Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 (2014) Review

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STORY BY Kelly Sue DeConnick

ART BY Emma Rios

COLORS BY Jordie Bellaire

DeConnick uses heavy parables combined with abstract forms of art and storytelling. This combination creates a surrealist mystery. However, the story blooms perfectly, and every detail only reinforces the path to the end. For example, each character has a name or appearance which are symbolic for the American myth they represent. Johnny Coyote is a trickster, Old man Fox is a thief, Sissy the vulture girl represents death while this dreamlike story is carried on the wings of the butterfly. Because the myth is set during the early 19th century wild west, the natural landscape also helps establish the earthy tone of the other mythological aspects.

Furthermore, Rios and Bellaire’s style of artwork and coloring looked more handcrafted than the usual polish and shine Image is known for putting out. Because they went with pencil sketched art and colors that weren’t overly inked or glossy, the art not only depicts dreamlike settings and characters but also the personal touch looks like a story from an earlier time. This isn’t to say the art and colors are minimalistic or indie. In contrary, the artwork is beautiful and detailed from the eyes to the skull landscape of deaths domain to the kinetic action scenes. In fact, the gun battles and sword fights in this story were exceptionally brutal and flowed with a brilliant understanding of pacing and movement.

With Deconnick’s mastery over storytelling and Rios and Bellaire’s artwork, the reader can’t help but soak in every detail from every frame and word the flows from one panel to the next. What the creators give us is an enchanting coming of age and changing of the guard tale. Because everything came together perfectly in the end, it’s hard to imagine where they will go next. However, with the world building from the artwork, plot and the short story supplements, it’s understandable why it would be hard to walk away from Ginny and Sissy.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) Review

Captain_America618-618x400Directors:

Anthony RussoJoe Russo

Writers:

Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely(screenplay)

During the early years of Marvel, the global threat focused on weaponizing radiation testing and atomic bombs. Marvel summed up this fear with their rampaging Hulk. However, that fear has been diminished while a new fear focusing on surveillance and terrorism has grown. The writers of Winter Soldier understood this shift thus they modernized Marvel’s threats to match the current global state. Because over arching surveillance diminishes people’s privacy and freedom, it made sense why this was Captain America’s story. After all, the First Avenger only fights for his beliefs in freedom and justice.

Previously, Marvel bumped against this ideology during the Iron Man series. Stark Industries earned its fortune by manufacturing state of the art military grade weapons. After the invention of the Mach IV, Iron Patriot, and War Machines suits. The moral dilemma develops which question whether or not any government body should have access to this technology. Captain America: Winter Soldier answers the question through a domino effect. Through backdoors, governments are providing known terrorist organizations with military technology. The terrorist use this technology to create terror and chaos. This prompts other governments to use and develop more surveillance technology as a form of counter terrorism. The transparency this surveillance creates not only provides a suspect list but also diminishes privacy and freedom for everyone else. This becomes even more apparent when the suspect list is turned into a kill list for military drones. This is the antagonism of Winter Soldier.

Although most comic book movies have a clearly defined villain, it actually makes more sense for Winter Soldier to take this approach. Yes, there is the Winter Soldier, but as one can see he is merely one cog in the machine. Writers often make a mistake of throwing a more powerful doppelganger at their protagonist. This direct approach will often create forgettable antagonist. Instead, it’s better to have an antagonist who directly challenges the ideology the hero represents. This more dynamic threat is no longer a simple can the hero survive. Not only was every action scene beautifully choreographed, but also each fight usually ended with a hero limping or crawling away. They weren’t just trying to defeat their opponent but also trying to escape with their lives. Furthermore, because this is a story that revolves around deception, the protagonists never knew who the enemy was until it was too late. This dynamic will create tension because it now makes one wonder how much will be affected when the day is over and the dust settles. By the time the credits roll, it’s clear everything in the Captain’s world changes.

In addition, the production was highly detailed and orchestrated. For example, the sniper shots were brilliant pieces of cinema. First the tension would be primed with the gunshot followed by the cold industrial Winter Soldier theme. This would be followed by confusing POV camera angles which never clearly focus on where the sniper was shooting from. This combined with each shot always hitting the highest priority person created a well executed scene which accurately represents the Winter Soldier and his level of threat.

The actors all delivered top performances both physically and emotionally. There are quite a few instances where their actions and physical endurance was indeed super soldier like. It’s surprising they weren’t huffing and puffing after every twenty seconds just on the one take which made it to film. It’s hard to imagine them keeping this pace up all day. Then, these actors were also able to project the full emotional spectrum. For instance, Scarlett Johansson could make the audience laugh to breaking their hearts within one short scene.

Finally, not only was Marvel able to follow up Dark Knight but also they were able to push beyond and set the new standard for comic book movies. Although they both touched upon similar themes, the amount of depth and quality in Winter Soldier made Dark Knight seem much more shallow and less daring. From top to bottom, Marvel was able to create a super hero world which carried resonance with its beautiful set production, top notch acting, and mature storytelling. Thank you Marvel for finally making a movie for us comic book lovers.

Marvel Knight’s Hulk (2014) Review

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Writer: Joseph Keatinge
Cover Artist: Piotr Kowalski

Much of Marvel Knight’s Hulk asks the question of can man survive his destructive nature? The story slowly builds up the realization that Hulk is just another weapon of mass destruction. By the time the run reaches it’s climax, the story shows how weapons aren’t made to be controlled, rather they are meant to be used, even if it’s against the creator, inventor, soldier, villain or whoever.

The creators, Keatinge and Kowalski, wanted to begin this story with Banner in France. In order to establish this, they relied upon different storytelling techniques as well as European comic style art in order to achieve this Mise en scene. This is why the story starts off with a slow French Noir pacing and feel. However, the pacing is broken up with flashbacks to the Hulk. Kowalski transitions between the violent gamma ray bursts of the Hulk world and the surrealist art of the real world creates a good amount of tension. As the story progresses, the surrealism is all but completely smashed out by the violence and chaos of Hulk. This is portrayed in a 3D stereoscopic art style with a violent red pallet. It isn’t until Banner finally regains control does the art slip into the tranquil blues which were more prevalent in the beginning.

Another part of the story which nails down the concept is the femme fatale Nikoleta. A eugenicist project started by AIM in order to engineer the perfect killer. Just like the Hulk, AIM’s experiment became just as destructive and uncontrollable.

The last scene is truly remarkable, and it brought the story home again. When Banner apologizes and walks away alone, there’s not only a feeling of heartbreak but also of nostalgia. It evokes the closing scenes of the TV series, and it reminds us of the unique and tragic life of Bruce Banner. At the end of each struggle with Hulk, Banner must always carry the burden of the green monster by himself.

Despite dialogue in Hulk stories usually fall or kept to a minimum, Keatinge really kept his lines of dialogue sharp and defined every character quickly, rather this be through the use of subtitles, the Yankee drawls and muted consonants, to quips from a cantankerous old man. Every conversation was fun to read and didn’t make the reader want to skip ahead to the Hulk smashing action.

Overall, although the story arc kept the theme and plot in tight focus, the art, pacing and character development was unique and stylized. This book could have easily got lost in gamma radiated psychedelia, but it kept it’s vision focused and on course.

Marvel Knight’s X Men (2014) Review

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Writer: Brahm Revel
Cover Artist: Brahm Revel

In a bayou town, children are going missing or dying, and the next victims may be two mutant children. This is the psychic dream of Rachel Summers which kicks off a mysterious road trip down to the south with Wolverine, Rogue, and Kitty who’re strangely motivated to discover the mystery behind Summers precognition.

The characterization of the three X Men felt forced. They lacked depth and through this five issue run remained flat and lacked any evolving depth or logical reaction. This may be do to the fact Revel prefers to come up with stories and work characters into the plot. However, this approach can trivialize the cast and in this case make them borderline incompetent. One of the new mutants, Nora, can cause the people around her to manifest memories of the people from their past. This becomes awkward when the X Men have to fight these manifestations. Furthermore, although pain forces Nora to stop these manifestations, nobody seems to remember this fact for the whole rest of the story. It’s a plot device that makes the story become weighted down and convoluted.

There was one fight between Wolverine and a memory of Sabertooth which was embarrassing . As Sabertooth is threatening to kill a child mutant, Wolverine states that’s out of character for even Sabertooth. Yet, Sabertooth is dressed exactly the same as he was during his Mutant Massacre time. That’s an odd oversight considering a lot of this story is supposed to focus on the character’s memories of other people. Did Wolverine forget that Sabertooth killed many mutants of all ages and kinds? If so, then why is Sabertooth even here? When Professor X shows up and starts preaching a holy ghost message, the story’s lack of focus almost becomes unbearable. In addition, there were quite a few grammatical mistakes in the dialogue. Although some of it could be seen as some type of uneducated dialect, there are other parts which were almost indecipherable and clearly lacked words.

Not only did Revel write the story, but also he managed to draw it as well. That is pretty impressive considering the art style was pretty consistent and he obviously has practice at drawing a wide range of X Men characters. Although it took sort of minimalist comic strip approach to the overall look, it still had quite a bit of detail that grabs your attention from panel to panel.

Although Marvel Knights are supposed to be read as an indie form of Marvel, this run’s lack of editing, polish, or oversight reflects poorly upon the larger editorial staff of Marvel. Yes, it’s commendable to give indie artist and writers the freedom to realize their Marvel story. However, some of this story could have been reigned in and edited down or at least proof read. Not every Marvel Knight story is going to be a Cinderella story, but Marvel could at least try to prevent some casualties. Overall, the story lacked a significant amount of focus and somehow became a borderline PSA about drug addiction and finding healthy ways of dealing with loss. Hey, Marvel has produced much worse PSA’s during the 80’s and 90’s which covered the same material, but at least the readers knew what they were getting into back then. Regardless, it’s remarkable Revel was able to juggle the writing and artwork for this five issue run, and hopefully we can at least see some of his art-style come back for some more.

Turn (2014) Review

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Created by Craig SIlverstein

Stars:

 J.E. MatzerJohn McAdoreyTimothy Brooks 

 

Turn is based on a book about George Washington’s spy network during the revolutionary war. It follows a always look the other way and do the right thing Abe. After, he falls on hard times. In order to pay back a debt and to keep his pride, he stumbles into a spy network comprising of his friends from the past.

There are numerous reasons why this premier rapidly falls apart. First of all, the Abe is extremely altruistic which would be interesting considering he is suppose to be a deceitful spy, but because they don’t have anyone to contrast his personality with it just gets irritating. He could be contrasted with the Red Coats; however, they are extremely villainy so it’s hard to take the British army seriously. In addition, there is very little time spent on any of the other characters. This seems a bit odd considering this is suppose to focus on the entire spy network. It would have been nice to focus on some of the other characters to at very least world build or set the tone and personality of this era. Because there’s a dichotomy between good and evil, it’s hard to swallow when the story is based on true events.

The camera work was amateurish, there was a shot which was indiscernible from a POV angle or a poorly done tracking shot. Really, the camera work is only slightly saved by the set production; however, the sets still give that feel that this was pushing their budgets limit. Also, the editing is laughable. There are a few times the actors are reacting before the scene cuts to what they are reacting to. For example, there’s a barn scene which starts off awful. The woman walks in the gate and before a reflection of light hits her eye she looks towards the direction of the barn. This is followed by more tedious bad acting which at one point shows them overly startled from a red coat who had yet walked out into the neighboring yard. Furthermore, this debacle mess keeps switching between an oddly angled shot from the barn loft to lopsided close ups of the the Abe and the maid.

Overall, this season premier was poorly put together. The pacing, tone and production were uneven. The acting from the side characters seemed to be spot on; however, the main actors were too melodramatic. Honestly, this felt more like a film school project than a production from a network which has put out some amazing put together shows.

Caliban (2014) Review

Writer Garth Ennis

Art Facundo Percio

Even in the far future, corporations will develop space technology only to explore, mine and harvest needed resources for their giant corporations on Earth. This story focuses on Caliban, a transport ship which carries the miners and supplies to resource rich destinations. Although this sounds like a grand adventure of exploration, for the crew it’s mind numbingly boring blue collared job at least until the Caliban makes first contact while in warp space.

Ennis begins this new space truckers story arc with a less is more formula. We’re introduced to Nomi with the starlog Sci-Fi trope. However, instead of wasting panels on world building, and history lessons, Ennis uses Nomi’s narration to establish the tone and world this mission is set in. Garth Ennis is a master at writing tight dialogue which still adds layers of depth and personality to each of his characters, and Caliban is no exception. From using nervous stuttering, words like “stuff” to describe technological “things”, to the jokes and insults, each character is uniquely defined within a panel or two. Also, Ennis uses the lack of Alien contact since the beginning of space exploration to emphasis the isolation and mundane lifestyle of a space trucker. Not only does Ennis show the improbability of a collision in a warp zone, but also the collision involving contact with alien life only adds to the mystery of the situation.

While Garth Ennis takes a less is more approach to Sci-Fi, Facundo Percio embraces the opposite. Percio artwork is crammed into every bit of cargo space of the ship. For example, the backgrounds are heavily layered with control panels, monitors with multiple lines of code, wires falling out of each console, even the Caliban clothes are highly detailed with patches, buttons, zippers and so on. Furthermore, although the characters are expressive during conversations, their eyes quickly become lost in vacant spaced out stares which adds the feel that the crew has been on this ship for much too long. The cramped panels, the vacant stares, and the warp space collision just further the overall claustrophobia of space travel.

What is always amazing is how Garth Ennis is able to use minimalist tight dialogue and narrative and create a psychologically tense thriller which keeps you guessing what will happen next. In addition, Ennis will lace his stories with just enough hyper realism in order to establish a familiar connection, rather it be mythology, conspiracies, or quantum theory, and it just shows how much care and detailed work Garth Ennis puts into his stories. It’ll also be interesting to see how Ennis writes Shakespeare’s Tempest into this Sci-Fi mystery. Ennis combined with Percio tireless artwork are sure to give us another great psychologically and claustrophobic thriller.  Image

A Serbian Film (2010) Review

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Director:

 Srdjan Spasojevic

Writers:

 Aleksandar Radivojevic (screenplay), Srdjan Spasojevic (screenplay)

Stars:

 Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic

They say that rape isn’t about sexual gratification; rather, the act is about power and dominance. A Serbian Film demonstrates this message in horrific detail. With an introduction which shows the son watching his father star in a softcore film, this movie clearly doesn’t want to hide it’s depraved intentions. The plot is about Milos, a fading porn actor being approached to star in his last smut film. However, as the movie progresses, it turns out this isn’t the normal production and film Milo is familiar with.

The prevailing theme of the story focuses on the idea of the nuclear family. This movie showcases how patriarchal dominance is exerted through sexuality and violence. The first act spends much of its time desensitized the act of sexual activity. This is made more clear when the wife ask why her husband, Milo, never has sex with her like he does with his former porn stars. He states it was because he loves her and that was a job. After the story moves on to act two, sexual acts become more brutal and their depictions are used as a form of dominance. By the time act three hits the top of its disturbing crescendo, we see sex and violence complete subvert the idea of family.

In the meantime, the writers also give forth some interesting philosophical subplots which may or may not have been fully realized by the time of climax. First, in the snuff film, an actess is introduced who becomes dominated by physical and sexual assaults. Next, Milo is shown a tape which depicts her giving birth to a baby which also becomes sexually assaulted. Although this is the point where the director of the snuff film gives privy to the overall themes behind his motivation, it’s quite hard to take him seriously and not view this as splatter porn when he is yelling, “I gave birth to Newborn porn”. Once more, the actress is shown as Milo is portrayed having sex with her before ending her life during his climax. Thus, ending the dominance cycle of sex and violence.

Although the film begins on a digital camera and looks cheap with boring camera angles, the screenplay really does save the day. There’s a point where we are watching found footage with the protagonist, and each tape shows just enough to pull the viewer in and discover what happens with the next tape. Also, the third act runs a parallel path with the protagonist and a flashback to his previous day. This mixed narrative keeps the pacing alive and doesn’t allow the viewer to flinch of walk away from this spiraling madness. Furthermore, although Milo begins with a picturesque family and as a warm father, by the time the movie hits its stride his violence and chopped up memory makes the audience really question this unreliable narrator. The production design also adds to the overall cerebral madness. The sound design has the eery hollow sounds combined with the industrial score and set production of industrial warehouse contrasting with the bright family home also added to the nightmarish tonality.

Overall, this is a movie which spirals down and beyond depravity while doing a wonderful macabre illustration of dominance through sex and violence. This movie isn’t for everyone nor does it pretend to be. It’s more for those who have an affinity for exploitation.

Cheap Thrills (2014) Review

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Director:

E.L. Katz

Writers:

David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga

Stars:

Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner

 

Cheap Thrills, a dark comedy which examines a struggle between patriarchal and hedonistic males. After Craig, the family man, loses his job and is facing eviction he meets up with an old high school badboy Vince. After the two reconnect, they meet Violet and Colin a money to burn couple who will offer any amount of cash to make the two friends do any depraved or violent act, excluding homosexuality of course.

Although there are a several honest attempts at humor, only depraved souls like Marquis De Sade will be laughing the whole way through. The aspect of comedy could be examined in a Shakespearean context. For example, at the core of this movie is a protagonist who literally breaks down his homosocial bonds in order to strengthen his heterosexual relationship and status with his wife.

What we also see is a story revolving around a Darwinian example of survival of the fittest. Because the family man needs resources in order to provide for his family, Craig never lacks the reason or motivation to commit to doing the next horrible act. Meanwhile, hedonistic Vince is only motivated by the pleasurable aspects of each situation such as, drugs, alcohol, sex, and violence. When a new situation arises which makes Vince uncomfortable he often falters and hesitates; however, because Craig is motivated by the intrinsic need to provide for his family, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable the situation may be as long as he gets the payoff.

The production was average. The camera angles and movement made it feel indie but the lighting and sound editing didn’t make it a burden to watch. Sara Paxton played a coked out wife Violet who they almost had to cattle prong for her to show any emotion during the sex scene. Although David Koechner’s performance was pitch perfect, him playing the sleezy alpha male husband Colin didn’t seem to be much of stretch from his normal. However, the main focus of the movie was on Vince and Craig, and Pat Healy and Ethan Embry both reached and gave remarkable performances of lowlives. It was interesting watching Healy transforming from a meek to savage character. Also with Embry getting his start from playing nice guy teen to his later proper gentlemen roles, it was really nice to see him break out of that comfort zone by beating a man’s face in or by doing acts that are surely to offend every dog lover.

Overall, the story was completely fascinating and a morbidly entertaining way of deconstructing the archetypal image of the father figure while the performances by the cast and the production didn’t make it unbearable to watch. The pacing was good and one could not help but be drawn in. It will be interesting to see what new themes and style the the creators will tackle next.