April 04, 2005

EX MACHINA: The First Hundred Days

EX MACHINA: The First Hundred Days (writer: Brian K. Vaughan; pencils: Tony Harris; collecting EX MACHINA 1-6). EX MACHINA is the story of a man who, after a brief and not entirely successful stint as the world's only superhero, gets elected mayor of New York City in a remarkable turn of alternate recent history. It's more a tale of politics seen through the superhero lens than a superhero story in itself, and thus obviously belongs to the WATCHMEN tradition of using superheroics as an explicit commentary on power.

There are two common problems with this approach: first, it is difficult to articulate a coherent and sophisticated ideology in a traditional superhero adventure, and second, such stories can become so abstract and symbolic that they fail to meet even the low standards of naturalistic characterization that prevail in superhero comics. The jury is still out on the ideological issue, and admittedly that will probably determine whether the title turns out to be merely a competent comic or something more interesting. From what I hear of Vaughan's Y: THE LAST MAN, there may be some cause to worry, but I do like the way he conjures up the ghost of good old-fashioned 70s liberalism here, the kind I grew up surrounded by and which has tended to drop out of our current political discourse. What is really satisfying about this volume of EX MACHINA, though, is the texture of the story, the way Vaughan meets the second problem by conjuring up a recognizable, livable New York, full of ordinary people and extraordinary details. The book's sly suggestion that the surreal world of mainstream superheroes has nothing in bizarreness and drama on New York politics is perpetually amusing.

So far, Vaughan's taking the slow road with characterization. While we're already starting to get a good idea of Mitchell Hundred's naivete and determination, most of the other characters are still vague around the edges. However, this is only to be expected from the very first trade. There are intriguing glimpses of backstory already beginning to pop up, and the main plots, which seem to be focusing on people who choose sensational routes to make their points at the expense of the city, so far nicely reflect the emerging thematic preoccupations of the book. The art is of mixed success; sometimes it's a little stagey and posed, even for a political drama, and sometimes it's oddly dreamy and lyrical and affecting.

At any rate, I'll be following EX MACHINA in trade, and if you want to signal the Big Two that it's worth going outside the pure superhero story once in a while, picking it up yourself will be a good, and painless, way to do it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 02:37 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2005

OWLY: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer; GIRL GENIUS: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank

OWLY: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer (art: Andy Runton). This is a dialogue-free, all-ages comic about the life of a small owl particularly fond of gardening and bird-watching. OWLY is a perfect example of how execution makes the concept; those who don't believe that the art in a comic can be sophisticated enough to lend a substantial contribution to the overall effect should be handed this volume (not only will it prove your point, but it will probably also improve their dispositions). Runton's art is gentle, evocative, enormously expressive, in a way that gives real depth and appeal to his simple stories. Despite the anthromorphism, Owly's world is naturalistic, tied to the inevitable sorrows and rebirths of nature, and he makes his way through it with a kind heart and a gradually expanding comprehension. This book is absolutely something I'd hand to a five-year-old, but I'd keep a copy for myself.


GIRL GENIUS: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank (story: Phil & Kaja Foglio; pencils: Phil Foglio). For complicated reasons, I kept thinking this title sounded good in the abstract, but picking it up and putting it down again unbought in the actual comic-book store. I'm glad I finally overcome my reservations and gave it a look. GIRL GENIUS is a slyly humorous tale of an alternate "steampunk" reality dominated by geniuses--"sparks"--who can design the machinery--"clanks"--that runs the otherwise early-modern-Germanic-feeling cities. Our heroine is a young not-yet-spark, Agatha, of mysterious parentage, who begins to discover her abilities after having her worst day ever. Every page is crammed with clever detail, and while at first some of the characters felt stock, they quickly proved to be rather intricate mechanisms themselves. Particularly intriguing are the villains of the piece, ruthless sparks who nonetheless have a sheer joy of intellect that makes them surprisingly appealing. A couple of questionable artistic choices mean this book doesn't quite have the broad range of age-appropriateness that I think was intended; without the art, I'd happily give this to a bright ten-year-old, but with it, I wouldn't start til fourteen. For adults, though, it's a charming read, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2005

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: The Tarantula

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: The Tarantula (writer: Matt Wagner; pencils: Guy Davis).

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ..

I'm not old enough to have read this book. I'm not sure anyone is.

Seriously, this is a work of solid craftsmanship, with some memorably lurid moments, but the subject matter grows so repellent that I was glad to put it down at the end. DC's policy of releasing first trades for $10 is brilliant, but the problem with reading only the first trade of a story like this is that you're not entirely sure what the hell you waded through all the horror for. Neither protagonist is even fully human yet; indeed, I'm depressed to find the much-lauded Dian Belmont to be yet another spunky daddy's girl, though it's entirely possible she develops later. I don't demand a redeeming message from my horror comics, but I do like to be able to think there are sound reasons for taking the excursions into the lower depths. I doubt I'm going to be able to nerve myself up to drop $17.50 on further forays into this gruesome world in search of the payoff. As for the art, it's spidery and trembling like an exposed nerve--entirely suitable, but adding to the grotesque effect.

If you like this kind of thing (call it HELLBLAZER with strictly human demons and no sense of humor), you'll love The Tarantula. It does pain me to sound so negative about a work of considerable skill, but reading this trade on its own was a fairly unpleasant experience, and I don't think I'll prove unique in that.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2005

GREEN ARROW: Quiver

GREEN ARROW: Quiver (writer: Kevin Smith; penciller: Phil Hester). Full disclosure: my exposure to GREEN ARROW has been slight, at best: mostly indirect, through Roy with the Titans/Outsiders and Dinah in BIRDS OF PREY. Ollie's something of a blank to me. So, nuances may have escaped me.

This is a resurrection story. Unlike most genre resurrection stories, this one plays fair. The price for Ollie's being brought back to life is substantial and unexpected, and paying it involves real sacrifice. That said, most comics don't have the heft required to tackle Heaven, and I don't think this one does, either. There were also some really weird lurches of tone--the jumps from the cotton-candy cosmic DC approach (for good and evil characters alike) to the very concretely disgusting Vertigo-refugee villain at the end were disorienting, to say the least. Basically, this book has storytelling ambitions that really aren't suited to a GREEN ARROW title, and while that makes for some fun leaps, in the end the result is disjointed and leaves a lot of loose ends.

Smith does a good job of making most of the characters seem appealing. Ollie's initial blandness is, in fact, explained away by the plot. Dinah's feminism would sell a little more easily if she had more than an inch of fabric covering her coochie, but let's set that aside. The supporting cast is all handled fairly well. I know a lot of people are fans of Hester's work on this title, and I can see the appeal in his blocky, bold style, but at the same time, it bothers me that I could not distinguish between Dinah, a powerful woman in her thirties, and Mia, a half-starved teenage prostitute, without looking at the dialogue. All blondes look the same?

Basically, Quiver's a pleasant way to kill an hour. I think the writer aspired to more than that, but his pretensions don't sink the book, as they easily could have. I wouldn't actually spend any money on it, but if you're a Smith or Ollie fan, you'll probably find it worth your while.

Posted by Sarah T. at 12:17 AM | Comments (1)

January 10, 2005

GLOBAL FREQUENCY: Planet Ablaze

GLOBAL FREQUENCY: Planet Ablaze. (Writer: Warren Ellis. Art: Various.) I admit it; Warren Ellis's choices sometimes baffle me. The idea underlying this series--an organization run by a mysterious figure named Miranda Zero which employs 1,001 experts in all sorts of arcane fields to respond to scientific and military emergencies that the regular Earth authorities can't or won't handle--is perfectly sound, providing a great set-up for cool puzzle-stories in which a team races to overcome high-concept science-fiction problems with clever solutions. Yet far too often in Planet Ablaze these advantages are tossed away; the story frequently tries to get us invested in sketchily-characterized team members we've only seen once and never will again, and the problems are often solved with a burst of simple violence at the end.

This doesn't mean the stories are terrible. There is at least one nifty thing to think about or look at per issue, and that's running an average higher than eighty percent of comic books. For example, the second issue features a shot of an "enhancile" (cyborg) both truly disgusting and plausibly realized, as well as a final killer image of the team member who took out the enhancile at the cost of irradiating the entire area--thereby guaranteeing himself a slow, painful, and utterly lonely death--leaning next to its corpse, smoking a cigarette. Miranda Zero herself is intriguing, and the politics are, if not deep, neither conventional for the genre nor insulting in presentation. The diversity of the characters is also welcome (even if one does occasionally get the impression that Ellis is showing off his edginess more than anything else). Each issue has a different artist, but they're all at least competent.

Still, the urge to go for the quick fix of sentiment or violence baffles me and limits the book. Ultimately, Planet Ablaze feels like sci-fi lite. I'll be checking out the next trade (just released), but not buying it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NIGHTWING: A Darker Shade of Justice

NIGHTWING: A Darker Shade of Justice. (Writer: Chuck Dixon. Art: Scott McDaniel & Karl Story.) This, the fourth of the NIGHTWING trades, is its most appealing so far, as Dixon visibly relaxes with the material. Despite the continuing grim realities of Nightwing's superhero life, there's a more playful air here which suits the character well. Dick is starting to find his footing in Bludhaven and make some headway on his issues--which gives the reader a much-needed breather. In addition, there's an improvement in Dick's fortunes in love, a development handled with real charm and a surprisingly light touch. The trade also introduces two of Dick's more amusing opponents, two girl acrobats from a Cirque du Soleil knockoff. McDaniel's art continues to be cartoony, but it's slowly grown more sleek and more clearly suited to the character--though it can still be very difficult to follow the action in any fight scene. The cover featuring Dick grappling with the acrobats is a knockout, managing to be fanservice to male and female readers alike without any unnecessary explicitness. Worth buying if you're a fan.

Posted by Sarah T. at 06:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 05, 2005

BATGIRL: YEAR ONE

BATGIRL: YEAR ONE. (Writers: Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty. Pencils (?): Marcos Martin.) This book examines the first year of Barbara Gordon's career in crime-fighting, as she struggles to gain acceptance from Batman and others. It's charming, intriguing, and playful by turns, a pleasant hour's entertainment (even if it does hit the FORESHADOWING: YOUR KEY TO QUALITY LITERATURE button a few too many times), and a comic I would gladly hand to a girl to read. It is one of the far-too-rare mainstream stories that deal sympathetically and intelligently with the difficulties faced by a young woman breaking into a heavily-male-dominated profession; Clarice Starling and Barbara are cousins. The art is suitably bright and full of the joy that Barbara takes in motion.

Still, in the end, it is hard to escape the feeling that this book merits its "young adult" label. Because it's more explicit, but not terribly sophisticated in what it does say, this book actually feels a little younger than the all-ages BATMAN ADVENTURES, which keep more beneath the surface, do. You rarely get the impression that you are meant to think much further than Barbara does (and it's more than a little disconcerting that her age is not clear--her voice seems rather young for someone who has a master's and begins the process of applying to the FBI, which has a minimum age for special agents of 23--especially when she starts flirting with a Robin who seems to be only 15 or 16). When I was finished, I didn't feel I'd come away with any startling insights into Barbara's character, comics themselves, or the world. This isn't a requirement for an enjoyable comic book, but from the hype I'd expected a bit more.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Henry James, The Princess Casamassima

The Princess Casamassima

I have long thought the complaint that James is a snob one of the most tedious and inaccurate critiques one could level against him. My sole comfort now is knowing that most people making that complaint never actually read The Princess Casamassima, so did not actually have the basis for the complaint he offers up here. Not many people read Casamassima anymore, even a hard-core fan like me, and for good reason; as a work of social realism it is hopeless and as a novel of consciousness it is thoroughly unattractive.

Like Portrait of a Lady, this book is the story of a sensitive hero making a staggering error of perception and having to find a way to cope with the consequences. Unfortunately, Hyacinth Brown lacks the radiant good faith and charm that offset Isabel Archer's naivete; he is instead an insufferable prig, whether he is thinking of himself as a revolutionary with a romantic dark secret or as the devotee of culture and the old order he slowly becomes. Furthermore, most of his ideological development, like Isabel's marriage to Gilbert Osmond, occurs off-stage--problematic enough in the latter case, where the choice to marry itself is not so important as its consequence, but here practically fatal. If watching his mind develop is to be our reward for our investment in such an unpleasant hero, then we are badly cheated to have such a serious transformation palmed off on us sight unseen. Indeed, by the end of the novel, Hyacinth is quite distant from the reader, and we are made to feel less and less that he is even of interest as a protagonist. His fate is perhaps somewhat logical, but emotionally abrupt.

It is not perhaps so difficult to understand why James felt impelled to try to merge his more typical celebration of a single subjectivity with a novel of social realism, but the attempt does not play to his strong suits. He is not a keen observer out of his own social sphere, and although he at least had the sense to make his characters largely at least one degree above true poverty, one winces to read his description of aristocrat and petty craftsman alike (indeed, they intensify each other's ridiculousness in contrast). Neither is he a master of physical description in itself: in his books, his houses and landscapes and cities are generally transmuted into impression and reaction before they even reach the reader. This is usually serviceable or better when a novel is intensely focused on the individual sensations of the protagonist, but it lends a dreamy and abstract air to this novel, which has additional aspirations and should be sharp and precise and detail-rich. His politics are laughable, and as for his aesthetics...His concerns are somewhat outdated, in the way that many of his works revolve around concerns and dichotomies that no longer compel the modern mind, but if he had taken seriously many of the questions raised in this book, it would have been fatal to his own artistic endeavors. Since he continued to write after this, and indeed retreated even further up the socioeconomic and subjective scale, the novel gives the overall impression that he is simply playing with poverty for aesthetic effect or trying to work off some vague sense of guilt. Neither of them cover him with credit.

I would not go so far as to say that this is for James completists (i.e., twenty-five grad students) only. James's prose style always gives one something to play with, and some of the minor characters are effective. However, this book is hard to take, and perhaps even more so for the admirer than for the indifferent. It's painful to see an old friend blunder about so.

Posted by Sarah T. at 05:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2004

Randy Jackson, Subwayland; Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne

Randy Jackson, Subwayland: Just in time for the MTA's centennial, we get this collection of Jackson's Times columns on the subway beat. These short observational pieces are wryly appealing, radiating that dogged affection for and patient endurance of the city's oddnesses that characterizes the most committed New Yorkers. Although you can't expect a great deal of depth from columns that run, at most, four pages, Jackson's light touch with trivia and interviews with various notables--official and not--of the subway will let you close the book with the sense that you've gotten to know your neighbors just a little bit better. And, given the length of the individual pieces, this is great bathroom reading.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne. This volume collects the well-known 80s Byrne run on Fantastic Four. Reading it is a trip back in time in more ways than one. It lets you return to the days of compressed storytelling, thought balloons, and entire major subplots resolved in a single panel of narration. It took me approximately five times longer to read this than it did for me to read the entire Ultimate Fantastic Four run to date. Fortunately, given lively plots that range from the cosmic to the microscopic in scale, it was rarely a slog; these comics do give narrative value for money. It's far too satisfying now to see a plot moving deliberately ahead and knowing that it will be wrapped up before the end of the issue--these days, you're lucky if one wraps up before the writer leaves the title.

Where the title is less satisfying, of course, is in characterization. Despite the occasional grace note, Reed Richards really is as arrogant, smug, and self-absorbed a figure as I remembered him to be. Johnny and Ben are one-note (and unbelievably immature), and Sue's sweet acquiescence in her husband's dismissive, disrespectful treatment of her is hardly to be believed. To some degree, I believe Byrne is deliberately setting up Reed and Victor von Doom (here, a relatively complex and intriguing foe) as two sides of the same coin, separated more by Reed's sense of ethics than by any difference in social skills, capacity for teamwork, or humility...but you can only take that reading so far. The characters aren't actually unbearable, but you can't escape the awareness that they are being written not to challenge the social sophistication of fourteen-year-old boys.

Of course, the values of American society have changed since the days of Kirby; we put a lot less blind faith in noble men pursuing abstract truth beyond the ken of us lesser mortals, but these comics are still only about twenty years old, and Byrne simply wasn't keeping up. Looking at this volume, you certainly are reminded why Chris Claremont's X-Men seemed like a shining triumph for feminism. It's no wonder Ultimate FF had to de-age Reed, and match him with a far more skilled and self-confident Sue, to sell him at all in the 21st century.

The art in this volume enjoys the advantages and disadvantages of compressed storytelling. Most page layouts are simple grids, heavily cluttered with narratorial boxes, thought balloons, and speech bubbles. In contrast to a modern comic employing the style of endless splash pages and negotiation with the limits of the grids, FF's art, then, has to be restrained and economical. Within those constraints, it's competent, and the occasional splash page can be quite striking (see, for example, the reveal of Ego, the Living Planet). And, of course, one is spared the T&A that is a perpetual thumb in the eye of any adult reader of today's comics.

Ultimately, Fantastic Four Visionaries is an interesting read, but a frustrating one. Despite everything, it makes you glad to be living through the newest stage of comic book evolution.

Posted by Sarah T. at 06:03 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2004

Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven; Nightwing: Rough Justice

Nightwing: A Knight in Bludhaven and Rough Justice (collecting Nightwing 1-8 and 9-18): Poor Dick. He must be the only superhero in history who became less cool when he got his own title. Seriously. What other superhero comic would devote a full issue early in its run to a surreal fantasy about the character's heroic and sexual inadequacy? You have to feel for an orphan left to imprint emotionally on Batman, and you have to adore a kid whose heart is so big that he outloves the Dark Knight's defenses, but sheesh. In these trades, he makes Smallville's Lana Lang look like a model of stoic self-sufficiency. Let Dick have a little dignity!

This run is a two-arc setup to introduce Dick's new Bludhaven home, job, friends, superhero beat, and did I mention the neuroses? It's your typical Chuck Dixon fare: pedestrian, sometimes awkward, usually readable but sadly lacking in grace notes. The action is...adequate. A lengthy mob arc is even more boring than these tend to be for me (I'm not even trying to keep up with War Games) because the mobsters are so new to us that the serial numbers haven't even been filed off yet. The rogues' gallery has a couple of dark horses, but is largely unimpressive. I can't believe this is the Blockbuster that's caused such uproar in the title of late; he seems like the worst sort of generically grim 90s-designed villain, who's...really SUPER big and punches SUPER hard. And the less said about "Lady Victims," the better. The art doesn't help much here. Dick looks fairly good (and loses the ponytail, thank God), but it's often quite difficult to work out what sort of acrobatics he just pulled off to escape that dangerous situation. More potentially interesting is the subplot with the block's own self-appointed vigilante, who makes Dick look like a model of mental stability. We've seen this before, but the byplay of the origin stories works for me.

Probably the most enjoyable aspect of these issues is the ongoing byplay with Oracle and the bonding with Tim. If you haven't completely lost your patience with Bruce, you'll also find the awkward way he and Dick come to an accommodation touching. (I go back and forth on this.) Dick really isn't meant to work solo; there's a reason he decided to settle in a city that would need him even more than Gotham did. Therefore, keeping him connected to the Gotham crew is important for reasons beyond sales, and it's also vital that he get a chance to shape the long-neglected Dick Grayson into a real live boy now that he's on his own. I think Dixon knows this and works hard, within the limits of his powers, to provide Dick with a milieu that will challenge him as a person as well as a superhero. It's a pity he doesn't really have the talent to take it farther. Dick is an odd character in an awkward place, and though he reaches something in a lot of comics readers, it takes a light touch to make him shine.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 02, 2004

Henry James, Roderick Hudson

This is the first James novel, and I reread it largely because I wanted to remind myself of the history of Christina Light, the femme fatale of this book who is also the heroine of The Princess Casamassima, which I am presently trudging through.

This book is, to be frank, the See Jane Run edition of Doktor Faustus, which, if it treated of a theme that isn't terribly compelling to the modern mind (are art and morality fundamentally opposed?), at least had the good grace to lard it with some very abstruse footnotes and complex symbolism, sadly missing here. Well, Roderick Hudson is a first novel. It hasn't aged well (though it reads easily and clearly, not exactly a strong point for James later on). What can you expect, really?

The one interesting thought I had about this book is that the existence of present-day New York City would've utterly undone James. He might never have written a word. An American city, one of the greatest capital of the art world and of sophisticated debauchery? It would unstring his dichotomies and reduce his plots to rubble. Even in the latest novels, when American power is represented as far less crude, far more subtle, much more irresistible than at the start of his career (Adam Verver vs. the senior Touchett), James was never prepared to treat with New York City as the flower of Western civilization.

Posted by Sarah T. at 08:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

P.S. 238: With Liberty and Recess for All; Selina's Big Score; Sleeper: Out in the Cold

P.S. 238: With Liberty and Recess for All (Dork Storm Press): This trade collects P.S. 238 0-5, a comic about little "metaprodigies" attending the first public school for the same. It's hilarious in a way that the traditional DC and Marvel hero de-aging storylines have never been for me, primarily, I think, because there's so little cutesiness. The parodies of established comics characters are more than giggle-worthy (I was unable to restrain my laughter in a crowded subway car, especially when the two little supervillain children begin battling it out for ULTIMATE DOMINATION OF THEIR CLASSROOM), but they're also cleverly intercut with character development and (surprisingly) intriguing storylines about the adults in charge of the institution. The kids have a Peanuts-like resignation to the difficulty and unfairness of childhood while remaining recognizably child-like. There's genuine feeling here, too, at unexpected moments--especially when it comes to Tyler, the child of two cosmically-powered beings who just can't resign themselves to the fact that their kid is, well, normal. If you like superhero humor at all, I strongly recommend you pick this up.

Selina's Big Score: This is an engaging heist story, the explanation of how Catwoman got both the money and the motivation to start getting out of the life of crime. I admit I have a big soft spot for Selina as coolly amoral jetsetting jewel thief, so I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. Score didn't suddenly turn her into the Batworld equivalent of the hooker with the heart of gold; instead, it demonstrated, in a thoroughly unsentimental way, how Selina's own difficult life made it possible for her to empathize with the suffering of others, recognize real kindness when she saw it, and in the end have the strength to act on those feelings. It didn't make her soft, and it didn't have a man drive her change, so, in the end, it felt organic and satisfying. I lack the technical vocabulary to explain why the idiosyncratic art, which on first glance I found completely unattractive, turned out to be tremendously cool and expressive, but trust me, it did. Worth reading.

Sleeper: Out in the Cold (WildStorm) is the trade reprinting the critically acclaimed Sleeper 1-6, a tale of a double agent working in a supervillain organization. I had more mixed reactions than the comics press has had generally. The protagonist and the premise are intriguing, and the characters' powers, which seem primarily to work as metaphor for psychopathologies, are imaginative. However, some of the plotting is rather choppy (the way that the protagonist's Big Problem is introduced to the reader seems to set up his getting a horrible shock when he learns of it, but then we skip ahead in time and he's just...learned somehow, which squanders a good bit of dramatic potential) or downright unsuited to the gritty realism of the title (the Secret Monarchy? Conspiracies might fit, but not Foucault's Pendulum-style ones). Also, in this world, women are either strippers or Slutty Exhibitionist Babes who naturally have the hots for our hero. I admit that the spy thriller has not traditionally been the province of strong female characters, but it's 2004, Brubaker, and I know you can do better.

Ultimately, I'm not entirely sure what Sleeper has to say as a spy thriller that hasn't already been said, from Le Carre to La Femme Nikita. There's a lot of very familiar talk about the costs of working undercover, the painful sacrifices that must be made in the name of national security. What does throwing superpowers into the mix actually change? Maybe Brubaker knows, maybe he doesn't. If the latter, we're talking about just another thriller that really doesn't deserve the kudos the industry has heaped on it...but I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. Recommended for now.

Posted by Sarah T. at 02:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 04, 2004

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton

I am perpetually, if slowly, rereading James' novels. It's only as you get older that you start to appreciate the advantages of having been acquainted with an author for (what is now) almost half of your life; it allows you to measure your shifts of perspective and preference in a way almost nothing else can--like a wall on which your mother has pencilled a mark representing your height at various dates, only, of course, not linear. James novels will appear here in the spirit of note-taking, not review.

I can tell I'm in the midst of James when I feel the impulse to elaborate analogy and metaphor. I rarely do otherwise.

At any rate, Poynton. This novella is about the conflict which arises when a prosaic-minded young man inherits the great house and collection of Poynton, leaving his aesthete mother to face the prospect of his marrying a dull girl with tremendously bad taste. The mother has just met a poor young woman of much better taste, a young woman who promptly falls in love with the son, and how that girl struggles to reconcile the competing claims of self and friends and art is the heart of the story.

I remember when I first read Poynton, at 18 or so, that the first page struck me as a note-perfect, sympathetic rendition of a particular state of mind--an irritation produced by a ruffled sensibility assaulted at every turn by someone else's cherished ugliness--that I had never seen reproduced anywhere else. Reading it now, I thought: if this were any other writer, I'd think it the most savage satire. The sense of an unintentional betrayal of pomposity, of a perverse narrow-mindedness, were so much present to me. And to tell you the truth, I'm really not sure which is the correct reading (or if they somehow both are). James is always doing odd things with point-of-view, but Poynton stands closer to his middle period, with its omniscient third-person narrator's voice slowly blending into the characters', than to his late, where the third-person point-of-view can be insanely tight for a person writing in the beginning of the twentieth century.

What's more, right to the bitter end, James maintains an earnest, a pious respect for Sensibility that is only defeated by his even earnester regard for an all-encompassing and illuminated Propriety which makes me feel that whatever the date, he can't quite have meant to make such fun, or visit such a damning criticism, on poor Mrs. Gereth. And yet...one of the things I took away from my last rereading of Portrait of a Lady was a pointed critique of the very concept of a life as a work of art, much more pointed than I recalled from the reading before that, and Mrs. Gereth pursues the similar ideal of life for a work of art, her great house.

I'm puzzled. Lately I've come to think less of James' almighty earnestness, which appealed to me so at 16. If it turns out that there is a greater vein of black humor in him than I recognized as a teenager, it may help end the coolness between us.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2004

Batman: The Long Halloween

This trade, written by Jeph Loeb and pencilled by Tim Sale, retells the origin of Two-Face over a year fairly early in Batman's career, when every holiday brings a new murder by the serial killer called Holiday. Now, origin stories can be tricky. It's never easy to explain how an otherwise ordinary citizen can wake up one morning and declare, "Today, I am going to put on a goofy costume and go fight/commit crime!" Long Halloween draws this process out, suggesting that Harvey Dent (later Two-Face) cracks under the relentless pressure of the year and his frustration in dealing with the Gotham Mob. Unfortunately, it's just not enough Harvey's story for this to work; it's Batman's, with occasional peeks in on Harvey to set up the progression. We don't get a strong sense of Harvey's personality before the year starts and we especially don't get enough of a sense of his relationship with Bruce and/or Batman, though we're supposed to gather it was a good friendship. There's enough to evoke momentary flashes of sympathy, but not enough to sustain a whole book. If Two-Face were a new villain, this might work as a way of building suspense, but we know what's going to happen to Harvey. All the interest lies in the how, and how that affects those around them. It weirds me out to say that I found a Loeb plot more solidly conceived than Loeb character work (the mystery isn't brilliant, but it basically works, and the pacing is good), but there it is.

Tim Sale's art here is beloved by many with taste, and I admit I have idiosyncratic and not-fully-formed standards for comics art, but I had mixed reactions to it. I thought it worked well for the many mobsters--it conveys the sort of pugnacious solidity of the women particularly effectively, and the weaselliness of the minor corrupt characters--but not for many of the main characters. Especially not Selena, who looks like a jumped-up Jersey girl with a bad wave rather than at all glamorous and whose costume looks more chipmunky than catlike (most cats don't have round ears). Harvey seems half-grotesque, half-decayed, even at the beginning of the year--not at all "Apollo" the handsome, crusading DA--and Bruce really lacks those firm lines that are essential to the character for me. The conception of Ivy (radically different from the Dini/Timm style) was pretty nifty, though. There's a general atmosphere of lushness, fever, and organic decay which is (at least in my experience) an unusual approach to take to Gotham, so it's at least worth looking at.

Two-Face, as a villain, is fairly repetitive and tedious unless well-handled, but I believe there's a really good Harvey Dent story waiting to be told. Alas, this isn't quite it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 11:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 15, 2004

Mystique: Drop Dead Gorgeous

Like many and many a wee!fangirl of the 80s, I cut my comics teeth on Claremont's first X-Men run. Say what you will about its flaws, it had verve and heart and appealing characters and adventures! in! space! (My all-time favorite issue of any comic, anywhere, remains Uncanny 150, the double-sized issue that marked the beginning of Magneto's reform, and I've never forgiven what's happened to him afterwards.) Even though I essentially stopped reading comics for about a decade after I turned 14, it always pained me to notice that the X-titles had become the epitome of the industry's marketing excesses and aesthetic imbecilism in the 1990s. Maybe things have improved, but the books are still really not aimed at grown-up readers, even those willing to enjoy a good honest tale of explosions and a little character development. Although I enjoyed X2 quite a bit, not even Joss Whedon could lure me into spending my limited comics budget of reading time and money on a core X-title.

Mystique, however, is blessedly disconnected from the Great Dismal Swamp that is X-continuity. It's such an obvious premise the only wonder is that it wasn't done before: in a La Femme Nikita-esque scenario, Xavier rescues mutant-rights terrorist Mystique from execution and promises to shelter her from the authorities so long as she undertakes missions that are too politically sensitive (read: morally dubious) for the X-Men themselves to handle. This lays the basis for a series of loosely interconnected missions all over the world while Mystique considers the place she wants in the new mutant order.

Mystique, who never really achieved her potential in the X-titles, is a great protagonist. She's cynical, ruthless, unrepentant, and absolutely unwilling to buy any bullshit about her situation or that of mutants in general. Always remembering that she's a Marvel hero, in fact, she's amazingly amoral and adult (toned down slightly for the series, but not so much as you might expect--there's only one false move on this point in the TPB, and I'm really hoping they don't soften her up later in the series). The writer (Vaughan) doesn't shy away from reminding us that she's middle-aged, at the very least, though of course that's easier to do when the middle-aged character can still look young and hot. She also hasn't given up on her ideological commitments, revelling in kicking the asses of mutant-haters, and it's easy to go along with her. Seen through her eyes, Xavier is a far shadier, more hypocritical figure than he must appear in his own books, and it's an intriguing take. The other supporting characters so far--her "support staff," Forge and a new character, Shortpack--are still a little on the dull side, but I'm willing to at least give the latter a chance (I can't remember a time when Forge wasn't boring, honestly).

Drop Dead Gorgeous focuses on capers in exotic settings, infiltrations, and last-minute twists: it's good solid spy-thriller plotting and it's well-used in classic fashion to illuminate Mystique's character. New subplots start to click into place just where they ought to be to keep the action fresh in the future. The art, however, is sadly pedestrian. It does manage to stay just this side of grow-the-fuck-up T&A, but it illustrates the story rather than adding much to it. Given Mystique's character and the situations she's in, the art really needs a more subtle, nuanced approach to get across what's going on in her head. This book cries out for noirish atmosphere, and I hope this eventually dawns on Marvel.

If you still quietly resonate with the basic scenario of the X-Men world but just can't bring yourself to buy the variant-cover edition du jour, if you enjoy thrillers featuring kick-ass chicks with stompy boots, you'll probably like Mystique. I understand the book's sales are unimpressive, so buying the trade (which is really the better format for this kind of story anyway) would probably be helpful to its continued survival. Unless, you know, you'd rather read another title about muscly cybermen with wacky powers doing the exact same thing they're doing in all the other books.

Posted by Sarah T. at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

Leo Marks, Between Silk and Cyanide

This was an oddly unsatisfying book. It's a memoir of the author's time as a cryptographer for British intelligence during WWII, during which he apparently pioneered (at least for his own country) some vital encryption techniques. Marks has a pleasingly self-deprecatory style--the book could have been subtitled Portrait of the Writer as a Young Blighter--and his constant awareness of the subordination of his work to that of the field agents is refreshing. The relation of his discovery through analysis of the kind of traffic alone that England's Dutch spies had almost all been captured was properly interesting and chilling. I was also intrigued by his largely throwaway references to life as a Jew during this time period, which can't have been easy.

However, as a portrait of the times, Between Silk and Cyanide suffers from the peculiarly English fault (Anthony Powell being another notable offender) of being utterly unaware that the reader may not be of the author's social milieu and hence able to fill in all blanks and look at everything in some broader view. The general effect is of examining a picture taken with the lens jammed up against one interesting detail of the subject, with absolutely no context or perspective. For a study of life in cryptography, the book avoids virtually all technical details, presumably on the grounds that the reader wouldn't get them, but that leaves the book disappointingly vague when a greater attempt to communicate Marks's craft to the layman might have made it more interesting and challenging. For a book of several hundred pages to be mostly repetitive office politics seems like a wasted opportunity.

I suppose this book will appeal to those who gobble up any and all WWII-related materials. Others are advised to skip it.

Posted by Sarah T. at 04:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Nightwing: Ties That Bind

This trade, following up on Batman: Prodigal, collects the first few issues of Nightwing, plus a special, Alfred's Return. Despite my love for the character, it's eminently forgettable. The story arbitrarily couples a throw-away plot with what should be fairly important character progression--for once, a DC character is actually making serious, life-altering decisions that will determine his path for the next decade, instead of just being reset with the next creative team--but since the two don't actually have much of a connection, Dick's declaration of new-found purpose at the end of the story can draw only a "Huh?" As for the art, Dick is drawn with great hopes of providing fanservice but a complete unawareness of what his body actually ought to look like (he's a gymnast! He's not just a shorter version of Bruce!) and an absolutely hideous mullet that he also wears in an equally hideous rat-tail. It's old-fashioned art, which means basically inoffensive and workmanlike, but also essentially uninspiring.

Alfred's Return is a little more fun, but that's mostly because I have a soft spot for cranky old folk kicking ass and taking names, and the writer does succeed in creating a gently melancholy atmosphere as Alfred reflects on the paths his life might have taken.

Basically, this volume is something you ought to read once, to get a basic idea of what Dick is doing in Bludhaven, but there's no need to own it.

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June 16, 2004

Batman: Prodigal

This is a distinctly old-school book, and not in a particularly appealing way. The dialogue can be downright laughable--there's nothing that says "old-fashioned comics" like a teenage boy shrilly analyzing his partner's emotions with! constant! exclamation points! The plot isn't incredibly well-put-together; there's no true plot arc, and the most complicated story ends in a puzzling manner. The art ranges from the silly to the embarrassing.

However, the ending is pure, sweet Bruce & Dick heroin, straight to the vein. If you want to know these characters, you really do need to read this book, for that reason alone.

Posted by Sarah T. at 06:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 28, 2004

Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty

I've always been intrigued by the mundane side of the existence of supernatural characters, whether it be the problem of finding a babysitter while a mutant's out saving the world or the weird impact having superheroes in your neighborhood could have on the local dating scene. Batman is, of course, not technically a supernatural character, but he's close enough for government work (more on that some other day). The concept of Gotham Central is therefore so obvious it's amazing it wasn't done earlier: examine crime-fighting in Gotham from the point-of-view of the cops always getting shouldered aside by the Bat-family. What keeps them going, when in their universe they can border on the useless? How do they feel about the high-powered vigilantes that keep preempting them on both sides?

In the Line of Duty collects issues #1-5 in this series, and it has some of the problems you might expect from a new series. The characters are either new or at best secondary characters from other series, meaning the reader doesn't know much about them (or what she knows is untrustworthy, filtered through the superhero lens), and this is a particular difficulty for this sort of series. Say what you will about them otherwise, a memorable backstory, colorful powers, and snappy patter go a long way towards sketching in the broad outlines of a superpowered individual's character; building characterization through the routine of police work, even on the big cases of the Major Crimes Unit, takes much longer. Hence, it's not easy to get an immediate grasp on the characters (or, due to the somewhat generic figure-art, even tell the men apart). The characters slowly begin to distinguish themselves as the story moves along, but you have to be willing to make the initial investment, and to trust that the process will continue in future issues.

But there's still a lot to like here. The death that leads off the series is shocking and brutal, but it feels extremely appropriate--it's the sort of thing that would happen if the series is to be at all realistic, and so it gives you confidence to see that the creative team is willing to go there. The detectives are a diverse bunch, and the seeds of personality conflicts and office politics are clearly being planted in these issues. The plots are at least serviceable, with the first case especially providing some real moments of tension. There is humor to vary the tone, though it's fairly standard cop-show stuff. The art, while at times verging on the abstract for the figures, is effective in the cityscapes, and, no, you won't have to wince and skim past any grotesque depictions of women's bodies. Finally, a cop gets to tell off Batman, and as I've rapidly acquired more Batman Issues than, you know, Batman issues, I was glad to see it.

Being stubborn about these things, I'll probably wait for the next trade to go any further with the series (to be honest, I shudder at the thought of trying to keep track of one of the investigations from month to month), but I will pick up that next trade, and you should, too.

Posted by Sarah T. at 03:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 23, 2004

Halldor Laxness, Iceland's Bell

This is the story--more or less--of a poor Icelander in seventeenth-century Iceland who stole a piece of cord and found himself unintentionally caught up in the fate of a whole nation and a great literature. It is a book of wondrous deadpan black humor, fantastic descriptive set-pieces, and oddly appealing, yet unmistakably grotesque, characters.

However, you are not going to like this book unless you can bring yourself to appreciate an approach to prose different from the modern English. I've seen Tolkien take enough ill-informed shellacking in fandom for his style that I feel I have to say this here. It's not a problem with the translation. Laxness writes in a style heavily influenced by the Icelandic saga (as Tolkien did, only less so), in which the dialogue is epigrammatic and terse, the action abrupt, and character motivations almost never explicitly offered. Why the sagas aren't generally taught to English-speakers is beyond me (I managed to get through a high-quality liberal-arts education without more than a dim consciousness that they even existed); they are actually closer in form to the modern novel than any contemporary works from other European nations, but they aren't familiar to us, and if you haven't worked on decoding them, you're likely to find Laxness alien. Even if you have, he's puzzling to the point of vexation at times.

And yet the rewards are there, too, if you're willing to accept the challenges.

An old man with a dog walks over through the lava rocks and steps out on the path before the travelers.

"And who might you be?"

The fat one answers: "I am His Majesty's emissary and hangman."

"You don't say," the old man mumbled hoarsely, in a voice that seemed to come from a great distance. "All the same, it's the Creator who rules."

"I have a letter to prove it," said the king's emissary...

The old man didn't want to risk coming any closer to the travelers, so he sat down on the remains of the wall encircling the courthouse and looked at them. He was not different from any other old man: he had a gray beard, red eyes, a chimney-cap, and gnarled legs, and he clenched his blue hands around his walking stick and leaned forward upon it tremblingly. His dog came over inside the wall and sniffed at the men without barking, as dogs do when concealing their savagery.

"No one had letters in the old days," murmured the old man softly.

Swarthy, the pale man's guide, exclaimed: "Right you are, pal! Gunnar of Hlidarendi had no letters."

"And who are you?" asked the old man.

"Oh, this is a cord-thief from Akranes..."

The black-haired man spoke up and sneered, baring his gleaming white teeth: "That's the king's hangman from Bessastadir. All the dogs piss on him."

It took me most of a term to read this book; it's exceptionally concentrated in tone, and I often wanted a break, even from the dark humor. However, I have the feeling I'll be reading it again soon.

Posted by Sarah T. at 06:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Bruce Wayne: Fugitive

Bruce Wayne: Fugitive isn't really as satisfying as its predecessor storyline, collected in Bruce Wayne: Murderer? (reviewed here). Although Fugitive does share some of Murderer's strengths, like a strong ensemble focus, and the solution to the mystery is largely a good one (the qualification being due solely to the fact that one of the people responsible was ruled out in Murderer, and no good reason is given for his sudden resurrection as a candidate), the emotional through-line is a lot less clear. Unlike Bruce's crackup in the previous volume, which was perfectly foreshadowed, his turnaround strikes like lightning and with less obvious cause. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's completely arbitrary, but the motivation remains opaque. The storyline itself essentially ends up in vol. 2; vol. 3 is wrapup, in some ways necessary wrapup, but I think marketing it as part of this TPB set is deceptive.

There are some very pleasing moments: Superman's brief cameo is outstanding, and Sasha gets to kiss and dismiss Bruce in a way he more than amply deserved. But I say get this one used (the set runs $45 new!), and mostly if you were left demanding at the end of Murderer, "What happens next?!?!?" That ought to be most readers, actually.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2004

Bruce Wayne: Murderer. This is a 250-page-plus trade paperback chronicling the events that cascade from the discovery of one of Bruce Wayne's ex-girlfriends murdered in Wayne Manor, threatening not only Wayne's destruction, but the overthrow of his entire crime-fighting organization. Now, while I'm fond of the animated Justice League Batman in my own way, I'm not exactly one of the Bat-obsessed folk. Vigilantes, the self-conscious "dark knights," tend to bore me; I'm more drawn to those struggling to stay on the side of right and respect for law, precisely because there's more struggle, more dynamism. (The self-righteousness of a Punisher makes Superman look like Peter Parker.) However, I picked up this volume for some research and for a little escapism in a rough week, and I wasn't disappointed.

This TPB is an easy entry point for the intelligent adult who hasn't read much DC. Except for dealing with a few of the secondary characters on the margins of the story, it's surprisingly easy to follow for someone, like me, who's never had a relationship with the comics canon. The art also manages to avoid the painful comics cliches which adult comics readers always have to strain to read past, and in some places is strikingly beautiful or evocative.

Because the plotline was spread over multiple titles, the story ends up being satisfyingly balanced, as the various members of the Batfamily pursue their own distinctive ways of investigating the story--as well as their own distinctive doubts--while Bruce is slowly ground down under the brutalities of prison and the media circus. Each character's flaws figure prominently into events, especially those of Batman himself. The featured original character could be a Mary Sue, but is redeemed by her own reactions to what happens, as well as her awkward placement with respect to the rest of Batman's people; her extraordinary admission into the inner sanctum is not a function of her superhuman wonderfulness, but rather a sign of the stresses on the organization that nearly tear it apart once Bruce is arrested. The mystery is genuinely difficult, despite its being exceptionally unlikely, from a meta-perspective, that Bruce could actually be guilty. The story works to a disturbing conclusion that seems foreordained once it comes, even if you know that the nature of the comics means matters can't rest there.

In short, taken as a sort of standalone Batman graphic novel, Bruce Wayne: Murderer?, draws you effectively into its world and keeps you engaged while you're there. It's definitely worth picking up by the adult who's no longer a comics geek per se, but knows that the medium can still support a good story.

Posted by Sarah T. at 07:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

More Rex Stout

Rex Stout, Too Many Clients: After a murder, Archie discovers the victim's love nook, and Wolfe is determined to parlay into a fee from *someone*. This one suffers from some dated social attitudes (including one incident of domestic violence that is startlingly ugly for Stout), but is still fairly funny. The solution doesn't quite come out of the hat it initially seems to.

Stout, Plot It Yourself: An association of writers and publishers hires Wolfe to catch someone masterminding a scheme of false plagiarism charges and sets off a string of murders. Like Prisoner's Base, this is the rare suspenseful Stout, where the body count can be anticipated but not prevented. A relatively large cast of secondary characters is well-drawn. Although the culprit is reasonably connected to the crime in the end, the motives for the underlying scheme are never really made clear.

Posted by Sarah T. at 02:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 12, 2004

I just forced corporate America to buy me the Angel S2 DVDs...and it feels pretty darned good!

I would be very happy if Wonderfalls turned out to be any good. I could use an infusion of New Fannish Energy. My love for SV remains strong and steady, but watching is like being stretched very slowly on the rack and knowing no one's coming to the rescue. I could use a little fun, a little unpredictability.

Rex Stout, If Death Ever Slept: Another of the lesser entries, featuring a perfunctory quirky-pretty girl, an equally perfunctory seductress, and a surprising failure of actual plot twists. The humor peters out after about the first fifty pages, too.

Posted by Sarah T. at 04:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 04, 2004

Light reading

Rex Stout, Black Orchids. This is a compilation, two short stories that both involve the titular orchids. They also involve two of the most elaborate murder schemes in the Stout oeuvre, which gives them some novelty value. I'm always fond of the stories in which one of Wolfe's obsessions compels him to make an ass of himself, and the first one in the book satisfies that taste thoroughly. The second features one of the more striking of the endless parade of girls through 135 W. 35th, Maryella Tims. Together, they're slight, but adequate for late-night diner reading.

Stout, Too Many Women. Can there be such a thing for Archie? He tries to answer the question as he investigates the workings of a "stock department" staffed largely by several hundred beautiful girls. This one has some excellent humor, but the plot lingers in stasis and then is resolved abruptly without much actual assistance from clues. Stout's mysteries generally aren't masterpieces of deduction, but this one ranks down there with Death of a Dude.

Posted by Sarah T. at 04:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 05, 2004

Some media consumed during the first half of the break

This year, I'm going to try to keep a better record of what I read. I'm reading more nonprofessionally than I have in several years, so I'll brave the future in which I wince rereading my notes in order to be able to remember it all.

The Return of the King

Smallville: "Lineage" and "Hourglass"

Reversal of Fortune. This is a longtime favorite of mine. To my mind, it's the most thoughtful of all movies about the American legal process, which manages to wrap a troubling meditation on the inescapable indeterminacy of narrative and the inherent limitations of a system of justice that depends on it in a traditional crusading-lawyer-rights-a-wrong story. Strong performances by Glenn Close and especially Jeremy Irons as the impeccably, hilariously, disturbingly odd Claus von Bulow (though you'll never convince me that the Oscar he won for the performance wasn't a retroactive award for his work in Dead Ringers a year earlier--Jonathan Demme hadn't yet established that you could win Oscars for a mere horror film). A bit too celebratory of Dershowitz, but what can you expect?

Tom Shales, Live from New York. This was a Christmas present from my sister, a Saturday Night Live retrospective. To me it was interesting primarily as an exercise in triangulation of characters described from multiple perspectives, though there were some hilarious passages. There was more candidness than I would have expected from the interview subjects, but that's only valuable in so far as you're really interested in the topic, and my interest is fair-to-middling, especially after the earliest era. Still, if you enjoy SNL, you'll probably find this a worthwhile read.

Rex Stout, The League of Frightened Men. I am perpetually rereading the Nero Wolfe novels. Despite the obvious flaws (occasionally half-hearted puzzles, authorial manipulation to delay resolution), their charm will never fade for me. Nero Wolfe was my first model for how to live an independent intellectual life, though even as a naive kid I appreciated the value of Archie's sardonic counterpoint to his pretensions. LFM is the tale of a group of men who fear they're being murdered one by one by the victim of a college hazing many years earlier. It's one of the earlier novels, in which Stout was, I suspect, trying to sell his mysteries as more mainstream dramas. Wolfe pontificates at the drop of a hat and there is some lurid melodrama that's supposed to be character work. Read it for the banter and the period atmosphere.

Stout, Too Many Cooks. A slightly later novel, with Stout just hitting his stride. Wolfe attends a retreat of world-class chefs for...reasons of his own. The characterization is much more appealing and plausible in this one (if it's fanciful in spots, it's a charming rather than a grim fantasy, and it manages to avoid the Curse of Twee that so often strikes the "exotic-world-of-[x]" mystery), the humor is top-notch, and the puzzle better-than-average. [Note: there are some awkward moments dealing with black characters, but given that the book was published in the 30s, I tend to think Stout was well-meaning if insensitive at points here.]

Lost in Translation. This is the kind of film that may not improve with multiple viewings, as it's so delicate and lyrical that it suffers when the mind starts dissecting mid-scene. My third viewing was not the best, but it's still a lovely and haunting piece, a perfect depiction of cultural vertigo and the tender fragility of human affections. It also features the first Yalie heroine in recent memory.

Posted by Sarah T. at 09:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack