PIXAR CARTOONS (2009) was a Disney compilation I taped last year. Much as I like Pixar’s films and several of their shorts, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d expected—the Mater shorts (spinning of Cars) didn’t work for me at all, and they really don’t seem to generate the kind of memorable characters Warner Brothers did at their best (maybe in part because the Pixar style of animation tends to a more “realistic” sort of physical comedy). Though I did enjoy the Ratatouille spinoff cartoon, which seems to be patterned after the UA style cartoons of the fifties. “You should remember—you were there too.”
MACHETE (2010) is Robert Rodriguez’ expansion of one of the trailers in Grindhouse, telling how renegade federale Danny Trevino, ICE agent Jessica Alba and immigration activist Michelle Rodriguez join forces to stop the anti-immigration conspiracy of politico Robert deNiro and druglord Steven Seagall, with Lindsay Lohan, Cheech Marin and Jeff Fahey taking various sides. Probably the most ridiculous physical stunts since Shoot ‘Em Up (I mean that as a compliment). “Ever notice how you let a Mexican walk into your house if he shows up with garden tools?”
LES MISERABLES (1935) is an impressive adaptation of Hugo with Fredric March pulling out all the stops as Jean Val Jean (I suppose it reflects the Depression that this places such an emphasis on his crime resulting from the need to feed a hungry family), Charles Laughton as Javert and Cedric Hardwicke as the saintly priest who turns Jean around (John Carradine has a bit part as a revolutionary); a much more sympathetic Javert here than in Les Mis, though I’ve no idea how faithful either version is to the book. “Treating these men as wild beasts is neither good morals, good law or good business.”
SANDMAN SLIM by Richard Kadrey has a magician sent to Hell by a scheming friend years early return from the nterwhrodl for revenge, only to discover his old friend is now a powerful archmage scheming to wipe out reality with the help of monstrous anti-angels. A good entry in the current crop of occult investigators, but it really ran out of steam in the last 40 pages or so which seemed to have no purpose other than establishing the premise for the series to follow.
THE CELEBRATED CASES OF JUDGE DEE: An Authentic 18th Century Chinese Detective Novel, translated by Robert Van Gulik (who would later, of course, go on to write his own Judge Dee series) has the estimable Judge investigating a double murder of two inn guests (“But honored sir—the second corpse did not stay at my inn!”), a chaste widow who’s Shocked and Appalled that Judge Dee thinks her husband’s death was suspicious, and a bride who died mysteriously on her wedding night. The book proves Van Gulik’s point in the intro about how Chinese detective novels don’t fit the Western concept, with a highly symbolic play scene inserted into the middle as an interlude, and a great deal of detail about the punishments inflicted on the murderers (one reason van Gulik thought it a good introduction to the genre is that it doesn’t have the usual convention of identifying the killer at the start); that being said, this is fairly entertaining.
THE REIGN OF WIZARDRY by Jack Williamson is a Golden Age sword-and-sorcery retelling of Greek myth wherein Theseus pits himself against the sorcerous tyranny of Minoan Crete, which requires facing gladiators, Talos the bronze man, the evil machinations of Minos and Daedalus and, of course The Dark One in the labyrinth. Far from the best of its day (Theseus has no personality beyond being determined) but the plot does throw a few twists I wasn’t expecting).
FLAMING CARROT, MAN OF MYSTERY collects the first half-dozen or so stories of Bob Burden’s great absurdist super-hero, The Flaming Carrot. To give you an idea of the style, one story involves Martians buying up American land in a real-estate swindle only to flee when the Carrot explains about property taxes (“The power to tax is the power to destroy—we must flee this planet!”).
SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE ATOM collects the adventures of “the world’s smallest super-hero,” a scientist who used white dwarf-star matter to develop a shrinking ray but found the only thing he could shrink without destroying it was himself. Donning a costume, he decides to help his attorney girlfriend’s career (she wants to get established before marrying him) by investigating crimes to prove her clients are innocent (in the Perry Mason tradition, Jean never gets a guilty client). Which generally sets the tone for the series—unlike Flash or Green Lantern (who had much of the same creative team), the Atom never really patrols for crime, he just stumbles across them or gets invited to help by the cops (which makes it a lot more plausible why a physicist would turn super-hero). Not as strong as the other books, but entertaining, and Gil Kane’s art is terrific.