Archive for the ‘review’ Category

The Inevitable Year Wrap Up

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

ill_27.pngI guess this is like the newsletter that some families send out with their Christmas cards. Except it’s on the internet.

I’m from the future.

I can’t say that I succeeded in producing an illustration every seven days, but I’d happily commit to “weekly-ish” success. When the last week of 2009 rolled around, I was only three behind. Josh has mentioned I could technically go back and change the time stamp on the blog entries, and make me look like a real champ, but that part isn’t really the point — the whole idea of 52ills was to see if I could complete it in the first place, and as of December 31st, I had 52 ills. Go me, and I want some pie.

As an exercise, it was an excellent experience. I learned more about Illustrator and due to the volume of pieces, I was able to reach beyond my comfort zone and usual material*. I’ve happily settled into a colorful, cute style. I kind of knew that already, but practice makes perfect and all that. I also developed some good habits: composing via silhouettes, utilizing interesting textures, and grounding subjects with some kind of background element.

I’d love to get some (or all?) of them into a gallery this year, but if nothing else, I have some new portfolio pieces.

*Although there are still quite a few zombies and robots.

I did embarrassingly little writing in 2009. Even my blogging decreased in frequency. The remaining 82 pages of my last manuscript have been sitting in my parents’ living room for the last year, so I am proceeding without my mom’s trained-but-unavailable eye. My apologies to the next editor in line. I am using January to comb through the 2nd book again before I hand it off, and a first draft for the third and final David book will be complete by June 30th, 2010. That’s right, you heard it here first. Only 180 days away and counting.

Geeze, when I write it like that, it sounds downright terrifying.

First things first, however. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on Pittsburgh’s South Side working on my creative projects. When we got our dog, we decided we wouldn’t be away from home as often as we have been in the past. I technically have my own studio room, although it’s been pretty junked up for a long time. So: I’ve resolved to redo the room in a way that allows me to go in there and work until my eyes fall out, while not neglecting our new pet, plus saving gas and time and money.

The room is 1/3 of the way done, and I’m very excited. I estimate it will be complete in early February, and I can’t wait. It’s going to be amazing to have my own space. Woo.

SPX 2009 Awesomeness

Friday, October 2nd, 2009


100% Road Trip Success.

After finding out Friday night that our roadmates were unable to make the trip with us, Josh and I piled in the car and made the drive after work. Getting out of town was exciting, what with the G20 wrapping up and traffic at a stand-still while the World’s Important People left Pittsburgh.

It was nice to wake up in Baltimore, especially when your wake up call is a jolly little adorable cockapoo. We had a nice relaxing morning, preaching the gospel of the One-Eyed Egg and getting our game faces on for the day’s main event.

SPX was in full swing when we got there around 1 pm. An SPX is a sight to behold. There’s about a bajillion people inside a giant hotel ballroom, and everything is awesome. Even the not-so-awesome stuff? Still awesome.

In a move that pretty much sums up our personalities, Josh disappeared to make 10 purchases right off the bat, while Justin and I made an initial sweep to get the lay of the land, then jumped back in to buy stuff. I did get to chat briefly with both John Allison and Scott C and I played a little with the knight. Scott C was kind enough to drive home my regret of not having business cards, because he politely asked for one. I tried to beam my information directly into his head, but I regret it probably did not make much of an impression. Alas.


Josh got about fifty pounds worth of goodies, and while I am Miss Frugal, the (Arnold)Sager household brought home some gems. I have Scott C’s Double Fine Action Comics Volume 1 and a print of his Tree Spirit.

John Alison’s Ghost is awesome. Of course it’s awesome.

Dustin Harbin’s Nutted is a mini comic that names a variety of ways to get hit in the nuts and it is about 100% delightful. I keep reading it over and over.  It is always funny when dudes get hit in the nuts. I am sorry… and also happy I do not have the referenced equipment.

I am slowly invading Josh’s pile, and Julia Wentz’s 2nd Volume of The Fart Party is damn good. I was glad to see she had a second volume, since Josh’s purchase of the first volume was our surprise favorite last year.


Josh and I have plans to get a table next year, so we’ll get a whole different perspective. Justin also broke down his first SPX experience — check it out! Vendors take note!


Also, if you find yourself in Baltimore for any reason, eat at Miss Shirley’s. So super tasty!

Pixar’s Up

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

up_pixar_one-sheet_poster_02.jpgIf you don’t become a little misty eyed at any point in this movie, I would suggest getting a medical examination because your heart is probably made of cold, hard steel. I teared up at least three times, and had trouble recounting certain scenes with my movie partner on the way home.

I had heard it was supposed to be an epic puller of heart-strings, but I honestly hadn’t anticipated how heavy it was. Do you remember the beginning of Finding Nemo, when Nemo’s mom gets eaten? I was admittedly distraught. When the Sad Thing in the first ten minutes of Up happens, I was ready to go home and take two bottles of sleeping pills. Holy smokes. It’s not a surprising turn of events, but the execution is excruciatingly beautiful.

The plot opens on Carl Fredrickson, a curmudgeonly old man that’s holding out on selling his property to a big corporation. It is the house he and his wife Ellie met in, the house they bought, the house in which they grew old together. When an accident leads the court to rule that ancient Mr. Fredrickson is a menace to society, he is ordered to vacate his home and it seems the corporation has won. Instead, he unfurls a cloud of helium balloons and he and his house float away. His destination? Paradise Falls, South America — a site of exploration that he and Ellie had dreamed about since they were children.

All seems peaceful and right with the world until, several thousand feet up in the sky, there is a knock on the door. Russell, a boyscout desperate for his final badge for “helping the elderly” had been under the porch, dutifully searching on the Snipe Hunt that Carl put him on the day before, when the house lifted off. After some in-the-air drama, Carl and Russell find themselves near Paradise Falls, stuck with one another. The mission — which was to fulfill Carl’s promise to Ellie of taking her to Paradise Falls — is to now set the floating house by the waterfall. The two unlikely companions set off to guide the bobbing structure across the ravine, encountering a mysterious bird, an outcast talking dog, and some dangerous characters that want to make sure that Carl, Russell and their new friends don’t make it out of the valley alive.

Pixar’s storytelling is always good — Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life are on my top ten list — and Up is no exception. The formula is less obvious than most movies, which was refreshing. I will say my mind had an issue with the logitics of a house floating on a bunch of helium balloons, but I went with it. I also didn’t really like the convenience of them accidentally finding themselves in Paradise Falls. BUT. I went with it.

Pixar’s animation is always flawless. It almost isn’t worth mentioning because it is always so damn good. Carl and Russell’s character designs were both works of art. These humans were highly stylized, almost muppet-like, and I loved them so much for it. The expressions were subtle, beautiful, perfect.

And someone give Jordan Nagai and Ed Asner some kind of gold statue. Best. Voices. EVER.

There were a lot of lessons to be learned from Up. Don’t wait too long to fulfill your dreams. Love the people you’re with while they’re here, because they won’t always be around. The little things really do count. It’s just a house. 

I can’t say it hard enough: see this movie. And bring a hankey.

Star Trek

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

startrek_gallerylogo1.jpgYou either love the Star Trek franchise and were going to go no matter or what, or you’re human and breathing and saw the bad ass trailers. Hopefully, if you haven’t made it out yet you’ll find your bottom in a theater seat soon… because it’s totally worth it.

My parents were Trekkers for the Original Series, and my sister and I grew up with The Next Generation. I didn’t care for Deep Space Nine when it aired, but I caught a lot of it on syndicate a couple years ago and liked it much more. I enjoyed Voyager, although I didn’t see much of it. I admit I never watched any of Enterprise.


The new movie was good. Great, even. It was sexy enough, campy enough, modern enough, gritty enough. A revitalization of the entire franchise, easy.

The casting was perfect. Chris Pine, who I doubted could pull it off, plays a believable Kirk that is fearless, foolish, quick on his feet and willing to get the job done no matter what. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is more emotional than the Nimoy’s Spock, but I found his struggle refreshing since I never remembered that Spock was half human in the series and OS movies. The secondary characters had bigger parts than before, too. Sulu? Delightful. Chekov? Freakin’ adorable. I wanted to pinch his little hyper-active, eager-to-prove-himself cheeks. Uhura was sexy and smart. Bones was lovably cranky, as usual. DeForest Kelly would have been proud. Neo was a convincing bad guy, and Kirk’s Commander Pike was exactly everything that I had imagined him to be.

And Scotty? Good lord. Simon Peg plays the perfect Scotty. There is a point in the movie when Kirk says “Let’s get out here”, and as we were sitting in the theater I thought to myself: “If this movie is to pass my test with any sense of worthiness, they will not be able to get away and Scotty will say what I am dying for him to say.” And they couldn’t and he did say it, and my arms shot up in the air in triumph. I would say I embarrassed myself but it was a theater full of Trekkers and so there is no place for misplaced enthusiasm.

The movie was also beautiful. Whether they were on-planet, on a ship or in outer space, the settings and environments were beautiful. The sound was spectacular, both in the effects that made the environments believable and the music. The technology design was wonderfully authentic-looking, and the special effects and fighting looked real (can I get an “Amen” for no obvious wire work?). Everything worked together to lend credibility to the current movie while paying homage to where this highly successful franchise began.

And now to the story: I liked it. I was a good basic movie plot, and a good choice for Star Trek. I won’t go into too many details, but events unfolded in a natural way, with all the right OMG moments. Nobody’s introduction felt that forced, and things went bad in the way they should have. Major kudos on the dialogue, too. There were a few phrases that gave me chills*. And wow, just wow: it takes some serious cajones to effectively wipe out one of the pinnacle alien species in the series.

There were only two things I had issues with. One, a black hole is a proven space anomaly. It is not an all-purpose Time Machine / planet destroyer / hang-out spot for bad guys. And the return of an original crew member? Meh. He is iconic, true, and his return was a big part of the plot, but… meh. The most boring part of the movies were the ones that involved him. He is too old, and I felt he hobbled through the part.

Still, consider the torch effectively passed. And one can consider the franchise truly rebooted since the timeline is all jumbled now and no one knows what’s going to happen next. I think I read the cast has signed on for two more movies, and I’m thrilled — I can’t wait for the next installment.

*”Your father was captain for 12 minutes and saved 800 lives. I dare you to do better.” Man, that’s good.

X-men Origins: Wolverine

Monday, May 4th, 2009

ill_18.pngLet me preface this by saying that as far as Marvel comic geekery goes, I am maybe 2 1/2 out of five stars, TOPS. On a good day. If the synapses are firing and I dreamed I was a student at the X Mansion the night before.

Which is why I feel only a pang of treachery when I shrug and say: I kind of liked it.

When we left the theater, I was not liking it, but that was mostly because they put a young, fully mobile and ENTIRELY FREAKIN’ CGI CHARLES XAVIER AT THE END. Come ON. I know Patrick Stewart’s no spring chicken, but come the &*$%@ ON. There’s Make up. Or Lighting. Or they could have only show him from behind. Something. A CGI Professor was just unnecessary.

Ahem. Now that that’s out of the way.

The story didn’t match up with Wolverine’s previously explored origin stories, but it was… okay. If you looked at the movie as completely separate from any previous Wolverine material, it helped. The green screening was not flawless and the CG had some issues. Some of the dialogue was pretty bad, and I hate obvious wire work. And Gambit… did he get his bowstaff from a wizard or a pimp? Weak.

Despite its many flaws, I actually did enjoy it. Hugh Jackman makes a great Wolverine, and Ryan Reynolds? with swords? Oh, yes please. Wolverine’s romance was sweet, and included a twist I didn’t see coming. Barring some truly heinous fire escape ridiculousness, most of the gratuitous over-the-top action scenes were still fun*. The soundtrack was smokin’, and super-powers in general are just fun.

Plus, I wasn’t that familiar with Deadpool before the movie, but I’d be interested in seeing more of him, at least before [spoiler].

All in all, worth the price of admission. Wolverine is just a bad ass, pure and simple, and it’s fun to watch him be all bad ass-y, even when he’s doing it around bad CGI and cardboard dialogue.

*Kill an airborne helicopter with your bare hands and I’m yours.

Do What You Wish

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

neverendingstory.jpgMichael Ende’s The Neverending Story

I’ve been told not to re-watch The Neverending Story as an adult since they are dated so badly it strips the magic out of them; but I have to say the book made me want to give them another go.

As far as plots go, it’s not the most exciting — at no point was I gnawing my nails, worried about whether Bastian was going to survive, get home or stop hurting his friends — and the story maker in me did a mental eye-roll every time a new character knew who Bastian was, was familiar with his life story and knew what he needed to do in order to get him to the next stage of his adventure. When things finally did start to get good, the climax was grazed over and we went back to traveling with Bastian who was, let’s face it, not a strong and/or weak enough protagonist.

Despite its flaws, however, it was a nice little read. It was very imaginative, and had the feel of several fairy tales all strung together. The bountiful characters were all wonderfully vivid: Morla, the giant mountain turtle; the lion Grograman, the Colorful Walking Death, who turned to stone each night so that the glowing night forest of Perilin could be born out of his desert; clever Xayide, who animated her empty armored trolls to do her bidding; the Silver City of Armaganth, which floated on a lake of tears and was constructed of the most precious silver filigree; Yor, the blind and silent picture miner; Dame Eyola, who continually produced delicious fruit from her person from within the Change House; and of course the adventurer Atreyu and the luckdragon, Falkor.

In the end, I was happy for young Bastian Balthazar Bux and his transformation, especially since I’ve got a special place in my heart for the modern-child-goes-to-fantasy-realm tale anyway. It’s not a crazy emotional investment, but all in all, worth the read.

“I’d like to introduce you to…”

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

ill_09b.jpgI can’t tell you how delighted was I when, several weeks ago over some delicious diner pie, I was reminded of the existence of a Jimmy Stewart film called “Harvey”.

Harvey was filmed in 1950 and is still absolutely delightful, 59 years later.

Elwood P. Dowd drives his sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae crazy because of his friendship with Harvey the pooka — a 6′11″ mischievious spirit that no one else can see. His family is pushed over the edge when Uncle Elwood unintentionally crashes a brunch Veta puts on in the hopes of finding her anxious daughter a husband. Elwood, being the friendly sort, introduces everyone to Harvey, but of course no one can see him and they all flee, terrified of his obvious madness. Veta decides to commit him — for his own good! — and things get hairy from there on.

It’s a wonderful little movie, and Jimmy Stewart plays what I think is his most endearing, pleasantly stuttering role.

“You can be oh-so-smart, or oh-so-pleasant. Well, for years I was smart; I recommend pleasant.” - Elwood P. Dowd

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

watchmen_teaser_movie_poster.jpgI have to say I was poised for disappointment. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is an icon in the graphic medium for good reason, and there are many aspects that present problems in translating it to the screen. First off, there’s just so much of it. It’s a dense piece of work that twists and winds and flashes back. There’s heaps of supplemental material to help you to better understand the (sometimes very) flawed characters, and an internal pirate comic that parallels the graphic novel you’ve got in your hands. I really didn’t think they could pull it off.

I was wrong.

The movie begins when the aging Comedian is mysteriously killed, years after a law in Congress is passed outlawing masked vigilantes. Despite being a generally horrible human being, his old Watchmen teammates from the good old days slowly begin looking into his murder, spurred on by the paranoid and clinically unbalanced Rorschach. Set against an alternate 1985 that is poised on the brink of WWIII, they find themselves pulled into a master plot that will either save or condemn the planet.

One of the things that makes the story work so well — on film and on paper — is the characters. It’s plausible. Only one of the five main characters has genuine “super” powers, and all are flawed to the extreme. At the time of the Comedien’s murder, they are aged heroes, complete with receding hairlines and spare tires. Old habits die hard, however, and they find comfort and life in their old personas, especially in light of the global situation that is quickly crumbling around them.

They could have updated the movie to be set in the present day, but I liked that they didn’t; I felt the Vietnam War was an important part of the story line, and do not believe another conflict would have sufficed as satisfactorily. The use of pop music in the soundtrack could have been corny or jarring, but it wasn’t, and is another nod to its original form.

The casting was wonderfully solid: there were no big names to create over-inflated expectations, and the actors were absolutely true to the characters. Rorschach and Nite Owl were my personal favorites.

They stayed very close to the comic, almost to a fault. Almost. I loved the respect that was apparent for the original form, and the novel was strong enough that it didn’t need much editing — what they trimmed was just perfect. The updates they did make were excellent — the costumes were great: real enough, practical enough. The special effects were good: I don’t recall any points when my brain cried “not real!” at any CGI.

It wasn’t without flaws, of course. Some of the make-up was not convincing — the first Silk Spectre’s aging and Nixon in particular were not good; and I guarantee there were some eyerolls at the “Hallelujah” love scene (I liked it, but I’m a sucker for some sexy sexin’). It is a solid R rating, which is refreshing and uncompromising. Also, there is some blue wang, so brace yourself if you’re squeamish about a man’s dangly bits, but let’s be realistic: if you’re an embodiment of unimaginable cosmic power, you really don’t concern yourself with pants. Some dialogue felt wooden or cliche, but as Justin Kownacki accurately points out, it wasn’t really meant to be spoken out loud.

Watchmen was a win as far as I’m concerned, but I can only speak as someone who also appreciated the original work. I will say Josh liked it quite a bit, however, and he’s never read the novel. The figures I saw Monday night gave $56 million for the opening weekend; I hope it recoups its initial cost and then plenty more once the public realizes it’s not supposed to be Batman or Spiderman.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008


I lurve Hellboy. I just want to hug him and squeeze him and tell him he doesn’t have to be the apocalyptic destruction of the universe if he doesn’t want to, I don’t care what that nasty baba yaga says. Josh, Keli and I headed out to Southside Works to check out the second movie yesterday. I have to say I went into this one with some reservations because of the trailer and, well… I’ll get there in a second.

To start out, we’re introduced to a legend via a 1940’s era Professor Bruttenholm bedtime story to a young Hellboy: long ago there was a war between humans and magical creatures (fairies, trolls, etc). The humans were winning by a landslide. In an effort to change the outcome of the war, the Elf King Balor has the trolls construct the Golden Army, 4,900 strong and indestructible. This new army annihilates the humans, without remorse or mercy. The King, horrified at what he has allowed, forges a truce with the humans — they will keep to their cities, and the magic creatures shall have the forests. The Golden Army is hidden away, and the crown that controls it is broken apart.

Fast forward a few hundred years. Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD (that’s the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) are called to the scene of an artifact auction gone horribly wrong — the place is nearly destroyed and there’s no sign of the 70-some guests that signed in. After a few devoured agents, toasted tooth-fairies and general mayhem, things get interesting. Word on the street is that Nuada, King Balor’s son from way-back-when is still miffed about daddy’s truce and has decided to reassemble the crown, track down the hidden Golden Army and destroy all of humanity with it.

But don’t worry. The BPRD’s on the job.

The movie is definitely worth seeing. Casting is perfect, save Abe’s voicing. Effects are excellent. The writing’s good — Mike Mignola, Hellboy’s creator, and Guillermo del Toro, the director, did a nice job. Costumes, choreography, animation, all that good stuff: great. Nuada does a bunch of crazy fighting stuff, even if he does back flips to do the job two steps backwards would do; and it’s weighted well enough (I hate obvious wire work). The creatures were righteous. The tooth-fairies were in classic Mignola fashion, and I enjoyed the Elemental and the tumor-baby. And this dude? Awesome.

And here’s the part where I become the picky, snobby fangirl.

It was too fantasy for me.

What’s that, Rachel? Don’t you write fantasy novels? That’s kind of hypocritical, don’t you think?

Okay, okay, but here’s the thing. Hellboy is horror. Horror. True, the stories are often based in various world mythologies and folklore; but this was too Lord of the Rings in present day New York starring Hellboy for my tastes. Blet. Even subtracting the heavy fantasy element, the dialog didn’t have the punch of the first one. I should have pooped my pants in awe when the Ruins Rock Dude sat up, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t have wished for another fight with Sammael, but the first movie had a gritty urban aspect that made me forgive it for its minor shortcomings. This one… there’s not as much of a buffer.

And to round out my griping: the young Hellboy? I commend the kid for trying through the prosthetics, but c’mon. And I’ll reiterate how much I missed David Hyde Pierce as Abe. Doug Jones did a fine job, but ever since hearing Pierce, his is the only voice I can attach to Abe… when I read the comics, it’s him I hear in my head.

Now. All that being said, I did enjoy it. Really. I promise. It just fell a little short of my hopes and dreams, which were probably too stupid super high to start out with. Usually when I see book-to-movie translations, I can separate the two stories, but I think I was too close to the source material on this one. Ultimately, it was still written by Mignola and had the guy’s creative force all over, so it definitely gets a thumbs up. This means yes, I will buy the extended DVD box-set of the movie… and I’ll worship it because that’s what fangirls DO.

“You’re in love. Have a beer.”

“Oh no. My body is a temple.”

“Yeah? Well, now it’s an amusement park.”


Thursday, July 10th, 2008


With the exception of Ratatouille, I have been able to see every Pixar movie in the theater. A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo rank in my top five movies of all time, and are part of the feel-good arsenal* of entertainment I reach for when I need any sort of pick-me-up.

Once upon a time, I would see the trailer for the next Pixar film and say, “Really? A fish movie? How can you tell a story about fish?” Or “Really? A movie about cars? That won’t hold my interest.” And then they slap me right in the face with some really good stuff a few months later. There was none of this doubt regarding Wall-e, however.

Robots? Oh goodness, yes.

I believe Josh’s words to me upon seeing the original trailer were, “Seriously, you’re going to cry the whole time.

Wall-e opens on a desolated Earth, overrun by garbage and abandoned by its human inhabitants. Wall-e (that’s a Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth class) is the lone operating robot on the planet and he goes about his daily duties of collecting, compressing and organizing the trash that surrounds him. In the 700 hundred years since people left the ruined Earth behind, Wall-e has grown increasingly lonely. He explores as he collects, gathering interesting human elements from the mountains of trash, and watching and re-watching the 1969 version of Hello, Dolly. Daily life is interrupted when a rocket lands in Wall-e’s city and launches a exploratory probe. The probe is a zooming robot named Eve (or Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), and Wall-e takes an intense fascination with her, following her around as she scans every inch of the city. Once she finally recognizes he is not a threat and stops trying to blow him up, he introduces her to his home, Hello, Dolly, and his collection of people stuff… including his latest curious find. It’s this last discovery that gets things really rolling, eventually taking Wall-e up into space and to the humans’ present home, the Axiom.

It’s the artiest film Pixar’s produced, and contains the most globally-applicable social commentary — but not in a preachy, oh-come-on kind of way. The story is an even, sometimes melancholy ride, but never boring. And it’s interspersed with a warmth and cuteness that will make your heart ache.

Pixar is just good. They tickle every creative part of me. The technical execution (animation, lighting, color) is perfect; the character and set designs, flawless. The story they tell is always distilled into the most concise, dramatic, meaningful chunk of yum it can be. Dialog is never wasted — indeed, there’s only three words of it in the first fifteen minutes of Wall-e and it works. Some robots only say one thing, and they are extremely effective in that capacity. Motivations are on for each character.

There isn’t any fluff. Everything leads to something else, something that has to be there to make the whole thing work. Pixar recognizes storytelling as the art form it can be.

The only complaint I have with the movie was the introduction of a live-action element. I understood why it was there, but it did put a bit of a crack in the style and its suspension of belief. But it’s totally forgivable, and I still enjoyed the movie immensely. I would see it again in a heartbeat, and it will absolutely become a part of the home collection when it comes out on DVD.

Go see it in the theater if you can. It’s worth every penny.

*The Feel Good Arsenal reads as follows: Muppet Treasure Island, Lilo & Stitch, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo… and Jurassic Park.