Review

American Horror Story — Pilot, Home Invasion, & Murder House

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I’ll start off by saying that I was not expecting to like American Horror Story as much as I seem to. The first episode was suspenseful and exhilarating and seemed to pack a, well, mansion’s worth of story into 52 minutes. I was going to start out with two episodes, but ended up accidentally watching three. That’s a good sign.

(Obviously if you’re somehow like me, hiding under an AHS-less rock, you will have events from the first three episodes spoiled for you in this post).

I took notes as I watched, so here are a few samples of my immediate reactions to scenes:

- STUFF IN JARS ALWAYS BAD.

- “We’re the Adams family now,” was a perfect line. I love Violet.

- Tate is the boy from the crying GIFs! He’s already crying and I’m already happy.

- This guy is naked a lot.

- Masturcrying, this show is brutal.

I was completely mistaken when I assumed the show would be episodic horror stories, and I’m ecstatic that I was so wrong. Each episode does seem to have a loose theme of its own–the introduction to the Harmon family in episode one, the serial killer saga in episode two, and the backstories of a handful of other characters in episode three. But the show is ripe with underlying plot and momentum, with a slow burn of suspense rolling underneath it all.

Here’s how the characters are ranked in my estimation currently:

Violet Harmon – I can’t help it, I love her. Her sarcasm, blunt honesty, and unique style are great. She also won points expressing her preference for the East coast.

Moira- I find her incredibly interesting, especially that women see her as a strange old lady and men see her as an object of lust. The men “see what they want to see; women, however, see into the soul of a person,” line was perfect. I am interested to know what kind of spirit she is, and how that works in this universe, since it seems strange that she died as a young woman but now shows age. I hope that is explored later.

Tate- I can’t help it. I adore him. It’s not surprising. I have a thing for screwed up young dude characters. Most of my speculation has to do with him so more on that later.

Vivien Harmon- She’s ending up on the middle of this list and that seems about right. There are some things to like about her as a main character, but she’s a bit bland, too. She seems to have the best instincts out of all of the Harmons–but not quite good enough. The pregnancy story line kind of bothers me.

Larry- Idk I guess this show is great for me because I like all the psychos? I think he might actually be trying to help, so that’s nice, and he reminded me of Mr. Rogers in that sweater vest in the flashback of him killing his family, so points for that creepy imagery.

Adelaide- I don’t like her or really know what to make of her yet. Her supernatural connection to the house is appropriately creepy. I like that she tried to help the Harmons that one time.

Constance- What to say! I love to hate her? I don’t know what to make of her. Mostly I’m curious about why she was trying to poison Violet with those cupcakes. Unless she knew about the hostage situation and everything that would be happening? It would be neat if she has some clairvoyant connection to the house like Addy does.

Hayden- Glad that whole situation was taken care of quickly (thanks, Larry!) I felt bad for the situation she was in, but her unraveling mental state while trying to cling to Jerkface Ben was just awkward.

Ben Harmon- Are we supposed to like him? Does anyone root for this guy? I’m assuming there will be lots of people dying this season and I kinda hope he’s first.

So let’s throw out some wild speculation. Tate. All the supernatural elements are linked to the house, so I’m curious about his connection to it. When he attacked Leah in the basement there were flashes of a monster that looked a bit gobliny to me. That was the same monster that killed the twins in the first scene of the show. So, I’m wondering if he is that goblin-thing? Or perhaps has some control over it? I’ve also briefly entertained the idea that he is Constance’s son who was mentioned at some point, especially since they all seem to know each other.

I wonder if it’s possible to get through this season with a Harmon or two still intact. Since this is the Murder House season, I will leave off with the current House Death Toll: 14.

 

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Interview: Nathan Hamill (Toy Designer, Artist, Nerd)

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It’s almost time for San Diego Comic-Con 2014 and, like all of you nerds, I’m trying to figure out what I really want to spend my money on because, holy crap, there are always so many cool toys there! So, in my quest to find all the must-have releases this year, I decided to interview one of my friends and favorite toy designers, Nathan Hamill. I already own most of his figures, and since he keeps coming up with even cooler ones every year, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next. So, if you’re one of the many lucky nerds attending the convention this year, make sure you don’t miss out on his awesome SDCC releases. Photos and info on where to buy below!

1) Most of us know you’re a ginormous nerd with a pretty solid toy collection that I often want to steal from, but how did you end up becoming a toy designer? What was your motivation to release Boris, your first vinyl figure?

I started with Boris when Patrick Geologo, who I once worked with at Toy Planet when I was in high school, was looking for artists to work with as U1Toy Arts was just starting out. Boris was originally a design for a cartoon called Animal Bandits. He’s a surly, suspicious little guy with a Napoleon complex. Like a Joe Pesci of the forest. And thanks for not stealing my toys. I know it can be hard not to.

2) What toys did you cherish most as a child? What are some of your favorite figures that you own now?

I carried a Darth Vader 3 3/4″ Kenner figure with me wherever I went. I had a vice like grip on that one. And currently it is Lavabear: Classic Ed., which I took all around Disney World on a recent trip. Some things never change.

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3) You have some really cool releases coming up for SDCC. In particular, I’m excited about Lavabear and can’t wait to get one. What’s his story? Where did you get the inspiration to create him?

His backstory is inspired somewhat by the Gollum of Jewish lore and even a little by Tik-Tok of Oz, who was a protector of sorts too. There are obvious pop culture elements in the design but there are some that are more subtle and some that were subconsciously incorporated. I have no control of my pop culture soaked brain.

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Lavabear: Classic Ed. Vinyl. 8 inches tall. Limited to 125 pieces. $80. SDCC 3DRetro Booth #5049

4) What about Octopup? How did you decide on all the different colorways? Were you trying to make me angry because I gotta catch them all?

Making you angry is always just a happy accident. As my first sofubi, I just chose color ways that would really pop. Stay tuned for some custom pieces from others artists soon.

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Octopup: Octocrush Ed. Sofubi (Soft Japanese Vinyl). 2 inches. $10. SDCC 3DRetro Booth #5049

5) You also collaborated with Flat Bonnie and came up with a rad and squishy Octoplush version. Any future collaborations with her or other artists?

For SDCC, Flat Bonnie and I will have 3 Octoplush: Aquapup Ed. mini plushes as giveaways at the 3DRetro booth #5049. There will be 3 “Golden” tickets hidden inside the header cards of the Octopup: Octocrush Ed. sofubis. If you get a ticket, present it to 3DRetro and take home a free Octoplush.

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SDCC 3DRetro Booth #5049

6) Your toys are awesome, but you’ve also released some fantastic art. What artists do you admire? Is there anything in particular you think influences your style?

There are too many to list if we’re talking about admiration and even influence whether big or small. But I think artists like Kozik, John K., Tim Burton and others that juxtapose cartoons with darker themes or underlying messages probably influenced me the most. I like taking a cute, large character and adding something subtly sinister or off to them. A friend once called my style “cute macabre”, and I’ll happily take that description.

7) “My Father, My Lord” might be my favorite print of yours because I’m a dark, emo nerd. For those of us who can’t even draw stick figures, can you talk about the process of coming up with a piece like this? Is this how you usually work?

I don’t ever really work the same way from one piece to the next.  It really depends on what it calls for and the mood I’m in. This one in particular came together really quickly. Once I had the concept, the rough was finished surprisingly fast. It’s something very dear to my heart, so it just came naturally. Then, it was just adding bits here and there and refining the whole thing.

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8) Out of all the characters you’ve created, which one are you the most proud of?

Lavabear is my favorite hands down. It contains many elements that I’ve found myself using in other toys and resins. In addition to that, there are a few pop culture references too, one obvious and the rest were subconsciously incorporated. Bubbling up from my nerdy pop culture ladened brain.

9) What other exciting things can fans and collectors expect from Nathan Hamill in the future? Can you give us any spoilers?

2015 will be a great one. Lots to look forward to, but the one I’m most excited about will be very appropriate for the year. And, no, it’s not Star Wars!

Thanks, Nathan! And I’m totally getting one of your MimoPowerTubes while I’m at the con. So rad looking and practical!

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Mimoco’s SDCC Booths #5245 and #2913M

Visit www.nathanhamill.com for the latest news on his current and future releases.

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Comic Review: 24 Underground #4

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When last we left our hero, he was trying to rescue his girlfriend from the Russians. Little did he know that she had already escaped. Jack also doesn’t realize the Russians aren’t the only problem he has to worry about. The CIA is on his tail and getting warmer…

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We start this issue of 24 where we previously left things. Sofiya may have escaped, but she’s not out of the woods yet. The Russians are tracking her down, but of course haven’t told Bauer she went missing. The CIA are tracking her as well, so that they can use her to find Bauer. Who will get to her first? Will Jack be able to outsmart the Russians during their meet? in true 24 fashion some of the answers will be revealed now, some will have to wait until the next issue.

I have to say that I have really been enjoying this story so far. Not only does it work well on its own, but it also was great information to have in the back of my head while watching Live Another Day. (Side note: not going to spoil anything but OMG DID YOU SEE THAT FINALE?! Only 24 brings you that kind of energy). I definitely recommend reading the back issues if you’re just starting out. Whenever Jack referenced his family on the show, I pictured the events happening in the comic and wonder if this is the family he was referring to. I assume that will be made clear when this story reaches its thrilling conclusion.

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Comic Review: Thomas Alsop #2

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Is he a perceived fake or is his power known? That lasting question was partially answered in the new new issue of Thomas Alsop. However, I’m more concerned with the fact that the family backstory is teetering on the edge of information overload. Keep the balance, keep my attention.

 

My question last month was how much does the outside world know about Alsop’s abilities. While his friend seemed to be in on it, I wasn’t sure how much the everyday population knew. Here was this old rock star who became a paranormal investigator. As expected, he’s more cast in the light of media celebrity than known warrior. If someone believes in him, that’s cool, but it seems like the majority see him as some fake who puts on a good show. I guess that makes it easier for him to slip in and out of cases?

 

With that cleared up, we move on to the family backstory. In this issue, we started seeing a glimpse of how dense that backstory really is, and I began to fear we’d be overloaded by too much too soon. The informational boxes about his family armory items was already intrusive, and then we had to keep up with the whole family mansion by way of mausoleum, disapproving uncle and sister, something about the Five Families Treaty, and a whole host of other drama that had me wishing for a notebook to keep track of it all. The one thing we did get out of all that, which sparked my interest, was the fact that Thomas seems to be on a recovery mission for family heirlooms that were previously lost. He replaces a gun that used to belong to his father and marks the item off a list in his ledger. If this is his underlying mission, I very much approve. It’d be neat to see him taking back what is rightfully his family’s, one item at a time.

 

Maybe we’ll soon get more information on the other story threads that were teased in this issue, too. Like Thomas’ old band, The Black Sheep, or his ancestor’s involvement with The Black Ring and Master Bliss. It feels like everything’s connected, but how? I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Double Comic Review: The Massive Vol 2 & 3

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This is going to be a double review of volumes 2 and 3 of The Massive. I know it’s a lot of material to go through but I have faith in you, gentle reader.

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It is rare that a series full of unfamiliar characters grips me so quickly as The Massive Vol.1 did, but from the first page I was hooked. That is why I am a little disappointed in myself for waiting so long to read the next chapters in the series. It was definitely worth it though, because what promised to be a very rewarding continuing story has proven to be just that. This second volume doesn’t catch the reader as quickly as the first volume did, but it does pick up fairly quickly. What I found intriguing was an early sequence where one of the main characters has clearly lost his trust in people “post-crash”. It held a striking resemblance for me to The Walking Dead, and how many people in that universe have found themselves being less trusting since the apocalypse. That’s not to say it felt like a rip-off of a popular series. I just find it interesting in general seeing how characters react in stories such as this where the world is different than we know it today.

Something that The Walking Dead and other stories like it have taught us is that you have to be careful about who you trust. So while you are obviously excited about finding other seemingly good-natured humans post-crash, you should still exercise caution. That is why it should come as no surprise to anyone that Moksha Station, the supposed haven our crew finds in the middle of the ocean, isn’t everything it seems. Was Callum Israel right to initially have doubts about their possible new allies? That is what we explore in the first half of Vol 2. The second half is more of them chasing the fleeting signs of their sister ship The Massive in the hopes of finally recovering this lost vessel. It’s a gripping tale that you won’t want to miss.

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Vol 3 of the series continues the adventure with the search for the crewman that stole a nuclear sub in the previous volume. They track him down to Manhattan but come across other obstacles in the process. Oh, and of course we get more flashbacks in between the current ongoing action. This volume I definitely liked the first half better than the second. Not to say the second part wasn’t good, but the action slows down a bit and deviates from the main storyline for a side quest. I guess we needed it after how tense the first couple volumes have been but it still leaves you wanting more meat. Not whale meat though because people who kill whales for their meat are what Ninth Wave are trying to fight.

Overall I would say definitely grab Vol 2 if you haven’t already (it was released in December) and then stay current with Vol 3 (which was released last month). There’s definitely a fourth volume in the works but it won’t be available for public consumption until January of next year. That just means you have plenty of time to play catch-up though. Enjoy!

Serenity - Leaves On The Wind #6 by Dan Dos Santos

Comic Review: Serenity #6

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Comic Review: Serenity, Leaves on the Wind #6 by Whedon, Jeanty, et. al

Review by Prof. Jenn

Serenity - Leaves On The Wind #6 by Dan Dos Santos

The Leaves on the Wind series concludes with this tying up of loose ends and opening up of new ones for, we can assume, the next phase of the story. The conclusions of Zoe’s rescue and that of the Alliance-stolen-girls-a-la-River is actually pretty brief, truth be told. We had such build up of preparation in the previous issues that the culmination is just a little…well just a little disappointing, that’s all. Though there is a new potential (major!) problem introduced at the end…

The story, beyond being a bit brief as I have mentioned, boasts the same familiar character quality I have admired about the previous issues, and the art has the same weakness of character portrayal I have mentioned in earlier reviews. This issue is no different, though it is nice to have a little more about our new fighter character and be introduced to yet another character who looks as though she’ll be recurring at least, if not a major player in the battles to come.

Bottom Line: This issue is recommended, with the same caveats I detailed in the reviews of previous issues.

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Yesterday’s Kin is a novelette which takes us on a breakneck pace through the philosophical, scientific, and psychological implications of a near-future contact with alien life. They come in peace, they come with some scientific advancements but not totally all-powerful, and we experience them through the POV of a prominent scientist and her flighty, dreamy, ne’er-do-well son. What the aliens’ actual purpose is for parking in New York Harbor and what happens to the people of Earth (and what will happen) is a fascinating, intelligent and intuitive discussion of the old “are we alone” question of so much sci fi.

The book is written in third-person limited POV, and is limited to two perspectives only: Marianne”s (the scientist) and Noah’s (her son), which makes what we know and when we know it tightly dictated and suspenseful. By the time we get to the big twist/revelation at the end, whether or not the reader has guessed it already is irrelevant–it’s a tense moment nonetheless.

Bottom Line: Yesterday’s Kin is highly recommended. I read it through in one sitting. I think it’d make a great movie…

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American Horror Story: An Introduction

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That is some pretty cool cover art right there.
I have a summer assignment. It’s to watch a show as if I’ve never seen it before. Because I haven’t.

The selected show is American Horror Story and I am proud (see: slightly ashamed) to say that I know next to nothing about it. Here’s what I know:

1. The cover art on Netflix is pretty sweet

2. GIFs on Tumblr?

3. A tip that each season is entirely different

With the disclaimer that I really, honestly, know almost nothing about American Horror Story, I will share some thoughts about what I expect. I’ve only recently started watching Supernatural, and I had previously lumped the two together. I was imagining two shows with episodic plots that revolve around rehashings of traditional stories of horror and mythology. Which is, roughly, how Supernatural started before it deviated from this formula and found its own plot-based momentum.

I’m expecting to be surprised by AHS, but what can one expect when one is expecting a surprise?

I’ve set a few goals for this blind watch-through of the show. Firstly, I am going to try, with what little willpower I have, to remain spoiler free. (I am expecting an inevitable decline into curiosity that I will be unable to quell, as I almost always spoil shows for myself, but I will try). If I can do that, then there is some hope that my speculations will continue to amuse long-term fans. I may catch myself up on the fandom’s thoughts midway, or once I’ve completed the season. I’ll be posting reactions a few episodes at a time.

I’m especially curious about the characters. Who will I get attached to? Who will annoy me? Who are the bad guys? Is evil in the show unequivocal or dynamic? I don’t even have the faintest idea who any of the characters in the show are, except for one teary-eyed youth whose scenes seem to end up as GIF-sets that I see around.

What will happen? I don’t know! And may my ignorance be ever in your favor, because it should be a little amusing at least.

 

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Book Review x2: Noah, Noah: Ila’s Story

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Two, two, two reviews in one!: Noah by Mark Morris and Noah: Ila’s Story by Susan Korman

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Sigh. Well these books are pretty awful.

Noah is the official novelization of the the movie of the same name (screenplay by Aronofsky and Handel). The story follows Biblical figure Noah from the preface of him seeing his father killed by barbarians through his vision of cataclysm and subsequent construction of the Ark and the saving of all the animals, two by two. Ila’s Story is a novella/knockoff/something-or-other that retells the story in Noah but with much less detail and in the POV of character Ila.

Since I am a lit professor by trade, I can’t bring myself to write a completely negative review of anything, no matter how poor in quality. So here are the redeeming qualities of these two books: hm…let’s see…

  • The Watchers are a cool concept (well everything here is a Biblical concept but you get what I mean), and seeing them in both their manifestations in this story is satisfying.
  • It’s always interesting from a character study standpoint to delve into the complexities of psychological motivation in an old and/or archetypical character. Having all the sturm und drang of Noah’s psyche as he struggles to keep control of crazy circumstances is a neat exploration of an old character.
  • The addition of Ila makes for more strong female presence in a story traditionally male-centered.

Yeah, that’s as kind as I can be. The fact of the matter is that the book is clunkily written, the women are only focused on motherhood and the men, nothing else, the violence is gratuitously graphic without furthering the story, and the villain is so stereotypical he’s actually kind of funny. Ila’s Story is actually even worse–there is no character development, no added richness due to the changed female POV, the writing is even more stilted and clunky, and this is even less okay with me as Ila’s Story smacks of being written for juvenile or YA readers. All readers deserve better, but especially young readers.

Having said all this, I must admit I have not seen the movie on which these books are based. Would my opinion of the books change if I had? I don’t think so, as bad writing is just bad writing. Maybe we can blame the bad writing more on the screenwriters than the novelists? Any of you seen Noah and can add to the dialogue here?

Bottom Line: I do not recommend either Noah or Ila’s Story.

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Comics Review: Batman Silver Age

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Comics Review: Batman Classics–the Silver Age Newspaper Comics vol.1 by Ellsworth, Moldoff, Infantino, et. al

Review by Prof. Jenn

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What a fun collection of vintage comics featuring everyone’s favorite dynamic duo! It’s a trip into the cheesy one-liner past of Batman’s late 1960s appearance in newspapers. This collection begins with a wonderfully detailed rundown of the history by Joe Desris, and is enlightening to read just before plunging into the series of snippet-length strips.

These are not old comic books, they are comic strips from newspapers 1966-67, so they are all brief, cheesy, sketchy, mid-low quality art, with a little joke or a PSA at the beginning of each (“Never fight with a smiling fortune-teller.” “Unless you want to strike a happy medium!”). We meet several of our favorite villains, with some I’ve not heard of before. And yes, there is some material here not appropriate for a modern audience, in the realm of sexism, and racism especially. Any of you Batman nerds remember The Laughing Girl? Ugh…

For all its vintage kitsch, this volume is a pleasure to read, and certainly anyone who collects Batman should have this in their library, even if they prefer the dark Nolan variety of the Caped Crusader. It’s a funny, refreshing collection that is a nice reminder of where Batman was before his gritty reboot.

Bottom Line: This collection is highly recommended, old chum.

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