Tag Archives: Reviews

DVD Review: MAPS TO THE STARS

Mia Wasikowska gets inspired on Hollywood Boulevard.

Mia Wasikowska gets inspired on Hollywood Boulevard.

David Cronenberg gets to thoroughly explore hallucinations, one of his favorite themes (see 1983’s Videodrome), in his latest film, “Maps to the Stars.” It’s those things you think you see that may turn out to be most real of all. Hollywood comes under scrutiny in a most diabolical way as we follow the steady disintegration of the film’s characters. And, among the doomed players, no one is more set for destruction than Agatha Weiss (played by Mia Wasikowska).

The screenplay by Bruce Wagner offers up a delicious send-up to the entertainment industry, its nefarious machinations, and dehumanizing power. Everyone is quite sick in the head here. And the cure is surely not to be found from a Dr. Phil parody, Dr. Stafford Weiss (played John Cusack). It’s his family that is at the epicenter to the disaster that awaits. And it is his daughter Agatha who, upon her arrival to Los Angeles, brings back all the ugliness and chaos to a family in crisis. At 18, she can no longer be held at bay in some Florida rehab clinic. All the chickens have come home to roost.

Cronenberg gives LA the treatment: No one can function naturally in Los Angeles. Everyone has a scheme. Everyone is afraid. Everyone seeks the artificial light. They zig and zag from swank homes to movie sets to Rodeo Drive. Everything being relative, a breakfast burrito can suddenly become the most prized possession, at least for a moment. Nothing shines for long in LA.

At the heart of the Weiss family is the younger child, Benjie Weiss (played by Evan Bird). In contrast to his father’s role as a therapist, Benjie, at 13, is an unstable child actor close to going down in flames. His dad, however, is not too far away from burning out himself as his practice is more of a carnival sideshow than anything serious. Rounding out the family circle is Christina Weiss (played by Olivia Williams). Her stage mother is on similar shaky ground.

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The catalyst, and the destroyer, is Agatha. Wasikowska commands the screen with exceptional creepiness. It is comparable to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler.” Through a series of insinuations, she manages to stake out a decent vantage point to the proceedings as a personal assistant to a fading movie actress, Havana Segrand (played by Julianne Moore). And Segrand proves a perfect match as she’s as crazed as Agatha in her own way. For one thing, she keeps battling with hallucinations of her mother, Clarice Taggart (played by Sarah Gadon). And she is certainly not alone when it comes to seeing things.

As a comeuppance, Benjie is spooked by what seems like the ghost of a young girl he was rude to during a publicity stop at a hospital. Benjie has been a very bad boy and yet he struggles with that. Old and jaded way beyond his years, he will often display poignant self-awareness. Bird delivers an impressive performance. And, while he may not be the star of the film in terms of name recognition, he clocks in a lot of screen time and proves to be the essential counterpoint to Agatha.

Another result of Agatha’s sly maneuvering is her dating a handsome aspiring actor with a day job as a chauffeur, Jerome Fontana (played by Robert Pattinson). This is Pattinson’s second Cronenberg film (see 2012’s Cosmopolis) and he makes the most of it. Playing a far less capable actor than himself, Pattinson presents for us, in his pivotal role, the perfect stooge and the perfect cad. Without a hint of irony, he says that he sees becoming a Scientologist as a good career move. He provides a fine example of how lost everyone is in this story while, at the same time, how aware everyone is of what they bargained for.

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Filed under Hollywood, Horror, Horror Movies, Los Angeles, Movie Reviews

TV Review: HENRY DANGER

Cooper Barnes as Ray, Jace Norman as Henry, and Riele Downs as Charlotte on "Henry Danger"

Cooper Barnes as Ray, Jace Norman as Henry, and Riele Downs as Charlotte on “Henry Danger”

Last week’s episode began with a somewhat obscure reference to the classic holiday chestnut, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” A girl comes into the shop and tries out a piano only to have Ray really lose it with a lame Jimmy Stewart impersonation. Ray flips out. Charlotte pleads for him to get a grip for the sake of the children. And then the moment is gone. Very funny. If you were a fan of the offbeat humor of “iCarly,” then you’ll love this new show, “Henry Danger,” from the same creator. Dan Schneider is the co-creator with Dana Olsen. And you’ll know Dana Olsen from his writing for the movies, “George of the Jungle” and “Inspector Gadget.” If you’re new to “Henry Danger,” or if you’re already a fan, read on. This is something very different.

Ray Bradbury was fond of saying that he read every genre. And he was especially keen on keeping up with books for young readers. In that spirit, I present to you, “Henry Danger,” one of the smartest shows on television, whatever your age. This is on Nickelodeon and, for the purposes of this review, we’ll consider what I’ll conveniently call, “kid humor.” Now, here’s the thing, kid humor is awesome and pretty darn universal.

Kids, let’s just say, are closer to knowing what they want than adults. It seems like they understand things, like a sense of humor, at a purer level. They appreciate a well-constructed sight gag right along with an ironic aside and that’s that. Kids know all the tropes. They know what adults find funny better than some adults realize. At the end of the day, kids get a good joke better than some older folk. Kids will accept something funny at a highly sophisticated level, whether it’s silly or surreal, or preferably both at the same time.

What “Henry Danger” does is live right in that kid humor zone. The creative team understands. They understand things like beloved characters are larger-than-life and can also suddenly explode. They appreciate that kids understand the great duality: fiction can be more real that everyday life while, at the same time, it’s also just fiction. There are numerous examples of how the show relishes breaking the fourth wall, as they say. Part of the fun comes from inverting and subverting. For starters, this is a wonderfully deadpan and absurd send-up of superheroes. Our superhero is simply known as Captain Man (played by Cooper Barnes) and his secret lair is, wait for it…the Man Cave.

Henry-Danger Cooper-Barnes

Captain Man’s origin story is a perfect satire of all origin stories. Little Ray was simply too close to a crazy experiment that his mad scientist father was conducting. An accident led to Ray becoming indestructible. And this led to a relatively easy-going career as the superhero protector of the small town of Swellview. And, just as things started to get a little hectic, Ray hired a teenager, Henry Hart (played by Jace Norman), to be his assistant, aka Kid Danger. Both Cooper Barnes and Jace Norman exude a winning charm and exemplify what makes this show so smooth and fun to watch. Rounding out the inner circle are Henry’s closest friends, Charlotte (played by Riele Downs) and Jasper (played by Sean Ryan Fox). Everyone on the show contributes to a particularly zany vibe.

The first rule of comedy is that nothing is sacred. Kids witness all too often the strained looks of concern from adults. And kids know there’s hardly any reason for all the worry. Are we really having a crisis, mom? No, actually, we’re not. Maybe that’s why Henry’s parents (played by Kelly Sullivan and Jeffrey Nicholas Brown) are so utterly clueless. A pure act of rebellion from the writers! And when Henry’s little sister, Piper, (played by Ella Anderson) acts up and gives everyone a hard time with her rudeness and crazy demands, what should Henry do? Well, he could always take his nifty raygun, entrusted to him by Captain Man, and knock his sister out. Reasonable? No, but funny!

We are told that kids hunger for resolution. But have you asked a kid lately what he or she hungers for? When it comes to comedy, what’s most funny is the opposite of resolution. Just as the final scene is set to lull us back into a sense of security, that’s a perfect time to have things topple over. In one episode, the running gag is that no one is safe from falling off a rooftop, even after the last precaution is supposed to be in place. In another episode, Captain Man and Kid Danger have botched things up so badly with a neighborhood father and son that the only solution is to wipe away their memories and leave them in an alley. Disturbing? Yes, but funny!

It’s a combination of the writing and the particular actors. The writing is bubbling with irreverence and the actors run with the sophisticated absurd humor. The energy of the cast in undeniable. The chemistry is pitch perfect. It’s simply one of the smartest shows on television. You can see it Saturday at 8pm/7 central, on Nickelodeon. For more details, visit our friends at Nickelodeon right here.

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And for a sneak peek at the next episode, “Elevator Kiss,” on this Saturday, visit Dan Schneider’s website right here.

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Filed under Dan Schneider, Dana Olsen, Nickelodeon, Superheroes, Television

Book Review: ‘More Than Human’ by Theodore Sturgeon

More-Than-Human-Theodore-Sturgeon

Perhaps when we think about science fiction, in general, we may still get lost. Even today, there are well-regarded writers in that genre, of great literary stature, who are due for a wider audience. In the case of Theodore Sturgeon, I am certain that, once a follower of his work, there is no turning back. What “More Than Human” achieves is nothing less than to inspire the reader. Its very purpose is to do just that.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Hive Mind, science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon

Review: ‘The Best American Comics 2014,’ Editor, Scott McCloud; Series Editor, Bill Kartalopoulos

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Anyone who digs deeper already knows that comics are fully capable of being as elastic, ambiguous, and fluid as any other art medium. Just like fiction, film, and painting, the comics medium can reveal as much as it hides. There’s an annual anthology, “The Best American Comics,” that showcases a wide range of North American comics and addresses the familiar and peculiar in what amounts to a particular branch of contemporary comics. Or, perhaps the best way to put it is to say this book showcases the best in comics as an art form. The 2014 edition is now available. Let’s take a look.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Art, Art books, Best American Comics, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Comix, Education, graphic novels, Scott McCloud, Underground Comics

Movie Review: WISH I WAS HERE

Wish-I-Was-Here-Zach-Braff

Zach Braff is such a likable person that we feel we know him. With his new film, “Wish I Was Here,” he plays off that familiarity and offers up a subversively genial story. Braff brings to this a masterful grasp of tone. He is not giving us a typical foray into mainstream comedy. It’s not even a typical foray into independent “cinema.” There’s more heart in this film than you might expect delivered in what one would hope is developing into Mr. Braff’s signature style. You have a common thread running from this new film and 2004’s “Garden State” and that is the universal need to love and be loved, to make sense of the world, and to rise to the occasion.

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Filed under Kickstarter, Movie Reviews, movies, Zach Braff

Review: ‘World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014,’ edited by Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman

"War in the Neighborhood" by Seth Tobocman

“War in the Neighborhood” by Seth Tobocman

There is a stark beauty to be found in the 320 pages of this full-color special collection of comics, “World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014,” published by PM Press and set for release this July. I call it a stark beauty for good reason. I think it is the most economical way to express the urgency and the severity of the issues being confronted. It’s also a quick way to say that this is thoughtful and vital art that you’ll find in this collection of some of the best work to appear in the semi-annual anthology, “World War 3 Illustrated.”

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Filed under Activism, Anthologies, Comics, Peter Kuper, World War 3 Illustrated

Book Review: ‘Art & Sole: A Spectacular Selection of More Than 150 Fantasy Art Shoes from the Stuart Weitzman Collection’ by Jane Gershon Weitzman

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David, a new assistant at Comics Grinder marched right into the offices of CG. He had a rather sheepish grin on his face. I wasn’t sure what to make of his quick familiarity. Like past friends of CG, he had a treat for us to consider. But he wasn’t going to give it up until he gave me a little grief. “Alright then,” David said, “you have a thing for feet, don’t you?”

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Filed under Art, Art books, Book Reviews, Books, Design, Fashion, Feet

Is There an Ontologist in the House? A Review of ‘The Book of Trees’ by Manuel Lima

"Tree of Consanguinity," 1471, by Loyset Liedet (1420-79)

“Tree of Consanguinity,” 1471, by Loyset Liedet (1420-79)

Roy came in late to the Comics Grinder offices and dropped off his latest offering. He smiled his wry little smile and said, “You and your ontology issues!”

What about my ontology issues? When did I tell him?

Issues about ontology don’t get discussed much outside of certain circles. Stray away from these rarefied circles that are invested in such discussion and you could go years, maybe a whole lifetime, without ever needing to concern yourself ever again with that tiresome chit chat often foisted upon someone who enjoys reading by someone who fancies themselves no mere book lover but someone superior, someone who regularly uses the word, ontology!

This type most likely wears a beret, or perhaps a cloak, maybe nurtures an odd facial expression, or sports a baffling attempt at an English accent. Where are the true believers, sans the affectation, that make me want to go back to thoughts of ontology? Well, how about Manuel Lima? Yeah, how about Manuel Lima!

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Filed under Art, Art books, Book Reviews, Books, Data, Design, Infographics, Information

Review: ‘Bohemians: A Graphic History,’ Edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger

"Where Bohemia Began," art by Summer McClinton, script by Paul Buhle

“Where Bohemia Began,” art by Summer McClinton, script by Paul Buhle

“Good morning, Bohemians!” So, the jubilant cry would have been heard in Paris, circa 1853. It can still be heard today from down the street where I live in Seattle and all across the globe. I am a bohemian. I’ve always identified as such as a writer, artist, and cartoonist. But what does it really mean and how did this concept come to be? In the new comics anthology, “Bohemians: A Graphic History,” edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger, we get a full history. These short works are created by some of today’s most accomplished cartoonists, who also happen to be some of the best examples you will find of contemporary bohemians.

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Filed under Anthologies, Bohemians, Book Reviews, Books, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, Journalism

Review: THE CARTOON PICAYUNE #5, Edited by Josh Kramer

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“The Cartoon Picayune” has hit its stride with its latest issue and is poised to become a leading voice in comics journalism. These things take time and I’m sure that has not been lost on its editor, Josh Kramer. He began by himself, covering local stories in Vermont and New Hampshire. And now he has contributors from around the world. This is a unique anthology that lives up to spirit of what used to be called literary journalism. And we have reached a point now that finds comics journalism to be more readily accepted and understood. It is a subset of comics that has been steadily developing over the years and The Cartoon Picayune can be relied upon to add to this tradition. Issue Five features two full length stories and two brief stories, each exploring the theme of work.

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Filed under Anthologies, Comics, Comics Journalism, Comics Reviews, Comixology, Comixology Submit, Journalism, The Cartoon Picayune