18 October, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

What I watched in… 
June 2012

Aliens (on DVD)
Of course there's not much I can say about Aliens that hasn't already been said. Once again, like it's predecessor Alien, it's a fabulously tense movie, this time with full-on action mixed in very liberally. It's simply great and is a perfect turning up of the heat in all the right ways from Alien, especially for Ripley as a character. 
For me, on this my (I think) fourth viewing (twice in the cinema — once at original release and once a few years ago) the most remarkable aspect of the film is absolutely Ripley. She is written and played with such a laser-like focus it's almost breathtaking. Not a single line is wasted, nor a single action. Everything written and acted for Ripley through Sigourney Weaver illuminates more of her steel will, concrete resolve and enormous courage and heart. In this movie she is one of the best represented characters I've ever enjoyed in movies. Add to this how fabulous she also is in the original Alien and she's simply incredible. 
This movie has one of my favourite film lines ever, and of course it comes from Ripley: "Get away for her you BITCH!"

Alien3 (on DVD)
I didn't realise that I'd never seen this movie before. I have to say that Aliens had me so pumped for the character of Ripley that after its credits had faded from the screen I immediately wanted to throw this one in the DVD player. I craved to see more of that woman regardless of the bad reputation this film has. Unfortunately I didn't find this instalment of the Alien series nearly as enjoyable as I'd hoped. 
For me, the opening montage signalled trouble immediately. I hate the way it negates everything Ripley fought for in Aliens within minutes of frame one. With that one action of making the previous film(s) all but meaningless I lost all investment I had in wanting to see what might happen next. There wasn't even any empathy from me regarding the circumstances depicted, merely a feeling of disappointment and being cheated. This had now become just another adventure in a serial story, not truly a continuation of Ripley's ordeals.  
Ripley's character wasn't nearly as well defined or presented here, which is a common problem in this movie: it's a bit of a mess and unfocused in most of its plot, storytelling and characters. Ripley's character seems off — no where near smart and steely enough. 
That being said, one of Ripley's most interesting facets, certainly by this stage, is the developing relationship between her and the aliens. What an awful ongoing nightmare for Ripley — an ordeal of insanity inducing proportions — and that really begins to come to the fore. 
There is an interesting turn in this relationship with the aliens; it's the logical progression that Riley's worst nightmare in Alien and Aliens comes to pass here, and yet the whole film feels so boring and pedestrian. So much more should have been made of her waking nightmare. 
There are interesting religious themes and symbology, but again under utilised and weak. There's an oppressive sense of despair and hopelessness in all three movies so far, and that's certainly integral to their personality: a palpable sense of insurmountable doom. I felt like its application in Alien3 wasn't as genuine, but more forced and shoe-horned in. Similarly with the emotional content. A3 was also lacking in the tension and suspense department. I could see how it was trying to be achieved, but in the end it fell short. The final attempt(s) to kill the alien were muddled and confusing to me. Again, I found the whole movie kind of haphazard. 
I even thought the soundtrack was inappropriate. And I rarely even take that kind of notice of a soundtrack. 
I felt another disappointment was the production design. Design in the first two movies was hardcore and rock solid, while here it seems kind of cheap and derivative, with very little to commend it. To my mind it felt like it borrowed stylistically (though not emotionally) from Miller's Mad Max-es and Burton's Batman-s. In the end it felt B-grade, and not in a good way. 
All in all, not the progression of the Ripley character I was so looking forward to, instead missing the mark with her, and missing the chance to develop the fabulous (if obvious) possibilities that were touched on. 

Alien: Resurrection (on DVD)
Once again, this is an interesting and somewhat logical evolution of the whole Ripley/Alien relationship and saga. But again, as in Alien3, the very worthy ideas being introduced are not pushed nearly far or hard enough. If there's one thing that Alien and Aliens did with their ideas, it was they pushed them – and so the audience too – just about as hard and far as possible, and that's where the interest and tension mostly came from, not the horror or action tropes. As a case in point, I quite like Ripley's new incarnation and character, but it was again disappointingly under utilised. 
It's an interesting episode in the series in that it looks like it was really trying to be more mainstream in its approach to the genre of sci-fi movies while still being reverent to the previous films in the franchise. It began much more like a space opera adventure, then turned into an imitation of Alien and Aliens' predicaments and escapes. It still wasn't able to capture the same tension and foreboding so prevalent in the first two though. 
Interestingly, I wonder if this is a forerunner to Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, which I've never seen either of. From the little I know of Whedon's sci-fi work, this looks very much like his "band of misfits". 
I was much more excited by and invested in Alien: Resurrection than I was in Alien3, but again, it falls far short of its potential considering a lot of the ideas present. 

All four Alien films will eventually be getting Director's Cut viewings for the first time from me and I'm really interested in seeing the differences in the final products there. 

And finally, that brings me to the reason for this whole re-viewing of the Alien quadrilogy… 

Prometheus (at the cinema) 
Here is a welcome return to high tension and real fear, as well as touches of the oppressive death and morbidity themes. The step up with this film is the addition of a sense of the epic, both of the physicality of the location and environment, as well as of the theme and reach. 
Unfortunately it falls down far too often with illogical character actions and plot holes. It wasn't enough to ruin the film completely for me, but it's certainly enough to often have my brow furrowing, asking myself the kind of questions that the film makers don't really want me asking myself instead of pondering the larger issues being presented. In short, I was distracted from what I really should have been concentrating on because of stupidity in the storytelling. 
It had a great design sense, feeling very 70s inspired, while also completely fulfilling the expectations of a contemporary audience. The acting was really good and the effects were excellent. 

Oliver! (live on stage, as a high school musical)
I've never seen this musical before, either live or on film. Neither have I ever read the original novel. Not to denigrate this high school production by any means, because it was very enjoyable, but it's a real testament to Charles Dickens' original story (Oliver Twist) and just how weighty the emotional content is, even when presented as a musical by (certainly enthusiastic, and often very talented) amateurs. It's made me want to read the source material to get the deeper narrative. 

15 October, 2012

Supanova Perth 2012

One week after Supanova Sydney (which you can find photos of here) was of course Supanova Perth. Another huge show, breaking Perth's attendance record once again with 21,100 happy attendees. Combined with the previous weekend's Sydney expo Supanova was nudging nearly 50,000 people over the two weekends!

I hadn't been to a Perth Supanova for a few years, so I was really glad to finally be back. Once again, since I'm working most of the time, it's hard to get a lot of photos, but I'll share a few that I do have. 

Full disclosure: I'm one of the founders of Supanova, art direct it, and have a financial stake in the business. 

After the opening ceremony on Friday night, a bunch of us retired for dinner somewhere very nice. Here you can see Tom Taylor, Q-Dog, one of our wonderful MCs from Cool [Shite] on the Tube, Justin Randall, and our fabbo comics guest helper Royd Burgoyne

Three shots stitched together to show the crowd of eager fans waiting to get the go ahead to invade the exhibitor floor. Of course, this was just the lot that were able to get into the holding area inside – lines were out the door and down the road!

The exhibitor floor on Saturday arvo. 

Artists' Alley crowds on Saturday morning.

Some more crowds in one of the other areas of the exhibitor floor. 

As always, we had some stellar comic book guests, and a bunch of nice fellers they were too! Here we see, from closest to camera to furthest, Ashley Wood, David Mack, Jim Cheung, and Tony Moore

Three of our guests had a draw-off during one of the panels. From closest to camera to furthest, Australia's own David Yardin, Peter Nguyen and Jim Cheung, all drawing the mighty Thor. 

Something Jim drew must of made them laugh! What are you up to Jim?!?

Gestalt Comics were exhibiting their wonderful comics…

… and also gave an informative panel. Here you see publisher Wolfgang Bylsma, writer Tom Taylor and artist Emily Smith

Ashley Wood, one of Perth's favourite sons, also gave a Q&A panel. 

Saturday night means Cocktail Party! Here I am with my date, daughter Annabelle. 

Me, Belle and one of our wonderful Guest Services people Mark. (As usual, that's coke in my glass.)

Sunday crowds in Artists' Alley continued to be strong. I had a ball selling Tides of Hope comics and doing caricatures for punters. 

And all too soon it was all over. Thanks Claremont Showgrounds!

Sunday night is traditionally the recording of a special Cool [Shite] on the Tube Supanova podcast, and traditionally a night where no holds are barred and I blush a heck of a lot. Q-Dog holds court, and the microphone, and in the first of these two photos are the Gestalt crew, while in the second Tony Moore gets something off his chest. CSotT's Bruce Moyle turning the dials, bathed in the cool glow of his Macbook. 

Monday was an amazing day. Royd organised for a boat trip down the Swan River to Fremantle. Jim Cheung and Tom Tayor can be seen in the cabin here. 

David Mack could not contain his excitement being out in the fresh air and was climbing all over the boat. 

This is not a staged reaction shot. This was everybody's faces watching David do nautical gymnastics. 

Dolphins swam and played around the boat quite a bit. They must has smelled the sheer creative talent on board and wanted to show off! Or maybe they were just trying to match David Mack's antics!

We ate at Little Creatures Brewery, as you do…

I had dessert for lunch, as you do… 

And then we all went climbing a giant spider-web, as you do. 
That's Tom Taylor with Annabelle. 

The talented and gracious Jim Cheung drew in my sketch book on the way back to Perth. What a beautiful drawing of Thor he did!

While in the living quarters Christopher Paolini (right) was spilling some secrets about his work to Matthew Reilly (left) and Tom Taylor. 

Later that evening, back on dry land, David Mack got down to the serious business of completing some commissions, as Belle watched, enthralled. 

Tuesday morning was our last brekky in Perth, and it was the breakfast of champions, including Tea & Toast. 

Thanks Perth! So glad I was able to come back again at last!

08 October, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

This is what I watched in Avengers month this year…
April 2012

As the lead up to The Avengers movie I made it a mission to re-view all the modern Marvel Studios movies featuring the Avengers characters. What a ball! What a great time to be a superhero comic fan. Especially one like me that doesn't have the time to read many superhero comics any more.  

Iron Man. (on DVD)
I think Iron Man is a great example of the quintessential superhero origin film. This, as an updating of the forty or fifty year old origin story, is quite convincing. Stark as the weaponeer seems as comfortably believable now as he was way back then. 
The movie looks amazing, with great production design, a believable Iron Man suit, great special effects, and exciting action sequences. 
More over, the characters are brilliantly, fabulously realised by the main three actors in Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges. 
There's a couple of flaws of course. The first being the villain as the trusted family friend/surrogate father is a little too cliché, but probably necessary to keep the plot compact. The second being the terrible climatic fight scene. Superhero movies can often struggle to give the audience a payoff in the final battle, and IM did here. The metamorphosis of Obadiah Stane into an insane monster, when everything he had done up till that point had been underhanded and stealthy subterfuge, really grated. But, post battle, RDJr gives us a really killer post script. 
To be honest, this movie has only gotten better with this, my third viewing. 
I can't believe that in four short years we've come from this, Iron Man 1, had four other Avengers 'prequels' and that this year, 2012, it will culminate in an actual Avengers feature film! It's an astounding rise in popularity similar to what happened 40 odd years ago with the original comics from Marvel. 

Iron Man 2. (on DVD)
I really really like this as a continuation of Marvel Studio's Iron Man franchise. There's a suitably generous escalation in the deadliness of the fight scenes and protagonists, while still really continuing to keep it all close to Tony's heart, home and business, all of which are as integral to make up the character as the suit is. 
That being said, we now have two movies where the super-powered threat/s are basically warped versions of the Iron Man suit. In IM2 it made for some really great chase and fight scenes, which were quite weak in the climax of IM1, but I really don't want to see an IM3 where I'm watching Tony go up against more arc-reactor powered stolen/copied Stark technology. It was great to see some honest to goodness Iron Man action and fighting though, which in retrospect IM1 seemed kind of lacking, especially in light of IM2's huge finale fight sequences. 
There's no doubt the best part of this is still Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of the titular hero. This is best evidenced in the fact that the movie goes for a whopping 30 minutes before we finally get to a proper action/fight scene. He's getting this modern updated version of Tony Stark very right — keeping his playboy personality intact but still making him selfless and heroic. 
All the leading players are very good in fact; Paltrow and Cheadle both very good, as are Rourke and Rockwell. Rockwell seems to be channelling a little Rick Moranis for most of his time, until the very end where there's a glare he shoots at Paltrow's Potts that, in an instant, totally changes his character to something very sinister indeed. 
I do have some gripes though. 
I wish they hadn't made the suit's updated chest light a triangular/diamond shape. In comics iconographic shorthand, diamond = Superman — circular = Iron Man. Regardless of whether or not the comics did this first or not, it's a poor idea. 
I'm only two movies into this franchise and I'm already sick of seeing Iron Man versus a twisted or altered version of himself. I hope IM3 has an antagonist that gets his strength from something other than Stark himself. 
And yes, the inclusions of SHIELD and Natasha Romanoff were completely superfluous – only there for the set-up of the Marvel Movie Universe continuity. But you know what? For me, that makes them very worthy inclusions after all because, as this nearly 10 hour re-watch so ably demonstrates to me, it's not a series of movies we're now experiencing, but an expanding universe and continuity. Let's make sure we make it work. 

The Pirates! Band of Misfits. (at the movies, in beanbags)
This was a fun bit of fluffy adventure. I was in a bit of a tired and goofy mood when I settled into the beanbag for this (yes, the cinema was decked out with beanbags!) and I think that's pretty much the right mood for it. 
The one-liners are good and funny, the story's pretty obvious but with some funny twists, the character designs are nice and jolly, the animation's spot-on, and I laughed out loud on several occasions. 
Unfortunately there are several slow bits in the meat of the story, which only feel all the slower because of the goofy over-the-top-ness of other parts. It's understated in a lot of it, which may have worked against it from time to time, but overall, a good fun romp. 

The Incredible Hulk. (on DVD)
There's a lot to like in this, but ultimately not enough to get it to the same level as the other four Avengers prequels. 
I really like Bruce as a character in this new interpretation. I like how he's handling his plight (that is; being burdened with his alter ego) and trying to rectify that problem. His romance with Betty is really sweet and nicely handled too. I do think the hardest thing to get right with a screen adaption of The Hulk's whole mythology is the anger factor, and I don't think they quite got it right here either, in neither the anger's repressed state (Banner) or expressed state (Hulk). There just doesn't seem to be enough raw rage at the centre of The Incredible Hulk to ring true to the character/s. It shouldn't just be about heart rate, it's also about adrenalin brought on by emotion, most notably anger. It was an interesting twist they employed, but not quite right. Also, the Hulk persona was too clever and measured for my liking.
It seemed to me, as someone who watched The Incredible Hulk TV show, that this movie version, as well as looking to the comics for inspiration, channeled a little of the TV show's vibe, though there may have been a few too many in-jokes. 
I really loved the motivation of the antagonist Blonsky which eventually drives him to be The Abomination. Very well portrayed by Tim Roth. Although, as I said before, I do get annoyed that the super villains powers are again related directly to, bastardised from, misuse of, the hero's powers/origins. It's OK to go outside this! Similarly, I wish they hadn't included the references and ties to the super soldier serum/program. I do understand why it was done, as it harkens back to the whole building of a Marvel continuity, but this is not the best way to do so.
This movie was pretty good. As always it's really the alter ego and his dilemma that's ultimately the more interesting story. The punctuations of violence throughout the story are good and well done, though in themselves not all that interesting. 

Thor. (on DVD) 
Thor's a very likeable movie, with a likeable, easy humour, and likeable, amiable characters, but it's not without some flaws that still really irk me. 
I still find the romance between Thor and Jane totally unbelievable. 
I still find Loki's motivations muddled and unclear. 
I'm still disappointed with the final battle with The Destroyer. It feels so half-baked and underdone. I expected so much more from both with the warriors three and Thor himself. 
I still believe it was a horribly missed opportunity to not have Thor actually GO AND GET his hammer to prove himself. It's a very weak character turn around for Thor. I know he's willing to lay his life down for friends and strangers, but the lead up to that where he should be learning to be humble doesn't hold any weight whatsoever. Really, he's never been afraid to sacrifice his life for the greater good – that's been proven in Asgard many times — that's not a surprise. He's already brave, giving and loving, it's the fact that he's full off himself that needed to change, and I don't think it did. 
On this, my second viewing of Thor, one of the main positives that hit me was: geez it looks good! I love the design and look of it. It was nicely, slightly flamboyantly shot, although a lot the angled shots are a little annoying in their superfluousness. 
(My original review of Thor can be found here.)

Captain America: The First Avenger. (on DVD)
This was my third time watching CA:TFA and I still really enjoyed it. It really shows off the intrinsic strength of a lot of the Marvel heroes: Their humanity, even above their heroism.
(My original review of Captain America: The First Avenger can be found here.)

The Avengers. (at the movies) 
Wow. That was incredible. And overwhelming! So overwhelming in fact that I know I'm going to have to see it again very soon just to really get a grip on it. 
I've been pretty much waiting for this movie all my life. After a childhood and teenagehood of live action adaptions of comics that simply disappointed bitterly time and again, the existence of a movie like this, with basically eight super heroic or villainous characters (PLUS an invading alien armada) fully and expertly realised, just never seemed possible. In fact, I refused to believe it was actually genuine until the last frame of the credits rolled. And even then I thought that maybe it had all been a dream.  
This film really is built on the characters and their interplay. Well the non-action segments are at least. Then again, there's fabulous interplay between the characters during the action scenes too! It's a great ensemble piece with all of the mains getting a chance to shine, and most of the bit players too. The character scenes and interactions were spot on, revealing and enlightening. That being said, not everyone had an actual character arc. Really only Iron Man did, being the only one who seemed to have been set up with something to prove. Loki and Banner a little. Although I shouldn't mistake playing out one's motivation as a character arc in Loki's case, or the revelation of anger-management techniques in Banner's. 
As far as character surprises are concerned, I think Black Widow was the biggest. I don't know if it's Scarlett Johansson's acting ability, if she was directed by Whedon differently to the rest of the cast, or if it came from the script, but BW was the only character who looked like she was actually doing something truly heroic – pulling courage from inside her to do things she found physically draining and literally frightening. She was a great one to watch, humanising what may have otherwise been quite devoid of that fragility. 
The movie looked amazing. There was no pulling of any punches during fight scenes and action sequences, and there were plenty of them. Even with so many action and fight scenes each one was different and each one was bigger than the last. Finally! The technology and skill is really here, or just about here, to make a comicbook New York slugfest so close to believable. There was impact, speed, volume and scope. In my mind I'd have to go all the way back to 1980's Superman II to get the same feeling of a real fight happening in a real New York, or maybe 1984's Ghost Busters, and these didn't have the volume or quite the scope. 
I think one of the most important aspects of this movie, and one of the things that's helped it be so successful, is that it is so much in the style and personality of Marvel comics, and that it's not trying to be something else. That personality (mostly the characters and their relationships and interplay) is what made Marvel comics the hit they were in the 60s, and it's working a treat again here too. 
Are there flaws? Of course there are. The biggest one being Samuel L. Jackson's performance. He was lacklustre to the point of being embarrassing. Was he trying to be so cool and laid back that it came off as couldn't-be-bothered, or was it that he just couldn't be bothered?
Regardless, if you have any affection for superheroes you will love this movie, surely. The more I think about it the more I want to go and see it again really soon to relive the visceral experience of what amounts to a real live superhero battle, and more so, a world where superheroes actually exist. 
I said I'd been waiting to see this movie nearly all my life, and that I wouldn't believe it actually existed until I had seen the very last frame fade away. Well I saw it and it was so damn good I still don't believe it actually happened. 

The Avengers. (at the movies, again) 
Since writing the review above I've seen The Avengers for a second time. I know a lot of people are happily seeing it a third and even fourth, but I think I'm content now until I get to watch it again on DVD. To be honest I was slightly bored in the down time between action sequences. That's not to say that they're not as good as I first thought, but rather that they're oh-so-good the first time that they lose some of their impact and charm the second. 
I know I'm going to love watching this when it hits DVD, but until then, I'm happy. 

05 October, 2012

Greener Pastures in New Zealand

I recently uploaded a video clip of Greener Pastures' travels to New Zealand to attend IcoNZ 2 in 1995, and I thought I'd follow up with a few photos from the same trip. 

Those New Zealanders sure know how to make visiting comic creators feel welcome! Thank you kiwi comic making brothers and sisters! 

Here's Michael and I at our table at IcoNZ 2. This is one of the weirdest photos of us I have ever seen (and believe me, in our time we've taken a few weird ones on purpose!). It looks like my trunk has been disconnected from my pelvis and like Mike's legs have been bathed in a shrinking ray! 

Samuel joined us on this trip, and here he is visiting our IcoNZ 2 table. He and I are wearing matching Greener Pastures woollens – a cardigan and a jumper both knitted by my wonderful wife Bongo. He wasn't even one yet and he already looks embarrassed to be seen with me.