Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In "The Ethiopian", Corto Maltese trades the ocean for the dry Northern African desert

The Ethiopian (94 pages, IDW Publishing $24.99), Hugo Pratt's sixth official entry to his Corto Maltese graphic novel/comic book serious, is more humorous and tongue-in-cheek than his previous episodes.  Trading his perennial vast oceans for the dry, equally-smooth and just-as-wavy deserts in the North of Africa, Corto joins Islamic extremists, rebel beduins and even native Leopard-Men in fighting against injustice and oppression from Europe on the Dark Continent during the late stages of World War I.  The setting is a little different than we're used to seeing in this series, but the witty banter and clever insertions of political and social commentary of its time and place is delivered by its hero impeccably, as always.

El Oxford:  You may not know that I studied at Oxford, in London, New York and Paris, but... I prefer the desert.
Corto Maltese: Hmm... why?
El Oxford:  Because it's clean.

The most fascinating of the new characters is none other than Cush, an Islamic devil-may-care, tea-drinking native, a hater of foreign "infidel dogs" (such as Corto) and a man with no remorse when it comes to taking lives of others.  Cush is the anti-thesis to Corto's righteous and all-fair hero, a person whose people have been so oppressed that he's lost all conscience when it comes sticking it to the foreign occupiers of his once-upon-a-time free continent.  While helping Corto rescue kidnapped Arabian princes, introducing him to the Abyssinian wizard Shamael, or impressing him because of the close relationship he has with his mother, Cush eventually warms up to our protagonist.  When they finally part ways, at the end of a long and grueling adventure, their adieu to one another sounds later melancholy.

Cush: There are mysterious things in this land... Tell me, where will you go now?
Corto: I don't know, Cush... far away...

In addition to changing the oceanic setting of previous Corto adventures, The Ethiopian gives us new insight into a different place, but albeit the same war we witnessed in previous issues, most notably Celtic Tales and Beyond the Windy Isles.  Our hero, now slightly out of his element as a "fish out of water", is here privy to the suffering and survival of more primitive tribes in an area he was previously unfamiliar with.  His literal view of his surroundings has changed, but what about the figurative one?  Is he still capable of differentiating between the War at home and the one abroad?  And having now been marked as a future target of the vengeful cult, the Leopard-Men, what fate will await him?  I'm afraid that not even The Ethiopian knows the answer to that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Valley" is violent, yes, but also humorous and observant

In a Valley of Violence isn't your typical Western.  For one, it's not really big on style, or gunslinging in general, or even a strong plot.  What it possesses instead is a keen eye for human nature, and ultimately, it may be the first ever Cowboy movie to also double as a comedy of manners.  As a drifter who passes through a dump of a town with his dog, Ethan Hawke is slightly miscast; his lines, spoken in a soft, raspy Clint Eastwood-esque voice, never quite have the impact as the (in)famous Man With No Name.  John Travolta, playing a U.S. Marshall, has perhaps his best role in years as a man who's fully aware that he's been cursed with a complete asshole of a son: an imbecile who pretty much dooms everyone around him with his arrogance and stupidity.  Director Ti West has made a pretty cool Western for the millennial generation; I just doubt that it'll stand the test of time the way previous films in its genre have.

"Imperium" walks too cautious of a line on a controversial subject

Mr. Harry Potter has finally done it.  Daniel Ratcliffe, at long last, has shed his young wizard exterior for a tough adult role, in which he shows anger, rage and conviction we didn't think him capable of.  As a young FBI agent who goes undercover in Virginia in order to infiltrate a gang of skinheads, Radcliffe displays some of the similar elements that Leonardo DiCaprio did in The Departed: their boy-next-door personas go through a tough, scarring make-over, in which not only those around them have to believe how gangsta they are, but their own selves as well.  Imperium, however, doesn't quite know what to do with such a touchy subject as Neo-Nazism and other Hitler-like followings; whereas the great American History X pushed the envelope in its protagonist's transformation, director Daniel Ragussis sacrifices not a single character, muting the drama quotient entirely.  It's not a complete failure, but one wonders what it could have been in a more daring talent's hands.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Don't Breathe" may just make you hold your breath - for real

Thrillers nowadays can feel quite recycled and contrived, but Don't Breathe, a recent pulse-pounding ride set mostly in the dark, is pretty exhilarating.  When three youths decide to rob a house of a former military vet, who is currently blind (he's also recently lost his daughter in a tragic hit-and-run car accident), they get more than they bargained for: the man (Stephen Lang) quickly turns the screws on them, becoming a major predator to their newly-flipped prey status.  There is a middle section in which two of the robbers discover a horrible secret of the blind man, a gimmick that, I'm guessing, is supposed to make us more sympathetic to them rather than him; honestly, it falls kinda flat.  Still, the final act involving a vicious dog is as exciting as suspense gets, and the girl (Jane Levy) keeps us engaged.  Director Fede Alvarez does a much better job than he had previously done with the unnecessary Evil Dead remake, and the closing scenes also cleverly incorporate an opening for a sequel that would actually feel welcome rather than tiresome - something that most other films that overachieve on a moderate budget tend to do.  I just hope we don't have to hold our breath for too long before we see it.

"Captain" comes close, but still not quite Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen is a special actor.  With only a gesture or a simple look, he can transcend an emotion or a feeling to a whole new level.  In Captain Fantastic, he plays a father of six who, after his wife dies, is forced to introduce his otherwise in-the-wilderness-raised, home-schooled children to the outside world.  He means well, having taught his sons and daughters how to speak multiple languages, complex literature, how to hunt, cook and fend for themselves like the prehistoric humans used to, but is obviously unaware how quickly society has moved on without him and his family in it.  The movie has interesting ideas, and the characters, for the most part, come across as convincing; unfortunately, the final act is rather ludicrous, as we watch a grave being "justly" desecrated by this newly "changed, transformed" adult.  Also, why would an older, wealthy and powerful man (Frank Langella) give up so easily in his search for his runaway grandchildren after having won custody over them?  Captain is Mortensen's showcase, and he takes it as far as he can; it's just too bad the script eventually loses interest in logic by lagging a few steps behind.

"Reborn" #1 is a sci-fi action about a woman's second chance

Greg Capullo's stylish, clean and defined artwork immediately captures the reader's attention in the first pages of Reborn.  After a mysteriously cloaked sniper on a city rooftop assassinates two men, the story suddenly shifts elsewhere, to a more brightly colored, but otherwise dark world, where a small group of warriors readies for a large battle against a much bigger army.  The illustrations are rich with detail, the characters look sharp, and the action is kinetic.

The story, written by Mark Millar, is equally captivating.  The heroine is Mrs. Black, a seventy-eight year old woman who recounts her life through several pages before she is taken to the emergency room.  When she comes to, she finds herself to be a much younger woman called Bonnie, wearing a super-hero like costume, and living in some sort of post-apocalyptic, Terminator-esque future where dragons and goblins try to kill her.

So begins Reborn #1, a science-fiction/action series that is bound to have more than a few surprises in the upcoming issues.  It will be intriguing to see whether our heroine has been transported to another world or dimension, or has simply been reincarnated as her younger self.  Either way, a promising new comic is (re)Born.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"Strangler" is disgusting and vile, but unfortunately, never funny

Once in a while a movie comes along that doesn't quite know what it wants to say, or even give the slightest shit about its audience.  For the year 2016, that movie is The Greasy Strangler, a depraved, unfunny cinematic experience - or should I just say exercise instead?  (Mind-fuck is honestly more appropriate) - about a strange middle aged man (Michael St. Michaels) living with his even more twisted father (Sky Elobar) - who just happens to be the titular serial killer.  These two men, neither possessing any redeeming qualities, bicker throughout, yell "Bullshit artist!" back and forth at one another when quarreling, and also fall for the same woman (Elizabeth De Razzo), which leads to further tension between the two.

The director, Jim Hosking, never quite finds an appropriate tone; the entire thing feels like Freddy Got Fingered-meets-Napoleon Dynamite, but with performances equivalent to a Junior High School stage production.  Also, one can only see so many shots of an elderly man's wrinkly, oversized (but obviously fake) penis before going, "I think they're trying just a little too hard." None of this would, of course, matter at all if the movie was actually funny, but alas, it isn't so.  The Greasy Strangler is what happens when a talentless filmmaker gets a huge amount of money to make his (twisted) dream project, and hires an even less talented cast: it's a movie about nothing, made for no one.