Thursday, May 10, 2007

Small Press Idol Highlights

First off, I want to apologize for my long absence away from this blog. I've been busy. Really really busy.

I'm competing in Small Press Idol, a competition set up by Dimestore Production. If you want to see the next Who's Who in indie comic book, this would be the place to do it in.

There's far, far, far too many good projects to even consider mentioning without doing an injustice to the many, many, many other great ones than span the 60-some comic book entries this year. Round 2, which focuses entirely on character designs, promises to shake things up this year. Namely, when Round 2 closes in three days time, over half of the entries on the wrong side of the line will be eliminated.

Since this is a review site, I can suppose I can at least review what I've learned so far. First off, ninjas are cool, but I have to give it up for Easter bunnies with freakishly large heads. Similarly, you know what's worse than zombies? Commie zombies! I've also learned the afterlife appears a very strange place, but even stranger, it turns out, are MMORPG's. I've discovered the Retriever isn't just cool breed of dogs.

And lastly, I've found out marketing is really really hard. After all, what do you think I'm doing right now? If nothing above is excited, or if you need something else to float your twist geek boat, check out a bevy of original urban legends on my project Pierced. Read it. Vote for it.

Which brings me to my last vote . . . I mean note. Just remember to register for the site in order to post replies, and yes, notes . . . errr . . . votes.

Vote Idol. Vote Pierced. Just vote!

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 2005

I'm still getting caught up in my reviews of the many crappy horror movies i watched back around Halloween. You might think that my completing the first draft of this review and posting it so long after the viewing would dilute my ability to effectively present the good and bad points of the film, but to that I say, let me jab you in the eye with a stick, and then you take a few months off before describing the experience. I think you'll do just fine, and I assure youI haven't forgotten the sharp poke this film gave me.

1973’s The Exorcist gets better with every crappy demonic possession movie that follows it. Seriously, demonic possession is up there with shark attacks for the thing that has been done so well that only genius or a fool would try to top what has gone before, and Hollywood, we know, is a place where geniuses are few and far between.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is particularly miserable because it is ‘based’ upon a true story, and after you click over to Wikipedia and learn a little about the basis for this horrible film, you will be sickened even further by how the screenwriters have distorted the events. At the very core, this film is about irrational suffering. Undeniably, Emily Rose has issues. Some suspect the devil, others less dramatic causes, such as epilepsy, and when she dies, the issue becomes what could have been done do save her? There is genuine conflict and horror here, because the idea of a defenseless teenage girl being locked in her bedroom in an isolated farm house and subjected to medieval rituals to alleviate her medical condition is scary and disturbing, and that’s what actually happened to the real-life Emily Rose, but the filmmakers chose instead to construct a bizarre, lopsided, clumsy fiction that fails to frighten, inform or even entertain.

The movie piles it on thick that there is a curse or something going on. Laura Linney, as the defense attorney for the priest who decided that exorcism was better for Emily than, say, medication, has to put up with a lot of spooky shit in her day-to-day while working the case. A witness is hit by a car right in front of her, which didn’t happen in real life, and if it had, would she go back into the courtroom ten minutes later? By the end of the trial, everyone agrees to disagree and no hard time is handed out. That didn’t happen, either, and if it did, the judge who made such a ruling would have been disbarred.

And it’s not scary. All that twisting, exaggeration, CGI and bullshit, and the movie’s not even scary. It’s disturbing at times, certainly, but you don’t need to base something on a true story to go for the gross-out, and just because a movie has a gross-out doesn’t mean it can’t also be entertaining. Look at the original Exorcist, for crying out loud.

Me vs. Roger Ebert: Roger was surprisingly taken with this film. He gave it 3 stars and wrote several paragraphs about the ideological distinctions between the church, the courts, the faithful and the skeptic. I guess I might have let me cynicism carry me away after learning that 90% of ‘the true story’ was changed to make the film better, and it was still awful.

Monday, February 12, 2007

RE: King Kong vs. Crabby Reviewer

I think I'll take the Kong over the crab. There is no doubt that this is a LOOOONG movie, but I saw it in the theater and again just last night on DVD and it managed to hold my interest both times. Now I can imagine that not being the case for everyone and I'm sure they could have released a perfectly entertaining version with a much shorter runtime, but I have to take issue with the rest of the complaint. This story is a tragedy and a damn good one at that.

Personally, I don't think the focus is on how much we should hate the bad guys, but rather on how beautiful and moving the love story is at the center. This lonely creature is the king of his own environment but he's also the last of his kind. After a string of insignificant affairs with various sacrificial maidens over the years, the big guy finally meets one beauty who he can really connect with. Sure this romance is doomed from the start and we all know it, but isn't that the case with all the best love stories? That's what makes the few truly happy moments they have together that much more powerful. In the end when the cruel world finally takes it's inevitable toll, the satisfaction comes from knowing that those few peaceful moments between the T-Rex attacks, the mortar fire, and the biplanes were absolutely the best part of our hero's life. Yes, we're sad when he dies but we're also happy that he finally had love and beauty in his life before it was over. He would have lived longer back on Skull Island but that would have just prolonged the pain of his isolation and he still would eventually have ended up as just one more pile of bones bleaching in the sun.

So you can have your happy endings with the cat making it out of the burning building, but I'll take King Kong, Old Yeller, Casablanca, Romeo & Juliet, and all the other great tragic stories where the hero dies, the dog gets shot, and the woman goes off with the wrong guy. These are the stories that really make you feel both the joy and pain of life and make you realize the whole point is to enjoy what you have while it lasts. In the big picture, nothing, neither the good stuff nor the bad, lasts very long. Well, except for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I thought those movies would never end ;^}

Sunday, February 11, 2007

King Kong vs. Crabby Reviewer

I should point out, I wasn't crabby before I watched King Kong.

I am, of course, referring to Peter Jackson's epic. By epic, I mean really, really long. I mean, at his present inflation rate, by the time he gets around to making the Hobbit, it'll actually be viewed in real time.

But I disgress. I'm here to be severely irked by King Kong.

FIRST, A WARNING: Have you seen King Kong? Go watch it first. Any version, I don't care. This is not a review in which I'm going to hold back the spoilers or warn about them, because it's sort of silly. It'd be like going Spoiler Alert! If you dont' want to know how the movie Titanic ends, don't keep reading!!! "Okay, so the boat sinks..." - Consider yourself warned.

My first problem was the length. I'm all for long movies. I adore them. I can happily sit through the Lord of the Rings extended editions, even those run for astonishing amounts of time. I happily sat through Gods & Generals, and that was absolutely un-ending.

But King Kong was just long, for the sake of being long. I realize that Peter Jackson's an immense King Kong fan, but even if I hadn't previously known this, the movie would have given it away. It goes on and on, as he's happily spending time with King Kong. The beginning is slow, and interesting, except that when they reach the island and begin their adventures there, it makes the beginning feel like it belongs in a different movie. The middle, when they reach the island, is interesting to an extent. I hate to sound like a geek who got bored watching big dinosaur fight scenes got silly after awhile. I need a plot to be advancing in my fight scenes, not just a series of interesting looking "THat's so cool!" style fights, happening one after another.

In fact, there's easily more than an hour of the movie that could have been chopped out without making it any worse for the wear. And I'm not an editor, I'm a writer. For that matter, I'm the sort of writer who can always find interesting things to add if I can spot things that need cutting, the editors on the film should have too.

King Kong himself is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. And from the moment you begin to glimpse the mighty ape's personality, you fall in love with him. And therein lies something of the problem with the film.

That is, the ending.

The problem becomes, you are so sympathetic with King Kong and his love for Ann, you're taking his side against everyone else in the film. Which isn't hard to do. Jack Black's character is a money-grubbing bastard, who is neither written to be liked, nor is he liked. Jack Black himself does a fine job, but you're supposed to hate the character. And you do.

The problem, therefore, is that you hate all of those who are arrayed against King Kong...which, by the end of the movie, is everyone. You loathe Karl, you loathe the audience who came to cheer at Kong, defeated and in chains. You loathe the movie star who takes credit for taming the beast, you loathe the everyday citizens of New York for being loud and frightening Kong.

It's a rule of movies (that aren't horror). If attention of any specificity is shown to an animal (usually a cat, or a dog) then that animal must come through the crisis okay. Otherwise, the audience won't forgive you. The house can collapse and kill people, but your heroes must make it out with their loved ones...and the dog, if the dog's been paid attention to.

Kong falls into that category.

And then the end of the movie is him being betrayed, captured, laughed at, shot at, running scared, beaten, broken, and finally...dead. You're cheering when Kong swipes a bi-plane and smashes the wing to pieces. But ultimately, the planes win. Kong dies.

In horror movies, if you had scenes that focused on the dog and then the bad guy put a screwdriver through the dog's head, then the audience instantly wants the bad guy to die, and die badly.

In King Kong, the bad guy who does the equivalent of this is all of humanity, and most every single person of the cast so far, those who didn't die or just go away toward the end. The only sympathetic characters at all are Ann (acted beautifully by Naomi Watts) and Joe Driscoll (acted quietly by Adrian Brody). Everyone else, you loathe and you hate. Particularly in the moments when Kong is lying dead in the street, and men with cameras are climbing for good shots. You hate 'em all.

And that's what the movie leaves you with, ultimately. It's not entirely Peter Jackson's fault, the story is the story after all. Jackson's problems were other things, were lack of editing and letting his love for the story spill a little too strongly onto the screen instead of letting it give everything a finely honed edge, like it did with The Lord of the Rings.

I was genuinely sad when Kong fell, and then mad. The movie ended, and I was hurt and mad. Endings don't have to be happy, by any means, but they do have to be satisfactory in some manner, and Kong's ending wasn't. There were moments I enjoyed, but I could have gotten them out of the King Kong video game (which was also well done.)

If I had seen it in theaters, instead of on HBO, I would have lamented the loss of my money as well as my time. Some movies and TV shows you wish you hadn't seen, because of how they make you feel. Deep down, you're glad you experienced that, glad you got to feel that, even as you hate it. King Kong wasn't like that. It the cat and the hero NOT coming out of the burning building, and then the movie ends.

Feel free to disagree, though. Could just be me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Theories on Smallville’s 33.1

While not anywhere as cryptic (or good) as Lost or Heroes, Smallville offers its own vexing brand of mystery in the form of the enigmatic 33.1, a project spearheaded by Lex Luthor involving the meteors and their respective freaks. Recently, I had a thought the project could run to the very heart of the Superman mythos.

33 is the generally accepted age when Jesus Christ died. Though I’m not sure Smallville will ever touch upon it, the Superman mythos are rife with Biblical, specifically Christ-like, metaphors. Some of the best writers have called Superman a failed Christ figure, and if you don’t believe me, just check out Superman Returns for many allusions to Superman’s Messiah-like identity.

But 33.1 is Lex’s project. Much like the portrayal of Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, Superman – especially in Smallville­ – is a reluctant savior at best. He never asked for this burden – but Lex Luthor certainly did. In the latest Justice episode he touts his reasoning for the project as a safeguard for freedom and democracy, and before that, he even tests Lana’s loyalty regarding a (faux) alien energy source to use as a weapon against alien invaders.

It is the cruelest and most satirical irony that Lex Luthor himself is barred from the heroism of his most consistent adversary. In the latest pages of 52, Lex himself is exempt from the Everyman program which gives ordinary superpowers because of a strange physiological dysfunction. But I believe if Lex Luthor ever did become a superhero, he would be the first to give his life and fulfill his Messianic complex/self-fulfilled prophecy.

In short, Smallville is at its best when it is not about Lex Luthor’s meteoric rise to villainy, but instead, Lex’s own slow fall from grace. And 33.1 might just be the key to both Lex’s own fragmented Messiah image as well as the answer to fallen Smallville fans such as myself.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas in Comics

The Marvel Holiday Special has been an enduring tradition for more than thirty years, but you wouldn’t know it reading the latest issue. Despite a good combination of talent for this year-ender, you won’t find much mirth to go around.

Mirth is probably the basic problem - just how do you write a holiday special in the mists of Civil War, Planet Hulk, and other continuity-shaping events? Marvel tries to aptly solve this problem by dedicating several pages to ornament cut-outs to amuse the kids. Never mind that the Planet Hulk image is way too scary for a Christmas tree, but to make matters worse, the very idea like an insult to fans who paid four bucks for features they could find in a coloring book.

The stories are tremendously flawed as well. “A.I.M. Lang Syne” is doubtlessly the best of the bunch, detailing an office party for one of Marvel’s most notorious organizations. However, the very execution is sloppy, as the entire story is haphazardly spliced through the comic book, making it impossible to read straight through. Despite an excellent title, “How Fing Fang Foom Saved Christmas” reuses the killer Santa Claus theme of last year’s episode to little effect. This is only magnified by the fact that the enraged Fing Fang Foom made a far funnier appearance in Warren Ellis’ Nextwave earlier this year. Mike Carey’s “A For Annihilus” is a charming tale told in alphabetic accord, but by the end, Carey seems as tired of the story’s gimmicks as his two main characters, the Thing and Annihilus. And finally, the Official Marvel Handbook of the Marvel Universe is halfway decent guide to Santa’s appearance in the M.U., but the appeal is limited, as half of the article is comprised of Santa facts you’ll find on Wikipedia.

If you want more holiday bargin, pay the extra buck and get the “DCU Infinite Holiday Special”. This book seems more like this prime holiday goose as opposed to the bargain turkey Marvel put out. To my knowledge, this is the first time DCU has put out a all-encompassing holiday specials, and the results are astounding.

Even the weakest story, the Trial of Shazam-centered “The Gift of the Magi” boasts great art from Marcos Marz, Luciana Del Negro and Rod Reis. The problem with this story is it makes no attempt to catch up readers to its premise. Figures like Solomon and Achilles appear with interesting archetypal twists, but its extremely difficult to tell what’s going on unless (I’m assuming) you’re familiar with the ongoing Shazam book. Right on its trail, the Green Lantern “Christmas with Hector Hammond” gets point for placing Hal Jordan in a Christmas-bound mind-game with imprisoned psychic Hammod, but the final effect is too brief to be appreciated.

But with the exception of the above, there are good stories, and lots of them. Bill Willingham brings everyone’s favorite magical misfits the Shadowpact in to help old Saint Nick fight the Anti-Christmas League in a story Willingham was probably born to right. Plus the image of Phantom Stranger in a red stocking cap is priceless. The Joe Kelly Supergirl tale “All I Want For Christmas” is a typical tale of a broken Christmas, but the end result is expertly to penned to suit Supergirl and supporting characters like Alfred and Superman.

Two tales specifically shed new Christmas light on the new faces in old costumes. Bart Allen, new to the role of the Flash, helps a screwed-up accomplice of the Rogues enjoy a white Christmas in “Father Christmas”, while new Batwoman Kathy Kane helps reunite a Jewish family torn asunder by the Holocaust in the Greg Rucka-penned “Lights”. Considering Kane hasn’t seen a decent thread of character development in “52”, “Lights” stands out a break-through moment for the character.

But the last page of “Yes, Tyone, There Is a Santa Claus” is worth the entire five bucks. Written by Kelly Puckett, the Elseworld tale finds a 1940’s-style Superman dressed up as the other man in red to brighten a young boy’s Christmas cheer, only to get talked out of the act by Batman. What happens next is sheer hilarity - its a tale which can only be told in Elseworlds, and I honestly didn’t see it coming at all!

So, in closing, holiday comic shoppers should definitely favor “Infinite Holiday” as a stocking stuffer over the ho-hum lump-of-coal that is “Marvel Holiday Special”. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a tradition for DC, who very aptly supplied the Christmas cheer this holiday season!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Movie Review: The Ice Storm, 1997 by G. Adams

After viewing several Ang Lee films, and seeing him work in various settings, cultures, languages, and genres, I have to say, the man knows how to make a movie. Seriously, Lee knows what he’s doing.

Like most of Lee’s films, The Ice Storm isn’t going to cheer you up. The story follows a group of upper-middle class Connecticut families as their lives intersect along lines of sex, drugs, and reckless emotions. This is a complex film with several storylines that unfold each at their own pace then collide at unexpected and awkward moments. I haven’t read the Rick Moody novel the screenplay was based on, so I can’t say what characterizations or details might have been left out, but as always with Lee’s work I was impressed with how complete the characters seem to be—and this isn’t a ‘talky’ film. The believability, the solidity of each character—and there are many characters to keep track of in this film – is strong enough to stave of any confusion.

The actors of course deserve some credit for this, and The Ice Storm has a outstanding: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christa Ricci, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood, Toby Maguire—all turning in top notch performances. Summing this film up is beyond my abilities. It’s filled with people acting badly, or at least failing to behave graciously towards each other. There is more than enough selfishness, myopia and rampant egoism to go around. But it’s hard to judge people who seem so real or who suffer so much for their lapses—even if the cause of their suffering is accidental, and not, as some might suggest, a kind of reckoning. I guess the moral might be that leading better lives leaves us stronger for when tragedy does come, but then this isn’t the kind of movie that needs a moral. It’s the kind that asks more questions than it answers.

Me Vs. Roger Ebert: I’m in over my head reviewing an Ang Lee film. Roger sums his review up with ‘What we sense after the film is that the natural sources of pleasure have been replaced with higher-octane substitutes, which have burnt out the ability to feel joy. Going through the motions of what once gave them escape, they feel curiously trapped.’ I did sense that—I’m just unable to put it so succinctly.

Comic Review: 52

The idea of a weekly comic book is certainly an innovative and challenging one, but fortunately, an experiment pursued by one of the two biggest comic book companies in the world, DC Comics. Unfortunately, that’s just what it is - an experiment - and more often than not, the creative team has demanded far too much of the weekly comic “52”.

Immediately after DC’s massive crossover sequel “Infinite Crisis”, the major titles of the DCU shifted one year in advance, leaving many of our heroes in very different place. Its 52’s job to track that place, one week at a time, covering the gap between the end of “Infinite Crisis” and the beginning of “One Year Later”.

This sounds like a very important premise, and DC has gathered together a group of no less important, if not legendary, comic book writers to field the task. Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka form the collective think-tank behind “52”. In addition, each issue also includes an origin re-telling written and drawn by the best creative teams in the biz.

The problem is the plot is too complex for its own good. We have easily at least four main plots fighting for attention on a four-week stage, plus countless other subplots which sporadically interrupt the main plots without a moment’s notice. The main storyline as such focuses on former cop Renee Montoya and faceless vigilante Question’s investigation of Intergang, of anti-hero-turned-benevolent dictator Black Adam’s union with war refugee-turned-superhero Isis, of superhero Steel’s conflict with Lex Luthor’s Everyman program, which turns ordinary people into superheroes, and of former superhero Ralph Dibny’s attempts to reconnect with his dead wife.

But there are also a huge amount of subplots which may or may not be main plots. The aforementioned plots have been consistently featured for virtually all 26 issues so far, while others have run for several months and then disappeared by the wayside. These include the Odyssey-like journey of star-stranded heroes Adam Strange, Starfire and Animal Man, the mystery regarding new Metropolis hero Supernova as well as the heroic death of the fame-and-fortune-seeking Booster Gold, whose robot Skeets has recently gone on a homicidal rampage. And there’s also a spree of mad scientist kidnapping troubling android builders Doc Magnus and T.O. Morrow.

As you can see, there is way too much going on here. And the problem is, none of these plots have a necessary amount of room to develop. Mainstay characters like Superman are written with affection and interest, but all too often the third-string cast of “52” aren’t so fortunate. For example, aside from a few one-liners, the Question is not nearly as interesting as he was in Greg Rucka’s “Huntress: Cry for Blood”. Also, new characters, probably destined for a bigger role on the world stage seem to suffer from poor timing. Take Black Adam’s brother-in-law Osiris, who has the most random introduction I’ve ever seen, and whose gleeful school boy attitude seems an insult to the more consistent writing of “52”.

Some issues of the series are downright spectacular, like when a depowered Clark Kent, about to be fired from the Daily Planet, leaps out a window to be caught by Supernova in order to score an interview. But as with characters like Osiris and many others, the plot seems far too rushed. DC seems to have made a major miscalculation with “52”, overestimating the experimental weekly format by leaps and bounds.

Perhaps “52” would read better if all storylines were collected into their own separate formats. But at the moment, “52” is behaving like “24” on speed caught in the middle of a hurricane.