Monthly Archive for July, 2007

Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist

Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist (7/31/07) DWA screening (2007 ***) Directed by Andrew D. Cooke. I’ve been a fan of Will Eisner since I was about ten years old. His work on The Spirit in the 1940’s inspired me to draw. Years ago I saw director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Rataouille) give a presentation at the Siggraph computer graphics conference about good directing. His negative examples came from The Three Amigos and his positive examples came not from film but from Will Eisner’s The Spirit comic stories. Produced over a period of five years, this documentary on Eisner’s life and work began slow but got increasingly interesting as it continued. To the filmmakers’ credit, they’ve used rich source material in the form of audio taped interviews and family home movies. The production values were quite good: Almost, but not quite, broadcast quality. The best part of the film for me was seeing the interview material with so many of my comic idols. Judging by the comments in the Q&A with the director that followed, I wasn’t alone in that opinion.

Sicko

Sicko (7/30/07) DWA Screening (2007 ****) Directed by Michael Moore. In Sicko, Michael Moore takes on the HMOs. There are plenty of people who don’t like Mr. Moore or anything he has to say, but I’ve been a fan since Roger and Me, his first film. He has consistently demonstrated a gift for getting in his audience’s face and forcing us to look at things that are seriously broken in our American society. Somehow he manages to do this with a sense of humor. At various times during Sicko I was horrified, enraged, depressed and even moved to tears. The film also made me want to move to France for reasons other than health care, and I imagine plenty of Americans may share that opinion after seeing the film. In addition to the primary focus, Sicko also asked the question: “Is our U.S. government working with big business to deliberately keep us scared?” That was a pretty big and scary question. Look, I’m not naive; I know there was a lot of slanting and shading and emotional manipulation in the film. It wasn’t that big a secret. As slanted as it may have been, Sicko still made some excellent points. I’m not necessarily advocating all-out revolution, but I still hope the film has had an impact and that people like Michael Moore continue to fight the system.

Powers, Vol. 4: Supergroup

Powers, Vol. 4: Supergroup (7/29/07) Graphic Novel (2003 ***) Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming. More of the same, with a couple of ultra-violent visuals and sad plot-turns thrown in. With each successive volume I notice more and more that there was an unevenness to Bendis’ plotting and pacing on the series. Read in a single sitting, the story didn’t feel quite rounded out. I suspect the serial publication (in comic book form) may have been somewhat responsible. It made me wonder how fully fleshed out (written) the story was before it was published.

The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie (7/29/07) Glendale Mann 10 (2007 ***¼) Directed by David Silverman. I’m going to add my opinion to the near-universal throng of reviewers and say that this movie is every bit as good as (but not especially better than) the series on which it was based. The challenge of making the film work was to find a storyline worth telling over the space of an hour and a half. I think the writers managed to do that. The one negative I will add is that I didn’t think the subplots involving Bart and Lisa were developed sufficiently. I understand why they were needed, but they absolutely felt like fillers and were related to the A-plot by the thinnest of threads.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (7/29/07) Novel (1964 ***) Written by Harry Kemelman. I read this as part of my survey of modern mystery authors. As I read, I got the sense I may have started reading this book a long time ago but I stopped after thirty or so pages. Originally published the same year I was born, this book definitely had a few scenes that felt dated to my 21st Century eyes. I also found the shifting point of view to be a bit annoying. Still, I was interested enough in Rabbi David Small and the bedroom community in Massachusetts in which the action took place to want to read another book in the series.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff (7/28/07) Netflix (1983 ****) Directed by Philip Kaufman, based on the book by Tom Wolfe. Having recently watched the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, I guess you could say I’m on something of an astronaut kick. I’ll stop just short of describing myself as an “astro-nut.” The Right Stuff was a terrific movie and as fresh as it felt, it was very hard to believe it was released so long ago, the same year I graduated from high school! The cast was tremendous, including Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager, Ed Harris as John Glenn, and Fred Ward as Gus Grissom. What made the movie so gol-darn great? Everything just worked, and worked well, on several levels: Solid direction, solid action, solid storytelling. Even though it was based on real events and people, it still worked dramatically. The cherry on top was that it was inspirational as hell.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (7/27/07) Novel (2007 ***½) Written by J.K. Rowlings. Well, what can I say? The first Harry Potter book was published by Scholastic in 1997. What an amazing decade it’s been for the little boy wizard. It‘s been a genuine phenomenon. I’m enough of an idealist to think that maybe, just maybe, Rowlings’ writings have inspired a generation of book-readers. It would certainly be nice to think that’s the case. As for the final book itself, it was an entertaining read, but at 757 pages it was not a particularly fast one. The first quarter of the book was reasonably entertaining, the middle 50% was (sorry, Ms. Rowlings) so-so, and the last quarter of the book was a lot of fun. So what went wrong in the middle? I don’t want to give away any specific plot details, but much of the book focused on Harry, Ron and Hermione off on a largely aimless quest. This quest was punctuated occasionally with action but was mostly slow-going, offering a great deal of repetition but little in the way of story advancement. The readers didn’t even learn the meaning of the book’s title until page 400! Thankfully, once past the 600-page mark the book’s pace picked up again and I found the end reasonably satisfying, though I could see how some might not. I noticed as the story proceeded that Rowlings seemed to make a point of touching upon the highlights of all her previous books, often with little or no explanation. There were many times when I wondered if she wasn’t doing that to please her hardcore fans, rather than for legitimate storytelling reasons.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (7/26/07) Glendale Mann 4 (2007 ***¼) Directed by David Yates. Yes, I saw this movie twice in the theater within the space of a single week. Why? Well, I made the mistake of seeing it the first time while my wife was out of town. I didn’t mind seeing it a second time, in part because I was most of the way through reading the seventh and final book. Yes folks, it’s Harry Potter week in the ol’ Boylan household!

From the Earth to the Moon

From the Earth to the Moon (7/26/07) HBO Miniseries (1998 ****) Tom Hanks, executive producer. This was the third time I’ve watched this series, and for the third time I loved everything about it. The mission of the series was to dramatize the Apollo space program, something it did amazingly well. The casting in particular was superb. As a total coincidence, I watched the episode about Apollo 11 on the afternoon of July 20th, the 38th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin‘s first lunar footprints. The idea (and complexity) of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back has a special appeal to me, having grown up in a household where my grandfather was an Air Force engineer. The bottom line: If you liked Apollo 13, and if you haven’t done so already, you owe it to yourself to watch From the Earth to the Moon.

The Cat Who Saw Red

The Cat Who Saw Red (7/24/07) Novel (1986 **½) Written by Lilian Jackson Braun. At one point in the mystery writing class I recently took, the instructor repeated a joke: “There are two kinds of mysteries: Those with cats and those without them.” It was, ironically, curiosity that led me to buying and reading The Cat Who Saw Red. I have seen the “Cat” books on bookshelves for years and had always wondered what they were like. Now I know. Having recently read Michael Connelly’s The Concrete Blonde, I feel I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of mystery writing within the span of a single week. While I mean no disrespect for fans of Braun’s work, my personal tastes apparently tend toward Connelly’s gritty realism. Braun’s book was definitely the coziest of cozies. Without giving much away, there wasn’t much detection to be done. I figured out who I thought “done it” almost immediately and waited patiently for a plot twist that never came.