31 March, 2011

What I Watched Last Month…

February 2011

Cloverfield. (On DVD)
As a post-Lost season 06 chaser, we popped this one in the DVD player, due to the talk that this supposedly takes place in the same universe as Lost. I might be wrong about that, but I know for sure that I saw a Dharma Initiative logo pop up on screen very briefly, so that's enough for me.
What an amazing piece of storytelling this is. And very exciting and gripping too. On the small screen, the nausea inducing effects of the hand-held camera are thankfully mitigated. My wife had to leave the cinema 20 minutes in when it was first released, but she happily sat through the whole thing this time.
The conceit of having the entire movie supposedly being the play through of a personal video camera tape is a pretty hard internally imposed rule to stick to and make work, but work it does. There are times when the convenient turn of the camera at the precise moment to capture some necessary action becomes a little too much, and there's certainly a point where I feel like I've been plunged into a video game due to the combination of the first-person perspective and some blatant exposition and set-up that's just that smidge too clumsy, but if you accept the immediate conceit and get on board for the ride, it's a great and satisfying ride for sure.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. (On DVD)
What great fun this movie is! I have nothing to say regarding it's adaption from the comics since I've only read a few pages of Vol. 1, but as a movie in it's own right it's great fun.
This is the second time I've watched it (originally in the cinema) and I seem to be more forgiving with the pacing of the last few Ex-battles. It's obvious to me that the episodic, long-form nature of the graphic novels suits the whole protracted "7 Evil Exes" shtick, and shoehorning them into a single movie is a pretty big ask, but I'm more comfortable with it this time. I really felt it was incredibly rushed the first time around.
I don't know if I'm just being dense, but the ending still makes no sense to me, specifically regarding the Knives/Ramona/Scott triangle. I still feel like Scott is a heel and probably undeserving of winning the heart of either girl. I totally don't see any redemption in what he did with his 'extra life' whatsoever.
I also really dislike the introduction of the mind control chip. I don't know exactly why, but even in a movie like this, full of fanciful turns of story and logic, it felt far too out of nowhere, both as far as the story is concerned as well as what the universe the movie had set up would bear. Too easy, too convenient, too lazy.
On the visual side, I really, really love the integration of both comics and video gaming imagery and language. The use of split screen, visible sound effects (both as written words and as drawn graphics) extreme foreshortening and stretched, malleable perspective, all add an extra dimension to the kinetic feel of the movie. Even better, it does so entirely in service of the story and to support the personality and lifestyle of the characters. The video game imagery and metaphors do the same — this is how the characters (Scott at least) see their lives playing out, with 1-ups, points scored and pee-bars. Brilliant. It's all about giving external expression to the internal life and personalities of the characters.
I also watched/listened to the director/co-writer/comic creator commentary, which was both entertaining and enlightening. Well worth putting on in the background while doing other stuff (like inking comics, as I was).
I'm pretty sure I'm well outside the target audience for SPvtW, so I'm putting down my misgivings about the film to my lack of yoof. That being said, thinking about it and writing about it here, I already want to watch it again, if only for the eye candy.

28 March, 2011

What I Read Last Month…

February 2011

Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Pérez. Vol. 1.
This book re-presents some of George's work from the 70s, so it's very early in his professional career. Even so, there's a lot of the hallmarks of his style: dynamic posing, dynamic angles, chunky anatomy, Pérez rubble, his own version of Kirby Krackle, etc. One really interesting aspect of this collection though is looking at the inkers' interpretations of George's pencils. Joe Sinnott absolutely owned the FF book for a very long time, giving it a reliable, consistent look, and his inking was surely helping George to look good here. However, two of the stories reprinted were inked by others, one by Dave Hunt and another by Vince Colletta. Dave tries his hardest to emulate Joe's amazing slick, sure, feathered brushstrokes, but comes up obviously short, and in doing so also highlights some of George's early shortcomings. Vince's inking is excruciatingly bad, making that particular story almost unreadable. And I say that even though I'm a fan of Vince’s good work. In the end Joe's obvious talent as a draftsman and penciller in his own right shone through, perhaps even to the point of altering George's original markings for the sake of keeping what was probably perceived as something of a FF "house style" at the time. The “house style” had an iron grip on The Fantastic Four, and I don't think it was until John Byrne's second run on the book that this "house style" was finally broken.
I believe George was Rich Buckler's assistant on FF up until this point, and I think that influence is quite visible for at least the first half of this volume, and the influence of Rick's emulation of Jack Kirby's style lasts even longer.
Finally, it's interesting, and for me very enjoyable, to watch the ground work of the plotting for issue 200 being laid out so early, something like two years ahead of that anniversary issue. At least it looks that way to me.
All in all good old-fashioned super-hero fun.

25 March, 2011

What I Watched Last Month…

Or rather, What I Watched in January…

January 2011

Whip It! (on DVD)
Although the rest of the family loved it, I found Whip It! to be far too predictable and by the numbers. It was trite in places and sickly sweet in others. I'm a regular at the Horden Pavilion roller derby bouts here in Sydney, so I think I had kind of high hopes for the action scenes as well, which were also not as exciting as I'd hoped.
That being said, I'm glad I watched it. It was funny in parts and had some likeable characters.

Tron: Legacy (on the big screen)
I find it really surprising how much people are loving this! There's very little chance that I will ever watch this movie again, and yet I hear that people have seen it twice or thrice! I'll admit that one of my bigger problems with it is that I can't get past my inability to suspend disbelief regarding the society of The Grid. Stuff like the necessity for the likes of The End of the Line Club for "programs". And don't tell me it's because they're a form of life now, because the morality of "the sanctity of life" is flip-flopped all over during this story: are we supposed to care for the incidental characters because they're alive, or not worry about them because they're simply code that can be destroyed without a care? I certainly found it hard to care.
Regardless of that though, I found too much of the movie boring and slow. I was astounded that, despite the fact that it's mostly pretty nice to look at, it was understated design-wise to the point of being lacklustre.
Give me disc battles and light cycles in spectacular, clear, satisfying battle! The stuff we've been imagining it could look like since the original! These were unfortunately disappointing too.
Lastly, although I'll give the movie-makers credit for the balls it took to do it, I was not convinced by the digital young Flynn/Clu from the moment he hit the screen. Even from behind! My wife was totally convinced throughout, but my two kids (13 and 15) were a little suspicious all the way through and were pretty sure it was a digital construct by the end.
I didn’t see Tron when it first came out and I was very disappointed when I watched it on DVD a couple of months ago, and I was disappointed in a very similar way with Tron 2.

Toy Story 3 (on DVD)
This is the second time I've seen Toy Story 3, the first being in the cinema. My feelings on it haven't really changed I think. The animation is amazing. Really amazing. The emotion delivered by some of the characters at times is astounding and truly touching. In the end though, I found it disappointing. It was far too repetitive (some might more kindly say reminiscent) of Toy Story 1 and 2, both in themes and action. In the end, I also found it inconclusive and, for me, lacking in definite closure, in itself but mostly for the trilogy.
One very interesting aspect of it is that I think it's been aimed squarely at a much older kid; the kid that had Toy Story 1 as one of their first movies and has grown up with the characters. My son, 15, is that audience, and reacted in such an emotional way, as did many if his male (interestingly not the female) peers, as to prove that to me in no small manner. Additionally there are some harrowing scenes in this movie that go way beyond the delightfully scary and/or anxious scenes in, for example, TS1's Woody and Buzz encountering Sid and his toys. It's not a bad thing, and in TS3 it was a highly emotional sequence, but I'm sure it may have been too much for some of the real littlies.
No doubt though that I'll be watching it again at some stage.

Tangled (on the big screen)
I thought this was a very good movie and I really enjoyed it. Most of my problems with it would probably be seen as nit-picking (rubbery skin textures, what seemed to be overly rotoscoped animation, too many musical numbers, crappy and unnecessary animal sidekick). All except for the incredibly disappointing deus ex machina that really came out of nowhere at the climax of the movie. If you've seen the movie I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, if you haven't I don't want to spoil it for you. Even while watching it happen I couldn't believe that the writers pulled something so inexplicable out of left field. It would have been such a better film if Disney had the bravery of their hero and had decided to forego the expected happy ending for something more powerful. I understand that that's a little too much to expect from Disney though. No one else in my family seemed too bothered by it.
It's definitely worth seeing this movie. It's got laughs, beautiful colour, good action, good voice and animated acting, and is very well put together. I'd certainly watch it again.

Despicable Me (at an outdoor cinema)
Brilliant fun! This is the second time I've seen this, and even with the distractions of being in an outdoor cinema, it was completely engaging and very funny. Great acting, good animation, fun (if a tiny bit predictable) story, that doesn't take itself in the least too seriously.

Black Swan (on the big screen)
Great movie! A tense, claustrophobic, gripping, psychological drama/thriller. It was a brilliant move to present the Jeckle/Hyde role of The White and Black Swans of Swan Lake to the main character's fragile mental and emotional state. What a harrowing spectacle watching this descent and dissection of an obsessive creative. Interesting subtle use of CGI too.

Lost Season 6 (on DVD)
About this last season of Lost I've often said, having watched this show since the very first night it screened here in Australia, that whatever it is they could come up with for the finale, there was no way that it could live up to six years' worth of build up. No way.
Well, on this second, quite rapid viewing of the final season, I must say it may have.
I often like to look at Lost this way: it's not about getting answers, but enjoying the questions, and enjoying the posing of the questions. Lost did this brilliantly and I enjoyed it immensely. This last season didn't answer all the questions that were still open, but it answered enough to not have the viewer feel ripped off, while still also posing enough new questions (and leaving a portion of those still mysteries) that it continued to have the Lost feel.
It was by no means perfect. I feel they very much fumbled the ball when it came to Desmond's true significance, role and purpose on the island in the last days. Similarly, the revelation and meaning of the island's light was very muddy and confusing, even as it was seemingly laid out in front of us. And there was a touch more than usual of the flip-flopping of characters' allegiances and motivations. Too much this time.
The final, double-length episode, for someone who has spent the last six years with these characters, was quite emotional to watch. The conceit of the "flash sideways" for this season was spot-on as far as I'm concerned, and the revelation of what that all meant was also wonderful.
This season had enough closure to feel like you'd watched a complete (six season long) story, with enough open ends to make you wish there was a way to know what happened next. My favourite TV show ever.

23 March, 2011

What I Read Last Month…

Well, I’m already running late, so really…
What I read the month before last…

January 2011

Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol 5. (DC Comics, reprinting material from 1979-1980.) By Gerry Conway, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, and others.
I read this only because of the Pérez contribution (and because someone gave the TPB to me), but I was also quite excited to see that the majority of the seven issues reprinted were by Dick Dillin, whose work I quite like. Unfortunately the stories here were the last that Dillin ever did and it looks like he may have been past his prime. The reproduction left quite a bit to be desired as well.
One of the most interesting things about the volume is the amazing difference to the feel, pacing, and excitement of the last story once Pérez took over one third through. A real changing of the guard I think, from someone who was rooted in the 60s, regardless of how slick and modern he had become, to someone who was really taking flight in the 80s.

Radical SDCC 2010 Preview. (Radical Comics)
This I picked up for free at San Diego Comic Con last July. It's mostly comprised of about two dozen double-page spreads showcasing Radical's upcoming projects, including one by Australian Wayne Nichols.
By about halfway through I was pretty well over the relentless barrage of same-old-same-old high-concepts and accompanying Photoshopped art. Some of this art was good, but my suspicion that the level of finish exhibited couldn't be carried through the story pages was mostly proven by the few panelled pages shown.
I'm not being jingoistic or unnecessarily patriotic when I say one of the few concepts that piqued my interest was the project Wayne is attached to: Ryder on the Storm. I hope it's successful enough to get trade paperback printing, because that's how I'd like to read it.

Mucha Lucha #2 (2003) (DC Comics)
A comic that my kids were throwing out that I saved when I remembered a couple of Aussies created the Cartoon Network show that it was based on. I thought they might have worked on the comic as well, and indeed they did! Lili Chin drew the cover and Eddie Mort wrote the story.
It's pretty standard kids' fare I guess, especially for a comic based on a cartoon show. I've never really watched the show so I don't know how it compares.

Troy's Tales #s 2, 3, and 5.
Troy Mingramm was kind enough to give me this reprinted collection of a lot of his work from the 90s when I ran into him at Graphic in Sydney last August.
They're certainly an interesting peek into a life that is far removed from anything I've ever lived.
Extremely naive and basic drawing style, depicting very straightforward and honest autobio tales.

Romanticide and Anting the Killer Ant + Sunburner.
At the same time Troy also gave me reprinted copies of these, his collaborations with Ryan Vella, both written by Troy, both illustrated by Ryan. I really liked Ryan's style at this stage of his development, individual and quirky enough to be really interesting, but also seeming to strive towards something more slick, polished or finished. He still had a way to go, but his figure and face work were really interesting and were showing their superhero influences, but not being ruled by them.
The writing of both stories tends to lose steam in a big way by the end. They both have evidence of "Ahhh stuff it!" syndrome, as if they've become bored with their own creation. It's a shame particularly in the case of Romanticide because that actually held my interest for the majority of its pages.

Groovy Gravy #7 (1993) and #12 (2010)
An old underground-y type anthology originally from the 90s that looked to start re-publishing last year. Not sure if they got past this initial relaunch issue in #12. The best part about it was definitely Mr. J's wonderful strips, but there are other chuckles here and there.

Lumpen #5, by Pat Grant.
There's a full review of this one coming, but suffice to say that this is a fabulous fabulous cartooned celebration of living in a squalid mess.

Heartland, by Brendan J. Boyd.
I was extremely grateful to Brendan for giving me a copy of this otherwise $30 collection of all the Heartland work he's done over the years. It also includes a CD with Brendan's original compositions that act as a soundtrack for the work.
This is an extremely personal set of stories and poems that are very romantic, spiritual, philosophical and introspective in nature. The lead piece, which is a longer, story-type piece, is much more successful than the shorter, more poem-like pieces that follow. The longer piece really explores the subject and feelings at hand, and actually takes the reader on a bit of a journey. The others seem to tread over the same ground again, but without any meat or conclusion. Fortunately, there's another piece near the end, longer than most but not as long as the opening, that acts as a very nice tie-up for the book as a whole.
The art is adequate for the tone and style of the narratives and poems, being a little naive and clunky, but also open and inviting, having a wholly enjoyable and appropriate rustic feel.

Gemini #4 (of 5) ( mage Comics, July 2009)
It's a long time between issues on this series, and the final issue is yet to see print a year after this one. Never the less, I've really enjoyed everything I've read so far of this superhero series with a twist. It has a very good, and as far as I know unique, premise that really floored me when it was revealed. The whole thing will make for a really good read if it's ever collected as a TPB. That being said, unfortunately this is probably the weakest issue as far as story and character development goes.
Jon Sommariva, an Aussie of no little talent, does the pencilling and inking on Gemini, and he's turned his fun, cartoony, graffiti-inspired art style up to 11 for this series.
It's all great fun, so pick up the single issues if you see them, but be sure to pick up the trade if that ever happens.

Go Boy 7 Vol 2. (Dark Horse’s Rocket imprint. Reprinting issues 5-8 from 2004)
The art in this is also by Jon Sommariva, although a few years earlier. I assume this was meant to be aimed predominately at kids, and Jon's art would surely appeal there, but the series ultimately failed, I would say mostly due to a pretty unlikable, whiny lead character and rushed, haphazard writing. Jon's exuberant, kinetic art shows a lot of potential.

Tiny Peeks. By numerous.
This A6 comic, mostly black & white, but with some well chosen colour pages, is a companion and product of an exhibition of the same name that was held in Melbourne. The range of work, style, skill, and success of the pieces varies widely as does the adhesion to the theme. Being invited to take part (and being an idiot for not doing so) I know that the theme was (to paraphrase) 'one day in the current life of each artist'. Seems to me some contributors produced pages as they would have for any non-theme anthology, while others admirably stuck to the theme and created something that actually was a "tiny peek" into their day-to-day life. That was really appreciated by this reader.

21 March, 2011

Welcome to the new Greener Pastures blog.

OK. Here's a blog. Eventually it will be used primarily to keep you all up to date with progress on the new Greener Pastures material, but for now it will be full of reviews and other (hopefully interesting) chitchat.

I've never had a blog before, so I'll be grateful for your patience as I figure out how to run the darn thing.