March 23, 2007

So, whatcha been doin'?

I've been pleasantly surprised with the development of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl since they gave her a bit of a backstory. The writers have done an excellent job of drifting her from a true tabula rasa but with the ability to beat anybody in the DC universe - Batman and Lady Shiva included - in hadn-to-hand combat. The whole trained-by-the-league-of-assasins thing worked for her history. The introduction of her character into the Birds of Prey even worked well as other strong female characters watching out for her.

And I think I like the initial turnings in the new direction in which Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter seems to take her. I'll avoid the plot ruiners, but I will say that I found the developments toward the major change in the character's orientation and loyalties to come along naturally, something that I doubted would work but that seems to roll along almost as though they were obvious.

The artwork throughout the Batgirl series continues to fit the character well as it's more cartoonish than most series - drifting too far only when they employed an artist or two that pushed the tone too far into anime. The younger, more innocent (except for the whole she-could-kill-you-in-a-heartbeat thing) tone of the Batgirl comics, and the writing it fittingly tight.

I'll be curious to see if the new direction holds out for Batgirl (I can't imagine it'll last more than a year at most), but I'd like to be around to see what the first confrontation between Batgirl and Batman will turn out to be.

Man, it doesn't get much darker than Requiem for a Dream, the second film from director Darren Arnofsky (following the phenomenal debut Pi). Requiem sontinues to show that Arnofsky is growing as a director but is clearly a force to be reckoned with. (I'm still looking forward to The Fountain on DVD at some point.)

This film is a tale of four characters and their descent into increasingly desperate drug addiction, and it's not for the faint of heart. I got the edited version from the local library, and I checked on IMDB to see what got left out in the editing process. Seems that the scene where one character sells herself for a fix was even worse than the thoroughly disturbing scene that I got to see - an edit that I'm totally fine with.

We get views of bad-to-disabling trips from the matronly character, withdrawl scenes from the younger characters, moments of ignorant blissfulness in the highs, and jumpy quick cuts for every injection or inhalation.

Arnofsky gives us more than a passing visit into the heads of these chracters as they progress further and further into drug use, using quick cuts, time pauses and rushes, drastic fish-eye lensing to connect us to the sense of disolcation from reality that he wants us to share.

The film is very well made, impressively acted by all involved (including the always lovely Jennifer Connelly whose fall into depravation is no less effectively portrayed or bothersome than are the others.)

[spoiler warning]

By the end of the film, one character has lost her mind, another his freedom, a third his limbs, and the fourth her dignity and sense of self. No one ends happily here, and the movie is very hard to watch because of that.

I certainly didn't enjoy this and can't imagine that it'd be a fun midnight movie.

I've said that I'm steering clear of the X-Men from here on out, but there are two exceptions: New X-Men and Astonishing X-Men. The former involves characters who are new enough that I don't feel like I've been out of the picture for decades when I read their stories, and the latter has characters who have changed so little that I again feel current with the storylines.

Thankfully, New X-Men: Childhood's End doesn't disappoint by continuing to tell a tight, well-crafted tale that is mostly self-contained, not requiring me to go hunting for a dozen other titles in order to enjoy the story.

We continue with the X-Men-in-training New X-Men at the Xavier Academy just after the bus containing their recently-depowered classmates has been hit by a rocket launcher, killing nearly all of those on board. The series has been building to revelations of a grand villianous plot that are reveled in this issue, a bad guy who can see the future and watch the effects of each action he takes as future history, allowing him to kill whomever he sees happens to have already stopped him in the future. It's an interesting premise and one that's played pretty well, particularly when the source of this power is revealed.

New X-Men continues to be a fun read that has a surprising amount of emotional depth. I've enjoyed getting to know and kind of care about these characters as they wander the teenage years with a few more powers than most folks I know.

Time draws short here, and I'm getting tired of writing

Superman of Tomorrw (part 2 and part 1) stunk.

The dialogue is too cute by half with lots of instances where we see voice over in front of a panorama, thinking that the dialogue is coming from one character. In the next scene, however, we see that the dialogue actually was coming from another character who happens to be having the same sorts of issues.

And the artwork is needlessly complicated.

And there's something about Superman being the bad guy because he made some sort of imaginary world in the phantom zone.

Dumb and to be avoided...

Luckily there is 300 to wash away the ick of the Superman dreck.

I was pleasantly surprised by 300. I had heard enough cautionary tales about it not being nearly as good as Sin City - and it probably isn't - that expectations were lowered a bit before last Friday's IMAX showing.

The film didn't, however, disappoint. The colors and visuals are stunning - truly awesome (in the original meaning of the word.) And for a movie that is basically an hour or so of a single battle, we get to know a number of the characters well enough to actually care about them and their fates. Interspersed with the impressive battle scenes, then, are scenes of the homefront where the political battle of whether or not to support our troops (something that has lead some to suggest, I think incorrectly, that 300 is an analogy to our current Iraq quagmire) which lead us to sympathize particularly with the main character (heavy is the head that wears the crown).

The film moves along quickly enough, never dragging in any one spot, and the end of the movie is impressively stirring.

It's far from perfect, but it's certainly worth a shot - especially in the theater because of those impressive visuals. I would imagine that much would be lost on a small screen.

I didn't get The Departed.

I mean I understood the story. It's a pretty simple one, honestly. There's a mole from the police in the bad guy's organization, and there's a mole in the police from the bad guy's organization. Pretty straight forward. And the two guys are hot for the same girl. An interesting but kind of flukish and empty quirk.

Oh, and the guys are each trying to find out who the other is - and getting all stressed in the process. Ok.

But I never got where the greatness of the film was. The whole thing seemed very straight forward, very kind of bland. Maybe it was the fact that Scorsese kept Jack Nicholson in check. I don't know.

I've now seen two of the films that were nominated for best picture last year: this one and Little Miss Sunshine, and I didn't get either one. Neither seemed worthy of nomination. Meh...

Since this wasn't nearly Scorsese's best, here are five of his films that are better:
  1. Goodfellas
  2. Taxi Driver
  3. Gangs of New York
  4. The Last Waltz
  5. Cape Fear


J. Kyle said...

Yeah, Requiem for a Dream can be pretty difficult to watch. Like you said, it's not an enjoyable film, although I think it's extremely effective and just well-done all around.

I've actually tried to encourage students to see it (often the ones who I think could go down that path of addiction) by telling them it's very disturbing and they should NOT see it--one of the few times I've actually attempted reverse psychology!

DanEcht said...

I really thought 300 was a good film. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, although I guess Sin City should have tipped me off as to how good 300 is.

Another great movie out right now is The Lives of Others, a fictional tale about the East German Stasi and a playwright-actress couple and the agent who watches them. It's excellent, and I highly recommend it.

Joey said...

Weird... for me the Departed was clearly the best movie made this year (disclaimer: this is the guy that gets to the theatre maybe once every season and waits for the rest from blockbuster: hence, horribly behind).

I really liked the whole coiling relationships thing, the killer soundtrack, and DiCaprio and Damon's characters. The ending did kind of suck though.

Or maybe I'm just jaded by the whole "irish gangster" thing...