Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'M MOVING! UPDATE YOUR BOOKMARKS / FEEDS!

This blog was an awesome place for me to do what I did with it for a while. But now, I'm going to do all of my short-form, miscellaneous blogging, including pop culture reviews, at another site. It's called:

GIANT DANGEROUS SCIENCE!!

Go there to see my music, movie and book reviews, along with some critical writing on random subjects and a lot of other videos and stories of all types from around the internet. Go check it out! And thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Kingdom Come," a Comic Book

There is a lot to love about this title. The first thing is that Alex Ross's paintings and art are really beautiful. You may have seen some of his work on covers for Marvel and DC, but I think this is really some of the best art in a superhero comic book I have seen.

The next thing to love is how dense the mythology is in this book. And not just from a DC comics perspective, but from a bible perspective. The story draws really heavily from Revelations imagery and end-of-the-world doomieness to give the story weight. It's a really densely packed work.

I think what troubles me about a lot of DC graphic anthologies is that they don't have the kind of impact that the creators want them to as a result of their weird continuity problems. I guess it just bothers me that I've read dozens of stories for how Superman gave up on his superness to be just a man, and all of them are interesting and fun, but it doesn't have the same impact when I know it's just a sort of intellectual exercise.

Though actually, I know I like those intellectual exercises in a lot of other contexts.  Maybe it has more to do with what I expect from superhero comics, specifically the superheros I already know well from the light-weight serials I'm used to. Maybe I expect something a little more ephemeral because of the tone and continuity of those serials, so I see even the apocalyptic, dark story here as grasping at a solidness or severity it can't manage. I'll probably have to try to read it again without getting bogged down in those expectations. I'll wait to make a real rating.

The Recent Remake of "The Crazies"

"The Crazies" is originally a film by George Romero, and his prints are still all over this remake. But I guess I'll address that in a moment. Let me first say that this movie is NOT genius, and I am biased towards it for a variety of reasons.

For one, I really like zombie-like movies, meaning movies that pit humanity against a slowly advancing plague of horrificness, revealing the real grit underneath the veneer of civilization and the real nuts and bolts of people and society. This is in no way a great example of zombie film, but it is a movie that borrows a lot from that way of making films.

The faults of this movie, in fact, are mostly caused by the fact that it really isn't a zombie movie. The enemies in this film are somewhat sophisticated, making battles against them and flight from them feel more like a war movie than like a creeping horror movie.

And I guess that is no accident. This movie is maybe most accurately classed as a military horror story. That's not only because of the fact that the McGuffin in this movie is related to the military and their presumed power over the citizenry. It also has a lot to do with how the film structures its drama. The most high-tension points feel half cribbed from military films and half cribbed from zombie movies.

Which is cool, but it also leads to the whole venture feeling slightly disjointed and not as important or coherent as it could be. It still has some really great tense moments, some really beautiful desolation scenery (recalling "The Road" and "The Book of Eli"), and some really fantastic music. But it all ends up being only worth the time spent watching it, no more. (Come to think of it, a lot like those two other films.)

As far as Romero is concerned, the movie sticks to its Romero-esque guns by having an ending that isn't neatly wrapped up and reeks of the downfall of all of humanity. The movie sort of chickens out, though, which makes it feel a little less gut-wrenching than any of Romero's work, even his weakest efforts.

All told, it's a solid film, with a lot to offer a viewer, but not a lot to offer cinema or even the zombie-like-apocalypse genre. Fun, but not important, and obviously trying for, and falling short of, important in some respects. 5 stars? These middle-of-the-road, only-ok movies are hard to rate.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Dollhouse," An Overview of my Feelings About the Show

"Dollhouse" is one of those shows that sort of sneaks up on you. In a lot of ways, too. For instance, the show starts its first season with a few episodes that are fascinating in their concept and do a decent job as a sci-fi / action show of isolated episodes. But by the middle of the season, the show has hit you with some really surprising complexities of that premise and some more character development.

By the time the show reveals the major bad guy of the season, you're fully hooked, caring deeply about some of the characters and realizing the depth of the problem of shifting and changeable personalities in "willing" volunteers. Finally, the last episode of the season reveals a dark, disastrous future that shows the inevitable destructive power of the technology that has become the driving force of the show's premise.

The season ends, and all you can think is, this just got insanely more complicated and interesting. It's nothing like what you expected from those first few action episodes. A major surprise.

Then it starts all over with season two, which takes a few episodes before it starts producing action packed episode after action packed episode, each one deepening the psychological and identity issues so important to the show. With the apocalyptic future in the background, we know what each new episode is leading to, and that makes the whole experience get increasingly tense and chill-inducing.

When all is said and done, the show has deeply explored all of the issues it set out to explore and offered surprise after surprise. All that is left is the final episode, which plays less like a climactic finale and more like a glimpse into the perfect character resolutions for everyone we've come to care about.

It's a show that, from humble beginnings as an interesting action show, rose to become the most deeply disturbing and satisfying show about mind and identity yet made. Watching it makes us question what makes us ourselves, how important those question are to our humanity, and what happens when we stop thinking about those questions. Season one is a nine out of ten. Season two is a perfect ten.

(And look! I didn't even have to qualify any of this as "Joss Whedon's Best" or " incredibly sci-fi" or anything! It's an unqualified ten!)

Roman Polanski's New Movie, "The Ghost Writer"

You know, I tried starting this review a few times, with some stuff about why I generally don't like political thrillers, and how this film rises above those problems and manages to still deliver. But that's really misleading. Because really, this movie doesn't deliver on the political thriller side of things. It manages to pack a pretty severe punch despite that, and I'll talk about that at the end. But first, I'll talk about the political thriller aspects that this film manages to do either wrong or boringly.

First of all, when filmmakers want to inject some realism into their story about politics, they try to bring in real people or archival footage or news networks that we all recognize. Not only does this film use almost zero archival footage, it uses only fake news networks with news segments that don't even look that real). Worse, we even see a Condoleezza Rice lookalike at one point. It's really dissapointing when a political movie that is supposed to feel either set in the real world or one that is believable in its difference fgrom the real world, this movie feels like it takes place in the universe of a bad episode of "24." Not quite real enough.

The next big mistake is kind of artless exposition. Granted, it's hard to make a web browsing / google searching sequence feel interesting. This movie makes a strong effort but still falls slightly short. Basically all of the inner workings of the political intrigue are revealed via web browser and voice over in one scene.

Another big mistake: the political message being pretty undefined or hard to follow. "The Informant" suffers from this one, and "Michael Clayton" gets it almost exactly right. This movie clearly has a message about how power corrupts or how governments use people to accomplish things, but it isn't clearly encapsulated.

So the film suffers from a lot of the usual flaws of political intrigue movies. But here's the thing: in terms of craft, this movie is almost perfect.

The camera work is fluid, interesting, and surprising. The pacing is masterful. The suspenseful scenes are REALLY suspenseful. Beautiful color, composition, settings, and music. And the performances by Olivia Williams (my new favorite actress and "Dollhouse" star!) and Ewan McGregor are really nuanced and interesting. And despite how unclear it is why we should care about the plot's resolution, we still care a huge amount about the characters at the center of this whole episode. Polanski has managed to make a film that feels important even while it feels like it hasn't said anything.

So I guess all I can say is if you are way into messages or important stories or political commentary, the movie is a failure. But if you are into the craft of film-making and how well stories are told, the movie is a huge success. I'm way into great filmcraft, so for me that makes it an 8 out of 10.

Note that I scored this one higher than "The Departed." Yeah, it's a lot like that movie, but really a lot more interestingly put together.