Yes, Please! – The Amy Poehler Memoir

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Source: Amazon.com

Amy Poehler’s entry into the world of comedic memoirs came out in 2014 during the peak of her critical and popular appeal. Six months before the finale of her iconic role as Lesley Knope on the incomparable Parks and Recreation and a couple of years into hosting the Golden Globes, Poehler was riding high, making a comedic memoir a good business decision for one of the biggest powerhouses in comedy. Following in the footsteps of her often costar and friend, Tina Fey, whose own memoir, Bossypants, was met with critical acclaim, Poehler offered up a fun and heartfelt reflection on her life and career. This could have easily become a carbon copy of Fey’s earlier work, as their paths to fame so often intersected in Chicago improv troupes, Saturday Night Live, and even co-hosting the Golden Globes. But instead, readers were treated to a truly honest insight into Amy Poehler’s life, written in a clear voice that really felt like she was reading it aloud in your head. Poehler fearlessly showed her heart on her sleeve, sharing as many mistakes, shortcomings, and insecurities as she did strengths and triumphs. She seems to take seriously her role as a voice for aspiring women in comedy and writing, reflecting often upon the difficulties of breaking into a male-dominated industry. The chapter written by Seth Myers, another wonderfully talented SNL alum, was a great addition to the book. It gave another insider perspective to the world behind the cameras and gave an honest look at who Amy Poehler really is. Poehler also frequently highlights that her life is more than her career, a revelation that is often expected in memoirs, but not always delivered. Her two young sons are regular features throughout the book, showing that she takes her role as a mother just as seriously as her career aspirations. This book is a wonderful adventure for her fans, those of us that have laughed as she made her name on SNL then delivered one of the best characters on one of the best TV shows of all time (Parks and Rec, duh).

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book and certainly recommend it highly, there were a few small criticisms I had of the style choices and approach at times. First, it got kind of name-droppy at times. Poehler seemed pretty cognizant of this and did poke fun at herself for it, but it still could be a bit much, especially when a who’s who didn’t really add to the plot of the story. The chapter on Haiti was also a little uncomfortable. Poehler clearly meant well and is intelligent and self-aware enough to know this was a difficult message to convey, but it still came close to some Rudyard Kipling-esque “White Savior” themes at times. In her defense though, Poehler was embarrassed that this trip was her first time going to a developing country and admitted to some of the selfish thoughts and motives that often plague even those of us with the best intentions. Lastly, and probably most importantly, her insistence upon labeling her upbringing as “lower middle class” was bit tired. It seemed almost like pandering to relate to her readers and to counteract some of the inherent elitism of being a wealthy famous TV star now. “Middle class” would have been sufficient, especially when considering some of the finer details like the “large wooden bar in the finished basement” and the “lower middle class family with all the latest gadgets,” which seem to disqualify her from some of the struggles to make ends meet which trouble those family who actually come from lower economic classes. I believe that Poehler wasn’t born with a silver spoon and that was really the intent, but let’s also be honest that living in a Boston suburb with two cars and white collar parents isn’t exactly disadvantaged.

Even these negative points have their silver lining though, as they highlight the fact that our favorite stars are real people with real flaws just like the rest of us. And the beauty of this book is that I think Poehler would have expected that and been ok with it, she seems like the kind of person who would rather be honest than right, a trait which I really admire. Even more than her peers, Amy Poehler feels like a genuine and honest person who just happens to be famous, after some serious hard work of course (don’t worry I read that part too). Overall, if you (1) know who Amy Poehler is; (2) like funny people/books; (3) have ever seen Parks and Recreation, which should really be everyone; or (4) are looking for an amusing and entertaining book to read, then go read the book. Even if you said no to all of those questions, why not give this a try? You’ll like it. Rating: 9 of 10

Moon Knight (2014): A New Kind of Crazy

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Declan Shalvey’s Cover Art on the whole series is absolutely beautiful. Issue #12; Source: Marvel.com

Delightfully crazy, Moon Knight provides readers with a very different kind of hero. He’s not quite an antihero, at least not along the lines of the Punisher or Wolverine, but Moon Knight’s approach is certainly unorthodox. A good example is that he is the only hero I know of that has a snow-white costume, which he claims is because he “likes when they can see me coming.” He seems to thrive on violence in a way that most heroes don’t, he perseveres through some grisly personal injuries like a man possessed. Though he has been called an “ersatz Batman” because his cape, cowl, and gadgetry is reminiscent of the Caped Crusader, but I think that sells him short. Though the costume, high-tech gadgets and midnight vigilantism do strike familiar chords, the motivation for the man behind the mask is extremely different. Where Bruce Wayne is looking to avenge his parents’ death through utterly destroying the criminal underworld, what we find behind the Moon Knight mask is a hodgepodge of personalities struggling between adventure-seeking, blood-lust, and a genuine desire to seek justice. The questionable motivation, inconsistent personality, and periodic lack of restraint all supports the development of a very different kind of hero. This psychological element is far more essential to Moon Knight’s character than his crime-fighting style or whatever powers he may or may not possess. He is unique because Moon Knight is full-on, basket of cats level crazy.

Warren Ellis/ Declan Shalvey #1-6: Ellis’ work on Moon Knight is really great! He provided a creative spin on the question of whether or not MK’s actually crazy, setting up an early scene with a psychiatrist stating MK did not have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) but rather had brain damage following his possession by the spirit of Khonshu and that this godly presence was too much for any one personality to handle. This made this multiple personalities into a coping mechanism for the embodiment and interpretation of the unearthly possession but his struggle to grasp reality is the result of damage to his brain rather than an innate disorder. It is definitely a cool twist on the classic tale of psychosis. However, shortly thereafter, the whole conversation was thrown into doubt, with the weirdly disfigured faces and imagery suggesting that it may have only been another hallucination from the addled Moon Knight, himself…

Ellis also had the brilliance to introduce “Mr. Knight” a new, more sociable and public-facing persona of MK’s that works with the police as a quasi-detective. Mr. Knight gave MK a means of operating in the real world and presenting someone with some positive PR. I also really liked the artistic style that Shalvey used to depict Moon Knight, making him fully black and white, while keeping the full color palate for his surroundings. All of MK’s accessories (his car, moon blade things, his copter, etc.) are perfectly white, making the blood and dirt that accumulates during his fights much more visible. I also really liked Shalvey’s use of artistic style in framing stories, which is most prominent in issue #2, where the first half of the book shows 8 disparate characters all gradually being assassinated, one page at a time, and leaving more and more of each page blank. I appreciated the cleverness of how the art and storytelling blended together. This short arc was masterfully done, making each issue a relatively minor tale, but gradually building a strong sense of the title character, as well as his multiple personalities and the whole Khonshu question. Great take on the character, an instant classic. Rating 8 of 10.

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A beautiful, if morbid, artistic framing device by Declan Shalvey in Moon Knight #2. Source: Marvel Comics via comicsbulletin.com

 

 

Brian Wood/ Greg Smallwood #7-12: Wood and Smallwood presented a genuinely admirable follow-up to Ellis and Shalvey’s opening act. Smallwood’s art is amazing — I really think he’s a rising star at Marvel. This six-issue set makes an adept transition from Ellis’ exposee on MK into a self-contained arc. But the transition is somewhat gradual, as it seems to continue along Ellis’ pattern until a couple issues in when you realize Wood is building to a larger story. This slow arc-building effect is very reminiscent of Stan Lee’s early work on Amazing Spider-Man back in the late 1960s when multi-issue arcs first started. But the issues and tone, as well as the wonderful art are all perfectly modern. I particularly liked issue #8, where the story was told through security cam footage, with dialogue boxes on the outside of the frame. Stylistically and thematically, it was a wonderful continuation of what Ellis and Shalvey started. The whole first 12 issues of this run are probably the best Moon Knight stories I’ve read. Neck and neck with the first two arcs of Charles Houston’s 2006 run on the character. It may not be the best entry point to the character, but it certainly is great reading for Moon Knight and comic fans alike. Rating 8 of 10.

 

Cullen Bunn/ Ron Ackins #13-17: Ehh definitely not as good as either earlier arc. I didn’t like Bunn’s decision to suddenly make MK much more violent and deal with ghosts and the like. He also called him a priest of Khonshu? It seemed like a pretty big departure from the stuff right before it. Also, Ackins’ art was fine, but it just didn’t hold up to either Smallwood or Shalvey’s work ahead of him. This is a sub-par entry into the Moon Knight canon, and honestly I would prefer to pretend it didn’t happen. The arc doesn’t have any resolution either. Just bam! end. I’d imagine that is reflective of a relatively abrupt cancellation. Likely due to similar sentiments from other readers. Rating: 4 of 10

Side-note: Moon Knight would make an excellent choice for the inevitable next round of Netflix/Marvel shows. I would love to see them try him out. Fingers crossed!

Into the Woods: AKA Meryl Streep Can Do Anything

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Source: Wikipedia

It was only within the past week that I finally got around to watching last year’s musical movie spectacular: Into the Woods. I was already familiar with the story, having seen the stage play a couple of times back in my *cough* musical theater days in high school. It’s a fun story that is classic Sondheim — good and entertaining music that is easy to listen to. The music is definitely kind of catchy and will stick in your head for a few days after watching it, which is certainly not a complaint. It has a lot of humorous moments too, providing levity for the somewhat perilous adventure the main characters are thrust into. For those not familiar with the plot, it is a sort of fairy tale mashup, amalgamating different pieces of classic fairy tale lore into one story, and often self-referential humor that simultaneously pulls from and mocks the fairy tales from which Into the Woods takes its inspiration. Much of this is all a credit to the original screenplay and score, so while a great plus, isn’t really something the movie can take credit for. For the director, Rob Marshall, and his cast, it is really the interpretation and production value that can be critiqued.

Stylistically, Into the Woods was perfectly done. The dark and ominous lighting in a somewhat surreal fairy tale forest had a nice blend of mysticism and reality, which presents a very different feel than can be achieved on stage. The tone and quality of the singing was also pretty well done. The cast seemed well-balanced, and there is no doubting the acting and singing talents of Anna Kendrick or Emily Blunt. James Corden also definitely impressed as the Baker, especially for a comedic late night talk show host. And the kids seemed plucked straight from Broadway. But, to be sure, the main draw is Meryl Streep – proving, yet again, that she can do anything. She is captivating and talented and most certainly deserves the Best Supporting Actress nomination she got that year. Even so, my favorite scene was the Princes’ song, performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen. It was funny and sufficiently self-aware to embrace the silliness of the song and the moment in the play. I laughed out loud as the two actors frolicked and pranced through a small stream-fed waterfall. The actors were mocking their fairy tale roots, with a tongue-in-cheek melodramatic scene. It’s all good fun.

I certainly enjoyed the film for the most part, and though it was pretty easy to pull off once the solid cast was cemented, the director did a good job of filling in the blanks. However, there were a few moments where the style seemed to fall apart and there were some inconsistencies with how the film sought to balance its stage play roots with the fact that it had a modern film’s CGI budget at its disposal. Why is there a CGI beanstalk and green-screened Giant, but the wolf is just Johnny Depp in a weird hat? Why did Little Red’s ingestion by the wolf look like a weird rip off of Shakira’s She-Wolf music video but we saw magical swirls of computer animation when the witch cast spells? It was in these moments that I felt the director lost some focus and could not make up his mind. Either stick wholly to a stage play feel with the costumed wolf and a make believe giant or simple voice over focus on the foot, like a play would see, or fully embrace the movie effects and make a singing CGI wolf. Either way would have worked, just look at how cool the new Jungle Book movie looks. But meeting half-way was odd and definitely distracted from the final product. I still think it is worth watching, but it is definitely not as good a final product as it could have been. Acting gets an A, but Directing gets a C+. Overall, a good film and definitely a fun story that’s worth watching if you enjoy musicals.