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Halloween Scene: You’re Next (2011)

September 11, 2014

you're next poster I don’t watch nearly as many horror movies as I used to. Part of that is the season — I find myself wanting to watch action flicks or dumb 80s comedies when it’s warm out — but a much larger part is the fact that I have two kids who not only hog the TV, but also sap the energy out of me. Because of that, I cherish my movie-and-TV-watching a lot more than I used to. I’m much less likely to spend that time watching something bad or untested. I’d heard a lot of good things about You’re Next from director Adam Wingard by say of the excellent Killer POV podcast, so when the movie popped up on Netflix Instant, I was in. Not only did I actually watch the whole thing in one sitting (wholly uncommon these days), but I also really enjoyed the experience.

The basic plot of the film is that a rich family meets up at the parents’ request for a weekend that includes boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses. Unfortunately for the assembled, a trio of murderers wearing masks — wolf, tiger and lamb — decide to start taking them out one by one. What the attackers don’t know, though, is that one of the girlfriends, Erin (Sharni Vinson from Step Up 3D!), also happens to come from a family of preppers and can more than take care of herself.

One of the complaints I heard on Killer POV was that the prepper reveal felt a little clunky. I’ve got to disagree. She displayed plenty of crazy abilities (not only being able to kill a man with a kitchen mallet, but also knowing ways of keeping the house and its inhabitants safe) and only explained herself when asked by one of the other girlfriends. This seemed earned to me. How else would a 20-something college student of any gender know how to do these things, especially in a crazy situation?

 I think one of the reasons the film was so appealing to me was that I’ve often thought about stories where the killer chooses the wrong people to take on. That’s obviously a major component of the slasher genre in respect to there being a survivor or two. Obviously that person had skills that kept her or him alive, but what if they really picked on the wrong person, in this case a strong young woman who’s perfectly prepared to knock their blocks off.

 All in all, You’re Next offered up a solid round of performances from the whole cast, a story I hadn’t seen before and kept me entertained long enough to watch the whole movie in one sitting, so for all that it gets the UM seal of approval.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: Eyes Of The Gorgon, Land Of The Dead & Mission’s End

September 10, 2014

wonder woman eyes of the gorgon Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson, James Raiz & Sean Phillips
Collects Wonder Woman #206-213

About this time last month I made my way through Greg Rucka’s first three Wonder Woman books. It took me a little while to get the next volume from the library, but I finally did and had a ridiculously good time reading through it and the final two volumes of his run.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Rucka’s working on a longform comics story with this run and I think it’s one of the best ones I’ve read when it comes to this character. He not only had a solid take on the character, but also developed a variety of obstacles in his first few issues that all came to fruition as the series edged closer to its Infinite Crisis/One Year Later-mandated conclusion.

As you might be able to tell from this book’s title, the major obstacle this time around is the resurrected Medousa, the snake-headed Gorgon who turns people into stone if she makes direct eye contact with them (even via cameras). Medousa not only attacks Wonder Woman at the White House, but also turns the son of one of her staffers into stone before challenging her to a knock down, drag out battle for the entire world to see. In the process of defeating the inhuman monster, Diana blinds herself with hair-snake venom. The rest of this volume finds her dealing with her new condition, including a variety of tests from her teammates in the JLA.

Meanwhile, Dr. Psycho’s still causing trouble, Cheetah returns, the goddesses arrange to take over Olympus from Zeus and the United States is particularly worried about Paradise Island to the point where they won’t move their warships away.

wonder woman land of the dead Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka with Geoff Johns, drawn by Drew Johnson, Justiniano, Rags Morales & Sean Phillips
Collects Wonder Woman #214-217, Flash #219

Land Of The Dead kicks off with a crossover with Flash that establishes a relationship between Diana’s longtime villain Cheetah and the Scarlet Speedster’s nemesis Zoom. These two baddies would go on to become a big part of Infinite Crisis as members of the Secret Society, specifically and the group that attacked and murdered most of the Freedom Fighters.

After that, though, the book circles back around to deal with its own problems, specifically Diana, Wonder Girl and Ferdinand traveling to Hell for Athena. This might be the shortest book in the bunch, but it does allow Diana to fix a few of her bigger problems. This is definitely SPOILER territory, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want anything ruined. First, Diana did all this so she could bring her staffer’s son back to the land of the living. Second, she gets her vision back because Athena’s so impressed with this selfless decision. Also, Wonder Girl discovers that her dad is Zeus, which was a mystery floating around since Geoff Johns relaunched Teen Titans and seemed to be hinting that it was actually Ares.

One of the interesting elements that Rucka played with in this book is comparing Diana in all her righteous, fair-headed glory to the machinations and overall pettiness of the gods themselves. This aspect is showcased in this volume, especially given Diana’s desire to fix a problem she saw herself as the source of and do the right thing by the people she cares about.

wonder woman mission's end Wonder Woman: Mission’s End (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Cliff Richards, Rags Morales, David Lopez, Ron Randall, Tom Derenick, Georges Jeanty & Karl Kerschl
Collects Wonder Woman #218-226

This is it folks, the one where everything comes to a head! We find out the truth about Jonah (the entryway character from the first volume), Diana fights a brainwashed Superman and does what she thinks is right to stop him, she goes on trial and an army of OMACs attack Paradise Island.

Alright, so let’s break this down. More SPOILERS ahead for the next two paragraphs. As it turns out, Jonah was a Checkmate spy. I don’t remember there being any indications of this up until the previous book, but that’s where that is. Rucka also wrote the OMAC tie-in mini as well as the Checkmate comic, so maybe there’s more of that character in those books that I’m forgetting.

When Wonder Woman fought Superman it was because former Justice League backer and Blue Beetle murderer Max Lord was controlling the most powerful person on the planet with relative ease. As Lord went on about how he’d never stop coming back to take over Superman, Wonder Woman believed him and snapped his neck, which just so happened to be broadcast everywhere. From there, she turned herself in, intending to go on trial, but that all got scuttled by the OMACs attacking Paradise Island. Their leader, Brother Eye was all bent out of shape because Wonder Woman killed Lord and made her public enemy number one. A massive battle ensued that only concluded when Athena decided to leave that plane of existence and take all of the Amazons — save Diana — with her.

It’s interesting looking back at this run as a whole because, for the most part, it was a Wonder Woman story that would occasionally cross over with other characters when it made sense. But, as it wrapped up, this was fully a DCU story. Infinite Crisis rewrote some chapters in the DC book and Rucka was one of the architects involved at the time. I had forgotten some of the timeframe going into this, so that was something of a surprise, but overall I think it was all handled really well.

Above I mentioned that all of the balls Rucka got rolling felt like they were well paid off in this series, but that’s not entirely true. I realized while going back through these books for this post that Veronica Cale wound up a bit on the backburner. I think she’s a super interesting character, but probably got pushed to the side as the more major players revved up towards the series’ finale. She does show up in 52, though, which might help fill in some of the questions I have about her character.

Anyway, aside from a bit of a rushed feel at the end and the fact that I wish Drew Johnson had drawn the entire series — the multiple changes in artist per volume in these last three books is kinda crazy — I’d give this entire run of comics a huge, enthusiastic thumbs up. This is what a great example, not only of a fantastic Wonder Woman comic, but a long form sequential storytelling work that shows how solidly a writer can use the long game when plotting out his work.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Aliens

September 9, 2014

Originally I was going to start this post reminding everyone how much I love toy lines from the 80s and 90s based on R-rated films that kids couldn’t actually see, but what kind of BS is it making an Aliens line of toys and not making Ripley the star? I know the general consensus is that boys didn’t/don’t buy female action figures, but come on! We’re talking about one of the most bad ass ladies around!

Okay, having said that, how cool is that Atax figure with xenomorph costume? Super cool, right? Now think of how cool it’d be with Sigourney Weaver inside! The winged and water-spurting aliens are also pretty rad, but that alien-capturing ship is probably the coolest thing in this spot. Why didn’t they ever think of just trapping them in a giant jar? Probably because it would have ended the franchise really early…

The Chronological Carpenter: The Fog (1980)

September 8, 2014

the fog

So far I’ve watched Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13 and Someone’s Watching Me, in a fairly short period of time as part of this whole Chronological Carpenter thing. That experience, plus a fairly strong knowledge and memory of Halloween have given me a good idea of what Carpenter was doing in the late 70s and earliest of 80s. It seems like he was interested in telling the kinds of stories that no one else was really interested in or capable of at that time. I can’t speak to how many TV movies focused on crazy peeping toms in the 70s, but he basically kickstarted the slasher genre with Halloween and did the kind of cops and robbers movie others weren’t even thinking of with Assault. I think it’s safe to say that his next movie, The Fog, was in a league of its own as well what with its strange visitors attacking a town via weather anomaly.

the fog poster 2The film finds a coastal California town besieged by a supernatural fog killing people while shifting focuses between a variety of groups and characters. You’ve got mother and DJ Stevie Wayne who spends most of her time in the light station-located radio station she owns. Then there’s local Nick (Tom Atkins) and his newfound friend Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis) who meet via hitchiking pick-up and get swept along with all this craziness. Meanwhile, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers the dirty truth of his town and Mayor Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) does much of the same along with her assistant Sandy (Nancy Loomis).

I went into The Fog with pretty low expectations. I’d seen it once before, but it just didn’t do much much for me. One of the few things I remembered about the film was one of the less interesting elements for me personally and that was “ghost pirates.” Even as a long time genre, comic and horror fan, there’s just something about those words that makes me snicker a bit. As it turned out, it took me about four or five attempts to actually watch the whole thing in the proper order. This was far more about my inability to stay up past 11:30PM than anything else.

Anyway, after finally getting through the movie, I came away with a much better opinion of it, partially because I had an interesting realization while watching. Instead of being a haunted house story, which is a kind of horror tale I don’t always enjoy, The Fog is actually a haunted TOWN story. Viewing it through this prism made the seemingly silly idea of ghost pirates more palatable because it all seemed upscaled for the larger setting of this haunting story. It also helped me develop something of a theory about all this. Maybe the pirates aren’t as important because they’re not the real threat. The fog is. They might be more like an anti-body inside the mist which is why they don’t ever get fully shown. That’s not really backed up by information I learned by watching behind the scenes stuff, but it’s an interesting read of the material as presented.

the fog jamie lee curtis posterYou’ve got to give the cast of this film a lot of credit. Barbeau is fantastic as she casually flips between regular person and sultry DJ. It’s a nice set-up for her character before she turns into scared mother and fueled fighter. Then you’ve got the always-great Atkins playing regular guy Nick like nobody’s business. Seeing Curtis as an adult dealing with insanity was actually a fun transition from my memories of her more girlish character in Halloween. Sometimes young actors don’t get cast in their actual age and it felt like she did here and really got to play in that field. I haven’t even gotten into Leigh or Holbrook who both bring their years of experience and greatness to their roles. Everyone really went for their characters and gave it their all which helps when dealing with a movie like this that isn’t as easy to categorize as some others.

It’s funny how just a few years have added to my perspective when it comes to watching a movie like this. Even a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have understood Stevie’s absolute dedication to her job because jobs were just things I had to make money. But, in this film, she needs a job to take care of her kid. Plus, it’s not just a job, she OWNS the radio station, so the whole thing is riding on her shoulders. That’s a lot of pressure! I also plugged more into Stevie’s fear of being a witness to her son’s supernatural attack without being able to do anything about it. She’s just pleading over the radio waves for someone, anyone to help him without knowing if it’s working or not. That’s pure parent-fear right there mixed with unhealthy doses of helplessness.

If you’re looking for more traditional scares, the film has a few solid ones. The early one in the priest’s office got me. Actually, now that I think about it, Holbrook is pretty darn scary and intense throughout the film. There’s a bit where he pops out of the shadows at Leigh which is just amazing. There are some ghost scares that were effective, but it says something about a movie when I’m noting humans being scary and not the actual bad guys of the project which sets this pretty far away from something like the epically amazing Halloween.

I appreciated the film a bit more after watching  behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD called “Tales From The Mist” shot when the DVD was put together. They actually made the movie without the pirate ghosts and a lot of the more atmospheric haunting aspects at first. A lot of that stuff was added in after the fact. I also learned that Carpenter compared the project to old EC horror comics which is interesting considering this is a tale of past greed coming back to haunt people, a common theme in those books. There’s also a solid look at how they actually made the fog effects in the film which was one of the biggest questions I had while watching. It’s a super clever idea, too!

In regards to Carpenter’s career and the people he worked with The Fog features a lot of previous and future collaborators. You’ve got Curtis and Loomis from Halloween, Darwin Joston from Assault, Barbeau from Watching (who also married) and a variety of familiar character names like Dark Star co-writer Dan O’Bannon and editor/pal Tommy Lee Wallace. Carpenter also wrote the film with Halloween co-screenwriter and produce Debra Hill who he would also work with on Escape From LA. Oh, and Dean Cundey shot the film as he did Halloween, a slew of other Carpenter films and tons of classics from the 80s and 90s. On a musical note, Carpenter did the soundtrack for this film as well and while I don’t usually notice such things, it did remind me of the one for Halloween on several occasions.

Up to this point, this was Carpenter’s most supernatural film, what with the ghost pirates and everything, but it’s interesting how other elements from his previous films come through. There are all kinds of shadow killers in this movie; not just The Shape, but many shapes. The end of the film also features a group of uncanny killers laying siege to a fortified building, much like Assault. Oh, and of course, there’s an independent woman facing off against a male villain wielding a sharp object. Always more of that!

While I enjoyed this film much more this time around thanks to a new and different understanding of it, I will say that I’m curious about finally checking out the Scream Factory version. I’ve heard good things, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of that version on the cheap. If you’re a fan of either version, what are the differences? What makes one version better than another?

With The Fog behind me, I’m on to a pair of Carpenter’s films that I own, Escape From New York and The Thing followed by Christine, which I’ve seen once and Starman, which I’ve owned for years, but never watched!

Ex Libris Trade Post: Five Fists Of Science & Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities

September 3, 2014

the five fists of scienceFive Fists Of Science (Image)
Written by Matt Fraction, drawn by Steven Sanders

A few weeks back, when writing about a trio of Marvel minis from the mid 2000s, I mentioned an intended shelf cleaning project before moving. I pulled a series of trades out of my collection to re-read and see if they continue to earn shelf space. Here’s two more of those reviews.

I scored this copy of Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders’ Image Comics OGN The Five Fists Of Science back in my early Wizard days. If there was a free trade sitting around, I was likely to grab it and give it a read, especially if it had a strange or interesting concept. And this book definitely fits the bill.

Five Fists revolves around Mark Twain teaming up with his good friend Nikola Tesla and his one-handed assistant Timothy Boone to create a giant, robotic war machine that can be sold to every nation on Earth to ensure peace (the ol’ mutually assured destruction concept). They join forces with Baroness Bertha Von Suttner who introduces them to all the right people. Meanwhile, a group including J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi are erecting a building to help bring demons into our realm. See what I meant when I said “strange” and “interesting?”

The book features a nice mix of historical characters, many of them who were quite eccentric even when not dealing with demons and robots, with made-up ones to tell the kind of story you’re just not going to get anywhere else. Though, for what it’s worth, I do think this would make a ridiculously fun movie int he vein of the Sherlock Holmes films. Anyway, Fraction did a great job of make this story fun, exciting, strange and adventurous, which gets the thumbs up in my book. My only complaint is that Sanders’ art comes through a bit muddy. I’m not sure if this was a printing, inking or coloring problem, but there were a few pages here and there that were difficult to parse. It’s possible this has been change in the new printing (linked above), but I don’t know for sure as I have the one from 2006. All in all though, I had a great time revisiting this book and will be keeping it in the collection. If you’re looking for something to pass to a friend who’s into science, this is definitely on the list of passable materials.

billy the kid's old timey oddities Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
Written by Eric Powell, drawn by Kyle Hotz
Collects Billy The Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities #1-4

Another Wizard acquisition, Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities comes from Goon creator Eric Powell and artist Kyle Hotz. I believe this was the first book written by Powell that I actually read as it wound up taking me years to get around to The Goon: Fancy Pants Edition Volume 1.

This book finds a freak show owner approaching Billy the Kid, who’s supposed to be dead, and offering him a job accompanying some of his performers on a mission to Europe to recover a Gollum’s heart. Said performers include the Alligator Man, the Tattooed Woman, the Wolf Boy, Watta the Wild Man and the Miniature Boy. As it turns out, the artifact is currently in the possession of another character thought long-dead: Dr. Frankenstein, who has gotten even crazier in his experiments.

One of the most impressive elements of a book like this is how Powell sucked me into the story and got me to like these characters so quickly. I mean, you’re dealing with just four issues and yet, every time someone had a nice moment I smiled and every time someone wound up on the wrong side of a monster, I felt bad. That’s just darn good yarn-weaving, right there.

Hotz deserves a lot of the credit for that as well. He does an amazing job of conveying emotion, terror, humor and action all while rendering these fantastical and monstrous looking characters. To my mind, he’s got a Kelley Jones vibe (who I love), but with his own unique, sometimes grotesque style. He and Powell not only made a fun comic I’ll be holding onto, but also two more volumes I want to check out.

Trade Post: Tomboy By Liz Prince

September 2, 2014

tomboy by liz prince Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir (Zest Books)
Written & drawn by Liz Prince

Last month I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a copy of Liz Prince’s Tomboy (Zest Books) and I jumped at the chance. I admit that I haven’t read Prince’s other works like Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? or Alone Forever, but I was immediately drawn to the concept of an autobiographic graphic novel focusing on a woman who grew up trying to avoid society’s imposed gender norms.

As it happens, I’m one of those guys that didn’t really think much about gender relations until I had a daughter. To be fair, I grew up with a single mother for a few years before she remarried, always had great respect for women and, because the girls in my grade school classes were so smart, assumed ladies were the more intelligent sex. So, it wasn’t like I was some he-man woman-hater going into father hood. I feel like I was a fairly open-minded dude, but there was just so much I never even thought about because of how I was born.

And that’s a great place to dive into Tomboy, because it’s about a young girl who, from an early age, realized that she didn’t fit into the rubric of what it meant to be “a girl.” So, she mentally eschewed everything that made her think of “girliness” and focused on being “more like a boy.” As she grew up, however, she realized that this made her something of an outcast from both groups. Eventually Prince made some similarly minded friends, met one of those key adults who “got her” and became this awesome person who makes autobiographical comics about her life.

Even though I might not have thought about these things much before the last few years, I did find myself relating to Prince on a variety of levels. I had a solid group of friends in grade and high school, but I was small, sorta smart and unathletic. I assumed from watching a lifetime of TV and movies that this could make me a target for bullying and did my best to just fly under the radar. As it turns out, Prince was a lot braver than I was as a kid.

But there were other personal connections I made to this work. As it turns out Prince and I are the same age, so the “boys’ toys” that she was into as a kid were the same ones I was into. I think that, had we grown up in the same neighborhood, we would have actually been pals, especially given our mutual love of all things Ghostbusters and, later, Green Day.

Back to the whole dad-thing, as I said in last week’s episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, I’ve always been concerned about my daughter conforming to society’s ideas about what a girl can be. As such, I got worried when it became clear that she was a gigantic fan of princesses, ponies and all things pink. Soon enough, though, I realized that it doesn’t matter what she likes as long as she likes it because it’s something that appeals to her and not something she’s supposed to like. I do my best to offer her plenty of other entertainment options, which she also enjoys. Because of that, I have a daughter who’s been photographed in princess dresses holding a football and wielding lightsabers, so I feel like I’m doing alright in this whole thing.

One key element that I took away from Tomboy is that talking to your kids about societal norms and ideas is a pretty good idea. From the book, it seems like Prince’s parents supported her desire to not where dresses, but maybe they didn’t actually sit down with her and explain what was going on. It wasn’t until Prince met an adult who worked with her mom that was into making zines that she realized that it wasn’t her sex or gender she was mad at, but the ideas that people place on women and girls. Hopefully, that’s something I’ll be able to impart on my daughter so she can avoid some of the trials and tribulations. Then again, I have a feeling my awesomely headstrong daughter will be the kind of person who wants to make her own mistakes (something that will drive her movies-offer-enough-experience-for-me dad nuts).

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Toy Story Of Terror Spots

August 26, 2014

Over on PopPoppa.com I gave a glowing review of Toy Story Of Terror. It’s highly recommended if you or yours are big Toy Story fans. In addition to the Halloween special, there’s also a trio of shorts and three commercials based on the characters appearing in the title story. Above you can see the Combat Carl PSA which obviously isn’t a toy commercial, but does share the spirit of the G.I. Joe ones from days of yore. The Blu-ray also includes spots for Old Timer and Transitron that will make fogies like myself smile with nostalgic glee.

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