Saturday, May 18, 2019

Small wonder

So, yesterday Wonder Wife said she might want to bounce up to Vancouver , BC today to get some vegetarian wonton soup (Vancouver is awesome for finding vegetarian restaurants). When I awoke this morning, my phone reminded me that today was the first day of VANCAF - the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival. So after a breakfast of some fluffy, fluffy eggs*, we nexus-passed through the border and headed to the Roundhouse Mews.

The Roundhouse is a residential/commercial complex in the Yaletown neighborhood near downtown, with a nice interior courtyard and a community center/event space/gymnasium as part of the deal. It was there that this free event was taking place - and yes, it was indeed no charge to get in. Now admittedly, there were no Big Names to be found - and certainly no movie or TV people - but there were a zillion indy comic artists, graphic novelists, illustrators, and cartoonists filling the gym and program spaces.

Besides the absence of Hollywood types, the other difference was the lack of a significant superhero presence. Most of these artists were small press or self-published, and most of the genres represented were historical fiction, horror, fantasy, autobiography - well, I guess just about everything besides superheroes.  The place was abuzz with activity, just like a comic con, only a little bit mellower.

Two things stood out immediately as we cruised the festival. The first was that we could tell how much more multicultural a community Vancouver is, certainly when compared to Bellingham and even when compared to Seattle. It was great to see so many different folk at the event - both as creators and as part of the crowd. The other observation was how LGBT-friendly the event was, in a very intentional and visible way. Not only were there gender-neutral bathrooms and pronoun stickers, but my rainbow tie got me a lot of love.

I managed to keep my spending down to one deluxe GN and this lapel pin, which I will probably wear every day from here on out:

(attributed variously to Jack Kirby and Charles Schulz)

Wonder Wife initially thought she was just going along for the ride, but it turned out to be just her kind of scene. She soaked up the ambiance, chatted with a number of creators, and bought several works, including a comic, some frameable strips, and some illustrations. If she hadn't gotten so hungry for wontons, we might have stayed longer.

All in all, a great visit to swell little con. It's going back on the calendar for next year.

*You should Google that phrase - there's an extraordinary number of responses

Saturday, April 13, 2019

In the green (streaming serendipity part two)

So, as I mentioned last time, Wonder Wife and I had a short run of streaming some good movies lately. As I was napping watching The Monster That Challenged the World ( a quintessential 1950s monster movie, about which perhaps more later) I recalled that I needed to post about the second great find.

Prospect is a great hard science fiction story, one that could have come from Clarke or Asimov. It is both big and small in perfect proportion. It is big, because it gives us a constant and full sense of a much wider world than we seen in the film itself, without having to show us any of it. It is small because it is totally focused on the characters and their struggles, not special effects or spectacle. There is conflict and danger in abundance, because these particular people are in this particular place facing this particular problem. They are not trying to save the world, but rather just trying to survive.

They are Cee, a young girl stranded by circumstance on a hostile moon during a treasure-hunting expedition, and Ezra, a freebooter of dubious ethics, who is an enemy-turned-ally. Together, these two must face natural and human threats in order to secure passage back home - or at least off the planetoid full of threats.

The actors are wonderful. Young Sophie Thatcher gives a compelling, tightly-controlled performance as Cee - it's all in the eyes - while Pablo Pascal's turn as the expansive Ezra is captivating, seemingly an admixture of equal parts True Grit, Firefly, and Shakespeare.

As equally compelling as the leads is the art design. The vehicles and suits and equipment - excuse me, the sets and costumes and props - are all totally realistic and plausible in a retro-futuristic dieselpunk sort of way. Everything looks and feels utilitarian and grimy and used; I haven't had so strong a sense of realness to a science fiction setting since the first Alien.

If you want edge-of-your seat tension in a completely engaging sci-fi world,  Prospect will not let you down.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

All shook up

So, Wonder Wife and I have been favored with some streaming serendipity lately in the form of two movies that we just happened to come across while browsing, each of which was a total blast. here's the first.

The Quake is the Norwegian disaster film that is the sequel to The Wave, which won all kinds of awards and broke all kinds of records in Norway and around the world. Like the original film, this follow-up features Hollywood-style special effects and spectacle while maintaining focus on the individual characters, who we can really care about. It helps that all of them, even (or especially) the main protagonist, Kristian, are cut from decidedly unheroic cloth, and the image of these everyday people coping with an unbelievable natural disaster has a lot more power than watching The Rock stunting his way through the same sort of scenes.

Kristian, the ever-suffering geologist, having played Cassandra once before when a tsunami wiped out his fjordside hometown, finds himself once again sounding the alarm before the earth moves in Oslo and once again being unheeded  by the official bureaucracy - all while contending with PTSD, depression, a failed marriage, and estrangement from his kids. He's a total Nordic Job, and we feel for him every step of the way.

And the action scenes are terrific: tense, suspenseful, edge of your seat stuff. This is no slow-moving character study; the producers have earned their action-film moves well, and once things start shaking, you're in for thrill ride.

Walaka's predication: there will be a third film in the franchise (there's a literal handoff to a new character that I expect to see more of) and it will be.... The Storm.

See this movie.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The sensibilities that time forgot

So, I made a shopping blitz through Henderson Books the other week and grabbed a whole slug of stuff, including a copy of The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The paperback I bought was not graced with the old style cover art picture above; it was released to coincide with the film version of the story ("A major new motion picture!") in 1974. I have always had a soft spot for that cheesy, breezy Doug McClure flick, and thought I would check out the original, as it was a Burroughs I had never read in my glory days of cutting a reading swath through all things pulpish.

A bit of a shock it was.

The novel was originally published in 1918 and man, does it show. The typical ERB-ian adventure is there, all right; lots of excitement and derring-do to go around from a stalwart protagonist. But the casual racism and sexism, the unapologetic imperialist and colonialist attitudes, and a surprisingly robust anti-socialist/communist stance were real stumbling blocks to my enjoyment. There's lots of discussion about not judging something out of its own context, and I get that, sort of. But as many people have noted about Golden Age comics, sometimes it is just hard to read them. In point of fact, I didn't finish the book.

This response I had made me wonder about all the other ERB I had read as young man - Tarzan, of course, and the Barsoom novels, Pellucidar, and Carson of Venus. Are they as dated and problematic as this is? It was 45 years ago or more that I was reading them. Were the times so different then - was I so different then - that they were, and I just didn't notice?

I'm not sure I really want to find out; perhaps imperfect memory is a gift in this case.

But I do wonder about the "product of its time" argument. I am currently reading some of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries (two books from the same Henderson haul - one upstairs in living room and one downstairs on my nightstand). These were written in the early 1920s, and while some of the language and terminology may be a bit awkward, to say the least, there's a lot less stereotyping and bit more humanism present. Maybe that can straightforwardly be chalked up to a difference between Burroughs and Chesterton, but it takes some of the responsibility for the, ah, challenging characteristics of art away from "its time" and lays it at the feet of its author.

In any case, I am a little trepidatious about dipping back into another fave from my youth, Ernest Gann, but I'll give it a go. Twilight for the Gods was written in '56, so how bad can it be?

Monday, December 24, 2018

12 Step Movie Review: Aquaman

A little bit spoilerey, I guess?

1. It starts even with the opening credits: The Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment logo sequences happen underwater. It sounds hokey, but it totally worked for me.

2. The origin story is given as much time as it needs and no more, and is woven into the A-plot and character motivations well.

3. Aquaman's fish communication powers are presented effectively, and no time is wasted explaining them.

4. Similarly, all the Atlantean stuff that could strain credulity - people talking underwater and so on - is hand-waved and/or lampshaded so we can get on with enjoying the fantastic underwater scenes.

5. The underwater scenes bear further mention - James Wan and his crew pulled it off. From the architecture, to the hair, to the voices, to the slight wavery nature of the scenes - everything maintains the illusion. The art direction and design of Atlantis is spectacular - even the giant seahorse mounts look cool.

6. The movie also does a great job of showing how Aquaman can function just fine on land, thank you.

7. Notwithstanding the change to significant detail of her origin, Mera is portrayed faithfully and respectfully, functioning as a partner, not a sidekick or damsel in distress. Amber Heard does a great job.

8. Patrick Wilson does a creditable heel turn as Orm, the Ocean Master, and I am seeing a Thor-Loki vibe rising up in the future.

9. The movie's version of Black Manta works, although Yahya Abdul-Mateen II doesn;t get to do much but be angry.

10. Jason Momoa does what he was called upon to do in this movie - a lot of badass, a little humor, and just a touch of heroic drama. The story successfully justifies Arthur Curry's dudebro personality as reasonable and credible, given the point in the character arc when we meet him, and this movie allows him to grow a little bit. Momoa doesn't have the sustained presence of Gal Gadot and this movie doesn't have the gravitas of Wonder Woman, but it certainly sits on the same shelf.

11. The plot is serviceable, setting up the stakes and the conflicts and the quests appropriately. More importantly, Aquaman makes a decision early in the movie that he comes to question and regret later in the story, and this was key for me, as it shows the DC is remembering what superhero movies are supposed to be about. It bodes well for the future, and I am looking forward to the upcoming DC movies more than I have been.

12. One quibble: although Willem DeFoe does his usual fine work, Vulko is supposed to be slightly stocky or even chubby, not a whipcord-lean sensei. If he weren't working for Team Marvel, Jon Favreau would have been a better choice.

My man Vulko - and my next cosplay.

So, all in all,  a heckuva fun night at the movies. I don't think I have flat-out enjoyed a superhero movie this much since the first Ant-Man.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

5 x 5 Move Review: Avengers | Infinity War

1. So, right off the bat I am going to say that I didn’t like this as much as I had expected to. I had heard from lots of friends and acquaintances, including folks who are not necessarily comics fans, that this was a great movie, totally engaging, didn’t feel like three hours long, etc. I guess it was good, but I didn’t feel it was great. Maybe that was just Inflated Expectation SyndromeTM kicking in.

2. About halfway through the film, I identified a familiar feeling in a new context: as the movie jumped from group to group in various places (physical and plot-related), I felt like I was reading a Big Event story that is told across different comics series. The tonal shifts and odd juxtapositions of characters in the film felt like seeing the same character illustrated by different artists and having characters that really don’t mesh too well together on the same team. The MCU may be tighter than old Eclipse was, but it still felt a little off.

3. So, explain to me again why, went the fate of the whole universe is at stake (and I’m not even going go into my stakes-too-high rant), that it is morally wiser to try to save the life of one person you know, even if it means putting the whole universe at risk. Not to mention that there didn’t seem to be a problem with putting a whole lot of other lives at risk to protect that one life. I had a real hard time accepting this from Cap, who is, after all, a soldier, and knows the necessity of sacrifice. (<cough> Crash into the Arctic much? <cough>) On a related note, the Battle of Wakanda seemed to be set up specifically to allow the more ground-level fighters to have something to do in this more cosmic conflict. (Cf. Batman and parademons).

4. One thing that I really appreciated was the treatment of Spider-man: it is good to have him in the mainstream MCU and this movie treats him with the respect he deserves. He may be a high-school kid, but he is one of the smartest and most powerful heroes in the continuity, and can hold his own with the big shots. Except maybe with Scarlet Witch – she seemed really OP in this movie, but in a good way.

5. Regarding the ending: I don’t know how Marvel is going to get themselves out of this without cheapening the entire narrative.

PS: Of course, Wonder Wife was most excited to see T'Challa and Shuri.

Monday, July 16, 2018

25 words or less: Jinkies!

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero; Doubleday, 2017

An older Scooby gang – respectively fugitive, alcoholic, crazy, and dead - revisit their last case as teenagers, encounter the Necronomicon, confront Lovecraftian horrors. Read it.