25 May, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

What I watched in… 
January 2012

Mission Impossible III. (via digital rental) 
I'm not sure what it was about this instalment of the M:I franchise but I didn't quite like it as much as I thought I would. I don't think it was quite as slick and finished as it wanted to be, or that I wanted it to be. Probably though it was just because it was a JJ Abrams written/directed piece and I was really hyped. 
Philip Seymour Hoffman and his character were nicely underplayed, both in acting and in the amount of screen time given. I think I'm suffering from Tom Cruise burn out though after sitting through three of these Mission: Impossible films, and he's starting to get on my nerves a little. (Normally I can take him fine.)
I was again annoyed that the gist of the plot is inextricably linked to Hunt's romantic relationship. I want an adventure and plot-impetus for its own sake! Yes I want to be invested in the characters' dilemma, but I want a more interesting reason than "they kidnapped my wife". Stupid idea to have him marry in the first place. I was kind of hoping for a James Bond-style death of the wife in the end to lend it some real credibility and gravity. 
In the end though, it was a good fun adventure action spy flick. Thankfully they put in a few M:I gimmicks & gadgets as well as some crazy situational capers. These turned up the tension regularly in the fun, spy-antics, Impossible Mission Force, style that they should. 
Unfortunately I could see through the plot's smokescreen and twist too early, and I also found the obvious McGuffin-ness of the mission's overt objective too overplayed for my liking. 
For the M:I franchise this was a strong, enjoyable return to updating the already great concept. 

Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol. (at the movies) 
This was everything I so dearly hoped it would be as Brad Bird's first time as a live action director. Having already directed two of my favourite movies ever (which just happen to be animated), I so wanted Bird to succeed here just as well, and he has. For me, this is the best of the franchise, with fabulous, 'impossible' capers being pulled off with spy-gadget trickery, sheer wit, muscle, skill and/or determination. We're thrown from one high-tension, ticking-clock scenario to another with just enough time to catch our breath and get to know the protagonists a little better in between. Each of the heroes has enough depth and personality to make them enjoyable, believable and likeable. There's plenty of globe-trotting, chases, fights and daring-do, usually presented for good reason, clearly, and in fine, exciting style. 
This is a great action spy movie that is over the top in all the right places. 

The Adventures of Tintin. (at the movies)
My main gripe with this animated movie is the animation, which makes it a pretty big gripe. I think it all comes down to this: due to the push for realism – that is realistic models, movement, facial expressions, gestures, textures, etc. – I came away with the sense that it's 'overacted', and yet, because of it's supposed 'cartoon' nature, being an animated film, there is a definite lack of caricatured movement and caricatured acting. The realism and animation are fiercely at odds with each other, fighting for attention, neither getting the upper hand. As a result the film ends up sitting uncomfortably in its own skin. Of course there's the usual issues with uncanny valley, and I found a number of facial close-ups to appear a little too waxy in their appearance. In other aspects though, visually I found the movie quite lovely, if unremarkable. Again, because of the push towards realism, regardless of how well designed and created the backgrounds, props and costumes are they are mostly forgettable because they're so real. 
My other problem with this film is entirely personal and very annoying. Having only just recently read the books for the first time that the movie is based on I found myself constantly distracted by comparisons, wondering about decisions made to add, remove or mix plot threads, and second-guessing how the next point would play out. All my fault I'm afraid. I'll need another viewing to fully relax into the flow of the story. I think I'll have to wait for that second viewing before I'm entirely sure about story itself too, for much the same reasons. I will say though, by way of comparison with the books, the Thompson twins were sadly under-utilised for comedy relief, which they're very good at in print. I found it interesting, and a little revealing, at the successful attempts made at giving Tintin's personality a tad more depth than the books. From the little I've read, Tintin has terribly little depth, while in this movie the numerous references to his being a famous journalist, the showing off of newspaper clippings of past exploits, and his collection of typewriters, point to his having something more like a driving desire to seek out and run down a story or mystery. 
I could go on about the differences in approach of storytelling between this movie and the books it's based on, but that could be a very long essay in itself. 
There's some spectacular scenes, some amazing cinematography that really could only be achieved through this sort of computer generation, but in the end, this film adaption was technically well made, but lacked a real grip to engage me fully. 

Alien. (on DVD)
This is one of my favourite movies. I love the suspense and tension which is maddeningly high from the very first frame. I love the look, design, cinematography, acting, all of it. I love the time taken to get you in the mood when necessary. I love how loud it is. And I don't think there's really anything much that I don't like about it. 
This is probably the third, maybe the fourth time I've seen it. I was lucky enough to watch an original print in a cinema about two years ago, and the experience was a lot different to this time where I watched it on DVD with my family. For some reason it felt like a lot of the tension was lost through this delivery medium. I explained the genre to my daughter as more horror than sci-fi. She was adamant it wasn't scary enough to be a horror movie. 

I also saw two live performances of storytelling last month… 

Annie (on stage, at The Lyric Theatre, The Star, Sydney), which was a nice enough production, though in the end quite unremarkable and not at all different enough to the last Sydney production in 2000 to warrant seeing it again (to the point that the programme used a lot of photos from that production and not this one!).
Circus Oz (in a tent, Tumberlong Park, Darling Harbour, Sydney), which was an amazing night of old fashioned circus dressed up in new-fangled steampunk. Brilliant design, look and feel, great skill and showmanship, fabulous music (I'm buying the soundtrack), and an enormously entertaining and fun night. Circus Oz is always worth experiencing. 

21 May, 2012


Here's a picture I drew a few months ago for one of the OzComics Weekly Drawing Challenges. The theme was mythology and I had some time on my hands so of course I drew a minotaur. I hasten to add that this is NOT Trevor, nor is it based on a scene from he up-coming Greener Pastures graphic novel, but maybe it's what Trevor might have been in another life or universe. 

One interesting aspect about this is that it was drawn entirely digitally, from the 'pencil' sketch all the way through to 'inks'. It's not a luxury I often get since I don't own a Wacom Cintiq (a pressure sensitive screen that can be drawn directly onto/into) and I find too much of a disconnect between the screen and a normal digitising tablet. 

It was great fun to riff on Trevor with no restraints and no real end goal in mind other than making a really exciting and vicious looking minotaur. 

10 May, 2012

What I Read Last Month…

This is what I read in… 
January 2012

Star Wars: Invasion, volume 2: Rescues, by Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson. Dark Horse Comics. 
This is the second trade paperback from the team of Taylor & Wilson telling the tale of the Yuzhan Vong invasion of that galaxy long ago and far away. I'm no Star Wars fanatic, but even for me it's fun to see fondly remembered characters like Luke, Leia and Han have cameos. More importantly though, the cast of characters that I've never met before are engaging and likeable. 
It's a fun ride with enough twists and turns, revelations (both in plot and character), and action, that I'll happily be coming back for volume 3. 

The Adventures of Tintin — The Crab with the Golden Claws, by Hergé. 
I was particularly taken with the cartooning in this volume of Tintin's adventures, especially the faces, and Tintin's the most. For something so simply constructed, there's a wealth of expression there and a lot to find attractive. Numerous characters are delineated with lovely, clearly formed caricatures, and this is wonderful cartooning in that respect. It doesn't quite hold true across all racial depictions unfortunately, with what looks to me as a more clumsy approach to Middle Eastern and Asian characters. 
There are some wonderfully funny bits in the opening scenes, which can be very difficult to do in comics. The fun continues throughout with the drunken shenanigans of the obviously alcoholic Captain Haddock, who is introduced nicely for the first time in this story. If I were Tintin though I would quite happily have never seen him again after the way he acquits himself during their time together! I'm not sure how they ever became such great friends. 
For some reason this adventure of Tintin didn't grab me. Despite the exotic locations, fun action, tight scrapes and adventure, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps there wasn't enough rise and fall in the tension. Maybe the stakes didn't seem high enough. It might've been that Tintin himself was taking it all too much as 'business as usual'. At any rate I wasn't as interested in coming along for the ride or seeing where it took me this time, despite everything else this book had going for it. 

Celadore, by Caanan Grall.
This is a really fun book and a really great ride. From my experience fun is what Caanan does best. That and the voice of children, and children make up a large percentage of the cast of this 192 page book. 
Celadore is named after the pivotal protagonist of the three stories collected here. All three of which are fabulous, with plenty of real danger and sacrifice for the characters mixed in with jaunty dialogue, believable, emotional relationships, and fun action. There's never a status quo, not within each of the stories, and not from one story to the next, which I really appreciated. It gives a more palpable tension and believability to the dangers faced by the cast knowing that things will indeed be different by the end.  
And what a great cast. Quite large, very interesting, always introduced and used purposefully. It grows naturally and well, until it's quite an ensemble. The central members are so great that it's hard to say that Celadore is even the "main" character, even though the book bares her name. Again, great evidence of good character writing making me care about them all so much. 
There's a great concept that ignites this book, but even better than that is the fact that Caanan doesn't rest on it, but evolves from it and builds on it in what really is quite an exciting and believable manner. It kept me as a reader on my toes and keenly interested. 
I love Caanan's cartooning style too. It's deceptively simple, full of life and bounce, and he has a great handle on character poses and expression. The character acting is really good. 
Unfortunately there are a couple of issues with this volume, the biggest of which being the printing. It's dark and muddy, and for a story that often takes place at night or in other gloomy settings, this is unforgivable and very disappointing. It's way too often out of register as well. 
They are the technical issues. Regrettably there's one creative issue as well. Far too many times I was confused and lost by the storytelling. This is a fabulous rollicking set of stories and I just wanted to go with them, but I was too often hampered by having to reread pages, trying to figure out what I had missed and why I'm confused. I even reread the first half of the first story in an effort to "get in the groove" of the storytelling style, assuming I just wasn't hearing the book's voice correctly, but in the end I think Caanan simply didn't always allow the rungs in the monkey-bars to be close enough together for me. 
This is a sad stain on an otherwise brilliant trio of stories. I would love to hear more from Celadore and her friends in the future if Caanan could swing it. 

06 May, 2012

Supanova Gold Coast 2012

After writing about Supanova Melbourne the other week, how could I not write about the weekend that followed on the Gold Coast? 

This was Supanova's inaugural Gold Coast expo, and it went off with a blast. For me, it felt like one of, if not the best expo we've ever put on, in so many ways. It had a fabulous buzz and the Gold Coast really embraced SN with everything it's got. Great vibe, great guests, awesome crowd, fab venue, amazing team. Solid gold.

Full disclosure: I'm one of the founders of Supanova, I art directed it for about six years (jumping on board that title again as of this week), and have a financial stake in the business. 

Before the show even opened Belle was getting into the Supanova spirit during a quick visit to a local toy shop. Did somebody say "Assemble?!?"

Supanova started with a great ComicBook MasterClass on Friday night, lead by the very popular Brian Michael Bendis


The crowds waiting to get in on Saturday morning were great!

Which translated to a fabulous bunch of excited people inside!
 The crowd in one of the Artist's Alleys.

 And in another of the Alleys. 

 Heading towards the main autograph area. 

And on the main trading floor at the complete opposite end of the expo. 
Can you spot: a) a storm trooper; b) a Fin the Human hat, and; c) Fel, of Supanova Guest Services?

 Kings Comics hosted our comic book guests Brian Michael Bendis, Carlos Pacheco and Tristan Jones. Each of whom did a wonderful drawing in my sketchbook. 

Here's Brian doing his sketch in my book. 

We did a great live cross to LA to speak to Marvel's The Avengers' Agent Coulson, Clark Gregg. At one point Jaimie Alexander (Thor's Sif) gatecrashed the panel to prank Clark.  

Speaking of Sif… here's the real life action figure herself! 


Here's a couple more shots of Artists' Alley. Spread out along here in the two photos you might be able to see Stewart McKenny, Travis Burch, Christopher Sequeira, Cameron Davis, Paul Abstruse, Wayne Nichols, Samuel David, Jeffrey 'Chamba' Cruz, and Leonard Bermingham

Belle sat in on Artists' Alley too, selling her handmade wallets, each made from actual pages of comic books, each one unique. 

And speaking of comics and my offspring, here's The Boy (on the right) breathing in the smell of good old eighties Uncanny X-Men. On the left being Chris Rattray, the pusher in this case, one of Supanova's marvellous MCs. 

We had a very swish cocktail/VIP party on the Saturday night. Here I am, being very swish myself.

What a great venue! See you next year Gold Coast!

01 May, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

This is what I watched in… 
December 2011 

Happy Feet Two. (in 2D and 3D, at the cinema)
Having worked on this film for over three years it's kind of hard to review it from an impartial, objective, audience point of view, and this blog is certainly not the right forum to review it from the standpoint of having contributed to it.

Mission: Impossible. (on DVD)
This would be the third time I've seen the first of the M:I series of movies and I really like it. The Mission: Impossible concept is always based on a team effort, but as a Tom Cruise vehicle it's no surprise that the main propellant for the plot is the destruction of the team with Cruise's Ethan Hunt being all that's left. Well to begin with anyway.
The story's engaging and fun. The action and tension is deftly handled and delivered, the over-the-top scenarios skate the line of ridiculous (which is as it should be), and the whole scenario is gripping.
This is my favourite of the first three M:Is.

Mission: Impossible II. (Digital rental)
Boyoboy but this was bad. For a little while at the beginning of the film I was wondering why everybody dislikes this movie so much, but if I were honest with myself it was already feeling a little sub-par for a big budget, wannabe Hollywood blockbuster. That feeling only increased once the first act was over. This movie really looks and feels like a B-grade telemovie. It's hard to believe that: a) this is what was made after M:I1, which I quite enjoyed, and; b) they were able to convince anyone to make an M:I3 after this. I suppose B-grade can be forgivable and fun when the right attitude is behind it, but this was taking itself way too seriously for that. Add to that the Australian accents and locations and I think it becomes too much B-grade to enjoy.
That being said, I did like a lot of the action set pieces, if only there had been a little more attention to detail. I had great fun and some new respect for Tom Cruise, recognising him as so obviously and blatantly taking part in many of the stunts and very physical fights. Once again though these are let down some by the sloppy filmmaking, but still made that little more impressive by Tom's actual presence.
The other major let down in this Mission: Impossible outing is the  lack of gadgetry and other M:I trappings. There's a little, but nowhere near the amount of far fetched equipment and ridiculous odds that's needed to make this an M:I story rather than just a spy movie.
By far the worst of the M:I run, and extremely disappointing because of it.