Now here we go with my list of the Top 10 Comic Book Series of 2009!
First, let’s start with some Honorable Mentions: RASL, Ex Machina, Young Liars, Astonishing X-Men, Batman: Streets of Gotham, Superman: Secret Origins, Supergod, Aliens, The Dark Tower, and X-Factor. All of those are series that I absolutely love — and if you’re not reading them, you should be! (I also have great affection for Powers, but since only one new issue saw the light of day in 2009, it was hard for me to justify including it on this list.)
OK, now here we go with the Top Ten:
10. Witchfinder: In The Service of Angels (issues #1-5 published in 2009) — I am an enormous fan of the Hellboy universe, and I’ve picked up every single Hellboy-related limited series or one-shot ever since Seed of Destruction way back when. But somehow I almost missed this series about occult investigator Edward Grey, set in London in 1879. Boy oh boy I’m glad I remedied my error and picked up all five issues. Not only is it a terrific, creepy adventure tale, but issue #3 connects some ENORMOUS dots and basically gives us the secret history of the Hellboy universe. This is a critical piece of the unfolding Hellboy saga, and not to be missed.
9. Stephen King’s The Stand (issues #2-5 of Captain Trips, issues #1-5 of American Nightmares, and issues #1-2 of Soul Survivors published in 2009) — I’ve never read Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand, but I have been absolutely devouring the series of mini-series based on that work. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa deftly handles the enormous canvas, weaving multiple story-lines in and out of one another with ease, and Mike Perkins’ beautifully rendered artwork brings a devastated America to glorious, haunting life. I am chomping at the bit to know what happens next — so much so that I went out and purchased Mr. King’s novel last month! Now I just need to decide if I want to experience the story through the comic adaptations first, and THEN go read the novel… or dive into the novel right now.
8. Astro City: The Dark Age Book 3 (issues #1-4 published in 2009) — This four-book Astro City saga has been taking its sweet time to reach a conclusion, but boy is each installment worth the wait. The Dark Age is the story of two brothers, Charles … [continued]
5. Inglourious Basterds — Quentin Tarantino demonstrates, once again, that no one can wring more nail-biting tension out of simple conversation than he can. What I thought would be a simple men-on-a-mission story wound up being a much more complex, intriguing tale. Filled with astounding, unforgettable performances (Brad Pitt as the tough-talking Aldo Raine, Melanie Laurent as the fiercely intelligent Shosanna Dreyfus, and of course Christopher Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, one of the most unforgettable film villains of the past decade) and some great Tarantino touches (yep, that is a Samuel L. Jackson voice-over at one point), the film is ridiculously compelling. And that ending. Ho boy. Read my full review here.
4. District 9 — With a budget reportedly in the ballpark of 30 million dollars (which, if my information is correct, is about a third of what was spent on the Alec Baldwin/Meryl Streep comedy It’s Complicated), first-time director Neill Blomkamp fashioned one of the most gripping sci-fi tales I have ever seen. The film is set in Johannesburg, almost thirty years after an enormous alien spacecraft appeared over the city. The aliens, nicknamed “prawns,” have been settled in slum-like conditions in a refugee camp called District 9. When the corporation MNU bows to public pressure to remove the aliens from the vicinity of Johannesburg, the hapless Wikus Van De Merwe (who participates in the forced evictions) finds his life turned upside-down. As a sci-fi fan I am always looking for smart, original new works of sci-fi, and this film has both qualities in spades. With jaw-dropping special effects (I am amazed at how well the alien “prawns” are brought to life), a career making performance by Sharlto Copley (who plays Wikus), some terrific action, and edge-of-your seat intensity from start to finish, District 9 is a magnificent and haunting creation. Read my full review here.
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox — A deliriously fantastic combination of Roald Dahl’s story (about a family of foxes menaced by three vicious farmers) and director Wes Anderson’s unique sensibilities, Fantastic Mr. Fox feels to me like the film Mr. Anderson has always wanted to make. He has filled the movie with his specific style — detail-filled sets and precise, stage-like staging — and the foxes are a classic addition to Mr. Anderson’s repertoire of wonderfully idiosyncratic, somewhat disfunctional families. The script is complex and sophisticated (with characters who all possess strengths as well as character flaws, and no easy answers to their dilemmas in sight), and the voice-actors (including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, … [continued]
Despite the horrendous batch of summer “blockbusters” that we had to suffer through, 2009 was actually a pretty darned good year for movies! I’d been feeling otherwise, but when I looked back through my notes about all the great films that I saw this past year, I had a hard time narrowing down my Top Ten list!
As I did before beginning last year’s list, I should mention that, despite the rather large number of new movies that I saw in 2009, there were plenty of heard-they-were-great films (or films that otherwise seemed interesting to me) that I wanted to see but just didn’t get to. These include The Hurt Locker, Moon, Pirate Radio, Broken Embraces, A Single Man, An Education, Me and Orson Welles, Invictus, The Road, and The Lovely Bones. Might one or more of those films have wound up on this list, had I seen them? Who can say!
So, without further ado, let’s dive into my List of my Ten Favorite Movies from 2009!
Honorable Mention: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — I was just tickled by every moment of this wonderfully weird trip into the mind of Terry Gilliam. Heath Ledger’s final performance is delightful and enigmatic, and the trio of actors who stepped in to complete his role after his tragic death (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) are all absolutely wonderful, as is the great Christopher Plummer in the title role. Read my full review here.
10. Coraline — I’ve got three animated films on this list, but they could not possibly be more different from one another. Each is a magnificently unique creation. In Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s fantasy story is brought to breathtaking life by gorgeous stop-motion animation. Coraline is an intelligent but lonely little girl whose world is uprooted when her parents move into a strange new house. When she discovers a small, secret door that leads into an alternate world where she meets far happier and more doting alternate versions of her parents, Coraline is delighted and entranced. But all is not as it seems, and the young girl will need all of her wits to escape from the web into which she has fallen. Dangerous and dark, this haunting tale is sweet and scary in equal parts. I can’t wait to see it again. Read my full review here.
9. Watchmen — I’ve seen this film so many times already (in a variety of different cuts) that it’s hard to believe it came out this year! Zach Snyder’s gloriously ambitious attempt at adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ magnum opus Watchmen has its flaws, but even after many repeated viewings I remain dazzled … [continued]
Let the Best of 2009 lists continue! I hope you all enjoyed my list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2009.
Now let’s dive into my list of the Top 10 DVDs (or Blu-Rays) released in 2009!
First, I’d like to give Honorable Mentions to the complete series sets of three amazing TV shows that I had just about given up all hope of ever seeing on DVD: It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Andy Barker, P.I. So why aren’t these shows on my list? Because I can’t put anything on this list that I haven’t actually watched, and I’ve been way, way too busy to get through any of these sets. Of the three, the only one I own is Andy Richter Controls the Universe. (That one came out first, and I’m not going to purchase the other two sets until I actually have time to watch them.) But I take great delight in knowing that these three DVD sets exist here on planet Earth, and I know that I’ll get to them all in good time.
10. Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray) — I’ve seen Watchmen quite a few times since it was released early in 2009, and while the film certainly has some weaknesses, I remain overwhelmed by the enormity of its successes. It’s hard to believe that Zach Snyder brought this seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, which long had been considered unadaptable, to life. It thrills me to see such a faithful take on the material and that the filmmakers had the confidence to craft a super-hero film that was aimed squarely at adults. The Ultimate Cut of the film is Zach Snyder’s longest version, stitching together his Director’s Cut with the animated Tales of the Black Freighter sequences. It’s pretty astounding. This Blu-Ray set would be much higher on this list were it not for the paltry special features. Not only are the special features lame (this is a movie that cries out for a full-fledged making-of documentary), but this set just reproduces the special features that were already released on the Director’s Cut set. (I guess I’ve been spoiled by the amazing extended editions of the Lord of the Rings films, which came not just with phenomenal extended versions of the films but with extraordinarily elaborate making-of documentaries that didn’t duplicate the special features on the theatrical version DVDs.) (Read my review of the theatrical version of Watchmen here, and of the Director’s Cut here.)
9. Contact (Blu-Ray) — A beautiful film that manages to combine a serious, cerebral sci-fi tale with an effecting story of the personal journey … [continued]
Sometimes I get DVDs and I watch them immediately, devouring the movie and the special features within 24 hours. Sometimes I’ll get a DVD and, for one reason or another, it will sit on my shelf for months and months. Such was the case with the Director’s Cut of Ridley Scott’s 2007 film, American Gangster.
I enjoyed American Gangster when I first saw it in theatres. I didn’t love it the way I love some of Scott’s other films (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, and the vastly underrated Kingdom of Heaven), but I quite liked it, and when I saw that an extended version of the film was available on DVD in early 2008, I snapped it up. I’ve really enjoyed the extended versions of several others of Ridley Scott’s films, most particularly the extended version of the afore-mentioned Kingdom of Heaven, which is a revelation in contrast to the theatrical release, so I was excited to see this new version of American Gangster. But, for whatever reason, I just never got around to watching the DVD until recently.
American Gangster tells two parallel stories. One half of the film is about Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. The movie opens with the death of Frank’s mentor, the powerful Harlem drug-dealer Bumpy Johnson. Frank marshals his keen intellect and all that he learned from Bumpy in order to take control of the Harlem drug scene. His boldest move was to travel to Southeast Asia in order to purchase heroin straight from the source, enabling him to bypass all the other crime-figure “middle managers” and sell a more powerful product at cheaper prices than his competition. That coup, combined with his patience and his near-fanatical focus on avoiding the spotlight, enabled him to amass an extraordinary amount of power and money all while operating under the noses of what local law enforcement officials weren’t on the take.
Russell Crowe plays Richie Roberts, a New Jersey cop with a fierce sense of honesty. In an infamous story depicted early in the film, he finds a million dollars in cash but turns it over to his superiors in the department rather than keeping it for himself. In contrast to those qualities, his personal life is a disaster, and when the film opens his wife (the wonderful Carla Gugino) has decided to divorce him. Richie eventually gets himself involved with (and becomes a key figure in leading) the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, where his investigative skills and a decent amount of luck puts him on the trail of Frank Lucas.
American Gangster is a film dancing on the edge of greatness. Washington and Crowe both turn in powerhouse performances, and … [continued]
Yesterday I began my list of the Top 10 Episodes of TV from 2009. Click here for numbers 10-6. Now here is the rest of the list!
5. Lost: “The Incident” (season 5, episodes 16/17, aired on 5/13/09). Everything comes together, questions are answered, and (of course) new questions are raised. We finally get to meet the oft-discussed Jacob, and we see how this apparently ageless man has interacted with the lives of many of the castaways long before they ever crashed on the island. In the ’70s, Jack seeks to change the future by detonating a hydrogen bomb, thus destroying the island. This once again puts him in conflict with Sawyer, who believes that “what’s done is done.” In 2007, Locke, Ben, and the mysterious other survivors of Ajira flight 316 converge in the shadow of the statue, we learn the true final fate of Jeremy Bentham, and a shocking murder is committed. The cliffhanger ending leaves us in the dark as to whether Jack’s audacious plan has succeeded, or whether he has just caused “the incident” that we’ve been hearing about since “Orientation” in season two (that necessitated the construction of the Swan Station and the button). Either way, this was a magnificent two hours of television. It’s been a great delight watching the makers of Lost weave together the show’s many characters and story-lines as we prepare for the show’s final year. I have high hopes for what’s ahead!
4. Parks and Recreation: “The Hunting Trip” (season 2, episode 10, aired on 11/19/09). I thought that Parks and Recreation was extraordinarily mediocre in its first season, but just as NBC’s The Office only found its footing during its second year, Parks & Rec has really turned things around this season. Many weeks I consider it — are you sitting down? — the strongest of NBC’s Thursday night comedies. ”The Hunting Trip” is a prime example as to why. Ron prepares to take the men in the office out on their annual hunting trip, but Leslie (Amy Poehler) wants the girls (and Tom Haverford) to be included too. Since Ron is legally forbidden from excluding them from what is tenuously a work-related outing, the whole gang heads out to the woods, rifles in hand. What follows is an escalating series of madness that culminates in poor Ron getting shot (not fatally, of course!!). The whole episode is a riot, in which every member of the ensemble gets a lot to do. But Leslie steals the show when she realizes that she cannot reveal the identity of the person who shot Ron to the ranger who comes to investigate, so she tries to take the fall … [continued]
Hi everyone! It’s that time of year again — welcome to the first of my four Best of 2009 lists! We’re kicking things off today with part one of my list of the 10 Best TV Episodes I saw in 2009!
Let’s dive in, shall we?
10. Lost: “Jughead” (season 5, episode 3, aired on 1/28/09). The craziness of Lost‘s superb time-hopping fifth season kicked into high gear with this episode, and all sorts of fascinating connections were made. Trapped in the past, Locke meets a young Charles Widmore and Richard Alpert and we finally get an explanation for Alpert’s weird childhood visit to Locke (that we saw in “Cabin Fever” ). Meanwhile, Daniel Faraday discovers that the American army came to the island in the 1950′s to test hydrogen bombs, explaining a lot of tiny references that have been layered into the show since back in the second season (such as Ana Lucia pointing out to Goodwin that the Other they killed carried an army knife from decades ago). But this episode gets the nod because of its focus on one of my very favorite Lost characters: Desmond, who spends the hour attempting to unravel the secrets of Daniel Faraday. Mind-bending Lost at its best.
9. Dollhouse: “Belonging” (season 2, episode 4, aired on 10/23/09). Oh Dollhouse, we hardly knew ye. Though Joss Whedon’s short-lived series was frustratingly hit-or-miss, episodes like this make we wish fervently that the show was continuing. This episode spotlights Sierra, one of the “dolls” (men and women regularly programmed with completely new personalities in order to meet the whims of the Dollhouse’s wealthy clients), and we learn how the young woman once named Priya came to be a doll. It is a twisted, heartbreaking story, and an absolutely riveting hour of TV.
8. The Office: “Broke” (season 5, episode 23, aired on 4/23/09). I’ve been a bit let-down by The Office this year, but the mid-fourth season run of episodes centering around the Michael Scott Paper Company were classic, and this episode provided a note-perfect culmination of that storyline. Michael & co. have finally succeeded in cutting into Dunder Mifflin’s business by undercutting their prices, but that action has also left Michael’s company penniless (and unable to afford even a delivery van for the paper they’re selling, as we see in the episode’s opening). Luckily, David Wallace decides to try to buy Michael out. The negotiations that follow are hysterical — and also a stunning moment as Michael rises to the occasion by serving as a surprisingly sly negotiator. Also, Charles Miner (The Wire‘s idris Elba), who has been running the Scranton branch in Michael’s absence, is finally undone … [continued]
Charlyne Yi (who you might recognize from Knocked Up) doesn’t really believe in the concept of falling in love. She’s not sure such a thing as love truly exists — and if it does, she’s not sure it’s something that she’s capable of. So she sets out with her friend, director Nicholas Jasenovec, to film a documentary about love. The two travel across the U.S., interviewing all sorts of everyday people (along with the judge in a divorce court, an Elvis who marries folks in Vegas, Seth Rogen, and a few other not-quite-so-everyday folks) about their thoughts regarding true love. Things get more complicated when, while filming the documentary, Yi meets Michael Cera at a friend’s party, and the two hit it off and begin dating (an awkward process captured on camera by the documentary crew). Do her interviews with people — or her burgeoning relationship with Michael Cera — change Yi’s feelings about love?
If Yi’s happening to fall into a relationship with Michael Cera while at the same time filming a documentary about love seems like a wild coincidence to you, then you’d be right! Because things aren’t quite what they seem. The interviews that Yi conducts are absolutely real. But the Nicholas Jasenovec that we see on-camera isn’t actually the Nicholas Jasenovec who directed this film — it’s an actor, Jake M. Johnson! And while Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi did date, their courtship as we see it was staged for the camera.
What we’re left with is a rather bizarre hybrid film. The movie is constantly bouncing back-and-forth from the real footage (the interview segments, which are like much more in-depth versions of all the couples we see telling their how-they-met stories from When Harry Met Sally) to the staged footage (of Yi and Cera, and of Yi and Johnson/Jasenovec). What’s really intriguing is the way the film doesn’t hesitate to make clear to us that that footage is staged — or, at the very least, manipulated. Almost every time that we might find ourselves drawn in to Yi & Cera’s story, the film draws our attention to the artificiality of those moments. (In one scene, we see Yi and Cera playfully interacting on a beach, and then beginning to walk hand-in-hand down the shore-line. It’s a tender moment… until we see Johnson/Jasenovec run into the frame wondering if perhaps they could do another take. In another scene in Yi’s apartment, we see her first kiss with Cera… and then the camera pulls out to see a camera-man and a sound-guy perched on the next couch, recording the moment.) Even the interview footage is played with, as we often cut away from the people … [continued]
When unsuspecting passers-by step through the magic mirror in Doctor Parnassus’ traveling imaginarium, they find themselves transported into a world in which their innermost thoughts and desires are brought to life. Watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, I feel as though I have been treated to a similar experience: a trip inside the very mind of writer/director Terry Gilliam.
It’s pretty astonishing to me that Terry Gilliam has only directed seven films since Brazil back in 1985, and only thirteen feature films in his entire career. (I’m including in that count Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed, and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, in which he directed the opening short film, The Crimson Permanent Assurance.) Mr. Gilliam has had an extraordinary string of bad luck, over the years, in his attempts to make the movies he sets his heart on making (click here for more information on his doomed effort, at the start of the decade, to bring to life his film version of Don Quixote, which was to star Johnny Depp), which in part accounts for the sparcity of his films.
Therefore, any new Terry Gilliam movie should be a source of much rejoicing. And yet, I much confess that I have not actually seen the three films that Mr. Gilliam has directed since Twelve Monkeys in 1995: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Tideland (2005), and The Brothers Grimm (also released in 2005). I’m not sure why, exactly. Something about those three films just didn’t appeal to me. But ever since first reading about The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus a few years back, I was excited and intrigued to get a gander at what Mr. Gilliam was putting together.
As in many of Mr. Gilliam’s films, Parnassus has a twisty plot that would be extraordinarily difficult for me to really explain to you, nor am I all that sure that I should even try. I will tell you that Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) has apparently been engaged in a thousand-year duel with the devil (Tom Waits) over whether mankind’s imaginations or our more prurient instincts represent the dominant force in our nature. Their latest wager involves the fate of Parnassus’ young daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). Hard times have befallen the aged Parnassus and his small troupe, which includes the wise Percy (Verne Troyer) and the young Anton (Andrew Garfield). It seems that, in our modern world, Doctor Parnassus’ traveling imaginarium doesn’t attract anyone’s attention or interest any longer. But things change when Lily rescues an enigmatic and amnesiac young man named Tony (Heath Ledger) from an attempted suicide. Will Tony help Doctor Parnassus, or wind up destroying him?
Heh. … [continued]
News broke yesterday that Sam Raimi’s planned Spider-Man 4 has been scrapped, and the studio is going ahead with a total reboot of the series. DeadlineHollywoodDaily broke the story. Personally, I’m bummed by this news. Though Raimi & co. broke my heart with the atrocious Spider-Man 3, the first two Spidey flicks were so great that I really wanted to see him come back and try to return to the greatness of those first two films. I hate that his run on the character is ending on such a low note, and the idea of rebooting a series that is only eight years old and wildly successful just seems insane to me. But hey, I’m the guy who also wants to see Bryan Singer make another Superman film.
I have not read any of the Twilight books, nor seen the movies, nor do I have any intention of doing so. But this piece over at CHUD about why Breaking Bad (the fourth and final Twilight book) MUST be made into a movie is absolutely hysterical.
Behold the weirdest wedding video I have ever seen. This dude had his friends in the wedding party act out scenes from Superman II. I am at once awestruck and disturbed.
Speaking of slightly-insane Superman fans, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon photos of this guy who decorated his office cubicle as the Fortress of Solitude. Check it out:
You can find the full story behind his crazy construction project here.
Then there’s this incredibly bizarre stop-motion animated interview with Fantastic Mr. Fox director Wes Anderson. Except Wes Anderson is played by Jason Schwartzman. You read that right. Check it out.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, a super-cool new trailer for Iron Man 2 came out last month. Take a look. I was an enormous fan of Iron Man (read my review here), and have high hopes for the sequel. Don’t break my heart, Mr. Favreau! (By the way, in re-reading my review of Iron Man, I can see that I was sure that the Mandarin would be a key villain in the sequel. It’s not looking that way… so I’m wondering whether that character factors into the story at all. I certainly hope he does!)
Speaking of trailers, let me lay a few more on you. Here’s a sort of weird new trailer for Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s latest collaboration: Robin Hood. Take a look. This seems like familiar ground for Scott and Crowe, and I can’t say that I have been lying awake at nights waiting for a new version of the Robin Hood story. That being said, … [continued]
A few months ago my wife and I began our Great Lost Re-Watch Project! In preparation for the upcoming sixth and final season of Lost, we’ve been re-watching every episode of the show, starting with the pilot episode and working our way forward through the seasons. I’ll have a lot more to say about our Lost Re-Watch Project in the coming weeks, but for now I just had to share the major epiphany I had in re-watching the season 3 episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” I had remembered this installment as being a terrific episode, but in re-watching it now it seems to me like this episode spells out some of the MAJOR SECRETS of Lost!
Spoilers abound, so if you’re not a fan of the show I’d advise you to turn back now.
In this episode, Charlie & Hurley confront Desmond on his apparent ability to see the future, which he used to prevent a lightning bolt from striking Claire’s tent and then again later to save her from drowning. After being pushed angrily by Charlie in those introductory scenes, we follow Desmond’s experiences after turning the failsafe key in the hatch (in the season 2 finale “Live Together, Die Alone”). Somehow, after turning that key, Desmond wakes up in the past, in his apartment with Penny (which she has apparently just moved into with him). Desmond has flashes of memories of his future years spent pushing the button in the hatch, which are prompted by moments such as the beeping of his microwave sounding eerily like the beeping in the hatch… and his alarm clock reading 1:08 (the number of minutes one has to push the button)… and of course the moment when he sees Charlie playing music on the street. But mostly (at least at first), Desmond seems to be re-living his past experiences with little knowledge of what is to come. We see him happy with Penny, and then we see him asking Charles Widmore for Penny’s hand in marriage. (The old man cruelly rejects him.)
Things really get mind-bending when Desmond goes to buy an engagement ring for Penny. There he meets a mysterious woman (who we’ll learn in later episodes is named Eloise Hawking), who seems to know all about him and insists that he’s not supposed to give Penny that ring. She states that he must follow through on the chain of events that will lead him to the hatch and the button, saying that “pushing that button is the only truly great thing that you will ever do.” When Desmond insists that he can change things, she tells him that, try as he might, “the universe has a way … [continued]
Did my run of Star Wars: Episode I cartoons last month (click here to see ‘em all) not fill your craving for Episode I bashing? Then take a look at this phenomenal fan look-back at The Phantom Menace that was posted over on CHUD. Apparently they came across this seven-part video series from a tweet by Simon Pegg (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). I guess I’m not the only die-hard Star Wars fan still scarred by the debacle that is Episode I.
I wrote about my experience seeing Episode I for the first time in a theatre here, and gave my thoughts on the film looking back a decade later here. But this guy dives into the film quite a bit deeper than I did. (That’s putting it mildly.) I’m not sure I quite understand the almost psychotic mumbling fan-boy persona this guy puts on for these reviews, but it’s pretty damn funny (though also more than a little bizarre).
Take a gander at part one:
Pretty funny stuff. Head back over to CHUD to see the rest. Part two examines the story of the film, and kicks off with the comment: “it’s almost mind-boggling how complex the awfulness is.” Couldn’t have said it any better myself!… [continued]
Back in 1999, Tom Spurgeon wrote a piece in The Comics Journal entitled “Martin Wagner Owes me Fifty Bucks.” The subject of that piece, Martin Wagner, was the writer/illustrator of an acclaimed black-and-white comic book called Hepcats. What had begun as a comedic strip when Mr. Wagner was a student at the University of Texas gradually morphed into something much deeper, and the storyline “Snowblind” received an enormous amount of critical acclaim in the comics community in the early ’90s. But after the publication of Hepcats issue twelve in 1994, the series ceased publication, leaving the “Snowblind” storyline frustratingly incomplete.
In 1996, Mr. Wagner signed a deal with the small comic book publisher Antarctic Press to re-print the first 12 issues of Hepcats and then continue the series onward. This is when I started following the series. But while the twelve original issues were re-printed as planned, no new material ever arrived, and to this day the “Snowblind” story remains incomplete.
That is what lead Mr. Spurgeon to write his piece for The Comics Journal, expressing frustration that he (like many others) had invested in the storyline (both emotionally and monetarily), and if Mr. Wagner was not planning on finishing the tale, he owed us all our money back! I suspect Mr. Spurgeon was not seriously asking for a refund check from Martin Wagner, but his piece expressed the frustrations of fans who follow the work of a particular writer and/or artist, only to have a beloved project left unfinished. (This is not unlike the frustration felt by fans of canceled TV shows whose storylines are left forever unresolved.)
After finally seeing the publication of the years-delayed final issue of Planetary (read my review of the series here and the final issue here) earlier this year, I got to thinking about the other criminally unfinished comic book stories that haunt me. You’d think most of these unfinished series would be small, indie books, whose creators ran into monetary difficulties that made it impossible for them to continue their series (as may or may not have happened to Mr. Wagner, depending on whose story you believe), but that’s not entirely the case…
Stray Bullets – David Lapham’s black-and-white self-published crime comic absolutely blew me away when I read the first issue back in 1995. I was familiar with Mr. Lapham’s work from the Valiant Comics line of books in the ’90s, but Stray Bullets was an entirely different sort of project. The series was told mostly through single-issue stories, each one spotlighting a different character and the tragic circumstances that would befall him/her. The series would jump, from issue to issue, around to different protagonists in different … [continued]
I read all the bad reviews when Woody Allen’s latest film was released this past summer. But I was dubious. Larry David starring in a Woody Allen film seemed like a genius idea, to me. How could a combination of those two neurotic, grumpy Jewish comedians not yield something at least remotely interesting?
Well, go rent Whatever Works and find out.
Or better yet, trust me, DON’T.
Whatever Works is a catastrophe of epic proportions and one of the worst films I have seen in a long, long time. After 30-40 minutes of the film had elapsed, I was already supremely bored, and only sheer force of will (and the hope — ultimately dashed — that maybe something funny was just around the corner) allowed me to finish the film. It is certainly one of the worst Woody Allen films I have ever seen. (Celebrity has always been, in my mind, Woody’s worst film — though now it has strong competition.)
Larry David plays Boris Yelnikoff (as Woody Allen a character name as you’ll ever find), a man described as a genius physicist but who we mainly see as an irritated complainer hanging out in his bathrobe in and around Grennich Village. Unhappy in life and love and convinced (as so many Woody Allen protagonists are) that life is meaningless and that he is surrounded by an unending parade of idiots and incompetents, Boris spends much of the film vacillating between miserable and merely unhappy.
One night a beautiful homeless Southern girl, Melody (played by Evan Rachel Wood), follows Boris home. Despite her stunning beauty, Boris is entirely uninterested in her (and indeed spends much of his time berating her for her stupidity). He does, though, take some pity on her and allows her to stay with him in his apartment. Then, in one of the most staggering and unconvincing plot twists I have ever seen in a movie (and I have seen a lot of movies with space aliens and time travel), Melody falls in love with Boris and the two get married.
The above paragraph summarizes the entire first half of the film, all of which seems to be nothing more then a lengthy set-up for what was, I supposed, intended to be a hilarious comedy of culture-shock when Melody’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) and, later, her father (Ed Begley Jr.) show up in New York looking for her. While the movie does, briefly come to something-approaching-life for a few minutes following Ed Begley Jr.’s introduction into the film (at about the one hour mark), it’s far-too-little and far-too-late.
Woody Allen’s movies have often been characterized by some condescension to non-Manhattenites, but Whatever Works is overflowing with it, … [continued]
Having watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, the phenomenal new stop-motion animated film from director Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited), I am almost forced to reconsider all of his previous (also wonderful) films.
Mr. Anderson’s work has always been characterized by an extraordinarily stylized look to his sets and staging. (The Royal Tenenbaums, my favorite of Mr. Anderson’s films, must be considered a triumph of art direction amongst its many other great qualities.) Now it seems to me that Mr. Anderson has always been approaching his movies as if they were animated films: pouring never-ending attention into the creation of the artificial worlds that his characters inhabit. (In animation, this is of course necessary: there are no “standing sets” to use – everything must be designed from the ground up.)
Or maybe I should put it this way: in stop-motion animation, Mr. Anderson has found a perfect stylistic vehicle for his particular idiosyncratic method of storytelling.
Adapted from a book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox focuses on a family of foxes who enter into an escalating feud with three cruel farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. What is remarkable is that this animated fox family is just as fully-realized as any of the clans seen in Mr. Anderson’s previous films. Each character is filled with flaws and with strengths. Each feels, well, human! George Clooney voices the title character, Mr. Fox, who is inventive and fearless… but also dangerously reckless and oblivious to the walls he is inadvertently building up between him and his son. Jason Schwartzman plays his son, Ash, a teenaged (in fox-years) boy who idolizes his father but, sensing that he is not going to get the approval he seeks, has withdrawn into teenaged “this is all stupid” rebellion (that includes the wearing of bizarre outfits). Meryl Streep is the patient mother of the brood who deeply loves her husband yet must admit, in a powerful moment late in the film, that she never should have married him.
Does this sound like your every-day animated film so far?
It’s just amazing, really, how Mr. Anderson (working with co-writer Noah Baumbach, who wrote and directed the magnificent film The Squid and the Whale) has shaped Roald Dahl’s tale into a film whose character drama fits perfectly in with the rest of Anderson’s filmography. But he has done so without losing the charm and heart of Mr. Dahl’s original tale – particularly when it comes to bringing to life the increasingly escalating lunacy (and violence) of Mr. Fox’s back-and-forth feud with the farmers.
I haven’t even mentioned the enormous ensemble that surrounds … [continued]
I missed Coraline in theatres when it was released back in February of 2009, so I was thrilled to finally have a chance to watch this wonderful film on DVD last month.
Adapted from a novel by Neil Gaiman (a legend among comic-book fans for his beautiful series The Sandman), Coraline is the story of a precocious, lonely little girl named (you guessed it) Coraline. She and her parents move into a new house, and the energetic and creative girl is soon left to her own devices as her parents busy themselves with their work and the business of setting up a new home. Her parents are not the over-the-top hateful, neglectful sort that one sometimes finds in children’s fantasy films, but both seem overworked and overtired, and are unable to give Coraline the attention she craves.
Things seem to change for Coraline when she discovers a tiny secret door in her room that leaves her into a parallel world filled with happier doppelgangers of everyone in her life. Her “other-mother” and “other-father” are cheerful and incredibly attentive to Coraline’s desires, cooking her enormous delicious meals and putting her to sleep in a beautifully decorated bedroom. True, the buttons that these “other-folk” seem to have instead of eyes are weird, but so what?
You can probably guess that this idyllic other-world has a scary dark-side hidden not-too-far underneath all the wonder, and soon Coraline must use all of her wits to save herself and her family.
Coraline is a jaw-dropping, gorgeous wonder of stop-motion animation. The fantasy tone with an undertone of great creepiness brings to mind Tim Burton’s exercises in this genre (The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride), but Coraline has a look and style all its own. Co-writer and director Henry Selick and his talented team of artists and technicians have brought every tiny detail of this world to life, and they quickly prove as capable of capturing the loneliness of an empty, old house as they are at the fantastic merriment of a performance of circus mice in the other-world that beguiles Coraline (at least temporarily). Each frame of this film is stuffed-to-overflowing with glorious eye-candy. But I am happy to report that the “just how did they do that?” wonderment of this life-long animation fan quickly faded into the background as I stopped thinking about the technical aspects of the film and just found myself swept along in the ride.
The voice-cast acquits themselves well. There are some famous names in the mix (Dakota Fanning voices Coraline, Teri Hatcher is her mother and John Hodgman is her father) but no one overshadows the material. Each actor is a fine fit with … [continued]
So that’s it for 2009! And so another year — and our second year of Motion Pictures — draws to a close! Thanks so much to everyone who’s made a visit to this site part of your regular routine. Hope you’ve been enjoying what you’ve been seeing!
Without missing a beat, we’ll be back on Monday, January 4, with our regular schedule of new comics (four times a week, Monday-Thursday) and blogs (at least three times a week, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — and often even more frequently than that!).
Coming up, we’ll be finishing our look back at Star Wars: Episode I, and then moving on to, wait for it, Star Wars: Episode II!! Following that, we’ll be diving into some of the year’s big “Oscar-bait” films. Heh heh heh. We’ve also got a big batch of movie reviews coming your way soon, as well as a gaggle of my end-of-the-year “Best Of” lists. (I can’t believe it’s already been a year since all of my “Best of 2008″ lists!!)
Thank you all so much for visiting Motion Pictures. You have shown yourselves to be individuals of impeccable taste. I hope to see you here regularly in 2010!… [continued]