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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

GeekRex Quick Take: Morgan

The Buzz: Morgan is the directorial debut of Luke Scott, son of the famed director Ridley Scott. The premise of Morgan feels like it lives in the same realm as Blade Runner, too - it stars Anya Taylor-Joy (the girl from The Witch) as Morgan, an artificially intelligent humanoid who has recently committed an act of violence against one of her researchers. Kate Mara stars as Lee Weathers, the risk consultant who must decide if Morgan is still a viable project.

What's Great About the Movie: First of all, it's worth mentioning that the casting of this film is refreshing. We've got two female leads who could've been automatically cast as male because hey, sci-fi thriller, but weren't.  Beyond the casting and performances, the first two-thirds of the movie were also really enjoyable and reminiscent of last year's surprise hit Ex Machina. As Weathers examines Morgan and the way she interacts with her team of researchers, who call Morgan a "she" rather than an "it," she also explores the degree to which Morgan can feel human emotions, and whether those feelings make her human. The slow build of tension and the acting efforts from its leads in this portion of the film are almost worth the cost of admission.

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: ... But it's that last third of the movie that's the kicker. It felt like the third act suddenly traded the Ex Machina vibe for a Terminator style action film, betting all of its previous intelligence and good will on a poorly-timed plot twist. This twist was revealed at the very end of the movie, by the way, but was clear to the audience well before the film's final act - I'd be shocked if it came as a twist to anyone in the audience. If Morgan had instead let the audience in on the not-so-secret secret a bit earlier, it would probably have had more time to revel in the details of the twist, rather than letting it feel like a cheap gimmick that the audience already saw coming.

Final Verdict: This wasn't a terrible movie, but it's likely to end up in the graveyard of films that are forgotten only a few months after release. Particularly after Ex Machina did what this film did so much better, it's hard to recommend Morgan for much beyond its interesting performances from Taylor-Joy and Mara.
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Aquaman: The Ever-Changing, Unchangeable Superhero

It's that same old chestnut we always hear. Comics fans hate change. And really, short of perhaps Superman, it's difficult for me to find another character where that is more evident than the King of Atlantis himself, Aquaman.

I've read a lot of Aquaman comics in my life, more than almost any other set of characters short of Daredevil and The Legion of Super-Heroes, and there's a fair point to be made about how often he returns to the mean (short hair, orange shirt, beardless, Mera, boring ass Vulko, dead son) in the Post-Crisis era. The sticking point: that's what his fans, who are a notoriously conservative bunch (where this character is concerned), buying comics off a notoriously conservative company, want out of their Aquaman adventures.

But that's not to say that a number of very creative people haven't tried:

Take for instance, the mid-80's relaunch by Neal Pozner...the infamous "blue camouflage era". It was critically a pretty big hit, refocusing Atlantis as a place of magic and turning Ocean Master into a sorcerer. This was basically the Man of Steel/Dark Knight/Perez Wonder Woman revamp for Arthur. It was good, it did not stick. And along come Keith Giffen and then Shawn McLaughlin to provide the "Return of the King", and Aquaman is back to normal. Hell, they even stuck a villain in that derided costume.

No surprise, but Peter David is the closest thing we got to a creator imbuing Arthur with his longest lasting changes. To the point where he was popping up in the Bruce Timm cartoons in his second and subsequent appearance in the hook hand, long hair and beard guise. 
But again, it wasn't long after the Larsen run ended that DC, in their infinite wisdom, put Arthur back in the orange and green. 

I think the 2003 series is interesting because depending on the creator involved, the take on Aquaman becomes radically different:

- The first set of issues written by Rick Veitch go very heavy on the magic-bent, with Arthur basically becoming a stand-in for King Arthur and all the Lady of the Lake imagery that implies, including the introduction of his water hand. It even had a rune-based logo. They weren't great, but had lots of cool ideas that could be picked off, and went hand in hand with the all-too-forgotten Pozner take.

- Then out of nowhere, comes Will Pfeifer and right after, John Arcudi, with the popular Sub Diego run. Suddenly, Aquaman is back in the old costume, and the only remnant of the previous issues is the water hand, which barely makes a dent narratively again after playing such an important role during Veitch's initial bow. This is the run that was adored enough for a time that it even got a shout-out in Seven Soldiers, "Aquaman walked off with best comeback! All he did was shave!". 

It's worth nothing that this is also the run that DC is currently reprinting, with Pfeifer's issues as Volume 1, with nary a mention of the Veitch bit that came before it. It's a good jumping on point, and I get why they did it that way, but I'm sure there's some new fan who is wondering just what the heck happened to Issues 1 through 14. Or maybe not.

- Lastly came the Sword of Atlantis run, which saw Kurt Busiek toss aside Arthur/Orin altogether to introduce a brand-new Aquaman who is also somehow named Arthur Joseph Curry. It was Aquaman by way of Conan, and it was pretty darn great. It didn't give DC the sales they were probably looking for - taking a look at the sales charts indicates that Issue 40, where Busiek starts off, only cleared about 36k. That doubles what it made the month previous in Arcudi's last issue, but for a high profile relaunch in DC's One Year Later umbrella, that's not enough. Final series writer Tad Williams never really stood a chance, though he made a valiant effort to tie everything together before the book was cancelled.

And then there's of course, the Geoff Johns run, which is fine, and sold better than any Aquaman comic in recent memory. But again, we end up back with Aquaman returning to his status quo. Back to fighting Black Manta and Ocean Master. The book didn't really threaten to get interesting again until Cullen Bunn hopped on board, and played up a pretty neatly structured two-pronged tale portraying him as an Atlantean outcast and the story of how he got there. In a way, it was a return to some aesthetics of Sword of Atlantis, with that same sort of Barbarian-take. Between David, Busiek, and Bunn, it's almost as if this is the default alternate-take on the character.

Bunn left the book due to what he termed as "brutal" negative fan reaction.

Now we have Dan Abnett basically doing a pale imitation of the Geoff Johns version. But this is what fans seem to want. Safe, predictable old Aquaman. Even the mixed reaction to Jason Momoa-as-Aquaman promo shots play to type, with cries of "That's Not Aquaman" filling comment sections across the blogosphere.

Again, it's not that a number of creators haven't tried to make the character work in new settings, with a new cast, just that nobody buys it when it happens. And those changes are met with either indifference, or outright hostility. There's a pretty good chance, once the movie hits - if the movie hits - this at times unwinnable battle between creator, publisher and fans will again rear its head. But perhaps the power of new fans coming in will allow the character just a little more growth, or maybe it'll just create a whole new set of problems. Time (and tide) will tell.
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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 141

 Afterlife With Archie #10
by Francesco Francavilla

Yet again Francavilla is able to make a very poppy, happy-go-lucky character quite menacing. Really starting the Halloween season early with this one!

Howard the Duck #10
by Joe Quinones

This is a pretty eye catching and fun design, and I'm especially impressed by how the title is successfully integrated into the concept.

James Bond #9
by Dom Reardon

These covers by Reardon continue to be appropriately dramatic and stylish in a way I've rarely seen captured so well.

 Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me #1
by Vic Malhotra

A great example of how striking the orange on blue contrast works, and this one has a great bit of retro styling with an excellently integrated title.

 Legend of Wonder Woman #9
by Renae De Liz

I love the depth here and the way this one tells a story through a bottom-to-top movement. Great color too!

Sons of the Devil #10
by Toni Infante

These covers continue to be some of the best designed with a consistently dramatic style. Love it!

 Star Wars: Han Solo #3
by Declan Shalvey

It is rare to have a cover with no human subjects, and difficult to pull off, but Shalvey (and the regular title designer) make this one unique and dynamic.

The Fourth Planet #2
by Mikko Maciaszek

I love the unique, painterly style of these covers–they give a more ethereal, impressionistic feel to a sci-fi concept, and the clean, simple text design stands out as well.

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: DON'T BREATHE wastes its promising premise on cheap scares and a troubling twist

This review may contain info that constitutes spoilers.

Don't Breathe sounds like a breath of fresh air. The premise: three serial burglars get in over their head by targeting a blind Iraqi War vet, posits a film that could play with its audience's expectations, portraying moral ambiguity and creating a sense of push and pull with where your own loyalties might lie.
Are these young crooks earning our scorn trying to get one over on an old blind man? Is he a shell shocked soldier turned ruthless and taking his methods too far?
That's a movie I'd greatly enjoy seeing. Unfortunately, Fede Alvarez and company squander that potential by tossing aside any and all tones of grey by indeed casting the unwilling victim as cartoonish villain. And as the film rolls on, it just gets worse and worse until a female protagonist is in what has to be the most problematic scene I've witnessed this year in cinema.
Fede Alvarez, who trampled all over the Evil Dead franchise with his listless remake, turns in a slightly more coherent effort here, and provides solid, if intermittent, jump scares (even if the moments that set them up lack logic at times). But a dreadful script just topples any good will that it threatens to build; from laughably "symbolic" moments with a ladybug, to a kidnapping victim who has her own newspaper clipping on hand to explain away who she is, I was stunned by the stupidity on display. 
And performances? Well, the work Stephen Lang puts in here would probably make Tobin Bell cringe. And apparently his blindness gives him a heightened sense of smell? Or at least he sure acts like it does, sniffing around a room like he's Matt Murdock. Everyone else is fine, though the type of caricature one comes to expect in this type of business.
There's some good visual work done, particularly a scene that frames up a chase in a pitch black basement room. And Alvarez has a good knack for spacial geography, charting around our villain's house in a way not dissimilar from how the camera would pan around the cabin in the original Evil Dead films, focusing on every nook and cranny. I also like how he sizes up Detroit as a nightmarish looking hellscape, but after Only Lovers Left Alive and It Follows, that ground has been well covered by the genre.
I know Sam Raimi has basically given up, having abandoned any pretense of worthwhile filmmaking these days in order to cash in on the success of his past endeavors, but I wish he would find a better protege than Alvarez to groom. Once again, he produces another rote scarefest, when he continues to threaten to do something interesting. Don't breathe? More like don't bother.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 131: Pokemon Go and No Man's Sky

In this "Hunter/Gatherer" themed episode, we talk about the two most recent gaming phenomenons in Pokemon Go and No Man's Sky. We talk about our playing styles, the problems both games have in the long term, and the promise that they both have for the future of gaming. Enjoy!

You can listen below, or subscribe on iTunes to never miss an episode! If you like the show, or have any comments or ideas, we'd love to hear them! Check us out on Facebook or Twitter. See you next week!

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Monday, August 22, 2016

BBC Culture unveils their list of The 21st Century's Greatest Films

Having polled 177 critics from across the world, BBC Culture has pulled together its definitive list of the best films of this young century (including the year 2000). I haven't had a chance to parse through it all, but I'm especially impressed with a top 10 that rightfully puts David Lynch's greatest masterpiece up top, and finds time for Miyazaki, War Kong Wai, P.T. Anderson and the ever underappreciated Yi Yi.

I was a little surprised by the lack of Edgar Wright and one Aronofsky film. But if nothing else, this inspires me to pull many of these off the shelf and give them a rewatch. I hope it prompts many of you to do the same.

100. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
100. Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
100. Carlos (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
99. The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
98. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002)
97. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
96. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)
95. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)
94. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
93. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)
92. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)
91. The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, 2009)
90. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
89. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
88. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
87. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
86. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
85. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
84. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
83. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
82. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2009)
81. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
80. The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003)
79. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000)
78. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)
77. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
76. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
75. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
74. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
73. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
72. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)
71. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
70. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)
69. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015)
68. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
67. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
66. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
65. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
64. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
63. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011)
62. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)
61. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
60. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
59. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
58. Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène, 2004)
57. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
56. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, director; Ágnes Hranitzky, co-director, 2000)
55. Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013)
54. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)
53. Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001)
52. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
51. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
50. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015)
49. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
48. Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
47. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014)
46. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
45. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
44. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
43. Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011)
42. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
41. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)
40. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
39. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
38. City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002)
37. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)
36. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
35. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
34. Son of Saul (László Nemes, 2015)
33. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
32. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
31. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
30. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
29. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
28. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
27. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
26. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
25. ​Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
24. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
23. Caché (Michael Haneke, 2005)
22. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
20. Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
19. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
18. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
17. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
16. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
14. The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)
13. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
12. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
11. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013)
10. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2007)
9. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011)
8. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000)
7. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
4. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
3. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
2. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 140

 Adventure Time Comics #2
by Greg Smallwood

There's something about making cartoon characters realistic that is both fun and kind of creepy. Nice color use here, too.

 Godzilla: Rage Across Time #1
by Bob Eggleton

I love the hyper-detailed painterly style here, and the way it matches the look of Godzilla to the feudal time period in which it takes place.

 Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers 2016 Annual #1
by George Caltsoudas

I love the minimalist style and the fantastic contrast of color between the dark and towering Rita and the colorful Rangers.

 She Wolf #3
by Rich Tommaso

I always admire the excellent title design of Tommaso's new series, but here I appreciate his unique character designs that combine lots of traditional monster looks.

Sombra #2
by Jilipollo

This one is achingly clever, and is unmistakably Latin American. Excellent design and execution!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!
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