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Monday, November 24, 2014

New 'Batman: Arkham Knight' Video Released

June 2nd of next year feels so very far away. But, if smooth looking gameplay like in the video below is the reason why Batman: Arkham Knight was delayed for as long as it was, I think I'll take it.

This new look at the upcoming game gives us a chance to see some gameplay elements including how the Batmobile will be used. And while the mysterious "Arkham Knight" character will be a big presence in the game, this new trailer seems to indicate that The Scarecrow has ascended to the role of the primary antagonist.

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Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 49

Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #2
by Sanford Greene

This cover is loaded with attitude, and Greene has really captured a lot of personality with the body language of the characters.
ODY-C #1
by Christian Ward

The first cover to Fraction and Ward's psychedelic epic is cool for some obviously trippy reasons, but the elegantly simple design work is what really makes it stand out for me.

 Roche Limit #3
by Vic Malhotra

I know I've harped about these covers a lot, but the design just continually oozes classic sci-fi in a way you don't see often. Killer monochromatic work in the top half, too.

 Catwoman #36
by Jae Lee

I'm almost always a fan of Lee's covers, but I especially love when the text becomes part of the setting. It gives what could be a somewhat standard cover a real jazzy and exciting feel. 

Pop #4
by Dylan Todd

There are a lot of interesting elements here, from the outside of the lines coloring to the use of the barcode as a central element to the "Cartel Cola: Give Up" logos...definitely a unique one.

 Lazarus #13
by Owen Freeman

As much as I love Michael Lark, I'm glad to see this series finally move away from the weird psuedo-90's CGI look with Freeman's tense cover.

 Deathlok #2
by Tom Whalen

While I'm not a fan of the goofy Deathlok sticking up from the logo, the minimalist design by Whalen is way too fun to pass up.

 Edward Scissorhands #2
by Kevin Wada

Wada is certainly carving out his own much deserved spot in the world of covers, and I really dig this one. The framing is excellent and the colors are fantastic!

That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!  
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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Trailer To Debut This Friday In Theaters

The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be debuting in a small number of theaters across the US on Friday and continuing on through the weekend. Luckily, according to Regal, it won't matter which film you choose, as the trailer will be playing in front of all of them.

Here's the breakdown:
CA Irvine — Edwards Irvine Spectrum 22 & IMAX
CA San Diego — Edwards Mira Mesa Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX
GA Atlanta Regal Atlantic Station Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX
IL Chicago — Regal City North Stadium 14 IMAX & RPX
NY New York — Regal Union Square Stadium 14
PA Warrington — Regal Warrington Crossing Stadium 22 & IMAX
TN Knoxville — Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18 IMAX & RPX
TX Houston — Edwards Houston Marq'E Stadium 23 IMAX & RPX
WA Seattle — Regal Thornton Place Stadium 14 & IMAX

If one of these theaters is playing them, I might suggest The Babadook, or perhaps The Imitation Game for Benedict Cumberbatch's performance. Otherwise, just go see Interstellar again, that's a can't lose proposition really.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: Beyond the Lights

The Buzz: Romance is dead... at least on the silver screen. Sure, they still pump out romantic comedies once or twice a year, and the eternal push for four-quadrant marketability means that virtually every mainstream action movie will have some sort of romantic subplot. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking romance, swooning, powerful, and emotional. Thankfully, no one told that to Love & Basketball writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who has teamed up with Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Nate Parker (Non-Stop) for Beyond the Lights, a backstage melodrama about an up-and-coming hip-hop starlet who falls in love with the cop who rescued her from her own suicide attempt.

What's Great About This Movie: Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I mean, don't get me wrong, Gina Prince-Bythewood's writing and direction are surprisingly subtle and relaxed for the bulk of the film, the story avoids the camp it so desperately courts from its description, and I'd be shocked if less than half the women in my theater walked out not at least a little bit in love with leading man Nate Parker. But, seriously, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is luminous, a powerful young actress who is an absolute joy to watch here, and if she's not a huge superstar in 5 years, Hollywood will have fucked up. Besides that, again, Beyond the Lights is just well written and gorgeously directed. If the pabulum spewed forth by Nicholas Sparks has put you off romance, Prince-Bythewood has a powerful corrective.

What's Not-So-Great About This Movie: There's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen before, just new faces on the old tropes; 'beautiful people fall beautifully in love' is a story most of us can recite verbatim. And while Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, pop star Noni, is powerfully constructed, male lead Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) is a little more square. Not as dull as, say, the romantic interest in 2014's standout romcom, Gillian Robespierre's otherwise-excellent Obvious Child, but he still suffers from Perfect Leading Man syndrome.

Final Verdict: Beyond the Lights is a must-see... for viewers who have been missing big screen romance. While I would comfortably recommend it for most audiences (and, indeed, am doing so right now), I suspect most people could wait until it hits Red Box or your local library without feeling like they missed too much. Still, for that small audience who, like me, lists things like Brief Encounter or In The Mood For Love among their all-time favorite films, this is one you probably won't want to miss in theaters.

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Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

When The Hunger Games premiered in 2012, I was disappointed but hardly surprised. While the series had thrilled me upon reading, I figured any adaptation would be largely toothless, a strung-together series of sanitized action setpieces built around a solid performance from an excellent actress - and I was pretty much correct. What I didn't expect was that the addition of Francis Lawrence as the director for its sequel would make such an impact... but it certainly did. Catching Fire wasn't just better than its original in every single quantifiable way, it was also a legitimately excellent modern sci-fi movie by pretty much any standards, and it raised the bar for what I expected from the series' conclusion, the unfortunately-split Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2. While I don't think the movie lives up to its second entry, at least not on its own, a stellar cast and some excellent, surprisingly measured drama make it a worthy successor and keep me excited to see if the films can nail the landing in a way the final book (well-plotted but shoddily written) failed to do.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 begins pretty much where last year's entry, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, left off: Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss pulled from the arena by a group of rebels seeking to use her image to inspire the outer districts to rebel against the Capitol, while her partner, Josh Hutcherson's Peeta, has been left behind with a few other tributes to the tender mercies of President Snow. Katniss is struggling with PTSD, dealing with the aftereffects of, uh, being forced to murder a bunch of teenagers on TV, and she doesn't feel even remotely interested in rebellion right now, but she finds herself unable to escape from the conflict for long, as her power as a figurehead for either side begins to outweigh her humanity in the eyes of her allies.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is a large book, far more expansive than either of the first two and lacking in the structural skeleton of the Hunger Games themselves. Many readers (wrongly, in my opinion) consider Mockingjay to be the series' low point, but I largely disagree. It's intense, visceral, at times even harrowing in a way that the more sanitized sci-fi violence of the Games never could be. However, Mockingjay - Part 1 focuses on the build-up to the explosion, on the roots of the rebellion, making it a rather meditative penultimate entry. There's a lot more examination of propaganda and iconography in war than there are explosions, and there are at least four or five scenes that feature nothing but characters watching TV, trying to figure out through the interviews given on the other side what message is being sent and how to counter it. No, it never goes into quite the depth of something like 2012's excellent Chilean film No, which explicitly followed an advertiser creating commercials for revolution, but it does illustrate why I like the Hunger Games franchise so much more than most modern sci-fi: It has ambitions to do more than simply entertain, and it isn't afraid to make you wait to get to the 'excitement'.

The bloated, action-lite entry could have easily fallen apart, but it finds something for every regular to do - Josh Hutcherson in particular finally has a character trait besides mooning over Katniss, and it turns out he can act! - and introduces a small handful of excellent actors in strong roles. We all know Jennifer Lawrence can give a nervy, emotional performance as Katniss, and her near-crippling PTSD in this film gives her a little more weight to play with than her last two performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his final role, is brilliant and characteristically subtle as a political mastermind bringing a revolution to life even as he forces it to make the million small compromises that defeat the purpose of rebellion in the first place. Julianne Moore is excellent as the harsh President Coin, leader of the drab, militaristic District 13 who is finally, slowly learning politics, while Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer is allowed to get a bit fierce as thrill-seeking director turned cunning propagandist Cressida, though I almost wish there was just an entire movie following her, now, because unlike Moore, Dormer isn't given nearly enough to do.

The Hunter Games: Mockingjay is a dour movie, but it's a thoughtfully dour movie - indeed, I'm hard pressed to come up with a more considered, intelligent blockbuster out this year. Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mockingjay asks its viewers to consider questions of governmental power and oversight, but unlike Marvel's flawed masterpiece, Mockingjay lets its ideas stand on its own. After one brief action sequence early on (quickly repurposed for propaganda purposes), the film relies far more on human drama and battling ideas than fisticuffs and explosions for its tension. Only Snowpiercer, Joon-ho Bong's similarly revolutionary fable, is a stronger mainstream(...ish) soft sci-fi movie this year, and I'll be eager to revisit that comparison once I see the final movie of Hunger Games, as the two are living in very similar thematic territory.

I'm torn on the decision to make Mockingjay into two films. On the one hand, the film finds a killer endpoint, and spending the entire movie building to that moment makes the sudden, realistic violence of the moment all the more sickening and shocking, even for those who read the book and knew the twist. It gives weight to something that, had it been resolved in under an hour, would have been largely weightless. On the other hand, it makes for a fairly meandering, relaxed film - it's not Deathly Hallows Part 1 level bad, but there are instances where you can tell it was stretched mercilessly. Still, I mostly forgive Mockingjay its split (... mostly); clocking in at under 2 hours, the film is surprisingly fleet for a modern blockbuster, and rather than filling its extra runtime with extraneous action, it uses it to flesh out characters like Liam Hemsworth's Gale and Elizabeth Banks' Effie. It's not necessarily a good decision and this definitely isn't a 'complete' film, but it works better, at least, than it did for Harry Potter or The Hobbit.

There's a reason the scores of Hunger Games imitators that popped up in the wake of its success - such as this year's relatively solid The Maze Runner and the largely execrable Divergent -  find themselves unable to match Suzanne Collins' dystopian epic at the box office (or among its fans), and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 cuts right to the heart of it. Collins' story (and Francis Lawrence's adaptation) treats its world with a seriousness that those stories never do. This is a character-driven sci-fi series deeply concerned with the human cost of revolution, with the consequence of decision. Collins doesn't pull her punches in how damaging the events of the story are on Katniss; Lawrence doesn't hesitate to make Katniss a character full of rough edges and unsympathetic when she has to be. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is, as I said above, a fairly dour movie and an unfortunately incomplete one, but that doesn't hold it back as much as I was worried it would as the series continues to grow into one of the best film franchises of the 2010s.

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Marvel Announces 'Howard The Duck' By Chip Zdarsky And Joe Quinones

Howard the Duck cameos at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy to fan-boy excitement. 

Marvel then releases a Howard the Duck Omnibus.

It was only a matter of time before a new on-going was going to debut and, like clockwork, Marvel announced one today.

Of greater note though is the creative team behind it, made up of Chip Zdarsky, the artist and co-creator of the massive Image hit Sex Criminals, and artist Joe Quinones. Chip is a massive convention hit, and his strain of subversive humor is a relatively perfect fit for Steve Gerber's greatest legacy.

The new team had this to say to Entertainment Weekly:

What can readers expect from your work on Howard the Duck? Comedy is obviously a huge part—will there be a lot of visual humor? Chip, will fans of Sex Criminals find themselves at home here? 
QUINONES: Nah. I think we’re going for something a bit more grounded here. We really wanted to explore Howard’s pain and loneliness, and how he expresses his outsider frustrations with extreme violence. Kidding! It’s definitely meant to be funny. I’m a big comedy fan, so expect a lot of visual gags throughout. Chip and I have already been brainstorming some on the subject. 
ZDARSKY: Expect a humorous tale of time and sexuality! I’ve basically just copied Matt’s first three Sex Criminals scripts and replaced characters with Howard and some C-level superheroes. I think it’s going to be fun! We’ll get to explore the Marvel Universe with a very short tour guide and a very good artist and me, a man who dresses as Garfield on the weekends.
Ha ha, I’m writing Howard the Duck!

If the Lemire Hawkeye title doesn't quite take off with those fans looking for their "HawkGuy" style yuks, perhaps this is the replacement title Marvel has long looked to create. It's coming this Spring.
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Review: The Better Angels

 In the last few years, there have been several films about our 16th president, from Spielberg's epic drama Lincoln to the horror parody Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but none quite like The Better Angels. This story of Lincoln's childhood in the farmland of Illinois is the directorial debut of A.J. Edwards, who has worked as an editor and cameraman on a few of Terrence Malick's recent films, and the mark of his frequent collaborator is very clear here–for better or worse, depending on your opinion of Malick's work.

The Better Angels begins by looking at the Lincoln memorial, but only on the edges, which interestingly lends a sense of myth and legend without being too on the nose. The film is narrated by several different family members of honest Abe, but primarily by his cousin, who comes to live with him and his family near the beginning of the film. For the entire film, we watch Abraham grow up through the eyes of others, and see both the idyllic country life as well as the harsh realities of living in the early 19th century. Of particular focus is his father (Jason Clarke), his mother (Diane Kruger), and his stepmother (Brit Marling).

Being firmly in the Malick camp, similar to the excellent Days of Heaven or the divisive To the Wonder, The Better Angels has pretty gorgeous cinematography. There isn't a moment that doesn't feel authentic to the time period, but it also has an extremely surreal feel. The cinematographer, Matthew J. Lloyd (interestingly also DP on the upcoming Daredevil pilot), finds pastoral beauty in the simple setting, which is often accentuated by the fact that it is shot in black and white.

To continue with a little bit more of the technical side, the film is edited extremely well. I imagine it is difficult to edit a film like this, with such a meandering 'story' (more on that later), but it is done pretty masterfully here. The passage of time in particular is really well done; for example, we see the snow, then a small creek that gradually through edits becomes a raging river to show the transition from Winter to Summer. The sound is quite good as well, only including the essential sounds which adds to the dreamlike feel of the film, and there are a number of excellent and subtle sound bridges–in the sequence mentioned above, that raging river gradually fades into the sound of wagon wheels which signal the return of Abraham's father.

Unfortunately, while The Better Angels is gorgeous and well-crafted, its story is dull and feels somewhat pointless.  I hesitate to say story rather than lack of a story–most of the scenes tend to float through semi-meaningless sequences of children playing, Abraham and his father farming, and his stepmother trying to get him to come out of his shell. The dialogue is sparse, and it is only near the end of the movie that we get to what is ostensibly the point, when his stepmother and teacher try to convince his father that Abe is meant for bigger things than the farm. Oddly enough, Abraham himself is rarely the focus, and you never get a sense outside of what the narration tells you that he is the brilliant and brave person that historically he becomes.

There's almost something to grasp onto with Abraham's father: he is often disappointed in young Abraham as he catches him stealing and getting into trouble, and doesn't want to see the side of him that the boy's mother and stepmother see. It would potentially be interesting to see how this legendary American figure's family had an impact on him, but the problem here is that his father's change of heart that allows him to leave the farm and go to school is completely unmotivated. It seems like this final resolution pops up out of nowhere, like they ran out of pretty things to shoot.

Although it's visually and technically a sumptuous feast, the story is extremely lacking. Many critics find similar fault on Malick's recent endeavors, but at least with those there is a pretty ambitious plot–I still remember the excitement I felt just reading the description of Tree of Life when it was first announced: "[...] the eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence." Lincoln is undoubtedly a fascinating historical figure, but not necessarily through the impressionistic lens of A.J. Edwards.

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