Monthly Archive for July, 2011

All-Star Superman

All-Star Superman (7/31/11) Netflix (2011 ***) Directed by Sam Liu, screenplay by Dwayne McDuffie, based on the graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, featuring the voices of James Denton (Superman), Anthony LaPaglia (Lex Luthor), Christina Hendricks (Lois Lane) and Ed Asner (Perry White). Superman’s dying from solar radiation and in his final months must perform superhuman feats while finding closure with his greatest love… and his greatest nemesis. As DC Universe made-for-video feature-length adaptations of graphic novels go, this wasn’t bad, though its melancholy tone and the fact that it (spoiler alert) literally depicts the death of Superman may have some scratching their heads. The film’s story was also a bit disjointed, but that was really due to the deliberately episodic nature of the source material, which was (ironically, given the main storyline) intended by Grant Morrison to evoke a sense of the “fun” Superman of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I know it’s a matter of picking nits, but I was bothered by one story point: In the prison scene in which Parasite absorbs Superman’s solar power and goes on a rampage, it appeared that Clark Kent let an awful lot of prisoners get killed in order to preserve his secret identity.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (7/30/11) Glendale Americana Pacific 18 (2011 ****) Directed by Joe Johnson, starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones. An ultra-masochistic kid from Brooklyn becomes an ultra-human super-soldier (and hunk), but the ultra-Nazi Red Skull keeps him from getting ultra-laid. I’ve wanted to see this film for a long time and tried my best to keep my expectations in check. You know what? I absolutely loved it. I loved everything about it. Johnson and the screenwriters did a fantastic job of exploiting everything that was awesome about one of my favorite childhood heroes. They even managed to squeeze his original shield in there! I had my doubts about casting Fantastic Four‘s Human Torch as “The Star-Spangled Man with a Plan,” but Chris Evans was perfect in the role. He had the physique to handle the action sequences believably, but he was also unbelievably likable! I wasn’t sobbing like a baby or anything, but I was quite touched by the FX-enhanced pre-bulkifying scenes early in the film. His deep sense of patriotism and dislike for bullies like the Nazis really got to me. In the “wish fulfillment” domain it ranked exceptionally high as well as triggered old memories of a code of right and wrong I got from reading comics as a kid.

Superman / Batman: Apocalypse

Superman / Batman: Apocalypse (7/27/11) Netflix (2010 **1/2) Directed by Lauren Montgomery, screenplay by Tab Murphy, based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner, featuring the voices of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Summer Glau (Supergirl) and Andre Braugher (Darkseid). Superman’s teenage cousin crash lands on earth and tries to adjust to her new home and new powers, but then Darkseid kidnaps her to turn her into the captain of his Apokolips cheerleading squad, or something along those lines. I’ve been watching a lot of these DCU made-for-video 75-minute movies lately, and this is one of the few where I hadn’t read the original source material. It’s also (so far) the one with the weakest writing. There were lines of dialogue that absolutely made me cringe, like: “I’d tell you to go to hell… but that would be redundant.” On the art front, I didn’t care much for the character designs, which differed from the Ed McGuinness-inspired designs used in Superman / Batman: Public Enemies. I don’t know why it bothered me as much as it did, but Superman / Clark Kent’s full lips looked like they were constantly pursed together for a kiss.

Programming in Objective-C 2.0

Programming in Objective-C 2.0 (7/25/11) Nonfiction (2009 ***1/4) Written by Stephen G. Kochan. The syntax and structure of the Objective-C 2.0 programming language is fully described, including plenty of code examples along the way. Well, this is a first for this blog: a review of a programming book! As someone who wrote a lot of C code “back in the day” but never quite fully made the transition to C++, I appreciated the author’s approach to this language, which was built on top of C: Kochan treated it as though the reader was learning Objective-C 2.0 as their first programming language, digressing occasionally to discuss some of the legacy C features that ran counter to the object-oriented paradigm. The book was exceptionally clear to read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone trying to learn the language. My motivation in buying this book is that I recently decided to try my hand at writing Apps for the iPad and iPhone. I had bought and begun reading another book (Beginning iPhone 4 Development) and quickly realized (mainly because of Objective-C’s odd syntax and memory management) that I needed a second book to understand the first. This was that second book, and it has fulfilled its job admirably.

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Ox-Bow Incident (7/25/11) TV-TCM (1943 ***1/2) Directed by William A. Wellman, screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg, starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn. A posse bent on veneance come across three men who may or may not be the murderers they’re after; naturally mob psychology results in a fair and balanced resolution, just like it always does. This is another classic movie I somehow never got around to watching until my late 40’s. For some reason I could’ve sworn Rod Serling was associated with the screenplay, but I obviously confused it with another film. This was a pretty solid movie and its exploration of the courage it takes to stand up for what you believe in even when it runs against the bloodthirsty urges of an angry mob made it well worth watching. The film’s message was all the more powerful considering it was made in the middle of World War II.

Pageant of the Masters 2011: “Only Make Believe”

Pageant of the Masters 2011: “Only Make Believe” (7/24/11) Laguna Beach Festival of Arts (2011 ***1/4) A tradition since 1932, The Pageant of the Masters is something that’s hard to understand unless you’ve actually seen one. This was my wife’s third time at the Pageant, and it was an experience she wanted to share with me. One way to describe this annual summer event is as a lot of people wearing a lot of makeup standing completely still for 90 seconds at a time. But another way to describe it is as a genuinely original theatrical experience that celebrates the visual arts. The theme for 2011 was “Only Make Believe,” and all the works featured fantasy settings, including elves, dragons and time-obsessed white rabbits. Many of the pieces were astounding in their degree of artistic execution, and there were a few fun surprises sprinkled throughout the show. If you go, I highly encourage you to take along a pair of binoculars, so you can appreciate the level of detail. We did and it made a big difference.

Superman / Batman: Public Enemies

Superman / Batman: Public Enemies (7/24/11) Netflix (2009 ***) Directed by Sam Liu, screenplay by Stan Berkowitz, based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, featuring the voices of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman) and Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor). In a world where Lex Luthor’s been elected president and a meteor made of green Kryptonite is hurtling toward earth, naturally Luthor’s top priority is framing the “Man of Steel” for murder and putting a billion dollar bounty on his spit-curled head. I’d read the original graphic novel on which this made-for-video film was based, and I was impressed by how well it worked in animated form, even though at least half the 75-minute running time was spent on all-out slugfests. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) As I’ve watched several of these videos lately I’ve felt as though I’m almost watching a new hybrid medium, something that exists in-between an animated half-hour TV show and a big-budget live action superhero film. It’s been apparent that a lot of care has been given to the quality of these films, even given the limitations of the budgets.

True Blood, Season 3

True Blood, Season 3 (7/20/11) Netflix (2010 ***1/4) Series created by Alan Ball, based on the book series by Charlaine Harris, starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard. Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress (who almost never actually goes to work) in Bon Temps, Louisiana, is up to her supernatural eyeballs in vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, witches and… fairies? In season 3, Sookie becomes a “person of interest” and her amazing friends must defend her from a powerful 3,000-year-old vampire king named Russell Edgington. Here’s my beef with this series: When it was good, it was awesome, but as season 3 wore on I increasingly found myself annoyed by storylines and characters I had no interest in. I had the exact same fundamental problem with Ball’s previous HBO series, Six Feet Under. Will I keep watching? Hell yeah! Who knows what kinda crazy shit that cute little Bon Temps waitress with the mixed lineage will get into next. Of course, I could just ask my wife, who read all Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books last year.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood (7/19/11) Netflix (2010 ***1/2) Directed by Brandon Vietti, written by Judd Winick, based on his 2005 graphic novel, featuring the voice talents of Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John Di Maggio and Neil Patrick Harris. Ten years after the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, a red-hooded figure with mad ninja skills arrives in Gotham and starts taking over the drug gangs. This was a very faithful and effective retelling of Winick’s graphic novel, which I read several years ago. I’m also old enough to have bought the original “Death in the Family” books, which led up to the 900-number call for Jason Todd’s death. One of the several bonus features on the disc gave a solid overview of that event, including interviews with those involved.

A Face in the Crowd

A Face in the Crowd (7/18/11) TV-TCM (1957 ***1/2) Directed by Elia Kazan, screenplay by Budd Schulberg, starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa and Walter Matthau. The daughter of a radio station owner discovers a truly original American guitar-beatin’ voice in the local jail and witnesses his meteoric rise. Andy Griffith, who went on only a few years later to become the beloved sheriff of Mayberry, delivered an astounding performance in this film. I have to admit my respect for him escalated appreciably after watching it. Even though the film is over fifty years old, its message about the power and the peril of charismatic public figures is still painfully valid for our celebrity-drenched modern world.