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View From The Brig(gs) The Maddeningly Elusive (Episode) “10”.

Hey, Panzertroopers.

We made it to Installment 10 and we’re double figures. Yay!  These past few weeks were the run-up to the Cannes Film Festival, and combined with that and us approaching the end of our “PANZER 88” casting, my partner Gary Kurtz and myself have been particularly fried.

So, there’s no book reviews this time, as no books have been read. (Well, one nearly has, but it was dry reference and likely wouldn’t be much of interest.)

Never mind: on with the show.

IN NOSE-SAWING 3-D THIS WEEK…

Yes, it’s obviously “Star Trek” time. I enjoyed immensely J.J. Abrams’ first 2009 reboot (overlooking the sometimes patently reverse-engineered plot), but the trailer for “Into Darkness” sounded a few battle-stations klaxons this time, and I was preparing myself for a “Quantum Of Solace” level disappointment. And, yep: that’s pretty much what I got.

Forces Of Geek are doing a columnists’ roundtable which I pitched into, so if you’re interested in seeing my comments on the movie, take a look over there. Let’s just say I wasn’t massively impressed, and I think that feeling of disappointment is echoed across the interwebs.

J.J. Abrams has become a prolific producer, and an actually-good director to-boot, so why he allies himself with writing that drags his movies down is a shade confusing. I sincerely hope the writing team on “Star Wars” does a better job, or lynch mobs are going to be roaming the streets.

On a brief tangent, this Memorial Day 30 years ago today (the previous night, technically, for the triple bill that we in Britain were lucky enough to get) I was a nerdy kid in a homemade Han Solo outfit standing outside the Dominion Theater in London. If you own the “Star Wars” box set with Ken Burns’ “Empire Of Dreams” documentary, there’s actually a brief clip of a grinning me in said Corellian outfit.

Ah, the faint tang of trilogy-ending disappointment.

Away from the place where Polarized Glasses chafe your ears, I had a chance to catch up with Jonathan Levine’s Zom-Com flick “Warm Bodies”. I’d liked the trailer for this, but it came and went from theaters without any fanfare and not much critical volume, and I somehow missed it. It’s a head-scratcher as to why this failed to make an impression with the moviegoing public, because I loved, loved, loved this film; and it’s easily my favorite of the year so far.

Nick Hoult did a commendable job of conveying love-sick zombiedom while fleshing over some of the more morally-questionable aspects of the plot, and I enjoyed the rest of the cast (I’ve been fascinated with the quirky Analeigh Tipton especially, since I saw her in the Thomas Jane show “Hung”). The Bonies (grey emaciated corpses who represent this universe’s last stage of zombie putrefaction) were genuinely eerie adversaries. The film has good production design; good (35mm film!) photography from Javier Aguirresarobe; and a funkily-cute score from Marco Beltrami, who also did our score on “Hellboy”. (Trivia note: I love to write to film scores, and have a collection of several thousand. When I was hired to write “Hellboy” several years before Guillermo Del Toro came onboard, totally coincidentally one of the soundtracks I had on rotation was Beltrami’s score to “Mimic”! I was thrilled when we ended up with Beltrami.)

I thought “Warm Bodies” was charming, witty, and touching. Good script and direction from Levine, who did Jospeh Gordon-Levitt’s dark cancer comedy “50/50”, which I also liked. Mr Levine is definitely on my “Watch List” now. See this. It’s great. Can’t wait to watch it again.

I also caught up with the time-travel romcom “Kate And Leopold” for the first time. “Huh?”, I can hear you exclaim. “That movie was released in 2001!” Well, yes. I’m a bit baffled as to how I missed it originally also; I guess it might have been that global-terrorism thing that was occupying all our minds back then. (As a swift aside, I celebrated the stroke of midnight from 2000/2001 by playing “Thus Sprach Zarathustra” very, very loudly. I have a propensity for doing chronologically-apt-but-silly things. On January 12, 1997, my then-girlfriend baked a HAL 9000-shaped cake to celebration the fictional activation of Mr Clarke’s creation. On September 13th, 1999, I played Barry Gray’s music from Gerry Anderson’s “Space: 1999” fairly loudly at midnight, then glanced outside to make sure the moon was still around. I’ve a slight recollection alcohol may have figured a bit in that last one, though.)

I digress.

Anyway, what a charming, genuinely feel-good movie “Kate and Leopold” is.

Liev Schreiber is a time-traveler from present day, who inadvertently brings English dandy Hugh Jackman to today’s New York, and in doing so threatens his own existence.

Jackman is on fine, comedically-pompous form; Schreiber does a really good (and unusually comic) turn, and Breckin Meyer (who I often find troublesome) is quite empathetic and lovable.

Meg Ryan alone upsets the applecart a bit…why were there suddenly a slew of films around that time, when she went from being fun and adorable onscreen, to being tense and angry? (For some reason throughout, my brain was digitally cutting-and-pasting her playing this part with Andie McDowell.) Still.

The movie’s so good, even Ryan’s edgy sullenness can’t derail it. Some nicely stylized matte paintings of period New York with the Brooklyn Bridge being built are the icing on the cake. A big thumbs-up from me.

Not brand new, but again something I missed last year, was David Koepp’s bicycle messenger action piece “Premium Rush”. The plot: Joseph Gordon Levitt is a bike courier who has something in an envelope, and evil Michael Shannon (who hilariously insists to everybody that his name is Forrest J Ackerman!) wants it. That’s about all there really is. And it’s pretty fun!

If you took a bunch of movies from the 80s (“Quicksilver”, “Three O’Clock High”, and a few others) and glued ’em together, that’s what you’d get. David Koepp directs the hell out of the biking around the city. Great stunt work, and some of the best editing I’ve seen of late. There’s not much depth, but this movie has ridiculous amounts of energy. I enjoyed it.

Back up-to-date again, I also caught up with two fading action stars’ latest hurrahs: Bruce Willis in “A Good Day To Die Hard”, and Arnie the Governator in “Last Stand”.

Neither flicks appear at the top of these Expendables’ respective lists of accomplishments, but if you really, positively must see one because somebody is pointing a gun at your head, see “Last Stand”. It’s ludicrous and all over the place, but at least it boasts a smattering inventive moments. I don’t even want to type what I think of “A Good Day To Die Hard”, other than it’s a horrible travesty given how toweringly iconic the first movie in the series is. For shame, Bruce. For shame.

IN A PLACE WHERE THE COMIC CODE AUTHORITY HAS NO DOMINION

I was going to kick-off the comic reviews this time with D.C., in the interests of non-favoritism, but a Marvel comic came down the pike that was so deeply wonderful, I actively searched out the writer’s personal contact details to tell him personally what I thought of it (which, after Gordon Rennie and his wonderful “Necronauts”, is only the second time I’ve ever done that.)

Al Ewing’s “Avengers Assemble #15: Age Of Ultron” was so marvelous, and had some fabulous characterization, it nearly brought tears to my eyes and actually excelled Alan Moore’s various Albion-cherishing efforts.

Set wholly in London, it starts with a Dalek joke as Captain Marvel snatches up Computer Graham (whose super-power is to take control of clunky old 80s video games!) and delivers him to the magically-protected British Museum stronghold (it’s all about Excalibur, you know).

There’s a wonderful visual joke of Cybermen marching down the steps near St. Pauls Cathedral, which if you’ve seen that Patrick Troughton-era “Doctor Who” Cyberman photograph, you’ll grin at immediately.

After a lot of (extremely well-penned) soul-searching, the Avengers (including Captain Britain, in the single best appearance I’ve ever seen of him) head out to take down Ultron’s British presence, and several of them fall in the process. Nobility shines from this story, through and through.

At the risk of hyperbole: if you read one comic book issue this year, make it this. Absolutely, truly fantastic.

I toyed with the idea of not including Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers #11”, but I enjoyed the absurdity of portions of it so much I couldn’t help but keep it in the list.

In this one, Captain Marvel and several other Avengers put on their best duds to play a casino in Macau. Their aim (there’s a pun here: sorry) is twofold: to seize control of a powerful weapon; and to infiltrate a group of AIM (see?) agents who are likewise there. Now, this part of the story is why I couldn’t help but like it: the AIM guys are similarly dressed in their tuxedoed finery…but they’re still wearing their ridiculous yellow hazmat “Beekeeper” headgear. Seriously. You have to see this to disbelieve it. It’s like something out of Monty Python.

Christopher Yost’s “Avenging Spider-Man #20” is largely Avengers (hmm…do you think Marvel are milking “Avengers” much?) hellicarrier-bound this time, as a pair of super powered assassins turn up to take down a bad-guy named the Chameleon that they have in custody. Otto Octopus, still masquerading inside the body-swapped Peter Parker as Spider-Man, is within a hats-breadth of blowing his secret here.

There’s been some confusion within the Marvel Universe of-late (at least, I’m confused) about Nick Fury. Is the Sam Jackson-flavored version really Nick Fury, because the white-haired we-all-grew-up-with-him honky version has mysteriously cropped up again…in fact, there’s even an actual Sam Jackson joke too, just to confuse things!

With the Hulk turning up in the last frame, the next issue should be interesting.  Rather too reminiscent of the action from the actual “Avengers” movie here in places, but still good fun.

I’ve been running hot-and-cold on Dennis Hopeless’ “Avengers Arena” series, which has Arcade-kidnapped Avengers teens basically running through their “Lord Of The Flies”/”Hunger Games” schtick, and occasionally offing one another. There really isn’t much more to it than that, and even though the plot of Issue #9 here (confusingly titled “2 of 5”, as a miniseries within the series) doesn’t advance the plot much, I think I’m being suckered because Kev Walker’s artwork is just so darned good. Bah! Yes, I enjoyed this. Although like I said: plot here, there ain’t.

“Deadpool #9”, on the other hand, has lashings of plot. One strand has Deadpool looking for a magical means of extracting the personality of a woman agent that’s gotten lodged inside his head. In the other, Deadpool has to go kill the next person on a list given to him by the demon Vettis to uphold his end of a bargain. It doesn’t help that his target is a lifeguard who is, genuinely, only a good guy.

This is an interesting one, as Deadpool doesn’t hesitate in snuffing the lifeguard out, but he’s very, very annoyed that Vettis made him do this. What’s the morality here, folks? We know Deadpool is a stone killer. It made me feel bad on different levels. There’s more plot strands that didn’t feature this time around, and I suspect this story is one of those that will read better as a graphic novel.

I’m quite enjoying “Alpha”, and “Big Time #4” keeps it rolling along. When not pining over his teenage school crush, teen Alpha deals with a disgruntled superhammer-equipped ex-Stark Industries bad guy called The Miller, and then an Energy Absorbing Man who was a former street punk whom Alpha previously almost ended. With a cliffhanger involving his family, and a cameo from the God Of Thunder himself, while there may not be much depth to this issue, it’s still rollicking good fun nonetheless.

Jason Aaron’s “Thor God Of Thunder #8” rolls on the Godbutcher storyline, with Young Thor toiling in the mines to build the Godbutcher’s colossal Godbomb (alongside his unsuspecting future female offspring, no less), while Future Thors are on their way to join him. This is a big fun fantasy issue, and thoroughly enjoyable, and helped take some of the taste of Aaron’s loathsome “Thanos” title out of my mouth.

Okay. NOW we’re hopping over to D.C.!

Michael Alan Nelson’s “Supergirl #20” is basically a big Superbrawl, as Powergirl and Supergirl have to defend themselves against Supergirl’s self-aware automated ocean-bottom Sanctuary, which has developed a serious case of the HAL 9000s and intends to snuff one of them for being an imposter. The action in this was pretty good for what it was, but I found the Sanctuary’s dialogue a little too snarky-snappy “bad-guy”, which spoiled my enjoyment of the issue somewhat.

Scott Snyder’s “Batman #20” continues the Clayface storyline, with briskly-clean and detailed art from Greg Capullo and Danny Miki. I was pleased to note a nice nod to a prototype of the future “Batman Beyond” armour.

I’ve enjoyed this story, but giving the ability for Clayface to perfectly mimic anybody he touches, while admittedly extending the character’s usefulness beyond a squishy thug, really gives this bad-guy a bit too much power. I dunno: what do you think?

Finally, “Constantine #3” had the titular John in London, and popping briefly into a monstrously-inhabited parallel dimension whilst on the search for the Croydon Lens.

Three issues in, and this series is really working for me in a big way, but a large part of that has to be attributed to Renato Guedes’ stunning artwork, and Mercelo Maiolo’s continuing fabulous coloring.

And there we have it. A short one for this time; maybe the brevity was refreshing!

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