Sunday, August 13, 2017

Zagor faces new kind of horror in "Fear"



There is a scene late in 1000 Faces of Fear (Epicenter Comics, 278 pgs, $15.99) when Zagor, a.k.a. The Spirit with the Hatchet and undisputed King of the Darkwood Forest in the North American wilderness, attempts to build a new hatchet for himself using a wooden stick, a common rock and some rope (just where he got rope in the middle of nowhere is beyond me, but I digress) in order to take on two US soldiers who've come to jeopardize the safety of his ally, the Native American Crow tribe.  Surprisingly, Zagor's new weapon falls apart on its own, a product of clumsy and uncoordinated concentration, and for the first time in this Italian comics franchise, our hero comes across as... average.  "Surely", his countless fans across the globe thought, "he's still recovering from the spirituality-inducing potion he drank earlier with his Native brothers, 'cause that doesn't resemble the Zagor we're use to."  

Zagor, The Ambassador of Peace and Public Relations in Darkwood.

Called by the Osage tribe to investigate US military's intention to build an Army Fort on a sacred Native American ground, Zagor's quest is soon complicated by the introduction of Captain Flint, an angry, vengeful and arrogant leader for whom the Natives are nothing more than "ignorant beggars". When soldiers mysteriously begin to get slaughtered in the middle of the night by a monstrous creature who appears differently to everyone who lays eyes on it, The Spirit with the Hatchet realizes that he's not dealing with an ordinary foe, but an otherworldly one.  Perhaps a monster from beyond the stars, as the Natives seem to claim.

Captain Flint, US Military hero and a skeptic of all things Native American.

Created by two late great artists of Sergio Bonelli Editore publishing house - writer Ade Capone and illustrator Gallieno Ferri - 1000 Faces of Fear is a morally complex and horror inducing tale for this particular series, one where the newly evolved violence no longer shies from displays of decapitation and hearts being pulled out of characters' chests.  In Flint, Capone creates an adversary whose past has experienced tragedy similar to that of Zagor, but who's chosen to deal with it differently: to intimidate and displace the Native Americans at the expense his own personal vendetta.  More than just a Wild West cliche, Flint is a fallen angel whose new plight has blinded him completely to his previous morals, and as such he's a worthy antagonist to the King of Darkwood, whose ideology is the complete opposite.
No longer your child-friendly and carnage-free comic it once was.

Ferri's illustrations typically shine in the darkness and shadows of black & white artwork, something that Zagor's readers have grown accustomed to over the decades, since the regular series in its native Italy is published in such color-free format.  However, his faithful fans need not worry, for I can assure you that the ominous tone of the story and Ferri's starry night skies looks just as impressive in color, and lose very little, if any, of the visual tension and suspense.

Stick to heroism and bravery, Zagor; just stay away from crafts.

And as long as Zagor's attempts to build new hatchets with limited materials result in the weapon collapsing to pieces in his hand while his foes prepare to pounce, it won't matter whether it's a b&w or color version of his adventure we're reading.  Imperfection is an underlying trait of any timeless (super)hero, and only by being fallible will Spirit with the Hatchet continue to elevate to the ranks of most celebrated comic book characters the world over.
A-



Friday, August 4, 2017

"Elsewhere" resurrects aviators of the past



Escaping from the clutches of evil Lord Kragen, the prisoner duo Cort and Tavel accidentally run into a woman whose parachute has left her hanging from a nearby tree, leaving her vulnerable as potential prey to any passing predator.  The two men - if in fact they can be called that, since they resemble elf-like creatures from a fantasy novel - are perplexed by her presence and general strangeness.  "You're obviously not from around here", Cort tells her after hearing her speak.  Little does he or his friend know, however, that the lady in question, dressed as a twentieth century pilot, is none other than the famous missing aviator, Amelia Earhart.

Elsewhere #1, the new Image comic from writer Jay Faerber and artist Sumeyye Kesgin (colors by Ron Riley, lettering by Thomas Mauer), is an imaginative and at once captivating debut.  Packed with clever one-liners and eye-popping illustrations, its energy soars from page to page like a visually stunning animated movie, and its juxtaposition of real-life missing aviators/pilots and high octane fantasy, reminiscent of Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy, is a recipe for a promising story arc.

The last page is particularly intriguing, since it sets up a potentially compelling scenario few would have thought of.  Here's hoping that Faerber and Kesgin keep the surprises coming, and that Elsewhere runs for many years.
A-

Saturday, July 29, 2017

"Wakefield" an existential portrayal of a selfish asshole



There's nothing quite so "exhilarating" than watching a sometimes mild, sometimes hot tempered average NY suburban Joe spend an excess of a hundred minutes on screen narrating us his thoughts, all the while receding from society and his own family in an attic of his garage, adjacent to the house where he's left his wife (Jennifer Garner, who admirably does so much with so little material here) and daughters to wonder just what's become of him.  Wakefield, a film by Robin Swicord, is apparently based on a short story by E.L. Doctorow, and having watched the film it spawned, I can only wonder as to why anyone thought it would make an effective feature.

Bryan Cranston plays the titular weirdo, who spends about 80% of the film's running time in voice over (I'm sure that Adaptation's Robert McKee would have a field day with it), all the while eating out of garbage cans during night and day and hiding from everyone he knows because... well, I guess he's just fed up of being taken for granted (damn you, inconsiderate society!).  Cranston is too talented an actor for such a one-dimensional role, and his Wakefield turns out to be a great bore - not only to himself, but to the viewer as well.

And to make matters even worse, the audience, which had suffered throughout observing the lonely, mundane existence of this cowardly prick, is deprived the pay-off moment of him finally appearing before his family after months of exile, as the film cheaply cuts to black before we could see their reaction.  Wakefield is not at all the profound movie it thinks it is, but confused and unfulfilled mess about a man who, once he decided to disappear, should've stayed gone for good.
C-

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Schumer's movie career has been "Snatched"



Amy Schumer the stand-up comic is funny, insightful, and vulgar in just the right amount of doses.  In contrast, Amy Schumer the movie actress is anything but humorous and clever, and following 2015's underwhelming Trainwreck, she stars in Snatched, a movie that is, depending on whom you ask, even of lesser quality than that aforementioned mess.  Playing her usual slutty/unlucky in love young woman (we've yet to see Schumer play any other type) who was just dumped by her musician boyfriend (Randall Park, whose motto is "Others' pussy is inspiring; yours isn't") and therefore has to drag her overbearing mother (Goldie Hawn) to a vacation in Ecuador because, well, it's non-refundable.

The script is, unfortunately, too bland and idiotic for someone with Hawn's comic talents (a scene involving the extraction of a tapeworm out of someone's throat is particularly unfunny and disturbing all at once), and Schumer's act wears out pretty quick, since she only seems to play one character, and poorly at that.  I mean, what can you say about a movie in which Joan Cusack is relegated to a pointless role of a mute whose sole purpose is to.... well, I'm still trying to figure that out, actually.

Snatched is a poor excuse for a comedy, and not even its great looking, exotic locations can make up for its uninspired screenplay's lack of laughs (I chuckled about 3 times; in other words, once every 30 minutes).  Someone should just snatch Schumer out of Hollywood so she can stop snatching our money in exchange for piss-poor "entertainment".
D+

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Caesar wages personal war in "Apes" conclusion



More than any movie franchise of recent past, the rebooted Planet of the Apes is the defining cinematic trilogy of the new millennia, and its hero, Caesar (a CGI heavy Andy Serkis), is the post-modern Mad Max, in a way.  Waging more than a general apes-vs-man Earth-wide battle, War for the Planet of the Apes pits our favorite super-smart chimp leader in a personal vendetta against an army rebels leader, known simply as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  In this (allegedly) final chapter, Caesar doesn't just want to save his Ape species; he's also out for blood, literally.

The storyline has evolved quite a bit since 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when Caesar was a small, curious chimp being raised by James Franco's Will Rodman in his San Francisco suburban home, with its by-now-recognizable star-within-circle design on the attic window.  The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), ignited the conflict between the remaining human survivors of the simian flu and Caesar's apes, all the while proving that some apes are just as bad and ambitiously flawed as humans.  War for the Planet of the Apes, however, is the biggest, grandest chapter yet, a conclusion that relies heavily on moral dilemmas and ingeniously staged action and explosions (a perfectly timed gigantic avalanche near the end is a cherry on top of the movie's third act frosting climax).

Matt Reeves's film (he also directed the previous installment) is that rare adventure movie, an epic spectacle that wows the eyes and the ears, all the while warming itself to your heart to the point of tears.  I only wish the filmmakers had ended War on a more open note, instead of closing the idea of (SPOILER ALERT!) potential sequels featuring the same protagonist.  Nevertheless, this is one of summer's best entertainments, and likely to be one of top 10 movies of 2017.
A-


Friday, July 14, 2017

Dark Universe off to a slow start in "The Mummy"


Halfway through The Mummy, we finally meet Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russel Crowe), the narrator we heard early on in the prologue.  He told us the history behind Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the woman who would sell her soul to the prince of darkness and ultimately become the titular evil entity known so well across the horror movie landscape.  Now, as the scene continued to unfold, I couldn't help but think, "What the fuck is the protagonist of Robert Louis Stevenson doing in this present day Dark Universe?" 

The movie, featuring Tom Cruise as a soldier who's more interested in selling off old artifacts for big bucks on the black market than actually serving his beloved country, starts off well enough, but quickly succumbs to a frantic narrative that proceeds with The Mummy being dug out of a large hole in a small desert village, put on a plane, the plane crashing, killing Cruise's character, and somehow, without explanation, bringing him back to life. All this within a fifteen minute window.  Sometimes less is actually more, fellas.

Cruise's charm carries the film only so far, as flashes of demonic spirits of his friend (Jake Johnson) pop up throughout to remind him of his "curse", and Boutella's facial features are effective enough to embody the evil she carries within.  There are also some nice moments between Cruise and his love interest (Annabelle Wallis), sprinkled with comic relief, but the story quickly shifts into bizarre and absurd as the above mentioned Dr. Hyde alter ego reappears and explains the characters' fate to them. Ugh.

I was not a fan of the unimaginative 1999 Stephen Sommers/Brendan Fraser franchise of the same name, and I must say, this new version is a slight improvement, despite its many flaws.  The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman, leaves a lot to be desired, and its final act is a mess that, perhaps, not even an injection of other worldly wit could have saved (I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh at or be scared by the countless zombies, both above ground and underwater).  And based on its poor box office performance, I doubt that we'll be seeing additional sequels that the movie's ending would suggest.
C

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Homecoming" lowers age & elevates humor of Spider Man



More than any Spider Man we've seen so far, Tom Holland's Peter Parker is the first that actually looks and feels authentic and loyal to his source comic book counterpart: he's young, unsure of himself, and, unsurprisingly, convinced that he always has to do more than he really should.  Nowhere is this more evident than in a scene late in the movie, when Peter, nearly buried by tons of cement debris, cries out for help, like a desperate child in pain.  The scene is the official bar mitzvah for this particular franchise's world famous Marvel arachnoid.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, directed by Jon Watts (of the superb low budget Cop Car), combines some of the fun elements from the Sam Raimi and the Marc Webb-directed previous franchises: flying villains, a girl who makes Peter blush on a daily basis, and some virtuoso action sequences spread across Manhattan's high rises.  However, Homecoming incorporates The Avengers's own Iron Man, a.k.a. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) as Peter's father figure, a man who's all too well aware that with "great power comes great responsibility", and he simply doesn't want to see Peter go in over his head.  Their scenes together are expertly written and played to perfection by its two stars, who are Marvel's version of DC's Bruce Wayne and his wise butler, Alfred.

Based on this first installment of the Tom Holland era Spider Man, Marvel has clearly regained the upper hand in the superhero film market, and for many years to come, it would seem.  Here's hoping this Peter Parker's youthful looks stay the same for a few more years, because the last thing we need is another twenty-something year old looking Spidey.
B+