Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hack/Slash: Friday the 31st

I’m not sure yet, and I’ve been… well, “burned” is a little strong, but I’ve been bitten by this before. Anyway, although I’m not sure yet, it looks like Friday the 31st marks the Hack/Slash series’ evolution from a novelty into something pretty damn cool. The character development that has always been its strongest suit (well, aside from the art) has been supplemented, in the form of people that slasher-slaughtering hottie Cassie Hack and her hulking companion Vlad have saved over the past couple of books, who are now banding together and offering to help out with finding new problems to solve and people to save.[1]

And at some point, I guess the series got picked up by a publisher, because after a normal one-shot (though, also as usual, continuity-influencing) issue co-starring Chucky[2], the book collects the first two storylines / four issues of the monthly Hack/Slash comic run, still apparently ongoing. The first storyline serves as a reintroduction to the characters and premise for people who might not have been aware of the haphazard schedule[3] under which all the one-offs were printed, and the second features a Cthulhian death metal band and more virgins than you can shake a stick at. And since there are at least two more books yet to go, I’m certainly looking forward to what they throw at me next. I mean, in several months when I read volume 4. Not literally next.

[1] And helping out with any unexpected costs or emergencies that might crop up. If the first such emergency and offered assistance is any indicator, I’m going to like the new Scoobies. Both directly and thematically.
[2] Yes, the evil doll.
[3] And probable spotty availability; though in both cases, I am purely speculating here.

Duplicity

I like it when movies are smarter than I expect them to be. Not the ones with paradigm-shifting plot twists in the final act, though I like those too if done well. It’s just, if I know there’s a twist, I can usually work out what it will be. No, I’m more talking about the movies that are created to be twisty and confusing right from the start, and revel in letting me know they know I know, but are confident I won’t figure it out anyway. And I can figure out a lot of those ones too, but not always.

Duplicity straddles the line. I kind of knew what was going on right away, but then I let all the nested switchbacks lull me and therefore dismissed my instinct, because the movie was cleverer than I gave it credit for. And this is exactly what I’m saying I like, so. The deal is, Clive Owen and Julia Roberts are retired spies who have moved into the private sector where they continue to spy, only now they call it corporate espionage. And they’re engaged in a steamy cat-and-mouse game between their respective companies, their respective teams, and (inevitably) themselves. The chemistry is not at all bad, but as the characters themselves acknowledge early and often, the main draw is to find out who will finally come out on top. …professionally, I mean.

It’s an entertaining movie, and I can happily recommend to anyone who likes a) to untangle puzzles or b) things that are fun.

Coraline

You would think that I’d have already read the long-published book Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. I mean, he’s awesome, right? But by the time I got my hands on a copy, I already knew there’d be a movie coming out, so I’ve put it off. Of course, I kept not seeing the movie, too, which really threw the whole thing out of whack, but Wednesday rendered itself convenient, and now I can at least put the book on my shelf.

Coraline is one of those cautionary fairy tales about the dangers of skipping out on the hard parents who have your best interests, in favor of the easy ones who probably have a catch. Unfortunately, the movie failed this test by making Coraline’s parents all too unlikeable, with only a hint of the tough-but-fair paradigm I think (or at least hope) they were trying to portray. Coraline Jones and those parents have just moved into the ground floor of a rental house out in the country, where they can pursue their dreams of writing gardening books, dreams which are made ridiculously implausible by their shared dislike of dirt. Of course, the larger issue is that they’re stressed out by their lack of success and resultingly treat Coraline more like an unwanted distraction than a beloved daughter. All of which would turn into a distressingly heart-rending After-School Special except that there’s a tiny, walled-over door in the rental house’s parlor which leads to a mirror world, through a glass brightly, if you will, where Coraline’s parents dote on her and are excellent cooks, and every tenant and local are present solely to entertain Coraline in a variety of kid-friendly ways, with just the correct hint of faux-danger. In short, every child’s dream come true, much less any child living under the whiff of neglect, and possibly a bit more than a whiff, that Coraline is.

Here’s the good news. Although the cautionary portion of the tale is undercut by her parents actually being kind of harsh, instead of merely not the picture-perfect givers that self-involved kids inevitably want, the fairy tale sense of mounting dread and rich climactic action are spot on. Plus, y’know, 3D, which never seems to suck. Because, of course Coraline’s button-eyed Other Mother is different from how she initially seems. (I distinctly remember mentioning, y’know, fairy tale.) Additionally, the cat is just delightfully… cattish. I can’t say what comparison there is between book and movie, though I understand from Fresh Air that one character was created entirely for the flick. But that cat has all the right notes that makes me certain Neil wrote him first. He just understands cats like nobody’s business.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Six

So, a kind of a funny thing happened. I completely forgot to read this book. I had it in queue, and I guess it was in the back seat of my car or something, and I was so far behind on reviews anyway, and somehow I convinced myself I’d already read it. It could be that a new Walking Dead contributed to my misapprehension on this matter as well? I just realized, suddenly, that there was no review, and then while looking at the book with the intention of loaning it out to my friend Emily (who you will no doubt recall as the violently abused daughter in The Last House on the Left), it hit me that, hey, you did not at all read this. Both matters: rectified!

You would think, having finally caught up to the book I most recently finished, I would have it in me to do more than gush. There’s just something about Brian Michael Bendis writing Ultimate Spider-Man that leaves me incoherent with glee, apparently. I’d like to mind, but if that’s what it takes to get work this consistently amazing and this consistently able to top itself, then I’m not going to quibble overmuch. Ultimate Six re-envisions the first really big Spider-Man event of the original Marvel era, in which six of Spider-Man’s past foes team up to accomplish what none of them could individually: Spider-Man’s annihilation.

Of course, when I say “re-envisions”, what I mean is, “takes the kernel of an idea and demonstrates that, no matter how good Marvel really was in the ’60s, it has the ability to blow that out of the water in the modern era”. Four of Peter Parker’s previous foes, including the Green Goblin and the Sandman as a newly added fifth in a flashback sequence from a few months ago, are under S.H.I.E.L.D. imprisonment for illegal genetic modifications. The consequences of this unfortunate collection of villainy in one holding area are many and varied, ranging from the airing of Nick Fury’s significantly dirty laundry[1], to Peter’s identity being revealed to a significant portion of the Ultimate universe, to the likely psychological collapse of his once-friend Harry Osborn. And even these pale in comparison to what will happen if the Ultimates[2] cannot prevent the team of five (and their newest sixth recruit) from fulfilling their plan to strike at the very heart of the government.

[1] I like that I can trust this event will have future consequences to the continuity.
[2] For timeline purists, the Ultimate Six storyline (which was apparently independent of the Ultimate Spider-Man run, though I like that it was collected here) falls between Ultimates and Ultimates II.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, Volume 2

After being underwhelmed by the first Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, I was looking forward to getting through the remaining volumes quickly so that I could move on to some of the side storylines I’ve been seeing in the future that look pretty awesome, and the moreso because apparently there’s some kind of big Ultimate Universe event coming up, and I can’t be more than halfway through the accumulated catalog yet. To my surprise, though, the second volume of the series’ rather short run was thoroughly enjoyable.

The stories are all short and fluffily irrelevant to solid continuity in a way that the other runs and one-shot storylines are not. But they are far more strongly written than last time, including another visit from the X-Men[1] to explain human-mutant relations that clearly predates the UXM series’ start, and a ridiculously non-canonical visit with the Fantastic Four that was over the top hilarious. It also included the origin of Dr. Strange via a direct rip-off of the first Spider-Man/Strange crossover story back in the ’60s. The best moment, Logan/Peter notwithstanding, was the Lizard-Man origin issue. Curt Connor’s tragic scientific success is one of the best “villain” arcs I’ve seen out of Marvel in either universe, even if there’s an underlying message about the consequences of meddling with nature that I’m not so happy about.

The art varied between perfect, wonkily appropriate, and just plain wonky. Really, the only thing I was unhappy with was that three issues were outright skipped between the first and second book, resulting in my need to either scour comic stores for the missing issues directly, or to rebuy the Ultimate Marvel Team-Up run in a single volume. Both ideas are pretty solidly meh, at the moment. But I’m sure I’ll do one of them, eventually.

[1] Plus, yay, more Logan/Peter interaction. Still easily the best Ultimate crossover relationship, though the Nick Fury/Peter and /Professor X interactions are quite interesting. It’s just, Fury is so damn unlikeable most of the time.

The Last House on the Left (2009)

As you may have already noticed on your own behalf, remakes are big business in Hollywood these days. Luckily?, this involves lots of horror remakes. Actually, I’m pretty sure luckily does qualify a lot of the time. I liked Wes Craven’s original The Last House on the Left, both on its own individual merits and because it seems to mark the transformative moment between all the old monster movies and Hammer pictures and such and today’s modern horror genre, chock full of slashers, torture, and overblown morality.[1] While the Wes Craven-approved remake cannot possibly live up to words like “transformative moment in genre history”, I think it might have been otherwise better than the original.

In short, some kids (the important one of whom looked what turned out to be a disturbing amount like my friend Emily) get mixed up with the wrong family of murderers while on vacation at the lake. Some deaths happen, and some rapings happen, and it is generally speaking a horrible and uncomfortable thing to watch on the screen, on par with the horribleness of the first half of I Spit on Your Grave, and for mostly the same reasons. Because, when the family of murderers shows up in a driving rainstorm at the lake house where her parents are expecting her back tomorrow, and they are looking for shelter from those parents, and nobody yet knows about the tragedy tying them all together? When this point in the movie comes the audience is almost as bloodthirsty as the parents will soon become, and they needed that horribleness to get there.

I guess what I liked about it over the original is that it didn’t have quite as much direct correlation between teens having sex and doing drugs and lying to their parents the way teens will do, and violent, disproportionate punishment at the hands of crazy people who are nevertheless a little bit vindicated by virtue of being punishers. The more realistic the movies get, the more that particular message from the ’70s changes from amusing to disturbing. Plus, even once the main event is finally on the menu[2], there’s a lot more tension and cat-and-mouse to it than the kind of non-stop actual torture scenes you get out of the second act of a Hostel knock-off.

But still, it’s pretty brutal in pursuit of justifying a payoff that you may not have wanted all that badly in the first place (though, if you are trapped in a theater and made to watch, I predict you’ll want it by the time it comes due), so I really cannot recommend it to anyone who hadn’t already intended to see it anyway. Because, after all is said and done, it doesn’t even have the historical importance of Craven’s original, which I also probably wouldn’t recommend to most people.

[1] While I freely admit that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, I guess we all have a tendency to cling to that with which we grew up.
[2] Get yer mixed metaphors Right H’yere! Piping hot mixed metaphors!

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer

Being behind makes for subpar reviews. So, y’know. But I liked Silver Surfer more than I’ve liked the last few Fantastic Fours, even despite the fact that it was a fair bit more divergent from regular Marvel continuity than I’m used to the Ultimate universe being. Basically, Reed Richards is continuing to research the cosmic cube he was tricked into taking home a couple of books ago, and this time he accidentally summons a familiar-looking silver being riding a familiar-looking silver surfboard. And then the world kind of gets kidnapped. As usual, the FF are the most sci-fi series in Marvel, even when it doesn’t seem to match the rest of the continuity. Sometimes, that bothers me. This time, at least, it was a pretty damn cool story, albeit one with no apparent continuity impact. But I could be wrong about that, easily enough. If I find out otherwise, I’ll let you know!

Dearly Devoted Dexter

51UeGHq5w4LMan. I am way too far behind right now. It is not pretty. But, so anyway, I read Dearly Devoted Dexter, the second book in the inspired-a-Showtime-series. I’m continuing to enjoy it all out of proportion to how much I think I should, though I believe this one was helped a lot by the series’ plotline divergences after the first book/season. Plotwise, Dexter and his sister and his nemesis Sergeant Doakes team up to face a killer who physically removes just about everything from his victims, while still keeping them alive and in perfect physical health. It’s… kinda creepy! (Well, technically, all of Miami homicide and CSI and whatnot are in on the team-up, but realistically, I mentioned the important people.)

I don’t know if he was written a little differently in the first book, or if I was so busy following along from plot point to familiar plot point that I missed it, but the Dexter in this book is hilarious. Yeah, he’s pretty good at stalking and killing bad people who probably deserve it.[1] And he’s good at realizing that he doesn’t comprehend people and their emotions, though I can’t make up my mind if that’s a character deficit or a choice, despite his claims. But he also constantly lauds his brilliance and ability to blend in among the normal people around him, even though the constant evidence of his descriptions belies it. He makes good deductive leaps, of course.[2] But he also falls into traps I saw coming miles away, apparently because of his not-acknowledgedly-pompous belief in himself. And for someone who does everything exactly right to keep from being picked out as odd by people around him, there are a lot of people who seem to recognize that something is off key, a fact he also rarely accepts. It is on the whole an entirely amusing confluence of unintentionally unreliable narrator, Scoobies mayhem, and disconcerting serial killer mentality.

That last bit is what I a) anticipate enjoying the most in future books and b) feel the most guilty about. Because, apparently, his girlfriend’s children are poised to turn into Dexter: the Next Generation, and of course he is delighted to teach them what to do and not to do, just as his foster father taught him. Instead of being all squicked out by sociopathic pre-teens, I really want to see where it goes. So, um, oops?

[1] If you don’t buy this central conceit of the book, then you are really guaranteed to hate it, and should not read.
[2] It is a mystery novel, after all!

I Love You, Man

Sometimes, things can be both good and disposable. Like, I guess those wedding camera things? Or the Kleenex that don’t tear as soon as you look at them sideways? Or, okay, Kelly Clarkson’s entire body of work. Plus, of course, that one movie I saw last week, I Love You, Man.

Because, was it funny? It was very funny, and often. And Jason Segel from How I Met Your Mother seems poised to be the next big new funny dude, which I heartily approve of. But there’s practically nothing else I can say about the movie, and that seems like it should be a bad thing. Except, right, the summary: so there’s this guy, Paul Rudd, and he’s only ever really had girlfriends, as opposed to dude friends or chick friends that were platonic. And now he’s on a quest to make a dude friend to be his best man, only the dude he finds maybe will end up at odds with his fiancée? Problematic, which equals hilarity in this pretty straightforward Hollywood formula. Which is really all I’m saying. I laughed, I left, I mostly forgot. Not a bad afternoon, as such things go.

The Walking Dead: Here We Remain

So, you know how I said I like reading about aftermath? I had not been thinking about the horrifying and unrelenting series of tragedies that marked the previous Walking Dead volume, but it was certainly a well-timed claim. All safety is gone, an astonishing number of survivors have been slaughtered, and those left are scattered to the winds. Here We Remain documents the struggle to survive what will almost certainly be the series’ low point, survive not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. There is unexpected hope on the wind, though, and a possible new purpose beyond simple survival.

The thing about the aftermath, though, is the psychology of it all. Most and possibly all of these people have endured enough to break anyone, and only the lizard brain’s drive to survive has kept them going. The cracks are obvious in everyone after these most recent setbacks, and it will be interesting to see whether the new sliver of hope is enough to start them recovering. In any event, if this is yet another Kirkman mislead with a dire outcome waiting two or three books down the road, I won’t really be able to believe any of them can cope with it. Related to all this, I’m also speculating that the torch of series hero has been handed off from cop-turned-leader Rick Grimes to his constantly underestimated son, Carl. And I’m looking forward to seeing what else the kid can manage; thankfully, the dead world has removed any trace of plucky kid syndrome that would make the whole thing annoying.