Category Archive: Reviews

Reviews of all kinds

Jan 07 2015

Hustle & Flow

You know, it IS hard out here for a pimp, who knew? Apparently this movie, about a hustler, some of his “bitches” (hey, I’m using quotation marks!), and A/V guy all looking to break out of their lives and hit the big leagues by producing a record. Raw and real, with strong acting and writing, this was an enjoyable story done on a “low” budget independent on the big leagues of Hollywood.

Jan 06 2015

Rise of the Guardians

If the same amount of time was spent on the writing of this film as was spent on designing the look and feel of the characters, you would have a pretty grand movie. Nicely animated, the story is about Guardians, holiday and magical make-believe characters (like the tough as nails but jolly Santa that looks like he just got out of a Russian prison, or the Australian 6′ plus Easter Bunny), that are in charge of fostering hope in children, their struggle against the Boogie Man, and their newest member: the mysterious Jack Frost. The trouble is that despite the fun of many scenes (yeti rule!), the writing was sloppy and focused on a couple of archetypes to make up for it. 

Jan 05 2015

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean – Sarah Stewart Taylor & Ben Towle

This isn’t so much a recounting of Earhart’s attempt to fly across the Atlantic, so much as it is a tale about a young girl with dreams of being a newspaper reporter–or rather, dreams of being something other than the era’s standard for women which is a stay at home wife/mother. Earhart is an inspiration to this girl as she was to many, and this sweetly depressing tale told in few words, with simply and lovingly rendered art with blue coloring, does a fine job relaying feelings and hopes. I can’t really recommend this as a book to teach younger readers about Earhart directly, but you do get a sense of the times, the person, and, well, you get to read a good story. To add to some of the sadness of this tale, I knew little about Earhart until she was mentioned in a Trail of Cthulhu adventure I ran, which is why I wanted to know more and ordered it from a library, and it looks like I am the first in 4 years to ever have checked the book out.

Jan 04 2015

Skim – Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

The magic of libraries is that you can find a book serendipitously and use their catalogue to order other books by the same people. That’s how a got this one after reading This One Summer, which I liked more, probably due to more experience in writing and art, as well as a more specific focus. In any event, this was still a good read and nicely drawn. It is about an Asian (at least part), 16-year old girl, “Skim”, and takes place over a period of time in her Catholic school in Canada. I don’t want to give too much away, which means I can’t say much of anything, but let me just write that it deals with much of what anyone faces growing up: finding out who you are personally and sexually, the fleeting nature of friendship, death, love, family–really just about everything, and that is all the more impressive in such a short comic. 

Jan 03 2015

Happy! – Grant Morrison

Nick is an ex-cop, assassin, alcoholic, jerk. Into his world of non-stop swearing, comes the imaginary friend, a blue talking horse, named Happy, that seeks Nick’s help in rescuing a little girl from a killer Santa. The work tried too hard to be raw and too hard to be cute and too hard to be a cop drama and too hard to be a redemption tale, and for all that too hard work it just isn’t very interesting.

Jan 02 2015

The Annihilation event: Annihilation Book Two

It’s a new year and I’m keeping the resolution of reviewing the Annihilation event. Once again the collection starts slow as the heralds of the planet eater, Galactus, are being hunted. The hunters are kind of stupid, but it is neat to get the heralds under one title. Why does the Annihilation Wave seek Galactus and his brood? That might be unimportant compared to the fact that two cosmic beings are now free and also seeking him. And what does the death worshiper Thanos have to do with all this? (We still won’t know that even after this collection.)

The best parts come in the second half of this trade as we follow the Superskrull as he attempts to defend the remains of the Skrull empire (haven’t they suffered enough?) by taking the battle to the enemy. I did feel this part was too fast as a character seems to shift in mentality far to quickly and others are not given the background to really make them of interest. The other part, while a bit of a mess through too many characters, is great fun as we follow the Kree, Ronan The Accuser, in his attempt to clear his name (of a crime he didn’t commit, yes cliched but it really works) and dish out justice in true Kree fascism. 

Jan 01 2015

Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics – edited by Chris Duffy

It’s been over 100 years since the start of the First World War, the war for civilization, the war to end all wars, the Great War, and I think it is important to keep the memory alive. This comic adaptation of (mostly) poetry based on World War I is a good start. Sadly, I did not enjoy this as much as I had hoped for, not that this is particularly a topic of enjoyment, but collected work such as these, despite attempts of unification, often fall short of unified feeling and look. I also have to say that I don’t care much for poetry (I know that makes me a bad person), so I was already starting at a loss. Still, this is a ok way to introduce people, most likely younger people, to the horrors and tragedies of the so-called great war, despite that it leaves off any real context for the war itself. 

 

Dec 31 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I greatly enjoyed this movie that is vaguely based on a comic book I read as a kid and that takes place in a future dystopia. Just to make me feel old, the time of that dystopia is now (they pushed it back some for the movie). The idea is that Sentinels, robots designed to hunt mutants, are really hunting just about everyone and have evolved to the point of being unstoppable. The last surviving mutants send the mind of one of their own into his past body in order to warn mutants to what is about to occur and erase the future before it ever takes place. Naturally, such things are much easier said than done, and they weren’t very easy to say to begin with. Action-packed and filled with paradoxes and pathos, this is a must see movie on the big screen, which of course I did not do, so failing that, go and watch it anyway as all comic book and especially X-Men fans will love it. Of course, it does cause a problem as X-Men fans will greatly enjoy it, while your average audience member will have no idea about the back stories, various plots that are referred to (or that are taking place), and even less about the various inside jokes and cameos (there is even a nod to the first Thor movie just to muddy things more). It is tricky to make a movie that can only really be fully appreciated by the fan-base and expect it to do well. While I am all for accessible superhero movies, I do like the idea of an occasional one dedicated to those of us that are in the know, so to speak. 

 

Dec 30 2014

Zero Dark Thirty

I have to admit I was disappointed in this movie about the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden. It wasn’t the slow moving pace, or that we never really know any of the characters (can you tell me any of their names?), or that the middle-aged fat guy I was told was the CIA officer who figured out bin Laden’s location was played by a young woman so beautiful I got dizzy looking at her (if it really was someone like her, there won’t be any wonder why they couldn’t get any work done in the field office), or the brutality of the torture techniques use in the early days of the operation, but that you never fully understand how intelligent work is done. That it takes long hours and many years is clear, and that it involves a lot of high-tech gadgetry, but I would like to understand better how the pieces of the puzzle were found and put together. Before you say that that doesn’t make for an exciting movie, well, while this was suspenseful, it certainly wasn’t exciting either.

 

Dec 29 2014

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand as realized by Ramon K. Perez

I have no idea why this lost screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl was never actualize as a movie. Scratch that. Of course I do. The movie is about a man named Mac who for no expressible reason is send forth into the desert to complete a race of sorts wherein he is hunted and has to survive the natural elements and the very unnatural elements that a surreal desert world throws against him. Perhaps more is made clear in the screenplay itself but that is unlikely, as a beautiful blonde bride and a swarthy one eyed devil slash aristocrat (I guess that’s really the same thing) throw obstacles in his way. Much of what occurs makes little sense, and a lot of what occurs may not play well to modern sensibility, all adding to an understanding of why this movie could never– but really should, as in right now– be made. I enjoyed it, and would love to see it on the big screen, but realistically this may be as close as I will get. 

Dec 28 2014

The Ambivalent Memoirist: Obsessions, Digressions, Epiphanies – Sandra Hurtes

This memoir recounts, as of course all memoirs do, moments in the authors life and times. Hurtes focuses on her strained relationship with her parents, their clinginess versus her desires to be independent, and a perhaps more strained relationship between her work life and her desire to be a famous writer. Incredibly well-written with very short chapters of quick snapshots throughout her adult life, the story provides both hope in achieving the life you want as well as stern warning as we recognize her sometimes self-sabotaging through an obstinance to rebel while at the same time wallow in regret over it. The writers life is not a glamorous one, nor an easy one, revolving around short-term writing assignments and slave labor teaching jobs. The work is a must read for those struggling with the adjunct lifestyle, and those interested in (or needing dissuasion from) becoming writers. It is also a powerful piece for independent minded women struggling to find their own voice, as well as poignant reflections for those that grew up in the shadow of Holocaust survivors, this book being part of the last generation that will be able to recount such events.

Filled with clever and often hysterical turns of phrases (“hipsters take note – I had Brooklyn first!”), and painfully vivid memories of lost parents, my criticism is one of the author is probably already aware of, that despite the honesty of the work there are gaps to a larger story. It is in these gaps I believe a true novel awaits, yearning to break free of self-imposed restraints and self-criticism and doubt, so that the fuller story can be told. Perhaps one of the funnier(?) ironies to the tale is that the author, so eager to break away from family that wants to simply assist her in becoming herself and to show her love the only way they knew how: through random if obtrusive displays of assistance which she found stifling, and yet what has the author herself become, but someone whose writing is a gateway for others to find their own voice, and whose job it is to assist those who care nothing for writing, with all it formalities of grammar, and see no purpose in it, in order to help them become better people and to give them the skills, knowledge, and assistance they may not want, know they need, and/or certainly never asked for, simply so they can focus on their other more pressing pursuits.

Because the tale(s) jumps in time, in both the historical record and the more contemporary musings, it can be a bit jarring for the casual reader meandering through a short chapter here and there (I couldn’t put it down, but others might not be reading it on vacation), especially in instances where she writes that Halfway Home is going to be referred to at HH from this point on, only to be spelt out at least four more times. Writers, pessimists (the latters aren’t always the formers even if the reverse is usually true), and the perpetually envious like myself, will enjoy her constant begrudging of others’ success, but I question if Hurtes actually recognizes that the success stories of others who took the roads she didn’t are minuscule and far between, rather than just being a device to illustrate her mentality. Check her out at sandrahurtes.blogspot.com and/or @SHurtes

 

Dec 27 2014

Garfunkel and Oates

Honestly, I love Garfunkel and Oates’ standup comedy, or rather should I say musical comedy that happens to be done while standing up? However, just because a comedic duo has great material does not mean they can translate this material into a television sitcom. Yes, I know it worked for the musical duo of Flight of the Conchords (which I swear I reviewed here but can’t seem to find the link–who is eating my reviews?!) which also featured a pair of not too savvy musicians.  Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci are both gorgeous and talented comedians, but this show about them going to gigs and dealing with relationships just doesn’t have a lot of power behind it. And by power I suppose I mean enough zaniness and plot to make it a sure winner.

 

Dec 26 2014

Map of Days – Robert Hunter

This is a beautifully illustrated, short (but tall in page size) book about a boy who discovers a secret world hidden by his grandfather and the consequences that change the world. Wood-cut and arabesque images move the story along much more than the text does, yet together create an vivid effect that artists above writers will love. 

Dec 25 2014

Jesus Hates Zombies: Yea, Though I Walk… & A Jurassic Kinda Life – Stephen Lindsay

This first collection of Jesus Hates Zombies stories, featuring Lincoln Hates Werewolves, is a pretty frenetic, funny, and dark tale of, yes, Jesus fighting zombies, and I greatly enjoyed it. The problems are that Lindsay can’t seem to hold an artists and while I loved Daniel Thollin’s work, I didn’t care for the rest, and the second collection (wherein Jesus is fighting zombies throughout time) doesn’t have the same enjoyable feel. Perhaps it is difficult to keep a tale going that revolves around a very specific, jokey, theme. 

Dec 24 2014

Matchless: A Christmas Story – Gregory Maguire

The destroyer of children’s stories (just kidding, sort of) develops a little known–due to its sheer depressive quality–Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl” into, if not fuller, then slightly less horrific tale of poverty and sacrifice, or as the GOP would call it: Socialist propaganda. Not badly done, if too sad for me to actually like. 

Dec 23 2014

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood – Nathan Hale

This fourth book in the ongoing series that I’ve been reviewing is an impressive attempt to distill the causes and events of the first world war into a manageable size. It is largely successful taking into account that this is really a series for young readers, and the author himself recognizes that he should focus on smaller events in history. Don’t expect to be blown away by details, but I think he made a smart move to portray the various factions as specific animals (somewhat) related to their nations–similar to what was seen in Maus

Dec 22 2014

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad – Nathan Hale

While this is the second in the series (and 3rd I read) it was actually the first one completed, which is perhaps not too odd because I found it the most focused and an enjoyable tale out of a number of enjoyable works. The series are historical works for younger readers told with humor and insight, ostensibly by the magically enhanced, about to be executed, spy Hale–who shares his name with the author. This issue is about the ironclad ships that fought in the American Civil War (which also rang the end of the old, wood ship era). All the history books I’ve read explained this event as two iron coated ships, the Monitor from the Union and the Virginia from the Confederacy, that fought for several hours to a standstill and went their separate ways. The end. Not only do I finally learn how half ass that account is, but I was riveted by the exciting and interesting events that surround the story. Well done Hale, suck it American history text books. 

Dec 21 2014

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy – Nathan Hale

Written and drawn by a man with the same name as the series’ title, America’s more famous and incompetent spy. The series, which I have first encountered HERE, begins with the execution of Hale and the magical event that leads him to narrating the series. This book recounts parts and people of the American Revolutionary War and the small–but significant–role Hale (and some others) played. I enjoy the art and writing of this story with its lighthearted tone to intrigue younger readers and get them involved in some amazing events in history (even if it is rather dismissive of the process of researching history). 

Dec 20 2014

The Annihilation event: Annihilation Book One

Yes, it has been many years since this Marvel comic cosmic event and I’m just getting to it, but on the plus side I’ll post a review of the titles every two weeks or so and you’ll learn all about my thoughts on it before spring (maybe). Also, I’ve already reviewed one of the useless post event books! *sigh* there’s no pleasing some ArmzRacers. On with the show.

This trade introduces us to the universe shaking event by reintroducing Drax (as in the Destroyer), the killing machine that was suppose to take down Thanos, the death worshiping machine. While I think the new Drax is stupid, I do like the idea of intergalactic criminals hold up in Alaska–do you think they can see Russia from there? (No one remembers that? *sigh*) Then we get to the part everyone cares about when an unknown forces of space traveling, hive minded, bugs come smashing into our universe and start annihilating everything in their path (thus the name of the books and event, right? Nope.) And one of those first things is the galactic police force the Nova corps.

I’m not going to pretend the writing was great here, but I truly enjoyed the overwhelm feeling of horror and despair of the Annihilation Wave. Literally billions upon billions of lives, entire civilizations and planets are removed from existence. And Earth’s heroes have no idea that it is even happening. That’s another great thing about this event: It happens to fringe elements of the Marvel universe so the changes–while typically never too dramatic or permanent–are completely wild! The deaths of superheroes, and supervillains, that occur are tragic and meaningful (well, maybe not in the Drax portion) in part because they often have no greater meaning to the Marvel universe and it is believable that they won’t simply be undone in a few months. (Ok, so some of it gets undone almost right away.) While I’m not familiar with many of the characters that pop up in this series, something that usually aggravates me, they are not presented in a way that you need to know who they are or that the reader isn’t filled in to what you need to know–it’s the whole: this one is for the fan boys, that makes cameos and inclusion of non-mainstream characters annoying. I’m enjoying this. 

Dec 19 2014

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party – Nathan Hale

There is definitely good work here in this fun comic designed to teach kids about history and get them interested in learning. The art is cute and realistic enough to show what is needed and there is plenty of detailed factual information to support the comic. I like the work enough to have my local library hunt down other titles in this series (the author shares the name of a famous, heroic, American and the stories (or at least this one) are done by having Hale, at the gallows, tell the (future) events to his executioners), my trouble–again, at least with this one–is that this tale is filled with tragedy, yet, since its designed for younger readers, there are lots of jokes and flippant remarks. It is very difficult to interject lightheartedness in the face of horror and, unfortunately, I don’t think the balance succeeds fully. I was also rather angry, in a personal way, that Hale jokes that it was a team of babies that did the research for the work. If this is a work for young people, do you really feel it is a good idea to imply that research can be done by a bunch of babies?!

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