LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006) is the black-humored comedy in which the fractured family of failed motivational speaker Greg Kinnear, suicidal Proust scholar Steve Carrell, satyr grandfather Alan Arkin and long-suffering wife Toni Collette bond in trying to get their youngest child into the eponymous beauty pageant. Weirdly engaging and very funny. “Do you think any of the girls in the Miss America pageant are fat?”
NEVER LET ME GO (2010) is the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel following the life of three clones raised as organ donors from their childhood years to an adult life of awkward relationships, during which two of them learn true love may entitle them to a few more years before the transplants start. Very effective but awfully downbeat—what makes it different from The Island and other clone films is that the system is a fait accompli (“Nobody’s going back to the days when people died of lung cancer or heart failure.”) so all the clones can do is adapt as best they can (as Ishiguro has noted, the fatalism runs counter to the usual American approach to such things). Keira Knightly plays a Donor, Charlotte Rampling is a troubled teacher. “We didn’t create the gallery to explore your souls—we created it to determine if you have souls at all.”
Rewatching TEEN WOLF (1985) with TYG, I must say it doesn’t work for me as well as it did when it first came out, basically a standard hero-to-zero story with a werewolf thrown in (and as a friend of mine pointed out, why does Michael J. Fox’s bullying classmate wind up on the other school’s basketball team?). Interesting that as with other SF/fantasy sports stories, Fox has to win the Big Game without help from turning into the wolf (it’s always acceptable in such movies to win with magic or super-science as long as the last game or the last pitch is played straight). “So how was it in the closet?”
BLAZING SADDLES (1972) on the other hand, holds up very well, even though the shock I had as a teen at hearing “nigger” and “shit” in a mainstream movie has worn off: Mel Brooks may be throwing everything at the wall in his story of black Cleavon Little become sheriff of a small Western town, much to the horror of the townsfolk, but most of it sticks; Gene Wilder plays a legendary gunman, Harvey Korman is the main villain, Madeline Kahn is a sexpot and John Hillerman plays the founder of Howard Johnson’s. “Let me whip this out.”
JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (1961) stars Spencer Tracy as a judge deciding whether jurists who cooperated with Nazi death-camp and sterilization policies should pay the same price as the architects of the final solution (I imagine this resulted from the spate of interest generated by Adolf Eichmann’s capture about then), with Richard Widmark as a firebrand prosecutor (“I saw Dachau.”) and Maximilian von Schell as the equally intense defense attorney. Impressively performed (we also have Burt Lancaster and Werner Klemperer in the dock and William Shatner as a military aide) but at three hours it just bogs down. “Of course the Germans didn’t kill any Jews—it was all the work of those damn Eskimos!’
THE HOLE (2001) is no classic, but it works better than I expected as a psychiatrist becomes convinced Thora Birch’s account of being trapped with Keira Knightly and two guys in an underground bunker by an insane classmate is missing a few details—but not, perhaps, the ones she thinks. “I’d rather rip my face off than look at her rot.”
AFTER INNOCENCE (2006) is a look at the lives of various men freed by the Innocence Project as they adapt to a post-imprisonment life that includes struggles to find work (“I’ve been cleared, but the felony is still on my record.”), find dates, find justice (“The DNA hasn’t been entered in the FBI database.”), secure an apology or just get used to life on the outside. Good. “My sinuses and my skin suffered—I was allergic to fresh air.”
Given my Applied Science series, I was interested to peruse GO MUTANTS by Larry Doyle which uses the similar premise of fifties SF films being true for a comedy combining science fiction with fifties JD movies as the mutant son of a former world conqueror comes of age in a town that fears and hates him except for his close buddies±the Son of Kong, a clone of the Blog, the daughter of the Incredible Shrinking Man and the Fifty-Foot Woman and a mom who used to be one of the Catwomen of the Moon. An oddball hybrid, but an entertaining one.
COMICS GO APE: The Missing Link to Primates in Comics by Michael Eury does an impressive job looking at how apes and monkeys (and various humans in ape-suits—you’d be amazed how many villains have used the name “Man Ape”) have been used as sidekicks, comic relief, villains, menaces and occasionally heroes ever since the Golden Age. Encyclopedic in its research (even to such obscure figures as Warhead and Sgt. Gorilla [“The only non-com who ever broke out of a zoo to join the Marines!”]) and with some great interviews with artists and writers about how they tackled comic-book primates and where the appeal lies.
THE PERFECT SUMMER: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson, looks back at a summer before the War To End All Wars, when despite increasing German aggression, it seemed the British Empire would last forever, although restless gilded youth and angry trade unionists posed the possibility that wouldn’t be so. A very good job capturing not only political events, but such day-to-day summer activities as seaside, farm work, the coming out of debutantes and the construction of the new Titanic.
THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU is a real headscratcher inasmuch as it has Fu Manchu trying to prevent World War II (arguing that a cut-off-the-head strategy against the Axis will be more effective at liberating China from Japan than fighting in Manchuria) and Nayland Smith trying to stop him, which leads to such bizarre twists as Fu Manchu assassinating Hitler (or a reasonable facsimile) while Smith tries to protect der Fuehrer. Even conceding the Devil Doctor has his own agenda (“If the map of the world is to be redrawn, it will be by the Si-Fan.”), it’s rather hard not to see him as the good guy here (Smith doesn’t offer any justifications for stopping him).
THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS collects the first seven issues of this eighties parody title, a Bond spoof in which Lester Girls is the world’s coolest adventurer (“What sort of man can overthrow a dictatorship on Monday, disarm a rogue nuclear power plant on Tuesday and still find time to prove Shakespeare wrote Francis Bacon’s essays?”), but can’t give up his dream of finding a quiet day job, an average-looking wife, 2.5 kids and a house with a 30 year mortgage. But every step he takes toward normality, terrorists, ninjas or hot girls intervene … A lot of fun.
BONE: The Great Cow Race was the second volume of Jeff Parker’s three Bone brothers, two of whom are engaged in fixing the title sporting event, while Fone Bone pines for the love of the adorable Thorn. Cute.
100 BULLETS: First Shot, Last Call is the first TPB collection of the Vertigo crime series, in which the mysterious Agent Graves informs a young woman that her husband and child were murdered by a pair of crooked cops (rather than a drive-by as she’d believed) and presents her with a gun and 100 bullets—and informs her that if the bullets are found at a murder scene, the investigation will close immediately. She is only the first person to receive such a gift …
At the other end of the comics world, SUPERMAN: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen takes us back to the goofball era when Jimmy had an uncanny ability to wind up in hot water by offending other-dimensional mages, becoming the target for alien experiments or tinkering with some mysterious artifact he’s reporting on. As a result, we have Jimmy transformed into a werewolf, a super-brain, a human octopus, a human porcupine, a really fat guy, a Jovian … Amusing, though definitely geared to a younger age range than me.