Monday, March 30, 2015

Starro Night

JLA Deluxe Edition Volume 3: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Howard Porter, John Dell, and others (1998-99; collected 2010): Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's epic 1990's relaunch of the Justice League of America comic book gets the over-sized reprint treatment here, to good effect. Porter was very much in the tradition of slightly offbeat artists who made the JLA their own (Mike Sekowsky and Dick Dillin are two other good examples), aided by Morrison's cosmically bizarre scripts.

This is the thinnest of the four Deluxe Morrison volumes, as we check in with the DC One Million event and the ensuing Ultramarines stand-off; watch the team battle another, more sinister variation on their first foe, Starro the Conqueror; and team up with the Justice Society of America to battle threats from the past and the 5th dimension.

The Starro story-line is one of the high points of the Morrison/Porter run. Starro, that giant, hyper-intelligent, telepathic starfish from beyond the stars, now invades Earth through its dreams, necessitating a guest appearance by the (then) new Lord of Dreams, Daniel. The new Starro's sudden physical appearance in Hudson's Bay (which is to say, occupying ALL of Hudson's Bay) is a great moment as well, along with Orion's incredibly stupid attack on Starro, the growing role of fallen angel Zauriel as a productive member of the team, and the subtle meta-ness of the entire enterprise. Once upon a time, the JLA used quicklime to defeat Starro. That won't work this time.

The Justice League also has to deal with a rogue U.S. general who deploys the U.S. military's super-group against the JLA. Yes, it's General Eiling, who fares much better here than he did in his last appearance on The Flash TV show. To finish things up, we get what was once an annual occurrence -- a team-up between the Justice League and the Justice Society -- which this time around pulls the original Shazamy Captain Marvel and a forgotten hero of the early 1990's into the adventure.

It's all what was then being called 'wide-screen' comic-book action. There's nothing here as convoluted and nutty as the Rock of Ages story-line from the earlier volumes, though there are nods forward to the World War Three story-line coming in Deluxe Volume 4. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grendel and the Tape-worm Were Hard Up For Cash

The Troop by Nick Cutter (pen-name of Craig Davidson) (2014): Falstaff Island gets relocated from Nunavut to two miles off the coast of Prince Edward Island in this ambitious, uneven, but enjoyable Canadian horror novel. 

An adult Scoutmaster and five Eagle Scouts in their early teens go to the uninhabited island every year for a camping trip.  This will probably be the last trip for the troop as they're close to outgrowing Boy Scouts. Boy, will it be the last trip.

An emaciated stranger shows up at their cabin on the first night, skeletal and so all-consumingly hungry that he starts to eat the couch on which he sits. The Scoutmaster, a GP, realizes the man is sick. Indeed he is -- and about to become extremely infectious as mutated tapeworms large and small start erupting from pretty much everywhere inside and on his body.

The Troop quickly turns into a tale of survival horror, its menace a science-fictional one in the manner of John Wyndham that rapidly creates human monsters that riff on everything from zombies to JRR Tolkien's Gollum. There's also a governmental menace to be dealt with -- or not dealt with. Canadian naval ships and boats surround the island, black helicopters repeatedly fly over -- but help does not arrive.

The novel succeed in its sympathetic characterization of the boys of the troop, though Cutter does draw upon stereotypes for their basic configurations (the Alpha-Jock and the Nerd being the most notable). But some of those roles change over the course of the novel. One of the missteps, though, is Cutter's choice to make one of the boys a nascent serial killer. Certainly this ups the stakes, but the effects of the worms are so dire that there's no need to posit a psychopathic sadist. It's really a case of too much, especially once that character pretty much turns into a cross between Gollum and Monty Python's Mr. Creosote.

Cutter notes in his acknowledgements that he got the idea of including interpolated material from after the main events of the book from Stephen King's Carrie. The Troop similarly uses interviews and excerpts from newspaper and magazine articles to give background on the true origin of the worms. Suspense is also nodded to as the number of boys who will survive the main narrative appears in this interpolated material. 

I'm not sure this structure is entirely successful, as sometimes in horror any information is too much information. Or as Ramsey Campbell once noted, "Explanation is the death of horror." That the stereotypes of the evil military commander and the mad, evil, super-intelligent misfit scientist appear mostly in these sections doesn't help the horror quotient either.

Nonetheless, The Troop is an enjoyable, fast-paced horror novel. The main characters are nicely fleshed out for the most part. Well, until they start losing that flesh to the parasitic worms. Recommended.

Grendel vs. The Shadow: written and illustrated by Matt Wagner (2014): Writer-artist Matt Wagner returns to his 35-year-old character Grendel for a story-line involving that master criminal's battle with pulp hero The Shadow in early 1930's New York. 

Do people younger than 35 or so even remember Grendel? Dark Horse Comics has released four omnibus volumes of his adventures, and I can recommend at least the first two from first-hand experience, having read Grendel back in the day, that day being the late 1980's.

Of course, the Shadow is much older, a character created in the early 1930's. The battle between the two does seem like a natural, however -- both characters kill, and both characters have quasi-mystical abilities to go along with their physical and mental prowess. And this crossover is actually fun. The grimness of the Shadow plays off nicely against the deadly good humour of Grendel.

Wagner's art is smooth and illustrative, straightforward, though with a few stylistic flourishes as we proceed through the narrative. He uses multiple POV first-person narration to mostly good effect, though I wish someone doing a Shadow comic book would go back to the pulp novels (or even the DC comics of the 1970's) and realize that the Shadow works best as a supporting character in his own book. 

The pulps (unlike the radio show) focused on the Shadow's various operatives working a case, with the Shadow dropping in and out of the story to administer justice or give orders. And as he's a nigh-omnipotent character, this is a pretty good idea -- especially as it leaves the reader wondering what is going on inside the Shadow's head. 

Most modern comic-book Shadows, going back to Howard Chaykin's glorious revisionist take for DC Comics in the mid-1980's, also make the Shadow's romantic relationship with operative Margo Lane explicit in a way the pulps did not. Here, we get a B-plot about Margo Lane debating whether or not to leave the Shadow. It seems wildly out of place in an event crossover like this, and is the only real misstep in the book.

Overall, though, this is an entertaining visit with two old friends. Or fiends. And it was also an entertaining visit with Wagner as both writer and artist, his art gigs being much rarer than his writing gigs. He's streamlined his writing and drawing styles since the 1980's, mostly to good effect -- the occasional murkiness, clutter, and confusion of 1980's book like his Demon miniseries for DC isn't evident here. This may be the smoothest book he's ever done. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Cottage Country: written by Jeremy Boxen; directed by Peter Wellington; starring Malin Akerman (Cammie Ryan), Tyler Labine (Todd Chipowski), Lucy Punch (Masha), Dan Petronijevic (Salinger Chipowski), Benjamin Ayres (Dov Rosenberg), and Kenneth Welsh (Earl Chipowski) (2013): Ontario's cottage country mostly plays itself in an amiable, occasionally blackly comic bit of horror-satire. Cast against type as a buttoned-down office drone, Tyler Labine is appealing. Malin Akerman, while about 1000 times too attractive for her role as Labine's obsessive girlfriend, also does solid work as an increasingly demented Bridezilla wannabe.

More gore and more laughs would be nice, but I've certainly spent 90 minutes with far worse movies with far bigger budgets. And there's a bit involving the extrication of an ax from someone killed with said ax that's both funny and weirdly authentic. Lightly recommended.

King Solomon's Mines: adapted by Helen Deutsch from the novel by H. Rider Haggard; directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton; starring Stewart Granger (Allan Quatermain), Deborah Kerr (Elizabeth Curtis), Richard Carlson (John Goode), Kimursi (Khiva), and Siriaque (Umbopa) (1950): A surprisingly nuanced approach to both race and nature makes this 1950 adventure hold up better than most similar films of the time. Set in 1897, even though the novel was published in 1885, the film involves that prototype of Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain, a British hunter and guide in Africa, played here by the stolid, likeable Stewart Granger in his first Hollywood role. 

The studio added Deborah Kerr's character to the film as a love interest while also taking significant liberties with the plot, though mostly to fit events into a 100-minute film. Location filming at times gives the movie the feel of a National Geographic special, as we're treated to lengthy shots of natives dancing, various animals up to shenanigans, and an assortment of beautiful landscapes. Our heroes trek towards a possibly mythic diamond mine somewhere in south-central Africa in search of Kerr's lost husband, picking up mysterious warrior Umbopa along the way. 

Aside from one of the world's most ridiculous-looking fake spiders, the menaces the group faces are drawn from life. A stampede on the grasslands impresses (and, obviously, hasn't been conjured up by CGI). And some of Quatermain's interactions with the natives must have shocked racists in 1950. I wonder if some scenes were edited in the American South. Recommended.

Lone Star: written and directed by John Sayles; starring Chris Cooper (Sam Deeds), Elizabeth Pena (Pilar), Kris Kristofferson (Charlie Wade), Matthew McConaughey (Buddy Deeds), Ron Canada (Otis), Joe Morton (Del), and Miriam Colon (Mercedes Cruz) (1995): Perhaps the most satisfying of all the films of writer-director John Sayles. While the backbone of its plot is a fairly traditional mystery, that mystery allows Sayles to move back and forth across a gulf of 40 years as Chris Cooper's Sheriff of a small Texas border town investigates a murder linked to his late father, the much beloved former sheriff of the town.

Sayles assembles a fine cast and gives them lots to work with. As in most of Sayles's films, there are very few villains -- in this case, exactly one, Kris Kristofferson's odious sheriff, seen in flashbacks to the late 1950's, when Chris Cooper's father was a young deputy played by Matthew McConaughey. 

Several plots intertwine over the course of the movie, all of them tied into the murder plot because in this small town, everything is connected. And while Cooper tries to figure out this particular bit of the past, the larger history of Texas, particularly Texas in regards to race relations, also gets argued over in local politics and in a meeting of parents with the school over its "controversial" attempt to offer something other than a valedictory to white people during history classes. In all, it's a fine piece of writing, directing, and acting, true to its genre antecedents but also grasping at something larger than just the solution to a mystery. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Men on the Run

The Big Clock: adapted by Jonathan Latimer and Harold Goldman from the novel by Kenneth Fearing; directed by John Farrow; starring Ray Milland (George Stroud), Charles Laughton (Earl Janoth), Maureen O'Sullivan (Georgette Stroud), Rita Johnson (Pauline York), Elsa Lanchester (Louise Patterson), and George Macready (Steve Hagen) (1948): Enjoyable, occasionally quite quirky film noir/ 'Wrong Man' thriller starring Ray Milland as a crime-magazine editor who finds himself tracking himself as a wrongly accused murderer. Yes, it's an American noir with more than a hint of Borges in its DNA. 

There are a lot of gratifyingly wacky supporting characters and off-beat situations, to the extent that one figures the Coen Brothers may have watched this movie at some point during their artistic evolution. Charles Laughton is a creepy, blustery hoot as a tyrannical, time-obsessed magazine publisher. Fun and under 100 minutes. Recommended.

The Sapphires: adapted by Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson from the stage play by Tony Briggs; directed by Wayne Blair; starring Deborah Mailman (Gail), Miranda Tapsell (Cynthia), Jessica Mauboy (Julie), Shari Sebbens (Kay), and Chris O'Dowd (Dave Lovelace) (2012): Based on a stage play that was based on a true story, The Sapphires tells the story of an Australian aboriginal girl group that ends up entertaining troops in Viet Nam in the late 1960's. Chris O'Dowd's Irish band manager seems to have been parachuted in from the realm of pure fiction in order to secure financing.

But while he's billed first, O'Dowd plays a supporting role to the four women. The movie may be fairly breezy and song-packed, but it does hit on some of the horrible truths of the Australian treatment of aboriginals in general and children in specific over the years. Nonetheless, this is more a celebration of the power of song (and songs are a key component of aboriginal culture and mythology) than it is a scathing historical drama. Recommended.

Bad Words: written by Andrew Dodge; directed by Jason Bateman; starring Jason Bateman (Guy Trilby), Kathryn Hahn (Jenny Widgeon), Rohan Chand (Chaitanya Chopra), Philip Baker Hall (Dr. Bowman), and Alison Janney (Dr. Deagan) (2014): Jason Bateman directs himself starring as a 40-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules for a U.S. spelling bee (based on the Scripps bee) so as to compete against 49 tweens for the $50,000 prize. He does so for reasons that become obvious about halfway through.

The movie and Bateman's character are both gratifyingly nasty throughout, though this isn't wholly a black comedy. Bateman's character's growing friendship with one outcast contestant -- cleverly played by Rohan Chand -- leads to some pretty funny, non-Hollywoodesque scenes of debauchery. So too Bateman's relationship with Kathryn Hahn's reporter, and Bateman's psychological gamesmanship with whatever tweens are unlucky enough to sit next to him during the activities. The movie could be funnier, but it's still pretty funny. Recommended.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Boiled Alive

The Big Book of Martyrs: written by John Wagner; illustrated by Colleen Doran, Frank Quitely, Win Mortimer, Dan Burr, Gahan Wilson, Rick Geary, Joe Staton, and others (1997): Slightly less irreverent than the other entries in Paradox/DC's "Big Book of..." series of comics anthologies from the 1990's, The Big Book of Martyrs is nonetheless a lot of fun even if you're just there for the pictures of terrible things being done to martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church.

John Wagner generally keeps his tongue out of his cheek, instead staying serious, at least when the various gruesome deaths are a matter of historical record. Of course, a lot of Roman Catholic saints are very close to being fictional characters (actually, some, like the much-beloved St. Christopher, are fictional characters; others, such as St. George, might as well be). 

As a compendium of 'terrible things people do to other people,' The Big Book of Martyrs offers a pretty wide range of awfulness. People get thrown out of boats with anchors around their necks, get riddled with arrows, beaten to death with truncheons, immolated in a variety of ways, eaten by bears, eaten by lions, stabbed, poisoned, blown up, beheaded, drowned, immersed in boiling lead, slow-roasted over a fire, thrown down wells, and so on, and so forth.

Indeed, due to the on-again, off-again invulnerability exhibited by some saints like St. Sebastian or St. George, many of them have more than one of these usually fatal things done to them. A decent amount of relevant information comes along with the mayhem, as more than fifty different artists illustrate more than 50 different tales of martyrs singular and plural (though the story of the Mongols and the 11,000 virgins is almost certainly apocryphal).

You even find out which martyrs saw themselves purged from the liturgical calendar for being a little too fictional, along with the feast days of various saints and situations in which one invokes a patron saint. One of the bizarrely, blackly comic facts one starts to realize is that an awful lot of saints were made the patron saints of the things that killed them, including a patron saint of tanning who was himself skinned alive. 

How are the saints supposed to feel about this sort of thing? Because based on this book, there are an awful lot of patron saints of arrows, including St. Sebastian, who you'd think would have dibs on that position. Recommended.

Staying Home

Still Mine: written and directed by Michael McGowan; starring James Cromwell (Craig Morrison), Genevieve Bujold (Irene Morrison), Campbell Scott (Gary Fulton), and George R. Robertson (Chester) (2012): Based on a true story of frustrating governmental bureaucracy in New Brunswick (Canada), Still Mine follows octogenarian James Cromwell's attempts to build a new, one-story home on his own property so as to make caring for his Alzheimer's-stricken wife (Genevieve Bujold) workable. If some of the bureaucratic stuff seems fictional, take note that the real-life struggle was actually more arduous.

Cromwell, a veteran character actor probably best known as the farmer in Babe and Zefrem Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, does marvelous work here. In an American movie with a big enough name director, it's the sort of acting that gets an Oscar nomination. Bujold is also excellent, underplaying her descent into greater and greater silence and confusion. In her case, she's not showy enough for an Oscar nomination.

The movie could have devoted a few more minutes to the specifics of the bureaucratic hoops Cromwell keeps getting forced to jump through -- this is a relatively rare case in which exposition would help the dramatic elements. Nonetheless, the film is beautifully shot in both its long looks at landscapes and beaches and the passing of the seasons, and in recurring extreme close-ups of things one doesn't generally see in Hollywood movies -- which is to say, old faces and old bodies.

The supporting cast, mostly unknown with the exception of Campbell Scott, is excellent, low-key, and real-looking. One doesn't realize how unreal the casts of even the most serious of American dramas look until one sees people who look real, whether in independent movies or even in Hollywood movies made prior to the 1990's, when our genetically engineered overlords seized control of most mass-market movies and TV shows. Highly recommended.

Maleficent: The Porn Title Just Writes Itself

Maleficent: adapted by Linda Woolverton from previous material written by the Brothers Grimm, Milt Banta, Ralph Wright, Ted Sears, Bill Peet, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Erdman Penner, and Charles Perrault; directed by Robert Stromberg; starring Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Elle Fanning (Aurora), Sharlto Copley (Stefan), and Sam Riley (Diaval) (2014): 

First-time director Stromberg was a production designer, and it shows: Maleficent's main charms lie in the design of its magical world. Well, that and the CGI flying sequences. Clearly we can now make a Hawkman or Hawkwoman movie a live-action reality. Somebody notify Time Warner.

Maleficent is a revisionist retelling of Sleeping Beauty -- specifically Walt Disney's 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty. Angelina Jolie is the evil witch (now Queen of the Fairies, I think) from that movie, only now she has an origin story and a change of heart. Sharlto Copley is the evil king who was once Maleficent's beloved but ultimately treacherous peasant boy. Elle Fanning barely registers as Princess Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty.

Really, this movie stinks when it comes to plot, characterization, motivation, pacing... you know, all that old-fashioned stuff. Jolie is fine, I guess. And it's definitely progress that a big box-office hit (about $800 million world-wide) can be headlined by a female star. Now if we could just get our female stars some decently written and directed blockbusters, we might really be onto something. Male stars, too. Not recommended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Strange and Terrible Sagas

Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson (1966): Thompson's first full-length book points the way towards what was dubbed his 'Gonzo Journalism' (heavily rearranged, partially fictionalized, intensely subjective reporting) while nonetheless remaining fairly straightforward. 50 years after the events and people Thompson covers, the book still packs quite a punch.

Thompson managed to insinuate himself into a West Coast Hell's Angels chapter for about a year during what was really the first mass-culture awareness of the Hell's Angels (which were, at the time, a fairly small assortment of West Coast motorcycle gangs). Amidst fairly quick snapshots of the history the rise of motorcycle gangs (in America, a post-WWII, California-centric phenomenon at the beginning), Thompson also critiques the various hysterical media and public response to biker gangs.

But while Thompson takes care to contextualize and humanize the various bikers he comes into contact with, he doesn't sentimentalize them: this is a book that does end, hyperbolically, with Thompson quoting Heart of Darkness in relation to the Angels ("Exterminate the brutes."). Some of Thompson's sociological speculation about the roots of biker culture lying in America's long-standing, migratory White Trash community comes across as less than a little half-baked -- but he also seems to be on to something. 

Thompson's Hell's Angels -- swastika-wearing, rape-culture-glorifying, knee-jerk violent, loyal to one another, fascist in their essential make-up, deeply racist -- ultimately come across as being the barbaric forebears of such things as today's Tea Party. 

Obviously, Thompson couldn't make that connection in 1966. But his lengthy exegesis on the nihilistic tribalism of the Angels could just as well be describing the ultimately nihilistic, destruction-worshiping, violence-loving Far Right of the American 21st century. Loyalties exist only within one's own tribe. People outside that tribe aren't just disposable -- they aren't really people. And everyone is against you. As the jacket copy says, a strange and terrible saga. Highly recommended.

Savage Night by Jim Thompson (1953): Prolific thriller writer Jim Thompson wrote the sort of pulp that literary critics came to love over the course of his lengthy career. There's a fully realized sense to the worlds he created in his novels, even an early one like Savage Night, that makes them unforgettably bleak. 

He most often focused his narratives on murderers and monsters; Savage Night makes its first-person narrator, a Mob hit-man who's been on the run for years only to be pulled back in for one more assassination, pitiful and human and utterly awful. But so is almost everyone around him, as is typical in a Thompson novel: there are very few good people in the world his characters inhabit.

For more than half a decade, the narrator 'hid' inside the guise of a poor but honest man. And he truly believes that he was a decent person for those years. But by the end of the novel, even that assessment will be in doubt. Thompson's characters often possess radically destabilized senses of self. Nothing is certain. 

Savage Night hums along in its brevity. Our narrator becomes, if not sympathetic, than at least pitiable. And the oft-discussed final thirty pages take the characters into the realms of broken consciousness and the almost surreal. It's one hell of a denouement. Highly recommended.

Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson (1964): Famously moved to French Africa and  adapted to film by Bernard Tavernier in 1981 as Coup de Torchon, Pop. 1280 occurs in novel form in the pre-World-War-One American South, in the smallest county in its state. And possibly the most corrupt.

Our first-person narrator, the sheriff of this small county, makes the psychotic narrating lawman of Thompson's earlier The Killer Inside Me look like Sherlock Holmes by comparison. His sole redeeming feature is disgust at the racism of the poor whites around him. That's it. That's all he's got.

Well, perhaps he's redeemed also by his role as Nemesis to some pretty terrible people -- but as he also wipes out the innocent, he is, ultimately, no saint. Our narrator has spent his life as a lawman gliding by, doing little, taking bribes, protecting the status quo -- and pretending to be far, far stupider and more guileless than he truly is. Or maybe he's always been doing terrible things behind the scenes.

Among other pleasures, Pop. 1280 offers the reader a grad course in unreliable narration -- an escalating, almost vertiginous lesson in this by the end of the novel. The inside of the narrator's head turns out to be a labyrinth. But the Minotaur seems to be all the bloody, terrible, despicable things people do to one another because they're damned and because they can. There is no Theseus, and no thread leading to safety. This is perhaps Thompson's bleakest depiction of humanity in general and America in particular. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

More Science Than Fiction!

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel: written by Jamie Mathieson; directed by Gareth Carrivick; starring Chris O'Dowd (Ray), Marc Wootton (Toby), Dean Lennox Kelly (Pete), and Anna Faris (Cassie) (2008): Amiable, British, low-budget, and sly nod to both geeks and pubs. Three somewhat aimless 20-something British pals get into a discussion about time travel. Then time travel starts busting out all over the place because there's a time distortion located in the men's washroom at their local pub.

O'Dowd is his almost always lovable self as the leader of the trio, while Marc Wootton as the aspiring science-fiction writer of the group and Dean Lennox Kelly as the friend who hates science fiction are also sympathetic and funny. It's low-key in that British way that makes things funnier. Anna Faris shows up as a sort of cross between a Time Cop and a Time Bureaucrat. It may be a comedy, but the time travelling makes as much or more sense than most 'serious' movies involving time travel. Recommended.

Draft Day: written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph; directed by Ivan Reitman; starring Kevin Costner (Sonny Weaver Jr.), Jennifer Garner (Ali), Chadwick Boseman (Vontae Mack), Frank Langella (Anthony Molina), and Denis Leary (Coach Penn) (2014): Surprisingly enjoyable sports movie about... the NFL draft! It takes place in an alternate universe where the Cleveland Browns, while still hapless, nonetheless recently had a legendary coach. Kevin Costner is fine in the sports scenes and out of place in the romantic scenes with Jennifer Garner -- the relationship, along with several other plot points, really seem to suggest that Costner's character is a good 15 years younger than Costner himself at 60. Lightly recommended.

Edge of Tomorrow: adapted by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth from the novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka; directed by Doug Liman; starring Tom Cruise (Cage), Emily Blunt (Rita), Brendan Gleeson (General Brigham), and Bill Paxton (Farell) (2014): Solid science-fiction action movie plagued only by its terrible title, a title so vague that the studio altered it for video release to Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. The title of the original novel/manga, All You Need Is Kill, is better than both. Tom Cruise does nice work here as a cowardly creep turned into a hero by the circumstances of the movie, and Emily Blunt ably supports him as a tough super-soldier. 

Aliens have invaded Earth. Do you really need to know more? They're visually impressive aliens, too -- fast-moving, mercurial blobs that look about what I'd expect a Shoggoth on Crack would look like. They've trashed Europe. And a near-future version of D-Day is about to go horribly wrong. Thank Heavens for Tom Cruise!

It's not a perfect movie. The ending doesn't quite logic out, or is missing some brief explanation that would make it make sense. And as Roger Ebert might have pointed out, it's another in a long line of movies about The Impregnable Fortress Impregnated. Oh, well. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Somebody Owes Me Money by Donald E. Westlake (1969/Reissued 2009): Very funny 'Wrong Man' suspense thriller by the great and prolific Westlake, reissued by Hard Case Crime for the first time in nearly 40 years (!). Our first-person narrator, a New York cabbie with a bit of a gambling problem, gets pulled into an increasingly dangerous situation between two criminal outfits after he discovers the brutally murdered body of his bookie. The female lead is tough and smart, the cabbie likeable, and the plot both twisty and fair. The funniest bit involves a low-speed chase through New York with the pursuers on foot and the leads in a cab that has to keep stopping for traffic lights. Recommended.

Simpsons Comics Explosion 1: written by Ian Boothby, Paul Dini, Chuck Dixon, Sergio Aragones, and others; illustrated by Phil Ortiz, John Delaney, Mike Kazaleh,Serio Aragones, and others (2014): Bongo Comics has done a nice job of doing humour comics for 20 years now. 20 years! As a long-time reader of all comics, I find one of the small joys of Bongo is its use of writers and artists who don't seem to get work at DC or Marvel any more, or not enough of it anyway. Here, those names include Paul Dini (the reason Season 1 of Lost was the best season of Lost may have had a lot to do with his work as story editor), Chuck Dixon, and Sergio Aragones. This 96-page collection is fun stuff. Recommended.

Superman Unchained: written by Scott Snyder; illustrated by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Dustin Nguyen, and Alex Sinclair (2013-2014; collected 2014): Delayed so many times by Jim Lee, world's slowest artist, that it went from regular series to miniseries, Superman Unchained nonetheless gave us in the nine issues that came out over a two-year period the best long-form Superman story since Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman

Much of this is due to Scott Snyder's writing. His Superman is thoughtful, stubborn, and painstakingly careful about human life. One of the high points of the series involves the Man of Steel trying to think his way through a battle with a more powerful solar-powered super-being than himself. Snyder gives us other scenes in which Superman's problem-solving abilities are on display -- why DC doesn't have him write an actual Superman on-going is anyone's guess.

The series doesn't ignore the current status quo in DC's main line, in which Superman dates Wonder Woman and has never dated Lois Lane, but it definitely doesn't foreground that state of affairs -- Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are front and centre in the plot. Lee's work is its over-stuffed and often over-complicated self, though it works for the most part with all the shiny gadgets and giant aliens being thrown Superman's way. Highly recommended.