Posts tagged Review
Everything is connected.
Or so they would have you believe. Cloud Atlas is the newest installation brought to us by the Wachowski siblings. Now, we all know the Wachowskis from the Matrix series, and chances are most of us loved at least, or only, the first one. Here in the comic fan world, we also know them from producing the V for Vendetta movie which, to most lovers of the brilliant Alan Moore comic, left much to be desired. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this movie. I had asked a few friends what they thought of it, without revealing any details, and got very mixed reviews from them. However, it seemed to have a great cast behind it, and has had many compliments on the graphics and stylistic choices, so I tried to keep an open mind. If you haven’t seen this film yet, don’t worry, I won’t give anything away for you. We’ll try to keep this as spoiler-friendly as possible.
I’d like to tell you this movie is phenomenal. That it’s mind-blowing, life-changing.. all that gooey stuff. It’s simply not. It’s true that the cast was fantastic – well, most of them. To be honest, the two main leads – Tom Hanks and Halle Berry – really weren’t anything to write home about. A lot of their characters’ personalities seemed a bit forced and unimagined. To be fair, though, they each played several characters throughout the movie (six, to be precise). Mostly main characters, at that, which can’t be easy to do. However, the supporting cast was quite wonderful. By the ending credits, I was astonished to find that there were a few characters portrayed by Hugh Grant that I truly would not have guessed to be him. Another notable appearance was made by Hugo Weaving. Of course, I’m pretty sure we all have just come to expect wonderful things from Weaving, his portrayal of Old Georgie in this was disturbing in all the right ways. Not only that, he also shows up as a comically rough-handed female nurse in a mental institution. All things considered, the casting for Cloud Atlas did lend a lot to the movie as a whole, that would have been greatly soured by a lesser cast.
What I had previously heard about the aesthetics of the film did not seem to be exaggerated either. Taking place in six different time lines, Cloud Atlas had to adapt to very different settings very quickly. The futuristic, dystopian feel of Neo Seoul was particularly interesting. In fact, let’s take a look at a scene from that time line:
However, casting and looks can only take you so far. There needs to be a great story line behind a movie like this, and that’s where it really fell short. The tagline of Everything is Connected is pushed very hard from the second you even look at a movie poster for Cloud Atlas. In fact, it’s pushed so hard that it’s quite a let down when you come to see that things.. really aren’t that connected. You’d expect the six stories to be very intertwined; you’d expect the core characters in each respective timeline to suffer the same general pitfalls, and learn the same overall lessons as they may relate to them, personally. I’m just going to rip that band-aid off right now – they don’t. There are certain aspects that are passed down through timelines, but they just aren’t enough to connect the characters together as much as you want them to. If you take a look at the infographic here (click to enlarge), it explains individual items that are passed between characters, but these items, with the notable exception of Sonmi-451 and 2346 Hawaii, really don’t mean very much in the grand scheme of the story. The way you’re built up to believe that everything will connect on a profound level ends up being a huge let down. This entire story seemed like it spent two and a half hours driving and driving to a point, and it just never got there. Frankly, it was disappointing.
Cloud Atlas has a fair amount of well-delivered humor, and a good portion of fun action sequences. The cast obviously had a lot of fun with this one, and their efforts definitely show. Six different timelines are very beautifully portrayed, often with unique and interesting styles. However, the soundtrack was unremarkable, and the story was infuriating. This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon when you have nothing better to do, but it’s absolutely not something I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.
I would, however, like to mention something I found particularly wonderful. This isn’t even about the movie, though, it’s about the packaging. One of the ways you can get this DVD is in a combo-pack. This comes with a DVD, Blu-Ray Disc, and an optional digital download. I really have to hand it to WB and the movie industry on this one. Giving consumers options for how they want to view a product they own is a long-awaited idea that we’ve all been hoping for.
That said, Cloud Atlas available NOW on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download. I’d love to hear what you guys thought of it.
Comics review: Dr. Who Prisoners of Time #4 by Tipton, Tipton, Erskine and Kirchoff & Dr. Who #8 Space Oddity Part 2 by Fialkov, Domingues, Ponce, Gonzalez and Salmon
Review by Prof. Jenn
Part 2 takes up where we left off, with the Vashta Nerada having stolen the TARDIS. This can’t be good. But the Doctor always has a plan. Or at least, he thinks really well off the cuff.
This issue is a tighly-paced, exciting story with a fun Doctor-changes-history-slightly conclusion with all the fun 11th-Doctor quips and action you want out of a comic. And the moral that violence is never the answer.
The art is colorful and comicky, which is perfect for an action-packed plot like this one. The Doctor is rendered close enough to Matt Smith that we recognize him, without having to be a faithful portrait of the actor, but more an illustration of the character.
Bottom line: Recommended, especially for Dr. Who fans.
Prisoners of Time
What a treat, to see “my” Doctor rendered in comic form! I haven’t kept up with any of the comics featuring the classic Who regenerations, and this issue makes me want to start.
This is a classic 4th Doctor tale, with Leela and K-9 helping him solve the mystery of the problems found on a planet they landed on by mistake. And there’s Judoon, which is cool.
I would actually make the same comment about this art as above: the character portrayal, the bright colors, the tight pace matching the writing…
Bottom line: Highly recommended. It’s like watching a good old ep.
Book Review: Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti
Review by: Prof. Jenn
For a reminder of my opinion of Fredsti’s first zombie book in this series, and my interview with her, see here: http://nerdsinbabeland.com/archives/6571.
In Plague Nation, the zombie virus has spread from our one little college town to all the way across the, well, nation. We also learn that there is more than meets the eye with how the plague started in the first place. We catch a brief glimpse of a new villain, and learn more about a possible cure. Though the next book is called Plague World, so I wouldn’t hold your breath yet.
Here’s my professional opinion of Plague Nation, in list form, like the last one was. Also, lists are cool.
What I liked:
The pacing. This sequel is much tighter than the first one–it hits the ground running, and doesn’t let up. Having said that, there are enough quiet spots to allow us to catch our breath, but not enough to drag down the drama.
Character development: Remember when I complained last time about one-dimensional characters? Well they’ve developed here, and it makes us want to know what happens next much more now that we’re getting to know our characters better.
The drama re: Gabriel’s mysterious condition. It’s getting down to the wire, and it’s exciting.
Our new silky, creepy villain. Actually I wish we had more of him– the conclusion of his thread is a bit anticlimactic, though I can tell he’ll continue in the next book. But he’s great to have–a supervillain in a zombie story, totally charming and sociopathic.
The premise of including lots and lots of pop culture, and characters who quote movies, and reference them in their daily activities. Like we do.
What I didn’t like:
Ashley’s snarky inner monologue. It was a bit too much in the last book, and in the sequel, it’s even more out of hand. Instead of sounding like a funny, smart, kick ass protagonist (which I suspect is the idea behind writing her like this), Ashley just grates on the nerves.
As much as I like the idea of pop culture references in a story like this, it does get a bit overboard in actual practice. Also, it veers a bit too close to Walking Dead. There’s a fine line between postmodern remix and clunky copying, and this book crosses that line a few times.
The conspiracy plot-line: I won’t spoil it for you, readers, but I don’t get it–the motivations behind the new evil-doers are not plausible to me. I don’t know, go read it, then email me and see if that’s just me.
Bottom line: if you can grit your teeth past Ashley’s voice, pick up Plague Nation and have fun seeing how our intrepid wild cards are faring against the spread of the zombie virus.
Book Review: A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwartz
Review by: Prof. Jenn
If you like perky romantic tropes, and you like Historical Fiction motifs, and you dig steampunk, this book is for you.
No, really–I mention tropes because they’re here in spades, but in no way do I mean to imply that’s a bad thing. Schwartz delivers the goodies into expectant hands in this high-action story, and just because we know what the goodies are (and have had them before) does not diminish their deliciousness.
Elle is an independent, stubborn, beautiful-redhead airship pilot (I know, how cool, right?) who finds herself embroiled in a take-over-the-world plot beyond her ken. Of course. Unexpected help comes in the shape of handsome, rich, magically-powered Mr. Marsh, whom she *definitely* isn’t in love with, nope, no way, and he absolutely will not fall in love with her either, huh-uh, nothing doing… oh. Yeah. Except they of course do. This is not a spoiler–you will see them getting together miles away, the moment the first flirty banter exits their mouths. But again–that’s not a bad thing.
This book is unabashedly rife with tropes, and absolutely does not apologize for them, nor should it. When Elle put on her goggles to pilot her airship, I bounced with joy. When Marsh ventured into old Italy and met a mage within a dusty apothecary shop, I sighed as I do when I am sipping a favorite brand of coffee. And there’s a train trip. With intrigue! Yes, I’ve seen many of those before, but I *like* them! It’s like watching an episode of Star Trek, or reading a Sherlock Holmes story, or watching a James Bond film. There are certain motifs and images (even lines or events) you’ll see over and over in these, but you *want* to see them, you expect to see them, that’s what makes those media so enjoyable. It’s a similar effect in Conspiracy, except Schwartz has included a few different genres mixed up in a big fun sundae.
There is a little awkwardness just in some of the mechanics of the writing. For example, we get a little overburdened with exposition, and there are some places where Schwartz loses hold of her feel for the time period–even though this is a Fantasy world, some of the dialogue comes across as anachronistic. But hey, I’ve just gorged happily on vampires and airships and absinthe fairies; I’m willing to forgive such minor shortcomings.
Bottom Line: A Conspiracy of Alchemists is a heckuva lot of fun. I recommend it.
Review: The Wind Whales of Ishmael by Philip Jose Farmer
Review by: Prof. Jenn
Philip Jose Farmer is well-known for writing science fiction that in essence is a gate to mainstream classics. His Wold Newton series in particular does this artful remix thing that you readers have heard me wax rhapsodic about so often. The Wind Whales of Ishmael isn’t technically one of the Wold Newtons, but it very well could be, in that it takes a famous character from classic literature and plops him in a science fiction scenario.
Titan books has re-released several Farmer classics, with intros and outros by experts and colleagues of the legendary writer, which gives anyone not familiar with Farmer’s work a good background and inspiration to try further readings, and those fans a richness to their continued collection.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael is fantastically entertaining, taking place just after the events of Moby Dick, where Ishmael is floating alone in the ocean on Queequeg’s coffin (remember?). Then, just as the Rachel rescues him, he finds himself and the ship plunging through a rip in the fabric of time, landing as the sole survivor on a future Earth where sharks and whales have evolved to live in the air, and the seas have all pretty much dried up. Oh, and there’s plants that provide water, but that drink your blood. And there’s air ships that are whalers. And a pretty princess.
It’s written in a quick, clipped, concise style, with Ishmael as a character just as enigmatic and intellectual as he was in Melville. The action starts right away and doesn’t quit, ever, ending with one of the best dungeon crawl scenes in genre fiction. The descriptions of the future world and its machinations are exhaustive and vivid, but at no time do they slow down the action.
Bottom line: I highly recommend The Wind Whales of Ishmael. It’s a classic, and a great read. ~Prof. Jenn
Comics Review: Modesty Blaise–the Girl in the Iron Mask by O’Donnell and Romero
Review by: Prof. Jenn
This collection is a lot of fun–it has an old-school James Bond or Avengers flavor, complete with sexy, daring, whip-smart heroes and colorful, twisted villains. The art is stylized and lovely in a ‘60s sort of way, black-and-white, very high quality in a large format so a reader can hunker down to longer strings of the storylines without feeling interrupted.
It occurred to me as I read through these, that modern comic heroines can learn a thing or two from Modesty. She’s super-badass (one of my favorite panels is from Fiona, where Modesty is engaged in kicking butt in a staff fight), unabashedly sexy, yet is drawn without all the weird contortion-y stuff to add unwarranted sex appeal (see blog Escher Girls to see the kind of thing I mean). She’s got a knockout figure, and can knock dudes out with it. Her friends are as smart and kick-ass as she is, and their adventures would make Indiana Jones sweat.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend Modesty Blaise in general, this collection in particular is worth it just for the title arc: The Girl in the Iron Mask.
Comic Review: Dr. Who vol. 1: the Hypothetical Gentleman by Diggle, Buckingham, Seifert, Bond, and many more
Review by: Prof. Jenn
The Hypothetical Gentleman consists of two story arcs: the title one, and one called The Doctor and the Nurse. Both are quite different both in writing feel and artistic style, and both are quite enjoyable.
The Hypothetical Gentleman takes place in a few different time periods in London. It concerns seances, artifacts of time, and what is real and what is shenaniganry, and of course there’s a dangerous device having to do with the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey and the Doctor must save the day. Or space-time. You get the picture. There’s some wonderful Amy-Rory dialogue, and a delightful bit where the Doctor is exploring a museum, coming across some objects that any Whovian readers will recognize with a chortle (Just checking to see the mummy is deactivated. Yes). The art is elegant and full of emotion–it reminds me a little bit of the style of CrossGen’s old series Ruse, in that we get lots of character and movement, with rich color and a sort of Impressionist realism about it.
The Doctor and the Nurse is a much more whimsical storyline, and the art is more colorful and cartoony as is appropriate. It follows Rory and the Doctor attempting to have a Boys’ Night Out, ending up with a trapped Amy and many many time periods and a flood of beer. And the Silence. But they’re not the scary Silence in this one, they’re just slightly menacing–even though we get a sense of tension and high-speed action, this isn’t one of those terrifying or super-deeply-poignant stories, but rather a fast-paced Whovian romp. The comedic relief of the Doctor’s dynamic with Rory when trapped alone with him is a lot of fun, and Amy is a resourceful hero in her timeline too.
Bottom Line: Volume One is a lot of fun–the stories are beautifully drawn, and they read like good episodes of the show. Highly recommended.
Writing: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Review by Melissa Megan
Marko and Alana are the hottest couple in comic books. Does anyone not know that by now? The opening of this issue is yet another fantastic example of Brian Vaughan’s perfect writing in this series. The first panel, Marko standing shirtless, gently asking “Please. Keep reading.”, is not only sexy but gives the exhilarating feeling of being spoken to by this 2 dimensional book character. This leads to a touching peek at where the intense love between Marko and Alana began. I can’t recall ever reading about two characters in a comic book before that I felt so intimately connected with, as if Saga is really just the biography of a couple of very close friends of mine.
Then, there’s the hunt for the missing ghostly babysitter. Marko and his hard edged mother find themselves searching a strange planet that they’ve been told will soon be ‘hatching’. And yet another shining exhibit of why Saga has quickly gained huge praise and is selling out copies everywhere: incredibly fresh, creepy, awesome alien life forms and settings. It just never stops with this series, each issue throwing new and fascinating characters at you, opening up new worlds filled with completely unique adventures. No matter what comparisons you can make between Saga and other books or films that it shares style with, I honestly don’t think anything like this has been accomplished before.
To sum up this issue, Marko and Alana reunite with their missing babysitter, family ties are strengthened and a planet gives forth new, dangerous life. Gwendolyn, Marko’s bitter ex, is hot on their tail and employing the help of an infamous assassin and a child with special powers of sight. An unfortunate loss leaves us wondering how many more there will be before Marko & Alana are either captured or somehow escape for good.
Saga rocks my socks off, every freakin’ month. I dread the day that this series comes to an end, because it’s one of the most exciting, creative things I’ve had the honor of reading in years. The writing of Brian K. Vaughan and the art of Fiona Staples are a magical marriage that many, many comic book readers are thankful for.
Review: Everybody Loves Tank Girl by Mahfood and Martin
Review by Prof. Jenn
Once again, I’m in the position of not being familiar with these comics characters before plunging right into reviewing the latest in a series of volumes. So what I can’t tell you is how the characters have progressed, how this collection fits in with previous ones, etc. What I can tell you is what I did and didn’t like, of this volume.
Let’s start with the bad news first: being new to Tank Girl and her cronies, I didn’t get what world we’re in, what the back story was, etc. For example, what is Tank Girl an outlaw for? Or of, for that matter? For someone already familiar with the denizens of Tank Girl’s bloody world, this is no doubt not a problem, but for a first-timer I needed a little more. The other downside to this volume is its bloody foul-mouthed-ness. Sometimes the base-ness is strong or dirty-fun or hilarious, but sometimes it’s just jejune and crude. Tank Girl has been called the “most rock ‘n roll comic book character ever” (NME, back cover blurb), and I would agree–but we get both the good and the bad of what that potential is.
And now the positives: I like that they’re rarely in color–we get a lovely, gritty tattoo-art sense from most of them in black and white sketchy style. The art itself is the visual equivalent of Beat poetry: rough, busy, sexy, and interesting. I dig the many little joke commercials peppered throughout. The short one-off punch line-centered stories are a lot of bizarre fun; they remind me of a couple of precocious adolescents making a radio show. The storylines are chaotic enough to be hard to follow sometimes, but that’s not really an issue given the tone and feel of the whole thing. Just hang on and enjoy the ride.
Bottom line: Meh, I don’t know what to think. It’s enjoyable enough, albeit quite trippy, confusing and low-down-and-dirty. So…hm, okay my final judgment is “meh.” ~Prof. Jenn
Book review: Encounters of Sherlock Holmes ed. by George Mann
Review by Prof. Jenn
First, I would like the readers’ input as to coining a new term. I don’t particularly like the term “pastiche” in reference to books like this, as to me “pastiche” sounds like a parody or a mockery of the original material. Only one of the stories does this in this collection (coincidentally, my least favorite one), whereas the rest of these Holmesian delights range from the sublime (a fast-paced Watson-narrated mystery very close to Doyle in style) to the ridiculous (Mrs. Hudson battles demons and witches), to the crossover (Holmes investigates the murder of the Martian ambassador, post War of the Worlds invasion).
This book is like one of those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates–you don’t know if it’s a good truffle or a bad one until you bite into it. Some of the nougats I didn’t care for as much weren’t well written or mistreated Holmes as a character (I never like stories where Holmes isn’t in fact the smart one, but that’s just my taste). The ones that went down the best were either very Doyleian in flavor or were a skillful character mashup (Holmes meeting with Sir Richard Burton and his encounter with A.J. Raffles are two of the best). The tasty stories far outweigh the spit-outers, so don’t shy away from this collection because of a couple of duds, particularly if you’re a Holmes fan.
Bottom line: the good stories balance out the bad. Definitely worth a read, and if you’re a Sherlockian, you’ll want to add it to your collection. ~Prof. Jenn