Matt Sturges has written some of my favorite comics. I absolutely loved Jack of Fables and I was quite the fan of his Blue Beetle run. For a while I had hoped that he and cohort Chris Roberson would end up being the saving grace of DC comics but it would appear that was not ever in the cards. Both have parted ways with DC and are pursuing projects in other arenas, with Roberson launching his own company and putting out some amazing work.
Rick Remender can write the hell out of some superhero comics. He can write the hell out of comics, period. The guy doesn’t get near enough respect although his run on Secret Avengers gets a lot of love as does his Uncanny X-Force. The fact that he’s now on one of the most high profile books of the year that will bring in readers from the X-Men and Avengers camps with art from the amazing John Cassaday, I would say the general level of anticipation around this book hit some pretty high levels. I know I rushed out to pick up a copy even though I have one on order from my monthly shipment that won’t arrive for another two weeks. Was it worth it?
Let me say this, just seeing Cassaday drawing Wolverine again gave me the warm fuzzies in my geek cockles. I am an unabashed lover of his work on Astonishing X-Men and he hasn’t lost a bit of his magic. He gives these characters life and shows why he is one of the most revered artists of his generation. I don’t know what the schedule for this book will look like, because I remember Planetary and Astonishing X-Men and the intermittent shipping delays, but if the book maintains a level of quality from the artwork, I can do with some waiting. Cassaday is that good.
Remender’s scripting is equally impressive. The man knows how to launch a book. We’re coming right out of the fallout of AvX and while that series was one of meandering quality, what has been birthed from its loins is anything but mediocre. Remender gives us a look at Alex Summers at a crossroad in his life and at a crucial time in his development. He’s approached by Cap and Thor who want to bridge the camps of the Avengers and the X-Men and put hostility behind them. Of course, this is a Marvel comic so at the appropriate time the shiz hits the blades and chaos resumes at its regularly scheduled pace.
The big reveal at the end of the issue is spoiled in one of the variant covers, but if you are unaware I’ll leave it to you to discover on your own but it looks like Remender is going to go for the same sort of over-the-top drama that makes the Avengers work so well. His ideas are the perfect fit for something like this and he has delivered on his first issue. I am confident the rest of the run will live up to his debut.
I think it comes as no surprise that I skipped over Once Upon A Time, when it first came to television. As a fan of Fables, I felt that the conceit of the show borrowed too heavily from that book and thus deprived us of an eventual adaptation of Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series. Willingham said on his twitter account that the series were completely different but drawing from the same well and I suppose I should have given the ABC show the benefit of the doubt at the time but I simply didn’t want to put forth the effort. Now that the second season is about to begin and the first series is available on Netflix and on blu-ray, I decided to give it a chance. Mostly because I figured it would be a nice show for myself and the lady-friend to enjoy together on lazy Sunday evenings, but also because I don’t want to be the kind of person who writes something off without at least giving it a fair shake.
After sitting through all 22 episodes of the series on blu-ray, I can say that it bears very little resemblance to Fables outside of the “fairytale characters in the real world” baseline. The characterization is completely different, the structure is completely different, and the story is aimed in a completely different direction. The major difference between the two is that in OUAT, the characters do not know about their fairytale past. The conceit being that they have been cursed by the evil queen to live in a purgatory devoid of magic in our world not knowing about their past lives. Fables depended fairly heavily, early on at least, on the idea of the magical folk to hide their identity from the real world. If there is any reason not to watch the show, a loyalty to Fables isn’t it. You may find yourself turned off at the SyFy original movie level CGI that makes up a lot of the fairytale portions of the show, but don’t try to claim this is a ripoff.
Let’s talk about what does work for a moment. The actors and actresses in Once Upon A Time truly give it their all. They commit to the material with the same sort of dedication that you see from actors doing Shakespeare. Is it sometimes over the top? Yes. But we are talking fairytales here. You can’t expect there not to be a little melodrama. All of that works in the favor of the show. I found myself being reminded a lot of Buffy in terms of tone, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering how many time Jane Espenson’s name pops up in the credits. You have to embrace your genre in a show like this and I will say that Once Upon A Time does not try to be anything that it isn’t. What makes that work is the fact that none of the actors seem to be ashamed of that fact or think the material is below them. Lana Parilla is downright magnificent as the evil Queen/mayor Regina. She nails the character on every level. It takes a special type of actor to make you want to claw someone’s face off because they’re so delightfully wicked and she is one of them. As Rumpelstiltskin, Robert Carlyle seems to relish the chance to play both darkly sinister and creepily impish. The dichotomy the actor is able to showcase with the character is impressive and while some may think his portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin is a tad over the top, I would argue that it works to establishing the tone of the show more than just about any other character. There have been realistic depictions of fairytales in the media before, this year’s Snow White and the Huntsman comes to mind, but by making Rumpelstiltskin a cackling gold-flecked imp, it is hard to ignore what sort of show you’re watching. You have to embrace it or turn off the set.
Some things don’t work quite as well. As I mentioned, the CGI can be a little dodgy but then again this thing doesn’t exactly have Peter Jackson money. More of the problems come from the pacing. I talked about how the characters are unaware of their background and as a result it can cause the viewer to grow impatient waiting for them to come to their senses. Having the audience know more than the characters is something that happens often in a television medium but at the same time there has to be a modicum of payoff. I feel like the show takes a bit too much time getting to the logical culmination it requires to movie forward. Some might not have the same problems I have with pacing, but it was the number one issue I had with the series as a whole. I feel that the show could have easily been a few episodes shorter and been far more effective. Perhaps I’m growing too accustomed to the shorter, tighter seasons of cable television shows like Breaking Bad. It’s a distinct possibility.
All things considered, I really enjoyed the show for what it was. I have not yet had a chance to watch the first episode of the second season, but there may be an addendum to this post when I get around to checking my DVR. If you have Netflix, I wouldn’t argue against adding this to your queue. It’s entertaining and accomplishes most of what it sets out to do, which is more than I can say for 80% of network TV shows.
My favorite cartoon when I was a kid was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had all the toys, I had VHS tapes of the show out the wazoo and I enrolled in a martial arts class at age six just because I wanted to be a ninja. My sensei made me do fifty pushups for taking too long in the bathroom once. I didn’t stay in the class long. That didn’t discourage me from watching the cartoons and playing with the action figures though. Nothing could put the kibosh on that.
I never read the comics of TMNT at any point until around 2006 when I was able to get my hands on some of the reprinted oversize editions that went back and colorized some of the original stories. I knew there were differences between the version I had grown up with and the original source material, but I never really had any idea of that until I got those books. Even then it was only a miniscule sampling of the original Turtle stories and I didn’t get to really delve into that world until around 2010 when IDW started reprinting those issues in omnibus style trade paperbacks. I really enjoyed reading those books and I think that it gave me an appreciation for h0w there can be several interpretations of the same property and have it work out for the better.
The 2012 volume of the TMNT animated franchise seems to be a melding of the ideas from the early nineties cartoon and the one that hit air back in the early 2000s. The show does not attempt to downplay the humorous elements of the franchise and yet at the same time it appears that they will be eschewing the original series’ tendencies for the villains to be downright laughable. The threats to the heroes will feel realistic and the heroes’ response will be utterly sardonic. The melding of tone works well in the hour long first episode which introduces us to the turtles, Splinter, a now teenaged April O’Neil and a race of alien brains known as the Krang. The first series had Krang as a singular character, displaced from his homeworld. This time around they seem to be going with the hive-mind idea and some of the dialog that comes as a result is hilarious. Going back to the humor I mentioned, the show has a handle on it and knows when to use it.
The element that most will find polarizing will be the animation style. It is 3D but there is a somewhat overlaid 2D style, that at times feels heavily manga inspired, that will put off some viewers. I think those who get caught up on the style would do well to look at what else it is doing that works in its favor. I know plenty of people who had a problem with the animation style of something like Teen Titans, and while the anime styling lost that show a number of fans, most would argue that it was easily on par with the rest of the DCAU at the time, regardless of how it was drawn. The stories they told and the voice acting on display made me a fan and I was one of the people initially turned off by the design style. Here, the voice acting is equally good. Rob Paulsen takes over as Donatello and feels right at home. Sean Astin is our new Raphael and he does it well. Greg Cipes, who voiced Beast Boy in Teen Titans, gives Michelangelo a different spin than I was expecting but does a great job nonetheless. Jason Biggs as Leonardo takes some getting used to, as the characterization is different than previous incarnations in a number of ways. That said, it works for the style they have chosen.
I think that this has a lot to offer for fans of the old show and is a great introduction to the kid-friendly aspect of the series for younger viewers. I’m not ashamed to admit I have the new action figures posed on top of my iMac right now. This could be a great show if hard-nosed fans don’t give it too much grief. I personally can’t wait for the next episode.
And now, in a shameless ploy for hits. I present sexy pictures of the adult actress and sexy nerd icon April O’Neil, because I know what people like:
If you are of mature age and want to see more of Ms. O’Neil, check her out on twitter @Undeux.
I watched the first series of BBC’s Sherlock late last year and missed the second series when it aired on PBS early in 2012. I was disappointed because I absolutely loved the first three episodes and thought they were brilliant. The cliffhanger ending was a fair level of insane, with Moriarty, Holmes, and Watson all set to be blown to smithereens in the pool room. I honestly did not know how things were going to play out. It is a testament to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s handling of the show and the characters that the resolution of that cliffhanger in the first part of this series, while somewhat anti-climactic, feeds into the greater good of the show in a way that makes the audience realize that things will never work out quite the way they seem. This is a series of misdirections and nearly every scene works towards that end.
The first episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia” introduces us to Irene Adler, reenvisioned here as a professional dominatrix privy to governmental secrets and somehow tied to James Moriarty. The second episode, “The Hound of Baskerville” almost feels like filler when tied to the overall scheme of Holmes’ game with Moriarty but in other ways is a much needed sidetrack to show a part of Holmes that is talked about but never shown in detail. The third episode, “The Reichenbach Fall” is a stunning climax built from the ground floor of the series and executed to perfection. For those who haven’t seen or heard about the ending of that particular episode, let’s just say it is so well put together that if it didn’t leave so many open doors and lingering questions it would very well have been a great place for the show to stop on the whole.
While the writing of the shows is the backbone of what makes it so great. The interplay between Holmes and Watson wouldn’t work if it weren’t cast so amazingly well. Benedict Cumberbatch, he of the most British name of all time, and Martin Freeman, who I believe to be the most effective Watson of all time, bounce off of each other so well that you sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. This is the story of a partnership as much as it is about any mystery and the development these two go through together is played with great relish by Cumberbatch and Freeman. It never feels like acting, no matter how outside of normal humanity Cumberbatch’s Sherlock may come off. These are two real people who rely on each other because one is missing something the other provides and this sort of writing in the hands of lesser thespians would be a disaster.
Series two of this show takes what was so great about the first three episodes and keeps going deeper. Most people seem to label Sherlock as a mini-series that we are getting in short bursts and that makes sense. There is something organic about this story in a way that most shows can’t seem to accomplish. A lot of TV drama could learn from this show as well as Luther, which seems to work in a similar fashion.
Basically, it’s going to be agony waiting for Series three to hit sometime next year. I’ll just try not to think about it.
Jonathan Hickman is one of those writers who seemingly exploded onto the scene a few years back from out of nowhere. His work for image with The Nightly News and Transhuman marked him as a fresh new talent with a different sort of perspective. He had a unique style that garnered the attention of just about everyone and now a few years later he is considered one of Marvel’s brightest writers, handling major projects and a-list characters. Despite the fact that he is writing multiple titles for one of the big two, Hickman seemingly has an unquenchable desire to write his own original stories and his Marvel workload doesn’t seem to slow him down a bit.
With The Manhattan Projects, Hickman teams with Nick Pitarra to give us an alternative reality version of the development of the atomic bomb. Honestly, the story feels like something that Warren Ellis would put out. Hickman’s voice still rings clear but there is something different in the plotting from his previous work that is easily noticed. The chapter breaks and title cards are straight out of his wheelhouse but the dialog seems to be divergent from his usual style. It’s more highly articulated and animated. It doesn’t have the poetic sense of reality that I tend to absorb from Hickman’s usual fare.
Personally I found the story to be somewhat derivative. I had the unavoidable feeling that I had read all of this before. While the story is supposed to be a new take on old history, the style in which it was performed made it feel like every other alternate history story you’ve ever seen before. There is not much new here. Nothing that surprises. Which is the only thing that sets it apart from everything else that Hickman has written in recent memory.
It is not a bad book, by any means. It just isn’t the sort of A-grade material that I expect from Hickman. There is a lot to like here, if you know what you’re getting into ahead of time.
P.T. Anderson is, indisputably, one of the finest working directors alive. He has the technical expertise that almost no one can touch and a handle on characterization that most will kill for. There Will Be Blood is a cinematic masterpiece. Boogie Nights and Magnolia are almost equally impressive and in some ways speak more to Anderson's perfection. With The Master,
My dad was a cop for most of my childhood before he decided to leave the force and become a private investigator. I shit you not, that’s a real thing. I’m not making that up. A good portion of my time as a youngster was spent in the police station with my dad and his police buddies. I can still vividly remember the hum of the fluorescent lighting and the furnishings leftover from a hodgepodge of decades gone by. In my mind the accident division room is perpetually stuck in the early eighties and nobody was allowed through the door without a prototypical mustache. Even though my dad retired early, he never lost contact with his former friends in the department and some of them were so close they were practically family. Basically, I’ve been around enough cops to know what most people don’t really understand; they’re people. Some of them are assholes. Some of them are the nicest men and women you will ever meet. Some of them have strange hobbies and some of them are smarter than you could ever hope to be yourself. Some are as dumb as dirt. Police departments are walking samplings of the community they are tasked to serve. If you truly wish to find one police officer to fit a profile to a T, chances are you can find that officer somewhere. They are exactly what you think they are as well as everything you never would expect.
David Ayer’s End of Watch tries to show us the world of law enforcement through a lens that is far more positive than what you generally get from most cinematic outings. This is one of the few cop films I have ever seen that doesn’t feature the trope of the corrupt police officer. This is a film that wants you to come out of the theater feeling a little more respect for what cops do and it does it in the only way that you can manage that feat; by focusing more on the fact that there are men and women wearing those uniforms who have lives and feelings and families. Although the film features plenty of on-duty heroics and action, the script seems far more focused on showing you that even if these men and women don’t take gunfire at every turn they still operate under the constant threat of violence and bodily harm and they do so with wives and husbands and young children at home. Essentially, the film wants to take the patriotic love most Americans have for soldiers and sprinkle that a little bit towards the police. It’s easy to love soldiers. They’re overseas fighting the good fight and how much daily interaction do we have with them while on duty? Very little. The public will always have a resentment towards the police because they are policing us as citizens. If the military were the ones telling us not to drive over 55 or not to run that red light, I’m sure there would be far fewer “Support the Troops” bumper stickers around. I’m not saying that the police are perfect and that each one deserves our undying love. I read an article this morning about a Houston cop who shot a man in a wheelchair. This is that officer’s second shooting in five years. There are plenty of questions to ask about law enforcement in this country. The militarization of most American police departments as part of the escalating war on drugs has bled over into everyday tactics and has had serious repercussions in the way we view our police officers. That having been said, you can see why they might get a little defensive when most people have a blanket “Fuck the Police” mindset.
I think films like End of Watch need to exist to balance out the “dirty cop” genre. Not only does it serve as a chance to remind people that cops really are out there trying to help, but the counterpoint feels exceedingly fresh among the crop of films that seek to push the opposite image of law enforcement. I feel that for every show like The Shield or every film like Bad Lieutenant, we need something like this to balance things out. If it weren’t a good movie in and of itself, regardless of the message behind it, I probably wouldn’t be writing this review at all. The thing about End of Watch is that it is entertaining in and of itself. It feels like an extended episode of COPS that doesn’t leave you feeling like you need a shower. The acting on display is excellent. I’m not really a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal but here he really turns in a great performance as an everyman who the audience can relate to and empathize with. He is equal parts immature and stoic and he pulls it off well. Michael Pena really deserves to be showcased more often because I feel he is insanely talented. He and Gyllenhaal really do feel like they’ve been rolling in a shop together for an extended period of time. Their chemistry rings very true and because this film works so hard to sell the “people behind the badge” aspect, that element cannot be undersold.
I don’t know how well this film will go over. I think people will go in expecting something more action oriented and be surprised that it is about 85% character drama with rare flare-ups in violence. It’s a seemingly realistic depiction of law enforcement in that when the shit does hit the fan it does so unexpectedly and it catches you off guard. The audience I saw this with were visibly and audibly shocked multiple times during the showing and had a very visceral reaction to the film as a whole. It was also a packed house, so maybe the film will do well enough to make it a success. It is definitely a film that had the crowd talking afterward and that’s always a good sign.
I have a healthy appreciation for the Sylvester Stallone adaptation of Judge Dredd. It is a mess and it has nothing to do with the source material outside of the name but I’ll be damned if it isn’t like watching stuff melt in the microwave. You know there’s no reason for your eyes to be subjected to what you’re seeing but you can’t stop yourself. If you want to see what kind of enjoyment you can get out of that particular film, be sure to check out the “How Did This Get Made” podcast episode about it. They basically spend the whole time hung up on the pasta robot. It’s glorious.
Put aside everything you know about that previous adaptation. It isn’t part of the equation. This new film, titled simply Dredd, is a start from scratch effort to reboot the character for film and it does so by keeping the character as close to his roots as humanly possible. He doesn’t take off his helmet and he doesn’t take any shit. This is the Dredd that fans of the character have been hoping for. It is a bloody dystopian action massacre that does not reach outside the bounds of what makes the property popular. The movie doesn’t waste time setting anything up. The voice-over from Karl Urban as Dredd letting us know that it is the future, the future is fucked up beyond repair, everyone lives in cramped crime-ridden Mega Cities, and that the Judges try to keep shit in check lets us know everything we need to know. We don’t need to know why things are the way they are, we just know that the stage is set and the violence is forthcoming.
While the film does not directly adapt any storyline that I know of, although there is some controversy about its plot and that of The Raid:Redemption, the film does a far better job of capturing the mood of the 2000 AD series than the previous film. Granted my knowledge of Dredd is somewhat limited having only read some of the Case Files trades in passing while I still worked in a comic store, so take that how you will. What I do know is that this film does bring in Judge Anderson, who has a fairly storied history of her own. She was first introduced in the popular storyline that debuted Judge Death and her inclusion goes a long way toward establishing the overall universe of Dredd in a way that the previous film did not.
Now, how does the film work in and of itself? Pretty damn well. The action is executed well and Karl Urban does a very good job playing the perpetually scowling and snarling Judge. The blood flows freely and the film doesn’t pull any punches. There was audible audience reaction in several places at my showing which is always a good sign for a film like this. If you can catch the audience off guard and get them invested you have done your job and Dredd does its job well. There really isn’t much of a point wasting words about a film like this. If you like hard-R action flicks this is one for you.
Put your reservations aside and check this one out. Anything else would be criminal.
I’m a big fan of Terry Moore’s work and I count myself lucky in that I have been able to meet with him face to face more than a few times. He’s one of the most affable and instantly likable professionals I’ve ever met and he’s a joy to talk to. I think Strangers in Paradise is a comic classic and Echo is vastly underrated. With his latest work, Rachel Rising I wasn’t as immediately blown away as I was with some of his previous work. This isn’t a book that hits the ground running at breakneck pace. It’s a definite slow burn. By comparison, Echo moved at a mile a minute. Rachel Rising is a textured piece that requires you to be patient while layers of the narrative unfold. The structure and the nature of the story dictate that you may find yourself confused, as I admit I was with my initial reading.
The fact that you want to fight through the confusion to savor the answers is what makes the book a success. Mr. Moore has a talent for unraveling the interwoven threads of the narrative and making something intriguing. Couple that with the fact that he is one of the most distinct and well rounded artists of his generation and you get a stunning final product. Moore seems to relish the way he plots the action, in such a manner that the build and deconstruction of the mystery intertwine and strengthen each other. This is definitely a story that Mr. Moore has been eager to tell and it shows on the page. There is an excitement to the construction of Rachel Rising that is missing from a lot of graphic literature.
I can’t say that this book is for everyone. It’s certainly a great companion piece for something like The Walking Dead. People that prefer long-term, slow-build storytelling will enjoy it a great deal. Those who prefer something a bit more slapdash and breakneck may find it tiresome. I think it boils down to perspective. But if you’re looking for something different than 90% of what is on the racks this is an excellent place to start.