Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Hope you have more fun at your party than Lana.

Go, Clark, go!

January Theatrical Releases

January 4th

One Missed Call: This plot's been done to death, but I haven't seen any of the previous versions because frankly they looked like they sucked. The trailer for this one actually looks creepy though.

January 11th

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale: Oh, it's gonna suck. It's gonna suck hard. And yet, knowing that, I feel compelled to look. I know I'm gonna hate myself, but I just can't look away.

27 Dresses: Even though I like the occasional romantic comedy, there's no reason for me to think this'll be one of them except for Katherine Heigl and James Marsden. Especially Marsden. Heigl reminds me of Grey's Anatomy, which always brings me joy, but Cyclops is becoming one of my favorite actors.

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie: This sounds like the biggest sell-out in the world, but we're a Veggie Tales-loving family (it's all about Larry and the French peas) and, hey, it's the Pirates Who Don't Do Anything.

January 18th

Cloverfield: I'm still not really excited about the hand-held camera concept, but it's a giant monster movie. How could I not go?

January 25th

Be Kind Rewind: (limited release) The poster for this did nothing for me because frankly I'd like to pretend that VHS never existed, but the trailer sold me with all the no-budget remakes of classic movies.

Rambo: I don't care if it sucks. If they made a new Commando movie, I'd go see it too. But after Rocky Balboa's good reception (I still haven't seen it, but I heard nothing bad), my hopes are up for this.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Artist of the Day: Carlos Meglia



Jess Hickman's been linking to Stuart Ng Books lately from her blog and there's some really great stuff there. Makes me hate myself for not knowing French though.

Stuff to Watch For: Chloe and Captian Action come to comics

"She's got to have a different spin."

I have mixed feelings about Chloe's joining the supporting cast of Superman comics. On the one hand, it's something I've been hoping to see since about the second season of Smallville. On the other hand, the whole reason I love the character so much was because of her unrelenting loyalty to Clark even though he didn't return her feelings, and that's exactly the thing they're taking away from her comics version.

It's probably not a coincidence that I've become less and less interested in Smallville since Chloe moved on from Clark and started dating Jimmy Olsen either.

Gettin' some Action

Here's another one I've got mixed feelings about, but this time for purely selfish reasons. I pitched Moonstone on their new Captain Action license and lost out to Fabian Nicieza. Which is no reason to be embarrassed, for sure. But part of me is curious to see what Nicieza came up with, and the other part is naturally thinking that there's no way it could be as cool as mine. Either way though, I'm really curious to check out the #0 issue in April.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Edited to Add: Minor Spoilers Below

After the first AvP, I remember thinking that except for a couple of glitches it made for a pretty good Predator movie. The girl running around Antarctica in a tank top was ridiculous and I wish they hadn't bleeped The Line to get the PG-13 rating, but whatever. The Predators kicked ass and I enjoyed myself.

Requiem is just the opposite. In this one, the Predators get the shaft and the Aliens are the stars. It picks up right where the last one left off with the Alien-Predator hybrid attacking the ship and causing it to crash near a small town in Colorado. Across the galaxy, an alarm goes off and a single Predator rushes off to his space ship to... Well, I'm not really sure what he's trying to do.

Is he damage control? Does he just see a great hunting opportunity? Either way, I'm not really sure why he goes by himself. He certainly ends up needing the help, but then, he also shows that he's not the brightest Predator on the block. As soon as he's on Earth he gets snuck up on by a cop, and later on he's walking on a mesh catwalk and can't see the Alien hanging from the underside directly beneath him. Actually, it all kind of makes sense if he's sort of the Snapper Carr of the Predators, stuck on monitor duty when the alarm comes in and stupidly rushing off by himself with the deluded notion that he can handle it. But it doesn't make for a very cool Predator movie. They don't even say The Line. It's rated "R," so they could've, but they didn't. Very disappointing.

As an Alien movie though, it's pretty good. There's a great ensemble cast of small town citizens, including Michelle from 24 as a soldier who's just returned from Iraq. Michelle was one of three reasons I stuck with 24 as long as I did, so it was very cool watching her again, even if her military skills were put to use mostly as a driver and pilot rather than the machine-gun toting Alien-killer she should have been.

As in any good Alien movie, characters start getting face-hugged, bit, impaled, and burned by acid blood pretty quickly, leaving the rest of them to try to escape town alive. That's all I'll say about the plot, except that it's a great formula that works. The Alien movies are all best when they stick to it.

There are some huge plot holes that keep Requiem from being as good as Alien or Aliens, but it's a much more exciting movie than Alien 3 and doesn't meander off into complete stupidity like Alien Resurrection.

Three out of five chest bursts.

Artist of the Day: J. Allen St. John



Yet another image from Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Stuff to Watch For: Hellby: The Golden Army

Okay, this reminds me a little of when Ross claimed that he came up with the "Got Milk?" campaign, but the villain from Hellboy 2 looks exactly like an old D&D character of mine. I've always wanted to use that character in a fantasy novel, but now it'll look like I ripped him off from Hellboy.

Still... way looking forward to seeing him on the big screen though.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three Musketeers (1921) and The Iron Mask (1929)

It had been a while since I watched my copy of the Douglas Fairbanks version of The Three Musketeers, so when The Iron Mask showed up from Netflix I decided to watch it again. It's also been a while since I read Dumas' Three Musketeers, but I think I remember enough of it to compare.

Fairbanks is a brilliant D'Artagnan, who's never been one of my favorite heroes. The literary D'Artagnan eventually grows into a character I don't mind, but as he begins the book, he's cocky, unduly arrogant, and quick-tempered. He also chases married women, but Dumas doesn't portray that so much as D'Artagnan's particular fault as it is a general failing in seventeenth century French morals. But regardless, D'Artagnan's rather a lout and Fairbanks plays him perfectly as one.

The movie's pretty faithful to what it includes of Dumas' story. It leaves out a bunch of Milady de Winter's backstory and focuses primarily on the intrigue of Richelieu and King Louis's trying to catch Queen Anne in adultery with England's Duke of Buckingham. Anne is portrayed as being loyal to her vows, but interested enough in Buckingham that she gives him a jeweled brooch as a remembrance. When Richelieu finds out, he has Louis demand that Anne wear the piece to an upcoming ball. Constance, Anne's seamstress, happens to be D'Artagnan's love interest and asks D'Artagnan to travel to England to retrieve the brooch in time for the ball. When Richelieu learns of Constance's plan, he sends soldiers to hunt down D'Artagnan and the musketeers while Milady de Winter races to England to try to secure the brooch first.

Which is all more or less how the book goes except for -- like I said -- a lot of extra details and backstory. And Constance's husband from the book becomes her uncle in the movie in order to make D'Artagnan not completely irredeemable. Nigel De Brulier is a perfect Richelieu, who manages to come off as simultaneously commanding and weaselly. Barbara La Marr is also suitably charming and dangerous as Milady, and Boyd Irwin is a wonderfully sinister Comte de Rochefort.

The action is all great, and like most of the really physical silent movies, you don't appreciate how amazing the stunts and fights are unless you stop to think about what you've just seen. On the Iron Mask DVD are some outtakes of Fairbanks trying several times to make a particularly difficult jump. It's a very cool scene in the movie, but the outtakes really drive home how fantastic it was.

My only complaint about the movie is that the ending is anti-climactic. I'm going to say why, so SPOILER WARNING for the rest of this paragraph. My recollection of the book is that Richelieu is thwarted by D'Artagnan and the musketeers, but through a combination of their own cunning and Louis' protection, Richelieu can't harm them or their co-conspirators. Someone correct me if I'm wrong about that, but it doesn't affect what I didn't like about the movie, which is that Richelieu pretty much just concedes defeat and congratulates the good guys for outwitting him. The End. It actually sets up Richelieu's characterization in The Iron Mask rather well, but it makes for a pretty lame ending to the first movie.

Four out of five scandalous affairs.

The first half of The Iron Mask pretty much picks up where the previous movie leaves off and fills in some of the backstory and completes some of the details from the novel that had been left out, especially the end of the novel and the resolution to the Milady storyline. At the same time, we get some setup for events that are going to take place in the last half of the movie, which is the Man in the Iron Mask plot.

I haven't read Dumas' version of the story, so all I have to compare it to is the 1998 version, which I love. I don't know which is most faithful to the novel, but I like the '98 version better because of how it handles the twin brothers and their relationships with D'Artagnan. Also, the '98 version tells you a lot more about what Athos, Porthos, and Aramis have been up to since their military days. In The Iron Mask, they're disbanded by Richelieu (played again by Nigel De Brulier) and inexplicably stay disbanded, even after Richelieu's death, until D'Artagnan needs them, sends for them, and they show up for one last fight together.

SPOILER WARNING. The Iron Mask ends with the death of all four musketeers, which you'd think would be sad, but is done in a really uplifting, exciting way. D'Artagnan is the last to go and as everyone gathers around his body, his spirit joins those of the three musketeers as they encourage him to join them in continuing adventures in the afterlife. "The Beginning," the end title says. And we believe it. END OF SPOILER.

I mentioned above that Richelieu's character is played a bit differently in the second movie , so I'll finish by explaining that. In Dumas' The Three Musketeers and pretty much every movie version I've seen, Richelieu is a slimy and conniving, but dangerous enemy. His motivation is that he wants to rule France from behind the king. He wants to be in charge and we aren't told that that's for any other reason than that he's a megalomaniac.

I don't know if he changes through the course of Dumas' novels, but I really like that The Iron Mask adds another dimension to him. According to this movie, he's motivated not by his love for power, but by his love for France and his realization that Louis isn't strong enough to rule adequately on his own. Louis' bound to be influenced by someone and Richelieu wants it to be by a patriot rather than a foreigner like Anne. Every ruthless thing Richelieu does is for the good of the country and we suspect that even D'Artagnan starts to see that in his later years. It also explains why Richelieu didn't take revenge on D'Artagnan and Company at the end of the first movie: it wouldn't have benefited France to lose four such capable men, who were patriots in their own right.

Oh, one more thing. The music in the Kino DVD of The Iron Mask is amazing. The Three Musketeers soundtrack is okay, but it feels a bit generic. The Iron Mask soundtrack was obviously scored particularly for the film and enhances the emotions of the film like you'd expect any good soundtrack to do. It even includes cymbal crashes when D'Artagnan breaks through windows.

Four out of five secret entrances to hidden castle prisons.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After-Christmas Elf

I'm taking a post-Christmas chill day, so enjoy a singing elf and some dancing hobbits. Real posting resumes tomorrow.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sidekick

This week's "Fringe Benefits" column is up on the Newsarama blog. It's a review of Paul Jenkins and Chris Moreno's Sidekick, which is a really funny superhero parody.

"I don’t usually like superhero parody a whole lot. It’s an overdone subgenre and most of the parodies I’ve read just repeat the same tired jokes endlessly. I’d list a couple of examples for you, but honestly it makes my head hurt to think about. I actually am pretty fond of superhero comics and dwelling on their worst qualities isn’t something I enjoy. If I find a particular aspect of superhero comics unappealing or ridiculous, I’ll just quit reading comics that have that trait. I certainly don’t want to read a parody comic that highlights it and makes it the center of focus.

"Sidekick
isn’t that kind of parody. I actually had to think about the word “parody” for a bit to decide if it even applies to Sidekick, but I think it does. Certainly there are some fun, silly superhero comics that get inappropriately labeled as parody, but they’re more celebrating the genre than making fun of it. It’s the difference between laughing with someone and laughing at him. Let me repeat that it’s certainly valid to laugh at superhero comics; I’d just prefer that comics that do that be, you know, actually funny. And that’s what separates Sidekick from the usual parody."

More at the link.

Quick Reviews: National Treasure 2, I Am Legend, and Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

National Treasure required a lot of suspension of disbelief. It was a fun movie, but you really had to let your brain go a bit to buy that the founding fathers went to that much trouble to hide the secret, Masonic treasure. All the clues leading to clues leading to more clues was fun, but a bit hard to believe.

Book of Secrets stretches credibility even further, starting with why Nick Cage gets involved in the first place. It's supposedly to clear the name of an ancestor who's recently been implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but I don't think you're supposed to think that hard about how finding a lost City of Gold is going to do that. Just like you're not supposed to think too hard about the even more ludicrous string of clues.

But if you're willing to ignore all that, it is a movie about a bunch of treasure hunters looking for a lost City of Gold. And, like National Treasure, it's got a great cast. All the original folks are back except Sean Bean, but he's replaced by Ed Harris, which is a fairly even trade. And it's got Helen Mirren as Nick's mom. I could've sworn the first movie said she was dead, but going back and rewatching that scene just now, it's really left open to interpretation, so no need to call the continuity cops.

Three out of five conspiratory presidents. (I give the original four out of five.)

I Am Legend


I let my hopes get raised by some friends who saw this before I did and loved it. Yes, Will Smith does a wonderful acting joy and it's worth seeing just for that.

Unfortunately, the ending is completely changed from the novella and not for the better. The novella actually makes you ask some interesting questions about what it means to be human. This is just a Hollywood, feel-good ending.

It's an okay Will Smith flick, but it's not I Am Legend. Also, the mutants are boring.

Two out of five boring mutants.

Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo

Charlie Chan movies are fairly formulaic, but I like the formula. They're usually about a bunch of rich people, at least one of whom has gotten him or herself into trouble with a murder and it's up to Charlie Chan to figure out what really happened and save the day. I can see why the average moviegoer in the '30s would've liked them. You get a glimpse at the glamorous, rich life, but you also see that rich folks have a lot of problems of their own. And it's nice to see a friendly, man of the people like Charlie be the one to fix everything.

Monte Carlo isn't any better or worse than the rest of Warner Oland's Chan films, but all that means is that it's a clever mystery and utterly charming.

Four out of five shifty-looking bartenders.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artist of the Day: Frank Frazetta



Okay, it's officially low-content mode again. Sorry about that, but at least there's still some nifty art, eh? Like more Buck Rogers from Frazetta courtesy of the indespinsable Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Reviews, news, and whatnot will resume after Christmas.

Art of the Day: The Man-Killing Girls of Lepu



I'm posting this after midnight, which means I've missed a day of posting. I don't want to officially announce low-content mode yet, but as Christmas gets closer, that might become more likely.

Today's art is another piece from Pulp of the Day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Artist of the Day: W. Heath Robinson



Via Golden Age Comic Book Stories

Stuff to Watch For: Cloverfield and The Hobbit

Cloverfield

It's a few days old now, but there's a nice, long preview of Cloverfield making the rounds. I was worried that they'd go for that grainy, amateurish, Blair Witch look, but it really looks good. And I love the man-on-the-street perspective. It helps you experience what it might actually be like in a giant monster attack. I'm hoping it'll be to Godzilla movies what Marvels was to superhero comics.

My only concern is whether they'll be able to keep that approach interesting for the length of a feature movie, but I tend to trust JJ Abrams. And director Matt Reeves is also doing a good job of making it sound cool.

The Hobbit

Sounds like Peter Jackson is involved with the Hobbit movie again. At least as an executive producer, but they're not saying that he's not directing yet. And apparently they're splitting the story into two movies, which bodes well for stuff like Beorn, Gandalf's encounter with Thorin's dad, and the Necromancer making it in.

Behind That Curtain (1929)

Eve calls for help.Behind That Curtain is the first non-silent movie to feature Charlie Chan. Actually "feature" is a strong word because Chan barely appears in it. He's mentioned early on as a great detective who occasionally helps the movie's main investigator and then he's brought in for the ending, but most of the film follows Scotland Yard detective Sir Frederick Bruce.

Even though Chan doesn't fit into it much, the plot is actually pretty cool. Or, it has the potential to be cool. Unrealized, but under different writers, it could've been really good.

A young heiress named Eve defies her controlling uncle and rejects her best friend in order to marry a louse named Eric Durand. As soon as they're hitched, Durand moves her to India and begins boinking the help. Then Eve gets word that Durand may have been involved in a murder back in England, so when Eve's jilted friend John, a world-traveling explorer, shows up in India, Eve leaves Durand and goes out into the desert with John. What adventures will they find? Will they find true love in each others arms? Is Durand really guilty of murder? It's up to Sir Frederick to find out.

Unfortunately, none of the answers are nearly as exciting as the questions. Eve and John don't really find adventure in the desert. Their time there is mostly spent lamenting their not being able to be lovers and John's trying to convince Eve to stay with him. True love eludes them though because Eve's a stupid decision-maker. Even the question of Durand's guilt is never seriously in doubt.

Behind That Curtain could've been a cool movie, with or without Charlie Chan, but instead it's a poorly executed, horribly acted mess. Lois Moran as Eve is especially bad. She delivers every line as melodramatically as possible, even for the '20s. E.L. Park is a goofy, charmless Charlie Chan too, so that when he finally shows up, you wonder what the point is.

Boris Karloff does show up in a bit part as John's manservant, but it's the only exciting part of an otherwise disappointing movie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Artist of the Day: Daniel Danger



Not only does Daniel Danger have the coolest name in the world, he's also got a kickass Dr. Strange poster for Gallery Nineteen Eighty Eight's upcoming Tribute to Stan Lee exhibit.

(Thanks to my fellow 'Ramablogger Kevin Melrose for the links.)

Stuff to Watch For: DC's New Frontier Special

I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't read Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier yet. By the time I decided I wanted it (after seeing Cooke's awesome stuff on The Spirit), the Absolute Edition had been announced and I've been saving up for that.

That doesn't mean that the news about a New Frontier Special isn't just as exciting to me though. Especially considering that Black Canary will be involved this time. Says Cooke, "J. Bone and I are tackling Wonder Woman, Black Canary and old school chauvinism in an New Frontier parody along the lines of the old Kurtzman/Wood Mad satires."

Also included will be a Superman/Batman fight that's "going to kick the hell out of those two," and a Robin/Kid Flash story that pits them against "Red saboteurs." Sounds good to me.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Hulk vs. Thing!

Our story opens as General Ross brings in the Fantastic Four to deal with a certain, jolly, green giant. It's important to know that nobody's figured out that the Hulk is actually one of Ross' scientific team... yet.



But when the FF finally meet up with ol' Jade Jaws, the Thing...



...starts to figure...



...it out.



Uh oh, Hulk. He's on to you. What're you gonna do now?



SUCKER PUNCH!

Don't worry though. Before long, everyone's friends and the Hulk and Thing are comparing muscles.



Hulk... never change, buddy.

Bahlactus SMASH!

Check out Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #29 for more smashy action.

Artist of the Day: Dub

From the blog of French-Canadian artist Dub:

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is as much Steampunk as Fantasy, and I really appreciate that about it. The design of the whole thing is fantastic: the locations, the dirigibles, the carriages; the various clockwork creations, including the Compass itself. It all looks amazing.

The polar bear fight is also very cool; especially the way it ends.

And the cast. The cast, naturally, is good. They were my biggest reason for wanting to see this thing.

But everything else? Not so much.

My biggest problem with The Golden Compass is that it's a kids' movie. If I was an eight-year-old girl, I think I would've loved it. Yeah, sure, there are some heady themes moving around in there, but they don't make up for the sheer goofiness of the plot.

The story boils down to a little girl named Lyra whose best friend has been kidnapped by the Powers of Evil. She and her magical, talking pet set off to rescue him, collecting other magical allies along the way: a cool band of gypsies, a faerie princess, a kindly old coot with a flying ship, and a talking bear. They try to disguise the faerie princess archetype by calling her a witch, but they're not fooling me. They might as well have given her butterfly wings and green hair. It would've fit the tone of the movie better. And while they were at it, they could've just changed the bear into a unicorn. It would've been more honest.

Really, what The Golden Compass feels like is a little girls' fairy tale that's been varnished over with a coat of badass. The dialogue certainly sounds that way. Also, the way Lyra keeps calling all of her magical friends by their full names. The bear isn't just "Iorek," he's "Iorek Byrnison" to her. The witch isn't "Serafina," she's "Serafina Pekkala." And for no other reason I can see than that they sound more magical that way. Sam Elliott, the kindly old coot, doesn't even get a first name; he's "Mr. Scoresby." It makes him sound like the Wizard of Oz. Or Uncle Wiggly.

What made the Lord of the Rings movies so cool is that they're so grounded. They may be about elves and dwarves and hobbits and wizards, but everyone feels like real people. It feels like something that's really happening as you're watching it. In The Golden Compass, it feels like something in some guy's head. A made up story he's telling his daughter. There's no weight to it.

And it's too bad, because like I said, there were things I liked about it. I didn't mention Daniel Craig's character, but he's basically the hero of every H.G. Wells and Jules Verne novel mixed with a little Indiana Jones. And I like that the Powers of Evil already control most of the world and see themselves as a benevolent organization.

I also like the bit about humans' souls living not inside them, but alongside them in the shape of animal companions called daemons. Occasionally, they're little more than talking pets, but when the idea is used well, it's a clever way of showing us the true nature of a character and revealing clues about her motivations. I don't quite get though why the daemons are always the opposite gender of their human companions. The book may explain it, but the movie doesn't, so I'm stuck wondering about the symbolism there.

I also wonder about some of the other symbolism. The Powers of Evil are called the Magisterium and, if the controversy-mongers are to be believed, represent the Catholic Church or possibly organized religion in general. The Golden Compass represents Truth, or at least the ability to see it. I'm not so sure what the Dust represents yet though.

We're told that the Dust binds everything together: the humans with their daemons; even the universe itself. It's sort of like the Force, I guess, and my belief system would lead me to compare it with God. But from what little I know about Pullman, I'm guessing that's not the case in his story. Especially since the Magisterium fears the Dust and doesn't want anyone to understand it. I'm sure it's a question that'll be answered in the sequels. Lyra pretty much says as much at the end of this one.

I also didn't get why the Magisterium is doing what it's doing with the children it kidnaps. Nicole Kidman tries to explain it at one point, but I'm having a hard time understanding her and an even harder time connecting her explanation with any symbolism behind it. Maybe once I know what the Dust is that'll fall into place too.

So, yeah, there's some possibly interesting stuff to think about. I don't think we're given enough information to really figure it out yet, but maybe I'm just being lazy. It's hard to tell with this movie. A lot of it's just silly, girly stuff, but there's a definite sense that the movie wants to be more than that. I can't tell yet where the symbolism falls in that spectrum.

I wish The Golden Compass had been more successful at rising above children's fantasy. As it is, I'm sort of curious to see where the story's going and would certainly like to see the sequels, but if something prevented them from getting made, I wouldn't feel a loss. For that matter, I wouldn't even feel compelled to read the books in order to find out how it ends.

Two out of five polar bear slaps.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Black Canary, Wonder Woman, and Simon Dark

Green Arrow and Black Canary #3

I'm still liking this, but I was mildly annoyed this issue by the explanation behind Ollie's "death." That's due more to DC's "event-itis" than to Judd's writing, but it's still icky.

Other than that though, fun stuff. Mia's trying to excuse herself from the arena to check up on Conner and Ollie was funny and so was the interplay between the two Green Arrows. I love that Canary basically pulls her punches in her arena match in order to drag the fight out long enough for Conner and Ollie to escape.

I had to do a bit of thinking about where Ollie's new costume came from, but I think I've come up with a reasonable way of reading the scene. At first read it sounds like Ollie created the costume and everyone else is seeing it for the first time, but that doesn't make sense because it would've been impossible for him to stash it on the boat.

The only way it makes sense is that Dinah brought it with her. From the way she says she likes it, she may not have made it herself, but it doesn't have to be the first time she's seen it. Just the first time she's seen it on him.

And the last two pages? I totally called that.

Wonder Woman #15

As much as I liked the Green Arrow Family's adventure on Paradise Island, I'm liking Wonder Woman's even better. GA/BC has some butt-kicking Amazon's but they're not the real deal. These are. Complete with unicorns and dragons and some kind of nasty, Nazi-eating tentacle-monster.

And, oh yeah, there are Nazis. And talking gorillas. And Wonder Woman's three-page tour of the gods that would've taken other writers six issues to tell.

Odin. Man, I hope Gail's sticking him in her back pocket to pull out later.

The god Wonder Woman eventually aligns herself with is an interesting, unexpected choice. I'll look forward to seeing where that leads.

And I love that it looks like there's finally going to be a grounded explanation for Wonder Woman's claybaby birth. It's entirely possible that there's been one before, but if that's true, I've missed it. I never liked that part of her origin because it just sounded mystical for the sake of being mystical. It would be really cool to have it make sense.

Simon Dark #3

This seems out of place next to those other two, but I really liked this and want to mention it.

Most reviews I've read of Simon Dark have been an excercise in head-scratching over DC's decision to try something new. The critics are trying to figure out if it's a horror series or a superhero series and why it's set in Gotham City. They're overthinking it.

I can see how Simon Dark might not be everyone's bag, but he's definitely mine. Someone described him as emo and that might be true, but so was Frankenstein's monster by that measure. And I see a lot of the things I like about that character in Simon.

It probably is more horror than superheroics, but there are superhero elements to it that make it an interesting hybrid of both genres. Sort of like the Hulk was a combination of superheroes and Jekyll/Hyde at the beginning.

Anyway, it's very different from anything else I've read and between its unique feel, some great characters, and Scott Hampton's fantastic art, I'm enjoying the heck out of it.

Artist of the Day: Sam Hiti

Sam Hiti's version of Lone Wolf and Cub:



There's another one in the link, so make with the clicky!

Stuff to Watch For: Firefly comics, RASL, FCS, Wild Things, and The Happening

Firefly/Serenity comics

Dark Horse has released information about their new Serenity mini-series co-written by Joss Whedon:

"Joss Whedon returns to the world of his blockbuster film Serenity with the three-issue comics series Better Days. Better Days revisits everyone's favorite space cowboys in this thrilling, action-packed adventure, with Mal and his crew on a heist that promises a big payoff -- what's surprising is that this heist just might make good on that promise. Whedon reunites with Brett Matthews and Will Conrad, his collaborators on the best-selling 2005 series Those Left Behind. Adam Hughes joins the team for covers."

The series takes place before the movie and will be on sale in comics stores on Mar 12.

(Also at that link, check out the Frankenstein's Monster bust. Not half bad.)

RASL

Jeff Smith (Bone) has a 6-page preview of his new crime/adventure series RASL. I love Sims' take on the series: "Of course, given that I can’t read the title without thinking of the word 'wrestle,' there probably won’t be quite as many steel chairs and/or ladder matches as I’d like. Still pretty exciting, though."

Fantasy Crime Squad

Oh, wow. You gotta check out this image from Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos' Fantasy Crime Squad. Ramos describes it as "soon to be in pre-production," so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it, but when it does eventually come out, it looks gooooooood.

Where the Wild Things Are, etc.

Heidi's got stills from a bunch of upcoming WB movies, including the first I've seen from Where the Wild Things Are. There are also some from Speed Racer and The Dark Knight that have been making the Internet rounds.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening

I know it's in vogue not to like Shyamalan anymore, but I'm still a believer. I don't really like the title of The Happening, and the poster is pretentious, but I'll look forward to seeing the movie.

Jesse James (1939)

Jesse finally meets his boy.This is another Tyrone Power movie, but I like this one a lot better than The Black Swan. Instead of being distracted by unbelievable character development I was distracted by historical inaccuracies, but for reasons I'll get into I was able to forgive those for the sake of dramatic license.

In Jesse James, Power plays the Robin Hood version of Jesse James, which we all know isn't real. That means a lot of stuff -- and not just his motivation -- has to be changed to fit the movie's view of Jesse. In contrast, American Outlaws just threw out history altogether. There was no Northfield bank or Bob Ford; Outlaws is basically an unrelated Western (and not at all a bad one) with some historical names slapped on. Jesse James, on the other hand, tries to include some historical details, but manipulates them. For one example, it makes the traitorous Ford responsible for the Northfield failure. Another is Jesse's death.

I'm not defending the historical Ford's cowardly way of killing Jesse, but I do believe there was a tangible element of fear that contributed to his doing it that way. In Jesse James, Jesse poses absolutely no threat to the Ford brothers, so Bob's act just comes across as mean. And John Carradine plays Ford so sinisterly that they might as well have changed the character's name to Judas Iscariot.

But, inaccuracies aside, Jesse James is really a worthwhile movie. Power hated being stereotyped as a swashbuckler and I can see why now. Playing Jesse gives him a much wider range to play in than I've seen him use as Zorro or any of his pirate roles. Jesse starts off as just a nice, Missourian farmboy, but he quickly has to learn some wiliness in order to survive the persecution the railroad's putting on him. After a while of robbing banks and trains though, he comes to like it and his men and family begin to fear for his sanity. Eventually, a conversation with Frank (played with amazing, quiet power by Henry Fonda) brings Jesse back around and sends him home to his wife whom he hasn't seen in five years and the son he's never met. Power plays amiable, sly, menacing, and repentant equally well.

His talents as an adventure star aren't wasted though. Jesse James isn't a shoot-em-up, but there's still plenty of action and stuntwork, especially during a train robbery and the thrilling escape from Northfield.

I also liked Nancy Kelly's (Tarzan's Desert Mystery) performance as Zee. The script gives Jesse's wife a lot more to do than either American Outlaws or The Assassination of Jesse James and Kelly sells her as a woman torn between her love for Jesse, her fear for his safety, and her frustration at his inability to settle down.

There's some great scenery in Jesse James too. It's a color movie and they made full use of that new technology in the cinematography, especially in the horse chases and some of the James boys' mountain hideouts.

Jesse James may not reflect the real man, but it's a beautiful presentation of a great story about some fictional folks I ended up liking a lot.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December Theatrical Releases

Last Week

The Golden Compass: Early reviews haven't been awesome, but I still want to see the talking polar bear fight the giant robot polar bear. Also: James Bond, Vesper, Sam Elliott, and Nicole Kidman.

Atonement: Ah, Keira. If only it also had giant polar bears.

Revolver: (limited release) Guy Ritchie returns to his roots with a new gangster film starring Jason Statham. Also, Ray Liotta. Unfortunately, it's taken two years to get it to the US from Britain, there's been absolutely zero publicity about it, and it's in limited release. That doesn't make it sound like a worthy successor to Snatch.

This Weekend

I Am Legend: I'm pretty much scared of how this is going to compare to the original story, but the trailers look good enough that I'm willing to give it a shot. At best though, I'm expecting my usual, enjoyable-but-forgettable experience with Will Smith movies.

Youth Without Youth: (LA/NY) Don't let the fancy mcschmancy roses on the poster fool you. It's really a story about Nazis trying to capture a scientist they think has discovered the secret to immortality. The movie's just going to look really, really pretty while it's telling it to you.

December 21st

National Treasure: Book of Secrets: The first one was everything that The Da Vinci Code should've been. I'm up for more.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story: It's probably the Johnny Cash references, but I think the trailer for this is hilarious.

P.S. I Love You: I know, I know. I'm just a little in love with Hilary Swank right now.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: (limited release) And Johnny Depp.

Charlie Wilson's War: I'm lukewarm about Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, but Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mike Nichols are always draws. And the trailer is funny and interesting.

December 25th

The Bucket List: It's telling that the poster realizes it doesn't have to say anything about what the movie's actually about. All it has to do is show Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman enjoying each other (and tell me that Rob Reiner's involved) and I know I want to see it.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem: I sorta liked this. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna like this too.

December 28th

The Orphanage: (limited release) Guillermo del Toro produced this horror movie and is bringing it to the US. And it's apparently wildly popular in Spain. That's enough for me.

Persepolis: (limited release) I've been hearing about how good the graphic novel for this is for a couple of years, so I'm interested in seeing what the fuss is about for myself. Especially since the animation is all done in the style of the graphic novel.

Artist of the Day: Frank Frazetta

I guarantee this isn't the last time you'll see Frazetta as Artist of the Day. This Buck Rogers art is from the Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog.

The Black Swan (1942)

As much as I want to like The Black Swan, I'm having a hard time doing it. Yeah, it's a pirate movie and it's got Tyrone Power at his swashbuckling best. And it's got George Sanders (unrecognizable in his red wig and beard, but unmistakable in his voice). And it's got some fantastic sets and the ships and fights are all awesome. And (despite the picture I've posted) it's in glorious color.

What I can't get past though is the relationship between Power's character Jamie Waring and Lady Margaret (played by Maureen O'Hara, whom I'll never quit confusing with Maureen O'Sullivan).

They meet when Waring tries to force himself onto Lady Margaret during a raid. He tries to kiss her against her will, backs her up against a wall, and then hits her when she still won't let him. Naturally, she falls in love with him at the end.

Okay, that's not completely fair. She treats him exactly as he deserves for most of the movie and he's not exactly supposed to be a role-model for dating. He's an uncouth, offensive, abusive pirate. I think we're supposed to like him anyway, but even if we don't (and I didn't), I'm not going to fault him for being what he is any more than I fault villains for being what they are. For some reason though, Jamie falls in love with Margaret and tries to reform himself. I don't really get why he decides she's the one for him, but she is pretty and maybe he sees her as a challenge. Whatever. I can buy that.

I also buy his rough attempt at transformation. He doesn't do a very good job of it, but it's clear that he thinks he's trying. So, as immature as his view is of how a gentleman acts, he gets credit for giving it a shot.

What I don't get is Margaret's eventually falling for him. I'm a big believer in forgiveness as a concept and I think we should all practice it a lot more in our lives, but from a storytelling perspective, we're never led to believe that Margaret's the forgiving kind. And she'd be perfectly justified in not forgiving Jamie for beating her and more or less trying to rape her. And anyway, it's a long way from forgiveness to falling in love with someone.

As best as I can piece it together, the only reason Margaret would go for Jamie at the end is if she not only recognized his feeble attempt to become a better person, but was already sort of attracted to him all along. If, just as Jamie claimed, she really did just want a man to dominate her and tell her what to do. And while I know that there are women who actually feel that way, the movie didn't give me any reason to think that Margaret was one of them. Until it turned out that she was.

Like I said up top, there's a lot to like about The Black Swan. But you have to get past Jamie and Margaret to enjoy it and that's something I wasn't able to do.

Two out of five shots off the port bow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Art of the Day: The Voodoo Murders

When I can, I'll always credit the artist and make this an Artist of the Day feature, but I recently discovered a fantastic site called Pulp of the Day and I don't have any idea who the artists are who created these great covers. The art's too sweet not to share though. I'll definitely link to them again, but browse the whole site. It's full of awesome.

Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip!

MW

Oh, yeah. This week's "Fringe Benefits" column is up at the Newsarama blog. It's a review of Osamu Tezuka's horror/suspense thriller MW.

It's as beautifully and powerfully illustrated as anything I've ever seen, but I've got major problems with the story.

Demons of Sherwood

There's only about 18 pages done so far, but Bo Hampton's Demons of Sherwood over at ComicMix is off to a chilling, exciting start. After a brief re-introduction to the Robin Hood legend, the story picks up with a mob of villagers chasing a gypsy girl through Sherwood. They think she's in league with the Devil, but they quickly discover something truly demonic in the forest mists.

Bo Hampton is a master horror illustrator. His work is beautiful on its own, but he also knows exactly how to present a scene for maximum creepy. I've been a big fan of his adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for a long time and it's great to see him back at comics with Demons of Sherwood. He opens the story with a thrilling, scary chase scene (the villagers are portrayed almost like serial killers, which is a fantastic take on them) and doesn't waste any time getting to even greater chills.

I have no idea where it's headed, but I'm excited to find out. It's free to read, so click the link above and check it out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Artist of the Day: Walt Simonson

Walt Simonson's Leela courtesy of Siskoid:

New Stuff to Watch For: Avatar by Lisa Paitz Spindler

Lisa Paitz Spindler is a science fiction writer among other things. I discovered her blog when she linked to some of my Wonder Woman posts, and I'm glad I did. The Wonder Woman link was part of a continuing feature she calls Danger Gal Friday, which is chock full of kickbutt ladies. Some of them (like Starbuck, Ripley, and Elizabeth Swan) I'm familiar with, but she's a lot more widely read than I am and includes plenty of women whom I now want to know a lot more about (Chaz Bergren, Parrish Plessis, and Jenny Casey, for instance). It's well worth browsing through.

And Paitz Spindler's tastes in heroines lines up with mine well enough that I'm really looking forward to seeing her published. She's got a few works in progress, but it looks like Avatar is done and her description of it makes me want to read it:

"When dispatched to distant Ico, Kinship spy Jana Rajam is captured and forced to share her mind with the memories of a long-dead warrior queen. Once escaped, Rajam finds herself thrown between a far-reaching conspiracy to reclaim a lost golden age and a bid to control a narcotic that could enslave or liberate the Iconnu.

"A queen must have a consort, and religious leader Brannon Bayne has spent a lifetime living up to the memories he carries of the ancient monarch’s renowned general. A half-breed caught between two cultures, Bayne must convince Jana to help him forge a peace before solar flares ravage the planet.

"AVATAR tells the story of a spy’s redeeming mission, a revered leader’s desperate journey, and a warring planet’s only hope."

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Foreign Correspondent is always duking it out with Psycho for the top spot in my list of favorite Hitchcock films. Psycho is a great horror movie with a twisting plot and some unbelievable performances, but Foreign Correspondent has windmills, clipper planes, spies, Nazis, and George Sanders. All it really needs is George Sanders, but the rest of that stuff is cool too.

Joel McCrea plays an American crime reporter named Johnny Jones who's recruited by his newspaper to travel to Europe and report on the impending war. The paper's publisher is tired of his current European staff's just re-writing press releases and turning them in as news. He wants real, investigative journalism and he thinks Jones is the guy to do it.

Jones' first assignment is to cover a peacemaking alliance and he's on the scene when one of the most influential voices for peace in Europe is assassinated. Jones joins the chase for the killer and quickly learns that there's more to the murder than first appears. With the help of a British peace-leader named Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) and her platonic chum Scott ffolliott (George Sanders), Jones begins trying to unravel the mystery and expose the people working to start World War II.

McCrea is a charming lead and Day is a convincing and beautiful actress, but Sanders is the main attraction in this movie. I've been in love with his voice ever since I heard him as Shere Khan in Disney's version of The Jungle Book and I've tracked down a lot of his work since then. He was always a charming actor and he had a great range, but my favorite characters of his were the unmitigated cads and that's what Scott ffolliott (yeah, with two, lower-case "f"s) is. Watching Foreign Correspondent, you get the definite feeling that Scott is in love with Carol, but that as much as she likes him, she knows he's too privileged and irresponsible to make serious husband potential. And by the time he starts to overcome his flaws, she's already in love with Jones. What makes Scott ffolliott wonderful though is that he never exhibits the slightest sign of jealousy or desire to betray Carol and Jones. He's not only a loyal friend, but also a loyal patriot, though I'd be surprised to learn that he ever thought much about politics or foreign affairs before meeting Jones. Though he starts out a sort of scoundrel, he end up being the most heroic, selfless character in the movie and it's an inspiring transition to watch.

Jones and Carol are heroic characters too, but they're pretty much expected to be and their motives are less complex than Scott's. Carol, we're told, is just a Good Person. Her father is involved with the peace initiative and she's just sort of unquestioningly joined him in that work.

Jones is a little more complicated, but his heroism begins as journalistic curiosity and eventually becomes concern for Carol's safety. By the end of the movie, he's a man with a cause, but the transitions between these stages are too abrupt for me to completely buy and invest myself in them. He and Carol go from curiously interested in each other to "Let's get married" pretty much between scenes, and his impassioned plea at the end for the US to get involved in Europe sort of comes out of nowhere. Actually, it may not come from nowhere if you read it merely as an extension of his love for Carol, but that still makes him far less noble than Scott.

Aside from the commentary on heroism, Foreign Correspondent also has interesting things to say about patriotism in general as well as America's isolationist policy prior to 1941. Regarding patriotism, there's a very nice bit in which the leader behind the assassination scheme explains his actions in a way that makes him almost sympathetic. The script never takes seriously the idea that he may have a valid point-of-view (nor should it probably; the guy's a Nazi after all), but it raises some good questions about patriotism and blindly following whatever direction the current government of your homeland may be traveling.

Regarding America's isolationism, the film is very clearly a call for the US to get involved in Europe. When Jones makes his impassioned speech, it's so heavy handed (including swelling music in the background) that Hitchcock himself might have just as well stepped in front of the camera to directly address the audience. Seen with almost 70 years of distance, it's an unfortunate, clunky way to end an otherwise amazing spy thriller, but when the movie originally came out in 1940, I imagine that it was quite powerful. And its being nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, pretty much supports that theory.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Wolverine vs. Gorg!

Wolverine and the Avengers are transported back in time to help some villagers deal with a bloodthirsty warlord named Gorg. He sounds tough. Is he? Let's see...



SUCKER PUNCH!

But that ain't all!



"Rrrraahhhahhgh," indeed, Wolverine. "Rrrraahhhahhgh," indeed.

Avenging is Bahlactus' job description.

Artist of the Day: Tony Semedo

From Tony Semedo's blog:

New Stuff to Watch For: Dan Taylor mech, Prince Caspian, RASL, Perils on Planet X, and Public Enemies

Don Figueroa's mech designDan Taylor (Hero Happy Hour) and Don Figueroa (Transformers) are working on a new mech comic together.

There's a trailer out for Prince Caspian.

Jeff Smith's new adventure comic RASL is available for pre-order.

Christopher Mills has announced that his web comic Perils on Planet X (which I reviewed a looooong, long time ago) is coming to print. I keep thinking that Ape Entertainment can't get any more awesome, and they keep proving me wrong.

Apparently, Michael Mann is working on a gangster film based on Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book Public Enemies. Johnny Depp is attached to play John Dillinger, but if I'm reading the article right, the movie is also supposed to feature Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ma Barker, Bonnie and Clyde, and the one that's nearest and dearest to my heart: Machine Gun Kelly.

Mike and Dave Go to Hitman



Hitman didn't even make my list of November movies I wanted to see (which reminds me that I haven't done the December list yet), but in the absence of anything else really grabbing us, my brother-in-law Dave and I went to check it out last night.

It just now occurs to me that I want to also see Awake, but I'd forgotten about it last night. Awake is a bad, non-descript title. If they'd called it That Movie Where Hayden Christensen is Under Anesthesia but Can Still Tell People are Trying to Kill Him, I would've remembered what it was and that I wanted to see it. C'mon; get with it, Hollywood.

But I'm actually glad that I forgot that one and that we went to Hitman. Really glad.

My original dismissal of Hitman was based on its looking like it was trying too hard to be stylish. The trailer was all water running over bald heads and slow-motion action sequences set to "Ave Maria." Surely, I thought, they were covering for the fact that they had no plot. Or that the plot they did have was stupid. With movies based on video games, I think I was probably betting with the odds there.

I was totally wrong though, and I haven't had that much fun at an action movie since XXX. I'm not going to spoil anything about the plot, but it was just complicated enough to keep you guessing and surprise you a couple of times without being convoluted. Dave pointed out a couple of holes to me afterwards, but I'd only noticed one of them as I was watching the movie. And even after having them pointed out to me, I was able to explain most of them away, "No Prize" style. So, yeah, the plot could've been a bit tighter in a couple of places, but they weren't huge deals. One possible hole Dave mentioned might not actually even be one. We agreed that we'd need to rewatch the movie to be sure, and it says something that I'm totally excited about that prospect.

It is a stylish movie to be sure. It's positively silky in how smooth and shiny everything is, including our hero Agent 47. He's no James Bond, this guy, and I don't want him to be. Somehow Bond got a reputation for being slick, but as Casino Royale showed, he shouldn't be. Agent 47 though is a whole other story. Make no mistake: he's a complete badass and the action sequences (mostly gunfights, with a couple of hand-to-hand and sword fights mixed in) are all awesome. But he looks so damn pretty with his gentle eyes and baby-face. (That sounds like I'm in love with him, and I sort of am.) I wasn't that familiar with Timothy Olyphant, but he kept reminding me of Robert Sean Leonard. Not the first person you think of for an action hero.

And that's what I loved about him. He's nasty tough, but the juxtaposition between that and the implied vulnerability of his soft looks made him a unique, fascinating character. Seriously, I want to see twelve more Hitman films.

But they also need to star Olga Kurylenko, who's talented enough to pull off the complicated role she's playing. Nika could've easily been written as just another Hooker with a Heart of Gold, but there's a lot more to her than that and Kurylenko makes her a desperately tragic person. It also helps that her relationship with Agent 47 breaks the typical action-movie conventions about how these things are supposed to go. And it also also helps that her legs are longer than the Alaska pipeline. Holy crap.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Stuff to Watch For: Bond reprints, Venetian Betrayal, and Jericho

"Mink-lined, with first-class service."

I've discovered a cool, relatively new blog called The Literary 007. As you'd expect, it's full of lots of great info on James Bond in novels and comics. Like that Penguin's releasing a complete box set of Fleming's Bond as well as a hardcover collection in celebration of Fleming's 100th birthday next year. Both are only available in the UK, so far, but surely they'll eventually sell them over here. Right? (Actually, I learned about the hardcover versions from my pal Jason Whiton, and it was looking for more info on those that led me to Literary 007. So double thanks to Jason for that.)

The lost tomb of Alexander the Great

The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry sounds absolutely awesome.

"In 323 B.C.E, having conquered Persia, Alexander the Great set his sights on Arabia, then suddenly succumbed to a strange fever. Locating his final resting place–unknown to this day–remains a tantalizing goal for both archaeologists and treasure hunters. Now the quest for this coveted prize is about to heat up. And Cotton Malone–former U.S. Justice Department agent turned rare-book dealer–will be drawn into an intense geopolitical chess game."

It comes out next Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Jericho's back

The seven new episodes of Jericho begin on February 12.

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