Friday, September 30, 2016

Almodovar's "Julieta" examines the mother's longing for her estranged daughter

Pedro Almodovar has made some fine movies in his career, which, for the most part, have placed strong female characters at the center of their narrative.  In Julieta, he creates one of his most memorable heroines: a young woman (Adriana Ugarte), after having an affair with a traveling fisherman on a train early in her life, falls out of contact with her only daughter, then spends the next decade trying to tie up loose ends.  Julieta is an emotional woman, and even nostalgic; she even cancels long term plans with her very steady boyfriend just so she can keep a better eye on her mailbox, in hope of receiving a letter from her daughter.  This may not be Almodovar's best work (that spot is still held by 2002's Talk to Her), but as a ninety-plus minute melodrama, it's memorable enough, with cinematography and music to match.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Clown" is a psychological trip into the devilish joker genre

A pretty creepy movie about a man (Andy Powers) who, after he puts on a clown suit to entertain children at his son's birthday party, finds out that it begins to consume him. This is more about atmosphere and the psychological - in addition to physical - change that overtakes the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?), much like in David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986). Scenes where the monster clown feasts on children are gruesome, and surprisingly effective (especially since most of the violence takes place off-screen). Jon Watts is a fine director in his debut (he has also helmed the superior Cop Car). This is a perfect choice of movie this Halloween, for all of you looking for new, fresh scares that are mostly absent in the mainstream slasher/devil possession genres.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Ghostbusters" remake is flat and without inspiration

There's only one thing that this new all-girl Ghostbusters remake does better than its 1984 predecessor: the introduction of their "ghosts-not-allowed" logo.  As they find themselves on the platform of an underground NYC subway, a street "artist" spray paints the said logo on a wall right in front of them, inspiring awe and wonder as a result.  The rest of the movie is dull and without any inspiration; not even the appearance by the original's main cast member, Bill Murray, does anything to improve the narrative or increase laughs, which are few and far between.  Dan Aykroyd also makes a brief cameo, which had potential to be expertly written and executed, but instead falls completely flat.  The script appears as if it was written in a few days, and the result is a movie that's anything but clever.  Its story never flows, it just drags on.  Forever.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The titular dominatrix taunts London's favorite private eye.

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

Rod Reis' style is worth admiring

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

"The Shallows" suffers from great implausibility

Like some of the most famous damsel-lost-in-middle-of-nowhere-and-is-now-in-distress (Blair Witch Project, Open Water), The Shallows presents us with a young woman who happens to be at odds with nature in an element not entirely her own.  Blake Lively looks great, especially in her bikini-slash-surfer outfit, but her acting skills are far too limited to justify her having so much responsibility, as (pretty much) the only actor in the movie.  The set-up, where she becomes a target of a large shark in the shallow waters of surfer's paradise beach in Mexico, is exciting; however, the implausibility that follows is questionable, depending on one's level of gullibility.  Is it really possible to swim (underwater, all the while holding one's breath for an infinitely long time) through a mine-field of jelly fish, and only suffer one measly sting?  Or how about a cartoonish sequence near the end, where Lively's character lures her predatory slayer into a twisted knot of sharp metallic prongs, reminiscent of Saturday morning children's animation scenarios?  By the time the closing credits arrive, I couldn't help but wonder if, with a better script and a stronger female lead (Brie Larson, anyone?), this could've been an all time-water-as-terror-thriller-classic, destined to keep more people out of the ocean than Jaws.  I guess we'll never know.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

"Glitterbomb #1: Circular Homicide" is a fresh look at Hollywood's shallowness

Like Natasha Henstridge's alien from the movie Species, the heroine of the new Image comic, Glitterbomb, Farah Durante transforms into an other-wordly monster when surrounded by phony Hollywood agents, and then brutally murders them.  Not even she knows how she got her power, although she (and we) suspect it came from beneath the Pacific Ocean.  Her inner demons, I suspect, are years and years of rejection and failure, finally coming back to punish those who all too easily judge others based on looks alone.

As written by Jim Zub and illustrated by Djibril Morissette-Phan, Glitterbomb: Circular Homicide is a new satirical look - albeit with blood and guts, literally! - at the trials and tribulations that an average, less-than-famous actor/actress in Tinseltown has to go through to simply pay rent, or in Farrah's case, her son's babysitter.   Zub's characters talk real talk, not movie or typical comic book talk; Morissette-Phan's artwork is impressive, and scenes of carnage and bloodshed are well illustrated.   The colors by K. Michael Russell and lettering by Marshall Dillon are equally complimentary and effective.

A commentary on the show business culture, Glitterbomb is entertaining and absurd in about equal quantities.   Farah Durante is the comic book universe's brand new anti-heroine: hell surely hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially one who's been told she looks old.

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Eden's Fall" is an exciting trip into the Western criminal underworld

A lair for criminals on the run from the law, Eden, Wyoming is a town like few other.  It has just gotten a new arrival: Thornton, a bald headed American terrorist who needs to lay low for awhile.  He is welcomed there by Laura Shiffron, Eden's tough, no-nonsense "you belong to me" chain-smoking mayor.  Meanwhile, an undercover agent by the name of James Miller goes undercover in hopes of dragging Thornton out of Eden and into the hands of the law by any means necessary.

Writers Matt Hawkins and Bryan Hill's story is quite intriguing, and manages to introduce several characters which appear to be fascinating.   Their Eden is a utopia for the shady and the corrupt, a perfect nest for those not wanting to be seen or heard.   Consequently, the artwork by Atilio Rojo (covers by Rahsan Ekedal & Linda Sejic) is rich and detailed, and his characters are distinguishable, conveying several different emotions (especially Jimmy's girlfriend, Samantha; her frustration can not only be seen, but also felt).

Eden's Fall #1 is an original and exciting intro into this agent-infiltriating-criminal underworld story, on par with TV shows such as 24 movies like The Departed.   This paradise-of-the-wicked is a good place for Thornton and his ilk, and also for readers looking for a new thrilling comic.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Florence Foster Jenkins" shows Streep at her embarrassingly humorous best

Meryl Streep has for decades now been the best American actress (quite possibly the best actress the world over), and in Stephen Frears' Florence Foster Jenkins, she shines as a wealthy socialite in NYC who dreams of becoming an opera singer during World War II.  The problem is, Florence can't sing worth a damn, and none of her close friends and companions, including Hugh Grant as her husband St. Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg as her personal piano player Cosme McMoon, dare tell her that.  Florence's influence and money run so deep that her lack of singing talent is never actually something she becomes aware of, and as a result she is the Dirk Diggler of her time: a "star" under such heavy delusion that her lousiness becomes her greatness.  The movie wisely keeps the supporting characters faithful to the old woman under all circumstances, and as such Florence Foster Jenkins is that rare movie without a villain that still possesses a heart and a soul.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

"Daytripper" is a modern existential tale of love, passion, life and death

Life sure can be fascinating, depending from whose point of view one looks at it.   In the hands of twin brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba and their Daytripper graphic novel,  a man's existence is never as simple as it seems, consisting of heartache, uncertainty, and eventually, death.  It's a meditative journey through a life, observed in short vignettes where one's odyssey is different, but the ultimate destination remains the same.

Daytripper focuses on one Bras de Oliva Domingos, a writer of obituaries in one of the universes he occupies, but also a successful novelist in another.  Since the story consists of ten chapters, each one is a world of its own, and in each Bras' destiny differs from the others.  As an obituary writer, he meets an untimely death at the hands of a petty criminal in need of quick cash as he stops at a local bar to get a much needed beer at the age of 32.  Later, in an alternate story in which he is 28, he is run over by a van as he frantically crosses the street without looking, while chasing a woman he believes may be his true love.  He also dies as a young boy, as a middle aged man, and again as an old, gray haired father and husband.  In each chapter/vignette, his life story is heartfelt, relatable and even poetic, leaving the reader in a state of awe and wonder as they contemplate their own life decisions on a daily basis.

By lifting any traditional rules when it comes to their lead character's mortality, Moon and Ba create a universe that is melancholy as much as it is genuine.  Bras is an everyman, in a way, and his pains, thoughts and inner torment is something that everyone on this planet, male or female, should be able to relate to.  Reminiscent of Craig Thompson's best works, most notably Blankets and Habibi, Daytripper is a universal poem about life, love and those quiet moments of self reflection right before the big sleep.  It's an eternal tale, told as if on an endless loop, and it can be read in any order, without impacting the readers' experience.  Kind of like life itself.