Saturday, 26 February 2011

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, No. 1

December 1976 saw the debut of 'Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man' which was the second spin-off from the 'Amazing Spider-Man' series (the first being 'Marvel Team-Up'). The series ran for 263 issues until 1998 and featured many great artists and writers including; Frank Miller, Jim Mooney, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern.

This issue features Spidey's foe 'Tarantula', a character who once served as hired muscle for the Jackal (he was last seen taken a beating from Captain America in 'Captain America' #224). It seems a strange choice to choose such a low profile character for the opening of a brand new series seeing as Spider-Man has many more well established enemies to choose from. The start of the issue sees Spider-Man taking photographs of Vice-Chancellor Edward Lansky at the Empire State University campus who is speaking out against upcoming budget cuts. Tarantula appears with the intention of kidnapping Lansky until Spider-Man intervenes, but unfortunately the Tarantula and his goons get away and Spider-Man not only gets his camera broken, but is also blamed by the students for the abduction. Spidey later spots the Tarantula's get-away car outside of the town Hall. After taking out the Tarantula's mob he then proceeds into the Mayors office where he rips off a steel door and then starts to brawl with the Tarantula until they crash through a window. "If I have to hear another word of macho earwax out of you -- I'll go crazy!" proclaims Spider-Man, but the Tarantula grabs onto the Mayor forcing Spidey to save the Mayor and thus allowing the Tarantula to flee. Although he manages to escape, his plans to kill the Mayor are scuppered.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Flash, No. 186

Written by - Mike Friedrich
Pencils by - Ross Andru
Ink by - Mike Esposito
Cover by - Ross Andru

This issue of The Flash, no. 186, is from 1969 and contains some stunning art. Over the last few months I've really started to appreciate the quality of DC's printing and the choice of paper for their issues. To me, it seems Marvel only really began to produce good quality prints in the 80's and the 'specials' of the 70's; whereas the DC copies are, in my opinion, of a higher standard.  The synopsis for the story 'Three Times Three Equals' is based around Sargon the Sorcerer who has turned to evil and now seeks the knowledge to travel in to the future. In order to do this he needs to bring Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash (the one in the yellow costume), back to the 20th Century and snatching the Flash's skeleton from the time of his death.

The Flash is a relatively new character to me having never really read any of the comics; although he has appeared in some of the modern crossovers I've read. From the 60's era of comics I really love the look of the Flash costume. What is quite unusual is that the cover image appears as a panel (albeit, slightly different) whereas most comic covers of the time (and still do) have little to do with the story as their primary function is to appeal to the potential reader (see my previous post from Jan 6th for Amazing Spiderman no. 75 for another example of a misleading cover). I love Mike Esposito's colours in the issue and my favourite panel has to be the very last one at the bottom of the fourth image below.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Marvel Team-Up, No. 26 - The Human Torch and Thor


This comic, from 1974, is part of the Marvel Team-Up series featuring the 'Human Torch' (aka Johnny Storm) and 'Thor'. The story begins with the Human Torch noticing flaming footprints leading to an alleyway. He is attacked by a Lava Man named Molto who is under the assumption that he is an assassin sent to kill him. Molto collapses during the fight and reveals that he is dying, his mission is to contact Thor about a plot that could potentially destroy the world.

Thor has taken on many alter ego's throughout his history but this story is set in a time before his life got so complicated. He has taken on the identity of lame physician Dr. Donald Blake. The Lava Men's witch doctor has stolen one of the Mole Men's most powerful weapons and is going to test it on Mauna Loa (the worlds largest volcano in Hawaii). It is down to the Human Torch and Thor to prevent a potentially cataclysmic event from taking place!

And, well, it's no surprise to let you know that they do succeed in their mission, however, I was a little disappointed that the culprits responsible only get a slap on the wrists for threatening to wipe out life on earth... But the main reason I want to draw your attention to this issue is the fantastic artwork that adorns its pages. Pencils are masterfully executed by Jim Mooney, with shared duties on inking by Frank Giacoia and D. Hunt and finally stunning colours by Glynis Wein.

I particularly like the way Johnny Storms transition to the Human Torch is pulled off through four images of just his face. I also love the look of the machinery shown on the next page I have chosen; the combination of the metallic imagery and pink lava shown on the final page triggers memories of watching Akira. I also really like the use of colour on every page, especially in some of the swirling imagery surrounding Thor.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

True Grit (2010) - Review

Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen

Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen

Based on the novel - 'True Grit' by Charles Portis

Joel and Ethan Coen's 'True Grit' is not a remake of the 1969 Henry Hathaway film; it is an adaption based on the novel by Charles Portis. In an interview with Ethan Coen he stated that 95% of the dialogue spoken in the film is directly taken from the book, with 5% written by the Coen's in order to make the film 'work'.

The story of True Grit is based around the hunt for a man by the name of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) who has murdered Mattie Ross' (Hailee Steinfeld) father. Fourteen year old farmgirl, Mattie, hires Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) the toughest US Marshal she kind find; whom she deems to have 'True Grit'. The two of them set out accompanied also by Texas Ranger 'LaBoeuf' (Matt Damon).

The original True Git starring John Wayne (in the role he won his only Oscar for) as Rooster Cogburn, is a pretty standard fare performance from Wayne. I am a John Wayne fan, but I don't think he was even close to the same league of acting as Jeff Bridges. But what Wayne lacked in acting skill, he made up for in screen presence; mostly due to his large frame. Jeff Bridges also has screen presence in bucket loads, but he's also a fantastic performer. I'd even go as far as saying that at times he perhaps lays it on a little too thick, not many could get away it, but Bridges certainly does.

As for the rest of the cast, each performance is note perfect, including an incredibly fearless and bold performance from debut actress Hailee Steinfeld (definite one to watch) and the ever dependable Josh Brolin; an actor whom I've always admired, especially his performance in 'American Gangster' and 'Planet Terror'. As for Matt Damon I've always thought of him as a great actor, especially when his career was starting to get going in the late 90's (Saving Private Ryan, Rounders, The Talented Mr Ripley) and then there seemed to be a clear dip in the quality of films he appeared in (with the odd exception such as the Bourne series). But over the last few years he seems to have established himself yet again as a great actor, and his performance in True Grit is no exception. 

As for the Coen Brothers' choice to 'do a genre film' it is a great change of pace. It doesn't necessarily feel like a Coen Brothers film, but there are enough subtle reminders throughout to let you know they're still in charge. I love the look of the film, at times it reminds me almost of Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' in its desolate bleakness. True Grit certainly feels like a traditional western due to its fantastic pacing which flows steadily all the way through until the dramatic climax, which somehow seems to sneak upon you.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Fighter (2010) - Review

Directed by: David O Russell

Written by: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson
Keith Dorrington

The story is based upon true events that revolve around Micky (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky (Christian Bale), step brothers who come from an incredibly dysfunctional family. Dicky was once a professional boxer who knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard; he's now a babbling crack-head who trains Micky. Micky has a run of bad fights which he starts to put down to his brothers training and his mothers management skills. Micky then meets Charlene (Amy Adams) who encourages him to go elsewhere for his training as she can see his family are stifling his potential, this inevitably causes even more problems within the family.

Reading several other reviews of this film, the general consensus is that the cast is the driving force behind the film. I'd agree with this with only one major exception; Mark Wahlberg's character, Micky. And don't misunderstand me, I really like Mark Wahlberg, he's given amazing performances in the likes of Boogie Nights and The Departed. It's just that Micky is dull and lacks any resemblance of a personality, which is emphasised even more by almost every other character in the film. It's easy to imagine Mickey being neglected as a child having to grow up with seven sisters, his overbearing mother and his massive-super-ego of a step brother Dickie. And all this wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for Wahlberg who's playing the lead role, because as the film progressess it's difficult to really care about whether he wins his fights or not.

Other than this exception, the film is terrific and the performances really are that good; Christian Bale has undergone yet another frighteningly good transformation and Amy Adams has really upped her game. But for me the standout performance goes to Alice Ward (Melissa Leo) who gives a dangerously good performance as the mother.

Overall The Fighter is a great watch with great performances but is let down in one area, the main character. It's certainly not my favourite boxing film, and it's also not (as one British tabloid paper is quoted as saying) 'The best boxing movie since Rocky'; obviously they didn't get around to watching Raging Bull or any other films about boxing.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Winter's Bone (2010) - Review

Directed by: Debra Granik

Written by: Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini

Based on the novel - 'Winter's Bone' by Daniel Woodrell

People who know me have to endure my persistent complaining about the town I live in, but after seeing 'Winter's Bone' I realise how much more worse it could actually be. Bleak doesn't come close. At first I found it difficult to sympathise with any of the characters, but slowly I came round to the lead, Ree (Jennifer Lawrence), whose performance is startling from beginning to end.

Ree's father has gone missing, and at the age of only 17 years, she is left to care for her younger brother and sister and her mother; who we are told is very ill but is never explained any further. The local sheriff pays Ree a visit and explains that her father is on bail but has used the family house as collateral. Her father is due in court the following week but if he fails to show then the house will be repossessed, so Ree takes it upon herself to track him down. Her search takes her into the local drugs trade of crystal meth, but every corner she turns she is told to stay away and not get involved. There is a frighteningly good performance by John Hawkes who plays Ree's uncle; Teardrop.

Although 'Winter's Bone' is cold and fallow; much like the location in which it is set (Ozarks, Missouri), there are also moments of joy and happiness which seem all the more poignant. One of the highlights is the soundtrack which features some live performances including one in a living-room with vocalist, Merideth Sisco.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Kids Are Alright (2010) - Review

Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko

Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a lesbian married couple who live in LA with two children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson); yes his name is pronounced 'lazer'... Joni has just finished school with straight A grades and is spending her last summer at home before she goes away to college. Joni has just turned 18 years of age, Laser (who is 15) convinces her to phone the agency who connects them with their sperm donor. The person they are put in-touch with is Paul (Mark Ruffalo); good looking, hippy sensibilities, drives a motorbike and runs his own organic resteraunt called WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). The kids get on well with Paul, but fractures within the family unit start to appear once Joni and Laser's 'Mum's' become involved.

The Kids Are Alright is a lighthearted look at a modern family who on the surface appear to be happy and complete, but  closer investigation reveals human problems that exist in most relationships; which can at times, be painful and complicated. Mark Ruffalo is well cast in the role of Paul, who at first seems to be trying a little too hard to be cool and laid back, but over time we realise he's a good person who likes to live in the moment - and probably always has done; even though it can sometimes get him into trouble. I wasn't sure about the casting of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore initially as I thought the dynamic they brought was too abraisive, but I guess that was the point. Annette Bening's character, Nic, is somewhat dislikeable when she acts irrationally but this is attributed to the long hours she works as a nurse; she is easily the most interesting character in the film. When Paul announces at dinner in a very matter of fact way that he dropped out of school because it 'wasn't for him', it is clear that Nic is very uncomfortable with this; in the same way she is uncomfortable when Jules tries to describe her education and work history to him. She's somewhat embarrassed by them both; she is the one in the family who steers the ship, ensures that the kids study hard, get good grades and get into a good college. The years of marriage have taken their toll and Jules needs to break away for a while, try something new and exciting - but I don't want to give too much away.

This film is nominated for the 2011 Academy Awards for 'Best Motion Picture', 'Best Performance for an Actor' (Mark Ruffalo), 'Best Performance for an Actress' (Annette Bening) and best screenplay. Some of the characters could be seen as a little cliché, and perhaps some of the ideas a little predictable and obvious, and because of that I don't think it's an Oscar worthy film; although if it should get one it should go to Annette Bening as her performance is great.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) - Review

Directed by - Juan Jose Campanella

Written by - Eduardo Sacheri
Juan Jose Campanella

Based on the novel - 'La Pregunta De Sus Ojos' by Eduardo Sacheri

The film is split between the present and 1974 and starts with the reuniting of Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) and Irene Menendez Hastings (Soledad Villamil). Benjamin is a handsome, bearded, retired police officer who, since 1974, has been married and divorced and is now writing a novel about a case he worked that he is still trying to exorcise. Irene is a beautiful lawyer who was once Benjamin's superior whom he is visiting to show her an early draft of his novel. 

I was really impressed by the way the jigsaw-like story was assembled; weaving to-and-fro between the past and the present, piecing together a complex narrative of events set over 25 years. The crime being investigated is the rape and murder of a young woman, but running parallel to this is the engrossing story of Benjamin's infatuation with his superior Irene. 

The Secret In Their Eyes won 'Best Foreign Film' at last years Academy Awards; beating the hotly tipped Michael Haneke film 'The White Ribbon' and also Jacques Audiard's 'A Prophet'. The Secret In Their Eyes oozes distinction with intricate layers of subtlety and depth rarely found in modern cinema. Its slower tempo harking back to an age of slower paced thrillers of the sixties and seventies. Although its roots are firmly grounded in the past, it feels fresh, new and exciting. There is an incredible scene where the camera swoops over and into a packed football stadium which then follows the action as a player strikes the crossbar. The camera continues downwards and descends into the crowd in one smooth movement. The shot continues for several minutes as a chase brakes out and we are taken further inside the ground. 

Although I don't want to give the ending away, I am pleased to say that there is no twist involved. We are teased with the prospect of a twist but thankfully it doesn't come; this helps reinforce the harshness and the reality of the actual ending which ties it all together nicely.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Aquaman - No.17

Aquaman No.17 from DC comics was published in 1964;

Cover art - Nick Cardy
Written by - Jack Miller
Pencils and Inks - Nick Cardy

Poseidon; Olympian God of the Sea is provided with 'time pods' that allow him to travel back and forth in time. He uses them to abduct Mera, a woman he wishes to take for  his wife. Aquaman steals one of the time pods and follows Poseidon. A contest is created by Zeus to retreive a golden apple beneath the sea which Aquaman wins. Again, Poseidon takes Mera and so Aquaman, Aqualad and Zeus follow him and get her back. Poseidon vows to mend his ways and is sent back to his normal era.

I particularly like the next scan; there's something mildly erotic about that second panel, or is that just me?