Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dead of Winter DVD Reviews

Corpse Bride
A very fun little film. Burton and crew are able to create a beautifully haunting atmosphere. I really enjoy seeing non-Pixar animation. The characters have such life – of course, this is greatly helped by the perfect casting, especially Albert Finney and Christopher Lee. It’s a bit more accessible that Nightmare Before Christmas and is therefore probably more fun for the whole family. Did I just say that?

I never watched Firefly. Heck, I’ve only seen a handful of Buffys, but I love, loved, loved this movie. I wish all movies were like this. I was totally sold on the characters. I was on the edge of my seat the entire bloody time. I felt like I was a 5-year watching Star Wars for the first time again. Damn, I wish it had made enough money to warrant a sequel.

The Constant Gardener
This is another film that should have made a more money. I do like the fact that it was set in an actual African nation (gotta give props to Sahara for its Mali setting too), and it (Kenya) does not come out looking too good. Neither do the British government nor Canadian Pharmaceutical Companies for that matter. People are going on and on about Rachel Wiesz’s performance, but for me, the long, quiet desperation portrayed by Fiennes was the best performance I’ve seen in ages.

Red Eye
Wes Craven starts to show his inner Hitchcock, in taut and economical (80 minutes?) thriller. It was much more sophisticated that I was expecting. The leads provide very strong performances except, surprisingly, for a somnambulistic Brian Cox. Perhaps most impressive is the opening act which perfectly portrays the airport experience. It’s nice to see that a great thriller can be made for under $100 Million.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rio: Twisting Through a Dusty Land

After a great discussion about Doug Wildey’s artwork over at CBR – I redoubled my efforts to track down a copy of Rio. Luck was with me, as I searched through a local bookstore that has a good selection of old comics and lo and behold – there sat a wonderful hardcover copy of Rio. Apparently, a limited run of 1,500 were printed and signed by Wildey himself. This was the kind of find that keeps a comic book fan like me happy.

I was really looking forward to reading it, but with a 10-week old baby at home, my time for funnybooks has been extremely limited. I read the first couple of pages while eating my breakfast cereal one morning this week. I dashed off to work leaving it on the dining room table. I return home that evening to find my wife sitting on the couch reading Rio. Keep in mind, our house is full of comics – there is one at every turn and I never, ever see her reading them. It was nice to actually get Kat’s view of a comic book before I’d read it. She said she thought it was great – and had actually put it down earlier but came back to it to see how it ended.

What can I say about this book? It is definitely everything that a comic book can be. The fact that it is a western makes it even sweeter. Westerns really weren’t a big thing when I was a young comic book fan – the genre had run its course in most media. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I have been able to discover just how perfect western stories fit into the comic book medium.

Wildey is best known for creation Jonny Quest, but he has a very impressive body of work in comic books as well. He worked for many different publishers and excelled in most genres. Rio is obviously a very personal work by a creator at the height of his powers. The look of this book owed more to John Ford’s ‘Monument Valley’ films than it does to the western comics of the 50s, as Wildey’s layout have an impressive cinematic feel to them. The plot, however, owes much more to the anti-hero works of the 70s such as Jonah Hex and Outlaw Josey Wales. Rio is a compelling figure and he is trying to figure out a world that is deeply entrenched in a mixture of greed and apathy.

For my money, the best westerns are those that explore some of the black eyes of American history. The extinction of the buffalo certainly fits the mold. Wildey explores the issue through the eyes of an outsider and is able to show the perspectives of the profiteer, the military and the Native American. The narrative is very tights and flows beautifully.

The artwork is even stronger, and Wildey’s talent as a painter is apparent. The sequence in which Rio forced into the ‘Chase’ is brilliant, pure and simple and should be shown to anyone trying to figure out what a comic book should look like.

There are other chapters in the Rio saga, published by different companies and it would be great if they could be collected in a single volume one day.

This is as good as comics get.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Essential Defenders: 70s Schizophrenia from Marvel

First, let me state that when I first saw the Essentials line on the shelves way back when (more than 10 years ago now?), my comic book snob alter ego kicked in and I thought that it would be a cold day in hell before I every bought a cheap package of black and white reprints. I was a real back issue snob, and thought that the Essentials format was a travesty.

I eventually came to my sense and realized just how wrong I was. It's a wonderful format for reading a stack of back issues that I've neither the time or money to go about collecting. I won't likely ever buy certain Essential volumes (like Captain America, Howard the Duck or Silver Surfer) since I've already got most of the back issues, or even Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Men as I have deemed those early issues worthy of having in a Masterworks format. For me, the Essentials line is perfect for collecting series that I wouldn't otherwise read. My earliest purchases were Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1 and Ant-Man. I was great fun reading these volumes and I have since picked up more of the Essentials line over the years.

I was given the Essential Defenders for Christmas and I was thrilled to dig into it, since I haven't read any of the earliest issues and I knew that some interesting writers and artists worked on the title. When I was a young comic book reader, the Defenders always got a bad rap simply because they weren't the JLA or the Avengers. My comic book peers didn't seem to realize how it was interesting to see how a group of second-tier heroes interacted and dealt with threats to Earth. I have very fond memories of reading and re-reading the 100th anniversary issue, which made me a fan of the Silver Surfer for life.

I have to admit that I have to give this Volume 1 a fairly mixed reviews, as it comes across (like so many post-1970 Marvel titles) as extremely schizophrenic. Here goes nothing:

The Good
  1. The introduction of Valkyrie really added a lot to the team and the title. Making her a permanent fixture in the Marvel Universe (from her initial temporary existence from Avengers #83) was handled well and was very creative.
  2. The issues featuring the Squadron Sinister (and the Extreme Makeover of Nighthawk) was great, and far superior to the Avengers issues.
  3. The art is consistently good (which is rare for a Marvel book in the 70s). Nice stuff from the Andru/Everett team and just about any of the inkers seems to be a good fit for Sal Buscema's pencils.

The Bad

  1. Part of it is personal, as two of the key members (Dr. Strange and Sub-Mariner) were never my favourite Marvel heroes.
  2. Another aspect of the book (especially the earliest issues), is that they are too full of the mysticism that seemed to be all the rage in Bronze Age Marvel books. All of the interdimensional demon stuff has never been my cup of tea (that's probably why I've never really connected with Dr. Strange.
  3. I could have lived without the pre-Marvel Feature issues. While I realize they explain how the 3 core characters first hooked up - they felt disjointed and really suffered from what I mentioned in #2 above.
  4. After all of the great things I've heard, the Avenger/Defenders war was quite a let down.

The Ugly

  1. The production quality is variable, some of the reprinted pages are quite murky and one of the cover reprints barely fit onto the page. The binding on this volume does, however, hold together better than some of the other Essential books (hello Iron Fist).