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Note that the title of this post is not the top ten superhero films. In fact, I'll be leaving out the superheroes almost entirely, in order to focus on some of the more oddball, lesser known movies people might not have realized were based on comics. I also leave out the movies based on newspaper comic strip characters like the "Charlie Brown" movies and "The Addams Family." Here goes nothing:

A History of Violence - I wasn't keen on the film until I heard that David Cronenberg was directing and Viggo Mortensen was playing the lead. Few people realized that this smart, dark thriller about a seemingly average family man with a shady past was based on a 1997 graphic novel. Critics praised it for its unusually realistic portrayal of sex and violence, including shots of the unpleasant aftermath of fight scenes and gun play. It's a very adult film, both in content and in approach, though reportedly considerably toned down from the original comic.

Akira - Many find the animated "Akira" film to be incoherent, and fans of the manga frequently suggest that if you want to know the real story of the famous Capsules motorcycle gang of Neo-Tokyo, you're better off reading Katsuhiro Otomo's multi-volume epic. I love the film version though, for being one of the creepiest, most visceral, most abundantly R-rated animated films ever made. The epic, horrific finale sequence alone makes this an anime classic. In fact, the film made such an impact and was so notorious in the 90s, for a lot of people it was anime, for good or bad.

American Splendor - Harvey Pekar candidly charted his unpredictable life and brushes with fame through a series of independent comics. The film adaptation, displaying a refreshing self-awareness and sense of fun, takes the unusual step of occasionally having the real Harvey and his wife Joyce appear in and comment on the dramatization of their lives, where Harvey is played by Paul Giamatti and Joyce by Hope Davis. The story, despite the fourth wall breaking, is about ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives, and it's wonderfully touching and strange.

Ghost World - I was tempted to include the Terry Zeigoff documentary about Robert Crumb on this list, but I'll have to settle for his adaptation of Daniel Clowes' "Ghost World," the tale of two cynical teenage girls. One of them, Enid (Thora Birch), becomes friends with a middle-aged man named Seymour (Steve Buscemi), which has unexpected consequences for both them both. "Ghost World" has no ghosts, but it is one of the better films about teenage alienation. It is especially recommend for too-smart girls of a certain age, like me when I first saw it.

Men in Black - I love "Men in Black." I love its silliness, its bizarreness, and its refusal to treat the human race as anything special. Nope, we're just another species in a galaxy that is overflowing with strange alien life forms. Planet Earth is in danger of destruction with alarming regularity, so thank goodness for the Men in Black organization. And thank goodness for Will Smith in his prime, landing every joke as he played off the wonderfully deadpan Tommy Lee Jones. And director Barry Sonnenfeld, for bringing the the visual spectacle and the satirical atmosphere.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - The beloved anime director Hayao Miyazaki also wrote and drew manga. His most substantial work was "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," which became a celebrated 1984 animated film. Based on the first two volumes, "Nausicaa" is a post-apocalyptic adventure story with thoughtful environmental and anti-war messages. It was made just prior to the formation of Studio Ghibli, but has almost all the hallmarks of their productions, including gorgeous traditional animation, a strong heroine, and memorable creatures.

Oldboy - Yep, this was based on a manga too, though only loosely. Park Chan-woo took the bare bones of the story and characters, and created a far more violent and shocking tale of a man imprisoned for years for reasons unknown, who is then unleashed upon the world. It is the centerpiece of Park's Vengeance Trilogy, has become a cult favorite. Hollywood has been trying to remake it for some time now without success. It's hard to imagine that any mainstream director would be able to keep the taboo plot twists and jarring violence of the original intact.

Persepolis - Marjane Sartrapi wrote the original "Persepolis" graphic novels based on her own experiences, growing up during the Iranian Revolution, and her rough adjustment to living in the West. So it was fitting that she directed the animated version herself, with Vincent Paronnaud. As a result, the film is extremely faithful to its comic source. "Persepolis" is in black and white, traditionally animated, and very frank about religious and sexual matters to the point where the film has become the subject of controversy and censorship in Muslim countries.

Road to Perdition - Originally a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, the film version directed by Sam Mendes is probably best remembered for its spectacular cinematography by Conrad Hall. Set during the Great Depression, it follows the journey of a father and his young son. The father, played by Tom Hanks, is an enforcer for the mob. His boss, played by Paul Newman in one of his final roles, has divided loyalties and perhaps cannot be trusted. "Road to Perdition" was a popular and critical success, but a few of the comic's fans were still upset about a slightly altered ending.

V for Vendetta - Yes, I'm well aware of the muddled ideology of the film that severely waters down the entire point of the Alan Moore graphic novel. But good grief, I enjoy the hell out of it nonetheless. I love the visuals, especially the wonderful use of the Guy Fawkes masks. I love so many individual sequences like Valerie's letter and the domino scene. I also think it has one of Natalie Portman's best performances, as Evey Hammond transforming from frightened victim to revolutionary. Yes, it's flawed and compromised, but it's also frequently an intriguing and entertaining piece of work.
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I feel like I've been ignoring the television side of things. To tell the truth I haven't been watching much television lately and there are few shows currently being broadcast that I'm actively following. My regular roster has been whittled down to about three or four prime time shows, "At the Movies," and "60 Minutes," and I can safely say that I watch more late night programming than anything else. Reaching this low didn't happen all at once, and in the spirit of over-analytical navel-gazing, it wasn't a simple process either. I suppose the easiest way to explain this is to provide the specific example of why I stopped watching "Chuck."

After hearing people rave about "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica," and missing the fun of having appointment TV to look forward to like "Buffy" and "The X-files" from the 90s, I started watching a bunch of new genre programs at the start of the '07-'08 season, including "Pushing Daisies," "The Bionic Woman," "Moonlight," "Reaper," and "Chuck." This was quickly whittled down to "Chuck" and "Pushing Daisies." Both shows were funny and geeky, had great production values, and were smartly written by good writers. They were also both victims of the '07-'08 writers strike, which left all of these freshman shows with severely truncated first or second seasons. "Pushing Daisies," my favorite of the lot, was axed midway through the second season, with the final episodes burned off over the summer months. "Chuck" received steady network support, however, and secured second and third seasons with the help of a vocal fan-campaign.

I, on the other hand, didn't make it to the midseason point with the second season of "Chuck." The most obvious reason was scheduling. FOX moved "House" to Mondays at 8PM, directly competing in the same timeslot as "Chuck". Because I didn't have a VCR or DVR, it was easier for me to watch "House" live and catch episodes of "Chuck" online. "House" is also available online through Hulu, but there's a significantly longer delay involved between the broadcast airings and when they become available online. I watched the first few "Chuck" episodes of the season weekly, but started putting off viewings for longer and longer periods of time until I finally lost interest and stopped altogether.

I can't say for sure whether or not the decision to stop watching the live broadcasts of "Chuck" sped up my decision to give up on the show, but I can say that once I stopped making time to see the show, I lost a good deal of investment in it. I think I would have dropped "Chuck" at some point regardless, because of changes in the show's content. I realized that the parts I enjoyed all involved the scruffy crew at the Buy More where the main character worked, and I was getting less and less patient with the spy drama aspect of the show and the endless teases about Chuck Bartowski potentially becoming involved with his beautiful blonde protector, Agent Walker.

I might have kept watching simply based on the show being part of my routine schedule, which is why I stuck around for all those lousy final seasons of "The X-Files." But once I started watching "Chuck" online, the sense of immediacy I got from the live broadcasts disappeared, and the weaknesses of the material started to weigh a lot heavier. Once I found another show that gave me the same geeky shenanigans, along with a couple where the nebbish protagonist had already firmly established couple-dom with the show's resident hot blonde girl, there was no going back. This was "The Big Bang Theory," which is not available online through any free sites, and it eventually knocked NBC's "Heroes" out of my viewing schedule too.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the networks that are doing the best now, CBS and FOX, have significantly higher barriers to accessing their first-run content than their competitors NBC and ABC. Online content is characterized by universal accessibility, so the urgency to watch anything is seriously diminished. And there are so many viewing choices available online, including original content, commercial programming can get lost in the din unless you're looking for it specifically. The shows that I still watch online now are ones that I tend to be diligent about keeping track of the scheduling for: "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Project Runway," and "The Venture Brothers," among others. Part of watching anything online is actively seeking it, which means the simple act of viewing a program is no longer a passive activity. Casual viewing is rare, and quality counts for more than ever.

"Chuck" is a good show, and has a lot to offer to geeks of a certain age and temperament. I enjoyed seeing Morgan evolve from slacker to someone worthy of the lowest rung of middle management. And I enjoyed Chuck using the timeless music of Rush to reach the kill screen of Missile Command. And I really loved Jeffster's rousing performance of "Mr. Roboto" at Ellie's wedding, though I watched that last one online after the video went viral. Maybe I'll give "Chuck" another shot one of these days when the show reaches its conclusion and I can pick up the whole thing on DVD and fast-forward through the angsty soap-opera bits.

Or maybe I won't.

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