Friday, April 29, 2016

Nichols' "Midnight Special" is too mysterious and pretentious, lacks conviction



Part E.T., part Starman, but all a tale of run-and-pursuit involving a boy who may or may not be a supernatural creature from another dimension. Not many answers are given to us, mostly questions are raised, and the characters are mostly compassionate people who care for one another, but sadly, they don't seem to have an agenda worth giving a damn about. Michael Shannon is one of the most fascinating actors out there, and he has a face that can speak volumes, without ever having to say a word, but the climax of this movie, albeit confusing, just leaves us feeling... nothing, really. Jeff Nichols' last movie, Mud, is much closer to a masterpiece than this one is; heck, I'd even watch Take Shelter again before I'd sit through this again. It's almost too pretentious for its own good, which would be ok to some degree if it was emotional or engaging, but alas... it ain't. Bummer.
C+

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Black Mirror" is Batman's dark and twisted nightmare into the dark and depraved human mind



For someone who doesn't follow the Batman serial regularly, I was very surprised to find that the Batman in Black Mirror isn't actually Bruce Wayne.  Instead, it's Dick Grayson, the alter ego of the original Robin. In physical appearance and general build - and taking into consideration the slight nuances in different artists' style - Grayson doesn't really look much different from Wayne.  In fact, had they not specified early that it's him wearing the caped crusader's outfit, I would've believed him to be none other than the heir to Wayne enterprises.

Black Mirror is a relatively dark Batman tale.  It contains mad villains and hallucinatory drugs, brutal murders and even more horrific revelations.  Commissioner Gordon, that reliable and trustworthy Batman ally, practically shares the center stage here, and confronts the past and present of his somewhat psychopathic son, James.  James' childhood was marred by odd events during which some people around him were harmed in disturbing ways that his family could never quite understand.  With Batman's help, Gordon will, at along last, face his son, and try to confront the demon within him.  Through it all, Grayson will fight various foes, both internal and external, all the while realizing how heavy the cape really is of the justice moderator in Gotham's darkest alleys.

Artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla's Gotham in Black Mirror is dark, ominous, and always breathtaking to look at in all its different shades and various hues of red, black and green.  They create a world of the Dark Knight at once threatening and glorious: it's like an amusement park for psychopathic and homicidal children in adult bodies.  Writer Scott Snyder, who's written his share of dark and mysterious stories about deeply disturbed men (his one-shot serial killer tale Severed is a uniquely underrated gem), fuses many twisted villains into this story, such as Dealer, Roy Blount (a.k.a. Peter Pan Killer) and Roadrunner, to name just a few.  Black Mirror incorporates two-part and three-part episodes into its whole, and they are: Skeleton Cases, Lost Boys, Hungry City, My Dark Architect, Skeleton Key and The Face in the Glass.

Unlike previous Batman classics such as The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Arkham Asylum and The Haunted Knight, Black Mirror presents us with a different character in the caped crusader's place, but it never once disappoints by the absence of Bruce Wayne himself.  Dick Grayson may not be the original Dark Knight, but he is as dedicated and committed to fighting evil and upholding justice in Gotham that Wayne himself would be extremely proud of his protege.  Besides, I take comfort in knowing that there are now two men capable of instilling fear and panic into Gotham's criminals, just in case one of them feels like taking the night off once in a while.
B

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"The Boss" is McCarthy at her meanest and sadly, unfunniest movie yet :(



A lousy comedy about an otherwise funny woman (Melissa McCarthy) who is just too mean and bitchy to be likable at all. The thing is, none of her abhorrent character traits would really matter if the movie was actually funny, but sadly, for the most part, it isn't. I laughed out loud maybe twice, but a 90 minute-plus running time should really grant its audience more entertainment than that. It also took me a while to realize this, but McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone, is the director here, as he was with her last stinker, Tammy. If McCarthy wants to start making better movies, perhaps she should give the directing reigns to people who have experience with this genre, and not merely giving her husband a chance to prove just how little talent he possesses for the craft. We can only hope she will make a better directing choice for her next movie.
D+

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Descender: Vol 1 Tin Stars" is sci-fi at its most intelligent and daring



Tim-21 isn't your average boy.  For one, he is surprisingly intelligent, and capable of processing tons of information in mere seconds.  He is also very considerate, compassionate, and can empathize with those he cares about.  When he wakes up from a 10-year long sleep and realizes that everyone he knows is dead, he realizes that the world he's known is no longer than peaceful haven it once was.  Such are the growing pains of a young android robot.

In Descender Vol 1: Tin Stars, writer Jeff Lemire and illustrator Dustin Nguyen create an ominous and colorful futuristic world, brimming with technological advancements far removed from our own, and they at once capture our imagination and attention.  Evoking (and perhaps having somewhat been inspired by) such movies and TV series as A.I., Battlestar Galactica, 28 Weeks Later and even Prometheus, Descender intelligently presents us with a conflict between man and machine in a most fascinating way yet.  Tim-21 happens to have the same codex in his mechanically designed robot DNA as the mysterious alien robots who destroyed most of the Earth's population a decade earlier. With the aid of Doctor Jin Quon and the red headed Telsa (her hair is literally RED), Tim-21 will try to figure out the meaning of the aforementioned Harvester Attacks, and how he fits into it all.

Nguyen's artwork is murky, giving it a look of a faded time and place, and this style, which often dooms other comics, works well here.  The countless bounty hunters and assassins, who roam the universal landscape in the world he and Lemire have created, looking for remaining androids and robots in order to capture and destroy them, are as ruthless and cold as any paid killers we've had in American comic landscape recently, and this includes Saga's The Will.  The journey of little Tim-21, a kind of an updated and improved version of Pinocchio, will put him in the middle of a scuffle between his saviors - Quon and Telsa - and virtually everyone else who wants to see him exterminated.

Descender is everything that good comics should be: engaging, smart and visionary. Lemire's characters resemble real people rather than paper thin characters, and their quest feels like an honest, grand one.  If this first Trade Paperback is any indication, this should be a very interesting sci-fi epic to follow in the months and years to come.  Here's hoping the ideas and storylines remain just as fresh and fascinating as they have been so far.
A


Monday, April 25, 2016

"Pretty Deadly: Vol 1 The Shrike" is a mythical, mystic trip into the Wild West underworld



The blind man, Fox, is wise, or at least he seems to be.  Wearing a blindfold to cover his eyes, he goes from town to town, with a little girl, Sissy, who wears a vulture costume and has mismatching colored eyes (one is brown, the other blue), and he tells the story of Death and how He came to love, and even create an offspring.  The Wild West where these characters exist - an with what other creatures and beings they co-exist - is a mythical land of the fantastical and supernatural, even mystical, but also of the ultra-violent and brutal.  It is a place resembling nightmares rather than dreams, a setting even the Sandman himself might find a bit harsh to survive in.

Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick incorporates plenty of poetical, lyrical and even folklore elements into her fantasy Western.  Each episode/monthly issue begins with a conversation between two animals, one of which is a rabbit, living or dead, and often they end in a barrage of violence.  Artist Emma Rios' illustrations are colorful and even sexually graphic, but often confusing: it is sometimes hard to tell whether the characters she's drawing are fighting or dancing with each other.  When Death's daughter, Ginny, finally decides to take her vengeance against those she's been set on killing, the resulting climax is bound to leave readers scratching their heads, rather than getting any closure on everything they've read so far.

Pretty Deadly Vol 1: The Shrike is an ambitious comic, to be sure, but perhaps it is too full of its own grand ideas about life and death, about love and loss, to be much of an entertainment as a result.  It also suffers from murky and muddy artwork, which is unclear and confusing more often than not.  Its characters are stuff of legend rather than flesh and blood, and their quests are grand in scope and myth, leaving the impression of Shakespearean tragic heroes rather than heroines we can identify with.  I certainly will remember much of what I read and saw in this story for a long time to come.  The thing is, I may not want to read it again anytime soon.
C+

Friday, April 22, 2016

"11.22.63" is all idea and conception, but ultimately, it's an uninspired follow-through with flimsy execution



Based on Stephen King's novel and picked up by Hulu, the recent TV series 11.22.63 feels original, at least early on during its pilot episode.  A drama at heart, it quickly turns into fantasy that incorporates time travel, recent American history, and the assassination of a famous president, in John F. Kennedy.  At the center of it all is an English teacher, Jake Epping (played by the sometimes good, but often mediocre actor at heavy drama, James Franco).

Consisting of only eight episodes, 11.22.63 engages the viewer instantly in the exciting and original first episode, which incorporates just enough mystery and intrigue for an average viewer to keep watching.  Unfortunately, that excitement quickly wears off, as the characters begin to make senseless decisions, and behave in a manner that is childish and naive, completely in contrast to how we'd expect such people to act.  As wise and intelligent as Epping may seem at first, he goes about picking a strange, even psychotic, person as his accomplice in the year 1960, a time in the past he finds himself in as a result of going through time-travelling portal outside of his friend's diner in Maine.  Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) is a strange dude, a person who meets Epping for the first time by pointing a gun at his head.  This unusual incident aside, Turcotte goes on to make one wrong decision after another, eventually compromising Epping's mission, which is to save President Kennedy by preventing his assassination in Dallas on that fateful day in November, 1963.  I, for one, could see that there was nothing good about Turcotte at all, a disturbed fellow who should've been left exactly where he was found.

Why would Epping, a scholar and an intellectual, choose so poorly when selecting a partner in this most prestigious of missions?  Watching Bill mope around and idiotically proclaim his love for Lee Harvey Oswald's abused wife, I couldn't help but wish for him to meet Kennedy's fate, without anyone coming to his aid, nor going back in time to prevent his doom.  He's as unnecessary and ridiculous of a character that I've seen in a dramatic TV series in ages.  I mean, the man is a caricature of a human being, dumb and irresponsible, perhaps even dangerous, never justifying his place in Epping's grand assignment, which is supposed to change American history for the better.

When we finally reach the conclusion in the eighth and final episode, and when Epping at long last confronts Oswald in Dallas library right after his attempt at Kennedy's life, the moment, which should've felt bigger and more dramatic, instead falls flat.  In a scuffle, he kills Oswald, and after being taken into custody by the local police, Epping is questioned by an FBI agent, another moment that felt plastic and far less than authentic.  There's absolutely no talk about conspiracy with CIA, or FBI, something that feels rather unimaginative and cowardly on the part of the author.  And by the time Epping returns to his time period in 2016, and when we witness the futuristic wasteland, a la Mad Max, that is the modern USA, we are never given any answers why exactly things have gotten so bad as a result of Kennedy having lived.  The result of such unimaginative and uninspired climax leaves one scratching their head as to what exactly they've watched for some eight-plus hours.

11.22.63 isn't exactly a bad show, per se; it's just a half-baked one, a show full of promising ideas and infinite possibilities, but lacking any real execution worthy of its "fascinating" premise.  King seems to have no thoughts of his own when it comes to any theories about Kennedy's assassination, nor any conspiracies that surround it, something that Oliver Stone accomplished to much greater success in his 1991 epic movie JFK.  My suggestion: forget this show, and watch Stone's movie instead.  It'll take less of your time, while simultaneously tickling your brain in all the right ways this TV show simply isn't quite capable of.
C-


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Morrison's "All Star Superman" is a futuristic look at an old-school, reflective but also melancholy Man of Steel



Like a man all too aware of his own mortality, which for the first time in his lifetime is now questionable, Superman in All Star Superman is unlike the typical Man of Steel his fans may otherwise know.  For one, his days on Earth are numbered, as a result of being exposed to sun's solar radiation, an effect that is deteriorating his physical make-up and thus killing him slowly each passing day.  This is a secret that only Superman and Dr. Quintum, the scientist working on an experiment very close to the sun, are privy to (not even Louis Lane, his main squeeze, is aware of his terminal illness).

Grant Morrison's writing and Frank Quitely's artwork combine to create a hybrid Superman that feels instantly modern and old fashioned.  Morrison infuses the story with plenty of contemporary language, including heroes (a few different Supermen from different ages and epochs, who find themselves in our hero's Kansas setting and period due to a time-travelling jump) and anti-heroes alike (Samson, Atlas and the Bizarro & Zibarro Supermen).  He also explores Clark Kent's confession to his colleague, Louis, that he is Superman after all (something she's suspected all along).  The time they spend together at Superman's Fortress of Solitude is moving and romantic, and it evokes countless possibilities of "what ifs", making us wonder just what might've been had these two been this open with one another from the get-go.  Not sure about you, but a Super-version of Louis Lane, flying around with the Man of Steel, while fighting giant evil lizard dinosaurs in her tight wonder-woman like costume, is certainly a sight for sore eyes.

The best thing about All Star Superman is that it's an entertaining and satisfying work for comic book lovers who aren't necessarily die-hard fans of the Man of Steel universe.  It offers us a more melancholy Superman than usual, in addition to the super-villain Lex Luthor, who is awaiting execution on death row, but not before trying to foil Metropolis' peace and order in a soon-to-be Superman-less world.   Quitely's artwork is sharp and rich, a perfect throwback to some of the best illustrations in all of Superman comics to date.  In the end, when an already dying Superman sacrifices himself sooner in order to ignite the sun and save it from being extinguished, we are, for the first time, left without the greatest hero from Krypton that the DC Universe has created.  But thankfully there is still the genius of Dr. Quintum, a scientist who seemingly could have the recipe that'll enable him to clone another Man of Steel.  We can only hope.
A-