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Comics Movies

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee

I think most of us know that Stan Lee’s legacy at Marvel for comics is fraught.  Who truly created what, who deserves credit.  That’s covered elsewhere, like the obituary/profile linked above.  I’d like to talk about Stan’s place in my life, as a budding geek who wasn’t sure of his place in the world.

Millenials, for the most part, only know Stan Lee as the kindly Grandpa who pops up in the movies to chew a bit of scenery.  For those of us around in the early 80s through the 90s, Stan was EVERYWHERE that Marvel characters were.  Stan Lee moved to California to hustle them into TV and movies, and he gave it his whole heart.  Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends?  Stan Lee opened every episode.  The Incredible Hulk?  He’s there too.  Every entertainment TV show, late night, daytime, game show, he was always putting Marvel out there.  The consummate showman.

Stan Lee always wore his heart on his sleeve, and his enthusiasm for comics as an art form was infectious.  You knew he was selling you, but he was so darn earnest about it you couldn’t help but grin along.  It helped that he seemed like a genuine good person, trying his best to push, in his own way, for civil rights and equality.  The world would be better than it is now if more people had gotten his message.  Excelsior, Stan.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Venom

I actually saw Venom not long after it came out, and I’m a bit amused at how well it’s done.  It is a deeply weird movie. At times feels like half of it is missing.  Why does the symbiote decide to “help” Eddie Brock save the Earth?  It must not matter, because they don’t tell us!

One thing I have trouble getting past is having Venom with no connection to Spider-Man.  I get that Sony wants desperately to have a whole movie franchise, but this still feels like the wrong play.  But here we are, so is it any good?  NO!  That doesn’t mean there’s not fun to be had.  Tom Hardy has a sort of goofy charm as Eddie Brock when he’s not mumbling his lines.  Riz Ahmed is obviously having fun as the over-the-top Elon Muskish villain.  Michelle Williams has the thankless task of love interest/lawyer Anne Weying, who dumps Eddie after he steals info from her on the villainous Carlton Drake.

Eddddieeeeeeeee

The strangest character in the movie is, of course, the Venom symbiote.  Not because he’s a terrible man-eating monster (as seen on the right), but because he’s kind of a wise-cracking partner for Eddie.  The folks that listed Venom as a buddy cop movie weren’t far off.  It’s almost funny enough that you’d forget that the only way Venom doesn’t kill Eddie’s body is if Brock lets him eat people once in a while!

Look, I wasn’t expecting high art, and I was entertained.  I laughed a lot, but only half of it was probably supposed to be funny.  I *CANNOT* wait for Rifftrax to get a hold of this.

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Random

Movie Review – First Man

I went to an early screening of First Man, and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t blown away.  It should be noted, this is a biopic about Neil Armstrong, so the technical details about the space program are in the background.  What you have is a deep dive on Neil as a civilian pilot and father, and how that affected him getting to space.

We learn about Neil Armstrong through the lens of his family.  He struggles mightily with the death of his 2 year old daughter from a tumor, leaving his wife Janet (Claire Foy) to try and cope with little support.  She lives with the constant stress of how dangerous Neil’s job is, even before he becomes an astronaut.  At one point Janet mentions that they attended ‘four funerals at Edwards’ which drives that home.

Armstrong (as played by Ryan Gosling) is a fairly reserved fellow; he’s “pleased” to be chose as the commander of Apollo 11.  Damien Chazelle made an odd choice to film a lot of the emotional scenes super-close to Gosling’s face.  It’s a stark contrast to the action scenes, which are mostly first-person Paul Greengrass-esque shakycam.  Not that it isn’t appropriate for a rocket blasting off, but it is a shift.

First Man is well acted from the leads, and has some recognizable faces supporting.  I like Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin. He would definitely punch out a moon landing denier.  I don’t know that I’d give it the Oscar but it’s a good way to spend an afternoon.

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Books Review

Book Review – Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside is the latest book from Robert Jackson Bennett, who previously wrote the “Divine Cities” trilogy.  I mostly knew him from the shenanigans he, Sam Sykes, Chuck Wendig and others get up to on Twitter.  Checking out new authors that way hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

Sancia is a thief, who operates out of Foundryside, a slum that exists in the gutters and buffer zones between four merchant houses.  Like most heist books, she’s damn good at her job, but powerful forces are at work, and she gets swept along.  Good thing she makes friends with a strange cast of characters along the way!

The merchant houses run the entire city, existing in a state of cold war.  Sancia is one of the independent operators, taking jobs for anyone.  Unfortunately her latest job has her stealing an object of incredible power.  The magic of this world is called ‘scriving’.  It works by convincing objects that the natural laws don’t apply to them, or do apply but in a different way.  Imagine if you could make a cart roll by itself, by scriving runes to tell the wheels that they are on a hill.  A sword can be made to think that, when swung, it’s three times heavier.  But before all that, beings existed that couldn’t just tweak, but rewrite reality as they saw fit.  And their artifacts are being found.

If you like the Gentlemen Bastards series and are looking for another heist book with a strange cast of characters, Foundryside would be a great option.  Check it out!

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first Jurassic Park is a classic. Plenty of tension, action, humor.  When we have fond memories of this franchise, that’s the movie we’re all thinking of.  As you move forward, they decline rapidly in quality.  Most of the good feelings you have for The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are due to Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill.  The hugeness of Jurassic World’s success came as a bit of a shock, so despite the actual plot of THAT movie being pretty dumb there was no way a franchise-hungry production company wasn’t going to follow it up.  Which means we get stuck with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  Spoilers from here on out.

“No, you’re making all new ones”

Your mistakes will always come back to haunt you.  It’s been a cornerstone of this series.  Hammond and many others make tons of mistakes, mostly out of hubris.  Why not bring dinosaurs back, what could go wrong?  What happens if the computers fail?  Or the power goes out?  Every subsequent movie compounds this, because the mistakes just get worse every time.  “Let’s bring a T-Rex to San Diego!”  “You know, that ten ton engine of murder wasn’t nearly dangerous enough, let’s genetically engineer something worse!”

That Fallen Kingdom

That brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.  After yet another park fails catastrophically, we find Claire…wait, nobody’s in jail?  I know Masrani was killed, but were there NO CONSEQUENCES?  Hundreds of rich white people got trampled and eaten!  We’re expected to believe that Claire somehow cares deeply for dinosaurs?  Before this, she was a business woman, and seemed to regard the dinosaurs as attractions, no different than amusement park rides.  Then they very nearly eat her AND her nephews.  Yeah, not their fault but where in there did she become an animal rights advocate?  Oy.

A previously-unmentioned volcano threatens to destroy the dinos on the island, and Claire wants to rescue them.  Luckily for her, Hammond had a previously-unmentioned partner in the past who wants to save them too!

Everything goes wrong

Except they double-cross Claire (and Owen, who wants to go back and save Blue, the best character in these two movies) and take the dinosaurs to sell to what amounts to a bunch of supervillains.  Seriously, Arnim Zola from the Captain America movies is there and everything.  Owen and Claire (with the required cute kid sidekick) manage to thwart the bad guy (Eli Mills, who killed Hammond’s partner earlier in the movie and looks like an uncanny valley copy of Ryan Reynolds) but in doing so, they release a few dozen dinosaurs into the wild.  Of the United States.

That right there has the potential to be a complete ecological disaster.  It’s not clear if there are breeding pairs, but we’ve already seen nature “find a way” previously.  You only have to look at Australia to see what could happen.  Maybe the final movie in the Jurassic World trilogy will deal with that?  Not sure if that would have enough big dinosaur fighting action for the studio though.

Owen!

It’s not all bad, as Chris Pratt is still charming, and the cinematography is fine.  They show too much of the dinosaurs though, which has been an issue since the The Lost World.  Bryce Dallas Howard no longer wears high heels in the jungle.  Jeff Goldblum’s extended cameo, most of which you saw or heard in the trailers, is great, and is well-used.

If you can see it cheap (Moviepass, matinee) it would be fine.  If you need to refresh your memory on Jurassic World first, rent it at Amazon.

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Movies Review

Movie Review – Black Panther

Just when you think Marvel’s formula is getting stale, they shatter your expectations.  Their last movie was a family drama-buddy-action-comedy, Thor: Ragnarok.  There were a few truly serious moments when you stopped to think, but you didn’t have long as you’d be laughing your ass off 30 seconds later.  It’s a big contrast to Black Panther.  Not to spoil too much, at it’s core Black Panther is also filled with family drama, but also powerful political statements.  From the drop this movie has something to say to you about the inequality that drives our modern world.

Sympathetic Villainy

Note:  from here on out, there are spoilers.

The first time we meet Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, we don’t even realize it.  He’s being told the story of Wakanda’s origin by his father, N’Jobu.  N’Jobu is undercover in Oakland, but is disturbed by what he sees happening to people of African descent across the country and world.  N’Jobu assists Ulysses Klaue (last seen in Age of Ultron) in stealing some vibranium, in order to arm oppressed African.  It’s a stark contrast to Wakanda’s isolationist ways, and brings him into conflict with T’Chaka, his brother.  T’Chaka is forced to kill N’Jobu.  Erik is left behind, and the seeds for his rage are sown.  It’s not hard to feel something for Killmonger when you see the tragedy.  Especially later in the film where you get the full picture of just what happened.

Black Panther(s)

I thought Black Panther did a great job of balancing the mystical aspects of the Black Panther mythos with the high-tech.  This far into the MCU, you don’t need to explain the mystical, it can just exist.  We’ve met gods (small G, son) and sorcerers.  It’s okay for T’Challa to go on a spiritual journey and see his ancestors.  It was a fantastic way to keep John Kani’s T’Chaka relevant for one more movie.

Killer Cast

One of Marvel’s biggest advantages has been their casting.  Black Panther might be the best example of this.  We already knew Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, as well as Martin Freeman as Everett Ross and Andy Serkis as Klaue.  Add to that the delightful Letitia Wright as Shuri, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, it’s amazing.  Michael B. Jordan OWNS the Killmonger role, to the point where it’s difficult to look away when he’s on screen.

If you missed Black Panther in theaters (it’s still in many of the larger ones, at least as of now), you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Especially if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet.  The digital copy unlocks May 8th.

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Comics Review

Comic Book Review – Crosswind Vol. 1

Crosswind is an Image series written by Gail Simone, drawn by Cat Staggs, with letters from Simon Bowland.  The blurb at Image’s site describes it as “Goodfellas meets Freaky Friday” and it’s an apt description.  What happens if a Chicago hitman and a suburban housewife switch bodies?  Under Gail’s pen, you get vulgar, action-filled fun.

Cason, the brutal mobster, has to clean up a mistake made by his boss’s son, while Juniper has to get a meal ready for her husband’s boss while navigating abuse from all sides.  It’s bad enough BEFORE they get zapped into each other’s bodies, and have to regroup on the fly.

Gail Simone is one of my favorite follows on Twitter, and her trademark wit is well used here.  Cat Staggs’s art has an almost rotoscoped-realism to it, and I particularly love how she captured different mannerisms for Cason and Juniper after the swap.

Crosswind is definitely worth a read if you like any of the above.  Check it out on Amazon/Comixology.