Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Comics Round-Up # 7


SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL  # 9

Written by: Cecil Castelluci
Illustrated by:  Marley Zarcone
Inked by:  Ande Parks
Coloured by:  Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettered by:  Saida Temofonte
Cover by:  Becky Cloonan
Published by;  Young Animal

In the City, Part Two:  Band on the Run.  16 year old runaway Meghan Boyer, possessed by extraterrestrial entity Loma Shade, is alone in Gotham City, where she decides to take in a show by her favourite band The Sonic Booms, who she came across in a 1960s TV show.  However, when she sees that they are no longer the young, hip band from over fifty years ago, she is forced to confront for the first time human ideas of ageing.

Another fun issue from one of the brightest and most vibrant comics on the stands.  Always inventive, the chaos that Shade, albeit inadvertently, causes is fun to watch, but is shown to have consequence.  This issue in particular deals with ageing and the appeal of nostalgia.


BANE CONQUEST # 2

Written by:  Chuck Dixon
Art by:  Graham Nolan
Coloured by:  Gregory Wright
Lettered by:  Carlos M. Mangual
Cover by:  Graham Nolan and Gregory Wright
Published by: DC

The Sword part two.  Bane has been captured, imprisoned and tortured by a new villain, Damocles.  Bane's only hope lies in fellow prisoner Bruce Wayne.

The character of Bane was created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moenech and Graham Nolan, and first appeared in 1993 as a Batman villain, and is possibly most recognizable for the iconic image of breaking Batman's back, and was memorably and mumblingly played by Tom Hardy in the movie The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  In Bane Conquest, he is more of an antihero, the leader of a team who maintain order in Gotham City, a place which he seems to regard as his own personal property.  In this issue he forms and uneasy alliance with Bruce Wayne, and curiously seems to be perfectly aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and Wayne also seems to know that he knows.  Anyway, this is a fun issue excitingly told with vibrant artwork.

   

PREDATOR: HUNTERS # 2

Written by:  Chris Warner
Art by:  Francisco Ruiz Velasco
Lettered by:  Michael Heisler
Cover by:  Doug Wheatley
Published by:  Dark Horse

For centuries, advanced alien Predators as their personal hunting ground, but now a task force has been formed to fight back, and the Predators are about to become the prey.

There have been many comics spun off from the film Predator (1987), many of which use the plot of a small group being picked off one by one by a mysterious force.  It turns out to be a Predator!  The hero has to stop them before anyone else dies...  This story rings the changes by having a group actively hunting Predators.  The focus in this issue is mainly bringing the band together and detailing their mission, the focus is on exposition and backstory rather than action, but if you are invested after having read the first issue, you won't want to miss it, but it might not be the best to start off with.  The artwork is fantastic:  beautifully detailed and moody.


SAGA # 43

Written by:  Brian K. Vaughan
Art by:  Fiona Staples
Lettered by:  Fonografiks
Cover by:  Fiona Staples
Published by:  Image

In a bizarre galaxy, Alana and Marko, soldiers from opposing sides on an interplanetary war fall in love and have a child named Hazel.  Now all three are targets from both sides and are forced on the run in a hostile universe.

Saga is one of the most acclaimed comics being published, although it has not recently had anything like the amount of attention that it had five years ago.  However, it is as good as it has ever been, and this is the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as it begins a new story arch (also this issue only costs 25 cents, as part of a promotion to mark 25 years of Image Comics).  It manages to be funny, ridiculous, disturbing, endlessly imaginative and genuinely emotional, with some great characters and fantastic artwork.  If you've never read Saga, jump on now.


HAWKEYE # 7

Written by:  Kelly Thompson
Art by:  Leonardo Romero
Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by:  VC's Joe Sabino
Cover by:  Julian Totino Tedesco
Published by:  Marvel

Private Investigator Kate Bishop, a.k.a Hawkeye, is attacked at home, and left with a package, apparently her attackers were sent by her arch-enemy Madame Masque, and inside the package is a pendent that belonged to Kate's mother.  Kate sets off to confront Madame Masque, perfectly aware that she is walking straight into a trap.

A very entertaining issue combining action, jokes and mystery.  It's all very well designed with imaginative page and pane layouts, particularly in the action scenes.  The central mystery, unfolding through extensive use of flashbacks, is tantalisingly constructed, although the conclusion of the issue isn't particularly surprising.


ADVENTURE TIME # 65

Written by:  Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by:  Ian McGinty
Coloured by:  Maarta Laiho
Lettered by:  Nate Fiorentino
Cover by:  Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
Published by:  Kaboom!

It's the last round of the Best Princess Ever Competition in the magical, post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo.  The finalists are: Flame Princess, Breakfast Princess, Hot Dog Princess and Lumpy Space Princess, but one of them is not what she seems...

This is a fun one-off story, that should appeal to fans of the TV show Adventure Time (2010 - onwards) as well as newcomers.  It's funny and light and the artwork perfectly matches the style of the TV series.       


PICK OF THE WEEK


SAGA # 43
   

Friday, 9 June 2017

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Year of Release:  1991
Director:  James Cameron
Screenplay:  James Cameron and William Wisher
Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
Running Time:  137 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, action,

In the year 2029, a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is a battlefield in an ongoing war between a small group of human resistance fighters and the machines controlled by the vast computer system known as Skynet.  In a last ditch attempt to destroy the resistance, Skynet sends a liquid metal, shapeshifting T-1000 Terminator (Patrick) back in time to the 1990s  to kill the ten year old John Connor (Furlong), who would grow up lead the resistance.  The resistance, however, is able to send a reprogrammed older model T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to act as the young Connor's protector.  John, the T-800 and John's mother Sarah (Hamilton) - the target of a failed assassination attempt ten years earlier - are forced into a desperate struggle to survive, and possibly save the future.

Whereas The Terminator (1984) was a modestly budgeted science-fiction chase movie, everything here is bigger including the action, the budget, the length and Schwarzenegger himself who, alongside director James Cameron, really broke through to the action "A" list with The Terminator.  Terminator 2 was groundbreaking in it's day for it's visual effects, particularly it's use of CGI which was really still in it's infancy in 1991, it was also the most expensive movie ever made up to that time (although Cameron himself has broken that record several times since).  It broke box-office records and remains one of the most iconic films of the 1990s.  Although, of course, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, but this really does improve upon the original, building on and expanding the world and the themes of the first.  The tone of the film is surprisingly downbeat and bleak, with the characters not being particularly likable most of the time, although when your chased by an unkillable, shapeshifting robot that exists solely to kill you, and you know for a fact that the world is about to be annihilated in a couple of years, you could probably be forgiven for having a case of the grumpys.  The performances are good, with Schwarzenegger delivering one of his most memorable appearances.  Schwarzenegger is an actor of limited range, but he knows what those limitations are and he plays to his strengths, and what he does well, he does better than anyone.  Linda Hamilton gives an intense performance as the traumatised Sarah Connor, a world away from the cute, fluffy waitress from the beginning  of the first film, she's almost a human Terminator here.  Edward Furlong made his acting debut as the ten year old John Connor and turns in a fine performance.  The action is spectacular, and the special effects, surprisingly, have aged very well and still hold up today.  Full of memorable moments, this is one of the best movies of the 1990s.

He'll be back:  Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

  
 


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lights Out

Year of Release:  2016
Director:  David F. Sandberg
Screenplay:  Eric Heisserer, based on the short film Lights Out by David F. Sandberg
Starring:  Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, Billy Burke
Running Time:  81 minutes
Genre:  Supernatural horror

Rebecca (Palmer) worries about her young half-brother Martin (Bateman), who lives alone with her estranged mother Sophie (Bello), who suffers from mental illness.   Rebecca soon finds out that martin and Sophie are both haunted by a powerful supernatural entity known as Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) who only manifests in the dark, a being that Rebecca remembers from her own childhood, and that now seems to be coming after her.

Most good horror films tap into a primal fear, in this case fear of the dark, one of the most universal fears there are.  Starting out as an award winning three minute short film, this isn't a particularly good movie, it relies too much on the same scares, the characters aren't particularly well sketched out, there are few surprises and the entity and the rules by which it operates are shown too early on, which diminishes her effectiveness later on.  Having said this however, there are times when it does work, and some of the scares provide a real jolt, and as a whole there is enough entertainment to pass the time, particularly when they try and find ingenious ways to provide light.  The entity herself, a shadowy, spindly, clawed figure rising out of the darkness, is striking.

Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in Lights Out          

The Firm (1989)

Year of Release:  1989
Director:  Alan Clarke
Screenplay:  Al Hunter Ashton
Starring:  Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, Charles Lawson
Running Time:  70 minutes
Genre:  Drama

London, 1988:  Clive "Bex" Bissel (Oldman) is a 30 year old estate agent, who lives an apparently comfortable suburban life with his wife, Sue (Manville) and baby son.  However when the weekend comes, Bissel is the leader of the ICC (Inter City Crew), a hooligan "firm" (an organised gang who attach themselves to soccer teams and go to matches with the sole purpose of fighting rival gangs).  Bissel has an ambitious plan to unite the rival firms into one for a European championship, with the aim of causing havoc on an international scale.  However the rivalries are not so easily put aside.

This made-for-TV movie was the final work from acclaimed director Alan Clarke, who died in 1990 at the age of 54.  Like much of his work, this is an examination of male aggression and social commentary, which is as much about Britain at the end of the 1980s as it is about soccer thugs.  Hooliganism was a real hot button topic at the time, and these are not the traditional disaffected young men, they are mostly not "victims of society" but middle-class people with good jobs and plenty of money, who commit the violence for the "buzz".  This is an exciting film, shot with a constantly roving camera a times almost shoving the viewer into the middle of these guys, and the film has a real sense of danger (apparently some of the fighting scenes weren't entirely fake).  Gary Oldman gives a terrifying performance as the mercurial Bex, always well-dressed, charismatic and intelligent, but who can turn on a dime and unleash savage brutality.  This is definitely a film about men, and women don't really get a look in, the only major female character is Sue, and Lesley Manville does not have that much to do, but she does appear in a very disturbing sequence that was cut from the broadcast version of the film, but is available in the "director's cut".  Alan Clarke himself was a committed soccer fan and hated the hooligans for ruining the game, the film makes a point of never actually showing any soccer at only one point are any of them seen at a game, and they aren't watching it.  The film periodically erupts into violence, which is sudden, savage and brutal.  It might be a TV movie but it is definitely not for the faint of heart.  A brutal, confrontational work.

Gary Oldman gets bang out of order as the leader of The Firm  

Monday, 5 June 2017

King of New York

Year of Release:  1990
Director:  Abel Ferrara
Screenplay:  Nicholas St. John
Starring:  Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  Thriller, crime, gangster

Convicted drug lord Frank White (Walken) is released from prison, and immediately returns to New York City and sets about expanding his already vast criminal empire, making a bid for legitimacy by using the profits to help an underfunded inner city hospital.  However, White and his gang ruthlessly proceed to wipe out anyone who stands in their way and, as the body count rises, a group of police officers are determined to stop Frank, by any means necessary.

This is one of the best films from prolific director Abel Ferrara, a gritty, action-packed urban thriller, which rattles along with nary a dull moment.  Christopher Walken is effective in the lead, looking almost more ghostly than usual against his all black clothing and shadowy locations.  His Frank White is an interesting character, calm, cool, reasonable, soft-spoken, who can erupt with sudden, ferocious violence, an absolutely ruthless killer, who nevertheless has a strong social conscience and who claims that he has never killed an innocent person.  The film features several well-known actors in relatively early roles, including David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne (here billed as "Larry"), Wesley Snipes, and Steve Buscemi.  There are few female characters and they are given very little to do, except look pretty.  It contrasts the world of opulent hotel rooms, lavish galas and lunches in top-class restaurants, with the gritty mean streets, dark clubs and back rooms, and the film uses it's locations very effectively.  The film's frequent graphic violence may be off-putting for some viewers, but it is one of the best urban thrillers of the period.

Christopher Walken reflects in King of New York    

Inside Llewyn Davis

Year of Release:  2013
Director:  Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring:  Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Justin Timberlake
Running Time:  105 minutes
Genre:  Drama, dark comedy, period, music

Greenwich Village, New York City, the winter of 1961:  The film charts a week in the life of struggling folk singer Llewyn Davis (Isaac), sleeping wherever anyone will give him a couch for the night, constantly hustling for low-paying gigs or session work and always hoping for an elusive big break.

This is a beautifully dark comedy, following one very bad week for Llewyn Davis, virtually plotless, the film moves from incident to incident as Davis' troubles mount up, although many of them are self-inflicted.  Filmed in muted colours it captures a particular moment in American music, of the folk scene just prior to the emergence of Bob Dylan.  It features a fantastic performance from Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis who could easily just be a complete prick.  While Davis is not a particularly likable character, his obnoxious personality alienating friends and strangers alike, he is never unsympathetic, with Isaac being able to convey so much despair and frustration with just a look.  Also the fact that Davis is a good singer, and he could possible make it big if he could get the breaks, but he knows that his break probably will never come, and the fact that often it doesn't matter if someone has talent if they can't catch a break.  Isaac is well supported by other great performances, mot notably from Carey Mulligan (as a fellow folk singer who looks like an angel and sings very sweetly but has a lot of anger which she is not shy about expressing) and John Goodman (as an obnoxious drug addicted jazz musician).  There are a lot of Coen Brothers hallmarks here, with characters being defined by repeated phrases and motifs, and recurring plot elements (such as Llewyn's search for a missing cat, which runs through the film), and it feels almost like a companion piece to A Serious Man  (2009), which has a similar theme of life being like a cosmic joke.  The film also has one of the best soundtracks of recent years.      

Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Comics Round-Up # 6

This is the return of an old feature from my blog, in which I discuss the comics that I have been buying and reading each week.  It's by no means comprehensive or definitive about what's available, just what I've picked up.


SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL # 8

Written by: Cecil Castellucci
Illustrated by:  Marley Zarcone
Inked by:  Ande Parks
Coloured by:  Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettered by:  Saida Temofonte
Cover by:  Becky Cloonan
Published by:  Young Animal

Little Runaway, Part 1: In the City.   16 year old Megan Boyer, possessed by the extraterrestrial Loma Shade, and equipped with the reality distorting Madness Coat has run away to Gotham City.  Learning about life in the big city, while inadvertantly causing havoc everywhere she goes.

Shade, the Changing Girl is one of the best comics to come out of the Young Animal strand from DC Comics.  The lost in the big city storyline is amusingly told, mixed with memorably surreal images.  The character of Shade is sympathetic, if not always likeable.  She causes a lot of damage to the people around her, albeit without choosing to.  The comic also has alien characters which look and act... alien. 



SECRET EMPIRE:  UPRISING # 1

Written by:  Derek Landy
Art by:  Joshua Cassara
Colour Art by:  Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Cover by:  Meghan Hetrick
Published by:  Marvel

With America dominated by the fascist Hydra, shockingly assisted by Captain America, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, decides to recruit some younger heroes to infiltrate the Hydra Youth Choir and stop Captain America by any means necessary.

Secret Empire is the current Marvel "event" storyline, and I haven't really been keeping up with it, in fact this is the first of the books that I've read, although I was still able to follow it without any trouble.  It is an entertaining issue, with debate about the ethics of spying, and potential murder, lightened with humour and some fun superheroics.  The artwork is moody and effective with a good feeling for light and shadow.



ALIENS: DEAD ORBIT  # 2

Writing, Art and Lettering by:  James Stokoe
Published by: Dark Horse

The crew of a space station orbiting a remote planet rescue survivors from a derelict spaceship.  Needless to say, the survivors have not come alone...

This is pretty much what you would expect from an Aliens comic, with a lot of running around corridors and some satisfyingly gory chestburster scenes. What really sets it apart is the stunningly detailed artwork from James Stokoe, who also wrote and lettered the comic.  It's perfect if you want a traditional, straight forward Aliens comic.


PICK OF THE WEEK:         


SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL # 8

Legend

Year of Release:  2015
Director:  Brian Helgeland
Screenplay:  Brian Helgeland, based on the book A Profession of Violence by John Pearson
Starring:  Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Chazz Palminteri
Taron Egerton
Running Time:  131 minutes
Genre:  biography, drama, crime, gangster

This tells the story of the life and career of the notorious Kray twins, who ruled London organised crime in the 1960s.  Reggie Kray (Hardy) is suave, charismatic, intelligent and volatile, while Ronnie Kray (Hardy again) is a brutal psychopath.  The film mixes the story of the rise of the Krays criminal empire, with Reggie's relationship with Frances Shea (Browning), who narrates the film.

This is a fairly average gangster movie.  It's enjoyable enough, but it feels as if it's trying to pack too much into an, admittedly generous, running time.  Tom Hardy is brilliant as both Reggie and Ronnie, the scene where they have a long fight is a highlight, however there is no way to engage with either of them, and you never really find out anything more about either of them than you do in the opening scene.  Emily Browning gives a good performance, providing the emotional core of the film as the unfortunate Frances Shea, although her breathless, romantic narration seems very out of place.  I don't know enough about the Krays to comment on how accurate or not the film is, but as a gangster film it is entertaining, and never gets dull throughout it's running time, with several scenes of brutal violence punctuating the tale.

      
Ronnie and Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) in Legend

Wonder Woman

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Patty Jenkins
Screenplay:  Allan Heinberg, from a story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg and Jason Fuchs, based on Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston
Starring:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya
Running Time:  141 minutes
Genre:  Superhero, fantasy, action-adventure, war

The hidden island of Themyscira is the home of the Amazons, warrior women who, according to legend, have been charged by Zeus to guard against the return of the war god Ares.  However the idyllic island life is shattered when American pilot Steve Trevor (Pine) crashes off the coast.  Trevor is rescued by Diana (Gadot), the daughter of the island's ruler, Queen Hippolyta (Wright).  In the world outside, World War I is raging, and Trevor reveals that he is a spy, who is trying to return to London with information about an experimental weapon that brutal General Erich Ludendorff (Huston) and scientist Doctor Maru (Anaya) have developed.  Convinced that Ares is behind the "War to End All Wars", Diana resolves to return with Trevor to find and defeat him, believing that this will end the war and restore world peace.  However she soon learns that things are not that simple.

This film is notable to be the first major superhero film to centre on a female character and the first to be directed by a woman.  Gadot debuted as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and this movie is part of a linked series of films based on DC Comics characters, however aside for a brief framing sequence set in the present day, this isn't really connected to any of the previous films, and so can be enjoyed by people who haven't sat through the other DC movies.  The film mixes fantasy, period war film and some culture clash comedy, and works very well.  Gal Gadot is perfect as Wonder Woman, not only handling the action sequences but also a strong emotional arch, and Chris Pine also does well as the square-jawed Steve Trevor.  The film has an emotional core that is often lacking in superhero films, and, while there is a lot of darkness in the film, it leavens the often Bergmanesque levels of despair in the DC movies with a welcome level of hope and optimism.  Certainly this is one of the best of the recent glut of superhero films.


Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Hitch-Hiker

Year of Release:  1953
Director:  Ida Lupino
Screenplay:  Ida Lupino and Collier Young
Starring:  Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
Running Time:  71 minutes
Genre:   film noir, crime, drama, thriller

Two friends (O'Brien and Lovejoy) are on the road heading for a weekend's fishing.  However, they make the mistake of stopping to pick up a hitch-hiker (Talman) who turns out to be a gun-toting psychopath who has already left a string of bodies in his wake as  he tries to avoid the pursuing authorities.

This tense psychological thriller is notable for being apparently the first major American film noir directed by a woman.  Lupino had already had a successful career as an actress, before turning to writing, directing and producing movies, and, by the time of The Hitch-Hiker, had directed a number of social issue dramas, dealing with some controversial topics.  This was a departure from her usual work for being a straight-forward thriller and featuring an almost entirely all-male cast.  Written by Lupino and her then-husband Collier Young, and based on the story of real-life serial killer Billy Cook, this movie does not waste a minute of it's brief run-time.  From the dark, claustrophobic interior of the car, to the sun-drenched, bleak, lonely desert, the movie presents a mesmerising battle of wills.  This is not an action film, it's about masculinity in crisis, the two men held hostage are just ordinary middle-aged guys, who throughout the ordeal are forced to re-examine themselves and each other.  William Talman is well cast as the repulsive, contemptuous killer who never closes his right eye, even when he's asleep.

William Talman, Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy in The Hitch-Hiker