Thursday, August 25, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: LADY IN THE WATER (2006)

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I've actively posted, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I've still been actively participating in Myopia Movies and we're doing a month on M. Night Shyamalan's films, ranging from his high point (at least among the movies were watched) with Signs to his decline.

So here's my review of Lady in the Water, the first film of his I actually skipped due to negative reviews. Here's the episode. And let my commentary begin:

 The Plot

Long ago, humans were in contact with a civilization of mermaids known as Narfs, who provided spiritual guidance. But man grew greedy and moved inland, multiplying conflicts and wars without the mermaids' advice. As the world grew darker and more dangerous, the mermaids have taken the initiative to contact humans again, but the mermaids have their own supernatural foe, the lupine Scrunts. Into this conflict comes Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), an apartment superintendent with a stutter and a tragic past who encounters a Narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the complex pool one night.

But Story, and now him, are being hunted...

The Good

*I liked how Howard played Story...although she's a supernatural being, she is unfamiliar with our world and its social conventions. Hence the brutal honesty, which can be encouraging or discouraging depending on the situation, and misunderstandings like "I need to wear clothes" or "someone who looks and acts like a teen runaway strung out on drugs hanging out half-naked with a middle-aged (apparent) bachelor might give people really wrong ideas." She also helps other characters follow their dreams, but she's by no means anything remotely resembling a typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

*I also liked Giamatti's Heep. When we first meet him, he's going out of his way to introduce a newcomer to the complex to the various eccentric characters that populate the place. It would have been nice if someone had done that for me when I moved to various complexes over the years. It's also a good foreshadowing of a later reveal--in order to make that work for a complex as large as the one he manages, Heep would have to have a very good memory. And that ends up playing a major role in the story.

*A young college student Young-Soon Choi (Cindy Cheung) and her mother (June Kyoto Lu) who cannot speak English play a major role in the storyline. I liked their dynamic--a strict Asian-born "tiger mother" and her more free-spirited Americanized daughter--and the fact Young-Soon has to be her mother's translator in her dealings with Heep is pretty funny.

*Sarita Choudhury is having a lot of fun as Anna Ran, part of the brother-sister duo with her writer brother Vick (Shyamalan himself). I liked her performance.

*One of the new residents of the complex is a movie critic who has some about the state of storytelling and the film industry. I thought that was pretty funny.

*In an age of remakes, legacy sequels, etc. a film with a completely original plot (it's based on a bedtime story Shyamalan told his children) is pretty refreshing.

*The difficulties the characters have with their roles in the story (not going into any more detail for spoiler reasons) are pretty clever, even if later on they do slow down the film.

The Bad

*One reason I recall for all the negative reviews when the movie came out was the bizarre names for the creatures. Seriously, Narfs and Scrunts? This sounds like Shyamalan was channeling Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter when he was writing this one. One review said it would be much simpler if Story were just a fairy (naiad?) or a mermaid being hunted by a werewolf. I know this whole thing is based on a bedtime story Shyamalan created for his own children, but the ridiculous species names were one of the major negatives from the reviews I can remember when the film came out. Listen to the podcast for all the times we mimicked Pinky, the deranged lab rat from The Animaniacs whose trademark saying is "Narf!"

*In the podcast, Daniel described the movie as "surreal" and it really is. It's just plain weird.

*Someone pointed out on the podcast that given the Narfs' isolation from humans, why does Story know how to speak English? That might merit an explanation--maybe she learned English from watching human fishermen? Then you could have BDH using sailor lingo and that might actually be pretty funny.

*Shyamalan casts himself as a major character in the film rather than his typical cameo. He's fairly flat in contrast to his character's lively sister and he doesn't really stand out like his costars do. This wasn't a problem with his character in Signs, who probably had a lot of guilt and possibly PTSD from falling asleep at the wheel and killing Reverend Hess's wife and whose main interactions are with the man he (unintentionally) widowed, or the non-entity park ranger in The Village who has only two lines. I can see why giving himself such a large part rubbed people the wrong way, especially given some revelations about his character's ultimate fate.

*The narfs and scrunts get introduced pretty early in the story, but there's another supernatural threat dropped in halfway through the film that seems a little abrupt.

*Like The Village but unlike Signs, it starts to drag in the middle.

*There's some additional information revealed about Story toward the end of the film that really needed to be foreshadowed better.

The Verdict

I don't think it really deserves the hate it got (four Razzie nominations?), but it's not a particularly good film, especially the more you think about it. At least it's short. 7.0/10.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

New Comics Purchase: FRANK FRAZETTA'S DEATH DEALER (2022)

Hey everybody, it's been awhile since I posted anything, but I've been working a lot on Serpent Sword, the sequel to my novel Battle for the Wastelands. However, I'm writing to let you all know that I've bought some comics from a comic shop for the first time in probably over a decade. Here goes...

A couple weeks ago a friend, his wife, and new(ish) baby were visiting from out of town and after lunch we went to a Marietta comic shop in the same shopping center where, many years ago, the son of our old Scoutmaster worked. One of the comics I saw--but ended up not buying at the time--was based on noted fantasy artist Frank Frazetta's iconic fantasy character The Death Dealer. Given how I'd read the 1990s-era Death Dealer novels at the library when I was younger and own the Frazetta art book Icon, my curiosity was piqued. And when I found out via CBR that Frazetta's family intended the new Death Dealer comic to be the beginning of a "Frazettaverse" incorporating characters and creatures from his art, I decided to give it my financial support.

So I went to a comic shop closer to my home in Atlanta and purchased the first, the second, and the third issues, which is all of what seemed to be available. According to this website, the next issue is slated for August 24.

The Plot: I would describe this as "Conan the Barbarian meets Venom." The protagonist Kur, once a warrior seeking power and glory, put on a supernatural horned helmet, which he cannot take off. The helmet has a mind of its own, generally egging him on to more violence and talking enormous amounts of smack. Kur lives alone and is contemplating suicide when he rescues the red-haired witch Admira and her young son Mesh from wolves. He takes them back to his underground lair, where Mesh takes a liking to him and Admira, tending to his wounds, quickly gets physical. Awakening the next morning, Kur finds both of them kidnapped by dark forces and, against his better judgement, sets off to rescue them. He encounters a sorceress--who seems to be an old flame who has a history with the damned soul dwelling in the helmet--and it turns out there are more supernatural doings afoot.

The Good: Giving the Horned Helmet (in the novels it was capitalized) a mind of its own rather it just being a device that amped up the protagonist's physical prowess and aggression was interesting. This allows for Kur to have an Eddie Brock/Venom-type relationship with it. That was one thing I really liked about the first Venom film (I haven't seen the second), even though the movie was basically a buddy comedy and this...isn't. The Death Dealer is such a cipher character--in the painting he's just a big scary-looking dude--that one can do a lot with him. In the novels he was a noble savage trying to defend the valley that would someday become the Mediterranean by any means necessary, while in this one he's a much more tired and anti-heroic figure. Given how the Horned Helmet can go from person to person, it's possible the novels (and an earlier attempt at comics) take place in the same continuity, although the novels were explicitly set on prehistoric Earth and this comic seems to be in a totally different fantasy world.

The art is also really good. It's very colorful and vivid. I also liked how they worked specific Frazetta concepts into the comics--not only is the titular character a direct draw from a Frazetta painting, but they also worked in another one in which the Death Dealer confronts a gigantic crocodile.

The Bad: I must be a bit spoiled from graphic novels (which are typically collections of multiple issues that tell the complete story) because I thought the comics were a bit short. This is especially blatant with the third issue, in which two side quests (a unicorn and a wizard) that might merit expansion into an issue each are dealt with in a few pages. And since this is a monthly comic, it means a lot more waiting in between. If each comic were a bit longer, this wouldn't be a problem. Also, although I wouldn't expect a Frazetta adaptation to be particularly modest--Frazetta wasn't known for that at all, even if he wasn't nearly as raunchy as other fantasy artists--the way we first meet the sorceress is kind of dumb.

I emailed the comic company to see about the possibility of subscribing (since unlike the 1990s X-Men comics there's nothing to mail in with a check) or whether the individual comics would be consolidated into larger graphic novels. At $5 per comic, a graphic novel consolidating all the individual comics into one larger issue covering an entire storyline would be the better buy. However, the comic is so new (and it's from a smaller company) that it might not get to that point unless it does well enough financially. And that requires people buy it now. The comic shop offered to set me up with a subscription (i.e. they let me know when it's in for me to pick up or they mail it to me), which I might well do if I don't hear back from the company.