What I Watched in December 2015

Movies

  • The Master – This is a case of a movie that is clearly excellent, but somehow I didn’t end up liking it.  Part of that is due to how good some of the performances are.  Joaquin Phoenix does an outstanding job, but his character is too convincing at being off-putting and uncomfortable.  He is hard to watch.  He is also the center of this film, Hoffman’s turn as the titular Master notwithstanding.  Having a character that makes everyone, the viewer included uncomfortable makes for a hard movie to watch. ****
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall – This wasn’t anything outstanding, but it was a funny movie full of generally funny people.  I just think it hovered between trying to have some kind of real heart and being really funny, without committing fully to either idea.  The result is pleasantly enjoyable, but not outstanding.  ***
  • Punch Drunk Love – I started to watch The Ridiculous 6, but after a few excruciating minutes I switched over to this. I doubt any would call this Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film, but it is likely Sandler’s.  He plays a business owner, henpecked by his numerous elder sisters who occasionally have violent outbursts.  He meets a woman, finds a harmonium and makes a call to a phone sex line.  While his relationship with the woman deepens, he has to deal with blackmail attempts. It is a strange, off kilter romance that is highly enjoyable.  ****
  • In the Heart of the Sea – see review here.  **1/2
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – see review here.  ****1/2
  • Kill Me Three Times – This movie really wants to be some kind of Tarantino, or at least Guy Ritchie, crime movie, but it just isn’t that good.  That is not to say there is nothing to like in what is mostly a limp, mean effort.  Simon Pegg is clearly having a lot of fun playing the villain and the way everything twists around to everything together. Still, too much of it is just poorly explained.  It isn’t a good movie, but there is some enjoyment to be gleaned from it. **1/2
  • Mission Impossible Rogue Nation – Just as good on DVD as it was this summer.  It is certainly better than the limp Bond offering from this year. ****
  • Whisper of the Heart – A Ghibli movie that had slipped by me until my brother got it for Christmas.  This movie is amazing, a perfect expression of the yearning and dreams of childhood.  One of Ghibli’s best, and that is saying something.  *****
  • High Road to China – This is something of a bone thrown to Selleck after he was forced to pass on Raiders of the Lost Arc, and while it does have some superficial similarities to Indy’s first outing, it is something else entirely.  While it is an adventure movie, it is not much of an action movie.  It does feature some great biplane action, I guess.  I think it is telling that at the end it is not Selleck’s O’Malley that gets the triumph, but his love interest.  Still, it is a fine, unfairly forgotten film. ***1/2
  • Quigley Down Under – Tom Selleck plays a cowboy in Australia, first hired then hunted by Alan Rickman’s villain.  It is a well-done western that somewhat updates the formula, if only by setting it in Australia rather than actually in the west.  Rickman’s villain is a conscious lover of the west, but Quigley shows him that all his aping of cowboys doesn’t make him one.  It also allows the main character to call out the racism of the west without actually doing so.  It is not a great movie, but I would definitely call it a good one. ***1/2
  • Electric Boogaloo – I was not super knowledgeable about Cannon Films going in, but this documentary was great.  It perfectly shows what made them interesting even if it didn’t make their movies any good. They churn out schlock, desperate to make it in Hollywood.  Their occasional hits seem to be more the result of just how much they throw against the wall than any sort of plan, but they did have them.  Still, I think the film world was better off with them churning out schlock than without them.    ****

TV

  • Daredevil – As with Jessica Jones, there is a sense of diminishing returns with Daredevil.  There is a lot of really good show here, but I can’t help but think it would be better if it was ten episodes instead of thirteen.  I’m not sure Daredevil really uses its running time wisely, since despite all the buildup they had for the Kingpin, he falls rather easily.  The second half never touches the heights of the beginning, but it is never really bad.
  • Poirot S3 & 4 – I really like this show, even though it can be slow and dry.  They are well done adaptations of Christie’s stories, with little frills or flash.  Suchet does a great job as Poirot, and most of these are really good stories.  Solid is, I guess, the best way to describe this show.
  • Fargo S2 – This is the best show on Television, even with its all too frequent references to Coen Brothers films, not just Fargo.  This season jumps back to the early eighties, and has a hapless couple accidentally pitting a local crime family against a big one from KC.  It nails pretty much every character and story beat perfectly.  The show is just great.
  • Supergirl – There are still flashes of greatness here, especially Melissa Benoist in the lead role, but it still hasn’t managed to pull all of its various characters and setting into a cohesive whole.  It is getting closer, though, and the good has always outweighed the bad.  Hopefully the second half of the season brings it all together.
  • Flash & Arrow – I’m putting these two together because the big episodes for each in December were the crossover episodes.  And man, what a crossover that was.  The Flash still manages to delight at every turn, and Arrow has been much better this season that last.  I’m not sure how much I like Hawkman and Hawkgirl, but still, seeing both gangs together to fight Vandal Savage was great.

Comic Reviews for Late February

So I guess I’m doing comic reviews again. We’ll see if I can keep this consistent or if it is doomed to be a sporadic thing. Not too many titles this week.

Justice League #6: The new Justice League’s first story comes to its cacophonous conclusion. I’m not jumping on the rapidly filling up hate train for this title, but I would say that this story didn’t quite come together as well as it could have. In the end it is all empty noise and confusion. Lee’s art is as explosive as usual and John’s has a strong handle on the team’s various personalities, so its not all bad just a touch incoherent and soulless. C+

The Flash #6: The art in this titles remains as impressive as it has been since Manapul took over drawing it at the start of the previous Flash title. The story, while less exceptional than the art, is solid. The Flash is one of the few books on the shelves that actually lets the hero’s out of costume life actually play a part as of late. The love triangle among Barry, Iris and Patty is as entertaining as the quite good superheroics, even though I am fairly certain that Barry will end up with the woman who was until recently Mrs. Flash. A-

Aquaman #6: Prado does finishes over Reis breakdowns instead of just inking this issue, but it is not that significant a departure other than some wonky faces. Aquaman takes an issue off as we focus on his wife Mera. Johns really needs to turn the volume on this issue down. In big hero v villain fights his eschewing of subtlety is often a plus, but this issue could stand to be much less bombastic. Mera breaking the wrist of a handsy pervert would be more effective than her crushing all of the bones in his arm. For all its overloud warts, this is an effective if blunt bit of character work for Mera. B-

All-Star Western #6: This issue reinforces that Jonah Hex is an awful bastard. He is cowboy Punisher, a man the reader can only root for because his enemies are even worse than he is. The highlight of this issue is the extended gunfight between Hex and some child slavers, where Palmiotti and Gray step back and let Bernet tell the story with his art. Which he does beautifully and gruesomely. The back-up story is just as good as main one, bringing this story about the Barbary Ghost to a close, but leaving the door open for her to return in either another back-up or in the main story. This is an excellent comic. A

The Ray #3: This series has been a bright spot amongst a sea of darker titles. A ray of light, if you will. This issue turns a bit darker, but is still primarily fun, classic superheroics. The villain is a man who makes reality his own movie, a fitting villain for a book set in Southern California. I’m sad that this is only a four issue series. Good stuff here. B

The Shade #5: This is one of the best books on the stands. Robinson, teamed with a variety of excellent artists like this issue”s Javier Pulido, has recaptured the magic of his Starman run from a decade ago. His work since has been hit-or-miss, but he has yet to go wrong when writing the Shade. Here we meet La Sangre, the Shade’s adopted vampire daughter, and have an adventure in Barcelona searching for a vial of the Shade’s blood. The art is beautiful and the writing is intelligent and highly literate. A

New Mutants #38: Marvel’s double shipping policy means a change of artist, but it is not that big of a problem. This series is on the verge of being as fun as it should be, but for some reason I’m just not engaged. Maybe it’s the cast. I’m a fan of the classic New Mutants, I like Doug, Dani and Bobby and I’m okay with Amara, but I just don’t care for Warlock or Nate Grey. Warlock is supposed to be a joke character, but even with his goofy way of speaking he isn’t that funny and Nate is just aggressively boring. Plus, this issue tries to bring back Bird-Brain, one of the worst characters in X-Men history, which is saying something. C+

Voodoo #6: This title always seems to be just on the verge of taking off and being truly good. But it never quite gets there. Still, at the end of every issue I’m eager for the next one, ready for everything to fall into place so I can proclaim this series truly excellent. Basri is a terrific artist with a clear, fine style. With Williamson taking over for Marz the title has shifted from being a Sci-Fi tinged spy story to a spy tinged Sci-Fi story. Hopefully soon Voodoo will get it together and give readers some answers. B-

Next week look for the next VGA and for my reread of The Dragon Reborn, as well as some musings on my present video game playing and lack thereof.

Comic Reviews for late November.

The Flash 3. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato.

Manapul’s and Buccellato’s Flash is one of the best titles to come out of DC’s New 52 initiative. The third issue further solidifies it among the very best books being published by ant company.

This issue picks up right where the last one left off, with Keystone and Central City in a mysterious blackout while the Flash ad his friend/partner Patty Spivot by to get to the bottom of a mystery involving Barry’s old friend Manual Lago.

The creators are telling their tale at a relaxed pace. Not that the Flash seems at all relaxed, he is in constant motion as the fastest man alive should be. However, they allow the central plot about Mob Rule and the blackout to move somewhat slowly as Flash deals with a multitude of smaller problems. Which allows the creators to experiment with how they show superspeed on the page.

That is where this book really shines. It is the perfect synthesis of art and writing. Better than any other comic out now, the Flash’s art and writing blend together to tell a story, which is what comics are supposed to do.

[****½]

Daredevil 6. Mark Waid and Marcos Martin.

Another great comic is Waid’s and Martin’s Daredevil. Like Flash, the art is superb. Marcos Martin is leaving after this issue (I believe) and he will be missed, even with the equally skilled Paolo Rivera is coming back on. It blends perfectly with Waid’s story. Daredevil again faces off with Bruiser. And again the way they show how Daredevil’s radar-like vision works is perfect comics. Bruiser’s powers are interesting, as is how Daredevil finally defeats him.

I do have some qualms about the story. It just seems too easy. I’m sure that this story will continue in a satisfactory manner, I have faith in Waid, but here the story seems to end just because the issue is ending. Also, there is little to no time for Matt Murdock in this issue. Still, it is a great read.

[****]

Quick Reviews:

  • Aquaman 3. Johns and Reis. Really good superhero stuff. [****]
  • Herc 10. Pak, Van Lente and Hahn. Marvel’s great Hercules saga ends with a dull thud. [**]
  • All-Star Western 3. Gray, Palmiotti, Moritat and Bernet. Not as good as previous issues, but still not bad. [***1/2]
  • Fury of Firestorm 3. Simone, Van Sciver and Cinar. The art is fine, the story should be better from this team. [**]
  • Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist 1. Trautman and Indro. Flash’s origin doesn’t really get to the good stuff. [***]
  • The Shade 2. Robinson and Hamner. Robinson’s return to Opal continues to shine. [****½]

 

 

 

Significantly Delayed by the 4th Sunday Comic Book Review

The week of the 4th of July has really messed up my ability to get together posts for my fledgling blog, but this week I plan to review at least one more season 1 episode if Futurama and the new episode, with a mention of last week’s new ep.  Also at least one more installment of 25 Years of NES and one movie review.  There are many other things near completion that I hope to get out, but we’ll see.  On the the comics.  It was a big week for me buying comics and all in all a good one.
Flash 3:

Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Francis Manapul and Scott Kolins.
The new Barry Allen Flash series continues to be one of the best books coming out.  This issue continues the Flash’s struggles with the Renegades, doppelgangers of Flash’s Rogues from the future, and with the resurrected, original Captain Boomerang as he escapes from prison.  The art is distinct.   I do not possess the vocabulary or knowledge to accurately describe it, but I do know that it is unlike most other comics.  Johns is also doing a good job of setting up Barry and Iris Allen.  I would agree with the complainers that so far there is no reason the series could not have starred Wally West, but it doesn’t.  There have been 20 years of Wally stories, if the man who writes the best of them wants to write some great Barry stories more power to him.  And these have been 3 really good issues.  Barry is a hero through and through.  Instead of focusing on all of the implications that paint him as a murderer, he is helping someone else who has possibly been wrongly imprisoned.  Iris is helpful and equally busy.  Yes, so far, Barry has acted like Superman, but since DC has Superman doing other stuff, maybe Barry can become the moral center of their universe.
Green Lantern 55:

Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke.
It’s big, loud, dumb and almost perfect.  Hal, Carol, Sinestro and Atrocitus fight with Lobo.  The leaders of four of the seven color corps throw power ring constructs all over the place in an over the top fight with one of superhero comic’s most over the top characters.  Lobo is a character, much like Marvel’s Deadpool, that is great in small doses but is easily over used.  His one issue appearance here is definitely a good thing.   Mahnke’s art is as over the top as the story.  This issue is just pure fun.  And the ending with the origin of Dex-Starr is both silly and somewhat touching.  While I was not a huge fan of Blackest Night, the Green Lantern book has come out of it still being great.
Justice Society of America 40:
written by Bill Willingham and drawn Jesus Merino.
This is the rather lackluster end to what has been a pretty good alternate reality story.  Obsidian returns and the JSA beats the bad guys.  I really do not know what to make of this issue.  It seems like it is either the last couple of pages of epilogue from the previous story extended to a full issue or 3 issues condensed down to one because after this James Robinson is taking over for three issues for a JLA/JSA crossover and Willingham could not set up the next story or fully finish this one.  So what is here is a few fun moments and lost of Obsidian monologue telling the reader what happened.  Everyone knows how this was going to end, so the least I expected was to be shown it in an interesting way, not having is flatly recited to me.  Not a good issue.  I’m growing increasing shaky on what is my favorite superhero team, especially since most of the interesting characters, Power Girl, Star Girl, Liberty Bell, Hourman, are going or gone.
Justice League of America 46:
written by James Robinson and drawn by Mark Bagley.
Robinson’s JLA/JSA team-up ramps up.  The story itself is actually pretty good.  The Starheart, a chuck of which is the source of Green Lantern‘s (Alan Scott) powers and through him powers his children Jade and Obsidian, is on Earth and driving many super powered individuals crazy.  It is an interesting start to the team up and a good way to involve both teams.  But his dialogue is terrible.  Jesse Quick, up until recently known as Liberty Bell, only thinks of her dad.  All the time.  Donna Troy rambles idiotically in what I believe is supposed to be funny dialogue.  Mr. Terrific talks down to Power Girl and she takes it.  Any of the instances could be forgotten, but they pile up enough to leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.  I’m sticking with this title through the team up out of love for the JSA, my interest in the line-up Robinson has for the JLA and my previous enjoyment of Robinson’s writing in Starman and JSA.  After that, I may drop both Justice team titles.
Thor 611:
written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Rich Elson.
This is my attempt to get back in to Marvel after a series of terrible events, culminating in the horrendous Dark Reign, thoroughly destroyed most of my interest in the line.  But the “Heroic Age” sounds good, so I’ll look.  And seeing how Thor is the best Marvel hero, I started here.  Not bad.  The Asgardians mourn Loki; they question the leadership of Balder and the Desir plot to destroy the dead Asgardians.  I do know of the bulk of the events from Siege even though I did not read it and I read most of JMS run on the title, so I’m not completely lost.  This issue is not great, but it is pretty good.  If the next issue pays off the set up in this one I’ll be happy, but this is not getting me too excited.
Wonder Woman 600:
So to cap off the month we get Wonder Woman’s big anniversary issue to go along with Superman’s and Batman’s.  It is also the start of Straszynski’s run on the title.  The first story is written by outgoing writer Gail Simone and drawn by the person responsible for Wonder Woman when she was the best George Perez.  It starts with a team up of numerous super heroines to defeat the “Cyber-Sirens.”  It shows how all of them look up to her and how Wonder Woman is the greatest.  Then she skips out on the President to attend Vanessa Kapatellis’ graduation.  I really liked this story.  Perez is one of the best artists in the business and Gail Simone has few misses on her record.  I can’t help but see the end of this as a bit of delayed backlash against the writers who came after Perez (Messner-Loebs and Byrne used other characters, Jimenez destroyed them) that ignored the great supporting cast he set up.  To see Vanessa recovered from the indignities put upon her in bad stories that made both her and Wonder Woman look bad feels great to those who read and loved Perez’s WW.  The next story is written and drawn by Amanda Conner and is the best thing in any book this month.  Power Girl, (I love me some Power Girl, especially drawn by Amanda Conner) Wonder Woman, and Batgirl beat-up Egg-fu (basically super villain Humpty Dumpty) then PG and WW go to PG’s place so WW can tell her what’s bothering her cat.  It’s cute, funny and gives me hope for more WW PG team ups.  Next is Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica’s story where Superman and Wonder Woman team up to take down a terrorist who stole Zeus’s lightning.  It’s adequate.  I had to reread it even after taking some review notes to really remember it.  It is followed by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins’s pointless lead-in to JMS’s story.  This was the most disappointing story because I really wanted to see Johns write Diana.  No writer is better at distilling why a character is cool into one sentence that can be used for years worth of stories.  Sure, his takes are often simplistic, but they lay great groundwork for other he and other writers to build on.  When he’s used Wonder Woman, it was generally in stories that were not about her and she did not feel right.  There was not enough to this story to even get that feeling.  Though the panel of young Diana staring out to sea wanting to see what else was out there was great.  Also in the issue were some great pin-ups by Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul and Phil Jimenez and one truly horrible one by Jock.
Then there is JMS’s highly anticipated debut.  I don’t like it.  The story could have potential.  It is going to end with the majority of her history restored to normal, maybe all of it, but the how could be intriguing.  The marketing is turning me off, as is the new costume.  WW old costume was just as messed up as Superman’s and Batman’s.  They are Superheroes; they are inherently ridiculous.  That is the fun of the stories.  And WW wears a patriotic one-piece bathing suit.  She looked like some sort of magical hooker.  DC decided to change this by making her look like an actual hooker.  They did not take out the suggestive part, they took out the magic that makes it okay.  And it’s not like this an original story.  Writers since Perez, except Simone, have destroyed Themyscira and the Amazons, only to return them with their version.  I see no reason to believe that this will be different of better.