Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

April 8, 2012

In my last blog about San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), I said, “Comic books are still at SDCC.  You just have to know where to look.”

Since I have been so hyper-critical about what San Diego Comic-Con has become, I was very skeptical when I sat down to watch the Morgan Spurlock documentary, “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.” (available for rental on Video On Demand and iTunes)

I am relieved to say that this film is squarely focused on comic books and the fan culture and what little emphasis is given to the movie and television stuff is done mostly in cutaway shots (speaking of which: I’m sure Olivia Wilde was relieved to see her credit as “Actress, Tron: Legacy” and not “Cowboys & Aliens”).

Spurlock understands what does (and does not) make a great and captivating story.

Nobody.  And I do mean nobody, not even the parents of the people involved.  Nobody cares about Warner Brothers trying to pump millions of dollars into their marketing machine to try to convince the world that Green Lantern was anything but a steaming pile of dog sh**.

But we do want to see a guy trying to propose to his girlfriend at a Kevin Smith panel.  We also want to see Holly the costume designer and her friends compete at the masquerade.

Specific to comics, We want to watch two unknown artists try to find work and break into the industry.

Most importantly, from a retail perspective, we want to see legendary retailer Chuck Rozanski  from Mile High Comics selling actual comic books.

All of these stories have weight to them.  They matter to the people that they are happening to and we as an audience are invested in their success.

Did I tear up during this movie?  Quite a bit.

It’s a happy movie.  It’s very positive.  It’s about comic books.  Which is why I liked it quite a bit.

That said, I can tell you that if you’re not into comic books you’ll still like it because at the end of the day these are stories about people who you “meet” and want to see succeed.

I have never played the game Mass Effect, but after watching the passion that Holly and her friends put into their costumes I was rooting (out loud) for them to win at the masquerade.

I’d have liked a comprehensive documentary about the history of the con, but I also know that I’m an audience of about 10 people who want such a thing so I’ll stick to finding that in interviews and online.

This is a fun movie and it brings you either closer to the experience of being at SDCC in the present day, or for people like me it reminds me of what I liked about attending back in the day.

Very much worth a rental.

Week 4 Of DC: The New 52

September 30, 2011

The “Did Not Buy” Category

  • The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians
  • The Savage Hawkman
  • Teen Titans
  • Voodoo

Gold Medal Winners

The Flash: I will admit that I was hesitant when I heard that the writing on this title was going to be done by the artist (Francis Manapul) and the colorist (Brian Bucelleto); only because I”d never read anything they’d written previously.  Some of the best writers in comic books started as artists, and artists tend to have a different perspective on writing and the good news is that this title is in extremely good hands with these two.  It was a great read.  What’s more interesting though is how Manapul has been translating “time” with his sequential storytelling techniques.  He’d begun doing this on the previous Flash title and he’s continuing it here.  Honestly, if you want to show someone how the narrative of comic books is different from any other medium, this is a title does that.  This is the type of title that gets used in college courses to show effective sequential art storytelling.  Manupal was already producing some of his best art on Flash and now it’s great to see him and Brian Bucelleto take “full” ownership of the title.

I, Vampire: please forgive me while I indulge in breaking my arm patting myself on the back.  Dan, my friend and creator of Red Light Properties, brought Joshua Fialkov to my attention over the summer when he told me to pick up Echoes.  So, when I saw that he was slated to write a title in the New 52, I was telling everyone I could that this would be the sleeper hit of the line.  And, it’s up there.  He setup a great “world” in which to play in with the vampire lore (and an excellent protagonist and conflict).  Most surprising was the artwork from Andrea Sorrentino, who is using a Jae Lee-style approach to this title.

Silver Medal Winners

All-Star Western: Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti Jonah Hex stories have always been good,but the change they made with this title completely refreshes the character for older readers and provides a nice point of accessibility for the new.  The most shocking thing about this title was when I looked up artist Moritat and was presented with the knowledge that he’s not a French or Italian comic book artist, but rather a young American dude.  And to be clear, this guy can draw.  This title has some of the most inspired artwork of the new line.  Speaking of which, I honestly think that DC is missing something by not publishing All-Star Western in a quarterly graphic album format (pre-packaged for overseas sales).

Aquaman: so, Katy at the comic shop loves Aquaman, and this title let her down.  I only “like” Aquaman, and this title let me down too.  Had it not been for two thing, this would have been a gold winner.

  1. A scene with a hipster d-bag that was clearly supposed to be “meta” in terms of how comic book readers on the internet have no tact or manners (which, I do agree with, but there’s a time and place).  It was used to give character backstory, but it came across as extremely forced and extremely annoying.  This could have been done in other ways without the annoying aspects (like, he could have talked to the waitress about it).
  2. In the New 52, civilians think of Aquaman as a doofus.  Why call attention to that when the whole point is to reinvent characters with the reboot?  The mission statement is to make Aquaman cool again, so by saying it, Johns makes readers think it to be true.  And yet, it’s not true.  But the trap is that if you say something enough times, people think it to be true.  Which is why I wish that Johns would have played the character with the respect he deserves instead of the butt of jokes.  This completely distracted from all of the other good character moments in the title.

Because it’s Johns, I’m sticking with this title in the hopes that he pulls away from that and gives Aquaman his proper standing in the New 52.

Blackhawks: this title is G.I. Joe in the DC Universe (further compounded by the fact that the writer, Mike Costa writes G.I. Joe comics over at IDW).  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s a fine read.  Not great.  It’s good. It’s what I was expecting.

Justice League Dark: Peter Milligan is one of the best writers in comic books.  He wrote one of my favorite comic books of all time, Skin.  A comic that moved me like few others have.  He was one of the foundation writers that built Vertigo comic books in the 90’s and combined with his work on X-Statix, he can be considered one of the godfathers of modern comic book storytelling.  That said, I didn’t love this title out of the gate, but I did see enough ideas and concepts that Milligan was setting up where I feel that he’ll pay it off soon enough and I would like to stick around to see it happen.

Third Place

Batman: The Dark Knight

DC Universe Presents (Deadman): I gave this title a shot based on the writer, Paul Jenkins, but didn’t find much here.  I’ll sit this one out until the next character-arc in this anthology

Superman: I fear for the new reader who starts with this title, in that it is a very text heavy and quite dense.  I suppose one way to look at it is that the reader is getting their money’s worth…but I don’t see it that way.  George Perez is the writer and breakdown artist and this is the second time he has “rebooted” a core DC character (the first being Wonder Woman, post-Crisis).  He is one of the few writers working on the New 52 with this level of experience in “redefining” a character for a new age.

While the conflict that Perez establishes in the first issue is interesting, it’s not a direction that I personally care to read more about.  It’s similar to my review of Green Arrow.  I get enough of this type of content in other places and don’t care to read about it in yet another place.  That’s just me.  I’m sure that other readers will find the situations being presented to be exciting and it feels quite a bit like a modern take on the “Bronze Age” Superman stories.

I’d point you to The Signal Watch blog’s review of this issue for a great alternative take on this issue (he quite liked it).  What’s interesting is that I was going to stick with this title.  Ride it out to see if it could channel some of the Bronze Age goodness and get me interested.  The announcement on Friday that Perez is leaving the title with issue 7 made me reconsider this and I will be dropping the title.

Week 3 Of DC: The New 52

September 23, 2011

Big week, and in my haste I forgot to ask for DC Universe Presents to be pulled for me (so that will come when I get that book).

As a side note, for later in the post I need to explain that the way I read my comics is by stacking my pile starting with the titles I’m trying out and have no expectations for.  Than, I go based on past performance – ordering them from silver down to gold.  So for example, this week Avengers is the last title in my stack because it’s the title I’m most looking forward to reading.  My biggest crisis is when there are multiple Bendis titles in a week and I’m forced to determine which goes last.   

The “Did Not Buy” Category

  • Blue Beetle
  • Green Lantern Corps

Gold Medal Winners

Batman: everyone has their favorite Batman, and it usually is the interpretation that they were first exposed to (a moment of silence to pray for the children who first saw Batman in “The New Adventures of Batman” Filmation cartoon).

Batman as a character is fully formed, but it’s interesting to watch writers over the era pull in certain character traits and push back on others.  It’s a combination of the writer and the era in which they write him.  An interesting visualization would be to map Batman’s character traits in a “SWOT analysis” type of chart and then plot out the different eras and writers over the past 70+ years.

What I saw in Scott Snyder’s interoperation was something that I love about Batman; focusing on his detective skills.  My favorite Batman stories are where he is less a guy in a costume punching dudes and more “the world’s greatest detective.”  Snyder was practicing with Dick Grayson in Detective Comics recently, and he’s really ratcheted it up for this title.

Combining that with balancing Bruce Wayne as an approachable business and family man (and not the guy who comes across as a jerk), and this is a winner.

The title reads exceptionally well, so much so that I’d hold this up to anyone who watches television shows like “Bones,” “Criminal Minds” or “CSI” and say that this is far more fulfilling and far more compelling.  It’s got action.  The murder mystery.  Strong character development.  Snyder is hitting on all cylinders with this one.  His Batman goes strongly onto that SWOT chart along with the other great Batmans (Batmen?) of the past 70 years.

Catwoman: per my review of Batwing, I am biased since the author is a friend of mine.  That said, this is a remarkably strong issue for both story and art.  The character voice is firmly established and there are nice hints to her background/past provided in the first issue.  There’s action, humor and an ending that works as a story element for both plot and character in upcoming issues.  The art on this title by Guillem March is spectacular.  He does this thing where he draws everything hyper-realistic, but the cats are cartoony; and it totally works.  I should also mention the colorist Tomeu Morey added a tremendous amount of energy and depth to this book.  It’s lush and one of the most beautiful and skillfully colored titles out this week.  If you want an example of how a good colorist can make an issue better, study this issue.

Since it is being discussed online, I would ask people to read the issue for themselves and form their own opinion on the title, and not just rely on reviews (which I’ve found don’t always provide proper context).  Read the issue for yourself, move away from the echo chamber and you’ll see that there are both positive and negative responses to this issue.  It’s ok to like it.  It’s ok not to like it.  But read it and make your own decisions and participate in the thoughtful and meaningful debate happening online and in comic stores (and avoid the pitchfork/torch wielding mob mentality of the forums).

As always, everyone is entitled to their opinions and two things I think that have been sorely minimized in this discussion:

  1. This is a T+ (16 years-old and up) rated title.  Just like The Dark Knight film is PG-13, this is a title that has an appropriate age attached to it as well.  Our culture treats sex as taboo and yet we are unfazed by violence (This Film Is Not Yet Rated does a better job of explaining this than I can here).
  2. The other thing I would point out is that this is just the first issue.  We’re only 20 pages into this story and everything is connected when you think about serialized fiction.  It will be interesting to see where the conversations move to in 6 issues.  12 issues.

Supergirl: Michael Green (the co-writer for this title) wrote on Jack & Bobby.  At the very least that gets him $2.99 and 20 pages of my time.  I wasn’t expecting much from this title and at the end I liked it quite a bit.  The writers gave a good sense of the voice for the new Kara and while the setup is similar to Supergirl origins of the past (Loeb/Turner Superman/Batman comes to mind), I suspect we haven’t seen it in this way, so I’m in.

Wonder Woman: there were a few pages of this title where I kind of didn’t know what was going on (it felt disjointed in the middle with a setup that was confusing, at least to me), but it pulled together towards the end and the cliffhanger was both shocking and got a bit of a laugh from me because of the nature of what Azzarello is doing.  The Cliff Chiang art is perfect, and you wonder how nobody ever tapped him to draw Diana before this.  I see this title getting stronger with the next issue and really building a nice foundation for some good Diana stories.

Silver Medal Winners

Birds of Prey:the original Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey was a “meat and potatoes” mercenary action/adventure comic book.  Gail Simone added her personality to the book and certainly gave it a tone that was unique to the title (and to her).  I commend Swierczynski for not trying to mimic Simone, but attempting to write his own version of this book.  His version leans more towards Dixon than Simone.  Which is not to say that there’s not humor in this issue.  There is, and there’s a character who might become a fan favorite if Swierczynski plays his cards right.  This feels like a standard “top of the stack” read for me.  Some people watch CSI, NCIS or Law & Order reruns.  I have my “top of the stack” titles…

Legion of Super Heroes: everything that a new reader would need to start on this title is there, but it means paying attention.  We’re talking the difference between the pilot to CSI and the pilot to Battlestar Galactica.  Paying attention is rewarded for both new and old readers.  But you gotta work at it.  That said, Paul Levitz is a master storyteller.  He’s got a lot going on with the relationships (a staple for Legion titles) and he’s got some good plot points established in the first issue.  Good action, nice cliffhanger but like Birds of Prey, this title has always received placement at the “top of the stack.”

Nightwing: this title felt a lot like Supergirl in that it spent a lot of time giving the reader a sense of who the “new” Dick Grayson is.  His voice.  His background.  Where he is at in his life.  It’s all there and done very well.  The mystery that’s being setup feels much like something from the Chuck Dixon run (two Dixon references in one blog. A record?), but I feel like Kyle Higgins knows where he’s going with this title and has a good sense of the character.

Red Hood and the Outlaws: I do not find Scott Lobdell all that funny (my personal opinion), and yet he feels the need to continue to put jokes in his titles.  It was enough to knock this from a gold to a silver.  Lobdell is a good writer when he can get out of his own way and there was enough there to bring me back for another issue.  Like Birds of Prey, it’s a “meat and potatoes” action/adventure title.  Editorial would do right by themselves to maybe space this and Birds of Prey out so they don’t ship together (so as to get new readers who might be picking up both titles to come in 2x a month as opposed to once).

The Drop List

Captain Atom: this was a well-written title and the art was unique and some of the best stuff I’ve seen come from the talented Freddie Williams II and colorist  Jose Villarrubia.  It’s just not for me.  The subject matter and the character didn’t interest me, but it’s a heck of a title and it might find its way to the bottom of someone else’s stack in a few months.

Week 2 Of DC: The New 52

September 16, 2011

The “Did Not Buy” Category

  • Batman And Robin
  • Deathstroke
  • Red Lanterns
  • Resurrection Man
  • Suicide Squad
  • Superboy

Gold Medal Winners

Batwoman: after a number of false starts, Batwoman is finally back.  JH Williams III is a sequential art master whose pages probably make industry veterans jealous.  If you want to get someone into comic books, this is the title to give them.  It’s lush.  It’s extremely well-wrtiten by Williams and Blackman and it’s extremely accessible but has all sorts of “easter eggs” for old farts like me.  I am quite glad to have Batwoman back in my rotation.

Demon Knights: finally, a book for the LARP crowd.  Am I right, ladies?  In all seriousness, Cornell is in his element with this title.  The setup is dirt simple.  The characters are blank slates and the action is over the top.  This is meant to be a “fun” book and that tone comes across despite the misleading cover. This book benefits by not being a “super hero” title (even though it has magic elements) and I suspect most people, myself included, will enjoy having this in their pull to break put the monotony of traditional super hero titles.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: Lemire is 2-0 with Animal Man and now this title.  This is a quirky over-the-top blend of high concept science fiction and dark humor that when put together is a ton of fun.  This title reminds me of Warren Ellis Stormwatch mashed up with odd 1980’s indie comic books.  I liked the Flashpoint mini-series and I’m on board for the regular series.

Green Lantern: since Geoff Johns started writing Green Lantern, this title has always been consistent and it’s never bad.  I would say the same for this new issue.  It’s a lot of setup and I can’t say I know where it’s going, but I’ve been enjoying the ride so far and there’s no reason to stop any time soon.

Silver Medal Winners

Grifter: the cover was extremely misleading.  Grifter, sadly, is not falling and shooting things.  t honestly couldn’t tell you what the heck is happening in this title and I don’t know that it caught my interest per say, but I have a bit of a hunch that something is buried in this book that might be enjoyable and I’m going to try to give it one more shot.

Third Place (aka “The Drop List”)

Legion Lost: I understand that the conflict for this book will come from the fact that people from the future are going to have to deal with being stuck in the present, but I read enough books about the present.  I’d rather read about the future.  So, this title gets dropped.  Outside of my issues with the setting for this title, there’s nothing “wrong” with this title, per say.  It’s very well executed if this is what you’re into.

Mister Terrific: I can’t help but feel like this title was trying to make Mister Terrific into the DC version of Iron Man.  But if you’re going to compete head-to-head against Marvel, you gotta be as good, or better.  The problem is that this title is neither in my opinion.  Iron Man is currently being written by one of their strongest writers (Matt Fraction).  It’s an unfair matchup and I didn’t find enough to compel me to stay on board.

Week 0 And 1 Of DC: The New 52

September 9, 2011

As previously mentioned, I am giving the DC “New 52” titles one issue, 20 pages, to convince me to stick around.

Given the sheer bulk of new titles coming out at the same time from one publisher, this lends itself to a somewhat interesting experiment in deconstructing the creation of a perfect first issue (or “jumping on” point) for new readers.

I suspect it will be after I do all of my reviews that I’ll post a summary of my finding.  In the meantime, here are the reviews.

Spoiler free!

What I Did Not Buy

Since I purchase titles primarily based on creators (whom I either follow and/or am interested in), there are a number of books that I passed on.

  • Detective Comics: I am a fan of Tony Daniel’s art, but having tried on a number of occasions to get into his writing, it just wasn’t for me.  Others seem to like him, and if I start to see reviews that express his style has changed, I might revisit this title in trade or digitally.
  • Justice League International
  • O.M.A.C.: the interesting thing here is that I was on board, but then I read the io9 preview and it had the opposite effect on me.
  • Static Shock: love the character, but I’m not convinced that the current creative team can top the original McDuffie/Leon run.  Another opportunity for a creative team to prove me wrong and if the chatter is positive, I’ll reconsider.

What I Did Buy (Gold Medal Winners)

The “gold medal winners” are the books that nailed it in twenty pages and there is no question that I’m on board for the foreseeable future.

Justice League: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee have the difficult task of not telling the story of how the League was put together, but also structuring this book in a way that defines the next era of super hero comic books from DC.  No pressure.  Geoff does character dialogue very well, so it’s no surprise that there’s a good amount of the issue with Batman and Green Lantern (two of the most recognizable characters to new readers) talking to each other.  He also uses Jim Lee to his advantage in some beautiful and lush action sequences.  As co-publisher, Jim Lee is setting a pace for the other artists in the line with very dynamic and stylized page layouts (see Animal Man, Batwing and Swamp Thing).  The interesting thing here is that the mistake for this book would have been to turn it into a Michael Bay explosion fest.  That’s the difference between films and comic books.  Films are a one time purchase.  Comic books require the reader to want to know what happens next and to show up for the next issue and the one after that.  By that standard, this book is following the right course and trajectory with it’s cliffhanger ending.

Action Comics: when I think of the people that know Superman.  I mean really know Superman.  I mean like ‘what was the address of the farm was in Smallville’ know Superman, three people come to mind; Mark Waid, Chris Roberson and Grant Morrison.  There are a number of references back to the original Action Comics #1 (including when Superman saves a woman from her abusive husband) and while this Superman is a bit “naive” and maybe “darker,” we all know where this is going to end up.  So really what we’re looking at is the journey of how a young man from the midwest meets the city and how it turns him into the greatest superhero of all time.  And that journey doesn’t conclude on day one.  It takes time.  And this is the book where that happens.

[Update: Mark Waid responded to me on Twitter with the following

RFD 1, Box 72. Kent HOUSE was on 321 Maple. Pa’s store was on the 100 block of Oak St. DUH. http://pic.twitter.com/sblcXq7

]

Animal Man: this, and Swamp Thing, are two books where the author clearly knew exactly the tone they wanted for the title.  The first page is a bit of a gimmick, but it pays off strong as the issue progresses.  Lemire combines family elements with gothic horror and this is perfectly carried by Travel Foreman’s minimalistic style and beautiful page designs.  Animal Man and Swamp Thing are the type of comic book that give new comic book readers a sense of the “cinematography” that an artist can achieve creating a stylized look that they would not find on television or in a film.  And it’s not just about dudes in capes (though they do show up).  What I also like about this title is that there’s no middle ground.  You either loved it, or it’s not for you.

Batwing: full disclosure, I am friends with the author (Judd Winick) so while this might come off as a biased review, it doesn’t mean that this title isn’t fantastic. In the 20 pages of this first issue, Judd is able to clearly define how this book is different from Batman in Gotham City.  He gives a sense of the place, the people, the characters and all while also providing some great opportunities for artist Ben Oliver to deliver beautifully rendered action sequences.  This is the book that is going to come in under the radar and surprise people.  It’s written as a straight-up action/superhero comic book, but Judd makes the characters and the setting the real focus and it’s something we’ve not seen before.

Swamp Thing: Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette are following the successful Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/Rick Veitch model for this title; specifically the tone of the early issues with the trippy late 80’s layouts and how ‘nature’ was both a setting and a character that played off of Alec Holland.  This is, what I think, is resonating with most of the positive reviews online.  People liked that Swamp Thing.  This looks like that Swamp Thing.  A+B=C.  They like this title.  And it would be easy for Snyder/Paquette  to simply be a “cover band,” but that’s not why these guys are two of the top creators in the business. They are simply using this as a starting point to provide easy access into something that is going to be unique unto the collaboration between the two of them.  Already in the first 20 pages I see an increased levels of horror (reminiscent of the Wein/Wrightson run) and a trajectory that in a few issues (or maybe even a few pages) will be referred to in the future as “the Snyder/Paquette” run and not merely a homage.

Silver Medal Winners

The following are titles I enjoyed, but am putting “on notice” that in another 20 pages, I might not stick around.

Batgirl: Gail Simone has a very difficult task to accomplish with this title.  She has to bridge the gap from The Killing Joke to current day in a way that is respectful to old readers and any number of groups looking for blood.  I have faith in her ability to do this, and am actually impressed that she decided not to tackle this in the first issue.  She’s taking readers on a journey and hints at the timeline which I’m sure she’ll expand on in future issues.  My problem with the book was the actual writing of the issue.  Specifically the tone.  She is applying the same type of tone she used on Secret Six; disturbing one minute, funny and quirky the next and then back again.  Two problems with that tone for this book.  1) there’s a bit more emotion that is coming out of the Jim / Barbara relationship which puts another ball in the air and messes put the balance and rhythm.  2) the jokes are not funny.  Not a single joke or gag in this issue landed.  In fact a few were so cliche that I cringed.  That’s my opinion.  As far as the art, this is certainly one of the most beautiful titles of week 1, no question.  I’m going to give this another shot with issue 2 to see if it can figure itself out, but this issue was simply, “OK.”

Stormwatch: if you are a science fiction novel reader, this is your title.  No question.  Paul Cornell writes science fiction novels and has taken that style of writing to Stormwatch.  And it fits perfectly.  The problem that this title had is that it references quite a bit of the DC Universe…that nobody has read yet.  I’m kind of amazed that editorial chose to put this as a Week 1 book, as opposed to waiting for it to go after certain books (one of which is referenced in this issue but has yet to come out).  That shouldn’t (and doesn’t) affect how I felt about this title.  I think much of it had to do with so much of this issue being setup, which is why I’d like to stick around and give it another shot.

Third Place (Insert Glengary Glen Ross Speech Here)

I will not spend too much time on these titles, since I try to stay away from negative reviews.  I will say that I read these titles.  They were not for me.

  • Green Arrow: this title is being eliminated due in large part to a personal bias I have with regard to comic books that try to cover the technology industry.  I work in the industry and it’s hard for me to read about it and not analyze it more than I should.
  • Hawk And Dove: my one complaint with this book had to do with a reveal on the final page and some color issues that confused the heck out of me given some new costume designs for one of the characters.  I don’t know, maybe it was just me.
  • Men of War: there were a number of people that I trust who loved this title.  I have been spoiled by the Garth Ennis “war stories” from Dynamite (and Vertigo) and wasn’t seeing this book going in that direction.  This is a title that I will keep my eye on and could revisit in trade in months to come.

…so, that’s the news folks.  I.  Am.  Out of here…

Breaking Bad Season 3

July 19, 2011

In anticipation of Breaking Bad Season 4 (first episode aired last night, and man was it insane), I just finished Season 3 and…wow!

I stick with my A+ rating from my earlier review.

I stand by everything I said earlier and would like to elaborate on three things that make this one of the best shows on television.

Breaking Bad Is Fearless

So much of television, and in particular procedurals, is plot-driven.  Breaking Bad is the opposite.

Breaking Bad is character-driven and it is the actions of the characters on the show that progress the plot forward.

It is the characters who make the decisions that impact the direction of the show.  And they get it wrong more often than they get it right (kinda like in real life).

Jesse is a perfect example of this.  His decisions are dictated by the ‘what would a f***-up meth dealer and wannabe gangster do?’ and not by the whims of what is convenient for the writer.

And he is just the most obvious example.

The Production And Art Departments

I talked in-depth about this in the earlier review and I stand by the fact that the art and props department (and location scouts) are “JJ Abrams quality” in their ability to set the scene perfectly.

I’m always raving on Twitter about how flawless the production design is on Fringe and I gotta say that Breaking Bad is just as good (maybe better).

From that stupid Pontiac Aztek to the leather jacket that Walter wore in a flashback, there is never a moment when you are not in the reality of Breaking Bad.  Never a moment that you think that you’re watching life and not a Hollywood production.

Oh, and those Los Pollos Hermanos commercials are just brilliant.

Three words: Gale’s recumbent bicycle.

I should also mention that the cinematography and lighting are superb.

Giving Character Actors Something To Do

By far, the biggest strength of Breaking Bad is its extended cast.

It’s one thing to hire great character actors.  Any show can do that.  It’s another to actually put them to work.  To give them depth and literally “things to do.”

Dean Norris has shined on this show, but then you get guys like Jonathan Banks (Mike) and…seriously, Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor).

The two of them.  There’s so much going on with those characters and they just nail it.  For Bitsui it’s even more difficult to step up to the challenge since I can’t say he’s said 10 words on the entire show.

Which is probably why Mike and Victor are currently my two favorite characters on the show.

I should also mention that even though he’s not a character actor, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman might be one of the greatest supporting characters ever.  TV Guide, EW and whomever else makes those type of lists needs to make sure he’s in their Top 3 (at least).

I don’t know what else I can say about how great this show is except that I have loaned my Season 1 and 2 box sets to the first of many friends and expect them to continue traveling for quite some time.  (which means you’re on your own to get caught up before Season 4 starts)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011

Rating: B

In the mid-1990’s, television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford was producing a high quality apparel line for K-Mart at affordable prices.  Then in 1996, the National Labor Committee reported (Democracy Now) that the clothing was being made in sweatshops with conditions that are too unspeakable to go into in this blog post.

I mention that to mention this.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Bananas.

It so crazy and insanely over the top that even with a $200 million (US) budget, I have to wonder if we won’t find out in a few months  that none of the actors or crew were paid (or fed) and that the special effects were all done in fifth-world sweatshops in countries we’ve never heard of.

But until then!  This movie is just insane and worth seeing in a great theater with a nice digital 3D projector (like the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin).

Let’s start with the fact that if I were a kid.  This movie would be my jam.

Visually, it is incredible.  It’s one of the first times where I’ve noticed a director composing his shots for 3D and then actually pulling it off without it being the stupid ‘he that actor is throwing something at me’ nonsense.  Rather, subtle things like foreground elements such as lamp posts give this movie the three dimensions that other movies (like Green Lantern) fail to do.

The open letter that Michael Bay wrote to theater projectionists and fans was on  the money; the theater experience will make or break this movie for you.  My older brother convinced me to see this in the theater and he was right to do so.

BTW, let’s talk about Green Lantern for a moment.  My hatred of Green Lantern is well-known.  Transformers delivers all of the awesomeness that Green Lantern did not.  I am not lying to you when I say that there is a scene in the first five minutes of the movie that looked more expensive than all of Green Lantern combined.  And it lasted for maybe 5 minutes.  If that.

There’s also a stunt involving Bumblebee on the highway that…when you see this thing your jaw will open and you’ll think what I did, “Wow.  That one scene is so much better than the entirity of Green Lantern.”

Michael Bay is a very easy target.  He’s made enough bad movies (I saw The Island in the theater, thank you very much) and he’s a “jock” in a world full of nerds.

But let’s look past all of that because this is a good movie.

Michael Bay does two things that you would think are diametrically opposite of each other very well.

He can handle a large budget like $200 million (US) without bankrupting his backers or the studio and at the same time he can stretch a dollar in the way that Sam Raimi and Robert Rodriguez can.

The other thing that Bay does quite well is action, and a lot of it has to do with his unique relationship with the military.  I recall reading somewhere that after doing Pearl Harbor, the US military has pretty much been open to any request he asks of them (short of doing a Dogs of War thing, I suspect).

For instance, the last film was the first use of the V-22 Osprey and this film uses them heavily as well but the drop into Chicago in particular is a scene where you recognize that not only does MIchael Bay have some of the best military tech advisors on speed dial, but he backs up the budget to let them show us some amazing stuff.

The script from Ehren Kruger is interesting in that it’s a lot more historical fact-meets-fiction (ala National Treasure and the like).  Overall, the story holds together.

If I were to scrutinize it, could I find plot holes?  Sure.  But I almost give it a bit of a pass because the movie progressed at a nice rapid clip and overall it was visual insanity set to screen.

The dialogue from Optimus Prime was everything it should be.  Every time Peter Cullen speaks it is inspirational and at the same time heroic.

I will say that the role of women in this movie was horrible.  Seriously.  The lack of roles for women in this film outside of girlfriend, horrible boss and assistant probably set the suffrage movement back about 50 years.  And yes, that was Keiko Agena aka “Lane” from Gilmore Girls.

Also, this movie suffers from what Green Lantern did in that it only credits the screenwriter and not the many hard working individuals who created the comic book and television show.  It should be noted that former Editor In Chief of Marvel comics, Jim Shooter, actually created the storyline and character details for the comic, the toys and ultimately the television show.  He was not credited.

Overall though, this is a fun movie to go see during the summer.  Don’t scrutnize it too hard.  LIke I said, go to a theater with a good 3D digital projector.  Put on the glasses. Have fun.  And prepare to see in snanity that is bananas.

…and in honor that, I give you Mindy Kaling singing, “This day is bananas.”