Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I got a tattoo!




These are pictures of my tattoo, which is of Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail. Here's a short story about getting my tattoo: it hurt.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fantastic Four 560


Damn. I didn't expect this.
Fantastic Four 560 was not only good, but since I wasn't expecting the quality, I loved the issue. I don't think I've liked an issue of Millar and Hitch's FF as much as this particular issue. So let's take a look.

Galactus is tied up, Doom and Johnny are tied up, and Bruce Banner is Hulked out and smart - so what's going on? Well, this issue helpfully explains a lot, including the reason why the arc is called "The Death of the Invisible Woman".... There's a great fight scene, a great reveal, a great explanation of who the New Defenders are. And there's some terrific artwork, unlike the previous issue which featured googly eyes. On top of the great interior art is the terrific cover.

This is exactly what I wanted from Millar and Hitch, but it took seven issues to get there. This was a fun, exciting and interesting read. Millar's whole thing, to throw ideas like confetti in the air, is actually working for him. He's crafted a Lee-Kirby style adventure, but trussed it up in modern trappings and decompressed it.

If you had been avoiding Millar and Hitch before, this might be the perfect issue to jump on. If you had been avoiding FF because of the Millar-Hitch quotient, this is the issue to change your mind. I now look forward to the next issue and I would strongly recommend this particular issue to everybody who will listen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Random Thoughts: Music Videos

Some music videos have memorable songs but not not memorable videos:



Green Day - Basket Case

Some music videos have memorable videos but not memorable songs:



Green Day - Walking Contradiction

Some music videos have both:



Green Day - Hitchin' A Ride

Yes, that's all I had to say about that.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why I Don't Give Stars

I like to read a lot of comics. And I like to read a lot about comics. And I like to read blogs. So, lo and behold, I read a bunch of comic book blogs. In the blogosphere, however small or large it might be, there exists a spectrum of blog-quality. Some people can write, other can't. The great blogs (eg. The ISB) forge ahead in their own way, creating new and unique content to eat up all the spare time of the audience and entertain them, enlighten and enrich them.. The not-so-great blogs simply eat up time. I like to think of "a lay of the land" being somewhere in the middle. I don't provide that zaniness that The ISB has in abundance, but neither do I write like a ten year old. I don't waste a lot of space complaining about companies and Greg Land and why X character is being mistreated and mishandled by Y writer. With my blog, I simply try to honestly talk about my love of comics, and review them when they get into my hot little hands.

However, what I don't do with my blog is asininely assign a haphazard generic rating system to comics or movies. That's not to say I don't like rating systems; I just don't think they're for me. Over at The Weekly Crisis, Kirk has a decent system of "Must Have", "Check It" and "Avoid It" and some other designations. As well, at The Savage Critics, their rating system is built into the website's header and logo. My favourite comic book critic, Jog, manages to work the rating into a sentence, which is worked into a paragraph, which is worked into an essay about the comic in question. It's all very intelligent and literate. These are the rating systems that work. For those writers on those blogs.

On the flipside, there are rating systems that don't work for the writer or the blog. Now, I'm not going to name names or get into a big blog fight, but I have found a couple blogs who not only have terrible rating systems, they might also have simply stolen it from another blog.

I don't use rating systems because most of the time, I can't simply sum up my feelings of a work in two words or put those feelings into a number. Sometimes I finish reviews with "I would/would not recommend this" and sometimes I finish reviews with "I would recommend this for fans of x" or what have you. Everybody has different tastes, so I would only recommend things to people who I know and who I would know (mostly) their tastes.

Even when I read reviews of comics, I tend to skip the numbers and read the analysis instead. Saying something is five stars out of ten doesn't tell me why this work failed or what parts didn't jive. The only way to explain why a comic is great or good or mediocre or awful is to explain why, in words, in the form of a review. That's why people read reviews. They want to know if it's worth buying. With my blog, I try to review and effectively critique, as I've been taught and as how the great critics of all time did. A review of high quality is one that understands the work being reviewed. I can't do that with numbers.

The Buy Pile, over at Comic Book Resources, has an interesting twist on the rating scale. Instead of organizing the review by comic, the writer organizes the comics by rating. Which means the buy pile is what's good, the meh pile is what's not and the "No, just No" pile is the absolute crap. But in this case, it absolutely works. For that blog, for that author.

It would not work for me. I need to flesh out my reasoning, I need to talk about it. Maybe one day, when I've enough practice reviewing comics, I could use a rating scale. But for me, for this blog, I can't use rating systems.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mini-Reviews!

It's a good week for comics, I must say. Most of the comics I read are worthy of rereading and possibly buying in the trade paperback. So let's get at 'em.

Incredible Hercules 121

I missed the entire "Sacred Invasion" arc in this title, and I have no idea why. This issue is the beginning of the "Love and War" storyline in which Herc and Cho go to a hidden island for some R&R, or rather, Herc goes for some lovin' with Namora. They're interrupted of course by modern-day Amazons who kidnap Cho for babymakin' purposes. All in all, this is a well-drawn, entertaining, funny, action-packed, enjoyable comic. For mainstream Marvel comics, this might be the best title out there.

Secret Invasion: Thor 2 of 3


Matt Fraction and Dougie Braithwaite continue their breathless and awesome story of the Skrulls attack on the floating city of Asgard. It's really just a long fight scene, but it's so well done. This mini-series has done more than the main title of the crossover and has entertained me more. The issue also ends with a great "f*%& yeah" cliffhanger in which we know that Thor is going to bring the house down. My only complaint is the digital colouring directly over Braithwaite's pencils, which makes it all muddy and washed-out, kind of like
Ultimates 3 but let's not go there.

Mighty Avengers 18

Nick Fury trains his Howlin' Commandos. That's it. It's a single issue of the kids yelling at Nick Fury and Fury bein' all smart and old. He orders them to kidnap Maria Hill (who is not a Skrull) and they do and she's a life-model-decoy which impresses Fury. It turns out he's training the kids and training Hill at the same time. This was a boring issue that accomplished nothing. A missed opportunity can be sensed here. Instead of showing us the past, Bendis could have developed more strongly the fight in New York, thus making
Secret Invasion 6's double-page spread of NY's destruction more shocking. Bendis could have taken the time to show us (rather than tell) the characters and their battle with the Skrull. Not only would it have given Secret Invasion a little more depth, but it also could have developed these characters. This issue is not recommended, just like the rest of the crossover.

Action Comics 869

This is the fourth part of the "Brainiac" storyline, and I sort of like it. The art by Gary Frank is terrible and the story has taken four issues to get to this point? Boring. What I liked about this issue and this storyline is that Brainiac seems to be an amalgam of the previous incarnations, including the scary head-spaceship that makes me love Brainiac so much. But the whole Kandor thing, Super-Girl, Kat in a tight red dress, all of that is boring and not very engaging. What Johns does that is interesting is the contrast between Brainiac and Superman, highlighting their essential differences, which are very great. But Superman stands around and grimaces in pain for most of the issue so it's pretty much a wash-out. Only sort of recommended.

That's it for this edition of Mini-Reviews! Check back later for a review of
All-Star Superman 12.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

DC's December Solicits

I've already gone over Marvel's December solicits, so let's take a look at DC's. First off, let's take a look at the Final Crisis solicits.
FINAL CRISIS: SECRET FILES #1
Written by Grant Morrison & Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Frank Quitely & various
Covers by Frank Quitely and Jim Lee & Scott Williams
Finally, the secrets of this year’s most talked about event can be revealed! Witness how Darkseid's death shattered the Multiverse, creating continuity ripples throughout the DC Universe! Submit to Darkseid and read the full Anti-Life Equation! This is a book you cannot resist to buy!
Retailers please note: This issue will ship with two covers by Frank Quitely and Jim Lee & Scott Williams that will ship in approximately 50/50 ratio. Please see the Previews Order Form for more information.
On sale December 24 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US

What's that? Frank Quitely art? Combined with crazed pseudo-logical paragraphs of the Final Crisis plot. I'll take it, please.

I want this now, please:
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN VOL. 2 HC
Written by Grant Morrison
Art and cover by Frank Quitely
Collecting ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #7-12, this amazing new hardcover completes the epic, award-winning tale by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely! Don’t miss The Man of Steel’s clashes with Bizarro, Zibarro and more as Lex Luthor enacts his scheme to cause the death of Superman!
Advance-solicited; on sale February 11 • 160 pg, FC,
$19.99 US

Yes. I want it. But February is so f*%&ing far away. Considering the last issue comes out this week (allegedly), that means the collection doesn't come out for another five months! Why?

Even though I haven't been reading the monthly issues, I've heard enough good things about this to pick it up.
BATMAN: R.I.P. THE DELUXE EDITION HC
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Tony Daniel & Sandu Florea
Cover by Alex Ross
Legendary writer Grant Morrison concocts an unthinkable plot: The death of The Dark Knight! Collecting BATMAN #676-683 in an oversized Deluxe Edition, this volume features artwork by Tony Daniel. While Bruce Wayne drops out of sight, The Club of Villains begins a crime spree through the streets of Gotham City, while Batman’s allies attempt to keep order in the city and find The Dark Knight.
Advance-solicited; on sale February 4 • 208 pg, 7.0625” x 10.875”
FC, $24.99 US

Well, it's no Frank Quitely, but it is Grant Morrison.

So that's really it. I know, it's pathetic that all of my choices are Grant Morrison things, but you know how us GM fans are! Whatever!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Marvel's December Solicits

The December solicits are up and what has caught my eye so awesomely? A reprinting of the most awesome comic book run ever made:
THOR VISIONARIES: WALTER SIMONSON VOL. 1 TPB (NEW PRINTING)
Written by WALTER SIMONSON
Penciled by WALTER SIMONSON
Cover by WALTER SIMONSON
Few people have ever left their mark on one character quite the way Walter Simonson has. His work on the Mighty Thor swept the Norse God of Thunder to heights never before seen and rarely achieved in his wake. Spanning epic tales of heroism and treachery, love and war, Simonson’s work is often considered the definitive Thor. From the majesty and mystery of fabled Asgard to the gritty streets of New York City, Thor was never the same. That is the mark of a true visionary. Collecting THOR #337-348.
288 PGS./All Ages ...$29.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3189-2

Yes. Yes. This is what I'm talking about. Somebody at Marvel heard my plea.

This is interesting, but I'm not going ot buy it, considering the story is pure shite.
SECRET WARS II OMNIBUS HC
Written by JIM SHOOTER, CHRIS CLAREMONT, MARK GRUENWALD, DENNY O'NEIL, JOHN BYRNE, STEVE ENGLEHART, DANNY FINGEROTH, TOM DEFALCO, BILL MANTLO, ROGER STERN, ARCHIE GOODWIN, MIKE CARLIN, PETER GILLIS, LOUISE SIMONSON, WALT SIMONSON, JIM OWLSEY, PETER DAVID & JAMES FELDER
Penciled by AL MILGROM, MARY WILSHIRE, BILL SIENKIEWICZ, PAUL NEARY, JOHN ROMITA, JR., DAN GREEN, RICH BUCKLER, JOHN BYRNE, KEITH POLLARD, JOE SINNOTT, MIKE HARRIS, RON FRENZ, JACK FURY, TOM MORGAN, JAMES FRY, DAVID MAZZUCCHELLI, MIKE MIGNOLA, JOHN BUSCEMA, PAUL CHADWICK, RON WILSON, MARK BADGER, RICK LEONARD, BRENT ANDERSON, SCOTT WILLIAMS, WALT SIMONSON, MARK BRIGHT, RICH BUCKLER, DON PERLIN, PETE WOODS & MIKE MANLEY
Cover by JOHN BYRNE
He rescued the Hulk and destroyed the New Mutants, he wrestled the Thing and made a deal with Mephisto, he created Kurse and Thundersword and a tower of gold! Doctor Strange tried to teach him; Dazzler tried to romance him! The Avengers wanted to recruit him, Daredevil to sue him, and Puma and Deadpool just wanted him dead! Hero, villain, force of nature and deus ex machina all in one: the Beyonder! For good or ill, he was one of the most powerful agents of change in the eighties, and now you can see all of his work all at once! Plus: the menacing Moondragon, the nefarious Nebula and, oddly enough, the origin of Armadillo! Featuring Tabitha Smith, later of New Mutants, X-Force and Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. fame! Collecting SECRET WARS II #1-9; NEW MUTANTS #30 and #36-37; CAPTAIN AMERICA #308; UNCANNY X-MEN #196 AND #202-203; IRON MAN #197; FANTASTIC FOUR #282, #285, #288 and #316-319; WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #6; AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #268 AND #273-274; DAREDEVIL #223; INCREDIBLE HULK #312; AVENGERS #260-261 AND #265-266; DAZZLER #40; ALPHA FLIGHT #28; THING #30; DOCTOR STRANGE #74; CLOAK AND DAGGER #4; POWER PACK #18; THOR #363; POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #121; PETER PARKER, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #111; DEFENDERS #152; DEADPOOL TEAM-UP #1 and QUASAR #8.
1168 PGS./ All Ages ...$99.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3111-3

Other than that, most of the solicits are "classified" until the end of
Secret Invasion. So nothing perks my interest.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This Show is Cool

Click here to listen to Alan Cross' The Ongoing History of New Music, a great radio show hosted by the smartest man in radio ever. I just listened to the episode about the origins of famous cover art for albums.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Shining Recut


These recut trailers are absolutely brilliant. I especially love that this trailer uses Peter Gabriel's oft-used "Solsbury Hill".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Secret Invasion 6


So in my last few reviews for Secret Invasion tie-ins, I became frustrated and annoyed by the slow-moving, elephantine and simplistic plot of Skrulls invading. We've seen so many different aspects to the invasion, from the smallest to the biggest, and we've heard many different reasons for the invasion itself. Bendis has created a major event that has its roots from the beginning of New Avengers to even further past that, going to Secret War. It seems like such a good idea for a story. But sometimes, the nugget of a good story idea does not necessarily translate or extrapolate into a good story.

I decided with this post that instead of simply reviewing
what happens in this issue of Secret Invasion, instead of simply reviewing what plot unfurls, I would try to decipher exactly what the story that Bendis is telling and whether or not he's successful at telling the story he's trying to tell.

Secret Invasion tells the story of a long-gestating invasion that is secret and insidious. An alien race called the Skrulls, who have the power to shape shift have switched essential superheroes and people with Skrull agents. In the limited series, we follow the heroes of the Marvel Universe as they pick up the pieces of the eventual large scale full frontal attack by the Skrulls. In the tie-ins, Bendis examines the hows and the whys of the invasion; the main title explores the what happens next of the invasion.

Bendis is telling two different stories in three different titles. In the main title, Bendis shows the audience how the superheroes
react to the proper violent invasion. On the other hand, the core of the entire story, the actual secret invasion itself, is explored in the secondary titles. In both cases, Bendis is telling us how the heroes emotionally respond to the danger and then physically react against the invasion.

This is a story of the psychological damage the Skrulls have caused by creating mistrust and breaking friendships and allegiances. Bendis wants to explore what the emotional cost of this secret invasion is, and what one does when one can trust anyone.

That sounds fascinating and three-dimensional. I'd like to read that please.

Instead of that, in
Secret Invasion 6, we get a bunch of angry wide-jawed people yelling at each other and then fighting for two double-page spreads. This story does not or will not mine the emotions of the characters and figure out what the psychological damage is. This is not a story about people fighting mistrust. This is a story of muscled madmen and violence.

Bendis wants to tell a wide-angle action story with plenty of explosions, fights, and shocks, but what he has delivered is a tired and creaky tale of the heroes being broken and then coming together to fight a common enemy.

The best comparison I can think of is the early nineties crossover
Infinity War by Jim Starlin and Ron Lim. In this series, Four Freedoms Plaza gets blown to smithereens:

and the heroes are replaced with evil duplicates:

Except, in this case, Jim Starlin was already a ways through a massive and giant epic tale about Adam Warlock and the pains of being a god. Starlin was trying to illustrate the absolute mind boggling size of the universe and how ultimate power can never be wielded by those without complete knowledge of the entire universe. It was a dense read, entertaining and filled with all those great nineties-era moments.

The difference between
Infinity War and Secret Invasion is that one has a labyrinthine plot that expertly uses its tie-ins to expand on little plot points in the main title, and the other has a slow-moving pace slower than the steady expansion of the edges of the universe. Bendis is not successful in telling his story because it's not really that interesting or three-dimensional. It's the same tired plot that's been seen before, but with a modern use of dialogue and decompression. In six issues, Jim Starlin managed to pack a billion characters and numerous dense subplots, including Kang and Doom going to the edge of the universe to try and steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Adam Warlock's "id": The Magus. Sounds confusing? Yeah, but man is it fun. In six issues of Secret Invasion, Bendis had the Hood (lame) and his society of C-listers go from discussing the invasion to standing on a roof watching the fight. That's it. Literally.

I'm not against decompression. In fact, the slow burn on Bendis' run on
Daredevil is one of its many strengths. Decompression can let a story breathe. Just ask Neal Stephenson and his two and a half thousand page epic The Baroque Cycle. However! However, Bendis isn't telling a substantial story. The heroes break apart, a couple people die, then they band together thanks to Reed Richards and Iron Man and save the day.

At least in
Infinity War, Starlin manages to turn that formula on its ear near the end: At this point, I'm highly unsatisfied with Secret Invasion and would rather revisit Jim Starlin's thousand page, twenty year epic starring Adam Warlock. So see ya later, Bendis.

The Magic of Godley And Creme


Godley and Creme - "Cry" (1985)


Peter Gabriel - "Biko" (1983)


The Beatles - "Real Love" (1995)


Duran Duran - "A View To A Kill" (1985)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Review: Speed Racer


There's a moment near the end of Speed Racer where I realized, not for the first time, but definitively, that this film is made for ten year old boys and nobody else. I was a ten year old boy at for a year in my life, and I could get back into that groove, but only for a moment. Other than that fleeting moment, my reaction to this film was eerily similar to my reaction to another grouping of kids' movies with adult leanings: the Shrek films.

Speed Racer
is a film written and directed by the famed and "mysterious" Wachowski brothers, the makers of the wonderful Matrix film and the satisfactory Matrix sequels. This film is an adaptation of the legendary anime series Mach GoGoGo, or Speed Racer as its titled in the English-speaking markets. I've never seen an episode of Speed Racer, the anime, but I am familiar with the characters in a distant sort of way. It's the story of (first name) Speed (last name) Racer and the Racer family, including the young Spritle and the chimp Chim Chim. Yes, there's a chimp. Speed Racer is a phenomenal racer who chooses to drive for an independent company, ie, his father's racing company. When Speed is asked to join the Royalton racing company, he refuses, and the crooked company head, Mr Royalton, reveals that everything about racing is about money and power, rather than who wins the races. Disillusioned and defeated, Speed teams up with the mysterious Racer X (played aggressively by Matthew Fox) to take down the corrupt company and prove once and for all that racing is about fast cars and fast skills and winning everything.

This is an hilarious subtext. The whole idea behind the film is that keeping your independence from the giant conglomerates is superior to "selling out" and becoming part of the corrupt system. The family business that the Racers have is paramount to the cold mechanical and unfeeling business model of the Royalton "family". So, let's extrapolate this for a moment. The Wachowski Brothers are implying (or at least, I'm inferring) that big business is corrupt, independent is better. Isn't that absolutely hilarious when you realize that the Speed Racer film was bankrolled and released by Warner Bros, one of the biggest film studios of all time. In fact, the Wachowski Brothers probably could not have produced the film without the money they received from working with the Warner Bros studio when releasing the three Matrix films. The budget for Speed Racer was approximately one hundred and twenty million dollars. Or 120,000,000. Or twelve and seven zeroes. That's not independence - that's big business.

The Wachowskis at least got to make the film to their own aesthetic. This is a movie made in the anime aesthetic. An example of this is when Spritle (I keep wanting to say Squirtle, the Pokemon) and Chim Chim are watching an anime on television and then imagine themselves in the anime. They even soar at each other with the traditional anime whoosh lines as they fly. This scene is repeated later in the film, but when Chim Chim and Spritle soar through the air together and hit the villain, instead of fighting, they simply grab onto his legs. It's a realist touch, but this is a film set in an anime world, so realism wasn't welcome at the door at any time.

Since anime and film are two different aesthetics, that means there are different rules for telling stories visually. In film, there's such a thing as the 180 degree rule, which says that if two characters are facing each other, you cannot move the camera beyond 180 degrees, because to do so will confuse the audience's eye. Moving beyond the 180 degrees will make the characters appear to have switched places. Viewing a film requires the eyes to see and the mind to interpret the visual and do some mental math about where things are. There's a scene in
Speed Racer in which the two villains are discussing something ghastly important and the characters' heads move back and forth over and under each other. After six moves by the heads, I was confused at where the characters were standing in relation to each other, and once they stopped moving, I wasn't sure if that was even where they stood. Imagine that confusion over two hours and fifteen minutes.

The visuals are really expensive looking and interesting, but it's not as if they're innovative. It's all just green screen effects. It's fascinating that with the advent of advanced green screen techniques, film has gone back to replicate aesthetics like
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow which evokes the New York World's Fair and this film which steadfastly evokes anime. I suppose we'll have to wait for James Cameron's Avatar to get a new aesthetic.

The scene that made me decide ultimately that don't like this movie was at the end, in which Speed and Trixie are about to kiss in front of all the photographers. This scene has been teased throughout the whole film as every time they go to kiss Spritle and Chim Chim interrupt. Because ten year old boys don't like people kissing. It's gross. So when they finally do kiss, an instant before it happens, the screen freezes and Spritle and Chim Chim slide onto camera and warn that the following scene isn't recommend for the "cootie-sensitive" and then the scene resumes. That's what sealed the deal for me. I'm not a ten year old boy and this film offers nothing beyond what would entertain one.

This is a film for ten year old boys with an overly complicated plot stretched out over two hours and fifteen minutes with highly stylized action scenes that don't follow any discernible laws of physics. The characters are flat and only distinguishable because they're played by physically different actors; it's hard to mistake John Goodman for Emile Hirsh. The actor who gets the most to do is the one playing Spirtle. Even the lead, the aforementioned Hirsh, most of his work is grunting and grimacing behind the wheel of a car. There's no development and there's barely any acting, save for a "Khaaaaaan" moment near the halfway point.

I wouldn't recommend this film to anybody over the age of thirteen (just to be safe) and I certainly wouldn't recommend this to fans of
The Matrix. Anybody looking for half-baked philosophy is going to have to look elsewheres. I wonder about the Wachowski Brothers. With The Matrix, they had their anime influences on their sleeve, and with Speed Racer, they just simply do anime. Are they done with anime yet? Will they take their talents someplace else? I can't say, but I'll probably watch it regardless.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I'm famous!

A while ago, I went to the Post Secret event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and during the question and answer period, I asked my question. If you click here, you can see the video and see me ask my question. My voice doesn't sound as annoying as I thought it would. Well, you can't see me ask the full question. The full question is "do you think that the community built around Post Secret is in direct contrast to the anonymous intent of the project?" or something like that. It was ages ago. Here's me with Frank Warren, the founder of the project:


Cool beans.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Two Hundredth Post Spectacular

Well, after 8 and a half grueling months of (attempted) daily blogging, I've reached the two hundredth post. For this two hundredth post spectacular, I'm going to do a retrospec(tacular)tive and figure out where the blog is going. Also, I will finish the post with a look at comics (not really surprising).

To start, let's take a look at some of my favourite blog posts.... This one, from February, where I try to dissect an essay from Ken Lowery about how annoying obsessive fans are. This was my first real time being a comic "critic" rather than a "reviewer". Or, this post, in which I detail the single best issue of Fantastic Four ever written. One of my favourite movie reviews was this one, for
Into The Wild; I was really into the movie and I don't think my feelings have changed much. You could also say I love Garth Ennis, based on the sheer amount of posts I've done. I also really love my essay on the current state of "event comics" which you can read here. And of course, my trip to California, which you can read about here, along with the build-up, here.

As well, I changed the logo a bunch of times:






A lot of stuff has happened in my life since I started this blog - I went to California, I have a new g/f whom I love dearly, I got a promotion at work and was transferred all over the city.

So what are we looking at for the next two hundred posts here at "a lay of the land"? I hope to accomplish what I set out to do this winter, which you can read about here, and I hope to post more reviews. Also, at the end of the year, I will post the master list of all the books I've read and all the movies I've seen in 2008, with links to reviews.

To conclude this two hundredth post spectacular, let's look at some other two hundredth issues, such as:

The Amazing Spider-Man 200


The Uncanny X-Men 200


Action Comics 200


Justice League of America 200


Detective Comics 200


Fantastic Four 200


The Avengers 200


Cerebus 200


Those are some great issues. I absolutely love that The Avengers and Justice League of America were both drawn by George Perez. That guy can draw. It's also a shame that the two hundredth issue of Cerebus was the end of the wretched "Mothers and Daughters" storyline. I notice that every anniversary issue other than Action Comics and Detective Comics have "Double-Sized" on it. That's interesting that in the Silver Age, they didn't commemorate anniversary issues. Which is in stark contrast to the current age when every anniversary is announced.

So that's it for the two hundredth post spectacular! Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Review: Hancock


Will Smith is a movie juggernaut. He's made a whole bunch of films that have broken box office records and his name alone can open a movie. He is a force to be reckoned with. So it's sort of interesting that in the film
Hancock, he plays a force to be reckoned with. This isn't the sly smart crazy protagonist of I Am Legend, but a drunk crazy powerful superhero.

Hancock is a drunk, immortal, invincible, down-and-out superhero living in LA whose collateral damage is costing the cities millions and is costing him the love of the people. He's despised by everybody except Ray, a PR man he saves from being hit by a train. Ray offers to turn Hancock's image around and make him a beloved superhero again.

I suppose that the film is supposed to be a satire, a deconstruction of the superhero mythos, but the film ends up being a big superhero brawl with lots of effects and lots of property destruction. Hancock himself is the opposite of how a superhero should behave, and he hooks up with a savvy but naive PR man - hijinks galore! Unfortunately, it's not really the case. The best bits of the film are when Jason Bateman's PR man is trying to teach Will Smith's superhero how to "interface" with the public. Everything else is tired and not very satirical in the slightest.

Apparently this film has a convoluted history, as it started out a dramatic film about an alcoholic superhero and the kid that takes a shine to him. Then, it was called
Tonight, He Comes, which if you ask me, sounds dirty. From that stage, it was touched by all sorts of different directors including one Michael Mann, whom this blog has infinite love for. Finally, with a different screenplay, the movie ended up in the hands of the Mann-wannabe Peter Berg, same director of The Rundown and Friday Night Lights, both of which are awesome.

I guess that Berg was looking for a character study, a satire, and an examination of society's possible relationship to a superpowered individual. He accomplishes most of this in the first two thirds of the film - only marginally. First of all, the satire isn't terribly funny as the superhero deconstruction was done twenty years and to a much better degree. Secondly, since the character of Hancock is amnesiac and an @$$hole, there isn't really all that much character to study. He's a blank slate for most of the film until the predictable and obligatory secret origin reveal at the two thirds mark.

And that's when the film seems to forget that it's a satire and devolves right back into a punch-'em-up with plenty of CGI jazz and property destruction. I read on Wikipedia that the superpowered fight was his least favourite bit of the movie to make. Well... it shows. In terms of a good ol'fashioned brawl, it's boring and visually uninteresting. The Jason-Freddy fight had more visual pizazz than this fight.

The current mode of Hollywood right now is the superhero movie. They make a lot of money, and as geeks are the primary spokesmen for pop culture nowadays, we're getting a whole slew of varying quality superhero films. Earlier this summer, I sampled a fine wine aged to perfection called The Dark Knight, and with
Hancock, I'm throwing back poorly distilled shots of chalky tequila.

I didn't care for
Hancock other than Jason Bateman and his scenes. Other than that, it was a tired and predictable superhero movie that wasn't very funny or satirical or smart.

If I wanted superhero deconstruction, I would watch Watchmen... but that's a movie I'm afraid that the filmmakers will forget is deconstruction.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Here's what I want for Christmas

I want the complete series of The Wire, all 23 discs of this terrific show. It's to be released on December 9th, 2008 and I want nothing more than this boxset. Here's a look at the package.

Click the pictures to embiggen:



Thursday, September 4, 2008

Giant Spider To Kill Everyone

From the Daily Mail Online, here is the link to read about the giant mechanical spider designed to kill every living thing in its past. Wild Wild West, I salute you for crossing over from fiction to reality. You were a crappy movie, but damned if I'm not scared now at your awesome power.

Click pictures to embiggen.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review: Tropic Thunder


Ah, movies about movies. There's nothing more rewarding to Hollywood than making a film about Hollywood. The self-reflexivity of film is worked into the fiber of filmmaking, from the tools to the narratives. From Fellini's 8 1/2 to Altman's The Player to Jonze's Adaptation. there exists a finely honed tradition of movies about movies. Yesterday, I went to see another film about film called Tropic Thunder, and these are my thoughts.

Ben Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, a big name action hero star, Robert Downey Jr plays Kirk Lazarus, a big time Australian method actor, and Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy, a fatsuit-farting comedian. All three of them are starring in the adaptation of Fourleaf Tayback's(Nick Nolte) true story of an almost suicide mission in Vietnam during the crazy years of 1969. When Tayback and the first-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) plot to remove the actors from comfort and put them in "the sh*t", they unwittingly put the actors right into real combat with Asian heroin growers.

This is a big time action comedy, with lots of effects, lots of laughs, and some terrific acting, sort of following the
Ghostbusters paradigm of "summer action comedy". Like the aforementioned classic, Tropic Thunder is entertaining and the supporting cast is absolutely top notch, including Jay Baruchel (whom Canadian readers will remember as the lead from My Hometown) and Danny McBride, as the lunatic effects wizard. The leads are also terrific, including the generally uneven Ben Stiller.

The script gives each of the main actors an arc that makes sense from the context of their careers. Tug Speedman must find the place he belongs; is he action star or dramatic actor? Kick Lazarus must find his own identity in a swirling cloud of personas and characters he's played, while Jeff Portnoy struggles to find, earn and keep the respect of his audiences, and thus his self-respect.

But as I say, the film is about film, so it's not enough that these actors play actors. The film goes overboard with laborious Platoon references and steadfastly keeps to a three act Hollywood structure, even commenting on the script matching the "real" scenes.

Hollywood is absolutely in love with itself, more self-congratulating than any other body in the world. They love nothing more than to talk about themselves and give each other pats on the back, ie the Oscars. So it's a double-edged sword when Hollywood makes a movie that makes fun of itself. It plays right into the cliche of a movie about a movie with primadonna actors, while at the same time making fun of that stereotype, but without making fun of the cliche itself.

A missed opportunity is noticeable. Why didn't the film make fun of the cinematic obsession with Vietnam? There are a billion war movies about Vietnam, even though the war was thirty or more years ago, and its veteran are retiring, and the war itself fades from the forefront of the collective unconscious.

But at the same time,
Tropic Thunder takes as many opportunities to make fun of the cliche of big time actors taking on mentally challenged roles as an attempt to acquire the Oscar. Instead of focusing its energies on Vietnam movies, the film schizophrenically takes potshots at actors for "going retard".

However, there's also the arc of Downey Jr, a white blue-eyed Australian, playing the African-American sargeant. It's supposed to be a parody of extreme method acting techniques, and practically every joke soars off the screens. It's a terrific comment on "serious" acting and the lengths actors go to in order to immerse themselves in the character. I certainly wasn't offended or anything at the race themes being poked at by Stiller's blunt directing style, but I did laugh a lot. There's a great bit where Alpa Chino, an African-American actor calls Lazarus out for playing up black stereotypes such as "crawdaddy" and "yessah", and it makes a great comment on white perception of black people.

Spoilers

I can't say I didn't enjoy the film. It's largely enjoyable and I laughed quite a bit. It's not a perfect film, as the major cameo, Tom Cruise, sort of puts a bad taste in my mouth. When we see Tom Cruise as a foulmouthed, hip-hop-loving, fat and bald executive, we're supposed to laugh because it's the opposite image of Tom Cruise that we're used to, thus the contradiction creates humour. But why couldn't the joke have been made without all the baggage of Tom Cruise? Why couldn't they have hired another actor to make the character funny on its own, rather than as a comment on Tom Cruise?

End Spoilers

I loved the movie and would recommend it to any fans of Vietnam movies, or movies about movies. It's a well-written off-beat tale of Hollywood and actors, while at the same time, satisfying the Hollywood formula. Tropic Thunder isn't my favourite comedy of the year, but it's up there.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer Revisited

In this post, from February, I laid out a bunch of things I wanted to do this summer. Now that it's September 1st, 2008, after summer, I'm going to see if I accomplished anything on my list. Let's go.

I started with the easy stuff:
I want to go to the Ex, or the Red River Exhibition, which is really just a bunch of carnival rides and fireworks. It's a staple of Winnipeg. I haven't been to the Ex since I was in second year of high school, so we're talking about 8 years. I never had anybody to go with before, and I might not have anybody to go with this year, but that's a stupid excuse.
Also, I would like to go ride some horses. I sort of fell in love with horses when I read Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses, and The Crossing which are terrific books about cowboys. McCarthy's sensual and biblical prose makes the horses seem so epic. It makes me want to ride some horses.

Well, that's easy. I went to the Ex with my g/f. Funny story, we went early, and pounded back two beers at the entrance, and then when we got to the front gate, it turned out they weren't open for another two hours. So we went to the Park to work off our buzz.

Also, I went horseback riding, and got sick. Yay, so right now I'm two for two.

Next, we get to the "probably will do" section:
I want to go on a vision quest. Now before you start laughing or anything, let me explain. For years, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing in my life, and I thought I knew my path in life completely. But in the past two months, everything I knew and everything I had changed. My life seems different, and I'm not sure where to go. A vision quest is exactly the solution to this. It sounds very crazy and very dangerous, but I really want to do this. The idea is that a combination of sensory deprivation, solitude, dehydration and spirituality is supposed to make your path in life clear to you, and what you need to do becomes apparent. A vision quest is a part of many cultures on the planet, not just Native Americans. A vision quest is a way to strip away all the noise, all the hurt, all the baggage, all the crap that makes us civilization and take us down to the meat of who we are. The vision is apparently provided by totemic spirits, but those are just metaphors for clarity of mind and peace of mind. So my plan is to go into the woods for a couple of days with only some water and some clothes and let my vision come to me.

I didn't do that. Why not? Well, at the time, I was in very stressed out personal position, with lots of problems, and I thought that the spiritual quest would help me shave off all the nasty things in my perception and get me to the meat of things. I don't really need it right now, as I'm in a much better and happier place now.

The other thing I wanted to do was skydiving, but money and work interfered there. So I'm two for four now.

Then, a month later, I blogged about this, a possible trip to California. I said:
I also thought of another thing I'd like to do. I want to drive to California. Not fly, not swim, but drive. Going on the open road, blasting the tunes, the windows rolled down, me and somebody special in the seat next to me, whoever that might be, but all of this, all of this bullsh*t that I've gone through will be dust floating into the empty night sky, and all that is ahead of me will be beautiful open land, as far as eyes can perceive.

I certainly did it. I went to California with my somebody special, and I went to San Diego, Los Angeles, the Hollywood Sign, all of it. I saw everything I wanted to see, sort of, and I did it with my g/f. It was awesome.

In this post, I had laid out my plans for the actual trip itself, and from there, it was only a matter of time before we left and then, just as quickly, came back. It was awesome.

Now I'm three for five. That's pretty rad.

Was it all worth it? Did I have a good summer? Yes. I had a great summer filled with lots of memories and lots of fun and lots of great times with my g/f!

Now, looking to the future. What do I want to do with my winter? Let's lay out my goals for the winter, and then revisit this post, in say, January or February, bringing it full circle.
1. pay off debts
2. write the novel I've had in my head since January, or at least made progress
3. go to Oktober Fest
4. finish Against The Day
5. read Fingerprints of The Gods, which I received as a gift (the very first gift) from my g/f
6. pay off debts

So that seems doable. I can't think of anything else I want to accomplish this year. Of course, I will follow up with something, if I think of something else. So there we go. A plan for winter, one that's better for saving money, rather than spending money.

To conclude, I say "see you in February" to this post.