Tag Archives: CG

MOVIE REVIEW: The Spirit Made My Toes Curl – But I Kinda Liked It!

In a summer during the early-to-mid sixties, I surreptitiously acquired a copy of a specific issue of Playboy – not for the pictures, though those were nice, but for an essay on The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer. It was about comic characters from the Golden Age of Comics [approximately 1939-1946 – your mileage may vary]. That led to my acquiring, with a hard-earned seven bucks, for Feiffer’s book of the same title on the subject. Included in the book was an eight-page, full-color Spirit story from the Philadelphia Record Sunday Comics Supplement, dated July 20, 1941. It was about a tale told to a tourist couple by an Egyptian beggar, twice in two days – first as a prophecy, and then as a fait accompli. It was incredible – it had action, wit, humor [even then I knew wit was not the same thing as humor] and amazing art. Well before the Kitchen Sink reprints of the seventies, I was hooked!

The Spirit's Women

In the summer of 1987, the ABC network broadcast the ninety-minute pilot for a projected series based on Will Eisner’s legendary masked hero, The Spirit. It was bright and colorful and really seemed, to me at least, to capture the peculiar mix of whimsy and drama that marked the comic as a unique and brilliant work. Eisner, on the other hand, said it was so bad that “it made my toes curl.”

Today, I saw Frank Miller’s movie adaptation of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. As a critic, I realize that its thin story is told choppily [Frank, buddy, have you never heard of dissolves, transitions and such? And, really Frank! Plaster of Paris? What the hell were you thinking???] and the acting varies from poor to really poor. I get that it’s supposed to be a black comedy; I get that it’s Eisner’s characters and situations as filtered Miller’s sensibilities; I even get that The Octopus [Samuel L. Jackson] is supposed to an evil, human version of Wile E. Coyote/Yosemite Sam, while The Spirit is The Roadrunner/Bugs Bunny.

Somehow, though, I don’t think blending Sin City, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones was really the way to go here. The Spirit is not a character for whom bleached out colors [except, of course, for that blood red tie] really work. Neither should the character be set in such a static, blocky manner. The comics were always more fluid than all but the best films – and certainly more so than any of the comics of the period [and most of the best of today, as well]. And juking The Spirit’s origin in such a manner – turning a tough, determined man into a superhero, when he was really [to quote Douglas Adams, “Just this guy, y’know?”]. The spirit of The Spirit has been pretty much bleached out of the movie.

The Spirit is pretty much a disaster no matter how you look at it – and yet, I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because of the hard edge Dan Lauria gives Commissioner Dolan, or the resignation Sarah Paulson gives Dr. Ellen Dolan, who knows she’ll never have The Spirit’s heart – at least not exclusively. Part of it is the cinematography. Miller may be a long way from being a film director, but he can compose a shot like nobody’s business! Also, the world of Central City may be CG but it has more heft than Sin City. Plus, there are moments when Eisner’s character peeks through the chaos […and this is for Muffin!”].

Even with the movie’s compositional beauty, a couple decent [not brilliant] performances [Sorry Mr. Gabriel Macht. I know The Spirit, and he’s not a monotoned refugee from a Philip Chandler novel] and amazing CG, I can understand how most critics will give The Spirit the equivalent of an ‘F’. I can’t do that. But tempering my love for the character with what little of that remains here – and combining that with an objective overview of everything that’s wrong with it – I can’t give The Spirit a positive grade [as much as it pains me].

Final Grade: D+

DVD REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda/Secrets of the Furious Five

The story of how Po [Jack Black] becomes the Dragon Warrior – despite the skepticism of the Furious Five Masters, Crane [David Cross], Mantis [Seth Rogen], Monkey [Jackie Chan], Tigress [Angelina Jolie] and Viper [Lucy Liu] – is one of the year’s surprise hits, critically as well as at the box office.

KungFuPanda

The film’s DVD release is full of bonus features and, in a special two DVD package, includes The Secrets of the Furious Five. This twenty-five minute tale finds Po facing his greatest challenge – teaching a class of easily distracted young bunnies the art of king fu [Master Shifu, still voiced by Dustin Hoffman, seems particularly tickled by the situation]. To get the class’ attention, Po relates stories of how each of the Five – Crane [David Cross], Monkey [Jaycee Chan], Mantis [Max Koch], Tigress [Tara Strong], and Viper [Jessica Di Ciccio] – had to overcome such flaws as impatience [Mantis], Compassion [Monkey], control [Tigress], and so forth. Even Master Oogway [Randall Duk Kim] puts in an appearance.

Most of Secrets is filmed in the beautiful 2D style seen in the prologue to Kung Fu Panda, with CG used for scenes that feature Po and his class – and the clever cover art from the two DVDs is designed to be one larger picture when placed side by side.

There is a wealth of features on each DVD.

Kung Fu Panda: Audio Commentary by Co-Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne; Meet the Cast; Pushing the Boundaries [improvements in CGI]; Sound Design; Kung fu Fighting Music Video by Cee-Lo; Mr. Ping’s Noodle House [watch a master make noodles from a simple ball of dough]; How to Use Chopsticks [this time for sure!]; Conservation International: Help Save Wild Panda; Dragon Warrior Training Academy; Printables and Weblinks [DVD-ROM], and Dreamworks Animation Jukebox.

Secrets of the Furious Five: Po’s Power Play: Learn to Draw [Character animators show how to draw their respective characters]; Dumpling Shuffle [which bowl is the dumpling under]; Pandamonium Activity Kit [DVD-ROM]; The Land of Panda: Learn the Panda Dance; Do You Kung Fu [demonstrations of basic kung fu forms]; Inside the Chinese Zodiac; Animals of Kung Fu Panda [and how they relate to their namesake forms of kung fu], and What Fighting Style Are You?

Grade: Kung Fu Panda – A

Grade: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+

Grade: Features: Kung Fu Panda – A+

Grade: Features: Secrets of the Furious Five – B+

Final Grade: A