Friday, March 25, 2011

Pimp My Cinema: A review of Sucker Punch

Living up to its simple name Sucker Punch, the latest film from director Zack Snyder, lulls you in with its gritty, stylized look and then makes off with your ten bucks about that many minutes into the film. Loosely throwing together a narrative of protagonist Babydoll's (played by Emily Browning) visions, the film explores her time in a mental institution through the mashed up fantasy worlds she imagines around her. Unlike his main character, Snyder's imagination sticks firmly to what he knows and goes back to his usual bag of tricks.

Slow-mo/bullet-time fight scenes, interesting looking characters (on the surface), and booming sound all make their expected appearances and take up a good portion of the film. Now these characteristics aren't inherently bad, but with the frequency Snyder uses them in his films it clearly shows a trading of substance in favor of creating his now brand name style. Not all markers of Snyderism are terrible though. Once again the viewer is treated to appealing visuals and an enjoyable soundtrack, with the mash up track of I Want It All/We Will Rock You being an example of what the film was going for, a combo that works.

Blending together elements of other genres; i.e. Steam-punk, zombies, dragons, samurai, robots, and assault weapons, Sucker Punch puts a bunch of "cool" things in one place and hopes for the best. The perfect analogy for the film is the former MTV show Pimp My Ride. On the show they would take a basic or tore up car and not only fix it up but add various odd ball elements that were meant to connect with the owner's taste, such as putting and aquarium in the car of someone who likes fish. Sure, it looks cool but it doesn't really make the car any better and one might argue even detracts from it with the extra attention such features would require. Sucker Punch is the same, in that all these elements look cool but don't really make the film work as a whole.

About now your probably thinking "but that's what they were going for, an over the top spectacle that doesn't need to make sense." On the contrary though, this film breaks up these action scenes with halfhearted dialogue and just enough self-empowering mantras to let you know they did try for some semi-balance of a complete film. Add to that its being marketed by the involved as some kind of feminine empowerment vehicle and you can't help but laugh at the absurdity and audacity of it all.

Before you write it off entirely though, it does have some redeeming qualities. The previously mentioned soundtrack and visual imagery are the for front of these. What can I say, it does look and sound cool. In addition, Oscar Isaac turns in quite a comical performance as Blue Jones, the de facto antagonist of the film. Outside of those few elements though, you're entering at your own risk.

Sucker Punch is a style over substance, action over story vehicle that I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy just not this reviewer. Overall, I give it two out of five stars though, as it had some moments and managed to stay out of Transformers 2 and The Last Air-bender territory. Check it out if you really can do with out a story in favor of coolness but otherwise look elsewhere for your film entertainment this weekend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/16/11

Eight books again this week because I forgot to grab T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (and then after writing all this realized I missed another book which will be put in next week), which I'm starting to think I did subconsciously to make this a nice symmetrical group.

Starting off with DC, we have Brightest Day #22. Continuing it's string of character wrap up issues, BD #22 gives us the final showdown between Firestorm and Deathstorm. As usual the art is really good but the narrative just felt rushed compared to the others that have been ongoing here. There was one moving scene but the rest really felt like filler. That said, I am still looking forward to these last few issue of Brightest Day, if only just to see how all this white lantern hoopla ends up.

Continuing the DC double feature, we have Red Robin #21. Concluding The Rabbit Hole arc, Tim finds how Mikalek got the Uternet back online but taking it back might cost four innocent men their lives and minds. Despite the awkwardness of the Teen Titans cross over taking place during this arc, I really enjoyed how it ended up. Nicieza and To give us another action packed issue that still manages to build the characters involved. Pulling over time on this issue though, are Guy Major's colors that give it a really appealing and vibrant look.

Heading over to Vertigo, we have The Unwritten #23. Tommy's search for answers continues, this time from the inside of a whale with of some of literature's most famous whale prisoners keeping him company. Another great issue in this series, one that has yet to disappoint. Carey and Gross somehow always manage to answer a question not only with another question but with one that makes you reflect on the "answers" you've previously received. Almost as enjoyable as the issue itself, is the letters section in which Carey and Gross each discuss the departure of the book's editor Pornsak Pichetshote. A guiding force for the book since the beginning, his touch will definitley be missed as he moves on to other work.

From Image, we have Hack/Slash #2. Cassie and Vlad do battle with the revived Acid Angel while Cat Curio gets into a little scrape of her own back in Eminence, Indiana. More hot and sexy slasher action from Tim Seeley and Daniel Leister, this universe continues to be a fun read. Looking forward to more in the future and, eventually, digging in to the Vol. 1 omnibus I bought late last year.

Going back in the alphabet to Icon, we have Casanova: Gula #3. Zephyr Quinn kills her way to daddy dearest as we find out what Xeno's endgame with these assassinations is. Another great issue from Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon, featuring the former's confusing but enjoyable storyline and the latter's beautifully whimsical art. This series is just so crazy and out there that I consistently fail as trying to say why I like it, suffice to say that everyone should just go check it out. As usual, a contender for top book of the week but decided to go with something I will get to a bit later.

Moving into the home stretch with the Marvel books, we have Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull One-Shot. In current times Sin, the daughter of Red Skull, is tracking down a magical book that her farther used in the World War II era; Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we see the Red Skull using said book and being tracked by the Invaders. I've been debating with myself as to whether I want to pick up a lot of Marvel's next big event, and I have to say this prologue didn't really sell me on it. While the art looked great (pencils by Scot Eaton, inks by Mark Morales, and colors by Sunny Gho) the premise and the road it starts to venture down just don't grab me. However, if you are more into the Norse Gods in the Marvel U you might like where it's heading quite a bit more. As for me, I think I might pick up some of the X-related tie ins (big surprise there) and leave the rest on the shelf.

Speaking of X-Books, next up is Uncanny X-Force #5.1. Taking a break for the current story line, this perfect introductory issue to the team (hence the .1) treats us to X-Force getting a little revenge on Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers for their previous encounters. While I don't think it was the right move to put this out in the middle of another storyline, it is a great one off issue none the less. Remender continues his spot on (or subtle changing) of the character's personalities while Rafel Albuquerque (an artist who has been mentioned a lot here in conjunction with American Vampire) lets the blood and bullets fly with his spectacular art. If you've been hearing all the hype about Uncanny X-Force and are looking to give it a try, this is the issue for you.

Last up, and honest shocker as pick of the week, is Iceman & Angel One-Shot from Marvel. Back in the younger days, as still X-Boys that are wet behind the ears, Bobby and Warren end up spending Spring Break in New York but, as we all know, the Marvel U New York is never a boring place. Written by Brian Clevinger with art by Juan Doe, this comic is the perfect combination of humorous lines and old school, monster fighting artwork. If your a fan of these two X-men at all (confession: I am huge one) or just like to enjoy a classic, funny adventure every once in a while give this issue a shot.

That is it for this week's books but I should have a post soon about some of the stuff I checked out at C2E2 last weekend, so be on the look out for that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/9/11

We've got eight books this week with a nice variety, only half are superhero ;)

Starting things off we have X-Men: Legacy #246, Chapter 3 of Age of X. Legacy (Rogue) remains on the lamb from her fellow mutants and isn't the only one asking questions. Another solid issue in this x-over as Mike Carey's story builds naturally while Clay Mann's pencil's add the perfect amount of grit and grim to this dystopian future/alternate present. Maybe a little dialogue heavy in some places that were unnecessary but other than that no complaints and looking forward to more.

Rounding out Marvel books this week is Hawkeye: Blindspot #2 of 4. Clint starts searching for leads on who killed his former mentor, Trick Shot, while reminiscing about his early days in the Avengers. A descent issue that features some awesome flashback art done by Nick Dragotta and Brad Simpson but the ending "surprise" reveal felt too cliche and formulaic. Hoping Jim McCann manages to use it in an interesting way for the second half of the mini-series but it certainly isn't working for me yet.

Speaking of comics that ended terribly, our first comic from DC this week is Justice League: Generation Lost #21. Each member of the team deals with the death of Blue Beetle in their own way as they decide if they will continue their hunt for Max Lord. I love 95% of this issue (for you nerds out there, this is an actuate percent since I liked 19 of the 20 pages.) Judd Winick nails these characters motivations, which doesn't surprise me as he has been doing it the whole series. What did surprise me was the final page reveal, which I really dislike and for much of the same reasons as I dislike the ending of Hawkeye this week. There are very few ways I can see Winick turning this into something enjoyable but I'm still holding out hope that it won't ruin the rest of the series for me.

Last DC book of the week is Booster Gold #42. Booster appears back in the present, apparently having served his time in future. It was no trip to Cleveland, however, as he tells Rip and Michelle about his disturbing adventure with his cell mate, the Perforated Man. Still enjoying these wacky time tales from Giffen and DeMatteis, even if this issue had a little less humor than usual. Looking forward to the fallout of what was revealed here especially as it relates to the partnership between Booster and Rip.

From Avatar Press we have Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #3 of 4. The captured constable gets a little tour of the island but all hell breaks loose as Brock, the bow-street runner, discovers their location. While I still like the mini, the break between issues really killed any momentum it had going. When the last issue comes out I'll try to sit down and read them all at once, betting it has a lot better flow that way.

Heading over to Image's Shadowline brand we have Twenty-Seven #4 of 4. Will Garland meets up with the mysterious forces that set him on his current path and, surprise surprise they don't get along. Overall I enjoyed this mini series. Its art, done by Renzo Podesta, is consistently interesting while the story done by Charles Soule was oddly paced at some points but still fun to read. I know there is a second mini-series planned for the summer but I think I might pass on it as the ending here really didn't leave me looking for more.

Runner up this week comes from Th3rd World Studios, The Stuff of Legend Vol 2.: The Jungle Part 4. Concluding this arc Maxwell reveals his dark secret to the animal toys while Jester, Princess, and Harmony run into some old friends in the hunting grounds. Another fantastic issue from Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III. Great art, engaging story, and unique characters (not just some Toy Story wannabees) make this a must read for me every time. Looking forward to the next volume, The Jester's Tale starting in the summer.

Pick of the week is once again a Vertigo Resurrected title, Finals #1 (a collection of the four issue Finals mini-series from 1999.) Written by Will Pfeifer with art by Jill Thompson, Finals tells the story of five seniors at Knox State University. All of them are working on their senior projects, and since KSU is known for pushing students harder than anywhere else each project is peculiar and more extreme than the last. This college tale of devolving men, out of control cults, and dead time travelers really did it for me as it nailed a lot college personalities (even ten years later) while still being fun and out there. Give a chance if you enjoy a good college romp or are digging the other Vertigo Resurrected books as much as I am.

That is it for this week. Next week should feature a fairly sizable stack but get ready to hear about all the awesome stuff I pick up at C2E2.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/2/11

Not a huge week of books, but still some good ones mixed in with a bad one or two.

Starting things off we have Carbon Grey #1 of 3 from Image Comics. Blending the looks of steam punk and World War 1 Germany, this first issue introduces us to The Sisters Grey, former servants of the empire that have turned against it. For the most part I did like the art of the book; done by the team of Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen it turns out sexy or bloody depending on the appropriate situation. The story on the other hand, I did not care to much for. It's predominately told through a convoluted narration that fails to stand on its own. I have a feeling it will read much better all at once, so I might wait and get the last two issues together or pick up a collected edition when it becomes available. For now, I would advise just skipping it.

Next is the issue number 4 of Uptight, created by Jordan Crane and published by Fantagraphics Books. Continuing the two stories of last issue, the drifting apart couple reach a conclusion while the children adventures with cat in tow fall deeper into the odd happenings at their school. Can't really say much more about this book that I haven't said already. Still really digging the stories and covers, but now begins the long wait for the next issue which judging by the dates on the previous ones could be more than a year!

From Radical Comics we get Earp: Saints for Sinners #2 of 5. Telling a little of the back story, this issue shows us how Josie and Wyatt first met as well as some of the initial problems the Earp boys got themselves into in sin city. Overall I didn't really enjoy this issue as much as the first one. The back story was tame and somewhat boring compared to the world we've already seen. Not sure if I'll continue the series just yet, but I really hope it gets back to form.

Heading over to DC we have Batman Beyond #3. Concluding The Heart of the Matter storyline, this issue features Batman and the Justice League battling this new Matter Master. The story wraps up nicely and Adam Beechen, the writer, even makes a point to show a little of how this book will differ from the show and that Terry has become a bit more of his own man. The pencils from Ryan Benjamin were good but did irk me in a few places. Also wanted to quickly mention the cool cover design from Dustin Nguyen, hope to see more of this on the book in the future. Looking forward to next issue which looks to feature every one's favorite spunky, confidant from the TV show, Max.

Rounding out DC, we have Brightest Day #21. Titled Mars Attacks this issue brings the Martian Manhunter's chapter to a close as he finally chooses between Earth and Mars. Really ended up enjoying this issue, even though some of the previous MM issues weren't my favorite. It also provides us with a little more insight as to what's happening to the people the ring is taking.Finally the art from Patrick Gleason, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado is once again great, leaving me anxiously awaiting the final few issues.

My only Marvel book this week, and runner up, is Ultimate Captain America #3 of 4. Steve Rodgers goes through a little bit of re-education at the hands of Frank Simpson, but is it enough to break the original super soldier's steadfast resolve? Really loving this mini series from Jason Aaron (writer) and Ron Garney (artist). This issue lets us get a bit deeper into Simpson's mind as well as the politics he represents. Reading over it again, it plays a little like Heart of Darkness and it should be interesting to see how Captain America comes out of all this.

Last up and obvious pick of the week is Joe the Barbarian #8 of 8. Joe's adventures in the real world as well as those in his hallucinations come to a head this issue as he combats the darkness of two worlds. Been anxiously awaiting this issue for a while, and it definitely delivered. Great art from Sean Murphy while Grant Morrison delivers a simpler and more emotional finale which I was not expecting but did enjoy. Looking forward to re-reading it when I end up getting all the issues sorted into one place. If you skipped it in single issue form, make sure to grab the collection when it comes out as I really think everyone can find something in this book.

That wraps up this week. Comments, critiques, or suggestions for future reading can be left below. Now if you'll excuse me I have this week's comics waiting for me already and they are sure to be a fickle mistress.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Circle of Trust #7: A Film Unfinished (2010)

I'm interrupting your normal internet browsing tomfoolery for another look into the films distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories. The latest entry in their growing catalog of modern classics, which I received through my Circle of Trust subscription, is director Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished.

Hersonski's directorial debut is a documentary telling the tale of a German film discovered shortly after World War II. Labeled "Ghetto" it was thought to be real footage of life in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw during the war; thus it was treated as such for many years becoming a valuable resource for filmmakers looking to utilize archival footage. Year later though; through the discovery of outtakes, cut footage, personal journals, and eye witness testimony "Ghetto" is revealed to be one of the third reich's cleverest propaganda pieces hiding in plain sight. Blending the aforementioned documents together, Hersonski creates an interesting and heartfelt documentary that not only opens one's eyes to the some of the horrific footage shot under the Nazi regime (which we've seen in docs before) but gets one to truly question the original purpose and intent of all archival footage they've been exposed to.

Just presenting information like this would be enough to warrant a watch but the way in which it's presented keeps the viewer interested and enthralled. The viewer learns of the important discovery relatively early in the film and is even shown a few clips of the original footage altered to have particular people highlighted. These highlighted individuals clearly react contrary to what is being established by others in the scene and reveals that hints of its false nature were there the entire time. After this I couldn't help but looking for people doing the same through out the rest of the film, just one of the ways the director draws in your attention and assures it throughout. Intermittent in the film, we are shown survivors watching the footage who expound on what is actually going on, why people are reacting a certain way, and their memories of other ghetto prisoners. This becomes truly heart breaking though when we see them watching the missing footage, which includes Nazi soldiers disposing of bodies in the ghetto. This powerful imagery creates empathy even in our youngest and future generations that have been that are slowly becoming numb to such footage themselves. These feelings and thoughts also bleed in to the bonus features which do a tremendous job of supporting and expanding on the film.

In true Oscilloscope fashion, this DVD comes with great extra features. Instead of just adding to the film or going behind the scenes, the extra features on this disc seek to help one understand the subject matter as well as documentary and propaganda better. First up are two essays (one written and one video) by film scholars discussing the film and how it relates to what a documentary is/should be. Next is an interview with author and film researcher Adrian Wood, whose efforts helped discover the missing footage at the focal point of the film. Switching over to American film of the time, the DVD includes Death Mills (1945) a short film by Billy Wilder that gives ones of the first looks at concentration camps after being liberated. Last up, and this one requires using a computer, is a PDF study guide for teachers who might use the film as an aide and their students who seek to gain a deeper understanding of it.

Another spectacular entry into Oscilloscope's library, I give this film a four out of five stars. I don't think its right to say I really enjoy the film, but I do think it is well made and should be given a watch. As far as scoring the DVD I have to go with a four out of five again, as its bonus features and package design are welcome additions to my (or any) DVD collection. Below are a few links to help you get a hold of the film or learn more about it, and be sure to comment if you've seen it or do end up giving it a look.

-Enter to win a copy of A Film Unfinished from the folks at The Documentary Blog

-Add it to your Netflix queue

-Buy it from Oscilloscope Laboratories site

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 2/23/11

Lots of books this week so we're going to jump right into it:

First up from Image, we have Skull Kickers #6. Titled Four Tavern Tales, this issue gives us a few short stories about our favorite blundering, mid-evil mercenaries. I enjoyed this little break before the series goes into another arc in May. Despite being handled by a bunch of different talent, the characters maintained their patented humor I enjoy. Of course bringing this book up again forces me to mention Marshall Dillon, the letterer of the series, who's work really makes every issue worth my cash.

Next up is Uptight #3, from Fantagraphics. Staying true to form, we are presented with two new stories (the first chapter in a tale of a couple drifting apart and one about a child's adventures when kicked out of class) along with a great cover. So far, this is my favorite issue of the series with the two stories presenting a nice contrast in both art and style that really appeals to me. Looking forward to picking up the fourth issue at my local shop next week but I think that is the last one they have.

Heading over to DC we have Justice League: Generation Lost #20. After last issue's killer ending, this one splices in large chunks of Max Lord's past as the League looks to avenge their fallen comrade. Really liked Judd Winick's story that let us into the past of the "villain" but the art was not the best of the series. While nothing is final in comics, I really didn't except the book to take this turn of one of them dying and am looking forward to what it closes with in the home stretch.

Teen Titans #92 is our only other book from DC this week, finishing up the crossover with Red Robin. The team confronts Calculator prime causing bad blood on both sides to come to the surface. Overall, I didn't really enjoy this issue or the crossover. The dialogue felt a little hokey and hammed up while the art was fine in some places but terribly rough in others for no reason. I am interested to see how the resulting cast change effects the book though, even if I didn't particularly want it to happen.

Moving on to Marvel we have Secret Avengers #10. Eyes of the Dragon concludes as the team enacts their plan to rescue Shang Chi and take down the Shadow Council. Dig the art here, from Mike Deodato and Will Conrad, but the slow build from Ed Brubaker's story just didn't have a satisfactory pay off for me.We get a lot of action but little character development which is more of what I was looking for in the book. It's not a bad title but I feel like it might read better in trade form, so I might try that for the next arc.

Stepping into the Age of X we have the first two chapters of it, X-Men: Legacy #245 (ch.1) and New Mutants #22 (ch.2). In Legacy a familiar, yet different, group of mutants defend their citadel from human attackers but not everyone survives the encounter. I think this was a great beginning for this X-over between Legacy and New Mutants. At first I was a little annoyed by some of the less obvious characters not having their names properly shown but grew to love the detective work of finding out who they are. Really liking the world Mike Carey is creating here and the art of Clay Mann that is being used to fill it. Over in New Mutants, Legacy (the character) starts doing a little detective work of her own, trying to find out what their escaped prisoner was looking for outside Fortress X's defenses. Much like ch.1, I like the world Carey is building with his story, something of mystery for both the reader and Legacy. Unlike the first issue though, I was not to fond of Steve Kurth's pencils here but they weren't really deal breaking either. Overall, I'm sold on Age of X and am looking forward to next month's installments. Also, wanted to give Marvel and the X-editors a commendation for toning down the scope of this event. It is, at most, only 3 issues each month and that is something I wouldn't mind seeing more of in future events.

In the non-Age of X land, Uncanny X-Men continues it's Quarantine storyline with issue #533. Shaw and Frost get a bit physical while the only other X-Men not sick on Utopia crash Lobe's investor party. Just the opposite of Secret Avengers, the slow boil of this story line starts to pay off here and will most likely continue through the end of the arc. Fraction and Gillen's narrative seemed a bit over packed in the first couple issues but it is making for better resolution in these final ones. As usual, Greg Land's art gives us something pretty to look at and only adds to the appeal of this book.

Concluding Fantastic Four, we have the final issue #588 (although it will probably change back somewhere down the line.) The first part of the book presents a month of mourning for the remaining members of Marvel's first family, done without any dialogue, while the back-up feature has Spider-Man consoling Franklin Richards over what it's like to lose an uncle. While I really liked the Uncles story (written by Hickman with art by Mark Brooks), the main feature was just ok. Parts of it were enjoyable, while others felt forced or unnecessary especially in the art department. Don't think I'm going to be picking up the new FF series regularly but I might give #1 a shot.

From IDW we have Kill Shakespeare #9.  Hamlet, the prophesied Shadow King, comes face to face with the title bard. Another fantastic issue in this limited series! While not to much physically happened, Andy Belanger's art and panel structure looked great doing it. Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col's introduction of Shakespeare and the part he will play in the rest of the series wets the appetite just as much and I look forward to the last few issues.

Vertigo brings us a one and done tale in the American Vampire universe in issue #12. Skinner Sweet takes in a road show which brings back fond memories of his time in the wild west. Not my favorite issue of the series, but still a fun one. Scott Synder's adds a little humanity and depth to Sweet without detracting from his blood thirsty persona. Danijel Zezelj's art was a descent fill in but I'm looking forward to getting Rafael Albuquerque back on interiors next issue, when our favorite blood suckers get involved in WWII.

Going from one bucket of blood to gallons of the stuff, we have Crossed: Psychopath #1. Meet Harold Lorre, one of the few humans left who hasn't Crossed, as he joins up with a group of survivors. The problem is, however, Harold is psychotic already (he is the title character, don't you know) and adept at hiding it. Being the big fan of the Crossed universe that I am, it should come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this book. The aspect that sets it apart from previous Crossed issues and other post apocalyptic works, is us seeing it from the mind of someone already deranged. David Lapham (the writer) knows how to keep the Crossed world new with fresh ideas and I can't wait to see what else he has in store for us in this crazy book.

Narrowly beating Crossed out for the top spot this week is Namor: The First Mutant #7. Continuing his voyage through Hell, Namor is losing his way but his allies (now including Doctor Doom) aren't about to let him go with out a fight. This book, and this issue in particular, manage to do everything right with a solo superhero title. Month in and month out Stuart Moore presents us with interesting stories that not only get to the core of who this character is but also build a supporting cast that is just as interesting. In perfect harmony, Ariel Olivetti's art visualizes this world and characters superbly while getting a little help in that department from Phil Noto's great covers. I said it earlier this week on twitter, but this is seriously the best mainstream title no one else is reading or at least not talking about if they are. So next time you're in your local shop, pick up an issue so we can keep this gem on the stands.

That is it for this week but as usual comments, critiques, and suggestions can be left below or sent to Looks like I am going to have a short stack next week so I might grab something new to check out for the blog.