Sunday, July 27, 2014

First Look at New Wonder Woman

I know everybody has already seen the picture.  But I thought it would be wrong not to mention it, especially as Wonder Woman is about the only thing coming out of this new push by DC to try to catch up to Marvel's film universe that moderately interests me.  So, here's Gal Gadot as the great Amazon, the too often forgotten third in DC's Trinity, Wonder Woman.

Personally, I like the costume.  It's Greek enough and not too silly looking.  And Gadot fills it out better than I'd expected, though my idea of Wonder Woman is considerably more buff.  Still...  Now, let's see if she gets more than a walk on part (not to mention a solo film).  I'm not holding my breath.


Matt’s Weeks in Dork! (7/13/14-7/19/14 & 7/20/14-7/26/14)

    Due to a technical difficulty, I present two weeks…


    On Sunday, my lady and I headed in to DC to see the National Building Museum and its human sized maze.  An informative tour and a nice exhibit on House & Home.  But darn it, that maze was cool.  Mazes have always been a fascination, and getting to go into one was a treat.  Part of me would love to do one much, much larger.  From there we went to The Hamilton (where I felt distinctly under dressed) for a nice brunch, and then to E Street, where we saw Life Itself.  A good day in DC.

Life Itself:  This portrait of the famous populist movie critic Roger Ebert does a fine job of showing the man behind the face.  Not all one thing or another, a character, and a great ambassador of film.  His story feels like one of those old time movies, where a plucky young kid gets a dream job and has a meteoric rise, with the usual pitfalls of wine and women, and the eventual triumph.  But there’s more to it than that, as there always is.  And telling his life story, intercut with the story of his death, the ravaging cancer that would claim him, bit by bit, until it finished him off, was poignant and heartbreaking, but also uplifting and dare I say it, a bit inspiring.  A colorful character with an interesting life.  And a documentary well worth seeking out, especially (but not exclusively) for movie buffs.

The Lego Movie:  This cute CGI film is a lot of fun, occasionally very clever, and perfectly enjoyable.  It’s not amazing.  But it’s good.  I like the story, I like the voice work, and though heavy handed, I like the message.  If you have kids, this is a good one, as there’s plenty for an adult to enjoy, too.

    Friday night we met for the graphic novel club, where we discussed Aya: Life in Yop City.  I think only one person hated it, nobody seemed to love it, but a few enjoyed it enough to want to read on.  I didn’t hate it, but certainly have no plans to read any more.

    On Saturday evening, Brad and I headed over to Wolf Trap to see 2001 with live music.  This was my second time to the venue, which I’m not in love with.  But it was certainly better than I remembered.  I suppose I can see the charm of sitting on the lawn, though I don’t think I would be well suited for it, with my gimpy legs.

2001:  Just a darned amazing film.  I’ve written about it many times before.  What I’ll say this time is that seeing it, projected on a big screen, with live orchestral accompaniment was a whole new experience.  Because so little dialog happens, and when it does, it’s not with music, this movie is sort of like a silent film, witch lends itself to live music.  When I saw Casablanca with live music, there were issues because of the constant score and the original mono recording.  This was much better.  And seeing it with a thousand or so people…really something.  People nervously or knowingly laughing when Hal starts to crack.  Kinda amazing.


    So, on Sunday, my computer had some rather profound technical difficulties, taking me not just offline, but off writing in any serious way.  I got some more reading done, and some more movie watching, but I also had kind of a busy week.

In the Mood for Love:  Gorgeously shot, wonderfully dreamy, this romance doesn’t play the way one would expect.  It feels like you’re constantly watching surreptitiously, voyeuristically as two people come together, expressed in brief moments, looks, and seemingly innocent encounters.  Where some of Wonk Kar Wai’s films have a frantic, hand-held feel to their cinematography, this is shot wonderfully still and painting-like.

Under the Skin:  Upon second viewing, my problems with the film’s finale abated somewhat.  I think I get the idea more, so it doesn’t bug me as much.  Whatever the case, this is a fascinating film, a science fiction/horror movie with no exposition.  At no point does the script give you any information.  You just watch as things happen and are forced to make up your own mind.  There are some beautiful moments, some haunting scenes, some surreal and some wonderful things.  It’s not going to be for everyone.  But I really like it.  The closest thing I can compare it to is the rather obvious The Man Who Fell to Earth, but I was reminded of recent weirdly quiet films like Only God Forgives, too.

Fanfan La Tulipe:  France’s answer to Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, this light hearted swashbuckling adventure film is charming and fun.  Nothing too serious.  Nothing too heavy.  Pretty women, handsome men, daring-do, and some humor for color.  Good times.

    I read the second volume of Prophet, which continues to amp up the Dune-type insanity.  I’m really loving how crazy this book is.  Can’t wait to see where it all ends up.

How to Train Your Dragon 2:  There are some bits near the end that I wasn’t enamored of, but overall, this is a pretty good sequel to the surprisingly good How to Train Your Dragon.  I like the cast of characters and the setting created.  The animation is quite good.  And they do a fantastic job of giving the dragons, particularly Toothless, a great deal of personality.  These are the kinds of fantasy films I’d have gone absolutely mad for as a lad (and still dig as an old man).  And the comic relief doesn’t suck.

The Innocents:  A well shot and creepy horror film that adds little to the genre, The Innocents is perfectly watchable.  If you’re in the mood for something like The Haunting, this is a good option.  The performances are good and the mood is thick.  The story is a bit blah, but what do you expect.  Ghost stories, especially haunted house stories, all pretty much play out the same way.

Bluebeard:  If it wasn’t for the totally exploitative use of hunting footage, where we’re shown real animals of various types really getting shot and killed, I would be singing this film’s praises.  Excepting that, it’s campy fun of the highest order.  Richard Burton is so far over the top you have to wonder if he even knew there was a top.  The women are pretty, the clothes are optional, and the comedy is weirdly good.  Again, if it wasn’t for the real animal killing footage, I think I’d have run right out and bought a copy.

    On Friday afternoon, I read the new humorous book, Fun with Kirk and Spock, a parody of the old Dick and Jane books.  It's very cute and funny.  I love me some classic Trek.

The Golden Goose:  Not one of the better German folk tale adaptations I’ve seen, this one is more annoying than good.  There are some good bits, and it teaches (as fairy tales do) some valuable lessons.  But the songs kind of suck, and the constant laughing gets creepy quick.

Elena and Her Men:  I’ve liked several Jean Renoir films, and I love Ingrid Bergman.  But this movie never got my attention.  I didn’t connect.  I suppose it’s cute, and there are some good scenes.  However, I never became invested in the characters or the story.  And honestly, I didn’t really like Bergman in it.

Demetrius and the Gladiators:  Possibly more ham-fisted than The Robe, and sadly lacking in Richard Burton, this OK sequel does feature a good performance from William Marshall and some gladiator fighting.  Not much else, sadly.

    Co-Dork Brad is at the San Diego Comic Con, sending reports back.  So far, the two most interesting tidbits to come out of the con are about the Godzilla sequel that’s going to feature Mothra, Rodan, and my favorite all time kaiju, King Ghidorah, and that there are plans to do a Skull Island film.  My hope is that this is a return adventure to the birthplace of King Kong, and not some kind of prequel or reboot.  There’s no reason the story shouldn’t be a straight-up sequel to 2005’s Kong.  And one of my complaints about that movie (which I love) was that they didn’t spend nearly enough time exploring the island and its history/mythology.  Fingers crossed.

Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla:  I like the story of the disgraced soldier who redeems herself through piloting Mechagodzilla.  And this one has some pretty cool fighting.  But anyone who’s survived trashy 80s sci-fi/horror films knows, you don’t use the body parts of killers when you make your killing machines.  Don’t do it.

    I didn’t finish it, as it’s kind of like reading the Bible (or worse, 1960s Marvel comics), but I’ve plowed through a good deal the first volume of Jack Katz’s First Kingdom.  I like it a lot.  There’s something magical about it, like golden age science fiction, classic myth, and some nameless something.  Very cool.

-Matthew J. Constantine

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 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

-Matthew J. Constantine

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.

-Matthew J. Constantine

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

-Matthew J. Constantine

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

-Matthew J. Constantine