Sunday, February 17, 2019

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond (2016):  written by Simon Pegg, Doug Jung, Roberto Orci, Patrick McKay, and John D. Payne; directed by Justin Lin; starring Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov), Idris Elba (Krall), and Sofia Boutella (Jaylah): 

The jolliest, most Trek-like of the reboot movies -- which probably explains why it lagged behind the first two in box office, given its relative lack of sturm-und-drang. The NuTrek cast is in fine form and the script gets in a lot of zingers and a certain amount of drama, along with the biggest Starbase we've ever seen. But one meta-zinger -- Chris Pine's Kirk opining that his life feels "episodic" three years into the Five-Year Mission -- really describes a movie that is itself episodic.

But that episodic nature does make it seem natural on TV and more entertaining than it was in the theatre. 

Director Justin Lin delivers a few too many Fast-and-Furious chasey moments, but otherwise does solid work. The movie misses its chance for a true Star Trek moment late in the game involving the villain, Krall, whom Idris Elba tries to invest with the menace the script mostly leaves out. The decision to hide Elba under several pounds of alien make-up seems willfully perverse -- let him be human and perhaps give a Trek movie a compelling villain for the first time in decades.

Given Trek's normal box-office levels pre-reboot, Paramount really needs to find this series its own Harve Bennett before it prices itself out of existence: these need to be $100 million movies that look like $200 million movies, not the other way around. Maybe we could mostly just leave them on the ship next time. You know, like cost-saving Wrath of Khan and its mostly space-borne setting? Stop trying to reinvent the wheel by blowing stuff up. Recommended.

The Night Strangler (1973)

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Manara Library 1 and 3: Cowboys and Incest

The Manara Library Volume 1: Indian Summer (1983) and The Paper Man (1982)  (Collection 2011): written by Hugo Pratt (Indian Summer) and Milo Manara; illustrated by Milo Manara; English translation by Kim Thompson: Milo Manara is a wonderful artist though his penchant for erotica has sometimes overshadowed his strengths in the public eye. He's a sensitive and nuanced chronicler of the human form, but he also excels at placing that form within often spectacular visions of landscape or human chaos. 

Indian Summer, written by European comics great Hugo Pratt, is a sort of homage by Pratt and Manara to the America of Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. Elements of James Fenimore Cooper slip in with the story's take on the fraught relationship between English settlers and Native Americans, and with an opening rape scene of a puritanical English girl by two Native youths.

But that rape scene doesn't go stereotypically -- Pratt's emphasis, almost grotesquely so, is on the sexual and social hypocrisy that accompanies English claims of morality. It's an often disturbing tale, one in which Manara's loving attention to the female form sometimes seems to blur the line between reader and voyeur.

Manara takes the writing reins on the second story included here, The Paper Man. An often fabulistic story of settlers and Natives out West, The Paper Man accomplishes the tricky feat of being both funny and tragically elegiac. 

Again, landscapes and the chaos of human battles are depicted beautifully and horribly when need be. In all, an extremely good volume with solid translation work, and probably the best one-volume introduction to Manara's work. Highly recommended.

The Manara Library Volume 3: Trip to Tulum and Other Stories (Collection 2011): including Trip to Tulum (1990) and The Journey of G. Mastorna (1992), both written by Federico Fellini, and The Ape (1976-1977), written by Silverio Pisu; all stories illustrated by Milo Manara, all other short stories written by Milo Manara: This volume of Dark Horse's [Milo] Manara Library gives us his collaborations with, and homages to, the great Italian film-maker Federico Fellini.

Manara's fine-lined, mostly realistic style actually works beautifully with the dream-visions of Fellini. Everything is rendered in great detail, and everything ultimately seems like a strange dream. 

It's all somewhat hard to describe. Full-page illustrations of strange buildings and city-scapes on one page, harpies battling shamans on the next, an underwater landscape dotted with sunken airplanes representing all the film projects Fellini never got made, a lot of female nudity, a brief strip on the death of John Lennon...

And to top it all off, Manara's early collaboration with writer Silverio Pisu, The Ape (aka The Young Ape), a dream-like adaptation/reinterpretation of a Buddhist fable. In all, this is marvelous, weird stuff. Highly recommended.

Boring Ghosts: The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (2005) by Seth

Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (2005) by Seth: Canadian cartoonist/graphic novelist Seth (his pen-name, natch) spends a lot of space criticizing his own work here in both the Introduction and the Acknowledgements. It almost seems like a Mea Culpa for not sticking to serious and semi-comic explorations of his own life. I find it interesting because Wimbledon Green is the most engaging thing I've ever read from Seth!

Begun as a sort of time-wasting finger exercise, Wimbledon Green came to somewhat obsess Seth. It's a graphic novel told in semi-independent short pieces from a wide variety of points-of-view. All centre upon the mysterious Ontario comic-book collector Wimbledon Green and his shenangans (most of them oriented around finding and acquiring rare comic books) over the last half of the 20th century.

Seth simplifies his style here, pleasingly so. It suits the material, which spices up the weird world of comic-book collectors with intrigue, deadly rivalries, collectors with private train cars, and Wimbledon Green's own autogyro. Along the way, Ontario residents will notice some now-gone landmarks -- the late Golden Pheasant Motor Inn in London, Ontario, for one.

In a way, this is a tale that applies to all obsessive collectors. The rivalries just involve deadly battles. Or nearly deadly battles, anyway. Through it all runs the question of just who Wimbledon Green is. A fake name? A real man? What real man? That questions weaves in and out of various sub-plots involving the acquisition of legendary comic collections, comeuppance for legendary thieves from the collections of others, and various internecine struggles within the comic collecting community.

It's all great fun, with satiric stretches also devoted to (fictional) comic books and comic-book creators, and to the strange obsessions of Wimbledon Green himself. Things can get a little microscopic at times in this compact and handsome volume -- it really would be swell on much larger pages. 

Nonetheless, while Seth mocks the collectors, he also shows a great affection for them, and for comics in general. Most of the characters are fictional, though a few real comic shop owners do show up to share their stories of Wimbledon Green. Recommended.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Mule (2018)

The Mule (2018): inspired by a New York Times magazine article written by Nick Schenk; written by Sam Dolnick; directed by Clint Eastwood; starring Clint Eastwood  (Earl Stone), Bradley Cooper (Colin Bates), Andy Garcia (Laton), Diane Wiest (Mary7), Laurence Fishburne (Unnamed DEA Agent), Taissa Farmiga (Clint's Grand-daughter), Alison Eastwood (Clint's Daughter), and Manny Montana (Axl?????): 

The Mule is sort of awful and sort of fascinating, a meandering melodrama based on the true story of a 90-year-old Detroit florist who worked as a drug mule for the Mexican cartels. 

All the family agita in the movie is entirely fictional and bathetically awful yet also underdeveloped. The drug-mule stuff is interesting until it turns into a ludicrous road movie in which star/director Clint Eastwood romps with buxom hookers and delivers life advice to DEA agents and Cartel higher-ups alike. It's somehow well-worth-watching and utterly disposable. 

A scene in which our lovable mule calls a couple of African-Americans "Negroes," acts like he wasn't aware that it's not a term generally used in 2017 (when the movie is set), and then lectures them (like so many others) on their smartphone usage while helping change their flat tire is the most bonkers scene in the movie. Clint Eastwood, Twinkly Racist! 

I'm pretty sure Larry Fishburne filmed all his scenes in about two hours, given that he's stuck in either the same hallway or the same office for all those scenes. Bradley Cooper is, well, Bradley Cooper. A fine cast does what it can. Recommended as a sort of car wreck.