Capsule Reviews: two DVDs, one book, one GN


Some quickie reviews on media that has passed through our filters recently.

Balls of Fury (DVD): When you have kids, you quickly realize that, some nights, films that cling to the Water Balloons To The Crotch style of comedy are perfectly acceptable fare. Balls of Fury makes no claims otherwise. Plus one star for the balls out premise. Minus one star for being both too short and too long (not enough ping pong hilarity, too much . . . it’s not even “story” . . . so yeah, whatever it is, it doesn’t go anywhere). Plus one star for Christopher Walken. Plus one more star for putting him in faux geisha costumes. Minus one star for wasting Jason Scott Lee and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Minus one star for making us wait until the end credits to see the best parts (the Def Leppard singalong and bloopers). Let’s see, doing the math . . . carry the one . . . ah: zero stars.

Casshern (DVD): Briefly, for those who have recently agreed that Bioshock offers oodles research material, Casshern is a must see. Filled with all manner of digital backgrounds, CGI work, and wire fu, this film is total eye candy. Part giant robot story, part chambara epic, part Soviet propaganda-style military alternate history, part family tragedy, part live-action anime, Casshern waits until the last five minutes to sucker punch you. I’ve seen it twice in the last month, and the subtly of its thematic thrust is very, very good. Five stars.

Halting State, by Charlie Stross (novel): Yes, it’s a heist book, and the gimmick is that the bank is a virtual entity within a MMORG. Yes, it’s set near-future and Charlie lays it on heavily with both the geek references and the geek toys. It’s also told in the second person–for each of its three protagonists. It’s an homage to the whole history of online games (Zork, anyone?), and it should be a complete train wreck. But it’s not; quite the opposite, actually. It’s damn near invisible. The writer in me gives it five stars; the reader takes one away due to an ending that fails to outshine some of the material earlier in the book.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (GN): My comic book store guy did not like this. In fact, when I mentioned it to him, I touched off a bit of a rant. Now, I understand his point of view, but it’s just . . . well, it comes down to this: Alan Moore fucked his audience by putting in too many words. The buggery being that “too many words” was not the sort of funny picture book that LoEG was previously, and that standard set, Moore went off the rails badly with The Black Dossier and, well, that sort of thing is inexcusable. Having finished the The Black Dossier earlier today (and subsequently finding all the pieces of my head and putting them back together after having it exploded in fine fashion), I have to say that my comic book guy is sort of an idiot. Which is too bad, because I like him and I like his store. But he’s wrong.

For many reasons, but the two biggies are: (1) It’s an Alan Moore book. What the fuck did you think he was going to do? (2) It’s a series where the heroes of fiction are recast as a Victorian superhero team, and the whole of our fantastical literature is being raided as grist for Moore’s febrile story-telling. The Black Dossier simply takes the next step and includes actual material (heretofore hidden and other “undiscovered”) from several centuries that support Moore’s alternate world-view. Moore offers a lost Shakespeare play, a Wooster & Jeeves story, a mashup pulp fiction dime novel by Kerouac and Joyce (yeah, that’s where my head exploded), a rewrite of Crowley’s history concerning The Book of the Law, and Oh My God! Is that not enough? No? How about a 3-D ending that requires reading Dr. Seuss style (with one eye shut) in order to see all the clever.

Too many words? Jesus, people. This is a landmark piece that synthesizes literature and pulp, fantasy and history. And the ending? It’s . . . well, it’s Moore. I thought Watchman was staggering in its deconstruction of the superhero genre, From Hell mind-boggling in its attention to detail, and the previous LoEG books to be incredible. This just tops all of them.

Jess Nevins: Dude, they were totally gunning for you on this one. You should get a special dispensation from the Queen of England for doing the annotations.