Thursday, September 29, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
I credit two people with reviving my flagging interest in comic books in the late 1990s. The first was Stuart Immonen, whose beautiful pencil work on DC’s Superbooks was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my four colour funnies.
The other was Scottish author Grant Morrison, a seemingly semi-deranged and drug addled writer, whose unconventional style helped me to get over the hump when it came to looking at comic books as something more than just childish pursuits.
Of the two it’s really only Grant I read now, having failed to follow Stuart in his jump over to Marvel. But the man who has written WE3, THE INVISIBLES, THE FILTH, ANIMAL MAN and so many other seminal works of comic bookery has never failed to challenge my expectations of what the medium is capable of delivering.
SUPERGODS is one part historical overview of modern comic books, one part analysis and one part autobiography.
Starting with a detailed breakdown of ACTION COMICS #1 and an exploration of Superman, perhaps the most recognizable character in comic books, Morrison brings you through modern comics early history right to the present day, interjecting his own interactions with the medium and how they’ve come to influence his work.
Morrison’s insight into some of these characters is as unique as his writing. Incredibly cerebral, his analysis can sometimes border on the incomprehensible as he vanishes down literary rabbit holes in search of truth and understanding.
When he’s not examining comic book characters Morrison is delving into the varied cast of creators who’ve populated the field in recent years and the impact they’ve had on shaping the industry. It’s fascinating to get Morrison’s take on some of these individuals. While I had a passing knowledge of the contributions of most of them there was definitely one or two who I’d previously discounted.
And that’s what I love so much about this book, how it adds new layers and new interpretations to old material, including Morrison’s own work. Themes and ideas previously discussed over beer with friends are now explicitly outlined on these pages. Morrison’s interweave of personal experience and creative genius are laid bare for fans of the author and his work to sort through and analyze.
Suddenly I found myself seeing Morrison’s output in a new light. And, on more than one occasion I found myself putting SUPERGODS aside in order to dive into my longboxes and pick up something he’d done earlier and reread it with fresh eyes.
(Which was a really illuminating experience until I got caught reading THE INVISIBLES again. Rereading that epic is usually enough to cause my brain to retreat screaming in terror. I have a sneaking suspicion that THE INVISIBLES only really makes absolute sense if you read it while high.)
Finishing SUPERGODS gave me the sort of mini creative buzz that I only get when I find myself reading\watching something truly spectacular. The excitement and energy Morrison holds for comic books and creativity in general seemed to literally bleed through the page and infect me.
Whether you like Grant Morrison’s writing style or not, and believe me the man is certainly an acquired taste, I think you’d be hard pressed to deny that he’s made his mark on the landscape. He’s always pushing the boundaries of the medium and I’d rather he continue to do that and fail than partake in the by the numbers mediocrity that seems to infect the world of mainstream comics publishing.
Reading SUPERGODS I got the sense that as Morrison has aged his goals and aims for comic books has changed somewhat. Initially, as a young angry punk, it seems like he was all about tearing down and destroying the traditional and stuffy clichés of comic books. But now that he’s gotten a little older its not about tearing down, its about creating and building up.
And I find that exciting.
Monday, September 26, 2011
If you haven't seen the trailer yet, please have a gander at it below:
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Oh and a NOTE about next weeks episode and Madame Kovarian. The metal eyepatch she wears, and the one I've seen everyone sporting in the next episode's promo pics...and this should have been BLINDINGLY obvious to me since she first showed up, but just wasn't....the eyepatch is to negate the effects of the Silent's powers. Duh! Haha!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Right, I’ve been sitting on these reviews since TIFF ended and if I don’t get them off my plate soon they’ll be useless to everyone. So rather than write up THREE separate reviews I’ve decided to roll them all together into a single omni review.
Read it and enjoy at your own peril.
Review the first, JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME aka 'Why do I keep going to comedies that leave me doing the silent man choke up during the emotional climaxes?' I swear to god, since I became a Dad my emotional movie meter has been stuck on ‘blubber’. I used to yawn my way through touching and poignant scenes like they were a cure for insomnia, now I’m trying to keep it together through long distance phone ads and Tim Horton’s commercials.
Anyway, Jason Segel is the titular Jeff. Ever since his Dad died 15 years ago Jeff’s family has drifted away from each other. Jeff lives in the basement of his mother’s house, getting high and not doing much of anything at all. His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) is a raging ass who doesn’t care for anyone else except himself and his new Porsche. Refereeing her two sons is Susan Sarandon, an unhappy and lonely woman who’s been able to fill the void in her life since her husband passed away.
Alone in the basement, Jeff is convinced that everything in life has a purpose and that unseen connections exist to tie everything together. He just needs to understand what that connection is. When a mysterious phone call ends up sparking Jeff’s imagination he sets out to prove that there’s more to life than what we see around us.
A low key, but touching comedy, I was pleasantly surprised by JEFF. Helms and Segel are veteran hands of the whole improv-edy genre and I was a little concerned that the two would hijack the film with extended riffing back and forth. Fortunately their focus was laser sharp and the two never get lost in the weeds for very long. Of all the interwoven plot threads at play here Susan Sarandon’s is the most down played but also the most compelling. Her calming presence provides an understated but essential heart and soul to the film.
My biggest complaint is one of a technical nature. The directors, Jay and Mark Duplass, obviously going for documentarian aesthetic, have an irritating habit of doing EXTREME CLOSE UPS on actors’ faces during conversations using hand held cameras. It’s distracting and not more than a little nauseating. There’s a time and a place for shaky cam work, like storming the beaches of Normandy during WWII, but it doesn’t work in this film.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME finds its laughs in the everyday foibles of human interaction and dysfunctional, but loving, families. A very solid outing.
Review the second, MONEYBALL.
“You just can’t help but get romantic about baseball”, says Billy Beane, Brad Pitt’s character in the upcoming Oscar bait MONEYBALL. And damned if he isn’t right.
MONEYBALL is the story of General Manager Billy Beane and his attempt to turn the impoverished Oakland Athletics into legitimate contenders against teams that have payrolls that tower his own. Beane’s solution is to embrace the field of sabermetrics, which emphasizes stats over traditional physical considerations, to close the gap between the financial disparities.
$BALL isn’t a baseball movie, it’s a movie about everything that takes place behind the scenes. The film is built upon conference calls and paneled boardrooms rather than pitchers’ duels and physical prowess. But even shorn of traditional baseball movie motives, damned if baseball’s romance doesn’t bleed through anyway.
With strong performances by perennial leading man Pitt and a surprisingly understated, but no less effective, turn by funny man Jonah Hill $BALL is a film that doesn’t take too many risks, but makes the most out of the opportunities it has. You don’t have to like baseball to like this movie, because passion and drive are universal qualities that will speak to any audience.
THE DAY is the low budget love child between MAD MAX and Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Only instead of fighting over the world’s remaining oil deposits the post apocalyptic survivors of THE DAY are just struggling to find something to eat. Of course some survivors are a little less squeamish than others, which means they don’t mind dining out on their fellow human beings.
THE DAY deals with a small group of survivors led by Shawn Ashmore and Dominic Monaghan, who stop in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse to rest and take shelter from the elements. However the farmhouse is really just an elaborately constructed trap to capture wayward travellers and hold them there so that they can be slaughtered and eaten by a local group of hunters.
When the cannibals, led by actor Michael Eklund, show up to collect their meal they find they’ve stumbled on more than they bargained for. What follows is a no holds barred, guns a’blazing fight for survival as Ashmore’s group holes up in the farmhouse to fend off the hunters.
For a movie playing about in such rich territory I found the THE DAY to be strangely bloodless, which is odd for a genre film like this. There was more gore and viscera in the TIFF darling DRIVE than the entirety of this film. I’m not calling for violence for the sake of violence, but in a world seemingly awash in bloodthirsty cannibals it seems odd that we’re never actually shown a scene where our protagonists are seriously considered as being candidates for a late night snack. Instead the audience is simply told that the baddies are cannibals, presumably to up the stakes, and the rest is left up to our imaginations, which sadly aren’t given much to go on. I would have liked to have seen some boldness on the part of the film to explore the darker reaches of the human psyche, pushed to the brink, rather than tread on the same old action flick clichés.
THE DAY traded largely on these clichés and stereotyped scenarios, trotting out familiar setups and characters and transposing them into the post-apocalypse scenario. What was fascinating about the movie were the risks not taken and the relatively safety of their approach.
Once our survivors are trapped in the farmhouse all character exploration completely stops. The most interesting characters are dipped in amber, their growth frozen in time and reduced to trotting out stock phrases.
The one standout of the film is actress Ashley Bell, who delivers a very credible performance as a tortured young woman living in this fresh hell, but not really alive. Bell’s character struggles to find the will to keep on fighting, despite all the horror she’s scene and death she’s been apart of. Of all the lead characters, hers is the most watchable and the most original.
Friday, September 16, 2011
50/50 is a the note perfect tale of Adam, portrayed with skill and subtlety by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after learning that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Initially optimistic about his chances of beating the disease Adam remains cheerfully defiant in the face of the long odds, the titular 50/50 referring to Adam’s chances of survival. Led by his flakey artist girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his stoner best bud Kyle (Seth Rogen) Adam’s friends and family rally around him to help him through this difficult time.
But as Adam’s disease begins to take a noticeable physical toll his personal life begins to break down as well.
As the harsh reality begins to set in Rachel’s affection for Adam crumbles in the face of his physical needs and his emotional neediness. Finding comfort in the arms of another man her affair is only revealed after Kyle spies her out on the town with her new beau. Betrayed and alone, Adam’s mental state begins to mirror his physical one.
It’s only in his one on one sessions with rookie therapist Katie (Anna Kendrick) that Adam manages to find a measure of solace with what is happening to him.
This movie is easily the best thing I’ve seen at TIFF this year. Be careful about watching this film if someone close to you has cancer. With its low key approach and improv-edy elements, 50/50 will find a chink in the armour of even the most emotionally distant film audience.
Given that I’ve seen Levitt in challenging work at TIFF as far back as 2001 I think it’s unfair that I keep mentally classifying him as that ‘weedy kid from THIRD ROCK’. He’s long ago shown that he is more than capable of handling demanding roles of depth and complexity. Rather than using 50/50 to mark his debut as a serious dramatic actor the role merely cements a truth that’s been self evident for a long time now.
Seth Rogen deserves a nod here as well. Resurrecting his stereotypical improv stoner persona straight out of 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP Rogen plays a crucial role as the film’s light hearted cut up. Without Rogen to provide a necessary stress release outlet 50/50 could easily be caught up in its own subject matter and turn the movie into an unrelenting piece of bleak misery. Instead Rogen’s character allows the audience to release all their pent up emotion in a cathartic belly laugh or two without undermining the dramatic tension of the film.
50/50 is an honest and unflinching examination of what it’s like to have one’s life ripped apart by the unrelenting scourge of cancer. While there are a couple Hollywood clichés at play here, mostly in terms of supporting character stereotypes, that doesn’t mean the film is soft selling us on the horrible fallout that the disease brings. And even if it seems inevitable that the writers will stop just short of following the film’s terminal trajectory to its bitter end that doesn’t mean that the journey the audience takes to get there is diminished in any way.
50/50 will make you laugh and it will make you cry, but it will never, ever lie to you.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
The problem with KILLER ELITE is that it’s actually two distinct films rolled into one. Rather than successfully fuse the two films into a genre bending mind-splosion of cinematic greatness ELITE chooses to simply flip back and forth between genres like a kid watching his Saturday morning ‘toons.
Long story short, it isn’t a very good movie.
Jason Statham is Danny Bryce, a (former) killer with a conscience who’s been pulled back into the game of international assassinery in order to rescue his old mentor Hunter, played by a woefully underutilized Robert DeNiro.
Working for a wealthy, but exiled, Middle Eastern oil sheik Bryce must kill three British SAS soldiers who’ve murdered the sheik’s sons.
A fairly straightforward revenge-style political thriller plot here with lots of room for room for potential. Only the filmmakers decide to muck it all up by imposing on Bryce a set of incredibly complicated criteria that must be applied to each victim.
First of all, as a reform(ing) killer Bryce has a thing about a not killing innocent victims. Now this would be great if innocent victims was code for babies and puppies and people who’ve never been in the SAS. But unfortunately Bryce chooses to apply this to any and everyone who isn’t the exact target he’s been hired to kill. This means that Bryce has to wade into a hornet’s nest of brutal psychopathic killers, all of whom are out to rend him limb from limb, but he can’t kill actually any of them, even when his life is being threatened.
A strange reaction for a lead in a film called KILLER ELITE.
All together now, hand, head, grimace.
Secondly, Bryce has to extract a videotaped confession from each soldier and each death has to look like an accident, to prevent suspicion from being cast back upon our scheming oil baron.
Apparently Bryce is such an effective killer of people that the only way to slow him down long enough to make the killing audience friendly is to place him square in the middle of a series of increasingly elaborate death traps. These excessive restrictions only serve to complicate the plot and don’t add a whit of tension to the film.
Anyway, the first half of the film is all about this espionage stuff. Mostly set in London, all very dirty and grimy, but none of it very exciting.
Then, all of a sudden, its like the producers took a look at their leading man, screamed “HolyshitballswehaveJasonStathaminourfilmwheresallthefighting!?”, and cranked the volume up on the film to 11.
After that KILLER ELITE becomes quite a different film all together, it turns into the Jason Statham action punchfest we all know and love. The only problem is the audience has been lost with the film’s listless build-up that we don’t really care anymore. By the time Statham gets around to leaping buildings and shoving broken chair legs through the faces of our tough as nails SAS soldiers its too far too late. We’re bemused by the films futile attempts to switch gears and all we can do is cast furtive glances at our phones, waiting for the credit sequence to roll. (Which is a bit frustrating considering the film has three separate and distinct end sequences.)
There’s precious little to recommend about this film. It never actually approaches out and out bad, but it is so unfocused and unable to make use of its considerable acting talents that it probably seems more underwhelming than it actually is.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
COMIC-CON EPISODE FOUR: A FAN’S HOPE follows around a handful comic book devotees at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. There’s the uber-fan who hopes to break into the biz, the dedicated military man with dreams of penciling for Marvel, the hardcore toy collector who’s only goal this year is to get the Con exclusive 18” Galactus figure, the young couple who found love at last years Con, a group of dedicated cosplayers and Chuck Rozanski, the owner of Mile High Comics, the largest comic retailer in the United States, who is having significant problems with his short term cash flow.
Interspersed between these personal stories are little vignettes from some of the biggest names in comic book and nerd culture, including Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison, Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Smith and Stan Lee, providing history and context about the annual marketing extravaganza that SDCC has become.
Directed by Morgan Spurlock, of SUPER SIZE ME fame, COMIC CON is a fairly by the numbers documentary. Bucking the trend of recent high profile documentaries who use their celebrity directors as a de facto ring leader and showman, gleefully interacting with their subject matter, Spurlock has chosen to remain entirely absent from this film.
The end result is a documentary that seems strangely devoid of a distinctive personality and tone, which is odd considering the film’s rich subject matter. COMIC-CON just sort of happens and there’s very little about it that jumps up and grabs watchers by the throat. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half the film feels oddly truncated, unfinished and mostly superficial. We’re shown SDCC in all its glitz and glamour, treated to a little bit of history on how the show has changed from a comics focused love in to a multimedia spanning entertainment juggernaut. Despite that, I didn’t really feel like Spurlock captured the organized chaos of the event. He very much kept his camera trained on a few privileged individuals and then just left it there, eschewing some of the other rich offerings SDCC has to offer.
Rather than choosing to focus on his subjects only during the four days of SDCC I would have liked to see the documentary delve a little deeper into the lives of these fans. Who are they when they’re not losing themselves in the cheerful chaos of the Con, how do they balance their obvious nerd credentials with their everyday lives? Attending the Con should be the climax of the film, not simply the backdrop to a series of stories who deserve more thoughtful context and analysis then a perfunctory rundown of their particular nerd fetish.
Despite my less than glowing review of the film, COMIC-CON managed to leave its mark on me nonetheless. A dedicated fanboy myself I harbour my own dreams of someday making it into the rarefied world of comics publishing. As a result the struggles of the film’s two aspiring artists to break into comics struck a particular empathetic chord with me. While the doc itself might be stubbornly middle-of-the-road in terms of quality, it treats its subject matter with respect and never condescends to its audience by poking fun of the fans.
If I’m disappointed with this film it’s only because I’m passionate about the material and can see all the many avenues it chose to leave unexplored.
Monday, September 12, 2011
I couldn’t have picked a better film to start off my 2011 TIFF programming than DRIVE.
Like the 60’s Clint Eastwood Westerns of yore Ryan Gosling plays a nameless stunt driver, who supplements his income working as a mechanic at Shannon’s garage. But when he’s not doing that Gosling hires himself out as a getaway driver to L.A.’s criminal underground.
Gosling’s driver is a taciturn and calculating individual. Practically a mute, it seems as if the more pressure he’s under the more focused he becomes. But his highly fabricated world begins to fray when he starts to show an interest the single mother Irene, played with an almost childlike innocence by British actress Carey Mulligan, who lives just down the hallway.
After opening with a bang, showing Gosling driving two would be thieves away from the scene of a robbery entirely from the POV of inside the car, the film settles into a slow burn to allow Gosling and Mulligan sometime to build their onscreen chemistry. It seems as if the two lovers have barely begun their courtship when Irene gets the news that her husband (Oscar Isaac) is getting released from jail. When Isaac is beat up in order to extract some protection money he owes from his previous incarceration, Gosling offers to drive the getaway car for a pawn shop heist that will allow to Isaac pay off all his outstanding debts.
Unfortunately the pawn shop is holding onto a million dollars worth of a local gangster’s money and Isaac is killed mere steps from freedom. In the blink of an eye Gosling goes from in charge to out of control as he must figure out a way to protect Irene and give the mobsters back their money, preferably without losing his life in the process.
DRIVE is a gritty, intense crime drama, shot through with rich streaks of tragic love story.
Gosling’s lead character is an unlikely leading man. Too repressed and closed off to be truly likable, but sporting the prerequisite Hollywood heart of gold, he seems like a throwback to an earlier cinematic tough guy stereotype. Sporting a vintage racing jacket and surgically implanted toothpick he really could be Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’ stepping into the 21st century.
Gosling delivers his performance in a stripped down, minimalist style, managing to convey more tension and danger through the rasp of a tightened leather driving glove than any clanging movie soundtrack could ever hope to achieve.
At times Gosling’s overly pretty looks seems at odds with his moody character, but in the hands of director Nicolas Winding Refn you soon forget that this is the star of THE NOTEBOOK and CRAZY STUPID LOVE.
I was a little concerned that giving Refn an A-list actor might dilute is his normally uncompromising filmic sensibilities, but except for a few token scenes I was relieved to find that my concerns were misplaced. Refn continues to delight in gleefully pushing the boundaries of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking.
No character is ever safe. They hurt, they bleed, they die; frequently and often bloodily.
If Refn can’t physically maim his cast he resorts to torturing them psychologically. He rends friendships apart, betrays lovers and inserts the threat of betrayal into everything he puts onscreen.
And when Gosling’s perfectly constructed fantasy finally does fall apart, Refn makes sure that its shattered permanently, forever removing any chance of redeeming his leading man.
The film’s third act pushes DRIVE almost into a parody of a grindhouse revenge flick, with Gosling forced, in fits of gory ultra violence, to dispatch anyone who would threaten Irene.
Between Gosling and Refn DRIVE is elevated beyond a conventional crime drama into something quite different. It frequently switches film genres like some people switch underwear and the results are uniformly shocking. Supported by Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks (inhabiting a role as pragmatic gangster) DRIVE is a fascinating and compelling tale of the lengths one man will go to in order to the right thing.