Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Safe Area Goražde" is Joe Sacco's intelligent insight into the hell of what was the cruel Bosnian war

Joe Sacco's journalistic graphic novel, Safe Area Goražde, is a non-fictional account of events that took place in Eastern Bosnia between 1992 and 1995.  During the Bosnian War that unfolded at that time, Goražde was a small town on the Drina river, a place where Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats lived in harmony until the civil war devoured it, along with many of its citizens.  More than just a comic book-styled depiction of its survivors' stories, this is a strong documentation of a Hell-on-Earth, in which men turned on their neighbors, and a genocide of unspeakable evil unraveled, all the while most of the world was convinced that no harm ever came to Goražde.

Consisting of several accounts of Goražde's own citizens, Safe Area follows the testimonies of Edin - a friend of Sacco - as he tells the story of how the occupation of Bosnian Serb Army devastated and destroyed the town he grew up in as the UN forces remained unable to stop the slaughter and the shelling, for the sake of not appearing neutral in front of the international community.  There are also stories by Dr. Alija Begovic and Nurse Sadija Demir.  These two Bosnian medical professionals witnessed first-hand the horror and bloodshed that their own people endured, as they treated thousands of wounded, in many cases having to amputate infected limbs without the use of anesthesia - one of many detriments of carrying out the tasks of saviors in the middle of a fiery purgatory.  

Joe Sacco's artwork is part comical, part pragmatic, but entirely gripping.  The people he spent time and made friends with during his brief stay in Goražde appear tragically humanistic, displaying wide range of emotions, from fear, content, and eventually, relief, while their homes were raided by gunfire and shells as they were still inside them.   The fact that the survivors were able to pick up the pieces of their broken and damaged lives and move on in the aftermath of the war speaks even further about their strength to persevere and try to forget the three-and-a-half-year long living nightmare.  Safe Area Goražde is an authentic and honest testament to the survival and endurance of the human spirit in the most unimaginable of horrors, and as such, it should not be ignored by those who would otherwise find such subjects too depressing and dreary.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"Harrow County: Snake Doctor" suffers form lack of a strong narrative

Unlike the first two story arcs (Countless Haints and Twice Told) of Dark Horse's Harrow County comic book series, this third volume, Snake Doctor, is neither here nor there.  It consists of three stories (and not just one, as was the case with its predecessors), and neither is very engaging, thorough or conclusive.  They feel like vignettes and chunks of potentially good ideas, but possess not a coherent length to sustain a narrative worth being moved or enchanted by.

In the first story of Snake Doctor, the series creator and writer Cullen Bunn returns, but this time with a new artist, Carla Speed McNeil.  Their tale consists of a mysterious drifter who arrives in Harrow County late at night, and then proceeds to harass Emmy's friend, the skinless boy, about the absolute necessity and need to discover his own name.  By the time we reach the end of the tale, the effect is anti-climactic and less than stellar.  The only thing that shines throughout is McNeil's artwork, which vibrates with life and atmosphere in every single frame.

In the longest tale of the volume, young Bernice tries to solve the new local problem with venomous snakes in HC, and her plight will lead her to Lovely Belfont, an old woman long believed to be a witch by everyone in the community.   As Bernice is told a little bit about the snakes' history,  she is also pulled into the art of witchcraft, as the last few pages hint at.  The fact that this tale supposedly includes a "to be continued..." at its end, and doesn't actually continue, leaves this reviewer a bit puzzled.  However, the artwork by the series original Tyler Crook is strong and creepy.

The last and the least of the three tales brings back our heroine from the prior two volumes, the young witch Emmy, and it involves her helping a needy family rid their house of an otherwordly evil.  As still written by Bunn, this tale introduces us to new artist of the series, Hannah Christenson, and her illustrations are just too inconsistent, and therefore a far cry from the previous styles that befit this series more appropriately.   All in all, Harrow County is still a very relevant and effective series, and Snake Doctor is proof that for every couple of influential and successful tales (as in the first two volumes), there is a less than inspired three-quel.  Let's hope this is just a minor bump in an otherwise very strong and solid road.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Sausage Party" is a vulgar and perverted trip into the culinary profane world of Shopwell's

More than any animated movie you've seen so far in your life, Sausage Party is profane, obscene and downright lewd.  As one of the first animated features to be catered exclusively to adults, that crude quality benefits it as much as possible during its less than 90-minute running time.   In addition to the sexual innuendo present in nearly every other line of dialogue, the script (by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir) infuses allegory of the religious, the political and the social, and there are laughs aplenty, to be sure (particularly amusing is the quarrel among and the eventual friendship between Sammy Bagel Jr. and Karim Abdul Lavash, two edible pastries that clearly represent two races standing on opposite ends of religious spectrum in a very sacred land).  The final act, however, in which all the products in Shopwell's supermarket (the movie's setting, for the most part) fight the humans in their protest to be eaten and otherwise used, feels redundant and superfluous.  Haven't these guys learned by now - from the lead characters in Toy Story franchise - that it's best if you just accept your fate in a human dominated world, even if that means being digested by the "Gods"?  Still, Party delivers what it promises: a satisfying good time for the deviant child in all of us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

"Kubo & the Two Strings" is overproduced and over told; its mythology is convoluted and perplexing

Kubo is a good kid, to be sure, but his plight in "Kubo and the Two Strings" is confusing and unnecessarily complicated.   Accompanied on his journey by a white haired primate with parental instincts known simply as Monkey (Charlize Theron) - who may or may not be the reincarnation of his recently deceased mother, I'm not quite sure - and eventually by Beetle, a Samurai-type warrior (Matthew McConaughey) with four arms who wears a large suit of armor - Kubo - with his magical guitar and his equally marvelous sheets of paper, which can transform into whatever the young boy plays on his enchanted tambourine - battles twin witches (or are they sorceresses?), giant underwater Eye monsters and eventually the legendary Moon King.  Although the visuals look amazing, the script is heavy handed on mythical folklore of the world it takes place in, and even more laborious when it comes to the spoken word, which is hardly charming or humorous.  This is the sort of experience that children will merely only "like", while the adults will be too busy checking their watches all too frequently.  It is a movie that will leave an impression on everyone without really impressing anyone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

"Manifest Destiny Vol 1: Flora & Fauna" puts a new twist on Lewis & Clark's American expedition

If only the real journey of the two famous 19th century explorers was this much fun when it really took place.   Starting in year 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark set out to explore the unexplored American frontier, and in the hands of writer Chris Dingess and artist/illustrator Matthew Roberts, their journey is both fantastical and horrifying.  More than just a Wild West adventure, Manifest Destiny Volume 1: Flora & Fauna is a delightful treat for eyes and the ears for all comic book lovers the world over.

Accompanied by the Lemhi Shoshone Native American woman, Sacagawea, the journey of Lewis and Clark in this comic book series incorporates an updated twist on the historical journey of these non-fictional, historical people.  Imagine if the real explorers of the aforementioned quest ran into Minotaurs who possessed a taste for the human flesh, and who were large and threatening and intimidating in stature, with a buffalo head on top of their bodies instead of a bull's one?  Or how about an infected group of zombie like former humans, whose bodies have been taken over by plants and roots, and who are capable of turning anyone they come into contact with into one of them?

In addition, Dingess and Roberts' version of Sacagawea is a bad-ass warrior, capable of slaying the said Minotaurs with ease, and putting down any undead threat without difficulty.  She's sort of a Lara Croft of the American wilderness, a woman whose toughness here exceeds her legend, and rightfully so.  Combined with the ambition of Lewis and Clark, this trio is bound to re-write the history of the American exploration with some serious bang and panache.  Manifest Destiny: Flora and Fauna may not be historically accurate, but that's not what it's trying to be to begin with.  Interpreted purely as a comic that's meant to entertain - and do so with a particular kick to the readers' senses - it's an imaginative work of exceptional ambition.  In a sea of science-fiction themed comics from Image, Destiny infuses history, originality and unbridled excitement in the most impressive way yet.

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Suicide Squad" is pure visual excess with little story & character substance

An overblown action movie mess that is more focused on how it looks than how it sounds.  The script is pretty lame; several times I cringed at how poorly the dialogue was written, and the villain - khm, villainess, an other-wordly entity called Enchantress, is clearly over the top, and cartoonish to a point.  Whatever happened to good old fashioned villains of flesh and blood?  There are a few scenes with Jared Leto's Joker and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn that are more captivating than they have any right to be, but overall, the movie is at least twenty minutes too long.  Will Smith brings nothing to the role of Deadshot, as the character could've been played by anyone, and the difference would've been negligible.  All the bad guys (i.e. members of the titular so-called "Suicide Squad") are rather lame, and have none of the personalities to hold this storyline together the way a movie of this expensive of a budget should, but it is no matter.  David Ayer's direction, and especially the script, is lazy and uninspired.  But, with the movie's large box office intake so far, we can certainly expect countless sequels, prequels and spin-offs in the decade(s) to come.  And they may not even have a script next time at all; just a series of shots that add up to two hours of running time, in which these people walk around arguing and using poor wisecracks to show us just how "human" they are.  That scenario probably would've been better than this movie, if I'm being honest.

Friday, August 12, 2016

"Shutter Volume 1: Wonderlost" is an overstuffed fantasy suffering from excess of story and characters

I never thought I'd see this.  A decent idea of a story, led by a beautiful and clever heroine, in a setting of unlimited imagination, but ultimately held back by its own excessive ambition.  Shutter Volume 1: Wonderlost feels like someone's wild dream gone completely out of control to the point where nothing really makes sense anymore, except the level of absurdity we witness from page to page.

As written by Joe Keatinge and illustrated by Leila Del Luca and Owen Gieni, Wonderlost possesses a most bizarre visuals that at once capture our eyes and imagination.  Their protagonist, Kate Kristopher, who leaps from one dangerous, life-threatening situation with her talking cat (which, by the way, has a clock on its stomach), is the kind of heroine reminiscent of our own best explorers.  She's a dare-devil with long white boots, and a flock of lengthy dark hair to match.  As Kate occasionally recalls her adventures with her late father - who even led her to the moon once upon a time - she is chased by assassins and hoodlums from the entire universe over - some wanting to capture her, while others want to see her dead - and it would seem that a member of her own family is behind it all.  

All of these events occur with such high kinetic energy that I found my head spinning more than once.   The narrative, which starts off well, quickly jumps into unnecessary overdrive, without developing the lead characters appropriately, and proceeds to introduce way too many additional cast members of this very quirky and bizarre universe.  By the time I turned the last page, I couldn't help but wonder if the creator was high on something while conceiving this idea; it feels terribly over-written, and if I may so, overstuffed with too much of everything.   It looks great, that much is true, but it sounds anything but genuine and authentic.  It's difficult to care for a lead character when she isn't even given a proper minute to develop even the slightest bit of humanity.