Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Comic Review: East of West Volume One


    A little Alternate History never hurt nobody.  The first volume of East of West starts with an introduction to the world, a world where the States did not come back together after the Civil War, where things got mighty weird, mighty fast.  Then it throws us into the fire.  The Three Horsemen have risen…Wait, what?  Oh, yeah.  Death has started his solo career, and he’s got his own thing going.  We’re introduced to various ideas, both of the alternate world, which has a generally Western vibe, and to the overall plot.  It seems Conquest, Famine, and War are itching to bring it all down, but Death doesn’t want to play their game.  There’s some kind of cult devoted to the Horsemen that infects the halls of power.  And in what would have been California, in New Shanghai, someone waits for Death.  Someone who might just change everything.


    While steeped in the flavor of classic Westerns and Alternate History Science Fiction, there’s something operatic about this comic.  By the time it gets rolling, the orgiastic violence and sweeping speechifying is something to behold.  Death is a cool character, and I like his two companions Crow and Wolf are fun.  But it’s when Xiaolian comes into her own that things get interesting.  I think that’s the point where I started to really, really dig this series.  Now, I can’t wait to find out what Death & Co. get up to, what kind of hell Xiaolian is going to dish out.  And just what’s going on with all these conspiratorial cultists.


    The series is exciting.  A page turner.  I’ve been reading a lot of comics for various reasons lately, and reading this reminds me just how great a page turner can be.  As I’m reading it, I can also see some parallels between this series and Pretty Deadly (and to a degree, Saga).  But where I think Pretty Deadly gets everything wrong, this series gets it all right.  When the moments of extreme drama happen, it’s earned your emotional investment, not simply told you that you should feel something.  When Death and Xiaolian show their metal, and you start to understand what you’re reading, I felt giddy like when I listen to a swelling piece of Beethoven or Wagner.  And it looks nice.  The art is pretty darned good, and the panel work excellent (though, I'm a sucker for semi-contained, structured panels).  I can’t wait to see what happens next, and recommend you join me in my journey.  Heck, Volume One is only 9.99, so give it a try.


East of West Volume One
Author: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1-60706-770-2

-Matt


Monday, July 14, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (7/6/14-7/12/14)



    Not a lot of movies this week.  But I got some in, and some reading.  I also did a lot of prep work for some stories.  I just haven’t been writing the nitty-gritty of anything (outside of this blog) for some time.  It’s something I feel the desire to get my head back into, but I’ve been out of practice for so long.  It’s tough.


    On Sunday, I read Storm Dogs and Pretty Deadly.  One was good, the other kind of sucked.  Because of another book I’ve been reading, and not enjoying, I think I’ve been finding other things to read.  Probably the reason behind my recent spate of comic trades.


The Last Performance:  There are a few interesting bits in this film, but the story is kinda meh.  The main attraction is Conrad Veidt, and for fans, it’s nice to see him working his mojo.  The man can stare, with the best of ‘em.  Other than Veidt fans, though, this film holds little to recommend it.


The Ballad of Narayama:  Gorgeously produced, this film has the artificiality of a stage play, but the magical wonder of film.  The story looks at the simple life of country villagers who try to scrape out a living from the unforgiving mountains.  And one lone old lady, ready to take a spiritual (and suicidal) pilgrimage to a nearby holy mountain.  It’s also nice to see a film that feels like it’s set during that near-myth era of samurai, that has nothing to do with samurai at all.  Not a sword drawn in the whole film.  Quite good.


Pickup on South Street:  Though the ending is a bit wonky, this movie about a two-bit pick-pocket getting more than he bargained for is some classic Noir fodder.  A dizzy dame, some fist-happy cops, double dealing commies, and a heap of trouble.  Plus, Widmark is on fire as a relentless prick.  It’s wonderful.


Persona:  More the sort of thing I always thought of when I heard the name Ingmar Bergman, this meditation on the masks we present, the versions of ourselves we use when we’re around other people is challenging.  But it’s also captivating.  Typically gorgeous; the location work, the lighting, the whole thing looks amazing.  It’s charged with eroticism, but also with gut level discomfort.  I’ll certainly be revisiting this film, but it’s not one to just pop in on a whim.


The Robe:  The film assumes you already know the story of Jesus.  Probably not a bad assumption, but I always have a bit of a problem with a movie that makes assumptions like that.  It’s interesting, and there are some good performances.  But for a film that is so much about converting to being a follower of Jesus, there is precious little in the way of explanation as to why someone would.  Spiritual quest wise, this film lacked some important content.


Glengarry Glenn Ross:  Another of my cinematic resolutions for 2014 down.  The sad, stressful life of salesmen is presented Mamet style in this punchy little film.  Looking at it, you’d think it was made for TV.  But what it lacks in visual flourish or polish, it makes up for in performance and script.  Alan Arkin and Jack Lemmon are both very good.  But Jonathan Pryce and Al Pacino really had me.  Pacino is such a huckster, and Pryce such a sad-sack mark.


    Friday night, we headed out to The Alamo to check out the new Apes film.  Before the theater, though, we ate at Nando’s Peri Peri.  I’m definitely going to have to go back when there’s more time.  Because that shopping area is starting to open up, there are a lot of people, and the restaurant was pretty full.  I enjoyed the food, but didn’t feel like I had time to really enjoy the place or think about what I wanted to eat, or any of that.  Next time.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:  Humans have mostly died in plagues and wars.  The apes, after having escaped into the woods at the end of the previous film, have set themselves up a new society and are doing pretty well.  Things can’t last, as the human survivors need resources that lay in Ape territory.  Here’s the thing.  This movie is pretty good.  And all the stuff around the apes is quite good.  The problem is that the human characters are kind of ridiculously stock, and at no point did I care about them or their plight.  The apes were interesting, and I’d have liked the film to focus much more on them.  In fact, completely on them.  I could have used way, way less human parts.  Visually impressive and well made, it’s a good film.  Maybe even a really good film.  But it misses the mark on being a great film.


The Last Wave:  I wasn’t in the right headspace to watch this film.  So, while I recognize that there were some interesting aspects, and I liked the performances, I just couldn’t get into it.  I think I’m going to have to revisit it while I’m more focused.  There are some powerful images, for sure.  And I like the Michael Mann movie type soundtrack.  I have a feeling this is a movie I'll really enjoy on second viewing, when my head is on straight.


True Detective: Season 1:  “You are like the Michael Jordan of being a son of a bitch.”  This is a beautifully made program, with lots of excellent elements.  The last episode spoils the milk a bit, but the overall show is quite good.  I love the references to Robert W. Chambers and his King in Yellow.  I wish it had gone a bit further.  I wanted to see the mythology of the murders explored.


    Saturday night, I forced myself to push through Aya: Life in Yop City, a book I’d been laboring through.  I had to skim much of the latter half of the book, as nothing seemed to happen, and that was becoming a bit much.  Sad, because the art was interesting and vibrant, and I thought the subject matter and setting could be really interesting.  I still do; but this isn’t.  I was fully planning on writing a review of this book.  But the more I look at it sitting there, the less of a crap I give, and the less I feel the need to revisit it.  We'll be discussing it this coming Friday night, and other than some variation of 'YAWN!' I've got no idea what to say.



-Matt

Monday, July 7, 2014

Comic Review: Pretty Deadly Vol. 1


    The image on the cover is interesting.  Flipping through, it has a Weird West mixed with Sci-Fi vibe.  OK.  Let’s give it a try.  Alas, they can’t all be winners.  Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Western (there’s no Science Fiction, it turns out) is a mishmash of humdrum Anime/Manga gags, tossed into a mixing pot and…well, no.  It almost makes you think something good might have come out the other end, but it just gets worse.  It’s just tired retreads presented in a tired way.  And the cutesy crap with the butterfly and the bunny skeleton?  What is this, a 1990s Vertigo comic?


    The art ranges from blah to aggressively ugly.  Some of the coloring is interesting, but without good pencils/inks to hang it on, who cares?  It might have worked in a different comic, or one where the story really captured me.  This ain’t it.  The writing starts out fine, but becomes more, I don’t know, opaque(?), as the book progresses.  And all the ideas feel like they came out of a dozen anime TV series from the 90s.  And Deathface Ginny?  Ugh.  Why not give her an over-sized gun-sword to complete the stupid image?


    Anyway, this is another one of those series I hear a lot of people saying good things about, and I just scratch my head.  Shoddy writing, dull ideas handled in dull ways, ugly art.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  I will not be reading on.



Pretty Deadly
Author: Kelly Sue Deconnick
Artist: Emma Rios
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1-60706-962-1

-Matt

Comic Review: Storm Dogs


    I’m always hungry for new science fiction, and flipping through a few pages of this, I thought it looked interesting.  And it is.  A cast of characters with some potential end up in a dangerous situation and need to do some investigating.  I like the setting, and the feel of the larger universe outside of the limited environment the story takes place in.  While the Western vibe is obvious, the sci-fi elements are strong and I’d like to see how they might be used.


    The general story is about some mysterious deaths and tense relations with native creatures on a backwater world.  There are tech restrictions, scofflaws, hoodlums, and corrupt officials.  A lot is introduced, and some of it is explored.  However, the volume ends on a cliffhanger.  Yes, you kind of know who is doing what, and you mostly know why.  But there are still lots of questions, and one very big one right at the end.  OK.  I get cliffhangers.  The problem is, I can’t find any evidence that this series is continuing.


    The art is good, though I did run into a bit of confusion at one point because character design on two people was similar enough.  Still, once I realized my mistake, I didn’t make it again.  The writing is fine and the story solid.  The setting/universe is really the thing that sold me on the book as I was reading.  I like the main cast of characters, and I’d like to see how they might develop.  But a lot of my feelings are overshadowed by not knowing if there’s any more coming.



Storm Dogs: Season One
Author: David Hine
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 978-1-60706-825-9

-Matt

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Matt’s Weeks in Dork (6/22/14-6/28/14 & 6/29/14-7/5/14)


    It’s been a busy couple of weeks, which is the reason for the combined weeks.  Good stuff, but not much related to the Dork Life.  Without more rambling…

(6/22/14-6/28/14)
Children of Paradise:  Beautifully produced, and filled with excellent performances, I found this movie interesting to watch, but ultimately not all that interesting.  There’s a lot of old-world charm, some sinister goings on, and a cast of colorful rogues.  Some very good bits keep you going through some of the longer dry spells.  I’m sure there are meanings and interesting aspects of the film I didn’t catch or understand.  Taken only on its surface, it was just OK.


    Thanks to the Alamo, we got to see Bill & Ted on the big screen.  Of course, I saw it on the big screen when it first came out, redefining my life, dude.


Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:  One of my favorite films, and a weirdly defining one for me, this weird 80s comedy is totally silly and totally weird.  It’s also most triumphant.  Two dumbasses travel through time and meet a random assortment of historic figures.  Then crazy stuff starts happening.  This is one you’re either on board for, or it’s not gonna make a lot of sense.  I love it.


Girl Happy:   Not one of the better Elvis movies, it’s charmingly awkward, but not especially memorable.  Few particularly good songs.  It doesn’t suck, but it’s not one of the good ones.


22 Jump Street:  They made a sequel?  Boy did they.  Throughout the film, they continually have a great deal of fun having a go at themselves for doing a sequel in the first place.  Like the first film, this one is super silly, with plenty of dumb humor, lots of gross-out jokes, and the impossibly charming antics of Channing Tatum.  Few actors have turned me around as much as The Tatum.  But he’s won my heart, like he has millions of my fellow citizens.  If you haven’t seen 21 Jump Street (the movie), go out and do so.  Now.  Come back to this one later.


    I came so close to bailing on Transformers.  Not only was it a work night, but I was already crazy tired.  And I had an opportunity to go on a date with my lady.  But, I’d said yes, the tickets were already purchased, and I’m a dumbass.  I made the wrong choice.


Transformers: Age of Extinction:  One of the worst films I’ve sat through in 2014, the movie is most guilty of THE cardinal sin.  It’s boring.  Some movies feel like they can’t stop ending (see The Return of the King).  The movie felt like it couldn’t stop beginning.  An hour and a half into the film, and we were still being introduced to new plotlines.  Not twists in the original, but totally new lines for the story to go down.  And none of them were especially good.  Marky Mark was a step up from LeDouche, but he’s not that great.  And he’s as Texan as JFK.  The girl playing his daughter makes me long for the plastic dolls they had in the earlier films.  And that surfer dude?  Holy nuts.  I kept wanting to see him stomped on.  There’s so much awful dialog, it’s hard to pick just one thing wrong.  But there’s a speech near the end of the movie (the end that seemed like it would never arrive) where Optimus starts spouting this circular logic BS that sounded like something Deepak Chopra would put on a greeting card about knowing who we are and why we’re here…Good sweet crap, it was terrible.  The movie is dumb.  Not just dumb.  Boring.  It’s better than part 2.  Probably on par with part 3 (which was awful).  Not as good as part 1.  Wow.  Sad.


Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World:  The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria find themselves in a weird future, where a conniving politician is plotting to take over the world.  The twist?  The politician looks identical to the Doctor.  OK.  It’s not the best premise.  But I quickly got into the story and the various people working with and against Salamander, the charming but deadly would-be master of the world.  What’s crazy about this one is that about half way through, there’s a reveal, and the story takes on a whole different dimension that I did not see coming.  And it’s kinda awesome.  Anyway, not an amazing story, but a good one.  And I really enjoyed Troughton as the Doctor.  I hope they’ll uncover more of these old stories.


Shaolin Intruders:  I like the plot twists, and some of the fights are pretty good.  But this is very much a mid-level Shaw Bros. film.  It’s fine.  It’s watchable.  But there isn’t a lot to make it stand out from the pack.  In the mood, and you haven’t seen this one?  Go for it.  Otherwise, there’s a lot better flicks to see.


    I started watching Masters of Sex.  Three episodes in, and I’m loving it.  Great cast, great story.  I haven’t read the book it’s based on, and I know precious little about Masters & Johnson.  But I’m fascinated, for sure.


Fallen Angels:  The sort of (spiritual) sequel to director Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express, Fallen Angles features more manic pixie people, voiceovers, and fisheye cinematography.  While I enjoyed it, and enjoyed the overall vibe of the film a great deal, it never reached the emotional levels of Chungking Express.  It’s OK, and if you’re a fan of the first, it’s worth checking out.  I was a little disappointed to see Karen Mok doing her crazy, screaming, semi-comic performance.  I prefer her serious work, probably because her voice is so grating when she gets wacky.


(6/29/14-7/5/14)

    On Sunday morning, I cracked into Black Science, another sci-fi comic from Rick Remender.  Pretty good stuff.  I’ll be looking forward to the next volume.


MirrorMask:  This was one of those movies where the trailer was popping up forever on rented videos and the like, but which seemed to always be ‘coming soon.’  I don’t know how long it did take to get released in the States, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that it was more than a year, maybe two.  It seemed like it, at any rate.  So, when it was finally released, I was pretty excited to see the film…but it isn’t actually very good.  A few interesting ideas and a few interesting visuals pepper a darned boring bit of re-hash kid adventure story.  Echoes of much better movies reverberate through the whole thing.  It’s not a bad movie.  But it’s instantly forgettable.  I remember being very disappointed when I finally saw it for the first time.  This second viewing, many years later, has not changed my initial reaction.


Inkheart:  A watchable and fun, if largely empty kids’ fantasy film, I think Inkheart suffers greatly from coming out during the Harry Potter craze.  Too easy to compare, too easy not to live up.  I imagine I’d have dug the film a good deal as a little lad, but while it’s not something an adult would likely find annoying to watch with their kids, it’s not something an adult is likely to find compelling, either.


Age of Consent:  An artist returns to the homeland of his youth in Australia, where he intends to rediscover his passion for painting.  There he meets a colorful cast of locals, including the desperate to escape Helen Mirren in her film debut.  Considering the sleazy title and the subject matter, this is a surprisingly cute and almost chaste film.  Sure there’s nudity and talk of sex, but it’s not what I was expecting.  Michael Powell was a heck of a director and James Mason is always charismatic.  And you can see why Mirren would go on to be a star.  Not just because of her amazing and oft bare body, but because of a genuine talent and charm.


FDR: American Badass:  The best history film of all time?  Maybe.  Super cheesy, lowest of the low budget, goofy in the extreme, and wonderfully tasteless, American Badass is everything I hoped it would be.  Nazi werewolves giving FDR the polio?  That’s just the beginning.  Must be seen.  Must.


Maleficent:  I like the basic story of this movie, several images, and most of Angelina Jolie’s performance.  The script, however, is horrendous.  The actual dialog that is coming out of the actors’ mouths is like the Disney equivalent of a bad 80s action movie.  Compared to the recent Alice in Wonderland or Oz: the Great and Powerful, this is Citizen Kane.  But the ingredients for a solid, epic fantasy film were all there.  They simply didn’t come together, and that falls largely on the script.  Also, those comic-relief fairies were atrocious and needed to go.  Not just because the CGI on them was awful and terrifying, but because they’d have been annoying whatever the case.


Snowpiercer:  I don’t mind recycling ideas if they’re done well.  This movie has some really good bits, but is overall pretty disappointing.  There are plot twists; but they’re obvious.  There are a couple good action scenes, but a lot of motion-sickness inducing shaky cam, too.  I was so happy when there was an extended slow-motion sequence so I could steady my eyes for a moment and not need to turn away.  Many of the characters feel like they’d be interesting if we spent any time with them, but the movie jumps from one action bit to the next too quickly to give a crap about anyone involved.  Part of the pleasure in this kind of science fiction is the exploration of the strange society that forms in the wake of some tectonic civilization shift.  What is life like in a giant, constantly running train with a severe class-based society, surrounded by a hostile, freezing wasteland?  Interesting question.  Unfortunately the movie spends almost no time on that, throwing a couple quick factoids that are supposed to earn our sympathy and interest.  And then there’s the ever present mystery of the man who runs the train.  What’s he gonna be like?  Oh, boring and obvious.  Nuts.  I don’t want to sound too negative (though I can tell I have).  The movie isn’t bad.  It looks great (when the camera holds still long enough for you to notice).  There are some cool sequences and some cool ideas.  But it could have been much, much better.  Much better.


The Sign of the Cross:  Getting past the historic inaccuracies (the cross wouldn’t be a Christian symbol for almost three centuries), this movie is unfortunately kind of boring.  Oddly enough, the best stuff in this Christian martyr porn is the risqué sexuality.  From the milk bath, to the lesbian dance, to the naked women in the arena, it was the sexuality that kept me from tuning out completely.  It wasn’t the acting or the script, or the cow-eyed dullness of the religious zealotry.  Some cool sets add a bit, but not enough.  Easy to skip this one.


    Friday morning, I read Planetoid and Prophet, two sci-fi comics I’d had sitting around for a while.  I enjoyed both quite a bit.


Doctor Who: The Mind Robber:  Another OK story from the Troughton years.  I like some of the visuals, and a few of the concepts are rather weird.  At the end of the day, this isn’t my type of story.  Yet, they made it work.


    Saturday morning, I watched another disk of Masters of Sex.  Boy howdy, I enjoy this show.  I love the cast.  And a character that felt like she could easily become another Betty Draper (of Mad Men), has turned out to be as compelling as any other on the show.  Bravo.


The Lunchbox:  I found this film fascinating to watch and the characters all charming in their way.  However, I can’t help but notice cultural references flying fast and furious over my head.  India is a place I simply don’t get, and this movie heaps more on the pile of confusion.  Still, the budding correspondence romance between a lonely housewife and a surly office worker is cute.  Irrfan Khan is a charming dude, even when he’s playing a jackass.  The film also makes me want to have some home cooked Indian food.  Some of the stuff in those tins looked really good.


Lonesome:  A movie on the cusp of so much.  It’s a silent film, with some talkie scenes.  It’s black & white, but with some color tinted bits.  Featuring effects and some nice location shooting, the movie works more as a time capsule than as a film.  The story is simple and cute, but fairly forgettable.  But the costumes, the manners, the activities, etc. all sing 1928.  The movie is alive and roaring with that 20s spirit.


-Matt