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Tuesday, May 04, 2021

RESIDENT ALIEN OMNIBUS vol. 1 by Parkhouse & Hogan

RESIDENT ALIEN has been a series that Steve Parkhouse and Peter Hogan have been putting out since 2012, with five 4-issue miniseries collected in individual volumes, with a sixth and possibly concluding 6-issue series currently being serialized and to be collected soon after.

It's also been recently adapted to a TV show, so with the extra attention on it from that it got a recent omnibus collection of the first three minis, with the balance presumably set for an eventual volume two.

The series is the story of Doctor Harry Vanderspiegle, a retired doctor living in seclusion until the murder of a local small town doctor in Patience, Washington presses him into service. Oh, and he's also an alien, stranded on Earth for the last three years waiting for rescue, with mental powers that allow him to make almost everyone see him as human.

Along the way there are also brief flashbacks to his life before coming to Earth, the time right after his revival, and the ongoing FBI search for him, which had run cold until his new job brings him out into the open.

Fun little series, I’d read some of it before, but it definitely works better in one big solid chunk.  Parkhouse’s artwork is subtle and expressive, mostly dealing with realistic small town settings and characters in the Pacific northwest, with sudden splashes of fantasy/science-fiction fitting in seamlessly.

Looking forward to eventually reading the second half.


Monday, May 03, 2021

John Paul Leon, R.I.P.



Very sad to wake up to the news that comic book creator John Paul Leon has passed away at the far too young age of 49, after a long battle with cancer.

Like a lot of people, I first encountered his work back in 1993 when he was the artist on STATIC #1 from Milestone. Incredible to check the dates now and realize he was 20 years old when he drew that issue, already remarkably good and getting better with every issue of his too-short initial run on the book. Might be the first time I was regularly buying a comic by an artist younger than I was. Also kind of sad to note that both the writers he worked on that book with, Dwayne McDuffie and Robert L. Washington III, also passed away before the age of 50.


That first year of STATIC, and his subsequent returns to the character, that's some special stuff. Very much a fresh and exciting take on classic comic book and comic strip storytelling, standing in stark relief to the common trend in young artists of the era to rely on excessive noodling and linework.

 


He did a lot of interesting stuff in the years since. The three career defining works are probably EARTH X (with Jim Krueger, Alex Ross and Bill Reinhold), THE WINTER MEN (with Brett Lewis) and BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT (with Kurt Busiek).



He was also, understandably, very much in demand as cover artist for books he didn't draw, coming up with lots of striking images over the years.

There's a fundraiser for his family over here.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Recently watched movies 2021.04.11

Some shorter comments on some recent movies

Ad Astra (2019) - new to me
Bend It Like Beckham (2002) - rewatch
Primal Fear (1996) - rewatch
Die Hard (1988) - rewatch
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - new to me
American Psycho (2000) - new to me
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) - new to me
The Old Guard (2020) - new to me
Only the Brave (2017) - new to me
Midsommar (2019) - new to me
Happy Gilmore (1996) - rewatch
Stand by Me (1986) - rewatch
Dunkirk (2017) - new to me


Ad Astra (2019)

directed by James Gray
(new to me)

Somewhat decent little science fiction thriller about an astronaut who has to go to the outer solar system to prevent a disaster that's about to be caused by his father, who's mission to the stars lost contact with Earth decades before. It looks pretty good, but overall it's too long and slow for the amount of story that it has, and the lead comes across as incredibly unlikeable. Some of the science seems a bit ridiculous as well.  Not sorry I saw it, wouldn't watch it again.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

directed by Gurinder Chadha
(rewatch)

Watched this when it first came on video, back in the days of DVD rentals, and I liked it well enough that I bought it a while later, but somehow never got around to actually watching it again until now. Not sure why, it was even better than I remembered it. It helps that it's very much in my cultural wheelhouse (my one trip to England was to attend a wedding very much like the one in this movie, and I visited many homes very much in neighbourhoods like those seen here), but that's only part of it. It's funny, it's charming, it has real conflict born of best intentions rather than contrived situations. Really, I should have watched this a half-dozen times by now based on how much I liked it this time.  I'm looking forward to trying some of Chadha's other movies.

Primal Fear (1996)

directed by Gregory Hoblit
(rewatch)

A legal thriller featuring Richard Gere as a publicity seeking lawyer taking a high profile murder case. The film is probably best known now for being the screen debut of Edward Norton as the defendant, part of a pretty ridiculously talented and recognizable cast. This was at the peak of my "going to theatres to watch movies" period, when I probably saw at least one a week, sometimes as much as three, and it was definitely a favourite. Watched it a few times since then, and while it doesn't hold up completely (especially going in knowing the ending), it still works.

Die Hard (1988)

directed by John McTiernan
(rewatch)

Not much to add to what you can find written about this. Probably watch it every five years or so since it first came out. It's much better done than it has any right to be, clever and funny in ways you wouldn't expect. And at least four times better than any of the four sequels.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

directed by Blake Edwards
(new to me)

Not sure why I never got around to watching this before. It's been sitting here forever. It's pretty engaging, mostly on the strength of  Audrey Hepburn's performance. A lot of what her character says and does would probably come off as annoying from most other actresses. And of course the less said about one aspect of it the better. Wonder if they could do a cut of the movie excising that character entirely?


American Psycho (2000)

directed by Mary Harron
(new to me)

I don't think I ever realized that this movie was a comedy. Or, more accurately, tried to be a comedy. It wasn't close to successful on that score, but at least with that element it moved in ways that I didn't expect, which was pretty entertaining in its way, and it wasn't that long, which was nice. But, y'know, don't bother watching.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

directed by Aaron Sorkin
(new to me)

This doesn't feel like it was very good as history, and I'm not sure it explains enough to be intelligible enough to someone who didn't go in with at least a passing familiarity with the events. But as a Sorkin fan, someone who lived by the early seasons of THE WEST WING, devoured two seasons of SPORTS NIGHT in one weekend when it came out on DVD, saw A FEW GOOD MEN an absurd number of times and suffered through some of his more recent TV and movies, this felt good. There were any number of flaws, I sincerely hope it doesn't win an Oscar for Best Picture or Screenplay, but I enjoyed it and would watch it again. Might have to go back and watch MOLLY'S GAME, which I skipped after the few Sorkin projects before it.

The Old Guard (2020)

directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
(new to me)

An action/fantasy based on the 2017 comic by Leandro Fernández and Greg Rucka, making for one of the quicker transitions from page to screen in comics. And in an added rarity, Rucka is the sole credited screenwriter of the adaptation. Not sure if that's ever happened in a high profile comic-to-screen adaptation before. Anyway, I read the first series (OPENING FIRE) when it came out, and re-read it and its recent sequel (FORCE MULTIPLIED) shortly before watching the movie (a final book, FADE AWAY, is expected eventually, but first there's an anthology of short stories mostly by other creators). 

Usually I like to give a bit more distance between source material and adaptation, but doing it this way was interesting.  Rucka does a pretty good job translating his own story, keeping much more than is usual in an adaptation, mostly just moving a few things around, changing the emphasis on a few things what might work better in one medium or the other and fleshing out a few things.

Anyway, short form is that it's about a group of mercenaries who, through unknown reasons, are effectively immortal, being able to recover from any wound. After hundreds or thousands of years, they now find themselves in modern times where being able to keep such abilities secret isn't quite as easy as it was before. Very well done overall, I wouldn't be surprised if we got a sequel a few years down the line (maybe based on the second comic series, maybe something completely different), and I'll be there for it, as well as the final comic series.


Only the Brave (2017)

directed by Joseph Kosinski
(new to me)

A biographical movie about a group of Arizona firefighters, specializing in containing wildfires, following their training for a period leading up to their final mission in 2013, where 19 of the 20 team members died. Pretty good for what it is, a bit paint-by-numbers for such a movie, but Josh Brolin is really strong in the lead.  

Midsommar (2019)

directed by Ari Aster
(new to me)

An odd little horror story about some college students who travel to rural Sweden attend a festival, only to find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into a violent cult. It was pretty unsettling in a lot of ways, especially with some of the discordant natural beauty of the setting and some of the unconventional cinematography. Not really sure what I feel about it overall. Might have to revisit it eventually when I'm in the right mood, but not for a while.

Happy Gilmore (1996)
directed by Dennis Dugan
(rewatch)

Not sure why I decided to rewatch this, except that I had vague memories that I liked it more than most Adam Sandler movies I'd seen. That might still be true, but now it's really damning with faint praise. Only found a few short bits funny, most of it was one miss after another. Even the goofy Bob Barker bit, which I remembered being much funnier, seemed mostly clumsy, like it was a good idea for a joke that they forgot to finish writing.

Stand by Me (1986)
directed by Rob Reiner
(rewatch)

I was a few years late to this, not watching it until the mid-1990s, and probably would have loved it a lot more if I'd actually seen it in 1986, when I was closer to the age of the characters. Still like it a lot, and am happy to revisit it every few years. Am I the first to note Reiner had a really amazing run of movies in the first decade of his directing career? What's that, the last to note it? Well, that's got to be worth something...

Dunkirk (2017)

directed by Christopher Nolan
(new to me)

I started this a couple of times since it was first available to watch at home, would generally get about a half hour or so in before something would distract me and I would somehow never get back to it.  Finally got all the way through this time.  It's a little bit confusing, I'm still not sure I completely get how the timelines work with each other. There's a lot to like in it, but I think it needs some stronger characters to really tell the story, which I recall from my long-ago reading of WWII history is a really good story which is only hinted at in this telling, the most high profile telling we'll probably ever see for it.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Recently watched movies 2021.03.15

Random thoughts on another batch of movies

The Magnificent Seven (1960) - rewatch
Love Actually (2003) - new to me
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - rewatch
The Usual Suspects (1995) - rewatch
On the Waterfront (1954) - rewatch*
The King of Staten Island (2020) - new to me
Les Misérables (2012) - rewatch
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) - new to me
Your Name (2016) - new to me
Red Sparrow (2018) - new to me
The Rock (1996) - rewatch

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

directed by John Sturges
(rewatch)

This has long been one of my favourite movies since I saw it some 35 years ago, and maybe top 5 in the genre. As everyone knows, it's based on the 1954 Akira Kurosawa movie SEVEN SAMURAI, adapting it to the 19th century US/Mexico border area.

Not much I can add to 60 years of praise the movie had earned. This time around I especially enjoyed Eli Wallach as the bandit leader Calvera. Just pitch perfect in every scene. Instead of pointless sequels and remakes for the titular seven, they should done a prequel movie about Calvera (spoiler alert, he dies).

Love Actually (2003)

directed by Richard Curtis
(new to me)

Wow, this was... disappointing, I guess. Started to hear a lot about this movie a few years back, several people whose opinions I (used to) respect citing it as one of their favourites in whatever field was being discussed (romantic comedy, Christmas movies, ensemble casts).

I think this might be one of the least enjoyable well-made movies I've ever seen. Cast is full of talented people, all doing what they were hired for. Everything looks and sounds good. There are nearly a dozen interlocking stories, and I don't think I liked one of them. It just all seemed to be filled with repulsive beings doing repulsive things, and somehow with the charm of the actors trying to convince me that they weren't so bad. But they were. I get more upset about how much I dislike at least one person in almost every relationship in this movie the more I think about it (the only possible exceptions being the old rock singer and the film stand-ins, and even those are borderline). Not sure if I would have liked any of them better if there was more than a sitcom episode of screen time for any one story ("...and such small portions"). If any of these were the side plot in a conventional romantic comedy I'd just regard it as a misstep, but for each of them to effectively share the lead spot in a movie... well, hate actually is all around. 

This makes those holiday ensemble movies that Garry Marshall sadly ended his career with look much better in retrospect.

Is the praise I've heard for this movie some sort of long con? Or an elaborate prank? Do people really like this thing unironically?

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

directed by Frank Darabont
(rewatch)

Well, here's a movie that's always an antidote to any other cinematic poison you may have found yourself ingesting. I can still remember going to see this back in 1994 when it was new, not knowing anything about it, and just being stunned by how good it was. Might be my fondest movie theatre memory. Went back and watched it again the next day, which is the only time that ever happened. For quite a while after that I'd be as likely as not to name this as my favourite movie ever, before that became too much of a cliché. Still probably makes the cut every now and then, especially if I've just seen it. Which I probably have maybe close to two dozen times, not counting the hundreds of times I'll put it on just to watch a few scenes. 

This time around I especially enjoyed the supporting cast, in particular Brooks and Heywood.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

directed by Bryan Singer
(rewatch)

Similar to SHAWSHANK, I watched this in the theatre without any prior knowledge. Feel sorry for anyone who wasn't able to do that based on how many of the surprises are in the general lexicon. Also went back to see it on the big screen, though that was a few weeks later.

I think this might have been the first movie I re-watched with the commentary track all the way through when the DVD came out. Which made it the third time I watched it that week.

And yeah, I know, problematic creators on multiple levels. Still can't help but love it.  Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollak are still okay, right?  

On the Waterfront (1954)

directed by Elia Kazan
(rewatch*)

Technically a re-watch, but we're talking maybe 1988 since I've seen it (I know I was in high school, since I drove my French teacher crazy doing an awful Brando impression. Yes, in French. "J'aurais pu etre un candidat"?), so most of it felt new to me. Pretty much everything but that old "I coulda been a contender" scene I loved so much.  

Overall it still works about 90% of the time. The ending kind of lets it down, and knowing about Kazan drops it another notch. Have to say, I wouldn't hate it if someone good did a remake of it (except maybe not Aaron Sorkin, please. I know that would be Hollywood's first instinct), as a period piece, not updated to the modern day, with an improved script.

The King of Staten Island (2020)

directed by Judd Apatow
(new to me)

I think this might cure me of watching Apatow directed movies, which have been on a pretty consistent downward trend since THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. Well, maybe TRAINWRECK was a little better than THIS IS 40.

Most of the first hour of the movie is pointless, unless you find Pete Davidson and his friends unbelievable charming, and if you do, I don't want to know you. That whole mess should have been condensed to ten minutes, which (if you added a real ending) would have brought the whole film down closer to the 100-minute ideal for a comedy. Overlength has been a consistent problem with Apatow, unfortunately.

After all of that set-up it picks up a bit for a while, but it's still repetitive. Maybe pick one scenario that makes your point and develop it, fully rather than half-bake all three concepts you have. And then it all just... sort... of... stops. Shoot me if they ever announce KING OF STATEN ISLAND 2 to provide the closure this one lacked.

Did want to note Marisa Tomei's performance as the mother, which really saves the movie. I was ready to stop watching at least three times, deciding to continue only when she came back on screen, seemingly wandering in from another far more interesting movie, and made me keep going. Give me an hour of set-up with her and I won't complain about a two hour comedy.


Les Misérables (2012)

directed by Tom Hooper
(rewatch)

I watched this one theatrically when it came out, not being familiar with the stage show, except for the song "I Dreamed a Dream" (and not knowing the context of that), knowing the general story Victor Hugo's The Wreched mostly from cultural osmosis. And I loved it, maybe my favourite movie of that year.

So oddly, this is the first time I've watched it all the way through since then, and it took Hooper's CATS being retroactively my favourite movie of 2019 (okay, not really, but top 5) to get me to do it. I have watched a few individual scenes a number of times, one in particular dozens of times, but never all of it. Since then I've also listened to the soundtrack many times, and various original cast recordings from assorted stage productions, at least one version of each song (except the new one from the movie) is on my regular random car playlist, so there probably hasn't been a week in the last eight years I haven't heard at least one song from this. Still haven't seen a proper stage production, although I did watch parts of the anniversary concert version, which gives some idea of the costuming and staging.

So, finally watching the whole movie again, I still like it. Maybe not quite as much. ZERO DARK THIRTY might beat it for best of 2012 now. I'd say that, with maybe two exceptions, the versions of the songs in the movie aren't my top choice of the available versions, and in some cases are dead last. One of those exceptions is "On My Own" by Samantha Barks, which I've watched many times, and listened to many more times. Other than that, it's not as good as the movie in my head, which edits out a lot of little jokes and asides (a problem even more pronounced in CATS), explains some things clearer now that I know the story better and substitutes other versions of the songs. Still, the movie that's actually there is still one I'm fond of. Don't think I'll wait as long to watch it again. And maybe I'll watch the full anniversary concert sometime soon. I wish there was a full filmed version of the proper stage show, similar to the 1998 CATS version or HAMILTON from last year.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

directed by Tommy Lee Wallace
(new to me)

This is the only HALLOWEEN movie not to be a slasher movie with Michael Myers, back when the attention seemed to be to make it an anthology horror franchise.  Obviously that didn't work. I plan to eventually re-watch the whole series, and this is the only one of the early ones I'd never seen.

This one involves a mask company with an irritating commercial jingle being used to distribute electronic devices with pieces of Stonehenge that will turn your head to bugs and snakes... and something about robots... and a lot of other things. It's all okay for what it's trying to be, but nothing special. And I'm going to have that damn commercial jingle in my head for a while.

Your Name (2016)
directed by Makoto Shinkai
(new to me)

Started watching this with subtitles and the original Japanese audio, which is my usual option for non-English movies where there's a choice, but it wasn't working for me. So I restarted with the dubbed version, which I found much easier. Not sure if that's because it was animation (I haven't watched too much feature length animation from Japan for quite a while), or because the dubbed translation seems to be a bit better than the captions.

Anyway, this is a weird sort of fantasy romance which starts off with two teenagers switching minds at random intervals, with the revelation that much more is going on as the story develops. I have to admit I found a lot of it confusing, not sure how much of that is my cultural ignorance, or the translation, or just a confusing story. Had to resort to searching for a plot summary on the internet to explain a few things that eluded me.

That said, gorgeous looking, and I'll probably watch it again in a few months to see how it works when you know what's going on. And I look forward to being disappointed by the eventual American re-make.

Red Sparrow (2018)

directed by Francis Lawrence
(new to me)

This is a fairly recent movie about Russian and American spy games. Overall it's just okay, not really adding too much to the genre, except maybe being more explicit with the sex and violence than most of the famous earlier examples, where that stuff was more often implied or off-screen.

Jennifer Lawrence is the lead, playing a young ballet dancer who gets injured, and in order to keep the privileged life she's used to for her mother gets dragged further and deeper into the world of espionage, where she's expected to use sex to her advantage. As you'd expect, the usual double and triple crosses occur, maybe to slightly ridiculous degree. Add five minutes to the end of the movie and there could have been yet another cross which turned everything on its head.

All a bit by the numbers. A little bit ridiculous in how good Lawrence's character gets with very little training compared to the other agents. Very stylish and well made, but nothing new. It also seems to be temporally displaced, Parts of it feel like it should be in the 1980s, other parts feel like it's taking place when it was produced, or some random time between those two.

The Rock (1996)
directed by Michael Bay
(rewatch)

This is probably the peak of big dumb action movies of its era. Certainly it's the peak of Michael Bay's career. There are probably a lot of flaws in this if you make the mistake of thinking about it for too long, but avoid that trap and it's a lot of fun, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage are ridiculous in the best sense of that word, Ed Harris is dropped in from another movie and somehow that works. I end up watching this every few years, usually after I watch an action movie that doesn't work (this time it was pure letting my computer pick a random movie of those available).

Saturday, March 13, 2021

normalman #4 [1984] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

normalman #4 [1984]

This is part of the 13 chapter series (1-12 and a concluding Annual) created by Jim Valentino and published from 1984 to 1986. Valentino made a few returns to the character in later years, and it's been collected a few times (most recently in THE COMPLETE NORMALMAN [2007] with all the various later stories), but never in the original colour version, which really takes away from the work.

As you can probably tell, this is a parody series very much of its time, rooted in the comic market of the mid-1980s. Each issue has a logo and cover treatment based on a particular other comic that is a part of the parody in that issue, in this case ElfQuest, the fantasy comic by Wendy Pini. The story inside contains some mockery of that series (mostly how often it's dismissed by its cute surface elements), as well as other aspects of comics of the era while advancing the series overarching plotline of normalman, a man without powers who finds himself trapped in a world (and now other worlds) full of fantastical beings.

This is a pretty fun series overall. I'm not sure how it would read to someone not as versed in the trivia and minutiae of that era of comics as I unfortunately am (it even took me a bit to realize what "Hairy Sloth" was meant to be). There are even creator-approved guest appearances by E-Man, Fred Hembeck, Cutey Bunny and The Wraith in here.

There's probably enough general humour that will apply to everyone, and the overall story hangs together with stuff you can figure out from what's in the series itself.  So pick it up, ideally the original comics if you can find them, and also the 2007 collection which has all sorts of extras (including the original preview short stories from CEREBUS, the JOURNEY crossover issue and more).


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