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Friday, January 30, 2015

Game of Thrones Trailer: Bowie and Blood and Beards, oh my

Game of Thrones fans -  your official season five trailer is here! Can we talk about that choice of music? The use of a "Heroes" cover here is basically perfect.

HBO published the official version of the trailer, previously only seen in the nation-wide IMAX showing, after a bootleg version made its way around the internet. The show's fifth season premieres on April 12, on the heels of the current IMAX event, which put the show in the history books as the first TV series to be broadcast in IMAX format.

As a fan of the book series, I have concerns about the show's fifth season based on the source material - the fourth book was the most difficult for me to digest - but between the depictions of Littlefinger, Tryion, Daenerys, and Cersei, there's enough here to draw my attention.
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Comics Spotlight Review: The Sculptor

Although Scott McCloud has worked on fiction comics before, it's been a while. He wrote and drew his fantastically unique superhero series Zot! in the mid-eighties, and since then the only major return was writing an arc or two of Adventures of Superman in 1996. What he's most famous for is his work on comics themselves, in the form of the seminal Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and finally Making Comics. These are highly regarded works amongst the comics community; reading the first often marks the beginning of a true devotee to sequential storytelling, acting as a kind of benchmark in fandom. McCloud set a pretty high bar for himself with this series when he set out to return to comics fiction with his massive new graphic novel, The Sculptor, and luckily for him, it mostly holds up to the sort of scrutiny that he brought to the comics world with his analytic books.

The Sculptor revolves around the life of David Smith, a young artist who we find at his lowest: the acclaim surrounding his earlier work has faded away, he has no family left, and he's spending his last few bucks on a cheap diner meal for his twenty sixth birthday. The inciting action of the book is a Faustian deal with death: David agrees that for the power to create great art, he will only live for 200 more days. Although his new found powers–the ability to sculpt any material with just his bare hands–grants him artistic ability, he still struggles to deal with the fickle art world and most importantly, the fact that he may have met the love of his life with just a few months to live.

The writing is quite strong. David, while not the most likeable guy in every circumstance, is relatable and familiar, especially if you've ever known a fine artist. He's frustrating but inspiring, and his struggles, both existential and tangible, hit a lot of the right emotional beats. It's a massive graphic novel at just under 500 pages, but for the majority of the book it is a page turner; I found myself not knowing where things were going, in a very exciting way. McCloud throws in many different conflicts, from a breakdown in communication with a loved one to the inability to make art that is both crowd-pleasing and truly great. Perhaps most noteworthy is his portrayal of depression, which comes across as refreshingly true-to-life, not using it as a plot device but rather making it a crucial part of character development.

The art, too, is perhaps McCloud's best. There's an excellent sense of pacing that subtly draws you into the perspective of David, with things moving along quickly with smaller gutter space when he's excited or scared. The book is two-toned, being in black and white with blue shading, and it looks fantastic. McCloud's cartooning is pretty phenomenal, capturing the moods of each of the characters often with only a look, and particularly important to the book is his rendering of the actual sculptures, which are visually interesting and feel true to both real life abstract sculpture and David's character. The Sculptor subtly plays with storytelling techniques that are exciting and fresh, crafted with the ambition of a young artist but the forethought of a cartooning master.

My biggest issue with the book comes with the last act, as David's life is winding down. Things take a narrative twist at this point, and while I wasn't wholly against the twist, it loses a lot of the down to earth-ness that it had up until that point. There are moments when it truly shines–a life flashing before your eyes sequence with literally hundreds of panels over ten pages stands out–but the book loses a lot of momentum and latches onto some unfortunate narrative cliches. The ending is not a mess, but it feels rushed and a bit of a misstep compared to the rest of the book, which is plotted with a lot of care and subtlety and has a unique unpredictability.

That said, the book tackles some fascinating themes. The Sculptor captures what it is to be a frustrated artist better than most stories, and does it in a way that is visually gorgeous, especially if you're a fan of black and white cartooning. Throughout the bulk of the book, it brings in characters, ideas, and narrative devices that are distinctive and oftentimes quite beautiful. The way in which death is portrayed and explained, for example, and how he shows David the afterlife as a terrifyingly blank page are worth a lot of rumination, and while they reference earlier works (The Seventh Seal in particular), McCloud brings his own visual language to the whole concept.

Although the last bit left me a bit less than 100% engaged, the majority of the book had me cancelling plans to continue reading. Overall, it's a major graphic accomplishment, one that is both a compelling page-turner and a relevant meditation on life, art, and love, presented by one of the most important cartoonists of our time. It's certain to be the start of many best of 2015 lists, and despite my issues with it, I can't say I wouldn't consider it among the better graphic novels in the last several years. The Sculptor's careful storytelling and alluring art far outweigh the narrative problems that slowly creep in towards the last part, and in the end, it's a book I would strongly recommend with just a few qualifiers.

The Sculptor releases on February 3rd. If you act fast, you can still order signed copies through Barnes and Noble. See ScottMcCloud.com for details on the book tour. Keep an eye out as well for our interview with Scott McCloud about The Sculptor, which should be posted in the next week!
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Review: 2015 Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

Let's talk Oscars. While many of us will go out of our way to see the Best Picture and Best Director nominees, the short films often escape our attention, in part because... well, not many theaters show shorts anymore. Still, there's often a considerable amount of enjoyment to be found in a particularly excellent short film, and since Harper talked yesterday about the charms of the animated short films, I wanted to run down the Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films for 2015.


Directed by Oded Binnun & Mihal Brezis

Aya is a French-Israeli short that follows Mr. Overby (Ulrich Thomsen), a judge at a piano competition in Jerusalem who mistakes a young Israeli woman named Aya (Sarah Adler) as his driver. Curious about the man and wanting to get to know him better, Aya goes along with his mistake and decides to drive him to his hotel. The two bond during the drive as awkward conversation slowly turns warmer and more confessional, but what will happen once they reach his hotel?

The film, with its increasingly intimate back-and-forth between a pair of strangers bonding after an unlikely run-in, reminds me a bit of Abbas Kiarostami's remarkable Certified Copy, but writers/directors Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis lack Kiarostami's poeticism - and Adler, while good, lacks the magnetism of Juliet Binoche. Aya is, ultimately, a largely incident-free film. Its two leads have reasonable chemistry, but their conversation only sporadically rises to be genuinely gripping. It's interesting, but flat.

Boogaloo and Graham

Directed by Michael Lennox

Michael Lennox opens up Boogaloo and Graham with a pretty purposeful fake-out. In Belfast during the Troubles, the heavily-armed military roam the streets. They slowly pass a darkened alley, a man crouched over a cardboard box, hiding its contents from view. "You ready boys?" he asks someone off screen. Silent assent. Pan down to reveal... a pair of baby chicks, gifts to his two young sons.Thus the focus of the film shifts; they may be living with the military hanging over their heads, but to these two young boys, the only things that matters are their family and the two pet chickens, Boogaloo and Graham, who will grow up with them.

Boogaloo and Graham often seems slight, but Lennox manages to slip in a few weighty moments examining life under occupation. Lennox never lets the darkness overwhelm the lively, lived-in family comedy, though. Boogaloo and Graham isn't the type of fare you typically imagine when you think 'Oscar-winning', but it is undeniably charming. It's a sweet-natured slice-of-life story of 1970s Ireland, well worth seeking out, and Lennox gives the film a relentless energy and warm, family-oriented comedy that will stick with you.

Butter Lamp

Directed by Wei Hu

A young man has a business photographing Tibetan villagers. To simulate travels they haven't gone on and likely never will, he has a whole range of paintings he can pose them in front of, giving them the illusion, however briefly, of having visited exotic locales. Butter Lamp has charm, but I have to confess: This one wasn't really for me on any level. Though I appreciated the film's subtle, lightly absurd humor, I never really got the feeling that there was any meat to this one at all. Those looking for something a bit off the beaten path will likely be won over, but Butter Lamp only sporadically came alive for me.


Directed by Talkhon Hamzavi

Talkhon Hamzavi has a winning, heartfelt short film in Parvaneh. The movie follows a young Afghani girl named Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) who fled her home country into Switzerland, where she scrapes by earning money to send home to her family. On her first trip into Zurich to try to wire money home, she finds that she needs the help of a native, where she meets rich, rebellious punk girl Emely (Cheryl Graf), who agrees to help for a cut of the cash. The pair end up bonding, attending a party, fighting off a robbery, and chatting long into the night, two very different outsiders bonding over a surprise relationship.

Parvaneh is probably the most conventional of the short films presented here, a simple, narrative character study. Nissa Kashani is endlessly winning as the lead, playing off the pricklier Graf well, and Hamzavi understands the importance of understated tenderness. This is a crowd-pleaser, plain and simple, and Hamzavi's film undeniably worked its magic on me.

The Phone Call

Directed by Mat Kirkby

Heather (Sally Hawkins) works at some sort of Crisis Center/Suicide Hotline, and shortly after sitting down at her desk, she gets a call from a man named Stan. Stan is nervous, frightened, jittery - and quite possibly slowly dying of an overdose of pills. In his own words, he just wants someone to talk to as he goes. Can Heather talk him down in time? And what will this call ultimately mean in her own life?

The Phone Call is intense and nakedly emotional, headlined by a pair of genuine stars in Broadbent (Cloud Atlas) and Hawkins (Blue Jasmine). Far and away the most approachable of the films on the list, this will almost certainly end up being the popular favorite. I totally get why, too, as Kirkby has crafted a simple, powerful short that should speak to anyone who has encountered loss and loneliness, but that never wallows in its misery. It's also an effective reminder of the immense talents of Sally Hawkins, should anyone out there need reminding.

While I don't think this is a terribly strong set of short films, there is something in here for pretty much everyone. For me the experimental Butter Lamp remains the odd man out and Aya felt flatter than it should have, but The Phone Call, Parvaneh, and Boogaloo and Graham are all immensely winning entries, accessible and engaging to audiences everywhere.

The Oscar Nominated Live Action Short Films will be playing in a variety of independent theaters across the country in the coming days, and opens today (January 30th) at Atlanta's Midtown Art Cinema.
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Thursday, January 29, 2015

'AKA Jessica Jones' Casts Its Version Of Hellcat


Marvel's second Netflix series, AKA Jessica Jones, has added a new cast member to join Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Mike Colter (Luke Cage), and David Tennant (Kilgrave).

Per VarietyRachael Taylor (666 Park AvenueCharlie's Angels) has signed on for the role of Trish Walker, Jessica's best friend.

Here's how they describe the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Walker:
Trish Walker, the best friend of Jessica, is a syndicated radio talk show host, former model and child television star who’s best known to her fans as ‘Patsy’ Walker, based on the Marvel Comics character who appeared under the superhero identity of Hellcat. In the series, Trish will help Jessica embark on the most dangerous case of her career.
Hellcat has recently had a nice bit of profile elevation lately in the pages of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido's soon to be concluding critical favorite, She-Hulk; of which, my heart remains broken.

AKA Jessica Jones, developed by Melissa Rosenberg (Step UpTwilight), is quickly following Daredevil's footsteps in some great casting moves. The debut of these series can't come soon enough. I may actually have two shows that I binge on in one year, a personal record!

Expect to see this newest Marvel offering sometime in 2015 following Daredevil's April debut.
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Review: Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts

As a short filmmaker myself, I always love to see short films. It's unfortunately a rare opportunity, typically only during film festivals, but once a year the Academy Awards nominate the best animated and live action shorts, and these are brought to select theaters as a single billing. These are often more varied in style, tone, and country of origin than all the other nominations, which makes for an interesting set of films to watch.

But let's get to what you're all wondering–which one should you bet on at your Oscar Party? Here you'll get reviews on each short as well as an overall review on the series, as you can see at a local art cinema if you're lucky!

A Single Life
Directed by Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen

This is the shortest of the shorts, but is very fun. It's a CGI story of a woman who finds that by turning a record she can go backwards or forwards in time in her life. It has a pretty standard animation style, but where it lacks in uniqueness it makes up in great visual gags through silent storytelling. Since it's only a few minutes, its hard to describe fully without spoiling the clever jokes, but suffice to say its one of the funnier shorts in the bunch.

The Bigger Picture
Directed by Daisy Jacobs
This has the most unique visual style, combining flat painting with 3d elements in a really interesting way. It's also the most dramatic, telling the story of two very different brothers dealing with their mother's descent into illness. It utilizes some really cool surreal transitions as it visually recreates the feelings within the characters' heads. It's thematically one of the meatier shorts, but because its style is so distinctive it almost takes a repeated watch to get past the sheer glee of watching such unfettered creativity.

The Dam Keeper
Directed by Robert Kondo, Daisuke 'Dice' Tsutsumi

While this is the longest, its touching story makes it go by almost too quickly. In a village of animals, a young pig is charged with winding up the windmill that keeps the endless soot clouds away, but he is an outcast at school until a new girl shows up in his class. It's largely silent, relying nicely on classic storytelling techniques and a sweeping orchestral score to hit its surprisingly emotional beats. The painted style is very interesting, and although it could probably do without the opening and closing narration, it's a wonderful and original tale of childhood friendship and responsibility.

Directed by Patrick Osborne

As the opening short for Disney's Big Hero 6, there is a high bar set, placing it among many past Oscar winners. The story of a man's life as told in the background through his puppy's meals is an odd idea, but it works beautifully, and is animated in a gorgeous cel shaded 3d style. As with all of Disney's shorts, it's exceptionally well crafted, with wonderful matched cuts and clever editing, and it's cute and heartwarming to boot. It's a hard-to-hate short film!

Me and My Moulton
Directed by Torill Kove

Having won in the same category in 2007 for The Danish Poet, Kove returns with a personal story that is presumably from her own childhood in Norway in the 1960s. It's done in a beautifully simple style reminiscent in it's defined line and bold colors of something like Tin Tin. Taking place over one season, it very accurately captures what its like to be a kid and how you can have a strange relationship with your parents: sometimes it seems like they're just doing things for themselves–or just to be embarrassing. It's funny and feels eminently familiar in a way that is comforting and very entertaining. This is probably my favorite; I would watch a feature film of this in a heartbeat!

Overall, it's a great bunch of shorts. As I mentioned earlier, this is sometimes–particularly in a year of deplorable feature nominations–where real unique talent gets a chance to shine. The variety here is off the charts; none of these have anything in common, from the style to the subject matter. I would highly recommend checking these out in a theater if you get a chance. With any luck, we'll see a few of these filmmakers move on to creating the next great animated feature film!

The Oscar Nominated Shorts blocks open in Landmark Theaters on January 30th.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is the Winter Soldier the heart of Agent Carter’s mystery?

"The Blitzkrieg Button," Agent Carter's fourth episode and mid-way point, may have actually been the beginning of the series' true arc and end game.

After a fairly eventful season premiere, the show has been stuck in a combination of logistical battles and character development. Between episodes two and three, Carter and Jarvis go on a series of fetch-quests and authority ducking missions to track down the "bad babies," dangerous weapons and inventions that Howard Stark says were stolen from him, and learn vague information about a Russian big-bad known as Leviathan. By the start of episode four, Stark is still suspected of treason against the United States for selling dangerous weapons on the black market; the only difference is that these inventions have been recovered.

This brings us to "The Blitzkrieg Button," and kicks off what feels like the first glimpse at the show's most important thread.

Now that Stark's weapons are back, so is he. Popping in on Carter unexpectedly, he explains that he needs her to retrieve a device from SSR that he refers to as the Blitzkrieg Button, which he says will wipe out an entire city's power. Though she is frequently underestimated, Carter's no idiot - she can tell Stark is hiding something and wouldn't have returned for a light switch. After pumping Jarvis for information (more on this in a minute...) she learns there is more to the device than Stark explained, and activates it herself, finding a vial of Captain America's blood inside.

Though Agent Carter has shown us all along that our hero will not find respect in her line of work or era, it's never been clearer than it is here. Agent Thompson tells it to her straight: Carter will never be considered an equal in their office. But outside of the office, she's trusted Stark up to this point to give her more purpose, only to find out that she's been used. Carter lashes out at him for lying, leading to the show's best scene to date. Stark brushes off the lying as a bad habit and claims he's using the blood to research its medicinal value, like vaccines and cures. Carter's response buries him: "I think you are a man out for his own gain no matter who you are charging. You are constantly finding holes to slither your way into in the hope of finding loose change, only to cry when you are bitten by another snake."

And although Stark is unlikely to end up completely in the villain corner, it seems like he's complicit in a much larger issue. Chief Dooley follows a trail of clues to Nuremburg to speak to a Nazi named Mueller who has information on the Russians working for Leviathan. Dooley learns that the "Battle at Finow," where the Russian Leviathan agents supposedly died, never took place - the Nazis only found piles of ripped and mauled bodies, already massacred in some other way. The SSR also learns Stark flew into Finow the day after this alleged battle.

OK, so if you're keeping score - everything important in this episode revolves around one vial of blood. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it was implied that HYDRA was responsible for turning Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier, it's never been explicit. We're still in theory-only territory here, but I'm hedging my bets on all of these events leading up to either the revelation of the Winter Soldier's creation or the beginning of it via Leviathan. It would be a nice tie-in to present-day events, and with the involvement of Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it would also make sense. We'll see how that theory pans out over the remaining four episodes.

Some other items to chew on:

- Dottie, Carter's friendly next-door-neighbor, is apparently an agent of some kind. Not a completely shocking turn, but an interesting one. That reminds me of someone else who had a next-door-neighbor who he thought was just a regular gal, but then it turned out she was an agent...
- Carter tries to get information on the Blitzkrieg Button from Jarvis, and notices that he tugs at his ear every time he states a fact that is untrue. Carter chalks this up to a poker tell, but my initial take on this was that Jarvis was intentionally hinting to her.  The tugging was just so... obvious? Then again, Jarvis isn't super smooth.
- Agent Thompson is starting to get a little more personality. Some of Carter's co-workers feel like caricatures, but I think his character might be one of the most realistic. He behaves like a man of the times but also seems to understand and have a bit of empathy for his co-workers, helping them in small and private moments.
- Agent Sousa, on the other hand, is just a little too good to be true. Too good, as in, I feel like he's probably a double agent kind of too good?
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Comic Spotlight Review: The Dying & the Dead #1

Jonathan Hickman and Image Comics have had a very nice, steady partnership for the last several years with Hickman penning such titles as East of West and The Manhattan Projects. His newest project at Image, The Dying & the Dead pairs him with another longtime collaborator, Ryan Bodenheim, who partnered with him on Secret and, back in 2008, A Red Mass for Mars. While Hickman has garnered much acclaim for his heavily designed and dense writing, he's received just as much criticism for his coldness and plot-centric storytelling that tends to avoid real character building. Does The Dying & The Dead fall into some of these traps?
The series opens with a big, violent spy piece in 1969 involving a wedding, a massacre, a burglary, betrayal, and, believe it or not, clones. It's surprisingly intense despite not knowing the characters yet, and sets the tone for the series with its creepy and bloody underbelly just beneath the celebratory atmosphere, and it's got a real international thriller feel to it.

For now, the rest of the book is largely unrelated, except that whatever was stolen has some deep and fantastical significance. This is a big book–64 pages in fact–and roughly 2/3 focuses on our main character and how he becomes involved. Colonel Edward James Canning is our protagonist, a decorated veteran of the U.S. army whose wife is in a coma with no signs of waking. He is offered a chance by a ghostly being to save her, which leads him to an underground city full of ancient beings who claim to have influenced all of human history. 
What's particularly unique here is that the Colonel has been here before; in fact, he seems to know more about the history of this secret place than his guide and eventual partner Shurra. There's a deep and compelling mystery about how this elderly man and this glorious fantasy race are connected, which is one of the things that has me interested enough to continue to the next issue.

The other thing is that it seems that Hickman has hit a nice balance here, for a change. Although it is very philosophical and a bit dense, this is all couched in casual conversation, not hidden in puzzling language. It helps that the ideas being presented are pretty fascinating, in particular the way that it examines what it means to be a hero. Bravery, the ancient Bishop of the underground race claims, "is folly. [...] The regression of the evolved back to animal. From intellect to instinct." And yet, with all their unfathomable intellect, a brave man is exactly what they need in this circumstance.
Bodenheim does an admirable job with the gargantuan script, running the gambit from violent heist to magical kingdom to talking heads, managing to make them all pretty engaging. The Colonel does not speak much, so we learn much of his character through his body language and facial expressions, which with a lesser artist might fall apart. Additionally, his designs of the ancient race are well done, giving them a lot of character and depth despite their complete lack of color.

It's a great first issue, another potentially big hit for Image. The Dying & The Dead #1 manages to capture a lot of what is great about Hickman's philosophical plotting while giving us enough character and a thoroughly intriguing if not still a bit vague concept to avoid his usual pitfalls. Your mileage may vary on Hickman, but at $3.50 for 64 pages that are full of interesting ideas and great art, it's definitely worth at least checking out the first issue.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

These Ladies Will Bust Your Ghosts

ghostbusters Say hello to the new Ghostbusters
It’s been widely-reported that Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot would include an all-female lineup. Though there is no official confirmation that this is a done deal, Feig tweeted a picture today – albeit with no commentary – of actresses and comediennes Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. Though only McCarthy is officially signed on to the movie, it seems unlikely Feig would tweet the actresses’ photos if negotiations weren’t basically finalized.

McCarthy and Wiig have previously worked together on Bridesmaids, and Jones and McKinnon are currently cast members on SNL.

I’m personally a fan of the casting news – three out of the four leading ladies are between the ages of 41-47, with McKinnon being the ‘baby’ of the group at age 31. It’s nice to see Hollywood recognizing that talent doesn’t magically expire at the age of 29.
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Report: Disney Has Its Heart Set On Chris Pratt For Indiana Jones

Between Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego MovieChris Pratt was probably THE action/adventure star of 2014. With Jurassic World coming up in June and The Magnificent Seven about to begin shooting, that momentum doesn't look like it's slowing down anytime soon.

If Disney has their way, we may very well see Pratt attached to another big franchise: The Indiana Jones series.

Ever since acquiring the rights to the swashbuckling archaeologist from Paramount in 2013 (who had held onto film rights even after the Lucasfilm purchase by the House of Mouse), the studio has been looking to reboot after the moribund reaction to Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There were rumors floating around that Bradley Cooper would get the nod that were eventually dismissed, but now Deadline is hearing that Pratt is their go-to guy.

Its still a rumor at this point, but something to keep an eye on in a world where we're about to get a Mad Max revival (and I call that a great thing, by the way).
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GeekRecs: Comics Releasing 1/28/15

We know walking into your local comic shop or browsing the new titles on Comixology can be harrowing, particularly with the rising prices of comics. The GeekRex team feels your pain, so that's why each week two members of our team will collaborate and highlight the "must-buys" of every Wednesday, and we'll make sure we keep the tab under 20 bucks. Props to MultiversityComics for coming up with the great idea–we hope you like our spin on it!

This Week's Team: Cal and Harper

Batman #38 - $3.99

This run doesn't need anymore praise laid at its feet, but I gotta say, this is still the best thing DC is publishing. While some aren't thrilled that we've gotten back to the Joker so soon after Death of the Family, this arc has been nothing short of thrilling in both story and art. If you are into superhero books and aren't picking this up...well you may just not actually exist.

Bitch Planet #2 - $3.50

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro launched Bitch Planet #1 to almost-immediate critical acclaim - including from me! But first issues are easy. First issues, you have all the time in the world to prepare for, and you have a very specific set of things you have to get done. Second issues are hard. Kelly Sue has been on a roll these past couple years, and I'm eager to see if she can continue to balance the title's thoughtful underpinnings with thrilling exploitation-themed pulp.

Catwoman #38 - $2.99

If I was handing out 'Most Improved' awards, Genevieve Valentine's Catwoman would be at the tippy-top of the list. Coming off of three years of lackluster Catwoman stories, Valentine's book has moved away from cape-and-mask action and towards crime comics, a change that has done the book nothing but good. Selina Kyle, now a major mob boss in Gotham City, wants to save her city, but she also has to rule over crime in Gotham with an iron fist. In #38, she'll confront Batman for the first time since her mob ascension; I can't wait to see what Valentine, typically a patient storyteller, has in store.

Mind MGMT #30 - $3.99

Matt Kindt's tricky mind-control/spy conspiracy story has grown to mythic proportions as it goes into its last year. Each issue packs an insane amount of story, literally to the covers and the margins, and is always revealing upon rereads. This issue is particularly interesting as it delves into the history of the central villain of the series, The Eraser, a figure as compelling as she is dangerous.
Thor #4 - $3.99

Aaron's run continued perfectly from the now-legendary Thor: God of Thunder series, and his new (still officially unidentified) female Thor is arguably a better take on the character. This series has been a wonderful mix of character building as she pushes the limits of her abilities while never losing the epic battles that Aaron's Thor has grown infamous for. This issue promises to bring that to a head as we get the original Thor (now just 'Odinson') duking it out with our new Thor, and Dauterman's phenomenal art is worth the price of admission at the very least!

Total Price: $18.46

Pick of the Week

Superman was done wrong by DC/WB these last few years. As the character got 'edgier' both in film and in comics, what was special about the character - what separated him from all the 80s and 90s rip-offs - was lost, and outside of a controversial New 52 run by Grant Morrison, no one at the company could figure out what to do with him. Thankfully, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder nail it in the very first issue of Action Comics: What Lies Beneath, a collection that gets at and reinforces the heart of the character perfectly. More than that, though, it's just plain fun. Pak and Kuder have a blast updating Lana Lang to a driven, globe-trotting engineer, and some of the visuals they come up with here are wonderful old-school sci-fi pulp the likes of which the series has been begging for. If you read one Superman comic this year, this should probably be the one. [Cal]

Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpuf
Looking for something interesting to pick up that isn't quite brand new? Love finding a surprising treat on the trade paperback shelf at your local comic book shop? Here's our recommendation for this week's graphic novel selection: - See more at: http://www.geekrex.com/2014/07/the-geekrex-comic-buyers-guide-72314.html#sthash.3Asbd9oL.dpu
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Review: Appropriate Behavior

Appropriate Behavior is going to see plenty of comparisons to the works of Lena Dunham. It's understandable. Both Appropriate Behavior and Dunham's Girls and Tiny Furniture chronicle twenty-something women struggling to grow up and find themselves in a particularly hip circle of New York youth. But Desiree Akhavan's debut feature film - which she wrote, directed, and starred in - is descended just as much if not moreso from Woody Allen's Annie Hall, something Akhavan acknowledges explicitly more than once in the film, a postmortem on a romance gone awry by a woman who just can't quite bring herself to believe it couldn't work. 

Shirin (Akhavan) is a twenty-something bisexual girl descended from traditional Iranian immigrants. Her parents are successful, her brother is successful, but despite her Master's degree in journalism, Shirin is still a bit lost, even more so after a rough breakup with live-in girlfriend Maxine (Rebecca Henderson) that causes them to split. She gets a new job - a 'film teacher' to five-year-olds whose parents use her as affordable daycare - and gets back out on the social scene, but can't seem to let go of her ex, no matter how many awkward run-ins the two have or strange sexual encounters she finds herself in.

Akhavan is fantastic as Shirin, a relaxed, droll presence on the screen that finds a considerable amount of charm in her underachieving lead character. And she has great chemisty with Rebecca Henderson's Maxine. Maxine is dour and a bit humorless, a driven woman who is clearly a poor match for Shirin from the second they meet, but Henderson finds plenty of heart in what could have been a stock 'shitty ex' role. Even better, though, are Shirin's interactions with virtually every bit player in the story. Akhavan has a keen observational eye for human comedy and a sharp sense of characterization that comes through in the supporting cast. Her hip bestie Crystal (Halley Feiffer) gets the bulk of the film's outright comedy, though she underplays the role admirably so as never to feel too much like the comedic sidekick, but I think a huge part of the emotional side of the film works because of her relationships with her parents (Ann Duong, Hooman Majd) and brother (Arian Moayed), who don't yet know about her sexuality and can't figure out why she isn't married yet.

Akhavan's writing is sharp, but her direction is particularly impressive, particularly regarding sexuality. Sex scenes in movies often feel bland and samey, but the sex scenes in Appropriate Behavior always tell us where these characters are emotionally, often without any dialogue at all. A post-breakup fling Shirin has with a hot guy she meets on OK Cupid cuts smartly, just before it starts, to one of her warmer sexual encounters with Maxine, a clever, wordless way to show us where Shirin's heart and mind really are right then, while a late-film threesome manages to shift tone almost wordlessly at least three times. There's an intimacy to Appropriate Behavior that sets it apart from the works of Lena Dunham and Woody Allen, a willingness to explore sensuality in a positive way, and a huge part of why that works comes through in her fantastic control of the film's tone and the characters' relationships.

Appropriate Behavior is essential viewing for anyone looking for a sharply observed modern drama, an in-depth character study about an outsider trying to find her own place in the world in the aftermath of a breakup. Not just because it's an excellent movie (though it is) and not just because of its strong casting and quiet observational humor, but because of Akhavan herself. As a writer, as a director, as a star - Desiree Akhavan is someone you should be keeping an eye on, because this is a seriously killer debut.

Appropriate Behavior premiered at Sundance 2014, and received a limited theatrical and VOD release on January 16th, 2015. Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan, Appropriate Behavior stars Desiree Akhavan, Rebecca Henderson, and Halley Feiffer.
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The First Teaser For The Fantastic Four Drops

ff trailer

It's finally here. We now have our first look at the ultra-secretive Fantastic Four reboot, and as promised, there's a good deal of Cronenberg and a sense of scientific discovery in the scenes presented.

We don't really get a great look at the team members utilizing their powers beyond a few brief glimpses, but perhaps that's for the next trailer.

Does this assuage your fears regarding the movie? Is the tone too dour?

The Fantastic Four, which stars Michael B. JordanMiles TellerKate MaraJamie Bell and Toby Kebbell, will be released on August 7th.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg Discuss The Influences And Secrecy Of 'The Fantastic Four'

Photo: Collider
Photo: Collider

More so than any other comics-based film, the Josh Trank-helmed reboot of The Fantastic Four, has been a divisive prospect for fans. The veil of mystery and the lack of anything official emerging from production - not even a set photo - coupled with many out-of-context descriptions (ex: Doctor Doom is an angry blogger!) have led to much justified worry.

Tonight, Steve Weintraub over at Collider is finally pulling back the curtain a bit, as the site has released an interview with Trank and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), where they discussed the secrecy surrounding the production, the recent re-shoots, and some of the visual influences that are imbued into the newest adventure of Marvel's first family.
On whether the lack of any concrete information is a sign the movie has "issues":
Trank: I think a lot of that stuff is stemming from the fact that we’ve consciously decided to not release anything official.  This isn’t like The Avengers.  Even when the first Avengers came out, there were four other movies that people were familiar with.  The suits and the tone and the look and the feel.  So they could release those things or drop them on Twitter.  With Simon on the X-Men movies, there were other movies that came before the last X-Men movie so Bryan [Singer] could feel more confident in tweeting teases of what’s to come.  But this movie, we really want the audience to have the proper reaction to this material seeing it for the first time.  You’ve really got to put your best foot forward.  You can’t just leak an image to strike up a conversation.  You want people to see something that has thought behind it.  And the teaser should do just that.  With conversations online, you can’t really control it.  In this day and age people have come to expect that artists are going to give everybody information on Twitter about what they’re doing, but not every artist is like that.  I’m not really like that.  If I was painting a picture I wouldn’t want to take a picture of a single paint stroke.  I’d rather show people what it looks like when it’s done.
On setting The Fantastic Four apart from other superhero franchises:
Trank: I would say that the science fiction of it is a big thing that sets it apart from most of the other superhero genre films.  I’m a huge David Cronenberg fan, and I always viewed Fantastic Four and the kind of weirdness that happens to these characters and how they’re transformed to really fall in line more with a Cronenberg-ian science fiction tale of something horrible happening to your body and [it] transforming out of control.  And the potential for a hard sci-fi take on that material makes me really excited.  I don’t really see that kind of potential and that kind of take being implemented on any of the other superhero movies that seem to be coming out in the next few years.  Superhero movies have become a genre unto themselves and I didn’t really grow up on superhero movies.  I grew up on genre movies before superhero was a genre.   I don’t know if there are Blockbusters [the video chain] anymore, but there would probably be a superhero section.  And this would fit more into the science-fiction, or horror, or even drama sections of the Blockbuster.  And that’s just kind of the way I look at it.  I want it to feel like it’s its own thing. 
Kinberg: One thing that’s unique to it is that it’s always been about a family.  Most comic book superhero movies are about a superhero protagonist or a superhero group.  But they’re ever really exploring what it is to be family.  And when I first read the comic that’s what was so compelling about it.  I think the reason it’s endured this long, the powers are great, but the defining thing is the surrogate family.  That’s something we really spent a long time talking about and putting into the film.  I think that will differentiate us as well from all of the different superheroes and superhero groups out there.
Regarding any specific comic runs that this film is pulling from:
Kinberg: Yeah, I think The Ultimate Fantastic Four is probably our biggest influence because it’s the younger Fantastic Four.  And a lot of the science specifics are there.  And a lot of the means of transformation we took from those books. As you’ll see a little bit in the trailer and a lot in the movie, there are influences really from the beginning of what Kirby and Stan were doing in the 60’s all the way up into the present day.  I’ve done it both ways from adapting a specific story-line like Days of Future Past or jumping off like in First Class and using more of the mythology of the characters without necessarily adhering to an existing plot line.  This is an origin story in many regards and it is inspired by The Ultimate Fantastic Four as much as anything else.
And while they were tight-lipped about the plot, this is what Trank was willing to release insofar as story-specifics:
I would just say that this is a modern telling of how these four iconic characters came together and came to be.
Be sure to check out the entire interview on Collider, which goes into detail regarding casting for the new team and their discussion of what composer Phillip Glass (!!!) will be bringing to the production.

The Fantastic Four, which stars Michael B. JordanMiles TellerKate MaraJamie Bell and Toby Kebbell, will be released on August 7th.
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Joss Whedon Likely Not Returning For 'Avengers: Infinity War'

joss whedon

For a few months now, rumors have floated around that Avengers: Age of Ultron would be Joss Whedon's final bow with the franchise. Said rumors were quickly followed with reports that Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) would step up to direct Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 for a 2018 and 2019 release respectively.
While there hasn't been official confirmation from either party, Whedon recently spoke to Empire (quotes via CBM) about his future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
I couldn’t imagine doing this again.  It’s enormously hard, and it'll be, by then, a good five years since I created anything that was completely my own.  So it’s very doubtful that I would take on the two-part Infinity War movie that would eat up the next four years of my life.  I obviously still want to be a part of the Marvel Universe – I love these guys – but it ain’t easy.  This year has been more like running three shows than any year of my life.  It is bonkers.
Based on the above quote, Whedon sounds like he's ready to scale back his involvement with Marvel Studios. The popular filmmaker has been one of the creative forces of greatest influence for the studio since he came on board in 2010, particularly in providing re-writes to various scripts such Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: The Dark World, along with completely overhauling Zak Penn's initial Avengers script.

It wasn't too long ago when Jon Favreau was angling to direct that first Avengers entry. The years have really rolled by!

If Joss Whedon is indeed done after Avengers: Age of Ultron, who would you like to see take over? The Russos? James Gunn? Someone completely new?

Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters on May 1st.
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