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Criminal, Vol. 6: Last of the Innocent
Criminal, Vol. 6: Last of the Innocent
by Ed Brubaker
Edition: Paperback
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Archie Comics gets the "Watchmen" treatment, January 7, 2012
The sixth collected edition of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Icon series "Criminal" includes the entire "Last of the Innocent" miniseries (which looks to be the last "Criminal" we'll get for a while, since the team are now hard at work on their Image series "Fatale", and presumably there's a third "Incognito" volume in the works at some point, given where the second one left off). "Last of the Innocent" is the best thing Brubaker has done in a few years, since at least the "Lady Bullseye"/"Return of the King" arc in "Daredevil" and possibly since "The Death of Captain America" ended back in 2008. Spoilers follow.

Upon opening the first issue, I quickly realized that the story was going to be an elaborate deconstruction of the Archie mythos into a crime comic, which put a big smile on my face. Much as Alan Moore did, Brubaker has taken a collection of well-known popcultural archetypes and fitted them into a much more adult story, that plays to many of the undercurrents of the old stories. Our story follows one Riley Richards (Archie), now in his 30s and unhappily married to Felicity/'Felix' (Veronica/'Ronnie'), who he discovers is cheating with Terry (Reggie), Riley's old childhood rival. A return visit to his old town of Brookview reacquaints him with Lizzie (Betty) and Freakout (Jughead), and Riley soon comes to believe that his only chance at recapturing his lost childhood happiness is to be with Lizzie. But that means getting Felix out of the way (and before she divorces him and leaves him with nothing)...

This could easily have been a very simple pastiche of Archie as a noir story, but Brubaker has much more to say than simply parodying the simplistic world of Archie and his friends. This is about the seductive dangers of nostalgia; the childhood sequences we see are drawn in a cartoony Archie-esque style by Phillips, but the content is not idealized, complete with swearing and a serial killer (no, really), suggesting that the times weren't nearly as idyllic as Riley remembers them. There are also some metafictional comments on Archie itself, as when Archie is accused of not being "there" when no one is looking.

Highly recommended.

Glee: The Music, Season 3, Vol. 7
Glee: The Music, Season 3, Vol. 7
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A variable collection, missing some major numbers., December 7, 2011
"Glee" provides its first regular collection for its third season, covering fifteen songs from the first eight episodes (there is a Target-exclusive bonus version that includes five more, including a couple of numbers that really should have been on this collection in lieu of the songs that are).

1. You Can't Stop The Beat (originally from the musical "Hairspray") - a decent opening to the collection, featuring a number of the cast's major voices, including Lea Michele (Rachel), Amber Riley (Mercedes) and Chris Colfer (Kurt). Colfer is the sour note, though; his higher register is jarringly out of place (a recurring theme in a number of the season's other songs that aren't included on this track).

2. It's Not Unusual (originally by Tom Jones) - the second number from the season premiere, performed by Darren Criss (Blaine). It's a competent cover, but not really exceptional in any respect.

3. Somewhere (originally from the musical "West Side Story") - the first of several "West Side Story" songs performed on the show as part of the musical storyline, two of which are included on this collection. This is performed by Michele and onscreen mother Idina Menzel, and they are, as always, a dynamite vocal combination. This isn't their best duet, but it's still very good.

4. Run The World (Girls) (originally by Beyonce) - performed by Heather Morris (Brittany), with a brief contribution by Naya Rivera (Santana). Morris is a superb dancer, but her vocals are never really more than adequate for the purposes of accompanying her dancing, and as a standalone song it doesn't have all that much to recommend about it. Rivera is really more the sort who should be singing this song (which isn't really that good, to begin with; the two-minute version that appears on the show is significantly more tolerable than the full-length one, as it greatly cuts out the redundancy).

5. Fix You (originally by Coldplay) - performed by Matthew Morrison (Will), with New Directions backing. Coldplay's relationship with "Glee" was rather tortuous, before Gwyneth Paltrow made peace between them, opening the door for covers. And as covers go, this is a pretty good one, though Morrison's falsetto does little to differentiate the song from Chris Martin's.

6. Last Friday Night (originally by Katy Perry) - "Glee" covers Perry once again, with Darren Criss again singing lead, which is another level of metatext since Criss and co-star Kevin McHale (Artie) appear in the music video. This is, frankly, not Criss' best work either, and lacks the quality of "Teenage Dream" (perhaps the absence of the Beelzebubs is a big part of that; see below for more on that).

7. Uptown Girl (originally by Billy Joel) - only the show's second proper Joel cover, performed by background player Curt Mega and new Warbler Grant Gustin (Sebastian). Neither of the main voices are notable at all, and the show is no longer making use of the Tufts Beelzebubs for the Warblers' acapella background vocals. The result is exceptionally uninteresting, and it seems like a waste to have included this on the CD.

8. Tonight (originally from "West Side Story") - performed by Michele and Criss, the second musical cover on the album. The arrangement has been adjusted somewhat to accommodate the vocalists (neither of whom are strictly the right range for Bernstein and Sondheim's original operatic style), but the result is exceptionally lovely. This is by far the best song on which the two have been paired (sadly, the next occasion for this will be the miserable Christmas duet).

9. Hot For Teacher (originally by Van Halen) - Mark Salling takes the lead in this rock cover, which is another of the more unremarkable inclusions on the album. Salling received a number of solos in the first eight episodes of the season, and none of them really impressed; it's weird to see this while other major singers have gone without.

10. Rumour Has It / Someone Like You (originally two songs by Adele) - this stellar mashup performed by Naya Rivera and Amber Riley was the magic that the series needed to recapture its music sales relevance after an early season dominated by largely uncommercial song choices. In addition to being a monster seller, it is simply a brilliant piece of composition, and the marrying of "Someone Like You"'s lyrics to the beat of "Rumour Has It" works far better than I could ever have anticipated. Rivera and Riley are arguably the show's best recurring duet partners, and one hopes they will continue to be given opportunities to show this.

11. Girls Just Want To Have Fun (most famously performed by Cyndi Lauper; based on a ballad arrangement by Greg Laswell) - Cory Monteith (Finn) makes his first appearance on the collection. Monteith's vocals are decent, but this song really wasn't meant to sound like this; the lyrics just don't work in this context.

12. Constant Craving (originally by k. d. lang) - performed by Naya Rivera, Idina Menzel, briefly Chris Colfer, and almost imperceptibly Lea Michele. This is a truly wonderful duet, the Santana/Shelby duet I never knew I wanted. Colfer and Michele largely provide harmonies toward the end, and everything goes together sublimely.

13. ABC (originally by the Jackson Five) - the first of three Jackson family songs from New Directions' Sectionals performance, in this case performed by Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina), Harry Shum Jr. (Mike), Colfer, and briefly Dianna Agron (Quinn). Ushkowitz handles the lead vocals superbly (I'd say this was my favourite of the Sectionals songs performed by all the groups), and for once is allowed to finish a song on the show. Compared to the other Jackson songs, this is by far the best.

14. Control (originally by Janet Jackson) - performed on the show by Agron (on the speaking part), McHale, and Criss. Much less impressive.

15. Man In The Mirror (originally by Michael Jackson) - performed by Monteith, Salling, Criss, and Chord Overstreet (Sam). None of these guys are really suited to Michael Jackson, an artist that McHale is by far the best for (as shown by his previous two Michael Jackson covers).

A decent compilation, but a far better one could easily have been assembled from the first eight episodes, with the most notable omissions including "We Got The Beat" (which is particularly surprising when you consider how much it was used in the preseason advertising), some of the other "West Side Story" songs, "Survivor/I Will Survive", and Morrison and Menzel's superb "You and I"/"You and I" mashup.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 23, 2012 1:40 AM PDT

Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2
Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 2
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Potential for greatness goes largely unrealized., November 28, 2011
"Glee"'s second Christmas album is a textbook example of how a single aspect of production can undermine the rest of it, no matter how well-chosen. Because the song choices for this album are better than those for last year's, and the choice of singers is at least as good (though the total neglect of the very talented Jenna Ushkowitz in favour of the various "Glee Project" people is both absurd and more than a little insulting), but the arrangements devised by Adam Anders and co. consistently undermine the work of his vocalists.

Several of the songs suffer from being too fast, having too much instrumentation, or both. "Santa Baby" by Naya Rivera (track 3) is an example of the former; Rivera is ideal to sing the song, but it's considerably faster than it should be, robbing the classic of its languid charm. The point of "Santa Baby" is to draw it out, but the music producer has done the opposite of that. "Let It Snow", the second Christmas duet between Chris Colfer and Darren Criss (after the success of last year's "Baby It's Cold Outside") is the other major casualty, being both too fast and too loud. Perhaps they wanted to make it more tonally distinct from "Baby It's Cold Outside", but the effect does not work. "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town" and "Christmas Wrapping" are both fairly generic Christmas songs.

The two original songs, "Christmas Eve With You" (with Matthew Morrison and Jayma Mays) is okay, but nothing special. "Extraordinary Merry Christmas", featuring the show's golden geese, Lea Michele and Darren Criss, is a rancid disaster. It is easily the worst original song the show has ever produced, exceeding even "Light Up The World" in horribleness.

On the more positive side, the big group number, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" is a strong one, featuring several of the show's best singers sounding very good. "River" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" are also pretty good. And, while I stand by the assertion that the featuring of "The Glee Project" people over the show's regular castmembers is an egregious choice, two of them (Lindsay Pearce and Alex Newell) have what is easily the best song on the album: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

This balances out to be a merely okay album, disappointing given its potential at a glance.

DVD ~ Henry Cavill
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66 of 80 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Style over substance, but quite a lot of style., November 11, 2011
This review is from: Immortals (DVD)
Western literature has been mining Greek mythology ever since the time of the Romans, but the last few years have seen a volume of screen adaptations not seen since Ray Harryhausen was in his prime. The start of the 2000s saw a couple of films set in Ancient Greece but without the gods ("Troy", most notably, then "300", though the latter adopted an oft-copied stylized book that had little to do with reality either), which gave way to myth-based adventures (the "Clash of the Titans" remake, the adaptation of "Percy Jackson and the Olympians"; incidentally, though that latter film was bad, I highly recommend the books it was based on). "Immortals" has, based on the trailers, been pegged as a "300" knockoff with the gods present. There are certainly some similarities, but Singh's visual sense is ultimately much different than Zack Snyder's was (there's a lot more beauty and colour in this world, for starters, whereas Snyder's emphasized earth tones and grime. Plot details are discussed hence, so be warned for spoilers.

In Hellenas (Greece), our hero is Theseus (Henry Cavill, the future Superman) - actually, to get this out of the way, the film uses a bunch of mythological characters' names (Theseus, Phaedra, Lysander, Hyperion), but the characters in question haven't any real relation to their mythological counterparts - the bastard son of a village woman. When the evil Heraclean king, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, surprisingly not out of place in the ancient setting, though the heavy stylization doubtless facilitates that), sacks his village and kills his mother, Theseus finds himself in the company of Phaedra ("Slumdog Millionaire"'s Freida Pinto, on duty as the love interest for the second time this year; she has more to do here than in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", though that was the superior film), the virgin Oracle, who has prophesied that he will play a crucial role in the war between Hyperion and the gods (he seeks to unleash the Titans and end the reign of the Olympians, in revenge for the deaths of his family). Hyperion, meanwhile, seeks Phaedra, who can reveal to him the location of the Epirus Bow, a fabled weapon of immense power. A quite exceptional amount of violence ensues.

As a story with characters, it's pretty minimal, but I imagine anyone going into it expected that. I will, nonetheless, comment on the plot in one aspect: in the past I've encountered films where the hero's only heroism was all about stopping an evil that they had accidentally caused, which often doesn't come across as especially heroic; "Immortals", on the other hand, features a hero who *fails* to stop anything. Theseus would have to be considered the least successful action hero since Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (if Dr. Jones had gone on an extended vacation to Yugoslavia, would the ultimate result have been very different at all?) - in fact, you can build a pretty good case that if Theseus had done nothing at all things would have turned out better, since his only meaningful action was finding the Epirus Bow and then losing it so that Hyperion could use it to free the Titans. The gods defeat the Titans, and Theseus' killing of Hyperion is meaningless since the villain would have been killed along with his armies when Zeus collapsed the mountain. Sure, he was brave, but what did he actually accomplish in the grand scheme of things?

Henry Cavill is a credible hero, and has great pecs (certainly, he feels less over-the-top than did Gerard Butler in "300", though I'm not sure whether he actually is). The aforementioned Rourke is a menacing villain, aided by the director letting him do some memorably gory things to make an impression. Freida Pinto, as I said, gets more to do here than in her last blockbuster, and I'd say she does fairly well with the movie's main female part (the movie never pretends that the petite Pinto is an action hero either, which I appreciated after too many movies featuring waifs with the combat skills of a Green Beret), though it's hardly a demanding role. Pinto is also, among the cast, the primary beneficiary of her director's aesthetic skill, as he finds many ways to showcase her beauty (a brief nude scene is not actually her, but there are many stunning images of her in a red dress). The supporting cast includes Stephen Dorff as what I suppose is meant to be a Han Solo figure, Stavros, and Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, and Kellan Lutz as gods.

Tarsem Singh is the real star of the proceedings, though. He does some remarkable things with his camera, producing quite a few memorable images and setpieces. His use of colour stands out repeatedly, particularly the aforementioned red dress that Pinto wears (which does a great job of staying clean even in the midst of a typhoon of oil that coats everything else). His rendering of Mount Olympus is by far the best I've ever seen on film - there's not a trace of the simple fluffy clouds populated by people wearing bedsheets so often seen in older films; pure majesty. For all the inventive fight scenes, though, I don't understand how Zeus (Evans) could go the whole movie without using his thunderbolt even once (though he proves adept with chains).

As a story, this is lacking in numerous respects, but as a visual experience it's quite a marvel. I came away thinking that Singh could perhaps be a great director if would devote as much care to his stories as to the images used to tell them. As it is, we have a visually stunning mediocrity.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 16, 2012 8:03 PM PDT

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You can choose what stays and what fades away"; Florence chooses to stay., November 5, 2011
This review is from: Ceremonials (Audio CD)
Florence and the Machine's 2009 debut album "Lungs" was one of my favourite albums of the 2000s, a surprise collection of catchy, unique compositions very unlike the rest of the contemporary music scene ("Dog Days Are Over" is the iconic one, of course, but "Rabbit Heart", "The Drumming Song", and "Howl" also rate especially highly in my book). Over the following two years Florence's music (despite the name, the vaunted "Machine" is there only to back her up) has become known to a very wide audience, though she missed out on the Best New Artist at the Grammys last year (though she was likewise spared the ignominy of losing to Justin Bieber). Now the dreaded followup album has arrived, the test that many past bands have failed, consigning themselves to obscurity and the dreaded "one hit wonder" status. Happily, Florence Welch and her crew will not be going down that road, for "Ceremonials" is very good indeed, though it feels good in ways very different from "Lungs". On my initial listen, I didn't think that any of the songs were especially memorable, and none had the really catchy quality of "Dog Days Are Over". However, repeated listenings and more close attention reveal the strength of the album's tracks, and I would say it probably is on par with "Lungs" overall. "Shake It Out" and "That's What The Water Gave Me" seem to be the flagship singles, but I increasingly find that "No Light, No Light" is my favourite track. This is an ambitious album in many respects, including sheer size; only one of the twelve tracks on the basic release is under 4 minutes ("Breaking Down" at 3:49), and several are over 5 minutes. Let's hope for many more such productions over the years to come.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2011 8:46 PM PDT

The Unwritten Vol. 4: Leviathan
The Unwritten Vol. 4: Leviathan
by Mike Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.72
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Unwritten" continues to deliver., October 30, 2011
"Leviathan" is the fourth volume of Mike Carey and Peter Gross' acclaimed Vertigo series "The Unwritten", collecting issues 19 to 24 of the ongoing series. The preceding volume ratcheted things up to new heights; this volume, while still quality, isn't quite at that level, but it does a good job of continuing to move the story forward while introducing some new aspects to the characters. Beginning with its "Harry Potter" analogies for a core cast, "The Unwritten" has explored a wide range of literary genres and titles. In this instance, the central storyline revolves around a particular theme - whales. Spoilers follow.

The most famous whale in literature is, of course, Moby-Dick, and our story opens with protagonists Tom, Lizzie, and Savoy arrive in Herman Melville's American hometown to look for the latest piece of information that Tom needs on his quest. This is merely a jumping-off point to bring together a panoply of whale-related stories from the fictions of the world. And, to further cement "The Unwritten"'s place as one of the most literate comics published since "The Sandman", this story culminates by bringing in a particular non-fiction text as a central element (the title of this trade paperback would be a giveaway to those aware of it). There are some changes with the characters as well, particularly a notable development for Tom and Lizzie, and a rather stark change of status quo for Savoy.

The volume closes with another of the series' signature one-shots, revisiting Paulie Bruckner, the star of the acclaimed issue #12. This cynical, dark twist on the world of anthropomorphized talking animals is another highlight for the series, and looks likely to contribute another wildcard to the series ongoing plot.


Madame Xanadu Vol. 4: Extra Sensory
Madame Xanadu Vol. 4: Extra Sensory
by Matt Wagner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.83
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating series arrives at a rather uninteresting end., October 15, 2011
Writer Matt Wagner's final volume of Vertigo's "Madame Xanadu" represents a disappointing finale in some ways. It can't be denied that, however good previous volumes were, the series never had that much in the way of an ongoing plot, so the volume can't really represent the culmination of anything. All the same, Wagner opts for the "Sandman"-style approach of a series of stories told from the perspectives of people that encounter Xanadu in the course of a strange supernatural occurence. In many of these stories, the title character puts in only a token appearance. Some of these are good, some are only competent. The final story, drawn by returning original artist Amy Reeder-Hadley, is the best of them, in great part because it's largely about Xanadu herself and neatly brings back a character from one of the previous stories in the series in an interesting way.

The Debt
The Debt
DVD ~ Sam Worthington
Price: $9.99
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong adult thriller with a great lead performance., September 2, 2011
This review is from: The Debt (DVD)
Director John Madden had a smashing back-to-back period in 1997-1998 with "Mrs. Brown" and "Shakespeare in Love", but since then he has been unable to replicate that level of success. "The Debt", a remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller of the same name, is his best film since that period, and deserves a wider audience than it is likely to find in theatres after more than a year spent in limbo due to the difficulties of its distributor. Madden and his cast and crew deliver a very solid adult-oriented Cold War thriller. Spoilers follow.

Our story takes place both in East Berlin in 1966 and Israel in 1997 (I would estimate the split to be perhaps 70/30 in the favour of 1966). It opens with a book launch celebrating the exploits of three Mossad agents in killing a Nazi war criminal: agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) and Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson). We also see the mission in question, where the trio (played in 1966 by Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Martin Csokas) are tasked to abduct Dr. Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), the 'surgeon of Birkenau', from East Germany. It's not a great spoiler to say that this proves to be more difficult than originally anticipated.

There are no Jason Bourne-style moves here: Madden's depiction of special operations is very realistic, similar to the writings of John le Carre. The atmosphere is well-handled, particularly the 1966 segments, which believably depict the decayed East Berlin. The film's 1966 segments are at their strongest as a character drama, in the middle/late stretch where the three spies and their captive are confined to an apartment and forced to interact for an extended period as their options slowly seem to shrink.

The main reason to see this film is Jessica Chastain, who may be the breakout star of 2011, with no less than seven features to be released due to a backlog. In the past having this many films in a year can be dangerous (consider what 2004 did to Jude Law), but what is remarkable about Chastain's work this year is how different each performance has been so far. She was an ethereal, idealized mother in "The Tree of Life", then a goodhearted white trash housewife in "The Help"; now, in her first (and, I believe, only) lead role of the year, she plays a rookie field agent with depth and intensity. She compares favourably to Helen Mirren's portrayal of the older Rachel. The other standouts are Worthington, at last given a mainstream role where he can show his dramatic skills rather than be bland in an action film; and Christensen, who has a lot of fun as the detestable villain.


Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection (Sullivan's Travels/The Lady Eve/The Palm Beach Story/Hail the Conquering Hero/The Great McGinty/Christmas in July/The Great Moment)
Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection (Sullivan's Travels/The Lady Eve/The Palm Beach Story/Hail the Conquering Hero/The Great McGinty/Christmas in July/The Great Moment)
DVD ~ Preston Sturges
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contains both the great and the mediocre., August 29, 2011
Preston Sturges was one of the biggest creative stars of the 1940s in Hollywood (having worked as a screenwriter through the 1930s before getting the chance to direct his first film in 1940). Between 1940 and 1944, he directed and wrote eight films for Paramount, seven of which are contained in this box-set ("The Miracle of Morgan's Creek", one of the three films released in 1944, is absent).

1. The Great McGinty (C+)

This was Sturges' first film as a director, and it won him his only Oscar (for the screenplay). The rudiments for a good film are here (a homeless man becomes a crooked politician, then turns honest and gets taken down immediately), but it doesn't quite come together. At 82 minutes, it's too short to really cover all the terrain it tries to; events happen much too quickly and cursorily (McGinty's fall from grace takes about a minute). The tone is also problematic; it mostly tries to be dry political satire, but there are moments of outright farce and seriousness that seem out of place.

2. Christmas in July (B)

Despite being shorter (only 67 minutes), this feels more like a complete story. The leads are a bit more engaging. The movie is also a lot more tonally consistent. I should also say that while I didn't love the movie, there's an enjoyable maturity to some aspects of the writing: the three guys who pull the initial prank are genuinely sorry about it, not soulless thugs, for instance. The film's final twist could be guessed by a three-year-old who had never seen a single movie in his life, though.

3. The Lady Eve (A-)

That's more like it. Sturges finally makes it to something a modern audience would recognize as feature length, and also lands some actors that modern audiences would recognize (Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda). Parts of the movie still happen at a breakneck pace - Jean's softening, which under most circumstances would be the plot of the movie on its own, happens by the twenty-minute mark. This is a laudably orginal story, but it's a little jarring all the same. Great performances from everybody, especially Stanwyck, on whose work the movie turns. Though William Demarest's schtick isn't really as funny as I imagine Sturges thought it was.

4. Sullivan's Travels (B+)

This is Preston Sturges' most acclaimed film, and in many people's minds one of the best of all time; Erik Beck, for instance, named it the best film of 1942 in his history of film/the Academy Awards. I don't rate it that highly; I'd put both the film that preceded it and the film that succeeded it ahead of it. It's a pretty good movie, all things considered, but it still has the problems I've had with Sturges' first two films: sudden, major shifts in tone. It goes from farce (though the pratfalls are much, much better-executed in this one and don't feel out of place, for the most part) to social melodrama and back with hardly any transition. This is particularly noticeable at the end, where you get what feels like an outtake from "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang" then we cut to Hollywood and we get a lengthy wordless physical comedy sequence set to a jaunty score.

There's plenty to like about it, though. Sturges has a lot of fun with his depiction of Hollywood and the people in it. There's a welcome degree of intelligence to things; for instance, he even challenges whether Sullivan's experiment is a good idea and raises the question of whether this is just voyeurism on the part of the wealthy. Joel McCrea (Sturges' primary leading man) is a good lead. Veronica Lake, though I thought a bit flat in a few places, is also quite good, and has a few very affecting moments. Sturges' regular crew of supporting players is present and on the ball per usual (between the Capra box-set and the Sturges box-set, I can now readily identify a bunch of bit-players who hung around the Paramount lot and were in basically everything, like Arthur Hoyt).

5. The Palm Beach Story (A+)

This is easily the funniest movie I've seen from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I've complained in the past of Sturges' issues with tone, but that's decidedly not present here: this is full-on screwball comedy, and incredibly funny at that. McCrea is the male lead again here, opposite Claudette Colbert (personally, I prefer this performance to her work in "It Happened One Night", and she was great there too; actually, now that I think about it, there's a similar runaway woman theme). McCrea's competent, but Colbert is exceptional, alongside a panoply of wacky supporting characters (including Hoyt and William Demarest, once again) who for one don't feel out of place in the least. But the MVP is Rudy Vallee (apparently a famous band leader of the period) as an ersatz John D. Rockefeller Jr.; virtually all of his lines are funny on their own, and Vallee's delivery makes them even funnier. I admittedly haven't seen Van Heflin in "Johnny Eager", but it'd have to be a really great performance to deserve Best Supporting Actor over Vallee's work here. The Maltese Falcon's Mary Astor is also quite good as his sister. And if the ending of Christmas in July could be seen from a mile away, this film's ending could probably never be predicted, but, in retrospect, fits amazingly well.

6. Hail the Conquering Hero (B-)

After making five movies between 1940-1942, Sturges skipped 1943 entirely and released three films in 1944. These films are the first ones to be made while America was actually involved in World War II (the others are all set/made in the interesting period where World War II was going on in Europe but America was a spectator). This is a satire of the home front of sorts, which is fairly interesting for a production released during the war itself - in this case, a man returns to his hometown after being flunked out of the army for hayfever, and through various contrivances is mistaken for a war hero. The lead, Eddie Bracken, is kind of annoying most of the way through. A lot of the film's satirical elements now seem rather tepid, though I imagine they had a lot more bite in the 1940s. Strangely, it finds its best moments toward the end, where it becomes mostly a drama.

7. The Great Moment (C+)

The sole drama in the collection, and a victim of studio editing interference; this set has the 80-minute cut of the film, but I understand that there are versions of it that run as long as 90 minutes. This is Sturges' third film with Joel McCrea as the lead, and, indeed, he has virtually all his usual actors on hand, despite the shift in genres. There are some nonlinear elements to the storyline, which was comparatively rare in this period. It's the story of a battle over credit for a discovery, not unlike something like "The Social Network", though considerably less intense. There's not a lot of real drama here, though the subject matter provides some interest. My main issue with it is that while Sturges' seems to suggest that others' greed and his own nobility caused Dr. Morton to lose out on a patent for his anesthesia treatment, near as I can tell he in fact didn't deserve a patent, because he didn't actually invent anything new, he just found a new use for an existing product.

In summation, "Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection" is a seven-disk set with three fairly strong films, two middling films, and two weak films.

House of Mystery Vol. 6: Safe as Houses
House of Mystery Vol. 6: Safe as Houses
by Matthew Sturges
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.21
60 used & new from $0.97

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "House of Mystery" bounces back., August 23, 2011
This sixth volume of "House of Mystery", Vertigo's ongoing quasi-anthology series, ranks with the fourth volume as the best in the series, and is especially refreshing as it follows on the heels of the fifth volume, which I considered to have been the weakest by far. The series' ongoing plot is in some respects still not going anywhere fast, but it is nonetheless a very lively installment, and the series actually acknowledges at one point that its central mystery remains extremely vague (Fig, our lead character, is not pleased at the constant mysterious conversation of the people she encounters. This trade paperback collects issues 26 to 30 of the ongoing series. Spoilers follow.

By this point in the series, there are quite a few plots on the move, which allows this volume to be very lively, even if, in the grand scheme of things, there isn't a huge amount of plot advancement. In the main story, Fig and her cohorts find themselves drafted into a war between the fairies of Summerland and an invading army that has some tie to the Conception, the series' overall main villains. The Summerland fairies are a callback to one of my favourite anthology stories from the series, featuring the return of Daphne and her pet snow leopard. There are leadership quarrels among the goblins. Fig's former imaginary friend is out looking for her. Fig's father and ghosts of her brother and grandfather are up to no good. And some of the main cast travels back in time to retrieve an earlier version of Poet, who was killed some issues earlier. The short stories that were once completely unrelated to the main action are by now all extensions of it, including a haunting backstory for Poet and an extremely amusing origin story for a new side character (as well as a very macabre fairy tale for the goblins).

If that plot summary sounds crowded and the various strands a little disconnected, that would be fair. Nevertheless, it's exceptionally fun to read, and Matthew Sturges' writing is very strong (Sturges has by now completely taken over responsibility for the series from co-creator Bill Willingham, who isn't even listed on the trade paperback's spine anymore). Regular artist Luca Rossi continues to give the series a distinct and consistent look, supplemented by various new artists.

A good series, though one hopes that there'll be more real plot advancement in the next volume.

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