Sunday, 30 December 2012

My 2012 Film Picks

2012 was an unusual year for films, featuring a docket that included the return of several franchises - Alien, Spider-Man, Batman, Men In Black, The Lord of the Rings - regarded as sure-thing blockbusters that proved to be divisive to audiences. Of this selection Prometheus was unquestionably a disappointment, a prequel to a horror/sci-fi series that lost its balance between those two stools and fell over. Then there was Dredd - which none of you went to see!.....or not enough of you, whatever amount went to see was less than the ideal amount, because this was a comic book adaptation that nailed the proto-fascist dystopia of Judge Dredd.

This year also held a few surprises, such as Marc Webb fashioning a genuinely heartfelt revamp of Sony cashcow Spider-Man, as well as Australia producing the little battler The Sapphires with Chris O'Dowd (Moone Boy is just brilliant) and Jessica Mauboy. Iron Sky with the charming Christopher Kirby and the ubiquitous Udo Kier pulled off its 'Nazis in Space' pastiche with aplomb, a fun picture which represents an interesting example for genre film-makers given its crowd-sourced budget.

For my own list I am limiting myself to films released in Australia during the year. Also this is hardly an exhaustive selection as my dayjob interfered with my ideal month-to-month consumption of cinema popcorn.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tomas Alfredson is two for two as far as literary adaptations go, as shown by his next picture after the wonderful Let The Right One In. John le Carré's novel of men wrapped up in espionage cloak and dagger, doomed by their own personal failings, is perfectly captured here in a film so detailed that it feels like it was discovered in a time-capsule. Gary Oldman is supported by an excellent cast - Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch do well, but Colin Firth's tragic rake is particularly memorable. Kathy Burke's cameo also entertains. Desperate men trying to run the world in smoky rooms, too blinded by their egos to see the danger they are in. It is only through Smiley's disaffected persistence that the grubby truth comes to life. Slow and steady in its build of tension, but well executed. 

Beauty is Embarrassing Wayne White documentary

Neil Berkeley's documentary on the creative peaks and troughs of an artist has a fantastic subject - Wayne White. The creative engine behind the mad visuals of Pee-wee's Playhouse and responsible for the Méliès moonscape of the video for Tonight, Tonight by the Smashing Pumpkins, White was the unheralded icon behind a host of 90's imagery that infected the imagination, only to then retreat from the pressures of his success. In the years since he has made a welcome return to the art world and Berkeley follows him discussing what makes 'beauty embarrassing' as part of his one-man show, while unspooling his fascinating career. Happily a kickstarter campaign to get the picture from the festival circuit into theaters was successful, so hopefully the word of Wayne White will spread further. Also - the film is up on Vimeo. Enjoy. 

Margaret 2011 Kenneth Lonergan

For a troubled production to survive half a decade of delays and emerge as a still poignant tale of grief, is surprising. That the much-edited picture should present a fascinating perspective on the conflicted self-regard of post-9/11 New York as personified by the precocious Lisa (Anna Paquin) borders on a miracle. Kenneth Lonergan invites the viewer to get to know the highly strung emotional world of this young woman and then drops her in the middle of an horrific tragedy, tracking her guilt-wracked conscience in the aftermath. J. Smith-Cameron as Lisa's mother Joan is wonderful as a stage actress entering into a new romance (with a charmingly awkward Jean Reno) while her daughter continues to spiral into a funk. Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo turn in good performances, with Matthew Broderick as an English teacher who finds himself out of his depth with a curiously intense Shakespeare student. A wonderful film about the emotional intensity that underpins so-called 'ordinary lives', which ends on a beautiful crescendo. Lonergan's mature and well-paced picture deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.

The problem with The Cabin in the Woods was the hype-machine behind the much-delayed film (something of a theme here) promised a twist. Thing is, there is no twist as such. Instead Drew Goddard's script invites cineaste audiences to point and laugh at its myriad of genre film references - the jarring opening is unexpectedly comic - only for the real joke to reveal itself. Horror films are not the butt of Goddard's mockery, but horror film fans certainly are. Their blood-lust and enjoyment of cheap titillation is featured heavily, but the final moments cheerfully revel in a nerd's need to be right even at the expense of the entire world. H.P. Lovecraft meets Hellzapoppin'. Perhaps this film is too clever for its own good, but it's an enjoyable romp nonetheless. 

Ok, I'm drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin!

Hail Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Daniel P. Jones

 Amiel Courtin-Wilson's documentary-style is mixed with elegiac moments of dreamlike peace during brief moment of reverie for ex-con Danny. Returning home to a loving reunion with girlfriend Leanne, we follow his attempts to find work and boozy nights out with friends, before it becomes clear he is unable to escape his past. The film is a product of intense collaboration between Courtin-Wilson and Daniel P. Jones, which strikes an inventive balance between fly-on-the-wall observations of this man's life and a profound sense of a life trapped. Powerful and intimate film-making, with a charismatic lead actor. Hail opens with the following song, Moondog's High on a Rocky Ledge, which perfectly sets the tone for the film. 

As for 2013, well some possible highlights include Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy, as well as the director of the original Korean thriller Park Chan-wook's latest - Stoker. Raimi's Oz The Great and Powerful starring James Franco and Baz Luhrman's ode to the jazz age The Great Gatsby could really go either way. For science fiction fans we have the sequel to J.J. Abrams Star Trek and Neill Blomkamp's long-awaited follow up to District 9 - Matt Damon actioner Elysium.

Start saving those pennies for your movie tickets.


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - review

The trouble with reviewing The Hobbit is that anyone following the arduous journey of the project from post-Lord of the Rings breakdown of relations between Peter Jackson and New Line over royalties (that troublesome 'Hollywood accounting' strikes again); to the financial straits of MGM; the departure of Guillermo del Toro; and most recently the carping from preview audiences of the problems with 48fps footage - well for a time there it felt as if the circumstances surrounding the making of the film would be a more fitting subject for the big screen than Professor Tolkien's fairytale of a wee Hobbit living in a comfortable hole coerced into going on adventures. Peter Jackson's own A Cock And Bull Story, or Synecdoche New York

The Hobbit 2012 Dwarves Peter Jackson

Thankfully The Hobbit has arrived on our screens, again at Christmas time which became something of a tradition during the releases of the first Lord of the Rings trilogy, and almost ten years later feels utterly familiar and comfortable. 

Perhaps too familiar. The opening has Ian Holm and Elijah Wood return to their roles of 'Older Bilbo' and Frodo, their scenes taking place just before the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. We then skip backwards in time to the fall of Erebor - stunningly realized as a Dwarven city that has burrowed into a mountain - at the hands of the dragon Smaug. Then the action skips forwards again to Holm and Wood, before a jump back to the beginning of The Hobbit itself and Gandalf's arrival at Bag End.

This sequence symbolizes the strengths and occasional hindrances of this Jackson production. For fans of the original movies released in 2001, 2002 and 2003 the scenes with Holm and Wood form a sense of continuity. The sheer detail and breadth of the images of Erebor are also more in keeping with the epic scope of LOTR. This then becomes confused when we segue to the more sedate pace of the source material - In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit - complete with the content Bilbo as played wonderfully by Martin Freeman, singing Dwarves, comedies of manners and funny accents. Tolkien hinted at the broader world of his imagination during the book, but the perspective of Bilbo remained at the centre. It was only with Fellowship of the Ring that the tone matured to that of a less childlike tale - one more enjoyable to a worldly late adolescent - and the scope of Tolkien's narrative became clear. The film attempts to mesh these styles, sometimes to unconvincing effect.

The Hobbit 2012 Bag End Martin Freeman Peter Jackson

When the film works it works wonderfully. Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, a wizard more concerned with plants and animals than people, is suitably bewildered by the encroachment of the as-yet-unseen antagonist The Necromancer on his territory. The Dwarves are each distinguished by slight quirks of costume and small character details to indicate a selection of representatives from different nomadic tribes brought together by Thorin (Richard Armitage) to reclaim their homeland. In the nine years since the last Jackson visit to Middle Earth the special effects have also improved so much that the chaos of fight scenes - either due to handheld camera footage of snarling orcs or indistinguishable computer generated armies clashing on a battlefield - has been replaced with well-staged and inventive clashes between the heroes and caverns teaming with goblins. Casting Barry Humphries as a very Sir Les Patterson-esque Goblin King was simply inspired - complete with comb-over! Also in Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner playing brothers Fili and Kili, the film has just happened to cast actors from two of the best supernatural television shows currently on air - The Almighty Johnsons and Being Human.

At this point in the film, with all the talk of dragons, albino orc 'defilers', Necromancers and such, it almost comes as a surprise when that tricky little ring shows up - and with it Jackson and co's greatest achievement, Gollum as brought to life by Andy Serkis and the hardy team of animators. When Freeman and Serkis have their game of riddles, the film comes alive in a manner that makes the proceeding half of the picture feel slightly moribund. Disturbing, comical and pitiful all at once, Gollum is a character of great pathos. The film is almost worth seeing for this scene alone. 

Overall though it remains a troublesome picture. The jig of timescales and an uneven sense of momentum - despite the welcome decision to introduce a determined orc named Azog who is leading a hunt to track down the 'dwarf-scum' - unfortunately spoils the sense of immersion in the fantasy of Middle Earth.

Battle of Five Armies The Hobbit
Battle of Five Armies - oh there's going to be crying in the cinema after *that* scene
What remains to be seen is how the forthcoming two chapters will fare. We still have the debate between Bilbo and Smaug to come in the next picture, as well as an Elven prison jailbreak. Then to conclude there is the epic Battle of Five Armies, which should top the siege of Helms Deep from The Two Towers. That is plenty to look forward to - but The Hobbit has an uphill battle ahead of it to reclaim the appeal of the previous films.


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Monday, 24 December 2012

Exciting News for Tropfest Contenders

The January 3 deadline for Tropfest 2013 is fast approaching, but today's news of the creation of a new category for entrants shows just how accessible the festival is. Specifically their openness to comparatively light-weight and ready-to-hand film-making tools as DSLR cameras being recognized officially in the competition. 

More information can be found in the press release below. Oh and the theme for this year's competition entries? Balloons. 

Tropfest 2013 Balloon

Press Release

Filmmaking is no longer only for those with a foot in the industry's door. DSLR cameras, which have long been a staple for photographers, are fast becoming the most popular way for emerging and established filmmakers to shoot films and TV shows. 40 per cent of entries submitted into Tropfest 2013 so far have been shot using a DSLR camera.

Hollywood heavyhitters are now using DSLR cameras to make high-quality productions. Originally used almost exclusively as crash cams, TV shows like the award-winning US drama Dexter have started to use Nikon's new D800 and D4 DSLR cameras to shoot entire scenes; testament to the technology, versatility and output quality of these cameras.
US sitcom Wilfred - the 2002 Tropfest Australia winner for Best Comedy - started out as a festival before being adapted for television by SBS and remade for American audiences. The show is now shot for the TV series exclusively on HDSLRs. Director Randall Einhorn felt the Nikon D800's performance in low-light, as well as dynamic range set it apart from any other SLRs previously used by the production team.

Recognising the escalating usage and sophistication of DSLR technology, Tropfest has announced the introduction of a new category for films shot entirely on DSLR: the Nikon DSLR Film Category.

Entrants will get the opportunity to showcase the immense range of capabilities and versatility of video recording on DSLRs. Filmmakers, whether emerging or established, will also get a new, accessible outlet to express their creative vision.

Jason van Genderen, 2008 Tropfest NY winner and past Tropfest Australia finalist, described how DSLRs have become valuable tool for filmmakers.

 "DSLR cameras have come a long way in quality. Today they are inexpensive, easily accessible and are small enough to fit in a backpack," he says, "more importantly, the ease of use and quality of the images you get means filmmaking is now an attainable goal for anyone, no matter your level of experience."

Tropfest Major Partner Nikon have developed a wide range of award-winning DSLR cameras and products used by amateur filmmakers and Hollywood directors alike. The Nikon D800 has won numerous awards including Fairfax Camera of the Year 2012, Camera Magazine Video Camera of the Year 2012, EISA Camera of the Year 2012/13, TIPA Best Expert DSLR and Camera Grand Prix 2012 Camera of the Year.

The Nikon D600, released in September making full frame photography and film making even more accessible, has also been awarded DSLR of the Year 2012 by Camera Magazine, one of Australia's most prestigious imaging product design awards.

Tropfest provides up-and-coming filmmakers a launch pad into the competitive industry. Sixteen finalists will have their work screened to a massive audience including industry insiders on Sunday, 17 February 2013. Held at The Domain in Sydney, the event will be screened live to locations all over Australia.

The winner of the Nikon DSLR Film Category will receive a brand new Nikon D600 and $3000 RRP worth of lenses and accessories. All films entered into this category are also eligible to be selected for the big prize as one of the Official Finalists in the main competition.

The lucky winner of Tropfest 2013 will receive a 2012 Toyota Corolla Levin ZR, $10,000 cash prize courtesy of Kennedy Miller Mitchell, as well as a trip to Los Angeles for a week of meetings with film executives organised by Motion Picture Association and the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. The champion filmmaker will also take home the latest Nikon D800 and $2000 RRP worth of lenses and accessories; tools for future cinematic endeavours.

Finalists will get a taste of stardom as they walk the red carpet in Sydney and have their work judged by seasoned filmmakers, actors and other industry heavyweights. Past judges include Nicole Kidman, Toni Collette, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, Samuel L Jackson and Baz Luhrmann.

International and interstate finalists will be flown to Sydney for the huge live event.


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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Livide - DVD Review

Livide is the 2011 follow up to Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's stalker horror debut À l'intérieur. The story goes the duo walked away from work on a sequel to Halloween for Harvey Weinstein in favour of this dark fairy tale. 

Livide Alexandre Bustillo Julien Maury

The film opens with Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) a caregiver for the elderly, been taken on her first round of visitations by Madame Wilson (Catherine Jacob), who indulges in a fair amount of gallows humour while tending to the house-bound old folks. This offhand insensitivity is coupled with a overly chatty manner of speaking - when she notices Lucie has heterochromia, she launches into a unusual aside about the eye being a gate to the soul, so therefore people with two shades of iris colour must have two souls. Though baffled by the woman, Lucie helps when she can, taking her duty of care seriously. At the end of the afternoon Wilson brings her to a large house out in the moors, inhabited by the bedridden Madame Jessel. The old woman resembles a corpse, lying in bed with what Lucie notices is an unusual blood transfusion device attached. Then Wilson just casually mentions that the Jessel household happens to have treasure hidden somewhere in one of its many rooms. 

Later that evening Lucie meets up with her fisherman boyfriend William (Félix Moati) and his brother Ben (Jérémy Kapone). When they learn of the treasure a spontaneous plan is hatched - break into the Jessel house that very night and hunt down the treasure. After a long walk through the marshy grounds, encountering several unusual portents en route, the trio find an open window into the basement of the gloomy home. With no sign of treasure in any of the main rooms, William finds a locked door. Inside is a lonely figure, seemingly a statue of a girl in a ballerina dress. Remembering mention made by Wilson of a long dead daughter, Lucie realizes this is actually the corpse of Mme Jessel's child Anna. Immediately after this gruesome discovery, things quickly start to go wrong. The house itself comes alive, trapping the three teens inside, who are then separated and hunted by the unusual creatures hidden in its shadows. 

The theme of Livide is that of people being trapped. Lucie is still caught in grief following the suicide of her mother - glimpsed as a ghostly spectre played by Béatrice Dalle; the two brothers are desperate to escape their family's generational poverty trap; and then there is the Jessel household, containing its many tortured denizens. This lends the film a poignancy absent from other horror stories involving stupid teens fooling around in graveyards and abandoned lots - these are desperate souls, looking to escape their fate. 

Another way of looking at the film is what if The Goonies went hunting for One Eye Willie's treasure in the Overlook Hotel.

There are also hints of French folklore - the talk of twinned souls and wil o' the wisps - to add to the atmospheric imagery, as well as a debt of sorts to del Toro's Cronos. This is an intelligent and beautifully shot horror fable, that revels in its strangeness.

Available on DVD from Madman


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Friday, 21 December 2012

Ashcan and Awesome Aussie Manga

Iron Style is an exciting new manga anthology, which Zac Smith-Cameron's Ashcan label are currently running a crowdsourcing campaign to further fund issues of the book. As a taste of what these folks can do, let's have a look at Iron Style #1

 This first issue boasts four stories contained within its 76 pages - Path of the Slayer by w. Kade Morton, a. Rachel Foo; Super Actions Team XD w. Zac Smith-Cameron, a. Emmanuel Hernaez; Die! Die! Die! w. JJ McGhie a. Karina E. Parks; and finally Money & Vile Means w. Kade Morton, a. Daniel Watts.

The styles of art are quite varied, as are the stories themselves, starting with a fantasy thriller, then a video game pastiche, a touring rock band battling giant mutant ants, and closing with space.

As Morton writes the first and last stories featured it is interesting to compare the differences in his approach to both. Path of the Slayer opens with a battle between a young woman and a host of angels. The given year is 'Episcopal Calendar 69427 Year of High Tyr' and the setting strongly reminiscent of the Victorian era. So this is slightly reminiscent of the Vampire Hunter D anime, which also features a regressive future timeline. Oriana Cortez is first shown holding her own fighting the angels, seemingly willing to put the lives of townsfolk at risk with her own magical powers, merely to distract her attackers. The story then jumps backwards twelve years, with Cortez posing as a serving woman in the household of a Lady Ashdown - again the anglophile aspect of Japanese anime is touched on well here - demurely hovering in the background while a visiting 'fiend hunter' Master Jed Brown is entertained. What follows is a meet cute between Brown and Cortez, depicted in the typical fashion that has a neat edge to it, as unbeknownst to the romantic lead he has just bumped into a veritable Mata-Hari.

Path of the Slayer seems to be taking place in a world where angels and demons are quite real, with the 'hunters' looking to defend the humans. That said Brown's master Lord Guede seems quite a sinister figure and Cortez makes an interesting reference to her training in a temple. As an introductory piece Morton's done a fine job of sketching out a new world of adventure and espionage. 

Path of the Slayer by Kade Morton and Rachel Foo

Money & Vile Means despite being by the same writer feels completely different. In part this is due to the distinction between the art stylings of Rachel Foo on Slayer - clean, strongly manga-influenced - and Daniel Watts, who renders the gritty sci-fi setting of the script in a manner reminiscent of B.P.R.D. artist Tyler Crook. Both share a loose yet detailed style. 

The story itself is familiar to fans of Alien and Dog Soldiers. A group of working class grunts fixated on what the job will earn them - resource-stripping an alien world - debate stranding the well-meaning scientist who has accompanied the crew and is more concerned with the possible welfare of any indigenous life. Morton introduces a criss-crossing timescale, cutting back and forth from the scientist blithely unaware she is about to be betrayed, and the present with the grunts being picked off one by one by the rumoured indigenous lifeforms - shapeshifting werewolves. 

Much like Slayer, this is an exercise in teasing the reader, with non-linear plot creating a mystery as to what exactly happened planetside. As a sci-fi horror, Money & Vile Means wears its influences on its sleeves, but is competently told.

Money and Vile Means Kade Morton Daniel Watts

Die! Die! Die! and Super Actions Team XD are both more light-hearted parodies, spring-boards for an assortment of mad ideas. 

Karina E Parks' matriarch of an on-the-road band, The General, looks like a punk-rock Cruella de Vil, introduced summarily kicking a desert marauder off their tour truck shouting - 

We are trying to get to a gig. I do NOT have time for this.
The remaining members - Crab Apple, Ferret and Princess - are also introduced battling the assault, before complaining about having to rehearse. Think Hopeless Savages meets Mad Max and you're halfway there to the appeal of J.J. McGhie's script.  And then there's the giant mutant ants....

Die! Die! Die! J.J. McGhie Karina E Parks

The pick of the bunch though is Super Actions Team XD, Zac Smith-Cameron and Emmanuel Hernaez's tribute to Playstation 3 beat-em-ups. While the other story entries all feature parodic content, SATXD is hyper-dense, riffing neatly on manga and bande dessinée. Robot assassins, ninjas, evil elves and a young hero 'leveling up' - this reads like the most awesome video game ever. And it's a comic! Very funny stuff, with some entertaining banter and visual jokes - this is a clever package. 

If all of that sounds like something you'd like to read and you reckon these folks deserve to earn some dollars for their hard work - check out the Pozible link. Ten days to go folks. Support self-starter Aussie comics. 

Super Actions Team XD Zac Smith-Cameron Emmanuel Hernaez


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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Hickman and Opeña's Avengers "We have to get bigger"

Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opeña is prime real estate for Marvel Comics. As a new title following on from a hit movie that is intended to capitalize on the sudden upsurge of public interest in this showcase book for an assortment of superheroes, it has the greatest chance of capturing this crossover appeal than any previous comics franchise for the past ten years. However, not content with that, Hickman's plot also introduces a host of B-list to Z-list characters from across the Marvel Universe, adding them to his revamped Avengers cast. So what we have is a book intended to create a merger between two audiences - fickle cinema-goers and die-hard Marvel zombies. 

Avengers #1 Hickman Opeña

The first issue opened with a joking 'Previously In Avengers' page that instead of summarizing the history of the book indulges in a parody of creation myths -

There was NOTHING. Followed by EVERYTHING. Swirling, burning specks of creation that circled life-giving suns. And then...we RACED to the LIGHT.

The script then features three panels portraying pivotal events from the immediate past of the plot to follow, which is then succeeded by another page with three panels depicting events that will act as signposts in Hickman's future storylines. In three pages - plus a title card featuring the characters familiar to fans of the movie - Hickman makes a declaration that this run will be a space-age epic of a kind that his predecessor Brian Bendis rarely entered into. 

Avengers Hickman's glimpse of the future

The plot itself, set to conclude in issue #3 of this series, features a trinity of beings that have terraformed Mars into a green and verdant land and are set to re-engineer the human race. Ex Nihilo resembles a golden-skinned Minotaur and speaks in the flowery prose of a 70s cosmic Marvel antagonist. Aleph is a cybernetic organism that remains fixed on the task at hand - the two are introduced bickering over Ex Nihilo's puffed up lyrical mode of speech. His statement at the oncoming approach of the Avengers is also very telling - "Apes. Incoming." Then there is Abyss, who is somewhere between the two.
"Oh, I see things for what they are."
She is the balance between the two extremes of creation and destruction represented by her companions. In an interview with IGN, Hickman made clear the symbolism of his chosen antagonists. 

All of the characters that make up the Garden are like avatars for creation in various mythologies. That’s why one is Aleph, one is Abyss, one is Ex Nihilo… it’s what everything was made out of. That’s kind of what that all is.

These three represent the kind of threat that even a team as powerful as the Avengers are inadequate to face. In short order they dispatch the team of Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor and Hawkeye, beating them senseless and catapulting the wounded super soldier back in to Earth's orbit as a warning that they are coming. As it happens Tony Stark has prepared for just such an eventuality and planned with Cap a new recruitment drive for the team, expanding their ranks to include lesser-known but skilled superhumans and mutants. So these three issues are set-up, showing how the newbies and the old guard work together to defeat this latest threat as a lead in to Hickman's planned epic. 

Avengers Tony's recruitment drive

There is a lot at play here that feels very familiar though. Beyond the parodic speech patterns of Ex Nihilo - even his name is pure Roy Thomas or Steve Englehart - the storyline itself is strongly reminiscent of Giant-Size X-Men #1. There too the original team is defeated by a unguessed at threat, as it happens also with vegetation-based abilities, with leader Cyclops sent back to America wounded, returning later with a motley band of heroes, some previously seen in the book and others original creations. It was amusing to see on the final page of Avengers #1 that Wolverine is once again a member of the rescue party. The nods to the movie are also sparing and subtle, but present nonetheless. Black Widow and Hawkeye indulge in a little Whedon-esque banter with Ex Nihilo, and Bruce - depicted in shadow throughout for some reason - is very much in control of the Hulk, unleashing him when needed.

While the pathos of recruiting the new team is squeezed for all its worth - and needless to say Opeña's work is excellent as always - the storyline is only just a level above the navel-gazing of Brad Meltzer's interminable Justice League of America opening arc. What pips the post is Hickman's sense of scale, which as we learned from Red Wing and The Manhattan Projects, when left unchecked can deliver wonders. My worry is that Marvel is too dominated by editorial fiat to allow him to really cut loose on a key title like Avengers. His future arcs promise to be exciting and concept driven. It is also welcome to see such an ethnically diverse cast that puts these characters to some use as opposed to standing around in group shots.

Put me down as cautiously optimistic for now, but I would really hope to see more and soon.

Avengers cast of characters Jonathan Hickman graphic design


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Apathy for the Devil by Nick Kent

It was in January of 1972 that my future destiny as the Zeitgeist-surfing dark prince of seventies rock journalism actually started to experience lift-off.

I must confess while I had heard of Kent - I remember reading reviews of this book at the time of publication with journalists fondly reminiscing about their memories of growing up reading his scabrous prose - it was only after watching John Edginton's excellent documentary on Pink Floyd The Story of Wish You Were Here in which he appears that I actually got around to reading him myself.

Apathy for the Devil at times feel like a work designed to live up to a legend. Except that story is itself peripheral to half a dozen other rock band sagas - The Rolling Stones' narcotic endurance run, pushing on through one tragedy after another to become the canniest operators in music today; Led Zeppelin's mammoth assault on America and the approaching doom of John Bonham; and then there's the Sex Pistols. Where do you start with that lot?

As it happens Kent claims the inside skinny on that one - he was an early member of the Pistols. An aspiring musician himself, Malcolm McLaren had him attend rehearsals with the band pre-Johnny Rotten, before being summarily ejected. But as Kent notes -

"It wasn't just the age discrepancy: I was a middle-class druggie fop and they were working-class spivs who'd steal the gold out of their mothers' teeth."

From this book's beginning until the end, we are reminded constantly that Kent's life took a turn when he became a heroin addict. This is biography of course and his story to tell - but the ceaseless foreshadowing proves irritating. Perhaps this sounds heartless, but there is nothing here really that gives insight into the psychology of addiction. As a confessional memoir, it fits the mold of so many other tales of doing bad things to get high. When Sid and Nancy come to crash in his pad, it's no kiss and tell anecdote about their druggie depravity, because by this point Kent himself was a contemporary of theirs in self-negation. Aside from this though we have the author's reputation as the firebrand muso of the NME, an icon of its 70's heyday.

Well sadly there's little of that spirit on show here. Yes his Zelig-like ability to get to know and become friends with rock gods delivers the occasional meaty anecdote. Iggy Pop in particular comes across as a fascinating figure, wounded, raw and brilliant all at once. There's also a great story about schoolboy Kent swinging a deal with a friend whose dad is a concert promoter to meet The Stones - much to the anger of the mob of sexually excited teenage girls eager to be in his place. One even threatens him with a stiletto-like footwear. There's his hard-won wisdom "Don't ever find yourself in a drug stand-off with [Keith Richards]" and the brain-melting revelation that the four members of the proto-Sex Pistols, including Jones, Cook and Matlock played 'Why Do You Build Me Up Buttercup' by the Foundations during their first rehearsal.

Just trying to picture Steve Jones hitting those notes breaks my mind.

But the reputed sharpness of Kent's prose seems to be absent. Sentences run on and chapters end on annoyingly portentous notes that resemble Behind The Music segues. Aiming to be self-aware, he is instead self-conscious and needlessly confessional. There are some surprises - McLaren comes across as a real villain and there's no reason to doubt Kent's claims of organised thuggery instigated by the dilettante pseud. Then there's an unfortunate run-in with the peace and love promoting Bob Marley, who takes the maquillaged young English-man for a homosexual and therefore fit to be excluded brutally from Zion. Nevertheless Kent is no Kenneth Anger, who told tales but also exercised great wit in Hollywood Babylon (the would-be Crowleyan actually appears in Apathy for the Devil portrayed as a deluded old fop). He is certainly not an equal of his idol Lester Bangs. When the legendary American rock journo is introduced as the chap played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous, it feels like a little defeat.

No, Apathy for the Devil instead reads like a somewhat more literate and slightly more tasteful rival to Lonn Friend's starchy Life on Planet Rock: From Guns N' Roses to Nirvana, a Backstage Journey through Rock's Most Debauched Decade. More's the pity, because in passages there's a hint of passion and energy - it just reads like it's muffled beneath a fog of drug-addled memories.

Apathy for the Devil Nick Kent


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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Good Grief! Charlie Brown goes NSFW

Christmas and Charlie Brown go together like turkey and bread sauce (it's an Irish thing....look it up). A staple of holiday scheduling for what feels like an eternity - the special started airing in 1965 - its appeal rests on a combination of nostalgia and the fact that there's always a new horde of toddlers waiting in front of the television screen.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Of course something this wholesome and sweet is just a big, fat red tomato of a target for some folks. Enter Animation Domination High Def, in their own words - ADHD is a block of animation airing Saturday nights on FOX starting next year and all over the internet right now. This shit is updated weekly.

They really wanted that acronym.

So these cheeky scamps have envisioned a middle-aged Charlie Brown returning home to meet his old friends, parodying the intro and 'outrageous humour' of Louis CK's show Louie. Have a gander - and yes, this is NSFW.

Of course the main problem with the short is that it simply tries too hard. Having Charlie's friends be revealed to be mentally ill, suicidal or just generally down on their luck feels surprisingly unsubversive. After all, Schulz invented a childhood icon whose maudlin manner and despair hinted at the creator's own issues with depression. If anything this short illustrates a future for the gang that's crushingly inevitable. There's no need to drag Louie into the mix - other than cross-promotion for another Fox television product. 

Though it was funny to see a joke be stolen from Family Guy for a change and the 'wah wah wah' bit was fun.

Now if you want something truly subversive, there's always the infamous 'Christmas party' video circulated among fans of British children's television show Rainbow. That's proper filthy.


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Friday, 14 December 2012

Beardy And The Geek: Signing Off For 2012

So here we are - the final Beardy And The Geek chat for 2012. In this episode we review issue 4 of Winter City and Torn; give some last minute Christmas shopping recommendations for the geek in your life; and in between all that, we have a special announcement or two to make.

Finally Ryan and I would like to extend our thanks to everyone who supported the show throughout the year, all our wonderful guests and y'know.....folks who smiled at us in the street while passing.

Gosh, everyone is so nice.

Beardy And The Geek 2012 Finale

As always, let us know your thoughts on the show either here or on iTunes, or follow Emmet and Ryan on Twitter and drop us a line - @emmetoc_ and @GeekOfOz.


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It's An Aussie Comics Christmas - Milk Shadow Books

Callooh Callay! Milk Shadow Books are offering a very generous 15% off their range of titles this holiday season, available now until the 19 December, so the clock be a ticking. With a stable of creators such as Bruce Mutard, Scarlette Baccini and the never-safe-to-drink-milk-while-reading Ben Hutchings, there is a lot on offer for fans of smart, humourous comic work. 

Milk Shadow Books
To give a taste of what is available, two recent fine examples include All You Bastards Can Go Jump Off A Bridge by J. Marc Schmidt and The Trials of Francis Bear by Gregory Mackay.

Coming off the back of The Sixsmiths, which the Geek of Oz and myself are big fans of, All You Bastards is largely a collection of strips that swing from comedy to pathos, the everyday to the absurd, sprung from the observant imagination of Schmidt. If a broad theme was to be attached to this collection of rapid-fire stories, it would be that of the battle between the sexes. As well as Mortal Kombat and Streetfighter - I think that was a metaphor. 

All You Bastards Can Go Jump Off A Bridge J. Marc Schmidt Milk Shadow Books
One recurring storyline involves a young woman propositioning a series of partners with the unlikely come on I am an atheist. What begins as a somewhat on-the-nose satire of religion and sexual hypocrisy continues to develop with each new 'encounter' until finally ending on a surprisingly poignant note. While Schmidt is not afraid to feature naked ruddy cherubs throughout the book, emotion is never far from sex in these stories. This is not Crumb-lite erotica on display, but heartfelt and occasionally raw in its observational detail.

Examples of this include the story about a minor sitcom actress from a well-known show who turned to porn. Schmidt investigates her career, reproduces IMDB forum gossip on her - a sweating panopticon of prurient voices - then ends on a touching note of concern. Another strip has two guys indulging in a bit of braggadocio, trading on sexual exploits, until the former back-packer's freelove reminiscences of wild times in Canada during the 90s turn to unexpected tragedy. 

My pick of the collection though, just for sheer oddness, is two dots on a page engaged in an existential dialogue as to what they are and what their panel is supposed to represent. It is a short and sweet piece, but very clever and witty. All You Bastards... shows how far Schmidt is willing to push the boat out to develop his craft - that cover is probably very significant. Throw in a 'prognostication pterodactyl' (just...just read the book to find out) and you have quite the entertaining tome on your hands.

All You Bastards Can Go Jump Off A Bridge J. Marc Schmidt Milk Shadow Books

Gregory Mackay's book on the other hand feels like a relay race of absurdism, with every page raising the bar as to how crazy the adventures of this foul-mouthed little bear can become. We first meet Francis enduring a bout of sea-sickness on board a ship, as he is incredibly unsuited for the job of crewman. By the story's conclusion he will have changed jobs several times, each one somehow outside his menial skill-set. 

Except Francis is a very special bear. Capable of McGyvering complicated machines, with several diagrams suddenly appearing throughout the book mid-assembly, but also possessing quite the foul mouth for such a cute little fellow, Mackay has fashioned something that lies between Paddington Bear, Phineas and Ferb, with a smidge of Southpark.

The Trials of Francis Bear by Gregory Mackay Milk Shadow Books
Of course then the story takes a turn, with scenes featuring an internment camp right out of the pages of  Solzhenitsyn, proving that once the reader thinks they have a handle on Mackay's febrile imagination, it can take an entirely different path.

In between The Trials of Francis Bear serves up a beach sculpture competition, the most terrifying creature in the sea - Man, a horde of 'ink junkies', and we learn the lengths a bear will go to to have some baked beans. Hilarious stuff, but with an unsettling edge that is really impressive, this is a fine book - and was one of my end of year picks for the final Beardy and the Geek podcast of 2012. 

The Trials of Francis Bear Gregory Mackay Milk Shadow Books

So there you have it. Two great titles to get your teeth into and both available at a discounted price from Milk Shadow books until December 19. For more information visit the publisher website and Facebook page

Happy purchasing!


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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Bourne Bounces Back

It is easy to forget, following the months of anticipation for Sam Mendes' new Bond film - including such promotional stunts as Daniel Craig and 'the Queen' jumping out of a plane for the London Olympics - just how much of a threat the Bourne franchise posed to 007. Doug Liman's first picture with Matt Damon in the lead - the second adaptation of the Ludlum book, following a television version in the 80s - was fast, kinetic and thrilling. Meanwhile Bond was stuck in a camp morass of invisible cars and increasingly terrible puns. 

The Bourne Legacy DVD Blu-Ray

When Jeremy Renner was announced as the new protagonist for the Bourne series - Aaron Cross, yet another member of the same top secret project that produced Damon's amnesiac super-assassin - there were murmurs that The Bourne Legacy would not survive without the original actor.

This was short-sighted of course. Renner has become the go-to man for franchises - with his superhero Hawkeye set to appear in a number of future Marvel Studios pictures and having also been swept up in Tom Cruise's vanity project the Mission Impossible series - a trusted pair of hands who can deliver the goods when needed. What's more the passing of Bourne torch has ensured the franchise has some staying power - which is good, because the Bond films need to be kept on their toes knowing there's another younger, dynamic set of films waiting to jump out in front again. 

Remember Craig suddenly essaying parkour moves in Casino Royale?  In fact that film even had a moment of nodding to the camera, with Bond's line - Well, I understand double-ohs have a very short life expectancy. It's not quite George Lazenby saying "This never happened to the other fellow" in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but it was a close thing. 

In the original cut of the film, he goes on to say "Also Connery had a bigger trailer than mine!"

Bourne thankfully is not likely to ever resort to kitsch humour. Despite the change in lead, the tone of the earlier films is retained in this latest chapter, which cleverly takes place on a parallel. Legacy boasts a fine cast including Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Scott Glenn, as well as series screenwriter Tony Gilroy as director.

The Bourne Legacy is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from December 13, with features including deleted scenes, commentary from Gilroy and a feature introducing new character Aaron Cross.


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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Digging Up Grievances - Moore, Morrison, Supergods

When Millar and Jones concluded Wanted with a full-page close-up of the leering, triumphant Wesley Gibson screaming "This is me fucking you in the ass!", his was the grotesque, swollen face of an outsider culture given the keys to the kingdom and revenge access to all our asses, as endorsed by the same old brute hierarchies. This was a face that any self-respecting boot might wish to stamp down upon eternally, but it was too late. Wesley was instead what we would bow down to. Wanted was a searing hymn to the death of integrity and morality, and Wesley's the victorious face of the New God.

Above is the most interesting passage in Grant Morrison’s memoir-cum-American comics history Supergods. It describes the conclusion to Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ Wanted, that would later be adapted into a commercially successful – and moderately entertaining – action film starring Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Needless to say the film does not end on the same note – it was designed to appeal to a wider audience than the comic. Morrison suggests here that Millar, his one-time protégé who now has two film adaptations to his name and a series of hit books, is like Nietzsche a prophet of nihilism – except the ‘last man’ being described is the self-important fanboy.
It is a rare admission of negativity from Morrison regarding nerd culture – this is the man who said in 2001 ‘the geek will inherit the earth’, presumably not in the ghoulish manner he suggests here. In keeping with his utopian theme he describes in Supergods how our present-day existence utilizing mobile phones and interfacing with one another via the internet is a sign we are becoming superhuman. The superhero is the sole remaining ideal left to us. So to him, writing about superheroes in comics is an invocation of sorts. Early in Supergods he mentions “It's not that I needed Superman to be "real," I just needed him to be more real than the idea of the Bomb that ravaged my dreams.” The superhuman was the hoped for deliverance from Cold War destruction and now the only aspirational model left for the desensitized cybernetic multitude.

Or they’re just comics mate. Lighten up. 

Supergods Grant Morrison Frank Quitely

Morrison’s description of Wanted as a warning of the nadir fanboy culture is approaching is a rare mention of Millar that hints at the falling out between the two creators. Significantly he instead stresses how much professional assistance his fellow Glaswegian received from him. This is perhaps a more subtle form of attack, belittling whatever success Millar has since achieved after their coquettish all-night-long phone sessions. Instead Morrison reserves his invective for Alan Moore, specifically his comic Watchmen, which is described as a “Pop Art extinction-level event, a dinosaur killer and wrecker of worlds.” Through Morrison’s eyes his comics work has taken place on a battle-field, between the cancerous legacy of Moore’s ‘bleak moral universe’ and the hopeful superhero narrative, as stewarded by DC and Marvel.

Seriously, mate, they’re – JUST – COMICS.

Recently in a rather convoluted series of events, the ever resourceful Pádraig Ó Méalóid wrote a series of articles for The Beat, debating accusations of plagiarism leveled against Moore by Morrison among other matters. This in turn inspired a rebuttal from Morrison – an exhaustive trawl through the original article with interjections written in red font – pointing out every perceived error in Ó Méalóid’s reporting, as well as Moore’s version of events. This sequel was introduced by Laura Sneddon, one of the best comics journalists currently out there, with the following –

 “While Moore has previously spoken out about his thoughts on Morrison in various interviews, Morrison has generally kept quiet on the issue. There have been occasional barbs of course, and plenty of praise, but very little on the actual facts of the matter.”

This is problematic, as Watchmen haunts the pages of Supergods, a nagging presence lurking behind every page. There is even a seemingly off-hand declaration that Moore and the sociopath Rorschach are very similar in temperaments, that tails off shortly after it is made. 

It is a very frustrating read, as the notion of the book somehow ruining comics is such a tired refrain , one that ignores the extensive homages to comic art and comic creators within Watchmen's end of chapter 'appendices'. It is a slog to read through screed after screed about a story written almost thirty years ago now. Watchmen was not the first book to depict superheroes in a negative light and has certainly not been the last, but two points – it has been one of the most profitable, and this is the real issue – a work like Watchmen that has earned DC so much money becomes an essential property for continuing development, hence the mediocre Before Watchmen event; and it is baffling how a book that has inspired so many poor imitations is somehow directly responsible? Surely the imitators should be the persons lined up and named and shamed for their shoddy replication? If Moore really is the haggard grump raging about comic creators rifling his rubbish depicted both here and in Morrison’s Beat comments – the man is only seven years the elder of the media savvy ‘Mad Scotsman’ -  well then given the ‘malign’ influence of the work, hasn’t he got a point?

Not that Supergods lacks for villains. There’s that hoary old figure of Dr Wertham, here trotted out as follows - "[T]he hollow specter (sic) of Dr. Wertham can take it from me that the young readers of Batman saw only a wish-dream of freedom and high adventure. It is Wertham whose name belongs in the annals of perversity, not Batman's.” – of course it is easier when the target of your venom is long dead. Then there’s Adam West, who did Morrison the indignity of grunting in reply to his fanboyish display at a Virgin Megastore signing in 1990. In part this is due to the writer’s hyperbolic style of biography, perhaps more suited to press interviews, where the occasional soundbite is appropriate. It is hard to tell whether he is being serious at times – such as describing the sartorial echo of the circus strongman costume in Superman’s look as a mystery. Or the forced comparison between the purple prose of Roy Thomas and John Lennon’s Lewis Carroll-esque verse. "I sent my avatar onto the page surface to meet the Animal Man" – he declares, failing to mention the debt the comic owes to Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. However he is quick to declare Warren Ellis’ The Authority as being a fusion of his work on The Invisibles and JLA, and there’s the repeated mentions of Millar’s tutelage under him.

Suprisingly Supergods has very little that feels novel within it. Much of the book will be familiar to anyone who has read interviews with Morrison or his introductions to his own works. As a comic history it is sadly as flatly informative as a Wikipedia article – again, there is little new insight present. At one point Morrison delivers a beautiful description of his much admired hero Jack Kirby’s artistic style – “snarling gigantism” – which is perfect. But as a prose writer, Morrison – the one-time enfant terrible of the 90’s turned prophet of superhumans – is oddly rigid.

My greatest fear is that what folks will find most interesting about Morrison is this tiresome ‘feud’ with Moore. Certainly Supergods plays to the gallery by providing plenty of ammunition. It is utterly uninteresting who insulted who, or who came first. Oddly enough my favourite works by both writers could not be more different and have nothing to do with the superhero genre that made them famous – From Hell and The Filth. Perhaps in later years we will have a more insightful book from Morrison on his non-superhero work.


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Monday, 10 December 2012

The Killing – The Perfect Christmas Boxset

Christmas is a time for being with loved ones, good food and as we all know – ploughing through as many DVDs as humanly possible. Tis the season of the couch potato.

To my mind there is no better show to while away the hours, gripped by the addictive twists and turns of a particularly dizzying plot – than The Killing, aka Forbrydelsen

The Killing DVD Madman SBS

This Copenhagen-set crime drama has been viewed all around the world and even inspired fans to track down protagonist Sarah Lund’s brand of jumper. The recent American remake failed to recapture the appeal of the original, but Danish broadcasters DR1 have been riding the crest of this newfound love of ‘nordic noir’ ever since, also boasting quality shows like Borgen and Unit One.

The Killing’s first season is a marvel, powerfully emotive, with touches of lugubrious comedy and an excellent cast. Sofie Gråbøl’s intense portrayal as Lund is the centre-piece, introduced to the viewer as a woman who seemingly has it all – a loving partner, an affectionate son and the prospect of a transfer to a more sedate rural detective posting in countryside Sweden. Gråbøl plays her character’s reluctance to endanger all this by becoming involved in ‘one last case’ – the murder of teenager Nanna Birk Larsen – which is eventually replaced with an all-consuming obsession , to pitch perfection. Her would-be successor Meyer (Søren Malling – somehow manages to be eating in almost every scene like Brad Pitt in the Oceans series) is increasingly aggrieved by her continued presence at the station, undermining his authority. As the series progresses a touching bond grows between them despite their repeated butting of heads – just watch out for when Lund begins smoking. When the case begins to touch on the mayoral campaign for the city, charismatic politician Troels Hartmann (Lars Mikkelsen) finds himself caught in its web, placing his political future at risk as he has a few skeletons in the closet. Mikkelsen and Gråbøl work well together on screen, but a particular scene of note is when Hartmann visits a school and the actor manages not to break character when a child skids and falls on the floor. It is a surprisingly sweet moment. 

However, the real emotional kernel of the show is the relationship between the parents of Nanna – played by Ann Eleonora Jørgensen  and Bjarne Henriksen. The scene when they learn of their daughter’s fate is devastating and to the show’s credit, their grief remains at the centre of the season and the musical leitmotif that accompanies it never fails to raise a tear. In a multitude of cop shows about detectives fighting the system, The Killing takes the time for us to get to know the victim’s loved ones and how the tragedy has affected everyone surrounding them. When Nanna’s bedroom is occupied by the police, the mementos of her life take on the aspect of a haunting – the crime is an ever-present intrusion in the lives of her family, every tagged item a bar on their overcoming their sorrow.

What also distinguishes the show is the endless series of red herrings and foreshadowing, which thankfully never becomes tiresome. Suspects are presented to the viewer, who becomes convinced as much as Lund does, that they are the culprit, only for the truth to remain doggedly out of reach. Suspicious glances, a tell-tale plaster, or mistaken guilt, repeatedly germinate new theories and even more elaborate conspiracies as to why Nanna was killed. The addictive writing and excellent performances from a talented cast ensure that the real identity of the murderer is left unclear until the very last episodes of the season. Even then, confirmed fans might feel a little gunshy, as doubt is a constant companion in this show.

There has not been a murder mystery this compelling since Lynch’s Twin Peaks. While there are comparisons to be made between the shows – Nanna wrote a seemingly tell-all short story that hints at the truth much like Laura Palmer’s diary did – thankfully no spirits or fantasy is at play here. This is coolly humane and emotionally fraught storytelling. 

Seasons one and two of The Killing are available for purchase on Dvd. Do yourselves a favour and dive in if you haven’t already.


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Jonathan Carroll speaks about The Woman Who Married a Cloud

Jonathan Carroll's writing has this quality that feels both personal and intimate - but also dizzy with a substratum of abstract fantastical notions. Fantasy and reality, life and death, meet at some unusual rubicon and then merge. There is a playfulness to his fiction - see the The Land of Laughs which anticipated John Carpenter's far more dour In The Mouth of Madness by a good fourteen years and is certainly a lot more fun.

Jonathan Carroll author The Land of Laughs The Woman Who Married A Cloud

The dreamlike plots of his books would appeal to fans of Charles de Lint's brand of whimsical urban fantasy, or John Crowley's Little, Big.

As it happens Carroll has out in stores a new collection of short fiction titled The Woman Who Married A Cloud. Below is a short promotional piece featuring the man himself in his home of Vienna discussing how genre relates to his work. Give it a look and if you have not had the pleasure of reading Carroll's writing, check him out.

The Woman Who Married A Cloud Jonathan Carroll


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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Beardy And The Geek: The Strange Worlds of Greg Gates

Folks it was a pleasure to interview Greg Gates, one of the nicest blokes in Aussie comics, for this podcast. As it happens meeting Greg was in effect the pebble in the pond that started the ripples that led to 'Beardy And The Geek'. Listen in to learn why.

Greg Gates art Tattoo Man Dave Hodson

Ryan and I talk to Greg about his time in comics, the highs and lows of the national scene, his involvement in Minotaur in Melbourne, as well as his mentoring of younger artists over the years - not forgetting his upcoming work with Jason Franks on the new volume of Sixsmiths!

Greg Gates The Sixsmiths Jason Franks

We also officially declare the 'Tim McEwen Drinking Game' with this episode, because the man has been mentioned in almost a dozen episodes so far.

As always, let us know your thoughts on the show either here or on iTunes, or follow Emmet and Ryan on Twitter and drop us a line - @emmetoc_ and @GeekOfOz.


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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope - DVD Review

You know what, just because you are a certain age that doesn't mean you have to stop loving the things you loved as a child. That love can evolve. - Eli Roth

Morgan Spurlock's documentary on Comic-Con and the fan cultures that proliferate within it, was made under the aegis of geek icons Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Legendary Comics founder Thomas Tull. As a result, Spurlock's cameras are treated to an insider view of the Con, as opposed to the typical baffled reportage that typifies media stories on this event. The all-access approach provides some interesting tidbits on the nature of Comic-Con and its evolution into a multimedia platform occasion.

Comic-Con IV - A Fan's Hope poster

© 2011 Connepher Productions, LLC
Spurlock also introduces a set of attendees, and in a nod to the naming conventions of comics introduces each with a title such as 'The Collector', 'The Survivor' or 'The Designer'. Amusingly the seven 'characters' are transformed into heroes on the film's poster. They range from individuals struggling to make a living from the changing market of the Con, to aspiring artists looking to break into the comic industry, as well as enamored fans.

Eric Henson is serving with the US airforce but is desperate to realize his dream of drawing comics. His dumbfounded bafflement at the sheer numbers of people gathered is sweet and makes his story very endearing. Skip Harvey is also an artist, coming to the Con with his portfolio in tow. He is identified as 'The Geek' and it quickly becomes clear why, as his passion seems founded purely on the idea of being in comics - he encounters unexpected responses to his presented work from professional reviewers as a result. Holly Conrad is introduced to exemplify the cosplay scene at the event, tracking the development of her fantastically detailed Mass Effect tableau designed for The Masquerade - one of the main highlights of the weekend. As Douglas Wolk noted in his essay Comic-Con Strikes Again
 That's the impulse behind fan-fiction, and fan-art: the urge to hotwire the beautiful machine of the franchise and take it out for a spin.

Comic-Con IV - A Fan's Hope cosplay
© 2011 Connepher Productions, LLC

The Masquerade is a key fan-run activity, which runs on pure enthusiasm for many varieties of fandom. However, Comic-Con has slowly but surely become occupied by other elements, such as the media behemoth known as Hollywood. While this has ensured an increasing rise in paying attendees eager to see the latest trailers and blockbuster cast panels, for the old guard of the convention circuit - the vendors who have plied their trade selling to superhero fans and obsessives - their niche is quickly being excluded. Self-proclaimed 'survivor' Chuck Rozanski represents that perspective. Raging failing profits and LucasFilm occupying the convention loading bay, he strikes as an almost Don Quixote-esque figure. Unfortunately the windmills encroaching on his territory simply have more money, more means and a product that more people want. Anthony Calderon knows what he wants - he's not interested in the culture, or the death of 'true' fandom versus marketing saturated fan expos - he just wants an 18" Galactus statue. Watching him sprint on to the floor to acquire his desired item and then declare that he's 'done' with the entire event - after days of waiting just to get in! - is pretty telling. Final we have a young couple on a course for true love or major embarassment, as the would-be future husband plans to propose to his lady a Kevin Smith panel. That particular story arc reeked of fremdschämen, particularly given the involvement of the Clerks director - known to not be adverse to embarrassing folks from the stage. 

Comic-Con IV - A Fan's Hope cosplay
© 2011 Connepher Productions, LLC

In addition to these interviewees followed by Spurlock, we also have a host of vox pop pieces, including discussions of relationships - one quote in particular states the Con is the "perfect breeding ground for nerd love" - as well as testimonies to the sheer range of fandoms represented. 

The real highlight of this DVD release though is the generous selection of extended interviews with Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, Todd McFarlane, Felicia Day and others. As these largely did not make it into the film, some of these segments have music added - particularly off-putting during the Morrison piece - while others just have the speaking track, such as Kenneth Brannagh waxing lyrical as only he can, comparing the preciousness of comic fans to Shakespeare luvvies. It speaks to the director's tactical approach to this subject that he has assembled such an interesting variety of subjects. The greatest surprise is Joe Quesada's charisma while describing how he got his big break in comics through Jim 'Priest' Owsley. Then there's Todd McFarlane's amusing Freudian slip when he confuses Marvel with Image Comics. 

Overall this is a very worthwhile documentary DVD for anyone interested in fandom, comics or the recent trend in comic book films. When our amateur fans actually arrive at the Con and give it their best shot to attract some attention, it does feel quite compelling - if somewhat uncritical. Also Holly's dedication to her ME cosplay of FemShep is so pronounced, she actually imitates the static movement of the animations from the game. That's commitment. An intriguing and accessible documentary on niche fan cultures and the business surrounding them.

Comic-Con IV - A Fan's Hope Thomas Tull Joss Whedon Morgan Spurlock Stan Lee Harry Knowles

© 2011 Connepher Productions, LLC 


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