Monthly Archive for January, 2010

Invincible: Books 9-11

Invincible: Books 9-11 (1/30/10) Comics (2008-2009 ***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Ryan Ottley. The Invincible saga continues. Rather than review each volume separately, this review includes Book 9 (Out Of This World), Book 10 (Who’s the Boss?) and Book 11 (Happy Days). The most significant and memorable development in this trio of books was the evolution of Mark Grayson’s half-brother as Kid Omni-Man. In part because of the costume change that occurred halfway through, I was reminded of the character development (the gradual descent into assholery…) of Batman’s second Robin, Jason Todd, in the months leading up to his “death.” Yeah, it was like that… only with superhuman strength. The power of this series seems to be the contrast between the innocence of youth and the often horrific ramifications of misjudging the magnitude of one’s super-strength. It’s a terrific series.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1/29/10) TV-TCM (1939 ***1/2) Directed by Sidney Lanfield, screenplay by Ernest Pascal, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Richard Greene. The world’s most famous consulting detective and his sidekick take many leisurely strolls on the moors as they investigate a family cursed by a big ol’ dog. This film (the first in the series featuring Rathbone as Holmes) is yet another example of why 1939 truly was a banner year in film history. Though Holmes and Watson had appeared on the silver screen prior to this incarnation, the pairing of Rathbone and Bruce proved to be the definitive one. One final note: The Hound of the Baskervilles concluded with Holmes saying: “Oh, Watson — the needle!” a reference to his literary counterpart’s appetite for cocaine. Apparently this line was edited out of prints for many years but was returned in the 1970’s.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie)

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie) (1/28/10) TV-Sundance (1972 ***) Directed by Luis Buñuel. Three couples attempt to have dinner, but are continually interrupted. Oh, the poor middle class. They simply cannot catch a freakin’ break! If you’ve ever wanted to watch a film that may or may not have a plot and may or may not be nothing more than a series of “it was all a dream” moments, this is the one for you. This film started out slow, but after about a half hour it grew on me. Even with the conventional story structure constraint replaced by an overriding dream motif, there was still clearly-defined action and conflict within each individual scene, and so it wasn’t boring like some surreal films tend to be.

House of Mystery, Vol. 1: Room and Boredom

House of Mystery, Vol. 1: Room and Boredom (1/27/10) Graphic Novel (2009 **1/2) Written by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham, illustrated by various. A woman finds herself trapped in the house of her dreams, literally. I have fond memories of the old House of Mystery comics, a lightweight horror anthology hosted by Cain (The House of Secrets was hosted by Cain’s brother Abel). Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series elegantly incorporated Cain and Abel and their respective houses as territories within “The Dreaming.” This new series left me a little cold, though. There was an overall story-arc in which a young woman enters the world and attempts to leave. I didn’t really buy the idea of the “House of Mystery” as a tavern. Occasionally the narrative was interrupted by smaller stand-alone stories illustrated by different artists, but I never found myself particularly interested in any of the stories being told or any of the characters involved.

Twilight

Twilight (1/26/10) Netflix (2008 ***) Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. A Phoenix girl moves to the Pacific Northwest and discovers the Goth kids at her new high school are really hardcore. Twilight is a cultural phenomenon and has become a gigantic cash machine, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d heard from some of my friends that it was pretty dreadful, and so I joked I’d be watching it while wearing a lab coat and holding a clipboard. But you know what? I actually enjoyed it! That was assisted tremendously by the fact that Twilight is essentially a mash-up of Smallville and Dark Shadows, two of my guiltiest pleasures. So what’s not to like? Besides, some of the actors were so over-the-top and goofy with their performances that I got a nice side order of unexpected laughter.

Irredeemable, Vol. 1

Irredeemable, Vol. 1 (1/25/10) Graphic Novel (2009 ***1/2) Written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Peter Krause. What if Superman went batshit crazy and became the world’s greatest super-powered nightmare? That’s the premise of this compelling story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and so it may surprise you that I’m hopeful this series will be a limited, self-contained story instead of an ongoing drama. I was far more interested in the scenes in which The Plutonian played the part of super-sociopath than in the scenes of heroes scrambling to avoid his wrath. I look forward to the next book in the series.

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms (1/25/10) Novel (1929 ***1/2) Written by Ernest Hemingway. An American serving in the Italian army during WWI is injured in the battlefield and falls in love with his nurse. This book was assigned to us when I was a Junior in high school. I’m ashamed to admit that at the time I read the Cliff’s Notes instead of the actual book. I still remember the young lady who sat behind me raising her hand and asking Mrs. Berstein how “they did it” while wearing a cast. My teacher’s memorable response: “I don’t know, but my husband had a slipped disc once.” Though I’m familiar with the fact that Hemingway is best known for his minimalist prose, I haven’t read much of his work. Last year I started reading a collection of his short stories and lost interest early on. With this book, I found the writing so stiff and unnatural at first that I had a hard time reading it. As I “soldiered on,” (no pun intended) it got easier. So what changed, the writing or my brain? The ending of the book, which I won’t reveal here, was far more devastating than I’d expected, and it substantially raised my estimation of the book’s greatness.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 01: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye (1/24/10) Graphic Novel (2006 ***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Tony Moore. An injured deputy comes out of a coma in an empty hospital and finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. His Invincible series made me a fan of Robert Kirkman, and the writing in this series is quite strong. However, I was surprised that the main character’s reunion with his family wasn’t delayed more for purposes of dramatic tension and also that it was as coincidental as it was. Some fans of zombie movies may be disappointed there’s not more horror or intense action, but I actually enjoyed the leisurely pace at which the story unfolded, and there were several unexpected and highly satisfying plot twists. I look forward to reading more installments in the series.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (1/23/10) Netflix (2003 **1/2) Directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill. Aileen Carol Wuornos was the inspiration for the Charlize Theron movie Monster. This documentary, Broomfield’s follow-up to his 1992 film Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, covers the period leading up to the state of Florida carrying out the execution of Wuornos. It was clear from the footage that Aileen was a sociopath who killed people in cold blood and changed her story multiple times. There were times as she was interviewed by Broomfield when she became highly animated and her eyes opened wide and she was truly terrifying. I honestly thought I was going to have nightmares. Was Wuornos mentally fit for execution? Well, based on this film she was either crazy or she did an excellent job of playing the part of the criminally insane serial killer. Most likely the truth lay somewhere in-between.

Don’t Look Back

Don’t Look Back (1/22/10) Netflix (1967 ***) Directed by D.A. Pennebaker. This behind-the-scenes documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 visit to London shows he was many things: A young man, a folk singer, a poet, a chain-smoker and — quite frequently — an asshole. But then, aren’t we all? It had been many years since I last watched Don’t Look Back, and I enjoyed it a bit less now that I’m older than I did when I was in my mid-20’s, roughly the same age Dylan was in 1965, and I remembered it as far more powerful than I found it this time around. It’s still required watching for any Bob Dylan fan. It was pure coincidence that I’d watched Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop the day before, but it was interesting to observe a continuity of style: Swish-pan, cut!