Thursday, June 04, 2015

Pop stuff: The Clouds of Sils Maria; IDW's Disney Comics; The Last Man on Earth

What I'm reading, watching, hearing, etc.


The Clouds of Sils Maria is a quiet, thoughtful meditation on aging and  changing perceptions named for a mysterious natural phenomenon that occurs in south central Switzlerand, in which clouds drifting through a valley in the alps take on the appearance of a snake.

Just as you need to be in the right spot to notice that the clouds look like a snake, you need to be in the right spot to see the full picture of life. Most of time we perceive it only from our current vantage point, whether it's early on or smack in the middle.

Maria (Juliette Binoche) is in the middle. A veteran actress, she's been persuaded to revisit the play that made her a star when she was young. The play focuses on two women: one young, one older. This time, Maria is set to play the older one. Recruited for the ingenue role is a Lohanesque terror named Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe-Grace Moretz). Kristen Stewart plays Maria's personal assistant, Valentine.

Most of the scenes, shot beautifully on location in the real Sils-Maria and featuring those cool clouds, focus on Maria  as she struggles to understand the new role she's taking on, and begins re-thinking the meaning of the play. Like the cloud shapes drifting through the valley, her perceptions shift and tranform before our eyes.The performances by all three actresses are as fantastic and surprising as the film's revelations.


Duck comics. After a long absence, new Disney comics featuring Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and Mickey Mouse are making their way back into comics shops courtesy of IDW Publishing. It's good to see them back. I've picked up the first two issues of Uncle Scrooge - I like those long, funny adventure tales - and enjoyed both. The second one was especially good, featuring a Carl Barksian tale in which Scrooge, Donald and the boys find themselves on a desert isle haunted by ghost pirates.

IDW is rolling these out gradually. They started with Scrooge in April, added Donald's own title in May and introduced Mickey's comic this month. A revitalized Walt Disney Comics and Stories joins the lineup in July.

The stories aren't "new" per se, but new to American audiences. IDW is cherry-picking Disney stories originally published overseas -- where funny ducks, like jazz and Jerry Lewis, are appreciated more than here -- and they've done a good job so far.

The artwork is great. The translations are smooth and witty and the page counts generous. The debut issue of Uncle Scrooge was 48 pages while the second was 40. The publisher is retaining the "legacy numbering" of each title in parentheses, too, which collectors will enjoy. I wish they'd also tell us when and where each of the included stories was published. It would be interesting to learn more about Disney's publishing legacy in Europe and about the creators involved.

But that's the collector in me. The comics booster in me is just happy these titles are back. I hope new generations discover them. Between them and the continuing reprints of Carl Barks' complete works by Fantagraphics, we're in duck heaven.


The Last Man on Earth. What if the last-surviving man on earth wasn't a resourceful, heroic Robinson Crusoe, but a selfish, hapless doofus? Kinda like all of us, but with all our worst qualities amped?

That's what you get with SNL-vet Will Forte at the helm of this new series, which recently finished  its first season on Fox. I've been watching on Hulu Plus.

While the premise seems one-note at first, the show finds all sorts of topics to explore and make us laugh about, asking what would happen if civilization collapsed? How would we act?

Hopefully better than Phil, who's a truly awful person. Yet, he retains our sympathies throughout. Maybe it's because we wonder, ourselves, if we'd do any  better in his situation.

It's not a huge spoiler to mention that Phil isn't entirely alone. The great Kristen Schaal of "Flight of the Conchords" fame arrives early on to make us laugh. And to drive Phil crazy. There are a lot of other surprises, too.

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