If the idea of an action movie featuring a former slave bloodily blowing away dozens of white slavers appeals to you, then this movie won’t disappoint. I loved it. It was extremely well-done popcorn, well-filmed and well-acted, and Samuel Jackson’s supporting role was great – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more virtuoso display of code-switching on screen.
That said, Django was relatively weak as Tarantino’s movies go – it lacked the scenes of unbearable tension that made Inglorious Bastards memorable, the characters were not well-developed compared to Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown, and as a pure popcorn “watch the action” flick it’s not a deliriously fun as Kill Bill, if only because watching people shoot each other to death isn’t nearly as fun as watching them karate each other to death.1
China Comics by Sushu Xia
Sushu Xia is a teacher who I met when she and her husband stayed a night at my house (they’re friends with a housemate). After she described China Comics to me, I shamelessly nagged her to send me a copy of her comic, and I’m glad I did. This short (fifty pages or so, half comics and half prose) self-published comic is Xia’s answer to the question “so what is China like?” (Xia was born in China, moved to the US at age six, but every few years since has visited China during the summer.) Rather than a traditional narrative, Xia does a series of one-page comic strips about particular aspects of daily life in China: a page about ubiquitous hot water bottles, a page about the street life vs. residential community divide, a page about dress codes, a page about racial identities, and so on.
Xia’s artwork lacks professional polish, but it’s effective, readable and has charm. The book is a satisfying read – although there are only about 24 pages of comics, most of the pages are pretty dense. I was left wishing that I could spend some of my life living in an urban community in China, eating in a late-night restaurant in my pajamas. If a friend of mine was preparing for a trip to China, I’d definitely give them a copy.
I’ve read this graphic novel at least ten times since it came out in 2009, and I’m sure I’m not done rereading. There are weaknesses in it, but oh, the cartooning! David Mazzucchelli does more interesting cartooning in this book than anyone else in any single book, I think. Every element – the linework, the lettering, the colors – is carefully thought through for how they can serve the storytelling.
The Larry Sanders Show
Rewatched the first few episodes of this very funny satire of celebrity culture. One of my favorite TV shows ever.
Other Life Forms by Julia Glassman.
This novel by Julia Glassman, who has occasionally blogged here on Alas, is about a young wannabe sculptor who is stuck in a holding pattern, can’t find the drive or confidence to work on her art, and has horrendous taste in boyfriends. She works as a waitress in a hipster artsy coffee shop and imagines that the other wannabe artists working there have it much more together than she does. She’s in mourning, wounded from a past relationship that went bad, and mainly is suffering from profound loneliness.
I found this novel sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating but in an enjoyable way (because the main character would have so much going for her if she’d just get more self esteem), and extremely engrossing.
Wreck It Ralph
I saw this today with my friend Jenn and her three (four? not sure) year old daughter, who was so terrified by the dark parts of this movie that she cried and she and her mother had to leave early. But I enjoyed it; it was funny and sweet and a reasonably good action movie. There were a lot of video-game injokes, I assume, but since I’m not a video gamer2 all that stuff sailed right over my head unnoticed. Of the voice actors, I thought Jane Lynch was especially good.
One thing: I wish that the ending had been cleverer, and in particular that the villain had been redeemed instead of killed off. Having an irredeemable villain really goes against the main themes of the movie.
I’ve seen the musical on stage years ago, and enjoyed it. Sondheim it’s not; the characters and story are not subtle, and neither are the melodies. It’s a big, bombastic melodrama, and I really like it for what it is.
I saw the film figuring that either I’d love it, or I’d love sitting with friends in the restaurant afterward talking about why we hated it. As it turned out, me and my two friends all enjoyed the film. The singing is not as good as you’d see on Broadway – Hugh Jackman can certainly sing, but his voice isn’t in the right range for Jean Valjean – but it was good enough to be enjoyable. Several of the performances were great – Anne Hathaway was heartbreaking as Fantine, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were very funny as the Thénardiers, and – astoundingly – British stage actor Eddie Redmayne made Marius, usually a black hole of tepid blandness sucking down the middle of the show, into a touching and interesting character.
The big problem was Russell Crowe as Javert. Crowe has a weak singing voice that absolutely destroys “Stars,” and doesn’t seem confident enough to act while singing. In short, he sucked. There are at least a hundred stage actors who could have done this part a hundred times better.
Everybody Sees The Ants by A.S. King
This book – which is mainly about the experience of carrying scars – was wonderful.
Bucko by Jeff Parker and Erika Moen
The cover of this graphic novel (a collected webcomic) makes it look like a mystery novel, and I wonder if that’s what they intended it to be when they started their webcomic. But very quickly it becomes a pure farce, which is good, because I like farce better than mystery. Zillions of wacky characters running around Portland and bouncing off each other like ping-pong balls, and no one seems to take anything all that seriously. And it all ends in four-way sex that readers don’t actually get to see.
For me, the main fun was Erika Moen’s art3, which is cartoony and graceful and shows a really nice sense of design, especially in the character who always wears clown makeup. There were also some fun “the making of” notes, which were mostly given as footnotes on each page.
American Virgin: Head
This was pretty awful. Cynical only works when it’s combined with clever and funny, and the writing of this graphic novel is extremely pedestrian, with the sort of hip contempt for human life that a lot of Vertigo comics have (Preacher is the king of this particular, ugly mountain). Becky Cloonan’s art was excellent – has she ever done a bad job? – but I couldn’t recommend this comic to, well, anyone.
I’m sure there was more I read or saw, but that’s what comes to mind right now.
- On screen! Obviously! In real life, would be considerably less fun. [↩]
- Why does “gamer” just refer to video games? I play role-playing games, I play board games like Space Alert and Dominion – but somehow only the annoying video game people have come to own the term “gamer.” [↩]
- Full disclosure: Erika isn’t a close bud, but she’s a acquaintance who I’ve met a bunch of times and enjoy talking to. [↩]