Sunday, February 28, 2010

Giant-Sized Longbox Special: Under Siege

So Marvel seemed to give us all a break a few weeks back when there were no Siege books followed by a week with only one.  Well, this past week, they made up for it with not one, or two, or even three, but five total Siege tie-in books.  Most were good, a few, not so much.  In any case, it’s given me a lot to write about and so I’m skipping a normal Longbox review to give you this giant-sized Under Siege. 
Thunderbolts #141 is probably the weakest of the books released this week.  To be honest, I haven’t really been following it since its roster changed after Secret Invasion so I’m only passingly familiar with the characters from their appearances in other books.
The story is a Mission: Impossible-style set-up with Norman Osborn setting the team to locate the spear of Odin stashed away somewhere in the armory of Asgard.  Already down two members (Ghost and Headsman), the Thunderbolts head off on their mission.
There is little here that really got me interested or invested into any of the characters and Osborn is written in a fairly unremarkable way that doesn’t seem to resonate with his character in the other Siege books.  The only thing this book really does is serve to bring the Mighty Avengers into the battle and that doesn’t happen until the last page.  By that time, I was ready to take a nap.  Here’s hoping the actual Mighty Avengers tie-in book does a better job with this.
Thor #607 improves things a bit for me but really just made me miss Straczynski.  Gillen’s writing on the book so far has been good but this tie-in feels very herky jerky.  It moves all over trying to fill in gaps with the Asgardians leading up to Osborn’s siege.  It also skips ahead in Volstagg’s story, possibly picking it up following the events of the most recent Siege: Embedded.
The Asgardians hear about what has happened in Chicago and Loki takes out the seers Heimdall and Knut so that there is no warning about what is to come.  Meanwhile, Kelda heads off to town to speak with Bill’s family about what has happened to him prior to all of this.  The story catches up with the siege as Osborn’s forces move on Asgard and Volstagg sits in a Broxton prison cell and watches Thor gets taken down on television.
The police of Broxton, feeling sympathy for the Asgardians and their situation release Volstagg and post a video to the internet in an attempt to rally public support.  As Volstagg hits the streets, Ragnarok hits, literally in the form of the Thor clone.  While I enjoyed a lot of the elements that were played with in this issue, I don’t think they were given real room to breathe.  Not bad, but not great.
Dark Wolverine #83 continues to follow Wolverine’s son Daken during Osborn’s assault on Asgard.  In the previous issue it was revealed that the Norns (think Greek fates but in colder weather) have taken an interest in Daken seeing him as the bringer of Ragnarok.  The issue ended with an interesting turn of events and a cliffhanger that seemed to put things at odds with what’s been going on the main Siege book.  Of course it was just an illusion used by the Norns to open a dialogue with Daken.
The action moves back to the real world where Daken is sent out to track down Thor in Braxton, a sequence that is handled very briefly in Siege #2.  The Norns continue to play with Daken’s perceptions and reveal their plans for him as well as expand on a point made for the siege of Asgard.  Asgard’s presence on Earth has set things out of order in the grand scheme of the universe and the Norns need Daken to set things on the right path by bringing about Ragnarok.
Daken beholds the future the Norns speak of and is told he has been chosen as the agent of Earth to bring about the rebirth of Asgard.  Daken is taken in by the promise of destruction and death on such a scale, but of course doesn’t give himself over to the plans of another.  Just as with Osborn, Daken moves contrary to the direct wishes of the Norns claiming his own agency.  Things sync back up with the real world and the post cooking of Daken by Thor.  I’ve been enjoying how well this book has been tying in and telling its own story.
New Avengers #62 picks up from #61 with Spiders -Man and -Woman fighting one another and Captains America dealing with Living Laser.  Bendis brings the words and the action in a way that always seems to make me happy.
While this book serves mainly to fill in the gaps of how Steve Roger’s and his Avengers come together with Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors, it is done in a well thought out way and brings the original Captain America back into the fold of some of his old team mates.
Bendis’s ability to write good action and witty dialogue brings a humanity to his books that I really love to see in a super-hero story.  He also manages to balance it out as a New Avengers story as well as tying into the larger Siege event.
Avengers: The Initiative #33 continues to follow Taskmaster’s and Diamondback’s stories as they are engaged first-hand in the attack on Asgard.  The book opens though with the members of the Avengers Resistance attacking The Initiative’s training facility, now under the control of The Hood.
Taskmaster finds that he’s put himself on the wrong end of Osborn’s temper in his attempt to be a part of taking down Thor.  This leads him to a realization a lot of people have had about Osborn long ago and so Taskmaster is now bringing his own motivations into question.  Diamondback, acting as a double agent, stands ready to try and assist Thor as best she can when Maria Hill shows up and takes the pressure off of her.  Constrictor pulls her out and gets her back to Asgard in time to witness the events of the fight between Sentry and Ares as well as the arrival of a famous shield in flight.
Back at The Initiative training camp, the resistance moves in only to be confronted and immobilized by The Hood.  Penance is being held in his quarters, unable to assist, and Night Thrasher is given an opportunity to see his brother resurrected from the dead.  All he has to do is kill Tigra.
So that’s it for this week Under Siege.  It was a rough one for me and here’s hoping that they don’t drop that many books on us in one week like that again.  Sure, it’s good for revenue but hard on the review.  See you guys next Sunday.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Select Button: Vagina Surprises from Dante's Inferno

Review: Dante's Inferno

Maybe I'm a little bit more forgiving to EA's Dante's Inferno than most who are talking it down as an uninspired and unoriginal copy of Sony's God Of War franchise. I think there's something to be said for taking a fairly slow epic poem from a few hundred years back and transforming it into an action game. In fact, considering the original material presents Hell as a series of levels to be descended, each containing its own characters and monsters, it's surprising it hasn't been tapped more often by video game developers.

As far as the comparisons go, I can't say that Inferno does anything new in regards to controls. It takes an effective, familiar, and efficient model and adds a few pieces here and there. Among the added bits is a ranged weapon, an advancement tree split between holy and unholy acts, and relics that can be leveled to power up Dante. It's not in controls that Inferno excels, it's in its presentation.

The game renders Hell in a very classical European artistic sense with a little modernism mixed in to keep things lively. There are rivers of blood, pots of boiling gold, and walls constructed of the damned that come to life and call to you as you climb upon them. The characters are rendered just as skillfully as Dante cuts his way through basic shambling souls, unbaptized babies with blades for arms, and lust demons with vagina surprises to reach out and grab you.  This game earns its M rating by not shying away from violence, gore, and sexuality.  However, it is not in these areas that Inferno sets itself apart from God Of War.

EA's Inferno is not an adaptation of the original, it is a reworking with names being the only things carried over from Dante's poem and this works to its strength at distancing itself from God Of War. Kratos is a character that is not working so much for the redemption for his deeds, but more to advance his own agenda at just forgetting what those deeds were so that he can find some kind of peace. Dante, on the other hand, is a character who has seemingly chosen to overlook his worst acts, which are thrown back in his face as he delves deeper and deeper into Hell. In facing his past, Dante's journey presents something a bit more rich and nuanced than that of Kratos.

Say what you will about the game mechanics of Dante's Inferno and how they ape God Of War, it's in the character of Dante, a much more human and sympathetic protagonist than Kratos, and their differing narratives where the real differences lies.  This game should keep both button mashing, action oriented players happy along with those that like a compelling story.

Reviewed on: PlayStation 3

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reel Low: In the Wake of American Tragedy

One thing I've noticed as I've aged a bit is I increasingly enjoy reflections of modern society, especially ones directly examining American ideals and mores. A few films in this vain stuck out to me recently. Two immersed themselves in the economic crisis came about this past year or so, while the other was made a year after September 11th, but is perhaps more significant eight years after the fact.
First up is Jason Reitman's award-darling Up in the Air [2009].
George Clooney works for a company where he is subcontracted to firing people from their venue of employment. In the process, he travels around the country accumulating airline miles to an unheard of degree. He's closed off from everything, save for himself and the skies. That is, until two things happen: he meets a woman who lives her life exactly like he does his, and is tasked to mentor a young woman in the art of the termination. It's a sleekly compiled film where everything seems to fit perfectly, almost a bit too perfectly sometimes.
Not surprisingly, Clooney brings the needed likability to a nearly unsympathetic lead role. Similarly, Vera Farmiga as his mirror image and love interest delivered an excellent performance and was hard to not to fall for, and I'm fairly confident we'll be seeing young Anna Kendrick doing good work for some time after her turn here as Clooney's protege. Her initially icy performance warming into adulthood was the highlight of the film for me.
I find it a little surprising Up in the Air has received as much acclaim as it has, namely an entry for Best Picture by the Academy. Not that it isn't a good movie -- it's rather phenomenal in many respects, particularly in the dialogue -- but I had some trouble getting past an underlying current streaming through the narrative. At the end of the day, these characters were scum. Their daily task of becoming as emotionally devoid as possible to be successful in their own professions and goals.
Another problem with the film is that the two sides of the Clooney character -- the guy avoiding commitment and the guy traveling around the country firing people -- are never tied together, which is kinda shocking considering how well written this film otherwise is.
Up in the Air may be too slick in spots, and not cohesive enough in others, but it's still very good. Just maybe not best-picture good for my tastes.
Meanwhile, frequent Clooney collaborator Steven Soderbergh dove head-first into the economic crash while uncertainty about it was at its highest. The result: The Girlfriend Experience [2009].
Soderbergh puts both the high-end escort and personal training industries under the microscope. However, this being one of his indie projects made between his big-budget studio flicks, that microscope is left a little out of focus, probably intentionally so.
Real-life porn star Sasha Grey takes the reigns of the film as Chelsea, a Manhattan call girl on the rise. She weaves in an out of the lives of her customers while slowing building her reputation and pay grade. Where the story takes a unique turn is that not only does she go about the city pretending to be the girlfriend of her customers, she has a live-in boyfriend who knows nearly everything about what she does.
The boyfriend is a personal trainer, who is also trying to climb the rungs of both the fitness and fashion worlds, as well as gauge his potential worth monetarily at every opportunity. These are industries that, at least in the way portrayed in the movie, are strikingly similar as they both force their inhabitants to profusely sell themselves in order to be successful. Coupled with an economy steeped in ruin, their plights are far more dynamic than they would have been had the film been set in 2007.
Some other reviews I've read seemed overly obsessed with Gray's porno past, claiming it gave a staunch realism to her performance. I don't have much of an opinion on that. She's not particularly outstanding in the role, but were it not for an often drab delivery, she might have glowed on the screen. Grey's past is only a distraction in the film if you let it be.
The Girlfriend Experience poses some intriguing quandaries for the leads: how do these customers keep up with the rising cost demands in this economic climate, and how do these entrepreneurs find the perfect balance of success and happiness?
Soderbergh doesn't seem interested in the answers to these questions, just posing them. At the end of the day, the all the film really seems concerned about is the benjamins.
And even when it doesn't seem like it's all about the money, it really is. Such is one of the lessons delivered by Spike Lee's 25th Hour [2002].
Produced a year after 9/11, 25th Hour is about a convicted drug dealer's last day of "freedom" before beginning a seven-year sentence. It's simultaneously a love letter to New York City and a scathing critique of the American way filled with high levels of devotion and anger that only someone like Spike Lee seems to successfully pull off.
This clip is one of the highlights of movie. It doesn't really give away any plot points, so feel free to take a peek. (FYI, not for the easily offended.)
This cast is superb, top to bottom. Ed Norton, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin and Brian Cox each give marvelous performances.
I watched this one for the first time a few months ago, and never got around to writing about it due to my technical difficulties at the time. Because of that, I'm getting a little sketchy with the details of it, so I'll spare myself from making a mistake by trying to relay a detailed recap of the story. However, Norton's Monty tried to take a short cut to obtain the American dream by dealing drugs is exposed, as are the class differences between him and his best two childhood friends as they fool themselves into one last great night before he gets locked up.
I apologize for the lazy review here, but trust me -- it's a great film. Probably my favorite Spike Lee joint, out of the ones I've seen.
It's fascinating to watch a film like this now, nearly nine years after that hellish day. In 2002, anger and fear over it were still astronomical. But now, all those emotions from that time feel like they happened even longer to me. I'm sure those feelings still linger, especially for New Yorkers, but they aren't in the daily thoughts of the nation any longer. Watching 25th Hour brings them back in a flash.
The current recession is changing the world too, although in a much subtler manner, and it is feeding a lot of entertainment now. It makes me wonder if we'll look at Up in the Air or The Girlfriend Experience with any sort of the apprehensive nostalgia of "remember what 2009 was like?" in a few years time. Case in point, I was surprised how quickly I forgot about John McCain spewing endlessly on his "maverick" qualities until The Girlfriend Experience reminded me, so I'm sure there'll be something noteworthy. I'll let you know if we're still fiddling with this site in 2019.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Longbox

issue: 1 of 6
writer: Ben McCool
artist: Ben Templesmith
publisher: Image

Okay, just so we’re clear, I’ve spent the past week thinking that I really need to broaden my reading scope a bit for fear of being seen as a Marvel fanboy reviewer.  Also, I think it’s in the best interest of being a good reviewer to explore material that might lie outside my comfort zone.  Choker lies in that region and I’m afraid I won’t be venturing back.

Choker is the story of ex-cop turned hard boiled detective Johnny Jackson who lives in a city with mutants, monsters, and mystery.  Johnny is called back in by his former boss for a chance to get his badge and his old life back if he’ll help put away an escaped criminal he locked up years ago.  Elsewhere in the city, vampire DNA is sold as a drug in dance clubs, and a woman is kept captive in a basement.  Of course the connections are not immediately made known as this issue is pretty much all set up.

For me, the wheels come off with the noir setting getting mixed in with too many other things.  Cohesion is found through Templesmith’s dark and finely crafted pages, which look like they were colored with coffee, whiskey, and blood.  McCool’s writing is spot on noir with harsh language and an inner monologue serving as the main route of exposition.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind noir.  However, it’s not something I gravitate towards but when you throw in too much other stuff at one time that you’re trying to “noir up”, I begin to lose interest quickly.  All in all though, the writing is solid and the art is fantastic, it’s just that the material itself really doesn’t interest me.  This is what I get for going outside my comfort zone.  See you all next Sunday!

P.S.  I just realized that this is post #101.  I'm not sure if this is reason to celebrate or not.

Longbox Special: Under Siege

Last week, Marvel gave me a break by not putting out any Siege stuff and this week they went easy on me again by just putting out the one book to talk about.  So without further ado, let’s get back to it...
This week, we return to The Sentry with Dark Avengers #14, but not until we get to see Norman Osborn and Victoria Hand have it out a bit.  They get into a debate about Osborn talking with a psychotherapist and Ms. Hand winning out.  This was one of my favorite parts about this book just because Bendis handles the exchange skillfully and also manages to make me feel sympathetic for Osborn.  The whole scene portrays him as a real man who, while certainly working his own agenda, has more complicated things going on inside his head.  Hand is presented as a person who not only thinks that Osborn has done some good work but who is also compassionate towards his history and situation and doesn’t want to see him fall into being a super-villain again.
Following another great scene with Hand putting her foot down with Moonstone (Osborn’s Ms. Marvel), we pick up where last issue left off with The Void preparing to level the world as a way to punish Robert Reynolds and his wife Lindy, who tried to kill him fearing where things were going.  Osborn suits up and takes off to have a chat with Sentry’s alter ego/nemesis in an attempt to talk him down.  This is another great scene, mainly because of the juxtaposition with the previous discussion Osborn had with Hand.  If anything, this is a manifestation of Hand’s fear of Osborn becoming the Green Goblin again and losing everything.  Having finally talked things out, Osborn begins to put things in motion to solve what he sees as the big problem with Sentry... Lindy.
This week’s tie in material really doesn’t move forward the events in Asgard in that they take place three days before.  However, this book does seem to be presenting the method by which Osborn gains the level of control over Sentry that he exhibits in the main book.  There’s also a lot of development with Hand and Osborn’s professional relationship and I’m really interested in seeing if Hand has an agenda of her own in all of this.

Friday, February 19, 2010

TV Tweets Special: FNL Season 4 Recap

Another football season for the Dillon Lions came to close last week. Yes, the Lions. Of East Dillon to be exact.
Say what, now?The great thing about DirectTV stepping up to save Friday Night Lights from almost-certain cancellation after it's second season is that it picked the show up not for one, but for three additional seasons. So, at the end of season 3 last year, the showrunners shook things up in a big way by literally splitting Dillon, Texas, in half. Our old standby Panthers, who we'd become so fond of over the past three seasons, were transformed into the hated West Dillon Panthers. Meanwhile, newly ousted Coach Taylor was tasked to construct the lowly East Dillon Lions from bottom up on the other side of town.
It was a rather genius ploy by the writers. Taking Eric Taylor, who despite commanding the Panthers to two state championships in three years was still seen as an underdog by the audience, and tossing him into the perhaps the most difficult position a high school football coach can be put in -- building a winning program from absolutely nothing with kids, who in many instances, had never formally played the game before -- then allow the resulting hardships to be overcome.
At worst, I rate Friday Night Lights as the second-best program currently on television. Although it gets billed as a show about a high school football team -- which it is -- it's really a thorough examination of the struggles in small-town America and how the people there find solace in faith, football and each other to get by.
This small town is fictional Dillon, located in a rural area of the Lone Star State, but aside from some local color, it could be just about anywhere. Over the show's four years, it has examined complex issues such as class, race, religion, divorce, gang violence, drug addition, paraplegic life, parenthood, teen pregnancy and first love, to name a few. Perhaps the one subject it's danced around would be alcoholism, but it hasn't celebrated underage drinking outright, so I'll only give them a slap on the wrist for that one.
WARNING - Major season 4 spoilers from here on out!!!

As great as the FNL is overall, and this season in particular was, I still have some issues with what went down in season 4.
-- No Tyra. I love me some Tyra. One last glimpse of Mrs. Jeter was a nice consolation, however.
-- I felt Matt driving off to Chicago after his father's death would have been a wonderful goodbye for him, ala the mini arcs of Smash going to college and Jason Street moving east from last season. Instead, we were force-fed the inevitable breakup with Julie, which I'm sure some of the audience needed, but when I think of the time they could have devoted to other storylines, it sticks out as particularly unnecessary.
-- I know Landry can't get the girl all the time, so that didn't bother me much, but did they have to pair Jess off with Vince? It was just too obvious of a choice for them to make, in my book. On the flip side, they do have to build the new characters for next season as the original cast slowly move away from Dillon, so fleshing out their characters was necessary, I suppose.
-- While Tim and Becky's partnership was a bit rushed (I mean, she's not Lyla, but it makes sense for Riggs to have a solid B option when/if he comes back), the off-camera excursion between new characters Luke and Becky was totally unacceptable, especially considering how that pregnancy affected so many other characters by the close of the season. An easy remedy would have been if they had given us less Matt and more of the Luke/Becky relationship.
-- Once again, not enough Buddy. This will always be a problem for the show. You can never have enough Buddy.

And then there were the things that played out beautifully.
-- Eric and Tami's marriage continues to be the best relationship on tv. Did you really think Glen's infatuation would turn into anything? I didn't. It was a bit annoying that they even lightly entertained this notion, but it was all worth it just to have Coach's reaction. This may be my favorite thing about the show: having a realistic marriage with disagreements and short-term displeasure surrounded by adult discussion, undying support and genuine love. If they ever present some sort of infidelity situation like any cookie-cutter tv drama might, I may be propelled to abandon the show.
-- The emergence of Tink. I'm not sure if Landry will be back next year (he could easily just leave for college like Tyra), but if he isn't, I feel Tinker, the giant O-lineman who has a wealth of street smarts and is just a flat-out, stand-up dude, could fill the void, if written correctly. Please use Tink liberally in season 5, FNL writing staff.
-- I actually cared about the new cast members. I assumed I was going to miss Street, Smash and the other old favorites too much, but the newbies won me over. Obviously, there were some things involving them I didn't like that I've already discussed, but I'm now fully invested in the futures of Jess, Vince, Luke and Becky for next year. Kudos to the show for that unlikely accomplishment.
-- Tim Riggins. Now that he's getting some play on the silver screen, I didn't think we'd get to see Taylor Kitsch in each and every episode this year. His send-off was appropriate, and there was finally some consequence for someone on the show when they broke the law. If this was the last of Riggs, I can live with it.
Despite my gripes, FNL is still firmly planted as a great series in my mind. It has never lost it's heart and when it takes an unrealistic turn (anything involving legalities tends to be suspect), it's usually forgivable because you really don't want these characters to be bogged down in any way.
Like many of its characters, the show itself perseveres through the rigorous annals brought forth by the obstacles, often resulting in triumph. It's hard not to enjoying rooting for it.
For you non-DirectTV subscribers out there, NBC will re-air season 4 later this spring.
As always, you can follow me at LowBrowJon to get my latest QWERTY contemplations, as well as other LBM updates.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Genres & Judgements: TRENCHES

It's been a bit of a rough week. Dollhouse is over, Lost has been underwhelming thus far this season, Fringe is on a mini-hiatus and Caprica took last week off, so I've been jonesin' for a good sci-fi fix. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Trenches [2010], another interesting web series from Crackle.
Trenches is about a small group of soldiers stranded behind enemy lines on an alien planet in the wake of a disastrous battle. By the end of the fourth episode, the strained collection of survivors are trying to get themselves rescued just as they are spotted by someone, or perhaps something, else.
This series was directed by Shane Felux, who made a name for himself by directing the fan-made film Star Wars: Revelations in 2005. I never got around to watching Revelations, but I recall it was quite the internet sensation when it came out, some saying they preferred it to the prequels. Clearly he's a rarity -- a sci-fi savant in the indie film community.
Back to the series. Felux displays quick clips of intergalactic space battles and fast-paced, warfare sequences in (you guessed it) trenches very effectively. Considering this series probably didn't have a huge budget, they're pretty decent. Much like The Bannen Way and Angel of Death, the camerawork is sharp and professional when on the actors. The special effects jar you out of the moment a bit, but they're not what I'm watching Trenches for. The costumes and sets seem pretty top notch. There's an unmistakable BSG influence evident here, and I don't see that as a bad thing.
Meanwhile, there hasn't been a lot to judge the actors by after four eps. The focus has largely been on the action, of which there's been quite a bit in the four- to six-minute webisodes. Aaron Mathias, who has kind of a Nathan Fillion/Aaron Eckhart vibe about him, plays Lt. Andrews. The second primary character is Cpt. Racine, as played by the very cute Mercy Malik, who is being held hostage by Andrews and his uneasy cohorts. She's had even fewer lines at this point than Mathias, but I like what I've seen thus far.
I only have one quibble with Trenches. Obviously, only 40% of the webisodes have been released, so this issue could be moot in a few weeks, but I wasn't quite sure why the audience should care about our main character until part three, which I thought was too long at first. But it was really only about 10-15 minutes into the story, and I realized I needed to give it more time. There are some other plot elements that I wish were expanded upon -- who are these races/enemies, why are they at war, etc. Evaluating this shorter form of film takes a bit of an adjustment because the pieces of the story seem to be all there, they're just so short that it feels like you're not getting a whole lot.
I wonder if companies are underestimating people's attention spans with viewing videos on the internet. Not everyone on the net is burdened with ADD. Sure, viewers can always click away to another webpage, but that same problem exists with standard television and the remote control. Produce a quality story, and I guarantee people will devour it. I'd happily sit in front of my computer and watch an engaging clip for 20 minutes with no problem.
Anyway, it's nice to see that Crackle has found a little collection of interesting and well-made shows for their site. Hopefully other viewers are finding this stuff, because I want to see more of it.
The fourth part of Trenches was released today, with each improving on the previous one. New episodes are being released on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. It'll wrap up on March 10th after 10 installments, so you have plenty of time to catch up.I'll probably check back in with the series after it has wrapped up and see how it turned out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

TV Tweets: Feb. 8 - 14

As always, you can follow me at LowBrowJon to get my latest asinine allegations, as well as other LBM updates.
Feb. 8th [LOST, Fringe]
I may regret saying this, but I'm enjoying the execution of the alternate realities on #Fringe way more than on #Lost right now.
There's plenty of time for LOST to correct this, but I am not enjoying these flash-sideways. If it turns out that they are the final "reality," I'll feel incredibly cheated. Those showrunners best not negate the first five seasons with this bull. Meanwhile, Fringe is hinting at not just two realities, but a full-blown multiverse and handling it well. However, just as LOST could remedy their parallel-universe conundrum, Fringe still has plenty of time to ruin theirs.

Feb. 11th [Chuck]
#CHUCK fans, I know you're angry, but don't you see not watching your low-rated show on purpose will only kill it?
After the few times I've watched Chuck, I've determined it's not for me. But I can identify with its small, rabid following wanting its two main characters to hook up, especially considering the very real possibility that it fails to get a renewal for a third season. The comments section for a post at What's Alan Watching? (linked in the tweet) started a firestorm in Chuck fandom this past week, calling for those dissatisfied with Chuck and Sarah each pursuing other people romantically to watch the show via Hulu or DVR rather than the normal airtime on NBC (sucks to be you, Lana Lang). The rather obvious flaw in this plan is that the Chuck ratings will drop, and I feel a network suit is more likely to cut its loses with the show rather and cancel it than merely bring it back just in the hopes that it strikes gold by pandering to its tiny, furious audience. Back to the drawing board, kiddos.

Feb. 12th [Friday Night Lights]
It's amazing that #FridayNightLights can still keep me in suspense with those end-of-the-season games on the fourth go-round.
Season 4 ended quite well, with plenty of issues lingering for the next football season in Dillon, Texas. There's a lot I want to say about the season and show as a whole, so keep an eye out for a special post on FNL, hopefully later in the week.

Feb. 14th [Breaking Bad]
Heard too many good things, so I finally started up #BreakingBad last night. More drama than I was expecting, but some good crime scenarios.
I finished the seven-episode first season of last night, and violence, hilarious and gut-wrenching all come to mind. Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle) is a high school chemistry teacher who resorts to making crystal meth with a former student in order to provide for his family amid a laundry list of impending life complications. This show alternates between laugh-out-loud comedy to touching poignancy with bursts of gunplay and fisticuffs inbetween. Cranston's Walt White utilizes his knowledge of the periodic table for acts of crime and dubious heroism simultaneously. Another fine piece of AMC programming. You'll probably see more of my thoughts on the show when season 3 starts up next month.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Longbox

After a week of being mostly snowed-in in the aftermath of the Snowpocalypse of 2010, I’ve finally managed to dig myself out and get back to drinking coffee and writing subpar blogs about comic books whilst being hopped up on cafiene.  Fortunately for you all, there were no new “Siege” books to come out this week so there will be no “Under Siege” this week.  Unfortunately for you, this week's Longbox is in the format of a love letter for Valentine's Day...
The Unwritten
issue: 10

writer: Mike Carey
artist: Peter Gross
publisher: Vertigo
Dear Mr. Carey,
Will you be my Valentine?  To me you are one of the hardest working, most consistently good cross-genre writers in comic books today.  I’ve been reading something by you ever since Sandman Presents: Lucifer: The Morningstar Option and probably even before that.  You also somehow find time to write your excellent noir/detective/horror books that follow the adventures of exorcist Felix Castor.
I’ve been following your run on X-Men: Legacy over at Marvel but today it’s your original series, The Unwritten, that I want to talk about.  You’ve masterfully taken the world surrounding children’s fantasy literature and crafted a certainly adult and surreal story out of it.
For nine issues, Tommy Taylor has been evading forces connected to his late father’s popular children’s books, forces he doesn’t quite understand.  Having escaped death by means of a magic doorknob, he finds himself and his companions lost in a ghost of Nazi, Germany where the mystery of just what Tommy might be deepens.  Meanwhile in the real world, the forces working against Tommy begin to put together a new strategy to find and make an end of him.
Your words together with the amazing art of Peter Gross bring to life Tommy’s unwilling journey of discovery about his origins and his destiny.  You two are a powerhouse team on par with the likes of Ennis and Dillon or Morrison and Quitely.  Give my best to Mr. Gross, it was very hard to choose between the two of you for a comic book Valentine.  This issue builds to the kind of cliffhanger I’ve come to expect and appreciate from you.
In any case, I hope this finds you well and I look forward to next month’s installment as well as well your X-Men stuff.  Also, I really should check out your The Torch mini-series as well.  You do so much, it gets hard to follow.
Your Valentine,

Monday, February 08, 2010

TV Tweets: Feb. 1 - 7

As always, you can follow me at LowBrowJon to get my latest brainiac blips, as well as other LBM updates.
Feb. 3rd [LOST]
My hope for this season is that they finally explain why Sawyer's hair was short in the pilot and long in all other flashbacks/forwards, etc
Yes, out of all the things I could want to be addressed in the final season of LOST, this is the issue that I want explained most. Yes, I am an idiot.

But, hey! They used a Lazarus Pit on prime-time television! How cool was that? Okay, just me.

Feb. 4th [Big Love]
How could you throw that perfectly crafted flat-top under the bus like that, Bill Henrickson?
This episode drove me mad. Bill has got to be the most unsympathetic lead character I can think of on a tv show. This isn't like Don Draper seducing you into liking him despite your better judgment. No, Bill Henrickson is that Jerry Falwell kind of evil, which I find much more dangerous. In any event,
I'm openly rooting against him on all cylinders now after the bullshit he pulled.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Longbox Special: Under Siege

I managed to survive the Blizzard of 2010 here in Pittsburgh mostly intact.  We lost power Friday night and didn’t get it back until Saturday night.  This put me somewhat behind on putting together this week’s installment of Under Siege, not that I’m sure many will notice.  Anyway, this week’s releases brought major installments as things get ratcheted up.
Siege #2
Ares engages Balder as the siege of Asgard continues.  It is then, thanks to Heimdall, that Ares finally sees that he’s on the wrong side of the fight.  It just seems like it’s taken him way too long to finally figure this little detail out.
Meanwhile, Osborn and some of his higher powered flunkies have downed Thor and are attempting to take him into custody when Maria Hill shows up on the scene.  Did I mention she’s in a pick-up truck with a hick and a rocket launcher?  With a little help from a badly beaten Thor, she’s able to get him off of the field and into town.
Back at Avengers Hideout in New York, Captain America makes a stirring speech to a group I’m pretty sure don’t need convincing that it’s time to take Osborn down.  He’s assembled a team made up of New Avengers, Young Avengers, Classic Avengers, and Nick Fury leading his Secret Warriors.
Back at Asgard, Osborn takes another hit as Ares makes his move and calls Osborn out.  Before Ares can put an end to it all, Sentry comes in and removes Ares from the battle with extreme prejudice.  It is certainly the most graphic scene in the issue.
Cap and his team load up to head out, except for Phobos.  For whatever reason, Fury is keeping the kid out of this fight and we learn that the god of fear really has nothing on Fury.  This is followed up by a big old gift giving scene when Bucky gives Cap the shield back and Jarvis gives Cap a briefcase that belongs to a friend in need near the battle (Hint: Tony Stark used to cary the Iron Man suit around in a briefcase).
Finally, Osborn sends Daken out to find Thor only to find that Thor isn’t really one for hiding and has cooked Daken but good.  Osborn then gets one more incoming alert, something round and shield-like that’s going to clang him in the noggin.
Bendis has kept the writing and pacing tight on this issue and the art is still peak.  This issue though is all build up setting issue #3 up to possibly be the tipping point.  Either that or the next issue will just be a lot of Cap and Osborn hitting each other and spouting dialogue as the big three get ready to come back together again.  The Jonathan Hickman-esque text bit at the end of the issue was a nice way to fill in the gaps that people who haven’t been reading Secret Warriors might be experiencing.
Siege: Embedded #2
One could say that this book is mainly a road trip story with an overweight Scandinavian  but that would simplify things a bit too much.  Embedded’s battlefield is not Asgard nor is it wherever Volstagg decides to hit people.  Embedded works its battlefield as that of the press and it works it very well.
Ben Urich and Will Sturn are escorting Volstaag back to Oklahoma where he plans to turn himself into the proper authorities because of what happened at Soldier Field.  Urich uses the trip to talk with the people they run into to see how the nation is reacting.
On the other side of this field is Todd Keller, a loosely-veiled caricature of Glenn Beck if ever I saw one.  He has sold his journalistic integrity to get inside the biggest story and to make buddies with Norman Osborn.  Now, I don’t mind me some overt satire of high profile media personalities, but it would have been nice if they had made Keller look not so much like Beck.  Seriously, you don’t have to hit us over the head with a hammer.
As Keller finds out that the real Osborn doesn’t have the time to actually speak with him on the air, Urich, Sturn, and Volstaag have a run-in on the road with H.A.M.M.E.R forces.  Volstaag winds up acquiring one of the agent’s flying sleds and proceeds to deliver some justice on them.  All the while, Urich and Sturn are arrested and taken to Tinker Air Force Base where they make a Scooby-Doo-like escape from custody.
The humor and humanity of this book is what makes it a great addition to the bigger event.  The story is less about Volstaag and more about the everyman and their existence in the larger Marvel Universe.  Brian Reed has a real knack for this dialogue and brings these people to life, even when they’re being portrayed as types.

That's this week's Siege installments.  Hopefully next weekend I'll be able to dig myself out and get to the coffee shop where I normally write these things...

...till the next...


Friday, February 05, 2010

Genres & Judgments: Best Films of 2009 Addendum

In my Best of 2009 article from last month, I listed nine movies I had wanted to see, but for whatever reason, did not before 2009 wrapped up. Aside from Sherlock Holmes, which I probably won't see for a while, I have watched all the items on that list. Here are my thoughts on each.

Every bit as good as you've heard. I won't bother placing the rest of these movies in my Top 10, but Moon would fit comfortably at #3. Duncan Jones gave us a Twilight Zone-flavored tale mixed with the stylings of Stanley Kubrick. I guessed a big plot twist early, but instead of it being the big M. Night secret saved for last, there was still another 45 minutes of film left to watch after it was revealed. Superb.

The Road
I was so friggin' mad at myself that I missed this one on its first pass through theaters, especially after I'd talked about it ad nauseum on the site since the summer. Fortunately, one brought it back locally this week, otherwise I'd still be waiting for the bluray release. It is a mesmerizing film. I cannot separate it in my mind from the book, so I apologize to those of you who have not read it as I continue on. Out of all the horrific occurrences in the novel, John Hillcoat only failed to include one of them. It is hinted at, so maybe it'll surface as a deleted scene, but it would probably be too extreme a notion for the common patron. I can only imagine how I might have been freaking out during a few of the sequences if I didn't know how they were supposed to turn out. Even knowing the plot points wasn't much comfort at times. Considering the amount of material that wasn't used and that quite a bit was added (primarily the Charleze Theron stuff), the spirit of the Cormac McCarthy's book is amazingly 100 percent there. What was added gave needed depth to Viggo's character, which was necessary for the film.
Just like the novel, The Road is not easy to watch. You'll definitely have to be in the mood for it, because it is an incredibly bleak peak at a post-apocalyptic world.

A phenomenal baseball movie, easily catapulted into my favorites (and I really like baseball movies). That said, this shouldn't be written off as a mere sports movie and, really, it isn't a sports movie at all. Miguel "Sugar" Santos is young pitcher from the Dominican Republic trying to make his way through the rigorous levels of the minor league baseball system. We see the difficulties of American life for a non-English speaker who ultimately has no one but himself to get through the rollercoaster of successes and failures in his path. This movie does not go where you think it will. It may start out as a baseball movie, but his ambitions aren't limited to the old ball game. A fascinating drama.

(500) Days of Summer
This movie is just plain good. But I warn you, although Summer seems like a romantic comedy, it's not. At all. This would be an awful date movie. Awkward doesn't accurately encompass the inevitable looks the two of you would share afterward.
I'm happy Zooey Deschanel reminded me what I'd forgotten after trudging through The Happening and Yes Man -- she's spectacularly adorable. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to be in something that sucks, and maybe he has, but I haven't seen it yet. The next Spider-Man looks to be in excellent hands with Marc Webb, at least with the Peter/Mary Jane stuff. Oh, and I'm pretty sure this movie has the best Star Wars gag ever (in the middle of a montage, no less!).

The Hurt Locker
Like The Road, this is another bleak masterpiece from 2009. Perhaps why this film has garnered so much widespread acclaim in comparison to the former might be the high intensity displayed in it's bomb squad scenarios and bursts of paranoia and violence. Those elements tend to grab moviegoers a little bit easier. That said, it has a deeply buried hopelessness and delivers a clarity of war via these three very different squad members, none of which are particularly heroic. After watching it, it's hard to argue with the title card at the film's forefront that reads, "war is a drug."

Public Enemies
A typical Michael Mann movie, meaning there's a strong script, good performances and excellent direction adding up to very good film that only severe nit-picking could diminish. Nothing really award worthy overall, but Depp is particularly good as John Dillinger. The thing that stood out the most was the sound -- I have never heard gunfire that loud before in a movie. But that's what you get when crooks and G-men duke it out with Tommy guns, and some of those scenes are gloriously brutal. If you like gun battles, car chases, bank robberies and prison breaks, this is a movie for you.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
From my review earlier in the month:
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delight of a film. Completely satisfying in every way... A must-see at the earliest opportunity.

State of Play
This was a really excellent political thriller from the perspective of reporters working the story. Some very nicely veiled twists are mixed in with both the politics in the newspaper room as well as on Capitol Hill. It also contains some of the best examples of actual reporting I think I've ever seen filmed. While it doesn't ignore technology as it pertains to journalism, it may be the the last film set in modern times to forgo the utilization of the internet because I can't see how you could make a movie featuring a reporter and not have them use Google in the years to come. State is a love letter of sorts to the "golden age" of reporting, if such a concept is truly dead or ever even existed.