Joe Rice Media Review 4/9/07

OK, it's obvious now.  I'm getting old.  I've been on Spring Break for, like, a week now?  And I clearly cannot live like I once did anymore (even when I have kinda-permission from my wife).  Today and yesterday were recovery days where the rest of the week finally caught up to me.  And what's sad is that this was no epic debauchery about which tales will be told for generations.  I was out late, like, three nights in a row.  And then yesterday pops up with, "Hey, guess what, unexplainable sore scratchy throat!  And that tea your wife gets you to make it feel better, bless her heart, it's gonna completely destroy your digestive system!"  Ah, the tales I could tell of the sounds, smells, and forms of matter that were released from me yesterday . . .but I guess instead I'll talk about comics, movies, and the like.  So if at any point one of my reviews makes you upset, think to yourself, "He could be talking about diarrhea instead."

I never caught the "Buffy" bug.  In fact, I kind of hated it.  Whedon seemed to be solidly in the Kevins Smith/Williamson school of "dialogue doesn't have to do anything but sound 'cool' to me and have lots of pop culture references."  And, aside from a horrible misquote by the New York Daily News (long story short, a reporter asked me and three friends(Jewish girl, Asian man, gay Mexican man--perfect NYC cross section) to watch the premiere of that show Felicity, after which one of the things I told him was that I wish that Buffy girl, bad as her show was, would come and kick Felicity in the balls; my picture appeared in the paper with "Buffy kick's Felicity's ass!"), I've never enjoyed anything by Whedon and company.  That is, until Serenity and Firefly made me smile.  Still, his comic work, while not awful, hasn't done anything for me.  So it was with great, great trepidation that I tried out Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan's first issue of Runaways.  It isn't bad, per se, but I certainly don't know if I'm going to stick around for long.  Whedon seems to have a decent handle on the characters but something seems off.  The art is competent and tells the story with few distractions but does nothing more.  The most soap-opera-y aspects of the book and characters seem to be amped up while some of the charm goes missing.  I'll give it one more issue to convince me this is a better use of three dollars than it seems.

Speaking of Marvel teen-centered team book beginnings, I thought I'd also try Avengers:  The Initiative.  And while I don't think the coloring works for his style, Stefano Caselli has a real future in drawing comics.  His work is expressive, but detailed where it needs to be.  His characters behave differently and the overall package is attractive.  It's good stuff, though I still think the computer-enhanced sheen on the coloring is distracting.  As for the story, well, at least Kentuckians showed up and behaved and sounded like real people, not retarded Mushmouths ala Claremont.  But CHRIST could this story have been more predictable?  "Here's your batch of new recruits . . .they all suck except for this guy, WHO IS THE BEST GUY EVER!  OK, let's do a dangerous training exercise!"  And the book feels like it might want to satirize . . .something.  Reality TV?  The current US administration/military?  Comic book stereotypes?  All worth (if a little easy) targets but it never quite has the bite satire needs.  And endless lame superhero cameos cannot save this book.  It's pretty obvious where this is going, and it's pretty obvious it's not good enough to warrant even a second issue's purchase.

Garth Ennis trilogy part 1:  OK, so that's how the Punisher gets out of that.  Probably should have seen that coming.  And our interesting/crotchety cop returns.  And we find out a bit more about the mysterious scarred woman.  This comic really is so well-written so consistently that it's almost impossible to review month after month.  It's not the same-old same-old every month, really, but it's strengths and weaknesses don't exactly flop around either.  This is solid pulp, the sort that should be selling well at airports and in "Men's adventure" sections of bookstores, if they still had those.

G.E.T. part 2:  Ghost Rider Trail of Tears, on the other hand, went from being similarly strong to downright confusing this issue.  The fault lies mostly with Clayton Crain, whose muddied, computer-"enhanced" art makes several characters really hard to distinguish.  And Ennis hasn't spent enough time defining them to help.  So I really had no idea what was going on half the time in this book.  I can no longer recommend it.

G.E.T. part 3:  This issue of Midnighter would have a Kazuo Koike feel to it even if it didn't have a badass samurai.  Did I read somewhere this was Ennis' last issue?  If it is, it's a nice send-off.  A sort of alternate-universe Midnighter is shown here, a lethal samurai with amnesia.  The Apollo-equivalent shows up soon enough and it becomes a tragic love story.  A tragic gay samurai love story with lots of action.  Yeah, I'm sure this doesn't quite line up to Edo-period Japan's ideas of homosexuality.  And I'm not sure if, as Jog suggests, this is Ennis' attempt at one of those manga sub-genres--it might be, but I dont know enough about it to critique it from that standpoint.  A good, interesting, beautifully-drawn way to spend a little time and money.

I saw some movies over my break, too.  A couple days ago, my wife, sister-in-law and I went to see Blades of Glory.  I tried, as with other Ferrell comedies that made me laugh my ass off, to expect little.  It kind of worked.  Blades of Glory was fairly funny, with a great cast, but lacked the bite of a Talledega Nights, the latter movie having a much more wicked satirical streak than many realize.  Will Arnett is painfully wasted, and poor Amy Poehler doesn't fare much better.  But Jenna Fischer shows quiet strength in a different way than she does on the Office and Ferrell, as usual, wills himself to funnihood.  I wouldn't really recommend a theater viewing though, but a few beers and a rental DVD sounds about right.

I also saw Grindhouse.  Full digestation of this one might take a bit longer than I've given it, but here are some early thoughts.  Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's half of the films, came off as far superior because it never once took itself too seriously.  It really had the feel of a few smart, funny friends who love movies sitting around, perhaps slightly chemically enhanced, and saying "And you know what else would be awesome?"  And a good deal of the time, yeah, it's awesome.  It's completely stupid, but unlike 300, doesn't try to be serious or important either.  It was quite a bit funnier than I expected, and it totally worked as a comedy-action tribute.  The trailers, too, were exactly what they should be.  Just enough joke/gross-out for five minutes, but definitely not enough for a feature/semi-feature.  Tarantino's half, Death Proof, proves more problematic.  I had hoped that Kill Bill 2's strength had convinced Tarantino his characters could shut the hell up and he'd still be a writer.  But the ENDLESS TALKING in this drove me nuts.  To be fair, part of this could be that I realized I had misunderstood the length of the film and was supposed to be meeting people at a bar about halfway through his film.  But I really don't think we needed the girls talking that much to find them sympathetic.  Now, when Death Proof got going, it was a lot of fun, but it took too damn long.  Tarantino's love letter to stuntwoman Zoe Bell just took itself a bit too seriously a bit too long.  Yes, we get it.  You love these films.  Zoe is awesome!  But are you doing those films OR Zoe any credit by having them talk about boys for half an hour?  Anyway, as a filmic overall experience, It's definitely worth your three hours.  I may not like everything these guys do, but I can't help but admire the hell out of how they're doing exactly what they want.  When the film world would have them either more commercial or more artistic, they stick to their thing and have fun.

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