Friday, June 28, 2013

“Green Lantern” Review (2011)

After waving it off for some time, I was pleasantly surprised to find Green Lantern watchable, faint as that praise may be. The first half-to-three-quarter hour is pretty solid, with Ryan Reynolds accurately portraying comic book jerk Hal Jordan in his natural jet jockey environment. You get a good sense of who Jordan is and what he can bring to the intergalactic peacekeeping corp that recruits him when one of their best gets murdered. A decent supporting cast gets built, and you can see an arc forming for Jordan's character.

It all falls apart with the introduction of Hector Hammond, balding sweatpants loser scientist. Ever since Batman Returns, super-hero sequels have been plagued by too many lesser villains hogging the spotlight, but it's rare that filmmakers bungle the balance right out of the gate. Usually, the first movie is all about establishing the hero's origins and introducing an arch-rival. This movie has three, the least of whom is Hammond. After nearly a half century in comics, Hammond is still considered the poor man's MODOK, so unloved that he never even got a codename. Hammond could have been a great geek-baiting background character, like Dylan Baker's turn as Dr. Curt Connors in the second Spider-Man movie. Peter Sarsgaard has a lot of fun with the role, initially sympathetic, eventually slimy, but the character's questionable arc (stripped gears shifting from first to fourth) hijacks far more of the film than should have been allowable. It doesn't help that the character's dad is played by Tim Robbins, which brings back all the worst Howard the Duck memories.

When the Hector Hammond story isn't eating up space, the planet Oa is. Hal Jordan flies off to receive one whole scene of training as a Green Lantern before he up and quits the corp. That means that after going through the trouble of casting an entire Jordan family for one scene, replacement alien supporting players Tomar-Re and Kilowog (celebrity guest voices Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan) also up and vanish for the rest of the movie. I suppose it helps to demonstrate Jordan's detachment and irresponsibility, but it also means that the audience has few places to turn to in order to sustain interest. Seemingly, his only friend is Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi,) who serves as his cheering section during a test piloting sequence, gives him a ride when he's stranded after meeting his benefactor Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison,) and pressures Jordan into showing off his new costume. Then it's so long to Pieface.

Hector Hammond also has his own thin, perfunctory supporting cast. This mostly consists of his manipulative senator father (Robbins) and the woefully miscast Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller. In the comics, "The Wall" was basically Nell Carter as a morally compromised right wing military conspiracy on two legs, the same character introduced to broader audiences in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. In this movie, "Doctor" Waller is a scientist who doesn't even throw around a buck fifty in weight. Bassett's talents are wasted in such a thankless role as written, and the fantastic character of Amanda Waller is reduced to unconvincing cosplay. Martin Lawrence in a fat suit could have done more with it.

I've heard folks say that what they really wanted from this movie was Training Day in outer space, which could have been good. Second adversary Sinestro pops up throughout the movie, and like Sarsgaard, Mark Strong gets the most out of a flat character. Aside from pomposity, there isn't much of Sinestro on the page, and shortcuts taken in this feature (especially the ill advised closing credits teaser) undermine his character further in the event of a sequel. The biggest bad is Parallax, yellow entity of fear, who I've heard described as a diarrhea cloud with a face in it. Not since Galactus in the Fantastic Four sequel have filmmakers so thoroughly misunderstood the appeal of a villain through an abstract manifestation. Only the hard-dyingest of fans care if Parallax is a possessed human or a bug or whatever, but no one wants him to literally look like a glowing Hershey squirt amoeba. None of the villains have any emotional resonance, at least two of them look laughable, and they crowd the movie mercilessly.

Perhaps recognizing this, a love triangle is haphazardly grafted on between Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Hector Hammond, but it registers merely as a delusion in the increasingly unstable Hammond's mind. Given the company and circumstances, Blake Lively fares well enough as Ferris. Reynolds has better than a decade on the actress, so their "growing up together" romance is a little skeevy. At the same time, it's right in Hal Jordan's wheelhouse *cough*Arisia*cough*. In truth, the dynamic is more mother-child, given that Jordan is portrayed as such a wimp that he constantly needs reassurance in order to function as a Green Lantern. Despite the physical disparity between Jordan and Hammond, they really are both pathetic mama's boys basking in the glow of Ferris' tepid, inconsistent support. Unintentionally, the filmmakers have created an emotional dynamic in which there are no true heroes and few villains, but instead a universe full of emotional cripples unable to fully function even when granted power rings whose only limitations are imagination and will. As spectacles go, it's a sad one.

One final note: I can't believe that a movie with a reported 200 million budget has such rubbery CGI, and only spent about $35 on the soundtrack. Sum 41? I can't even name a Sum 41 song that isn't actually by Blink-182. This isn't exactly a big money cast either, so what secret windfall did The Producers reap from this flick's global earnings shortfall?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

“Man of Steel” Review (2013)

Superman comics were among the first I ever read, and seeing the 1979 Christopher Reeve movie was one of my earliest memories of a theatrical experience. I watched reruns of the George Reeves series and have seen my share of the various TV versions since. Basically, like most everyone in the free world, I've had plentiful exposure to the Last Son of Krypton. I also suspect that all of us, no matter how much we may have enjoyed the various attempts to translate the character to live action, have always been at least a little disappointed in how low-key the action has been in those features. A great deal of money was spent on Superman Returns for him to appear far less super than the X-Men in their movies, and fans of Smallville waded through a decade of shoddy cosplay waiting for a payoff that never came. Man of Steel wants to make up for that. It wants to give you every super power and all the vicious alien adversaries and every extraordinary obstacle and all the titanic destruction every previous cinematic Superman was lacking, and it does. No super-hero movie has ever been as visually spectacular. You just have to bring all the baggage from those prior Superman encounters with you, because the movie gives you little else but the boom.

The throughline of Man of Steel comes directly from the two Donner films. On the planet Krypton, Jor-El tangles with the forces of General Zod while attempting unsuccessfully to convince authorities that their world is doomed. Baby Kal-El rockets from his exploding home world to Earth, where he's raised by kindly farmers in Kansas. Clark Kent is eventually told of his heritage, is counseled by his ghostly alien father, and grows to become Superman. Kal-El's presence on Earth attracts Zod and his surviving followers, who wreck havoc on Superman's adoptive world and threaten his reporter girlfriend Lois Lane.

Superman Returns was a surprisingly boring movie as it carried over threads from the Donner films and took them down weird, wrong-headed new roads. Man of Steel is surprisingly not a boring movie despite offering a stylish Cliff's Notes condensation of major story beats from two flicks thirty years ago. Director Zack Snyder is shooting for pure Americana, playing with focus and static shots to create an iconic pictorial with a Superman theme. The thing about icons is that they represent something universal in the simplest, most direct terms. The stick figure on a bathroom stall is immediately recognizable and functional, but they aren't known for their emotional resonance. Man of Steel is designed to remind the viewer of feelings inspired by other works, then deliver on their unfulfilled promises of grand comic book throwdowns. In this way, it shares a lot of functionality with the flood of XXX super-hero parodies, bringing the goods previously denied in an effective manner, but walking back the gains in respectability made by the medium in recent years by pandering to man's most primitive desires.

Similarly, this film is filled with former stars and current high grade character actors who were seemingly cast to compensate for their abysmal treatment on the script page. Henry Cavill is an attractive cypher in the titular role. He has a great body and carries himself well, offering as few lines as possible to maximize the viewer's ability to project whatever they want Superman to be onto his performance. Amy Adams helps to transition away from the annoying shrieking straw feminist Lois Lane of Margot Kidder and sands off the rough edges of Teri Hatcher and Dana Delany to make the dogged journalist to content modern audience while ensuring she still has long plunges to be caught from by strong Kryptonian arms. Jimmy Olsen has had problems making a connection with viewers, so he was recast as a spare damsel in distress, then the change was downplayed with enough ambiguity that her presence didn't register any offense being perpetrated. Laurence Fishburne plays a newspaper editor in a few perfunctory scenes, negating any objection to the colorblind recasting of Perry White by not registering in an appreciable way by the time the credits roll. God help us, Kevin Costner is probably the closest thing we have to Glenn Ford today, and he gets it done. I enjoyed Diane Lane's southern fried matriarch over Costner's po-face, as she rang true and is unique to the super-hero cinematic cannon, even if her primary reference for drawl and spirit was probably Steel Magnolias. The beefiest parts in the thin soup go to Russell Crowe and Michael Shannon, whose pair of Kryptonian leaders are elevated above the material via comparatively extended screen time and gnawing on the scenery itself.

Zack Snyder smartly avoids his more in-your-face gimmicks, and has turned up with some gratifying, appropriate new ones for the ⅔rds of the movie that requires a director. The CGI sections are fatty as a result, and while I dislike a design aesthetic that renders Krypton as steampunk Anne McCaffrey, the visuals are strong. The real problem, and I've been harping on this for ages, is screenwriter David S. Goyer. There was a time when he was one of the only writers who took comic book material seriously, even if his idea of adaptation was to essentially swipe sequences right out of the books and stitch them together with his own sorry authorial abilities. In the late '90s, that was enough, and even later than that his ineptitude was concealed by visionary directors, excellent casts and an all-encompassing creative unit within which he was consistently the weakest link. By virtue of the fantastic nature of Superman, Goyer's paltry contributions cannot distract and derail the way they did on the Dark Knight Trilogy, but I'm fearful that he might have an opportunity to damage less sturdy properties like Wonder Woman and the Justice League based on the good fortune he's found through association. Please remember in the future that Goyer unbuoyed brought us The Crow: City of Angels, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield, Blade: Trinity, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Marvel Studios may be heavyhanded in its oversight of the creative process on their movies, but consistency enforced from above still allows for varied colors within the margins. Every time the studios run back to safe, stupid Goyer, we get super-heroes processed through one creative sensibility and increasingly insurmountable plot holes.

Gripes aside, Goyer isn't all bad, and it would be difficult not to find value in a film containing this much talent. Krypton is a much more exciting place than it's ever been before, borrowing from the pilot to Superman: The Animated Series and yes, sigh, The Matrix. Clark Kent's course to Superman is altered in a way that facilitates action sequences and keeps things moving at a brisk pace. You can't say the stunt casting was a waste when seasoned presences keep you engaged despite their individual roles proving cynically threadbare. Two exposition heavy scenes are rescued by arresting CGI visuals that make an impression. The portion that liberally remakes Superman II is packed with cool punch-kick-block. Ursa and Non by any other name are very much the same, though Faora-Ul required martial arts and nifty FX where Sarah Douglas was simply scary through performance. Whatever its failings, Man of Steel is entertaining and occasionally even beautiful, at least until the lengthy final act cut scenes, a complete disregard for human life and PTSD disorders in the audience, and the tone deaf coda seeing the audiences out on a sour note. Despite Goyer's red carpet warnings, The Avengers needn't watch their back, since those movies by necessity retain a connecting human element with the need to develop unproven characters, whereas Man of Steel had all the room it needed for tedious, unengaging, full scale disaster porn since the characters came pre-sold. It's not the greatest Superman movie ever made, but it's certainly the best Dragonball Z one, and the sum of its parts are greater than the sloppy wet thud of the third reel.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2012 New 52 Huntress art by Garnabiel Kraken

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Monday, June 17, 2013

2011 Anima C2E2 commission by Bobby Timony

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“Anima (in her pre-costume days) by Bobby Timony from the C2E2 convention in Chicago, March 2011

"Animus" is the living embodiment of mankind's rage, which Anima channeled.”
Bobby Timony

Thursday, June 13, 2013

2008 Power Girl color commission by Craig Rousseau

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“oh, the pic above is a commission for another good friend, officer white...”
Craig Rousseau Canson Color!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ambush Bug in Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues

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While I got started following the misadventures of Irwin Schwab with Son of Ambush Bug, the sweet spot for the character turned out to be his first mini-series and guest appearances/villainous turns/team-ups in Superman titles like Action Comics and DC Comics Presents. The Bug may have owed a huge debt to the Looney Tunes, but many of the rare genuinely funny comic book pro/antagonists learned the game from Keith Giffen & friends. Ambush Bug is at his best when bouncing off other characters, and I'd be willing to read the entire run of Thriller if it meant even one of these make-believe comics crafted by the blogger Ross would come to fruition.... ...More Lost Team-Up Issues...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2010 “DSC Ambush Bug” art by Pio Paulo Santana

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"Wanted to do more with the shadows but ran outta time. Photoshop 30 mins."