From 1984 til Forever

Regular explorations through infinite space.

Technology writer/editor by day, pulp writer/pop culture commentor/cartoonist/gastronome/Schlock Magazine co-founder by night.

In a perfect world I'd be making my living doing all of the above. From a dimension-crossing zeppelin fortress.

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Posts tagged review

I always forget to pimp my monthly review digest here on Tumblr, but anyway - here is the March edition of POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION, where I basically talk about stuff that catches my fancy. This month: ROBOCOP, Jeff Vandermeer’s ANNHILATION, Nathan Edmonson and Alison Sampson’s GENESIS and the Warren Ellis MOON KNIGHT reboot, among others. Oh, and very early thoughts on the KILL LA KILL finale. Hell yeah! 

Elysium: A Review

So here I am, doing another “official” (as in for print) movie review. It’s actually a solid done for a dude! Anyway, Elysium. This Martin Ansin poster is actually not that good but it’s still better than that pile of generic that’s the actual Elysium poster. Join me in shedding a tear for the lost art of poster design. 

The use of science fiction as a means of social commentary is probably older than the genre itself, and while all popular culture arguably holds a mirror to the society producing it (even if said mirror is, more often than not, of the funhouse variety), the genre is certainly an ideal for the pointing out of relevant issues. And what social ill is more relevant in these post-Occupy Movement days than the massive divide between rich and poor? The 1927 Fritz Lang masterpiece Metropolis cemented the image of the moneyed minority living high above the hoi polloi, and Elysium pushes the concept to a logical conclusion - in the year 2157 the wealthy inhabit the titular Elysium, a massive donut-shaped space station (technically a “Stanford Torus”, fact fans) where they enjoy a futuristic luxury lifestyle complete with robot butlers and quasi-magical cure-all machines. The rest of the population is stuck on on the far more massive slums of planet Earth, where life is brutish and robots are more likely to hand out beatings than trays of vodka shooters. 

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There’s a lot to make one cynical about Wreck It Ralph (2012) - from (apparent) pandering to the nostalgic 20-30 nostalgia demographic, to enough product placement to rival Foodfight! to its trying to do to videogames what Toy Story did to toys - it wasn’t looking to good for the film about the bad guy wanting to be good. Not for this cynic, at any rate.

BUT, despite a chunk of problems (the mechanics behind its universe are wooly at best, an overcrowded muddle of plots, a middle segment set in a candy pink product placement dystopia), Wreck It Ralph actually works as a movie with videogames as a setting, rather than simply being about electronic entertainment. Its being rather lovely to look at doesn’t hurt, and the voice cast (John C. Reilley, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch et al) adds a fair bit to characters that prove to be actually rather likable, if not lovable. The final message is still a bit of a mess (it tells one to both improve oneself AND suck up to what looks like a rather shitty situation), but there’s lots of heart and pushing of the emotional buttons at exactly the right times and amounts. 

Bad looking film about a good guy who’s actually a bad guy in actually being rather good shocker! 

Marco Attard, 2013

Life of Pi - Ang Lee finally justifies the current 3D cinematography fad. 

There’s a lot to like in this. The gentle humour, the delicate touching on the topics of spirituality and story telling, the stellar performance from newcomer Suraj Sharma. But ultimately discussion will fall on the visuals, where Lee and his team truly push the modern cinematographic toolbox. I still can’t work out how some sequences were even created - the shipwreck concluding with the titular Pi is framed in silhouette against the sinking wreck, a glowing ocean from which a whale emerges, a hallucinatory undersea sequence. And, of course, the tiger itself. At times it feels like a Malick film, with long, wordless meditations on the beauty and savagery of nature and the elements. Best use of 3D yet? No doubt. 

The ending is a bit weak, but at its best this modern cynism-free fairytale thrills and dazzles in equal measure. 

Marco Attard, 2012

Notes on an album launch: Stalko, GRANDILOQUENCE

Few album names act as a description of the music contained within, yet Stalko’s GRANDILOQUENCE is exactly that. Launched at the magnificently dilapidated Orpheum theatre slash bingo hall slash boxing ring, the trio (keyboard, violin, guitar) was revealed by the rising of a first curtain, before a second revealed a drummer, a bassist, a second guitarist, a trumpet, two more violins and a viola. One was half expecting a harmonium and a theremin hiding behind a third. At one moment a missing euphonium was mentioned. That was half thought as being a joke, but the album liner notes’ minuscule type actually mention such an instrument. 

Stalko have gone big, verging towards huge. Perhaps to the detriment of their earlier sound. Nearly every song feels like it’s about to explode into Godspeed You! Black Emperor-meets-Coldplay string-based bombast. At times, that is exactly what happens. It is not pretty. 

Keep in mind such comments come from a card holding member of the Stylistic Spartan Squad.

Shades of indie folksters Mumford & Sons, the Fleet Foxes and Beirut abound. 

Issues regarding sound - more of a whine by this point - are an all too common bugbear at local live events at this point. Here they made an unwelcome rappearance, with vocals at times rendered into a smattering of white noise amidst the trumpet’s honking. The band’s interjections in between songs - the boys are big on interaction with the public, it seems - would have been funnier if they were, well, understandable.

The Orpheum itself needs to get more use as a venue. It held lots of new faces on the night, which was virtually packed. Always something of a good sign, at least. 

The album itself is a lovely physical object, all high production volumes and fitting artwork, even if the liner notes are, again, nearly unreadable. Maybe these old eyes are not what they used to be. I hope the ears, on the other hand, are still okay. 

Marco Attard, 2012

MARCO’S POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION # 2 – DEAR BELT BUCKLE

Why yes it’s that time of the month - no, not that but THAT, when a new issue of Schlock Magazine is on the airwaves and I present my second column of a pop-cultural nature - POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION ! 

This issue, I take a look at John Carter, Mass Effect 3, A Game of Thrones (season 2) and even more! 

It is all VERY EXCITING. 

So, last night I learnt (for only a moment) what it must feel like to be Achewood's Ray Smuckles, shamelessly watching gay porn. Or rather, reading it. Or rather reading yaoi manga - specifically this thing called The Teahouse, which is weird and absolutely hilarious. Being yaoi, it’s gay porn for women, by women who have absolutely no idea what gay men actually are, never mind the mechanics behind (hohoho!) anal sex. It also lacks in cock, which absolutely enrages me. I want my straight white male on the internet sensibilities shocked out of their orbits for fuck’s sake!

Well, at least SOMEBODY’S havin’ fun! 

Post-Scriptum: an online conversation spurred by the above random thoughts with my cohort Robert 

The above title sequence is by far the most interesting scene in Fincher’s so-so take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011). I haven’t seen the Swedish original (and thus can’t compare Mara Rooney’s performance (which I quite liked) with Noomi Rapace’s, for instance), but this American take disappoints - even more so considering the quality of the individual ingredients. David Fincher, Jeff Cronenweth, a generally fine cast, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack. The finished product, however, barely manages to limp along - once A and B plots (“Lizbeth gets raped, raped” and “Nazi serial killer who rapes, kills women”) are closed, one still has to deal with the uninteresting C storyline with the Swedish corporate fraud. It’s all very by-the-numbers, if you will. 

But is that title sequence was worth watching on a big screen? Very much so. If only the film took its visual/thematic/stylistic cues from it… 

The Bought and Thought - the New 52 Edition! (part 1)

So, DC’s “New 52.” What a mess, eh? So much so that it got me back to comics blogging. I’ve already written some words in early reaction to the first issues’ covers, but here’s reactions to the first batch of “New 52” issues I’ve got - or rather, those that grabbed my attention. Getting the new Justice League was also in the works, but it was sold out before I managed to get a copy. So yay/boo/whatever. And there’s the haul itself:

Action Comics #1 (Grant Morrisson, Rags Morales, et al)

This is how one does a reboot. This is a comic about (a) Superman in his early days as a “Socialist Sun God” (Morrisson’s own words in Supergods), champion of the oppressed and giver of dickings to corporate assholes, in the words of my good pal Robert. It’s not perfect - and I would have preferred Morrisson to go back to All Star Superman - but it’s arguably “closer” to Siegel and Schuster’s darker depression-era vision of Superman as a super-powered vigilante.

It’s also pacey and economical with its visual storytelling with some of Rags Morales’ best work to date (even if the last couple of pages appear rushed). 

Of course people will complain, since there’s no pleasing everybody. Maybe those wanting the big blue boyscout will find him in Superman #1

There’s more one can say, of course - but Sequart has an excellent review of this first issue which says more than I can ever say. 

Shall I buy issue 2? Yes, without reservation. 

OMAC #1 (Dan Didio, Keith Giffen, et al)

This comic is both exhilarating and infuriating in equal measures. 

How so? First off, this is an exciting, breathless comic that’s one big tribute to Jack “King” Kirby, creator of the titular OMAC. Who’s OMAC? The One Man Army Corp, mohawk-donning super warrior fighting alongside AI satellite Brother Eye! What does he fight? Craziness - from the future! Or rather, in this DCnU take, the present? As said earlier, it’s exciting - with a 2-page spread where OMAC tears a laboratory to pieces where a FRRRZZTTZZKKK-RAAACKK sound effect spreading over the 2 pages - but there’s a but. 

And what a but!

There’s nothing fundamentally new here. Everything - everything - here comes from Jack Kirby’s DC output, from OMAC himself (obviously), to the setting (CADMUS labs) and the various villains of the piece, while the story itself is a simple excuse for a lot of smashing. It is fun smashing, sure, but the Jack Kirby’s original 1974 first issue had more exciting, new ideas than most current comics have in their lifetimes, while Didio and Giffen’s take has… none.  

Adding on the infuriation is the fact it fails to even mention Jack Kirby as a credit. Now that is shameful. 

Oh, you know who DC should have gotten to do a new OMAC comic? Paul Pope, that’s who.

Shall I buy issue 2? I’ll be giving this the 3 issue test, in the hope it improves further. Otherwise I’ll just stick to rereading the collected originals. Well, actually I’ll be doing that anyway. 

Swamp Thing #1 (Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette)

Well here is the best looking first issue from the whole launch, bar none - thanks to, of course, the stellar Yanick Paquette. The visual treats come early, with the 2nd and 3rd pages forming an amazing spread involving Superman, Batman, Aquaman and a whole plethora of dead dying critters. So, in the least, get it for the art. 

Story-wise, I cant say I know - or care - much about Swamp Thing himself, but it appears to be building straight from Brightest Day, following the character’s reappearance in the main DCU (as opposed to the Vertigo ghetto). Is that fact helpful to the uninitiated? No, of course, but Scott Snyder seems to be building an intriguing mystery here just the same.

Shall I buy issue 2? Yes, in the least for the art. It looks that good.

Stormwatch #1 (Paul Cornell, Miguel Sepulveda et al)

Here’s the first result of folding the (arguably more mature and darker) Wildstorm universe into the main DCU, and it’s an interesting first issue, all considered. The art might be slightly weak, the writing suffers from the occasional infodump (of the “my name is so-and-so and my power is to do this-this-and-that!” variety), and Midnighter’s new costume remains absolutely awful, but the idea behind the series is interesting and full of potential - Stormwatch as a centuries-old secret organisation of superhumans fighting against secret otherworldly threats whose members carry a variety of non-typical super powers. The DCU’s Torchwood, if you will. 

This first issue does manage to do all a team book’s first issue should do, at least - introduce a crew of interesting characters, the threat(s) they’re going to have to handle, and hints of a larger plot at play. Again, this has potential, and I’m curious to see where it goes. 

Shall I buy issue 2? Oh yes.

Animal Man #1 (Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman, et al)

Now here is the New 52’s dark horse - I (and probably quite a few others) wasn’t expecting much, and ended up blown away as a result. And with good reason, too.

Lemire builds directly on the previous takes on Animal Man, aka Buddy Baker - father, activist, superhero, who’s able to tap into animal abilities to use as super powers. The book itself feels like an early Vertigo book in the best possible way, with minimalist, angular art that starts off rough (if not seemingly unfinished), before pulling all punches in a shocker of a monochrome nightmare sequence and an ending that certainly leaves one wanting for more. So yes, this is good and recommended. 

Shall I buy issue 2? Gods yes. 

Batwing #1 (Judd Winick, Ben Oliver, et al)

Hey, it’s the Batman of Africa! Or, in this case, Batman of a featureless wasteland, seeing how the artist refuses to put any backgrounds to his artwork. His character work is good though, with a painted look that reminds one (a bit) of Heavy Metal and its ilk.

When it comes to the writing, Batwing is… average. The concept is interesting (as lifted straight from the pages of Batman Inc.), but the titular character is seen fighting an uninspired machete-wielding villain going by the name of… Massacre. Because he kills a hell lot of people, get it? There is, however, an interesting subplot, in the shape of mentions of a now-missing African superhero team called The Kingdom, which will probably get built further on as the series progresses. 

I still have my doubts on whether I’ll get the next issues, though, cliffhanger ending or not…

Men of War #1 (Ivan Brandon, Tom Derenick, et al)

Sometime back (last year!) I expressed wonderings on how come there’s no “realistic” soldier comics from the big 2 comics publishers, seeing how videogames starring soldiers are all the rage (and comics tend to go well with gaming). Well, this lack is not any more, seeing how the DCnU has Men of War, starring Sgt. Rock’s grandson!

And that’s all I can say about it, really. Actually, no, I can say a bit more. This comic is about a special unit that fights superhumans, which Sgt Rock’s grandson leads. The art is actually pretty fine, and Ivan Brandon is a serviceable writer (his Viking is amazing), but…

…this is not for me, seeing how I really don’t care about the military in any way. This issue also carries a backup on the Navy SEALS, which fails to relate with the main DCU in any way. I found it face-meltingly boring, but I’m sure there’s comics readers out there who’d get their kicks reading about brave American soldiers fighting stereotypical Muslim terrorists. Err. 

Shall I buy the next issue? No.

So there you have it, the first DCnU batch. I would have been even more impressed with this lot, hadn’t these two other comics also come out on the same week…

It’s the first issue of Matt Fraction’s awesome time-bending superspy epic, Casanova, with Gabriel Ba on the amazing art (I’ve written on Casanova a number of times already) and the 6th issue of my favourite current superhero comic, Butcher Baker (the Righteous Maker), by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston. Like most of Joe Casey’s output, Butcher Baker is brilliant, timely and relevant, yet also happens to be underrated and unrepresented by most of the comics news/reviews/blogging scene. 

I’ll write more about it once it’s finished, I promise. 

Summer Wars: A Review

After telling an online friend of mine I was about to watch Summer Wars, he came back to me with a simple question— what the hell is Summer Wars about?

Such curiosity came about when he did a quick search on the movie. You see, here’s one poster:

And here’s another:

One shows a number of what appears to be rejects from a failed Digimon-style franchise; the other shows, well, a group of posing folks in what looks like Japanese countryside in the summer. Thus, the question remains ever more petinent: what’s Summer Wars about?

Summer Wars, ultimately, is about family. It’s about recognising one’s differences and strengths, and that everyone has their value. It’s about joining forces in the face of common adversity. True, it starts off in utter cliché— milquetoast maths prodigy Kenji ends up coerced by fellow student Natsuki to pretend he’s her boyfriend for a few days on her trip to celebrate her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday at her family’s palatial, crumbling estate, off in the countryside. So far, so yawn-worthy. A “plot” so old probably even Aristophanes wrote a play with exactly the same plot (unless there’s a surviving text that’s actually that plot? Let me know, classics fans!). Does young love bloom in the end? Predictably, yes, but the getting there is far more believable and entertaining than any dry plot recap or summary

Summer Wars also deals with clash of shiny and new with the old— fancy new mobile phones vs a rotary telephone, to give an example straight off it. That ultimately social networks are what you make of them, whether they’re handled for you by facebook or stored in a series of crumbling notebooks. The film’s directors and writers are wise enough not to condemn or judge; everything has its place. Even when a hacking AI, the so-called Love Machine, attacks Oz (the film’s take on the internet), the chaos’ ultimately not the AI’s fault, but whoever was responsible in its unleashing in the first place.

This meeting of old and new extends to how the film is made, where gloriously hand drawn animation (appropriately used to depict the “real” world) stands side by side with CG (as used to render Oz, a representation of the internet best described as Tron re-imagined by Takashi Murakami and his Superflat cohorts). A word has to be said on Yoshiuki Sadamoto’s clean, simple character designs, artfully handling a large and visually diverse cast with a rare ease, as well as animation studio Madhouse’s efforts in breathing life and humanity in said designs.

And, finally, Summer Wars is Japan’s animation and film making elite showing its still having “it”— making a piece defeating genre conventions or easy pigeon-holing. Summer Wars is funny, sad, at times deeply touching and, well, marvellous. It’s a family film, but also a film /about/ family. And that’s a rare beast indeed, animated or not.

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