Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

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: The Mindscape of Alan Moore – The Creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta Speaks!

Originally a short film by Dez Vylenz for his film school thesis, The Mindscape of Alan Moore is an expanded ramble by Moore on various subjects – from Watchmen to the reasons he one day decided to tell his friends and family that he was a magician.

Mindscape_Box Art

The format is incredibly simple: Moore sits on a comfy chair in his living room and speaks for almost ninety minutes. Given that he comes across as your favorite eccentric professor – the on whose lectures you never miss – this is not a hardship. Moore is an engaging speaker and is always witty and direct.

As he speaks, director Vylenz uses various means to enhance Moore’s subjects. There are some good old-fashioned psychedelic lightshow effects; CG animations that illustrate points Moore makes about concepts like “ideaspace,” and even live-action recreations of moments from some of Moore’s best known comics work: V for Vendetta [V putting on his unique mask], Watchmen [Rorschach perched on a rooftop looking out over the city], three instances of a blond guy in a trenchcoat, smoking as he wanders the streets of London [yup, it’s Constantine – though we only find that out in the end credits and the director’s commentary.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss about Moore is, The Mindscape of Alan Moore will give you a glimpse of his genius/madness – whichever you may take it to be. If you’re already a fan, it will give you some insights into the man that may actually enhance your enjoyment of his writings.

Features: Disc 1: Scene Specific Audio Commentary by Dez Vylenz; Making a Mindscape – a narration-free video diary of the film’s making; Director Interview – Dez Vylenz – Producer/Writer/Director; Interview: Brian Kinney – Special Make-Up Effects; Interview with Drew Richards – Music composer/Sound Designer; Trailer 1 [Lustmord St.], and Trailer 2 [Drew Richards St.]. Disc 2: Interviews From the comics World – Melinda Gebbie [The Lost girls w. Moore], Dave Gibbons [Watchmen], Paul Gravette [Author/Comics Historian], David Lloyd [V for Vendetta], Kevin O’Neill [League of Extraordinary Gentlemen], and Jose´ Villarubia [Promethea].

Grade: The Mindscape of Alan Moore – A

Grade: Features – A+

Final Grade: A

EM EXCLUSIVE: Superpowers: Saving the World? Not As Easy As It Looks!

Superpowers, a novel

Now that superhero movies are practically a genre unto themselves, maybe it’s time to look at novels that deal with super characters – after all, they’ve been around for decades! One [The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, by Michael Chabon] even won a Pulitzer Prize. Superpowers, A Novel, by David J. Scwartz, looks at the impact of superpowered people in the real world in a way that is fresh and insightful – but most of all, entertaining.

Continue reading EM EXCLUSIVE: Superpowers: Saving the World? Not As Easy As It Looks!

MOVIE REVIEW: Wanted: Adrenaline-Squared!

Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman’s character overdoses and John Travolta’s character has to administer a shot of adrenaline directly to her heart? That is, roughly speaking, the effect that Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted has on an audience.

Wesley Gibson [James McAvoy] is a cubicle slave with an impressive, but meaningless title, and a boss who takes particular delight in demeaning him. He has a surprisingly good-looking girlfriend and a cheery best friend – who are sleeping with each other. Then, one night when he’s in line at a pharmacy to buy medication for his anxiety attacks, a gorgeous, tattooed goddess of a woman informs him that his father was the greatest assassin in the world; the number two guy killed him the day before and is just… over there!

Wesley, it seems, has inherited his father’s skills, but has been blithely unaware – mistaking his hunter’s/assassin’s traits as anxiety attacks. The goddess is named Fox [Angelina Jolie] and he is to become a member of The Fraternity – a society of assassins headed by the dapper, dignified Sloan [Morgan Freeman]. Of course, he’ll have to be trained – by a host of assassins with names Like The Repairman [Mark Warren] and Gunsmith [Common]. Then he will hunt and kill the man who killed his father.

wanted_poster

Based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel of the same name, Wanted seems to be little more than a framework to showcase Bekmambetov’s dexterity as a director. Instead, it turns out to be a showcase for McAvoy’s transformation from wage slave to a man in charge of his own life – and for Fox to discover the real meaning of integrity. At the same time, of course, Bekmambetov does, indeed, throw everything he’s got into action sequence that take the work of people like Louis Leterrier and the Wachowski Brothers and ramp it up to a level so high that the bar is no longer even visible.

Except for a very few scenes, Wanted makes the proverbial bat out of hell look like a tortoise on its back. The fight scenes are agile in ways that combine John Woo and the Shaw Brothers with Peckinpah and the Wachowskis; the chases are well into the land that exists beyond ridiculous, and the gun play is beyond even that.

Bekmambetov hits us so quickly with pans and zooms and smash cuts and dissolves and changes of pace that we go along for the ride – even though the whole thing is as insubstantial as smoke [and we get some of that, too]. This is what summer blockbusters are supposed to be – smart and absurd and gracefully jagged adrenaline delivery systems. On that level, it is superb!

Final Grade: A