Moneyball directed by Bennett Miller
Saying that Moneyball is a movie about baseball is like saying that The Godfather is a movie about equine husbandry. This is a film about the inevitability of change, and how we cope with it. Some of us embrace it whole heartedly, like Brad Pitt’s Billy Bean. And some of us resist like an archaic dinosaur. It would be easy to label this as just another sports movie, but it’s got a much broader appeal than that. Most sports movies clichés are avoided here, and Bennett MIller lives up to the promise he showed in Capote with a smart, enjoyable crowd pleaser.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark directed by Troy Nixey
Here’s the premise: A thoroughly unlikable child gets sent to live with her career-obsessed father, his emotionally stunted girlfriend, and their haunted house. Problem was: I rooted for the house. If you’re going to have a kid in a horror movie, they need to be either a) so loveable that you get upset when they are in danger, or b) so creepy and terrifying that you cringe every time they’re on-screen. Troy Nixey and Guillermo Del Toro went with option c), which was to make their little girl an asshole. This film’s concept had some potential, but the execution is so poor, and so ill-conceived, that it’s almost unwatchable. P.S. You know a movie is in trouble when Katie Holmes is the most interesting actor on the screen.
Drive directed by Nicolas Refn.
Drive is one part David Lynch, one part John Carpenter, one Stanley Kubrik, and all parts “I can’t believe they’re still making movies like this”. However, this is a movie that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and while it’s influences are obvious, they also don’t overshadow what Nicolas Refn is trying to do here. Audiences who come because Ryan Gosling is SOOO good looking and I love the Notebook so much OMG! might be disappointed by Drive’s art house trappings, but those who open their mind to a brilliantly paced crime story will leave happy. Drive is highly recommended and will likely end up as one of my top 10 films of the year.
So I’ve been doing a lot of bitching about comics lately. Most of this has come from DC’s recent “reboot”, in which they did everything except for actually try to make there comics better. In fact, I tried to view the reboot optimistically, and even had plans of reviewing the entire line. But in large the books are so terrible, so watered down, and so uninteresting, that I gave up after the first week, and the whole thing has made me despair a little for the comics industry. If books this bad are selling so well, is there any room in today’s market for anything other than dumb, generic superhero comics?
I hope so, and so I give you some recommendations of some recent reads:
Daredevil #1-4 by Mark Waid, Paulo Rivera, and Marcos Martin
Yes, my first pick is a superhero comic. And not only that, it’s a mainstream superhero comic, with a famous, recognizable character. And it’s one of the best things I’ve read this year. Why? Because it’s one of the few superhero books on the stands right now that actually remembers that IT”S A COMIC BOOK! Every issue of this is like a masterclass in the comics medium. Waid and his partners aren’t just telling us a story, they are showing us a story, in vivid, Technicolor terms. Waid’s Daredevil does more to showcase what comics can do than almost any other book on the stands right now, and if you’re not reading this, I’m pretty sure you’re a communist.
Infinite Kung-Fu by Kagan McLeod
A 400 page kung-fu epic? Sign me up. This is a love letter to Shaw Brothers style kung fu movies, with the emotional drama, bad-ass fight scenes, and goofy nonsense that implies. McLeod has been working on this in some shape or form for over a decade, and it’s great to see such a unique, personal take on the kung-fu mythos in comic book form.
Lil Depressed Boy by S. Stephen Struble and Sina Grace
Are you a sardonic hipster that loves music, comics, and died a little when Scott Pilgrim wrapped up? Good news folks, Lil Depressed Boy is here. LDB has quickly become one of my favourite character studies on the stands, and is a welcome breath of fresh air to all of the high-concept, adventure comics that are currently on the market. It’s the story of a sad little guy who meets the love of his life.
The Last Mortal by John Mahoney and Filip Sablik, and Thomas Nachlik
Image has put out a lot of high-profile books this year, but this doesn’t seem to be one of them. The fact that its been pretty much ignored is sad, as I think it’s one of the most well-crafted high concept stories I’ve read this year. The pitch is absurdly simple: One day, a guy finds that he can’t die. That’s it. That’s the whole thing, and in a lesser talents hands we would have 25 pages of a poor man’s Wolverine knock-off. But the creators realize that it is strong characters that make high concept work, and have put together a smart and sad crime story that simply utilizes, and not relies on, it’s superpowered origins.
The Hidden by Richard Sala
Holy crap. If you can find a creepier, more spine-tingling comic book story this year I’ll come over and mow your lawn*. I’ve never read a Sala story before, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. Sala’s expressive art perfectly accentuates the terrible sadness of the post-apocalyptic Frankenstein update he’s telling here. If you’re in the mind for great, beautifully drawn horror, this is your book.
*Offer only good to people who live in my condo.
Green River Killer – A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
I opened this book, by the guy that used to write the long rambling love letters to Lost on EntertainmentWeekly.com every week, with some reluctance and trepidation. In my experience, just because you’re a good prose or non-fiction writer doesn’t mean you can write good comic books, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Green River Killer isn’t just a good comic book, it’s a GREAT one.
It’s the story of Jensen’s father, a Washington State police detective assigned to help track down one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. There are a lot of mis-steps that one could take putting together a story so personal, yet so part of the public record, but Jensen takes none of them. This isn’t the killer’s story, it’s his fathers, but Jensen’s resistance to over-sensationalizing his dad’s story is admirable. This isn’t an episode of Mannix. There’s no big shoot out and the end, no “ah-ah!” moment where everything comes together in the parlor with all of the family sitting around. And still Jensen and Case manage to craft a smart, entertaining read about one man’s life work. It’s a small story, but a great one.
I wrote this for local newspaper The Source, but because it’s comic book relates I thought I would share it here.
Let’s review: DC Comics (home of Gorilla Grodd, Blue Beetle, and Ragdoll. Oh, and Superman and Batman) decided to reboot their entire line of comics. Every comic they published started from number one again, including the comics that had been running non stop since the 1940’s, and nothing that we have ever read in a DC comic has actually happened before. The goal is to streamline their admittedly very confusing continuity, in order to make DC’s comics more accessible to new readers.
I’m a little surprised that I’m doing this, as I met the whole DC reboot thing with a resounding shrug of indifference. I’m not really doing much superhero reading these days, and continuity means less to me than ever before. I was reading exactly 5 DC comics before the reboot, and they were all cancelled (though to be fair, they probably would have all been cancelled anyways.) But as the day to the reboot got closer and closer, I have to admit that I got a little excited. Why?
Because superhero comics is what I grew up on. They’re what got me hooked on this medium, and no matter how many independent autobiographical graphic novels I read, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for superheroes. They were my first love, and you never forget your first love. The thing is, it takes a LOT for a superhero comic to impress me these days. When reading these, all I wanted was a good, enjoyable story. That’s it. I didn’t care about how the continuity didn’t jive with what happened before, or who the characters were. All I wanted were good stories.
Did I get my wish?
Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone and Adiran Syaf
A quick summary for those not familiar with Batgirl: For decades, she was Commisioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. Who was then shot in the spine by the Joker, and ended up in a wheelchair. Barbara then became an information broker/IT support to DC’s superhero set under the name of Oracle, and as a result of the work that Gail Simone did with her on Birds Of Prey, proceeded to become one of the more interesting parts of the DCU. Other people went on to become Batgirl.
I had mixed reactions going into this book. Although I have all the confidence in the world in Gail Simone, I did think that this book was unnecessary. Bryan Miller had done an excellent job in getting me to love Stephanie Miller as Batgirl, and Gail Simone had also done an even better job over the years in getting me to love Barbara Gordon as Oracle. I loved that one of the more interesting players in the DCU was in a wheelchair, and I thought that putting her back in the Batgirl suit was gimmicky at best, superfluous at worst.
I hate to say it, but I think I was right.
Batgirl is a fine comic. There are some nice dialogue bits (always a Simone trademark), and I really liked Adrian Syaf’s action sequences a lot. And I really loved the concept of Batgirl being terrified to be Batgirl. We take it for granted that every superhero is a bucket full of courage, so it was nice to see one actually freeze up in the face of danger, and for good reason But I think one of the main things that the new DC books need to do is to show exactly WHY they should be replacing the books that they do. And there was nothing in Gail Simone’s Batgirl that accomplished that for me. You could have told the exact same story with Miller’s Batgirl, and in fact it might have made more sense, considering that character’s age, and lack of experience.
I think that Simone was put on this book because of her background with the Barbara Gordon character, but it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t the Barbara Gordon we know. Shared experiences aside, there is a casualness and joy about this version of the character that hasn’t existed in the character in decades, and it really feels like a step back for the character, not a step forward. And I guess that’s the point. But as far as I can tell, this Batgirl isn’t much different from the series it replaced, except that A) The name of the character is different, and B) it isn’t quite as good.
Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver
This is one of the most underordered of the new DC books, but I picked it up based on the strength of Judd Winick’s skills. I’ve always liked his superhero writing, and while his talents are obvious here, I don’t think they are going to be enough to really make this book a success.Although the setting of Africa is somewhat untapped for a superhero book, at the end of the day, it’s just another costumed guy fighting other costumed guys. There is nothing “bad” about this book whatsoever, but there’s also not enough that’s unique about it to justify more than a first read.
Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn
While Daniel’s talents as an artist are obvious, his skills as a writer have been lost on me thus far, and unfortunately Detective Comics #1 doesn’t do much to change my mind. As with most of the other DC books I read today, this was a fine superhero comic book. Rights get wronged, bad guys get vanquished, etc. etc. But the dialogue here is overly heavy-handed at times, and there are a lot of words that most likely were best unsaid. For the most part, there seemed to be almost no difference between this Batman, and the Batman we knew two weeks ago, except that A) his costume sucks, and B) everyone is about 10 years younger.
But what’s getting people talking is the final page. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME final page. One of the best cliffhangers I’ve read this year in fact. Unfortunately I had to slog through 24 average pages to read it.
Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti
The JLI is a beloved concept among DC fans. In its hey day, the title represented an excellent mix of humour and action, both of which are traits that are sadly absent in today’s first issue. It’s hard to see just how DC got this one so wrong. It wasn’t even 6 months ago that Judd Winick was finishing up probably the best JLI story NOT written by Keith Giffen. The team was re-energized, sales were good. And then this. It’s hard to imagine a comic less fun, less funny, and less full of the spark that got people invested in these characters in the first place. That this was actually published does not give me confidence in DC’s editorial team.
Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda
When talking to people online, this seemed to be the book people were most curious about,probably because it involved the most obvious changes to DC continuity. Like I’ve said before, I don’t care about the changes so much. I have no problem with change. All I care about is good stories. And this, my friends, is NOT a good story. In fact, this was a terrible story. Kudos to DC for trying to bring back old Wildstorm characters, but what DC doesn’t seem to understand is that the original Ellis/Millar run on Authority had NOTHING to do with the characters. It had everything to do with what was happening in the world at the time, and in comics. Authority wasn’t about superheroes, it was a reaction against them. And with all due respect to the talented writers who tried to salvage the Authority after Mark Millar left the book, but it’s a comic whose time has passed. Every interesting story you could tell with a group of heroes who have positioned themselves above even earth’s premier superheroes has been done, and with the all-ages mandate that DC has, there is NO way that they’re going to be able to tell the edgy, dark stories that the concept demands. Paul Cornell is a writer that has been given much praise as of late, but there’s been nothing since his days on Captain Britain that has really impressed me. And this clumsy, half-baked, watered down attempt at reviving a concept that should have stayed dead does nothing to change that opinion.
Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette
I’ve never really cottoned to the Swamp Thing character. I know, I know. It’s the character that first introduced Alan Moore to North American audiences, and so there will always be a soft spot in people’s heart for the concept. But it’s never done that much for me, and I’ve ignored most attempts to update the character. So if I don’t care about Swamp Thing, then why did I pick this up? Two words: Scott Snyder. His run on Detective Comics really surprised and impressed me, and his new series for Image is intriguing as well. Unfortunately, he seems to be saddled with a LOT of baggage here, as the editorial committee at DC seems determined to cram a lot of back story down our throats. So even though in theory all continuity has been rebooted, there are still stories that apparently happened, and so most of this issue is about telling us how all of that stuff matters, even though it shouldn’t. This book looked pretty, but there was nothing in it of any real substance, and nothing that would convince me to get a second issue.
Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick
There have already been comparison’s to Garth Ennis’ work with this title, but I can’t see it. Other than the fact that it’s a book about military men, there is none of the emotion, or tension, or drama that you would find in an Ennis book when he’s at the top of his game. What you do get here is a solid, Sgt. Rock update. And while I have no problem with a solid Sgt. Rock update, and appreciate that there is room in this DCU for non-superpowered folks, this is simply just another ok book, among a lot of other ok books that were released today.
Animal Man by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman
This was probably one of the most anticipated of the new books, and I’m happy to report that its also easily the best of the bunch. By a lot. Why? Because this was the only title of the lot today that actually took any chances, and that was anything more than just a run-of-the-mill DC superhero book. And it was also the only one to really try to take advantage of the slimmer continuity and try to really reinvent it’s character in a real way. I mean, any superhero comic book that starts with a full-page of TEXT, and then continues with 5 full pages of a family talking around a breakfast table has to be something special right? Or terrible. Thankfully in this case it’s the former. Jeff Lemire continues to show why he is one of the brightest young stars in comics today with a book so full of emotion, drama, and character development, that I kept thinking I was reading a Vertigo book. So far, it’s only one of two of the new titles that actually made me excited to read the second issue.
Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
When reading online feedback about this reboot, variations on this theme kept cropping up: “At least Action Comics by Geoff Johns will be great right? “. It was nice to see that at least one prediction regarding this relaunch came true. At first glance, Superman is DC’s character most in need of a reboot. He stands for truth, justice, and is a black and white figure in a world full of greys.In other words, the character doesn’t really fit in today’s world. And so what does Grant Morrison do? He exaggerates every single one of the character traits that make Superman anachronistic to this era. Morrison’s Superman is a cocky, yet naive man-child stumbling from adventure to adventure, never once thinking about the consequences of his actions. There are bad guys. They need to be stopped. The end.
That’s the way Morrison’s Superman thinks, and it’s a wonderful character flaw to have in a character that has no actual weaknesses. The other thing that Morrison does here is to capture the sheer wonder that everyone in Metropolis regarding the miracles that Superman performs on a regular basis. On page after page, we see characters react in disbelief at what this man of steel can do. It’s a refreshing take on a world that is usually pretty blase about these sorts of things. I also need to mention Rags Morales here. He’s been one of my favourite superhero artists ever since Identity Crisis, but I think he surpasses that work here. He captures the dynamic energy of our hero so perfectly, that I can’t believe he hasn’t always been doing this book.
If it took upsetting the entire DC apple cart to get this book, it was worth it.
To sum up: Out of the 9 books I read today, I loved 2, liked one, despised two, and thought the rest were ok. The one thing that I think DC missed the boat on is to really start from scratch with these characters. Most of these books take place about 5 years after the first superheroes were sighted. So even though OUR history with these characters didn’t exist, they still do have a history, and too many of the books needed more exposition than should have been necessary for comics attempting to entice new viewers.
Still, not a horrible first week, I guess.
I was a little conflicted coming out of Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block. On one hand, I was exhilarated from having experienced an hour and a half of pure fun and entertainment. On the other, I was disappointed by the fact that pure fun and entertainment doesn’t seem to be what people want anymore, and that this movie has been relegated to art house status almost immediately upon release, simply because its lead characters don’t sound like they were raised inside an Arkansas chicken coop.
Here as they say, is the poop: A group of young London hooligans are rudely interrupted by a falling meteor as they attempt to mug a young lady. They discover quickly that inside the meteor is the very first extraterrestrial visitor to earth, a monumental historic moment that moves them so profoundly that they decide to beat the shit out of it. They realize quickly that the alien wasn’t alone, and soon are forced to defend their council estate from a race of hideous alien creatures that seem to be focused solely on young black men. No, not the Kardashians.
Lets talk about character for a minute, since that’s really what makes this movie work as well as it does. The alien invasion itself is mildly clever, but without it happening to this specific group of people, it wouldn’t rate a second look. Or even a first one. One of the things about American action movies is the sheer simplicity of the characters. There are no shades of grey anymore in American movies, only black and white. It’s that rare sci-fi or action movie that features characters with actual flaws. Even the two best American sci-fi movies of the year ( Source Code and Super 8 ) feature only good guys and bad guys, with no main characters displaying any level of real complexity. Any “bad” decision by the hero is fixed almost immediately, and usually wasn’t so “bad” in the first place. Even the constant tinkering with forces beyond his comprehension done by James Franco in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes were done for a great reason, with the absolute best of intentions. And our villains aren’t just villains, they are screaming, raging psychopaths, who only exist to be the foil of our heroes.
Real life isn’t like that, and thankfully, movies like Attack The Block aren’t either. In Moses, young actor John Boyega creates one of the most unlikely, yet thoroughly interesting and charismatic action heroes I’ve seen in years. Although a case could be argued that his harsh upbringing somewhat entitles him the life of minor larceny we see him living at the beginning of the film, Moses never once asks for our pity. In fact, not even at the climax of the piece do we get a real apology from him. Because words mean nothing to this character at all, only actions. He has a code. It’s a unspoken one, and one that is somewhat unresisting to even minor scrutiny, but it’s a code nonetheless: Nothing matters except the block. He has no real family of his own, and so he creates one out of the neighbourhood he lives in. That his fellow citizens don’t appreciate their residence in the same way he does is irrelevant to him. The block matters. If you’re part of the block, you’re familiar. You can be dealt with. If you’re not? Then you’re the enemy.
And because in his mind he is somewhat responsible for the horrors that have been visited upon his beloved block, it’s up to him to vanquish them. Let’s not give too much credit here. He doesn’t become a “good” guy all of a sudden. No volunteering for the Peace Corps for Moses. He starts the movie as a cocky, rebellious teen, and he ends it in much the same way. What he’s doing here, is what he always does, and that’s eliminating threats. He’s taking care of his mates. But because this is a movie, he does learn a lesson here, and it’s an oldie but a goodie: Actions have consequences.
There is some mild nitpicking to be done here, but it shouldn’t be enough to sway you away from the film. The aliens are about what you would expect from a movie that cost $13 million dollar to make, and their design is more about practicality than it is about adding to the pantheon of major alien monsters. And while there are many fine acting performances in this film, it’s the only actor you’ve actually heard of that really doesn’t need to be in the piece. Nick Frost plays a hapless drug dealer whose only purpose for being in the movie seems to be so that American audiences can have at least one person on the screen that they’re familiar with, even if it’s in a “I think I’ve seen that guy in something” kind of way.
I said in my title that Attack The Block is one of the best action movies you’ll see this year, and I’ll absolutely stand by that. It’s minimalism reminds me of early John Carpenter films, and it really is a breathtaking action movie. It moves along at breakneck pace, with a brilliant script full of believable dialogue, and some of the strongest characters you’ll at the theatre this year. In short, it’s everything that people say they want in an action movie.
So why aren’t you going?
So if you’re at all interested in comics, or sleeping with someone who is, you know all about the big DC relaunch that’s coming. DC Comics is essentially wiping the slate clean, and rebooting their entire universe. None of the stories that you loved growing up actually happened, and they are rebuilding their entire continuity from the ground up. It’s like Greedo shooting first, but on an epic, cosmic scale.
I find myself in a perpetual state of not giving a shit. To me, good comic stories are good comic stories. The minute I stopped caring so much about things like continuity, is the minute I started really enjoying comics. And besides, I’m not reading much superhero stuff these days anyways, so they could put a Superman suit on a gay monkey and I probably wouldn’t notice. But because EVERYONE is talking about it, I decided to read the very first issue of the new reboot: Justice League #1. This issue is the first real peak that DC is giving us into their new universe, and as such should be designed to absolutely blow new readers away, and to give old readers a real sense of ‘HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVETHEYDIDTHATTOSUPERMAN’
This issue succeeds on neither front.
Mediocre is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with usually a more negative connotation than it deserves. But sadly, it’s the perfect word for this sleepy, sleepy comic book. First of all, if you’re going to have a comic book about a team of heroes, I expect to see that team in the book. No? How about half the team? Just barely? Sigh. This issue focuses almost exclusively on Batman and Green Lantern, and one might suspect that writer Geoff Johns thought that his Green Lantern movie was going to be a hit when he wrote this, and thus decided to showcase the two heroes most recognizable to modern audiences. So basically Green Lantern and Batman team up to go after evil aliens, and find themselves on the run from the cops for most of the issue. This gives them plenty of time to snark at each other, and then at the end of the issue a guy shows up that I think is supposed to be Superman but couldn’t be because there is NO way that DC would ever allow such a bad costume design to actually get into one of their comic books.
And that’s pretty much the issue. Two people team up to take down a bad guy, and then another person shows up at the end. Hardly a world building blockbuster. This book wasn’t “bad” in the traditional sense. Jim Lee is considered one of the great living superhero comic book artists for a reason, and he makes pretty much every page pop here. And Geoff Johns put together a decent ‘Heroes put aside their differences” story. But this book is essentially the pilot for the biggest comic launch the business has seen since 1986.. Words like “decent” and “average” shouldn’t be used for this book. Words like ‘Skullripping” and “EyeballExploding” should.
Let me clarify: My negativity isn’t a backlash against the continuity changes they’re making here. I don’t care about any of that. I don’t care that it’s different, all I care about is that it’s good. And this ain’t.