After having so much fun, recently, reading some great Marvel prestige hardcover and trade paperback collections of classic story-lines (click here and here!), I decided to finally read two other Marvel reprint collections that had been sitting for a while on my to-read bookshelf: Daredevil: Typhoid Mary and Daredevil: Lone Stranger.
Daredevil: Typhoid Mary reprints Daredevil #254-257 and 259-263, written by Ann Nocenti and illustrated by John Romita Jr. This story-line is a famous one, as it introduced the schizophrenic villainess Typhoid Mary to the Daredevil mythos. Being a long-time Marvel Zombie, I knew all about this character and this story-line, but I’d never actually read these issues, so it was a great deal of fun to finally read this story.
I don’t think Ann Nocenti is often thought of as one of the GREAT Daredevil writers, which is unfortunate because she had a long, terrifically entertaining run on the series. Her stories were a lot crazier than the more gritty, street-level crime sagas of Frank Miller or, more recently, Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker. But it’s a lot of fun to see Daredevil interacting with characters from the wider Marvel Universe in these stories, and Ms. Nocenti does manage to keep her stories connected to the real, human dramas and struggles of Matt Murdock and his supporting cast.
Right away in the first scene of this collection, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be your average ho-hum super-hero comic. In our introduction to the story, and to the character of Typhoid Mary, we see her murder a bunch of drug dealers and torch the place, all so she can have sex with her thug partner among the fire and the dead bodies (which gives her the thrill she needs to reach orgasm). Yowza! This ain’t your father’s comic magazine!
But it is a classic Daredevil story, in which the villain (in this case, both the Kingpin & Typhoid) plays both sides of Matt Murdock’s persona (the lawyer and the super-hero) off against one another, and we see Matt Murdock succumb to temptation (cheating on Karen Page with Mary) and then try to claw his way back to redemption. It’s a really terrific tale that reads as very edgy and modern — not dated at all as one might expect a story-line from the ’80s to be.
John Romita Jr. was really coming into his own during his run on Daredevil. These days I think he’s one of the very best comic book illustrators out there, and there’s a lot of blossoming greatness on display in these pages. The man draws a heck of a fight scene (DD’s tussles with Typhoid are visceral and violent), … [continued]
After watching Noah Baumbach’s film Greenberg last month (click here for my review), I thought it’d be fun to re-watch the first film of his that I ever saw: 2005′s The Squid and the Whale.
I’m not sure what prompted me to rent this film 4-5 years ago. Possibly the great, intriguing title, or maybe the DVD’s well-designed cover art. Whatever it was, I remember really being impressed with the power of this funny, sad story. I was excited to see it again last week!
The Squid and the Whale is set in Brooklyn in the 1980′s. Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline play Walt and Frank Berkman, two boys whose parents, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, are going through a divorce. It’s a coming-of-age story, as the two boys struggle to deal with the dissolution of their once-stable family-unit. Needless to say, the process is difficult on them both, though the two boys react in entirely different ways.
I can imagine that description of the film’s being about a painful divorce makes it sound like it would be a real slog to get through, but the story of the film (which Mr. Baumbach both wrote and directed) is told with a very light tough. There are some scenes that are difficult and hard to watch, no mistake, but for the most part the film is rather a good deal of fun. Throughout the story, Mr. Baumbach maintains a great deal of affection for all of the characters (even when they behave badly), and he’s able to mine a great deal of humor from their quirks and antics. At certain moments, the film is very funny.
Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as Walt Berkman. This is a fully-formed performance, and one can easily see why he went on to such high-profile roles in the past few years (in films like Zombieland and The Social Network). Equally impressive is Owen Kline as his younger brother, Frank. According to imdb, Owen has only appeared in one short film in the years since The Squid and the Whale, and that’s too bad because he’s really terrific in this film, honest and natural.
But in my mind it’s Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney who make the strongest impact. Both of those incredibly talented actors have put in impressive performances in a number of great films, but it’s their roles here that always stick out in my mind as among their most memorable. Jeff Daniels’ character, Bernard, is quite a prick — arrogant about his literary knowledge and jealous and threatened when his wife gets her first taste of success. But his struggles are so wonderfully human that I … [continued]
OK, I’m officially excited.… [continued]
WOW — Happy 80th birthday, William Shatner!
For the last two years, now, talented voice-actor Maurice LaMarche has spearheaded International Talk Like William Shatner Day, in honor of the Shat’s birthday! Click here for his first video from 2009 in which he unleashes his phenomenal Shatner impression (“saboTAGE”), and here for last year’s video accompanied by the hilarious Kevin Pollak, who also does a phenomenal Shatner impresson.
This year, Mr. LaMarche partnered with the fine folks at TrekMovie.com to run a contest for the best fan Shatner impersonation. Here is Mr. LaMarche’s video. It’s not quite as good as the last two years’ videos, since he spends most of the time assessing his favorite fan videos (and also, the video is weirdly out-of-sync), but we still get some great Shat right at the beginning.
It is absolutely unbelievable to me that it has been nearly FIFTY YEARS since the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, back in 1962.
(I don’t think the 1954 television version of Casino Royale counts.)
Let me say right at the outset that I am an enormous James Bond fan. My enthusiasm for the film series began when I was in college. After a bunch of my friends and I went to see Goldeneye in theatres, and enjoyed the heck out of it, we decided to go back and start re-watching all of the earlier films. Over the next several years, a group of us became quite fanatical about the Bond films, watching and re-watching them all the time (often — I will admit, gentle reader — in various stages of intoxication).
But time passes, and I realized the other day that, while I’ve watched the two Daniel Craig Bond films several times, it had been quite a number of years since I’d seen most of the earlier films. So I’ve decided to go back to the beginning, and re-watch the series in order. I’m not going to rush things. I’m not commiting to watching a film a week or anything like that. Like a fine bottle of 1953 Dom Perignon (which is probably a lot harder to come by today that it was when James expressed his preference for it back in 1962), this is a series that should be savored!
The film: What a pleasure it was to re-watch Dr. No. It’s astonishing to me how well-made the film is. Despite its age, I think it holds up remarkably well. It’s a taut action thriller, one that takes its time to develop the story without ever losing any of the fun or the tension. Dr. No is a much smarter film than much of what passes for action movies these days. But it’s also very fast-paced, keeping the film interesting to a modern audience. (A number of participants on the wonderful commentary track on the DVD comment on the groundbreaking nature of Dr. No‘s editing. It might not seem fast-paced to us today, but the filmmakers took great pains to cut the film in a manner that would keep the story zipping along. I think that’s a big reason why the film still works so well today.)
Dr. No was made on a tiny budget, but you’d never know it. I continually find myself amazed by the broad canvas of the film — it takes place in countless different locations and sets, and everything looks convincingly real to my eyes. I’ll discuss this further later in my review, but the impressive set … [continued]
My friend Ethan e-mailed me this terrific article from Salon.com, entitled “Will Future Generations Understand The Simpsons?” It’s a great piece analyzing how pop-culture references might date once-great shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, etc., rendering them incomprehensible only a few years later. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but it’s a really interesting read.
As regular readers of this site might recall, I read the first four books of Stephe King’s magnificent magnum opus the Dark Tower series earlier this year. I’ve taken a little break to read some other things, but I’m eager to begin book five some-time soon. I thought I only had three books left in the series but now, to my delight, it looks like I have four! That’s because Stephen King has just announced that he’s written a new Dark Tower novel, to be published next year! Very exciting news.
I have written before, many times, about Mike Mignola’s amazing comic book series Hellboy, and also about the phenomenal spin-off series B.P.R.D. So I was shocked to learn that long-time B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis is departing the series!! Very sad news. Mr. Davis is one of the greatest comic book artists working today, and his idiosyncratic style has defined the B.P.R.D. series for almost a decade. To honor his departure, the fine folks at comicbookresources.com have assembled seven great moments from Mr. Davis’ B.P.R.D. run. Take a look.
Have you, like me, been reading about the phenomenal events every year at the Paley Center for Media, jealously wishing that you could be there? (Want an example? How about the recent Undeclared reunion panel, followed by a Freaks and Geeks reunion panel??) Well, huzza! The Center has FINALLY begun to make DVDs available of some of their panels! There are many great panels that remain unavailable, but 44 popular panels are now available on DVD. I will definitely be ordering some of these!
Have you seen the glorious new trailer for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Spielberg-homage film, Super 8? Check it out here. That’s a terrific trailer. I am VERY intrigued and excited for this film. How fun is it to finally see that Amblin logo again??
Here are some of the comics I’ve been reading lately:
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis — It took such a long time for Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrew’s five-issue mini-series to come out, I decided to wait for all five issues to be published before reading it all in one go. I’m not quite sure why this was a miniseries, as opposed to just being published as part of the regular Astonishing X-Men series, but whatever. A decently entertaining story really rose in my interest mid-way through with a surprising twist that connected the narrative to a long-forgotten Captain Britain story-line: the Jaspers Warp. I adore those old Captain Britain stories, and getting to see Warpies and the Fury again really tickled my fancy. I do wish this story had lasted a few more issues — after a slow-burn build-up, everything got wrapped up surprisingly quickly.
Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 — The first Witchfinder mini-series, about paranormal investigator Sir Edward Grey’s adventures in London in 1879, was phenomenal, so I was very excited to read the first issue of the follow-up. The switch in art-styles and setting (this adventure is set in the Old West!) threw me for a bit of a loop, but by the end of the issue I was hooked on this new tale. John Serverin is a comic-book master illustrator, and seeing him work in Mike Mignola’s world is a thrill.
Powers #7 — After a weird detour during the first few issues of this third volume (that Rat Pack stuff just did NOT do it for me), with this issue I felt we were finally back with the Powers series that I knew and loved. I’m not sure where all of this Golden Ones stuff is going, but Christian Walker is back investigating the grisly death of a super-hero, and I couldn’t be happier. Plus, this issue sported a gorgeous cover by Michael Avon Oeming. I wish this book came out more frequently, but I’ll happily take what I can get. (And if the Powers TV series actually gets made, I will be super-excited!!)
Secret Warriors #25 — Puzzle pieces are falling into place fast and furiously as Jonathan Hickman’s series rushes to its conclusion. This issue was fun on every page as we learned a lot of key pieces of information about the linked histories of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra, and Leviathan, and the story finally connected with Mr. Hickman’s superlative millennia-spanning S.H.I.E.L.D. series. I have no idea where any of this is going, but I’m enjoying the hell out of the ride and I’ll be sorry to see it end.
John Byrne’s Next Men #4 — I found the first three issues of this … [continued]
In August of 2000, director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys) began work on his film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, an adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, starring Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis and Jean Rochefort.
You don’t recognize the name of that movie? You don’t remember ever seeing it in theatres? You’re having trouble finding it on Netflix?
That’s because the film does not exist. Despite years of preparation by Mr. Gilliam, months of pre-production (in which sets were constructed, props were created, costumes were made), and several days of actual shooting on the film with the main cast, an accumulation of catastrophes resulted in production being suspended, and ultimately halted indefinitely. Despite all the work that had been done and the money that had been spent and the film footage already in the can, the movie was never finished.
Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe thought that they were filming a behind-the-scenes featurette for the eventual DVD release of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. When the project fell apart, they decided to edit together the footage that they had shot to create a look at a movie that almost was but wasn’t. The result is Lost in La Mancha.
For anyone interested in film, this documentary is a must-see. It’s a fascinating case-study of the fiendish complexity of mounting a film production and the many, many things that can go wrong, thus sending a project undertaken with the best of intentions by all parties involved hurtling screamingly off the rails.
I wish I could say it’s shocking to me that acclaimed director Terry Gilliam has had so much trouble, over the years, finding funding and support for many of his projects. Sadly it’s not shocking at all. But it does remain bitterly disappointing. Mr. Gilliam is one of the finest directors working today — a true film visionary in every sense of the world. I might not love all of his films (they’re all so idiosyncratic and weird that some appeal to me far more than others), but all of them are clearly the work of a master craftsmen. And yet, while most of Mr. Gilliam’s films probably possess behind-the-scenes stories of debates and battles over budgets and content and many other aspects of the making of the films, at least at the end of the day those movies exist!
It’s pretty sad that, despite literally years of working on his Don Quixote movie (at one point in pre-production, Mr. Gilliam comments with a smile that he’s been on the project for about a decade) that was, in many ways, a passion project for … [continued]
Although I’m a huge fan of Wes Anderson, somehow I had only seen Rushmore – the film that broke him through to a larger audience — one single time. I saw it on VHS back in 1999 or 2000. I didn’t know a thing about Wes Anderson at the time, I just knew it was a Bill Murray comedy that had been well-reviewed when it came out. But since my idea of a great Bill Murray comedy was something like Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day, I was totally unprepared for Rushmore. I didn’t like it at all.
Thinking back on it, I think the problem was that I was expecting a totally different kind of movie. I didn’t know quite what to make of Mr. Anderson’s little film. It was a much more somber, sad film than anything I would readily describe as a “comedy.” I do remember laughing at a few points — particularly the mid-movie montage in which Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman’s characters try to destroy one another — but those moments were few and far between. It also probably didn’t help that I was watching the movie on a tiny little TV screen, late at night when I was exhausted.
For years now I’ve been thinking that I really should go back and revisit Rushmore. It’s GOT to be a better film than I remember it being, I thought! After watching Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, last year (click here for my review), I was all set to re-watch Rushmore. But somehow, months passed, and I never got to it.
But last month, finally, I did!
As I expected, I thought much, much more highly of Rushmore this time. I still think that The Royal Tenenbaums is far and away Wes Anderson’s greatest film (though The Fantastic Mr Fox certainly would give it a run for its money — click here for my review of that film), but I quite enjoyed Rushmore, and I can see why it was such a critical darling upon its release in 1998.
Jason Schwartzman turns in a star-making performance as the Max Fischer — an overachiever who has founded countless school clubs and written and directed a series incredibly elaborate plays but who, nevertheless, is in danger of flunking out of Rushmore Academy. Max strikes up a friendship with Herman Blume (Bill Murray) a rich local businessman who finds that he likes the eccentric Max far more than his own “popular” sons. The two men are both lost and lonely, and they’re able to find deep common ground between them, despite their age difference. That is, until they both fall in … [continued]
Last month I wrote about some of the great Marvel Premiere hardcovers I’d been reading, collecting some classic Marvel comics from days gone bye. I had so much fun reading those that I decided to dive into several other Marvel trade paperbacks that had been sitting on my “to-read” bookshelf. These aren’t quite as snazzy as the premiere hardcovers, but they’re some slick new collections of some great old comics. Here’s what I’ve been reading:
Excalibur Visionaries: Warren Ellis — This three-volume series collects some of Warren Ellis’ earliest work for Marvel comics, helming the continuing adventures of the British X-Men spin-off, Excalibur. Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ original run on Excalibur was one of the very first comic book series that I ever fell in love with. It was also the series that taught me how sometimes the magic of a comic book is due to it’s creative team, as once Claremont & Davis left the book, the subsequent writers/artists could never capture the spark of their run. Those were some bad comics. Just when I’d about given up on the series, Alan Davis returned (this time as artist and writer) for a lengthy run that tied up many of the loose ends left hanging by his original issues with Mr. Claremont. Those were some GREAT comics! But once Mr. Davis left the book, Excalibur again plunged right into the crapper. It only took a few issues for the follow-up writers/artists to destroy the book (killing Cerise, replacing Captain Britain with the moronic “Brittanic”) and I dropped the title. But I would always keep my eye in the book, and I did occasionally pick up some future issues. Several of them were written by Warren Ellis, and while I didn’t like the direction in which Excalibur had been taken, those Ellis issues weren’t bad.
Cut to present day. I’m a HUGE fan of Mr. Ellis’ work. He initially caught my attention as the writer for Wildstorm’s Stormwatch, The Authority, and the incredibly amazing series Planetary (read my review of the series here), and he’s also written some really top-notch Marvel comics, particularly in the Ultimate universe. (His Ultimate Galactus story ranks among my favorite super-hero comics of the last decade.) So when I saw that Marvel was collecting his early run on Excalibur from 1994-96, I was intrigued. What would I think of those issues, looking back on them today?
All in all, not bad! This is definitely not the Excalibur team that I fell in love with, and these stories don’t hold a candle to Chris Claremont & Alan Davis’ work. Still, it’s interesting to see these sort-of proto-Warren Ellis stories. … [continued]
Last spring I wrote about OSS 117: Cairo Nest of Spies, a French parody of the Sean Connery era James Bond films. I really liked the movie — I thought it was a spot-on Bond parody and very, very silly — and so I was very excited to watch the 2009 sequel: Rio Ne Repond Plus. (The English subtitle is Lost in Rio.)
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, French secret service agent code-named OSS 117, is assigned a new case: to track down and pay-off an ex-Nazi, Professor von Zimmel, who has a list of French collaborators from WWII. Hubert is quickly intercepted by a group of Mossad agents, who want von Zimmel captured and brought back to Israel for trial. So Hubert reluctantly teams up with Israeli colonel Dolores Kulechov. They decide to locate von Zimmel by using his son, but quickly find themselves beset by double-agents, masked wrestler/hit-men, groovy hippies, and a lot of Nazis.
Once again, Jean Dujardin plays Hubert. The over-the-top Francophonic Hubert is arrogant, racist, and misogynistic. But in an endearing way! Well, fairly endearing. Lost in Rio pushes the humor of the series even further outside the bounds of political correctness than the last installment did. For the most part, the boundary-pushing humor works, because Mr. Dujardin imbues Hubert with such happy cluelessness that he’s hard to dislike. And the film is pretty clear that it is Hubert himself who is the buffoon, and the subject of our laughter.
The key to this is for the film to ensure that Hubert, rather than any of the people he mocks or puts down, is the primary idiot in every scene. He can laugh about how useless his female partner is, but since we can clearly see her being extraordinarily brave and heroic, we know that the joke is on Hubert. The only major mis-step of the film, for me, was the running subplot about the various Chinese hit-men chasing after Hubert all being hard to understand. Hubert’s jokes about their accents are a little less funny because the actors portraying the hit-men DO all speak in a sort of silly accent. The film wants us to laugh a little at the Chinese hit-men, not just at Hubert himself, and I think that’s a mistake.
But over-all, the film is extremely funny. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had from the continued tweaking of Bond-era styles, from Hubert’s wardrobe — which includes a tiny blue Goldfinger-esque terry cloth robe — to the insanely over-the-top use of split-screens in certain sequences. Some of the humor is very low-brow physical, while some is clever word-play. (There’s an Au Revoir, Les Enfants joke that … [continued]
And so we come at last to the final installment (for now, at least!) of my “Catching Up on 2010″ series, in which I’ve been writing about all of the 2010 films that I watched in my very busy January attempt to catch up on as many of the 2010 films that I’d missed as possible.
Martin Scorcese’s new film, Shutter Island, didn’t much interest me when it came out last summer. But it was a new Scorsese picture, so it automatically had my attention. I never got around to seeing it in theatres, but I was able to catch up to it on DVD last month.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall dispatched, along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to investigate the disappearance of an inmate at Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane located off the coast of Massachusetts. The woman, Rachel, seems to have vanished without a trace from within her locked cell.
Right away from the beginning of the film, I was a bit put off by the over-wrought score. Every beat in those early moments was punctuated by bombastic, creepy music that seemed to state loudly, just in case we missed it, that SHUTTER ISLAND IS EVIL and something REALLY BAD is going on there! I felt that the dour overcast skies, the deranged-looking inmates, the imposing architecture, and the unfolding story would have been more than sufficient to establish a suitably fearsome, unsettled vibe, which is clearly what Mr. Scorsese was going for in those opening scenes. I didn’t think there was any need for the over-the-top score to shove that in our faces.
But once the plot began to unfold I thought the film settled down into a nice rhythm. There are some great actors at play in this film, and I enjoyed watching the mysteries of the story develop and deepen. I was also quite struck by the backstory given to Mr. DiCaprio’s character, Teddy. It turns out that he was involved in the liberation of a concentration camp at the end of WWII, and he is haunted by the atrocities he witnessed — as well as the reprisals against the German soldiers of the camp that he participated in. That particular story point caught me off-guard. I had no idea that the Holocaust played any part in the story of Shutter Island. (The trailers wisely left that tid-bit out.) I was intrigued by this revelation of Teddy’s back-story. It indicated to me that perhaps there was far more going on in Shutter island than just a ghost story, and that Mr. Scorsese and his collaborators (including Laeta Kalogridis, adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel) had … [continued]
I noticed the small Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom, on many critics’ 2010 Top 10 Lists, so I decided to track the film down myself to take a look.
Whoa. I was not at all prepared for the level of terrible spirit-crushing oppression contained in this joyless look at a family of Australian drug-dealers. I can totally understand why many critics connected to the unique voice represented by this fierce film, but I found it tough to get through at times and, overall, a pretty dour movie-watching experience.
In the film’s opening scene, seventeen year-old J (for Joshua) discovers that his mother has died of a heroin overdose. With nowhere else to go, he calls his grandmother Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver), and she agrees to take him in. Very quickly, we discover what young J apparently already knew: that Janine and her sons are a pack of vicious criminals involved in drug-running and armed assaults. Things get even more complicated when police detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) begins pushing J to inform on his family. Though Leckie’s intentions seem honorable — to pull J out of the terrible environment in which he’s living — he winds up putting J in the hot-seat with his family, particularly the brutal “Pope”.
Writer/director David Michod has crafted a tough, take-no-prisoners film. Like J, we are thrust right into the proverbial lion’s den of this family and their fearsome matriarch. Jacki Weaver’s performance as Janine is the highlight of the film. At first she appears sweet and friendly to J, but once we see the way she kisses her sons (with uncomfortably lengthy kisses on the lips), it’s clear that this woman is somewhat off the reservation. As the film unfolds, we learn that she might be the hardest, most dangerous member of the family. It’s a powerhouse of a performance — Ms. Weaver creates a truly dangerous character. We never know whether her face will be full of sweetness or of death.
James Frencheville does strong work in the lead role as J. It’s a tough role. J is pretty passive, with a deer-in-the-headlights look for most of the film, but once he does finally start to take action we really see Mr. Frencheville come to life. (There’s one particular scene, late in the film, in which J breaks down in a bathroom, that is really emotional, powerful stuff, really well-played by Mr. Frencheville.) I love Guy Pearce, and it’s great to see him in this film. His detective is portrayed in marked contrast to the Cody family, yet Mr. Pearce gives him just enough ambiguity that we must wonder whether he truly has J’s best interests at heart. I was … [continued]