Archive

Archive for November, 2008

Movie Review – Hancock

November 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Directed by Peter Berg, written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan. With Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman, Eddie Marsan.
In a certain moment of this film, an executive asks Ray (Jason Bateman): “Are you a crackpot?” There were so many moments I wished I could direct this same question to filmmaker Peter Berg, who is apparently determined to incorporate Everything That’s Wrong With Cinema Today in his style. If Hollywood had an atom of artistic sense, they’d bludgeon Berg with a boom mic. Actually, they should have done it after his absolutely putrid work on “The Kingdom”, where he seemed to instruct whoever was holding the camera to shake it as if he was mixing drinks with it. Now, not only this same shaky cameraman is back – he likes extreme CLOSE-UPS as well.

And the sad thing is that “Hancock” has a good script. It has some flaws, yes, but a good filmmaker would have edited these parts out. Berg, on the other hand, EMPHASIZES them as much as possible. This film is a great example of a potentially excellent movie being ruined by a talentless director.

John Hancock is a superhero – except the last four letters in that word really fail to describe him. Causing more destruction than the criminals he hunts, Hancock doesn’t give a shit about the world or himself. He’s an alcoholic who generally acts like an asshole. Until a P. R. guy called Ray – who’s been naively trying to convince companies to give their products away for free – wait, scratch that. Until a P. R. guy called Ray – who’s been VERY STUPIDLY trying to convince companies to give their products away for FUCKING FREE – is saved by Hancock and decides to pay him back by improving his relationship with the people of Los Angeles – who hate the so-called superhero for the destruction he causes.

There is a twist in the middle of the film – and I’ll admit, I didn’t see it coming, although apparently everyone else did. I’m usually good at spotting foreshadowing and predicting what’s going to happen next, but this time I wasn’t. It’s just that I am so used to “useless romantic female character who inspires the protagonist” that I really expected that to carry on as it usually does in most films. So okay, this twist actually worked on ME. I’m not going to pretend it was a predictable twist – for me, it wasn’t. And maybe the screenwriters really tried to use that ‘romantic female character” cliche to surprise the audience, so I’ll give them credit for that.

In fact, there’s a lot of good things in “Hancock”. The sense of humor, some quite good scenes (Hancock’s first mission with his new costume) and Will Smith’s performance. Now, say all you want about Will Smith. “He’s an inflated ego who does only blockbusters!”. Sorry, having the courage to be the protagonist of a blockbuster is not having an inflated ego. Especially when Smith does it so well. John Hancock is truly captivating in his attempts to shield himself from the world, and while he’s an asshole, yes, he’s an asshole with redeemable aspects. Will Smith portrays this remarkably well, and his comic timing is impeccable. Charlize Theron… I can’t say anything about her performance because everytime her gorgeous face was framed by the (horribly shaky, closed-up) camera, I started drooling. Jason Bateman is likable, which is impressive considering his character is a moron – with noble intentions but still a moron.

Sadly, though, Peter Berg grabs all those good things, puts on a spiked condom and rapes them while reciting parts of “Mein Kampf” (okay, okay, I might be overreacting here). The aforementioned camera is absolutely infuriating, and it’s ridiculous how the TV footage of a car chase is actually MORE CLEAR than the car chase scene ITSELF. And for every joke Berg gets right (the whale scene), he fucks another one up royally. Like the scene in the jail, when Hancock does something he threatened to do VERY literally. While Berg initially shows the reaction of the bystanders – which is funny – he drags the scene on and on until finally pulling the camera back and showing the scene in its entirety. And by then it’s just ridiculous. It’s like someone swapped the reels and shoved in a scene from the next “Scary Movie”.

Comic timing, by the way, is something Berg really fails to understand. No, scratch that: the very NOTION of timing is as understandable to Peter Berg as quantum physics are to a fucking squirrel. In the movie’s climax – which is quite dramatic – Berg sticks in a joke involving an axe that feels completely out of place to say the least (“You DIDN’T”, a character says – which is exactly what I wanted to say to Berg when I saw it). Not to mention the movie as a whole feels horribly rushed, with things happening too fast or at the wrong moments.

But you know, I had FUN with “Hancock”, and the movie touched me in a moment or two – and that credit belongs to the screenwriters and the actors, because Berg really fucked up. People say Uwe Boll is the worst director in the world – but really, who’s watching his films? His movies are straight-to-DVD garbage. Now, Berg – he’s got immense, gaping flaws as a filmmaker and he’s being handed projects like “Hancock”. Which is the bigger threat?

FUCK Uwe Boll. Let him make his little movies. BERG is the one to fear, because he’s a BIG-TIME fuck-up – he’s already proved it with “The Kingdom” and he just did it AGAIN. Hell, with a proper director, “Hancock” just might’ve been a masterpiece. With Berg, it’s passable, ultimately forgettable entertainment. With a horribly exaggerated ending scene.

OBS: In the scene where Ray tries to convince the executives to give stuff for free (seriously, he tries that), you can see the excellent filmmaker Michael Mann and the absolutely talentless screenwriter Akiva Goldsman playing two of the executives.

Comic Review – Wolverine #69, Back To Brooklyn #2 and The Walking Dead #54

November 13, 2008 Leave a comment

Wolverine #69

Written by Mark Millar

Art by Steve McNiven

Inks by Dexter Vines

Colors by Morry Hollowell

Lettering by VCs Cory Petit

In a nutshell: epic and interesting, “Old Man Logan” continues to entertain and provide a compelling look at a post-apocalyptic USA set in the Marvel Universe. And even if it didn’t, McNiven’s phenomenal art alone would be worth it.

Mark Millar has a talent for ressuscitating titles. If a book hasn’t been at its best lately, with half-hearted arcs and poor art – call Mark Millar, ask him to write a new arc and it usually works wonders. This happened on Spider-Man, already happened on Wolverine and now is happening on Wolverine again.

Millar – who really should try writing a non-superhero story some time, because he’s got talent for it – carefully balances developing the characters and the world around them. Logan is portrayed as a deeply broken man who just wants to live a low-profile life in his own little corner. For unknown reasons (which are promised to be revealed on the next issue), he refuses to hurt anyone. Hawkeye, meanwhile, hasn’t lost his killer instincts, but has apparently lost his daughter, Ashley. In fact, the conversation he was with Logan on a bar about it is one of this book’s greatest moments (“I helped so many people leave this world, man. It was so damn cool to watch someone arrive.”). Hell, even the fucking SPIDER BUGGY is exploited effectively by Millar.

At the same time, Millar shows us what’s left of the USA – with dinosaurs from Savage Land roaming the country and a disturbingly modified version of Mount Rushmore – okay, Mount Rushmore being used like this certainly isn’t original, but when you’ve got Steve McNiven drawing for you, you really can’t miss the chance. And indeed, his art is absolutely gorgeous. Brilliantly inked by Dexter Vines and colored by Morry Hollowell, his usual contributors, it not only looks amazing, it also shows the action from elaborate angles – another proof of how talented McNiven is at drawing the human figure and environments. But it’s his shadowing that truly blew me away, especially in the panel where we see a flashback of Wolverine spitting blood (this book doesn’t shy away from violence, thankfully). The lettering by Cory Petit is well-placed and with clear caligraphy.

“Old Man Logan” is so far a compelling and powerful arc that explores Wolverine the man instead of Wolverine the animal. Millar continues to be one of the few writers who makes me read superheroes.


Back to Brooklyn #2

Story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Garth Ennis

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Mihailo Vukelic

Lettering by Simon Bowland

In a nutshell: with only two issues so far, it’s already brilliant.

No matter what publisher he’s working for, no matter whether it’s a high-profile book or a low-profile book – Garth Ennis is always Garth Ennis. Even while he’s working on his excellent “The Boys” series, he doesn’t allow his quality standards to drop while handling this project idealized by Jimmy Palmiotti, which is considerably under the radar. And this is why he’s my favorite writer.

Managing to slip in his trademark black comedy without harming the overall drama of the story, Ennis develops his characters with charm. Despite being a killer with brutal methods to say the least (remember the bucket scene in the previous issue?), Bob Saetta admits that maybe he’s a monster, but his family isn’t and he’s trying to protect them. And now he has to protect his old ex-girlfriend as well, who broke up with him precisely because she hated what Bob had become. And there’s Vinnie Thermos, who’s called Thermos because — no, I won’t ruin it for you.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Paul the Wall, Bob’s brother, who kidnapped his family. Despite his dumb look, Paul is dangerously sharp and ruthless, and he hires a guy by the name of Churchill – who proves just how effective he is in the last panel of this book. Churchill is reminiscent of Stein from Ennis’ “Pride and Joy”, which is far from being a bad thing.

But it’s the dialogue that truly makes the story shine. Contrary to Warren Ellis’ recent work, Ennis gives each character a manner of speaking and makes them sound natural. The excuse Vinnie Thermos tries to make to a bunch of guys who want him dead is absolutely priceless.

Ennis’s writing is brought to life by Mihailo Vukelic’s gorgeous art. Painting New York in opressing sepia tones, he ensures Ennis’ sense of humor never breaks the serious surface of the story (although Ennis is a master of avoiding that all by himself). The artist proves himself excellent with visual narrative and facial expressions, both handled with surprising subtlety – for example, Bob’s slight smile when his ex-girlfriend makes a comment on how Vinnie looks.

With efficient lettering by Simon Bowland, “Back to Brooklyn” is very compelling and looks great. It’s refreshing to see a down-to-Earth crime drama like this in comics instead of in a movie. There’s enough superheroes already.


The Walking Dead #54

Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Charlie Adlard

Gray Tones by Cliff Rathburn

Lettering by Rus Wooton

In a nutshell: an intense episode that brings “The Walking Dead” back on track after a number of ridiculous coincidences.

The way Rick and Carl found the rest of their group in previous issues was really an example of a narrative trainwreck. They just, y’know, STUMBLED into them in the middle of a huge zombie-ridden land. But now that they’re back together, Robert Kirkman seems to be back on his game, by adding a number of new characters that are going to Washington D. C. – and one of them knows what caused the zombie infection. In fact, Kirkman subtly portrays how used Rick has gotten to this post-apocalyptic world when a character says “I know what caused this mess” and Rick replies, “Mess? What mess?”.

Intense from beggining to end, this issue has some of the best dialogue Kirkman has written in a long time – a great example being when someone explains how the zombies form herds. The characterization continues to be one of this book’s strong suits, and Rick’s refusal to make a single decision for the group after all that has happened is touching. So is what he says to Carl near the end of this issue.

Charlie Adlard’s art – hell, just insert everything I said from previous reviews right here. It’s still as excellent as ever. The same can be said of Cliff Rathburn’s gray tones and Rus Wooton’s lettering. I prefer not to waste your time making the same compliments to them as I usually do.

“The Walking Dead #54″ is a very good issue. I hope Kirkman keeps avoiding coincidences and focuses on his characters.

Comic Review – The Boys #24, No Hero #2, Aetheric Mechanics, Streets of Glory #6 and Joker

November 3, 2008 Leave a comment

The Boys #24

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Darick Robertson

Colors by Tony Avina

Lettering by Simon Bowland

In a nutshell: a quieter, but quite funny issue that moves the plot forward with its usual mixture of foreshadowing and “taking the piss out of superheroes”.

In this episode, Hughie – watched by the Frenchman and the Female – is already inside the superhero team G-Wiz, using the codename “Bagpipe” (“You heard that kid trynna do an American accent?”, the Legend justifies). There, he finds out, unsurprisingly, that they are no more than superpowered fratboys who like fart jokes and porn. Meanwhile, Mother’s Milk investigates the mysterious death of Silver Kincaid and Butcher has a meeting with The Legend.

While that sounds like a lot, it isn’t really. This is a typical habit of Ennis: a set-up issue, that puts all the pieces in place. But I’m never bothered by this because Ennis always does this job with his excellent sharp dialogue and great characterization. Not to mention this issue is drenched in foreshadowing in every subplot (I was intrigued by Butcher’s avoidance of alcohol by apparently dangerous reasons, and the conversation between Frenchie and The Female). We’re also getting to see Mother’s Milk in action as a detective.

Darick Robertson’s art isn’t as sharp as in the previous issue, but it’s still great. The visual narrative is impeccable as usual, and the last page is hilarious. I like how out of place he makes Hughie look in the middle of G-Wiz, the hugeness of Mother’s Milk silhouette and the Female’s eyes. Tony Avina’s colors are efficient and clever, portraying the G-Wiz’s house in brown tones, as if it’s the dirtiest place on Earth. Simon Bowland’s lettering, though, has some noticeable problems. One of them is how big The Legend’s font is: instead of making it look like he speaks loudly, it seems as if Butcher’s whispering. Also, there’s a badly-positioned balloon during the sequence when G-Wiz is driving to the meeting with the G-Men.

Being honest: good issue. No more than that. Sets the pieces in place, does it funnily and ends. But, being Ennis, it’s still way above most of the comics I read.

No Hero #2

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Juan Jose Ryp

Colors by Digikore Studios

In a nutshell: so far, predictable and unoriginal. Brings nothing new to the table, but Juan Jose Ryp’s art looks good.

In the first issue’s review, I said this: It looks like this book wants to be not about heroes or villains, but the grey area in between them. But the things seen in this first issue make the following ones very predictable. I’ll make some guesses, see if they come true: Carrick Masterson will turn out to be a man capable of anything, who’ll introduce Joshua Carver to the Frontline and then disappoint Carver with his lack of morals. Carver himself will be the naive idealist guy who learns a lesson in how the world really is. The green-haired girl will either be his love interest or Masterson’s right hand.

Well, grow me a beard and call me Nostradamus, things are STILL going that way. Carrick Masterson looks constantly like he’s hiding a big fucking something, the green-haired girl connects to Joshua and Joshua himself tries constantly to impress Masterson and is eager to become a superhero. In fact, he’s such a moron it’s hard to like him. It’s funny how he seems to be surprised when the superhero transformation turns out to be gruesome and painful, considering they put him a padded cell in order for him to go through it.

But Ellis is an experient writer and is probably aware of all this, so could be he’s planning to take all those cliches and invert them to surprise the reader. Regardless, the story’s fun and readable, but I don’t feel connected with any of the characters.

Ellis also abandons any narrative subtlety, throwing in flashbacks and expositional captions whenever he wants. There’s a moment we see Carrick Masterson in an interview, right in the middle of a conversation between Joshua and the green-haired girl (I really don’t remember her name, too lazy to check), and another where Ellis throws in two panels to explain the FX7 pill. Those things yank you right out of the narrative, making it flat and bland.

Juan Jose Ryp’s art, on the upside, shows a great improvement. Normally, I don’t like his overcrowded panels and facial expressions, but here his visual narrative is surprisingly better and his lines are pretty and detailed just enough. Digikore Studios also improves on the coloring, completing Ryp’s art well. Unfortunately, neither of them can make up for the weak, predictable script. A weak predictable script by WARREN ELLIS. What in the name of fuck is going on?

Aetheric Mechanics

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

Inks by Chris Dreier

In a nutshell: Possibly the first book by Warren Ellis that I simply hate. Utter horseshit.

Warren Ellis’s Crecy, also published by Apparat, was a brilliant book; a history lesson taught in an extremely fun way. I’ve read it over and over again and had fun every time. So it’s a surprise that his next book published by Apparat is utter horseshit. I think this is the first time I hate so much a book by Warren Ellis.

The story is absurd. Which isn’t bad as long as its absurdity is explained right. It isn’t. So it’s just absurd in a negative way. It follows the investigation of a case by detective Sax Raker and his doctor assistant Watcham. Yes, it’s EXACTLY what you’re thinking. This happens in a London overrun by flying vehicles and electric cars, in 1907.

So, Sherlock Holmes in a steampunkish London? I can dig that. Only the book lacks any charm or cleverness, relying solely on the power of the character it references and on an ending that fails to surprise in any way (except for its mediocrity, something I never expect from Ellis). There is some humor, one or two good jokes (“God’s fucking balls, Raker, who killed the man?”), but they hardly make up for the flat story. And Ellis’ attempts at showing us how smart Sax Raker is supposed to be are sadly exaggerated. The first time he shows up on this book, he makes a series of guesses on Watcham, observing his movements and clothes to draw conclusions just like Sherlock did. Only he draws all those conclusions before even glancing at Watcham – so, unless everyone in this alternate reality has eyes located on the back of their heads, that’s just trying too hard.

It’s difficult to relate to the characters as well – Raker comes off as an arrogant piece of shit, not the charming, eccentric Holmes created by Conan Doyle. Watcham comes off as a moron for putting up with Raker’s shit. And so on, and so forth, creating an universe you could care less about – which obviously hurts the story. In fact, the flying vehicles and other steampunkish stuff never truly get to play an important role in the narrative, which is frustrating.

Gianluca Pagliarani’s art is mostly okay. Overall, it lacks charm or a certain personality. For comparison, just look at Raulo Caceres’ work on “Crécy”. Pagliarani also occasionally draws a face too long, or a weird facial expression, but the true problem is that his job just isn’t very interesting – but let’s be honest, the script didn’t help with that either.

“Aetheric Mechanics” is a story that fails to interest in any way. The plot is mediocre, the characters are flat and the charm is absent. And I really HATE to say all this, since I’ve been a Warren Ellis fan for a long time.

Streets of Glory #6

Written by Garth Ennis

Art by Mike Wolfer

Colors by Andrew Dalhouse

In a nutshell: another great Avatar title by Garth Ennis reaches its end – and being a western, it could only involve bullets.

Joseph R. Dunn was a violent man. He fought in the Civil War. He did unspeakable things in his past. And for all his life, he wondered what he fought for. And his greatest fear, is that he did it for his country, “only to hand it to fools”. And in the final issue of “Streets of Glory”, his greatest fear comes true, and all the glory from days past is turned into pure, simple bloodshed without any honor.

So far, this mini-series has been a damn good western. With a loose plot that proceeds slowly but never dull, it’s about a man trying to pick up the pieces of his life. And Garth Ennis, always a brilliant character writer, stays true to all of them. It’s interesting how Dunn, at first, accepts it is all much bigger than him until he has nothing left to lose. Ennis utterly captures the feel of that time, not only in the story, but also with the excellent dialogue and the characters that also work as homages to the western genre. Morrison is the “irredeemable villain”, a bastard who knows what he is and doesn’t care. Shelley is the romantic interest (and a great one at that). Burley is the villain’s right-hand man. But Ennis is not satisfied in simply taking all those stereotypes and throwing them in the plot – he develops all of them, giving them his own touch as a writer.

Finally, the best moment in this story, for me, is when we see the panel showing Dunn’s gritted teeth, blood trickling from them in the cold wind. A perfect panel that says more than it appears.

Mike Wolfer’s art has hooked me. His style is peculiar, but the overall work looks great, and his visual narrative is impeccable. He helps Ennis in establishing a western mood, and in making the characters come to life – and in the final showdown, Wolfer’s art couldn’t be clearer. Andrew Dalhouse’s colors – despite forgetting to paint Tom’s eyebrows in a certain moment – has the right tones, especially blue, portraying not just the cold, but the sorrow of all those characters as they leave their time into another they’re not sure they agree with, but that they can’t seem to stop.

“Streets of Glory” is a rich homage to westerns and another beautiful work of art by my favorite writer.

Joker

Written by Brian Azzarello

Art by Lee Bermejo

Inks by Mick Gray and Lee Bermejo

Colors by Patricia Mulvihill

Lettering by Robert Clark

In a nutshell: I simply cannot describe how good this book is in few words. Just read the fucking review.

I am a fan of the Joker, more than I am a fan of Batman. I think he’s one of the best villains in narrative arts, and it’s no wonder I love Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” as much as I do. The way he walks the line between madness and pure evil fascinates me, and after Christopher Nolan’s brilliant “The Dark Knight”, “100 Bullets” scribe Brian Azzarello takes on the villain, diving on his mind and on his eternal fight against Batman.

We see all this through the eyes of Jonny Frost, a lowlife thug who volunteers to go pick up the Joker as he leaves Arkham Asylum after being inexplicably released (he never explains how he did that, and it isn’t even important to begin with, so the mystery remains). Deciding to stick with The Joker as he starts a series of murders and heists to get his holdings and businesses back, Frost starts noticing, far too late, that he got himself stuck inside a snowball that gets bigger and bigger.

Azzarello’s take on Gotham City, Batman and The Joker is fascinating. There’s none of this Judd-Winick-ish morality here: Batman is a vigilante with a dark sense of humor and who does what has to be done – which is why The Joker, in a certain moment, says to the sky “need me for more of your dirty work?” after killing a criminal. Gotham City itself is a brownish cesspit, a truly depressing city where “hope” is the biggest joke of them all. Harvey Dent is an influential man who struggles against his psychosis, the Penguin is a businessman who sets up boxing matches, Killer Croc is a gangbanger… everything is way darker and grittier than in most Batman stories.

And the star of the show is, of course, the Joker, whose ways of intimidating his enemies rival the pencil scene in “The Dark Knight”. Claiming he’s not crazy anymore, “just mad”, he wants his power back – since it was all taken from him while he was away. But unlike the pathetic Joker written by the terrible A. J. Lieberman in that “Hush” knock-off, this Joker is truly threatening in his umpredictability. He hardly plans, he just picks one or two really simple ideas to help him do his deeds. Also, Azzarello NAILS the Joker’s sense of humor. The “feel my muscle” bit is an instant classic.

The Joker is so threatening, in fact, that you even feel sorry for the protagonist Jonny Frost – a pathetic, impressionable moron who doesn’t know what he’s getting into. Having been to prison five times and such a lowlife even bacteria avoid being seen near him, he is the perfect portrayal of a loser. A loser who sees his chance to become a winner by joining the crew of the greatest criminal in the history of Gotham, and to reach that goal, he conveniently ignores his boss’ constantly changing mood and erratic behavior.

But the glory doesn’t lie all in Azzarello’s shoulders – Lee Bermejo is equally important with his phenomenal art, which can be compared to Brian Bolland’s work in “The Killing Joke”. His Joker isn’t the clown with the stretched facial muscles – it’s the messy-haired Joker with cuts on the sides of his mouth and uneasy eyes full of madness. Bermejo nails him so many times, he creates so many panels worthy of being printed and posted on a wall, that his work becomes as important as Azzarello’s. Mick Gray does a good job as well – he inked most of the art. And finally, colorist Patricia Mulvihill nails Gotham City, portraying it with reddish brown tones that suit the whole narrative down to the ground, and her colors on the pages inked by Bermejo are simply astonishing. As I said, phenomenal visual work. Damn good lettering, too.

Finally, we come to the ending, which I won’t reveal. Azzarello answers a long-standing question I had about Batman’s uniform, the design, the flaws… and while there can be many answers for this, Azzarello’s one is pure brilliance. A fitting ending to a masterpiece that can proudly stand alongside “The Killing Joke” as one of the best Batman graphic novels of all-time. I leave you with one of the many lines that deserve mention, and what happens after it is one of the best scenes in this book:

“I forgot to do something…” – Joker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.