Clandestine Critic’s Current Comics Comments

The title needs work, but it will do for now. So, let’s have a look at the comics I purchased for my own entertainment pleasure last week:

Authority: Revolution #4
Still haven’t decided if I like this yet, as it hasn’t quite clicked for me yet. I don’t read his Captain America, but it makes me wonder if Brubaker is a straight super-hero kind of guy. Still, this issue has some nice stuff, like Jenny Quantum, and the Nguyen’s handle on the team is beginning to gel.

Daredevil #69
I’m really enjoying Bendis & Maleev’s run on DD, and this story is no different, with the fractured narrative helping the story to develop in a more satisfying manner. The additions to history, the effects on the future and the lovely moments that Bendis puts into his better work are fine additions to the Daredevil canon, and Maleev is more than up to the job, from his fantastic covers to his ability to keep a sense of continuity even when aping the old style comics.

Powers #8
Bendis has his teeth in another great little idea, with cops accidentally killing someone who has paid a superhero to be able to do their job, with the power gem supposedly missing, and the best double team in comics, Pilgrim & Walker, on the job. Oeming’s art matches the feel of the snappy dialogue and askew look at the world of powers and cops.

Wanted #6
This rather silly ending reminded me of Millar’s Chosen, which was also a big ‘Fuck You’ to the audience, after they stuck with the story for the duration, while he laughs to himself at the computer. I had enjoyed the rest of the series, but felt let down. J.G. Jones’ art looks lovely, even if Eminem, Halle Berry and Tommy Lee Jones should ask for copyright reimbursement (he said, referencing Chasing Amy).

Wonder Woman #212
Having avoided superheroics for most of his run, Rucka throws in the whole JLA for good measure. Seems a little at odds with the rest of his run, but he still keeps things on track with Greek mythology still a strong part, other pieces are moved into place and previous storylines aren’t forgotten just because we’re onto the next chapter. Guest artist Raiz does a good job, although the occasional panel seems a little off, which throws me out of the story.

Continue Reading

Film Review – National Treasure

Before you say anything, it was free, okay? I wouldn’t normally see something like this in the cinema but it’s nice to see a film for free, and my girlfriend wanted to see it because she likes Nic Cage. (See what I did there? Casually dropped into the conversation that I have a girlfriend, in case anyone was wondering about my sexuality or my partnership status, and blamed her at the same time, thus incurring her wrath when she reads this. There’s just so much going on in this post.)

Now, I haven’t read The DaVinci Code, but I’d guess there are similarities, even though this script has been in the works for several years prior to the book. I haven’t read the book, and don’t want to, but can see why the idea appeals; hidden codes in very famous things that people know (or think they know) that leads to conspiracy theories and swanning off to exotic locations. Probably makes for an entertaining, if extremely light, read. As a film, it doesn’t quite come across, because all the history stuff is a bit dry for most blockbuster audiences, so they have to stick in explosions and guns and car chases, and the film is nothing but plot with only lip service paid to characterisation.

The obvious cinematic antecedent here is Indiana Jones. There is, I believe, a nod to a scene-shift in The Last Crusade, where the young Indy has his hat put on his head, which cuts to older Indy having his head lifted with the hat. Here, the young Gates lowers his head, to cut to the old Gates looking up in a snow sled. Or I could be looking for more than there is in a fairly obvious scene transition. Also, they both have dads who are pains in the derriere, they are both ‘indiscriminate’ with ladies, they’re both history buffs; fortunately, they don’t go so far as having Gates with a fedora and whip. Also, there’s a bit of Tomb Raider thrown in, with the nerdy male computer/comedy sidekick, and Jon Voight as the father.

The story. Well, Nic Cage is Ben Franklin Gates, the latest in several generations of the Gates family who have been looking for the treasure of treasures that was discovered by the Knights Templar, who became the Freemasons when they came to the Americas, then hid it when they thought the British were coming to steal it (we Brits have a nasty history of nicking things from around the world, but surely the Knights Templar nicked it in the first place? Why aren’t they ‘evil’?). The last clue was passed to the first Gates, who has passed it down through the generations, along with the story of the treasure. Now, the Gates name is mocked in academic circles, and finding the treasure seems more remote than ever.

Then, it’s a case of clue, history lesson, heist, chase, clue, chase, clue, chase, clue, clue, climax, resolution. (I might have missed some clues from that list.) There’s some clunkiness in the plotting towards the end, where Diane Krueger’s character becomes more able than she was before, and bringing the Dad as a hostage, just so he can turn the denouement at the end, was a little forced. But it’s light and entertaining and a pleasant enough diversion for two hours.

In the acting stakes, Cage is looking a bit tired in the action scenes (unless that was a character trait deliberately performed by Cage, because his character is tending towards the bookworm end of action heroes, but he is 40 now, so make of that what you will), Sean Bean is reliable enough as the English bad guy, Voight looks doddery, while Harvey Keitel, as the FBI agent in charge of the case, looks like he’s come straight from pantomime, based on the amount of make-up (especially eyeliner) he has plastered on his mush. Krueger looks pretty and Justin Bartha, trying to erase Gigli from his CV, even though he was probably the best thing in it (yes, I’ve seen Gigli, no, I didn’t pay any money to see it), gets most of the funny lines (the dialogue seems to have been through many more rounds of script doctors than the three credited screenwriters would suggest). All in all, fun fluff without substance, but it doesn’t leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth either.

Rating: VID

(As you can see from the above, I had to write this blog in order to overcome my cinematic diarrhoea; look at the amount of crap I can produce when talking about an average film that I didn’t want to see in the cinema, and you get an idea of what my girlfriend has to put up with on a regular basis. You can send your sympathies to her via me.)

Continue Reading

Comics: Art of Usagi Yojimbo

Art of Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai, Dark Horse Comics

The Art of Usagi Yojimbo hardcover celebrates 20 years of Stan Sakai writing and drawing the adventures of the rabbit ronin, Miyamoto Usagi. In comics today, that’s quite an achievement, especially for the anthropomorphic (aka furry comics) stylings of a samurai bunny set in the times of feudal Japan, in black and white.

Most people get thrown by that description. Especially the ‘rabbit’ part. Which is a shame, as it’s one of the most wonderful comic book series being published today. Sakai has created in Usagi a fascinating character, and given him a rich and diverse world of supporting characters with which he interacts in stories ranging from wars to detective stories to horror stories to day-in-the-life tales to multi-part epics.

Recently, Stan had Usagi journey with his son Jotaro, although Usagi has not told Jotaro that he is his father, and pretends to be an uncle. There is a strong bond between the two of them already, made stronger by the fact that Jotaro is being trained by Usagi’s sensei, Katsuichi, and their adventures bring them even closer. The poignancy of the predicament is made more intense when, at the end of the tale and the two have to go their separate ways again without the truth being revealed, we discover that Jotaro has been told the truth by his mother, but he was told not to tell Usagi in case it complicated matters. I’m not embarrassed to admit that the story brought a tear to this cynic’s eye.

This tale even prompted me to send an email to say thanks to Stan for this lovely story, which got published in the comic (although probably more for the question about purchasing back cover art) but it means that I know am part of the publishing history of this amazing series, something of which I am quite proud.

For more about Usagi, the official site Usagi Yojimbo Dojo will tell you everything you need to know about Usagi, such as the fact that the pronunciation is ‘oo-sah-gee’.

This art book itself is a wonderful thing: big, heavy and lovingly presented. I don’t have any other ‘Art of …’ books, and this one is perhaps unusual, as Stan’s art isn’t the sort of work that is presented in this format. His style is rooted in a story-telling tradition, where the art tells the tale instead of just being cool images ready for sale at a convention. So, his seemingly simplistic line is actually full of detail, in reference knowledge and it’s application to the scene it is trying to tell.

The book contains a lot of material that recent converts to Sakai’s work wouldn’t have easy access to, including pieces from magazines about the creation of the comic and promotional pieces from long-gone publications. Previously unseen material, plus original covers, as well as covers from the trade paperbacks make an excellent package for the Usagi fan, and it’s interesting to see some pin-ups in the back from different artists, seeing their interpretation of the rabbit. My favourite was the Andi Watson page, which gets the sense of design inherent in a work recreating feudal Japan with animal characters.

This is a gorgeous tribute to a great artist and his great creation, and something special for his fans. It will be getting pride of place on my mantelpiece.

Update: Other big name online reviewers weigh in with their thoughts on the book; Augie enjoys it over at his Pipeline column, as does Randy at The Fourth Rail. While I don’t always agree with these two on everything they like, my general egocentricity is satisfied when other people like the things I like as well.

Continue Reading

Film Review – Team America: World Police

I have a lot of affection for the original Super-Marionation Thunderbirds, even if it probably doesn’t hold up well today. Yes, they were puppets, and you could see the strings, and they walked funny, and their mouths moved up and down badly, but it was cool and fun and futuristic and exciting to a young boy, and nothing you can say will change that. I also love South Park, so I should probably admit to being somewhat biased toward this film, which I should admit up front.

Team America does exactly what it says on the tin: police the world, even if, as in the opening scene in Paris, they manage to destroy a lot of real estate in the process (like the Eiffel Tower, L’Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre). So, this is Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s swipe at America’s position in the world today. But with puppets. After the tragic, yet hilarious, death of one of the original team in this opening scene, Gary, an actor, is brought in to the team to help them stop the ultimate threat to the world, in the form of Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea. What follows is a hysterical attack on just about everybody, but especially liberal actors, Jerry Bruckheimer films, and American attitude to everything non-American.

Although this isn’t the greatest movie in the world, it is very, very funny. Where can I start in an attempt to persuade you of the funny? The line ‘You had me at “Dicks fuck assholes”‘, perhaps? The ‘We need a montage’ song? The song lyric “I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor”? Our hero vomiting his guts up, then passing out in a pool of his own sick? A finishing speech borrowed from a drunk about how the world is made of three people; dicks, pussies and assholes? Puppets of famous actors being decapitated, shot to ribbons, blown up, set on fire and cut in half? Kim Jong-il singing “I’m So Ronery”? Matt Damon saying nothing else apart from “Matt Damon!”? Hot puppet sex in every position? Lease the musical, with the song “Everyone’s Got Aids”? The deliberately rubbish Arabic speech, along the lines of ‘Dirka dirka dirka’? Kung fu action which is basically two puppets flailing badly at each other to funky music? A theme tune called ‘America: Fuck, yeah!” If none of the above appeals to you, then don’t go see the film. Ever.

This is a very silly movie (albeit one with a serious point about the way America views itself as policing the world but ignorant of it – when the film moves to a new location, there is a caption saying how far it is away from America) with lots of silly jokes, silly songs, silly people and silly voices. It is very funny, even if the film as a whole isn’t great – the South Park guys know how to make themselves (and me) laugh a lot, even if the story doesn’t always hold together from start to finish, and they seemed to have bottled it when mocking the most obvious target, George Dubya Bush. I know they have stated that they don’t want to go for easy targets, and that everyone is mocking Bush because it is so easy (hence their own live action sitcom, That’s My Bush) but that doesn’t excuse the fact that there is no puppet of Bush, while other leaders, such as our very own Tony B Liar, cameo in the film. But they can be forgiven for that if they are going to make me laugh like an idiot for an hour and a half.

Rating: VID for general consumption, DAVE if you like South Park

Continue Reading

Film review: The Aviator

The Aviator is a very good film. Not a great one, not one that I think deserves the accolade of ‘Best of the Year’, but this doesn’t stop good-but-not-great films being given that title (can anyone say, hand on heart, that Chicago, A Beautiful Mind or Gladiator, to name three recent films, were the best films in the years they won Best Picture? I thought not.) and I wouldn’t mind it happening if it meant that Marty got his overdue recognition.

The Aviator is basically ‘Howard Hughes: The Not-Quite-Mad-Yet Years’, as we see a period of his life from filming Hell’s Angels to when he gets the Hercules, the world’s biggest plane, to fly following his hearing in front of a senate committee. This, for me, are the more interesting years of his life, with the aviation and Hollywood aspects being intertwined as we get to see some of the events and people in his life. I don’t know enough about the man to question the truth of what we are shown, but I do know that it’s bloody interesting. A man very rich from drill parts, he makes films, he makes planes, he buys TWA, he shags around, he stands up to people, he goes a bit doolally – what’s not to find interesting?

Leonoardo DiCaprio is great as Hughes, both as the charmer/enthusiast and as the bonkers/twitchy/on-the-edge aspects of the man. Say what you will about him, but the boy can act, and this was a good role for him, and he steps up to the plate admirably. There are great turns from supporting actors (everyone else is supporting), from Cate Blanchett doing a great Katharine Hepburn, to Alan Alda as an oleaginous senator, Alec Baldwin (not quite the ‘Greatest Actor in the World’ that Team America would have you believe) as the head of Pan Am (who gets the only swear word in the film at a powerful moment, made more powerful by the lack of colourful language that other stories of the time I’ve read would suggest was more normal for the period), to John C. Reilly as Hughes’ business manager, to the (essentially) cameos from Kate Beckinsale, Jude Law and Ian Holm.

The story is laced with humour, the visuals are dazzling, with the camera moving gracefully around, and the period faithfully recreated. The Howard Shore score felt too intrusive sometimes, although the old songs used were great, something that felt more ‘Scorsese-ish’, if that doesn’t make me sound up my own derriere. I didn’t notice the three-hour-plus running time, which is always a good sign, so absorbed was I in the drama, and it made me want to know more about the man and the people who interacted with his life. The only thing lacking was that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a very good film into a great film. Je ne sais pas quite what that je ne sais quoi was, which could be why I’m reviewing the film in my blog and not making millions telling Hollywood how to make their films.

Rating: DAVE out of DAVID (or **** out of *****)

(I’ll explain my system shortly, promise.)

Continue Reading