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View From The Brig(gs): Episode 15: Happy Quinceañera!

Twiddle. Twiddle, twiddle. Twiddle.

Yes, that’s the sound I’ve been making with my thumbs while I wait for financier and actor news from my two megablockbuster producers on our project “Panzer 88”.

“Wait!”, I hear you cry. “Yes, we know you have legendary ‘Star Wars’ producer Gary Kurtz making your movie with you, but you say there’s another? Pray, spill!” Indeed there is. We have a new addition to the team. And I may tell you. Perhaps next time…

Moving on: in sad news, on August 24th British cinematographer Gil Taylor, who lensed such movies I enjoy as “Ice Cold In Alex”; “Dr Strangelove”; “The Bedford Incident”; “Repulsion”; “Frenzy”, “The Omen”; “Dracula”; and some little thing called…”Star Wars”…died, aged 99.

It’s sad to lose one of the guys from the Old School (you know, who used film negative stock instead of digital codecs), but he left behind a legacy I for one will continue to enjoy.

The news of Taylor’s passing came, ironically, 24 hours on the heels later from an announcement that cinematographer Dan Mindel (J.J. Abrams’ go-to guy) would be filming the new “Star Wars” Episode VII…on film, as opposed to the digital route that Mr Lucas elected to go with “Attack Of The Clones” and “Revenge Of The Sith”. (The news was leaked from a meeting at the American Society of Cinematographers clubhouse, and was apparently greeted with cheers from the assembled pros there.)

As a continuing stalwart and evangelist for the superiority of film-captured imagery, I was thrilled by this announcement, but the cynic in me is waiting to see how much of this is simply feel-good publicity sop to generate positive karma for the new trilogy.

Time will tell…

And in other announcements, Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne!

I’m in bemused and puzzled at the amount of negative comments from The Internet regarding this casting.  Frankly, I feel Affleck is a potentially better choice than Bale.

While I was less than thrilled with the dour “Man Of Steel”, as far as I’m concerned my interest in Snyder’s upcoming “Batman vs Superman” has just incremented up a notch.

Thought For The Day: given how great Affleck’s last directorial movies have been, I can’t help but muse how he’d be both behind and in front of the camera on this project. Hmmm….

The Stars Must Have Been In Alignment…

The fourth installment of Kim Newman’s “Anno Dracula” series, “Johnny Alucard”, is about to hit your local book emporium (well, if you live in England) sometime soon, so I’ve been playing refresher-course catch-up with the previous installments in the series, recently expanded in marvelous editions by Titan Books.

As I’d mentioned previously while reviewing “Anno Dracula” (the first in the series), in the interests of full disclosure, I mentioned I’d a history with Kim: as a junior film cameraman in swinging ’80s London, Kim and I used to dissect the state of the genre at the back desk of sci-fi store Forbidden Planet 2 on St Giles’ High Street at weekday lunchtimes.   “Bloody Red Baron” is my particular favorite of this series: set after the events of the first book in an alternate time stream where Van Helsing failed to kill Count Dracula, we find ourselves in the muddy horrors of World War One, as the Diogenes Club (haunt of Sherlock Holmes’ brother) investigate the mysterious deaths of fliers sent out against Baron Von Richtofen’s flying circus.

If you’re an adult of a certain age, you might just be old enough (or well-read enough) to have had your nose buried in the Bulldog Drummond and Biggles books, and so you’ll find yourself grinning with delighted familiarity as you thumb the pages.

Like Alan Moore’s “League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (except, Kim was penning these long before The Hairy One set pen to paper), characters from books, stage, and screen of the period (and all points in-between) jostle for center-stage: a tiny sampling including Count Dracula himself; Doctor Caligari; Rotwang from Fritz Lang’s movie “Metropolis”; and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff from the film “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.”

And all this taking place in and around the “Schloß Adler”, the mountain castle from the 1968 Burton and Eastwood movie “Where Eagles Dare”!

With in-jokes and references aplenty, I’d read this book 20 years ago before the advent of the Internet, but approaching this today I repeatedly found myself reaching for Google and spying new things I hadn’t been aware of first time around. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and Kim’s notations and extra material in this Titan Books edition are the delightful icing on the cake.

A must buy.

As regular readers know, having co-written the “Hellboy” movie, I’m a pretty easy touch in any given media for anything that has tentacles prominently featured, and all the better if said artistic work is based on material from any of Howard Philip Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

Naturally, I just had read a paperback of Lovecraftian spinoff short stories edited by Darrell Schweitzer, named “Cthulhu’s Reign”, set at the time of the Great Flobbely One’s domination of the Earth. Collections like this are often a hit-or-miss mixed bag, and this one sadly falls towards the latter category: out of the fifteen tales here, I only really enjoyed five of them.

Ian Watson’s “The Walker In The Cemetery” kicks off the collection, and concerns a group of tourists avoiding being picked off by shambling psudopod-y creatures on the island of Genoa. Editor Schweitzer’s “Ghost Dancing” (nice that I can say the editor contributed something above the norm!) focuses on a first person anecdote of a former Cthulhu cultist going to visit a former friend, who along with the narrator was responsible for causing the global catastrophe.

Jay Lake’s “Such Bright And Risen Madness In Our Names” was a fairly sad and creepy little story about the ground-down remnants of the Resistance, somewhat in tone with “Terminator Salvation”, but only if the Terminators were tentacled nightmares. Gregory Frost’s “The Seals Of R’Lyeh” was my favorite yarn, and features a pair of post apocalypse hucksters teaming up to find the eponymous seals that might destroy Cthulhu; this one had an especially fun ending.

Finally, Richard A. Lupoff’s “Nothing Personal” also deserves mention for attempting something different: in this one, a one-man space mission to Yuggoth, a Lovecraftian planet, goes awry with somewhat unfortunate ramifications for Earth.

To A Place Where Kodak And Codec Datastreams Go To Die…

I’m going to start with a high this time.

I finally got to watch “Now You See Me”, the magician heist movie which has done surprisingly well at the box-office.

While preposterous in places, and the last 20 minutes somewhat running out of steam and obviously becoming another movie that I can’t say (because if I do and you’re going to see it you’ll get where the ending’s going immediately), and requiring too much suspension of disbelief that everything goes according to plan, and that there’s no element of “random chance” that can intrude, it was becoming my favourite movie of the year up to one point (it slid down the scale after that, and now I have to figure out where it stands.)

Bafflingly well written (I’m crediting Ed Solomon with much of this, unless proven otherwise), tightly directed, and nicely acted. Not a classic, but definitely a “fun see”. Make this a rental. It’s a good time.

I also managed to catch up with “Epic”, the latest CG fantasy cartoon movie. Now, I have to admit that these kinds of movies (as in “The Land Of Unpronounceable, With Princesses, Etc”) whether live action or animated in any form, are tricky affairs for me.

My dad forced me to read “Lord Of The Rings” as a kid, and I’m glad he did, because that’s really the pinnacle, and you don’t have to read any more after that. (I also ploughed my way through 6 Thomas Covenant books in two weeks in the early 80s, and I’m glad I did that too, because they’re basically a giant antihero ripoff of LOTR, with added sourness, and it got my dark fantasy thing out the window. Oh: and if that sounds like snakiness, I want to add that like Donaldson’s series.)

So, here we are with another twee whoop-di-do “Tiny Fantasy Land Of Creatures Movie”.

In this, there’s a race of tiny woodland elves (whose wardrobe seems suspiciously cribbed from Weta Workshop), and they have to get a bud from one side of the forest from the other because…well, because. The forest will apparently die otherwise, which it will likely also do anyway because there’s a bad guy with a staff that withers anything it touches going around poking things, and is hellbent on stopping said ElfQuest. As if that wasn’t enough, before you can say “Honey, I Shrunk My Emo Teen”, there’s an ADHD Human World scientist whose marriage failed and everyone thinks he’s bonkers because he’s convinced the teeny creatures in the forest are real. Through “magic” (i.e.: no real compelling logic that’s presented in any coherent way), his semi-grown-up daughter becomes miniaturized and is along on the quest to…well…make it less fantasy-sucky.

If that all sounds negatively dismissive, I’ll go out on a limb and say it was surprisingly decent, and way better than 90 percent of the cartoon dross that’s been out there this past year. There’s some lovely animation, and decent characters. If CG animation has made you sigh with a deep heart on pressing “play”, this one might win you over a bit. I’m giving this a recommendation. Really. See it!

A friend of mine on Facebook joked with me after I reviewed “Frozen Ground”, a new Nicholas Cage/John Cusack serial killer movie about real life bozo Robert Hansen: “I can’t wait to read this review again in your next Forces Of Geek column”. My response to him was that the movie was so slight, I likely wouldn’t be covering it.

However, this has been such a nothing couple of weeks for movies, I’m afraid I decided to include it. Although really, it’s more of a warning than a review.

“Frozen Ground” is unfortunately another of those movies where the cinematographer mostly forgot to screw the camera down to the camera head mount. This mode of camerawork exploded over TV in the wake of “NYPD Blue”, and then migrated to cinema. In theory, I have nothing wrong with the approach if it’s been done for a reason. But randomly jiggling the camera around to impart false tension into a scene is so contrived now. Master filmmakers could generate tension with locked-down cameras and skillful editing: todays Cineilliterati go for the cheap shot.

I wasn’t especially wowed by the writing or direction in this film.

Playing the killer, Cusack is mostly subdued, and it’s hard to see why he did this undistinguished movie. Cage is the cop on his trail, and the actor is surprisingly focused and good here…the best he’s been in a very long time.

The first 70 minutes of “Frozen Ground” are fairly uninvolving, but happily the final 40 minutes improve considerably and manage to come alive during the interrogation scenes between the two stars.  They’ve got good chemistry in that smattering of scenes, and it’s a shame they didn’t have a better vehicle to star within. (If you want to see a fun Cusack/Cage serial killer movie, go rent “Con Air” again.)

I also sat through “We’re The Millers”, which was two hours of undemanding comedy. About drug smuggling. With swearing. And similarly watched “The Heat”. Which was two hours of undemanding comedy. About corrupt police. And similarly with swearing. They were both reasonably undemanding entertaining (although I think I liked “Millers” marginally more than “Heat”), but it was enough to send me back to some comfortable British comedy movies from decades gone by.

Which, actually, it did: I rewatched “Private’s Progress” and its sequel “I’m Alright Jack” (from 1956 and 1959 respectively), two black-and-white movies which both have the late great British comedy stalwart Ian Carmichael playing one of his signature roles of “Toff On The Street” Stanley Windrush.

The first movie is a sort of WW2 heist; the second about Socialist Union practices in the workplace (and with one of Peter Sellers’ first memorable cinema roles.) Watching these movies is the cinematic equivalent of curling up in a dressing gown on the sofa with teas and cookies. Oh, okay. I admit. I did that, also…

Comicville

Okay, gang. Let’s roll up our sleeves and wade into this installment’s heaping helping of printed advertisements for the next movies from Warner Brothers and Marvel. Oops, sorry. I mean, “Comic Books”.

Zeb Wells and Paci Medina whack us smack between the eyes with “Nova #7”. Bam! Kerpow! What I love about this title, is that while the rest of Comicdom is busy shoving “issues” (“He’s a paraplegic! We’re all gay!”) down our throats, here’s one of the few titles that attempts to chuck a bit of childlike innocence our way…and I love it.

“Nova” is a title you don’t have to be afraid to show your kids, and honestly I wish there were more comic books like this around to bring a little cheer. (You want to know why our kids are so screwed up? We’re giving them a diet of gloom and dark despondency from the get-go. We had “The Dandy” and “The Beano” and “Monster Fun” and “Whizzer And Chips” in England. There’s not enough of that pure, unadulterated silly kid-dom around any more.)

In this issue, Sam Alexander gets woken from his reverie on the Statue Of Liberty by military choppers; has a run-in with Spider-Man…and then Joss Whedon tells him he’ll never work in this town again. No, seriously. I’m not even joking about the last part (although I really could have done without it.) Next issue: Thanos. Get this title. It’s fun, and it doesn’t come with baggage.

Jason Aaron’s run on “Thor God Of Thunder” has been consistently entertaining, and #12 is no exception. There’s little in the way of the usual galaxy-threatening devices here, and what we have is essentially “A Day In The Life Of Thor, Down The Ages”.

I think this is a remarkable issue, and is well worth your attention. Beginning in 893 Iceland with Thor bedding a blacksmith’s daughter, and then heading to bring a prisoner on Death Row in present day New York the last fruit from an extinct planet, Thor goes on to explore short human vignettes around the earth. I don’t want to go into all of the plot points, but the major one is that he poignantly visits Jane Foster, now his ex and undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

I’m thinking this issue was my Favorite Comic Book Of The Week, and one of the finest I’ve read this year.

Hugely encourage you to pick it up.

“Secret Avengers #8” is just a hoot! I have a confession: I’ve a soft spot for the Marvel Universe’s AIM troopers, in their big dumb yellow “Beekeeper” suits.

In this issue, Bobbi Morse (aka: Mockingbird) finds herself on AIM island, and body-swapped with a 40-something schlubbo AIM technician. She’s not quite sure how this happened, and she’s trying to keep her head down. This installment was borderline “Austin Powers” hilarious.

I’m wavering on “Infinity: New Avengers #9”, which is positing a Universe in which Thanos is (once again) searching for the Infinity gems, which have disappeared. Sub Mariner and Black Panther have their claws out for one another’s kingdoms, and there’s action going on all over the place. Mike Deodato’s artwork is dense and breathtaking. There’s an epic storyline in here, but I can’t help feel it’s not being let off the leash adequately enough.

Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan must be having fun writing “Deadpool”, because it’s a joy to flip these pages. In “‘Pool #15”, the tone is a little more of a traditionally linear story than some of the past wacky few issues. Convinced he’s being targeted for his regenerative powers, Deadpool drops in on Wolverine and Captain America to see if they can help him shed light on the matter.

There’s a lot of action in this installment, and I loved the hell out of it. Can’t wait to see where the story’s going. Thumbs up.

“Daredevil #30” features another of my favorites, when the Silver Surfer makes an appearance hot on the trail of Ru’Ach, an alien on the run. (Is there some law that states all aliens now come with an obligatory glottal-stop apostrophe in their name? I’m pretty sure that wasn’t around when I was a kid.) Ru’Ach is an Achian (wow, they really pushed the boat out on imagination in this issue) and boasts the superpower of…um…confusing you?

Well, the story reads okay, anyway. I almost didn’t include this title, but I was feeling generous. Not one of Mark Waid’s finer hours, but…hey. We all have our off-days.

“Thanos Rising #5” has the Mad Titan confronted by his father on the destroyed cinders of his homeworld, and has to come to terms that his slinky genocidal consort-advisor is actually a figment of his own imagination. I really felt that Marvel went too far in the early installments of this story and ought to have published it with a “Mature” warning on the cover.

There are going to be a lot of young kids looking into Thanos’ backstory in the Mavel Universe when he eventually gets to be front-and-center of an upcoming movie (whether “Avengers” or “Guardians Of The Galaxy”), and it troubles me they may get the wrong “inspiration” from this character. An ages-old debate, I know, with no real conclusion to be drawn from it.

This was a worthy end to the storyline, however.

I’ll give a last Marvel Shout Out to “Avengers Arena #14”. The tone of this book has been very all over the place from the outset, and I honestly think it’s gone on too long. It’ll be interesting to see how this looks as a trade paperback. Kev Walker’s vibrant (and “2000 A.D.” reminiscent) art keeps me reading, though. This was a slick read, high on octane if low on plot movement.

Okay. Across at the House of Affleck now, where Scott Snyder’s “Superman Unchained #3” continues to be rollicking entertainment.

Having been subdued by “Wraith”, a (polite and courteous) non-terrestrial super being who fell to Earth in 1938 and became America’s secret weapon, Superman learns the secret history of the end of WW2 from a sneering General Lane. DC’s Krypton-titles have been hugely disappointing of late, so it’s nice to see this particular storyline redressing the balance somewhat.

A big thumbs-up, and especially for Jim Lee’s dynamic artwork (notably, one panel featuring Wraith’s war-machine bedecked “home”.) Dying to see where this is going.

Justin Jordan’s “Green Lantern: New Guardians #23” continues the story of Relic, a Galactus-esque superbeing bent on wiping out the Lantern Corps. In this installment, Relic descends on Elpis, the home of the Blue Lanterns (Guardians of “Hope” so we’re told, so I’m pretty sure they’d get along well with Zack Snyder’s “Man Of Steel”). And, yep: from that final splash panel, it sure looks like the Blue Lanterns are wiped off the map.

This was a dense, and very satisfying issue, with superb explosive art from Brad Walker. Highly recommended, and part of the reason for the Renaissance of the Lantern Corp comics this past few years.

Peter J. Tomasi’s “Batman and Nightwing #23” (“Second Chances”) was a nicely poignant exploration of Bruce Wayne dealing with the aftermath of his son Damien’s death.

Day after day, Bruce is running virtual-reality simulations of the combat leading up to Damien’s death, and in none of them can he win and save the boy.

This is contrasted with Alfred, who also is running the simulations for himself when Bruce isn’t around.

 I want to tell you the “why” Alfred is doing this, but the reveal is marvelous. You need to read this issue. It’s smart, and not a little bit heartbreaking.

I am deeply impressed with the way DC have rebuilt “Animal Man”, which is beginning to make “Swamp Thing” look a teensy bit unimaginative in comparison.

After discovering of the existence in an LA warehouse of a bunch of mutated animal activist nut jobs calling themselves “The Church Of Blood”, Buddy Baker finds himself helpless as his own connection to “The Red” (the meat world’s equivalent to Swamp Thing’s “Green”) is used to launch a dimensional assault there by Brother Blood.

And, it looks like there’s about to be a civil war on the horizon.

Wonderful stuff, and I can’t wait for this in trade paperback form.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s “The Flash #23” is basically one big “Flash and Reverse Flash Beat One Another Up”, with not much more depth than that. But it’s told with such visual élan, that I’m afraid I really have to recommend it nonetheless.

These guys do some of the most visually interesting page layouts I’ve seen in recent comic books, and this thing moves like the clappers.

Love, love, love this issue. Shallow? Moi?

“Talon #11” was a little bit all over the place, juggling various story strands of varying interest. It might very well have escaped inclusion here this time around. But? There’s an extraordinary scene that James Tynion IV’s written, in which Calvin Rose tells Bane why he’s awesome because he runs away from the hulking brute rather than try fight. Every kid who is getting bullied at school should read this issue, devour it, and either recite it if they have the misfortune to be in a tight spot; or use it to give themselves respect. Worth it for that scene alone.

Jimmy Palmiotti’s obviously relishing bringing “Jonah Hex” into a weirdly Frank Miller-esque Batman future in “Hex #23”. This time around, Hex and the Doctor he’s just escaped with go to a bar, pick up some ladies of easy virtue, and then stop a masked whack-job going postal on a Cancer Awareness Benefit.

This issue is borderline nuts, while still being stone-cold soberly moral. I enjoyed all of Hex’s arguments about why he’s not impressed with the future, although I would have liked to have seen him be a little less self-assured in this Brave New World. A fun, anarchistic read.

I just want to end with…yes! An Indie title!

The four-part “Department Of Monsterology” by Gordon Rennie gets released by Renegade Arts Entertainment on October 16th. Confession: I’m an internet chum with Gordon, and I’ve been a huge admirer from his work in “2000 A.D.” comic in Britain; and especially of his “Necronauts” title, which ran from 2000 to 2001.

That story teamed Lovecraft, Houdini, Charles Fort, and Conan Doyle against dark Cthulian creatures, and I eagerly devoured every issue. With “Monsterology”, Rennie is back in Lovecraftian territory once more.

The premiere introductory issue is split in two parts: the first half has Team Challenger probing the temple remnants of a lost icthyoid civilization on the seabed; while the second half centers on Team Carnacki fighting undead Fu-Manchu creatures in Budapest.

If you’re a fan of “Hellboy” (ahem), or Mike Mignola’s “B.P.R.D.” title, most obviously you’re likely going to dig “Monsterology” right off the bat. There’s all manner of influences in here, from “The Abyss” and “Casino Royale”, through “Big Trouble In Little China” and “Bioshock”, all filtered through the Lovecraftian backdrop.

I enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing where Gordon will be going with the story.

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