A Poor Review

Trying to become a better reviewer is hard, and I certainly didn’t expect it to happen in just a few months, even with paying some attention to it. As a critic (even an amateur one), it’s useful to look at other peoples’ reviews, as reviews are as worthy of criticism as other products.

So here’s a startlingly poorly-written review of the film Pan’s Labyrinth by film critic Kenneth Turan on NPR’s Morning Edition. A say it’s “startling” because I usually find that Turan is a pretty solid reviewer.

What I don’t like about this review is that it’s all pretty writing (Turan is quite a good writer) and applase for director Guillermo del Toro’s ability to make his fantasy setting seem realistic, even when juxtaposed against the (presumably) uncompromising view of life in 1944 Spain. But it doesn’t really tell us anything about the film’s story, which for a film of any depth really ought to be the first (or at least the second) thing a review addresses. Who is the girl who’s the presumed protagonist? What’s he background? What challenges does she have in her life and what does she encounter in the fantasy world, and how does the movie handle her story? From Turan’s review, I really have no idea.

(In the interest of full disclosure – and to pad this entry with a few more links – Tim Lynch – my old sparring partner from my days on the rec.arts.startrek USENET newsgroup – and I had a brief go-round about film reviews on Peter David’s blog a year and a half ago. He invoked Kenneth Turan’s name there in response to my general satisfaction with reviews in the San Jose Mercury News. I like Turan’s reviews well enough, but I don’t find them markedly better than the Merc’s.)

This won’t dissuade me from going to see Pan’s Labyrinth (I’ve been rather intrigued by it, actually), but if I was on the fence about it, I don’t think Turan’s review would have pushed me over the edge. I actually might have ended up thinking, “Well gee, it sounds like a rather depressing special effects extravaganda.”

Turan’s review in the LA Times (registration required) fills in some of the gaps, but I think he excised the wrong content when he condensed it for his NPR review. (To be fair, I don’t know how the NPR reviews are produced; maybe he reads his whole print review and then someone else edits it for time. But the end result is the same either way.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 28 December 2006.

Apparently there was some mishap with a shipment of comics to Diamond Comics Distributors‘ LA site, so many stores in the west didn’t receive several comics slated to come out this week. Fortunately (?) DC’s weekly series 52 wasn’t among them, since that would be, well, silly. But it also meant a light week for me.

This week sees the collection of Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril, which collects the 6-issue mini-series and contains 30 extra pages of story (no doubt to the annoyance of those who bought the mini-series but didn’t plan to buy the trade). PFP is an interesting little publisher, and I’ve enjoyed many things they’ve published, although I wouldn’t rate it all as top-notch. Captain Gravity, though, is quite an enjoyable series: Part superhero, part adventure, and part period piece, its hero is at first a fictional character in a series of movies, until Joshua Jones, a young man working on the film crew, acquires the power to control gravity and becomes the hero himself. Joshua is black, which is something of an issue as the stories occur in the 1930s, so it’s fortunate that the Captain’s costume covers his whole body.

Written by Joshua Dysart with pencils by Sal Velluto, The Power of the Vril concerns the source of the Captain’s powers, and it involves Nazis, aliens, and a chase around the world. It’s fun stuff, although the series felt a little padded to me, but it’s still worth a look. The only real downsides are that it has a somewhat pointless framing sequence set in the 60s, and the collection’s reproduction washes out the black ink on some pages, which gives the book an odd look, but not an intended one, I suspect.

(To be honest, I did like the original series better.)

By the way, fans of Athena Voltaire (Ape Entertainment) might enjoy Captain Gravity, and vice-versa. AV dispenses with the superpowers, but otherwise the two have enough in common to warrant the mutual recommendation.