Friday, January 22, 2010

Blogging at the Scribblerati


Hey there, people! It's that time again, so head on over to my favorite local Minneapolis writers' blog, and yours (admit it...), the Scribblerati blog! I just put something up, so go check it out and then take a moment to peruse the other posts. You'll love it. You'll absolutely love it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Top Ten Favorite Comics of the Aughts


So, anyway, it may come as a shock to some of you out there (or none of you) that I read comics (and by read, I mean: Read. I am neither collector nor speculator, thank you very much...).

True story, though. I read comics.

Yes, sir, I do. Every Wednesday (give or take), my dear and gentle Readers, I trip on down to my LCS (that’s Local Comic Shop to you, the uninitiated.) and I have done so for a good long piece of my life. In fact, a comic may be one of the first things I ever actually read for pleasure, way, way back when I was just knee-high to a grasshopper.

Back then, if there was a comic available, I would devour it. Devour it! I can remember them littering the floor in my Uncle’s room when he was still in high school and the rising Angel’s chorus as I carefully knelt down among them.

My grandparents would always give me a random stack from his old stash whenever they’d visit us and, for years after that, every trip to Dad’s I would pull out that massive box of comics and go through the contents, alphabetizing, organizing numerically within the specific titles, and then settling in and reading them all, one by one, all summer long.

Never got old.

Batman, Superman and his pal: Jimmy Olson, the old Justice League of America arc where they teamed up with the Justice Society from Earth 2 and then split into teams in order to travel through time and rescue the original Seven Soldiers. There were early X-men and old Defenders and a ton of Avengers and some Marvel Triple Actions, not to mention Captain America and the Falcon, including the first appearance of the crazy, commie-paranoid and racist, fake Captain America of the 1950s (you know how you can always spot him, right? No red and white stripes on the back of his costume… just FYI.). There were old Sergeant Rocks and some Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes. There was the issue of Spider-man that took place right after the death of Gwen Stacy, the one where he almost killed the Green Goblin in a vengeful rage. There was a Silver Surfer #1 (read to tatters… ), which was like holding a biblical relic.

I remember visiting my Grandmother in Boone, and saving, begging, and borrowing all the money I could before each trip, just so that I could slip away and walk those quiet small town streets to downtown Boone (so cosmopolitan) and go to the Hallmark store where, in the far back, they had a giant self of comics books. The most I ever concentrated on math was when I was picking out the titles I wanted and figuring out exactly how many I could get with the jingling coins and crumpled bills jammed down in my pocket.

I remember thinking, KNOWING, that Image Comics was the future (Good God…)

You know what the first comic ever bought specifically for me was? My Aunt (CVM) got it for me out of the blue. Shocked the Hell out of me, the perfect gift. It was Uncanny X-men #173, the one where the X-men are in Japan for Wolverine’s wedding, but someone has poisoned the X-men, so he and Rouge are tearing up the Tokyo underworld, looking for an antidote and Wolverine has that great fight with the Silver Samurai. It was the one where Storm first unveiled her Punk Rock/white Mohawk look. Classic.

I wish I still had that book.

So, why do I read them now? Why keep up with this odd little thing so often (and erroneously) classified as nothing but a kid’s hobby? Just ‘cause. I mean, I could do the whole “they’re an unlimited budget imagination fest” type of thing for a rationalization (yawn). Or I could talk about escapism and the perfect blending of art and prose and blah, blah, quack-quack expressionism like some kind of MCAD reject. I could go on and on, pontificating about how sequential art storytelling is actually the earliest form of storytelling, all the way back to cave paintings… but all of that is just bullshit.

I just like them. That’s all.

Besides, people only get into that crap as excuses, they’re nothing but overt social symptoms of geek self loathing and I don’t have time for that crap. Plus, honestly, who would I think I’d be fooling? I mean—have you read my blog? Geeky…

Anyway… being that it is still January and that end of the year/end of the decade lists are the hip and cool thing to do and being that I am nothing, if not hip and cool… Here is my list about comics.

Top Ten Favorite Comics of the Aughts

1. Planetary
This is the Comic lovers’ comic book. Planetary is the story of a group of super-powered adventures tracking and cataloging the secret super-powered history of the world. Warren Ellis blends classic literature, pulp fiction, and modern day comics into an amazing story, all drawn by John Cassidy. Brilliant, imaginative, just plain ol’ cool. This one was my number one pick, hands down.

2. All-Star Superman
Normally, nothing Superman would ever make a favorite comics list of mine. I’m just not into the character. He has no flaws, except Kryptonite (and magic…), and you can’t just trot that shit out over and over again… Plus, all his truly great stories, like when he was a crippled beggar, or had the head of a giant Ant, etc., they were all ret-conned (never happened) out of existence because they were too batshit crazy to fit into regular continuity. HOWEVER, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely got together a few years ago and they created a phenomenal 12 issue run that is nothing but wow. All-Star Superman is THE Superman story. Everything that is good about Superman and everything that is crazy, too. Plus, Quitely’s art is amazing. Simply amazing.

3. Walking Dead
Duh, right? This is the never-ending zombie movie. It is the story of a disparate group of survivors on the road and looking for a safe haven in a world ravaged by a Zombie Apocalypse. The art isn’t that flashy, but it's serviceable and sure, Robert Kirkman has a tendency to make his characters speechify a bit too much (WALKING Dead? More like TALKING Dead…), but he understands the genre, doesn’t shy away from beating on his characters, and generally has a lot of fun with it. Also, I totally support his “no intelligent zombies” stance. It’s a good book. Plus, AMC just picked it up to try to turn it into a series.

4. Alias
Ah, Brian Michael Bendis… This is the Man in modern day comics, my friends. He is the architect of Marvel’s current run (one which I believe will come to be called the Bendis Era), he is indirectly (or directly) responsible for the characterizations that are inspiring Marvel’s current crop of movies, and is an excellent writer to boot (both indie and mainstream). And to me, this is his best mainstream book. Alias is the story of Jessica Jones, a Super-hero failure turned Private Eye in the Marvel Universe and she narrates her hard boiled tales with the caustic wit of a world weary and washed up veteran superhero insider. She is ridiculously funny at times and at others, heart-breaking. Great work. And Michael Gaydos’ moody art is a perfect fit.

5. Scott Pilgrim
I came late to this book, right when Volume 5 was coming out. The Sixth and final one isn’t out yet. A Manga style story of a guy from Canada with kick-ass kung fu skills, but no job. He’s also a bit of a jackass, plays in a band called Sex Bob-omb, and generally lives an aimless life until he meets and falls in love with an awesome chick from America who is a Rollerblading Messenger Ninja named Ramona Flowers. However, he soon finds out that in order to date Ramona, he must first defeat her Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends in combat, not too mention his own jealous ex-girlfriends and the trails and tribulations of life in general. Funny and stylish and packed with lots of extra little treats, you regular readers out there already know that I’m dead excited to see the film.

6. We3
Another Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely joint. The only reason this book isn’t listed higher is that it is only three issues long. A 100% pure awesome of a story, We3 is about a dog, a cat, and a rabbit that have placed into a secret government program to turn them into armored and cybernetically enhanced covert super-soldiers. They can also talk a little bit (R U GUD? I AM GUD. GUD BOY!) and under their handlers directions, they are little tanks that just wreck shop. And then, one day… they escape and the government chases after them. Pure action, hilarious and touching, it’s like Incredible Journey meets Universal Soldier. And once again… Quitely = Genius

7. Ultimate Spider-man
Here’s another from Bendis. This is the re-booted (started over from the beginning) series about Spider-man. Now, like Superman, I’ve never really been that into the character, but this book made me a fan. It is the most consistently entertaining book being put out there right now, not too mention always on-time AND Bendis and Bagley were the longest running creative pair in comics history, like 120 some issues. This book is just good ol’ fashioned classic superhero fun, but updated with 3-D characterization, real wit and imagination, and a very obvious love for the medium.

8. Thunderbolts
Another from Warren Ellis. This book originally started way back when, during Heroes Reborn, when a bunch a super villains were pretending to be heroes for a nefarious plan. Eventually some of them wanted to actually go good, others didn’t and then things went on from there. Cut forward years to just after the Superhero Civil War when Warren Ellis takes over the books and packs it with Super villians who are collared by the Government using nanotechnology and set loose on any unregistered Superhero they find. That alone is cool enough, but what puts this over the top, and on the top ten, is Ellis’s ability to take a nothing D list character like Jack Flagg (who used to have a Boom Box Rocket Launcher) or America Eagle (He’s a Native American Super hero! Guess how he dressed?) and made them cool. Not just cool, but awesome. The 24 issue slow build up to the eventual crumbling of the Thunderbolt program is one of the best. Fantastic work and Mike Deodato’s art is classic 90’s, but in a good way.

9. Authority
This is the book that gave rise to the term: Wide Screen Action. Often imitated, never duplicated, it is by Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch (the first year) and Mark Millar and Frank Quitely (the second year). It is the book that led to the Ultimates, which then led to the Iron Man movie (overly simplified, sure, but still true.). And it is a ball buster. A team of Super heroes archetypes attempt to police the world, they fight huge fights. It is what every Michael Bay movie tries to be and fails. It is insane. Also notable because it features the first openly gay couple, a Superman and Batman pastiche called Apollo and the Midnighter.

10. Secret Warriors
This last book is a fairly recently one, but I look forward to it each month. Both Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli are new names to me, relatively, and yet both have totally wowed me. Some might say that it’s still too new yet to include this book, but I disagree and let me tell you why. Hickman’s Pax Romano and Nightly News are his brilliant indie books (although the art is cluttered) and his Fantastic Four is very quickly becoming the real deal, like this book, and it’s all due to some great storytelling. As for Caselli… I am not that familiar with his history, but I just love his style. Anime and 90s influenced, somewhere in between? Great stuff. Plus, it’s the story of Nick Fury, former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, underground all these years ever since the disastrous Secret War he waged against Dr. Doom and Latveria, now back with a team of new, young Superheroes and a lot of his old Howling Commando allies and bent on battle after finding out that S.H.I.E.L.D, Hydra (kind of like G.I.Joe’s Cobra) and A.I.M (a mad scientist terrorist group) have been secretly controlled by a mysterious group called Leviathan from the start and the way Hickman is moving his players around and building up to the big fight… A great read. Plus, and this shouldn’t be ignored, the book is heavily populated with brand new characters, ones that could go on after this and become recognizable and honestly, that hasn’t happened since Wolverine, so… good on him.

So there you go… Check them and these other books listed below out, if you are so inclined, they’re good reads and worth the time.

Almost, but not quite:
Powers
Incognito
Invincible
Blue Monday
Mouse Guard
The Ultimates
Old Man Logan
Immortal Iron Fist
Invincible Iron Man
Captain America (Ed Brubaker's run)


Have you got a list? Let me know.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Films to watch for in 2010

I know at this point, many of you have the same single question burning its way through your mind: With the 2009 year in movies done, what lies ahead of us in 2010? Are there any films worth looking forward to? Is there anything? Anything at all? I know this question plagues you, as it does me. I know it swirls around and around in your mind, endlessly, over and over as you toss and turn, it's power denying you the luxury of even a single night's worth of rest.

Well fret no longer, my Dear and Gentle Readers, fret no longer. Because here is my list of the top ten films I'm looking forward to in 2010.

It's gonna be an exciting year, folks. Hang onto your butts.

1. Iron Man 2
Ok, sure, maybe I'm setting myself up for disappointment, but I prefer to have hope. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you: "That Jon... he is one optimist motherfucker."

2. Book of Eli
It's been a long time since someone put any effort whatsoever into a Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland Warrior movie and I'm sure this will shock the shit out of you all, but I am dead excited to see it.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
There's no trailer yet, but the book is fantastic. And then there's this:


4.The Wolfman
Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins? Trailer looks good, but there's been rumblings of behind the scene trouble, so we'll see what happens with this film. Fingers crossed.

5.Kick-Ass
Looks awesome. Ridiculously awesome. Better than the comic. Seriously, you have to watch the trailer. Go. Go, now.

6.Robin Hood
I'm a sucker for a good Robin Hood flick. Russel Crowe and Ridley Scoot are acting like they're gonna give me one.

7. Lovely Bones
Peter Jackson has been working on this one for awhile, so it's one of those films, like Avatar. Talked about for years and years. Hotly anticipated. Will it deliver? I hope so, but I have to admit being a little afraid of the What Dreams may Come similarities.

8. Repo Men
Not to be confused with the Emilio Estavez classic, nor the "cult" movie of similar title and story, this film features a knife fight between Jude Law and Forrest Whittacker. I will be in attendance.

9. Clash of the Titans
At this point, Sam Worthington is 0 for 2 for me, as both Avatar and Terminator Salvation disappointed me. Now, this wasn't really his fault, he did fine with what he had, however, I do think it's fair to suspect that perhaps Sam doesn't have much taste when it comes to projects, but hell, a brother's got to make money, right? Anyway, will this film be terrible? ...Yes... Yes, it probably will, but like every modern day Geek out there today, the roots of my geekdom can be traced directly back to an early exposure to Lou Ferrigno and Greek Mythology, so yeah... I have to go.

10. ?????
I know, I know... leaving this spot open is a bit cheesy. True, there are other films I could have put here. Daybreakers may be fun. Same with Legion. There's also Inception and Mystery Team, which I very nearly forgot about. And of course, there is the genius that is Hot Tub Time Machine. But this spot is reserved for the surprises, the films that come out of left field and wow you. That's always the best movie experience: walking into a theatre blind, not knowing what to expect, and then Bam! Awesome. I love that. Here's hoping they crowd onto the list, right?

It'll be fun, a year or so from now, to compare this list to what turns out to be my favorites of the year list. Of course, when I say fun... I mean for me, but hey, it's my blog, whattayouwant?

Get outta here, go see a movie.

Jon

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Top Ten worst films of the year

Now, some people get all upset when you list any of the big, summer films, that ones turned out terrible, in your “worst of” lists.

They prefer, in the usual poser-snob scenester way, to dig for the lamest, smallest, most idiotic and delusional little independent “film” made that year that they can find. It's a highschool game of one-up-manship and they act as if you’re less of a film fan because you avoided such an obviously bad film.

You know the one, the one that nobody saw because the film was awful because the production had no money because the people involved had no real equipment, experience, and even less all around talent and as a result, the film was never actually released on any kind of real national level… so then these jerks go and hold this wretched cinematic creature up before us and they point and they laugh and they talk about how bad it is, which though that may be true, it certainly does a disservice to the people involved by not applauding their passion, dedication, and enthusiasm, and the sheer amounts it took just to complete their project in the first place.

I hate those guys, here’s why… You see, making a bad list is not about finding the films that had no other option but to turn out sub-par, it’s about the films that failed, DESPITE having every advantage available.

1. Fucking duh, moron. Oh, so the sci-fi epic that the group home with an old beta max camcorder and a bunch of aluminum foil made turned out to be terrible? Wow. Nice critical eye, wad-job, way to spot that one.

2. The reverse side of that, having ample money, opportunity, experience, talent, and distribution available to you? That means you don’t get any excuses. That means that there is a certain level of quality demanded of you. And the more stuff you had available for use, the less leeway you get, got it?

It’s kind of like how when the C student gets a B, everyone claps, but if the A student gets a B, everyone is disappointed. And if you don’t understand why that is… well, hopefully someday you’ll finally make that B, kid. (clap, clap, clap)

On to the list!

10. Avatar
Ok, ok, yeah, I know… I already said (at great length) that it’s not that bad, I know, and honestly, I still stand by that. It’s true, Avatar is NOT BAD, but then… but then I start to think about 15 years and then I think about 500 million dollars and then I consider the myriad of resources James Cameron has available to him. I think about the fact that while Cameron was off, all busy-beaver, making every single blade of grass look uber-real, he could have hired a good screen writer and have them come in and, who knows… maybe punch up the script up a bit. Clean it up, add some flourishes and nuances, maybe some depth. Maybe give the Cat-girl something to do that didn’t revolve around Might Whitey Cripple Man saving her and her people, Maybe make it so it wasn’t a hodge-podge of a thousand other films… but then, what do I know? The stupid thing has already made over a billion dollars and in under three weeks to boot...

9.Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
I enjoy the books, even though I have yet to read the last one, but I haven’t seen a single one of these films that I would ever consider even close to “good”. Even Azkaban, the supposedly good one, is no better than okay. Now mostly, I blame this on the complete inability, so far, to translate the heart and soul of the books to the screen. Inevitably, the film version has ended up being a hacked and slashed version of the book with so, so many of the great little character moments, the ones that make up the fabric of the story, excised that their sum total loss simply can not be overlooked and we get left with a hollow sub-par shell of a film that lacks even spectacle. The only continued saving grace is some phenomenal casting, the main being Alan Rickman, talk about being born for a part.

8.Bride Wars
Oh, a Romantic Comedy… big shocker, right? You’d think so. Except, I actually see a lot of these films and really, most of them cute and funny, sure, sometimes they’re a bit shallow or strangely unrealistic, or at worst: kind of dumb. But the good ones are generally just sweet and funny, if somewhat predictable, little comedies. I don’t have a problem with the genre, a good movie is a good movie. True, they’re not really my cup of tea, but whatever. Like I said, some of them are pretty damn funny. This one, though, this one… absolutely NOT funny. Horrible, ugly, stupid… Women the world over should be mad about this film and the way they’re portrayed. Because, you see ladies, according to this film, it doesn’t matter how smart, powerful, successful, and/or independent you are—once you start planning your wedding, you go bat-shit insane and turn into a beady-eyed little screaming bitch harpy cow whose whole world is consumed by one thing and one thing alone: having the bestest wedding ever! And God help anyone who gets in your way.

7.Knowing
Its probably not fair to pile on Nic Cage at this point, I mean, the guy has fallen and he is taking just about anything he can get his hands on at this point. It’s been a rough year for Mr. Cage (although this coming year may end up being redemptive… Kick-Ass). All that being said… this film was just dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. The least of which is the moment that “proves” his theory about the found sheet of numbers when a plane just happens to crash right next to him. This is a film that, despite calling itself "Knowing”, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It starts out as horror, switches to mystery, then to apocalyptic thriller, to sci-fi epic, and finally, to a film that promotes child abandonment… My poster tag-line: “If I know one thing, it’s that Knowing is Dumb!” –Jon, This Is Mine

6.Observe and Report
This film was just… creepy. It was like a sweaty, hairy, clammy fat guy in gold Speedos rubbing up against you while making yummy noises and crooning softly. Just gross. And creepy. And ridiculously unfunny. Ugh. There’s a line in the film where this cop is eaves-dropping on another cop that is pulling a mean-spirited prank and halfway through, the first cop comes out of his hiding spot and says: “I’m sorry… I have to go. I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s just… sad.” And that line completely sums up this horrible, horrible, horrible movie.

5.Away We Go
Oh, Sam Mendes… you know, you’re pretty good, but… damn, man. Sure, sure, you’re maybe doing the next Bond, and that excites me, but then I look at Revolutionary Road (actually, I’d rather not… depressing…) and even more… I look at this film. This movie is just offensive. Plain old offensive. And I don’t mean in a: said the N word, claims the holocaust didn’t happen, or comes completely from a place of white man’s guilt type of way… No, I mean: This movie is EVERYTHING that is wrong with “Independent” cinema. Everything. It’s so bad, so formula, it’s like it was spit out by some kind of satirical website’s “How to create an Indy film” machine. From casting, to costumes, to script. It is god damn unbearable. Intolerable. Agonizing. It made me wish for Garden State. This movie makes me consider Michael Bay… ehhh, you know, not so bad… I hate this movie so much, it leaves me with no other option then to talk nonsense in a vain attempt to quantify my hate: If an independent coffee shop and consignment thrift store had a baby, it would be this film. Then I would drown it.

4.Taken
Now, where the last movie was offensive, but not for the usual reasons, this film bravely goes straight for the usual reasons. Lets just skip past the whole Liam Neeson ridiculous old man with transparent skin, are-you-sure-that-wasn’t-a-stunt-double action stuff. Let’s ignore the part about the evil little French kid who gets run over by a truck that comes out of nowhere at 90 miles an hour in an airport parking garage. Let’s not even bother with the whole Brittany Spears: Savior, Redeemer, Mentor subplot. All of that is… I mean, there’s no need to poke the stupid kids with sticks, right? So let’s move on and discuss this film’s ridiculous right wing, Bush-was-right view of the World. A world where a girl goes to Paris, despite her Dad’s warnings, because her shrewish, jew-marrying mother let her, where she is promptly kidnapped by evil Russians (Commies, right?), who then turn around and sell her to fat, reclining, grape-eating Arabs lookin’ for some young, white pussy to violate. Man, was Dad ever right. So was Bush. And did the French even care? Hell no… bunch of cheese eating, surrender-monkeys… They’d rather drink wine! Guess Dad has to bring some good ol’ US of A boot in the ass action to town! God… What a dumb film. It’s the post 9-11 cinematic equivalent to the 1950’s Hook-hand killer on Lover’s lane type of horror stories.

3.X-Men Origins: Wolverine
This film got a lot of leeway, but that’s only because a couple of other films decided to show us what bad REALLY means. But make no mistake. This movie is terrible. And not just because it barely bothered to consult the source material, because it didn’t. Honestly, that doesn’t even matter. A. Because Wolverine is the type of character who can fit in to just about any story. And B. If it’s told well enough, who cares if it’s been done that way in the comics before? Not me. Although, it should be stated that there are some great stories in some of those four color pamphlets that would translate amazingly to the big screen. There’s even a couple of writers there at the famed House of Ideas who could maybe lend a hand and help you out… those are good ideas, right (Cough-Iron Man-Cough)? But no, this film decided to go the route of the old Batman and Robin franchise: Day-glo colors, a stupid plot, uneven pacing, overdone set pieces, and a massively unnecessary glut of cameos by pre-established characters, all of which are completely fumbled and “mis-used”. This is one of those films that should be so easy, yet somehow started out wrong way, way back in its initial pre-production meetings and then just kept being wrong all the way up until I had the misfortune of finally seeing it.

2.Terminator Salvation
It is only through the extreme efforts of the number one worst film of the year, that this one did not take the top seat. And the reason is only partly do to the fact that it is a terrible movie with a terrible script that is terribly directed, and all despite a couple of good performances. No, the main reason is just pure disappointment. I knew McG was the Director for a long time. I am well aware of his well-established suck. I knew this. Plus, I had heard the rumor about John Conner dying and his skin being grafted onto a Terminator, which was obviously true at some point, that was so bad and the fan outcry was so great that thankfully, it was changed. I knew, in my mind, I knew it was going to be stupid. I knew, in my mind, that it was going to be BEYOND stupid. I knew this—in my mind. But in my heart? In my heart, I wanted it to be awesome. The glimpses in the trailer, the little moments of the war between man and machine… it was something I’d waited years to finally see… I was so, so secretly hopeful. And then… I was so, so, so disappointed. The machines track with infrared (heat), but they don’t see you up on the cliff side? The Terminator motorcycles have external controls and Skynet has keyboards? For who? Were we supposed to be shocked that one of the characters was a Terminator? Isn’t that the point of the character… that they are disguised as humans? And, in a film that is obviously hoping for a new trilogy, how come you waste so much time with a character that doesn’t even make it out of the first film? Huh? Look, the first three films were all about, ALL ABOUT, saving John Conner for the future… shouldn’t the next trilogy be about why that was so important? Damn you, McG.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Wow. If you haven’t seen this film—don’t. Ever. There are no “so bad it’s good” moments. None. Zero. It’s just bad. There’s no plot. It makes no internal sense. You can’t even appreciate the robot fights because they are too much of a loud mess. Terrible. Beyond terrible. Horrible. And the worst part? Even though Avatar will eventually pass it by on Domestic Box Office Returns, if you just count the calendar year of 2009? Transformers 2 is not only my #1 worst film of the year, hands down. It is also, hands down, the number one Box Office Draw of the year. WTF, man… wtf