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Blasting Off With Europa Report (2013)

August 22, 2014

europa report

Several years back I realized that a lot of strange little movies that I really enjoyed were all distributed by Magnet Releasing. They’re behind Murder Party, Timecrimes, Not Quite Hollywood, Return To Sleepaway Camp, Ong-Bak 2 and 3, District B-13: Ultimatum, the amazing Universal Solider: Day Of Reckoning and many more. In a lot of ways it felt like stumbling across a really cool indie record label that just kept putting out entertainment you wanted to shove in your brain. So, I started following them on Twitter and  got pretty excited when they started hyping a sci-fi film called Europa Report. I didn’t know much about it aside from the fact that it featured a small cast in a spaceship traveling somewhere where something bad happened. I also heard it was mostly found footage.

It was that latter piece of information that put me off of the film for a while even after it appeared on Netflix Instant. I’m glad I finally did watch it because this film by director Sebastián Cordero and writer Philip Gelatt really is great. The title refers to Europa One, a ship heading to Jupiter’s moon of the same name to explore its icy surface. The crew consists of William Xu (Daniel Wu), James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo), Katya Petrova (Karolina Wydra), Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist) and Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca). All of the footage is from a cameras either mounted or on board the ship (or on their persons in the event of leaving the ship) and is presented as a kind of documentary about what happened with the ship. So, with that set-up, we know something bad is going to happen and it’s just a matter of finding out exactly what it is. 

But, there are several tricks played on the audience that actually worked really well. I didn’t even mind the fact that this is in the vein of my least favorite kind of film — found footage/mockumentary — because it actually makes sense why there are so many cameras around and also why someone would be watching this footage (something that I can’t say for something like The Zombie Diaries).

If you are interested in checking out this film, I recommend just jumping right in. Like I said above, I didn’t know anything about it, so I just went in with very basic information and a lot of assumptions, like that, being a space film, there would probably be some scary aliens. Without knowing if that was actually going to happen or not, I found myself fully absorbed as the crew dwindled towards the end of the film and we got a look at exactly what was going to happen. With that in mind, go out and watch Europa Report!

Marvel Mini Trade Post: Thor Blood Oath, Beyond! & Union Jack London Falling

August 21, 2014

thor blood oath Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel)
Written by Michael Avon Oeming, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Thor: Blood Oath #1-6

As you might have noticed, posting’s been a little sporadic around here these days. That’s because our youngest has been a little on the angry side, but also because we’re in the middle of buying a house. I’m super excited to get into a bigger space and have my own office, but to get to that place, we need to do a lot of packing. I started almost immediately, but haven’t tackled the trades on my bookshelf just yet. The other day I pulled out about 10 books I wanted to go through and see if they will make the move. Most of them were collections of minis that I haven’t read in a while.

While on the subject, I’ve got to say that the mid 2000s were a great time for Marvel miniseries’. I was at Wizard at that time and just absorbing as much as I could, including these three books. A common thread through all three of these books — as well as something like the original Agents Of Atlas, Dr. Strange: The Oath and Ares that also came out in that time frame — is that these stories feel timeless. Sure, there’s some continuity in there, but, for the most part, you could hand these books to newbies and they’d have a pretty good idea of what’s happening.

That’s exactly the case with Thor: Blood Oath, one of my all-time favorite Thor stories. In addition to being a timeless tale that takes place sometime after Thor first appeared on Earth, but before he stopped being Don Blake, it also doesn’t revolve around Loki! Guys, I kind of hate Loki. He’s fine in the movies, but I feel like a lot of writers depend on his trickery way too much when penning Thor stories. I realized this while reading a huge stack of 70s and 80s Thor comics a while back and it turned me off of both characters for a while.

So, without Loki, who does our hero face off against? All kinds of mythological characters, actually. Thor’s pals the Warriors Three accidentally kill a shapeshifting giant. To appease the deceased’s father, Thor and the Three agree to acquire a number of items from various realms including Olympus. It’s a really fun, cool trip through Marvel’s various mythological places that also showcases why Thor is so cool. He’s impetuous and heroic and loves his friends, but he also takes his tasks seriously. Basically, Blood Oath is one of those great shared universe comics that takes many of the character’s classic elements, weaves them around a new story through more modern comic storytelling sensibilities and results in a wonderful, self-contained tale that showcases that character really well.

Oeming has long been considered one of the best when it comes to mythology-based superhero comics and he really shows that off well in this book. And then you have Kolins who is just fantastic on this project.He drafts these godlike characters who look as huge and majestic as they should. Both creators work really well together to mix not only the huge action scenes, but also the smaller moments between Thor and his friends. I love when friends love each other in my entertainment.

beyond

Beyond! (Marvel)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Beyond! #1-6

Of this batch of minis, Beyond! is probably the least accessible to new readers, but I’m still a huge fan. The book acts as a kind of sequel to Marvel’s Secret Wars, an event that found a bunch of heroes and villains plucked from their homes to fight it out on a new planet. Whoever winds gets whatever they want. For what it’s worth, I’ve never read the original, but will remedy that soon.

The same thing happens here, but with a more eclectic group of characters that includes Hank Pym, The Wasp, Kraven Jr., Medusa, Firebird, The Hood, Gravity and Scorpion-Venom. Deathlok (a personal favorite), Dragon Man and other familiar faces also show up. The line-up itself might be considered a barrier for many because some of them aren’t around anymore or were fairly of-the-moment. Heck, I still don’t really know anything about Firebird, but if you don’t let yourself get too hung up on all that, you should be okay. Personally I like being introduced to some of these characters I don’t know much about and not feeling like that lack of knowledge is inhibiting.

For me personally, the breakout performances here are from Gravity, Hank Pym and Deathlok. Gravity was a new character created by Sean McKeever in another miniseries from that era of the same name. He was a cool, fun new hero who flipped many of the superhero conventions and got to really shine in this crazy scenario. This book also gets into some of the history between Hank and Janet, but not in an overly involved way. Pym probably has the most complicated relationships in comics, but I thought McDuffie did a stellar job of showing this one with Wasp from both sides. And, finally, Deathlok is just so darn cool all around.

The big reveal of who’s behind all this might not be the most shocking one in the world, but it does play with expectations a bit. There’s also a few questions about when and how all this stuff takes place. According to the story, Deathlok has been on this planet for a really long time and he’s seen other heroes and villains who have appeared show up, fight, escape or die. Still, I like that McDuffie took such an odd mix of characters, put them in this alien setting and allowed them to bounce off of each other so well. And, once again, Kolins came in and did his thing so well that I smiled at just about every page.

union jack london falling Union Jack : London Falling (Marvel)
Written by Christos Gage, drawn by Mike Perkins
Collects Union Jack #1-4

Union Jack: London Falling is actually a nice combination of what I like about Blood Oath and Beyond. It’s not only a timeless tale of a cool hero like the former, but also a collection of strange characters I didn’t know much about like the latter. In this case, Union Jack is asked to do some government work (he’d been hunting vampires for a while) as R.A.I.D., an offshoot of A.I.M. plans a huge terrorist attack on London that utilizes a small army of supervillains. Since the timeframe is so short (a few hours) and other heroes aren’t available, Jack teams with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, Arabian Knight and Sabra to save the day. Together they run across the city trying to save as many people as possible while Jack does his best to keep the common man as safe as the rich.

Tone and look-wise, Union Jack feels very much a part of what Ed Brubaker was doing with Captain America. Bru’s book launched the year before this mini came out and both feature darker corners of the Marvel U, espionage and patriotic heroes doing their damndest to save the day. Mike Perkins’ art also looks like it belongs right along with Steve Epting’s thanks to their shared interest in dynamic, bold figures and the darker-yet-shiny color pallet in both books (and Bru’s Uncanny X-Men for what it’s worth). So, if you dig the now-classic run on Cap, give Union Jack a read. Oh, and don’t worry about not knowing who Sabra is, finding out is all part of the fun.

Another common element I found in all three of these books is that they feel like they came from an artistic place. Sometimes, when it comes to a miniseries, especially one that ties into an event, they feel like they were just banged out to make some dough. But, all three of these feel like they were pitches from passionate creators who had a great Thor, Union Jack and Gravity-Deathlok-etc. story to tell. You can feel that passion coming through from the writers and artists as it comes across the page so well. So, while this reading experience might not have lightened my packing load, it did remind me of some great self-contained comics that easily earned their places on my soon-to-be-much-larger bookshelf.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: Guts & Iron

August 13, 2014

wonder woman vol 2 gutsWonder Woman Volume 2: Guts (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins
Collects Wonder Woman #7-12

While ordering the first batch of Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comics from the library, I realized I’d read the first volume of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman series, but hadn’t gone on beyond that. So, I looked around, requested the second and third volumes and started reading. But before that, I went back and gave the first volume a re-read because my memory is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The major information points from the first book involved Diana discovering that she’s not made of clay, but instead Zeus’ daughter, meeting a young woman named Zola who’s carrying another child of Zeus and some of the family drama and politics that come from being a member of the Greek god clan. But all of that was really set up for these two volumes. The great thing about all three of these books is that Azzarello finds fun and interesting ways of giving the heroes what they want and then almost instantly taking it away in a way that shuffles a lot of characters around.

In the case of Guts, Wonder Woman teams up with Lennox, Hermes, Eros and Hephaestus figure out a way to get Zola back from Hades who wants her as his bride. Basically, these are the good members of the gods who feel sorry for this poor girl who happened to fall for the wrong guy. Without giving too much away, Diana ensures Zola’s safety, gets herself out of Hell and essentially saves the day, but things don’t go well for Zola’s baby by the end when it turns out that one of the people in their camp is a traitor.

wonder woman vol 3 iron Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins, Dan Green, Goran Sudzuka, Amilcar Pinna & Rick Burchett
Collects Wonder Woman #0, 13-18

As you might expect given what I said above, Wonder Woman’s new goal in the third book is getting Zola’s baby back to her. She’s still got most of her crew with her as well as Hera who adds a great deal of comic relief, but also a new comrade in the form of Orion of the New Gods. Along the way we also get to meet more of Diana and Lennox’s half brothers and sisters as they are all modern illegitimate children of Zeus. As with the previous volumes, there’s plenty of trickery going around on all sides, but at the end of the book we get something of a happy ending, but with another looming danger, which is exactly what comics should have.

One of the really interesting things Azzarello does in this book is doing something new and different with the Greek gods. These are characters who have been around forever and been interpreted in a myriad of ways, especially if you read Wonder Woman comics. I’ve seen them as the robe-wearing gods of myth, human-like business people and just about everything in between. Azzarello mixes some of that old mythology with his own new ideas and makes a family that’s often as interesting as the title character herself. Plus, there’s the addition of Diana’s fellow Zeus progeny and the connection to the New Gods that I assume gets fleshed out in later volumes.

As much as I liked these volumes there were a few odd sticking points for me, though I will admit right away that I might have just missed these points in Azzarello’s rapid fire dialog. I didn’t think the fact that Zeus had gone missing was very well conveyed. There was also the matter of Diana removing her gauntlets and being super powerful. Why didn’t she do this earlier when she was in danger? It was a cool move, but it kinda felt like something added in just to be a cool move. I also personally miss the majesty that used to come along with the character that’s basically gone in these pages, but were all over the place in Rucka’s run. Basically, these are two different takes on the character and each writer is doing or did their own thing which is great.

One thing that did surprise me is how completely separate this feels from the rest of the New 52 DCU. There’s next to no mention of any other heroes or villains, which is an interesting choice. Orion and Highfather of the New Gods show up, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t appearing anywhere else at the time. This is good and bad for various reasons. On one hand, this is a great story that should just do its thing. On the other, what’s the point of being part of a shared comic book universe if there’s no sharing? It’s a similar concern I have with Scott Snyder’s Batman, which is the other New 52 book I really love. As with Batman, I’m pretty much onboard for everything Azzarello wants to do with this character and I’ll keep checking in to see what’s going on in that particular book.

Remembering Robin Williams

August 12, 2014

Like a lot of people, I heard about Robin Williams’ passing last night. As it happened my dad, who just moved out here to New York on Sunday, was sitting here as there was a special report breaking in on a Jeopardy rerun with the sad story. Thinking about it, this seems strangely appropriate because one of my fondest memories of the comedian involved driving around with my dad.

robin williams live at the met

When I was younger, as I’ve said many times, my dad introduced me to the world of 70s and 80s comedies like Caddyshack, Blues Brothers, Fletch and the like. But the comedy education carried over into the world of stand-up records, specifically Robin Williams’ A Night At The Met record. The experience was so surreal. Not only was it hilarious and opened my eyes to even more of this man’s talents, but was also a cool grown-up moment where he shared this thing from the adult world with me.

But my love of Williams and his films goes much deeper than that. I had a vague understanding of Mork & Mindy from childhood when that era of TV was a lot more accessible in reruns, but by the time I could really understand entertainment he was everywhere. I don’t remember seeing Good Morning Vietnam, but my folks had it on tape and parts of it just live in my brain. Between that and Dead Poets Society, he solidified himself as an actor who could handle mile-a-second comedy in addition to intense dramatic emotions.

As a child of the 80s and 90s he was everywhere thanks to Aladdin, Hook, Toys (so weird), Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack and Flubber and on and on and on. Even if you didn’t see some of those movies, they were so ubiquitous that you couldn’t help but for what seemed like a solid picture of this man, but clearly there was a lot more going on, a darkness that seems unfortunately common when it comes to incredibly funny people.

That darkness came to light with the underrated dark comedy Death To Smoochy and thrillers like Insomnia, One Hour Photo and The Final CutGood Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come also took some of those similar turns and came out during my most intense theater-going period. Some people weren’t down for this change in tone for the comedian, but I thought he pulled off these parts incredibly well. Many of these movies really stuck with me, even though I’ve only seen most of them once.

I’m not nearly as familiar with his more recent work, but I still feel a very strong connection to this Williams and the entertainment he created during my formative years. He was always there and he was always funny, even if the content might not have been what I was looking for personally. I’m sad to hear he’s gone and even sadder that he might have taken his own life, especially after making so many people happy for so many years.

The Chronological Carpenter: Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)

August 7, 2014

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The leap that John Carpenter took from Dark Star to Assault On Precinct 13 is just bananas, especially if you watch both films in relatively quick succession like I did. The former is super ambitious, but not particularly balanced in the ways of tone, while the latter comes out guns-blazing (puns!) and doesn’t let up for an hour and a half.

The plot is fairly simple with an LA police headquarters shutting down and a gang laying siege to it the last night it’s functioning. A few cops are hanging around including Bishop (Austin Stoker) and office manager Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), but the balance gets thrown off when a bus traveling between prisons stops there because one of the criminals is sick. This brings Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) and Wells (Tony Burton) into the picture along with a whole lot more back-watching because we’re never quite sure if they’re going to turn those guns on the traditional good guys.

stout-assault-on-precinct-13-red-2 I know I’ve seen Assault before, but I didn’t remember too much of it. Of course, I knew about the ice cream scene, but I thought it took place much earlier in the film. Instead, it’s at about the 30 minute mark which makes it even more surprising if you’ve never seen the film before because there hadn’t been any violence since the very beginning of the film. That iconic and disturbing scene also happens to really kick the film into gear.

I got a little worried during the initial firefight between the cops and the gang members because it didn’t feel as intense as I remembered it. It was still good and there’s a rising sense of dread, but there was just something not grabbing me just yet. But, that didn’t last long. Once the first volley ended and you’ve got a much smaller group trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this blasted-apart precinct building, that’s when Carpenter really hits his stride with the kind of mounting fear and terror so built into his next film, Halloween.

assault on precinct 13 poster From there, the movie’s all about this small group of cops, secretaries and cons (really one of each) trying to figure out a way to get out of there alive. It’s the dynamic between Bishop, Leigh and Napoleon that takes center stage here and gets to shine from a trio of actors I don’t know much about. In fact, I realized while watching this movie that it’s got to be the Carpenter film with the fewest famous people, right? Even Dark Star had screenwriter Dan O’Bannon in a role, but aside form future Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Kim Richards (the ill-fated ice cream girl), I couldn’t tell you anything about any of these people.

Anyway, this movie is said to be Carpenter’s nod to Rio Bravo and Night Of The Living Dead. I can’t speak to the former because I’ve never seen it, but I just watched the Night remake, so it was pretty fresh in my mind and fully see how influential that was on this film. The stuck-in-a-place-under-siege-by-an-unstoppable-group elements in both films are very clear. You could also draw parallels between Night‘s Ben and Assault‘s Bishop, but probably more in the remake than the original, because the race element doesn’t actually come into play in the story. Aside from that, there’s the joining of unrelated people to fight off something they don’t understand. And, that’s actually something I really enjoyed about this movie, the fact that these people have next-to-no clue about why these punks are trying to destroy them.

All in all, I’d say that Assault On Precinct 13 is really the place to start if you’re looking to go through Carpenter’s oeuvre. In addition to that, it’s just an awesome movie that should be seen. Whatever you think about Dark Star, it doesn’t really feel like part of his larger group of films. However, Assault is definitely right in there, even if it doesn’t have the mystical, supernatural, futuristic or sci-fi elements you might expect if you’ve seen his greatest hits like Halloween, Escape From New York, They Live and Big Trouble In Little China. I’m most familiar with Halloween, so it was cool to see how he went from following real people being attacked by other real people to real people being hunted by a supernatural killer.

I’ll be watching Halloween next, though I’m not sure how in-depth I’ll be going with the post because I’ve already written about it twice. After that, I’ll get his two TV movies Someone’s Watching Me and Elvis from Netflix which will be fun because I haven’t seen either of them!

Wonder Woman Trade Post: The Hiketeia, Down To Earth & Bitter Rivals

August 6, 2014

wonder woman the hiketeia Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by J.G. Jones

Back in my Wizard days one of the editors was a huge Greg Rucka fan. I was familiar with his Batman work at the time, but not the variety of other comic and novel projects he’d worked on. Over the years I’ve become a big fan myself, both of his comics and the man himself. A few weeks back I was thinking about Wonder Woman comics and remembered that he did a pretty substantial run and headed to my library website to see if the books were available. As it turns out they all are, so get ready for a few Greg Rucka Wondy posts in the next few weeks. The Hiketeia, a 2002 graphic novel drawn by J.G. Jones is a pretty simple story that bridges Rucka’s Batman and Wonder Woman work by having a murderer from Gotham asking for sanctuary and offering her servitude (a ritual known as The Hiketeia) to Wonder Woman which she accepts. Having given her word, Wonder Woman is compelled to protect this woman even against her trusted ally and friend Batman as the Furies keep watch. I really enjoyed Jones’ artwork in this book. I didn’t enjoy him as much on something like Final Crisis, but in this case, he really nails Wonder Woman’s power, even when she’s wearing jeans and a tank top. He’s got a lot of dynamism too that works as easily when drafting the dark Batman and the light-loving Diana. I also like that we’re dealing with an established version of Wonder Woman. I don’t want to rag on the New 52 too much — especially because I like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character — but there’s just not as much history there. This book comes from the era of DC Comics I’m most familiar with and was most interested in, so it’s cool to see how well Batman and Wonder Woman respect each other, even if they don’t get along particularly well in this story. The Hiketeia acts as a great sampler for what I’ve read of Rucka’s Wonder Woman run so far. It’s appropriately steeped in Greek mythology and custom, which is exactly how a person built of clay from an island filled with mythological Greek women should be. You also get a sense of the majesty that surrounds Diana, which is a huge part of the upcoming run.

Wonder Woman Down to Earth Wonder Woman: Down To Earth (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson
Collects Wonder Woman #195-200

Not long after The Hiketeia, Rucka took over as the regular writer on Wonder Woman. If you’re picking this book out of the blue, here’s a few things you need to know. 1) Wonder Woman was a goddess for a little while, but isn’t any longer. 2) Her home island of Themyscira is known to the world and has declared itself a country. 3) Wonder Woman is not only a solo hero and part of the JLA, but also the ambassador for Themyscrira to the United States.

Down To Earth is basically the first third of a movie that you don’t get the end of until later in the run. Rucka’s playing a long game here and gets a lot of balls rolling that pay off in various ways. Our entry character here is Jonah, a new embassy worker joining the team as Diana’s book, a collection of essays and speeches, hits the world. What they don’t know, though, is that a woman named Veronica Cale is gunning for Wonder Woman, going so far as to bankroll a slander campaign against her that involved right wing-esque complains of her Amazonian heritage, killers and Dr. Psycho.

This volume also sets up Ares machinations amongst the gods, Diana’s more nature-based sense of heroism, the return of the Silver Swan and the near-destruction of Paradise Island. If you’re looking for a one-off Wonder Woman book to read, this is not the one for you, but if you want to invest yourself in a classically plotted run of comics, this is for you.

wonder woman bitter rivals Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson, Shane Davis, Steve Sadowski & Linda Medley
Collects Wonder Woman #200-205

Bitter Rivals basically carries over all of the elements from the previous book, adding a few more pieces of information — like Cale’s origin story and why she has a mad-on for Wonder Woman — to the mix while also keeping the larger mysterious interesting enough to keep me along for the ride.

With Wonder Woman’s deck shuffled pretty heavily in the previous volume with the uproar against her, the murder of one of her opposers, Circe teaming up with the Gorgons, Silver Swan’s potential recovery and Paradise Island being nearly destroyed.

In this one, Wonder Woman goes to Cale’s partner for help in figuring out what’s wrong with Silver Swan. Batman also shows up to let her know that Dr. Psycho had something to do with the death of the aforementioned opposer. The book ends with a fight between everyone and Dr. Psycho and the return of Medusa which basically makes it the mid season finale of the run.

Another chapter of Rucka’s overall story, Bitter Rivals is, again, not a good entry point book. It’s part of a larger whole. You could probably jump in here and figure out what’s going on, but that’s silly. We’re used to doing that as comic readers, but when it comes to Rucka’s Wonder Woman run, you’re dealing with five books and 30-some comics. It’s not such a big deal to track them all down and read the whole thing. That’s my plan, assuming I can ever get my hands on the third book from my library (I’ve got the other two sitting right here).

Before signing off here, I want to say a few words about Drew Johnson’s art. He’s not an artist that I had an opinion on going into these books, but I’ve got to say, I found his pencils to be really solid and majestic. Sometimes, things feel a little slight, which is a misstep when you’re dealing with a character like Wonder Woman who is supposed to be surrounded by a sense of majesty, but overall, he really got the hang of things as these first two books got going. His Dr. Psycho is super creepy, but I think his Veronica Cale is the best of the bunch because she’s supposed to have her own majestic quantity, but housed in a human form that’s got a darker interior than Diana. He nailed her right off the bat and I’m really excited to see how things go from here.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Burger King Simpsons Toys

August 5, 2014

I was a big Simpsons fan as a kid. Even before I started really watching the show, I was sold on the concept, even though, at that time, the idea of being a Bart Simpson-style rule breaker was a little terrifying. Still, I had a Simpsons backpack, pencil case (which I still have) and a bunch of the original Mattel action figures, including the couch with built-in launch pad. I wish I still had those because they’re cool and also sell for pretty big bucks if I’m not mistaken. I got rid of mine for a few bucks at a garage sale which is interesting because it would be conservative to say I kept 99% of my action figures.

Anyway, we started watching Simpsons reruns again and my daughter got a pretty rad Lisa doll at the flea market a few weeks back, so they’ve been on my mind. I looked around on YouTube to see if there were any spots for the Mattel toys, but came up empty handed. Instead, here’s a clip for a Burger King toys that captures the spirit of those early, awesome episodes a lot more than I would have expected.

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