Hobbit 2: Draconic Bugaloo: Bleary-eyed morning-after review of The Desolation of Smaug

I liked it more than the first film. The dwarves felt like more of a team and it was nice to see Bilbo be a part of the team and become the burglar they need (and the burglar they deserve).

The spiders were terrifying and because of tabletop endeavors, were very gratifying to see on the big screen. That was always my favorite part of the book, so I was thrilled to see them crawl around so big and clear.

Martin Freeman really holds the film together with his performance. His performance is amazing and kept me grounded and caring during the grand fantasy spectacle of it all. They seeded some cool One Ring stuff throughout the film.

Rhadaghast bothered me less in this film, though I still think the bird-poop on his head was one of the few serious costume/production missteps in Jackson’s Middle-Earth. Seeing Gandalf get his wizard on worked and set up the bad-ass posse that will gather to take down the necromancer in the next film.

Orlando Bloom has improved with his weapons work. Three pirates films have definitely left their mark and it showed. This didn’t necessarily translate to better film fighting. In some ways, they felt more comfortable showing Legolas, so we saw even more of him surfing on this and surfing on that while being a bad-ass. The first critique that occurred to me was that they should have cut some Legolas from the film and given some of his bad-ass-i-tude to Tauriel.

I liked Tauriel and Mirkwood was a nice counter-balance to the other elven realms, Rivendell and Loth Lorien. The barrel sequence was fun, though, like many action sequences, I could feel as it struggled to not to feel like a video game without any controls.

Just before the movie started we were talking about ways the first film fell short for us and my buddy pointed out a solid one. The main orcs, the big ones who get big fights with named characters, should be guys in make-up. I want some big New Zealand stuntman in a rubber mask; it gives the action scenes more oomf and gives the performance something tangible for the pale orcs.

Smaug is amazing. He is the dragon we have been waiting for since Dragonslayer came out in 1981. His movement and voice worked for me and I loved the way the fire started in his belly and erupted out of his mouth. There was one scene in particular where they highlight the coins on his belly that I won’t spoil but might’ve been my favorite moment in the movie.

Laketown looked good and it had people of color has background extras. I wanted to yell, “I see you Laketown people of color!” The look and production of the place was well done but the conflict between Bard and the Master of Laketown felt tacked on. I couldn’t care.

When the movie ended, the audience groaned audibly. “Really?” “Well, its only a year, right?” I think we need to look ahead and think about this movie as a piece, playing in our homes on winter holidays in years to come as we play through our deluxe DVD/Blu-Ray sets. When we look back on this 161 minutes of film, I’ll say, “Cool, this is where the Hobbit starts to get pretty damned good.” But looking at it now, as a night out of the movies, the ending was a rough choice. It left us wanting more but I wonder if it left us with enough for the cold ride home from the movies.

Marvel NOW! #1′s: A few short reviews

My main problem with the creative shuffling going on at Marvel is that there are too many books that I am interested in adding to my pull list.

I get my comics once a month, so forgive me if my reviews will be a bit behind.

All-New X-Men #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonem

My only criticism of Bendis’ writing is that it often feels like he writes to the graphic novel, sometimes leaving single issues that feel a bit thin. By the time I picked this issue up, I knew the premise of the comic. The first issue pretty much shows how that premise comes to be. That said, I’m in.

I really like the concept, of our present time being a dark future that the X-Men always feared and the original 5 X-Men, all fresh-faced, naive and young, come to the present to deal with the state of mutant-kind. The modern-day Cyclops has become the most interesting kind of villain, in the tradition of Magneto, the kind who thinks they are right and have a damned good point. This is the first time I have been excited by an X-Men comic in my adult life.

The art by Immonen is amazing, the best looking book of the Marvel NOW! lot so far.

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Uncanny Avengers #1 by Rick Remender and John Cassaday

In a way, Uncanny Avengers is the flag ship of the post-AvX, Marvel NOW! world, a world in which the Avengers and X-books will blend a bit more. We get Wolverine’s funeral speech and Havok visiting his brother in jail, some tension brewing between Rogue and the Scarlet Witch and the introduction to the main villain – a clone of the Red Skull that has been in cryo-freeze since WWII.

Based on Remender’s splendid run on Uncanny X-Force and Cassaday’s stellar art I’m buying in to this madness and imagine that it will be good fun.

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Captain America #1 by Rick Remender and John Romita Jr.

I wasn’t going to buy this one but made an impulse buy at the comic book store and this was in that impulsive pile along with Iron Man #1, reviewed below. I like Remender’s take on Cap, he talks a bit like your grandpa and somehow I got a glimpse of conservative politics that I might be making up but I don’t think so. Rather than seeing flashbacks to WWII, we are getting flashbacks to Cap’s childhood growing up in the Great Depression with a tough mom and an alcoholic abusive dad. The book needs some kind of grounding flashbacks, not just to give us a new glimpse into Steve Rogers but because the first issue sends Cap to another dimension ruled by Arnim Zola.

I liked this book and think it will be good fun but I’m buying too many comic books as it is, so this one has to go. If I hear good things maybe I will pick up a trade paperback or keep my eye open for a sale on at Comixology if I should become the owner of a tablet.

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Iron Man #1 by Kieron Gillen and Greg Land

I’ve never been a big Iron Man fan but I tend to follow creative teams, mostly writers, rather than a particular hero or team. That said, I have always liked AIM and loved the movies. I just couldn’t get into this one. The plot didn’t do much for me and Land’s art makes everyone look like underwear models (even more than they usually do in comic books). It was the only book of the lot where I put it down and did not care what happened next week.

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Thor: God of Thunder #1 by Jason Aaron and Esda Ribic

This comic is showing three different Thor’s in three different eras. We’ve got the current Thor, a young pre-mjolnir viking Thor and a grizzled King Thor with one arm, sitting on the throne of a deserted Asgard. The art is luscious and the premise, Thor coming across a faraway planet with a dead pantheon, killed by a serial killer who murders deities is Thor at his best, cosmic and a touch gonzo. That said, it felt like they put an unnamed Native American deity into a fridge on the first issue, a victim of the God-Butcher. That bugged the hell out of me. If future issues don’t somehow make this right, I’ll likely be putting it down.

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Fantastic Four #1 by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley

A father wants to teach his children about the world around them, so he is bringing them all on a road trip. Only, this family is the Fantastic Four, so the road trip is a cosmic romp through the galaxy and the father’s cosmic radiation-granted super-powers are unstable and he needs to find a cure.  I loved Hickman’s run on the Fantastic Four, so I am really excited to see where Fraction takes the book, as I am a fan of Hawkeye.

Fantastic Four is a book that I always want to be great but only rarely satisfies me. I’m strapped in, hoping this run does the trick.

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tl;dr: I’m adding All-New X-Men, Thor: God of Thunder, Fantastic Four and Uncanny Avengers to my pull list but not Captain America or Iron Man.

If you have any thoughts about this comics, please let me know.

Next Issue: I’ll look at FF#1 and Indestructible Hulk #1. I won’t be reviewing each issue but will go back and look at the titles that hold my interest’s first arcs.

Batman Begins, Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, a trilogy review

Yes, spoilers.

Seriously.

I watched the trilogy, all in one sitting and watched this third installment right at midnight.

For comic book geeks, it was a hectic mix of Knightfall, No Man’s Land with pinches of Dark Knight Returns here and there (specifically the one scene with the older cop and the younger cop, “You’ve never seen Batman? Slow down, kid, yer in for a show.”).

Watching the trilogy left me wondering a few things:

Gotham City

Gotham is a character in any Batman fiction and in the first of the trilogy we see the rail system, built by the Waynes and the Narrows, a rough part of town where Arkham Asylum is located. The rails are never seen again in the trilogy and the Narrows are never mentioned again. I would have liked a throwaway line about the rails having to be scrapped after the League of Shadows shenanigans of the first movie if the city suddenly does not have trains.

In Rises Catwoman could have been from the Narrows…something, some kind of a sense of continuity of Gotham as a consistent character, the city worth saving no matter what league of ninja, clown-faced psychopath or masked terrorist might attack it.

NOTE: A G+ buddy said that he could see the 3-tiered rail system in Rises, particularly in the IMAX version of the film. Nice!

Batman

Bruce Wayne/Batman does not have an original thought in his head. Almost all of his lines are quotes from other people, taken out of context and run through his cowled head so that it has to do with his quest for justice. Watch them again, when he does something inspired by someone else, he almost always quotes that person verbatim so the audience will remember where he got his idea.

Themes

All in all, where the first movie was saying, “Gotham is worth fighting for,” and the second movie said, “People will still do good even in the worst of situations,” the third seemed to say, “Poor people will rise up, bath in rich people’s blood and steal their shit if there are no police there to stop their psychopathic tendencies.”

Maybe it was just that Rises didn’t have a Ledger-caliber performance to off-set its philosophy 101 questions.

The WTF’s

Why do they bother with a fake Asian Ra’s al Ghul? Why does Dark Knight stop in its tracks so that Batman can grab a money launderer in China? Rises has too many WTF’s to narrow down to just one sentence.

Fighting

The only fights I really liked in the whole trilogy was when Liam Neeson’s character picked young Wayne’s fighting style apart and the Joker went bat-shit crazy on Batman at the end of Dark Knight. The rest of the fights felt unnecessarily frenetic. There was good stuff going on but I was missing it in the shaky-cam.

I wanted to see an older, wiser Batman pick Bane apart as Bats did the Mutant leader in Dark Knight Returns but I didn’t get a sense of why Batman won the fight at the end of Rises. He was hitting Bane’s mask but he was hauling off on Bane’s mask in the first fight too. I want fight scenes that are cool and say something about the characters fighting. And when Bane laid hands on a mofo, I wanted to feel it the way I did when Joker did the pencil trick. It wasn’t Hardy’s fault, I thought his physical presence was solid. It was the way Bane’s violence was shot.

The Ladies

Man, I don’t like the Rachel Dawes character. The ladies who played her were fine and I respect her decision to love Dent over Wayne but when she told Bruce that she liked Batman but didn’t like Bruce…man, that felt just mean. I’m glad that Selina Kyle could come along and let Bruce know that his brand of crazy was okay (even if it really isn’t).

What is good in Rises?

Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do great work as the Catwoman and a young Gotham cop.

Does it Rise?

No, sometimes, Bruce, when we fall down, it is because we made poor creative choices and did not have the editing skills to get back up again.

I thought all of the Nolan’s Batman movies were a big, glorious mess and didn’t expect anything different from this one. This one felt like a bigger mess than usual and that could’ve been okay but it didn’t quite hold together.

I liked this take on Bane and liked his link to the al Ghul family. I saw it coming but I enjoyed it all the same. This Bane had an intimidating physical presence and was a good choice after Ledger’s amazing Joker.

All in all, we’re left with what all three of these Batman movies leave us with, some fun action scenes and some half-assed thought on heroism. The action scenes were alright and the thoughts on heroism were just plain repugnant.

The Trilogy

We have a huge, sprawling mess that folks are going to insist is going to be impossible to top. The origin movie was a fun primer. The second film was a great Harvey Dent/Joker film and a mediocre at best Batman film. I’m a sucker for the first ten minutes that felt like something inspired by Heat.

And Rises takes the mess of the first two films and makes an even bigger mess.

It is not going to be long before someone launches another Batman franchise. Nolan did a better job than Burton and Schumaker but I think a better Batman series of movies can be made.

P.S. I’ll post re-boot thoughts in a future blog post but I think it would be cool to base the first movie on the first Detective Comics with Batman, even set it during the 40′s and tell the origin during the opening credits.

Superman: The Movie, review

Re-watched the 1978 Superman film for the first time in years. A few things occurred to me.

The first ten minutes on Krypton are even better than I remembered. Brando earned his truckload of cash, really setting up the whole film. The music is as good as I remember too.

Superman Returns (a whole other can of worms) was a sequel to Superman I and II way more than I realized. After seeing super-capable Lex Luthor on the Justice League cartoons it was jarring to watch Kevin Spacey’s Luthor use Krypton technology for a real estate scheme but Gene Hackman’s goofy Luthor set that all up with his speech about real estate and his nuclear missile/San Andreas Fault real estate scheme in in this first movie.

Christopher Reeve is supernaturally good looking and he’s the only real looker in the movie. It really makes it seem like Superman is from another planet because he’s just so handsome.

The big conflict of the movie is the only thing Jor El tells his son not to do. “Do not meddle in human history.” Naturally, Lois Lane dies and Superman freaks out and disobeys his father but there aren’t really any consequences. I would have wanted General Zod and his posse to get free of the Phantom Zone directly because of Superman disobeying his father but that wasn’t how it shook out.

His father told him not to do one thing, Superman broke his father’s only rule and nothing at all happened. Other than Lex Luthor’s kryptonite necklace, the movie is without any real threat and his father’s warning turned out to be meaningless.

The score and the first ten minutes are solid super heroic movie-making and the rest was weak.

Reviews: Batwoman #8 and Secret Avengers #25

Batwoman #8: This was Batwoman’s probationary issue and it is now off my pull list. I enjoyed how they crafted a fitting arch-villain for her in the Detective Comics arc but since she has gotten her own title book and the creative team has changed I have been lukewarm. My big problem is they took her father out of the equation and I really liked their relationship, liked how they interacted and how they handled the vigilante with her Army dad as support.

She is the kind of character, not a big IP, not yet a movie or even an animated short that has lots of freedom and the concept of the series with Batwoman as the one who faces down the occult problems in Gotham intrigued the hell out of me. How often does one get a shot with a character on the outskirts of the Bat-pantheon, getting to create a new Gotham Rogues Gallery? I’m not sure if I want to like this comic more than I want to write it.

For the past few issues they are trying to do something with moving back and forth between the past and the present but it just felt confusing and annoying. In a 24 page comic, I want, at the very least, one really neat human moment and one punch-in-the-face cool any comic book moment. I didn’t get that with this comic. I’m done. I’ll keep an eye on a shake-up on the creative team to lure me back some day.

Secret Avengers #25: After reading the Dark Angel Saga, Rick Remender has become a name to watch and his name was on the cover of Secret Avengers I was intrigued. Venom, also written by Remender, was a really interesting idea that just never quite came together on the page for me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this comic was solid fun.

The comic started was the last issue of an arc, something about old robots in the Marvel U mating with humans, making children, seeing the WWII-era Human Torch as their Grandfather. I had no idea what was going on but I was in. The Secret Avengers team was in the robots’ city but got separated.

The characters worked for me. I like Valkyrie, a bad-ass Asgardian warrior who can sense death coming. Venom had an almost Spider-mannish humor to him that I enjoyed. The Golden Age Human Torch is an under-utilized toy in the Marvel toy-box and it was nice to see him featured.

It was big and fun, stuff exploded, the end was B-Movie twisty and I liked the team.

I’m a fan, Secret Avengers is on the pull list.

March Comics: Saga, Moon Knight, AvX

This month’s comics

Best of the Month:

Saga #1: I really liked Brian K Vaughn’s Ex Machina and Runaways. Saga is a solid first issue about a married couple of AWOL soldiers from different sides of an inter-galactic conflict. It has a science-fantasy feel with robots, horned folk and winged folk, laser pistols and magic spells. Breast-feeding on the cover, robots with T.V. heads having half-hearted intercourse and soldiers gone A.W.O.L. from a space war between those on a planet and those on the planet’s moon. I’m in.

On Probation:

Batwoman #7: This issue was weak sauce and has put Batwoman, one of the few DC comics on my pull list, on probation. If the next issue is weak or even mediocre, I’ll drop it.

Batwoman is the kind of B-list character who is situated perfectly to be interesting to me. She can inhabit her own place in the Gotham pantheon and the writers have this rare opportunity to create her own rogues gallery and exposing her to Arkham’s finest. But it just isn’t delivering.

Thor #12: Long-story short. Thor was dead, was being digested in some thing that digests dead, forgotten gods but he breaks out with two other dead gods, both aliens. He returns, kicks butt….etc. But now he has these two until-recently dead alien gods with him. That is the kind of crazy galactic shit that makes me excited to read Thor. Next issue, either wow me with something unexpected or hit me with some dead alien god action or I’m done.

It was the concept of Galactus trying to eat Asgard that brought me to this book. I need that kind of galactic glorious nonsense or else it isn’t worth my time.

Dropped:

Conan the Barbarian #2: I really like the creators behind the book but it just isn’t grabbing me. I’m done.

And the rest:

Avengers Academy #27 and 28: It was nice to see the Runaways again and even nicer to see Pym thinking outside the box, using crazy comic book tech to come up with outside the box solutions to problems. Thumbs up.

Moon Knight #11: This is probably my favorite super-hero comic book coming out, so I’m bummed that next issue is the last one. I would have liked to see what Bendis and Maleev would have cooked up for MK, fighting crime on the west coast with his own special brand of mental illness.

Avengers #24: I’m glad this Norman Osborn business is over and done with. It felt more like his own hubris defeated him than anything the Avengers did. I would have liked to have seen Spider-man have a super-heroic Avengers moment and be the one to have brought Norman down.

Avengers #24.1: I like this .1 issues, little stand alone pieces. In this one Vision tries to track down his wife, faces down Magneto, talks to She-Hulk who feels guilty for having torn him apart while under some kind of mind control…despite being a kind of filler issue, it was emotional and interesting. This is probably foreshadowing for a big role Scarlet Witch will play in the upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men summer event.

The New Avengers #23: This was a big series of fights between the New Avengers and Osborn’s Dark Avengers but the drama for me was hoping that Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ relationship is okay. I really like the ecclectic group of super-heroes this comic book brings together (Iron First, Wolverine, Spider-man, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel (soon to be Captain Marvel) and the Thing). Oddly, the book didn’t feel crowded but it could be that I am just a sucker for big team books.

Avengers vs. X-Men #1: The first issue of this summer’s big cross-over. It didn’t start with the bang of Civil War or even Fear Itself but hopefully it will slow burn into a more satisfying overall arc. For some reason I get this feeling that the Scarlet Witch is going to get in touch with the Phoenix Force, sacrifice herself and bring back Mutantkind. You heard that shit here first.

What was in your pull list this month? What are you enjoying?

Super Bowl Friday

Hi mom (my mom reads this every week).

Had a good week.  I didn’t make it to the gym as often as I would have liked but work beckoned and I had to answer.  That is okay, unlike punk outs when I go home and nap or some bullshit.

Reading: Just finished Never Knew Another and loved it.  I’m eager to pick up the second novel.  I’ll dig deeper into Honeybee Democracy this weekend.

Planning:  Lady-friend is visiting, so that will be nice.  Anthony’s 40th birthday, might put off the UFC event this weekend until Sunday and watch that instead of or before the Super Bowl.  I’m not sure.

Writing: I’ve been hammering on this one cover letter all week.

Review: Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan

The Cold Commands (A Land Fit for Heroes, #2)The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The worst part about this book was the inside cover copy. That blurb was misleading and is going to piss people off with its bait and switch tactics. I loved the book but fair warning, the inside cover of the hard-cover or back-cover of what I’m assuming will also be the soft-cover was poorly chosen.

That said, its nice to see Gil, Egar and Archeth back in action. Once again, it took too damned long for them all to get into the same place but I enjoyed the journey there so much that I won’t kvetch all that much.

Egar thinks to himself, “Damn, I miss that faggot,” a few too many times for me. I think Morgan can pull that trick once per book because to me it captures what its like to have friends who can give you shit about things that would cause a blood-feud against anyone else. He captures that most of the time but it happens just a little too often.

Archeth really did not have enough to do in this book and it was a shame. She felt under-utilized, as if he couldn’t figure out what to do with her other go back and forth between the emperor and the Kiriath artificial intelligences.

Speaking of which, those Kiriath A.I.’s are the most fun exposition tools I have ever read in a fantasy novel.

Morgan writes unadulterated bad-assery and manages to make it amazing. His violence feels real and comes with a price and his sex feels raw and says something about the characters who are rutting.

All in all, Morgan writes about things that I am a sucker for. He rocks Ringil Eskariath, that reluctant bad-ass who is sick of a unjust world and is ready to cut off some heads to make it better. The way that Egar, Ringil and Archeth all yearn to be together again feels like the same way I yearn to be with my friends and loved ones. He manipulated me, pushed my buttons and I liked it.

It didn’t leave me on a George R.R. Martin-scale cliff-hanger but didn’t exactly deliver the blurb’s promise and I’m not used to that from Morgan. I like that his books are neat finished pieces, even if they are part of a greater whole. I want to be left yearning for the next book because I want to see this trio continue to kick asshole nobles in the teeth, not because a big plot point was left entirely unfinished.

P.S. Someone please make a rocking Ravenfriend to put on my wall. Please. Especially if it comes with a plaque that reads:

“I am Welcomed in the Home of Ravens and Other Scavengers in the Wake of Warriors. I am friend to Carrion Crows and Wolves. I am Carry Me and Kill with Me, and Die with Me Where the Road Ends. I am not the Honeyed Promise of Length of Life in Years to Come. I am the Iron Promise of Never Being a Slave.”

NOTE:  Something else was bothering me about this book and it took talking it over with a friend to bring it out of me. There was a vicious gang rape in the beginning of the book and Ringil let it happen because it happened to an enemy. After that, I had real trouble thinking of that character as a protagonist, as cool as he might be, even though he is clearly an anti-hero

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Oh captain, my Captain (America): a movie review

The director of the Rocketeer delivered another fun period piece with Captain America.  The movie had heart and was a good time, another solid hit for Marvel.  The Marvel movies have been really good about distilling comic book characters down to some simple thematic elements, in this case, “I don’t give up and I don’t like bullies,” and highlighting them for an entertaining hour and a half.

I had two problems with the movie:

1) Every once in a while I would get this awful feeling about what this movie was saying about war, something about the comic-book-cleaning-up of WWII and it would bother me.  I can’t tell you when exactly this occurred or what exactly in the movie brought it about but something about 4-colorization of WWII bothered me in film in a way that it never has on paper.

*** The second problem has spoilers so if that is a problem, stop reading. ***

2) The ending was a problem.  Here’s this 4-color character in the middle of modern Manhattan, having just been lied to (for his own good, he is assured) by the very government he gave up his life to protect and we never get to see him overcome his shock long enough to deal with it.

That was just where things got good.  I wanted him to go find out what happened to Agent Carter.  Shit, I wanted him to find an elderly Agent Carter, 90+ years old.  That needed to happen.  I wanted to hear about her hunting Hydra and Nazi agents in South America and I wanted to see that she had moved on but still missed that scrawny private she saw transform into a super-soldier something terrible.

Without that closure, by denying that emotional beat in the story, the whole movie is just a colorful and well wrought trailer for the Avengers movie.

P.S. Yeah, I wanted to see him digest the Vietnam War, Watergate, the JFK assassination, Iron-Contra and 9-11 but I can wait for the sequel, especially if they tie-in the Winter Soldier arc and we get to see Captain America process the modern era.

Review: The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl

The Abominable Charles Christopher The Abominable Charles Christopher by Karl Kerschl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Abominable Charles Christopher is the worthy predecessor to Smith’s graphic novel, Bone. It has a similar vibe, with adorable talking animals and good humor wrapped around an epic fantasy story that is unfolding at a slow and easy pace.

Unlike Bone, ACC is a print version of a web comic with a really pretty book, though pricey, well worth it in order to support an independent creator. The web comic medium means that each page feels like a complete moment but these moments add up and the pacing is right on.

That said, I want more and I want it now. If I had any gripes, it would be that the first graphic novel felt a little light for the money and the antagonist’s presence is felt, though it doesn’t yet have any kind of a face or a real presence just yet, other than some off-screen humans.

If there is a hole in your graphic novel reading that is curiously shaped like a stupid, stupid rat creature, The Abominable Charles Christopher is the way to start filling it.

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