Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Allen's "Cafe Society" is a charming trip to (his own?) youthful past



Woody Allen, that old school machine-like filmmaker who, much like Clint Eastwood, often tends to churn out a movie per year, creates a charismatic and nostalgic trip to Hollywood and New York City of the Depression era with Cafe Society.  He casts Jesse Eisenberg (perhaps an alternate version of a less-than neurotic young Allen himself) as a somewhat naive young man who arrives from New York to the 1930s Tinseltwon, where his uncle (played by Steve Carrel) is a high powered Hollywood agent capable of giving him a job.  The young man will encounter nervous call girls, many of that era's biggest stars, and will also fall head-over-heels for a lovely young woman (Kristen Stewart).

The setting is nothing short of charming, and Stewart seems to have been born to play a damsel whose appearance and general style match the period to perfection.  Society may not be Allen at his very best, but looking back at some of his movies produced in the twenty-first century, this is certainly one of the more memorable and most gorgeously photographed (the legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro tops himself once again).
B+

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Swiss Army Man" is misguided tale of friendship & survival



Paul Dano is an intriguing actor, and he has surely taken chances in his career.  However, that streak should have ended with Swiss Army Man, a twisted, strange movie that is short on laughs or emotion of any kind.  Dano is stranded on an unknown island, and right before he kills himself, he finds a corpse of another man (Daniel Radcliffe), whose flatulence is so bad he's able to use a man as a fast flotation device, his ass-resembling a high-powered engine.  When the two men eventually reach another landmass' wilderness, the movie turns into a perverse (well, even more so than before) study of a man befriending a talking corpse who spits water from his mouth, and is useful in many other ways, similar to a human version of the famous pocket gadget of the title.  It is a bizarre story, and an even more outlandish climax that is laughable as it is preposterous.

Remember: if you should ever think that your entire existence has been an complete waste of time and space, always remember that tens (hundreds, perhaps?) of people got up very early for over three weeks and worked their asses off to create a pile of shit such as this.  Then, and only then, by acknowledging that you had nothing to do with this, will you find meaning in this life.
D-

Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Mater Morbi" takes the nightmare investigator deep into the clutches of an obsessive affliction



"I will always love you,
Dylan Dog!"
-Mater Morbi

She isn't just a very stylish and provocative woman: she's a dominatrix, of sorts.  Dressed like a proud member of an S&M club, Mater Morbi struts around in her sexy black leather bra and panties, and, like a Goddess ruling over the the in-between dimension that hovers halfway amidst life and death, she decides who makes it and who doesn't.  More than any anti-heroine in a graphic novel in recent memory, she's a seductive and sensuous shrew - often deadly, and rarely merciful - and always ready to love her doomed patients all the way to death.

She is a welcome sight in this new Dylan Dog installment, a very successful Italian comic book about a famous London "Nightmare Investigator".  Created by Tiziano Sclavi some thirty years ago, it has now reached more than 350 monthly episodes.  A product of Sergio Bonelli Editore, it enjoyed a very limited 7-episode run by Dark Horse publisher in the US seventeen years ago (they later re-relased the same episodes in one thick omnibus edition).  This re-emergence of an extremely beloved Italian comic, which has by now grown quite a cult following here in the States, is a welcome trip to one's nostalgic youth, especially for those who grew up reading it in Europe (I had tears in my eyes when I first heard of its return, I swear I did).  Thanks to Epicenter Comics, Dylan Dog is back on the American comic book market with the episode Mater Morbi (EC, $11.99, color/b&w).

Written by Roberto Recchioni and illustrated by Massimo Carnevale, Mater Morbi places Dylan into a hospital when he mysteriously and suddenly falls very ill.  After he wakes up, he finds himself in what appears to be a large, filthy medical ward, where, along with other patients, he is a step or two away from hell.  His Doctor is nowhere to be found, and the only one on duty is a Dr. Vonnegut, who seems to have mistaken Dylan for someone called Carver.  When a young boy, Vincent, who's a life-long patient of global hospitals due to his incurable affliction, explains to Dylan just where he is and who's in charge of this underworld, the nightmare investigator finally understands the definition of the word "pain".

The titular dominatrix taunts London's favorite private eye.

Of course, the seductive beauty who rules over this kingdom of plague and suffering is the titular vixen, who wants Dylan to surrender to her torturous ways before he can find salvation and peace.  Recchioni creates a tension and attraction between Mater Morbi and Dylan that is as twisted as it is fascinating: she practically beats him with her S&M whip until he succumbs to her will.  The scenes in which she tempts Dylan are presented in chaotic clarity by Carnevale, whose style is reminiscent of another Dylan Dog artist, Carlo Ambrosini.  Both men have a talent for illustrating images that are hauntingly grotesque, yet cynically buoyant as a whole.

In the end, after Dylan finally seduces Morbi by softening her ever-tough heart, the effect is similar to a climax between an executioner and their condemned prey.  Their love will be short lived, and will only be able to blossom as a result of death.  It's the ideal tale of a man coming to terms with his own mortatilty, regardless how immortal his stature may otherwise have been.
A-


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Image's new "Hadrian's Wall"#1 is a sci-fi terror-in-outer-space thriller



The astronaut's eyes slowly open, just as he realizes that his helmet is about to crack open completely, leaving him at the merci of the vacuum of outer space, doomed to certain death.  As it finally explodes, and the glass particles shatter on his face and the infinity of vastness around him, his eyes begin to bleed, and his body finally surrenders to his fate.  Lifeless, he continues to float, as if suspended in a moment of eternal slumber, at the end of his instantaneous suffering.

The opening scene of Hadrian's Wall #1 (of projected eight total issues), a new haunting and effective sci-fi comic thriller, is on par with Image's other outer-space-terror limited series, Nameless.  Its protagonist, Simon Moore, is a pill-popping detective assigned to investigate the death of the afore-mentioned astronaut, who just happened to also be married to Moore's ex-wife and for whom Moore shares little compassion.  When Moore arrives at the titular space vessel, he is less than enthused to run into his ex, Annabelle; she, in turn, is even less thrilled to see him there.  The brief scene in which they quarrel and argue over minute details of their past - something reminiscent of most couples, and a common element of nearly every marriage - is executed with just the right amount of wit and hostile "tenderness".

Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel and illustrated by Rod Reis, Hadrian's Wall possesses a visual style that is a unique hybrid of high-end Hollywood animation and the underground art scene in galleries of twentieth-century New York city (Andy Warhol, anyone?).  The artwork, by Reis, appears very glossy, and almost digital, evocative of some of the better animated movies aimed at adults, most notably Beowulf (2007).

Rod Reis' style is worth admiring

The result is a sharp and intriguing set-up for what promises to be a top-notch detective story - infused with both the scientific and the horrific - worthy of our time and attention.  Hadrian's Wall will likely capture your attention from its opening frame, and haunt you well after you've flipped the last page.  It's a futuristic trip into the mysteries of an unknown (likely) terror, in the most final of all frontiers.
A-


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Lake of Fire" #1 is a futuristic trip into the crusades' bloody and fantastic past



Part Thorgal, part Game of Thrones, but with plenty of its alternate version of history, Lake of Fire is a unique coming-of-age story, injected with the supernatural and the science-fictiony.  Its protagonists, one Theobald of Champagne and one Hugh of Blois, are two young men reminiscent of college bound teenagers, except their destination isn't an institution of higher learning, but the bloody battle fields of the Crusades in the year 1220 A.D.  When they are asked by the powerful Lord Montfort to join an expedition with additional knights and guards to inspect some strange occurrences in the small, distant village of Montaillou, the two (presumptive) heroes seem to have bitten off more than they can chew.  This mission is suicide as much as it is the liberation of evil or the exploration of alleged heresy.

This new fantasy themed comic, from writer Nathan Fairbairn and artist Matt Smith, is a throwback to the Bande Dessinee works of decades past. The group of knights assigned to liberate a small village here is similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger's gang of soldiers/mercenaries who ventured on a secret operation in a faraway jungle, without realizing that they've fallen prey to a predatory alien from another planet.  The monsters in Lake of Fire, resembling a crossbreed between those from the Alien and Tremors movie franchises, are equally brutal and merciless: when they bite into their victims, they peel of flesh just as easily as they rip off limbs.

Smith's illustrations impressively convey the chaotic clash between these extra terrestrial beasts and their human counterparts in an intense climactic scene of carnage.  The payoff is all the sweeter since the human qualities of Fairbairn's characters have grown on us - some are fallible heroes, others are sympathetic villains - in this extra-long (44 pages) premiere issue.   Lake of Fire #1 is an exciting intro to this fantasy-slash-science-fiction-adventure, which I hope will be around for along time to come.
A-

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Eclipse" #1 from Image is another post-apocalyptic sun-will-doom-us-all thriller



The world of the future is a bleak place, at least according to some of the (more) exciting and engrossing comics from publisher Image.  Eclipse, a little like the similarly sun-as-human-doomsday-machine-element sci-fi action thriller Low, is an unusual, but never-less-than-stellar look at what a society would look like if their daily activities (waking hours and work) would to swap places with their nightlife (dinners, bars and clubs).  At the center of it all is David Baxter, a solar engineer who is one of the few remaining citizens of Earth able to roam the planet's surface during daytime in a special Iceman suit, which shields him from the sun's deadly rays.

Scripted by Zack Kaplan and illustrated by Giovanni Timpano, Eclipse #1 is sharply written, and possesses plenty of impressive and haunting imagery, especially a very effective soft-focus style that challenges the lens of the reader in a way seldom seen before.   The no-nonsense characters, well aware that they live in a dog-eat-dog world, instantly recognize the danger that suddenly appears in their semi-apocalyptic utopia in form of a murderer who fries people to death by leaving them outside under the scorching sun.  When a daughter of a wealthy, powerful man is threatened, David Baxter is assigned to save her.  The result is an intense rescue search into the fatal, fiery exterior above, and the cliffhanger at the end promises bigger and better revelations ahead.

In a wide sea of various sci-fi/doomsday comic books, Eclipse manages not to get lost and buried under the glistening glare of its all too challenging competition.  Its shadow casts just far enough past the horizon, with the intensity and glare sufficient enough for instant recognition.  The world it takes place in may be bleak and nearly hopeless, but its ideas and visuals are far from diminutive.
B+

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Hell or High Water" is what the overrated "No Country for Old Men" should have been 9 years ago



Jeff Bridges has become a legend of American cinema during the last forty-some years, and in Hell or High Water, he plays Marcus Hamilton, an old, grumpy, racist Texas ranger who's chasing two bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster).  These two complex criminals are stealing the money from the very bank, Texas Midland Trust, that is about to foreclose on their ranch after their mother's death.  The movie wisely comments on the difference (or the lack thereof) between the European settlers who stole the land from the Native Americans and these modern American banks, who so often do the same to the common people that they bleed out over years and years of raised interest rates and ever increasing property taxes.  Hamilton's wisecracks about Mexicans and Native Americans are effectively bounced off his minority partner, and all of that is shaken to the core during the film's last act.  Hell or High Water is the film that the overrated Coen brothers' grossly metaphorical and convoluted No Country for Old Men should have been.  It is a modern American classic, a contemporary Western masterpiece for those who no longer remember cinema's most (in)famous bank robbers of long ago, and can now get the best of the past and present that the genre has to offer.
A