Friday, 30 September 2011

Back at last

Sorry for the silence on the blog folks, been internet-less for over a week now. As, evidently, it has returned, expect the normal influx of rantings and ravings soon, about comics, movies, novels and anything else that takes my fancy.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Novel Review - The Separation by Christopher Priest

WWII novels are awash with suspense and mystery - will the Nazis win? Will the US enter the war? Did Churchill eat all the pies? The Separation plays on the mysteries of this period of time, long forgot by history, whilst also telling the story of British twins, Joe and Jack Sawyer, and their relationship with a woman.

Time to backpeddle. Christopher Priest is best known as the writer of the source material for Nolan's The Prestige, and anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of the writer. Both The Prestige and The Glamour enthralled me and challenged me, although The Extremes left me unsatisfied. I've got a lot of experience with Priest and I am rather biased towards his work.

The Seperation starts, in characteristic Priest fashion, with a framing story. Stuart Gratton is a writer of historical novels, and he uncovers an intriguing story: JL Sawyer, a man who flies with the RAF and is conscience objector, is talked of by Churchill. He delves at first into a written account by one of the twins and then into a mixture of material that is a written account by the second twin combined with a collection of other documents that pertain to the twins.

There's no other way to put this: the first 150 pages of this book are kinda boring. Certainly, it starts off intriguing, but the story about the twins who go to Berlin intercut with RAF hijinks is a bit longer than it really should be. Historical novels do not interest me, and I did not feel that the central romance was necessarily although that compelling. Certainly, as ever, there is a lot to be read between the lines in the way that the author focuses away from certain things and understates certain elements, but this is not pronounced enough to really create mystery. I like his writing and I did see certain interesting or unusual things in there, and repression and unspoken emotion certainly seeps through, but really the main problem here is that the section is about fifty pages too long.

When you get past section two, however, it's business as usual for Mr Priest. A creeping sense of the unnatural takes the narrative by the scruff of the neck and obfuscation is rife. Everyone is unreliable, as is our experience of the novel; all par for the course for Priest, but he keeps it fresh by taking structural complexity further, and adding lots of third party evidence outside of our feuding unreliable narrators. As ever with Priest, narrative structure is the star of the show and the way that any "truth" value becomes blurred is key. In this respect, the latter part of the Separation perhaps eclipses any of his other books. What exactly happens is never clear, and this is the main draw of the story.

Perhaps, this is what the novel is about. It's a historical fiction that looks at real events, conspiracy theories and how unclear things become when we have varied and contradictory perspectives of it, as there inevitably will be when events are so big and widespread. It's about history itself, and how we make sense of it, but also about the way our perspective of war is shaped by hindsight, and not as clear cut as history books would have us think. There's also the strain relating to twins, and sepataration. Really, it's up to yourself to decide what the book is about and figure out how to piece it together. Although Priest had a metaphor in mind, he's as keen to give us hints and ambiguity that let us form different and new ideas from the novel.

The ending disappointed me a bit, and perhaps the ambiguity here is a little frustrating. It's more enjoyable on an intellectual level than an emotional one, as the main characters are hard to care for as a result of the novels structure, but there is something that does resonate about many of the scenes and the love story. It's not a character driven piece, but neither is it a novel of poor characterisation.

I've used a variety of terms that suggest this is a formula book by Priest, but it is only in a good sense. Priest is playing to his strengths, and by giving us very different themes and genres - an alternate history, set in WWII - he gives us something that is also unlike anything else he has written before whilst being exactly the same. It's a very worthy novel for those with strong attention spans and an inclination towards things that are mentally stimulating. Enigmatic and complex and structurally a joy.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Comic Review - Seven Soldiers

Another Grant Morrison? It's as if he is my favourite comic book writer or something. Honest.

Before reading any further, it is probably important to note that I am, indeed, a massive fan of the Scottish scribe, and thus not exactly objective. I do believe that the stories I talk about, however, have enough that is genuinely good about them that render this not just fanboy blinded squealing.

Seven Soldiers is a simple and complex idea: together, seven heroes must defeat an evil that threatens the world. The twist? The seven heroes never meet, and are drawn together by shared circumstances and threat rather than a physical team.

So, as you may have picked up by now, I rather liked this mini-series. Honestly, when I started reading them I felt that their quality was something of a double edged sword - I'd have loved to have seen more Klarion or Frankenstein or Zatanna or Shining Knight under the pen of Morrison; hell, I'd have read full series with any of these characters at the fore. That these are characters brimming with potential and mostly beautifully drawn and coloured. The knowledge that these creative teams would only be tackling the series for four issues was a little bit frustrating. It was being teased with great ideas and stories, but only getting to see the introduction.

This is, beyond stories about any characters, an experiment utilising the structure of the medium. The way these different stories interact without physically meeting up is the key to this, and Morrison threads together a story that is easy enough to piece together when you read all of the different story strands. Yet taken on their own, it seems that each miniseries would form a more or less coherent story, just lacking resolution. To fully understand elements of Bulleteer you would have to read the prelude, and to get any resolution for any of the story strands you have to read the final chapter wherein all the pathways converge.

As a finale this chapter, Seven Soldiers #1, is probably the part most open to criticism, although not necessarily the worst part. Seems contrary, I know, but bare with me. The problem that the series runs into is that not everyone is given an equal place in the finale, and certain characters suffer from being shunted off to the side. Others seem to be more there for "right place, right time" and the resolutions to all of their arcs is done in a very short time, which perhaps may not seem satisfying. For all that it has more negative points, it's also got more positive points than any other part of the story. The art shifts and changes and is incredibly experimental, and the story feels massive. Things click very nicely into place, and the final has a real urgency to it. That this structural experiment could come together so well is very impressive, and I feel that much of the character resolutions do actually work. Such is the scale, imagination and ambition of this project that I found it hard not to get caught up in the moment where it all came together.

Grant Morrison writes stand alone stories that form a larger narrative when taken together. They are complex and not always, or even often, easy to read, yet he also tells such a fundamentally good story - exciting and action packed and full of the weird and wonderful. Seven Soldiers is, if not quite unique, something that certainly treads new and innovative ground, worth a read for that alone. Luckily that there's also a cracking story in there too.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fancy Words - Choice words from Christopher Priest's The Separation

"I am personally convinced that war is wrong, no matter how good the cause. I am also convinced that although a war can be fought for what is believed to be an honourable reason, such as with the intention of forming a peaceful society, the war itself, by causing so much death and destruction, defeats its own object."

Not an opinion I necessarily agree with, nor one that Priest necessarily agrees with either. Neither is it a new viewpoint, being an oft argued and touted philosophy. What I like about this quote is how succinctly it articulates the idea being a force unto itself that obuscates and erodes any kind of moral high ground, an entity with it's own agendas, regardless of the intent of those involved.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Film Review - Audition

tl;dr Unsettling and genre defying, Audition is at the very least worth a look if you have a strong stomach.

Early in University a friend of mine hands me a book, points to a paragraph and tells me to read it. In said paragraph a descriptively drawn orgy is taking place. The book is Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami and when a friend mentions a Jap. horror flick named Audition it tickled my memory - isn't that also a book by Ryu Murakami? As it happened the gratuity on display in this choice passage was something of a good indication as to what to expect and uttterly misleading.

Audition is a story about man whose wife died a number of year ago. His son and his friend are both insistent that he needs a new woman, and his friend comes up with the idea of staging an audition for a movie. Through this ruse he would be able to meet a large number of attractive young women and one in particular leaps out at him. And from this hijinks ensue.

This is an insiduous movie. Certainly, there's a tonal ambiguity that hangs over most the movie. In another movie, the set up could be lead to a quirky romcom and at times this seems like a romance, or a study of loneliness. Nothing about this movie's advertising, to the cover of the DVD, however, leaves you in any doubt that this is more than that. A horror, it's often classed as, but really it defies classification. Nonetheless, a very quiet tension builds, incredibly subtle direction and editing tricks that keep us uncomfortable even when the movie is giving us no good reason to be uncomfortable.

Audition walks a line between lots of genres, comitting fully to none. It plays with expectations and although this does suggest a chance that people may be alienated, likelihood is if you are watching it you are probably open to a very different type experience anyway. It's a well directed and written affair, careful never to tip the balance, making sure as to keep the plot on the edge of plausibility even as it cascades into nightmarish and seemingly paranormal sequences.

Audition is a haunting and violent movie, an utterly bonkers yet strangely fragile film. It's lack of commitment to any one label or genre is ultimately one of it's strengths and it's brutality serves an end so as to make sure the comic is never just violence for titilation. If you've got a strong stomach, definitely look it up.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Comic Review - Captain America: Operation Rebirth

Alright Captain America. I was cynical, I'll admit it. But as much as I dislike you as a concept and a character, I could not help but be won over by that movie earlier this year. It came off the back of quite a lot of hype and lived up to it all. Maybe I was wrong about you. And with Operation Rebirth sitting on my bookshelf, you've got the help of Mark Waid. Surely, this should be the start of something beautiful?


Captain America: Operation Rebirth comes off of a plotline that sees ol' Cap dying of the same Super Soldier Serum that gives him the ability to fight a wall with only his face and still win. Writer Mark Waid has a strong record of introducing me to a character I don't know anything about and giving me a firm grasp of their character and making me care about them, doing this with Ralph Dibny and Wally West in 52 and The Return of Barry Allen. I figured that Rebirth would be a reconstruction of Cap, looking at what makes him great whilst telling a pulse pounding story.

I am not entirely sure where it went wrong. Perhaps my intial reservations about Cap were correct, perhaps he is not my type of character or perhaps he is just bland. The artwork did not appeal to me at all, and I found there a real lack of anything interesting or cool to look at coupled with a real lack of emotion or action. This is what I always considered proto-typical comic artwork to be like, and I really did not like it. Then again, maybe it's the characcter designs that rub me up the wrong way, or the art culture surrounding it. Not only is it Marvel, but it's not from a period I particularly like anything from. Ron Garney has to take rather a lot of the flak for this one.

Not that the story is a good one. No, that's not exactly fair - the story was fast moving and twisty and at times very good fun, but between my disinterest in the characters and the unengaging artwork it left me cold. The dialogue was annoying, with ol' Cap coming across as a passive-aggressive, witless smartmouth and his love interest coming off as, well, a love interest. Sure, she's got the "I'm all hard and cold because of seperation" thing going on, but that serves only to make her seem obstinant and kinda petty. I don't believe it's impossible for a writer to make me care about these characters, but Waid fails, surprisingly.

There are some very nice moments in here, and the high point has to be the first chapter. In it we see the Avengers gathering at the scene of a terrorist attack of sorts. Terrorists in giant battle suits have kidnapped the President and are making only one demand: they want Captain America. Cap has disappeared, so it's up to the Avengers to stop enemies that have weapons designed to stop them. The strength of belief that the Avengers have in Cap swept me up, and the way the Cap has a presence throughout the whole story despite his absence really hit me.

Despite the odd flourish of quality, this is not a storyline that I particularly enjoyed or liked. One to avoid, thinks I.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Comic Review - The Mystery Play

They told me it was a murder mystery. The characters spoke to me throguh the blurb, talking of a killer on the loose. There was even a murder at the start of a story, and a policeman is called in to investigate it. Yet to introduce this as a murder mystery is to start off on the wrong foot. Even psychological thriller does not quite fit the bill: what, exactly, this story is is still unclear. Seventeen years after publication, and nobody is quite sure.

Meet Detective Frank Carpenter. He's a man sent to the town to investigate the murder of an actor playing God in a medieval mystery play. The town is rife with corruption and buried social anxiety, and Carpenter himself is hiding something. The real protagonist, perhaps, is Annie Woolf, a woman who works for the local paper. She's looking for her big story that'll catapult her into the world of journalism as a rising star, and she reckons this case could make her.

But perhaps I'm not doing a good job of talking about the story - that last paragraph was akin to introducing you to someone at a party by describing what they are wearing. Rather, it's more accurate to say that this a heavily allegorical story that blends religious imagery and hallucinogeic sequences with a reality that never quite seems right.

The artwork is beautiful and very fitting.  Jon J Muth's art is at times reminiscent of Alex Ross's photo realism, yet conveys a strange ethereal atmosphere even when there is nothing openly odd about events. The characters almost look like smuged photographs, half remember faces and ghosts of the past. When the story is rather less than grounded in reality, which is rather a lot of it, he shows an ability to give us abstract and surreal images that help make the comic as good as it is.

From the sinister nature of coats to the never completely made Nietzsche refences, The Mystery Play is something that you can't really talk about without giving something away or in some way biasing the experience. It's a story that requires a lot from it's audience, but nonetheless it's worth the investment of your time and focus. Terrific stuff.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Film Review - The Grudge 2

tl;dr Better than the first, but really if you didn't like the first then you aren't going to like this either.

And we're back again with everyone's favourite haunted house/passer-by trap. They must be cooking something delicious in there, because everyone and their dog feels the need to sniff around it's black grilled wooden columns. This weeks victims are a trio of school girls, the conformist Asian girl, the bitchy blone one and the awkward brunette whom is meant to be the one that we sympathise with. Of course, they see the house and feel the need to explore it. I can sympathise, as I too am drawn to charred remains - wouldn't be able to stomach my own cooking otherwise.

Actually, I commiting a mistake common to modern audiences: we know it's a horror, why don't the characters. But of course they don't and when the dark haired girl gets locked in the cupboard hijinks ensue, and we get one of the creepiest moments in the franchise as a whole. It's probably the only point during the Hollywood remake that has really stayed with me.

Two paragraphs in, and it should probably be noted that whilst I've seen Ju-on: The Grudge, I've not seen Ju-on: The Grudge 2, upon which I presume this movie is based. So consider my fundamentally different perspective - I'm comparing it with the first American Grudge as opposed to the source material - and adjust for bias as you see it.

Back with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and we get to see her sister. They've got a freyed relationship, but their mum is worried about Gellar's character and sends the sister to go find her. Immediately I found myself caring about her far more than I cared about Gellar's character in the first one. Her reasons for getting caught up in all this nonsense feel far less contrived and far more personal. Aided by the Japanese bloke that pulled Gellar's character from the fire, she sets about making sense of the situation.

The third line of narrative takes place with a family of four. The first scene the story gives us involves a man shouting abusively at his wife, before his wife smashes his head in with a frying pan. This is the parallel to the suicide story in the first film, and yet again I prefer it. The set pieces seem more interesting and fresher, and whilst the twist isn't as clever, the fact that it takes place in a different setting and the characters are far better fleshed out means, once again, I prefer this to the former film's.

This is what it comes down to - this ensemble is far better developed and feels a bit fresher than last time, but also that they have more depth. The first film seemed to assume that we'd care about the vapid array of characters, whilst this one works to make us care about the cast of two of the plot lines. The one involving the three girls works because the story never relies on us being invested on them, serving them up more as a piece of the puzzle and a place to get in the creepiness and jump scares.

Otherwise, there's not much difference between the two films. Both have similar construction, one story with a person being chased by the ghosts and a second one that won't fit in until the end. The setpieces are visceral if a tad predictable and the atmosphere is thick., and the plot twists are bit a better and look to build up the Grudge mythos. Thematically, it's as weak as the first American Grudge, but the greater investment you have in the characters helps balance that nicely.

I cannot help but feel that the first movie did not have any reason to exist. Get rid of the suicide subplot,  and have SMG's character killed the first time she meets the ghost woman. The result would be a far stronger franchise. In many ways this is more of the same, really, only better.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Film Review - Fright Night 3D

tl;dr Death to 3D! Also, whilst the film perks up a bit towards the end, it's not worth sitting through.

Note to filmmakers: 3D has it's problems. Not only does it make films darker, but also the darkness appears kind of smudged and spiderwebby at times - admittedly this may just have been the film print. Things in the background are too out-of-focus and smuged and often I had to shut one eye to figure out of the settings. And things popping out of the screen are not, and I repeat ARE NOT, fun or cool or anything like that. They are obnoxious and annoying and even if this had been a decent film I would have come out of it frustrated. The sooner 3D dies, the better.

As for the film? Well, a remake of a cult classic, tuned into the wavelength of a vampire obsessed public? Not a good start, but I went into this film with some modicum of hope. I'm a fan of Tennant, Colin Farrell is a good actor and the whole thing is gonna be loads of campy self-knowing horror action. I was hoping for something that would be an entertaining way to spend a night. And towards the end of the movie this ambitious target is more or less realised; too little, too late.

But meet our protragonist Charley, a beleagured teenager who has a new neighbour, Jerry the vampire. He's not the most rounded character to begin with, as we see: he's become a kind of pseudo-jock and rejected his best friend for being geeky. This is putting down a very simple thematic premise: this is a story about emotional immaturity and growing up, and finding your identity as you do. Naturally, it's a poor riff on the theme, and, weirdly, the best thematic moment of the film involves Peter Vincent, who is kinda shoe horned into the movie in a rather contrived way.

Later on, the movie's style and silly set pieces do turn it into an enjoyable affair, but for it to have been a really good fun movie all the way through. Fright Night spends a lot more time trying to make us like the characters and wastes a lot of time building up where the build up need not be so extensive to the point that it actually hurting the movie. Tense scene after tense scene, but there's this strange veneer of genuine horror going on here that just does not work.

And the humour. Well, what humour? The wit in this film is limp wristed, but admittedly critiquing humour is really difficult, because more than anything else it's down to personal taste. But I'd be surprised if there are that many people who can tell me this was a funny film.

I liked David Tennant near the end and the directions events took, but there's little here that I can really praise. Between a vapid script, stylish but cliche direction and obnoxious, shallow characters, I'm finding very little worthy about the film. One to avoid.

First adventures into the DCnU

So I've bought, read and digested four new comics from the DC's relaunch. Here's my brief thoughts on all four:

Action Comics #1: When I bought this, the two people behind the counter were discussing how underwhelming they found it. Morrison is a writer I love so much that I always go in worried: with such great a track record comes the potential for great disappointment. This is exactly what I wanted it to be, however: fast and exciting and with a lot of promise. This is Morrison in his Batman and Robin mode, and he proves he can do simple story telling just as well as he does all that meta stuff. I liked the artwork too, it was warm and engaging and dragged me into the action.

Stormwatch #1: This one I wasn't even going to get, but I am a weak man. This was big and strange and imaginative, and probably featured my favourite art. My lack of knowledge about any of the characters except Martian Manhunter made it a tad on the confusing side, but the story balances a fast pace with intoductions very nicely. Very solid read.

Swamp Thing #1: Probably the weakest of the bunch. After a very atmospheric and mysterious start the comic gets caught up in just straight exposition. Whilst I feel the slow start was likely an attempt to continue the sense of something building, it didn't work. The dialogue and prose present is very nicely crafted, but this gets caught up in a wordiness. The very nice artwork can't do much to help, unfortunately, but there is enough that does happen to persuade me to give it at least another issue. Started and ended well, but the middle doesn't quite work.

Animal Man #1: This is the one I'd heard the most praise about, but my expectations were not quite sky high. To be honest, I didn't know what was waiting for me, but even considering that what I got was definitely surprising. Unlike Swamp Thing, the slow pace really worked and below the surface you do get a building feeling. This is the only comic I reread immediately after finishing, and definitely my favourite of the four.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Poetry Time

A poem I wrote for a competition somewhere. 'ave at it:

Dante chooses his shapes well

Circles, I retrace my footsteps;
Backwards and forwards, both meanings lost;
Just this line, never crossed.

Going around in circles, this rut I wear
In the earth below my feet.

Loops, and I am back again;
Patterns appear, unrelenting formulism adheres;
Manifestations of my fears.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Let's Kill Hitler, analysis

Spoiler alert for Dr Who, Let's Kill Hitler and probably many things involving River Song before this point.

Let's Kill Hitler has come at last, and delivered a character focus that is uncommon Dr Who. Although there were politely murderous, betentacled metal robots, creepy robot clones of people filled with mini people and cupboard Hitlers, the real focus of this episode was on River Song and her relationship with the Doctor.

There are four major players in this episode:

The Teselecta
Melody Pond
The Doctor
River Song

River Song is the woman that Melody is not yet, but who The Doctor sees everytime he speaks to Melody. In this episode she exists only as The Doctor's conceptualisation of her. From this River/Melody emerges as a duality, and the conflict between The Doctor's conceptual River and the real Melody is what drives this episode forward.

Melody Pond is still a young woman, of sorts. She has just regenerated and she's found the man that she's spent her whole childhood obsessing about. She's been raised on a diet of The Doctor, The Doctor, The Doctor and by the time she meets him she's pretty set on his life belonging to her. When she hears him talking about this other woman it arouses her jealousy, hence the way that The Doctor's repeated mention of River's name never fails to slip under her attention. More than that, the warmth with which he talks about her provokes a desire to be that woman. Henceforth we get the duality and conflict between the two different forms of Melody and River Song, the conflict between the Id and Superego.

The Teselecta, are the simplest of the four major players. They tell you straight up what they are: justice. The Teselecta represent Melody's punishment for killing the Doctor. They represent the consequence of the inevitable criminal act. They are a literal articulation for both the fictional universes and the wider fanbase's reaction to the concept of Melody killing The Doctor. The Doctor however, puts himself between the backlash and Melody, pre-emptively forgiving her for the act. The Doctor is the one who prevents the revenge and tells us to forgive Melody rather than seek "justice". In many ways The Doctor is speaking as much to fans as anyone else.

So through relising that this woman he talks of, River, is her, Melody starts to become River. She's struck by the way The Doctor protects her despite her "killing" of him and through her own desire to become the woman that the Doctor speaks of. To reiterate an earlier point: the conceptual River (Superego) and Melody (Id) come into conflict and emerge as River Song (Ego).

When Melody first lands the kiss she comments that The Doctor is the master of all types of warfare "except for the most cruel". By the end of the episode River speculates that The Doctor must have known that she could save him, to which he replies: "Rule 1: The Doctor lies." The implication - a point that will no doubt remain ambiguous - is that The Doctor is far more adept at emotional warfare than Melody. After all, the episode ends with The Doctor having turned a deadly enemy, a weapon sculpted to take on the Doctor, and turned her into an ally.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Geoff John's Green Lantern: Rebirth to Sinestro Corps

Green Lantern is complicated. To fully understand Rebirth you need to understand the history of Green Lantern and Hal Jordan's time as the character. I'll try and be as brief as possible:

The original Green Lantern was Alan Scott, a man with a magic ring. During what's known as the "silver age" - a time when comics were outlandish and whacky and incredibly fantastical - the Green Lantern was brought back as a space policeman whose ring could form shapes from solid green light. This was Hal Jordan, the first human chosen to be inducted into the universal police force Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan's story gets complicated when his home town is destroyed, and most of its inhabitants massarced in the process. In his grief Hal Jordan tried to use his ring to reanimate people, but the Guardians of Oa - the alien race that created and rule the Green Lanterns - would not allow it; so Hal Jordan fought against them, killing and imprisoning fellow Green Lanterns. Eventually he came up against his great nemesis Sinestro -  Sinestro was the greatest Green Lantern before Jordan, but also a brutal and totalitarian controller of his sector - and snapped his nemesis's neck. Thus, Hal Jordan became the supervillain Parallax.

There were other Green Lanterns introduced to the Corps - John Stewart, a black architect; Guy Gardner, a ginger hothead; Kyle Rayner, a young, angsty artist. The fans, however, were not happy with the way that Hal Jordan had went evil and what resulted was fan-backlash on a rather astonishing level, even when you consider the usual intensity of comic fans. So, come 2004, superstar comic writer Geoff Johns decides to bring Hal back, and Rebirth is the vehicle for that.

Rebirth throws us into a complex picture - out on the edges of the universe Kyle Rayner, Green Lantern, discovers an ancient prophecy. At the same time,  Hal Jordan is possessed by the spectre - powerful spirit of vengeance - and struggles against a third consciousness - the spirit of Parallax - that all exist in his body. John Stewart, who is serving as the Earth Green Lantern with the Justice League, finds himself being being intimidated and moved around by a very dickish, but incredibly awesome, Batman. Guy Gardner runs a bar, pretending he was never a superhero. Somewhere out there the last remaining Guardian (the alien race that created and command the Green Lanterns) Ganthet guards Jordan's body.

It remarkable that Johns is able to balance all of these plot threads and bring them cataclysmically together. At the start it is not clear where the story is going, yet there is an urgency and direction given to the plotting that keeps the story thundering along at a pace that made it hard for me to look away. As a person who knew fairly little about Green Lantern going into this comic, I was impressed by the way it brought me in. Twists that should not have wowed me were executed with such energy that it hit home nonetheless. Characters and themes are very much secondary here, yet they are also relevant and tied nicely into the story. There are plenty of subtle touches that make the characters more complex and the story have some depth.

The story is, more than anything, a restoration of status quo. Whilst the theme is very much appropriate in a resurrection story, and the story is of such energy and excitement that it stands as one of the better examples I've encountered of it, there is an undertone that doesn't fit here. As I earlier said, Hal Jord was responsible for some rather evil acts, and Rebirth is not only a physical rebirth but also a character rebirth. This looks to redeem him through retcon any responsibility he may have had. It's a regressive way to deal with a character that essentially avoids a character having to overcome pas actions by removing accountability. As much as I dislike this, however, the story is fun and well crafted enough for me to not hold it against the comic.

From No Fear to Wanted: Hal Jordan, Johns takes the reigns in a number of stories that are of lesser a quality. For all that Johns showed a keen thematic awareness in Rebirth, there's very much the same ground being walked here, only far less effectively. The action is far smaller, Hal Jordan is suddenly a boring character and there's little depth to it. For me, No Fear's rotating artist board really disrupted the flow of the action and I came out of it really rather worried. Things did improve and when the writing showed a real inclination to pick up pace the action was generally pretty good. Artwork, too, helps to sell the action and the scale.

Problem is that Hal Jordan seems to be a spouter of cliches, and all the attractive women in the comic love him and all the men wish they were him. Hoo boy. The conflicts Hal faces, like being captured for not wearing his ring, are not necessarily bad but kind of feel like they are too much like needless navel gazing. As a primary driving force for the narrative it doesn't hold up. There is too much of this that feels like it's just build-up, especially in retrospect, and a lot of the bad guys don't feel like they are given a good enough showing. Despite exciting moments, the odd interesting idea and nice twist, Johns' stuff bridging Rebirth and Sinestro Corps is fairly weak. It seems like a bridge, rather than a story or series of stories.

At the same time Green Lantern's sister comic, Green Lantern Corps, restarted with the co-written story Recharge. Dave Gibbons shared the story duties during this miniseries, and throughout the rest of GLC he would helm the series until Tomasi takes over towards the end of Sinestro Corps. Early on Recharge struggles a bit, trying to establish rather too many characters and compromise it with the massive scale space opera shenanigans. When the latter part of the stories kicks in to gear and brings all the dispirate paths together, the story is incredibly entertaining and the characters are very much entertaining.

Dave Gibbons continues in much of the vein for a volume and a half - with a guest story by Keith Champagne - and this is probably my favourite part of the period I am looking at. Gibbons' characters and story are all interesting, and I love the way they often don't quite meet up often, lending the universe a big feel. There is very much an episodic feel in a good way, an unfolding series of plot lines with an engaging ensemble cast. It was good fun and dynamically structured, and I really wish that he could have stayed on longer. I was similarly impressed with the guest story by Champagne, darker but nonetheless good fun. You could make the argument that Johns makes a stronger attempt to add thematic depth to his work, but Gibbons' work has such energy and excitement that I don't care.

Sinestro Corps is the culmination of much of what has went before whilst simultaneously laying groundwork for thigns to come. I didn't enjoy it at first, as the Sinestro Corps are introduced as far too dangerous without ever really earning it. For bad guys to be really respected they have to do something earlier on the story to qualify them as a legitimate threat. For me, it was as if Sinestro Corps started at the end of the second arc of a normal movie. Green Lanterns are facing potential extinction, desperate last gasps, and it's too out of nowhere. Structurally it feels untidy, and the the antagonsits become annoying rather than threatening, as their victories seem cheap.

As the story got further in it was able to overcome these faults, and there are plenty of nice wee character moments to be found amongst the crazily big space action. It gets the balance right in that respect - this is neither a thematic or character tale, yet within these pages there are moments of character growth. The stacking of threats works well, although certain extremely powerful bad guys are rather skimmed over and seem to be here for the shock of the reveal rather than the value they can add.

Not that I want to be  totally negative about SC: as already noted, there are subtle character moments and it is a very big and ambitious story. It communicates an intergalactic war well and the two different comics jar rarely when transitioning one to the other, in both the writing and the art department. It brings Jordan's character arc to a close and hints towards larger things to come. And when the shit hits the fan, the momentum of the story sends you hurtling forwards at a break neck speed.

So what do I think of this run overall? I feel like I should have skipped the three Green Lantern volumes between Rebirth and Sinestro Corps and just read GLC, but overall I'm glad I gave it a look. Rebirth is a great comic, and Dave Gibbon's time on GLC was pretty much the epitome of damned good fun. Keep in mind there's far more to be explored here - I have just covered nine trade paperbacks after all.

Film Review - Super 8

tl;dr Highly enjoyable, well made and more than a little bit cheesy. This is a story for the kid inside you and it's damn effective one at that.

Super 8 is my first experience with J.J. Abrams, despite Lost practically being a cultural staple, and I have to confess to being impressed. From the start it proves itself as a movie that understands filmmaking, delivering an opening that speaks far louder without words than it could with exposition. Meet 14-year old Joe: his mum is dead and his dad is struggling to cope. As he is filming a film with a bunch of his friends they witness a train derailment, and it turns out that the train's cargo is rather unusual.

Having a young cast is always something of a gamble, as they have been known to be harder to direct and not so developed as actors. Super 8 has a terrific cast, however, and having the main characters children in a movie that seems more aimed towards not children of that demographic, but more of the older people who remember when these type of movies were the blockbusters. It's a love letter to those Spielbergian romps and an appeal to the child in the viewer. If the viewer already happens to be a child, then all the better.

Whilst pretty much everything here is a direct appeal to cliches, there's also a knowingness to it that leads to a few moments of deconstruction. Abram is willing to play around with them just as he is willing to evoke them. It's hard not to get won over by the earnestness of the film's set pieces. The writing is fairly tight, although Joe's personal story and the alien hijinks feel like they never properly come together. At the end it feels like there are two distinct threads where there should have been an intertwining of both. It's the main problem this otherwise solid film has.

Perhaps the characters feel a little bit played out, and perhaps the there is not as much thematic tidiness as would be preferable, but Super 8 is certainly one of the best cinematic outings I've experienced all year. It's earnest excitement, evokation of childhood and adept execution lead to a very compelling end product. Recommended.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Discussion Archive

These are the posts where I feel like examining something or making a point:

Film Review - Gin Gwai (The Eye)

tl;dr Whilst not exactly a horror film, it offers up more than a few scares and great big dollop of pathos. Well shot, well acted; well worth checking out.

The Eye is a pan-asian horror movie, a Singapore-Hong Kong co-production, shot in Hong Kong and Thailand and with a cast from most corners of East Asia. It comes off of the back of a few asian/asian influenced horrors, so at this point I feel like I'm beginning to kind of get into the rhythm of the things and have fairly strong expectations. Thus, The Eyes surprised me: it's not a ghost story like many of these other asian horror affairs, and more a ghost story in the vein of The Sixth Sense.

Our protagonist, Mun, is blind, but we meet her as she is undergoing a cornea transplant. Everything seems to go according to plan and she begins to regain her sight. She starts seeing odd things, however, like unexplained figures and a man who takes away an old woman who turns up dead. She can see ghosts, and with the help of a young doctor she looks to unravel what is going on.

I've noted before that it can often be difficult to tell how god the acting is in a foreign language film, due to culture norms relating to emotion and general unfamiliarity with certain ethnic groups. This film, however, puts lie to that theory, as the cast is terrific throughout, selling the weird circumstances and emotional struggles nicely. Mun has very little dialogue, but she is nonethless able to communicate her thoughts and fears without being unsubtle.

The films begins on rather an unusual note, for, as creepy as the overly-long title sequence is, there's not much in here recogniseable as outright horror at first. A few scenes with slightly creepy overtones, sure, but the movies spends a lot of time building up the character and looking at her recovery. For awhile the film seems content to look at the way she deals with this new emerging world of the physical, and her psychological attempts to deal with that. This grounds the film not in the supernatural nor the world of jump scares, but rather in the psychological journey of the main character. To sell this as a horror, pure and straight, is very much a mistake. The horror is here to facilitate the growth of the characters, and although you have to be a horror fan to some extent to watch and enjoy it, it's perhaps inaccurate to call it a horror.

I really liked the directing, which has a very distinct and stylish flavour without ever coming close to indulgence. The direction is a storytelling tool, and in this movie it's used to maximum effect. It's a well put together piece, with production values that outstrip many in Hollywood.

There are a few twists to the tale that, whilst simple, certainly are effective. It's not exactly unpredictable, but it is nonetheless rewarding. The Eye is a polished and clever film, which nonetheless retains a simplicity that keeps any of it's conflicting ideas in balance. It's a film about redemption and facing up to fear, and never makes the jump scare or the otherly creepiness the point. Well worth giving a go.