Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teen Titans #88


I'm not sure how long it's been since I've picked up a Teen Titans comic, but it's been awhile. This latest new beginning entitled "Team Building" is a good place for new readers to jump in. The team consists of Wonder Girl, Superboy, Kid Flash, Ravager, Beast Boy, Raven, and, if the final panels are to be believed Robin. (Please, oh please, let Damian stay on this team!)

The comic starts out with the team taking on zombie sewer creatures, but the meat of the comic comes inside Titans Tower and the interactions between various members. Those who have been reading the comic on a regular basis might feel like not enough happens here (other than the tease of Damian's involvement), but for new readers this is a good story that gives you important nuggets of information about the various members and their relationships.

And it doesn't hurt that it sports a cool cover and inside art from Nicola Scott whose work I loved (and miss) in Secret Six. This one's definitely worth a look.

[DC $3.99]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Conviction


Conviction is based on a true story about a man (Sam Rockwell) wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. His sister (Hilary Swank), beginning her quest without even a high school diploma, spends the next several years of her life raising her two sons and struggling through college and law school to become the lawyer her brother needs. What may sound like a bad TV-movie of the week turns out to be so much more.

Screenwiter Pamela Gray and dirctor Tony Goldwyn deserve a fair amount of credit for finding a way to share this story without over-simplifying events or falling into an all too easy trap of caricature and cliché.

The film's central core is the relationship between a brother and sister who love, rely, protect and never give up on each other. It's the strong performances of Swank and Rockwell (as well as Bailee Madison and Tobias Campbell as their younger selves) that grounds the film as a compelling drama rather than just a feel good story about one woman's fight against insurmountable odds.

The structure of the film allows the viewer to experience both the good and bad of Betty Anne's (Swank) brother through her eyes. The script builds the relationship using memorable moments of their lives from early childhood through the years which Betty Anne travels to prison to try and offer Kenny (Rockwell) comfort and support. During these flashbacks we see how much love exists between the pair and how hard they've had to fight for each other over the years. It's these scenes that allow us to accept, without question, Betty Anne's decision to give up her own life and rededicate it to save his.

And her road certainly isn't an easy one. For every step she faces new and, at times, insurmountable obstacles including divorce, raising two children on her own, struggles in law school, missing evidence, and a long line of people unable or unwilling to assist her on her quest. The film tries to lessen the constant weight on Betty Anne's shoulders with the addition of Minnie Driver as Betty Anne's friend who provides two things in the film: a more impartial perspective on the case, and giving the film most of its more lighthearted moments.

Although the strength of the film is in Swank and Rockwell's story there are a few supporting performances of note. Clea DuVall and Juliette Lewis give us two examples of Kenny's relationships with women (they help put him in jail). Michele Messmer is Kenny and Betty Anne's far less than perfect mother. And Peter Gallagher, as a lawyer for the Innocence Project, has a small role as one of the few who help Betty Anne in her struggle.

Conviction is far from your typical legal drama. It isn't Betty Anne's legal prowess, vast experience, or legal chicanery that helps prove her brother's innocence. There are no big courtroom twists or antics and no surprise witnesses appearing at the last minute. Instead it's her belief in Kenny's innocence, her perseverance, and an inability to accept defeat that wins the day.

My only real complaint with the film is the lack of perspective from the police officer (Melissa Leo) responsible for the conviction. I have no doubt the family sees her as the main villain of the piece, as she is directly responsible for Kenny's time in prison, but given the time and effort into other aspects of the story some clarification or investigation into her motivations other than the conclusion she's simply evil would have been nice. It's one of the only times the film relies on an easy, over-simplistic answer. Other than this aberration, Conviction acknowledges the harder truth makes a far more engrossing story.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home – Oracle

The Insider and Oracle attempt to keep Vicki Vale alive before Ra's al Ghul's hit squad (The Seven Men of Death) permanently silences the reporter. Oracle sends the reserves into battle (Batgirl, Manhunter, Man-Bat, Ragman, Hawk and Dove) while the once-and-future Batman tries to keep the nosy reporter alive.

Most of the action works pretty well, even if we are dealing with baddies not really worth caring about (and a few heroes which you could say the same). Although I'm glad for its inclusion, I wish the flashback to the days after Barbara Gordon was shot, including Bruce visiting her in the hospital and a quick montage of her training for her new role as Oracle, were handled a little better.

On the positive side, we do get 32 pages for $3 (not too shabby) and I am glad that this issue lets Barbara correctly recognize and identify Bruce (even if it does take her more pages than I'd like). The ending leads us to a big showdown between Bruce and Ra's in the final "Bruce Wayne: The Road Home" One-shot. Worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Sherlock


Created by former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock takes the famous detective out of Victorian London and into modern day. The first season is currently playing in America on PBS and is available on blu-ray and DVD.

The three episode first season begins with the meeting of Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman) in a loose adaptation of "A Study in Scarlet" titled "A Study in Pink." Aside from introducing the characters to us, and each other, this first episode begins the Holmes and Watson partnership as the pair hunt down a killer on the streets of London.

The second episode is a puzzle mystery as Holmes and Watson struggle against a clock to decipher a mysterious code spray-painted messages and uncover a Chinese smuggling ring. The third episode gives us the theft of important government papers, a serial killer who taunts Holmes and the police with clues before blowing up his victims, and the first confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty (Andrew Scott).

Cumberbatch is a terrific choice for this Holmes, balancing the character's keen intellect and rough edges without making Sherlock unlikable. It makes me wonder what he would have been like as The Doctor (the role eventually went to Matt Smith). I also enjoyed the disdain and jealousy most of Scotland Yard feels towards the detective who they believe is only slightly better than the maniacs he helps apprehend.

Freeman is a fine choice for Watson and the pair have great on-screen chemistry. Several other mainstays make appearances here including the woman Watson will eventually walk down the aisle (Zoe Telford), Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), and what Holmes wouldn't be complete without an Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves).

Although I enjoyed the characters and their relationships immensely, Sherlock is not without a few flaws. The mysteries themselves aren't great, and the third episode, in many ways, plays like a bad Hollywood action flick. Also troubling is how quickly Moriarty is not only mentioned, but revealed. Remember, this is a character that makes one appearance in all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.

Even with these issues Sherlock is still definitely worth a look. Great characters, witty dialogue, and the right feel for the characters makes this a good beginning for the series. I just a little more of the talents going into the characters was present in the mystery of the week as well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kick-Ass 2 #1


The sequel to Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s comic about a geeky teen turned super-hero begins here.

In a questionable choice, Millar plays with events just enough that both those who came in from either reading the first series or seeing the feature film adaptation will both be up to speed. Mark isn't with Katie, but Mindy is living with Marcus (as the film suggested) and not with her mother (as told at the end of the first mini-series).

If the first series was about solitary heroes, this new story arc seems to be about teams. Here Mark meets new heroes who have formed their own kind of league (and we get flashes of a promised big epic super-team good vs. evil throwdown in Times Square).

It's a solid first issue and the look and voice of the characters remain, but... For a comic called Kick-Ass this one doesn't really. I'm sure there's plenty of that to come, but this first issue is far more introspection than action, and those wanting to get to the good stuff will have to wait at least one more issue.

[Marvel $2.99]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror

The latest episode of Chuck reunites Chuck (Zachary Levi) with his long lost mother (Linda Hamilton), who claims to be a deepcover double-agent. Frost proposes to help the CIA recover a terror-inducing nerve toxin to prove her loyalty. The result? Chuck gets shot in the heart (literally). And that's just the beginning.


What Works: The episodes final twist allowing the true intentions of Frost to remain a mystery at least for another week. Morgan's (Joshua Gomez) use in the field as "the magnet." The nerve toxin. It may be a little too Bat-villain  for some, but it worked for at least the first two-thirds of the episode. Elle's (Sarah Lancaster) reaction at the end of the episode. Chuck's conversation with his mother on the way to the docks, and his explanation to Sarah about how he go there ("My mom dropped me off.")

What Doesn't: The Aisle of Terror (part of Lester and Jeff's Halloween decorations). Yeah, I know its ridiculousness is supposed to be funny, but how it's used to trap the evil scientist (guest-star Robert Englund) comes off flat. Overall, the entire middle of the episode isn't nearly as strong as its opening and closing scenes.

Final Word: For such an important episode to the overall season arc this one is a slight disappointment, but there's still plenty here to enjoy.

The Lorax coming to the big screen?


It seems every few years Hollywood execs get together to delute a beloved Dr. Seuss tale with an overly long, often insipid, adaptation. (Anyone remember How the Grinch Stole Christmas?) Critics bemoan, audiences are split, and the film is quickly forgotten... until the process begins again a couple of years later. (Anyone remember The Cat in the Hat?)

The tale of The Lorax is my favorite Seuss story. I have very mixed feelings for the animated adaptation that lengthens the original tale and throws in some unnecessary song and dance numbers to what is a moral lesson concerning the effects of unchecked industrialization and greed on nature and the environment. I'm even less sure of a full-length feature starring Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Zac Efron, and Danny DeVito as the voice of the Lorax.

If not ruined, embellished, dumbed-down, or lengthened and stretched too far, the tale could give us a great fable with a lesson every more important today than when the book was first published. Then again, it could be The Cat and the Hat all over again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hereafter


"How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
-James T. Kirk

When I first heard the concept behind Clint Eastwood's latest film, Hereafter, I was confused. I wondered why Eastwood was taking on a project that seemed more suited to M. Night Shyamalan. Although ghosts play a role, the film is far from a ghost story. Instead, what Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan deliver is a drama focused on how death touches, and changes, the lives of three disparate individuals.

The film is structured as three separate tales which will inevitably weave together in the final act. A French newswoman (Cécile De France) deals with the consequences after a near-death experience. A young child attempts to move on after death of his twin brother (both parts are played by Frankie McLaren and George McLaren) and the separation from his mother (Lyndsey Marshal). A psychic (Matt Damon) who has renounced his gift with communicating with the dead is pressured by others to use his abilities.

Hereafter is a solid film with some terrific moments and performances. It's not afraid to throw in a few emotionally gut-wrenching punches at the audience and still ask them almost immediately move on to the next scene. The film begins with an impressive CGI sequence as a tsunami lays waste to a beach community. Marie (De France) is brought back to life, but her views about life and death are shaken by images, real or imagined, that she witnessed while she was dead.

George, the character who knows death the most intimately, spends all his effort to ignore it by controlling his life through a low stress job, an obsession with Charles Dickens, and by regular activities such as taking a weekly cooking class. The pressure from his brother (Jay Mohr) to use his gift for profit and a possible new romantic interest (Bryce Dallas Howard) create complications he's not prepared to deal with.

Although the tale itself is somewhat simple, each character reacting (or refusing to deal with) their experiences, the bar is raised by terrific performances across the board. Although the least grounded in reality, Damon's is the best story (and includes a great supporting role for Howard). Cécile De France, however, gives the film's best performance as a woman who's life has become untethered as her new outlook puts strain on both her job and relationship (Thierry Neuvic). In much the same way the storyline of the twins shows the difficulty of continuing on after losing what, at the character's age, amounts to half of himself.

Hereafter isn't without a few flaws. The film's biggest strength is how it allows each of the main characters to live messy, complicated lives. Given this, the film's final act which wraps up all three stories into happy endings with a nice bow on top, comes off forced, and even a tad hollow.

Hereafter also has a need to handhold the audience when it's not really necessary. This includes some questionable music cues, and some unnecessary scenes of exposition which attempt to shoehorn the world's skepticism of life after death into a story that doesn't, and shouldn't, need that perspective to be successful.

For a film about death, ghosts, and loss, the film stays away from clichéd suspense/horror moments in favor of stark drama. It's only when the story begins to preach to the audience, or come to easy conclusions, that the story stalls. Even with these issues it's an easy recommendation to make. It's certainly not Eastwood's best film but it is filled with strong performances and powerful emotional moments that make it worth a trip to the theater.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Superman/Batman #77

I don't know what the odds for me not only liking an issue of Superman/Batman but REALLY liking it are, but it helps if the team-up involves Supergirl and Damian.

After discovering a mass grave in Metropolis Supergirl heads to Gotham only to find both Batman and Red Robin out involved with other cases - leaving Robin as her only choice for help. As you might guess, she's less than enthusiastic.

There's a lot to like here including Damian taunting Killer Croc while chained in a Gotham sewer, the ridiculous disguise her procures for Kara when the two go undercover at a Halloween party, and Dick's incessant teasing when Supergirl drops him back off at home. I also liked the slowing growing grudging respect between the two characters. No, they don't like each other, but that doesn't mean they don't work well together.

Much like in her recent appearance in Batgirl, I think Kara plays much better against another character than flying solo (of course part of that could just be the yawn-inspiring tales she has to put up with in her own book). With either Batgirl or here with Damian, she really shines. This one’s definitely worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Batman Beyond #5

The latest issue is a bit of a mess, but it does have its moments. On the plus side the final panel of the last issue painting Dick Grayson and the new Hush is quickly swept away. It's not Dick, it's his clone. Clone? That's right! More clones! (Maybe he should call himself the Scarlet Dark Knight?)

It seems, in an effort to keep a Batman around, Amanda Waller and Cadmus (with the help of Thomas Elliot's granddaughter) cloned Grayson and,as things are want to do in monster stories, something went wrong.

My favorite moment of the story is the short conversation between Dick and Barbara Gordon after both have learned the truth about Cadmus and the clone. I really hope the series finds a way to keep Dick around and bring him back into the fold.

We also lean the new Catwoman's identity and Bruce and Terry have a nice bonding moment. It's not a great issue, and some of the clone's super-villain banter is way too forced, but for all-encompassing Bat-fans it might still be worth a look. Hit-and-Miss.

[DC $2.99]

Daredevil #511

Events of Shadowland seem to be on hold here as this issue catches up with the "little people" in Matt Murdock's life. Private eye Dakota North talks with Detective Kurtz before setting out to save Becky Blake from the rioters and hysteria. Matt Murdock's former bosom buddy Foggy Nelson works his way into the heart of Shadowland (with all the stealth he's known to possess over the years?) in a final attempt to save his friend from the madness that has taken him and is now engulfing all of Hell's Kitchen.

How dumb is Shadowland? The ridiculousness of Foggy Nelson getting through the riots, the cops, the ninja and into the belly of the beast (so to speak) doesn't even rank on the most absurd moments of this storyline. For a Shadowland comic this one's not bad, but then again that's a pretty low standard. Here where given a Daredevil comic where Daredevil (even a demon-infested one) makes only a token appearance. Pass.

[Marvel $2.99]

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Power Girl #17

Batman helps Power Girl track down Benjamin Vitale, the sixth most prosperous arms dealer in the world, who has stolen a Cybernetic Re-Adaptive Stimulant Humanoid.

Sadly Batman only stays around for the first few pages. I say sadly because it's Power Girl's thoughts about Dick and the interplay between the two that works best. I like Kara's take on Dick, and love her comment about how much he sounds like Bruce when he tries to look out for her (and how much he doesn't when he offers a joke before he swings off into the night).

That's not to say the rest of the issue involving a confused Power Girl fighting a fetishized weirdo in the Antarctic isn't fun ('cause you know it is). The fight itself works well as the does the "surprise" ending (which you should be able to guess).

The next issue should have another big throwdown and more answers, but this issue works well on its own (mostly for the early scenes with Batman). Worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beta Ray Bill Statue by Bowen Designs

I've never been a hughe Beta Ray Bill fan but I've always liked the character, and I've got to say this statue is pretty damn sweet.

Who you gonna call to take care of the ghost who walks?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home - Batgirl

Out of all the Bruce Wayne: The Road Home One-shots so far this is my favorite. Fans of the regular Batgirl comic will get what they've come to know and love including some great comedic back-and-forth between Stephanie Brown and Oracle (and Stephanie and Proxy), including one scene which teases something I've been waiting for DC to touch on for months - why isn't Batgirl in the Birds of Prey?

To get back to the story, Batgirl shows up to stop an intruder at Waynetech Research, one she seems sure is Amazo. If you've been reading these you know it's in fact Bruce Wayne moving behind-the-scenes as well as testing various members of the Bat-family.

It is interesting that of all the members of the Bat-family to learn Bruce Wayne is alive only Tim Drake and Alfred learn before Batgirl. Sometime during Bruce's absence, and with only a couple crossovers, this new Batgirl has become an integral and shining light of the Bat-family. I enjoyed Bryan Q. Miller allowing Stephanie to ramble on defending her right to keep the cowl, but not nearly as much as Bruce's reaction to Alfred standing up for her.

And I must give a huge shout-out to Pere Perez who knows how to draw this Batgirl in action (not to mention the humorous goof out of costume) with terrific results. There are several panels here worth going back and looking over multiple times.

Those unfamiliar with Stephanie Brown's past as the Spoiler and her less-than-friendly relationship to Bruce Wayne get s couple of quick flashbacks before she finally wins Bruce's respect only to... well, I won't spoil it. There's also a quick mention of former Batgirl Cassandra Cain, who I can't say I've missed, and what she's been doing in recent months. I'll agree with Bruce on this one, Stephanie Brown has done the name of Batgirl proud, "reminding me of the original Batgirl in more ways than one." Must-read.

[DC $2.99]

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home - Batman and Robin


Even if The Return of Bruce Wayne mini-series isn't finished yet, it seems like the original Batman is back in action...sort of. In the first of a series of one-shots Bruce Wayne sticks to the shadows as the mysterious "Insider," checking in on various members of the Bat-family to gauge the readiness and test their abilities.

This issue finds Bruce offering some high praise to Dick Grayson (in narration) for not only taking on the mantle of Batman and wearing it with such confidence, but also making it his own. He also gives Dick high marks for how well Damian is performing as Robin.

As with the other one-shots the thread of Vicki Vale's search for proof of Batman's real identity continues as she has dinner with Thomas Elliot and realizes for the first time the man parading himself around Gotham as Bruce Wayne is anything but.

The most interesting thing about these one-shots is who Bruce decides to tell he is back. He doesn't let on to either Dick or Damian, but does reveal himself to Tim Drake (here) and a few select others.

Even if the issue jumps the timeline of Bruce Wayne/Batman's return up faster than the rest of the DCU seems ready for, it's still a good read, and worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Superman #703


Sorry Supes, but I agree with Batman on this one. You seriously need to chill out.

Wow. Just, wow. This might be the most hamfisted story writer J. Michael Straczynski has ever written (and if you've seen the last couple seasons of Babylon 5 you know that's not an easy thing to accomplish).

After an opening scene where Superman basically tortures a random citizen we move straight into the Man of Steel lecturing Batman about needing to look out for the little people. Take a moment and think about that. Superman lecturing Batman about looking out for average citizens. Really? REALLY?!

If that isn't enough we get the exact doomsday scenario Dick suggests could happen (Superman being attacked by a super-powered crazy in the middle of small town/suburban America) - in the same issue!

Now I hated what little I read of the whole New Krypton storyline but this "Grounded" arc is about as ridiculous a Superman tale as you can get. The last son of Krypton refusing to fly (unless he feels like it - like he does multiple times in this issue) and wandering the Earth in his self-righteous stupor may have sounded like a good idea to some (to who I have absolutely no idea), but it needs to end. Now.

The only reason to pick up this issue is to marvel at the ridiculousness of every single panel. At a price tag of $4, trust me, it's not worth it. Pass.

[DC $3.99]

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Shadowland #4 (of 5)


With this issue Andy Diggle's Shadowland moves one merciful step closer to a conclusion. To recap: Matt Murdock has been fully possessed by a "The Beast" of the Hand making him stronger, faster, deadlier, (and forcing the horns on his costume to grow?).

Issue #4 brings The Avengers sneaking into the Hand's temple with the help of Elektra with the single purpose of taking their former friend down. Things don't go exactly as planned (even with Wolverine going all stabby-stabby on the man without fear).

Oh, and Daredevil (or the Beast, or whatever you want to call him) has decided to resurrect Bullseye and make him an agent of the Hand. Gee, I wonder who could possibly have forseen that. And the Kingpin begins moving into position to grab power once the dust settles.

Other than the Avengers getting their butts handed to them by DD and the magic ninjas (well, what would you call them?) there's really not much here. But at least we're one step closer to finally ending this once promising but poorly executed mini-event. That's something, right?

[Marvel $3.99]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the subject of Spider-Man continuity


This Calvin and Hobbes-style comic fom ninjaink (entitled “Peter and Uncle Ben“) with text by Mark Pellegrini and art by Timothy Lim, may be a little too on-the-nose for some Spidey fans but it’s a pretty spot-on summarization of the crap Marvel has expected Spider-Man readers to accept over the past few years.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Never Let Me Go

Most of us never know what our purpose is or why we're here. The same can't be said of the characters of http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1334260/, adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name. As children they understand more about their roles in the world than most who live a full century.

The story is told through the perspective of Kathy H. (Carey Mulligan) thinking back over her childhood at Hailsham boarding school and her two best friends Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley). Hailsham isn't your average school. And these aren't your average youngsters. Here the guardians (not teachers or headmistresses) encourage the children's creative expression, enforce strict discipline, and prepare the students for a life already chosen for them.

The students live a sheltered life with almost no interaction or direct knowledge of the outside world, and under no circumstances do they ever attempt to leave the grounds (even to grab a ball hit over the fence). To an outside observer their existence is, at times, incredibly depressing, but to the children themselves this is simply what is, and has always been. For example, the happiest day of the year at Hailsham is when the children can spend their hard-earned tokens to buy donated used toys and other assorted items donated to the school.

The story takes place over three time periods - the early years at Hailsham, the time as young adults in cottages in the country, and the present (during their mid-to-late twenties). There are two constants in each of these periods: Kathy's and Tommy's unstated love for each other (and the awkwardness of their friendship given Tommy's romantic relationship with Lucy), and the knowledge that their time together is limited with great sacrifice to come.

I've spent a fair amount of time skirting around the film's secret (which is revealed within it's first 25 minutes), which I'll discuss next. If you'd like to view the movie without knowing simply jump down past the SPOILERS for the rest of the review.

*SPOILERS*

The children, and the audience, learn the truth of their existence through Sally Hawkins's role as the teacher who explains to an entire classroom that they will never grow up to be doctors, lawyers, or race car drivers. Their futures will be short, their purpose already determined. Not long after reaching full adulthood a process will be started where they will be expected to donate their vital organs so that others might live. This process will continue through a minimum of four operations or when each meets their "completion" (the euphemism used for death).

Although the film deftly never breathes the word "clones" that's exactly who and what these children are. They were created with a singular purpose to become organ donors and save the lives of "real" human beings.

The film's choice to present its reality through the Kathy and her friends' limited world view and childlike logic is heartbreaking. The characters keep a sense of wonder but they lack the life experience and knowledge to make, or truly understand, hard decisions.

Although they understand their fate, and hope to delay the inevitable as long as possible, none of our characters ever question their circumstances or rail against the system that has put them in the position, and the possibility of escape is never considered, let alone attempted. The film definitely has a British stoicism. Unlike similar Hollywood tales about clones focused on freedom and escape (see The Island) this one has definite focus on reality, duty, necessity, and the inevitability of death.

There are a couple of subtle touches to emphasize themes of the tale including the increasing use of clocks in the film's third time period, showing us how the time for each of these characters is running out. One of my favorite moments in the film is one that you'd miss if you're not careful. When Tommy and Kathy come across one of the women from Hailsham who feels sorry for their situation she offers a kind yet chilling word of comfort, not referring to the pair as poor children, but "poor creatures."

*END OF SPOILERS*

I do love me some Keira Knightley, and she's good here, but the film is Mulligan's to carry and she does a superb job. I wouldn't be surprised if Oscar knocks on her door with another nomination. Her character, from childhood on, is the most aware of the group and is often forced to state the obvious (and often brutal) truth when her friends can't understand or accept the obvious.

The younger versions of our three main characters are all well-cast: Izzy Meikle-Small as Kathy, Ella Purnell as Ruth, Charlie Rowe as Tommy. Not only do all have a strong physical resemblance to their older counterparts, each give strong performances as well.

I do have a minor quibble or two with the film, mostly dealing with its overly melodramatic moments (especially a few of the music cues hamfistedly trumpeting their importance). There is also an awkward moment between Mulligan and Knightley late on night that serves as the catalyst for necessary story change but comes off more like a scene from a teen soap opera than a weighty drama. These moments don't ruin the film by any means, but they are so labored they stand out more than they should in a tale that otherwise feels so natural.

Even at it supplies some harsh truths, and more than a couple emotionally brutal scenes, Never Let Me Go doesn't force itself to become a moral tale. The film just looks at the logical costs of such a world and the effects on those who would be the ones to give everything they are. The film isn't interesting in preaching or shocking the audience, only presenting a compelling tale with implications into the world of these characters, and, perhaps, a world in which one day we may live.

Secretariat



Disney gets a lot of grief for these feel-good sports movies that tend to up the schmaltz and oversimplify the story. Say what you want about them, they usually have a hellova lot of heart and are (at least a little) smarter than their critics give them credit for.

I'll freely admit to liking my fair share of Disney's past attempts at recreating period sports films (Miracle, Invincible, Cool Runnings, The Rookie). It is with regret then that I inform you that Secreteriat, a film about a horse with a heart more than double the size of a normal horse, lacks anything resembling heart.

For the better part of its near two-hour running time it also lacks style, brains, and cinematic craftsmanship. Although the film gives credit to Elizabeth Ham (Margo Martindale) for naming the horse it never specifically states what the name is supposed to mean. If the film is any indication the definition of Secretariat is the absence or antithesis of subtlety. This movie would make a punch in the face feel somehow understated.

The tale of housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) and the greatest horse the sport has ever known has been boiled down to empty platitudes, dialogue so corny it's best reserved for old episodes of Hee Haw, and lessons so thoroughly stuffed one's throat it's hard not to gag.

The film isn't so much awful as incredibly mediocre and poorly made. Lane is a wonderful actress, but you'd hardly know it from this performance. Most of the rest of the cast fits into one-note caricatures: John Malkovich is the crazy one, Nelsan Ellis is the wise kindly Negro, Kevin Connolly is the loving husband who doesn't know how to support his wife, and Scott Glenn is trapped in a role that barely requires a pulse. Throw in some clunky biblical narration, just enough "cute' hippie rebellion, and countless shots of the sun setting, and you've got one mess of a movie.

That's not to say the film is all bad. Things do pick up in the final act - when the focus turns more to the horse on the track than the melodrama elsewhere. Speaking of the horse, he gives the film's best, and only realistic, performance. The races themselves are recreated with a skill that seems to be lacking in every other shot of the film, and I'll even give a kind word for the shaky horsey cam that adds some interesting shots from the jockey's perspective and (thankfully) isn't overused.

The entire film just feels flat. Maybe it's the corny dialogue or perhaps its the hamfisted structure of the story, but Secretariat doesn't resonate the way it should. Many of this type of overly schmaltzy sports films get by in balancing that with some strong performances and real emotion. Sadly, in this race, Secretariat isn't a winner.

It's Kind of a Funny Story


If you've ever thought what was really missing from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was a teen's perspective then It's Kind of a Funny Story might be what you're looking for. Although not in the same class with Cuckoo's Nest, this film adapted from Ned Vizzini's novel of the same name by writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck may speak to the current generation dealing with the stress and pressure parents and society seem to heap on them with from birth.

Depressed, stressed-out, and contemplating suicide, early on a Sunday morning troubled teen Craig (Keir Gilchrist) decides to check himself into a psychic ward for observation - a decision he almost immediately regrets. For five days Craig spends time in the loony bin learning about himself and the other patients.

The residents of the ward are about what you'd expect. Those Craig gets to learn best are the funny yet troubled Bobby (Zach Galifianakis), the lovely but suicidal Noelle (Emma Roberts), and his roommate Muqtada (Bernard White) who refuses to leave his bed, let alone the room.

Viola Davis also has a nice turn as the psychiatrist given the task to try and discover what prompted this youngster in a good school, a bright future, and a loving family (Lauren Graham, Jim Gaffigan, Dana DeVestern) to feel the urge to end his life.

Gilchrist is well-cast as the confused Craig who internally funnels all his stress over a summer school project, college, his crush on his best friend's girl (Zoë Kravitz) and complete lack of knowing what to do with his life. Although Galifianakis provides most of the film's best comedic moments, and Roberts does well as the strong yet fragile love-interest, this is Gilchrist's film to carry, and he succeeds - when the script stays out of his way.

The script still feels rather rough in spots, almost rushed; it could have used at least one more rewrite (preferably two). The film isn't always able to balance the serious issues of some very damaged individuals with its need for to entertain and lighten scenes with humor.

Some of these moments work quite well such as Craig's flashback to drawing as a child or his fantasy of Nia (Kravitz) in a tub, but some are overused (sneaking around the hospital) or aren't nearly as funny as the writers thought they were (Craig's karaoke fantasy and his projectile vomiting).

Far too often a script that wants to be edgy gives into the obvious and ridiculous (not to mention insulting to the audience). Craig won't be able to leave until he's leaned about himself, but is it really necessary for him to change the lives of not only all of his fellow inmates but make his school friends better people as well? Nothing is really in doubt here, and when the movie teases more complex issues (such as Bobby's situation) we know it's an empty gesture that won't lead anywhere except happily ever after.

It's Kind of a Funny Story isn't exactly ground-breaking (or even that original), but it does add it's own take on a well-tread subject. I'd have preferred if the film either chosen to up the absurdity or stay with a more realistic drama. The merging of the two doesn't always work, but the strength of the performances makes it a marginal recommendation - maybe more so for teens facing similar issues.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Secret Six #26

After Bane makes some new friends by removing a few of the locals heads and limbs the two squads finally meet in the jungles of Skartaris. And then things get really interesting - especially for Bane and Scandal who square off against each other in a fight that ends bloody and may have lasting effects on the make up of the team.

Also in this issue Catman and his team fight a sea monster (to the utter delight of Rag Doll), and there's a pretty intense confrontation between Amanda Waller and Spy Smasher over the Six's involvement in Skartaris.

A pretty good read from writer Gail Simone, with lots of bloody action courtesy of artist J. Calafiore. Worth a look.

[DC Comics $2.99]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Mentalist - The Complete Second Season

More of the same here as California Bureau of Inestigation continues to put more criminals behind bars in the second season of The Mentalist. Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) makes astonishing deductions while infuriating everyone around, including Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and her team, while bending (if not breaking) the law.

This five-disc set includes a new agent (Terry Kinney) taking over the Red John case, murder in the CBI offices, Jane getting sent to prison and found in contempt of court (in separate episodes), the death of the aide to a state senator (Fay Masterson), a religious cult led by Malcolm McDowell, a biker gang, a haunted house, murder on a Native American reservation, the murder of an assistant district attorney (Rachel Montez Collins), a jewel heist, Firefly's Sean Maher shows up as an eco-terrorist, and murders at a baseball camp and high school reunion.

There a couple of changes and challenges for the team this year including a new head of the CBI (Aunjanue Ellis), Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti) acting on their feelings towards each other, Cho's (Tim Kang) past comes back to haunt him, and Jane deals with his brother-in-law's (David Warshofsky) involvement a murder and his feelings for a psychic (Leslie Hope) he's got a little thing for.

The extras include deleted scenes, real-life mentalist Luke Jermay breaking down a scene with director/executive producer Chris Long, and several featurettes with Jermay interacting with cast members showcasing the various "mentalist" methods used on the show.

All told, a solid season. If you enjoyed the first this one should fit nicely next to it on your DVD shelf.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deadpool...


...thinks that was awesome.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is an asshole, or he's at least trying his damnedest to be one. That seems to be the central point of The Social Network which gives us a traditional tale (genius without people skills, rise to power by stepping on your friends) with a fresh take, several good performances, and some darn fine dialogue by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

In the film director David Fincher and Sorkin team-up to adapt Ben Mezrich's 2009 nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires about Zuckerberg's life and the creation of a little thing called Facebook (maybe you've heard of it?). The film tackles everything from friendship to cut-throat business tactics and class warfare.

We begin with a lengthy pre-credit scene involving Zuckerberg's break-up with his girlfriend Rooney Mara which will lead to the drunken creation of his first social networking site later that night, and lay the foundation for the later creation of Facebook. It's a great scene to start, though both actors seem to struggle initially with the pace and tempo of a very wordy Sorkin scene.

The film is structured between flashbacks of the events surrounding Facebook's creation and success with two later lawsuits Zuckerberg faced involving his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer - providing the face of each twin through CGI, and Josh Pence as the stand-in) each of whom claim Zuckerberg screwed them over. According to the film, they have excellent cases.

The Social Network makes quite a few interesting choices, some of which may cost them at the box office but help craft the film's style. The first is to allow Eisenberg to play the film's main character as an unrelenting, and completely unlikable, self-centered bastard. There's no redemption for this geek who who sacrifice anything, and anyone, in his quest to be cool.

The second is to allow the nerdiness and technical expertise of the enterprise to be shown, but not always explained. During Zuckerberg's early drunken programming sessions the film shows us not only his writing code but the mathematical formula behind one of the processes without ridiculous visuals (see Hackers) or dumbed-down techno-speak (see most Hollywood films).

And third, the script decides to not overplay on the celebrity or the importance of Facebook more than is necessary to explain what it is and why it is so valuable. If you're not a fan/user of the social media site there's nothing here to prompt you to seek it out.

Eisenberg is tasked to carry the film and constantly act as self-centered as humanly possible. He succeeds on both counts. Garfield has the harder role playing the friend of such an individual who accepts Zuckerberg's many faults - until he's burned by them. Hammer is terrific in the dual role that includes many of the film's funniest lines. Justin Timberlake has a memorable role as Napster creator Sean Parker, by far thesleaziest character of the film, and craziest with the possible exception of Brenda Song as the stereotypical bat-shit crazy girlfriend.

The Social Network is a good film with some great moments. It's solid throughout and an easy recommendation. I enjoyed myself, even if I felt the ending was a little unsatisfying. It has much to say on current business culture, the costs of friendship, technological innovation, and programmers such as Zuckerberg. In a strong year it's likely The Social Network could get overlooked, but it finds itself in a position that could allow it to make a little noise come award season.