Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Epic

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

From far away, Epic is pretty, but once you get up close, you notice the cracks; this can double both as an assessment of the animation and of the movie overall. The widescreen aspects of work done by Blue Sky Studios' animators is gorgeous, as they create a well thought-out, meticulously constructed, inventive world that shimmers and shines from the outside. The action scenes, particularly the chase sequences, are packed with frenetic energy and the animation really nails the details. It's when the characters are standing still or conversing, when the action slows, that you notice the little things like facial expressions and figure movement don't hold up as well. Similarly, the grand premise of a hidden nature world where there's an ongoing war between the denizens of life and the avatars of "the rot"--seriously, it's Rotworld!--is cool, but it feels at times like the folks writing the script figured that skeleton was enough to hang the plot on and didn't really need to flesh their mythology out. The second half of the film is a lot stronger than the first, which really drags, but by then it's coasting on the forward momentum provided by action in lieu of a strong story or character development. The voice acting is of varying levels, as Amanda Seyfried and Josh Hutcherson are fine if a little flat in the leads, Colin Farrell puts an effort in as the aging hero of the piece, Christoph Waltz gets about half way there as the villain, and the trio of Aziz Ansari, Chris O'Dowd and Steven Tyler get to stand out because they're the comic relief and this is a PG-animated movie (the less said about Beyonce's performance as the queen of the forest, the better). I wouldn't trash Epic, as it's a perfectly fun piece with some really strong craftsmanship times, but in an era when animated films have hit a much higher level, it feels incomplete.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Art Attack Flashback: X-Men - The Tempting

Got an e-mail from my mother earlier today with this pic attached...

It's a drawing I did when I was younger that she found when going through stuff at our house. I'd like to say based on the quality of art and spelling that I was like 7, but fortunately I included issue numbers of when my proposed crossover event was going to happen and can see that I was 14. Fantastic.

I have no idea what the story I was planning was here, but let's do a little detective work and draw conclusions...

-It's called "X-Men: The Tempting" (because I had to save the word "Temptation" for the tag line, obviously) so I'd assume the shadowy villain character I gave eyes and giant shoulders to was offering various members of the X-Teams stuff. This was a good year before Underworld Unleashed, so Mark Waid obviously stole that plot from me.

-You can tell this is something I created because Iceman is the most prominent member of the X-Men featured.

-Despite X-Force being my favorite X-title and my having listed it as a tie-in, I didn't draw anybody from the team among the full figures, most likely because I was still pissed Fabian Nicieza had left the book. I also didn't draw anybody from X-Factor, but that may have been because I stopped reading it when Peter David left and had no idea who was on the team.

-X-Man was definitely an ongoing series at this point, but for some reason I decided not to include it.

-That drawing of Rogue begs the question of whether I was worse at drawing women or leather jackets (and why I would choose to try and draw a woman in a leather jacket based on those shortcomings).

-As evidenced by both Banshee and Cyclops, my means of conveying motion is to only draw one and a half legs on figures to make it seems like they're running/flying (or getting around it altogether by making Nightcrawler's teleportation effect really big).

-I'm really proud of myself for including Colossus' short-lived shoulder ridges from when he was on Excalibur.

-The second head shot down is Psylocke; I know this because I distinctly remember that was my way of showing she had her hair in a ponytail.

-I was terrible at drawing Beast.

-I must have really liked Havok's old school costume.

-I know I really liked Cable's glowing eye.

-I do not know what "Touchdowns in March" means and could apparently not spell the word "special" despite being a freshman in high school. I blame the Massachusetts public school system.

So anyway, I'll be pitching this story to Nick Lowe on Tuesday; expect to see it on stands by 2014.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Paragraph Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

I found this to be a decent movie; not great, not awful, just decent. I didn't regret seeing it, probably won't see it again. It had its good parts and its bad parts, as I'll discuss. I feel like that's about as neutral a first impression as I can give, but that's how I felt. I was a bit let down if only because I don't think it came close to measuring up against the 2009 Star Trek reboot; of course with rare exceptions sequels demonstrate diminishing returns, but I had hoped the four-year gap between films meant they really found a way to nail it. The greatest attribute of this franchise to my mind remains the brilliant casting, as there are no duds to be found in the ensemble, with Chris Pine and Zach Quinto as the standouts, plus Zoe Saldana getting a nice chance to step up more here than in the previous installment. Benedict Cumberbatch brought a great sense of command and menace to the antagonist of the piece, channeling Alan Rickman but with more physicality. Alice Eve slotted in nicely as well, holding her own against the aforementioned talents plus Karl Urban, etc. I found Peter Weller a bit over the top in his role, but that feels more down to the plotting than his work (and tough to discuss without hitting spoiler territory). I also think the script was tremendously strong when it came to dialogue; my favorite parts of the movie were the funny moments or emotional exchanges, and that has as much to do with the writing as the acting. It's also a visually stunning piece of work, no question, and the action sequences are top notch, so kudos to J.J. Abrams on that. There were two major negatives dragging in particular the second half down in my opinion, first and foremost being the handling of the story's villain. I feel like Abrams and company got a little too bogged down in trying to create mysteries and twists regarding the bad guy, and in the process muddied the motivations; by three quarters in, I was a bit lost on why certain characters were doing what and whether or not I should be rooting for or against them. My other issue would be what felt like diminishing stakes as the plot rolled out. In the beginning of the movie, I felt like major players were in very real danger, which was exciting, but there were so many close calls early on that by the mid-point I didn't get the sense of any true peril; I know it's tough to really ask for that in an action movie, but for whatever reason, it felt more glaring than usual here, whether it was what felt like a too deliberate "and this is how we'll save whoever needs to be saved later" smoking gun or the "it doesn't matter if people are dying as long as they're not the ones whose names we now" syndrome I've been noticing more and more in this type of film lately. I'd recommend you try this one for yourself, as I think it's very much a case of mileage varying by taste.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Art Attack: July 2013's Coolest Covers

-It's crazy to me sometimes to remember how long Stuart Immonen has been doing comic book art at the high level he has, how many times he has evolved his style and how drastically. This is a guy who already had a unique take on super heroes back in the 90's when he drew Final Night, went way outside the box for Nextwave, had the chops to follow Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man and handled a book no less high profile than New Avengers. With All-New X-Men, he's morphed yet again, perhaps in more subtle ways, but he's a talent who definitely takes care to make teenagers look like teenagers. This cover is even another side, very fine art in the background and very striking at the fore.

-That's a clever Avengers Arena cover by Dave Johnson that can work multiple ways. The brackets make sense given the book's premise, but he does cool work making them shadows or roots or whatever you want to see them

-Man, I love the way Patrick Gleason visualized the whole environment for that Batman & Catwoman cover, not just the figures or the setting but how they interact. Love the angle of the characters and the use of the Bat Signal.

-I love the way Salvador Larroca draw super heroes; classic, colorful, powerful super heroes. That is all.

-That's some especially pretty Chris Samnee Daredevil art. All that black looks awesome and perfectly conveys a predicament that would crush Matt Murdock. This cover works from both a storytelling perspective and in creating an enticing snapshot.

-Double shot of Juan Doe radness this month. Fun Blood Brothers cover and then graphic brilliance on Earth 2, taking smart cues from propaganda posters and using the figures perfectly. Juan's art always grabs you.

-Mark Brooks, you did it again.

-I want that Francis Manapul Flash cover as a poster.

-Nice callback on this month's Indestructible Hulk cover by Paolo Rivera to his own Daredevil #1 work, using DD's billy clubs to blind Hulk and Banner this go around.

-Speaking of callbacks, Nova #6 is a nice shot from Ed McGuinness after a fashion to one of my all-time favorites, the original Nova #25.

-Ryan Stegman doing some Bill Sienkiewicz jazz with the ninjas battling Scarlet Spider--very cool!

-Thor: God of Thunder. Esad Ribic. Guh.

100 BULLETS: BROTHER LONO #2 by Dave Johnson

ALL-NEW X-MEN #14 by Stuart Immonen

AVENGERS ARENA #12 by Dave Johnson

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #17 by Joe Quinones

BATMAN & CATWOMAN #22 by Patrick Gleason

BATMAN INCORPORATED #13 by Chris Burnham

BATWOMAN #22 by J.H. Williams III


CABLE & X-FORCE #10 by Salvador Larroca

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 by Joe Quinones

DAREDEVIL #29 by Chris Samnee


DEADPOOL #13 by Kris Anka

DIAL H #14 by Brian Bolland

EARTH 2 #14 by Juan Doe

FATALE #16 by Sean Phillips


FLASH #22 by Francis Manapul

GREEN ARROW #22 by Andrea Sorrentino

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #22 by Bernard Chang


HOUSE OF GOLD AND BONES #4 by Frank Quitely


IRON MAN #12 by Greg Land

KATANA #6 by Pasqual Ferry

LAZARUS #2 by Michael Lark

NOVA #6 by Ed McGuinness

RED SHE-HULK #67 by Francesco Francavilla

SCARLET SPIDER #19 by Ryan Stegman


SUPERGIRL #22 by Mahmud Asrar


THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #10 by Esad Ribic

THUNDERBOLTS #12 by Julian Totino Tedesco

X-FACTOR #259 by David Yardin

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Pain & Gain

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

Coming out Pain & Gain, myself and the other guys I saw it with more or less agreed on two things: we liked it and we'd have a lot of trouble describing it to anybody who hadn't seen it. The short version would be to say it's a movie about fitness trainer Daniel Lugo getting a crew together to hold hostage and extort a rich client and what happens when the plan goes right and then wrong, but to do so would be a disservice to everything going on in this film. At various times it's a screwball comedy, a heist movie, a very dark comedy, and a thriller, with all four of those and several more genres frequently crashing or bleeding into one another pretty seamlessly. I'd say it has a very similar chaotic energy to To Die For (the Nicole Kidman one) or even Fight Club. Mark Wahlberg plays Lugo in a way that immediately called up for me Christian Bale's turn as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho; they're very different characters, but both characters call upon an ultra intensity and rapid fire delivery to bring earnestness to the ridiculous. Wahlberg is par for the course brilliant from his crazy voice overs to some really funny physical comedy. Great as Wahlberg is, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson matches and perhaps surpasses him as Paul Doyle, a born again ex-con and former cocaine addict who gets drawn into Lugo's plan. Johnson basically plays an array of characters over the course of the story: the repentant man of peace, the strung out crackhead, the intense criminal and various combinations therein and he's fantastic as all of them with his commanding presence, unmatched charisma, and brilliant comic timing. This should be the movie that propels Johnson past being a kids movie headliner or part of an action ensemble into a full-on leading man. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay, based on a book by Pete Collins--oh, and this is all based on a true story, by the way--and their script is top notch; this movie is eminently quotable both from a "that was really funny" stance and a "that was really deep" one. Michael Bay directs, and even though there is at least one major explosion--and a lot of uncomfortably violent moments that pop up when you least expect them but do feel earned--he does a great job, using slo-mo cuts for great comedy, employing voice overs to really convey the story, and being smart with his effects. Beyond Wahlberg and Johnson, Tony Shalhoub is perfect as the sleazy jerk they kidnap and Anthony Mackie holds his own as best he can as the third member of the team (it's hard not to get a little lost in the shuffle considering his co-stars). The movie is somewhat bloated at 129 minutes; it could lose 40 of those and not suffer. There's also a distinct cut-off point where it feels like one act ends and another incongruous one churns up when Ed Harris' detective character--fine performance, but the character himself feels imported from another movie--enters and the pace slows down. There are certainly things Pain & Gain could have done better, but it already did enough right that I'm still thinking about it a day later and writing more than I usually would and still feeling like I barely scratched the surface.