Thursday, March 31, 2016

"Paper Girls: Vo.l 1" is a nostalgic throwback to the 80s sense of trash sci-fi/horror adventure

Writer Brian K. Vaughan's and artist/illustrator Cliff Chiang's latest pulp comic, Paper Girls, is a euphoric trip to one's teenage past, especially if one was born in late 70s or early 80s.  The four heroines of the title are a curious bunch, girls who were perhaps born a decade too early, but are nonetheless perfect embodiments of their time: rebellious, naive in their adolescent expectations of the world, and not at all as tough as they think they are.  They're this generation's opposite sex version of the Stand By Me boys' quartet.

From its opening pages, it's easy to see we're in the hands of the celebrated author of Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and the current ongoing series, Saga.  His writing is always original, sharp and  full of various pop-culture references, which are appropriately peppered with just the right amount of profanity. The main character here, Erin, is an imaginative girl whose dreams and fantasies consist of meeting angel astronauts and President Ronald Reagan.  The quartet that she belongs to also consists of MacKenzie, a chain smoking, potty-mouthed, short hair ginger badass who curses like a sailor anytime she isn't consumed my the music in her walkman; there's also KJ, a knowledgeable sci-fi geek (she hysterically refers to the great Orson Welles as "Orville Wright") who is sure that the strange and mysterious events happening in their little town of Stony Stream are somehow associated with War of the Worlds broadcast's fiftieth anniversary; and finally we have Tiffany, a cynical African American girl who knows her horror movie references, and who's all too easily willing to drive a car - something that her young years would otherwise keep her from even considering - when Erin's is fatally wounded by accident.  Add to this equation two strange looking teenage boys - who may or may not be aliens from the future - a series of mysterious dragons hovering all too ominously over Stony Stream, and an enigmatic old man (a sort of a Jerry Garcia lookalike) in a Rock'n Roll black T-shirt - who seems to know a whole lot that we don't - and we have ourselves a sci-fi mystery that follows the general plot-line of (somewhat) recent movies such as The Watch and Attack the Block, at least to some degree.

Unlike Vaughan's previous works, Paper Girls doesn't have many connotations about current or even prior US political climate, but then again the serial is still young, so I suppose it's not too late to incorporate such commentary in future episodes.  The aliens, dragons and strange corporate brands (what exactly is the significance of the Apple logo the girls find?) we are exposed to here are still as mysterious as the ultimate direction of this sci-fi pulp fest, which, if the ending of this first volume is any indication, will involve some serious time traveling paradoxes.  I just hope that the girls' remaining journey is as enigmatic and entertaining as their Goonies-like leap into the kooky world of the late 1980s bland, suburban landscape of the fantastic and the surreal.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"In the Heart of the Sea" has the style, but very little substance

An "epic" of whale proportions, if you will. Chris Hemsworth is first mate on a ship called Essex, and his adventure on that boat in trying to capture an elusive giant whale will be the inspiration for Herman Melville's great American novel, Moby Dick. The movie looks great: it's made with just the right visual style worthy of its scope, and the production design seems grand. The problem is, the characters and the writing just aren't up to par, as there are cliches aplen
ty, and I don't mean just because we've read about them in Melville's tale. The third act of the movie takes way too long to show the whale hunters stranded in the middle of the ocean, then stranded on an uninhabitable island, only to be stranded in the middle of the ocean yet again, for what felt like an eternity. Ultimately, Hemsworth, even though he has the looks, does not possess the acting skills to carry a movie this ambitious for entire two hours. I'm also not sure that Ron Howard is the right director for it, but who am I to judge? This movie's RT rating and it's box office "success" speaks for itself.

"Chew Vol. 3: Just Desserts" sees the return of Savoy, plus a whole other side to Tony and his family

Mason Savoy, that mammoth looking man with cibopathic abilities, a deadly and ominous stare, and shoulders as wide as Parthenon itself, is back! Of all the characters we've met so far in Chew series, Savoy is a very complex individual: he isn't all good, but neither is he all bad.  Believing the bird flu to be nothing more than a conspiracy that the government has created in order to control the population, he's hell bent on exposing the truth at any cost, even if that turns him into a villain in the eyes of many.  For those reasons - and many more - I really like the guy.

Chew: Just Desserts expands Rob Guillory's mythology of FDA agents and their investigation of the culinary bizarre by exploring Tony's new (and ongoing) relationship with Amelia Mintz, and just like most relationships in our world, this one isn't without its complications.  In this episode we also witness the return of Poyo, that ultimate cock-fighting champion - and a demon to some - who here not only kills other roosters in the ring, but a few men (of ill repute) as well.  Add to this equation the introduction of Tony Chu's extensive family (of which there are more than a few members, including one MAJOR surprise), and what we have here thus far is a series with deep and symbolic roots, written and illustrated by a pair of men who are at the top of their respective professions.

One of the underlying jokes present in Just Desserts (and also in parts of International Flavor) is the secret and ambiguous homosexual relationship between Mike Applebee, that hater of all things Tony, and Tony's new half-human, half-cyborg partner, John Colby.  This storyline is handled with just enough vagueness and subtle humor that one can't help but chuckle every time the sheer presence of the afore mentioned characters is intertwined.  I mean, did Colby really only sleep with Applebee to get the latter off of Tony's back?  Even if he himself has no homosexual tendencies otherwise?  If so, that is one dedicated and loyal partner, to be sure, and Chew is a comic book serial to behold and to ponder about for days, or even weeks, after reading it.

Monday, March 28, 2016

"Nailbiter Vol. 2: Bloody Hands" is a slight improvement over its predecessor, but there's still work to be done

Unlike Nailbiter Volume 1: There Will Be Blood, its sequel actually is a bit more engrossing, and not the least bit for introducing several new characters, each whom gives the series a fresh voice.  Very early in Nailbiter Volume 2: Bloody Hands, we are introduced to Mallory, a pregnant red-headed woman who dreams of giving birth in Buckaroo, for the sheer hope of having her offspring one day grow up into a world famous murderer, so she can reap the fame and fortune that mothers of such monsters generally receive.  She is a simple opportunist, a woman so disillusioned with her objective that she actually puts a syringe through a cheek of a doctor who was trying to help her, because she was under the false impression he meant to steal her unborn child.  Such is the motivation of a famed hungry person in the America we live in today, where one's "15-minutes" can bring them enough fortune for a lifetime, and then some.

Then there is Brian Michael Bendis, that famous comic book writer of Marvel Universe fame, who appears here as himself, freshly arrived in Buckaroo to write a comic or a book about the serial killers who were born and raised there.  Little does Bendis know, however, just how much trouble his snooping around unauthorized in the town's little dark places will get him.  His storyline is followed by a strange hermit who resides in the outskirts of town, and after being visited by agent Nicholas Finch, is revealed to have his delusional father living in the basement as some sort of a bee master, who unleashes his swarm on his son, and eventually, on Finch.  And last but not least, there is Mr. Crowe, the town's school bus driver, who one day goes mad (or is he actually perhaps the only sane one?) and decides to murder all the children he's picked up from school, in fear of having them all turn into serial killers someday, since they were all Buckaroo's sons and daughters.

Look, I'm still not entirely sold on this serial, because I honestly still believe that a lot of the lines are pretty sophomoric ("Hate this town!", "Lady, you have to be the most passive aggressive person I've ever met.", .".. This is all getting too weird.", etc) and the characters aren't quite as original or interesting as some of the other ones from current American comic landscape.  Even the ongoing presence of Buckaroo's baddest and most (in)famous product, Edward "Nailbiter" Warren, and the occasional appearance of the mysterious Butcher - a towering figure so ominous and enigmatically horrifying he appears to be a reincarnation of Satan himself - can't quite salvage this second episode and boost it to an A rating.  But... it is making an effort, and slowly but surely, it may come around.  I just hope it's sooner rather than later.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"The Rattler" is an ultra-violent tale of obsession and revenge

Looking like a mad Lyle Lovett, his body withering away after years of obsessing over a long-lost love (in a literal sense!), Stephen Thorn's mission in life is simple: never give up the search for his fiancee, who disappeared mysteriously some ten years ago on an open, deserted highway.  Now, set with a lead that may finally answer the one question he's been asking himself all these years, he's turned into a complete vigilante: beating people to death, as if it was second nature, and even cutting the head of a man who was about to torture him.  No, hell hath no fury like an vengeful lover scorned.

Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle's new one-shot graphic novel, The Rattler, is a noir thriller in the truest sense of the word.  Dark (literally, due to its black & white illustrations), bleak and full of shady characters, all of which may or may not have hidden agendas contrary to their public natures, it is tale of revenge, obsession and of innocent people rotting away in captivity, reminiscent of movies such as The Vanishing (both the French original, and its US remake), and also the Australian indie gem, The Loved Ones (2009).  McNamara's writing is solid and honest; it is no wonder he based this tale on a personal experience, which just barely was able to avoid a tragic ending.  Hinkle is an artist whose illustrations don't necessarily evoke real life.  Instead, his characters appear to caricaturize the world they inhabit, much like John Layman and Rob Guillory's Chew series.  In both cases, we're given a graphic view of a world that is reminiscent of comedy, but the people in it, and the themes depicted, are violent and very much adult.

By the time The Rattler reaches its devastating conclusion, and after we, at long last, learn the fate that befell his long lost fiancee, McNamara confirms once again (as if there was any doubt to begin with) that there are no winners in neo noir tales such as this one.  Stephen Thorn had finally gotten his answer, but is his life any better for it?  Should he had just let mystery regarding his fiancee's remain unsolved?  What had he gained as a result, except madness and even further heartbreak?  As the saying goes, What does the answer the man has searched for really solve, if once he gets it, he should completely lose his mind?

There's not much that's legendary about Brian Helgeland's "Legend"

An uneven gangster movie, one that so badly wants to be Goodfellas, Little Ceasar and even Scarface, but ends up being neither. In a dual role, playing both of the (in)famous Kray Twins, Tom Hardy is only convincing in the role of Ronnie; his portrayal of Reggie is all over the place, very inconsistent, and not very believable by the time the third acts wraps up. Reggie's marriage to Emily Browning's character is also poorly handled. By the time it disintegrates, we're not sure if Reggie feels bad about it, or if he's just "acting", if you get my drift. Brian Helgeland has made better movies (Payback is a fucking cult classic, if you ask me), but in this one he's pretty much stuck in one gear, unsure of if he wants his film to be all style or all substance. An extra meeting - or two - with his editor might've have done him wonders; at least 20 minutes of this should've ended up on the cutting room floor.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"The Witch" is a creepy, old school thriller that should frighten everyone who knows what a good scare is

A most creepy and terrifying horror film, something that Hollywood has lost the knack for making. Part The Village, part The Crucible, and part The Blair Witch Project, the movie is at once quietly ominous and hauntingly frightening, as it never gets ahead of its simple story, which slowly builds to a horrific conclusion. Newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy is awesome here, looking like a very young Michelle Williams, but potentially with just as much talent. I realize that many modern moviegoers, when attending a horror movie, will surely expect plenty of gore and a high body count, right from the start. If so, this movie isn't for you. It doesn't follow the current horror-film structure, but it is all the better for it. Filmmaker Robert Eggers is a serious talent, both with the typewriter and behind the camera, and if this movie is any indication, he is the one to watch in the years to come. The final scene of this movie really freaked me out, and if you know anything about what a good fright-fest should be, you will be freaked out as well.

In "Haunted Knight", Batman revisits old foes on Halloween, with plenty of ghosts of past, present and yet to come

Unlike other Batman Trade Paperback stories that I've read, Haunted Knight consists of not one, but three short tales.  Each revolves around (or on) Halloween, and each puts Gotham City's Dark Knight against his arch nemeses of the past, testing his physical capability, as well as his mental fortitude.  All three were written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale.

In the first of the three tales, Fears, Batman has to face Scarecrow, that psychiatric mad doctor villain of his, who has a tendency to use poisonous gas in order to induce hallucinations out of his victims.   While trying to catch Scarecrow, Batman will be beaten and wounded, quite badly, on very sharp thorns of a garden labyrinth, in which he found himself along with his foe.  All the while, Bruce Wayne is charmed by a new lady friend, Jillian Maxwell, who seriously toys with his heart, and who may have ulterior motives in her interest, since she may not be who she says she is.  Never having been the superhero who was above being beaten or even defeated, here we once again see a very vulnerable Dark Knight, one who is more human than I think most people who don't read DC comics even realize.

In Madness, Commissioner Gordon's young daughter, Babs, is taken by the Mad Hatter, that creepy villain and nemesis of Gotham's favorite hero, who sporadically spits out disturbing rhymes when he speaks, straight out of Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland.  During their fight scene on top of a speeding train, Mad Hatter cuts and wounds Batman badly, leaving him unconscious and almost having bled out. During this burdensome time, Bruce Wayne recalls the memory of his mother, and their happy times when she would read Alice in Wonderland to him, as he listened with wide eyes and open ears.  When he finally catches up to the maniacal dwarf, perhaps it was fitting - not to mention ironic - that it was not only Batman's fist, but also a looking glass that doomed the Hatter. Lewis Carrol couldn't have written it better himself.

Ghosts is an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carrol, and it casts Batman in the role of Scrooge, while his father plays the ghost-like figure of Jacob Marley, who warns his son of the upcoming phantom visits he will soon have; except not on Christmas eve, but on Halloween.  After a brief stint with The Penguin, a sequence in which Batman dives form a high-rise building and catches the vertically challenged villain, he reflects on his life as Batman, and is thereafter visited by spirits of past, present and yet to come.  They are played by classic villains of The Dark Knight universe: Poison Ivy and Joker play the parts of Ghost of Past and Present, respectively, while the Grim Reaper is played by none other than Batman's ghost.  Through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, Bruce Wayne realizes that he has to dedicate some time to himself, while limiting the days he spends as Batman, as that is the true meaning of Halloween: be yourself on most days, but only occasionally don your favorite costume.

Haunted Knight may not be as epic of a Batman tale as, let's say, The Long Halloween, or even The Dark Knight Returns, but it is nevertheless a memorable and entertaining piece that offers everything that any fan of The Dark Knight could possibly want: dark and rainy Gotham nights, Batman on the prowl of any and all criminal activities, all of the favorite villains of Gotham City making a cameo, and above all, an important lesson about oneself is to be learned in each tale.  The artwork is gorgeous and kinetic, and the writing never strays from what we expect out of Batman's universe.  It is definitely a must-read for anyone who's looking to educate themselves further about The Dark Knight mythology.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Suffragette" is authentic, inspirational, and above all, still relevant

An authentic and honest movie about women's struggle go gain (voting, amongst other) rights in the early 20th century England. That most courageous actress (and one of my personal favorites), Carrey Mulligan, is once again terrific here, playing a wife who, working as a laundress, loses the custody of her son after rebelling against her sexist boss in a very unfair world. Helena Bonham Carter and the rest of the female cast all do a great job, but it is Brendan Gleeson, as the local inspector in a somewhat villainous role, that I had trouble accepting, because I never imagined a man with his kindly face playing an antagonist. Nevertheless, the production design and art direction are exceptional here, and the movie never strays from its position, all the way until the final heart-breaking scene. Also, the movie's marketing ploy of using Meryl Streep on the poster is somewhat misleading; she appears in this film for no more than 2 minutes, if that. Still, this is an important film, and should still inspire, even nearly one hundred years after its thematic subject of struggle and acceptance has been acknowledged by most of the world's nations.

Skype is EVIL! Don't ever use it, unless you want to be subjected to their corporate-mob criminal and EXTREMELY unfair tendencies

Skype is EVIL.  I did not know this, nor did I actually want to be saying this, but alas, it is true.
Just yesterday, for no reason at all - or at least no reason that I could possibly fathom - I was not allowed to log into my account, as the software kept rejecting me, and prompting me to create a new password.

So, try as I might, I was unable to create a new password, even after several tries, as Skype kept rejecting me, and prompting me to contact Customer Service.  Having no choice but to do so, the response I received from them at first was very vague, and cryptic, if you will.  It basically stated that my account "has been restricted due to the breach of the terms of service", which to me sounded as alien as Greek.  So I wrote them another email, asking them if they could elaborate further, and
this is the second email reply I received from those conniving motherfuckers:

Now, I'm not sure if you can speak or even understand morse code, as I surely can not, because this response is perhaps even more vague than the first one.  They're basically saying that my account is "fucked" because of something they fear I may have done in my misuse of Skype.  What is that misuse, may you ask?  I have no idea.  None!  So, after being fed up with this McCarthy-ism label they've placed on me, I had no choice, against my better nature, but to respond one last time, with guns blazing this time:

And there ends my relationship with that piece of shit software, which I will clearly never use again, and which, if you had any sense, wouldn't either.  But the choice is yours.  I just hope you don't suddenly start having problems when attempting to log into Skype, and consequently get banned for reasons unknown not only to you, but to all mankind as well.

"Morning Glories: For a Better Future" is an enigmatic mystery on a par with "Lost"... but better

His hands are ghostlike, transparent and translucent, or at least I think they are.  They are still able to penetrate a human skull, like Freddy Kruger's glove full of blades, and with a swift movement of his ever deadly hand, he is able to rip open his victims' heads as if he was opening a beer bottle, making it explode into millions of pieces of brain, blood and skull, like a watermelon hitting a hard, sweltering pavement surface on a hot summer day.  Who is he?  Where does he come from?  And why is his nature so menacingly evil in a most vicious, violent manner imaginable?

These, and many other questions, were popping through my head as I read the first Volume of Morning Glories: For a Better Future, a mysteriously enigmatic and complex graphic novel from writer Nick Spencer and artist/illustrator Joe Eisma.  What they've created here is a world both secretive in its essence, and dark as all hell: murder is very commonplace, as are unspeakable acts of bloody violence, but that's not exactly what it's about.  Just like the cult TV show Lost, Morning Glories at once creates more questions than it can possibly answer, and the result is a comic that is mystifying and eloquent in its elements of enigma and mystique.

At the heart of it are six characters, all troubled (but otherwise ingenious) recruits at the mysterious Morning Glories Academy, a very prestigious and elusive place that is secretly involved in many projects of other-wordly and supernatural nature.  In this first Volume, we meet Casey, a very attractive blonde from Chicago, who is devastated by the Academy's brutal murder of her parents, and at first is the only one who displays even a shred of conscience; Zoe, an Indian-American who is as superficial as can be in her desire to lock down attractive but very rich boyfriends; Hunter is a pop-culture referencing machine, an intelligent kid who is all too infatuated with Casey, without her knowledge; Jade is an all too fragile soul, whose depression kick-starts the story in motion, and whose suicidal tendencies are all too alarming at first; Ike is possibly the most deceptive and conniving of the bunch, his manner and attitude always suggesting as if he has an ulterior motive to every action he carries out or every sentence he utters; and finally there is Jun, a Japanese kid about whom we know very little, for his presence in this first part is mostly limited to a few pages here and there.  Those, in a nutshell, are our "protagonists".

The "antagonists", if we can even call them that, for their intentions and true natures are still a complete mystery to me, and they consist of Morning Glories Academy faculty staff: Miss Daramount, Miss Hodge, Mr. Gribbs, the Headmaster and Nine, the Academy nurse.  These people are either members of some secret cult, and are worshipping some crazy evil or ancient stuff, or are secretly working for some government agency, deep undercover, and uncovering some mysteries that are extremely of the Top Secret kind.  That, at least, is my theory after tasting the very beginning of this storyline, which I'm sure will prove to be even more difficult to understand with each following issue.

And yet, so many hours after I've put the first issue down, my thoughts are still hung on that mysterious ghost-like, shirtless man, the one who from afar resembles Iggy Pop on LSD, and behaves even more wildly and unpredictably, with those brain-and-skull-penetrating-hands of his, which at this time, is one of the most nightmarish images I've seen in any graphic novel or comic up to this point.  And I've read a LOT of freaky, creepy, mind-bending shit in my life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Take Jennifer Lawrence out of "Joy" - and all you've got is a 2-hour HSN infomercial

An unusual movie from David O. Russell, who usually makes more daring, provocative movies (at least he's capable of better). The best thing here is Jennifer Lawrence, that starlet of The Hunger Games franchise, who continues to prove that she's not only a gorgeous woman, but a serious actress with some real talent to boot. Her every gesture and expression communicates more to the audience than any amount of dialogue or monologue could, and with that alone she almost saves an otherwise mediocre movie, which more or less feels like a long HSN infomercial in itself. Robert DeNiro is actually decent here, given the light material, and how little he actually has to do, and it seems that lately both him and Lawrence have become regulars in any Russell production. Still, this is no Silver Linings Playbook, nor is it American Hustle. Had this been made for TV directly (because its safe story and content do feel as such), it probably would be deemed a better effort, but with such Hollywood A-listers in the cast, I couldn't help but expect a more daring effort. All I got was a very average one.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bryan Cranston shines in the underrated - and the overlooked - "Trumbo"

An above average movie about a subject (McCarthy-ism and the Hollywood Black List in the 1950s) that's already been dealt with before, albeit not in this great a detail, and definitely not about one unique individual, Dalton Trumbo. The writing is clever - one could almost call it Trumbo-esque - and Bryan Cranston delivers probably the finest male performance of 2015. If Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't a Hollywood sweetheart, and if he hadn't been denied an Oscar several times before, and if the world we lived in was a perfect one instead, the Best Actor Oscar would've and should've been won by Cranston, hands down. The movie also does a good job at examining how his screenwriting obsession affected his family life, but it wisely never goes overboard with it, focusing instead on the man who had to write so many great scripts under different pseudonyms, because of his affiliation to the Communist Party. I suppose this is as good of a film that can be made about this particular subject, and I can't think of a better compliment than that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Mary and Max" is a treasure of claymation for adults looking for an escape from formula storytelling

A very unusual claymation movie about two very lonely - albeit different - people from the opposite ends of the globe. The writing here is surprisingly moving, full of little hidden secrets about the world and human nature, but all very original, heartwarming, and simultaneously funny and sad. Unlike, say, the claymation works of Peter Lord and Nick Park (of the Wallace and Gromit franchise), this film is certainly aimed at adults, and I doubt that many children will be able to identify with its grown-up themes of loneliness, isolation and personal lack of self-esteem. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman's voice as Max is almost unrecognizable here, as he creates a character that is at once pathetic, self-loathing, yet wise and intelligent deep inside. The final scene is heartbreaking in its honesty and despair; few characters in movie history have been such a mismatch in personalities, while still leaving the audience to desperately want them to meet each other. Just like life, Mary and Max follows no standard formula, and as such it really is a magical tale, full of wonder and insightful personal reflection of simple lives which may or may not have been completely wasted of any possible potential. It really should leave any knowledgable adult in awe.

"Chew: International Flavor" is another marvel for our taste-buds of wonder

The second TP of Chew - International Flavor - picks up more or less where the previous first issue, Taster's Choice, left of: with FDA Agent Tony Chu involved in another complex case of poultry involved forbidden cuisine.  Now our hero has traveled to a Western Pacific Island called Yamapalu, a place where his brother, Chow Chu, has gotten a contract by the governor of the island to prepare a new kind of cuisine for the locals: Galsaberry, a fruit that (more or less) tastes exactly like Chicken.  This endeavor will come with its own difficulties and dangers, as Tony will soon discover.

Following the standard storyline trend that sequels and consequent parts of any serial have to be "bigger and better", in International Flavor we meet many new characters.  First there is the return of John Colby, Tony Chu's original partner from "Taster's Choice", whose face was half-chopped by a cleaver, leaving him as a poor man's version of Robo Cop, his head half human, and half-robot.  There is also (a short lived) appearance by Lin Saw Woo, an ass-kicking employee of the Department of Agriculture, who meets her maker way too son when she is savagely killed by The Vampire, a villain that - I suspect - will turn out to be a major character until the end of this serial.  In addition to the aforementioned folks, at Yamapalu we also encounter the cockfighting rooster champion known as Poyo, and it turns out that he's wanted by more than just a few opaque people.  These, and many more, are additional characters that author John Layman and illustrator Rob Guillory fill the pages of International Flavor.

Unlike the first issue, which was introductory in its style of Chew's overall setting and mood, this follow up is much more grand in the bizarre, as we will learn that the Galsaberry will turn out to be anything but a simple poultry substitute.  Its origin may indeed be of alien nature, or so Tony Chu will suspect.  Also, the return of Tony's love from Taster's Choice, the blonde woman critic by the name of Amelia Mintz, is a refreshing twist, both for the readers and Tony Chu himself, who is still deeply in love with the enigmatic food critic.

There is no doubt that Chew is one of the most original comics out there right now.  Along with Sex Criminals, I'd put it on top of the list for anyone looking to escape from the all the common Superhero and Science Fiction fare.  It will surely place any fan who reads it on the edge of their seat, leaving them wanting more, just like a perfect desert after an even more perfect meal.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"The Secret" is in the subtle moments, the writing, the direction, not in a highly polished Hollywood cast

An average remake of a much better 2009 film from Argentina (El Secreto De Sus Ojos), this one settles for a top-notch Hollywood cast instead of focusing on the development of characters and the methodical approach to such a meticulous detective story. I won't lie: the actors here do a good job, but their material is weak, and especially concerning the depth of their relationships (for example, when did Nicole Kidman's and Chiwetel Ejiofor's characters become romantically entangled? Why didn't the movie explore that more, and in detail?). The twist at the end is not much of a surprise to anyone who's seen the original, but what is surprising - eh, disappointing is more like it - is the way movie bails out on a potentially great ending in order to play it safe and give us "humanized" characters rather than "flawed" but realistic ones. I will never understand how Hollywood can take someone else's great idea and fuck it up, especially given the talent involved here. A 2-year old solving the rubik's cube would be less of a mystery for me.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Instead of a Gun, perhaps Jane should've gotten a better script? Yeah, probably

I never thought of Natalie Portman as a Western movie heroine with a gun, but here we are, and the result is... mediocre. After her current husband/former criminal is shot down by his old gang, she has no choice but to ask her former fiancee for help. The result is a series of flashbacks about what-ifs and what-could've-beens between two people who used to love each other, but whom time has simply... passed. The actors do as much as they can with a very average (below average? Your call) script, and the ever great Joel Edgerton, that charismatic Australian who's appearing in about 3 movies every year, does a good job of shedding his homeland's accent and adapting a cowboy's one. Ewan McGregor is actually half-decent as the leader of the gang so hell bent on revenge he actually blindly walks into a fatal trap. But the biggest flaw here is the lack of chemistry, not only between the two lovebirds at the center, but basically between all the actors, and the result is a movie as forgettable as a sunset on a cloudy Wild West evening.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"Wytches" is a beautifully haunting experience, but ultimately it's a father- daughter tale at heart

Few horror comics have been like Wytches.  A tale about a family's relocation to a small town in New Hampshire and their subsequent encounters with strange creatures that live in the dark woods just outside their new home, it is a haunting tale, full of strange sounds and scary visions which may or may not turn out to be true.  Deep down, however, Wytches is a story about a father (Charlie, a comic book writer) trying to help his teenage daughter Sailor get over a personal tragedy that has left her at odds with most of her high school friends.  In short, it's a tale of teenage angst and her effort to fit in.

Writer Scott Snyder and illustrator Jock get the most out of their talents by creating a world that is at once very real and simultaneously full of the bizarre and the wicked.  The ghouls (or "wytches", as some of the characters refer to them) here are frighteningly looking creatures: tall, thin, deformed, and grotesquely foaming at the mouth of their sharp fangs, which are constantly craving human flesh.  They're like zombies, but zombies of nightmares, the ones who will seldom let you have a good night's sleep, for they're always haunting you via dream whispers and by interrupting your sleeping visions.  When the other townsfolk learn of Sailor and her family's troubles, their reaction is surprising, but not in the way one would expect.

What separates Wytches from other similar graphic novels (Harrow County definitely comes to mind) is that at its very heart, it's a story about father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a daughter he's always trying to prepare for the real world by testing her various fears: her fear of heights, her fear of acceptance at school, and ultimately, her fear of her nightmares.  Charlie isn't like your typical movie or TV show dad: he's a man of conviction, and when faced with a hopeless situation in which even his wife Lucy, Sailor's mother, a wheelchair bound cripple, is shown to have ulterior motives which aren't of the motherly kind, he does the most courageous thing, and all for the love of his only child.

Wytches will stay with you long after you read it.  The atmosphere it creates is memorable and terrifying in all the right ways.  It's a classic horror tale made for those who grew up watching both Rosemary's Baby and The Blair Witch Project.  In other words, readers from multiple generations who know what a good fright-fest is when they see it, be it on a movie screen or on a comic book page.

"Harrow County: Countless Haints" is yet another witch-terrorizing-the-open-country horror tale

Much like Wytches, an Image graphic novel by writer Scott Snyder and illustrator Jock that (slightly) preceded it, Harrow County: Countless Haints, is a horror story about a girl living in the backwoods country, who's dealing with a curse of a witch.  Its heroine is Emmy, a young, naive girl living on a lonely farm with her father and their many animals, all consisting of either chickens and cows.  The thing is, Emmy has no idea how powerful she is, nor from what evil root her bloodline was originally spawned.

This first volume TP (which collects the first 4 monthly issues) deals with Emmy being ostracized from her small town, as she soon finds out she's wanted dead by not only her townsfolk, but also apparently by her father.  Her crime: she's a long lost offspring of Hester Beck, a witch that was lynched by her own neighbors (including her father) some 18 years ago after they found out just how far her evil influence can be traced back.  Before dying, Beck put a curse on the town: she would return, in form of another girl, once that young female reaches adulthood, and would once again terrorize those who have condemned her.

Emmy is a sweet girl, and it is apparent to any sane reader that she doesn't have an "evil" bone in her body.  Her entire character and temperament are nothing but goodness and compassion to all living things.  Aided by a skin-like (one could even call it an outfit of "flesh") costume of a boy who has long left it to roam the country side as a raw-flesh boogey man, she's able to summon and command those dark forces around her to fight the ever ignorant citizens of her small town, who have no idea that she has no witch-like intentions.

Harrow County may not have the creepy atmosphere - nor the stylish violence - of many other contemporary American comics, but what it does possess is a heroine who is unlike all others, a fine creation by its writer Cullen Bunn.  Emmy is no less than a child-like angel learning to master her newfound supernatural abilities, and she does it all through Tyler Crook's artwork, which is at once gloomy and dark, appearing as if we're looking at it through a dirty window.  It's a memorable piece of "writing via art", albeit not a very original one (Wytches has a similar storyline, and was released prior).  But based on the audacity of its debut, I'm willing to explore it further, come whatever ghouls may.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Nailbiter Volume 1: There Will Be Blood" is stylized, gory, but very undercooked

Welcome to Buckaroo, Oregon, a small town that has the most unique of distinctions: it's a birthplace of world's worst serial killers - all sixteen of them!  It's a world full of small-towners, all of who either went to high school together or dated each other.  After an FBI agent Eliot Carrol who's investigating series of murders there goes missing, his friend Nicholas Finch is called upon to help.

Among the various characters we meet in the isolated Buckaroo, there is also the female town police officer, Sheriff Crane, who helps Finch (and who was in a relationship years ago with the town's latest serial killing product, Edward "Nailbiter" Warren) in his investigation; a teenage girl, Alice, who seems to have problems with the local high school bullies (and these fellas may also be involved in something ELSE); Raleigh Woods is an owner of a memorabilia store, a cowboy looking to make a quick buck and cash in on the town's doomed fortune of being a serial killer breeding ground.

Some have already compared this serial to Twin Peaks and Se7en, and I for one can see the comparisons. Unfortunately, what does not work for me is the writing: it feels far too sophomoric, especially when compared to other contemporary graphic novels on the market currenty (most notably Sex Criminals, Saga and Chew, to name just a few).

The killers we see in this first Trade Paperback are the classic Hollywood boogeymen: they have bag over their heads, or are wearing strange masks; in other words, they are hiding their mugs from their pursuers and from us.  A few murderers in particular remind me of the killer in movie The Town that Dreaded Sundown (both the 1976 and the 2014 versions) and also of the famous miner-maniac in My Bloody Valentine (also both the 1980s and the more recent 2009 one).  And a scene where "a killer" sneaks into the morgue and attempts to murder Finch and Crane is reminiscent of ghost face from Wes Craven's Scream franchise.

My biggest problem with this first issue are incredibly lame and childish lines.  Characters often say things that are equivalent to George Lucas' dialogue in the Star Wars prequels.   "Because they know I'm going to kick their asses!", "I'm really getting sick of this town of yours, Sheriff!", "This is really getting on my nerves!, "I've got some other news to add to the list of bullshit around here" sound like lines written by a hack film student for a 50 cent short thesis film that is completely talentless on both sides of the camera.  I just hope that such cheesy dialogue is improved in the episodes to come.

Nailbiter: There Will Be Blood isn't necessarily a bad or even a boring graphic novel, but it does suffer in comparison with other current series in the American landscape, as I've already mentioned.  Joshua Williamson clearly isn't Brian K. Vaughan, nor Rick Remender, and to a spoiled reader who's seen and read better material this will come as disappointment.  Mike Henderson does a good job illustrating the dark and creepy atmosphere of Buckaroo, but his style of wide-jawed characters, who are mostly of the annoying or the villainous kind, has been exhausted in this first volume.  Here's hoping that both the writer and the artist stretch themselves just a tiny bit for the upcoming issues.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Altman & Zsigmond are a strange - but effective - match for a "revisionist" Western such as this

An old-school Western, the kind that they just don't make anymore, that is more about character and principles than action or gunfights. Warren Beaty does a good job of playing a businessman who isn't nearly as smart as he thinks, and that timeless beauty, Julie Christie, is your standard "hooker with a heart of gold" archetype, but also a woman who knows more about business than the naive man she happens to work for. It's really hard to believe that this was directed by Robert Altman, that great master of long takes and even longer ensemble cast movies (Nashville, Short Cuts, Gosford Part, etc). The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is subtle yet atmospheric, with low lighting and darkness dominating every frame of this rather sad and tragic story set in the cold and snowy mountains of the frontier. Definitely one of the better movies of the Wild West period where the heroes are doomed to suffer because they just can not compete with corporate criminals, no matter how much they try to resist.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

"Chew - Volume 1: Taster's Choice" is a perverted trip into the culinary world of the surreal

Rob Guillory and John Layman's comic book creation, Chew, is a terrific example of the culinary bizarre.  Implementing elements of detective stories, world wide flu outbreak that wipes hundred million plus souls, government conspiracies and a "super" hero who's got the most unusual gift: he can feel the origin, the history and life of anything his taste buds devour once it's in his mouth.  Author and creator Layman calls him a cibopath, which is a term used for a person with such aforementioned abilities.

The hero in question here is none other than Tony Chu, a detective who, after a case he's assigned to goes awry and results in unnecessary casualties, is immediately fired from the Philadelphia Police Department.  However, having displayed his "cibopathic" abilities in great measure to an undercover FDA agent, he's immediately hired by that same agency to work as a taster of evidence in order to discover the perpetrators of any food-related crimes.  Working along with Mason Savoy, a large and ominous looking fella who resembles a bear, Tony tackles all sorts of different cases, some that even involve uncovering a great government conspiracy in which millions died due to a case of bird flu - or did they?

Rob Guillory's artwork is reminiscent of the goofy and caricaturistic style found in Sunday Newspaper comics.  His characters are mostly disproportional, giving them a dimension of the surreal and the bizarre, but never turning them into cartoonish types that we can't take seriously.  There is plenty of gore, both of the bloody and of culinary kind, and the readers can practically sense and feel some of the awfully disgusting products that Chu has to taste while on duty.  The result is a marvel for multiple senses: we can see, smell and even taste some of the items in question on the very page in front of us.  Chew is a comic for those who want something different than the ever growing science-fiction (Saga) or horror (The Walking Dead) that have so commandingly taken over the  American graphic novel landscape as of late.  It's a delicious nightmare into all things tasty and disgusting, but also with a brain and imagination to spare.

"Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" is just "Mediocrity & Boredom & Amateur Filmmaking" (sigh)

At first, watching the poor box office performance of this movie, I wondered, why? But then, I saw it, and it was clear as day. The movie has the right idea, but it never really takes off and runs with it; instead, it plays it very safe, and the result is just a poor, poor version of the famous Jane Austen story, and nothing more. The zombie storyline is so poorly handled that it's kinda pathetic: the director should've pushed the envelope further. The biggest sin the movie makes is that it's just plain BORING! And for such a mashup of classic literature and the ultimate modern horror genre of the walking undead, it's really a marvel just how in the world anyone could fuck this up. I kept wondering, and still do, what someone like Edgar Wright, or even Robert Rodriguez, might've done with this material. The possibility alone brings a smile to my face, but the sad reality of how this actually DID turn out is enough to keep that frown there for a while.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" is insightful, clever, funny, and above all, moving. In a word, it's magical.

Persepolis is like few graphic novels or comics I've ever read.  For one, it's a story about a girl  (for a change) growing up in a very right-winged and old fashioned Iran, a country going through a revolution where a minor faux-pas such as not properly covering one's head and hair as a woman could land you in big trouble with the authorities.  Author and narrator Marjane Satrapi creates and maintains a comically realistic atmosphere of her life at home with her rather liberal parents, a very wise and modern thinking grandma, and also her life and experiences while living in Austria for some two years in the mid-1980s.

With her acute and observant eyes and ears, Satrapi captures the ruthlessness a Middle Eastern's country regime change, and she juxtaposes it with her teenage years of living in the West, where, according to her, "if you were to collapse and pass out on a public street, no stranger would ever come to your aid."  This I truly do believe, but I also believe that the West offers certain advantages over living in out-dated governments, and those perks do come at a certain cost, as no place on Earth is perfect, as she so surely and wisely learns.  Her life in Persepolis is equivalent to that of a superhero who, dissatisfied with the ever growing number of those just like her, she travels to a place void of any of her kind, only to discover that it's a cold, soulless abyss for any open minded individual.

In essence, Satrapi is a serious artist who has seen and experienced extremes of both places - each good in its own right, and each also flawed as all hell - but who keeps a strong grasp on her deep down ideals that liberal change is actually a good thing, especially in this world of ours that is trying very hard to catch up to the philosophy of so few free thinking individuals.  It's a smart lesson in adolescent wisdom, political and cultural liberation, and a woman's right to lose her virginity before her wedding night (a concept so alien to Iran she grew up in that it could get the perpetrators of such an activity executed).  After an eye opening and amusing coming of age tale such as this, and on the black & white pages of Satrapi's celebrated graphic novel, no less, the only thing left to look forward to is to watch the 2007 animated film adaptation of the same name.  I, for one, can not wait.

Terrence Malick's latest "Knight of Cups" is just like Terrence Malick's last: an exercise of inner torment without any substance

Another pretentious, self-indulgent philosophical work from Terrence Malick, whose schtick is getting old real fast.  The whole movie feels like a long boner pill commercial, with the characters just silently walking around, looking pretty, and thinking out loud in poetic mumbo-jumbo, masquerading as high art.  Malick started going in this abstract direction halfway through the Tree of Life, thoroughly in To the Wonder, and here he pretty much kills the whole art form to the point of driving the audience to mental exhaustion.  Christian Bale is way too talented an actor to be walking around - albeit while bedding the most beautiful women on the planet, but still - all the while looking internally tormented with personal family issues, as his brother and father have some skeletons in the closet themselves, and yet he hardly has a line of dialogue/monologue in the entire 118 minutes.  For the life of me I could not understand what Malick is trying to say with this film (and I consider myself an art house movie snob - go figure!), as it feels like a continuation of his last movie, and that's not saying much.  I can't see this movie being a financial success in the least, which is probably a good thing, since he will (probably, or at least I hope) stop making his college philosophy theses into celluloid and might hopefully try to make something a bit more mainstream next time around, because he's clearly lost his audience.  Being a good filmmaker does not mean making movies that only you as a director can understand; Malick - and the once-upon-a-time auteur Paul Thomas Anderson - have clearly lost touch with reality as of late, and whereas their movie releases were a cause for celebration once upon a time, today they are just exercises we must endure.  Such a shame it is indeed.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The quiet, subtle drama is completely character driven, yet intense and observant like the best of them

A quiet, subtle portrayal of a rich, powerful man wanting to control and tame that which can not be. Clint Eastwood has never quite been so egocentric and pompous, yet in a way, here he's always playing a slightly arrogant version of himself: a man who thinks he should be able to commit the ultimate sin of killing an endangered species, just because he can. The movie is methodical and character driven, yet it is never boring. A young Jeff Fahey is really good here as a screenwriter who's conflicted and torn in different directions: his loyalties lie to his job and the studio that he's writing for, but also to this egomaniac whose charm he can not resist. Clint Eastwood has made many, many movies in his life, and I can honestly say that, after "Unforgiven", this might be his second best. That's saying something.

"Sisters" puts SNL alumns Fey & Poehler together again, and the result is a grown-up party romp in the style of John Hughes

I've always liked Tina Fey. She possesses some sort of funny/dorky/smart sexiness that isn't present in all of Hollywood's comedic ladies. And of all the movies she's made so far, this one is definitely the best: it's very funny, touching and vulgar in all the right ways. Amy Poehler is very underrated, and here she shines as Fey's sister who's younger and perhaps a bit less risque at first sight, but is just as willing to throw caution to the wind. Supporting cast is also hilarious (John Leguizamo, James Brolin and the legendary Dianne Wiest, who has the movie's best line: "I'm cuntingly disappointed in you!"), as is the third and fourth rate cast. The script is fresh, and not afraid to take chances; not a moment feels dull or melodramatic. This is THE movie of the last three or four years by former SNL alums, and that's saying something. I could watch it again tomorrow.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The loneliest Hotel in Da Nang...

Have you heard of the loneliest Hotel in Da Nang, the PoMu Hotel?  It is situated right off Duong Hoang Sa Road, major street that runs alongside Da Nang's coast.  PoMu is very thin, almost resembles a Domino block if you were to stand it sideways, and nowhere near it can any other building or house be seen.  With the exception of an old boat, which stands about 20 or 30 meters in the foreground, resting on the barely green grass adjacent to the sand, PoMu Hotel is a lonely building indeed, cursed to endure its solitude amidst this ever growing city.  How long has it been there?  Are there any guests staying inside its forlorn rooms?  A fellow traveler might stop inside and inquire, but perhaps all such buildings, appearing to stick out high above the ocean they so sadly observe, would prefer their solitude over company.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Idiosyncrasies of Vietnam...

Sidewalks are not for walking, they are for parking of motorbikes and street food stands.

There is no coin currency; everything is in paper bills.

Ho Chi Minh's face is on every single currency bill in Vietnam.  He is this country's Mao Zedong.

In Vietnam, all the natives are afraid of the sun.  They cover themselves up from head to toe, in thick clothing (sweaters, vests, jackets, etc) even on very hot and humid days.  They even cover their faces completely, sometimes to the point of resembling bank robbers of the American Wild West.

Motorbikes are EVERYWHERE.  I honestly believe that they outnumber people here in Vietnam at least 3 to 1, perhaps even more.

Most business in Vietnam - restaurants, stores, etc - shut down relatively early.  Some at 9pm, and at around 10pm, every town is a ghost town.  It's surreal.

For a country that is so hot and sunny all year round, it's surprising that there is no local company that makes sunblock.  As a result, all the sunblock is imported from the West, and is therefore quite expensive.  A bottle can run anywhere from $15 to even more, and we're talking about a SMALL bottle. Crazy.

If you're at a Vietnamese beach, you're stuck with sand on your feet, on your hands, in your hair, shorts, etc. long after you leave it. There are no outdoor shower faucets, or even faucets to wash one's feet.  For a country that has such a long coastline, this is mind boggling, if you consider how many tourists visit it annually.

If you're alone in a restaurant or a bar, and you order a beer, the server will always ask you "how many?", as if you're the kind of person who will order several at ones, and down them like an Irishman on St. Patrick's Day.

(to be continued...)

Maggie Smith is a wonder in the wildly amusing "The Lady in the Van"

A very unusual movie (and an overlooked one at the Oscars, if you ask me) about a woman living in her van in a driveway of a lonely writer in London for some 15 years. Maggie Smith is simply amazing in the title role as a woman who is too old, too bitter and too rude to be sociable at any level: her entire existence consists of sleeping and painting her numerous vehicles yellow. Alex Jennings is also good (in a dual role) as the playwright who is the only person to show this old wretch any kindness; one wonders had he not, would she have even lived as long as she had. It really is a wonder to behold Smith at her 81 years of age, and how she commands both compassion and resentment in every single scene she's in. Her character is so complex and marvelous to behold that it's a crime that not only the Academy failed to nominate her, but looking back at all the nominees now, she flat out should have WON! Ah, such is life. For the true fans of fine cinema - and even better acting - this movie should not be forgotten any time soon.

Galifianakis' new show is anything but funny, dramatic or interesting: in other words, it's kinda lame

Way, way below par. With Galifianakis in the lead role, my expectations were a bit high, but unfortunately, this show isn't funny enough to keep us entertained, nor dramatic enough to keep us tuning in every week. As a character, Chip Baskets reminds me a lot of that Danny McBride character, Kenny Powers, in "East Bound and Down": both characters are too rude, stupid and unlikable to be able to sustain the audience's interest for more than 90 seconds. Sadly, we're supposed to identify with this Baskets dupe for 10 episodes each year. I was barely able to get through the first 6, and I doubt I'll be tuning in any further. Instead of raising the standard for what a good TV comedy is, this show has actually lowered it. And all that with not one but two Galifianakises on the screen. Shame.