Friday, December 30, 2005

Comics: The Year In Review - UPDATED!

In accordance with the general tradition established by Marvel and DC this year, I will not be writing a review of my own, instead directing you to earlier reviews written by other people. I do this not because I'm unoriginal, but because I'm building on the history and continuity of online comics criticism. Each review stands on its own, but if you read them all together you'll get the Big Story of 2005.

Paul O'Brien's "Article 10": (Note that the X-Axis will be doing its own 2005 retrospective next week).

Raul Grau takes the month-by-month approach in "Comics For Dummies":

Rich Johnston's "Rumor Awards" revisits old stories, but at least it doesn't retcon anything:

Andrea Speed comes up with a surprisingly versatile list in her "Best of 2005":

This thread will be updated as I retroactively insert other reviews that, really, I planned on using from the start, even before they were written. I just... uh... didn't know they were so important.


More O'Brieny goodness:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Comics Review: December 24

X-Factor #1

"Decimation" continues to confound me. On the one hand, I'm not actually reading any core titles affected by it - with the possible exception of "Astonishing X-Men", but it's still unclear whether that book will have anything to do with the cesspool that was "House of M".

On the other hand, the miniseries emerging from "Decimation" actually seem to have some degree of quality: by all accounts, "Deadly Genesis", "Generation M" and "Son of M" exhibit a certain level of competence, if nothing else. And yet their premise is sourced in one of the most badly-written, poorly-structured and pathetically contrived Events in recent Marvel history. You disagree? Consider that Marvel doesn't even have a uniform idea of what depowering mutants means - in some books, deformed characters like Beak are given basic human features (ie: what they'd look like without mutation), while in "Generation M" the laws of physics kick in, killing mutants with misshapen bodies. Except, if they don't have the mutant gene, they shouldn't be misshapen anymore.

What's a girl to do?

Since I read in arcs anyway, there's still plenty of time to wait and see what develops on the miniseries front. Expectations are probably high given the writers involved, and Marvel certainly earns praise for keeping the various minis self-contained (ie: I highly doubt we'll get much more out of "Son of M" than a Quicksilver character piece - read it or don't, it won't make much difference).

The big question mark for me was Peter David's new "X-Factor" series. It's a continuation of the "Madrox" miniseries, which I really enjoyed, and that should've been enough... except it's also very strongly tied into "House of M", including discarded Bendis plot device Layla Miller - once promoted as the most important new character in the Marvel Universe (fortunately, Bendis' credibility had already been thoroughly ground to dust by this point, so I doubt anyone took his hype seriously to begin with). The core premise has been damaged by "Decimation", since Madrox and his friends are no longer investigating mutant-related mysteries - that's what gave the concept an added boost, the fact that the standard tropes of the detective story couldn't be applied to astral projection and shapeshifting.

PAD compensates for this by shifting gears, focusing more on the ensemble cast than their investigations. Madrox is fascinating as ever, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane continue from where they left off in the previous miniseries, and four new additions are brought in: Rictor, now powerless; M, who I'm not familiar with and also doesn't appear in this issue; Siryn, Banshee's daughter; and Layla Miller, who is only slightly less horrendous than she was in "House of M" - but then, if anyone can redeem this waste of ink, it's PAD.

The bulk of the issue is given over to a conversation between Rictor and a Madrox dupe. "Decimation" is put into a personal context here, with Rictor attempting suicide after losing his connection to the Earth. Granted, it's just "Lifedeath" with a different character, but I suppose that's about the best we can hope for under present circumstances. Fortunately, it's still a good read: there's some typical PAD humor to be found, but overall the tone is as dark and noirish as "Madrox" was.

One danger this series faces is the possibility of losing its distinct voice the longer it deals with "House of M" fallout. But that's a problem for another issue; as far as this one is concerned, it does its best to put a good spin on a bad idea, and succeeds.


What If 2005

So far, Tony Bedard's Civil War take on Captain America has been the only "What If" of December 2005 that was readable. The others were all pretty rancid, despite the talent involved (including Mike Carey and Greg Pak).

True to form, Marvel has mucked with the original formula without understanding why it worked all those years. The appeal of "What If", as opposed to DC's "Elseworlds", is the emphasis on causality: typically, the slightest detail would occur differently, leading to a chain reaction that, more often than not, turned the entire world on its head (sometimes literally so). It's fun watching a butterfly effect demolish the Marvel Universe, and the best stories kept its featured cast in-character... you really got the feeling these stories could have happened.

With this new batch, we're told all seven stories take place in the same world. A hacker living in the primary Marvel Universe (who goes by the handle "The Watcher", har har), has managed to access the Internet of a parallel dimension. Browsing through its various web sites, he discovers historical documents regarding a Russian Fantastic Four (that isn't any kind of Fantastic Four, really), a Wolverine who was also the Punisher, a Namor who grows up on land and still becomes a jackass, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that we have no sense of what this other world is like in the present: what we're getting is a series of historical events featuring reinterpretations of Marvel heroes, but there's no thematic relevance whatsoever. Does it matter that Wolverine was the Punisher in the 1920's? How has the survival of the USSR changed that other world? They're all just disjointed vignettes, and not particularly inventive in their reimaginations.

Save us from mediocrity, Uatu!


Girls #8

The plot thickens, as the outer world finally takes an interest in what's been happening in Pennystown. Meanwhile, the surviving townsfolk learn that the Girls have had intercourse again, which means they're about to multiply.

"Girls" is a difficult series to review, in the sense that it's really telling one 24-part story, as opposed to a series of segmented and sequential tales. It's also extremely consistent (probably for the same reason), so individual issues don't offer a lot to talk about.

So, one more reiteration of my general opinion here: though some characters tend to be interchangable due to the enormous cast, the ones who stand out are fleshed out nicely. Ethan comes off as particularly sympathetic in this issue. The central mystery is unraveling while providing quite a bit of suspense along the way.

A genuinely riveting read, but perhaps more suitable to the trade format.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Part The Second

The Brain That Wouldn't Die

This film should be retitled "The Movie That Wouldn't End". There's a high concept that makes rudimentary sense, but if you can successfully separate it from the horrible acting, the ridiculous "monster" and an ending Ray Charles could see coming, you're a better critic than I. Not worth the celluloid it's printed on; certainly not worth the bytes it would take to write a full review of it.



"What do you want me to tell you?"

"Tell her."

"You know I can't. I can't. What I have with her... is good."

"Is it real?"

"It's close enough."

One of the things I love most about "slice of life" drama (when done properly) is how the mundane intersection of individual lives becomes something fascinating. There's nothing extraordinary about the chain of events that unfolds in "Heights", which means credibility is never undermined.

"Slice of life" tends to hinge upon identification with at least one character or situation - it's not really an intellectual genre, and the plots are somewhat simplistic by default, so you have to care about these people. "Heights" succeeds in this regard because its cast is made up of sympathetic figures dealing with everyday quandaries: a secret from Jonathan's past is digging itself up, Isabel isn't happy with the sacrifices she's made for her relationship, Diana wants to experience passion but is too afraid to submit to it, and Alec is an actor who's tired of pretense. In the periphery, Peter's job assignment is interviewing his lover's ex-boyfriends, and some very unpleasant truths come to life. It's all dramatic, but not melodramatic, and that's where the movie's great strength lies: going over the top would lead to detachment. So even the climactic scenes are pared down, subtle - and they bite all the deeper for it.

There's a lot of clever maneuvering in this movie, such as the way its parallel character arcs are constructed. It's not always immediately clear how everyone connects to everyone else, but as you become more enmeshed in the web of relationships, the strands become more visible. When she first meets Alec at her audition (and learns he lives in her daughter's building), Diana says New York can be the smallest city in the world sometimes, like Two Degrees of Separation between people. She's ultimately proven right.

I like that the most significant character, in terms of the plot, never appears on-screen. Benjamin Stone is a British photographer who's connected to Diana, Peter and Jonathan - they all know who he is, they're all involved in his manipulations, but we don't even hear his voice even though he's the catalyst that sets the domino effect in motion. It's a chilling reminder that sometimes the biggest changes in our lives are caused by people outside our line of sight.

There's also some interesting symbolism at work: Jonathan and Isabel are planning a Jewish wedding, in which it's tradition for the groom to break a glass at the altar. It's supposed to signify the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but we know shattered glass can also mean destruction on a personal level - a foreshadowing of things to come.

With one exception, all the actors in "Heights" are at the top of their game. Glenn Close (Diana) and Jesse Bradford (Alec) give particularly compelling performances. The exception would be James Marsden, who comes off a bit wooden throughout the movie and never manages any significant breakthrough.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning the Big Gay Kiss; you know how sometimes, the first thing you'll know about any given movie is that two guys or two girls get intimate? Fuck the premise, fuck the actors, it's horizontal CPR that makes the press releases. Of course, I find it amusing that the kiss scene doesn't even have to be good to get attention - I'm thinking here of Colin Farrell and Dallas Roberts in "A Home At The End of the World", in which my favorite dirty Irishman basically slobbered all over the other guy's face. Oy.

But I digress; point is, yes, there's a Big Gay Kiss here. No point in me withholding names, as I have yet to see a press release regarding "Heights" that doesn't spell it out. James Marsden and Jesse Bradford make out. Bradford does well enough; Marsden looks like he's got cramps throughout the entire scene. Granted, this actually is a painful moment for Jonathan... but I swear, you'd think Bradford was knifing him in the guts or something. It certainly undercuts the scene, because this is supposed to be the moment Jonathan chooses Alec. Someone should really explain to the straight men of Hollywood that homosexuality can't be contracted through snogging. It's just a movie!

Another amusing tidbit: the actors who play Ian and Peter also played Richard and Geoffrey in the Robert Halmi remake of "The Lion In Winter"... in which Glenn Close played Queen Eleanor, their mother. Two Degrees of Separation indeed.

"Heights" is a very theatrical film, one I could easily see played out on stage. It also eschews the romantic conventions where the loss of "true love" means a dismal end for the parties involved; by the end of the movie, relationships have broken apart, but there's hope that these people can start over, find love elsewhere. Maybe that's the bittersweet answer to Alec's question - there's no opposition between what's real and what's good. Every character in this movie (with the possible exception of Diana) eventually stops pretending, and ultimately ends up in a better place for it.



This one's so quirky I honestly don't know where to begin. Maybe we should start with the background and context of the movie's release: by 1992, horror cinema was withering away. The previous year had seen the conclusion of both the "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Child's Play" series. And while new movies would continue to be produced for "Halloween", "Friday the 13th" and "Hellraiser", these franchises had long since passed their prime.

The creators of "Candyman" are obviously conscious of this decline, since they do just about everything they can think of to make sure this movie wouldn't be perceived as just another slasher flick. The end result is a bit muddled.

Helen Lyle is a university student determined to write a thesis on urban legends that will set the academic world on fire. She fixates on a specific myth concerning the Candyman - the spirit of a murdered black man who stalks the Cabrini Green projects, slaying anyone who calls his name five times in front of a mirror. Obviously, Helen goes right ahead and does so just to prove her disbelief in the story. Meanwhile, her obsession with the Candyman starts to get out of hand, causing her to take some dangerous risks. And then the real thing turns up.

The angle here is that we don't know whether the Candyman is real, or if it's all in Helen's mind. Every time he turns up, she blacks out and wakes up covered in blood - we don't see what happens in the interrim. We do know she's having marital difficulties, and she knows things only the Candyman could know (ie: the location of an infant he abducted). As far as I know, this kind of unreliable protagonist is uncommon in the horror/slasher genre; we're never asked to question Nancy Thompson or Kirsty Cotton. So, if nothing else, the film succeeds in consistently establishing a central ambiguity that deviates from the norm.

However, this ambiguity is resolved and then cobbled back together: an event occurs that can only be attributed to the Candyman, thus confirming his existence. But immediately after that, Helen's sanity is again made uncertain. It derails the rest of the movie because the writer wants to have his cake and eat it too: the Candyman is real, therefore it's a slasher movie, but Helen might be imagining him, so it's a psychological thriller. By failing to commit to one or the other, it falls between the cracks.

The biggest problem is the Candyman himself. There are some intense moments scattered throughout the movie, but I don't think any of them derive from the killer. He's not scary because he's impossible to understand: unlike his predecessors, the Candyman doesn't seem to have any modus operandi at all. He just floats around Cabrini Green randomly murdering and mutilating its inhabitants. Oh, there's something about "eternalizing the legend" within the congregation, but that doesn't work as an explanation because of the paradoxical way the Candyman is depicted. If he needs the faith of his people to survive, then he's a spirit. But he sleeps, he can be wounded, and Helen ultimately kills him by stabbing him with a burning length of wood - all of which suggests he's alive. It doesn't make any kind of overall sense, so odds are you'll be too confused to be afraid of anything.

It's a pity, because "Candyman" does at least attempt to break the mold, where most of its contemporaries would be content with cookie-cutter plots and themes. But its attempts are too clumsy to merit real credit.


Saw 2

While I was quite fond of the first "Saw", warts and all, I find I'm not as willing to forgive the sequel its flaws.

In contrasting the two, it's clear that "Saw 2" adopts the "bigger and better" sequel mentality that more often than not fails to deliver. To be fair, it does get a few things right: for starters, Amanda (the junkie with the bear trap helmet from the first film) returns, providing a strong connection to the previous story. I would've preferred Adam, although he makes a dismal but unsurprising cameo when the Saw-ees stumble upon the original Bathroom of Homoerotic Death (guess Larry never made it to the phone after all). The narrative sequence has been straightened out - no more pesky "flashback-within-flashback" expository scenes.

However, these improvements come with a heavy cost: the characters are all one-dimensional cardboard stereotypes. All of them. Without a single exception. Even Jigsaw - arguably a complex figure in his own right - doesn't say anything especially new this time around. Ostensibly, this is because Leigh Whannell, writer and Scream Queen Supreme of the first movie, was only brought in to touch up director Darren Lynn Bousman's script (which was actually for another movie altogether, and later reconfigured as a "Saw" sequel). As a result, the movie's entire emphasis is on Jigsaw's fiendishly elaborate death traps, rather than the people he's tormenting. The gimmick wears thin fast, and you're hard-pressed to be moved by the horrible deaths of a bunch of nameless ciphers and one very annoying refugee from "Oz".

Like the first movie, "Saw 2" manages a nice twist ending. I don't know if I buy it - it's a character moment that falls flat because the character isn't explored sufficiently (or at all, come to think of it). I suppose it's worth seeing, but don't expect a particularly gratifying experience. The death traps are fun to watch in a Wile E. Coyote sort of way, just don't think about it too hard or the whole thing will come apart.


Next time on Dianapalooza: Paris Hilton dies screaming! If that won't bring you in, nothing will.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

MEME: My Pantheon

"Tired of monotheism? Bored with a God who can't make up his mind as to whether witches should be fried or grilled? Build your own Pantheon to worship!"

With that in mind, these would be the deities ruling over my perfect world:

King of the Gods: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Like Zeus, he's got what it takes to populate the land with illegitimate demigods. And his bite is most definitely worse than his bark.

Queen of the Gods: The Vancome Lady. Who else could keep Triumph on a leash?

God(s) of the Sea: the Penguins from "Madagascar". Woe to the industrialist who tries to pollute their ocean.

God of the Underworld: Reginold. I'm not even going to tell you why, see for yourself:

God of Wisdom: Foamy. Again, another nomination that speaks for itself:

Goddess of Music: Janice. Because then it would be perfectly legitimate to burn Mariah Carey and Eminem fans at the stake for heresy, as opposed to bad taste. :)

Goddess of Love: Anne Merkel, from Kyle Baker's graphic novel "Why I Hate Saturn". Because she knows the score. :)

God of War: The Rock. Well, it's not like he's good for anything else. Even Charlie Brown knew that.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Part The First

Like Odysseus, I too have embarked on a journey to strange lands. Like Odysseus, I too have seen things that defy human logic. Unlike Odysseus, I have not slept with a bunch of himbos while my poor boyfriend sat at home besieged by hairy suitors. Some people have all the fun.



Maybe it'll sink in if I type it enough times...

I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to...

Oh, who am I kidding.

On a related note: The sense of accomplishment I got after locating the above picture is just about the only positive experience I had in relation to this piece of dreck.


Corpse Bride

That's more like it.

I used to be a big fan of Tim Burton's Gothic stylings - his Batman movies, "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands" are old favorites of mine. But aside from "Big Fish", I can't think of any recent releases of his that actually interested me. "Planet of the Apes"? "Sleepy Hollow"? "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"? Uh-uh, and a big HELL NO to the last one.

"Corpse Bride", based on what little I knew of it before I saw the movie, seemed to be a return to Burton's roots: dark, surreal fantasy with a touch of twisted humor. Interestingly, while Burton always wore his Gothic/Victorian influences on his sleeve, I think this is the first movie he ever made that was set in the corresponding time period.

Victor, son of a nouveau riche family, has been roped into an arranged marriage with a woman he's never met. Victoria, his intended bride, is a member of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times, and is desperately concealing its destitution from the rest of society; Victoria's parents hope that the marriage will bring fresh money into their pockets. Fortunately, it's love at first sight for our young couple. Unfortunately, Victor keeps messing up his wedding vows - which, in Victorian society, was a bit more than "Baby you so fine, I wanna make ya mine". He wanders out into the woods and manages a perfect recitation... only to unknowingly marry the Corpse Bride, a woman who was murdered while waiting for her lover. Since Victor is technically her husband, there's not much he can do, as the Bride drags him "downstairs" where a whole host of skeletons and dead bodies sing and dance and play jazz (overall, they're more lively than the living, a recurring theme in Burton's work). Meanwhile, Victoria's parents waste no time in setting her up with another nobleman - whose intentions are much darker than Victor's.

For people like myself with an extensive familiarity with Burton's repetoire, "Corpse Bride" might seem a little repetitive in terms of its themes and stylistic choices. The only real departure from Burton formula is the setting. That said, it's a lovely fantasy film, full of catchy musical numbers and beautiful imagery, along with excellent voice acting from Johnny Depp (Victor), Helena Bonham Carter (Emily/The Corpse Bride), Christopher Lee (the pastor) and Michael Gough (Elder Gutknecht) among others. And I love that scene where Burton sets up a potential "Night of the Living Dead" scenario, only to deflate it at the last moment in the most heartwarming way possible.

I have only one minor reservation in recommending this movie: American viewers might have trouble understanding the Victorian setting Burton is so loyal to.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I had a rather unusual line of thought about what this movie might represent on the extradiagetic level, but before we get there, I want to talk about the film itself.

In my opinion, you'd need a heart of stone not to love "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". It's one of the best '80s teen rebellion movies I've ever seen, very sweet and full of gleeful optimism - helped in no small part by Matthew Broderick's performance as the adorable and irrepressible Ferris. After cleverly faking an illness, he skips school to spend a day of fun in New York City with his best friend and his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Ferris' principal is determined to catch him at all costs. It's a bit dated, in the sense that everyone behaves in ways that made perfect sense twenty years ago but don't quite echo contemporary reality; however, it's still funny, and it's still easy to get swept up by Ferris' youthful enthusiasm. A must-see movie for anyone looking to experience a bit of the '80s zeitgeist.

And now for that extradiagetic consideration I mentioned: I think "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" foreshadows "Dangerous Minds". I would've loved to see the two back-to-back; another time, maybe.

Obviously, these are movies from very different times - even a casual comparative glance makes this abundantly clear. You've got "Twist and Shout", upper-middle-class suburbia and marriage being more important than sex in one corner; you've got Coolio, poverty-level ghettos and more sexual innuendo than the Kama Sutra in the other. But I can see a line stretching from one to the other, if you consider both to be snapshots of their respective generations.

Ferris Bueller is the quintessential "good rebel" in 1986; he's clever, a bit of a wild card, but he's not a malcontent. His actions are self-centered in a "Boys Just Wanna Have Fun" sort of way. Quite frankly, the film expects you to take Ferris' side of the conflict by default: his high school principal is a raving lunatic who breaks into people's houses, his secretary is a bitch who's categorized every student as "asshole", "jock", "slut", "junkie", etc., and the teachers are so boring students are being lobotomized where they sit. One of the film's best moments is in the opening scene, where Ferris describes his methods for faking diseases: it's stupid and childish, he says, but then, so is high school.

Fast-forward a decade and that message has been internalized, to a very radical extent. The conflict isn't between the system and the students anymore; unlike what we see in the '80s, the worst thing people in authority do to kids in "Dangerous Minds" is ignore them. The principal never leaves his office. In lieu of a higher power to fight, the teenagers are turning against each other. Suddenly you have racial tension, murder, drugs. To call upon a historical analogy, we've gone beyond the Revolution and into the Reign of Terror.

The John Hughes paradigm, if you will (think "Breakfast Club" as another example), is predicated on rebellion as a way of self-definition, against an actively-oppressive authority. Being a kid means having fun, and the older generation prohibits fun, so the kids have to defy the restrictions placed upon them to fulfill their identities. By the time you get to "Dangerous Minds" or "Sister Act 2", fun isn't on the agenda anymore. Staying alive is a greater concern. The system is apathetic, while the need to rebel is still there - even though it's been reduced to an empty cliche due to the lack of an external antagonist. The kids are angry and frustrated, but it's just sound and fury signifying zilch. We never really get a sense as to what Lou Anne's students want beyond the obvious (sex, drugs and the occasional shootout). And there's no place here for John Bender or Ferris Bueller, because rebellion - of the most extreme, virulent kind - has become the way of life.

Consequently, I think it's hard to feel that any of the teens in the '90s movies are worth spitting on, because they have no explicit cause. Their actions are meaningless. Instead, we're called upon to care about the authority figure, Michelle Pfeiffer's character: the teacher with the golden heart, who feels for the brats readying the guillotine for her.

On a larger scale, I think that's why high school-based dramas of this sort don't work anymore. Rebellion is still seen as the only thing worth living for, but there's nothing to rebel against.

My, that was heavy. Let's move on to something lighter, shall we? ;)


The Crow: Salvation

First up, thanks to Theo, Tink and The Braz for helping me get this one.

I absolutely adored James O'Barr's "The Crow". It was stirring, gripping, utterly visceral. Pure emotion pouring off the page. Naturally, it got turned into a movie; also naturally, it all went south rather quickly. As in Antarctica-south, icicles-forming-on-your-buttocks south.

There was the Brandon Lee movie, in which somebody took their job a bit too seriously and shot Lee dead. Then there was "City of Angels" (which, IIRC, also spawned a TV show); don't worry if you missed it, just have a tooth pulled without novocaine and you've got it in one. The fourth film starred Edward Furlong and David Boreanaz - which about says it all, really.

Ah, you've probably noticed I've skipped one. Yes, folks, we're going to look at the third film, "Salvation". Once again, I find myself coming for the beef and hoping to stay for the entertainment. Meet Eric Mabius:

I know, I know... not exactly "be still my ovaries" level, but hell, it's not like the prospect of a third Crow movie automatically instills anyone with hopeful anticipation. Might as well find some reason to spend an hour or two on it.

"Salvation" isn't actually that bad. Oh, it's far from perfect, but as bastardizations of the O'Barr template go, this one actually brings something to the table. Traditionally, Crow stories are all about vengeance. Justice, such as it is, rarely (if ever) comes into the picture; more often than not the two are conflated. For example, in the original graphic novel, the five men Eric Draven returns to destroy are also criminals, gang members, drug dealers. Eric's vendetta is personal, but it still achieves the same effect a vigilante would.

"Salvation" tries to pry apart the two issues. Alex Corvis has been slated for execution, after being convicted of murdering his girlfriend. He insists he's innocent, but the wheels of justice grind him down and on his 21st birthday, he gets the electric chair. While his brain is being fried, he sees (or thinks he sees) the man who framed him; a few moments later, he is promptly resurrected as the new avatar of the Crow.

This is very different from standard depictions of the Crow, because it sets up an interesting dichotomy. Alex wants revenge, not against a specific individual but "the man with the scar" (he doesn't know who that person is). At the same time, what's strongly emphasized is the injustice, the fact that an innocent man was condemned. Which reason motivates the Crow to raise Alex? Does it even care about justice in the first place?

The film goes a step further by placing gaps in Alex's memory (brain damage resulting from his electrocution, no doubt). The possibility arises that he isn't innocent at all, that he did indeed murder his girlfriend and now he's just out to get the people who ended his life. It's an inversion of O'Barr that makes a lot of sense, because revenge has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. So for the first few scenes of this movie, you have an immortal, murderous entity running around seeking proof of its vindication that might not even exist.

It gets undermined pretty quickly, though. At a very early point in the movie, Alex manifests psychometry (touch-based precognition that allows him to see visions of the past). It's a rather cheap and contrived way to avoid any real detective work in uncovering the truth; it also means that the moment he touches one of the witnesses at his trial, he knows exactly what happened. From that moment on, we're back in standard Crow territory, as he seeks out his enemies and slays them. It's still fun, though major points are detracted for that scene where the police commissioner mumbles something about being familiar with the legend of the Crow - knowledge he shouldn't possess, and is never explained satisfactorily.

Sadly, the last act more or less implodes. The endgame hinges on the archvillain tricking Alex into thinking his vengeance is complete; as a result, he loses his immortality and starts bleeding away. So far so good: all Crow avatars are subjective in terms of their perceptions, so technically they could be convinced their job was done even if it wasn't. It all gets screwy a few moments later, as Alex discovers the identity of his nemesis... his motives are restored, his powers are not. Wha huh?

It gets worse: in his weakened state, Alex is subdued by said nemesis, who plants a seed of doubt in the avatar's mind that maybe he did kill his love, that this whole crusade was the last gasp of a petty, vengeful mind. Alex promptly goes inert, seemingly defeated. This whole scene doesn't work for two reasons: first, Alex has already had a vision of his girlfriend's murder. He knows what happened. Second, he's brought back (again) by the plight of said girlfriend's little sister - which has nothing to do with either vengeance or justice, and whether one is more dominant than the other in the world of the Crow, it's clear that compassion is something altogether foreign. It all goes splat rather spectacularly.

Side note: Kirsten Dunst proves that being an annoyance must be genetic - how else can people like herself, Michelle Trachtenberg and Drew Barrymore never fail to piss me off no matter what age they're at?

In the final analysis, "Salvation" is a movie that has some good ideas, marred by glaring oversights and a faltering conclusion. I rate it as slightly above average - but considering the standard level of Crow movies, that's actually rather good.


And so ends the first part of "Dianapalooza!" Next time: James Marsden and Jesse Bradford wrestle - with their tongues! Can the Candyman can-can? A woman's brain lives on after her body dies (while the opposite happens to the audience)! All this and more, when "Dianapalooza!" returns! :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Marvel March Solicitations

Or: "Marching In No Particular Direction"

Another month, another batch of babbling hype... let's see what we can really find here.

* "Ultimate Spider-Man" launches a five-part Deadpool storyline. I don't know whether to be excited or horrified.

* "Amazing Spider-Man" points to clouds building on the horizon, leading to a storm that will shake the Marvel Universe. At this point I'm thinking that the Marvel Universe must be bolted down with titanium screws, considering how many (shit)storms it's been through in the past year alone. Obviously, I'm not interested.

* Arana gets a send-off via a special with Spider-Man. It's written by someone called Tania Del Rio, as opposed to regular writer Fiona Avery. Pen name? It is a bit late to be bringing new writers to that particular character...

* "Squadron Supreme" (formerly "Supreme Power") launches. Let's hope the move to the Marvel Knights imprint hasn't castrated it.

* Marvel's cosmic genre looks to be making a comeback, with "Annihilation: Prologue" by Keith Giffen. I've never been a fan of that particular branch of the tree, but fans of Nova, Ronan the Accuser, Drax, Silver Surfer and Thanos should be overjoyed.

* Ed Brubaker writes a 65th Anniversary Special for "Captain America", continuing to mix Cap's WWII stories with his current battles.

* Joe Casey launches a Fantastic Four miniseries revealing "untold secrets of the FF's earliest days". And here I thought their every moment pre-FF had been dramatized from the womb on.

* The new Scorpion (from "Amazing Fantasy") guest-stars in the "Doc Samson" miniseries. Someone obviously wants to push this character - good for them - but I don't quite think this is the appropriate platform for it.

* Warren Ellis' run on "Iron Man" blissfully, mercifully concludes. If you buy this issue, you'll have only yourself to blame the next time a book disappears for months on end.

* Brian Reed launches a Ms. Marvel series. I'm not very familiar with Carol Danvers, or Brian Reed for that matter - I'd rather wait and see what response it gets before trying it out.

* "New Avengers" #17 introduces The Collective, a new threat emerging out of "House of M". Apparently, "nothing can stop it". Well, I guess we can all go home, then?

* Brian Bendis also puts out that dreadful "Illuminati" one-shot. Whenever I wonder why I've become so isolated from the MU, and why my reading list keeps getting shorter, this is the kind of thing that reminds me.

* More Bendis news: Pulse #14 is his last issue. Paul Jenkins will be taking over.

* "Sentinel" concludes. I miss it already. :(

* "Runaways" begins a new storyline promising the debut of an all-new Pride. I'm very much looking forward to that.

* "Thunderbolts" reverts to its original numbering with #100.

* Five "New Universe" one-shots hit the shelves, "Untold Tales of the New Universe". This is probably a last gasp for old NU fans before Warren Ellis revamps the whole thing.

* "Generation M" concludes, as does the "Squadron Supreme" segment of the Exiles' World Tour.

* "Cable/Deadpool" crosses over into the Apocalypse storyline in Milligan's book, because - as the solicitation itself so helpfully puts it, "X-citement! X-Thrills! X-over = higher sales!" You know, I appreciate that at least they're honest about it, but Jesus, I'd like to think any other business that openly mocked the stupidity of its buyers would probably go bankrupt (again).

That's about it for the highlights. I need a drink. :/

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Comics Review: December 10 Addendum

I forgot to mention this during the review: Spider-Girl #93 also came out on the 7th, but after some deliberation I've decided to stop reviewing that series. There's really no point, IMO: it hasn't genuinely interested me in a long time, and rather than distill the positive qualities of the Silver Age in a more contemporary setting, writer Tom DeFalco is letting the worst excesses of that era overwhelm the book. I'll be jumping off as soon as the current storyline concludes (probably at issue 100).

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Comics Review: December 10

Y: The Last Man #40

If one were to break down "Y: The Last Man" in terms of overall structure, two distinct types of stories would emerge within the greater framework of the series. The main plots and subplots are dealt with in multi-part arcs (such as the recent "Paper Dolls" or "Girl On Girl"). But every now and then Vaughan takes some time out and delivers standalone issues that, more often than not, turn the focus away from protagonist Yorick and his companions to explore some other aspect of the unmanned world, or a character left behind. These issues usually demonstrate one of Vaughan's greatest strengths as a writer: his ability to really flesh out an ensemble cast, to the extent that you never feel cheated when an issue breaks away from Yorick to tell us his sister's life story, or what happened to Beth in the Outback.

This month's issue is dedicated to two women in Yorick's life: Hero, still on the road and recuperating from a bout of Amazon-related insanity; and "Beth 2", the first woman he slept with after the plague (way back in "Tongues of Fire"). I have to admit that, for all that I'm familiar with Vaughan's fondness for twists and turns, I didn't really expect this Beth (not to be confused with Yorick's lost love) to turn up again, or to have any significant role to play. But as is so often the case in "Y", people turn up when you least expect them. And typical of Vaughan, you're not three pages into the story when a massive plot twist emerges. It's a twist few will see coming, but one that makes perfect sense in hindsight - the best kind. :)

So anyway, Hero and Beth are confronted with a new adversary, one that I have some mixed feelings about. On the one hand, Sister Lucia Ober represents a major question Vaughan hasn't dealt with until now: what happens to organized religion when all the men die? However, it comes off as a bit wishy-washy: Ober and her minions seem genuinely threatening, then suddenly they're not. Their goal makes no sense, and Hero helpfully points this out, but the idea seems to be that because they're religious they've had their brains replaced with cottage cheese. It doesn't quite work.

Still, it's a nice story, with major implications for the rest of the series. And rather than the traditional cliffhanger, we get a nice two-page conclusion with Yorick where we're reminded he isn't quite as dense as most people think he is.

Only twenty issues left. Savor it while you can. :)


Hard Time Season Two #1

Another series I'll be reviewing by issue, since it doesn't subscribe to any visible arc format.

This was an old favorite of mine during its first run, when it was part of the "DC Focus" imprint - you may recall said imprint crashed dismally. Of the four series that comprised DC Focus, "Hard Time" was the most successful - and, not coincidentally, the most well-written. Still, cancellation arrived at issue 12 (to its credit, it outlasted all of its kin). At the time, there were hushed rumors the book would be back, adopting a seasonal approach, but until it turned up in the solicits I never really believed it.

"Hard Time" concerns a 15-year-old, Ethan Harrow, who participates in a high school vengeance prank that goes completely out of control and ends with five people dead, including his best friend. Because of political maneuverings that are never fully explained, Ethan is given an uncharacteristically harsh punishment, sentenced to fifty years in prison. While he's slowly adapting to life in "The Big House", he's also developing a bizarre power that's part astral projection, part telekinesis, all dangerous.

Steve Gerber is in top form here: Ethan's a very endearing character because he reacts to situations the way you'd expect a 15-year-old geek to react. The setting is completely detached from the superhero genre, which is good because it means there's no ready-made context for what Ethan is undergoing. Is it evolution? Magic? Alien DNA?

The supporting cast is also a varied bunch: maniacs, rapists, killers, crossdressers, psychics, and a genuinely nice person or two (at least, so they seem). It's very much in the vein of "Oz", but Gerber recognizes where that series went wrong - too relentlessly bleak and depressing - and he works in a slightly more relaxed atmosphere that doesn't compromise the harsh setting in the least.

This issue is the obligatory "For Those of You Just Joining Us" exposition dump, but Gerber contextualizes it very well, and even manages a little something extra for his earlier readers: when Ethan relates his story to his new defenders, he actually goes a lot further back than anything we saw in the previous season. New and old readers alike see, for the first time, the sequence of events leading up to that fateful opening scene in Hard Time (Season One) #1.

An excellent, gratifying read. Highly recommended.


Coming soon: Dianapalooza! One woman's journey through the best, the worst and the piddling average Hollywood has to offer (yeah, I can take a wild guess at that ratio...)! How bad could "Doom" be, really? Does "Corpse Bride" signify a triumphant return for Tim Burton, or is it just another "Michael Jackson Meets Hershey World" pastiche? Is "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" worth the day off? All this and more, at Dianapalooza! :)

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Movie Review: "Elvira's Haunted Hills"

Or: "The Hills Are Alive... With The Sound of Torture..."

Nearly twenty years after her film debut, Cassandra Peterson is back as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, with a new movie. I had a great time with her first self-titled film, and though "Elvira's Haunted Hills" is entertaining in its own way, it's a very, very different movie... so much so that I'd say it appeals to a different audience altogether.

When I reviewed "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark", I noted that it was a film based on a specific dichotomy: only half of the film takes to horror parody in the Elvira style (ie: using her chest to break open a locked gate while running through a graveyard). The first half was more of an anti-authority/social revolution parable a la "Footloose" or "Breakfast Club", where the oppressive hierarchy is challenged by an individual who dares to be different. That layering adds a lot to the movie: it manages to capture a spark of the late '80s zeitgeist, infusing it with much more meaning than you'd expect to find from a B-movie horror hostess.

"Elvira's Haunted Hills" doesn't bother with that layering. Or any layers at all, really. It's a piss-take at Edgar Allan Poe, Roger Corman and the Gothic horror genre in general. It's very effective in that respect - you've got the overdone orchestra music, the frail Victorian woman coughing up her lungs, the gaunt and hysterical lord of the haunted manor, ridiculous British accents, thunderstorms, exotic and sexy foreign laborers... hell, Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" is replicated straight out of the original story. As a parody taken to extremes, it's funny. But that can only go so far.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that the previous movie played heavily on the contrast between Elvira and the people of Fallwell. But she isn't that different in Carpathia of 1851. Everyone's pale, everyone wears a lot of low-cut black. Instead, she's displaced via anachronisms, making references to Oscars and the Village People... as I said, it's a different kind of humor, and one that's much harder to pull off consistently.

Another reason the movie might fall short of expectations is because it's very scaled-back in comparison to "Mistress of the Dark": smaller budget means smaller cast, more enclosed setting, rudimentary plot lifted directly from any conventional horror movie of the early 20th century. There's virtually no room to maneuver, and it shows: even at the age of fifty, Elvira is still witty and charming, but there's not much for her to do aside from make the obvious snipes at the obvious people. The ensemble cast is great, especially Richard O'Brien (who I still remember as the host of "The Crystal Maze"), but it's not enough.

To sum up, then: good Gothic parody, but you should only watch if it that's exactly what you're looking for - there's not much else to be found.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Comics Review: December 3

Legion of Superheroes #12

First things first. We finally get two things this book desperately needed: a recap and a dramatis personae. Considering the book's primary storyline spans thirteen issues and the cast is made up of nineteen primary characters, it was probably overdue.

This is the penultimate issue of Waid's "galactic war" epic, which has been running since the very first issue. We're reaching the climactic point now, as the four subplots begin to converge. Projectra's team launches a suicide attack on Lemnos' army; Cosmic Boy manages to send out one last message to the Legion and their followers; Sun Boy and his team reach their destination only to find a difficult choice waiting for them; and Brainiac calls upon a secret weapon against Elysion.

There's a lot of action going on, a lot of movement, and in that sense it's as strong an entry in the series as the other issues. However, one very problematic element in this particular chapter is an increased reliance on contrivance. Brainiac's secret weapon, for example, is something that had been foreshadowed once or twice before, but we're asked to believe that he just didn't consider using it until just now. For someone who's been portrayed as the smartest being in the Legion, that's a bit hard to swallow. After having their powers switched, Sun Boy's team suddenly have full control of their abilities again, for no apparent reason. Projectra has magical abilities that no one mentioned before (in fact, there was a whole scene in a prior issue where she was almost held back from the squad because she was powerless). And Cosmic Boy manages to whip up a Cerebro helmet out of nowhere.

It's a bit much, really. Granted that Waid is operating on an atypically-wide scale, and it hasn't reached eye-rolling levels yet, but it still knocks a few points off.

Stuart Moore delivers a rather dull and pointless interlude that supposedly takes place during the first issue. If it's a subplot Waid forgot to insert that will have major ramifications on the last issue, it's sloppy storytelling. Otherwise, it's just extraneous.


Amazing Fantasy #15

I've been anticipating this issue ever since it was announced. Some background: in the early '60s, "Amazing Fantasy" was an anthology book facing cancellation. In the very last issue, #15, writer Stan Lee went for broke and threw in an 11-page story about a boy named Peter Parker who has an accident with a radioactive spider. I'm sure you know what happened next.

Forty years later, "Amazing Fantasy" is resurrected as an anthology title, albeit in a slightly different format (ie: introducing new characters in separate, self-contained multi-issue arcs). Sadly, it hasn't quite done as well this time around: the first six issues were dedicated to Arana, who then got an ongoing series more because she was Marvel's token Latina superhero and less because Fiona Avery had a single interesting thing to do with her. The silent cancellation of "Arana: Heart of the Spider" due to abysmal sales (and despite considerable hype) speaks for itself. The next six issues were considerably better, featuring Fred Van Lente's "Scorpion: Poison Tomorrow", but sales failed to improve and the character has more or less been consigned to pointless guest appearances. The last three issues featured "Vampire By Night" backups by Jeff Parker, which led into Giffen's "Howling Commandos" series - but since that turned out to be a total failure, there's not much to say about it. Then came the two-part "Vegas" I reviewed a while back, along with "Captain Universe" backups leading to last month's "Captain Universe Event".

All of which brings us to issue 15, the "anniversary" as it was. Clearly hoping for lightning to strike twice, Marvel has put together a double-sized anthology issue, featuring six short stories (and a seventh that's really just a gag) by six writers. These six are part of Marvel's "Ten Terrific", a rather silly promotional device for writers trying to outmuscle the Hollywood influx for a bit of spotlight. Still, Mark Paniccia (AMFAN editor) has brought together a rather quaint collection here - Greg Pak, Dan Slott, Robert Kirkman, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Sean McKeever and Daniel Way. No one too horrible (ie: Hudlin) or otherwise occupied (Whedon, Heinberg, Hine). And, of course, that precious commodity for which I'll generously lower my critiquing standards: new characters.

So let's take them one at a time...

"Mastermind Excello" is an interesting piece about a teenage supergenius who's being pursued both by the American government and by a mysterious, undefined enemy who wants him dead. Except they might be one and the same - an ambiguity Greg Pak leaves open to challenge the reader. After all, if Amadeus Cho really is the seventh smartest person in the world (and he demonstrates this rather nicely in the diner scene), we'd be inclined to trust his calculations... except he's angry, he's tired, and he's clearly emotionally involved. What if he's just paranoid? Points to Pak for a Marvel superhero cameo that's both surprising and, more importantly, thematically relevant to Cho himself.

Dan Slott's "Blackjack" is actually four two-pagers, as opposed to a single eight-pager. The vignettes are interspersed throughout the issue, and range from comedy to high action to slightly baffling philosophy (destroying aliens who offer utopia because "to advance, man needs to be discontent"?). They're all very energetic, very light (no big shock considering the length), and fun.

"The Great Video" is typical Daniel Way: violent, muddled and somewhat unfulfilling. A man is caught in an explosion at his video store and gains X-ray vision (that, for some reason, also sets people on fire). After ten days in a coma, he wakes up to find officers accusing him of arson. After immolating them, he escapes to his house only to discover his girlfriend has left him and taken everything but the video camera. He duly straps the camera to his head and kills someone who is either his ex's new boyfriend, or the rival video store that put him out of business (though there's no indication he was going out of business). As I said, there's a lack of clarity here that really prevents the climax from coming across well. Or at all, for that matter.

I wasn't approaching Robert Kirkman's "Monstro" with any expectations; I've noted before that he's always seemed very bland and uninteresting to me. So you can imagine my surprise when I actually liked "Monstro", a tale about a man called Frank, who uses his super-strength in a rather unconventional way: he's a firefighter. His partner points to the obvious expectation that he should be famous, or an Avenger - but in a refreshing twist, Frank replies that he doesn't particularly care for superheroics. In a genre where the first thing most superpowered people do is slap on a pair of tights, Monstro's more realistic perspective is actually a nice change. Again we have a bit of mystery at the end, and I'm beginning to think all these stories were deliberately written that way, to encourage the possibility of follow-up miniseries. Interesting exercise, if slightly futile considering the general fate of Marvel Next projects.

The first thing you'll notice about Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's "Heartbreak Kid" is that it's drawn very much in the '60s Marvel style - dots of color, slightly yellow paper, etc. This isn't just a gimmick, because the story is set at the earliest point of Spider-Man's history - possibly his first encounter with another superhuman. Uncle Ben is freshly dead, and Peter Parker is inconsolable. Enter the Heartbreak Kid, Danny Shephard, who has the power to absorb people's pain and grief. As with Pak's story, there's a bit of ambiguity here because Peter thinks the Kid is just a vampire feeding off other people's misery, and he might be right; but unfortunately, by focusing so heavily on Peter Parker, Aguirre-Sacasa doesn't manage to do much with the character he's supposed to be introducing. We don't even see Danny's powers in action because Peter chooses to preserve his pain, thinking that giving it up would take away his memory of that fateful "Great Power" platitude. So when, at the end of the story, the narrator helpfully informs us that "another name is added to the roster of those marvelous individuals who make the world of fantasy the most exciting realm of all", it's not a statement that rings very true.

"Positron", by Sean McKeever, is certainly the most frustrating of the six main pieces, because it doesn't even try to present a complete story. This can't really be blamed on page allocation, because however abbreviated the other stories were, they managed to provide both a self-contained tale and enough loose threads to warrant more. Annie and Jackson are enjoying a romantic evening when they get ambushed by Annie's father. Sounds domestic, but it spirals into something else rather quickly. A traitor is revealed, who expresses remorse after it's far too late... and that's it. It ends with "To be continued...?" Normally this wouldn't be such a big deal, except there's very little that guarantees McKeever will ever be able to finish the story, and it's a pet peeve of mine when writers take such things on faith (since they usually turn out to be wrong).

The anthology ends with "I Was That Guy In Spider-Man's Armpit!", a very amusing two-page story going back to the cover of the first Amazing Fantasy #15: who is that man tucked under Spider-Man's arm? More importantly, since Spidey helpfully blurts out his real name on that cover, does Armpit Guy know who Peter Parker really is? Great joke by Dan Slott.

Amazing Fantasy #15 falters here and there, but on average it's still an exquisite read, offering glimpses at a variety of characters we'll probably never see again... but it would certainly be nice if we did.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Comics Review: November 29

1602: New World

I think this miniseries was doomed from the start. It's a sequel to Neil Gaiman's "1602", which may have been a quaint little story but was hardly a peak moment for the creator of "Sandman". Even so, if the original is remembered fondly at all it's likely because of Gaiman's narrative and descriptive skills - something "New World" writer Greg Pak tries to emulate, without much success.

To be fair, it's not that Pak is a subpar writer - he's more than proven himself with "Warlock" and "Phoenix: Endsong". But in attempting to continue the story of 1602, Pak makes all the wrong choices.

For example, Pak chooses to focus on Roanoke as the setting for the story... and in doing so, he discards Gaiman's entire cast, limiting himself to bit players Peter Parquagh and David Banner. Oh, and Virginia Dare's in there too. Pak adds Norman Osborn and Iron Man to the mix, but nothing really emerges from it.

And that's the fatal flaw of this miniseries: it's not offensively bad, just terminally dull. There's virtually no attempt to step outside either Marvel Universe standards or what Gaiman established in the original story: Hulk's got a split personality, Peter's working for an anal-retentive publisher (proving that J. Jonah Jameson is an obnoxious twit no matter what universe you're in). The situation in England (King James' persecution of the Witchbreed) is left mostly untouched. We don't know where the 1602 X-Men, Thor or Fantastic Four have gone. No sign of Inquisitor Magneto and his minions. Still no explanation as to why dinosaurs are running around the New World. It's just five issues spent accomplishing very little on the level of plot, and using characterization that's mostly derivative of the original versions.

It's funny, because Pak is one of those writers Marvel is trying to boost these days, yet the only assignments that come his way (or Sean McKeever's, for that matter) are miniseries that, on a purely conceptual level, are utterly condemned from the word "go" ("Mega Morphs", anyone?).


Ultimate X-Men: Magnetic North (61-65)

On the other side of the spectrum, this was the story I was simultaneously waiting for and dreading. It's the conclusion of Brian Vaughan's excellent run on "Ultimate X-Men", drawing together a lot of plotlines from previous arcs (even extending into the Bendis and Millar runs). At the same time, odds are it'll all go downhill from here - we've got a Kirkman run coming up, followed by Bryan Singer.

Anyway, "Magnetic North" features the return of Magneto - unlike the mainstream counterpart, "Ultimate X-Men" actually managed to do away with this particular X-Men staple for quite some time. He was brought down at the end of Millar's run (early 30's) and was kept out of the spotlight until now. Impressive feat considering he can't stay gone for six months in the main MU.

So Magneto's back, still imprisoned at the Triskelion (home base of the Ultimates). Meanwhile, we're reintroduced to Emma Frost and her Hellions, and this is one of Vaughan's greatest strengths as an Ultimate writer - he knows exactly how to play on his readers' expectations. After all, we're well aware of who these characters are (or should be), and even if we're trying to keep an open mind, there's something surprising about the idea of Longshot as a mutant supremacist, or a group of Hellions who bear more similarities to Claremont's New Mutants than you'd think.

Vaughan manages to accomplish a lot in his last storyline: one X-Man leaves the team, another is critically injured, a third gets a boyfriend, a fourth returns from hiatus. A new villain is introduced, and two old ones get a change in their status quo. Plus several battles between the Ultimates, the Hellions, the X-Men and the remnants of the Brotherhood. Excellent characterization all around, especially of Magneto.

All in all, Vaughan goes out with a bang. "Ultimate X-Men" probably won't be as good as this for a very long time. If you're looking for a jumping-off, this is probably it.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Adieu, DC.

Or: "Of all the comics in the DCU, he had to walk into mine."

Dan DiDio has revealed that during "One Year Later", Mark Waid's "Legion of Superheroes" will be renamed "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes."

Apparently there's some debate as to whether this Supergirl is the Loeb version or Power Girl. I find I couldn't care less. For me, the fact that Waid's Legion has been so accessible and so detached from the usual cliches of the DCU has been a big plus; I'm not that anxious for a distaff Superboy to get top billing, particularly considering the fact that both options aren't much more than fanboy masturbation material. Not to mention the fact that it's yet another Silver Age retread, and people who don't share the view that the Silver Age was "Best Comics EVAR" might as well sod off as far as DC is concerned.

So if the next issue of Legion is a jumping-off point, I'm taking it. Unfortunate, because that was the only DCU title I was reading, and I was really enjoying it. But apparently, anyone who isn't a devoted, hardcore, walking DC encyclopedia has no place in DiDio's DC.

Very unfortunate indeed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Movie Review: Mysterious Skin

Or: "So THAT'S What Tommy Solomon's O-Face Looks Like. I'm Going To Hell."

Well... that was weird.

I'm really not sure how to review this movie, because it has a lot going for it, and a lot going against it, and a lot that could have made it better than it turned out to be.

Structurally, there are two plotlines running throughout the movie. The first concerns Neil McCormick (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with surprising conviction), a rent-boy who drifts aimlessly from client to client, trapped in his pointless small-town life. The second plotline concerns Brian Lackey, a withdrawn and troubled teen who spends every waking moment trying to figure out what's gone wrong with his life (a stark contrast to Neil).

In what appears to be an intentional move on writer Gregg Araki's part, these two plotlines never intersect until the very end of the movie, despite the fact that there's clearly some mysterious link between the protagonists. While this might have been an attempt to build suspense, it has the unfortunate side effect of rendering Neil's storyline pretty boring - aside from having sex every now and then, he doesn't do much of anything. Any relationships he has with other characters are maintained by them, not by him. There's one scene towards the end of the movie where he gets in way over his head and pays the price, but it doesn't lead anywhere. Overall he's a pretty flat character. Brian's journey would be the part that's meant to hold our attention, except...

Except that, at first glance, "Mysterious Skin" seems to be a psychological mystery: Brian and Neil both shared the same traumatic experience when they were children, yet they each recall it differently. Brian remembers it as alien abduction, while Neil remembers it as molestation. And Brian's the one who's trying to find out the truth. The problem, of course, is that the question doesn't necessarily need an answer. On a purely psychological level, it really can go both ways: either they were molested and Brian created an alien fantasy to cope, or they were abducted and Neil constructed an elaborate (and, more importantly, realistic) scenario in his head. Memory is unreliable, we know this and it's been the subject of many fascinating films, but in trying to resolve the issue, Araki inadvertantly makes it clear that there's only one way it can go. As a result, anything in Brian's storyline regarding his search for the truth is rendered moot because he's looking in all the wrong places, and we know this long before he does. His rapport with fellow abductee Avalyn (who initially provides support for Brian's theory) goes south at the drop of a pin, and not very convincingly.

To Araki's credit, he doesn't get caught up in cliches regarding sexual abuse: Neil has a pretty positive outlook on the whole experience, claiming he was in love with his abuser anyway, that getting deflowered at age eight made him understand the truth about his sexuality (though you could pretty much go for a "chicken or the egg" argument there). Brian follows the more conventional route of repressing sexuality altogether, to the extent that it's not clear whether he's into guys or girls at all because the thought of intercourse with another human being is repulsive to him.

At the end of the movie, the two characters finally meet, and Neil tells Brian exactly what happened, in excruciating detail. But again, Araki cuts the scene short at that vital moment where everything Brian ever believed in is lying in ruins. It's not enough of a resolution to the character arcs or to the movie as a whole, because Neil isn't much affected by Brian's breakdown (why should he be? He already knew, and never saw himself as a victim). There's no connection, no reason to care about what Brian's next step will be.

A few superfluous characters run about without adding anything relevant to the story: Wendy Peterson is played by Michelle Trachtenberg, who - years after her stint on Buffy - still arouses a desire on my part to slap her until her head detaches. Eric is Neil's best friend and, of course, is in love with him (another subplot that goes nowhere, because Neil doesn't know or doesn't care).

I can't really recommend "Mysterious Skin" because it spends most of its time building expectations that are never fulfilled. The moment you figure out what happened to those two kids, you've solved the riddle - and more likely than not, it'll be long before the movie's actually over.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Comics Review: November 22

This week also saw the release of three new books I'll be reviewing at a later date: "All-Star Superman", "Books of Doom" and "X-Men: Deadly Genesis".

But now, onto the main attraction: David Lapham's "Daredevil vs. Punisher: Means and Ends".

Generally speaking, these two Marvel characters have clashed before, most memorably in the "Child's Play" arc of Frank Miller's "Daredevil". The reason they work so well together is because of their similarities - they're both street-level vigilantes largely motivated by personal loss, and defending the same territories against the same enemies. The only thing that separates them is Matt's belief in the law and Frank's use of lethal force. This is something Lapham picks up on... we'll get to that in a bit.

Overall, "Means and Ends" is an interesting story, wherein Daredevil and the Punisher are after the same target for very different reasons, while in the background another victim of crime prepares to follow in Frank Castle's footsteps. Lapham portrays both title characters very effectively, without going over the top and making Punisher an unsympathetic monstrosity a la Ennis. In fact, Lapham really manages to find middle ground in that neither character proves to be "superior" to the other. Usually when you have this kind of face-off, a writer will allow his favorite to come out on top while the opposing party is torn down. That's not what happens here. Oh, the Punisher acknowledges that Daredevil has an advantage because they both know Frank won't kill Matt... but that doesn't make the Punisher less than his opponent.

The problem with appealing to both fanbases, though, is that both characters come off as a bit flat here. Lapham can't really develop either character significantly - on the one hand, this is rarely a requirement in an extraneous miniseries, and as such, it doesn't really impact the quality of the story (ie: David Hine's excellent "Daredevil: Redemption"). However, it's a bit of a problem here because Lapham does try something here that doesn't play itself out.

Specifically, he makes a bold attempt at breaking down that one line between the two - Daredevil discovers one of the Punisher's victims, who he thought innocent, was in fact guilty as sin, causing him to question his perception of Castle as some raving lunatic who needs to be put down (because clearly, he does know what he's doing). Meanwhile, an altercation with Daredevil causes Punisher to momentarily lose control, and he shoots an innocent man. That goes right to the core of everything he believes in, and it shakes him. For a few moments, you can almost see these two characters move beyond their firmly-entrenched positions, to consider the other side.

Except, if that were ever to happen, Daredevil and Punisher really would become interchangable. So Lapham only manages to scratch the surface before moving onto another track altogether.

The larger issue is that it's not clear whose story this is, when all's said and done. It's not Daredevil's story or the Punisher's story, because they're only bit players in the overall plot - in fact, the whole issue of Hammerhead trying to take over the underworld (which kicks off the first issue) ends up being resolved off-panel. Rather, it seems this is Martin Bastelli's story (the boy who tries to emulate the Punisher), or rather it's Martin's and his sister Mary's (the girl who looks a lot like the Punisher's dead wife Maria).

I say this because these two actually provide a relevant thematic link. Like Castle and Murdock, the Bastelli siblings find themselves victims of mob violence. Martin picks up a gun and plays at being Punisher Junior, and it costs him his life. Because he's not the Punisher, and not everyone can be the Punisher. Martin pays the ultimate price for his choice, as the Punisher might someday.

Mary, on the other hand, is subjected to an even worse fate, and would have every reason to seek revenge... but she doesn't. She's not the Punisher, because not everyone wants to be the Punisher. It's always been the cliche of the vigilante characters (Batman, Spider-Man, etc.) that ordinary tragedy leads to extraordinary reactions - but is that really the way people behave? Not always, as Mary proves: there's a lot of grief in her final words, a lot of pain, but she doesn't fall into the Daredevil/Punisher, law/justice quandary. She sidesteps it, and moves on with her life - something neither Matt nor Frank will ever be able to do.

Good story, if a bit self-nullifying in its conclusion. Definitely worth reading.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Newsarama reports that Jeph Loeb is joining the writing cast of "Lost", and his episodes will start airing in January.

It's like the schmuck is chasing me from fandom to fandom. I'll try to be optimistic and hope that in the best case scenario, he's not going to screw things up too badly.

Dammit. And I was really liking this season too. :(

"Don't Judge It Till You Read It!"

Or: "Brains? Who Uses THOSE Anymore?"

In the realm of debating comics, there are certain stock phrases that come up time and time again. Sometimes they're justified, usually they aren't. But every now and then I find myself faced with a particular, specific argument that's so wrongheaded I'm usually left speechless.

This argument basically amounts to "Wait till Product X comes out before criticizing it." For context's sake, this was most recently brought up in a discussion regarding the upcoming "Planet Hulk" storyline, where someone pointed out it sounds quite similar to a 1970's story wherein Hulk went to Jarella's world and everyone was green. It's pre-PAD, so I don't have direct experience with the parallel, but it's apparently recognizable enough that a lot of people are commenting on it.

The predominant response to this claim has been that people are judging "Planet Hulk" based on some teasers and images, without knowing anything more about the story. That they're presuming to write off the whole thing as Marvel recycling old stories, with no evidence to support such a theory.

Well, you know, except for those times Marvel does recycle old stories. Granted that being a Marvel/DC apologist these days requires a rather massive set of blinkers, but really, no one can get away with claiming neither company digs into the archives on a fairly regular basis. "Infinite Crisis" is a "Crisis on Infinite Earths" retread with some cosmetic changes made to avoid looking like a direct reprint. "House of M" was an inferior "Age of Apocalypse" inversion (and they went and dug up the original story for Akira Yoshida this year, didn't they?). JMS' "Sins Past"? "Decimation" being a wide-scale retread of the Alan Davis Uncanny story with the High Evolutionary, or the Claremont/Windsor-Smith "Lifedeath"?

The point is, you can only autocannibalize your own stories so many times until people start expecting that of you. If Marvel's stuck with being called "The House of Idea" (that's not a typo), they really do have only themselves to blame, because they do nothing to discourage these expectations. Instead of making "Planet Hulk" look distinct on any level, they do the opposite and make sure the only thing the readers know is that it sounds like a 30-year-old story with a new coat of paint on it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

That Time of the Month: PMS!

Or: "Previewing Marvel Solicitations!"

Lots of flat-out bizarre things this month, as well as some genuinely exciting stuff. I'll also be pointing out just how many times the word "event" is used per month, just so we can see the brick wall we're all speeding towards.

* Ultimate Marvel is still carrying that "Gold Standard" subtitle, though to this day I don't think anyone has actually explained what that means. If they're just talking about putting some gold on the cover, well, we get the point, there's no reason to keep hammering it three months in a row. If, on the other hand, they're talking about perceived line-wide quality, I despair for the medium.

* Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Angel Medina begin a run on "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" with issue 23. Aguirre-Sacasa isn't a bad writer per se, but he's never written anything I was particularly inclined to read, and this series falls under that same banner. In fairness, I should point out that the premise seems interesting enough - Spider-Man villains who've patterned themselves after animals now find themselves becoming their moniker. Could turn out nicely.

* Over in JMS' Spider-book, Peter Parker gets a new costume "certain to raise eyebrows". Considering we've seen Paper Bag Spidey, Armored Spidey and Betty Brant as Spider-Girl, I seriously doubt we'll be too put off. Plus, you know, movie 3 coming out soon.

* Finally, Peter David's "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" breaks free of "The Other". I'll be checking out the first few issues to see how accessible it is; that aside, I'm expecting a fun read.

* Event #1: Apparently, "Black Panther" is heading for "an event of cataclysmic proportions". Which may or may not have anything to do with Panther's search for a wife, or guest-appearances by Blade, Brother Voodoo and Monica Rambeau. Care to guess what these three have in common? I'll give you a hint: it's only skin-deep.

* The solicitation writer vomits up an entire paragraph of bells and whistles for this month's issue of "Daredevil", but if there was ever a specific team on a specific book that didn't need an ounce of hype to sell itself, it's Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark on "Daredevil". Really, you don't need me to tell you to check it out, do you? :)

* Garth Ennis starts a "Fury: Peacemaker" miniseries. Keeping in mind what happened the last time he wrote Nick Fury, can you blame me for running away screaming?

* "Saga of the Squadron Supreme" recaps everything in the Supreme Power series so far, setting up for March's relaunch of the series as "Supreme Power: Squadron Supreme". Clunky as hell, but these are the people who gave us "X-Men: The End Book Three: Men and X-Men" and "Decimation: House of M: The Day After", so what do they know.

* Event #2: The theme for February is "I (Heart) Marvel", obviously a Valentine's Day cash-in. Apparently, the high concept is a return to the old romance genre in comics, which faded away when superheroes became the dominant force in the industry. Of course, these stories will feature mainstream Marvel characters. Once again, Keith Giffen launches a 5-month miniseries out of a one-month theme, though even with the solicitation text I still have absolutely no idea what it's about.

* Event #3: "Amazing Fantasy" #18 announces a "New Universe" event in March, heralded by a February backup story by Tony Lee featuring Mark Hazzard, Merc. *blank look* What-ever.

* Two issues of "Captain America" promise to ship in February. I'll believe that when I see it. #14 is, of course, the long-overdue conclusion to the "Winter Soldier" storyline while #15 picks up on a plot point from the first six issues.

* Event #4: "Planet Hulk" begins as Greg Pak takes over "Incredible Hulk" with issue #92. I'm... somewhat ambivalent towards this. Pak is a great writer, but it's still very unclear what kind of story this is - crossover? Self-contained "saga"? Nobody's written a Hulk I particularly cared about since Peter David's original run, but I'm quite open to getting my interest rekindled. A "wait and see" issue, then.

* Robert Kirkman brings in his old "Mutant 2099" character over at "Marvel Team-Up". I still don't care.

* "Giant-Sized Ms. Marvel" promises a new ongoing series for Carol Danvers by Brian Reed, starting March. Don't look at me, I didn't know anything about this either.

* "New Avengers" #16 tie into "House of M", some four months after the story ended. Uh-huh...

* A Frank Tieri miniseries called "Underworld" looks at a criminal's life in a world of supervillains. Nice premise, but Tieri's never really been one for following through with plots. More likely than not it's a waste of time.

* The good news: "Astonishing X-Men" returns. The bad news: it's bimonthly. Which means that, instead of getting two six-part stories a year, we'll be getting one six-part story a year for two years. That's... well, that's not quite right. Still, it's better than Claremont.

* "Exiles" reaches the old "Squadron Supreme" universe. And, by the looks of the cover, they've picked up the 2099 character I was hoping they'd get. :)

* Event #5: I've already commented about Eric Jerome Dickey's "Storm" miniseries, but here's a little something new: "Don't miss out on this story, True Believer, as it builds to a July Event that will shake the entire Marvel Universe." *sigh* The opportunity for snark is endless, and yet somehow I've reached the point of complete apathy. I don't care enough to be sarcastic anymore. The inevitable backlash will speak for itself.

* Apocalypse returns. In Peter Milligan's "X-Men". Oh dear. Well, it's Apocalypse - it's not like Milligan could do much worse than "The Twelve" on his worst day.

* Another Frank Tieri launch: an "X-Men: Apocalypse/Dracula" miniseries. I kid you not. Apocalypse vs. Dracula. On the other hand, this doesn't look like the puffy-shirt eight-foot-cowl Dracula of '80s Marvel, so who knows. It's still Tieri, but anyone who's okay with that might enjoy themselves.

That's it for this month's highlights! Full solicits and covers can be found here:

Until next time, this is Diana, asking you to PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP BUYING CROSSOVERS. The tenth anniversary of "Onslaught" is coming up soon; don't come crying to me when "Heroes Re-Reborn" is announced! ;)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Comics Review: November 15

Better late than never, right? ;)

"A History of Violence"

The only other book I've read from Paradox Press was "Road To Perdition", which is actually a pretty good parallel to this book in that violence is practically a character in its own right. Both "Road To Perdition" and "A History of Violence" begin with establishing two separate worlds: you have the domestic sphere, which more often than not is sedate, routine and somewhat idyllic, and you have the outside world where violence is commonplace, practically a supreme value. In both books, the main plot is triggered when violence transgresses into and irrevocably changes the internal, domestic life; we then see how characters who had straddled the boundaries of both worlds react to this loss.

In the introduction to the book, writer John Wagner gives several examples of this kind of disruption - if a man went crazy and started shooting up a crowd, could you push yourself to pick up a gun and shoot him? If you found a stranger in your house who insisted he was your husband, what would you do to protect yourself? This moral dilemma, he explains, is at the heart of "A History of Violence".

And the first part of the book does indeed play this paradigm out: Tom McKenna is living his small-town life, where he knows his customers by name and has them delivering food to sick neighbors. He's even accomodating the two thugs who try to rob his diner... until one of them decides to kill him for the hell of it. Tom reacts seemingly on instinct, killing one while seriously injuring another, without so much as a scratch.

Obviously, this is big news for such a close-knit community, and Tom is propelled to celebrity status. Unfortunately, his newfound fame attracts unwanted attention in the form of three gangsters, led by a half-senile and half-blind old man who may or may not have known Tom in the distant past. They stalk him, making veiled threats of the sort that don't hold up in court. Wagner perfectly captures Tom's helplessness, as well as the greater ambiguity: is this just a case of mistaken identity (as not even the aged gangster, Torrino, is sure whether this is the man they're looking for)? Or is there more to Tom than we thought?

This question is resolved at the end of the first chapter. The second chapter takes us into Tom's past, and we discover the truth about what's been happening. Like the section preceding it, this part of the story is also very grounded in realism; even the idea of two teenage boys eradicating the core of a New York mob (and escaping unscathed) seems like a stretch, but only until one of those boys points to the fact that because it's so unlikely, no one will be prepared for it.

However, "A History of Violence" stumbles at the third and final chapter, where a new antagonist comes out of nowhere and starts causing trouble. If, up until this point, the book had been true to life, Wagner now starts asking readers to suspend their disbelief... not an easy thing to do considering the tone of the story so far. Two characters in particular are displayed with almost cartoonish qualities; for example, can we really bring ourselves to believe in a man who's been tortured and mutilated every day for twenty consecutive years? Think about that span of time. Think about the effort required for such a concentrated period of abuse. It might be commonplace in superhero comics or something in the vein of the fantastic, but it certainly doesn't belong in a realistic book.

That said, "A History of Violence" is still a very well-written book, one that doesn't presume to solve the question of violence but demonstrates, with chilling effect, how violence could and does affect our everyday life. Highly recommended.


Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls (37-39)

"Y: The Last Man" is still going strong, one of the most exciting and interesting reads on the shelves.

Brian Vaughan has many skills as a writer, but one that serves him particularly well here is his ability to simultaneously introduce new plot threads and characters while never losing sight of what he's already established. You get long-running themes and angles that hadn't been considered before. You get new characters meshing with people we thought we'd never see again. It's a very enjoyable aspect of the ongoing story for someone who's been around since the beginning - every character means something, and just might pop up when you least expect them to. The flip-side, of course, is that it's not particularly accessible to readers looking for jumping-on points, but DC has been very consistent with TPB releases so it's not really a problem.

Another refreshing aspect of Vaughan's writing is that he goes against the trend of six-part arcs (which, more often than not, require a bit of padding). Story length in "Y" tends to range from single issues to five, but even in the standalone stories there's always so much going on that you never feel you're not getting your money's worth.

"Paper Dolls" follows up on the previous arc, with Yorick and his companions finally reaching Australia (last known location of Yorick's girlfriend Beth). Unfortunately, it's only a pit-stop to their next destination - Japan - and Yorick has twenty-four hours to try and track her down. Things become a bit more complicated, though, when relentless tabloid journalist Paloma West finds out Yorick's secret, gets tangible evidence, and exposes him to the world.

As Yorick himself points out, this isn't necessarily the catastrophe his secret agent bodyguard 355 immediately assumes it is. First of all, Paloma's publishers are notorious for faking photographs - they're tabloids, after all, there's always a degree of fabrication there. Beyond that, the existence of the last man on Earth was bound to be revealed sooner or later.

With only a year and a half to go before the issue 60 finale, Vaughan is still keeping up the pace, still providing those delightful last-page cliffhangers, and still maintaining a very high level of quality where most other writers would start to sag a bit.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Comics Review: November 5

Ultimate Spider-Man: Warriors (#79-85)

This series has become a curious beast. Even in arcs, it's one of the lightest reads on my list... and not a very satisfactory one at that.

Of course, this wasn't always the case. In earlier times, "Ultimate Spider-Man" was an effective demonstration of the positive aspects of decompression, and even when revisiting older concepts, there was usually some new and interesting facet to explore. For example, the Spider-Man/Black Cat relationship got a new twist because of the age difference - she was introduced in her mid-20s, same as the comics, but Peter's only sixteen. So there's all the sexual tension there was in the original story, except she doesn't know he's just a kid.

USM is another series where Bendis has been in decline, and this is particularly evident in the "Warriors" storyline, which amounts to a mindless orgy of fight scenes, dialogue that has crossed the line from mildly annoying to downright irritating, no particular resolution to speak of, and the introduction of a bunch of two-dimensional Ultimate revamps.

That last one in particular is a bit of an unpleasant surprise, because as I noted before, Ultimate revisions tend to turn out well for the most part. But in this storyline it's almost as if Bendis doesn't bother filling in the blanks at all, so sure is he that his readers will do it for him. For example: Ultimate Moon Knight turns up, fights Spider-Man, has split personalities and goes into a coma. Ultimate Iron Fist was in jail for using his powers, visits his friend Shang Chi and beats people up. That's it. No characterization. Nothing particularly in-depth. You'd almost think it's a Millar script. Bendis clearly expects fans of the respective characters to just assume they're otherwise identical to their original versions... but that does tend to spoil the whole point of the Ultimate line, doesn't it? Not everyone knows about/cares about Shang Chi, for God's sake. And "Warriors" certainly doesn't give us any reason to.

What's going on here? What possible justification could there be for six and a half issues of nothing? Yes, every now and then a nice twist comes along (ie: what we learn about Jean DeWolfe in the last part of the story). But it's starting to reach the point where I'm seriously wondering why I'm bothering. For every issue or interesting scene that comes along (I'm thinking of the USM annual with Kitty Pryde), there's a whole arc that just goes to waste.

The dialogue problem isn't new to readers familiar with Bendis' work; his style works when it's just one person talking, but having seven or eight completely different characters all stuttering and repeating themselves and using Yiddish phrases... it's too much. It becomes a chore to read.

It's unfortunate that "Ultimate Spider-Man" has lost so much of its energy to creative ennui. It's quickly becoming one of those series where I have to wonder whether I'm following it because I still like it or out of inertia (a pretty easy trap to fall into on a book with no changes in the creative team). If this keeps up, the next arc will be my last.


Spider-Girl #92

Continuing with the theme of "Do I still like it/Inertia?"... this month's issue of Spider-Girl is yet another done-in-one story that has a nice idea at its core but utterly collapses in execution.

The Avengers, still recuperating from a battle against the Hulk, call in Spider-Girl and a bunch of new recruits to deal with a major threat: Magneto's back. Or is he? Surveillance tapes show someone with magnetic powers and the old red-and-purple costume robbing banks (hardly an act worthy of the Master of Magnetism). Meanwhile, in her civilian life, May bumps into former supporting cast member Nancy Lu, now a neophyte X-Man. When Magneto strikes nearby, the girls team up.

It's another mystery that suffers from the same problems as last month's story. Specifically, any ambiguity about whether this Magneto is genuine gets tossed out the moment he appears - so "Is Magneto back?" isn't really the question at all, but rather who's masquerading as him. That's already a less-interesting question, because as the introductory exposition points out, nobody knows whether the real Magneto is even alive or dead in MC-2. Granted that he's not particularly relevant to Spider-Girl's world, but if you're going to bring it up you might as well address it.

Once again, May throws out an intuitive guess, with no particular clues in hand, and turns out to be absolutely right. After one encounter, she knows exactly what's going on. It's getting pretty silly because there's no cognitive process here; Spider-Girl doesn't even need to think about something, she just knows. All the Silver Age goodwill in the world doesn't make this any less contrived - especially when the real perpetrator turns out to be a bit character from fifty issues ago. I've been reading this series since issue 0 and I honestly had no idea who May was talking about. That's the major detriment to having a such a massive cast of characters - if they don't appear periodically, who's going to remember some minor "villain of the day"?

The issue concludes with May finally confronting Normie about his suspicious activities. It's pretty anticlimactic - she tells him she knows something's going on, but she's not particularly resolved to do anything other than "hate him for the rest of her life". Considering her uncle Phil just disappeared into thin air, you'd think she'd be a little more proactive.

Another series I'm pretty close to dropping. This has been a pretty uninspiring week. :(

Thursday, November 3, 2005

This just in...

Bruce Campbell was disturbingly hot in "Evil Dead".

I say "disturbingly" because it really takes a lot to look that cute when you're covered in what appears to be cottage cheese, milk and scrambled eggs.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

I Like To Move It Move It...

I just saw "Madagascar"... cute film, standard feel-good animated movie a la "Monsters Inc." or "The Ice Age". Always nice to watch.

And now I really want a Dancing Julian icon. :)

Movie Mini-Reviews

There was a time when I thought Leslie Nielsen could do no wrong. Of course, this was a while back, when he was making some of the funniest slapstick parodies I'd ever seen (ie: "Wrongfully Accused", the "Naked Gun" movies, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It", etc.). So it's something of a crude surprise to discover that not even he could save "Repossessed", a strong contender for the worst comedy I've seen this year.

Humor being a very subjective thing, I imagine that someone somewhere out there gets a giggle out of an adult Linda Blair turning herself into an ice cream cone while shrieking "Lick me! Lick me!". But I sat through eighty minutes of vomit gags, repetitive punchlines and pretty offensive stereotypes without so much as smiling. It might have something to do with the film's utter lack of subtlety; instead of trying to tickle a laugh out of you, "Repossessed" smacks you in the face with a sledgehammer and waits for the reaction. Parody requires a certain degree of subtlety, which you're most certainly not going to find here.

It's a rather catastrophic misfire of a concept that, on paper, should have worked. "The Exorcist" is certainly a prime target for parody. They had Leslie Nielsen. They went the extra mile and got Linda Blair to lampoon her own original performance. Even the plot holds together: the Devil retakes control of an old victim of his, promptly setting up another exorcism. But a greedy televangelist hijacks the operation, and unknowingly plays right into Satan's hands.

But nothing quite works out: Nielsen is a marginal character, ostensibly out of misguided loyalty to the role he's spoofing (in the original, elderly exorcist Father Merrin isn't very prominent until the movie's final phase). As a result, it falls to Anthony Starke (yes, that seems to be his real name) to carry the movie, and he doesn't (maybe they should have given him a couple of martinis to loosen him up?). On top of that, while Blair has some mildly humorous moments as the Devil, overall she doesn't get much mileage out of her experience with the original movie.

A pretty horrid disappointment, not good enough to enjoy and not bad enough to make fun of.


"Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight" is much more successful in terms of following its genre guidelines: it's supposed to be a gorror (gore/horror) film, and that's what it is. No pretentions of being anything more. One interesting detail about this movie is that it was made in 1995; it missed the apex of horror cinema by about a decade (at which time we were introduced to such icons as Freddy Krueger). But it also fell just short of the pseudo-renaissance initiated by Wes Craven's "Scream" in 1996. In that respect, "Demon Knight" is one of the last of its kind, the way you might think of "Batman and Robin" as one of the last comic book movies before Bryan Singer's "X-Men" raised the bar.

What that means, for the purposes of reviewing "Demon Knight", is that while it certainly gets the gore portion right, I don't think it's a genuinely scary movie. It's basically a bit of a Buffy riff (predating the series but not the Kristy Swanson movie template) where a man "chosen" to fight off demons gets cornered in a hotel with six other guests. With the fate of the universe at stake, they have to take a stand against a small army of hellspawn determined to pick them off. At the same time, they have to resist the temptations of an soul-stealing demon known as the Collector.

There's a bit of fun at the beginning where the Demon Knight and the Collector face off, but you don't know which is which. Billy Zane and William Sadler really click as mortal enemies heading for one last clash. The rest of the cast members are made up of pretty formulaic stereotypes: you've got the tough-as-nails hotel owner, the washed-up town drunk, the asshole and his whore, the disgruntled civil servant and the young, rebellious woman who wishes she could walk away from her dead-end life in a dead-end town. Of course, this isn't really a problem with the movie; even in the prime of the genre, most horror/slasher movie characters were two-dimensional at best - anyone remember 22-year-old Kevin Bacon as Brainless Stud number Whatever in "Friday The 13th"? How about Jamie Lee Curtis as bland babysitter Laurie Strode from "Halloween"? The psychological approach to characterization didn't really take off until "Scream", so while it's difficult to get attached to any of the cannon fodder, it doesn't really damage the movie so much as date it.

As I said, scares are few and far between, but you'll certainly hit your "Ewwww" quota as limbs are torn off, eyes are gouged out, faces are punched through and bodies explode. It's worth mentioning that this movie basically plays out like an extended episode of "Tales From The Crypt"; in other words, it's pretty much the same level of black humor and blood fountains you'd find in the show. In short, it's a relic - a rather concise example of the genre at a recent point of decline. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but about average.


On "Saw" I will say only this: I liked it despite rather glaring flaws in the narrative structure, but it had some bloody weird subtext:

Where's Celine Dion and the sinking ship?