Monthly Archive for October, 2011

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns (10/28/11) Comics (2011 **) Written by various, illustrated by various. This volume features single-issue stories involving the following DC characters and/or titles: The Atom, Hawkman, The Question, The Phantom Stranger, Starman, Captain Marvel, Catwoman, Green Arrow and Weird Western Tales. The already fragmented “Blackest Night” event splinters even further in this collection of single-shot issues. In my opinion, this collection was the weakest of the seven Blackest Night trade paperbacks so far, but I suppose it may offer some value to the completists. For me, more than anything else it offered a glimpse into the nooks and crannies of the recent DC Universe. I mean, what the hell was Metamorpho’s Simon Stagg and Java doing in Weird Western? My advice? If you’re planning on buying the whole set of Blackest Night books, this is probably one you can safely skip; I found none of the stories in this volume particularly compelling.

The Innocents

The Innocents (10/26/11) TV-TCM (1961 **1/2) Directed by Jack Clayton, based on the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, starring Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Pamela Franklin and Michael Redgrave. A governess is hired to look after two children at a lavish country estate in rural England, where her days are filled with sunshine and… OH MY GOD, IT’S A FREAKING GHOST! Somehow I never quite managed to get around to reading The Turn of the Screw, and as is the case of a lot of movies based on a book, the largest effect The Innocents had on me was to make me want to read the original source material. Never exactly scary, this 50-year-old movie was, at best, unsettling. I can only imagine how much it frightened audiences when it was originally released. Oddly, one of the strongest associations I kept getting as I watched was Dan Curtis’ original Dark Shadows TV show / soap opera. Aside from his co-opting Henry James’ original story (fans might remember a storyline about a music box and a character named “Quentin.”), I can’t help but think Curtis was strongly influenced by this movie; there were many tonal similarities, not only visually but also in the situations, characters and dialogue.

Mad Men, Season 4

Mad Men, Season 4 (10/23/11) Netflix (2010 ***1/4) Series created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and January Jones. Madison Avenue CLIO-winning “Ad Man of Mystery” Donald Draper hits rock bottom, then tries to pick up the pieces of his broken double life. Though Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy Olson was originally introduced in Season 1 as a “second lead” for the show, the spotlight for this 13-episode season was clearly focused on Don Draper. Other characters were still present, serving up juicy, sometimes thematically-related B storylines on a weekly basis, but Season 4 was all about the D-man. It was particularly interesting to see Don’s wife Betty (January Jones), who was featured so prominently in previous seasons, pushed way into the background. At about the halfway point of the season I was getting a little concerned about how downbeat the show had become. But then it turned around and the remainder of the season was all the more satisfying, to the point where I was really rooting for Draper to “succeed in business… by really working hard.” My only real nit to pick for this season is that when I first started watching Mad Men, I was knocked out by its immersive time-travel feel of the show. Unfortunately, that 1960s verisimilitude has faded progressively, with its fourth season retaining a mere fraction of that immersive quality.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (10/22/11) North Hollywood Regency Valley Plaza 6 (2008 ***) Original web series directed by Joss Whedon, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. This screening (which was preceded by Season 4 of The Guild (also starring Felicia Day) was organized to benefit the “Kids Need to Read” charity. Though the start time was delayed by a half hour or so, it was for a good reason: a special guest appearance by actors Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. The evening featured fun costumes and a raffle drawing for prizes, including an autographed poster for Joss Whedon’s 2012 film, The Avengers. The audience members ranged from the normal to the super-geeky and everybody in-between. Between this event and a recent celebrity autograph show I attended, I have to say I’m feeling positive normal! I did, however have flashbacks to the third date I ever had back in high school, when I took a girl to an Omaha science fiction convention. Let’s just say there was no fourth date with that particular girl. Anyhow, the Dr. Horrible screening included a goodie bag filled with props to be used throughout the program, which was kind of silly and fun, but also a little distracting. It felt to me like it was trying too hard to be Rocky Horror, if you know what I mean. I had a good time, though I do wish the theater’s DVD projector had been brighter. It’s a minor nitpick, but seriously, it would’ve made a difference.

Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What 2011 Tour

Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What 2011 Tour (10/19/11) Gibson Amphitheatre (2011 ***1/2) I lucked into getting tickets for this show when somebody at work offered them for sale on an internal newsgroup. For me, seeing Paul Simon live was high on my concert “bucket list.” I had actually tried to get tickets when they first went on sale, but they’d sold out almost immediately. Strangely, when we arrived for the show we were told the mezzanine was closed and were given “upgraded” tickets on the main floor. Though our seats were still in the second-to-back row, they were center seats and offered a fairly good view of the stage. The opening act was The Secret Sisters, a lovely duo of actual sisters Lydia and Laura Rogers, who sang and played old-style country music, mixing it up between covers and original songs. My wife and I agreed we liked them enough to pick up one of their CDs. After a short break, Paul Simon came out, flanked with nearly a dozen band members. Almost immediately some guy yelled out “We love you Paul!” which prompted Simon to turn to the audience and ask: “Is there anybody here who doesn’t love me? Now’s your chance. Is there anybody here who’s like ‘I hate your guts. Nope, never cared for you.’?” Hilarious! The song selection that followed was a mix of old and new, gravitating toward the familiar as the night went on. I found it interesting that Simon kept returning to the music from his 1986 Graceland album (which won the Grammy for album of the year), and by my count he sang 6 (maybe 7) of Graceland‘s 11 songs, ending his second encore and the show for the night with “You Can Call Me Al.” But along the way he sang several newer songs (many of which I’m ashamed to say I didn’t recognize) but lots of other favorites, like “Sounds of Silence,” “Only Living Boy in New York,” and “Kodachrome,” as well as the song about his ex-wife Carrie Fisher, “Hearts and Bones,” which caused both my wife and I to tear up. Musically, the band was solid, playing a variety of instruments. Paul Simon’s voice had seen better days, particularly when he tried reaching for the upper range, but there was still plenty of magic in his music. I can’t fault him for his voice weakening with time: He celebrated his 70th birthday less than a week before, on October 13th, providing a trivial connection I have with him: He was born in 1941, just three days after my mother… on my birthday.

Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar (10/17/11) TV-TCM (1954 ***) Directed by Nicholas Ray, based on the novel by Roy Chanslor, starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge, Scott Brady and Ernest Borgnine. A tough, pants-wearing lady saloon owner hires her guitar-playing ex-boyfriend, but when Johnny arrives he finds himself splashing down into a boiling pot of trouble! Wow! It’s no wonder Johnny Guitar has attained such cult classic status: This film, nominally a western, is so over-the-top on so many levels I frequently wondered if I weren’t watching an early David Lynch film. As a matter of fact, I recently watched Lynch’s 1990 film Wild at Heart, and though it was made nearly 40 years after Johnny Guitar, there were definitely tonal similarities. My guess is Nicholas Ray’s film may well have inspired Lynch and other later directors.

Carry On Sergeant

Carry On Sergeant (10/14/11) TV-TCM (1958 **1/2) Directed by Gerald Thomas, based on the novel The Bull Boys by R.F. Delderfield, starring William Hartnell, Shirley Eaton and Eric Barker. Retiring Sergeant Grimshawe has his hands full with a mess of National Servicemen in-training. I’ve been marginally familiar with the British “Carry On” movies since I was a wee lad. They combined British wit with “spicy” double entendres, resulting in kind of a proto-Benny Hill aesthetic. So what’s not to like? Of course by modern standards they’re new seen as pretty tame. One bonus for me and my “hearing impaired” pair of ears was that these films (new to TCM) were actually closed captioned, which allowed me to understand the film’s cheeky dialogue in spite of the thick English accents.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (10/14/11) TV-TCM (1941 **) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery. When a bickering couple learn their marriage isn’t valid, they split up and go their separate ways… but will they get back together again? It was obvious from this film why Hitchcock didn’t direct more comedies, even if The Trouble With Harry ran pretty deep into “black comedy” territory. I’m a big Hitchcock fan, with nothing but respect for his films, but thanks to his strong, signature directing style, there were a few points in this film when I half expected a man in a trench coat to step out of the shadows with a gun! But to be fair, Hitchcock didn’t really have much to work with story-wise. Carole Lombard was adorable, but her character’s motivations were uneven and Robert Montgomery’s character was so generally unlikable I didn’t really want him to get back together with his wife. So, if you want to see Hitchcock direct a comedy, be my guest, but classic romantic comedy, this ain’t.

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps, Vol. 2

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps, Vol. 2 (10/10/11) Comics (2010 ***) Written by Geoff Johns, James Robinson and Greg Rucka, illustrated by various. This volume collects material originally presented in Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1-3, Blackest Night: JSA #1-3 and Blackest Night: Flash #1-3. Geoff Johns’ “Blackest Night” crisis event continues to touch everybody in the DC family. Please refer to my review of Vol. 1 for a description of where this book fits in the 7-book “Blackest Night” collection. One thing I didn’t mention in my previous review was that because several different writers and artists were involved in these “spotlight” stories, there was a bit of unevenness. In a book like this, however, the 3 story-arcs could be thought of as “chapters.” Honestly, there’s a fragmented-ness to the entire “Blackest Night” event, which interfered with my ability to really get into the story. At this point, I definitely feel that the “right” thing (as a reader) to do would be to get to the end of the set of books (only two more to go!), then turn around and re-read the entire thing. I’m not going to actually do that, mostly due to time constraints and the fact that I haven’t been enjoying this series nearly as much as I might have expected… from a freakin’ all-out zombie invasion of the DC Universe.

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps, Vol. 1

Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps, Vol. 1 (10/9/11) Comics (2010 ***) Written by James Robinson, Peter J. Tomasi and J.T. Krul, illustrated by various. This volume collects material originally presented in Blackest Night: Batman #1-3, Blackest Night: Superman #1-3 and Blackest Night: Titans #1-3. The “Blackest Night” event affects the entire DC universe, sometimes targeting 3-issue arcs. I have to hand it to Geoff Johns; When he throws a “crisis,” he doesn’t screw around. When I talked my friend David into buying all the DC “Blackest Night” trade paperbacks (of which there were seven), we did a little research and found the books split between two sets. The first set (Blackest Night, Blackest Night: Green Lantern and Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, which I’ve reviewed previously) contained the “core” story of the event, while the remaining four books fleshed out the remaining tendrils. It’s an interesting way to present a story, though I imagine the decision was made at least in part based on guys like me and David who would buy the whole damned thing. (For the record, David bought the “core” story books and I bought the other four.) Anyhow, this book represented the first book in that second set, and while it was necessarily fragmented narratively, it wasn’t unsatisfying. Three issues is a decent amount of space in which to tell a story, and it was interesting to check in to see how various heroes dealt with their former friends and/or enemies and/or dead children returning from the grave.