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View From The Brig(gs): This One Goes Up To (Episode) “11”.

It’s Summer!

I know this, not from the shift to my blistering lobster-colored skin, but because movies that cost obscene amounts of money are upon us and dashing our fanboy expectations weekly on Mammon’s Cliffs.

And, typically here in my Swedish incarceration, whereas just about everything I haven’t especially wanted to see was released here weeks ahead of the U.S., I have to wait another two weeks for Man Of Steel, which I really, really do. Moan, groan…

So, having begun in a cinematic vein, let’s segue to what I’ve been watching recently. Since Star Trek Into Darkness, I’ve been playing catch-up of the silver screen’s escaped refugees.

First on the block was Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters, which seemed about a sixteenth of an inch away from being a Sam Raimi movie.  The script is very basic (and with a somewhat unnecessary amount of UCLA frat boy expletives, which felt to me like Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola did that same thing that many Scandinavians do in compensating with swearing) I find Gemma Arterton to sometimes being problematic, but she’s surprisingly good here (and I can’t recall seeing a lead actress in a film get so graphically beaten).

Poor Jeremy Renner gives it his all, but the material is just not using him to his abilities. Nice to see Famke Janssen being used again (she really needs another major role: she’s far too good to be wasted), and little-known German actress Kathrin Kühnel played the white witch mother of the younger Arterton and Renner characters and made an intriguing impression.

To my utter shock…I was entertained by this film. It’s a load of old malarkey and it’s not going to win any awards, but it didn’t bore me like so much of the current Fairytale drivel that’s getting pumped out does. And it’s way better (although I use the word “better” advisedly) than anything with Hansel And Gretel in the title has a right to be. Oh: and as a fan of practical effects, I liked Edward the prosthetic troll.

Continuing the fairy-tale theme, I also watched Brian Singer’s Jack The Giant Slayer. This one had a script that was marginally better than Hansel And Gretel, but on reflection I think I’d have admit that I didn’t enjoy the film anywhere as much. The presumably expensive and extensive effects (including the most impressive beanstalk thus committed to film) are fine, but mostly (aside from the digital facial gurning) it just looked like optically scaled-up blokes, and I really do have to question where the staggering $195 million dollar budget went. (I did liked the giant “Fum”, who resembled and talked a bit liked Slaine from the British comic book 2000 A.D.).

Everybody is largely decent in the cast (with one notable exception, but I’ll leave you to figure out who that is.) McGregor comes across best in a role you might first think would be the stereotypical smarmy evil guy (especially given his propensity for very toothy smiles, and the splendidly gravity-defying coiffure he’s given here), but that turns out not to be the case. Eleanor Tomlinson is also very good as the princess of the piece; I think she might have an interesting future.

(Oh. And you know when you saw the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, and you knew instantly Bill Nighy was Davy Jones in what you initially thought was really good makeup, but that turned out not to be the case? Well, here Bill Nighy once again motion-captures the chief bad guy giant General Fallon, but to my surprise I didn’t get it for ONE second. In fact, I thought thought the mo-cap was being done by David Bradley, who plays Argus Filch in Harry Potter. Bizarre.)

In a year where the third acts of movies are resoundingly crappy, this is one of the few “blockbuster” flicks where its third act actually ratchets significantly up on the two that came before it, and didn’t have me looking at my watch in despair. I can’t say it’s a great movie, because it isn’t. And I can’t recommend it. But it’s not horrible. That I should even have to say that, depresses me. I hope Brian Singer bounces back with X-Men: Days Of Future Past, because he’s done some splendid work in his early career.

Next up was the alien home invasion thriller Dark Skies, directed by former visual effects guy Scott Stewart and starring Keri Russell. The movie’s not a million miles away from any of the variety of supernatural “found footage” flicks we’ve seen of-late (although this is told more traditionally), with a thin veneer of Alien-dom glued on just to give it some mileage, and a third act basically totally cribbed from Close Encounters and Poltergeist.

Saying that, it’s not dreadful. The Aliens are fairly creepy (albeit basic, and reminded me of the far superior Fire In The Sky), and one moment actually made me jump, which is a rarity. If you haven’t got anything more compelling at hand to watch, give it a whirl. Like Hansel And Gretel, it’s better than it has any right to be, and if the supposed $3.5 million dollar budget is to be believed, a commendable effort.

I also saw the movie Stoker, which is (I guess) about getting your jollies off killing people. I honestly don’t know how to review this film, as I couldn’t see the point to it. The actors all give it their best, but…it wasn’t for me.

For my last “current” film, I decided to press the button marked “subtitles” and watch the French movie Alceste A Bicyclette (more familiarly known as Cycling With Moliere in the English-speaking world.)

It’s an odd little French piece about a successful TV actor, Lambert Wilson (the Merovingian in the Matrix movies) who is trying to rope in another actor (the ubiquitous Fabrice Luchini, who seems to be everywhere in French cinema) for a small Moliere theatre production he’s organizing. It’s meant to be a comedy, and it’s amusing although not really funny; more an Odd Couple exploration into Luchini’s antisocial personality.

I liked it: it entertained me, although again it probably won’t be on any year’s end “Best Of” lists.

Looking wearily at the ever-growing pile of current movies I had to catch up on, I felt enough was enough and it was time to seek solace in movies made in decades-long past.

After a brief Facebook exchange with some friends (all of whom had opinions right across the board), I decided to watch the Herb Ross 1969 version Goodbye, Mr Chips starring Peter O’Toole (an actor who makes robots poison you with black goo.) I had somehow never gotten around to seeing this take, but the 1939 version starring Robert Donat (who won an Oscar for his performance, which he then used to keep his kitchen door open!) is one of my perennial favorites.

If you’re not familiar with this bittersweet story, it tells of the career of a stick-in-the-mud teacher at a posh boarding school, who eventually finds love although the actual purpose of his life is essentially about the children he teaches. (Think of a much more British version of Dead Poets Society meets Mr Holland’s Opus.)

This version, a musical, was a bit of a mixed bag, but not the total disaster I expected.

O’Toole is…okay. He channels rather too much of his quivering demented Lawrence Of Arabia in some of the early scenes.

Songstress-turned-actress Petula Clark is generally miscast, but okay here-and-there.

Nice cinematography from Oswald Morris (who lensed a couple of my favourites, including The Man Who Would Be King). I felt that calling this a musical is a head-scratcher, as the songs don’t really add enough to the story to make it worthwhile (with the exception of one nice tune about schoolchildren singing about what they’ll do when they leave school); although without them the story would have big gaping holes in them. I’m glad I saw it, but next time it’s back to the Donat classic for me.

Finally, I rewatched Hot Fuzz for the umpteenth time.

This was pretty much my escape valve, as I needed something that I knew wasn’t going to disappoint me. It really is a phenomenally made film in every department, and I’m quite serious when I say that Edgar Wright is perhaps one of Britain’s finest current crop of directors. He’s batted three-for-three for me so far, and I can’t wait to see The World’s End.

I mentioned my lobster-esque skin. This is because, when it’s not being pouring down with torrential rain (as it is as I type this…seriously), the sun has occasionally poked out and I’ve been listening to some BBC podcasts while working on my nascent skin cancer.

I managed to listen to the entire run of Cabin Pressure again these past weeks. For those not familiar, it’s a radio comedy show by John Finnegan about the hapless crew of a one-plane charter airline, and is notable for starring current flavour-of-the-hour Benedict Cumberbatch (stop your squee-ing at the back, ladies), and the fabulous Roger Allam. While I know Mr Cumberbatch’s vocal talents have been celebrated elsewhere (and he is the voice of Smaug in Mr. Jackson’s second upcoming Hobbit installment), I’ve reached the conclusion that Roger Allam is a vocal god, and I can listen to him saying anything whatsoever.

Often very funny, and quite recommended.

IN THE LAND OF INKED PANELS

No Books Were Harmed In The Making Of This Column.

While I have several on the go, I didn’t manage to finish any of them in time for this installment, so it’s straight on to the comic reviews.

I love Dial H For Hero. China Mieville has been charting the course of one of the most unusual and sometimes batshit-crazy superhero teams I’ve ever seen.

This issue begins with our hero (Open Window Man…which is the craziest character I’ve seen since any given bad guy in The Tick) in a strange hinter-dimension, watching what looks like a Flatland Bruce Wayne grieving his parents’ death in 2-Dimensional graffiti, and offering the chalked character advice. This was a weirdly affecting and very surreal issue. If you’re a fan of Batman you might dig it. If you like The Tick or Doctor Strange weirdness, likewise. I’d love to make a movie out of this, but it’s something that would flummox Warners’ studio marketing let me tell you.

Speaking of Batman’s genesis, Scott Snyder’s Batman #21: Zero Year was essentially another reboot “flashback” storyline: his latest version of Batman Begins, if you will. And, you know what? It was thoroughly enjoyable.

It’s pretty much the same story of the Young Bruce you know, told in a slightly-tweaked way and layered with enough nostalgia in-jokes to make you smile. Greg Capullo and Danny Miki’s lovely art is almost overshadowed by Fco Plascencia’s beautiful, vivid colors. Get this book. It’s a gem.

Snyder scores again with Superman Unchained #1. This begins with the “atomic” bombing of Japan in 1945…but with a slight revisionist history (which oddly enough slightly resembles a project Gary Kurtz and myself have been talking about for 5 years…nice to see that great minds think alike!).

The action shifts to present day, where Superman is saving numerous satellites tumbling out of orbit. Supes goes to confront Luthor…but we’re left with a hint of an interesting nemesis for issue #2. This was a flat-out “Superman” yarn, and I enjoyed the bejiggers out of it. Big thumbs up.

I’ve really enjoyed reading all the various Green Lantern titles this past year, and the Wrath Of The First Lantern storyline comes to a heaving, massive climax in #20. Told as a chronicle by a future Lantern, this wraps up the titanic fight against Volthoom, the First Lantern. This issue is absolutely massive, and a review of it just doesn’t do it justice. Parallax, Nekron, the Black Lanterns…Geoff Johns throws the kitchen sink at this one, and then some. It’s a staggering piece of work, but Doug Mahnke’s artwork is the real star here. I don’t even want to think how many sleepless nights he must have put in on this (and there’s an enormous roster of guest artists and colorists listed, too.) This really is one of the most special issues of any comic book you’ll read this year, and you owe it to yourself to invest a look at it.

Well worth 45 minutes hunkered down in a big leather armchair at the Starbucks of your choice. Two massive green thumbs up from me.

After the huge blockbuster of Green Lantern #20, anything else is going to pale in comparison. But Robert Venditti’s Green Lantern Corps #21 was a dense and fascinating issue in its own right. With the Corps in disarray, much of it disbanded and their technological systems on Oa a shambles, the freed Guardians (you need to read some back-issues to see where that comes from) are trying to put the disillusioned and scattered Corps back together again. Larfleeze attacks Oa, just as rings have been sent out to the various galactic sectors to harvest new recruits.

Green Lantern #21 (hey: I only just mentioned #20 above…I’m slipping!) is a simultaneous chapter to the events occurring in Green Lantern Corps #21 above. Both are great, and you should really read them together.

Charles Soule’s Swamp Thing #21 definitely deserves a mention. This is a fairly quiet and interesting little tale. A mysterious woman named Capucine comes to Swampy seeking protection, and using an esoteric entreaty from centuries ago. The same time (what are the odds!), a pair of hunters turn up to kill her, and we discover that her skills are formidable and she’s a thousand years old!

Swampy has to trippily go back in time (or, the planet’s stored consciousness…whichever you prefer) to commune with an earlier incarnation of himself. There’s some interesting imagery (I liked the witches’ stake which blossomed into a tree) and hopefully an omen of things to come. Looking forward to #22.

Christy Marx’s Birds Of Prey #20 was a fun read. Starling seems to have betrayed her Squad’O’Gals with Mr Freeze, and most of this is a squabbling chick-fight. However, Freeze is realized here as a fairly impressive heavy, and really ratcheted up my entertainment of this issue. I like Freeze as a character, and so I give this issue a wary thumbs-up.

Talon #8 has the dead Calvin Rose being resurrected by the Court Of Owls, and being reprogrammed by them. Or, is he? Bane features in this one briefly as a prelude to future events in Gotham. While the plot doesn’t advance greatly, there’s lots of incident, and it’s all written well by James Tynion IV.

Wrapping up D.C., I want to single out Gail Simone’s Batgirl #21…for pretty much turning my stomach.

Drenched in blood and all manner of in-your-face and hinted-at depravity, much like Marvel’s Thanos Rising title this was just a smidge away from being Saw-inspired torture porn…the “Bride Of E.C. Comics”, if you will. Simone is a really good writer. And I’ve sliced people nastily up in my own writing, so I’m not going to be hypocritical about this kind of material.

And, we’re obviously long past the point where we’re pretending (sadly) comic books are for kids anymore. But, does the world need this? It just depressed me.

Okay. Palette-Cleanser Time, as we head over to Marvel.

Brian Michael Bendis’ Age Of Ultron #8 has Wolverine and Sue Storm being held captive on a Helicarrier by Tony Stark in a parallel universe present, after their Terminator-esque jaunt back in time to kill Hank Pym last time around. There are no Avengers here: they’re The Defenders.

I particularly liked the look of The Thing in this issue, with big crater marks pitting his body from the impact of some past weapon encounter. Good title, good read.

Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man #10 was a fun heist jape that was breezy to read. But, I have a small problem with the underlying plot, which involves Machine Man-esque Robot 451, and suggests that Howard Stark made a deal with an extraterrestrial mechanism involving Tony’s childhood genesis. To me, this is screwing with the Marvel Universe in a giant (and fairly stupid) way, and I’m not sure I like this being part of canon.

Wolverine And The X-Men #29 was a fun read, which jumped back and forth from present to future, centered around Wolverine and a buried Time Capsule at the Jean Grey School…you know: those things you put in the ground and dig up decades later (as opposed to pieces of technology you press a button and whoosh back to the Cretaceous Era.)

There’s some time travel weirdness and lots of characterization (and not much of the often-tedious X-Men angst. It was a sweet little issue, and I enjoyed it.

Frank Cho both writes and draws Savage Wolverine #5, and it’s a beautiful job. Hulk and Wolverine slug it out with a Mighty Joe Young refugee, before Hulk awakens a Cthulhu-clone named Morrigan who flies spaceward to his master Visher-Rakk, a being best described as Galactus drawn as designed by Todd McFarlane.

His home base looks an awful lot like Mike Mignola’s Ogdru Jahad prison from Hellboy, too. Well, I would notice that, wouldn’t I…?

Ah! Journey Into Mystery #652 was an instant hit with me. I have a massive love-on for Beta Ray Bill, and this Lady Sif-oriented issue ended up with Bill and his ship chasing an alien ship and crashing into a space station Sif is temporarily manning. There wasn’t much to this issue (and in honesty it probably isn’t a “recommend”), but we all have characters that push our buttons even if the story isn’t terribly god, and Bill does it for me.

I love Fantastic Four, but I’ve been disappointed with the title this past year. Issue #8 at least tried to do something a tiny bit interesting and break out of its stagnancy, by exploring a time travel story in which The Thing is (conveniently) turned back to a human Ben Grimm for one week, and travels back in time to protect Yancey Street from a gangster putting on the thumbscrews. It’s pretty basic stuff, but enjoyable nonetheless.

A+X #8 was virtually a two-for-the-price-of-one deal: Spider-Woman and Shadowcat take on a bunch of AIM yellow-heads in the subway in the first half, while in the (better) second half Chistopher Hasting has fun with Hawkeye and Deapool storming a hidden submarine. I particularly liked Deadpool’s “Hulk Smash” archery arrows.

Venom #35 was a corker of an issue for Lovecraftian-esque monster-on-monster action, as Venom and Toxin are forced to team up to defeat a cadre of symbiote-hunting creatures. Cullen Bunn did a good job with the plot, but the real hero here is Declan Shalvey’s almost Mignola-like monster art. Good stuff.

Mark Waid and Walt Simonson’s Indestructible Hulk #8 was a very satisfying romp with Hulk and Thor smashing up Frost Giants amidst pages emblazoned with spheres of black Jack Kirby energy. I enjoyed this one a great deal.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Gambit, but issue #13 was a rare ray of fun, as the Canadian thief has to break into one of Iron Man’s apartments to steal something in order to save his cyborg friend Fence’s life. Unfortunately, an alarm trips and War Machine comes to answer. Decent writing from James Asmus enlivens this title.

Dark Avengers #190 hits its final parallel-Universe issue, in which everyone bashes up everyone as they go to take down Evil Tony Stark. If it’s action you want, this is the one for you.

Christopher Yost’s Avenging Spider-Man #21 looks for all the world like scenes missing from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie. A hit team storms the helicarrier to take down a captured super-villain named Chameleon, and…well. Hulk smashes. But Spidey (or, rather, the body-swapped Otto Octavius) is being rather sneaky, and these issues are all slowly adding up to something he has up his sleeve. Good fun.

An issue on (oh, how I have been slow) Avenging Spider-Man #22 finds Yost’s Spidey going up against a Mysterio copycat, which leads him into direct conflict with…The Punisher. The was an even better issue than #21, giving the main characters more time to breathe. I’m loving the entire Otto Octavius run…whoever came up with this notion at Marvel deserves a pint and a slap on the back.

I have an enormous fondness for Star-Lord, so Brian Michael Bendis’ Guardians Of The Galaxy #3 pushed all my buttons. Having been captured by the Spartax last time, the living tree Groot releases the Guardians, and Peter Quill lays down the law to his father, the Emperor.

Kevin Feige wanted a Star Wars space opera for the Marvel roster, and it’s very clear they’re laying down the foundations of that here. And it’s highly entertaining.

Thor God Of Thunder #9 has three Thors from different timelines converging on the God Butcher for a titanic battle…which seems to not go very well for them. Jason Aaron’s writing is fine, but once more this is a showcase for Esad Ribic’s terrific artwork, and Ive Svorcina’s even more stunning colors. When this gets compiled as a graphic novel, it’s going to be a beauty.

Daredevil is another character I only very seldom enjoy, and one that I don’t feel except in rare instances lives up to its potential. With Dark Nights #1, writer/artist Lee Weeks captures lightning in a bottle. It’s a snowed-in New York, and a hospitalized Matt Murdock is not at the height of his powers. the layouts in this issue are phenomenal and this grabbed my attention.

Jeff Parker’s Red She Hulk #66 was an extremely complex issue, and I actually read it through a couple of times, as I was so impressed by it. Betty Ross and Machine Man wander into parallel universes in the Neverglades’ Nexus Of Realities, encountering Man-Thing (who is interestingly portrayed here as articulate, and less the shambling behemoth he often is.)

Very sharp art from three artists, and nice colors from Val Staples.

That’s it for this (slightly postponed) installment. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

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