Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ultimatum: Fun For The Whole Family

I wanted to do a Mini-Reviews! the other day, which included the new Batman issue by Grant Morrison, the new New Avengers and Jeph Loeb's seemingly okay Ultimatum 2. But then I saw this from the aforementioned Loeb issue.

Hokay, I'm not a conservation or a Puritan or a prude. I love sex and violence. The more boobs and blood the better. But it's all a question of audience, context and content. Are those nipples really required for this all-ages program? Should I be seeing intestines in a comic that's rated for teens and over?

No, I don't think so.

Does anybody really believe that comic shop owners are stopping children from purchasing this comic? Hell, no. LCSes need the cheddar, baby. They're not going to turn away a sale, unless they're complete idiots.

The other major question to ask concerning violence and sexuality is whether or not it's gratuitous; does it enhance or propel the story further? Is it necessary? I'm not sure that in this case of
Ultimatum 2, it really is necessary. The terror and confusion of the tidal wave is scary enough. The story is about natural disasters caused by Magneto, and so far, Loeb has been successful in portraying a New York post-disaster. It's jarring and unconvincing when the Blob (I think it's the Blob) is chewing on a girl's intestines. What does that add to the story?

Nothing.

And another thing, check out this cover image.

Wow. Look at Crystal's chest and waist. Is that not ridiculous? Who even believes that it's possible for a girl to have breasts like that and then go out and fight in superhuman battles? Good lord, sometimes comics frustrate me a lot.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ticket To Ride by Dennis Potter


I've been interested in Dennis Potter since I saw the theatrical version of Mr Potter's TV serial,
The Singing Detective. While I have yet to watch the TV serial (which I own on DVD), I have read his teleplay for Christabel, and one of his novels, Ticket To Ride.

The novel opens up with a regular English man in a dining car on train, who apparently has amnesia. He can't remember who he is, where he's going, why and what has happened. He asks the gentlemen at his table if he is, by any chance, with them. Once the train arrives at London, the mysterious man names himself John Buck, as opposed to the corpse's name of John Doe, and he attempts to sort out his life, while all the time being strangely drawn to a girl named Penny who may or may not be a prostitute. At the same time, Helen, the wife of John, suffers from the sickening dread of a missing husband and the shame of her own mysterious past.

The novel seems so straight forward at the beginning, but the journey turns out to be a winding spiraling one, the narrative going back upon itself numerous times. Normally, I don't much care for cerebral novels about amnesia or long descriptions of what seems like acid trips, but the sheer quality of Potter's prose is indomitable.

Winding and confusing, this is sort of like Potter's other works, in terms of themes and structure. Memory, fantasy, dream and the present all co-mingle to create a tapestry of character, which is always paramount.

Identity is a theme that goes hand-in-hand with the device of amnesia. Who am I? Who knows my name? It's interesting that in this novel, the nameless protagonist chooses a seemingly random name, and it's his actual name, like he was meant to do it anyway.

The amnesia angle gives the first part of the book some drive and some suspense, but once the flashbacks and scenes with Helen come into play, Potter wisely begins to lessen the degree of amnesia descriptions. Far more interesting than John's wild journey is Helen's life with John and without.

It's Helen's mysterious past, that's professionally and perfectly revealed in slow tantalizing tastes that make the second half of the book. Once the pieces are confusingly put into place for the first of two climaxes, Potter gives us a game-changing twist.

Spoilers therein

John is not amnesiac at all, nor is Helen a former prostitute named Penny. It's all a sexual game, roleplaying done to a hideous degree. John's self-loathing and despair and sexual guilt, all from being raised by a pulpit-pounding priest, come to a head as he abuses Helen emotionally and treats her like the dirt that grows the bland hedgerows, the recurring motif.

A common theme in Potter's work is sexuality and dysfunction. There's a intriguing conversation between Angela, the couple's friend (a slut and a common "the other woman") and Helen, in which it is revealed that John is filled with revulsion post-coital, revulsion at the act itself. On the surface, and before the reveal, this feels like vital information in understanding why John might have amnesia and why he's left. In reality, it's all part of the game, which doesn't come to light until after the reveal.

This is all very interesting if it wasn't for the slight streak of misogyny running through John and the story. John's self-loathing and pathetic state is manifested in disgust at the female form, and his obsession with prostitutes, obsession like the relationship between observers and car crashes. He can't stay away from them, and he continually treats them like an English gentleman and like a oaf. He consistently tries to be a white knight but ends up succumbing to his own selfish desires and lust, in turn creating more guilt and self-hatred.

Ticket To Ride is a portrait of a broken, disgusting little man with little to provide society. But this doesn't come until you've read most of the book. Potter's playing a mean trick on the reader, and unless you're willing to go along with him in the filthy roads of the English mind, then you're going to feel cheated and conned.

I really enjoyed this novel as an engineering feat, rather than as a work of narrative art. The story left me cold and pondering what made Potter want to write this, but the sheer elegance of his prose and the structure made me appreciate
Ticket To Ride. I would recommend this to those who are already familiar with Potter's work. To go in blind would be disastrous.

Apparently, this novel has reached cult status thanks to the freaky looking Robert Pattison or whatever. He mentioned the novel in an interview while promoting the tripe called Twilight. I have to say this because I'm that shallow: I did not read this because of its recent popularity. I've been a fan of Potter for awhile. My disgust for that film and book is equal to the embarrassment I have if anyone mistakes my motives for reading
Ticket To Ride. Also, this book is fetching hundreds of dollars on eBay because of this tenuous and fatuous connection. How sad are we.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Loot

Woot! I had a really really good haul this year and I just want to thank everybody who contributed to making my Christmas a joyous one. Now, let's dive into what I got for Christmas.
  • The Wire: The Complete Series
  • A Georgio Armani tie.
  • Extras: The Complete Series
  • Socks and underwear (thanks, mom)
  • Watching The Watchmen by Dave Gibbons
  • The DC Vault
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • The Rat Pack Collection
What a terrific haul. But that's not all I got. I received a bunch of gift certificates, and the entire house went-a Boxing Day shopping. So what did I pick up?
  • Sony Blu-Ray Remote for the Playstation3
  • A second controller for the PS3
  • A hard plastic protector-case for the PSP
  • Fallout 3
  • LA Confidential (on Blu-Ray)
  • The Fly (on Blu-Ray) (for 15 bucks!)
  • The Godfather Trilogy (on Blu-Ray)
  • Live Free And Die Hard (on Blu-Ray)
  • The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
  • Just After Sunset by Stephen King
  • The Other by Thomas Tryon
What a fabulous haul.

What's even better is that my beloved g/f, who received 50 bones from my parents, went to this fancy-dan boutique and picked up a perfectly-fitting blazer, the one last in the store, for 50 bucks. The regular price? Six hundred and ninety five dollars. Let me type that again. Six hundred and ninety five dollars and she got it for 50 bones. What a ridiculous deal. My roomie also picked up an Xbox 360 and a bunch of games like Halo 3, so we've been playing video games non-stop since yesterday.

It's been a great holiday. Now, I'm back to work today....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

State of Play (US) Trailer!



You can read my review of the original series here. First thoughts about the trailer? It's very American. It feels
American, and Russel Crowe is sporting ludicrously dumb hair. Also, Ben Affleck is playing the politician, and he seems to be a supporting actor, rather than co-lead as in the serial.

I will see this film, but I can't say I'm terribly excited. I find it hard to believe that the quality can be maintained when the running time is halved.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting


I have this theory, okay? I watch a lot of movies and I think about a lot of things relating to movies, and I have this theory.... I call it The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting, because it relates to good ol' Tom Cruise.

This morning, while I was waiting for something, I popped in
Magnolia into the DVD player and watched the first 30 minutes of that flick. When I first saw that movie back in the day, I was blown away and thought it was the cat's pajamas. Now, I'm finding problems with it, including Anderson's obviously crafted-sounding "naturalistic" dialogue and over-the-top narration from Ricky Jay.

However, the movie still stands thanks to Anderson's kinetic camerawork and the top-notch acting from Jason Robards, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy, John C Reilly, etc etc etc. Most notably is Tom Cruise who plays a self-help motivational speaker whose angle is "seduce and destroy". This was the movie that really catapulted Cruise into the realm of real acting and many critics took notice. And I know why.

It's not because of Cruise's acting skills. I'll just put it out there. Cruise isn't that great of an actor. He's charismatic and fun and really good looking back in the day. But today, his skills are overshadowed by his personality, his fame, and his personal beliefs. So let's just file him under the category of not an acting behemoth. Let's agree that he's satisfactory.

But why is his performance in
Magnolia and Jerry Maguire so much stronger than performances in Top Gun, Days of Thunder or Interview With The Vampire?

Well, The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting supposes that any strong performance from Cruise is directly related to the character arc, in that the character must specifically start at rock bottom emotionally and rise out of that, ending with redemption.


For example, in
Magnolia, Frank T.J. Mackey is at the bottom in terms of his emotion and his relationship to his father. He hides behind a mask of bluster and misogyny, searching for faceless women to fill the emptiness in his life. But at the end, when he and his father are reunited, it's the best scene in the whole movie. Frank's life was ruined by his father, but when he watches Earl die, it brings him back to whole and he can begin healing again. He is redeemed.


That's the perfect example of The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting in action. Another excellent example is
Jerry Maguire, in which the title character is all bluster and action and independence but when he realizes that he needs Dorothy. He's all arrogance but he falls apart without her.

The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting needs the character to fall from grace and then to be redeemed. Now why is this?

Perhaps it's because that's how Tom Cruise mines for emotions, in seeking the most bottom rung of feeling. When he plays a rock star, like in Top Gun, he's not actually acting, he's just being.

The answer might be as simple as he gets to stretch his acting muscles better.

I think not. I believe it's because the audience wants to punish Tom Cruise. Because he's so pretty and successful and rich and famous, we want to see him fail, and since we're too dumb to separate character from actor, we transfer the fall onto Tom Cruise himself. We get a sick enjoyment out of watching Cruise/Cruise's character fail. It's the same logic as the slasher film genre. We want to watch them die. It's how we appreciate the opposite and make us feel more alive. We watch Cruise fail, and it makes us feel better about not being famous or rich.

Now, The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting can be extrapolated to any big name actor. Watching somebody fail and be redeemed gives us hope. But I feel it's more pronounced thanks to Tom Cruise's superstardom.

I've been thinking about this for years, and it's become more apparent as Cruise becomes more famous for being famous. From the couch-jumping to the suspect beliefs on psychology, Cruise is becoming less of a person and more of a caricature.

What to look forward to is his role in Bryan Singer's Valkyrie. He plays a Colonel in the Nazi army who plans to assassinate Hitler because of the Fuhrer's crimes. On the surface, this appears to be a redemption story. To atone for whatever sins he has committed, and for the glory of Germany, he will kill Hitler. But the trailers seem to play it as an action film. It also doesn't help that the movie is stacked with big acting strengths such as Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Bill Nighy and so on and so forth. Cruise seems outclassed.


I still look forward to the movie. If anything, it's a Christopher McQuarrie-Bryan Singer collaboration. It's got to be decent.

Once I see it, I will weigh The Tom Cruise Theory of Acting against it and we'll see it if stands.

Wallander - "Firewall"


I reviewed the first episode of the three part series here, if you want to read it, but this review is for the second episode of the show
Wallander, starring the great Kenneth Branagh. To summarize the show, I thought it was really good, but not great; the acting was terrific; but the relationship angles were more interesting and complex than the mystery angle itself. Does the same hold true for the second episode, entitled "Firewall"?

This time, Wallander is investigating the murder of a taxi-cab driver by an 18 year-old girl and the seemingly unrelated heart attack of a perfectly healthy man near a cash machine in a public square. The only possible connection is a computer system with a strange and menacing code constantly running. While Wallander deals with this, his daughter has signed him up for internet dating, and he begins the awkward first few steps of dating with a beautiful woman named Ella.

While the first episode was interested in themes of fathers, sons, daughters, and the past, this episode is interested in espionage, terrorism and action. "Firewall" contains far more action and shooting than "Sidetracked" and is probably worse for it. It's more...
American in execution than than the previous outing.

The mystery was uninspired and the technological aspect was woefully underwritten, same with the motivations and connections between the villains of the piece. This was undercooked and left a sour taste in my mouth.

The few saving graces for this episode were, of course, the top-notch acting from the cast, the relationship angle (again), and the rather cinematic direction. This time, instead of the weird colour palette, the director goes with a different visual motif of blurring the edges of the screen. It gives the proceedings a more ethereal feel to it. While I didn't much care for the effect itself, the use of it was intriguing and gave the show a flavour beyond bland cop-movie feel.

I mention the relationship angle as a saving grace, but I add, with a caveat. Spoilers follow. It's a shame that the dating thing starts out so promising, giving depth and poignancy to an otherwise by-the-books cop-action show, but then devolves into a twist, mangling the character of Ella into a tiny conspiracy. It robs Wallander of any character development whatsoever.

While "Sidetracked" aspired to levels of stirring emotion, drawing parallels between the circularity of abuse, "Firewall" aspires to telling a ripping yarn. Normally, this wouldn't be a bad thing, but in comparison to the first episode, I found it superficial and disengaging.

If I had seen "Firewall" first, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it slightly more, but the computer angle and the - frankly - boring villain would have still stuck in my craw. It's still a high quality detective show, and I still look forward to the next episode. It just isn't up to the par previously set.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Prices are going up!

Big name comics from Marvel are going up to 3.99. That's a 33 percent increase. Which is a lot, if you ask me. In the blogosphere, and in the LCSes, there's a grande debate running. Is this good? Is this bad? On top of all of this, Top Shelf has stated they won't raise prices for 2009, hoping that will entice new readers, people jumping ship from the Abercrombie and Fitch of comics to the Old Navy of comics. It's a good business strategy. If, that is, there are people jumping ship.

I, for one, won't be. My reasons are that I'm a follower of creators, rather than characters or stories. I will pick up anything by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Garth Ennis. I will select more diligently when it comes to Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Brian K Vaughn, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, and so on and so forth. For me, it's not that expensive to follow these creators, as they're not that prolific.

For other comic readers, it represents a challenge. Comic book consumers will not see a 33 percent increase in their yearly income, I foresee, which means that 33 percent of their weekly haul is going to have to decrease. How will they choose to cull?

Going back to the grande debate part, one thing that many people are taking into account is page count. Is 3.99 justified for 22 pages of story? Considering some titles has 16 page stories and the rest back-up? Is 3.99 justified for 32 pages of story?

Breaking this problem into smaller pieces brings us to the endless question of whether or not to decompress the story? Consider this hypothetical comic starring Wolverine: the sixteenth issue of the fourth volume is priced at 3.99 and it's written by Geoff Johns and Alex Ross and drawn by Jim Lee with a variant cover by Tony Daniel. It's the fourth part of a six part story arc and it contains 22 pages, 16 of which are main story and the rest are sketches and bonus items such as an essay in which Dan Didio blathers on for ten paragraphs about "story". In those 16 pages, there are four full page panels, or splash pages, and of the other 12 pages, there's an average of six panels per page. This is a very specific example for a reason. One would consider this comic to be written in the "decompression" style. Is it worth 3.99?

That's the question people are asking themselves. They're making qualitative judgements on the format in order to choose whether or not they want to cull the book from their pull list. Not everybody is doing that. Some people are simply making qualitative judgements on the content, which is probably a better way to do it, in my opinion.

When you do your best-of list at the end of the year, which title or character isn't making it? That's what you do without.

Of course, it doesn't help matter that a good amount of mainstream titles from Marvel are simply not good. The Mighty Avengers, Invincible Iron Man, Hulk (written by Jeph Loeb), Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine: Origins, these are all examples of titles that are just not very good. Also, who needs five titles starring Wolverine anyway? Or five titles starring the same core cast of X-Men?

Ultimately, this increase in price for comics is going to happen. No, it's not in line with inflation, as some bloggers have demonstrated with the use of graphs and charts and research. What this comes down to - I hate to oversimplify - supply and demand, the free market.

The consumer is choosing to purchase this expensive comics. Secret Invasion was entirely priced at 3.99 and it sold like hamburgers in the 50's. The consumer (me) made the decision to support the comic, the price, the creators, the company and the story. In order to support all of that, the price I was asked to pay was 3.99? Did I complain? Yes. Does it matter? No, not at all. The only thing that matters is dollars and cents.

The option is binary. Yes, I buy it. No, I do not. When Marvel totals their sales, they only see the "yes, I buy it" conclusion. Therefore, Marvel doesn't hear me complain about the rise in price. What they hear is, "this consumer wanted this comic enough to buy it at a 33 percent increase". Now, Marvel is going to test the water by releasing some big name comic like Dark Avengers at a 33 percent increase. If we buy it, which we will, then Marvel will hear that we will tolerate, nay, even support this increase.

No amount of online bitching will avoid the price increase. This is a free market. We can make the choice to avoid the 3.99 comics and choose to support comics such as and Incredible HerculesMs Marvel and Avengers: Initiative. If we do, it might cause a paradigm shift. Maybe big event comics will no longer sell as well... maybe the publishers will focus on telling stories rather than events. Maybe. It's wishful thinking, but in a free market, I can choose to go with Top Shelf, who have promised not to increase prices. I can choose to go with them and level the playing field.

Either way, the price increase is going to happen. Let's hope we choose wisely what we purchase and forever let the buyer beware.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top Ten Movies of 2008

Now, I know that everybody does a top ten list at the end of the year. And I'm not going to deviate from the norm. I've always wanted to do my own top ten, so let's dive in and take a look.

Before I list them, I just want to say that this list includes some 2007 films I saw in 2008.

10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I didn't think this was going to be the best thing ever. I also didn't think it would be the worst. The film struck all the right chords of nostalgia with me, while at the same time including a nonsensical but awesome jungle car chase scene. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it.

9. Pineapple Express

Because of my non-drug abuse proclivities, I didn't think I would enjoy this as much as I did. This is the most heartwarming story of two idiots who become best friends while at the same time getting shot at and shooting ineptly. I absolutely adored this movie and everybody was fantastic including the mighty James Franco, almost unrecognizable as the drug dealer in over his head. This is pure comedic gold.

8. Atonement (2007)

A very complex and post-modern love story, I knew I was going to love this and I did. From the opening scenes to the never-ending tracking shot to the surprise ending, I was enthralled. Top drawer acting from all hands, including the young lady at the heart of the film, and tremendously confident direction from the same artist that brought us Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice. Excellent film.

7. Michael Clayton (2007)

A gripping drama that features absolutely amazing acting. The cast is impeccable and the story is complex and engaging. One of two films on this list to feature George Clooney, one of my favourite actors ever. Tony Gilroy, the writer and director, manages to create believable dialogue and situations without every trespassing into overwrought shout-acting.

6. Burn After Reading

The second film to feature George Clooney, this is the Coen Brothers' return to "comedy". This madcap zany screwball comedy about the ineptness of the CIA and everybody in the world is - at times - a brilliant social commentary, and a laugh-outloud stage play. The direction is perfectly subtle, it's endlessly quotable, and fantastically acted. What more could you ask for?

5. Iron Man

I never would have thought an Iron Man movie was going to be made, but there it is. Again, I hate to harp on the cast, but it's the acting that sells these movies. Robert Downey Jr is terrific in his role and everybody else, including the normally bland Gwyneth Paltrow is good. Action scenes are great, the comedy is natural, and the characters feel organic. High praise for a film based on a comic book, I might add.

4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

More emotion in a single scene than any Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell movie combined. The story is of a TV show composer off to Hawaii to grieve when his actress girlfriend shockingly dumps him and of course, runs into her when he gets there. Every scene is quotable. Every action is pitch-perfect and the cast is impossibly well-suited for their roles. This is a perfect comedy film. Perfect.

3. Into the Wild (2007)

The best film of 2007 and arguably one of the best films I've ever seen. I could devote an entire blog to this movie. Even months later, I sigh and look over wistfully at it and remember all the good times and bad times we shared. Never has a film so touched me emotionally. Terrific.

2. WALL-E

I saw it twice in the theatres and once on Blu-Ray and it still manages to choke me up at the end. If I was teaching a course about children's films, I would use this as the perfect example of how to make one. Biting social commentary, cynical and yet oddly positive about the future, hilarious and experimental, this movie has everything except one thing that every other movie also lacked but one...

Batman...

Yes, the best film of 2008 is, unsurprisingly...

1. The Dark Knight

I saw this on the Imax and in the regular theatre and then again on Blu-Ray. I hyped this film to everybody I ever met and nobody was disappointed. The next bold step forward in superhero film, this movie fires on every possible level and has the best cast ever assembled for a superhero movie. I don't care what people say, The Dark Knight is the best film of 2008 only by a small margin. I strongly recommend every film on this list. There's a movie on this list for every member of the audience.

2008 has been a great year for movies and 2009 is shaping up to be just as good. I love film and I hope it shows. Thanks everybody.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunshine


This is the story of two dads and a son. Steve Coogan plays one father, Bernard Hill plays his father and Dominic Senior plays Coogan's son. This is a story written by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey, both of whom had a hand in the cult classic
The Royle Family and Early Doors, neither of which I've seen. Sunshine is a comedy in that there are bits that make you laugh, but Sunshine is also a drama. Coogan, who normally does comedy and starred in the incredibly bad Hamlet 2, is a gambling addict who has pissed away everything he has, including the love of his life.

In this three part series from BBC1, we watch as the gambling addict Bing gets into constant trouble with his longtime girlfriend Bernadette, but he always manages to charm his way back in. An affectionate and deep relationship buds between George and his grandson Joe, whom he calls his "sunshine". Bing gets increasingly more pathetic and finally Bernadette throws him out. Bing's life spirals into a terrible place and he almost steals his son's hard-earned saved money to gamble. Will Bing ever recover and stop placing bets? Will he and Bernadette ever reconcile? What secret does George keep? What will happen to Joe?

This might be one of the best British dramas I've ever seen. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I cried like a little girl throughout most of the third episode and it was breathtakingly poignant. I loved every minute of this show except for a couple terrible soundtrack choices.... The thin line between drama and mawkishness is a precarious one and more than once did this show teeter over the edge of maudlin soap-acting, but it never plummeted (that was a long metaphor).

What keeps it afloat is the excellent acting of Steve Coogan and Bernard Hill (whom you might remember as King Théoden of Rohan from
The Two Towers). Both of them display a wide deptth of acting from pathos to humour. Everybody is else is quite brilliant, especially Bernadette's boss, who is doomed to ever be the quiet nice guy that never gets the girl. Even Dominic Senior, who plays Joe, is quite remarkable. He manages to act like a child, but he's not written like an adult would write a child.

The gambling addiction angle of the show feels so authentic, and Coogan never plays it for laughs or for ridicule. He seems like he's powerless, and temptation is everywhere. It's a finely honed performance.

If I had a complaint about the show, it would be the constant setting-up of the relationship between George and Joe. There's too many scenes of them hanging around and being cutesy. After the fourth or fifth scene, basked in golden light in a beautiful garden, it was simply hammering me over the head. "Do you see?!? They're very close!!! Do you see?!?!?!" I'm sure it's meant to drive home the heartbreak of the final episode, but it felt a tad artificial.

More interesting than the relationship between those two, was the constant back and forth complexity of Bing and Bernadette. They're obviously so totally in love with each other and they're both hurting each other. Bernadette pushes him away so that she can have a normal life while Bing continues to lie and gamble. Once Bing starts going to Gambler's Anonymous, it's heartbreaking that she won't give him another chance, but can you possibly blame her?

Amidst the great acting and the wonderful humour, there's the heartbreaking and beautiful story at the heart of
Sunshine. This was a terrific show and I look forward to more from Craig Cash and Phil Mealey. Hopefully they continue what appears to be a fruitful partnership.

Important news regarding the Rwandan Genocide

I last talked about the Rwandan Genocide here, in a post about Romeo Dallaire. Well, the big news coming down the pipe is that Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a military officer during the genocide. He was responsible for importing machetes, and he is a suspect in the plane crash that instigated the entire thing. Yesterday, on Dec 19, he was convicted of genocide by a U.N. tribunal. From the Associated Press:
A former Rwandan Army colonel behind the 1994 slaughter of more than 500,000 people was convicted of genocide Thursday and sentenced to life in prison, the most significant verdict of a U.N. tribunal set up to bring the killers to justice.

Col. Theoneste Bagosora was found guilty of crimes against humanity, and the court said he used his position as director of Rwanda's Ministry of Defense to direct Hutu soldiers to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Former military commanders Anatole Nsengiyumva and Aloys Ntabakuze also were found guilty of genocide and sentenced to life in prison. The former chief of military operations, Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, was cleared of all charges and released.

"It's been a very important day in the tribunal here with judgments given in respect of very important cases which shed a lot of light on really what happened on that fateful day, on 6th April 1994, and the few days following thereafter," Hassan Bubacar Jallow, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, told French international news channel France 24.

The court said that Bagosora "was the highest authority in the Rwandan Ministry of Defense with authority over the Rwandan military" and was responsible for the deaths of former Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers who tried to protect her as she was killed at the outset of the genocide.

Bagosora, 67, said nothing as the verdict was delivered Thursday, and there was complete silence from the scores of people who had packed into the aisles of the tiny courtroom to hear the judgment.

His conviction was welcomed by genocide survivors, who still live uneasily among perpetrators in the central African nation nearly 15 years later.

Some 63,000 people are suspected of taking part in the genocide, although many of them have been sentenced by community-based courts, where suspects were encouraged to confess and seek forgiveness in exchange for lighter sentences.

"Bagosora ... is the person behind all the massacres," said Jean Paul Rurangwa, 32, who lost his father and two sisters. "The fact that he was sentenced to the biggest punishment the court can give is a relief."

The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by the U.N. in 1994 to try those responsible for the killings and had its first conviction in 1997. There have been 42 judgments, of which six have been acquittals. It does not have the power to impose the death sentence.

Eighteen trials remain under way but none of the defendants is as senior as Bagosora. His lawyer, Raphael Constant, has said he will appeal the verdict within a 30-day deadline.

More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were killed in the 100-day slaughter organized by the extremist Hutu government then in power. Government troops, Hutu militia and ordinary villagers spurred on by hate messages broadcast over the radio went from village to village, butchering men, women and children.

Bagosora was captured in Cameroon in 1996 and has been in custody in Tanzania since 1997.

Reed Brody, a specialist in international justice for Human Rights Watch, said the sentence sent a clear message to other world leaders accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, like Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

"It says watch out. Justice can catch up with you," Brody said. "The authors of genocide can and will be punished by the international community."

According to the indictment, Bagosora had participated in international talks arranged in the early 1990s with the aim of ending Rwanda's long-simmering political crisis. Bagosora grew angry with government delegates he deemed soft on Tutsi-led rebels and said he was returning to Rwanda to "'prepare the apocalypse,'" the indictment quoted Bagosora as saying.

The killings began on April 7, 1994, the day after a plane carrying ethnic Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by unidentified attackers on its approach to Kigali airport. Bagosora was commander of the Kanombe air base in Kigali when the president's plane went down.

Hours after the crash, militants from the Hutu ethnic majority known as Interahamwe set up roadblocks across Kigali and the next day began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The slaughter eventually ended after Tutsi rebels invaded from neighboring Uganda and drove out the genocidal forces.

Also Thursday, Protais Zigiranyirazo, 70, was convicted of organizing a massacre in which hundreds of Tutsis died, and was sentenced to 20 years. Zigiranyirazo — the brother-in-law of the Rwandan president who was killed in the 1994 plane crash — gets credit for seven years already served in prison.

The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said "it would appear to me that 20 years for a genocide may be on the low side."

"We are reviewing that aspect of it and will eventually decide whether to pursue an appeal against the sentence or not," Jallow told France 24.

Chris Hennemeyer, who worked as a relief worker in Rwanda and is a vice president at the U.S.-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, said "the important thing is that he's behind bars and at his age he won't get out until he's very elderly."
This is very important and represents a small step towards righting the vast amounts of wrongs from this terrible tragedy. Thank you.

Punisher: War Zone 1 and 2

OHmigod. Oh. My. God. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon are back together on a six part weekly mini-series that harkens back to their perfect twelve issue run called "Welcome Back, Frank"? And it doesn't tie into the crap Punisher movie in theatres right now? Perfect.

Yes, frequent readers, all two of you, of this blog will remember that I have a bizarre fascination with Garth Ennis. His downright sick humour, blatant misanthropy and over-the-top violence meet in a perfect trifecta of my tastes. And he's doing the second best thing he's ever written (
Preacher being numero uno, but enough French).

The Gnucci clan is pretty much gone, save for one guy with the unfortunate last name of Schitti, whom Frank cajoles into working for him. Apparently there's an Italian side of the Gnucci family and they've come to start their own business, the kind that Frank doesn't much care for. On top of that, Molly, the lesbian detective who teamed up with Soap is back and she's living with a straight girl, and is feeling mighty possessive. While Frank starts taking out new Gnuccis, Molly gets drawn back in due to her experience with the previous case. Another face from the past, The Elite, shows up but in a different form, the son of the original Elite. Add to this the possible resurrection of Ma Gnucci, and we have ourselves a classic Ennis-style
Punisher.

What can I say about this? It's exactly what I wanted it to be. It's sick, crude, funny, violent and has little to no value as a piece of high literature. There's no grand themes going on, no character development, no poignant moments of introspection. It's Frank Castle doin' what he does best.

Now, I have to admit that when it comes to Garth Ennis, you have to take it with a grain of salt or two. He doesn't necessarily believe what his characters say, and it's a mistake to think that of any writer. Everybody in his run on
The Punisher is an idiot save for Frank himself. But, almost every character gets to comment on the Punisher himself. Since Frank is mostly a cipher, we tend to assemble a picture of Frank as a composite of what people say. The picture we form is of an insane, broken man without any morals or altruism in the slightest. Almost everybody's perspective on Frank is right, and that's what makes him such an interesting and multi-faceted character - in the hands of Ennis, that is.

It's moderately frustrating to see Ennis go back to a character that he's said a lot about already. The MAX series is a far better version of the Punisher, and much more intent on developing Frank as a character. The Marvel Knights series is more interested in shootin' bad guys than saying anything remotely emotional.

The past couple years havce been sorta boring for me and Ennis, kind of. The Boys isn't very good at all, and his War Stories have been mediocre at best. He still has yet to return to the glory of his original Punisher or
Preacher or even Hitman. Ennis can produce some of the finest, most emotional, most poignant stories in comics, but he chooses to go back to naming guys "Schitti" and has possessive violent lesbians.

This isn't a negative review of the book itself. The book is funny and entertaining, both issues. This is more of a complaint of Ennis' choice of projects. I'd rather see him return to Heartland than
Dicks, you know what I mean?

It's a harsh world the Ennis characters live in. Not very many people emerge unscathed. I really love going back to see Frank, but I'd rather Ennis keep growing. It's still a great book and a fine addition to the earlier Ennis catalogue.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Movies in 2008

So I did something kind of weird this year and I didn't tell anyone. I wrote down, in order, every single movie I saw in the year of 2008. To be fair, the year isn't done, so I will probably be adding a couple more to the list by January. But here it is, in order and with links to reviews, of every movie I saw in the year 2008.
Mon Oncle
Cloverfield
21 Grams (repeat)
The Devil's Rejects (repeat)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (repeat)
I Heart Huckabee's (repeat)
Life of Brian (repeat)
Bee Movie
The Holiday
Rambo
Michael Clayton
Last House On The Left
Futurama: Bender's Big Score
American Gangster (repeat)
Aliens (repeat)
The Last Emperor (repeat)
Sweeney Todd
Eyes Wide Shut
Barry Lyndon
Lolita
Enchanted
Run Fatboy Run
I Am Legend
Atonement
Gone, Baby, Gone

Into The Wild
The Ice Storm (repeat)
Dr Strangelove
Doomsday
Escape From New York
Blues Brothers 2000
Snatch. (repeat)
Revolver (repeat)
The Big Lebowski (repeat)
From Dusk Til Dawn (repeat)
Into The Wild (repeat)
The Ruins
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Lake Of Fire
Harold And Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Iron Man
Big Trouble in Little China (repeat)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Raiders of the Lost Ark (repeat)
Fantasia 2000
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (repeat)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (repeat)
Dirty Harry
Magnum Force
School of Rock (repeat)
Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs
Pirates of The Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (repeat)
Pirates of The Carribbean: Dead Man's Chest (repeat)
Pirates of The Carribbean: At World's End (repeat)
Semi-Pro
WALL-E
Wes Craven's New Nighmare (repeat)
Toy Story 2 (repeat)
Kill Bill 1 (repeat)
Kill Bill 2 (repeat)
The Dark Knight
Anchorman (repeat)
Dawn of the Dead (remake)(repeat)
Haute Tension (repeat)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Hills Have Eyes (repeat)
The Descent (repeat)
Baby Mama
Tropic Thunder
Hancock
Speed Racer
28 Weeks Later
Ratatouille (repeat)
Very Bad Things (repeat)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Burn After Reading
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (repeat)
Mirrors
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (repeat)
A Bridge Too Far
Wall-E (repeat)
The Good Shepard
Wanted
Get Smart
The Strangers

Journey To The Centre of The Earth (2008)
The Incredible Hulk

History of the World Part 1
Futurama: Bender's Game
Step Brothers
The Dark Knight (repeat)
Quantum of Solace
Pineapple Express
Leatherheads
Eagle Eye

So there are a lot of movies I didn't review and I noticed that the reviews got less and less frequent as time went by. I watched only 90 movies in 2008. I thought it was going to be more than that. Oh well. Maybe next year. Join us later for a Top Ten Movies post.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wallander - "Sidetracked"


Henning Mankell's bleak detective series starring Inspector Kurt Wallander is a huge hit over in Europe, and though I've seen the books lining the shelves at my local bookstore, I have never made myself familiar with them. The BBC recently commissioned a three part series starring Kenneth Branagh, adapting three of Mankell's books, and I have the distinct pleasure of viewing the first episode, "Sidetracked".

Wallander is investigating the apparent suicide by immolation of a fifteen year old girl. At the same time, a brutal string of murders by axe to the head is taking out seemingly unconnected people, including some related to the government and to the local art scene.

While Wallander tries to piece together the fragments, he deals with his tempestuous relationship with his daughter and his father, who has been recently diagnosed with Alzheimers.

This is a very bleak, very depressing detective show. There are small points of light of humour, but for the most part, this is more depressing than watching cans being crushed. Kenneth Branagh, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, appears fat, wasted, and tired while he slouches through every interview and conversation. But he makes it believable, I suppose.

I really liked this episode, as the mystery is complex, but not at the same difficulty level as, say, an Ellroy novel. Perhaps a lot has been cut out due to running time, which seems likely, but the mystery isn't terribly impossible to solve. I figured it out with ample time. There's really only a couple suspects.

For a television show, this is quite cinematic in presentation. Lots of interesting camera angles, and the cinematography is excellent. I think the best thing I can say about this show is the colour palette is well chosen and every scene has an interesting colour contrast. Many scenes highlight the washed out blueness of Sweden, but at the same time, contrast that with red tinges. It's very beautiful.

I was thoroughly engaged with the program for most of its running time. It starts off slow, but picks up once Branagh shakes off the dust and begins to move around and actually act. The best parts of the show, for me, was the relationship angle, showing how troubled Wallander really is. This is definitely not a CSI or a Law & Order show. There's no lurid description of the scientific process to determine who sneezed and had Cheerios for breakfast. This is a character study through and through.

Sure, the idea of the troubled detective isn't new, but this is a very well done execution of the archetype. I really enjoyed
Wallander and I look forward to seeing the next episode.

Mixtape: Xmas Blast

1. The Grinch - You're a Mean One Mr Grinch
2. The Drifters - White Christmas
3. I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas
4. John Lennon - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
5. Wham - Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)
6. Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas
7. The Beach Boys - Little Saint Nick
8. The Tractors - Santa Claus is Comin (In a Boogie Woogie Choo-Choo Train)
9. Gene Autry - Here Comes Santa Claus
10. Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Live)
11. Eartha Kitt - Santa Baby
12. John Coltrane - Greensleeves
13. Bing Crosby - Frosty The Snowman
14. Nat King Cole - Oh Come All Ye Faithful
15. Johnny Mathis - It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
16. Boyz II Men - Silent Night
17. Boney M - Feliz Navidad
18. Jackson 5 - I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
19. Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas
20. Chuck Berry - Run Rudolph Run
21. Alvin and the Chipmunks - Christmas Time Is Here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Secret Invasion - Dark Reign

Hokay so. Skrulls have invaded, secretly and not so secretly. Iron Man changed suits and SHIELD changed hands. People got angry and said angry things. Hokay so after that, lil' Normie Osborn gets put in the charge of everything other than being the President and he assembles a bunch of ne'er-do-wells and says.... TO BE CONTINUED IN A ONE-SHOT!

Secret Invasion - Dark Reign is so frustrating. This whole summer event has been extremely taxing on my patience and whatever good will that Bendis had saved with Powers and Ultimate Spider-Man. He's just not suited to writing big event comics. They don't speak to his talents. This particular one-shot does speak to his talents, in that it's a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about things. That's it.

Osborn has assembled Loki, Emma Frost, Doom, Namor and the Hood and he says that the new status quo will be supervillain co-operation. It seems like a fine idea, but isn't Emma a hero now? And, by my research and fact-checking, isn't the Hood totally lame?

This idea is potentially story-rich. But therein lies the problem. Potentiality. How many good writers will take to this and explore what this means? How many will just do a "hero on the run" story for six parts and then completely change the status quo?

But here I am complaining about the idea, rather than the comic. The issue itself? Decent, I suppose. Every character gets a chance to say something, and Emma's development, as she's the point of view character, is painfully superficial. I enjoy Maleev's art normally, but in this issue, everything is so un-murky and characters' faces change shape every couple panels. Maleev's pencils are better suited to dark and dreary colour palettes, rather than saturating the characters in light.

This issue is review-proof, almost, because everybody knows what they are going to get. It's Bendis writing talking heads. The issue isn't central to anything, and nothing happens in the issue that wasn't implied by the final page of Secret Invasion 8. There's nothing important or essential to this comic.
Secret Invasion - Dark Reign is plain old boring comics.

Hey, what you got there?





Friday, December 12, 2008

Final Crisis 5


I sort of forgot about this mini-series. It feels like it's been stretching on for a year.
Final Crisis 5 is out, and I've got a review for you.

There's no way to summarize or explain this issue without spoiling the inherent fun of reading a completely batshit insane Grant Morrison comic. Suffice it to say that Darkseid becomes a God again and kills time, while Metron solves a motherboxxx disguised as a Rubik's Cube in 17 moves, and unleashing a new God from the Fifth World.

The art, credited to four people, is surprisingly stable, if not for a couple wonky faces and a couple sketchy rough patches. The painterly colouring job is probably the best part, and succeeds in unifying the different art teams. Can I just go on record again and say I can't believe DC trusted J. G. Jones to pencil and ink 7 full issues?

Morrison's pace is even crazier than the first issue but this one makes the most amount of sense, maybe? One of Darkseid's minions, possibly Desaad, spoils the ending of
Batman R.I.P., sort of, maybe, but we won't know for sure until the end of January. Am I really saying that? Final Crisis goes on until February? Good lord.

Is this worth the interminable wait? Well, yes, 'cause it's Grant Morrison doing a universe-smashing cosmic story using a billion Kirby concepts at a lightning quick speed. But... it's also very slow in coming out, and the unevenness of the artists coupled with the "highlights" style narrative means that it's not that terrific of a story. It's better art than
Batman R.I.P. but it's still dissatisfying.

I was thinking of the essential differences between
Final Crisis and Secret Invasion today. It's hard not to compare the two, considering one ended last week and the other just got past the halfway point this week. In one issue of Final Crisis, Morrison kills time, enslaves three billion people, has three different battles, two of them epic, and foreshadows another billion concepts. In eight issues of Secret Invasion, the heroes went from fighting Skrulls in the Savage Land to fighting Skrulls in New York. What else happened?

So for less money, you're getting more story in
Final Crisis. It's just a shame that it's not quite hitting all the right operational beats I require (ie, timeliness, evenness). This review comes off sounding moderately negative, but I still recommend this comic. It's fun and epic and foreboding and completely batshit insane. Final Crisis 5 is good, but not quite great.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas List

Santa Claus
North Pole
H0H 0H0
Canada

Dear Santa Claus,

Hi. My name is Matthew Montgomery and I'm only 24 yaers years old. This year I have been a very gud good boy. and Here is my Chirstmas Chritsmas Xmas list.

Books:

The Given Day
by Dennis Lehane

The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III

Just After Sunset by Stephen King

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

Anything by Richard Yates other than his short story collection and Revolutionary Road.

Movies/Television

Mission Impossible 3 on Blu-Ray

Kingdom of Heaven on Blu-Ray

Casablanca on Blu-Ray

The Matrix Trilogy
on Blu-Ray

Cloverfield on Blu-Ray

Touch of Evil - Collector's Edition

Freaks and Geeks - The Complete Series

Extras
- The Complete Series

Comics

Absolute Sandman volumes one thru four

Absolute Ronin by Frank Miller

Absolute Dark Knight by Frank Miller

Watching the Watchmen by Dave Gibbons

so, Santa Claus. That's what I want for Xmas, if you could please put it under my tree in my house that wood be grate.

Sinceerly,
Matthew Montgomery (age 24)

A lovely Christmas tree

Check out the nice Christmas tree that my g/f brought home that fits neatly on my desk.
And now check it out when you walk by it.


Holy crap! I plotzed! Yes, it's a singing, motion-sensor Christmas tree with a frigging giant Hellmouth hidden in its face. Very tacky, and I love it.

baRom Obama cannot be defeated!

Click to make Rom-sized

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday at the Comic Book Store

Inspired partially by Kevin's crusade against moronic comic book store owners, I thought I would share the experience of my most recent visit to my local comic shop, or LCS, as its commonly abbreviated to on the interwebs.

The place I go to most frequently is called Comic Book Factory II, on the corner of Donald and Notre Dame, in the heart of downtown. The owner, and sole employee, is Jared, a smart, funny, helpful, nice and always fair man. I've been buying my comics from him since I was like eight years old. He always has good prices, good deals, and he stocks heavily on sets, like say ten issues of Spider-Man packaged together for 5 bucks. I recently picked up
Animal Man 26 to 89 for 35 bucks and Rom 1 to 50 for 20 bucks. These are screaming deals. There's a reason why I go there, other than the deals though.

I'm not much of a comic fan outside of the blogosphere. I don't hang around comic book shops, and I rarely go to conventions and when I do, I'm disappointed. It's not that I'm embarrassed by my obsession; I'm more embarrassed by the subculture than anything.

Before this derails into a rant against comic book nerds, who for the most part, are pretty cool and I count a good number among my friends, I want to single out
that guy. You know that guy. He's the guy that gives us all a bad name because he thinks he's the absolute expert on the trivial, the minutiae of the medium. Not just the convoluted continuity, but the subtext and the meaning.

I'm browsing the sets, when
that guy comes in, and he's talking to Jared about The Dark Knight, and how it's the like the last word on superhero movies, and Watchmen will put the nail in the coffin. First of all, that guy referred to it as The Watchmen, which makes me cringe, and secondly, he tried to tell Jared, a guy who runs a comic book store, that superheros have no place in the medium of film.

He tried to tell Jared that Christopher Nolan, director and co-writer of The Dark Knight, meant to kill the superhero once and for all, and that there shouldn't be anymore superheros. I had to pipe up. Another guy, a constant regular in the store, said, "That's stupid" and I immediately said "Agreed".

Then, that guy went on. He said that the medium of film already had superheroes in the form of Indiana Jones and James Bond and Star Wars.

Oh come on! Those superheroes are all famously and self consciously based on pulp superheroes that came before, like Flash Gordon and Doc Savage.

There's no need to put a nail in the coffin of superhero movies. If anything, they just started getting good.
The Dark Knight represents a step forward for the genre, not the final word. Neither will Watchmen say everything there is to say about superheroes, whether in the medium of film, or in its original sequential form.

What's absolutely great about that guy versus Jared, is that Jared put up with it. He didn't get snarky or rude. This guy was a paying customer. So why argue with him? "The customer is always right" is a cliche, but not empty. It's a maxim.

I've heard Jared listen to crap from outsiders, guys looking to buy
Batman R.I.P. because it might be worth money, guys looking for comics about wrasslin', guys telling Jared how to better organize the store. I've also heard numerous of those guys espouse their views like they were Socrates. I say to those guys, get a blog and stop bothering Jared.

We should all go patronize Jared's store, though. He's a great guy, a great proprietor and a good businessman.

On the flipside, I popped into another store, which won't be named, because I'm about to excoriate it. Firstly, I drive by it once in awhile and it's never open. It has some ridiculous hours like 3 to 6 only four days a week and it's not open Sundays. (Or it used to. I checked its Myspace page for research, and apparently they expanded the hours recently). It's a store that tries to capitalize on being near a huge high school. I went in there yesterday, if only to check it out, 'cause they have some cool toys, and I walked up to the door and was slapped in the face by the most outrageous sign I've ever read.

"This is not a library or a day-care. Go loiter somewhere else"

Are you kidding me? Really? That's ridiculous. If you don't want kids coming in and hanging out, which they're going to do cause they're kids, then you shouldn't have opened shop near a school. Secondly, all of your comics are way too overpriced for kids to buy anyway, so how can you expect them to pay for it?

Example:
Fallen Angels issues 1 through 8 was 24.99? Really? Are you kidding me? For those of you who don't remember, Fallen Angels was a miniseries about students running away from the X-Mansion because of some misunderstood misdeed. It's not important in continuity, and it's not produced by any "hot" talent to necessitate that price. I could pick up the mini-series for eight bucks at Comic Book Factory II.

Example 2: Secret Wars II for 25 bucks? That's absolutely bonkers.

I've never been more disgusted by a comic book store. First you tell me not to loiter, which comic book buyers generally do, and lots of it, and then you want me to pay Canadian prices on new comics, which every other comic book store in the city isn't doing? Why should I give you my business when there's one closer to me, with better hours, better staff, room to loiter, and, let's face it, a better atmosphere.

Comic Book Factory II may not be the cleanest joint in the city, but it's where I call home.