Saturday, May 30, 2015

'Illustrating Barsoom' Shows the Artistic Side of Mars


This is a few days late but still cool. The website Amazing Stories has an interesting article online called "Illustrating Barsoom" that talks about the various artists through the decades who have offered up their own versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' world, along with some nice pieces of work. Go over to http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2015/05/illustrating-barsoom/ and take a peek.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road


Hey a movie review! And for a good movie!

Shortly after the apocalypse-or The Road Warrior-we find Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) still trying to survive and deal with his past. It's a little hard to do when you're captured by a group of "war boys" who decide to use you as an unwilling blood donor (or "bag" as he's referred). However Max soon finds himself in a mad odyssey when he comes between skull masked overlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne) and Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the latter having stolen Joe's "five wives" from him in a dash to freedom. Cue wild car chases and death defying stunts galore.

As you can tell there isn't much plot to Mad Max: Fury Road and that's the way writer-director George Miller likes it. In fact for those complaining about the streamlined narrative it pretty much fits in with past entries in the series, especially The Road Warrior, making Fury Road match up well with the past. What seems to be missed though is that there is a story of survival, redemption and even hope that emerges, making it more than just another cynical post-apocalyptic tale. But let's be serious, the movie's main focus is those action sequences and Miller shows he can outdo men half his age (he's 70!) in this arena and still keep the focus on what matters.

I do agree with some of the criticism that has popped up though that the film is less Max and more Furiosa, which has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side Hardy does a good job when he is finally allowed to take center stage, most notably during the finale but it takes a while to get there. On the other hand having him play second fiddle for a while at least might reduce the comparisons to Mel Gibson's Max. The other plus is that Theron is good-great in fact-as Furiosa, a woman with a single goal in mind that makes her determined to survive and Theron brings a level of complexity to a female action character not seen recently (at least it's better than "I hate Tony Stark, that's why I'm evil" excuse for the Scarlet Witch or the really questionable Black Widow back story in Avengers: Age of Ultron).

The bad side of the film-hey nothing's perfect-is minor but there. Miller almost gets too carried away with the freak show aspects of Immortan Joe's commune that it is more of a distraction than anything else and ultimately plays little in the movie. Also some of the ideas are just plain silly-like that guitar playing dude and the war drummers. Seriously when was the last time someone brought their own personal rock band into a chase?

Even with that Mad Max: Fury Road is a romp, a full blooded ride into craziness that earns the full critical acclaim it is getting. It's lean, stripped and a nice alternative to the overcrowded types of Age of Ultron. See it if you haven't already. Rating: **** out of 4.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Once Upon a Galaxy...


With all the recent excitement over The Force Awakens, let's rewind back 35 years and see how the saga's next chapter came about.

Subtitled A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back, unit publicist Alan Arnold's journal charts the production of the film, from the snow-filled below zero section of Finse, Norway (which stood in for Hoth) to the studios of London to some coverage of the post production process. What becomes clear is how big this production was for its time and how complicated the filming was, from problems with effects and weather to delays in studio space (due to a fire that destroyed the Overlook Hotel set from The Shining) to tensions between the actors and director Irvin Kershner. Arnold provides a good overview, broken up with interviews with Kershner, Gary Kurtz, the actors and members of the crew, as well as a long broken up talk with George Lucas.

What's interesting in this book is reading now 35 years later and seeing how things have passed. Among some of the more interesting tidbits is concern that Harrison Ford would not return for the third film, Lucas' prediction that video would take over for actual film, how movies would become more dissected in production, the conflict between story and visual effects and more. Probably the most interesting comments come from Lucas, who confirms that the third film was going to be called Revenge of the Jedi and that he planned nine films. I guess it's ironic we are now getting that third set of films but with new people in charge.

Arnold also does a good job keeping providing his own thoughts on the process of filmmaking and what his job entails, from interviewing the actors to keeping things out of the press and the issues that working on a highly expected film can bring. His writing style is nice and sharp, bringing his own opinions to play while letting others have their say. It's done to great effect throughout the book and provides a "fly on the wall" aspect that other making of books don't have.

I'll admit that I still haven't read JW Rinzler's book on the making of the film from a few years ago (the cost still keeps me from it) but for fans this is a book to see out and read, especially now. Rating: **** out of 4.

Friday, May 15, 2015

'Flash Gordon Classic' Brings Retro Pulp Fun


Well here's some animated fun for your weekend. Disney animator Robb Pratt (who did two prior Superman animated shorts) has now moved to Alex Raymond's scifi hero with this nifty short, that pays homage to several incarnations of the character. Have a peek and make sure to stick through the credits.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Comic Review: Darth Vader #1


OK this is a real late review but when you have a strong first issue like this it doesn't matter.

Picking up after the Battle of Yavin and the destruction of the Death Star, Darth Vader makes a house call on the notorious gangster Jabba the Hutt and shows that you don't underestimate a Dark Lord of the Sith when making a deal on the side. As he goes about his deal, we also discover that Vader has earned the scorn of his master for surviving the Death Star battle and a recent skirmish on Cymoon that brought him face to face with the new apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi, an encounter that won't be the last.

Following the first issue of Marvel's Star Wars, I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this comic book but found it to be an entertaining look at one of the most compelling villains of all time. Writer Kieron Gillen starts the issue by playing with our expectations, from the opening crawl being written from an Imperial point of view (I loved how the Death Star was referred to as a "peacekeeping force") to Vader's entrance to Jabba's palace mirroring Luke's in Return of the Jedi, it hits all the right buttons. It also taps into a little explored area-Vader's relationship with the Emperor after A New Hope-and shows how both men scheme against each other and have their own secret agendas. If there is any complaints its that since we are stuck in a time period already established there isn't much tension to who will survive but this is a strong start to the series (currently up to issue 4).

Also helping with the storytelling is the art by Salvador Larroca, who manages to capture the Star Wars universe vividly and bring the characters and environments to life vividly. There has been several great artists who have brought to life a galaxy far far away before (my favorite is Al Williamson) and Larroca does a good job distinguishing his work from those while retaining the familiarity of this universe. He also delivers an impressive Vader, actually making him scary and threatening, especially in the opening.

Fans of Star Wars or comics in general will love this first issue. It may be more setup than payoff but it's a compelling setup and a welcome return for the character and a good way to get in the mood for The Force Awakens. Until next time faithful readers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Comic Review: John Carter, Warlord of Mars #6


The final battle begins for John Carter and the Invaders of Mars! Who wins? Stay tuned....

As this issue opens, the Kahori are getting some unwelcome visitors in the form of Woola, the white ape, Tars Tarkas and some Warhoons (who dislike Kahori more than Helium). Meanwhile Carter is fighting it out with Joshua Clark for the fate of Barsoom, with both men willing to die to claim victory. But with that scheming scientist Vush Tanzar kidnapping Dejah, the battle isn't over until one man is left standing.

Wrapping up his first story arc for the new series, Ron Marz delivers a good, rousing finale that gives closure to all the plot threads and helps set the stage for the future. The dialogue takes a back seat the sword fights, escapes and white apes but that's a welcome relief after all the setup and a reminder how good a comic book can be when the story just flows without much distractions. It may not have been the strongest opening story for this new series but it's a good tale brought to a close with a skillful hand.

The biggest change here is in the artwork. After five issues with Ahbushek Malsuni's amazing art for this issue we get Roberto Castro (who some might remember handled art duties on Dynamite's previous Dejah Thoris series) and he does a good job trying to maintain the establish look while juggling the action and characters. I know some get aggravated with series change artists but Castro delivers good work and, aided by the color and layout.

With this initial story now closed I can't wait to see what the future holds for the Warlord and his incomparable princess. Next time another belated comic review featuring a familiar bad guy. Until then Kaor!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Retro Comics: John Carter, Warlord of Mars #21


John Carter faces certain death in "The Lady and the Lion!" What else is new?

Barely escaping the guards of Chan Tomar, Carter and Dejah Thoris almost make it to the rendezvous point where Garthon and Hira are hiding when they are recaptured by the winged Orovars. Given one more night together by the cruel Jeddak, Dejah pleads for forgiveness from John for her actions and the two prepare to meet their fates-a battle in the arena with a hungry banth, Dejah tied to a pole and a crazy, revenge seeking Jeddak with a bloodlust. Talk about your really bad days...

With the Orovar storyline about to come to a close, Chris Claremont throws in a lot of elements that any Edgar Rice Burroughs fans would recognize-failed escapes, times in a pit, arena action, hungry creatures and mad rulers. In short this might be the best issue of the entire "winged orovars" plot as it simplifies the action and focuses on our leads and their attempt to escape, along with their bond. Granted we get the end of the whole "forced slave Dejah" plot, which is a good thing as it ranks as the worst plotline in the history of John Carter stories (even though Shape Shifter Shang and his battle against Mopey Movie Carter does top it).

As usual a good job by Ernie Colon on art duties, even though the color gets a little bizarre in some panels (at one point Dejah is actually yellow. Or was she replaced by an Okarian?)

For fans this is a good action packed issue with some nice twists and turns. Of course we'll be back as "John Carter and Dejah Thoris Must Die!" Who can resist a final line lack that?