Sunday, August 28, 2011

Netflix Reviews #4

Ong Bak 3

I've already written about the amazing Tony Jaa before when I was talking about Prachya Pinkaew's latest film. I guess both this guys are struggling mightily after parting ways. This movie, much like Prachya's latest effort, this movie is a hot mess. The story is pretty basic and not worth wasting your time and the martial arts felt a little too sporadic for my liking. There are some cool fight scenes, but most of the movie is this main character that I couldn't stand as he cried his way to the end of the movie because life sucks and all that crap. I don't get why they tried to make a movie like this instead of doing an actual martial arts movie. Sure, they were trying something different and all that jazz, but they failed pretty miserably. Hopefully, this Ong Bak series is finally over and Tony Jaa can move on to better things.

And it began with so much promise...

3 out of 10

Harry Brown

I have a soft spot for revenge films. Movies like Oldboy and Dead Man's Shoes make me empathize with their characters and in the end, I root for them to overcome whatever it is that they have to overcome. Movies like this might get formulaic, but once in a while you see one that is interesting enough to keep your interest. When I read that there was a revenge movie that starred the great Michael Caine, I was in. It deals with the title character who sees how gang life has ruined the way of life in the apartment complex that he lives. It is not until it touches him directly that he decides that someone has to do something about all this. There is a sort of side story that deals with Emily Mortimer's character which I thought was pretty weak. She really had no business being on screen with Caine as he made her look bad. Other than that, its a good movie with a nice surprise. Nothing really amazing, but seeing Michael Caine kick all kinds of ass is pretty cool.

6 out of 10

13 Assassins

Takashi Miike is one of the worlds most prolific directors. He is also a director that tries to break boundaries and leave his viewers questioning themselves, especially their morality. His early movies show the ways in which human beings can degrade themselves into their base animalistic and violent selves. But he is not only a master at horror and suspense. He is a fantastic director all around. 13 Assassins is Miike's homage to the samurai classics of the Kurosawa era. And boy, does it work. The movie deals with 13 samurai who are asked to murder a crazy lord that might bring the downfall of Japan. The premise is simple, but the story is as subtle as the first half of the movie. Slowly building up tension with the first half in order to explode with an amazing battle that shows how these samurai follow the code of bushido and basically become samurai in the purest way possible. I have to give a lot of props to Koji Yakusho for his role as Shimada. There is a quiet confidence that he exudes that is an important part of his character. Sure, there might not be a lot of development for these characters, but that is not what Miike wanted to portray with this film. The star of the film though is the villain, Lord Naritsugu as played by Goro Inagaki. There is a reason why you root incessantly for Shimada and his samurai and that reason is Naritsugu. You can't help but loathe this monster of a man. You really question id he should be a man at all. Inagaki plays this masterfully. The emptiness in his gaze, the sheer apathy but at the same time pleasure he gets from what he does is etched on the face of Inagaki during the film. I would really recommend this movie to anyone.

9 out of 10

The Lincoln Lawyer

The last film in this group is one I had actually been looking forward to seeing when I heard from people I trust that it was a really good movie. I am not a very big fan of Matthew McConaughey work, since all he seems to do is lame chick flicks about his undressed torso. The movie stars torso boy as a defense lawyer who does his job and does it pretty well. He has charisma and guile so he is excited when a big payout finally falls on his lap. All is not as it seems though in this interesting courtroom drama and thriller. Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy and Ryan Phillipe round up the pretty damn talented cast. I have to say, McConaughey did a fantastic job in making Mick Haller into an incredibly likeable character. It was hard not to smile mischievously when he does something he shouldn't be doing and still gets away with it. Phillipe does a pretty good job as the person accused of assault. It has a couple of nice curveballs that you might or might not expect, but they are very well executed. It's overall a very good and entertaining movie. Not sure if it would have worked as well with anyone else as the lead.

8 out of 10

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Series over Shows - An article mostly about Psych

Around two years ago, I tried watching a show called Monk. I hated it. I finished the first season and started the second one, just to quit like three episodes in. I just couldn't watch it. I'd find myself multitasking; gaming, reading, and just not paying attention to the show. Whole episodes would go by and I wouldn't remember shit because I just wasn't invested in what I was watching.

The problem with shows like Monk is exactly that, it's a show. And I'm the type of guy who prefers a series. What do I mean? Well, lets compare.
It's just an image, and I'm already bored.

In the simplest way possible. A show suffers from little to no character development. You walk out of episodes and seasons the exact same way you went in. Nothing changes with or between these characters. They always treat each other in the exact same manner. Which is totally crap, because everything people do changes their reality and the way they treat one another.

On the other hand TV series, requires at least an underlying story arc that motivates and carries the viewer from episode to episode. I say 'at least' because it can be underlying. It's not always the most important aspect, but it just needs to be there. There are many shows that I like that use this underlying system (Burn Notice, Castle, White Collar).

Then we have the shows that I really love. Where the story is everything. If you miss one single episode you shouldn't watch the next one, because you're going to be totally lost in the story. It's this type of show that gets the viewer invested in both the characters and what's happening to them (Dexter, Lost, True Blood, Weeds, Chuck, Californication).

That's why I just couldn't get into Monk. As far as I could see, it just wasn't developing any real story. It was just lame case, after lame case. It never grew into anything. I could pick any episode from any season and I could just jump into the story without needing any background whatsoever. And in some ways, I can see how that would be appealing to some people, but I guess it's just not my cup of tea.

I went through this long winded introduction so I could get into one particular show. In my final bit of late night summer boredom, I started watching Psych. And I must say, that at first I wasn't really into it. Much like Monk, it starts out in a case to case basis. The only difference is that Psych made me laugh. It's quirky and it constantly throws out the most obscure references you could imagine. And it made the lack of story bearable. It satisfied my boredom.
They may seem unlikeable, but they grow on you. I promise

I put up with two seasons. And suddenly, I received a pleasant surprise for season three: A story. Psych actually pulled off one of the nicest transformations I've seen on television. It evolved from show to series out of nowhere. It really does sneak up on you.

Once this story begins to unfold I actually realized that over three seasons I had grown to care about these characters. Without this story I would never have noticed because I always assumed that nothing would ever change between them, so why should one care about them.

Out of nowhere an episode comes along where you realize that something bigger is going on. This situation between these people is actually causing a reaction that's deeper than the usual episode. It breaks the superficial nature of the show and it alters the way they are around each other, impacting the way they conduct themselves in the next episodes. And that's what makes a good series. Instead of just isolated incidents, you get a chain of events.

I'm not saying it's perfect. It's actually far from it. It's slow and tedious. It's the slowest build I think I've ever seen on television. But it's actually very well handled. Psych has it's 'blah' episodes. But when it's good, it's really good. And in every season there's a good handful of episodes that really carry it along.

The Yin Yang trilogy is the perfect example of this. For three consecutive seasons (3-5), every finale had a related storyline. I don't think I've ever seen a story told from finale to finale. But they make it work. Through interesting storytelling and well placed humor they really build a short story arc over a three season span by just using three episodes. And I just find it amazing that they hooked me into it.

All in all, I'm not really considering this a review. More like a little rant.

If you really want me to review Psych you can request it. For now, I'll just recommend it to those who need something to watch to pass the time. Honestly, you could even skip seasons one and two if you really wanted to.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Superhero Movies

Captain America: The First Avenger vs Green Lantern

The WWF versus the WCW, Citizen Kane versus Casablanca, Edward versus Jakob are some of the biggest rivalries in the histories of each respective genre (pro-wrestling, cinema and pussy chick boy-toys respectively). In the world of comics, DC Comics and Marvel are the big dogs in town. Sure, there are many independent publishers that are pretty damn good, but in the minds of most fans you are either a Marvel fan or a DC fan, there's no two ways about it. You can like both, of course, but one of them will be your favorite. Whether one or the other is better can be argued by those that know this world better than I.

This summer we were presented with an interesting opportunity, two movies that came out that represent both brands. Representing Marvel, Captain America is one of their most important figures. Steve Rogers is a scrawny kid from Manhattan with a mighty chip on his shoulder who signs up for an experiment that gives him superhuman power. After beefing up, the Cap'n is sent to fight the biggest scourge of the 1940s... Nazis! Green Lantern, who represents DC is also an iconic character of comic lore. Hal Jordan is a brash, selfish and egomaniacal guy who is chosen by the power ring to become a part of the Green Lanter Corps. (a sort of intergalactic police force) in substitution of the previous owner of the ring.

These are both flagship superheroes for their respective companies but have both been mostly overlooked (not counting that terrible Captain America movie from 1990) in favor of the Superman's, Batman's, and Spidermans of the comic world. Now, I'm basically going to compare the two and see who wins.

Leading Role

I think Steve Rogers wins this one. Because, while I think Hal Jordan is the more interesting character, in the movies he is turned into a really whiny wannabe wiseass with daddy issues. He annoyed the hell out of me. While Rogers is a pretty tame character, Chris Evans really did a great job in giving this character life and made him feel bigger than mere reality. He definitely seemed like a hero to me. I thought Ryan Reynolds would have been fantastic as Jordan, and while he left a lot to be desired, I don't blame it entirely on him. I put most of the blame on the terrible screenplay that finds more time for his romantic life and his daddy issues than for anything else. Also, was I the only one completely surprised at how well Hal Jordan took the whole aliens exist thing?

Winner: Captain America/Steve Rogers as played by Chris Evans

Supporting Cast

This was a pretty hard one to choose as both movies have some really interesting secondary characters. Especially Tommy Lee Jones (channeling K from Men in Black) in full on sarcastic and wiseass mode. He steals every single scene he is in. I thought Captain America would have been pretty average without him there. As far as the villains go, Hugo Weaving as Red Skull was pretty kick ass. He was fantastic (as he normally is) and makes Peter Sarsgaard's Hector Hammond look like a blathering idiot (also with daddy issues... damn this movie).

Hugo Weaving makes what might have been the cheesiest bad guy ever into a kick-ass nazi killing machine.

Parallax is supposed to be this kick-ass villain but the movie doesn't really take advantage of it. The thing I loved about Green Lantern was his fellow Corps. members, or at least the ones we got to meet. Mark Strong as Sinestro is incredible and I'd have much preferred to have seen a movie about him than Hal Jordan. And I would have liked to have seen more of Kilowog as voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan.

And he's down for the ten count before the bell even rung.

In terms of the love interests, Blake Lively was definitely the highlight of Green Lantern as she was able to take some fondue worthy scenes and work them to the best of her ability. Her relationship with Hal Jordan seemed a lot more natural and thus worked better on film. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell never really had that chemistry on screen and the relationship felt forced. Almost like she only fell for Rogers once he got big muscles and superhuman powers... talk about high standards.

Winner: Captain America


These are both superhero movies, so their plots are pretty straight forward. There are no M. Night-like twist endings. I thought Green Lantern's universe was a lot more interesting because it was different. But, I have to admit that it feels special to know that the Captain America universe is part of something bigger than itself. The idea that most of the movies Marvel Studios has released so far are part of what will be the Avengers movie makes it feel like I'm immersed in something bigger than just a single movie. It's a lot like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. It's bigger than normal. You see the movies expecting to see easter eggs that will make you go 'oh snap' like seeing Captain America's shield in Tony Stark's lab. But here we actually get Howard Stark (Tony's father) as an important piece in the experiment that turns Rogers into the Captain. Of course, the main story is straight forward but its still performed a lot better than Green Lantern's. The biggest flaw I saw with the Lantern was that it took too much time away from something as interesting as the Corps. and instead focused too much on Jordan's daddy issues and his love interest Carol Ferris. Also, it is unquestionable that the Lantern's biggest villain was a flop.

I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of Hal Jordan and his interactions with the Crops. members. That would have been the true meat on this movies bones, but it failed at that and at almost everything else. The only thing that excited me about it was the possibility of a movie based a lot more on Sinestro.

Winner: Captain America

So basically, I believe that as a whole, Captain America as a whole is a much better movie than Green Lantern. It's not even a fair fight. Captain America is well done, with the atmosphere that screams USA in the 1940s but with the ship sailing straight towards 2012 and the release of The Avengers. Green Lantern gave us an interesting universe that is not explored in order to show us glimpses of Hal Jordan's whiny self and his uninteresting problems. In the end, its obvious which of the movies is better.

Captain America rating: 7.5 out of 10
Green Lantern rating: 4 out of 10

Gratuitous Blake Lively pic.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A review that breaks rules #1 and #2 - Fight Club

WARNING: Do not hold up to open flame.
Ah Fight Club, one of those movies that seemed to be the perfect storm of awesome when it arrived. These days I group it in there with Pulp Fiction as one of the cliche favorite guy movies, and it has become one of those movies you just have to see.

I honestly hadn't seen the movie in years, and I was recently told that it didn't hold up as well as I remembered (by Fefi), a thought that I refused to even consider. So I picked it up at Costco and made a night of it. And I must say, not only does it hold up, but it might be even more relevant now than it was in 99.

It might sound odd, but in some ways Brad Pitt is like Jack Nicholson. Just stop yelling for a second and I'll tell you why... Every time each of them plays a sociopath or a crazy person it really just makes a movie a million times better. Siously, think about it. If  Fight Club was made in the 70's Nicholson would totally play Tyler Durden. But this is a comparison for a whole other post.

I wasn't kidding earlier when I called Fight Club a perfect storm. The story, the music, the acting, the cast. It all just fits.

Without spoiling the story (this might be tricky), Fight Club is without a doubt one of the biggest and most elaborate mindfucks I've seen in a movie. The type of mindfuck that just totally changes your view on the plot altogether when you see it again. And, to me, that's what makes this movie so great. You can re-watch it and find a new point in the story that just makes you think about how fucked up what you're watching actually is. If you haven't seen the movie, this paragraph makes no sense at all, but it just needs to be said.

The cast is as close to flawless as you're going to get. These roles feel like they were made for these people. Even the smaller parts are just perfectly cast. Meat Loaf as Bob immediately comes to mind as one of the most hilarious yet sad things I think I've ever seen. And seeing it after a couple of years, it's quite shocking how many people are actually in there; I mean, I had an honest "Holy crap, it's Jared Leto" moment.

The main character, played by Ed Norton, awkwardly enough has no name. Seriously. And this is done brilliantly to the point where I had to go all the way to IMDB just to check if his name was ever mentioned. It's not like in other films, where main characters remain nameless and that's 'their thing', in this case it just adds to the character; when he starts out he is the most unimportant man in the universe. And without giving much away, he does acquire a name (not his), and it just goes along with his transformation in the story, which is just really well done.
I mean, look at this sack of shit. He doesn't deserve a name.
His counter part (hint hint) is Tyler Durden, the pinnacle of bad-assery, of course played by Brad Pitt. Durden seems to take it upon himself to fix Norton, and of course hijinks ensue (to say the least). And as cool as Tyler Durden seems, it doesn't take a genius to see that something is off about him. Their friendship starts innocently enough, but it escalates rather quickly when they start beating the shit and piss out of each other.
It takes massive balls to wear shit like this.
The plot starts getting seriously twisted when a love triangle ensues between our two main characters and Marla, played by the always spectacular Helena Bonham Carter. Marla is without a doubt the most damaged woman in existence, and it feels weird because I'm just oddly attracted to her. This girl has issues that would drive most people insane, and that fact is made abundantly clear many times during the story. But what makes it interesting is that as fucked up as she is, it is made even more obvious that Norton's character is truly the fucked up one in their relationship. They play off each other brilliantly, and it just builds interesting characters.

She's so fucked up. I love her.
On top of all that, we have the soundtrack, which just helps suck the viewer into this experience. The Dust Brothers put together a score that just blends perfectly with the images. The drum loops at time are disorienting, but I think that's the idea. You need to be disoriented to go through what Norton goes through, and it's done in a way where you don't even notice it's happening until it's too late. It's rare to see music compliment an image this well, instead of being two stand alone expressions.

The only bad thing I can say about this movie is that the twist isn't all that original. It's been done. But it's not about the twist. It's about the message. And when you look at the bare bones of the message, it's quite cheesy. But since it's delivered in such an awesome way, you just end up walking away from this movie a different person. In this day and age, this movie just hits deep with most people. We all have our issues, and most people don't handle them properly.

So, why is Fight Club so awesome? It's a lot of things. But most of all, it has style. This is one of those movies that knows how awesome it is and it dares you not to like it. It's become quite the cult classic, and rightfully so. It carries a powerful message, and it delivers it without rubbing your face in shit. And I like that.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Devin Townsend Project: Ki (Part 1 out of 4)

Devin Townsend Project: Ki

The first track is a very nice and beautiful intro. Townsend has always had the ability to write haunting music. "A Monday" is just that. A short but beautiful instrumental piece to whet your appetite. The second track, "Coast", surprised me. It seems to be building and building to one of those trademark Townsend screams, but it never comes. Instead, it ends with a nice guitar that sounds like its from some ethereal plane. Look, I don't expect for everyone to enjoy these albums or Devin Townsend in general, but if there is one thing about them is that they are creative and showcase Townsend's amazing musical abilities.

Having been a big fan of Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band, I knew what a project like this would entail. Music in its purest sense. When I read that this was a really mellow album, I was excited for what was to come. I have always considered Townsend to be an incredible talent that is often overlooked for more formulaic and soulless music. In a way, he always reminded me of Mike Patton.

Ki sounds a little like Porcupine Tree (which is not bad in my eyes) if Steven Wilson had the ability to release those growls and screams that have made Devin Townsend a household name within the metal community. I do sometimes wish he would have given us a few more intense moments like on songs like "Heaven Send" (by the way, listen to the kickass solo in this song).

How can such an ugly bastard make such beautiful music?

He knows when he needs to build tension and when to go all out and when to reign it all in. There are very few bands that can achieve that. Most of the songs seem to bring you to the edge of your seat and then leave you wanting for more. Listen to "Disruptr" and the way the song starts slow and mellow and then suddenly begins to build more and more tension not only musically but also vocally until you get a nice payoff. I would expect for a track with the name "Disruptr" to be heavy and while its not heavy like the usual style of heavy, its definitely doomy and it keeps building up and building up but it never gets so high. It reaches the perfect level for the song.

The thing I like most about this album is the amazing range the music it contains shows. From ambient, doom, progressive, to a rock 'n' roll inspired tune like "Trainfire". My favorite song of the album so far. Also worth mentioning is the title track "Ki" that really showcases Townsend's ability for almost pure neo-prog with layer upon layer of sounds almost reaching the level of 'wall of sound' he is known for.

There is an experimental feeling throughout this album that Devin Townsend has always had and the way he uses all the layering throughout the album gives the listener a reason to come back to it and listen again. It's smooth with a touch of edge. I never thought I'd hear an album like this one from Townsend, but he has definitely impressed me. It's a beautiful experimental album with ambiance that makes you want to close your eyes and transport you to another world. While I'm a big fan of his heavy stuff, I'm glad he started this tetralogy with such a subtly complex album.

This is undoubtedly an introduction to what is to come.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

DC Comics' September relaunch: A fan's overview.

It’s been two months (give or take) since DC Comics announced that, come September, they would be relaunching their entire line of super-hero titles.

At first, I had absolutely no idea what to think.

52 comics beginning at #1. A complete redistribution of both writers and artists across the entire line. Some characters and their histories would find themselves being reworked or downright retconned, some to a much greater extent than others (as in the case of Superman and Batgirl), in order to make them more appealing to a more mainstream audience. Other characters from past company acquisitions (i.e. Wildstorm properties) were going to be introduced as part of DC canon officially.

Costumes were changed. Characters disappeared. Beloved books were cancelled and/or replaced. And an entire fandom simultaneously face-palmed itself out of utter incredulity at the prospect of another DC reboot.

But that was then. And things have mellowed a little bit.

Since the announcement was made, the higher-ups at DC Entertainment have made it their mission to justify such a drastic (and some might even argue dangerous) move in the eyes of an increasingly skeptical public.

Their motto has basically boiled down to the following three things:

1) Re-energize their entire line with respected creative teams bringing exciting new visions and directions for their properties.

2) Modernize, diversify and distill the essence of their characters in order to appeal to a potential mass-market audience.

3) Grab onto a larger portion of the market share and customers’ money that Marvel continually controls on a monthly basis.

This is clearly a business-motivated move from a company that’s essentially tired of being perpetually stuck at the number two spot for years on end and, as far as crazy, profit-grabbing schemes go, it has a very strong potential to work (at least for the first two, maybe three, months).

Yet, when it comes to the actual creative process behind this relaunch, there are concerns. Most specifically, regarding the changes involved in the histories and directions of such established characters. While some franchises will remain for the most part, if not completely, unaltered (specifically, all the Green Lantern books and most Batman-related titles), some are being rebooted outright.

For instance, and perhaps most controversially, after establishing her presence in the larger DCU as Oracle, cementing her as a bona fide role model for women and people with physical disabilities across fandom after Alan Moore famously had the Joker shoot her through her spine in 1988’s ‘The Killing Joke’ (which, granted, was originally meant to be as an out of continuity story, but I digress), why is Barbara Gordon back in her role as Batgirl?

Why is Superman, all of a sudden, wearing armor, an orphan and has never been involved with Lois Lane? Why is Cyborg a founding member of the Justice League?

And, for that matter, why is the JLA (historically) the first super-team when, up until now, we’ve had a Justice Society of America more or less active since the 1940’s?

Why is Dick Grayson back as Nightwing if he was such a popular Batman?

Why is Oliver Queen rich again?

Where’s Wally West?

Where’s Stephanie Brown?

Where’s Cassandra Cain?

Why is Wonder Woman wearing pants again?

The answer’s twofold:

The creative reasoning behind it all can be blamed on their Flashpoint event. I won’t get into specifics regarding what’s going on in that event because a) it’d take me a while just to try to come out with a simple summation, b) I’m not reading it and c) I just don’t care to do so.

All you and I need to know is that it involves time-travel, alternate timelines and Bruce Wayne died instead of his parents in Crime Alley that one night (the only really appealing and truly original plot-point of the entire series, in my opinion). At the end of that event, shipping in a little less than three weeks, everything will come to a head and a brave new DCU will arise from the ashes.

The more business-minded reason for it, however, is considerably more pragmatic than one might think initially.

By streamlining their Universe and the direction of their characters, modernizing them and focusing on their more iconic versions, with new writers and artists involved, they’re hoping to bring over a wide variety of new readership to the company, whether it’s on a retailer level or with digital sales.

Will it work? Probably. At least for the first few months, like I already said. But if they can keep the promise of good, quality (not to mention, exciting) storytelling at affordable prices (so far they’ve been “holding the line” at $2.99 for regular-sized books of 20 pages of content, whereas the competition arbitrarily charges a dollar more for the same amount of pages on their biggest-selling titles), they might yet be able to hold on to at least half, if not most of that potential new readership.

After all, we comic fans are a very fickle lot. While we may complain about too many changes, and/or the lack thereof, to our favorite characters, we can hardly resist the event “du jour” or new number 1’s featuring those very same characters we complain about. Inevitably, some of those relaunched titles are going to sell.

Especially if they have Batman or Green Lantern on the title.

I, for one, after some careful deliberation, made my peace with the move. It’s the very nature of super-hero comics to be cyclical. These characters have been in constant publication in one way or another for more than 70 years. And long after I’m gone, they’ll continue to exist and have their own adventures in whatever format one can imagine, whether it’s TV, movies or floppies.

Everyone has their own Batman. Everyone has their own Superman. Same with Flash and Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. These characters transcend the very page in which they are given life month-in and month-out and everybody has that one version that it’s invariably “theirs.”

As far as this relaunch is concerned, it’s an opportunity to define them for new generations to come. Yes, it’s a very romanticized and idealized look at a business-motivated endeavor from a company clearly more concerned with profit, but I’ve always seen comics as the next step in literary evolution and I have a deep love for these characters, for a wide variety of reasons.

Needless to say, while I’ll definitely miss things like ‘Batman Inc,’ Dick Grayson under the pointy-eared cowl, Wally West as the Flash, the Justice Society, ‘Secret Six’ and Lois and Clark, I’m excited for what’s next because, regardless of name and brand recognition, releasing 52 brand-new titles simultaneously is a risky business move and a bold creative decision.

And with 52 new comics, there’s a veritable world to choose among everything that’s coming out. So, with all that in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of the 10 titles I’m most excited about. I'll take another look next month, after their release, to see how they all stacked up against the hype.


#10 – Wonder Woman

I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this book but it’s being written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Cliff Chiang and that automatically means a “must-have” for me. Wonder Woman has been hit-and-miss for quite some time now and in desperate need of a strong, concise direction. The last great run on her title was during Greg Rucka’s tenure and that was six years ago.

Azzarello (‘100 Bullets,’ ‘Flashpoint - Batman: Knight of Vengeance’) has some detractors when it comes to his mainstream super-hero endeavors but his powerful character work, evocative dialogue and attention to detail is very well suited for Diana. In fact, his previous work with the character in Superman ‘For Tomorrow’ (which I’m a big fan of, despite its unconventional plot), can be considered as one of the strongest interpretations in as many years, despite its brevity.

And Chiang, even though he doesn’t necessarily scream “Wonder Woman,” still has a very unique visual style and I’m very keen on seeing how it plays out with Brian in that book.

#9 – Stormwatch

Originally meant to be as Wildstorm’s answer to DC’s Justice League, except darker, edgier and considerably more violent, Stormwatch has since been adopted into the DC fold, guided by the brilliant pen of one Paul Cornell (‘Knight and Squire’, ‘Action Comics’, DOCTOR WHO ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Human Nature/Family of Blood’).

Featuring classic Wildstorm characters such as Apollo, Midnighter, The Engineer and Jack Hawksmoor with former JLA founding member, Martian Manhunter (the single, greatest Martian in fiction, period), thrown into the mix, this series could very well be a sleeper sci-fi/action hit with great visuals from Miguel Sepulveda. Expect lots of big Universe-spanning concepts, dynamic character interactions and action. Lots and lots of action.

Definitely one title to watch.

#8 – Justice League International

"Wait. Don’t you mean ‘Justice League’ by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee?"

No. ‘Justice League International’ by Dan Jurgens (the guy that killed ‘Superman’ in the 90’s and creator of Booster Gold) with art by Aaron Lopresti. That’s the one I’m most excited about.

I wasn’t a fan of ‘Brightest Day.’ Out of the two bi-weekly mini-series that were running last year post-‘Blackest Night,’ ‘Justice League: Generation Lost’ was the better story with the more interesting characters. It was funny, exhilarating and a genuine surprise. When the last issue came out, it ended with Batman and Booster conspiring to rebuild the JLI and the promise of a new series in the foreseeable future.

Now the time has come and, as I look at that roster, I can’t help but be excited: Booster Gold, Batman, GL Guy Gardner, Ice, Fire, August General in Iron, Vixen and Rocket Red. This is such a varied group of heroes with great histories, and the team dynamics alone are sure to be well-worth the price of admission on its own.

Only one missing’s Blue Beetle. Fortunately, he’s right at…

#7 – Blue Beetle

I’ve missed this book. Jaime Reyes may very well be the best new character of the last decade and his book, under the pen of John Rogers, then Matt Sturges, was always a joy to read and my favorite book on a monthly basis.

The very fact that they’re bringing the book back with Tony Bedard writing it, perhaps DC’s most underrated writer (‘Legion of Super-Heroes’ and the oft-overlooked ‘R.E.B.E.L.S.’), is just the icing on what I can only hope to be a very delicious cake.

After the book was cancelled in issue #36, I followed his exploits across ‘Teen Titans’ and, eventually, the aforementioned ‘Generation Lost,’ but it just hasn’t been the same. I’ve missed Jaime and his rag-tag group of friends and family. I miss the feeling of elation I used to get whenever I finished reading an issue. I miss that weird, sarcastic scarab and its banter with Jaime, quite simply, the coolest, geekiest kid in comics.

Come September, I get to have them all back on a monthly basis and couldn’t be happier about it.

Thanks for that, DC!

#6 – Green Lantern

Say what you will about the movie (and believe me, I have plenty to say on the subject) but Green Lantern is, far and wide, the most exciting franchise in DC’s entire line-up right now.

Ever since Geoff Johns began his work on the title with ‘Rebirth,’ the Green Lantern mythos have expanded in ways that were unforeseen for much of its history. Whether it was the simple, yet logical notion of the Sinestro Corps, the War of Light exploding into the Blackest Night, Larfleeze, Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps or the return of the mad Guardian, Krona, Johns has been building an intricate web of stories that have never failed to enthrall and entertain readers every month for 7 years now.

And the best is still yet to come. As Hal Jordan is stranded on Earth, his ring taken from him by the Guardians of Oa, Sinestro takes center stage as the Green Lantern of Sector 2814. But with his Brothers-in-Light in turmoil still reeling from the aftermath of the War, the mystery of the Indigo Tribe and the advent of the First Lantern, it won’t be long until Hal will be back in the saddle.

DC’s biggest selling franchise continues to get bigger and better. Movie aside, there’s never been a better time to be a Lantern fan.

#5 – Batman

Scott Snyder has been writing the best Batman comic in years for the last few months in his recent run on ‘Detective Comics.’ With the beginning of the Incorporated era last year, Dick Grayson remained as Gotham’s Batman while Bruce began a recruitment tour across the globe, looking for prospective Batmen to aid him in his latest cause.

Snyder’s run has been a work of genius. His handle on Dick has been some of the very best since legendary Bat-scribe, Chuck Dixon, on the 90’s and the stories have been dark, moody, disturbing and downright memorable (I mean, who could possibly forget the whale?). In essence, everything a good ‘Detective Comics’ story should be. Truth be told, I’m willing to wager that, years from now, people will still be talking about his James Gordon story in venerable tones. Not a single doubt in my mind that it’s nothing less than a classic in its own right.

Now he’s moving over to Batman, the super-hero title, with Greg Capullo (‘Spawn’) and while he certainly isn’t proven in the more mainstream aspects of super-hero comics, he has more than earned my respect and admiration as a storyteller enough to trust in him.

#4 – Nightwing

I have a real soft spot for Dick Grayson regardless of whatever identity he happens to be going by at the moment. I know him from TV shows as Robin from as far back as I can remember, but I met him as Nightwing in the books during the early Chuck Dixon years in the title right when I started buying comics.

While I’ve grown increasingly attached to him as Batman, thanks in no small part to Grant Morrison’s ‘Batman & Robin,’ and I’ll certainly miss his interaction with current Boy Wonder, Damien Wayne, I’m really looking forward to this book.

Kyle D. Higgins has been writing a brilliant Batman story in the current ‘Gates of Gotham’ mini-series that concludes later this month and his take on Dick comes from a place of love. He’s a fan and you can tell by the way he writes the book that he really wants to do right by the character. He "gets" Dick Grayson, in the same way that Snyder does in 'Detective,' and he seems to be having a lot of fun working on the book.

Seeing his name as writer of this new series meant an obligatory “buy” for me. Yet another book I’m anxious to read and have extremely high hopes for.

#3 – Aquaman

The King of the Seas is back!

After teasing this title for the better part of a year, Geoff Johns (‘Green Lantern,’ ‘Justice League’) and Ivan Reis (‘Blackest Night’) are finally reuniting to restore Arthur Curry back to his place of prominence in the DCU.

Despite being the subject of a lot of mockery from halfwits everywhere who have probably never read a single comic book in their lives, much less an Aquaman book, Arthur has always been a very interesting character for me to follow. Whether it was during Peter David’s tenure in the 90’s, Will Pfeifer’s ‘American Tidal’ or even his brief appearance in Joe Kelly’s superb ‘JLA’ run, he’s always been a commanding character that continually captures my attention.

And with the team responsible for DC’s best-selling, critically successful event of the past decade spear-heading his stories in brand new directions, this book can go a long way to becoming a classic of the new DCU.

#2 – Green Lantern: The New Guardians

Plain and simple, Kyle Rayner is my favorite comic book character. I wouldn’t be reading comics if it weren’t for his tenure as “the last Green Lantern” in the 90’s, under the direction of Ron Marz and Darryl Banks. Thanks to him, I discovered an entire Universe of amazing stories and characters that have been with me ever since. He was my first and, as such, I follow his exploits wherever they take me, from Green Lantern, to Ion, to Parallax, to Green Lantern again.

In the case of ‘New Guardians,’ this seems to be as the leader of a multi-colored Lantern Corps with tried and true characters from the current GL mythos, such as Arkillo, Saint Walker and the hilariously endearing Glomulus.

Written by Tony Bedard (‘Blue Beetle’), with art from Tyler Kirkham (‘Green Lantern Corps,’ ‘The Darkness’), this book can very well surprise a lot of fans as it expands into other less-explored corners of this post-War of the Green Lanterns Universe with the Torchbearer leading the charge.

And finally…

#1 – Action Comics

Grant Morrison. Superman.

Every time the two meet the results are classic, transcendental epics.

‘All-Star Superman’ is, in my honest opinion, the single greatest super-hero story I’ve ever had the privilege to read. Everything I love about comics is perfectly encapsulated in those 12 issues, masterfully rendered by Morrison and frequent collaborator, Frank Quitely.

‘Superman Beyond 3D’ is as perfect a coda as Superman’s story can have. Filled to the brim with metatextual subtext and mind-bending action, it was, at heart, a story about stories and the historical and symbolical importance of Superman, both as an ideal and as a literary character. Fun, explosive and thought-provoking: it was everything a great comic book story should be and more.

And now, ‘Action Comics’ comes along. Morrison has gone on record on several occasions saying that he’s always wanted to write Superman at the beginning of his career, before he became the planet-shaking quote/unquote man-god that we know now; when he was more concerned with helping the poor and downtrodden from the corrupt and a well-placed shot from a rocket launcher to the chest could still hurt him.

The so-called “socialist” Superman from the 40’s.

And this is it: ‘Action Comics’ #1. By Grant Morrison (‘Batman & Robin,’ ‘Batman Incorporated’) and Rags Morales (‘Identity Crisis,’ ‘First Wave’). A brand-new take on The Man of Tomorrow by super-hero comics’ most prolific writer.

Need I say more?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

King Arthur rises again... with a whimper. Camelot Review


Arthurian legends date back to more than a thousand years ago and its different incarnations have permeated popular culture for hundreds of years. Whether this be in book form, movie form or like Camelot, TV series. From parodies like the awesome Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to epics like Excalibur, and Disney movies like The Sword in the Stone, the silver screen has had a lot of adaptations of the Arthurian lore. Now, there is not one simple and cohesive Arthurian legend that you can draw on, there are different versions each with their own unique characters and plot points, but the most important characters are in all of them, King Arthur, the wizard Merlin, Arthur's wife Guinevere among others, are characters you see in every different Arthurian lore. As is Excalibur. The famed sword in the stone.

This particular show was made by Starz with a very interesting and talented cast. I have to admit that it does have the right look. The sets and the costumes and all of that was pretty well done as is most of the times when channels like Starz, HBO and Showtime do their thing. Actually, one of the creators (and writers), Michael Hirst, also worked on The Tudors and wrote both Elizabeth movies. So, he has a good eye for the sets and the costumes. He is also a pretty decent writer of this specific genre.

The characters were well cast for the most part (I'll get to the for the most part soon). Joseph Fiennes was an interesting Merlin. He doesn't have the classic wizard look and at times he almost looks evil, but it works. One of the most interesting things about the story is the use of magic. Using magic is a lot like using drugs. It consumes you. I think that was very clever. Philip Winchester and Clive Standen as Leontes and Gawain respectively were also very good. Gawain is a character of Arthurian lore but I don't remember Leontes from anywhere. Morgan was played by Eva Green who also did a fantastic job. There is something about her that has always made me think of every character she plays as sort of crazy. So that was good for Morgan. Green was also naked a lot of the time, so that is always a plus!

"I'm playing Guinevere, right? I just adore her!"

Probably my biggest problem with this show is the casting of King Arthur. Jamie Campbell Bower was a pretty damn terrible choice for Arthur. I just don't buy this guy as a leader. He doesn't inspire loyalty. I want to see someone that I would fight for and with. I wouldn't trust that kid with my life. I think they tried to make him young and cute like Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Tudors but Meyers has the acting ability to pull it off. This guy doesn't.

Sadly, everything else gets dragged because one of the most important characters is just so terrible to watch. Its not helped much with the stunted dialogue and the terrible speeches. Also, how can they defend a realm with possibly six or seven knights total. Its ridiculous. I'm surprised Morgan and King Lot didn't just destroy the few people Arthur had behind him. It seems to me that Arthur's opposition are just stupid. They try making all these elaborate plans when a group of 50 battle hardened knights could have finished Camelot in a couple of hours.

Jamie Campbell Bower after taking off all his makeup.

Now that Guinevere is the focus, let's talk about this character. At first she appears to be a very self assured and strong female character and then she ends up losing all her power through the series and basically almost ruined Camelot because she had no self control (Arthur as well, we'll get there though). So a character that had so much promise ends up being just another stereotype for the weakness of the flesh. Also, isn't Guinevere supposed to be Arthur's wife and she is unfaithful to him with Lancelot and not the other around?

Changing of the lore notwithstanding, this series completely ruins Arthur for me. King Arthur is supposed to stand for something. He is supposed to be above all this petty 'I love her' bull crap. He embodies honor and by his actions he attracts the loyalty of his subjects. This guy we get here is just so bland and uninspired basically betrayed one of his most loyal knights. This Arthur doesn't get close to the other Arthur. Sure, he is young and brash and stupid, but to me that's all there is. It doesn't seem like there is a future for him.

Even though I hated Arthur and his relationship with Guinevere, I think this is an enjoyable series to watch if you are bored. There's nothing too deep here and it does have some interesting ideas when it comes to magic and all of that. After watching the series, I learned that it has already been cancelled and I have to say I'm not surprised.

5 out of 10

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oh Captain My Captain - A tale of Marvel's kick-ass Summer

A lot of people seem really surprised that Marvel hasn't dropped the ball this Summer. With three huge releases, and the track record for comic book movies, the odds weren't exactly in their favor.

On the other hand, I always have high hopes for comic book movies. I know how great they can be if done right, and I really believe that Marvel has shown us how it's done with this whole Avengers buildup thing they've done.

With Captain America we finally round up the bunch and we're ready for the main event, and this movie makes sure to point that out. Marvel decided to make this film the biggest Avengers tie in to date, I mean, it's in the fucking title. But on top of that we have substantial nods to other Avengers in the movie.The Cosmic Cube plays a huge role in the film's plot and it is said to have been "the jewel of Odin's treasure room," which indirectly ties Thor into our WWII story. And since this story has to do with cutting edge technology and is mostly happening in 1942 it is obvious that the Starks have something to do with it. In this case, Howard Stark, who is is actually really important to the plot.

"Your motivation? You watched Iron Man right? Just pretend you're Tony."

Of course, we have the big tie in happening after the credits, but I'm not a big enough dick to spoil that for you. I'm just going to say that if you left early because you had to pee, you missed out, because it's spectacular. But enough about that.

The movie itself is amazing. I'd say it's amazing because it looks and feels like a comic book. And that's what we, the fans, wanted. I'm truly surprised at how well it turned out. I was genuinely worried at how sickening the whole patriotism shtick would get; but it is  handled wonderfully with some well placed humor. On top of that it's characterized by what can only be called comic book pacing, because the action just seems to roll along at the right speed, unlike movies like (ugh) Spider-Man 3 which just constantly threw things (shit) at you at a ridiculous pace.

The plot needs no introduction. I mean it's been five years since Ultimate Avengers came out, so it's kinda fresh in our minds. But it's handled very well. Faithful enough to the original to keep the die-hards at bay, yet pleasing to any new fan who just wants the 'summer blockbuster' experience. But in the end, I like to think it's the fans who decide weather a comic book movie was worth it. And I must say, Cap hit his mark.

The thing that made Captain America such an interesting movie for me is the fact that I went into it relatively blind, asides from knowing that Chris Evans was playing Cap, and that The Red Skull was the villain, I knew very little about this film. The last time I went into a movie like this was for The Dark Knight, except in that case it was on purpose. I was actually shocked when TDK threw Two-Face at me, I didn't expect him until the next movie. It proved to be an interesting experience, one that I'm glad to repeat, albeit by accident.

"Another badass for the resume. Geeks love me."
In this case, I had a couple of pleasant surprises. First of all was Hugo "Mr. Anderson" Weaving, who seems to love popping up in movies I really, really like. Almost like he's doing it on purpose. He, of course, plays The Red Skull. This might be the most awesome looking make-up/costume and outfit job in superhero movie history. He just looks flat-out threatening at all times. He is also built up appropriately, such an awesome face can't just be shown from the start. There is a great anticipation for when he rips off the Mission Impossible-ish rubber mask thing and shows us the crimson. An awesome Marvel villain done right. And as always, he's fucking Hugo "V" Weaving, so he delivers a great performance.

The supporting cast does their job well. Several minor characters fall by the wayside at times, but they're there, proving that they did actually read the source material. Actually finding out who was in this movie actually made the credits enjoyable. For example, 'Dum Dum' Dugan was there the whole time, and I just didn't piece together that it was him.

Without a doubt the stand out character in the movie is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who is obviously trying to make up for being in Batman Forever. He plays the man with a million one-liners, Colonel Chester Phillips. This character practically outshines the Cap himself. It almost feels like the role was written for him. I have honestly quoted this character at least a dozen times since I watched the movie, and it hasn't gotten old. It's just one of those performances that controls the screen, and whenever he walks off screen, you almost want to beg him to come back. Kudos to Mr. Jones.
"Flip a coin to see who the star is? No, that's not a good idea."
On to Cap himself. Hearing that Chris Evans was playing the Captain America left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I'm one of those wishful thinking kinda geeks that's always hoping for big things. And since Chris was, in my opinion, the only well-cast person in that horrible Fantastic Four attempt, it saddened me that he was abandoning the role of Johnny Storm., eliminating the chance of an eventual appearance as the Human Torch in anything else. I know, it was highly unlikely, but it would have been fun.

After watching his portrayal of Capn' Mmerricuh (FUCK YEAH!... sorry) I have to eat my words. He did a great job bringing one of Marvel's deepest characters to life. And I praise him because he did it how it was meant to be done, because as intricate as his character is, it can also get kinda nauseating. But Chris managed to keep around the good, and omit the bad... At least until the sequel.

This movie could have just been Avengers filler. It could have been the biggest hyping tool in movie history. And it kinda is, but it isn't... Because it's also the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight. And I think that's quite an accomplishment. I also believe it's the best superhero movie out this summer, which is also something to brag about. In the end, with Marvel's recent record, am I surprised it's good? No. Am I surprised it's this good. Fuck yea I am.