Saturday, April 30, 2016

"The Survivalist" is the ultimate low budget movie: simple, quiet and sparse, but always engaging and tense

A movie that perfectly captures what a low budget filmmaking should be all about. Show little, hint at a lot, and don't have your characters say much at all. Director Stephen Fingleton does a great job at maximizing his resources to create an intense and suspenseful movie in which, for the most part, we only see three main characters. I can count the lines of dialogue that are spoken on two hands, maybe, yet the movie is never boring, dull or uninteresting. The scene in the grassy field, in which the main character (Martin McCann) attempts to save a woman from a maniacal rapist, is executed as perfectly as can be, especially the crane camera POV. There is a lot of similarity to the movie The Road, and this, in a way, feels like a sequel of sorts, but with different characters. I really hope future filmmakers, who are bound to shoe-string budgets, take a look at this movie and see how one can get the most of out their cast, their script and their location. Very well done.

"Long John Silver: Lady Vivian Hastings" is a throwback to old-school pirates and treasure hunters

There are few modern pirate comics out there, and even fewer that are any good.  Well, enter Long John Silver Part 1: Lady Vivian Hastings, a rousing sea adventure tale of pirates and seamen looking for untold riches in deep within the Amazon.  Illustrated by Mathieu Lauffray with just the right touch of realism and an exaggerated style reminiscent of caricature, this work captures the nuances and details of the nineteenth century world of high seas and dangerous men looking to betray one another at a moment's notice in order to ensure their life's financial security.  It is an imaginative and ambitious work, for both man and child alike.

The writer Xavier Dorison (he is assisted in this aspect by the artist Lauffray) creates characters who are memorable as they are the archetypal symbols of this genre: the under-sexed but bored vixen, Lady Vivian Hastings, a woman who decides to take matters into her own hands and head down to the Amazon after her husband's Guyanacapac expedition; Dr. Livesey, her advisor, who, being aware that Lady Hastings is pregnant with child, tries to dissuade her from going, but to no avail; and of course, there's the titular one-legged character, Long John Silver himself, that timeless product of Robert Louis Stevenson's imagination from Treasure Island, a man grander than adventure itself, still living in this alternate universe, and ready to sail wild and distant oceans in order to gain long lost riches.

The colors and the artwork are grand and joyous, fluctuating from bright reds all the way to dark blacks, without ever giving us an unsatisfactory image.  This world that Lauffray and Dorison have created is full of nostalgia for fans of the classic Hollywood pirate movies of the 1930s and 40s.  Yet this particular Long John Silver epic is more about deception, greed and damnation as a result of moral corruption than it is about seamen wearing eyepatches and swashbuckling each other while hanging on chandeliers and such.  It is a sea faring, treasure seeking adventure for those who still long for such tales without ever leaving their couch.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Nichols' "Midnight Special" is too mysterious and pretentious, lacks conviction

Part E.T., part Starman, but all a tale of run-and-pursuit involving a boy who may or may not be a supernatural creature from another dimension. Not many answers are given to us, mostly questions are raised, and the characters are mostly compassionate people who care for one another, but sadly, they don't seem to have an agenda worth giving a damn about. Michael Shannon is one of the most fascinating actors out there, and he has a face that can speak volumes, without ever having to say a word, but the climax of this movie, albeit confusing, just leaves us feeling... nothing, really. Jeff Nichols' last movie, Mud, is much closer to a masterpiece than this one is; heck, I'd even watch Take Shelter again before I'd sit through this again. It's almost too pretentious for its own good, which would be ok to some degree if it was emotional or engaging, but alas... it ain't. Bummer.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Black Mirror" is Batman's dark and twisted nightmare into the dark and depraved human mind

For someone who doesn't follow the Batman serial regularly, I was very surprised to find that the Batman in Black Mirror isn't actually Bruce Wayne.  Instead, it's Dick Grayson, the alter ego of the original Robin. In physical appearance and general build - and taking into consideration the slight nuances in different artists' style - Grayson doesn't really look much different from Wayne.  In fact, had they not specified early that it's him wearing the caped crusader's outfit, I would've believed him to be none other than the heir to Wayne enterprises.

Black Mirror is a relatively dark Batman tale.  It contains mad villains and hallucinatory drugs, brutal murders and even more horrific revelations.  Commissioner Gordon, that reliable and trustworthy Batman ally, practically shares the center stage here, and confronts the past and present of his somewhat psychopathic son, James.  James' childhood was marred by odd events during which some people around him were harmed in disturbing ways that his family could never quite understand.  With Batman's help, Gordon will, at along last, face his son, and try to confront the demon within him.  Through it all, Grayson will fight various foes, both internal and external, all the while realizing how heavy the cape really is of the justice moderator in Gotham's darkest alleys.

Artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla's Gotham in Black Mirror is dark, ominous, and always breathtaking to look at in all its different shades and various hues of red, black and green.  They create a world of the Dark Knight at once threatening and glorious: it's like an amusement park for psychopathic and homicidal children in adult bodies.  Writer Scott Snyder, who's written his share of dark and mysterious stories about deeply disturbed men (his one-shot serial killer tale Severed is a uniquely underrated gem), fuses many twisted villains into this story, such as Dealer, Roy Blount (a.k.a. Peter Pan Killer) and Roadrunner, to name just a few.  Black Mirror incorporates two-part and three-part episodes into its whole, and they are: Skeleton Cases, Lost Boys, Hungry City, My Dark Architect, Skeleton Key and The Face in the Glass.

Unlike previous Batman classics such as The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Arkham Asylum and The Haunted Knight, Black Mirror presents us with a different character in the caped crusader's place, but it never once disappoints by the absence of Bruce Wayne himself.  Dick Grayson may not be the original Dark Knight, but he is as dedicated and committed to fighting evil and upholding justice in Gotham that Wayne himself would be extremely proud of his protege.  Besides, I take comfort in knowing that there are now two men capable of instilling fear and panic into Gotham's criminals, just in case one of them feels like taking the night off once in a while.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"The Boss" is McCarthy at her meanest and sadly, unfunniest movie yet :(

A lousy comedy about an otherwise funny woman (Melissa McCarthy) who is just too mean and bitchy to be likable at all. The thing is, none of her abhorrent character traits would really matter if the movie was actually funny, but sadly, for the most part, it isn't. I laughed out loud maybe twice, but a 90 minute-plus running time should really grant its audience more entertainment than that. It also took me a while to realize this, but McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone, is the director here, as he was with her last stinker, Tammy. If McCarthy wants to start making better movies, perhaps she should give the directing reigns to people who have experience with this genre, and not merely giving her husband a chance to prove just how little talent he possesses for the craft. We can only hope she will make a better directing choice for her next movie.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Descender: Vol 1 Tin Stars" is sci-fi at its most intelligent and daring

Tim-21 isn't your average boy.  For one, he is surprisingly intelligent, and capable of processing tons of information in mere seconds.  He is also very considerate, compassionate, and can empathize with those he cares about.  When he wakes up from a 10-year long sleep and realizes that everyone he knows is dead, he realizes that the world he's known is no longer that peaceful haven it once was.  Such are the growing pains of a young android robot.

In Descender Vol 1: Tin Stars, writer Jeff Lemire and illustrator Dustin Nguyen create an ominous and colorful futuristic world, brimming with technological advancements far removed from our own, and they at once capture our imagination and attention.  Evoking (and perhaps having somewhat been inspired by) such movies and TV series as A.I., Battlestar Galactica, 28 Weeks Later and even Prometheus, Descender intelligently presents us with a conflict between man and machine in a most fascinating way yet.  Tim-21 happens to have the same codex in his mechanically designed robot DNA as the mysterious alien robots who destroyed most of the Earth's population a decade earlier. With the aid of Doctor Jin Quon and the red headed Telsa (her hair is literally RED), Tim-21 will try to figure out the meaning of the aforementioned Harvester Attacks, and how he fits into it all.

Nguyen's artwork is murky, giving it a look of a faded time and place, and this style, something that often dooms other comics, works well here.  The countless bounty hunters and assassins, who roam the universal landscape in the world he and Lemire have created, looking for remaining androids and robots in order to capture and destroy them, are as ruthless and cold as any paid killers we've had in American comic landscape recently, and this includes Saga's The Will.  The journey of little Tim-21, kind of an updated and improved version of Pinocchio, will put him in the middle of a scuffle between his saviors - Quon and Telsa - and virtually everyone else who wants to see him exterminated.

Descender is everything that good comics should be: engaging, smart and visionary. Lemire's characters resemble real people rather than paper thin characters, and their quest feels like an honest, grand one.  If this first Trade Paperback is any indication, this should be a very interesting sci-fi epic to follow in the months and years to come.  Here's hoping the ideas and storylines remain just as fresh and fascinating as they have been so far.

Monday, April 25, 2016

"Pretty Deadly: Vol 1 The Shrike" is a mythical, mystic trip into the Wild West underworld

The blind man, Fox, is wise, or at least he seems to be.  Wearing a blindfold to cover his eyes, he goes from town to town, with a little girl, Sissy, who wears a vulture costume and has mismatching colored eyes (one is brown, the other blue), and he tells the story of Death and how He came to love, and even create an offspring.  The Wild West where these characters exist - an with what other creatures and beings they co-exist - is a mythical land of the fantastical and supernatural, even mystical, but also of the ultra-violent and brutal.  It is a place resembling nightmares rather than dreams, a setting even the Sandman himself might find a bit harsh to survive in.

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick incorporates plenty of poetical, lyrical and even folklore elements into her fantasy Western.  Each episode/monthly issue begins with a conversation between two animals, one of which is a rabbit, living or dead, and often they end in a barrage of violence.  Artist Emma Rios' illustrations are colorful and even sexually graphic, but often confusing: it is sometimes hard to tell whether the characters she's drawing are fighting or dancing with each other.  When Death's daughter, Ginny, finally decides to take her vengeance against those she's been set on killing, the resulting climax is bound to leave readers scratching their heads, rather than getting any closure on everything they've read so far.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: The Shrike is an ambitious comic, to be sure, but perhaps it is too full of its own grand ideas about life and death, about love and loss, to be much of an entertainment as a result.  It also suffers from murky and muddy artwork, which is unclear and confusing more often than not.  Its characters are stuff of legend rather than flesh and blood, and their quests are grand in scope and myth, leaving the impression of Shakespearean tragic heroes rather than heroines we can identify with.  I certainly will remember much of what I read and saw in this story for a long time to come.  The thing is, I may not want to read it again anytime soon.

Friday, April 22, 2016

"11.22.63" is all idea and conception, but ultimately, it's an uninspired follow-through with flimsy execution

Based on Stephen King's novel and picked up by Hulu, the recent TV series 11.22.63 feels original, at least early on during its pilot episode.  A drama at heart, it quickly turns into fantasy that incorporates time travel, recent American history, and the assassination of a famous president, in John F. Kennedy.  At the center of it all is an English teacher, Jake Epping (played by the sometimes good, but often mediocre actor at heavy drama, James Franco).

Consisting of only eight episodes, 11.22.63 engages the viewer instantly in the exciting and original first episode, which incorporates just enough mystery and intrigue for an average viewer to keep watching.  Unfortunately, that excitement quickly wears off, as the characters begin to make senseless decisions, and behave in a manner that is childish and naive, completely in contrast to how we'd expect such people to act.  As wise and intelligent as Epping may seem at first, he goes about picking a strange, even psychotic, person as his accomplice in the year 1960, a time in the past he finds himself in as a result of going through time-travelling portal outside of his friend's diner in Maine.  Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) is a strange dude, a person who meets Epping for the first time by pointing a gun at his head.  This unusual incident aside, Turcotte goes on to make one wrong decision after another, eventually compromising Epping's mission, which is to save President Kennedy by preventing his assassination in Dallas on that fateful day in November, 1963.  I, for one, could see that there was nothing good about Turcotte at all, a disturbed fellow who should've been left exactly where he was found.

Why would Epping, a scholar and an intellectual, choose so poorly when selecting a partner in this most prestigious of missions?  Watching Bill mope around and idiotically proclaim his love for Lee Harvey Oswald's abused wife, I couldn't help but wish for him to meet Kennedy's fate, without anyone coming to his aid, nor going back in time to prevent his doom.  He's as unnecessary and ridiculous of a character that I've seen in a dramatic TV series in ages.  I mean, the man is a caricature of a human being, dumb and irresponsible, perhaps even dangerous, never justifying his place in Epping's grand assignment, which is supposed to change American history for the better.

When we finally reach the conclusion in the eighth and final episode, and when Epping at long last confronts Oswald in Dallas library right after his attempt at Kennedy's life, the moment, which should've felt bigger and more dramatic, instead falls flat.  In a scuffle, he kills Oswald, and after being taken into custody by the local police, Epping is questioned by an FBI agent, another moment that felt plastic and far less than authentic.  There's absolutely no talk about conspiracy with CIA, or FBI, something that feels rather unimaginative and cowardly on the part of the author.  And by the time Epping returns to his time period in 2016, and when we witness the futuristic wasteland, a la Mad Max, that is the modern USA, we are never given any answers why exactly things have gotten so bad as a result of Kennedy having lived.  The result of such unimaginative and uninspired climax leaves one scratching their head as to what exactly they've watched for some eight-plus hours.

11.22.63 isn't exactly a bad show, per se; it's just a half-baked one, a show full of promising ideas and infinite possibilities, but lacking any real execution worthy of its "fascinating" premise.  King seems to have no thoughts of his own when it comes to any theories about Kennedy's assassination, nor any conspiracies that surround it, something that Oliver Stone accomplished to much greater success in his 1991 epic movie JFK.  My suggestion: forget this show, and watch Stone's movie instead.  It'll take less of your time, while simultaneously tickling your brain in all the right ways this TV show simply isn't quite capable of.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Morrison's "All Star Superman" is a futuristic look at an old-school, reflective but also melancholy Man of Steel

Like a man all too aware of his own mortality, which for the first time in his lifetime is now questionable, Superman in All Star Superman is unlike the typical Man of Steel his fans may otherwise know.  For one, his days on Earth are numbered, as a result of being exposed to sun's solar radiation, an effect that is deteriorating his physical make-up and thus killing him slowly each passing day.  This is a secret that only Superman and Dr. Quintum, the scientist working on an experiment very close to the sun, are privy to (not even Louis Lane, his main squeeze, is aware of his terminal illness).

Grant Morrison's writing and Frank Quitely's artwork combine to create a hybrid Superman that feels instantly modern and old fashioned.  Morrison infuses the story with plenty of contemporary language, including heroes (a few different Supermen from different ages and epochs, who find themselves in our hero's Kansas setting and period due to a time-travelling jump) and anti-heroes alike (Samson, Atlas and the Bizarro & Zibarro Supermen).  He also explores Clark Kent's confession to his colleague, Louis, that he is Superman after all (something she's suspected all along).  The time they spend together at Superman's Fortress of Solitude is moving and romantic, and it evokes countless possibilities of "what ifs", making us wonder just what might've been had these two been this open with one another from the get-go.  Not sure about you, but a Super-version of Louis Lane, flying around with the Man of Steel, while fighting giant evil lizard dinosaurs in her tight wonder-woman like costume, is certainly a sight for sore eyes.

The best thing about All Star Superman is that it's an entertaining and satisfying work for comic book lovers who aren't necessarily die-hard fans of the Man of Steel universe.  It offers us a more melancholy Superman than usual, in addition to the super-villain Lex Luthor, who is awaiting execution on death row, but not before trying to foil Metropolis' peace and order in a soon-to-be Superman-less world.   Quitely's artwork is sharp and rich, a perfect throwback to some of the best illustrations in all of Superman comics to date.  In the end, when an already dying Superman sacrifices himself sooner in order to ignite the sun and save it from being extinguished, we are, for the first time, left without the greatest hero from Krypton that the DC Universe has created.  But thankfully there is still the genius of Dr. Quintum, a scientist who seemingly could have the recipe that'll enable him to clone another Man of Steel.  We can only hope.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"Head Games" picks up where "Lovecraft" left off, introducing the unique and fascinating Head Key

Dodge is one conniving and duplicitous mother-effer.  His malicious eyes, peepers of utmost evil, are as haunting as they are hypnotic.  Ever since he left his prison (the Locke family well) with the help of Sam Lesser, and since changing his sex using the Gender key, he's been dead-set on disrupting the new-found tranquility of the Locke children, as his goal of finding all the keys of Keyhouse is fully underway.  Not even Joe Ridgeway, an elderly Drama teacher at the Lovecraft Academy, who recognizes Dodge as the evil incarnate that he is from many years back, is able to foil his plans and prevent him from gaining the trust and confidence of Tyler and Kinsey under false pretenses.  Dodge, at least up to now, seems to be an incarnation of Satan himself, a powerful and deceitful being whose intentions have no kindness in them, only lies and destruction of order.

In Locke & Key: Head Games, the second volume of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez's enigmatic, gothically delicious ghost tale, we're introduced to Dodge's malevolent side, while also witnessing young Bode experiment with the Head key, which he uses much to his and his siblings' surprise.  This key has the power of taking away a person's weakness out of their mind: their fear, their sadness, anything that may be holding them down and keeping them from reaching their potential.  Kinsey, still depressed over what happened to her father in the first volume, naturally removes fear out of her head, and she displays the newly discovered results of her unlimited courage by telling Dodge that she has a crush on him.  But little does she know what his true intentions are.

Meanwhile, in a flashback (stylishly executed in a fashionable black & white art), we learn of Ellie's relationship with her abusive late mother, and the events that led to her mysterious death.  We also meet Ellie's son, Rufus, a very special boy who may not be as mentally challenged as he appears, and whose code-speak he uses with his toy soldiers might be more than playful gibberish of a slow witted boy.  Rufus may very well be a genius of sort, a la Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man, a person so "disadvantaged" mentally that he doesn't even know what he's capable of.

Head Games enriches the Locke & Key universe with additional characters, and it also gives us a more in-depth look at the private life of Duncan Locke, both as an adult and as a child (he apparently has been exposed to the secrets of Keyhouse as a young boy, but has forgotten them as he grew up).   The Head key, one of the centerpieces of this volume, is a very unique key, and its power lies in not opening any doors, but opening the human mind, and altering its contents.  It's kind of like the genius of Hill and Rodriguez, where they're so easily able to alter the contents of their readers' minds, always looking to astonish and instill a sense of wonder, without ever boring us.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Sunstone" is erotic, mysterious and above all, surprisingly romantic tale of two girls in lust and love with one another

The two girls at the center of Sunstone Volume 1 are an adventurous, perhaps even a bit lustful, duet. At first glance, they are as different as can be.  There is Lisa Williams, a red headed aspiring (and ongoing) writer, who fantasizes about being with a dominatrix woman.  Online she meets Ally Carter, a sophisticated looking girl (perhaps due to her glasses, a look which clearly elevates her IQ status) whose past time involves having her friend Alan install various strange looking toys and gadgets into her home, which includes a bed with a unique headboard in her room.  When Lisa and Ally finally meet face to face, they realize just how much in common they have with one another, and a romance between the two begins to blossom.

Creator Stjepan Šejić, who serves as writer and illustrator on this S&M bondage themed comic, is an artist reminiscent of Terry Moore.  Both men are multi-talented, able to write the story and the dialogue, and in addition possess the artistic skills to visually create the same characters they have imagined.  That is no small feat, and Sunstone surely evokes Moore's own Strangers in Paradise serial, another auteur-created comic where we also witness two heroines in the forefront of the story, who also may have feelings for each other that expand beyond the friendly kind.  Just how much Moore's legendary comic has inspired Sejić is hard to say, but some influence is apparent, at least after one's initial reading of Sunstone.

This surely is an erotic comic, full of gloriously colored scenes and vignettes of Lisa and Ally laying half-dressed - or completely naked - and experimenting with each other for the first time, but by no means is it pornographic.  Šejić wisely shows the naked bodies of his two heroines, but never quite crosses the line into the tasteless zone.  However, knowing full well that lust alone can not drive this tale, nor can it sustain the readers' interest longer than one issue, he hints at a possible romance between the two, which most likely will extend into further issue.  I, for one, can't wait to see what fate has in store for Lisa and Ally, and whether they will find a way to co-exist together, naked or fully dressed (hopefully naked).

"Dope" is a cult classic in the making, a gutsy throwback to "Risky Business", in-da-hood style

A fun and inventive movie about a few 'hood dorks who accidentally get involved in some shady business that includes gangs and drugs. Director Rick Famuyiwa approaches this work with high energy and an original eye that is smart in its writing and inventive in its visual style. The eventual theme of a "least likely" student trying to apply to Ivy league school and having to resort to illegal activities in order to pull that off recalls shades of Risky Business some thirty plus years ago. Both movies are about very smart teenagers who just happen to be very resourceful in endeavors they had no idea they possessed a lot of talent for. Shameik Moore is very convincing as the geek who dreams of a better life beyond the 'hood, and his infatuation with the "girl-next-door" (Zoe Kravitz) is surprisingly handled without cliches or melodrama. Dope is a unique gem in a sea of Hollywood mediocrity, and I really hope it finds the audience it missed during its theatrical run on Blu Ray and DVD. I can totally see it becoming a cult classic for the ages.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Galaxy Quest" is an inspired, clever take on the space soap opera TV - for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike!

A clever little spoof about the cast of a cheesy sci-fi show, a la Star Trek and the clashing of the real world vs the imaginary one they didn't even know existed. I don't think I've ever liked Tim Allen as much as I did in this movie, and honestly, Sigourney Weaver has never looked sexier. The script is clever and insightful, written by someone who clearly knows what it's like to be a Trekkie Geek, and the cast of aliens (led by Enrico Colantoni) are charming in their naive innocence. This is one of the better sci-fi comedies you will ever see: self-aware, and loaded with plenty of jokes about television, screenwriting and the thankless jobs of washed up actors holding onto the last remnants of their once-upon-a-time glory. Such a shame it never got a sequel (or two) that it clearly deserves.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Creepy "30 Days of Night" is too stylish for its own good, offering us artwork that's very abstract and unclear

Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost point of North America.  It that little town, temperatures are often well below freezing, and during winter, there are more than 30 days of total darkness, as the sun doesn't show its pretty head at all.  During this cold, gray period of eternal night, vampires decide to invade and feast on Barrow's citizens, feeling secure and safe from the absence of sun's rays, which are fatal to their kind.

At first glance, writer Steve Niles and artist Ben Templesmith's gothic-looking and night-covered world is uniquely drawn and colored, offering us a world where details are hard to see, and light is just a figment of imagination.   But ultimately, this three-part series, published by IDW way back in 2002, is light on story, strong characters, and eventually, clarity in its artwork.  Whereas the vampires Templesmith creates on certain pages are freakishly grotesque and ghoulish, their interactions with each other and the humans they encounter are drawn with so much flair and blending of various rich colors that the result is a confusing mess to an ordinary eye.  More than once I had a difficult time trying to decipher what exactly was going on (on certain pages), a feeling of hopelessness that is a bit more frustrating than what Barrow's residents are having to deal with.  Because, as you might suspect, not being able to make sense of the artwork is surely a burden greater than having to face blood sucking vampires in the ultimate frozen tundra of extended darkness.

30 Days of Night is pulpy, surprisingly short, and consisting of characters who simply don't have the personalities we've come to expect from rich and balanced graphic tales.  When sheriff Eben Olemaun sacrifices himself to the dark side in order to save the town, and when at the end he sits outdoors with his wife, Stella, awaiting the rise of the long-absent morning sun, his fading away is not nearly as dramatic as a major character's demise should feel.  After the last page is turned, the clock had not passed much, and the experience we've engulfed ourselves with for some 60 or so plus pages instantly gets buried amongst our memories of better, preferable reading material.  It is an idea which never quite grew into a worthwhile tale, a nightmare neither frightening nor memorable, only bland.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Warren Ellis's "Injection: Vol 1" is more pretentious than fascinating, and it drags any intellect it has down with it

I'm not gonna lie: there are some spectacular images in writer Warren Ellis and artists Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire's Injection comic book series.  Giant trees who talk in deep, barky voices, reminiscent of the giant wooden characters from Lord of the Rings trilogy; men covered in plants, with leaves growing out of their eyes and mouths, suffering from some sort of a virus that's overtaken their flesh and blood bodies; and then there's that final, iconic image at the end of the first Trade Paperback, when we meet a giant, Paul Bunyan-like blacksmith who calls himself Wayland the smith, a man so giant and thick that he could've been a Viking had he been born in a different time - and probably a successful Viking at that.

Early in the first TP we meet the five characters, members of the so-called "Cultural Cross Contamination Unit", whom we are told will be responsible for the doom of the 21st century: Maria Killbride, the read headed scientist who discovers the portal to another world; Dr. Robin Morel, a proud Englishman who appreciates the open country fresh air; an African American assassin-cross-agent of sorts, Simeon Winters, whose motivations and actions are unclear; Brigid Roth, a wisecracking woman who appears to be the youngest of the bunch; and a pampered, rather dapper dressed man from New York City, of dark skin complexion, who remains unnamed so far.

Majority of the storyline takes place in a non-linear manner, as the present, past and future timelines intersect and cross to the point of mild confusion.  The dialogue, for the most part, is cryptic and loaded with scientific terminology, leaving the reader in a somewhat state of confusion.  As I turned its pages, the questions that went through my mind were, "Why would these five people, self-proclaimed geniuses, ever want to embed such an alien entity into our world to begin with?  As scientists, shouldn't they know better?  And why in the world are they so paper-thin as human beings?  Not one of them is a person worth following, nor remembering, after the last page was turned."  Naturally, I wasn't able to come up with any answers to the above questions, but hey, at least I gave it a shot.

Look, the objective of any early issue in an ongoing series is - or at the very least it should be) - to hook the reader, addict them to the material, so they can not, no matter how hard they try, keep from reading further.  Injection unfortunately, has no such effect.  In fact, it seriously bored me, leaving an impression of several beautiful postcards, which are very nice to look at, but which do absolutely nothing for the psyche in the long term.  Ellis' work doesn't feel inspired, nor engrossing, and in today's American comic book world of various genres and epic stories, this one feels as forgettable and as contrived as Revival (another serial that focuses on apocalyptic sense of doom, where death is the main theme).  I doubt that I'll be following up with the next issue, not because I don't want to, mind you, but because the quality of Injection is so (below?) mediocre that it simply rejects readers, instead of drawing them in.

"The Invitation" is all bark with no bite, a thriller so dead set to thrill that it just falls flat on its face

A very overrated movie that is more hype than any actual thrills or scares. The premise itself is interesting enough, and the first act is somewhat intriguing, but the more this movie went on, the stupider and more boring it became, with the third act turning into a laughingstock, of sorts. I was plagued with simple questions during its last 20 minutes, such as, why would the filmmakers build up the tension and suspense, with so many vampirish suggestions, only to let us down and unleash the "terror" at the end with very anti-climactic gun-murders? And why in the world is Tammy Blanchard's Eden character portrayed so contradictory from early on and then up until the end? Is it bad acting, or bad direction? Perhaps both?  Karyn Kusama is clearly an overrated director, as her previous works can attest (Aeon Flux, Jennifer's Body, etc). The film falsely pretends to know what it's doing, only to completely mishandle the most important part of the climax, stripping it of any suspense or real terror its earlier scenes suggested we'd have. What we're eventually left with is a series of scenes that amount to a very mild and unsatisfying conclusion, which leave the mark of some minor barks, without any bite. How in the world did this movie get 92% on RT is beyond me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

"Locke & Key Vol 1: Welcome to Lovecraft" is the most quintessential tale of hell's gate on Earth

The Locke family is similar to most other American families.  They quarrel, resent, and sometimes openly argue with one another, but ultimately, despite their imperfections, they still love each other when all is said and done.  The thing that separates them from most other wholesome families lies deep down underneath the giant home in Massachusetts where they reside.  It holds many secrets, and they aren't necessarily of the cheerful kind.  Down below, in the cellar of their Keyhouse, lies a door that may have access to a world of unimaginable evil.  Is it a portal to hell?  An entrance to Satan's own layer?

Writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is an intro to a comic book series that is at once engaging and mesmerizing.  Following the aforementioned Locke family who are coping with a family tragedy in which their father Rendell was brutally murdered by a couple of juvenile delinquents, the story centers around the three surviving children - the playful young boy Bode, the angst-ridden eldest son Tyler, and the once-rebellious-but-now-mostly-depressed sister of the two boys, Kinsey.  Their mother, Nina, is also deeply devastated by her husband's death, and the choice of comfort she chooses for her personal mourning is a bottle of wine.  To each his own, I guess.

After Rendell's funeral, the Lockes move from their San Francisco residence back to their East coast family mansion, and that's when strange things begin to happen.  Bode, inadvertently, begins to play with the Ghost key, and discovers the ability to leave his own body and observe it from outside, as a ghost.  There are several other keys that hold unique powers, and these small metallic implements will play a large role in this and the ensuing Locke & Key story arcs.  And then there is that mysterious dark haired girl in the family well, whose voice and echo lure Bode - and the sociopath Sam Lesser (the boy responsible for Rendell's death) into the supernatural aspects of Locke family property.  She may have ulterior motives in her wish to be freed from the imprisonment of the well house, an action that will require help from the outside world, and something that will jump-start the plot of Locke & Key and propel it into hyperdrive.

Using his ever engrossing imagination, Hill creates a world that seems to be composed of dreams and nightmares, a place in which everyday misery and otherworldly evil exist side by side, without either knowing about the presence of the other.  The gothic visualization of Keyhouse - a mansion clearly inspired by countless movie and literary ghost stories  - is perfectly executed by Rodriguez, a comic book artist whose characters and settings look simultaneously cartoonish and realistic.  Welcome to Lovecraft grabs our attention from the opening frame, and never lets it go.  It is a masterful work of art, a complex and multi-layered tale, something that challenges even the most prestigious literature, and a story that perhaps one day could (and SHOULD) be mandatory reading study in high school English classes.  Because when it comes to ghost tales about large, ominous looking houses presiding on the ocean's peninsula, nothing comes close to challenging our imagination and exciting our sense of wonder like Locke & Key.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Remender's "Deadly Class Vol 1: Reagan Youth" is a pulpy, underwritten portrayal of adolescent angst to the extreme

The school they attend - Kings Dominion School for the Deadly Arts - is hidden in great length.  I'm not sure exactly, but I believe it lies deep down below San Francisco's surface, buried under the politically correct and just society it thinks it's protecting.  The school is run by an old man, who looks like an elderly Kung-Fu master of sorts, and when he offers the main protagonist, Marcus Lopez - a recently homeless Nicaraguan young man turned student at KMSDA - a chance to join this prestigious assassins' academy, the story kicks into higher gear.  The thing is, the gear in question isn't that much faster than neutral.

Deadly Class: Reagan Youth is writer Rick Remender and artists Lee Loughridge & Wes Craig's throwback to numerous pop-culture academies, where many troubled youths are brought together for missions which may or may not be of ethical natures.  We're reminded of Dr. Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters of the X-Men franchise, and to some degree, even of the relatively recent Morning Glories serial, where we also witness development of talented youth at a mysterious and somewhat dangerous "school" whose location remains a mystery to all.  The major difference between Deadly Class and Morning Glories is that the latter grabs your attention, and, regardless of how enigmatic and confusing it may be, it keeps you fully engaged, albeit a bit confused; this is, sadly, not something I can say about the former.

At first, Marcus is conflicted about wanting to be trained in the art of killing, something that KMSDA teaches its students to excel at, and all the while being torn between two very different women: Saya (member of the Japanese Kuroki Syndicate group), the tattooed, icy cold killer who saves his ass; and Maria, girlfriend of a local Latino thug and murderer, Chico, leader of the Soto Vatos group at the KMSDA who's out to bring Marcus down out of pure jealousy.  The last act of this first TP issue deals with Chico hunting down our hero through a series of events that eventually become exhausting and a bit boring.  The only salvation of this final chapter, which takes place in Las Vegas while Marcus and his friends are all tripping on LSD, is the audacity and visual flair that Loughridge and Craig bring in trying to replicate such an experience on a comic book page.  Their artwork is hallucinatory in and of itself, the colors are hypnotic, leaving the reader who has had some experience with the aforementioned psychedellic to relate with it accordingly.

Rick Remender is a talented writer. His sci-fi serial Low is a superior work, a visual marvel and a grand story of a family holding on to hope in a hopeless world.  But his Deadly Class: Reagan Youth feels a bit contrived, and not thoroughly engaging, especially when one considers other similar works in the medium that have tackled similar themes, and pulled them off more successfully.  Marcus Lopez and his classmates may be killers in training, but their plight leaves a lot to be desired, especially in the drama and emotion department.  Here's hoping it gets better from here on in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Coens' "Hail, Caesar!" is more screwball than comedy, more ensemble than cast, but entertaining nonetheless

An entertaining, but ultimately forgettable Coen brothers fare, composed of various A-listers, with a screenplay that is practically farcical, if not satirical. Josh Brolin is a fixer-upper of Public Relations for a prestigious Hollywood movie studio in the 1950s (the anti-Communist years) who tries to keep all of his stars in line and out of trouble during a production of a very expensive historical epic that involves the Romans and even Jesus himself. The plot may come as confusing to some, and the array of characters is a distraction in a way, but as long as one doesn't take this too seriously, surely some entertainment may come your way. My favorite scene is a musical number involving sailors in a bar, lead by Channing Tatum, singing and dancing to the tune of No Dames! with his fellow sailors. It's the closest thing to the legendary Gene Kelly and his Singing in the Rain masterpiece that I've seen in decades, and regardless of what one's opinion of Hail, Ceasar! overall may be, that aforementioned dance number should put smiles on the faces of most. Should.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"An American Werewolf in London" is a perfect example of a Hollywood lycanthrope at its absolute finest

A movie that, 35 years after its release, really hasn't aged much. The script by John Landis is clever in more ways than one, jumping back and forth between creepy, dramatic and just plain old funny - and it pulls off the juggling of "genres" rather well. The make-up and effects by Rick Baker are now stuff of cult legend, and watching them here again after so many years, I was reminded as just how much more organic these special effects are than the countless CGIs we've grown accustomed to in today's cinema. David Naughton is perfectly cast as a wisecracking, charismatic American backpacker, who realizes that hiking in the English countryside during a rainy, stormy night is the perfect recipe for being infected by a lycanthrope. The scenes where he transforms are not short of a masterpiece: perfectly imagined, visually brilliant and executed with impeccable craft. This really is a gem of a movie, for we may never see anything like it again. It's the ultimate werewolf film, one for all time.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The dead rise and walk again in "Revival Vol 1: You're Amongst Friends", but tension and drama is somewhat bush league

When I first heard of Image's horror comic, Revival, and when I read its synopsis, I was immediately surprised at how similar to The Walking Dead its plot line appeared.  In a small, rural town in central Wisconsin, the dead have began to rise and walk among the living.  But, in contrast to Robert Kirkman's long lasting post apocalyptic Zombie serial, the undead in Revival aren't flesh eating remains of the once-living; they're merely confused and depressed people who are disappointed that they weren't even good enough for death to accept them.  It's a horror apocalypse for those brought up on daytime soap operas and other never ending pop-cultural phenomenon that are more style than substance.

In the first Trade Paper Volume of Revival: You're Among Friends, we're introduced to the central characters of Wausau, Wisconsin, during a particularly frosty winter in the American Midwest.  There is Officer Dana Cypress, a single mother and a daughter to the town's Chief of Police.  Her younger sister, Martha Ann, is a soul searching girl who meets death firsthand, only to be revived like most of the dead citizens in or around Wausau, due to a central mystery that remains unsolved in this first issue.  Additional characters are Mr. Abel, an enigmatic type who seems to be a rebellious exorcist, bent on either extracting the "devil" out of the unfortunate possessed, or at least pretending to do so.  Ibrahaim Ramin is a new forensic for the Wasau Police Department, a man with whom Dana comes very close to having an affair with, without ever realizing they're practically colleagues.  All of these characters seem to have been placed here straight out of some sort of investigative, CSI type of crime show from CBS network.  Whether or not that is a good thing is really hard to say at this point, but one thing is for sure: the characters and the main storyline all lack certain conviction, and most unfortunately, they remain somewhat detached from their audience of readers.

Add to the above mentioned elements a tall, skinny, strange demon-like creature, who roams the nearby woods, all the while muttering incomprehensible things to themselves and those they happen to run across, and the result is a story whose idea is both half baked and also a bit washed up, since it clearly borrows from previous "here-come-the-undead-once-again" comics, without adding anything impactful of its own.  Revival certainly is a nice try from its duo of writer Tim Seeley and artists Mike Norton and Mark Englert, but it sadly arrives too late, at a time when most readers will clearly be able to see through its thin and uninspired storyline.  I certainly hope that future issues will keep my interest more so than this first one has, because I will surely lack motivation trying to continue with the reading, which so far has been all style and very little substance.

"Preacher Vol. 1: Gone to Texas" is a hybrid of Western/Horror/Fantasy, but above all, it's lyrical & poetic

Is there a better writer in the American comic book landscape than Garth Ennis?  I mean, sure, there is Brian K. Vaughan, the whiz behind so many of the top selling and best read graphic novels (Y The Last Man, Ex Machina, Saga, etc), but does anyone really come close to matching Ennis' dialogue?  If you would take the best that David Mamet has to offer, and then infuse it with the most pop-cultural array of wise-cracking random Tarantinian writing, you would get something close to Ennis, but just not quite good enough.  That is how original and raw his writing really is.

Preacher Volume 1: Gone to Texas is a wild, blood soaked, revisionist religious allegory of a tale, taking place in a world where even God has given up on the world he's created.  Enter Jesse Custer, a reformed sinner turned preacher of a small Texas town, whose mission - after he's possessed by some sort of deity - is to find God and make him face the humankind he's so carelessly abandoned, in the hope of explaining his actions to all of his children the world over.  Custer is accompanied by Tulip, former girlfriend that he himself abandoned some five years ago, and Cassidy, a wise-cracking Irish vampire, who is as evil-loathing of a vampire as I've ever seen in any form of literature, TV or film.

Chasing Custer and his friends is The Saint of Killers, an invincible Terminator-like bounty hunter who decimates everyone in his path.  He's so ruthless and cold blooded that he makes No Country for Old Men's Anton Chigurh look like a Pacific airline's flight attendant.  Like hell unleashed, Saint of Killers is Satan's wrath, a punishment on two legs whose bullets tear flesh and limbs of his victims, but who is completely resistant to any gunfire or assault himself.  In Gone to Texas, Ennis turns him into a fallen angel none of us would ever dare dream of running across.

Steve Dillon and Glenn Fabry serve as illustrators on the Preacher serial, and although their artwork may not be as convincing or terrifying as some of the comics that followed it (Wytches, Nailbiter, Severed, etc), it is nonetheless effective when capturing ruthless violence and hopeless fates of most of the supporting cast of characters, whose world is doomed from the opening page, without much hope for a better future.  Thank "God" that Ennis' standard of writing is so high that not even mediocre artwork can bring his vision down, because in the comic book world of today, he's The Preacher among Preachers.

"Batman vs Superman" is an abomination for all the five senses (yes, it even leaves a bitter aftertaste in our MOUTHS - literally!)

A movie so bad that it has to be seen to be believed. There used to be a time, not long ago, when a budget in excess of $200 million would get you a more than a satisfactory movie experience (Titanic and The Dark Knight, anyone?), but those days seem to be long gone, especially since hack-wunderkind Zack Snyder keeps getting his vanity superhero movies green lit over and over and over again... Ben Affleck's Batman here is a cartoonish character, a carton board caricature compared to what the character was in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, and Superman... well, what can really be said of Henry Cavill's acting? He makes you long for the days of Brandon Routh's Superman, and that's certainly not an encouraging thought. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor is likewise a wasted opportunity, an-over-the-top ridiculous portrayal of a madman whose lunacy is without motivation or logic. And then there are the actions scenes, which are as boring as anything you'd see in an action movie of this magnitude. The conflict between DC Universe's two biggest superheroes is simply ridiculous to begin with, and the fact that Hollywood has managed to make a 140-minute film that's grossing this much money (as we speak) while giving the audiences not a shred of intelligence is a travesty. And the worst part is that its success will surely breed countless sequels, all just as transparent and shallow, and none with anything constructive to add to the mythology of either Superman or Batman. This is by far the worst Hollywood mega-buster since 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.