10. All Good Things (ST:TNG season 7, episode 25) — The two-hour series finale of Next Gen is not just a phenomenal finale but also one of the greatest episodes of the series. Picard finds himself moving back and forth through time, bouncing between the present day, a time just before he took command of the Enterprise D (in the series premiere, Encounter at Farpoint), and 25 years in the future. It’s fascinating to take a look back at the show’s early days (the mimicry of the costumes from that first season is particularly fun, as is the reappearance of deceased security officer Tasha Yar), but it’s the peek at the future of the Next Gen crew that, I think, really captured the fans’ imaginations. A wonderful reappearance by Q further strengthens the “full circle” connections to the show’s premiere. The episode boasts some terrific visual effects and a wonderful sci-fi paradox mystery makes the whole enterprise (sorry, couldn’t resist) truly compelling. Finally, there is the magnificent last scene, which ends the show and the series on a perfect note. The sky’s the limit, indeed.
9. Sarek (ST:TNG season 3, episode 23) — In its early years, the Next Gen writers strove to avoid any mention of characters or storylines from the Original Series in an effort to make sure this new show could stand on its own. But fans were delighted when, in this third season episode, Mark Leonard reprised his role as Spock’s father Sarek. That guest appearance alone would make the episode a winner, but it’s shot into the stratosphere by a terrific storyline about Sarek being affected by an Alzheimer’s-like disease that begins to weaken his mental controls, and by the absolutely amazing performances by Mark Leonard and Patrick Stewart. Stewart’s monologue (after Picard has mind-melded with Sarek and is being affected by the ragingly intense emotions that the elderly Vulcan has kept bottled up for almost two centuries) as the camera slowly circles around his face and Picard is pummeled by a roller-coaster of rage and grief is absolutely magnificent. My favorite moment: Picard/Sarek’s one subdued, lonely cry for his estranged son: “Spock.”
8. The City on the Edge of Forever (Star Trek season 1, episode 29) — One of the most well-known episodes of Star Trek, and for good reason. Harlan Ellison wrote the script for this, one of the most powerful and moving episodes of the original (or really ANY) Trek series, one that is also filled with a lot of terrific, unique sci-fi ideas. The … [continued]
Yesterday I began listing the Twenty Greatest Episodes of Star Trek. (Click here for numbers 20-16). Let’s continue, shall we?
15. Treachery, Faith, and the Great River (ST:DS9 season 7, episode 6) — The title of this episode sums up everything that DS9 was about — character, faith, and politics. It’s a small episode, with little of galactic import happening, and yet it is a critical episode nonetheless. A familiar Vorta offers Odo important information about the Dominion in exchange for Odo’s protection if he defects, and back on the station Nog utilizes all of his Ferengi wiles to help Chief O’Brien track down the equipment he needs to repair the Defiant despite shortages caused by the war. In this seemingly minor episode, we learn an enormous amount about the cultures, history, and beliefs of the Ferengi and the Vorta, as well as so much about many of DS9′s regular characters.
14. The Measure of a Man (ST:TNG season 2, episode 9) –Not only is this one of the few watchable episodes from Next Gen‘s first two seasons, it is also (as you can see by its inclusion on this list) one of the finest Trek episodes ever crafted. A Starfleet scientist wants to disassemble Data in order to learn how his positronic brain works, in order for Starfleet to construct more androids like him. When Data refuses to submit, he is ordered to do so. What follows is an emotional, thought-provoking examination of what makes someone a sentient being. Is Data a man, or is he a piece of property? Witness tour-de-force performances by Brent Spiner and Patrick Stewart as well as Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan (in one of the best Picard-Guinan scenes of the entire series).
13. The Way of the Warrior (ST:DS9 season 4, episode 1) — After three somewhat uneven seasons, DS9 reinvented itself with this amazing two hour episode that turned the show around and set the stage for the ground-breaking storytelling of seasons 4-7. The Klingons send an enormous task force into the Bajoran sector, ostensibly to help defend against the Dominion. But several troubling incidents make clear to Captain Sisko that the Klingons have a hidden agenda. In order to help him ferret out the truth, Starfleet assigns Worf (without a posting after the destruction of the Enterprise D in Star Trek: Generations) to DS9. Worf’s discovery tears apart the Federation-Klingon alliance (which had been a centerpiece of the 24th century Trek shows), and leads to what was by far the best sci-fi action sequence ever televised at that time (and still one of the greatest today) in which the Klingon fleet brutally attacks the … [continued]
I have watched a lot of Star Trek in my day. A LOT of Star Trek. And quite a lot of it was pretty damn good! Here’s what I feel is the best of the best. (Hmm, no episodes of Voyager or Enterprise to be found on this list…!)
20. Unification Part I (ST:TNG season 5, episode 7) — A high-ranking official of the United Federation of Planets is believed to have defected to the Romulans, and Captain Picard is sent after him. The individual in question? Ambassador Spock. Having Leonard Nimoy reprise his role in this Next Gen two-parter was an astounding moment, something the fans never thought would happen. But as great as all the Spock-Picard-Data stuff is in part II, I’ve chosen part I (in which Spock only actually appears at the very end) for the brilliance of its gripping build-up in Picard’s, ahem, search for Spock. My favorite moment? The late great Mark Leonard’s show-stopping scene as Spock’s father Sarek, at death’s door and suffering from a debilitating neurological disease, who delivers a monologue that is one of the most powerful and emotionally devastating things I have ever seen on television.
19. Rocks and Shoals (ST:DS9 season 6, episode 2) — In the middle of the Dominion War arc, Sisko and his crew have commandeered an enemy Jem’Hadar warship behind enemy lines. In the exciting opening moments of the episode, they are shot down on a desolate planet. But a small group of Jem’Hadar have crashed on that planet with them. The focus of this episode isn’t on the action — it’s on a fascinating exploration of the Jem’Hadar. Phil Morris (most famous as Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld) is fantastic as the central Jem’Hadar character. (“Then we will hold this world for the Dominion. Until we die.”) But what really gets this episode onto this list is it’s cold, tragic ending.
18. Penumbra (ST:DS9 season 7, episode 17) — Deep Space Nine’s “final chapter” (the last nine episodes of the show’s final series) begins with this engaging installment, in which so many long-running character story-lines and plot developments begin to weave together for the show’s denouement. Worf is lost in the Badlands after a Klingon attack group is destroyed by the Jem’Hadar, and Ezri Dax sets off on a desperate mission to find him. The female changeling in charge of the Dominion’s forces in the Alpha Quadrant begins to succumb to the plague that has stricken the Great Link. A weary Damar sinks further into a daze of alcoholism, but is spurred into action by a visit from Gul Dukat. And Captain Sisko finally proposes to Kassidy Yates, although a … [continued]
On May 15th, 2005, the final episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (entitled “These Are the Voyages”) was broadcast. Thus began the longest drought without any new official Star Trek movies or TV episodes since Star Trek: The Next Generation began airing way back in September, 1987.
And that drought comes to an end next week, on Friday, May 8th!
In anticipation, I have all sorts of fun Star Trek-related content to share with you here at MotionPicturesComics.com. New updates will be posted pretty much DAILY between now and May 8th. That’s right, daily, so check back often!
(And for you non-Star Trek fans out there, don’t worry, it won’t be ONLY Trek content here for the next two weeks! I also have a bunch of DVD reviews coming for some terrific films that I have seen recently, including the phenomenal documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.)
To whet your appetites, I hope you enjoy this little fan-made video (which I first saw posted at aintitcoolnews last week):
It is 58 years “before the fall.” Life on the twelve colonies is peaceful and prosperous — especially on Caprica. And yet, amongst the elite of society, there is decadence and decay. The new direct-to-DVD movie Caprica focuses on the patriarchs of two families. Daniel Greystone (Eric Stoltz) is a wealthy inventor — part Bill Gates, part Steve Jobs — who seems to have everything he wants in life. But his artificial intelligence project is at a stand-still, and he’s in danger of losing his military contract to a rival company. Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) is a lawyer, struggling to balance his desire to find his own way in life with his obligations to the crime family that helped pay for his education. A terrible tragedy that involves both Daniel and Joseph’s daughters brings the two of them together and sets in motion events that will eventually lead to the creation of the Cylons… and 58 years later, the near-annihilation of the human race.
This Caprica direct-to-DVD project is something of a weird entity. As the pilot for a TV show that we won’t get to see until 2010, Caprica isn’t a complete movie in and of itself — it’s more of a tease for what we’ll eventually get to see next year.
Despite whatever complaints I have with Battlestar Galactica‘s final run of episodes (and you can read my thoughts in more detail here), there certainly was a tremendous high of excitement and anticipation just a few months ago as the final hours of BSG were broadcast. I wonder if Ron Moore and the makers of Caprica wouldn’t have been wiser to hold off on showing their pilot until next year, to let the memory of BSG fade and to build more anticipation for new stories within that universe. As it is, it’s very difficult not to compare Caprica to that intense final run of episodes of BSG, and I think Caprica pales in comparison.
For better or for worse, Caprica is an entirely different type of show than BSG. Whereas Galactica was intense and action-packed, Caprica is much colder, much more leisurely paced. There’s one explosion (and it’s a doozy — one of the most dramatic moments of the pilot), but other than that Caprica‘s focus is not on action-adventure but on drama. Now, that’s not a bad thing, necessarily. You can have very compelling television without space-ship battles… and if Caprica had set out to be just like BSG, it would probably would have wound up being derivative and lame.
I remember when Star Trek: The Next Generation launched back in 1987. In its first few seasons, the writers (for the … [continued]
Set in 1987, Adventureland takes place over the course of one summer in the life of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), just out of college, whose dreams of traveling Europe with his friends have been dashed by his family’s financial problems. Seeking a summer job instead, Jesse quickly discovers that his degree in literature doesn’t really qualify him for any sort of employment back home in Pittsburgh. Thus, he winds up working at Adventureland, a somewhat tired old local amusement park.
Jesse befriends Joel (Martin Starr, who, as with most of the talented alumni of Freaks and Geeks, I would happily watch in anything), an intellectual loner, and quickly becomes smitten with the mysterious Em (the terrific, beguiling Kristen Stewart). The self-contained universe of Adventureland is fleshed out by a variety of other interesting, quirky characters: park owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), handsome park mechanic Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), Jesse’s not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is childhood friend Frigo (Matt Bush), the flirty Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), and many others.
Taking place in the eighties, Adventureland is a “period piece,” but it never beats you over the head with obvious references. Rather, the movie uses the setting to lend the story a sweetly nostalgic feel. I love the care with which the movie explores the sub-culture of the summer staff experience at Adventureland, with all of its unique peculiarities. I’ve never worked at an amusement park, but I certainly have spent many summers working at a summer camp. And while the specifics of my summer camp jobs didn’t resemble in any way the specifics of working at Adventureland, I did really connect with the way the film captured the way in which these summer jobs can be transformative experiences for young people, and the way a short summer can be an epic of highs and lows and experiences of all kinds. I have warm feelings for my summer camp experiences, and the film creates a similarly warm glow around Jesse’s experiences, even the painful ones.
Credit writer/director Greg Mottola (who also directed Superbad) with doing a terrific job in setting that tone. The film is funny, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy. However, the shifts from humor to drama never feel out-of-place. Rather the film feels like a true-to-life picture of the ups and downs of a kid’s summer. I never seem to get tired of a good coming-of-age story, and this is definitely a winner in that category.
The film only makes one teensy tiny misstep, in my mind. I don’t want to spoil anything about the ending, but suffice it to say there’s a dramatic moment between two characters in the rain that is the only moment in … [continued]
About two-thirds of the way through Observe and Report, the new film written and directed by Jody Hill (who also wrote & directed the criminally under-seen The Foot-Fist Way), one character observes to another: “I thought this would be funny, but it’s just kinda sad.” A more perfect summation of this film, I could not imagine.
Seth Rogen stars as Mall-Cop (excuse me, Director of Mall Security) Ronnie Barnhardt, who sees himself as top dog in the kingdom that is his mall. Ronnie is completely smitten by Brandi (Anna Farris), who works in the cosmetics department of one of the mall’s department stores. Brandi, of course, wants nothing to do with him. But when a pervert prowling the mall’s parking lot exposes himself to Brandi, Ronnie sees his moment to be a hero by solving the case and catching the pervert. The two other major players in the story are Ray Liotta as the police detective assigned to the case (of whom Ronnie is immediately suspicious and dismissive), and Ronnie’s “right-hand man” Dennis (played magnificently by the almost totally unrecognizable Michael Pena).
I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a laugh-a-minute comedy like Seth Rogen’s other recent films (The Forty-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.). Nevertheless, I was caught somewhat off guard by just how sad this story is. Not sad in terms of being a get-out-your-handkerchief type of film. This isn’t The Pianist or anything like that. But rather than being laugh-inducing, I found watching that most of the exploits of Ronnie Barnhardt were just rather pathetic and sad. If that’s what the film-makers were going for (and it very well might be) then bravo, mission accomplished. But I can’t say that I got an enormous amount of enjoyment out of watching the movie.
Even the moments when I really laughed during the film weren’t moments of clever dialogue or humorous situations, but more from Borat-style “I can’t believe I’m watching this” shocks, such as Ronnie and Dennis’ brutal crack-down on the group of kids skateboarding in the mall’s parking-lot, or Ronnie’s chase after the pervert in the film’s climax. Again, this isn’t necessarily a negative. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
This is a film that, as I think about it now, I RESPECT more as a well-made film, and one that is very brave for going to some extraordinarily dark places, as opposed to a film that I really LIKED. If I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly, it’s mostly because some of those dark places that the film visits aren’t so much fun to watch! On the other hand, Observe and Report is certainly a unique film, not … [continued]
IDW has published a four-issue prequel to J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Trek movie called Countdown. I picked up the four issues, but decided right away that I would wait to read them until after seeing the new movie. I didn’t want to be spoiled about any of the film’s story-lines, and frankly I didn’t have great expectations for the quality of the comic series. (I have seen quite a lot of movie “tie-in” material — books, comics, etc. — for all sorts of big-name movies of the past decade or so, and most of them have been pretty wretched.)
So what changed my mind? Well, I’ve been reading pretty rapturous reviews of Countdown on-line over the past few months. People really seemed to be digging the series, which raised my excitement level. And as my own anticipation of the new Trek film has grown over the past months and weeks as the release of the film inched ever closer, I found myself looking quite eagerly at the four issues of Countdown sitting in my “to-read” pile of comics. I also realized that, while I have for the most part been successful in avoiding major spoilers about the film, my repeated viewings of the trailers, in addition to everything that I have read about the film for the two years that has been in-the-making, have certainly meant that I have a pretty good basic idea about the film’s storyline, and where/how it branches off from established Trek continuity. I didn’t think the comic would reveal anything I didn’t already know, it’d just hopefully connect the dots a little bit more for me.
And so I took the plunge and read through the series.
And I am pleased to report that it is very, very excellent!
Story credit for Countdown is given to Roberto Orci & Robert Kurtzman, the writers of J.J. Abrams’ Trek film. I don’t know exactly who is responsible for what in this comic, between Orci & Kurtzman and the credited writers, Mike Johnson & Tim Jones, but based on what I read here I am very, very encouraged about the upcoming movie. My biggest fear about the film is that it has been made by people who didn’t really know and love Star Trek, and thus has abandoned too much of established Trek continuity that is important to the fans who have invested in this universe for over 40 years now. But Countdown was clearly written by people who really love Trek, and who are steeped in its lore.
OK, I’m going to avoid any MAJOR spoilers as I proceed, both for what I know about the upcoming Trek film and for the Countdown series … [continued]
I was excited, last month, to finally sample one of the best-reviewed new shows of the past several years: Mad Men. No surprise, Steph and I made pretty short work of the 13-episode first season on DVD.
Mad Men depicts the lives of the men and women who work at Sterling Cooper, a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960′s. It’s a tough business, but one in which the successful have the opportunity to taste great wealth and privilege. It’s also a rapidly changing world, as social mores shift and the concepts of traditional “family values” and the strictly defined roles of men and women begin to adjust.
Mad Men is notable for its sharply-written dialogue and its extraordinary ensemble of actors. Jom Hamm plays the lead character, Don Draper, a enormous success both as an ad man in the office and with the women in his life, although as the season progresses he finds himself struggling to cope with the secrets of his past and to adjust to the new world of the 60′s. The aforementioned women in Don’s life include his wife Betty (January Jones), who is devoted to Don but also beginning to chafe at the edges of her housewife life, and Rachel Menken, one of the few Jewish clients of Sterling Cooper to whom Don finds himself immediately attracted. Much of Mad Men focuses on the hierarchical structure of the Sterling Cooper ad agency. There are the men on top, like Don and Roger Sterling (the absolutely terrific John Slattery, a real stand-out). There are the younger executives beneath them, looking to get ahead in any way that they can. These include Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) and the head of the design department, Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt). Then there are the secretaries. The show’s pilot takes us through the first day at work of Don’s new secretary Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss, Zoey Bartlet from The West Wing). One of the first people she meets is the queen bee of the office, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks, a familiar face to fans of Firefly). The complex interactions between these characters (along with a variety of supporting players and guest stars), each fighting in some way against the confines of his/her job and obligations, each looking for some way to get ahead, and each flawed in his/her own way, make up the meat of the show’s drama.
Of course, along with the talented writers and actors, we must also praise the amazing production team for the great success of the show. From the sets, to the wardrobe, to the hairstyles and make-up, Mad … [continued]
In my review of season one of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles as well as my review of the season two premiere, I indicated that while there was a lot that I enjoyed about the show, I also felt that it was far from living up to its potential.
Now that season two has drawn to a close with the airing of “Born to Run” this past Friday (which just might turn out to be a SERIES finale, not just a season finale, as the Fox has not yet announced whether it will renew this ratings-challenged show), do I still feel the same way?
There is so much to enjoy about this exploration of the Terminator franchise. The acting is solid, both amongst the main cast (particularly, to my great surprise, 90210‘s Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese, brother to the ill-fated Kyle Reese from the first Terminator film) and a high caliber group of guest actors that includes Richard Schiff (Toby from The West Wing), Dean Winters (Oz, 30 Rock) Stephanie Jacobsen (Battlestar Galactica: Razor) and, in the finale, Joshua Malina (Sports Night, 30 Rock). The action and special effects are terrific, quite consistently impressive for a weekly television series. We got to see a lot of great Terminator-on-Terminator combat, and some exciting peeks into the post-Judgment Day devastated future.
The writers were ambitious in their story-lines, bringing back all sorts of characters and story-threads from the first two Terminator films (the show’s continuity ignores the third one), and taking viewers along on some fascinating explorations of the Terminator world and mythos. I was overjoyed when the very first episode of season two introduced a new liquid metal T-1000 (like Robert Patrick’s fearsome character in T2). That was a development I never expected to see. One of my favorite episodes of the season also had one of the show’s most direct ties to the Terminator films — “The Good Wound,” in which a grievously wounded Sarah Connor hallucinates visions of the long-dead Kyle Reese. I mentioned above that we got some fascinating looks at the post-apocalyptic future that was briefly glimpsed in the two Terminator films, and I loved that the show wasn’t afraid to explore that time-line along with Sarah and John Connor’s adventures in present-day. Stand-outs in this respect would be the episodes “Allison from Palmdale” in which we learned some of the background of Cameron, the female Terminator played by Summer Glau, as well as the really excellent two-part “Today is the Day,” which depicted an ill-fated submarine expedition lead by a Terminator that had been reprogramed by John Connor. Or so everyone thought.
What was … [continued]
Let’s begin the day by my pointing your attention to two great pieces recently from The Onion A.V. Club: this article about 25 great albums that work best when listened to from start to finish, and a spirited defense of the recent seasons of The Simpsons that lists 10 episodes from the past 5 seasons that stand among the series’ best.
If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to watch the new trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie Bruno. For a little more detail on some of the sequences that you get glimpses of in the trailer, click here for a terrific write-up of the 25 minutes of footage that screened a few weeks ago at SXSW, the theatre-owners convention. How is he able to still fool people with this stuff after all the publicity that surrounded Borat?
I am not a big fan of Broadway musicals. That is putting it mildly. So I’m not exactly doing cartwheels at the news that there is a Spider-Man musical in the works. And I was completely befuddled to read that they’re working on a musical based on Groundhog Day! What a bizarre notion.
By the way, speaking of Spider-Man, has director Sam Raimi admitted what was immediately apparent to discerning movie-goers about an hour into the film — that Spider-Man 3 was just terrible? Well, sort-of. Click here to read his interesting comments. Since a Spider-Man 4 seems inevitable, this gives me a smidgen of hope that perhaps we will see a return to the high quality of the first two Spidey films. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Harlan Ellison is a brilliant Sci-Fi author. He’s also responsible for one of the finest hours of Star Trek ever committed to film: the Original Series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” He is now suing Paramount and the WGA. You have got to read his hilarious press release all the way to the end.
So there’s going to be a James Bond museum? And I thought Christmas only came once a year.
Finally, did you know that some people are getting all bent out of shape about a Chuck Jones Looney Tunes print that parodies Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper? Well, they are. In these troubled times, aren’t there more important things that we should be worrying about? Like the enormous size of the nacelles on the U.S.S. Enterprise in J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie??… [continued]
Over the past two days I have listed several of my favorite graphic novels. (Click here for part I and here for part II.) You’ll notice that most of them had nothing to do with super-heroes. This was purposeful — although super-hero stories dominate the American comic book scene, there are so many other types of stories that can be told using the comics medium. That’s something I wanted to highlight.
But that’s not to say that I don’t also love a terrific super-hero story, because I certainly do! Here are some of my favorites, that are available in graphic novel or collected-edition formats:
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Following the death of Robin, Bruce Wayne retired his Batman persona. It’s been 10 years, and Gotham City has sunk into an urban decay of crime. Bruce Wayne is a broken man, empty and lost. But when something drives him to put on that mask one more time, everything changes. (Although not necessarily for the better!) Along with Watchmen (which was also released in 1986), Frank Miller’s magnus opus changed the comics industry forever, demonstrating without a doubt that it was possible to tell sophisticated, mature stories with super-hero characters. (It also was a tremendous influence on the look and tone of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.) This story is intense and shockingly brutal. It is also a gorgeous work of art, filled to the brim with overlapping narratives that tell the stories of an enormous cast of characters, all struggling to make their way in the brutal urban jungle that Gotham City has become, and all of them somehow affected by the shadow of the bat. The Dark Knight Returns is also infamous for Miller’s depiction of an almost fascistic Superman, and his battle with the Batman in the series’ final chapter is a show-stopper. (I should also mention that I am quite fond of Miller’s Batman: Year One, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, from which a great deal of the story of Batman Begins was adapted.)
The New Frontier — Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant series re-tells the origins of many of DC Comics’ most familiar characters, albeit set in the years in which they were originally created. Similar to the way in which The Right Stuff showed how American fighter pilots gradually became our astronauts, The New Frontier tells the story of how the pulp heroes that came out of the second world war gradually became the costumed super-heroes of a brave new age. Cooke’s somewhat retro, simplified art style is stunningly gorgeous and absolutely perfect for the story being told. The New Frontier captures the innocence and wonder, as well as the growing dangers, of the 1950′s and … [continued]
Yesterday I wrote about several examples of my favorite graphic novels. Today I’d like to share a few more that represent longer works:
Bone — Three cousins stumble into a mysterious valley filled with wonderful and dangerous creatures. What begins as a whimsical, fun-filled fantasy romp gradually grows into an epic, Lord of the Rings type of adventure filled with action, death, greed, and a beautiful story of unrequited love. The Lord of the Rings comparison does Bone a disservice, actually, as Bone is a brilliantly unique work unlike anything else I have ever read. At times hilariously funny and at times deeply intense, Bone is a truly wonderful tale that (unlike many of the other graphic novels I have listed) is perfectly suitable for all ages. It’s available in nine collections. Start off with volumes I & II, Out From Boneville and The Great Cow Race, and I guarantee you won’t look back.
Cerebus — If you read 300 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (heck, if you read 50 or 100 issues!) you would probably be struck by the cyclical nature of the story-telling. The characters don’t really change, villains return again and again… you might enjoy the stories, but it’s not remotely a chronicle of what could really happen in one person’s life (even someone bitten by a radioactive spider!). With his comic Cerebus, writer/illustrator Dave Sim set out to do something entirely different. What began life in the late 70′s as a parody of Conan the Barbarian became something entirely different when Sim decided to create the ultimate 300 issue “limited-series.” His comic would chronicle the life and adventures of one character, Cerebus (an aardvark living in a medieval world of humans). It would be told at a realistic pace (with stories unfolding slowly and action only occurring every 30 or more issues, as opposed to having complete adventures every month), and it would end with Cerebus’ death. (And in 2004, when Cerebus #300 was finally published, that’s exactly what happened.) Although some have said, only half-jokingly, that Dave Sim went insane over the almost 30-years of working on his epic (and having read the bizarre and erratic final volumes I’m not sure I disagree), for much of its run it was truly magnificent. Skip the first collection and start with the phone-book sized volume II, High Society, and volumes III & IV, the two-part Church and State. These are extraordinary works, sophisticated commentaries on the nature of politics and religion that are also terrifically fun adventure stories filled with an extraordinarily rich cast of characters, and set in a fully realized fantasy world that has been fleshed out by Sim (and collaborator … [continued]
Recently I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about graphic novels. A lot of this was prompted by the Watchmen film. People have been asking me what I thought of the original Watchmen graphic novel (it’s a masterpiece!), if they should read it (YES!), and if I could recommend other graphic novels that might be of interest (read on!).
Which brings me to today’s post. While this is by no means a comprehensive list of my all-time favorite graphic novels, below are several extraordinary works that I think anyone who is interested in seeing what comics might have to offer would really enjoy.
A quick note, before we begin: I am using the term “graphic novel” to refer to any comic book story available in “book” format (as opposed to 24-32 page “pamphlet-style” single issues). I am not distinguishing between a collection of comics that were first published as single issues or something that was originally published in this longer format. I’m talking about any sort of collection that you could pick off your book-shelf and read as a complete story.
V For Vendetta — It is November the 5th, 1997, and a young girl is rescued by a mysterious vigilante wearing a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V. Set in an alternate history in which Britain has become a fascist state, this towering work by Alan Moore and David Lloyd explores issues of identity and individuality. It also turns the entire idea of the super-hero vigilante on its head. When the figure of V first appears, we readers are conditioned to root for him as the clear hero of the tale. Subsequent events cause one to question that thinking, as Moore and Lloyd pose difficult questions about the nature and necessity of the use of violence. This is a beautiful, haunting work, a true masterpiece of the comics medium.
Give Me Liberty — Like V for Vendetta, this is a story of a slightly-alternate world, in which individual freedoms have become a thing of the past. In Give Me Liberty, the cause is the unchecked spread of enormous corporations that have long-since co-opted the American government. Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons’ tale begins in 1995 with the birth of Martha Washington, a young, precocious African-American girl who grows up in the horrifying squalor of “The Green,” an extension of Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project. Her brains and her courage help her escape the projects and join the military, where she finds herself embroiled in a much larger conspiracy. This astounding mix of social commentary and sci-fi adventure rises above other works of speculative fiction mainly because of the compelling lead character of Martha.
This is unbearably cool.
I’ve been reading for weeks now about a special screening this week of a pristine new print of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. Seeing the magnificence of Khan on the big screen would be awesome enough, but the screening was also scheduled to include 10 minutes of footage from J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film.
But in one of the coolest bait-and-switches in history, apparently just 5 or so minutes into last night’s screening they swapped out Khan to show J.J. ABRAMS’ NEW STAR TREK FILM IN ITS ENTIRETY!!!
How wild is that?? I am literally beside myself with envy.
Click here for a spoiler-free review of the flick. This is a VERY POSITIVE review, which is very encouraging!
Click here to read a fun break-down of exactly what went down at the Khan screening, including the surprise appearance of a very illustrious guest. (I’ll warn you, though t,hat I stopped reading this piece once the description of the actual film begins because it was getting a tad too spoilery for me.)
But wait! That’s not enough detail, you say? How about some video?
Finally, in the interest of keeping our expectations in check, click here to read the thoughts of someone who enjoyed the film but wasn’t quite so head-over-heels in love with it. (This is fairly spoiler-free, but I still sort of skipped through it to avoid reading too much about the film.)
I can’t believe it’s still a MONTH away…!… [continued]
In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen. With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends. After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal). Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.
The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style. But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.
Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.) Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny. That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.” Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).
Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films. Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]
I’d been reading about it for months now, so I was very pleased to watch this Sunday’s episode of Family Guy, “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven,” which featured the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The episode opens with the Griffin clan attending a Star Trek convention at the Quahog Convention Center. Unfortunately, this leads to a number of very obvious “Star Trek fans are hapless geek” jokes, which was a little disappointing. In all of the interviews leading up to this episode’s release that I have seen and read, Seth McFarlane and his team seem to genuinely be big fans of Star Trek. There have been a lot of Trek references and jokes (and Next Gen references in particular) on Family Guy even before this episode, many of them quite obscure references that could only be dreamed up by serious fans. (My favorite was the ending of the “Stewie Kills Lois” cliffhanger, with ended with the words “to be continued” reproduced in the exact same font, with the exact same music, as the end of Next Gen‘s season three-ending cliffhanger “The Best of Both Worlds.” How many people in the world got that joke?? Me, I loved it.) Anyways, all of that made it a bit of a let-down to see the writers go for the easy, lazy jokes at the expense of Trek fans in these opening minutes.
Things pick up from there, however, when Stewie — angry that he didn’t get to ask a question of the assembled Trek cast members — constructs a working transporter in his room and beams in the entire Next Gen cast, so that they can spend the day together. The cast are portrayed as amicable but with about the intelligence of a kid Stewie’s age. This leads to some fantastic scenes in which Stewie attempts to corral the hapless gaggle of actors into a trip to a fast food joint and a bowling alley. There are some funny Trek jokes (such as Stewie’s immediate execution of Denise Crosby, whose character Tasha Yar bought it during Next Gen‘s first season; the revelation of what Levar Burton really sees through that visor of his; and Stewie’s inability to properly pronounce Wil Wheaton’s name) mixed with the usual Family Guy style of random lunacy (Patrick Stewart’s refusal to remove his loafers at the bowling alley; Michael Dorn’s insistence on ordering a McDLT).
The other story-line of the episode, in which Meg finds God after watching Kirk Cameron on TV when she’s home sick with the mumps, sounds like a funny idea but in execution I found it to be a bit slow. I kept waiting … [continued]
I really enjoyed his two Hellboy films, but it was the beautiful, wonderful Pan’s Labyrinth that made me a fan of Guillermo del Toro for life.
Since I think so highly of his recent films, I decided it was high time that I sought out some of his older works. Which lead me to The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro’s Spanish-language film from 2001.
As was Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone is set during the Spanish Civil War. As the movie opens, a twelve-year-old orphan named Carlos is left at an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. As Carlos struggles to settle in to his new home and find his place amongst the boys there (some of whom are friendly, and some of whom are cruel) and the stern adults (all of whom have their own stories and their own problems), he discovers what he believes to be “the one who sighs,” the ghost of a missing boy named Santi. As the Spanish Civil War lurches towards its conclusion, the plight of everyone at the orphanage becomes more dire, and the terrible secrets of what happened to Santi at last come to light.
Del Toro is a master at combining emotional, character-driven stories with a touch of the fantastic. Pan’s Labyrinth might be his masterpiece in this area (so far), but The Devil’s Backbone gives that film quite a run for its money. Right from it’s opening moments it is gripping and genuinely creepy. This isn’t a film that is all about special effects or big “money shots” of monsters and creatures. No, it’s a story about desperate people in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The supernatural element is almost secondary — which, to me, is what makes that supernatural element so effective when it enters the story.
As I watched this film it became clear to me that del Toro has quite a way with child actors. Just as Ivana Baquero was so terrific as Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth, young Fernando Tielve is quite compelling here as Carlos. So much of the film’s story rests on his shoulders, and he is just terrific. And he’s not alone. There’s a large group of boys of varying ages at the orphanage, all of whom are very engaging. The kids all feel real, and each boy has a distinct character and personality. This is quite a feat.
I am not a fan of horror films, generally. Scary, violent movies are a dime a dozen these days at one’s local cineplex. But don’t dismiss The Devil’s Backbone because of all those other terrible films. This is a terrific, engaging, unique story, and one that I can’t wait to watch again.
In the mean-time, … [continued]