Celebrity OGN Trade Post: Get Jiro & Greendale

get jiro Get Jiro! (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, drawn by Langdon Foss
Original Graphic Novel

Call me crazy but I’m one of those people who gets a little peeved when general news outlets refer to comics or trade paperbacks as graphic novels. Aside from simply being the wrong term, it also carries with it a sense that the writer is trying to make comics sound more mature, a distinction that’s unnecessary to anyone even remotely familiar with the adult-oriented medium. What’s the difference? Well, a trade paperback is a collection of single issues brought together for an easier read while a graphic novel was created all at one time. It’s basically the difference between calling a short story collection exactly that versus a novel (well, not exactly because the issues are serializing one big story usually, but you get the idea).

The two books I’m writing about today actually are graphic novels, though and they also both happen to have been written or inspired by well known people. How much involvement said celebs actually had in the creation of the book itself, I have no idea, but that’s not really important.

I started off with Get Jiro because I needed a tonal shift after finishing another book of Y: The Last Man and this certainly gave it to me. As regular readers of UnitedMonkee and Monkeying Around The Kitchen know, I’m a pretty big fan of Anthony Bourdain having read both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw and regularly watched No Reservations. One of the interesting aspects of reading through Jiro was that he and Rose put in a good deal of elements seen on various episodes of Reservations. You’ve got the little eels from Spain that only exist for a few weeks cooked simply over fire and the little birds you eat whole (except for the head) while wearing a towel over your head, plus others. This was an interesting experience because, while the thing being done was more described than shown, I had the images already in my head from watching the series.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, what’s the book about? Set in a future version of Las Angeles, Get Jiro takes place in a city completely obsessed with food and nothing else. LA has become a zoned area where only the privileged can live on the inside eating amazing food made by one of two camps: money hungry Bob or ultra-hippie Rose. Niether are particularly likable  but that’s okay because they’re the bad guys. Our hero is Jiro, a sushi chef on the outer rim who garners the attention of both who want him in their camps, but more so don’t want him to join the other guys. All in all it’s a hyper-real, satire with healthy doses of blood and violence. The book really felt like a more light-hearted Frank Miller/Geoff Darrow book in both look and feel which is by no means a bad thing.

But, it’s not perfect. I thought the world-building was pretty light. I didn’t need everything completely laid out for and actually enjoyed the opening text the succinctly explained the world’s super foodie culture, but wish they would have explained the set up of the city in a little more detail or maybe just showed a map, that would have done it. It also felt like a lot of set up for a relatively quick payoff, I could have done with more of the big battle at the end, but I guess that wasn’t the story they were going for which is fine.

For his part, Foss is a delight to read. He packs so much into panels that he really is Darrow-like, a trait that more comic artists should aspire to and a trait that fits in really well with the graphic novel idea because guys like this tend not to be able to hit monthly deadlines. Still, I’d rather get larger doses of these kinds of artists a few times a year than one issue every year. There are times, though, when Foss lets his background characters look a little dead in the eyes which can be a little off-putting, but that’s a minor complaint.

I’m not sure how well this book would go over with people who aren’t fans of Bourdains because of all the cooking stuff, but it felt like there was enough explanation to bring in new readers (though the big blocks of text explaining such things might turn some people off) but if you are a fan or just like the gonzo craziness of something along the lines of Crank, then give this movie a watch. I just realized how insane a Neveldine and Taylor adaptation of this movie would be and now I want to see it!

Greendale Neil Young’s Greendale (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Joshua Dysart, drawn by Cliff Chiang
Original Graphic Novel

Greendale was pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum in every way from Jiro both as a piece of fiction and as a story that I interacted with. Neil Young’s name is on this book, but it’s basically based on his concept album-turned-movie from earlier in the 00s, neither of which I have any experience with. It’s also tonally and artistically different from the kinetic, hyper-real portrayal of reality seen in the other book. This is a much more grounded fantasy done in a softer artistic style. This is pure Cliff Chiang and looks exactly like anything else you’ve seen of his, but there seems to be a strange softening effect added to every single page, which was kind of a bummer because these pages really sing and could have used some brightness even given the darker elements of the story.

Speaking of the story, this one focuses on Sun Green who lives in the fictional West Coast town of Greendale. She’s a teenager trying to figure out who she is, how she fits into the grand scheme of things and how she really feels about all of the war and environment issues that went on during the Bush Administration (and still do, this story’s just set in that time period). She also comes from a family of women who tend to display supernatural abilities tied to nature and disappear when they feel like it. Sun meets a boy and starts thinking about heading to Alaska to try and stop off shore drilling when a mysterious man (who looked a like like Neil Young to me) shows up and starts messing with her cousin and brother.

After reading this book, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I think I liked it, though it was a little heavy handed at times. On the other hand, I like how it kind of presented the weirdness of this world as the story progressed and didn’t feel the need to front load everything. You’re just kind of thrown in, given a little information and figure things out as you go. I like that, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about that journey itself. It’s got a good “we can do it” message, but, at the end of the day, so does every high school/college movie pitting a bunch of kids against a corporation like Step Up Revolution. Does the way a message is conveyed make it any more or less meaningful? Maybe when it’s presented so many times that it becomes noise. On the other hand, it sure is a pretty looking book and did make me feel something, so I think I’ll keep it around for at least one more read.

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Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 2 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra with Paul Chadwick & Goran Parlov
Collects Y: The Last Man #11-23

My original intent when diving back into the wild world of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man was to focus on all five deluxe collections without jumping around. But, after reading the first volume, and reliving both the intensity of the series and some of Yorick Brown’s more annoying character ticks, I needed to take a break. So, I burned through a few trades that I’ll get around to reviewing soon enough, both to cleanse my palet a bit and also to get some of the books out of my “to read” long box (I’ve set up a lot of Sequential Swaps lately and had a good deal of books coming in).

Even after feeling pretty accomplished knocking a few books off the list, I was drawn right back to Y. This volume was split about 50/50 between stuff I remembered from my first reading of the book and stuff I didn’t remember at all. I remembered all the astronaut stuff pretty much down to the letter, though there were some surprises in who dies and who doesn’t. I also mostly remembered the mostly Yorick-less theater storyline which was a nice little treat. But then you’ve got the stuff with Agent 711 as well as the Sons of Arizona stuff which had completely slipped my mind. Even remembering some of the details, though, it’s all in how BKV tells the story that makes this such a great book to read.

My main complaint about the first volume was that Yorick can be an incredibly annoying character. He’s basically a smartass kid who’s done nothing with his life that loves making cultural references to make himself feel more worldly. When I was younger, I could relate to that a lot more, but now I just want this wiseacre to clam up. Just to clarify, that’s not a complaint about the writing. I think all of that is very purposeful on BKV’s part. Yorick’s whole journey about this series is to become a better, well-rounded human being (plus that whole saving the world thing). The beauty of this volume is that BKV shifts the focus from Yorick a bit before subjecting him to 711’s unique brand of therapy (man, what an intense string of issues!) which then leads into a story that starts showing how Yorick has changed. I’m not sure how these issues are broken up in the normal trades, but I thought it was a really interesting structure for this collection.

While reading through this volume I realized another element that makes this book so accessible to new readers and non-comic book fans and that is that the art is both realistic and cartoony. By realistic I mean that it’s not ultra-stylized and by cartoonish I mean that you could see this kind of art in something like a newspaper comic strip or a greeting card (I’m having trouble thinking of other places where non-comic fans see static art). This idea came to me while looking at a page and thinking something along the lines of, “This isn’t too far off from the kind of art you’d see in an Archie comic.” It’s an interesting thought because on one hand it almost lulls you into lowered expectations of what you’re going to see in the book and then you get some pretty insane stuff shown in that same style which makes it a bit more shocking and a bit more surprising.

Once again, I found myself needing a bit of a break after reading through these 13 issues so I’m probably going to throw up another Trade Post for Friday, but I’m already back into the series with about half of the third volume read just last night. There’s a lot going on and I think I’m about done with all the parts I actually remember from the series so this should be interesting.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Rambo & General Warhawk

Today’s selection for TCT actually came about from a pair of recent posts. First of all, I talked about innapropriate toy lines based on R-rated films for kids with last week’s entry in this column when talking about Alien Vs. Predator toys. A few days later, I wrote about re-watching and really enjoying First Blood. So, what better way to continue both subjects by showing off some of the toy tie-ins for the animated series Rambo: The Force Of Freedom?

I chose this particular commercial out of the group available on YouTube because this is the specific Rambo figure I remember having. As it turns out, this is how the character looks throughout most of Rambo: First Blood Part 2, a film that more prominently influenced mass culture than the original. I also that that General Warhawk’s sword launcher was pretty rad! It’s also interesting that the “battle action weapons” seem to be pull-string activated. I don’t remember any other toys doing that.

Quick Movie Review: Land Of The Lost (2009)

land of the lost On a whim, I moved Land Of The Lost to the top of our Netflix queue a while back. My wife and I actually watched the Blu-ray a few weeks ago, but things got in the way and I forgot to write about it, but I did want to take a few graphs here to sing the movie’s praises. Will Ferrell’s one of those guys whose in some of my favorite movies of all time and others I’ve only seen a time or two without remembering much from them. I love Old School and Elf, but probably haven’t thought twice about movies like Blades Of Glory or Semi-Pro since I watched them just the once.

Anyway, I had pretty much zero expectations from this film, but figured it might be good for a few laughs. Turns out I actually really enjoyed it. Ferrell plays scientist Dr. Rick Marshall who discovers a way to travel through space and time, but doesn’t build his prototype until grad student Holly (Anna Friel from Pushing Daisies) shows up with some affection and evidence to prove his theories. They go on an expedition that brings them into contact with Danny McBride’s Will, who operates a crummy roadside attraction that happens to be the perfect place to open a portal into the Land of the Lost. While there they do their best to find the lost device, not get eaten by dinosaurs, avoid the Gorn-like Sleestaks and get back home.

I thought this was actually a really solid film that looked good (on Blu-ray at least) and had pretty great comedic, dramatic and action moments. Did anyone see this movie? I don’t remember hearing anything about Land of the Lost when it came out, but I’m not sure if that’s because it got savaged by critics or it just didn’t do well in theaters. I actually just checked out the other movies that came out that weekend and think I might have discovered the reason why it didn’t grab an audience, The Hangover came out that first weekend and became a gigantic hit. There’s also the fact that it’s a less-serious take on a somewhat beloved television series from the 70s. I would imagine some fans saw this and thought it was more along the lines of Starsky & Hutch which poked a lot of fun at the original series. I don’t think that’s really the case though. Even though I’m not very familiar with the original Land Of The Lost, I saw this movie as a comedic take on the concept that treated it with respect, but also a healthy sense of humor.

So, if you were one of the people catching Hangover when it first came out, thought this would be a disrespectful interpretation of something you really love, were burnt out on Will Ferrell movies or just want to see a good-looking, funny movie, I’d say give Land Of The Lost a watch. I’d also say that it’s an interesting film because you get Ferrell and McBride in ways you’re not used to seeing them: PG-13. It’s not the way I want to see those comedians exclusively, but it was a nice change for this film (yeah, I know it was originally rated R and edited to the current rating, I would be curious to see that other version, though).

Quick Movie Review: Looper (2012)

looper_poster Much like with The Raid, I’d heard pretty much only good things about Rian Johnson’s Looper. The trailers I’d seen looked good and according to post-Cop Out Bruce Willis detractor Kevin Smith the movie was so good that it even made him like Willis again, so that definitely piqued my interest. Plus, who doesn’t love a good time travel movie? I’ve seen some really killer newer entries into the genre lately between Primer and Triangle (I wasn’t as big a fan of Timecrimes).

My wife and I watched this movie over the weekend and I was pretty taken aback by it, something I can’t say about most movies. There were some faulty bits that I’ll get to in a graph or two, but first, let’s talk about all the good stuff. This story is fantastic. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an executioner in 2044 who works for mobsters in 2074 who have access to time travel tech. They have a hard time offing people in the future, so they transport people to the past where a Looper is waiting for them with a blunderbuss and blow the target away. Things go crazy in the film when JGL’s future self  (Willis) gets sent back without the usual restraints and winds up getting away. Willis is on a mission to save his life while JGL just wants to get his old life back. The craziness flows from there.

While I really dug the story, there some story elements that bothered me though. Why do Loopers have such silly guns? Sure a blunderbuss can blow a hole in an elephant, but why not train them to shoot a guy in the head or even use an automatic weapon? I only ask this question because it seems like this detail was added in for the sole purpose of giving JGL a weapon that’s basically useless at the very end of the film. Also, why are they called Loopers? JGL explains in voiceover that it’s because the mob will send the Looper’s future self back for the current Looper to kill, but isn’t that funny naming logic? You don’t name a guy for the last part of his job, do you? I still can’t tell if I have a problem with the telekinesis stuff or not. On one hand, you can just accept is as part of the world, a piece of information that’s put in place and paid off for at the end of the movie. On the other hand, it could be a kind of tacked-on bit of business that’s only there to turn a character who would normally be non-threatening into something you really have to worry about.

Even with the above complaints, I was really moved by this movie. First off, it’s a daring story that goes weird places you don’t expect your basic theater-fare to go. Bruce Willis also stars as a somewhat relatable character doing incredibly awful things to try and save his family. Plus, JGL absolutely kills in the film. He carries the intensity and rawness of his own character while also channelling Willis in ways that don’t seem cheap or hokey. Plus, he really rocks that prosthetic nose and begin to believe he’s almost a completely new person (I kept thinking he looked like Shia at times in the film). And man, that ending. I did not see it coming and it hit me in the gut like heavyweight punch. That’s something else you don’t see often.

If you’re like me and just about everyone I’ve talked to about this movie and want to learn more about Johnson’s life, creative process and experience making this film, check out Kevin Smith’s 2-part SmodCast/SmovieMakers podcast interview with the director (here and here) who also goes into detail on his previous efforts Brick and Brothers Bloom.

Casting Internets

My buddy Brett White offered an excellent companion piece to his CBR piece about why Orson Scott Card shouldn’t be writing Superman about the real comics community. He’s right and it’s important to remember that the negative side of the internet is most often the very vocal minority.

Here’s another piece about the OSC/DC debacle from The Carnival Of The Random that explains why this is not a freedom of speech or legal issue, but a moral one.

We need more movies that utilize hyper details models instead of bad CGI. These Star Wars folks know where it’s at.

I’ve been a fan of Ashton Kutcher’s since That 70s Show, but haven’t followed him much since the series ended. It was fun catching up in this lengthy Tom Chiarella article on Esquire.

So many of Script’s 7 Deadly Dialogue Sins drive me bonkers. Worth a read for all writers.

hackers

Hackers changed my brain when it came to computers. Chris Sims’ Wired piece “What We Supposedly Learned About Technology From 1995’s Hackers” is hilarious and dead on. I can’t wait for ones about The Net and Sneakers. Damn, now I want to watch Hackers and Sneakers again…

I’m a huge fan of Todd Philips’ Old School starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, so I’m pretty jazzed for their upcoming movie The Internship.

Greg Pak writes very enjoyable comics, so I’m curious to see what his first DC work Superman/Batman with Jae Lee will be like. (via USA Today)

I would very much like to see a Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake show. Anyone want to buy me tickets to the show at Yankee Stadium? (via Rolling Stone)

kirby argo

I’m gonna end with the Jack Kirby artwork that’s tied to Argo as seen on Buzzfeed. Hope that film winds up on Netflix Instant soon.

ARL3: Raiders! By Alan Eisenstock

Raiders by Alan EisenstockLike a lot of people, I heard about the Raiders Of The Lost Ark fan film made by a bunch of kids in the 80s. I don’t remember the exact details, but it would have been sometime in college. I even wrote a little bit about it for a huge never-published article my pal Rickey Purdin and I put together for a Wizard movie issue (I should check my files and see if I have a copy of it anywhere). I thought it was cool, but never saw it or thought much more about it. Then I saw Son Of Rambow, a British film that seems to take many of the ideas of the true story, switched the movie to First Blood — which I  incidentally just watched again recently — and made a film I fell in love with. There’s something so amazing about the youthful drive to make something, especially when it took so many years and involved so much work. Again, the Raiders fan film left my consciousness again for a while.

Until I got an email a few months back about a book documenting the making of the movie. Would I like a copy? Hell yes, send it over! I wanted to jump into it right away, but a lot of things got in the way. I wish it hadn’t because Alan Eisenstock’s Raiders! is a fantastic, magical book. Knowing the broad strokes of this story really isn’t enough, it deserves the intense level of research that Eisenstock surely did to get such amazing results.

The Raiders fan film was created by director Eric Zala and star Chris Stromopolos, two kids from Mississippi who loved a movie and decided to remake it. They banded together with several friends and friends of friends and over the course of seven years, shot and edited the film. It was amazing reading how they figured out every shot of the movie, developed storyboards (which I’d like to see, actually), scrounged allowance to buy props, raised local awareness and struggled to find locations to match the film. All that makes the story epic, but that’s only half the story.

In addition to being a story about the making of a film, Raiders is also the story of a pair of kids who become friends, dedicate themselves to a project, both falter, grow up and hit a rough spot before SPOILER rekindling their relationship several times and eventually having their movie discovered and loved by people all over the country. There’s a few chapters in the book after they finish filming the movie. At that point I was like, “What more could happen?” And then, bam, you’re hit with some intense, real world drama, the kind that hits a lot of people. These guys went through a lot of crap, lived together, went their separate ways, built families and eventually became creative partners again. Chris especially had it tough, while Eric used his steadfastness to excel in the video game industry.

The beauty of this story is how theatrical it is. Just when everything seems lost at one point, the boys get word that they can shoot a scene on a dry-docked submarine. Boom, they’re back in it. There’s so many ups and downs like that that you almost forget your reading a biography and have drifted into fiction territory. Eisenstock does a wonderful job of weaving these tales together, taking Chris and Eric’s detailed memories and putting together a narrative that might hold a few things back for dramatic purposes, but always pays off. Well, almost always pays off.

arl3My only complaint about this book is that it didn’t finish one important storyline: Eric and Chris’ in-the-works screenplay. The last section of the book makes a point of the two reuniting to work on something creatively, but then leaves off in 2005.  What happened?! Did they write a screenplay? My quick IMDb search shows that Zala doesn’t have any more credits past his student film, so I’m guessing it never got made, but did they at least finish writing it? Not following up on that one thread seemed odd, especially considering the book came out last year and could have done some kind of follow-up in the eight years between the end of the book and it’s publication. I had a similar problem with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pusher which didn’t go into detail when it came to the band’s break-up. If you’re going to go into huge detail about this story, you’ve got to deliver on the important final moments or at the very least,  catch us up on what they’re currently up to.

But, that’s a small complaint. There’s so much goodness in this book, so much that got me fired up both as a fan of things and a wannabe creator of things, that it’s really a minor quibble. I really can’t express how much I loved this book. It made me want to create things, it made me want to be a bigger fan of things and it made me wish I had had more of a creative spark when I was younger. I can’t recommend this book any higher, it’s amazing and deserves to be read by anyone even remotely interested in film or fandom. Read it!

As far as the latest Ambitious Reading List, I’ve definitely stalled out a bit. I started reading Elmore Leonard’s Riding The Rap, but it really didn’t grab me. I think I’ll read something else and then maybe go back to it and see if I find something in there. I’ve got another book sent to me by PR folks that’s not on the list, but should be read pretty quickly. Seems like the right thing to do.