Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Superior Spider-Man

Many of you are already aware that in Marvel's latest zany attempt to drive profits up, they have embarked upon a new era in Spider-Man's legacy.  Namely, The Superior Spider-Man, wherein Dr. Octopus has pulled off a mind-swap with Peter Parker shortly before his body (with Peter's mind trapped inside) passed on to the great beyond.  Thankfully, this is not nearly as final an outcome for a comic book character as it is for the rest of us, though, at present, the mind of Dr. Octopus is in control of Spider-Man's body.  Truthfully, this whole thing sounded like a lackluster publicity stunt that could potentially rival the wretched clone saga as one of Marvel's biggest blunders, many of which have involved the webhead.  I picked up the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man (#700, the final issue before the title became The Superior Spider-Man) and decided to nab the first few issues of the new book because I felt they would be collectible and I was curious.  I was highly skeptical, but yes, I was curious.

Wow.  12 issues later, I'm shocked to admit that this has become my favorite comic, somehow leapfrogging DC's stellar new take on Swamp Thing.  Of course, if Marvel hadn't rebooted the New Avengers title I so cherished, and if I knew where to find Iron Fist, this may not necessarily be the case, but I digress.  The Superior Spider-Man is awesome!  I'm fairly certain that when the next movie hits the scene the book will be called Amazing Spider-Man again and Peter will have somehow resurrected his mind and wrestled control of his body away from Dr. Octopus, but I'm in no hurry to get there.  This title is badass.  This new Spider-Man has killed, he has maimed, and he seems to be a doing a better job than the Spider-Man I knew and loved for the most part, though he does occasionally make the type of mistake that you would only expect from a villain.  Like talking too much when he should be throwing punches, and not the witty banter kind of talking we're used to, but rather the "Let me explain my plan to you" type of stuff Bond villains perish because of.

Regardless, I haven't enjoyed Spidey this much since Marvel's Civil War, though I hope that isn't a jinx.  It was shortly after that incredible run that One More Day, the only storyline that could make fans of the webhead miss the clone saga, hit the scene like a giant turd falling from the sky.  I was so happy with that turn of events that I cancelled my subscription and turned my back on the wall-crawler, but now I'm hooked again.  If you're looking for a darker and stranger take on one of the most beloved characters of all time, scope out The Superior Spider-Man.  You won't regret it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Walking Dead: What Comes After

What a wait!  After the last volume, Something to Fear, I was so eager for the next installment of The Walking Dead that I almost started buying individual issues.  However, I was a late arrival to the party, and since I was on Volume 16 of the trade paperbacks before I caught up, it makes sense to keep scoring these collections.  Anyway, Something to Fear was one of the most difficult reads yet, establishing Negan as perhaps the greatest threat Rick and the gang have yet to face.  Considering that they have already dealt with The Governor, that is quite a compliment.  Of course, when I speak of The Governor, I'm referring to that devilish badass who wreaked havoc in the comics, not that pansy who found time for a little rage every once-in-a-while on the TV show and spent the rest of his time sulking and screwing the mockery of Andrea in the comics that AMC's Andrea became. 
Rant over.

So, after a gut-wrenching read that killed off two of the book's most likable characters, What Comes After changed gears and slowed down enough to let us wallow in the aftermath.  We saw Rick's people losing faith in their dedicated leader, and we saw another side of Negan that makes his character incredibly complex.  He was still depicted as a violent madman and we came to learn that he is nearly as selfish and arrogant as he is vicious.  Yet we also saw that he can be quite reasonable, and at times he was almost likeable.  Not only does this give the character incredible depth, but it makes him wildly unpredictable going forward.  It may even present Rick with some conflict as he preps for war, but I wouldn't expect him to be too forgiving.

Carl also played a major role in this arc, and he remains as entertaining and puzzling as ever.  It's easy to forgive Carl for pretty much anything in this series given what he has been subjected to, and in this storyline we saw him veer from wounded son to absolute badass to scared little boy to level-headed son of the apocalypse.  His presence is a tremendous boost to The Walking Dead, for he is also wildly unpredictable, and he's probably the only good guy that still has the ability to shock us.  We're pretty sure of how everyone else is going to respond to most situations, but Carl is an enigma.  This particular arc gave him a wealth of things to do, and I think much of the material that centered on him was among the staunchest stuff in What Comes After.

There wasn't as much action this time out, but there was enough carnage to satisfy me, and even if this wasn't one of the most groundbreaking or exciting arcs to come down the pike, it was incredibly informative.  Negan continues to dominate the landscape, and Rick and crew have seldom seemed so vulnerable.  This felt like a bridge between Something to Fear and whatever it is that Kirkman has up his sleeve for the next arc, but it was a satisfying read and another stellar installment in an epic series.  You may like the show more than I do, but it suffers greatly when compared to the source material.  If you call yourself a fan of The Walking Dead and you're not reading these books, you're truly missing out.  Additionally, there is so much disparity between the two, it's not going to spoil anything for you.  For every element of the comics that AMC has embraced, there are two to three major plot points they have altered or discarded altogether.  I would encourage you to start at the beginning, but whatever you do, don't read What Comes After without reading Something to Fear first.

Now, I just have to wait for the next one . . .

Read my review of the previous installment, Something to Fear, here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Drive-In Double Feature: Man of Steel & World War Z

I'm a big fan of the drive-in, probably because some of my earliest memories are of watching classics like Flash Gordon, Conan the Barbarian, and The Deep at the drive-in with my parents when I was a tiny little guy.  Now, I have my own tiny little people to care for, and fortunately for my wife and I, we live in Ridgeway.  That means we're only twenty minutes from Eden, North Carolina and the Eden Drive-In, which is definitely one of my favorite places.

This weekend, they were showing Man of Steel and World War Z, and there was no way that we were going to miss out on that.  So, we packed a cooler full of goodies, loaded the kids in the van, hit up Cook-Out for some great food, and made our way to the drive-in.  How were the movies?  Well, here are my thoughts:

Man of Steel

The Good: The cast was awesome.  Henry Cavill is no Christopher Reeve, but he was a great fit for the part.  Russell Crowe nearly stole the show in a limited role, and Kevin Costner was equally potent in an even smaller part.  Diane Lane never misses, and Amy Adams was okay as Lois Lane.  I dig Michael Shannon, and he did a nice job as the heavy, General Zod.  However, Terence Stamp was far superior in that role, though I'm not sure that the screenwriters gave Shannon the type of material he needed to surpass Stamp's more flamboyant and dastardly Zod.  Seriously, Shannon didn't even get to command Supes to kneel before him.  Also, lost amidst all these fine performances was Christopher Meloni, who did a stellar job with a fairly badass soldier who was rather heroic despite the lack of any super-powers. 
The effects were top-notch, the action scenes were exciting, and the future is bright for DC's top gun.

The Bad:  I didn't necessarily like the way the story was plotted.  We opened with Superman's birth on Krypton, but once he is sent to earth, we jumped forward to his adult years and saw his upbringing with Ma and Pa Kent via a series of flashbacks.  It worked to a certain extent, but it also relegated his origin to something of a highlight reel.  Additionally, it seemed a bit unrealistic, as the filmmakers were so intent on delivering one action scene after another that it felt as if young Clark Kent spent his life jumping from one earth-shattering life-or-death episode to the next.  From school buses plunging into rivers, to tornadoes, to monumental explosions on oil rigs in the sea, everywhere Clark went quickly became the setting for a disaster of some sort.  Finally, the last third of the picture was so packed with action that it lacked the emotion that gave the first two-thirds a serious lift.

The Verdict: Unlike the woeful Superman Returns, this was a solid relaunch for one of America's most cherished heroes.  It wasn't as good as Superman or Superman II, both of which I consider classics, but that was probably to be expected.  It definitely provides a great foundation for future films and Cavill is a great choice to take the character forward.  It's not as good as most of Marvel's comic book films have been, nor is it in the same league as Christopher Nolan's work with Batman, but Zack Snyder has scored a hit and could be poised to take Superman even further. 

World War Z

The Good: Brad Pitt was superb, and the movie was placed firmly upon his shoulders.  Additionally, the picture was intense, ditching the blood and gore most zombie films are known for and emphasizing the action and suspense.  In truth, World War Z played out like a thriller boasting a few scares, and while many won't like this direction, I thought it made for one hell of a ride.  The action sequences grew bigger and bigger before a quiet and utterly gripping conclusion that sealed the deal for me.  I think World War Z is a real winner!

The Bad: If it were up to me, I would ditch the PG-13 rating and crank up the gore, but it's not up to me and the lack of gore didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.  By the time I had gotten accustomed to the tone of the film, it wasn't really bothering me at all.  Also, I haven't read the book, but I understand that this is far from a strict adaptation.  Most seem to think it isn't really an adaptation at all, and many of them might have stood a better chance of enjoying the picture if it had been called something else.  Lastly, there were a few too many quick cuts in the first act.  I was groaning twenty minutes in and thinking that the shaky cam was going to ruin this one for me, but things settled down after the initial carnage and I wasn't bothered by this throughout the second and third acts. 

The Verdict: World War Z is a kickass motion picture boasting some of the best action sequences ever seen in a zombie film.  It is cemented by a subdued but stellar performance courtesy of star Brad Pitt and a tense closing reel that ratchets up the tension to superb effect.

So, there you have it.  I had high hopes for Man of Steel, but I was a little worried about World War Z.  In true drive-in fashion, I wound up enjoying Man of Steel despite some reservations, and World War Z rocked me.  Having said that, both films were very, very good, and I strongly recommend each of them.  Also, if you live in the vicinity, make sure and visit Eden Drive-In.  It's a great place to enjoy a good movie, and the prices are terrific.  If you have kids, they'll have a great time at the playground and they'll also have a blast with the drive-in experience.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Black-and-White Isn't Bad

I love my wife, I truly do, but we certainly have our differences.

For example, earlier today I asked her what she thought of Run Silent Run Deep.  Her response: "That stupid black-and-white movie you were watching?"  It wasn't stupid and black-and-white, it was stupid because it was in black-and-white.

Seriously, if it's in black-and-white, she can't hang, and she's not alone.  Yet the girls have watched a number of movies and shows in black-and-white without complaint, so it's not some new age dilemma, I think it's just a natural tendency for many to discount that which isn't contemporary.  The less contemporary, the worse. 

Folks, there are too many good old movies for that type of logic.  And I don't care what's being released on Blu-Ray next week or the week after, if we turn the clock back and direct our attention to some true classics, we'll wind up with better films.  Greatness isn't contemporary, it has no age.  It's where you find it, and there are a lot more old movies than new ones. 

Don't apply this line of thought to films alone, for it holds true with any type of art I can think of.  Also, don't miss out on Run Silent Run Deep.  My wife is right about a great many things, but this isn't one of them.  How can you go wrong with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster? 

Of course, I should probably pay more attention to the new stuff.  My wife was unfamiliar with Gable and Lancaster, so I began to describe them, and in doing so, I noted that Gable was before my time.  He is, . . . and so is Lancaster.  In fact, both men were stars long before the time before my time.  But I digress . . . 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Twitter People

I dig Twitter, but sometimes the users make me laugh.  This is to be expected, but I thought I would share anyway.  I was recently followed by an individual whose bio reads: "Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like a toad, though ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in its head."  Seriously, I don't even know what the hell that means.  Even if I can sort of figure it out, it's an interesting way to introduce yourself to the world at the very least, and it would probably be better described as a preposterous way to introduce yourself to the world. 

I'm a writer, so many of the people I follow are in the field, and it's amazing how many can't write a simple sentence or two.  Some can't spell.  Some bill themselves as existential futurists or idiosyncratic adventurers.  When you figure that shit out, feel free to tell me all about it.  Some brag about awards they have won that no one else seems to recognize.  Some are cool people with cool stories to tell.

I've made a number of connections that I greatly enjoy.  I've chatted with Jon Ryan, the punter for my beloved Seattle Seahawks, and Henry Mancini followed me for some reason even though he has no idea how much I dig his compositions.  Twitter is quirky, it's bizarre, it's a lot of fun, and it definitely leads you to scratch your head at times.  If don't have a profile, I encourage to sign up, meet some cool people, and laugh at some crazy people.  It makes the world go round.