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View From The Brig(gs): Lincoln, The D, Green Lantern Corps. & More!

Hey. You’re still here?

Wow. Okay. I guess that means I’m going to keep writing this; at least, until pre-production on myself and Gary Kurtz‘ movie, “Panzer 88,” makes the paragraphs dwindle.

(Just as a little insider gossip, we gave up this week in exasperation on an actor that we’d written a role for. While we love the actor in question, they’d just taken too long in reading the script, and we’re under a deadline to try and get shooting by summer. So sad, too bad: everybody cries.

Well, let’s throw ourselves in at the deep-end. I saw the last of the Academy Award nominated films I needed in my big Pre-Oscar catch-up today. It made me shake my head in wonder a little bit, as I felt the film in question was somewhat poor. In honesty, there are a good few highly-praised movies this year I didn’t think were particularly great. Academy politics can be perplexing.

Spielberg, Lincoln, Oscar, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Tony Kushner

Also up for Awards: I mentioned “Lincoln” last week, but forgot to expound on it. I’d already seen a screener, but the movie finally opens here in Europe (I’m in the Sweden portion of my globetrotting “Panzer 88” tour right now), and director Spielberg has been traveling about doing a fair bit of publicity for it. On Kermode and Mayo’s BBC radio show last week, Spielberg told a very sobering story about Daniel Day-Lewis turning him repeatedly down for the titular role over several years; and how Leonardo DiCaprio broached the gap between the director and Day Lewis, phoning Spielberg up one day out of the blue to give him Day Lewis’ cellphone number. Going through casting trials on my own movie, “Panzer 88” (with “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz) right now, it’s somewhat cheering to know that even the biggest director in the world can’t always get what he wants.

Anyway, I really liked the movie. (Talking to my “Panzer” producer, Gary Kurtz, he loved it, similarly. Although, I guess they did both share a fairly similar beard-styling once. Follicle empathy!) What a wonderful, intelligent, cracking good flick. Terrific dialogue (including my favorites lines: “Thunder forth, God of War”; and “What is the reason for this, thus?”, both of which I’ll likely quote at-length.) I couldn’t help but wonder how many writers were on this movie silently polishing behind the scenes, and not being credited for one reason or another? I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from beginning to end: halfway through, I was thinking, “Hmm. This is really good, but I’m not in a tearing hurry to view this again”, but by the time I’d reached the end titles, I’d upgraded that to “I’m really looking forward to seeing that again!” And that doesn’t happen too often.

Although I admired the movie, there were a few tiny niggles I wanted to highlight. Williams’ score is a curate’s egg: sometimes it’s appropriate, but there are a couple of moments where I drifted off into one of those “I wonder what would have happened if Spielberg had tried a couple of different composers through the years, every once in a while?” musings.

And there are a couple of oddly-timed transition moments in the movie. One, with James Spader cracking some seafood, to a match cut of a gavel being banged in Congress. I can completely read the script description in my head, and I can see exactly how it should have been shot, and I’m taken aback that Spielberg failed with what should be an easily achieved “wake up” transition. Likewise, a cut from Sally Field in grief, to Sally Field being jolly at a ball I didn’t feel worked at all. I obviously understand the theoretical point of the cut, but the actual realization of the people “wipe” transition, and the overly theatrical Scorsese dolly move seemed rough.

Fine performances throughout: too many to single out. (I cant remember seeing so many good performances in a recent movie: this should get a reward just for ensemble). Day Lewis is, obviously, terrific (although for me, when I hear Lincoln speak in my head, he still always sounds like Gregory Peck).

Incidentally, Mayo and Kermode’s BBC show is available as a podcast on iTunes, and for my money the best movie weekly review show out there, even if I don’t always agree with their often-contentious points of view. Heavily recommended.

I also recently watched “John Dies At The End“, which is a delightful head-scratcher.

Don Coscarelli, Paul Giamatti,

I knew nothing about this movie going in, although in a weird way, seeing Don Coscarelli‘s name at the end rather left me relieved, as about 15 minutes in, I’s been trying to figure out what was going on within the movies adorably whacked-out train-of-consciousness and whether I liked it or not.

Trying to describe the film’s plot is an exercise in self-defeat. So, all I will say is:

It’s what you would get if Cronenberg decided to make a stoner comedy. It’s “In The Mouth Of Madness,” if Sam Raimi had directed it. It’s a Charlie Stross book, but written on a month-long Laphroaig and Mescaline bender. It was reminiscent of a gore drenched episode of that 2007-2009 TV show, “Reaper.”

Oddly, it also reminded me of a weirdly Lovecraftian version of the 1999 movie “Go“. (And, it even shared an Amway salesman joke with that flick.) In a nutshell, despite it being a lot more low-rent than “Cabin In The Woods“, it succeeded far more admirably telling a similar story, and is stuffed to its (pulsating) gills with way more ingenuity and ideas. (Don, you had me at “Meat Monster”, which is guaranteed to turn a lot of people instantly vegan.)

If the above pressed buttons or sounded klaxons, you really should see it. And, hey. It has Doug Jones in it. So that’s always a good reason. My only criticism is the weirdly muted score by Brian Tyler (and I’m a big, big Tyler fan). A maggot-exploding “thumbs-up”. And were those guys at the end really wearing “Galaxy Quest” uniforms…?

Okay, this is a bit pathetic. In a desperate attempt to be eclectic here this week (given my admission I know nothing about contemporary chart music), I thought I’d at least give a listen to the “new” Tenacious D album “Rize Of The Fenix.”

Tenacious D, Jack Black, Kyle Gass

Okay, it was actually released last year, but I loved Jack Black and Kyle Gass‘ first album (the eponymous “Tenacious D” in 2001), and was sad their “Pick of Destiny” movie in 2006…well. Sucked. I know I promised last time to only say Nice Things, but I couldn’t help feel a mite disappointed with “Fenix”. There’s nothing to match the heights of the joyful power and japes of “Tribute”; “Explosivo”; “Wonderboy”; or “F* Her Gently” from their original “D” disc, but you have to at least admire Jack and Kyle for putting in the effort. “Roadie” was the one song that stood out for me, and I’m betting there’s a busload of actual Roadies out there all across America who’ll slip a quarter into a jukebox for this, in some hole-in-the-wall bar after a late night gig. “To Be The Best” is a fairly hilarious pastiche of a “Top Gun”-esque ’80s movie power ballad; and “Rock And Roll Is Dead” might probably be good driving music to crack those droopy eyelids on a long journey. It’s all silly and undemanding stuff, with chunks of spoken-word lowbrow humor sections between tracks. You may get some mileage from it. Give it a whirl, if it’s your bag.

On my own personal books scene, I recently read Daniel H. Wilson‘s “Robopocalypse.”

Daniel H. Wilson, Steven Spielberg

Lots of feelings about this one. On the one hand, and given Spielberg has been fairly vocal about his intention to direct the movie, it’s certainly whetted my appetite. Done right, it could conceivably be one of the most spectacular movies ever made. “Robopocalypse” is basically the grim version of what happens as the robots take over in “Terminator: Rise of the Machines” or “I, Robot“. It’s incredibly gory in places, which I can’t imagine Spielberg graphically portraying, unless he’s in full “Private Ryan” mode and cruising to kick Cameron and Nolan in the cinematic Gentleman’s Area. Some of the book’s early scenes especially are spectacular, but there’s equally memorable vignettes scattered throughout.

On the other hand, there is the slightly niggling feeling that author Wilson had got through reading “World War Z“, and had a lightbulb go off to the effect of: “Hey! I can do the robot version of that!” Much of the book is held together as a series of report/vignettes, with often flimsy connective tissue holding the story together (the assault on the master computer’s bunker is literally glossed over in a few sentences, and I found the actual resolution poorly handled). There are several huge plot points that obviously haven’t been thought through properly (one especially that a Japanese robot factory tinkerer has his hereabouts known, and doesn’t have a plane dropped onto his head by this universe’s own Skynet, beggars credulity). I wasn’t very surprised that Spielberg had to postpone the movie to develop the script further.

Steven: if you’re still stuck, then you known where to find me.

Errata time, and we’re only on our second installment! Quelle frommage!

JLA, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Gary Frank, DC Comics

The first M.I.A. title I forgotten from last week was an oversight on my part, and appeared in “Justice League #16″.

It wasn’t the main story involving the League itself (which I found a bit wanting: having the Atlanteans incapacitate Superman so easily gets a head-shake from me); but rather the “Shazam” backup story they’ve been running over the last several issues.

Unlike Alex Ross, I’m not a fan of Shazam. I remember having one of the comics as a kid back in the 70s and dismissing it (then) as an unimaginative “Superman” knock-off, and with the exception of the Captain Marvel smackdown on Superman in “Kingdom Come“, I’ve never really seen anything in the title since then to sway me. But this reinvention is really nicely done, and I’m sure it’ll eventually be compiled into one book, having breathed new life into a slightly dated and one-dimensional character. A big thumbs-up from me.

Also missing due to weight-of-comics, was “Nightwing #16″. Again, it’s part of the sprawling “Death Of The Family” arc, and this one has Joker sadistically unleashing Dick Grayson’s toxined-up nearest-and-dearest upon him as he tracks the Cackling One down to a funfair. Well written, beautifully drawn. Building up, like the other issues, to (what I assume is) a conjoined forthcoming climax.

DC ComicsTomasi takes the reins again for the “Batman and Robin Annual #1”, which has Damian (the latest incarnation of Robin) don the cowl as a pint-sized Dark Knight, while he precociously sends Bruce Wayne off to Europe for a paper-trail mystery vacation that connects him with things he never knew about his deceased parents. I really enjoyed this sweet little story, which was a nice breath of fresh air from all of Sturm-und-Drang of the “Death Of The Family” storyline.

Last time, I waxed lyrical about several of the “Green Lantern” titles, yet didn’t actually mention “Green Lantern #16″ itself. I’m sure Geoff Johns and his talented art crew were staring morosely into their late night pizza cartons at this oversight, so: never fear, guys. I loved it: great issue. This one centered around new falsely-suspected-terrorist Lantern Simon Baz in the “Rise Of The Third Army” storyline.

He gets to see a recorded message duet from Sinestro and Hal Jordan; unlocks a new ring power (bonus points!); and gets another surprise message from Tomar-Re, the deceased Lantern we saw in the only cool part of that crummy “Lantern” movie. Is it just me, or is Baz’ masked outfit somewhat reminiscent of Kick-Ass?  I can’t help but wonder if DC are trying to protect themselves for some future movie version of the Lantern…maybe even for a forthcoming cinematic “Justice League”.

DC Comics

Onto this last week’s new goodies, and we’re hitting the conclusion of the “Third Army” epic in “Green Lantern Corps #1”. This one knocked my socks off. The remaining free Lanterns pow-wow on Earth’s moon, and then a ringless Guy Gardner leads the assault on the turned-bad Guardians of Oa. This one really is the “Return Of The King” of this story arc, and writer Peter Tomasi deserves huge kudos. Way, way better than it had any right to be.

With the exception of only a few misfire issues, I’ve enjoyed almost all of DC’s “Before Watchmen” titles. “Ozymandias #5″ came very close to not appearing here, due to some pieces of misplaced goofball humor, but I relented. I didn’t much care for writer Len Wein‘s notion that the origin of Ozzy’s mutant lynx pet Bubastis came about as the result of his bungling the creation of the (movie-dropped) alien threat subplot. It felt like the kind of thing that Alan Moore was probable dreading when he dismissed the whole spin-off universe. But, hey. We all have off-weeks.

(As an aside, I’ve never subscribed to the idea of knocking Moore’s “Squid” subplot in “Watchmen”.  Here’s my feelings about it: Dave Gibbons, whom I loved as a kid from his work in the British comics “2000 AD” and “Doctor Who Weekly“, has a very distinctive and terrific art style, but which can in no way be described as “scary” or “menacing”. Moore, at the time, was very deeply entrenched in Lovecraftiana, which reflected itself both directly and by allusion in his writings. My belief is this: Ozymandius’ “Squid” is meant to be nothing less than Moore portraying what would happen if Cthulhu manifested itself in New York. Now, if you haven’t seen the art for “Watchmen” and you think about that for a second, that’s a fairly compelling idea, and a fairly terrifying ploy for Ozymandias to enact. It must be a nifty idea, because people speculated with excitement for the longest time that “Cloverfield” was going to show precisely that. However, what we got in the comic instead, is Dave Gibbons big cute tentacled thingie. Had the art been different in the comic book, I can’t help but wonder if Zack Snyder would have attempted to portray the third act of his movie in another light entirely.)

Alan Moore, David Gibbons, Len Wein,
Dave Gibbons’ Squid in all of John Higgins’ garishly colored glory.

I was on the fence again about Wein’s slightly wacky “Dollar Bill #1” “Watchmen” one-shot, also. But, you know. You have to accept that Dollar Bill is a weird little character anyway, and given that, Wein fleshed out and made quite a quite sympathetic and sweet stab of the story of a non-super hero who dies when his cape gets caught in a revolving door. C’est la vie…

Dan Slott, Marvel Comics, Ryan Stegman

Back over in the Marvelverse, Doc Ock romances Mary Jane Watson while wearing Spidey’s body in “Superior Spider-Man #2″. There’s something a bit disturbing about the way Ryan Stegman draws Petey as being a complete ass while Otto puppeteers him. It wasn’t as much fun as last week’s issue, but it’s still a winner.

Lady Sif takes center-stage in “Journey Into Mystery #648”. Kathryn Immonen is filling big writing shoes after Gillen’s terrific run on this title, but she does so very capably. Sif joins up with a couple of exiled Asgardian oafs in this one, culminating in a Gods-vs-Spidey cliffhanger. Good stuff.

On the indie scene, IDW continue to satisfy, this time with “Masks”. I’m a huge fan of “The Shadow“, so having a team-up with the Green Hornet and all of the other masked characters of the 30s and 40s is like catnip for me. Not a slam-dunk, but a nicely glowing pleasure nonetheless.

IDW hits it out of the ballpark again with the “Doctor Who” story “Prisoners Of Time” by Scott and David Tipton. This one’s unusual, as it features William Hartnell’s First Doctor from the 1960s, and his old TV show insectoid enemy, the Zarbi. I hadn’t expected to like this, and was pleasantly surprised by it. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses.

Lastly another one-shot title by (yes!) IDW, in their current “Mars Attacks” onslaught. This one is “Mars Attacks….Zombies vs Robots“, in which the bloodthirsty bubblegum invaders impinge into the stylized steampunk Ashley Wood/Chris Ryall universe. I was curious when Sony bought this comic book 2 years ago; I’d enjoyed the artwork very much, but not the story. Plonking the Ack-Ack boys down into the middle of this universe enlivens it hugely. The Martians here are much more wisecracking: well, c’mon. They’re basically giant walking brains anyway, so what’s a zombie not to love? This was great fun, and I’m looking forward to the next one-shot in this “Mars Attacks” series. (It’s worth noting that IDW are doing a bunch of fake variant covers for these one-shots, including an absolutely beautiful “Mars Attacks…Judge Dredd“.)

IDW, 2000AD

Whew. There are we are. All finished for the next batch this week. You wouldn’t think I have a day-job making movies.

Oh, by the way. If you’re curious, you can check out the Facebook page (maybe even “Like” it!) for Gary Kurtz and myself’s “Panzer 88”. There’s some nice Weta Workshop pro-production art over there you might find interesting. Especially if you’ve wanted to see what a supernatural Jewish entity attacking a WW2 German King Tiger tank looks like.

Later, gang!

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