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Saturday, September 29, 2012

End of Watch



End of Watch, written and directed by David Ayers (Training Day) is one of the best cop movies in recent years. A bald and buff Jake Gyllenhaal stars alongside a sturdy Michael Pena as two uniformed police officers, a couple of self-described "ghetto cops", patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles. As Gyllenhaal describes into his omnipresent HD cameras, they are "the thin blue line" between law and chaos, and their beat is not one to be envied. As a manner of daily routine, Gyllenhaal and Pena deal with the real scum of humanity. Their neighborhood is a seedy war zone between black gangs at war with each other and with Mexican drug dealers increasingly taking over the territory. It's all the police can do, including their gristled but stalwart sergeant Frank Grillo and fellow officers America Ferrara and Cody Horn, to keep the peace. (Telling dialogue when Horn is asked if she has a soul: "No, sir, we keep it at home.") Gyllenhaal and Pena maintain their sanity and brothers-like friendship by busting each others' balls in their police cruiser, sometimes improvising hilarious dialogue about their hopes, dreams, childhood, marriage, sex lives, and why Gyllenhaal doesn't want to marry a Mexican girl. (Too many Quinceaneras to attend.) Contrasting Pena's happily married life, Gyllenhaal begins a sweet romance with Anna Kendrick, who understands what she's getting into by marrying a cop and is all in. Immediate and endlessly engaging, End of Watch still manages to feel downright epic; the story takes place over the course of weeks as Gyllenhaal and Pena engage in bristling car chases, shoot outs, uncover a human traffic ring, and become targets of a Mexican drug cartel. Their colleagues in blue seem like casualties of the job when one gets a knife in the eye and a rookie is nearly beaten to death by a gangbanger, but Gyllenhaal and Pena get it even worse when they're ambushed by repugnant Mexican thugs in a bloody, ultraviolent shoot out. The title "End of Watch" turns out to be sadly ominous, though it's a bit unfortunate the movie backs out of its incredibly bold ending of having both Gyllenhaal and Pena die by gunfire. Turns out one of them miraculously survived the machine gun massacre they're caught in. Guess which one.




"We're not gonna talk about goddamned time travel!"

Here we are, face to face, my future self and me. Looper is writer-director Rian Johnson's twisty, mind-bending, time travel action yarn starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis as himself, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his younger self. Got it? Gordon-Levitt's face is buried under prosthetic makeup for the entire movie so that he resembles a young Bruce Willis with hair. The effect is unusual at first but in certain angles, and the way Gordon-Levitt inhabits Willis' mannerisms, the effect is oddly convincing.

The year is 2044 A.D. and time travel has been invented, and was instantly made illegal. 30 years even further in the future, time travel is controlled by criminals who send other criminals back in time to be executed by "loopers", of which Gordon-Levitt is one, wielding a blunderbuss as his primary weapon. Loopers kind of have a shit deal: they make a lot of silver bars as payment but their ultimate reward for a job well done is to have 30 years to live as they please until they "close the loop", meaning they get sent back in time to be executed by their younger selves. For which they get paid in gold. It's confusing, but as Bruce Willis barks at Gordon-Levitt when they meet in a diner: "We're not gonna talk about goddamned time travel! We'll end up sitting here drawing diagrams." No shit. These pre-destination paradoxes are headache-inducing. 

Suffice to say, in the timeline that occurs in the movie, Gordon-Levitt executes Willis and goes on to live his 30 years in Shanghai, China (suggested by his boss Jeff Daniels, despite Gordon-Levitt studying French for his plans to retire in France). Aged into the older Bruce Willis, he falls in love with a Chinese woman and finally has a happy life, until he's attacked by someone called The Rainmaker, his wife is killed, and Willis is sent back in time to be killed by Gordon-Levitt. Only Willis knew this was coming and totally outsmarted/sucker punched Gordon-Levitt. So now they're both in the same time, both hunted by other Loopers and "gat-men" assassins, and they don't get along. At all. One of the keen things about Looper is despite being the same person 30 years apart, neither Willis nor Gordon-Levitt can stand each other. 

Willis decides to go on a Terminator-like crusade to kill the three young children who are most likely to become The Rainmaker. One is the child of Gordon-Levitt's favorite prostitute Piper Perabo. But it turns out the future Rainmaker is the young son of Emily Blunt, the owner of a Kansas farmhouse where Gordon-Levitt hides out. No surprise the creepy son of Blunt is the future Rainmaker, but it is surprising he's an incredibly powerful telekinetic who can make human bodies go squish like Jean Grey when she becomes Dark Phoenix. All timelines converge at this farm as Willis comes to kill the Rainmaker and Gordon-Willis tries to protect the boy from his future self. 

Somewhat of a head-scratcher at times, Looper is startlingly effective and entertaining as a bizarre sci-fi yarn and a guns-blazing action movie. Willis in particular relishes getting to play the kind of ruthless killing machine that rivals his 1980s action  buddies Stallone and Schwarzenegger. The coolest thing about Looper for me was never knowing exactly what to expect next. It's not often I'm unable to see the patterns and find myself consistently surprised throughout a movie. Although my future self wasn't at all surprised.

Smallville: Season 11 #18 - "Detective"



What's better than Superman and Batman beating the bejeezus out of each other? Superman and Batman teaming up. Buddy buddy. Real friendly-like. This week we really get the World's Finest team. It's like all the old covers from the 1940s without Superman and Batman riding bombs, plugging war bonds, and all the blatantly racist overtones. Therefore, it's so much better.

With the Batsignal high over the skies of Metropolis, the Batman arrives on the rooftop source of the signal to find Superman waiting for him. Superman knows enough about the Batman that this is the specific way to call a meeting with him. Superman also knows Batman and Nightwing located Joe Chill's safehouse in Suicide Slum.

You know what's great about this? In recent times, the traditional way to depict Batman and Superman seems to be that Batman's the brains and Superman's the flying muscle. But this is Smallville. This is Superman's show and Batman's the guest star. So we get to see that Batman is good, yes. Batman's great even. But he's not better than Superman. Superman's also smart and he's in charge here. Metropolis is Superman's town and this is Superman's show. Batman reluctantly accepts his role here. It's awesome.

Superman doesn't want this, frankly, crazy vigilante tearing through Suicide Slum hell bent on revenge for Joe Chill killing his mommy and daddy. He's got a point. Batman's not just a guy in a bat costume; he's got an arsenal of military style vehicles and weaponry. Batman can and will blow stuff up if he feels like it. Superman proposes "a joint investigation mutually beneficial to both of us." They make sure Joe Chill is safe from Intergang and then find out who's manufacturing the weapons he's peddling. Batman agrees and we get This Moment. If this were old school WWF, we'd call this the Megapower Handshake.

Meanwhile, at Lexcorp, Lex Luthor is enjoying video of the WrestleMania showdown between Superman and Batman. If Lex had a Batman T-shirt, he'd be wearing it right now. Lex keeps pausing and rewinding Batman, powered by red sun energy, laying the smackdown on Superman's candy ass. Lex also thinks he has one of those Blade Runner televisions that allow you enhance and move around corners inside the frame. He's bummed when Otis reminds him his TV can't do that. Maybe Lex should invent one? Otis liked the other match better, the one between Nightwing and Green Arrow, probably because he enjoys women's wrestling. Sort of like how saying "Beetlejuice" three times conjures up Beetlejuice, cuing up a Green Arrow fight on television makes the real Green Arrow appear. Oliver Queen bursts into Lex's office to accuse Lex of harassing him with those coded emails. When Oliver leaves, and he really just came to yell at Lex and skedaddle (billionaires have such time on their hands, you know, not running their companies), Lex notices the time stamps are all from the dead of night. Looks like Otis isn't getting any sleep tonight either.

At the charmingly named Suicide Slum, Superman and Batman are on a stakeout. Batman is irritated by Superman's penchant for conversation but Superman seems to really be enjoying having a partner in crime. Er, fighting. Superman's also a nice guy who's very considerate; even though he knew Batman was based in the Leviathan freighter, he didn't want to draw attention to it and compromise Batman's security because he knows Lex Luthor is watching all his movements. (You know, if anyone can figure out how to get this radiation off of Superman...) Superman and Batman then decide to play whose X-ray Vision is better and Batman wins - his night vision goggles spot some extra snipers Superman missed when he bathed the building with X-rays. Batman then plays the old "disappear while the other guy is talking" trick he plays on Jim Gordon every night. Superman should have said, "So that's what that feels like." Batman easily and stealthily penetrates the safehouse and finds Joe Chill's room, though technically Superman beats him there with Superspeed. I don't know what Batman or anyone else was expecting when we all got to meet Joe Chill, but it wasn't an old man in a wheelchair and respirator. He's like Hyman Roth from Godfather II.

Back at Lexcorp, Otis is on the case of Mr. Luthor and the Mysterious Emails. But come on, we knew what was going on before we saw it happen, didn't we? Lex rises from his peaceful slumber and sleepwalks to his office, speaking gibberish and caressing Otis' face. Then she starts sending out the emails. That's right, she, because when Lex is asleep, it's Tess Mercer in charge.

At the safehouse, Chill, a life long criminal, isn't exactly repentant about killing Batman's parents, whoever they were. Batman can't be specific and Chill has killed a lot of people for lots of reasons. This isn't good enough for Batman, who loses it, until Superman literally slaps him down. These grim avengers of the night and their unresolved childhood traumas, honestly! Superman, the good cop here, calmly explains to Joe Chill that they're really here to find out where they can find a man named Loomis, who they believe is manufacturing the weapons Chill fenced for Intergang. But hey, they don't have to look very far because Loomis is already there! Batman and Superman spring into action with Heat Vision and Batarangs, but a burst of cold takes out both. Loomis isn't alone. He has help from Batman's arch nemesis, the cool, cruel Mr. Freeze! I hope Bryan Q. Miller brushed up on his cold puns. We'll see when Smallville returns after their regularly-scheduled break.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

DC: The New 52 Zero Month - Week 4

It's been a fun experiment but I'm glad this is the end of #0s.

Aquaman #0. I can sum it up thusly: Swim swim swim. Look out - a shark! Talk talk talk. Exposition, exposition. Off to find Atlantis. Found it! Right away! The end.

Okay, there's a bit more to it. 6 years ago Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are specifically cited as existing (I thought Batman was just an "urban myth"?) but young Arthur Curry watches his daddy die after being attacked by pirate Black Manta. Everyone already knows he's half Atlantean, so he's chased into the ocean. Where, pretty art aside, Geoff Johns wastes like five pages of Arthur just swimming and then fighting and telepathically talking to a great white shark. Aquaman saves some people from a storm, they tell him they heard of another Atlantean in Norway, he goes to Norway and meets Vulko. There's a lot of blah blah blahing about Arthur's mother Atlanna, who is dead, and his half brother Orm, who killed her. Vulko gives Arthur a treasure map and some jewels and then they go off to find Atlantis. And they do. The end.

Batman: The Dark Knight #0. The secret origin of Joe Chill! Well, not really. Filling in some blanks spots from Batman's origin story, it deals with young Bruce Wayne hero worshiping his dead father and obsessed with the idea that they must have been killed to fulfill some nefarious purpose. He hunts for answers until he's 18, looking for the sinister reason his parents were murdered, until he finds the gunman in that alley, Joe Chill. And Bruce find out there was no conspiracy, no greater purpose to the Waynes' murder. Joe Chill was a pathetic drunk who happened upon the Waynes by chance in Crime Alley and wanted Martha Wayne's pearl necklace. That's it. Disappointing for Bruce, slightly less so for the reader. But you know, it's still better than the old continuity where Joe Chill helped Batman fight The Reaper in Batman Year Two. That was terrible. Still, I prefer Batman Begins as Batman's definitive origin.

Batman Incorporated #0. The only things here of real interest was a bit about the board room meeting where Bruce Wayne introduced the concept of funding Batman Inc. to the Wayne Enterprises board members (sold as "Wayne private security worldwide") and a comment at the end where Batman tells Alfred he's never seen him eat. Other than that, it's a Grant Morrison-y, dizzying worldwide romp meeting all the weirdo characters Morrison is so fond of that I couldn't care less about. Dark Ranger, El Gaucho, Knight and Squire, Wingman, whatever. I'm interested in the eventual showdown between Batman Inc. and Talia al Ghul's Leviathan.

Superman #0. Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort, the creative team behind Red Hood and the Outlaws, take over Superman and deliver something really different. The most fun, entertaining, action packed depiction of Jor-El and Lara ever, as Jor-El discovers Krypton will explode, discovers Lara is pregnant, and the two of them get attacked by the Eradicator's Doomsday Cult out to implement Cosmicide. Jor-El is kind of like Reed Richards and Lara turns out to be an ex-military action heroine - it's a cool spin on Superman's parentage, and Rocafort eschews the cold white ice crystal world to turn Krypton into a colorful futuristic super world. One about to blow up, as there are strange bio-entities in its core facilitating its demise. Two extra big surprises: the story is narrated by Superman himself, who is somehow there on Krypton wearing his black suit, and there's some kind of monster at the end heralding the arrival of something called Oracle. (One presumes, not Barbara Gordon.) Superman has been such a drag all year, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this. As I said, it was just different and unexpectedly fun. The best issue of Superman since The New 52 started by far.

Talon #0. The launch of the major new character spinning from the Court of Owls storyline in Batman. Talon's theme is escape. Calvin Rose is an escape artist who was treated cruelly as a child and escaped to Haly's Circus, where he was then recruited by the Court of Owls as is custom. We get to see some of the brutal ritual that goes into the Court training their Talons (I especially liked the creepy, bloodthirsty little kids in Owl masks watching the Talons), and soon, Calvin is ready to kill as the Talon. Wouldn't you know it, his first assignment and he freaks out, can't kill his targets. So now he's on the run. Five years later, still on the run (but remaining in Gotham?), he is nearly killed by a new Talon, stuffed in a trunk of a car and thrown off a bridge. He escapes, of course, and upends the Talon. And Calvin Rose is back on the run. It's good, holding up to the standards of the twelve issues of the Batman Court of Owls story. Calvin Rose is kind of like Mr. Miracle, if Scott Free dressed up like an armored bird instead of that ridiculous red, green and yellow costume.

Teen Titans #0. Narrated by Batman, this is the new origin of Tim Drake, boy wonder, future Olympic athlete, A+ student, natural detective, headstrong, independent, who made a project out of discovering who Batman is. Tim applies for the job of Robin but Batman tells him to get lost, all the while evaluating him with Alfred. So Tim decides to get Batman's attention by stealing the Penguin's fortune. (Does he give it back is the question.) To keep Tim's parents alive from Oswald Cobblepot's revenge, they are placed in federal protection. Meanwhile, Tim comes to live in Wayne Manor and chooses not to take on the late Jason Todd's mantle as Robin but instead becomes Red Robin. So there. Tim Drake was never Robin in The New 52. He was always Red Robin. Because he must love hamburgers that much.

A lot of Batman this week. A lot. Too much. Two Batman titles plus Teen Titans is really Batman and Robin. And Talon is a Batman spin off. I'm surprised Batman didn't show up on Krypton too.

Now that the zero issues are wrapped, I walk away from all these comics with one new addition to my pull list: Batwoman. I remember not really understanding Batwoman #1 when it came out a year ago, but Batwoman #0 was the only zero issue that got me so interested in a DC comic I wasn't reading that I went looking for what I'd missed out on. I'm glad I did because Batwoman is great. 

Other than that, nothing has changed. I still like the books I like and already read, I wasn't moved to add anything new besides Batwoman. The DC Universe seems healthy and vibrant a year after The New 52 launched and looking back to fill in some gaps in the new continuity seemed beneficial overall. It's a nice new DC Universe they're building. If they just fix Superman, they'll really be in business, but a new, improved Man of Steel might just be in the cards for 2013.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Revolution 1x2 - "Chained Heat"

Someone Tweeted after the Emmys that network dramas will probably never win an Emmy again because they can't compete with cable's storytelling possibilities. I think that's probably accurate. As cable gets riskier, more adult, more involved, network TV often seems to regress to becoming as broad and inclusive as possible. This is a generalization. But Revolution seems to feed into that mindset. It's McDonalds sci-fi.

If Lost were made today instead of 8 years ago, in a network TV universe where shows like 24 existed (as uncompromisingly violent and risky as network TV can get), would Lost have been as smart and daring? (Say what you will about how it turned out, or your preferences, Lost was a great show. It's certainly a higher caliber than its clones that followed or Revolution, its current stepchild by some of the same fathers.)

Anyway, Revolution so far has not been terrible. It's not great, but it's not total shit either. It's better than Terra Nova, the show it reminds me of as much as Lost. It's still finding itself, and that's fine. It's doing well in the ratings and should have the time it needs to figure itself out and tell the story it's laying down.

This week, they dropped some bombshells. I guess the big one is that Elizabeth Mitchell is sticking around, not just in the flashbacks to the days after the Blackout, but that she's alive in the "present", estranged from her family, and mysteriously in some sort of cahoots with Monroe. I hope Revolution works out better for her than V, another example of an extremely stupid network sci-fi show.

I counted three big action scenes/swordfights this week, which is probably a lot. These characters barely have time to argue and give necessary exposition before they launch into another sword fight. Revolution seems to love to swash buckle.

They worked hard to give Charlie a bit more to do, make her more heroic and resourceful. She's pretty, sure, but I agree with uncle Miles, she's really annoying. But she's not useless by any means; she outsmarted that Militia dude who seems to have the hots for her, and she was the key player in their gambit to kill the militia members, acquire the sniper rifle and helicopter, and save the slave chain gang (who all kind of just vanished after Action Sequence #3). I also liked Charlie pointing out she was the only one concerned with freeing the slaves from the chain gang. 

Apparently, they've already killed or are about to kill the lady with the working computer in her attic. And they're laying down thick the whole idea of the Resistance "trying to restore the United States of America".

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And Where Is The Batwoman?

Hello. I'm an adult male and I now read Batwoman.

What is Batwoman? No, seriously, what is that, you may ask? Obviously, we've all heard of Batman. We all love Batman. We've heard of Batgirl, of course. And Robin, naturally. And Nightwing too, probably even non-comics fans know of him. Batwoman? What the hell is the Batwoman? The publishing and character history of Batwoman is long and complicated. It's here if you want to read about it. But it doesn't really matter.

What does matter is what Batwoman is today, which is what I regard as perhaps the finest ongoing comic book series currently published by DC Comics, starring its most unique and interesting superhero. It's the best comic book you're not reading. It was the best comic book I wasn't reading until recently. But now that I've read as much Batwoman as I could get my hands on (the collected volumes of "Elegy" - with an introduction written by Rachel Maddow - and "Hydrology", the current run of Batwoman #1-12 in The New 52, and the two comic books numbered as "Batwoman #0", published in 2010 and 2012), I've come back from Gotham City heralding the news: This book is phenomenal. This character is phenomenal. Batwoman is phenomenal.

You should read it.

Batwoman is Katherine Rebecca Kane. The quote from the introductory blurb on the splash page of most of her adventures tells you all the basics you need to know:

Did you get all that? Have you ever heard of a superhero like that before? I hadn't. You read enough superhero comics, watch enough superhero movies, they all blend together. All origins sound alike. This one is different. Because this heroine, Kate Kane, is very different. She's flawed, headstrong, dedicated, dangerous, sexual, tough, and brave. She's an adult. She's very real.

All of the trappings of the superhero are there: tragic past, desire to seek justice, gaudy costume of red and black, the "colors of war" (iconography borrowed, initially without permission, from the Batman). On the surface, Kate Kane is like Bruce Wayne, an heiress to a fortune, posing as a dilettante, but is highly trained, armed with specialized bat-motif weaponry and vehicles. What separates Kate Kane from the Batman, and from the rest of the superhero pack, is who she really is. A lesbian? Sure, she's that and proud of it. That already makes her unique. She was a soldier, and in a way she still is.

But what sets Kate Kane, the Batwoman, apart is that she's a survivor. Terrible things happened to her, and continue to, but she endures. She's not a thrill-seeker or out for fame or fortune or even out for revenge. She's a crusader, a caped crusader in the best tradition. In Batman's tradition. In fact, in Batwoman #0 (2010), the Batman himself narrates his investigation of Batwoman. What's interesting is that Batman, evaluating her for his global crime-fighting network Batman Inc., regards her not as  a subordinate as he would one of his Robins or even Batgirl. Batman regarded Batwoman as a peer. He offered her a spot in Batman Inc. as a peer. Then she turned him down.

The Batwoman comic series is a joy to read. Written initially by Greg Rucka and now penned by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, the series boasts evocative, eye-popping artwork primarily by J.H. Williams III that looks like nothing else in mainstream comics. Most issues contain multiple two-page layouts that read like some kind of twisted Game of Life game board involving the Batwoman facing down psychotics with hooks for hands, enormous mutated crocodile men, and even werewolves. Batwoman's rogues gallery is a gathering of ghastly grotesques. She faces down dead women reborn as wailing water ghosts, murderous shapeshifters, and her primary enemies, the Religion of Crime. Its leader is her thought-dead twin sister Beth Kane, reborn as Alice, her insane mirror image, her own personal Joker of sorts. Just about everything Kate Kane faces is deeply personal.

And boy, is Batwoman violent. Gotham City, already the least pleasant locale for a superhero to ply his trade, takes on even more shadowy, terrifying layers for Batwoman. She's stabbed repeatedly, thrown off of buildings, gassed, nearly drowned, and is a hair's breath of being killed several times. As well trained as she is (her origin story, depicted in "Batwoman #0" (2012), includes two years of absolutely brutal military training around the world that would make Bruce Wayne himself raise an eyebrow), and as well-equipped as she is (her arsenal is futuristic, with a bullet proof batsuit and other wonderful toys even Batman doesn't have), Batwoman still gets the hell kicked out of her. Her sometimes-sidekick Flamebird suffers one of the most horrific beatings ever when a villain slices her open with a hook from groin to sternum. Being Batwoman, living in her world, is not a lark. Reading Batwoman is not for the faint of heart.

To me, Batwoman is to the current DC Comics New 52 era what The Question, written by Denny O'Neill and drawn by Denys Cowan, was to the 1980s DC Comics. (I can think of no greater compliment to pay it.) Batwoman has that same gritty but honest, questing nature. It's mature comics, at times profound, eloquent, gorgeous, heartbreaking, uplifting.

Kate Kane is worth getting to know. Batwoman is worth reading.

If there's room for one more Bat in your comic book life, make it this one.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Master



The Master is not really about Scientology. But then, McDonalds is not really about hamburgers. When I was eighteen, my friends and I wandered into a Scientology center. Mainly, we just answered a hundred or so questions and then were briefly interviewed. And then we left and that was that. The interview was nowhere near as intense as the processing Phillip Seymour Hoffman puts Joaquin Phoenix through in The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's massive and unsettling epic about lost souls, mentors and pupils, sex, regrets, past lives, and not-Scientology. Set in the 1950s, Phoenix, a seething, self-destructive rattlesnake fueled by alcohol and anguish, is a naval WWII veteran whose primary talent is brewing moonshine out of anything he can get his hands on. This one trait, and a nagging feeling that they've met before, endears Phoenix to Hoffman when Phoenix stows away on his boat. Hoffman is "many things", a writer, philosopher (not a science fiction writer?), and a Master (addressed as such by his entourage of sycophantic followers) who wrote a book about his movement called The Cause. Some call it a cult and Hoffman a charlatan. Hoffman hates that; his cheery gregariousness turns on a dime and he explodes with rage when his beliefs are questioned. Perhaps the inability to control his own rages and impulses is what makes Phoenix such an attractive prospect for Hoffman to save, despite the protests of his wife Amy Adams, an even more severe believer and the main string puller behind Hoffman. But is Hoffman a liar who makes it all up? His underutilized son Jesse Plemons (Landry from Friday Night Lights!) thinks so. Joining The Cause and traveling with Hoffman's entourage, Phoenix remains a pathetic lightning rod of trouble. We learn about his past, dead father, mother in a loony bin, sex with an aunt, a failed romance with a 16 year old he still pines for, and yet all these parts of his troubled past seem a drop in the bucket to what really makes Phoenix such a sick person. Hoffman recognizing Phoenix is beyond saving and casting him aside ("if I ever see you again, we shall be enemies") is devastating. Phoenix, contorting his face to outwardly project the demons inside him, delivers an unbelievable performance. But what does it all mean? With Phoenix constantly exploding in destructive rages, even getting his pants and shirts repeatedly torn in the process, in a way, The Master is the strangest Incredible Hulk movie ever. The Cause sadly cannot cure Bruce Banner.

Yeah, I'm with Ebert on this.

Dredd 3D



"I miss Rob Schneider," said no one watching Dredd 3D, a visceral, slam-bang-bang, balls-to-the-wall adaptation of the grim-faced hero of British 2000 A.D. comic books. Scars still remain from the 1995 Judge Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Rob Schneider, but Dredd 3D sears any reopened wounds until they're cauterized. Dredd 3D takes the gritty, real-world feel of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy, melds it with the urban squalor and desperation of District 9, and utilizes eye-popping state of the art 3D to undeniably make its case that the real Judge Dredd has arrived and is here to stay.

Ah, Mega City One. It's a terrible place to visit and you wouldn't want to live there. In the future, America is a scorched Earth wasteland. 800 million people - more than twice the current population of the United States - are crammed into Mega City One, an urban sprawl stretching from Boston to Washington, DC. Everything is mega in Mega City One, especially crime. The only thing maintaining law and order are the Judges, armored police empowered to serve also as jury and executioner, if need be. (Need is constant.) The Judges fight a losing battle; they are hopelessly outnumbered and can only answer to 6% of crime reported. The most feared of the Judges is the legendary Dredd (a perfect Karl Urban), the scowl-iest of all Judges with the gravel-iest voice and the killing-est record. The comic booky Judge's uniform, blue and gold bulky armor with giant visor helmet, seems out of place in the decidedly real-world reimagining of Mega City One, but Dredd cuts an imposing silhouette and is less jarring a physical presence than Batman is in Nolan's realistic Gotham City.

After a thrilling car chase and introduction to Dredd's methodology, Dredd 3D becomes a spin on Training Day. In tried and true cop movie tradition, the veteran cop Dredd gets a new rookie partner, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a twenty year old who barely passed the academy. Exposed to nuclear fallout as a child, Anderson is an orphan mutant psychic. ("DIE MUTIES" graffiti tag walls all over Mega City One. The future hates mutants as much as the present hates the X-Men.) A skeptical Dredd takes Anderson out into the field to evaluate her and, in a classic baptism of fire plot, the rookie gets more than she ever bargained for. Killing perps dead bang is hard, at first. Soon, Anderson gets the hang of it.

As Anderson, Thirlby all but steals the movie. Anderson "forgets" her Judge's helmet, because it can block her psychic abilities, but Thirlby sans helmet is a savvy move by the filmmakers. For one thing, Thirlby is a real beauty, every moment she's on screen contrasts the ugliness of the movie's violence. Thirlby is also the audience's window into the world of Mega City One, allowing us someone to relate to where Dredd himself must remain implacable. (Urban, to his credit, never removes his helmet.) Thirlby looks vulnerable and in over her head but she's no push over, no matter how many rape and murder fantasies about her she psychically reads from the minds of the criminals she encounters. Anderson is the only character in Dredd 3D who grows and changes, learns about herself, and makes the rational decision about her choice of career.

Called to a massive mega-structure called The Peach Trees to investigate a triple homicide, Dredd and Anderson encounter the drug dealing criminal enterprise of Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a former hooker turned crime lord. Headey is like her Sarah Connor character crossed with Heath Ledger's Joker, scarred, wasted, and vicious. Ma-Ma is the primary manufacturer and supplier of Slo-Mo, a street narcotic that makes the human brain feel like time is passing at 1% of reality. Dredd and Anderson take custody of her top lieutenant, Wood Harris of The Wire, and it's great to see D'Angelo Barksdale get knocked around by Judge Dredd. Harris is awfully quiet and cooperative at first, until he targets Thirlby and makes his move to turn the tables and capture her. Dredd must then save his rookie charge, though it turns out Anderson doesn't need saving, and bring Ma-Ma to justice, while encountering corrupt Judges called in by Ma-Ma after her own legions of thugs get themselves shot full of holes by Dredd (and by herself via a multiple gatling gun assault that annihilates an entire level of the building in the movie's most explosive set piece).

The vast world of Mega City One is so enticing a setting that when Ma-Ma seals off the Peach Tree mega-structure, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside, the audience gets a similar disheartening feeling as our heroes when Dredd 3D's endless possibilities become enclosed in what turns into a standard video game plot: Dredd and Anderson must fight through levels to get to the Big Boss at the top. Dredd 3D meanders a bit in the middle as both sides feel like they're just killing time in between Boss Battles. Business picks up when Ma-Ma hires a cadre of corrupt Judges to hunt down Dredd, giving him more of a challenge, but just barely. When they finally confront each other, Dredd defenestrates Ma-Ma and fulfills the fantasies of most everyone in Westeros in what they wish they could do to Cercei Lannister.

Like Resident Evil: Retribution, Dredd 3D goes hog wild with stunning the audience with slo-mo visual gimmickery, but uses slo-mo and 3D to more innovative effect. Bullets giddily explode through human body parts like a savage ballet throughout Dredd 3D, and several death scenes of plummeting from thousands of feet take on an eerie beauty before the shameless splattering of viscera all over the screen. Dredd 3D seems like the inheritor of the ultra-violent tradition of 1980s sci-fi action movies like Robocop and Total Recall, but it still feels less dangerous and blood-lusting than the movies of yesteryear. Dredd and Anderson, whom the villains note plow through their forces "without a scratch" early on, do get wounded via gunfire, but the beatings they take still pale in comparison to how utterly fucked up John McClane in Die Hard, Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon, and even Robocop get at the hands of their enemies. Still, Dredd 3D delivers ample death and destruction where and when it counts. Judge Dredd will forever dispense brutal justice, Judge Anderson is just getting started, and the Dredd 3D franchise has a long way to go before it's too old for this shit.

Smallville: Season 11 #17 - "Detective"


With DC Universe Shout Outs To:

This week's Smallville eases us down from the adrenaline-fueled fanboy geekout of last issue's Superman vs. Batman super fight, the best physical encounter between the World's Finest heroes since "The Dark Knight Returns". Solid character work via writer Bryan Q. Miller and artists Jamal Ingle and Marc Deering take the place of action and violence, unless you count plummeting a man from the sky so he'll talk violence. Which apparently Lois Lane does, but more on that in a bit.

Suffice to say, the current "Detective" arc is a Smallville high; Miller, Ingle and Deering are doing truly stellar work depicting Superman as the Clark Kent we know and love from the show fully evolved (and having fun) as the Man of Steel while also playing with the wonderful toys of Batman and Nightwing and yet making it all still feel like Smallville. Would that we could actually see this on television. Nevertheless, for my money, Smallville is the best, most Superman-y version of Superman currently published by DC Comics - better than The New 52's current version, or Earth 2, or Earth One. To me, this is Smallville and this is Superman. And their Batman is surprisingly great too!

Picking up moments from Superman whisking Bruno Manheim up, up and away last week, the Green Arrow is racing for his green Arrowcycle trying to catch up with Batman and Nightwing. The Caped Crusaders are getting away via the Batwing. The fact that Batman has "a stealth hovercraft" leaves Green Arrow feeling hopelessly outclassed in the rich man's gadgets department, as he laments to his wife Chloe Sullivan at Watchtower. This does beg the question why Green Arrow chose to take a motorcycle as his transport to an island prison and how he got on or off that island, but whatever.

In the skies above Metropolis, Batman is feeling awesome. He didn't get to interrogate Bruno Manheim about the whereabouts of Joe Chill like he wanted to, and he got his ass handed to him by Superman, but as he takes of his cowl (he wears a weird padded head dress and he paints his jaw black - gross), the Batman is all smiles. And it's creeping Nightwing out. Why's Batman so damn happy?

The banter between Batman and Nightwing is highly amusing. Batman isn't loathe to admit he got a good feeling from Superman. "I think he likes me." Aww, Batman made a Super Friend. More importantly, Superman exceeded Batman's personal evaluations as a good guy who he can trust. Batman doesn't tell Nightwing he totally blabbed away that Joe Chill killed his parents to a Man of Steel he just met and fought.

Speaking of blabbing, Superman flies Manheim into the stratosphere and he's downright loquacious. He's supposed to be interrogating Manheim about the whereabouts of Joe Chill and his connection to Batman and Intergang, but Superman can't help talking about himself. He mentions he was raised to see the goodness of humanity, and he even tells Manheim he has a better half. One who will "read him the riot act" for what he's about to do. Which is this:

And Superman didn't even have to yell "SWEAR TO ME!!" Well, Bruno's not made of stone and hs underpants can only take so much soiling. Manheim gives up the goods: Intergang came to visit him in Stryker's soon after Superman pushed Apokolips away from Earth. Intergang is concerned about "hero expansion", but Bruno's out of the crime business and directed them to a guy who could move weapons for them, that guy being our MacGuffan and Wayne shooter-of-er Joe Chill. Turns out Joe Chill decided to rat out Intergang and is now being held in federal custody. Manheim passed Superman's Super Hearing lie detector test and, being no dummy, Superman knew Batman placed a little Bat tracker listening device on him. The Batman got what he needed and zooms away.

Later, we check in with the Sullivan-Queens as Oliver needs his body and ego massaged after at best, fighting a nineteen year old girl to a draw. Although she could also be twenty. Chloe offering the Wonder Twins as back up doesn't help Oliver's pride much. Chloe has news on the mysterious emails Oliver receive and she's decoded and "he's not gonna like it". But whatever it is can wait a while. Meanwhile, Lois Lane has a blue tooth date with Superman atop the roof of the Daily Planet and they get each other up to speed on things. Lois needles Clark a bit about his "drop 'em from the sky" interrogation techniques but the meat of their talk is about who's manufacturing the weapons if the Toyman is sequestered in Stryker's. Turns out Oswald Loomis, the Prankster, tried to visit Winslow Schlott several times in prison, maybe to discuss which of them has the lamer name and is the real bottom of the Superman villain barrel.

Superman decides he needs to contact Batman as he hovers over a freighter called (wink wink) Leviathan. (Amazing in-joke. Where is Talia al Ghul in the Smallville universe?) Freshly showered and relaxed, Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon plot their next move. Bruce's people in Interpol checked in with their people in the FBI, but all Barbara can talk about is Superman. Then there's this fantastic exchange:

Leviathan's TroubAlert troubalerts Batman to some trouble and he decides it's time to put his working cowl back on, leaving us this week with a close up shot of Batman's eyes mirroring the panel of Superman's eyes last week. Superman is calling, and he's giving the signal.

Now there's something you don't see over Metropolis every day, or ever.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

DC: The New 52 Zero Month - Week 3

Week three was not weak by any means.

Batwoman #0. Arguably supplants Wonder Woman #0 as best #0 of the week. The origin of Kate Kane as narrated by Kate Kane to her father. Other than she's a lesbian and a soldier, I knew next to nothing about Batwoman, but #0 brings you up to speed eloquently and efficiently with who Kate Kane is and how she came to be. You learn all about her family, her upbringing, the kidnapping that happened to her, her relationship with her father, and the intense training she went through to become Batwoman that kind of puts Bruce Wayne's to shame. So far Batwoman is the only #0 issue I've read that convinced me I should start reading her book from now on.

Also, it's been established now in The New 52 that neither Batgirl nor Batwoman asked Batman's permission before they started wearing Bat costumes and infringing on what's now his copyright (Batman Inc.). He must have a soft spot for chicks dressing like him.

Birds of Prey #0. How Black Canary met Starling and it's kind of clever - they both have bird codenames and they met when Starling was working security for The Penguin and Black Canary infiltrated Penguin's organization to capture a terrorist who was selling a Mutation Bomb. Then Batgirl crashes the Iceberg Lounge and they ended up working together. Thing is, this story is set "One year ago..." which means Batgirl had to have been just recovered from her paralysis and recently taken up the cowl again. Mostly, the story is Black Canary looking for redemption from the mysterious circumstances where she killed her husband and Team 7 was dissolved, but there's a big swerve at the end where it's revealed Starling is working under Amanda Waller's orders and has been the whole time to stay close to Black Canary, and Kurt Lance, Dinah's husband isn't dead but in some kind of bacta tank. The guest spot of The Penguin automatically scores points with me and I hope he returns since Oswald owes these Birds some payback for screwing him over. Wak wak wak.

Catwoman #0. Judd Winick's gone, Ann Nocenti is writing, and Selina Kyle has a new status quo. A Gotham orphan who has been a thief all her life, Selina Kyle has no idea who she is or even why she does what she does sometimes. Turns out years ago, she was manipulated into thinking she works for a special office of the Mayor that doesn't exist and when she discovered she might have another name that isn't Selina Kyle, they try to kill her - in a tribute to Batman Returns I rather loved, where Selina is thrown off a roof, survives a fall to her death and is surrounded by cats in an alley. Then she stitches the Catwoman costume for herself. She then learns all records of "Selina Kyle" were wiped clean and "Selina Kyle" doesn't exist. This all sets up her coming inclusion into the Justice League of America, which it seems like she'll join because Steve Trevor knows who she is. It's a very different spin on Catwoman and I'm not sure I like it, but it's better than Frank Miller's "she's a prostitute".

Justice League #0. It must be great to be Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer of DC. You can do anything you want! And apparently, no one will ever tell you "Don't!" or ask "Why?" Anyway, it's Justice League #0 and guess who isn't in Justice League #0? The Justice League! Any of 'em! No, this issue is all about Shazam, finally paying off months of back up stories about Billy Batson, a contemptible little shit who makes Jason Todd look like Theo Huxtable, but what do I know? Batson finally meets The Wizard Shazam and inherits the powers of Captain Shazam, becoming Captain Shazam, the World's Mightiest Mortal. We get some groundwork too about the new Shazam status quo, that Black Adam was the first champion of the Council of Wizards and killed them all except Shazam. The Wizard peered into Billy Batson's soul and saw what a nogoodnik he is, but on second glance, he saw Batson also does some selfless things for people, occasionally. Batson lays out that there are no PURE GOOD people in the world, and maybe not, but that doesn't mean Batson is worthy of the power of Captain Shazam. But then, the Wizard is dying and he has no more time for several months of back up stories about a better kid, so Billy Batson is who he's stuck with. Billy says the Magic Word and SHAZAM! He's now Captain Shazam. (Johns also established that Billy has to say "Shazam!" a certain way, thinking about goodness and family or something, so just saying the word willy-nilly won't bring the lightning.) Now Shazam, Batson finds his friend, foil a stick up, and earns a $20 reward. Hey, the World's Mightiest Mortal gots to get paid!

The back up story is about Pandora, who tries to shoot open the skull inside Pandora's box with a gun(!) and fails. The Wizard Shazam then shows up for the last time and apologizes to her for that whole condemning her to an eternity of hell thing. (He only waited many thousands of years but better late than never). Cut to HUB CITY! The cops are after a kidnapper, and finds him tied up with a note with a question mark. And we see The Question from behind!

Nightwing #0. The new origin of Richard "Dick" Grayson. It's a lot like the old one with some new changes: Dick's parents were killed (trapeze non-accident) on his mother's birthday after they were shaken down by Tony Zucco, a low level criminal (no longer "Boss" Zucco). Bruce Wayne gave Dick a home in the Wayne Care Center instead of making him his ward and Dick got a "part time job" at Wayne Manor to explain his detective and ninja training. Turns out Dick would sneak out at night looking for Zucco and would fight crime with Batman. Batman finally just brought him to the cave and started training him. Was this story written before Tom DeFalco and Kyle Higgins saw The Dark Knight Rises? Because there's a nod to John Blake in there - Dick Grayson figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman by reading his body language. In a tangle with Lady Shiva, Dick finally donned a prototype Robin costume ("Robin" was his mom's nickname for him, sort of a nod to Batman Forever.) The first Robin suit is armor; short pants and bare legs officially never happened in The New 52. The issue is good, highlighting the differences and similarities between Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and how each dealt with the impact of their parents' murders.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #0. Shut the door, have a seat. This one is pretty major. Most of the issue is narrated by Jason Todd, narrating his origin, starting with his hard luck life. Ever see The Wire? His life was like that, only everyone is white. Horrible drug dealer father, drug addict mother, a life of crime, dad died in prison, mom OD'd. Jason ended up in the car of Dr. Leslie Thompkins and met Batman after stealing prescription drugs from her (no swiping tires off the Batmobile). In the biggest "HUH?" moment, somehow Batman decides to let Jason live in Wayne Manor (contrast to Dick Grayson, who lived in Wayne Care Center), followed by the next biggest "HUH?" when Bruce Wayne just decides to blab out he's Batman. I guess he just wanted another Robin that badly. Then we move into the broad strokes of A Death in the Family and Jason is murdered by The Joker, and resurrected in the Lazarus Pit. Okay. Ready for the swerve? The Joker takes over the story and we learn every terrible thing that happened to Jason was orchestrated by Joker. So he could create his very own Robin! And then murder that Robin. The biggest question I had regarding Joker and Jason Todd was whether Joker ever knew the name of the Robin he murdered. Well, shit. He did, and moreso.

Supergirl #0. Kara Zor-El's final days on Krypton before it goes kablooey is as much Zor-El's story. Zor-El, who helped create the villainous World Killers who fought Supergirl in the first year of the series (culminating in #7, which was the best Super Family comic of the year), experimented on Kara. This explains some of the extra abilities Supergirl has been manifesting on Earth. We see Kara visit Jor-El and hold baby Kal, setting up the grudge between her father and her uncle. In the end, Zor-El gives Kara her Supergirl suit and drugs her into the rocket that will save her life, despite her mother Alura trying to stop him. The weird thing was Superboy showing up - I don't read Superboy so I don't know what that's about despite knowing Superboy is a clone and clones are banned on Krypton. Anyway, this was pretty good. It totally beats the Helen Slater movie, that's for sure.

Wonder Woman #0. Quite awesome. Cliff Chiang's art is superb and the issue feels like a Tintin adventure starring young Wonder Woman. Set in Princess Diana's tween years, she deals with the prejudice of the Amazons against her birth (she still has the "made of clay" origin - this is years before the current reveal that she is Zeus' daughter). She meets War (Ares), who is amusingly the spitting image of writer Brian Azzarello. War personally trains Diana in combat and war and then sends her to take on the Minotaur. There's a surprisingly sweet mentor-student relationship between War and Diana, despite his bluster and random temper flare ups. You know, they may be dating now, but the evidence in their respective books shows Wonder Woman is way too good for Superman. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012




As a foul-mouthed, homicidal eleven year old superhero in Kick-Ass and a manipulative, homicidal vampire in Let Me In, young Chloe Grace Moretz has plenty creeped out audiences in her career already. In the borderline intolerable Hick, it's her turn to be creeped out, along with the audience. Vaguely set in the early 80s, Moretz, a newly minted teenager, decides to run away from her alcoholic father (Anson Mount) before she turns into a carbon copy of her desperate, whoring mother (Juilette Lewis). Effervescently blonde and all long, gangly limbs, Moretz is bright, well-versed in movie dialogue, and seems to understand her sudden impulse to go Las Vegas could have dire consequences. (She writes down a Pros and Cons list before departing and the sole Con is appropriately "Might Die".) She heads off into the backwoods of Nebraska and wouldn't you know it, the first pick up truck she hitchhikes into launches her into the messed-up, interconnected lives of Eddie Redmayne, a psycho cowpoke with a gimp, and Blake Lively, a coke-snorting grifter. Moretz basically meets three people and they all know each other, with predictable sad sack back stories. Riding shotgun along with Redmayne or Lively, Moretz gets all manner of redneck stereotype coming of age life experiences like robbing a convenience store, getting sold as payment in a pool hustlin' scheme gone awry, nearly getting raped in a ladies' room, and getting tied up and held prisoner in a motel cabin. Hick repeatedly asks Moretz to quote dialogue from movies like Sunset Boulevard, Star Wars, Deliverance, and Taxi Driver to deleterious effect, not knowing well enough to veer away from directly invoking superior movies. At her birthday party, Moretz receives a Smith and Wesson Colt .45 as a present. Screenwriting 101 dictates if you show a gun in the first act, it has to go off in the third. No points for guessing who gets shot and when. That's another thing about Hick - everywhere Moretz went, dead bodies popped up. She's linked to, an accomplice in, or the direct cause of four deaths - three of which are murders - in Hick, none of which are dealt with any consequence. The sole bright spots of Hick are Moretz herself, who emerges from this countrified boondoggle relatively unscathed, and Alec Baldwin, as the sole kindly adult in the movie, and a reminder that we can see him and Moretz occasionally clash wits in much more entertaining style in 30 Rock.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Revolution 1x1 - "Pilot"

You say you want a Revolution? Do you? Well, you know...

A few Tweets as I watched the pilot:

The premise is simple: The lights went out. All electricity all over the world shut down at the same time. "No one knows why," non-explains one of the characters. (Though at least two characters do know, one of whom is dead before the pilot ends.) Fifteen years later, the world has broken up into republics ruled by militias, the survivors of the apocalypse having learned to get by without any technology that runs on electricity. 

The show as set up is two things, A Quest (The Main Characters Must Find A Missing Family Member So They Can Rescue Another Family Member) and A Mysterious Mystery (Why Did The Lights Go Out?) 

There are familiar names on the credits, including Executive Producers Bryan Burk and JJ Abrams (both of Lost). Any resemblance to Lost is purely non-coincidental. The name that kind of saddens me is Jon Favreau, who produced and also directed the pilot. The guy who wrote Swingers and directed Iron Man must have had little to no input on the script, because that's where this whole shebang crumbles, at the source. The premise is enticing enough, but the script is dumb, the characters are vapid, the action is trite.

The lead girl is pretty enough but she's a dim bulb. Realistically, neither she nor her friends would survive long enough to make it to Chicago to find her missing uncle. The only guy in the whole show who tries real hard and succeeds in creating any nuance to his character is Giancarlo Esposito as a Militia Sergeant who would rather be doing other things, but this is the shit hand he was dealt. 

Production-wise, Revolution is impressive enough in realizing what a world without electricity would look like after 15 years, with towns and cities flooded and nature growing over everything. The airplanes crashing in the beginning after losing power were chilling, but again, the guys behind this made Lost so they know how to make airplanes crash. 

Charlie, Ben, Miles, Aaron.

Obviously, names on television get re-used and recycled all the time, but interesting how all four of those Revolution character names were also character names on Lost.

Also, Tracy Spiridakos, who plays Charlie, is apparently 16 in real life but is playing 20-21 (if Charlie was about 5 or 6 when the blackout happened 15 years ago).

I don't know, though, man. This wants to be the next Lost, but to me, it plays like the next Terra Nova.