Archive for the ‘review’ Category

I am Iron Man

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

monkey.jpgIron Man was all kinds of amazing. I’m not a Robert Downey, Jr. fan, but okay… he totally won me over. No one else could have pulled off a better Tony Stark. I don’t know how they toed the line between believable and corny, but I bought it. Ten!

I got to relive a little of the excitement of Harry Potter. A friend of mine found himself (happily) unemployed and used his new free time to begin reading again. He went from reading “nothing, ever” to “the whole HP series, over a couple weeks.” It’s so nice to geek out over a fantasy series I absolutely adore. Especially when it’s done over pie. As far as I’m concerned, Heaven is spelled P-I-E.

I finally read Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and was totally underwhelmed. Pullman did a nice job constructing the world, and I enjoyed the bit with the armored bears… but I didn’t find the story all that engaging. When it ended, I didn’t feel at all interested in what Lyra was doing next — rather, I was just glad she was going away. I’m not an expert, but that can’t be an effective way to start a trilogy. Also: where was all the controversy? I realize I’m on the wrong side of the fence to be offended, but I didn’t get much of anything in the way of “killing God”… Pullman portrayed the church as one would relate the far-reaching power and somewhat questionable practices from a couple hundred years ago. Calm down, people.

A girlfriend lent me Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels Trilogy. I will admit Daughter of the Blood was pretty slow going at first; as in, I didn’t get into until page 277 slow, but I did eventually buy into it and the characters and the world. I’ve only read the first book, but unlike Pullman’s His Dark Materials, I’ll be continuing with this series. A warning, however: the whole society is based on sex and the dark, magical, power-hungry society revolving around it — and it’s not always pretty. Sometimes it’s unapologetically graphic. So if you’re faint of heart, maybe try something lighter.

Currently, I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Wintersmith. Pratchett’s one of my favorite authors EVER. I was fishing through my bookshelf for one of his to lend out (he has his own shelf in my house), and got wrapped up in wanting to read them all over again. Wintersmith is in his Tiffany Aching series, which is decidedly more YA than the other Discworld stuff I’ve read. His imagination is just kickin’. It gets my brain fired up.

Okay. Enough monkeying around. Back to work.

Jeff Smith’s “Bone”

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

jeffsmithbonecvr.jpgIf you have any interest in the medium of graphic storytelling, this is one piece that should be at the top of your To Read/Own list.

Originally self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004, Bone is hailed as the longest running independently-published comic by a single author. Originally, there were 55 issues, released sporadically. These days you can purchase it as a complete volume that clocks in at a spectacular 1,332 pages. And every page is a work of art.

hoodedoneratcr.jpgWhen the three Bones - Phoney Bone, Smily Bone and Fone Bone - are run out of their hometown, they find themselves far from home and separated from one another in The Valley. We primarily follow everyman Fone Bone as he’s taken in by tough Gran’ma Ben and her (cute) grand-daughter Thorn for the winter. But as Spring blossoms, so does trouble: Thorn is having strange dreams, frightening Rat Creatures have begun to invade the valley, and a dragon has been spotted in the woods. They discover the mythic Lord of the Locusts seeks someone to release him from his ancient prison so he can destroy the world, a role he thinks can be filled by either Thorn or Bone’s cousin, Phoney. The barriers between the real world and the dream world begin to break down, and the discovery of Thorn’s mysterious lineage puts them in even more danger than before.

Smith weaves a tale that effectively combines fantasy elements like dragons, monsters, other worlds, and fate with lighter, comedic fare. The art reflects this juxtaposition as well - most of the characters are human, while the three Bones are more simply rendered, with big cartoon-y features and little clothes. Many of the human characters are still exaggerated, however, and I think that’s where Smith is at his strongest. Gran’ma Ben in particular is wonderfully expressive, despite having only lines for eyes and speaking primarily through her chin. His creature designs are straight-forward but fantastic, whether it’s a dragon, Rat Creature, or the cute baby animals. Emotion is poignant and subtle when it needs to be; action is always clear, expressive and exciting.

bonesample01.gifRarely does one truly find an author that is just as gifted at art as he/she is at storytelling. In every work of fiction it’s the story that is key, and sometimes graphic novels can get caught up in the “how” rather than the “what” when the author/illustrator are the same person. In Bone, they work well hand in hand.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve read it twice, and I had just as much fun this time as the first time. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again in the future.

Bone is also being re-released in color, with the talents of Steve Hamaker adding some umph to Jeff Smith’s expert inking.

Superbowl Commercials

Monday, February 4th, 2008

super_bowl_adssffhighlightprod_affiliate38.jpgThe intro to the Superbowl has reminded me that I need to purchase the soundtrack of at least one of the National Treasure movies. I highly suspect that was the background music for Troy Aikman’s introduction.

Budlight: Breathing fire, flying and talking to animals. Very nice. Cheese run, excellent — I liked the trick baguette. And it’s true, accents are sexy. Also: Will Farrell!

Audi putting Luxury on notice via an auto “head” in bed. Funny, even if I had to explain it to other parties. Also a tad disturbing, but not to the point where it totally put me off… plus, that new Audi car looks SWEET.

PepsiMax: Drowsing public, cute. Wake up to Roxy music with said drink, cute. Mango pissed? Awesome.

Hm, a new episode of House is on after the game.

UnderArmor: is always very epic. It kind of made me feel wimpy, though, since my muscles don’t have muscles on top of their muscles.

Bridgestone: screaming tortoise/grasshopper tie for the best of the screaming animals. They really ramped up their advertising throughout the entire Superbowl, including sponsoring segments of the actual event. A good move, since of all the brands advertised their’s was one I had totally forgot existed.

GoDaddy is smart, if tasteless. And it totally worked — Josh went to the website before the commercial was even off the air.

FedEx: Giant pigeons? Somewhere PittGirl is screaming. Still. Plan B theme was memorable and well done. Head shrinking witch doctor and “You should probably step out of the stone circle of death to, you know, avoid any confusion.” Priceless.

Tide: Talking stain was good, even if it was a little annoying.

Budweiser: Rocky horse, tee hee. The end was disappointing, though.

Life water: Dancing lizards = dumb. Sometimes having no point is cool. This was not one of those times. They probably paid a fortune to use MJ’s Thriller, too. A shame.

Is House playing after the game? I feel like I heard that somewhere.

Planters: Ugly girl attracting serious love attention. Loved it. Cyclist into the taxi = hi-LAR-ious (no hard feelings to bikers, of course). Also, pick the wedge!

Pepsi: However you feel about Justin Timberlake, he’s certainly a good sport. You can’t have a diva complex while ramming your doodles repeatedly into a mailbox post. Delightful.

Vitamin Water: Shaq as a jockey is a RIOT. If he and a horse raced, he would win on stride alone.

Bridgestone: Alice Cooper + snake and Richard Simmons, tee hee.

eTrade: Videocasting toddlers that barf about stocks are disturbing, but also cute… ish. I think. Maybe? Clowns are just creepy, though. They did follow up with a grown-up version later in the game, which was smart.

Coke: Aw, go giant Charlie Brown balloon!

Oh? is House on later?

Taco Bell: Wikshh! In my opinion, the insistent mariachi band was a grand success! Sombreros always win.

Gatorade: Noisy dog gulping water loudly? Gross and… just gross.

Victoria Secret: They know their demographic oh-so-well. But what I want to know is if I can buy the chair? Because, seriously, that’s a great chair.

Amp: Man jumping a car with his nipples after drinking an energy drink. I miss Salt’n Pepa. Josh said “That was ______!” during this one, but I didn’t know who he was talking about since I grew up sans cable (hard knock life and all that, you know).

American Idol: Oh, Ben. That was a whole lot of unnecessary. The only time he belongs on television is if there is a game on and he’s in it.

t1_0203_secret.jpgAnd this is where updates end because I became too engrossed in the game. Budlight was the obvious winner this year, in my opinion. They had three different kinds of commercials, including a set in the “now comes with __(supernatural power)__” theme. Pepsi and did a nice job, also. Outside of that, there were a few decent ones and several that totally missed the mark. I guess if I can recall what company did what commercial, someone earned their $1.9 bazillion dollars.

It’s funny how much media pressure is put on the commercials, and so many of them obviously try so hard and still stink. I suppose it does give more people a reason to watch the game. Also, Tom Petty was a surprisingly entertaining halftime show. Even if most of those songs came out a decade or more ago, he’s still one of the most rock’n roll’n zombies I know. It is interesting to point out that all the halftime shows since the Big Bad Wardrobe Malfunction of ‘04 have been dudes — Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, and Prince. Of those, my favorite by far was been Prince: I seemed to recall it rained heavily on him, and when the heavens are participating during Purple Rain you just know it’s rock’n roll.

Getting back on track — if you missed any of the commercials or would like to re-watch them, you can do so here.

The Golden Compass

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

goldencompass-offposter.jpgHave you ever seen a good movie adaption of a book you’ve read? I haven’t. So I’m doing this one backwards: movie first, then book.

The His Dark Materials series only came onto my radar when I saw the trailer for the movie last year. Josh suggested we check the film out on Sunday, and we headed to the cheapies in Bridgeville. (Sidenote for Pittsburghers: Screenworks 14 is well worth a short drive. $2 tickets!)

The Golden Compass is set in a world parallel to our own. One extraordinary difference is that each person’s soul resides outside their body, in the form of an animal totem called a daemon. When uncle Asriel leaves Lyra at Jordan College so he can travel North to investigate a mysterious substance called Dust, we follow this mischievous young girl as she is plucked from her charge by the suave Ms. Coulter. Lyra is gifted with a surprise birthright before she leaves with the woman: an alethiometer, the last compass of its kind that will lead to truth. All the others have been destroyed by the Magisterium, who Ms. Coulter happens to work for (uh oh!). Lyra discovers that Ms. Coulter is in charge of a project that is kidnapping children and when she tries to steal the alethiometer from Lyra, the girl runs away and her adventure North in search of her uncle and the missing kids — begins.

The tale that unfolds is unlike any other story I’ve experienced, especially on the big screen. There was lots of drama, action, emotion. Storywise, however, I couldn’t help thinking there were things missing. I know that it is inevitable to lose detail that you would get from reading the book, but I was left not caring for things I suspect I should have been more concerned about. For instance, the Dust that the Magisterium wants kept a secret? So much so that they would kill for it? I couldn’t really care. I know it’s supposed to be a mystery, but it would have taken a little more information to actually pique my interest. It is possible to keep certain details hidden from the audience and allow the viewers to still leave feeling satisfied.

With a couple exceptions, I thought the acting was excellent — Dakota Blue Richards does an exceptional job, especially considering the weight of such a strong leading role. The cast seemed to interact well with each other and, most surprisingly, the CGI. There were only a couple times when my mind did a little double-take and said “Aha, that monkey is totally not hugging Ms. Coulter!“.ioric_lyra1.jpg

Visually, it is stunning. The environments are beautiful and believable, the machinery was conceptually inventive, the costume design is great, and character design for the CG characters was good. My favorite CG character should probably be Pan, Lyra’s trusted daemon, since he’s all cute and squeaky and shape-shifting, etc… but my warm and fuzzy feelings are all over Iorek*, exiled prince of the armored bears. Wicked.

I have a couple beefs with The Golden Compass, but all in all it was an enjoyable flick. I would certainly recommend it if you are a fan of the genre, although it might be a little too deep-end fantasy for more casual fans. I personally look forward to the next installment. I’m also getting the soundtrack.

*This affection has nothing to do with the fact that The Sum of David has a butt-kicking polar bear, and that seeing Iorek deal out some awesome Bear Rambo justice on the big screen was all kinds of righteous. None at all.**

**Okay, maybe a little.

“We’re the Ones that Bump Back…”

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

There are a few things that I will go straight up fangirl over. Hellboy is one of them.

Hellboy movie posterJosh spent much of the weekend hibernating against our awesome 20-degree weather, so I popped in the Hellboy movie while he sawed logs on the couch. First off, let me say this: I know it’s not the perfect movie. The graphic version of Seed of Destruction is superior in several ways (the greatest of which is the fact that Sammael doesn’t resurrect fifteen times and we have to watch them battle him over and over. And over.) But it is so much fun. The casting is perfect. No one but Ron Perlman could play Hellboy — playing a giant red demon-man toting a giant stone hand and covered in runic symbols would be impossible for anyone else to pull off. Doug Jones and (the uncredited) David Hyde Pierce are an impeccable Abe Sapian. And even my reading brain didn’t translate Professor Trevor Bruttenholm as well as John Hurt did.

The thing that makes this movie enjoyable for me is the execution of taking the world and story from paper to live action. Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, worked very closely with del Toro to make the creatures and environments rich and believable. I think they do a beautiful job of it — the set of Bruttenholm’s study and the Russian graveyard are especially beautiful in my opinion, and Kroenen and Sapien really are very fantastic. With three discs, the Hellboy special edition is also¬† one of the most extensive bonus features DVD I’ve ever encountered and offers HOURS of yummy documentation of what went into making the world come alive. (Rivaled in size and detail only by LOTR box sets — 7 discs. Yowza.)

Hellboy graphic novelMignola’s Hellboy is a fascinating character. While I am not usually a huge fan of horror in other fiction, I love it in Mignola’s dark, boxy style and the humor he injects into the stories is a nice balance between the gore. I generally love the ‘refusal of destiny’ arc in stories anyway, and throwing in the impending apocalypse via the hero is right up my alley. Combine it with lots of dark folklore, disturbing occult conspiracies, heaven vs. hell, and the whole what makes a man thing — I am one happy camper.

Visually, Mignola’s art is more than drool-worthy. He has an unmistakable style: heavy shadows that can cover an entire page but still insinuate there is so much going on; angular, sometimes abbreviated shapes that lose nothing from their incomplete execution; character designs that challenge your base knowledge of mythological figures (like the stone, iron-maiden goddess Hecate, anyone?); action and framing that is clear and dramatic. And his paintings make me cry tears of jealous, reverential JOY.


“Look, Sammy, I’m not a very good shot… but the Samaritan here uses really big bullets.”

Amulet by Kazu Kubuishi

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

AMULET by Kazu KubuishiMy first exposure to Kazu Kubuishi was through his website for monthly installments of his comic Copper — single-page comics that follow a boy and his dog along various life themes. His insights on art, comics and entertainment kept me coming back, and I anticipated the release of his first full-length novel, Daisy Kutter. He was also the driving force behind the Flight novels, which showcase the exceptional talent of a wide variety of writers and artists under the theme of , you guessed it, “Flight”.

Kubuishi’s recent blogs have highlighted his recent involvement in Flight 4, the youth-aimed Flight Explorer, and his latest graphic work, Amulet. It’s been a unique experience following him as he created this latest novel — through tables stacked with thumbnails, the challenges of story development (and redevelopment), deadlines, etc. I was able to secure a copy of the first print run before Christmas (because I’m that awesome, yo) and Josh was tickled pink when he unwrapped it December 25.

…but he didn’t read it fast enough, so I got to it first. Really, this was my plan all along since I boosted his graphic library by at least ten, and he cannot humanly read them ALL at the same time. So: I win.

The story begins with Emily, Navin and their mother relocating 2 years after the tragic loss of the children’s father. Noises draw them into the basement on the first night in the previously abandoned family home, and their mother is captured by a monster and carried away. Emily and Navin pursue it down a mysterious stairway that disappears behind them and leads to much more than a simple sub-basement.

The fantasy world grows from there, introducing a mysterious voice that guides Emily in using a strange and powerful amulet that she discovered in their great-grandfather Silas’s study. Beyond the blob of tentacles that kidnapped their mother, there’s also a crash course in creatures that announce you’re not in Kansas any more, such as parachute mushrooms, dangerous conebeak birds, robots and the terrifying gauntlet. There’s also a creepy dude that follows them around, which you just know is going to end badly.

The art is Amazing. Yes, with a capital A. Kubuishi is more than competent at showing action and emotion, and his choices on what to frame and how to frame it are excellent. The shots and pacing feel like you’re watching a movie. The linework is relatively simple, if very well executed, but the color and texture is what makes it fan-freaking-tastic. There’s a gritty texture to many of the environments and scenes that raises the bar to a new level; layered colors pile on top of one another and particle-like specks add a level of realism that boost it out of cartoony. I was originally worried about the character design, since the main two we follow through this first book are kind of generic looking, but the color really helps make them unique.

The end left me a little dissatisfied, since I wanted to know more and it wasn’t quite in a cliff-hanger-thirsty-for-more way. I’m okay with that, however, because there’s a lot that the two Earth children also didn’t understand about what just happened, where they’re going, or why. I would have liked to see a little more exploration of the story/surroundings, but I understand it’s only Book One and introducing a fantasy world does take a lot of time — you have to establish the environment and ground rules from square one. Besides… it was beautiful. All in all, it was well worth the read and I heartily anticipate the next volume. Check it out!

A disclaimer: Two of my current favorite graphic novels are Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Jeff Smith’s Bone, both of which are very large (600 and 1,300 pages, respectfully)… so my slight dissatisfaction with the end of Amulet could have nothing to do with the story and more with me being accustomed to having it all spread before me in a big, fat, satisfy-me-now brick of an epic. If Kubuishi’s past work is any indication, I’m sure I will continue to devour the entirety of the series happily and hungrily; I’ll just have to do it smaller, yummy bits.

…I understand that’s better for your metabolism anyhow.

City Theatre’s The Vagina Monologues

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

City Theatre invited Pittsburgh’s bloggers to their production of The Vagina Monologues on Saturday. Keli and I thought we’d give it a try.

City Theatre is located on the South Side’s 1300 block. The set-up is intentionally intimate: it seats 111 and the stage was only large enough for the three actors performing the monologues. I will say that I felt lucky to be of the half that was in the theatre-style seating, even if we were far off to one side. The other half was seated at two-top tables that, once the theatre was full, made movement almost impossible. Since Keli and I were on the waiting list we were the last to file in, and the toes I stumbled over (sorry!) had nothing to do with the wine I’d had. A little close for my tastes, but you do choose your own seats — perhaps some prefer the close quarters.

The Vagina Monologues was written by Eve Ensler in 1996, and is a series of monologues that was created after the interviews Ensler conducted with over 200 women regarding, you guessed it, their vaginas. Each piece explores some aspect of the organ: whether it be nicknames, sex, rape, childbirth, or orgasms.

City Theatre’s Erica Bradshaw, Holli Hamilton and Laurie Klatscher did a nice job. I thought Bradshaw particularly did a wonderful job with two of the monologues, one a portrayal of a sex worker and the other of a blossoming lesbian in the seventies. Klatscher also did a nice recollection by an older woman that referred to her vagina as “the cellar” and recounted what she called “the flood”, an experience that followed her throughout her life. I believe George Clooney was involved.

The first time I saw The Vagina Monologues was a production done by Point Park. It was longer and showcased a large cast of over twenty, each girl with a single monologue. I laughed hysterically and moved to tears. It also included more of the monologues — since the VM is actually a compilation of many facts and stories, each theatre picks and chooses the ones they incorporate into their show. There was at least one in particular that I missed seeing that had lent the show more of raw, empowering feel.

I don’t know that it would be completely fair to compare the two performances head to head, especially because but there’s a certain sit-up-and-take-notice that comes from a thirty-long list of nicknames for your genitalia that can only work as well the first time. The two productions were very different — the size of the cast and facility, the direction, the lighting, everything. But I also can’t help feeling that their production wasn’t as raw as it could have been.

That being said, it was certainly a nice way to spend a Saturday evening and I would definitely suggest checking it out if you’ve never seen it. The Vagina Monologues runs at the City Theatre from January 10th to February 17th. If you mention the word BLOG when purchasing tickets, you will receive $5 off each ticket. Because I have that kind of power.