I hated every grating, cliched, ridiculous, "Gosh golly, ain't this show cute?" second of New Girl.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
What the hell is this?
My instinct has been to stay away from the mainstream DCU ever since Identity Crisis, and with the Crisis of Infinite Reboots putting a cap on everything, I didn't feel the need to stick around and try any of the new comics out. But I was curious about Action Comics after reading a surprising number of positive reviews. And having read the comic, I don't know how anyone out there had a decent experience reading this thing.
Basically, the whole thing reads like an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, with all of the smarm and smugness and half-hearted pretense of breaking away from continuity and starting over again that made the Ultimate comics so bad. It really isn't; it still depends on your knowledge of Superman and his supporting cast to work. It doesn't introduce the characters at all, it basically says "See this? This is Superman now. This is how Clark Kent is now. This is a new version of Lois Lane." It's just bad storytelling. It's unearned shorthand, and it's lazy.
And it's disappointing coming from Grant Morrison, who should know better. His All-Star Superman is the best Superman story of the last 25 years. He has such an understanding of what makes the character work. But Action Comics #1 reads like it was just tossed off in a night because DC needed an Ultimate Superman and he was available. There's no passion here, no emotional center, and no character. It's just bland, flavorless storytelling, and the whole sequence with the elevated train just looks and sounds way too much like it was ripped off from The Incredibles. Does Morrison even have a story, or did he just give up halfway through?
Seriously, this is what passes for great storytelling at DC now? And I specifically saw people whose opinions I actually value using that word: great.
And even if the story had been passable, what about the incredibly bad artwork? I loved Rags Morales' work on Hourman, but, well... a couple of questions:
Why is Ultimate Superman 15?
Why is Ultimate Clark Kent 15 and Harry Potter? (Just like Ultimate Peter Parker was, by the way...)
Why are Ultimate Lois and Ultimate Jimmy 12?
And most disturbing of all, what is with Superman's teeny little waist? It's just kind of creepy. There's this whole Liefeldian thing going on here with this tiny waist and enormous upper body. What is this all about? This is what's supposed to make Superman easier for kids to relate to? You know, Superman was a great hero because he did great things and treated everyone with dignity until they proved unworthy of it. This smug, pumped-up little shit needs a punch right to the face.
Seriously, it looks like Superman's chest is pregnant in this panel.
It's not the jeans or tee shirt that bothers me, it's the terrible execution with which Superman is drawn. It's unpleasant to look at. And since Morrison hasn't bothered to write any characterization or anything resembling even the set-up for a story, I can't overlook art like this.
This is a waste of a comic book.
I'm not going to be reading Ultimate Superman #2.
Friday, September 09, 2011
20. True Grit (2010, directed by Joel & Ethan Coen)
A beautifully crafted Western; it’s an eccentric movie, but also bleak, even elegiac. I think even the critics who liked this movie dismissed it a bit as a genre exercise for the Coen Brothers, but I found it one of their most captivating films, a deliberately-paced meditation on the surprising places fortitude and even heroism can come from, rather than “just” a Western.
19. The King’s Speech (2010, directed by Tom Hooper)
What I like about this film is the way it shows sweeping events in history at a personal level rather than a grand one. At its heart, this is a film about a man who has to take up extraordinary personal responsibilities and is terrified of doing so. The film shows how through support and effort these fears and doubts can be controlled. Is it a predictable movie? Sure. But it’s also a highly enjoyable one.
18. Lost in Translation (2003, directed by Sofia Coppola)
What impresses me about this film is that Sofia Coppola, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are able to create an exploration of emotional longing without being coy or self-congratulatory. It manages to observe two people who connect through, at first, a sort of mutual alienation in a different culture in a way that’s not as entitled as it easily could have been. (As a side note, there’s never been a doubt in my mind that when Bob whispers in Charlotte’s ear at the end of the movie, they’re making plans to see each other again. Look how happy and excited they are when they walk away from each other.)
17. Black Book (2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven)
I think this is the film I was waiting to see from Paul Verhoeven for decades. He uses his go-to’s of sex and nudity and moral turpitude, but he uses them as devices for a film about the measure of humanity and the nature of heroism, telling the story of a Dutch resistance fighter (Carice Van Houten in an excellent performance) infiltrating the Nazis. Not at all cynical, which is refreshing.
16. Death Proof (2007, directed by Quentin Tarantino)
Specifically the 127-minute version, not the shorter version in Grindhouse. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but this is my list, not theirs. Death Proof is one of my few favorite horror flicks of the decade; it’s got some of the elements of a slasher film, and like a lot of the best horror flicks, it’s a bizarre sexual allegory. It also just has some of the best car chase sequences in maybe the last 25 years; where did the real, visceral car chase go? People get caught up in the dialogue, but a lot of it’s just superfluous to the plot. Indulgent? Who gives a shit? Movies are indulgent, anyway.
15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, directed by Edgar Wright)
Funny, energetic, kinetic, bizarre, and wonderful filmmaking; this film uses the language of MTV editing, 8-bit video games, and choppy martial arts flicks to tell what is a surprisingly sweet and genuine love story. I really come alive in movies like this; it’s unexpected and deceptive, the filmic equivalent of the way Billy Joel used to write upbeat pop songs about how much he hated himself. Here we have a Frank Tashlin cartoon about young romance, and I dig this like crazy.
14. Bubba Ho-tep (2002, directed by Don Coscarelli)
By all appearances, it’s a silly B-movie about a retirement home resident who may or may not be Elvis trying to kill a mummy. But there’s a fatalistic tone to this movie that, combined with Bruce Campbell’s poignant performance, raises it to something special. It’s the equivalent of a moving poem written on a crumpled napkin. It’s great pulp with a romantic tinge to it. I absolutely love this movie.
13. No Country for Old Men (2007, directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)
The Coens can make great cinema, and I think this is the best film they’ve ever made. Beautifully timed, unrelentingly suspenseful, showing life as driven by both fate and circumstance, as well as the ability to make very, very wrong choices. A masterpiece.
12. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008, directed by Peter Sollett)
This film is, in a way, my youth. This film captured for me the feeling of when Becca and I first started dating, staying out most of the night, driving all over town because being out together was our world when we were both living with our parents. A fairly simple romance plot, sure, but with great characters and a great soundtrack and a delicate spirit. There’s something in this movie that knows that love is more in what you do for someone than what you say to them. A sincerity and simplicity that too many movies don’t know how to achieve.
11. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, directed by Nick Park & Steve Box)
The Wallace & Gromit shorts are some of the most clever, most inventive, most joyous animation I’ve ever seen. That Nick Park can maintain that same joy for an extra hour is delightful. These movies aren’t really made much of, and are often taken for granted, which is a real shame, because they’re incredibly witty.
10. The Incredibles (2004, directed by Brad Bird)
Besides just being a beautifully animated homage to comic books and Bond films, it’s the humanity of the characters this film gets wonderfully right. Existential angst, impotence fears, midlife crisis, child neglect, marital dysfunction, and the cheapening of achievement are all explored here, wrapped inside the best issue of Fantastic Four that Stan and Jack never wrote.
9. Inglourious Basterds (2009, directed by Quentin Tarantino)
Tarantino’s most flat-out enjoyable film since Pulp Fiction. Part World War II action movie, part Sergio Leone revenge flick, part French character piece, Tarantino’s influences may be as obvious as ever, but it’s never boring and it’s bold as hell. I like that Tarantino makes these big movies that are really just about how much he loves movies (though it’s a real shame he can get so precious about them). It’s also funny to me how people are now talking about movies like this as though they’re supposed to be these important grand operas, when Tarantino is still dealing in pulp. Grand pulp, but pulp. But grand pulp.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004, directed by Edgar Wright)
The great zombie movie of our time. Much more than just a loving send-up, this brilliant comedy also works as a horror film on its own, as well as a character piece about a lazy guy who just needs something like a zombie apocalypse to get him to grow up. This movie’s sense of character, it’s knowledge that it needs a story to go along with its gimmick, is what makes it one of the best movies ever made. It’s genius filmmaking, and endlessly watchable.
7. WALL-E (2008, directed by Andrew Stanton)
One of the best science fiction movies of the decade; what really hit with me was that this is one of the only movies I can remember about a bleak, apocalyptic future that is so optimistic about our ability to overcome our own self-destructive tendencies. I also like how rooted in cartoon filmmaking this movie is; the near-silent WALL-E is so appealing, so funny, he so immediately connects with your emotions. It’s a masterful achievement in animated characterization.
6. Downfall (2004, directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel)
It’s important, very important, to remember that Adolf Hitler was a human being. This film portrays him not as a cartoon monster, but as very human; a broken and pathetic human given to grandiose notions of destiny and able to play on an almost inherent xenophobia and racism in people. The man who speaks directly to the most fearful among us and gives them someone to blame is dangerous. And when he surrounds himself with like-minded people, people with gifts for strategy and propaganda, that is when he is most dangerous. This film reminds us that great evil is the doing of such men, and that Hitler did not create the Third Reich all by himself. Killing Hitler does not rid the world of such evils; they are still all around us, manifesting in others who would create such movements, waiting for someone with Hitler’s manipulative skill. Hitler is not an aberration in history; he is a cautionary tale. I find this of great importance to remember, and this film, in humanizing someone history has made a caricatured villain, helps the viewer to do so.
5. Clerks II (2006, directed by Kevin Smith)
Maybe it’s not as grand as Hitler’s downfall, but this is a personal list of favorites, and this film spoke to me as much as any here. It came at just the right point in my life, right before I graduated college, but just as, at age 30, I was marveling at how quickly life seemed to have left me behind, how all of those ambitions and plans I had came to nothing. It made me more appreciative of where I was then and am now. It’s that sudden realization that you can spend years planning for a later that never comes, either because of circumstance or a lack of motivation. This film was the cap on a decade of extended childhood, and the beginning of a more aware time in my life.
4. Spirited Away (2001, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
Miyazaki is a master at mixing his personal experiences into universal stories. A lot of this film is inspired by his environmentalism, his nostalgia for Meiji period buildings, and memories of a neighborhood bathhouse that seemed mysterious to a young Miyazaki. But there is so much here about bravery, about identity, about friendship and loyalty, in the story of a young girl trapped in a spirit world. Beautifully animated, and probably Miyazaki’s supreme achievement, which is saying a mouthful.
3. The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003, directed by Peter Jackson)
One epic film, split into three parts. I lean heavily towards the extended editions, myself, which do more justice to the story, giving it more room to breathe between stunning set pieces, and which especially helps The Two Towers in its narrative. This is incredible filmmaking, the high, high peak of a revival of fantasy and science fiction epics which only becomes more slick and cynical every year. This is one of the last epics that feels like it was made by human hands, even with all of the technological advances made during it. Roger Ebert once said that epics were a document of their making, showing us the work of hundreds, even thousands of people coming together to achieve a single goal. Nothing since The Lord of the Rings quite has that feel of so many coming together in service of a story.
2. Watchmen (2009, directed by Zack Snyder)
A lot of you are rolling your eyes; much like The Spirit the year before, this is another one of those comic book films I’m supposed to despise for whatever reason. But I think it’s brilliant. I never thought anyone could do justice to Alan Moore’s story, but I think this movie does, and then some. It gets the tone right and knows its medium; it’s a parody of the adolescent power trips comic books provide, as the comic was, but it’s also smart enough to parody the silly conventions of superhero action movies, like the way ordinary people turn into perfectly-chiseled, bone-breaking powerhouses simply by putting on a costume. It achieves the idea of superheroes with angst that Alan Moore explored, but also remembers that Alan Moore did more than just that. This is the superhero movie to end all superhero movies.
1. Brokeback Mountain (2005, directed by Ang Lee)
Simply put, the most beautiful and honest film I’ve ever seen about love. I’m just going to leave it there.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
40. The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005, directed by George Lucas)
Maybe it’s a cheat, since the first flick is from 1999, but there it is. I’m not interested in continuing to defend my love of ALL the Star Wars movies; just accept that I love them.
39. Hot Fuzz (2007, directed by Edgar Wright)
Well, this one’s just funny as hell. Brilliantly funny as hell.
38. Casino Royale (2006, directed by Martin Campbell)/Quantum of Solace (2008, directed by Marc Forster)
Boy, did James Bond ever need a reboot. Freeing the series from decades of increasing silliness, this more characterized 007 is the Ian Fleming character I recognize. The stakes seem more real, the intrigue and suspense more genuine. I love these movies, and I hunger for more.
37. The Illusionist (2010, directed by Sylvain Chomet)
A beautiful, graceful film that walks a line between melancholy and whimsy. There are moments of exquisite beauty, and moments of extreme bleakness, as we observe the magician Tatischeff try to keep up with a world where fashions and tastes are changing and his old-fashioned act feels outdated and purposeless. It’s a quiet film, one that demands and rewards attention.
36. Let the Right One In (2008, directed by Tomas Alfredson)/Let Me In (2010, directed by Matt Reeves)
I honestly can’t decide which version I like better. They both approach the same story of friendship in slightly different, equally valid ways. I was touched in both versions by the mutual dependence that grows between two people—one person and one vampire, at least—who are both just outside of society and find a sort of protection in one another.
35. About a Boy (2002, directed by Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz)
As EM Forster said, only connect. Another movie I love about people who grow from a superficiality or a social awkwardness to connect with others. I love the denouement in this film; some people are part of island chains. Making your own family in life.
34. Winged Migration (2001, directed by Jacques Perrin)
Just beautiful to look at, and to listen to—the Bruno Coulais score and the sounds of the birds are comforting on any kind of day. It doesn’t get any deeper than that, really. It’s just a comforting, gorgeous documentary with minimal narration.
33. Eloise at the Plaza/Eloise at Christmastime (2003, directed by Kevin Lima)
Christmas staples for me; every year I delight in Sofia Vassilieva’s adorable performance as Eloise and the unforced whimsy of these Disney movies.
32. The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011, directed by Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates)
Can I add anything to what’s been said about the Harry Potter films?
31. In Bruges (2008, directed by Martin McDonagh)
A surprising, hilarious, moving film about a hitman racked with guilt and trapped in a city he despises. Dark, delightful, and very, very human.
30. Marie Antoinette (2006, directed by Sofia Coppola)
I love the modern approach to this film; rather than a historical epic or biopic, Coppola here makes a poignant film about what Roger Ebert called, better than I could ever say it, “the loneliness of being female and surrounded by a world that knows how to use you but not how to value and understand you.” Again, Coppola isn’t leading you to the conclusions, but giving you an impression, and it’s something else.
29. Finding Nemo (2003, directed by Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich)
I may not be a father, but I can relate to this film. I’m by nature a fairly overprotective person; I know I would be an overprotective father. Besides which, I’m cautious and agoraphobic (though getting better) and can be awfully timid. So to see a father face every one of his fears and move heaven and earth to find his lost child is incredibly moving. And that’s just without mentioning the vocal performances, the incredible design, and the astounding animation.
28. Spider-Man (2002, directed by Sam Raimi)/Spider-Man 2 (2004, directed by Sam Raimi)
Spidey was the hero I related to the most as a kid. He was just a guy with too much on his plate and rotten luck, overwhelmed by his responsibilities and, depending on the era you read, unrequited love. The first two films in the series capture that incredibly well, and remain my two favorite superhero movies.
27. Lilo & Stitch (2002, directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois)
Disney’s most unique film of the decade, a moving story of two outsiders who make each other whole. Stitch is a fantastic creation of animated cinema, and watching his story arc unfold is some of the most beautiful character development I’ve seen in a Disney movie. Or any animated movie.
26. The Triplets of Belleville (2003, directed by Sylvain Chomet)
A surreal, hilarious, somewhat angry film that sort of defies description. You just have to experience this ingenious movie.
25. V for Vendetta (2006, directed by James McTeigue)
I was expecting a B actioner; what I got was a surprisingly involving social commentary about politics and humanity, disguised a dystopian science fiction thriller. And today there’s the added hilarity of people wearing the Guy Fawkes mask to protest corporatism, which would almost be clever if they weren’t official Warner Bros. merchandise…
24. Kill Bill (2003-2004, directed by Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino’s homage, love letter, what have you, to martial arts flicks and Westerns. Seen as a whole, it’s not the great character piece Jackie Brown is, but it is an incredibly stylish and fun grindhouse movie that is technically brilliant and fun to watch. Sometimes great grindhouse is all you need.
23. Persepolis (2007, directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud)
A meaningful coming-of-age story about an Iranian girl homesick for a country that she grew up in and which, really, doesn’t exist anymore. The Iran of Marjane’s girlhood is long gone, and we see a girl with a strong sense of family and value, trying to find her anchor in a world—both in the East and the West—where her gender makes her undervalued. A moving story; an animated masterpiece.
22. Black Swan (2010, directed by Darren Aronofsky)
One of the best horror movies ever made, though it’s seldom called that. A manic character piece about the search for meaning and perfection in art, raised by Natalie Portman’s visceral, almost scary, hold-nothing-back performance. Beautifully made, almost impossible to look away from. Wildly, intensely melodramatic, but this sort of Grand Guignol really should be.
21. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008, directed by Nicholas Stoller)
My favorite achievement in the brief “romantic comedies for guys” micro-trend, and one of my favorite comedies of all time, because it has a genuine sense of romance. Sure, it’s got the raunch and the gag set pieces, but at its heart it’s about a guy who is stuck and who can’t bring himself to move on or become motivated. It’s not important what he does, but that, in the end, he does something and rediscovers his sense of self. (It’s also incredibly funny.)
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
60. Star Trek (2009, directed by JJ Abrams)
Basically it turned Trek into a pulp space adventure novel, but I'm okay with that. I think Trek needed a shot like this, something different, but something that, for me, brought back the sense of fear and wonder and danger that used to be inherent in the ideas of space exploration. (And even if you don't like your Trek this way, Abrams and company went to all the trouble of enclosing it in an alternate universe for you.)
This is another one of those movies that's more emotionally genuine to me than a lot of the comedies made this decade. I like the underpinnings of it, the way it satirizes the fixation that both society and pop culture have with sex. It's at heart a very sweet movie about a genuine human being.
A large, busy movie about a large, busy wedding preparation. That the film manages to keep all of its characters and storylines straight for the viewer is no mean feat; imagine some of America's trendier directors trying to do the same thing. Naseeruddin Shah sits at the center of this family epic as a man attempting to put on a very expensive wedding for his daughter's arranged marriage, but the film plays as much for pathos as it does for comedy, giving us examples of various intensities of love and family secrets.
57. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, directed by Larry Charles)
Genius comedy; in playing the outsider, Sacha Baron Cohen manages to expose various levels of tolerance and selfishness across America, overtly pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior for the sake of sometimes revelatory reactions. Bruno proved that this concept was really only going to work once for Cohen, but it certainly does work the first time.
This remake is sort of the writ large version of King Kong; maybe a little too large and too grand, but there's still something very pulpy and stylish about it that I love. A lot of it has to do with Kong himself; the combination of Andy Serkis' performance and the amazing animation of the CGI artists. He's a genuine emotional center, grounding what could have been an epic of silliness and self-importance.
Another movie I'm apparently supposed to hate. And while the original version is clearly superior, I was riveted by this version. The biggest complaint I heard was that it tried to explain the motivation of Michael Myers, but I never felt it did. The scenes of therapy are there to show that there is no explanation for it; that try as pop psychology might to explain something, it just can't. An intense and visceral thriller, one of the few modern horror movies that really works for me. Shame about the awful, awful sequel...
This film makes a lot of wise decisions in giving us the story of Harvey Pekar. It jumps around, much like Pekar's American Splendor comic book, but it also--like the comic--focuses on small, observational moments that define a man who was ground down by life and accepted it, celebrating small triumphs rather than lamenting what never happened. Pekar was a very inspiring writer, and this movie celebrates it without being fatuous.
As I've said before, what I find most amazing about Sofia Coppola is that she refuses to draw any conclusions for you. Here, she simply observes the life of an actor and his sometimes distant relationship with his young daughter without offering an artificial point of view or any judgments. We see a man who is hungering for an emotional connection, but who doesn't know how to make one. Loneliness even when surrounded by people. It becomes quite palpable the longer the movie goes on, giving us a picture of a superficial life that isn't really being experienced. Also, I think Elle Fanning is a very special actress. I hope she doesn't start making teen comedies...
It's an unfortunate commentary on this decade's animation that The Princess and the Frog seems so fresh just for having a plot and good characterization. It's old-fashioned and charming, with nice songs and beautiful character animation (especially on the slick Doctor Facilier), and tells a story without being glib or referencing pop culture. It's just a pleasant picture, the kind which seems to no longer be in fashion.
If you're looking for a documentary that will emotionally destroy you, here you go... Kurt Kuenne here documents the life and murder of his best friend in the form of a letter to the man's infant son, and then the shape of the narrative changes tragically. It's a powerful film that punched me right in the heart.
It's a real shame that rights issues have kept this from gaining a wider audience, because this flick is brilliant. Paley tells the story of her relationship, and intersperses it with a tale from the Ramayana, alongside Indian shadow puppets half-remembering the tale and interludes of 1920s jazz music. It almost sounds too clever, but it all works and it's all wonderful.
Just the simple story of an aging, ailing wrestler trying to connect with an estranged daughter, and trying to find a place where his life makes sense. What elevates this movie is Mickey Rourke's moving performance, and the way Aronofsky approaches this film completely without gimmickry or artifice. It's just a portrait of a man with nothing who wants more, but gets in his own way.
I admire this film's quiet humanism. What could have been a sentimental exercise in liberal heroics and American imperialism is instead a film about people who are nearly powerless to a faceless, authoritative, almost capricious policy. Richard Jenkins is excellent as a man who finds connection in a place he never sought it, and Hiam Abass is wonderful as a woman trying to free her son from the jaws of bureaucracy. This film sneaks up on you; it doesn't charge up on the political spectrum, but is soulful and resists phony uplift.
It's just a damn funny movie. Funnier than The Simpsons has been in the last decade. It took me back to that time when I loved The Simpsons not just because it was clever, but because the characters were believable and I cared about them.
There's just something note-perfect about this flick. It's a stoner comedy, it's an action movie, it's a crime thriller with quirky characters... it works for me on every level and sort of defies description. And, of course, like a lot of these Apatow movies, it's a buddy comedy that's more honest about its emotions. I just love it. I get caught up in it every time I see it.
It's amazing how well this film works when its focus is sort of all over the place. At heart, I think it's about Miyazaki's pacifism, but it's also a fascinating meditation on the nature of identity and how much it can be defined by the expectations or malice of others. It goes without saying that it's a beautifully animated film, right?
A big, gooey movie about various aspects of love, perhaps over-packed but never unenjoyable. True, Richard Curtis drifts more towards the sentimental and less towards any kind of cynicism, but so what? Those aren't the stories he's interested in telling, and there are enough hard slaps of reality to go with the corn. Maybe it's not entirely sophisticated, but it's a charming, comforting film that satisfies me every time I see it.
Creative and energetic, genuinely heartfelt and incredibly funny. Though there are other Pixar films I like better (and which are higher up on this list), I don't think they've managed to surpass this flick just on the level of being incredibly, universally funny. And did you ever notice that Sully is basically a big Muppet? It's like a Muppet movie, right down to Frank Oz having a role.
An adorable film, the best animated picture DreamWorks has ever made. Rather than a pop-culture heavy star turn, it's a movie about friendship and understanding, a very funny movie where the humor comes out of the characters, and features one of the best animated creations of the decade: Toothless the Dragon, recognizably catlike and very appealing.
A challenging gem about what is apparently a favorite theme of mine--the need to re-connect with the outside world after too long spent inside oneself. The relationships may be unconventional, but the unspoken needs of the lead characters are genuine. Kristen Stewart is capable of so much, and her performance here is astounding; more of these, less of Twilight, please.