Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Star Trek Beyond" goes boldly where it's been several times before. Sigh :(

A movie that is good, but perhaps not as good as it should've been (this was more or less to be expected with Justin Lin at the helm). The characters are still relevant and likable, but absent here is the banter and wit that was one of the best qualities of J.J. Abrams' first two predecessors to this revamped franchise. The great Idris Elba is practically wasted in the role of the villainous Krull, covered with heavy makeup to the point of being unrecognizable. Much of the action is too kinetic, choppy and hard to follow, giving the appearance of blurry and out of focus visual effects that somehow look cheaper than they should. Still, the chemistry between Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban still works well enough to make this a worthwhile cinematic experience, especially for everyone who holds the first two movies close to their hearts, as I clearly do. I just hope that Abrams returns to direct the next film (sadly, I don't have much faith in this wish).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Citizen Jack" Volume 1 is a Trump-esque political satire in its ambitions and tone

Jack Northworthy is a slob, and a drunk.  He's often found in bed with random women, cursing up a storm, all the while running his snowplow business into the ground and fighting his ex-wife about finalizing their divorce.  Without any charm or charisma, he agrees to run for office as a candidate for the President of the United States, and he wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell if not for his friend, Marlinspike.  Marlinspike is a sort of a demon, or a devil, or what have you, and after Northworthy signs his soul away to him, he only has one way to go.  But at what cost?

Writer Sam Humphries and artist Tommy Patterson create a dark satire that is scarily in sync with the current presidential election (you can probably figure out which candidate I'm talking about).   In this first volume of Citizen Jack, their vision is so prophetic that one would think it's loosely based on the current Republican Presidential nominee.  Whether Northworthy is swearing and screaming at random people he encounters, using his lame catchphrase ("Get Jacked!") or ordering his two wolf-like dogs to devour his own father, he comes across as a lost soul, an angel so fallen below the  absolute bottom that one wonders what the hell his manager, Donna Forsyth, sees in him and his campaign in the first place.  The man is not only not suited to run a country, but upon a closer look it's apparent he belongs in a rehab for loud, obnoxious, murderous drunks, if such a thing existed.

Part The Simpsons' Mayor Quimby - with a touch of vulgarity and sliminess all his own - and part the current Republican nominee that's been offending the left as much as he's been charming the right, Jack Northworthy is a fitting modern politician for this particular election, a man whose soul has turned so dark that very few redeeming qualities remain on his corrupt and vile heart.  I couldn't help but wonder who the real monster here really is: Marlinspike, that treacherous and demonic being who's ingratiated himself so deeply in Northworthy's conscience that he has him jumping through hoops, or Jack himself.  The answer to that question is the very genius of Citizen Jack.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"Cry Havoc: Mything in Action" is the modern An English Werewolf in Afghanistan

In this first volume of Cry Havoc: Mything in Action, there are such iconic images of a large werewolf prowling the streets of London at night that I was instantly reminded of John Landis' classic movie from 1981, An American Werewolf in London.   The protagonist in this first volume is Lou, a blue haired, ambition-challenged young woman whose relationship with her girlfriend is slowly falling apart.  When Lou gets bitten by a large, mysterious black wolf, she eventually begins to show symptoms of its infection, reminiscent of so many movies and folk tales of old.  This is not your typical man-or-woman-turn-into-werewolves story, however, as Lou is just one such cursed individual in this story that features numerous so-called "shape shifters".

Lou eventually ends up in Afghanistan, on a classified mission with other soldiers who are cursed with the same affliction as she: they're capable of turning into horrible beasts or otherwise ominous monsters, all proficient in some serious carnage (together they resemble some tripped-up version of X-Men mutants, but not for the faint of heart).  Much like the hero of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness - or the its cinematic equivalent, Apocalypse Now - our heroine here is supposed to assist in terminating her squadron's main target, Lynn Odell, a female officer of high rank and a scarred face who's gone completely loco and is now a danger to the same military that recruited her.   The events that take place thereafter are sometimes violent, sometimes chaotic, and sometimes confusing, but never boring, and always packed with the bizarre sense of a trashy and pulpy horror-action spectacle.

The artwork by Ryan Kelly, (colors are by Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge and Matt Wilson, each in charge of a different setting of Cry Havoc) is clear and simple, presenting the main characters in a manner where each is easily identifiable without looking too much like another (a mistake that too many comic book serials make these days).  Scenes where action and violence dominate are presented with just the right touch of kinetic energy, and come across as exciting and appropriately flashy.  The writing, by Simon Spurrier, has shades of originality, even though it's clearly inspired by pop-cultural phenomenons of the cinematic, literary and graphic novel kind from decades long past - a fitting homage, I would say.  Cry Havoc: Mything in Action may not be the best series that Image currently has to offer, but its intriguing juxtaposition of war, love and a woman's personal curse are handled well enough for an average comic book aficionado to enjoy, on a full-moon night or a cloudy summer evening.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Nameless" combines sci-fi & horror to give us an insanely horrible futuristic nightmare

After having read the recently released one-shot Nameless comic (written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn) from Image, I was immediately reminded of some sci-fi horror cinema from my youth, most notably Event Horizon, Alien franchise and (the relatively recent) Prometheus.  Those movies, much like this comic, take our heroes to far away mysterious places in outer space where unspeakable evil lives, but must be explored nonetheless.

I'm not sure if it's even possible to explain the plot of Nameless, but I'll give it a shot.  A swindler called - what else - Nameless is hired by a billionaire named Darius to venture into outer space and explore an asteroid that's headed towards Earth at enormous speed.  The thing is, this asteroid, referred to as Xibalba, is unique: it contains the spirit of an evil entity that devours everything in its path.  Once Nameless and his crew reach it, people start getting mutilated in the worst ways, and the point of view shifts several times between what's actually happening, what's happening in the characters' minds, and also what's happening in an alternate reality.  That, at least, is what I think happened.

Nameless is a very abstract comic serial, and its ambiguous storyline, themes and ultra-violent content made me think of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the Garth Ennis written and Jacen Burrows illustrated Crossed comic, which is not for the faint of heart.  Morrison does a good job of keeping us flipping through the pages at good, solid pace, even though what we've seen and read doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  The artwork by Burnham and Fairbairn reminded me of Ennis' iconic Preacher, which was illustrated by Steve Dillon.  The styles of these two men are more similar than I had at first realized.

Ultimately, this is not something you'd ever want to read again, and the fact that it's trippy and convoluted works in its favor.  At a time when so many comics are very straightforward but also border on the boring, Nameless manages to be the exact opposite.  It's anything but a bore, but I dare you to try to recite its plot to someone after reading it.  It's like a futuristic nightmare where, even after we wake up, we still find ourselves dreaming of the horrors yet to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Wolf: Blood and Magic" is weighed down by its own convoluted silliness and lack of strong narrative

These days, it would seem, so many comics resemble one another in narrative structure, and the unfortunate thing is, poorly realized stories are copying from even worse serials.  One common mistake is that the uninspired stories in question tend to incorporate the occult, the undead and more often than not, the impending apocalypse to come.  The result are stories that are heavy on pretentiousness and silliness, with very little drama or characters worth following, if the recent trend is any indication.

Wolf: Blood and Magic, by writer Ales Kot and illustrators Matt Taylor & Lee Loughridge, is one such comic book serial.   Inspired by the supernatural thrillers in which even the hero is some sort of other-wordly human who can not be killed, it introduces us to an underworld where deception, crime and murder are as commonplace as highway traffic and insurance ads.  Its protagonist, Antoine Wolfe, is part investigator, part a pyromaniac, part friend and supporter to monsters and vampires and such, and his plight here is to prepare for the end of days that's just around the corner.   With him is a young, thirteen-year old girl, Anita, who appears very innocent and naive, but is capable of unspeakable horror.   Add to the equation a crime lord and his right handed man with a distinct lisp, and the product here is a comic with similar elements to other Image serials such as East of West and Pretty Deadly.  

When all is said and done, Wolf: Blood and Magic comes across as a decent story, but it just doesn't sustain a strong narrative throughout for the reader to even bother making sense of what they just read.   Its characters aren't memorable, and I'm pressed to find a single line of dialogue I can quote from it.  Kudos to Taylor and Loughridge's artwork, for it is more than satisfactory.  Sadly, I can say the same for the story.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"Central Intelligence" is a watered down comedy and is mostly without laughs :(

Like some of the later Eddie Murphy buddy-cop comedies (Bevery Hills Cop III, Metro, Showtime), Central Intelligence feels like it's about a decade late to the prom.   A comedy featuring two very different physical specimens, it puts the comedic actor Kevin Hart against the muscly former wrester Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock), and the result is an often tolerable, but never very funny movie about an espionage plot that's been done to death (only last year, Melissa McCarthy did it way better in Spy). Hart and Johnson argue, they engage in high octane action chases and leaps from high rise buildings, and then even avoid plenty of bullets fired at them, but they never once create a duo that we'd want to see again.  For all its marketing efforts in which we're led to believe that these two are the future of buddy-cop action comedies, somehow they should've supplied their charismatic leads a script worthy of their talents, because as written by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen and Rawson Marshal Thurber, it comes across as a mediocre TV episode of a lame detective show, without much cleverness or wit.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Ghosted Vol 1: Haunted Heist" is a pulpy, campy ghost tale of days long past

Ghosted Volume 1: Haunted Heist feels like a long forgotten (but always appreciated) 1980s horror movie.  Part Poltergeist, part The Score, and all good fun, it's a con movie masquerading as real horror, since its heart is certainly more in the noir genre than anything else.  Add to this equation the presence of other-worldy evil - in addition to the evil of flesh and blood, mind you - and the result is a comic book that is more entertaining than it is plausible.  But hey, nobody's perfect.

The lead at the center of Ghosted is Jackson Winters, a convict, criminal, petty thief, etc, who gets an offer from a powerful rich gangster, Marcus Shrecken.  The proposition: Shrecken wants Winters to go into a notoriously haunted mansion and steal a ghost for him.  For what reason, he doesn't say, but if Winters does complete the assignment, he will be showered with untold riches, one of which may or may not include a fake Russian bombshell with big tits.   So Winters puts together a crew of his most trusted friends/conmen/charlatans that he can find, and together they tackle the spooky house in hope of carrying out Schrecken's plan.

The story is fun, not to be taken to seriously, and as such feels more authentic as a campy horror-thriller than it has any right to be.  Writer Joshua Williamson has obviously watched plenty of horror movies and late-night spooky TV, and knows just what notes to hit in order to generate a hungry nostalgic reaction from his readers, most of whom should remember the original pop cultural elements that his work has been inspired by. It also proves, in a cleverly ironic manner, that in the face of true evil, regardless of how supernatural it may be, the most corrupt and dangerous animal is still man.  Ghouls and demons are saints in comparison.

Artist Goran Sudzuka (of Y: The Last Man fame) illustrates Ghosted in a manner befitting of its funny-scary-thrilling tone.  His style isn't super-serious, but reminiscent of many 1980s American comics' style.  Ghosted: Haunted Heist is a throwback to the tales of old, when bad men did very awful things, and we still cheered them on.  Loving the crooked protagonist just seems to be the "in" thing these days.  Or ghosts, for that matter.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

"Monstress Vol 1: Awakening" is an overstuffed witchcraft fantasy that's easy on the eyes but not so much on the ears

The teenage girl is mysterious and intriguing.  It's apparent that she has struggled in life, as her left arm, which is half as long as it should be, clearly indicates.  Her name is Maika Halfwolf (an imaginative name, eh?), and she possesses powers she's not even aware of.  Inside of her lives a demon, or a monster, or some sort of evil entity that can devour anything in its path: this is Monstrum, and it takes physical appearance by growing (and then later on receding) out of Maika's half-amputated left arm.  As she faces foes both physical and mental, she will try to control this evil within her, a task that'll prove more difficult than avoiding the assassins and the Cumean Mother Superior, a powerful woman who wants her dead (and whose lines sound as if they're spoken by a villain from The Bible).

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening is a product of Marjorie Liu's writing and Sana Takeda's impressive artwork.  As far as tone is concerned, Monstress' genre is fantasy (also a little sci-fi?  You be the judge), reminiscent of other Image series, most notably Saga.  But whereas the latter gives us memorable characters driven by realistic goals, as well as dialogue that is sharp and witty, the former is a bit archaic when it comes to the spoken word.  Instead of the modern talk, Liu supplies us with plenty of old-fashioned dialogue that reads as if it was written during the Victorian Era.  Not even the addition of two cool-looking companions of Maika's - a half-fox, half-human girl named Kippa, who possesses a very fluffy tail  that she often holds, and Master Ren, a red talking cat - can liven up the story, since the absence of humor here just turns the entire experience into exercise for the mind.  Takeda's drawing style is reminiscent of the look of Game of Thrones crossed with Saga - and from a graphic standpoint, it succeeds in capturing the mood of the overall tale more so than the writing does.

Monstress presents us with a leading character who is less fascinating than she appears, and its world is overstuffed with various insignificant and irrelevant characters and terminologies that, even though they should come across as cool and memorable, simply aren't.  Even Rat Queens, another Image series that I am not a big fan of, has far more spunk and attitude than Liu's fantasy series.  Maika's inner Monstrum may have had its awakening, but my interest in pursuing this serial further sadly has not.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Black Science Volume 1: How to Fall Forever" is a trippy adventure into the surreal dimensions that surround us

Writer Rick Remender and artists Matteo Scalera/Dean White's comic book series, Black Science, is not so much a comic book as it is a mind bending trip into the bizarre world of alternate dimensions.   If you flip through its colorful and dazzling pages, which are loaded with visionary and imaginative artwork, you may think you're drunk, or even high, but 'tis not so: you're merely in an alternate world, a place far removed from any reality we know.  It's a fantastically dangerous dimension where frog men chase you while riding giant lizards, ready to cut you in half.   A place where dream and nightmare co-exist together, but in various quantities.

At the center of the first Trade Paperback issue, Black Science: How to Fall Forever, is Grant McKay, a scientist who's discovered a way to travel through different alternate realities that exist just outside of our own.  Using a device called the Pillar, he travels to various dimensions in order to collect anything he can do better our own society, but when the Pillar's function goes awry, Grant and his team get stuck in horrible realities that they can not get out of, facing deadly dangers and potential fatalities in each world they're bolted through without any control of their own.

The originality that Remender presents us with here is quite exciting, and it results in a story that is at once exhilarating and marvelous to engage in, while simultaneously giving us characters with conviction that we care about.  The art by Scalera (covers are by White, and equally impressive) is almost surreal, bordering on bizarre and overly fantastic, while still keeping the tone of the illustrations in sync with the story.   Black Science may not be for everyone, but for the hard core graphic novel reader this is a fascinating sci-fi adventure on par with Remender's other current work, Low.  I can't wait to see where McKay and his team of scientists end up next.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Eye in the Sky" is an exhilarating thriller about ethical dilemmas of modern warfare

As intense and nerve-wracking of a movie as I've seen in years. It presents the characters - and the audience as well - with a difficult situation full of moral and ethical dilemmas in which there are no easy solutions. In this modern world warfare, where soldiers are literally thousands of miles away from the targets they're striking, an attack looks nothing more than a video game, and the burden of having to calculate how many civilian casualties justifies a strike where three major terrorists will also get murdered is a conundrum worth debating over for days. The actors do a great job, but the script and direction are the major factors here, because not a moment of this movie is too slow, not a scene too boring, and by the time it's over, your heart will have gone up - assuming you had one to begin with. Exhilarating stuff.