags Morales. I last read and reviewed this book on 1/20/06. This time around, my perspective was a little different: Because I’m currently taking a mystery writing class, I read Identity Crisis not as a superhero book, but as a murder mystery. In my class I’ve learned that in order for a mystery to be effective, certain conventions must be followed. For the most part Identity Crisis worked. Its story: Sue Dibney, wife of The Elongated Man, is killed, and doctor Light is the prime suspect, but is he the killer? Secrets are revealed until the final clue causes the identity of the killer to click into place. Overall, it followed the traditional path of a mystery, with one exception: There wasn’t a consistent detective/protagonist/point-of-view character to carry the reader through. I can’t help but wonder if the book would have been even stronger if there had been.