Sin City (2005)

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Original Theatrical Release Date: April 1, 2005
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Basin City, AKA “Sin” City, is a vile place of corruption, sex, and murder. Marv (Mickey Rourke), Dwight (Clive Owen) and Hartigan (Bruce Willis) are just three hard-boiled characters with intersecting paths who are rays of light standing against the dark. Part comic book, part noir and all thrill – this adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is very faithful to the source material.

Since the sequel to this film just came out, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, I felt like I needed to bone up on this film franchise once more before seeing the new one.

The narrative layout of the film is interesting. Vignettes showing each “main” character and their interactions with the film’s secondary characters including villains and allies, makes the world of Sin City seem large and real. Most of the shots in the film are lifted right from Frank Miller’s pages of artwork and the casting was all done very wonderfully, particularly with Mickey Rourke as Marv. (Seriously, look at the guy). You also get to see Brittany Murphy in one of her last good roles before she died….and the same with Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute.

The special effects are all very stylized, very slick, but a couple of times they look wonky. Most of that was due to the artwork not translating well to film, because of how stylized Frank Miller’s artwork is. The black and white look of the film kept everything very visually appealing. The dialogue was great noir fare, if you’re into noir – but if you’re not into noir at all it may seem hokey and even terrible in spots.

If Robert Rodriguez and/or Quentin Tarantino were to direct a comic book film, Sin City was the perfect choice for them and you can tell that they had fun directing it, which means if you’re like me – you’ll have fun watching it.

If you’re looking for strong women characters, then this typical noir setting probably isn’t for you. The women of Old Town run their prostitution rings with cold efficiency, keeping the mob and corrupt police officers on the level, but that’s about it. Most of the other women in the film gasp and toss their hands against their foreheads while the men do the real work.

The one drawback to the film is that the three main characters – Marv, Dwight and Hartigan – are all fairly similar, making the story arcs seem pretty repetitive. Clive Owen was underwhelming as Dwight. Mickey Rourke nailed Marv (as I said before) and Bruce Willis was great as Hartigan. Rosario Dawson was kinetic as Gail, and Jessica Alba was decent as Nancy Callahan. Also, Elijah Wood was surprisingly creepy in his role as Kevin and Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy. They weren’t in the film for very long but they definitely added very interesting bits to the story.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Movie Trailer For Sin City

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Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: August 01, 2014
Director: James Gunn

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw and treasure hunter who calls himself Star-Lord. When he nabs a mysterious artifact in the form of a powerful orb, he discovers that it is being sought after by a powerful individual known as Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who will stop at nothing to get it. The orb, as well as Peter’s outlaw status, puts him in contact with other misfits like Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) – all of whom must band together to survive Ronan’s crusade.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always a fringe title. It never really registered with me. I was pretty familiar with most of the characters, especially Rocket, Gamora, and Groot – but Spider-Man was usually the title I gravitated toward with mainstream comics. Maybe some Avengers or X-Men stuff. But not Guardians of the Galaxy. And if they are lesser-known to me and I’ve been reading comics since I was a wee lad, I can only imagine the reactions of some folks to these characters who are new to comics or who have no idea about the franchise. A musclebound killer? A green-skinned femme fatale? A walking tree in desperate need of a dictionary? An angry, anthropomorphic raccoon who fires guns? A sarcastic, egotistical human male flying around space like he’s a badass? Who knew it’d be so good and work so well as a film?

The key to the whole film’s success is the fact that the above characters sure ARE cool – but also the film’s resonance with our pop culture psyches via Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix-Tape that he plays on his Sony Walkman. (He was abducted by aliens in the late 1980’s – long story, and I don’t want to give anything away – so go see the film and see for yourself). The soundtrack had people swaying and bopping their heads in their seats during the showing I went to. It also makes Peter Quill accessibly human. Music is an access point that knows no language boundaries to be enjoyed.

Aside from the interesting characters and the amazing soundtrack, the casting was well done. The only complaints that I really had about the film were actually the villains. The heroes were well-established and had screen time together so that we really felt like they bonded, but Ronan’s motivation was flat and predictable. Ditto with Nebula (Karen Gillan). I would have liked to see more established backstory and/or screen time for those characters. As it is, they are very generic “we want ALL the power” villains. That is a really small gripe, though, because the main focus was really supposed to be on the Guardians themselves –  and Gunn (as well as the cast) not only excelled at that but as of right now, this is my favorite Marvel film to date.

Go see it, and make sure to stay for the end credits for a surprise cameo!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Guardians Of The Galaxy

Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art (1996)

Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art (1996)

Author Roger Sabin weaves together a tight narrative of the entire history of the comic book medium, moving from its beginnings in the Middle Ages (yes, that’s right, way back in medieval times) and how it has evolved into the art form and pop culture powerhouse we know and love today. Explore how the comic book moved from being newspaper fodder to hard-hitting social commentary and how it fell from grace before rising like a phoenix once the comic book witch hunt ended after the 1950’s. With plenty of great full-cover photo references to go along with the narrative, Sabin creates a helpful tome of comic book knowledge that will give you a one-up on all of your nerdy comic book friends who THINK they’ve heard everything there is to hear about comic books. I picked this book up at the library because I was writing a research paper and was pleased with just how much information was packed into its pages. It provided a good chunk of my research content and on top of that, I learned a ton of new stuff.

I have seen some folks posting about this, saying it was biased or what have you, but I didn’t really get any of those vibes from anything within. It was a great trip down memory lane, too, seeing all the old comic book covers and comic book pages displayed throughout the entirety of the book.

Give this a shot if you can find it. I think it’s on Amazon.com. It would make a killer addition to the coffee table collection, or in an office somewhere.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens #1 (September 2013)

Rat Queens is a monthly comic book published by Image Comics, with writing by Kurtis J. Wiebe (PANZERFAUST) and art by Roc Upchurch.

Hannah (the “rockabilly” Elven Mage), Dee (the “atheist” Human Cleric), Violet (the “hipster” Dwarven Fighter) and Betty (the “hippie” Halfling Thief) – AKA The Rat Queens – have earned the ire of the Town Council of Palisade. As a result, they are assigned to clear out a “nest” of goblins as punishment. When they are attacked by an ultra-skilled assassin during their goblin cleansing, however, they find themselves embroiled in an adventure both more exciting and more life-endangering than before.

I love fantasy books so when I saw this at my local comic book store, I had to at least pick up a couple of issues. I was not disappointed.

If you’re expecting something Tolkien in scope and feel – don’t tread here. Rat Queens is a more League of Legends/World of Warcraft take on medieval fantasy…where fantasy tropes meet real-world sensibilities. However, that’s not to say that the book is all flash and no content. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing had me laughing out loud in spots, especially when the assignments were being given to various other themed adventuring groups like the Rat Queens (A sort of emo-styled group of Elves had to go clean toilets).

The art was great, but the real draw of the book for some people will no doubt be the character designs, which are diverse and varied and represent many body types and skin colors – a change from some comic books where you notice the cookie-cutter, ultra-athletic bodies you can only tell apart by the costumes. Roc Upchurch definitely has my respect and attention here because of this.

People looking for a good laugh will get a kick out of the style of humor, while action and fantasy lovers will still get their fair share of fantasy battles and magic. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and I will definitely be following it to see where it goes. It’s off to a promising start, for sure.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Shanna, The She-Devil (2006)

Shanna, The She-Devil (2006)

Shanna, The She-Devil collects issues #1-7 of the series of the same name by Marvel Comics, with art and writing by Frank Cho and colors by Jason Keith and Dave Stewart.

Shanna is a Nazi science experiment in the form of an Amazonian jungle girl with a killer body and killer instinct, living on an island teeming with prehistoric horrors. When a paramilitary group becomes stranded on the island after crash-landing, they discover Shanna and quickly learn that she is a genetically-engineered super-weapon. Luckily she is, because she’s the only one who can help defend them against T-Rexes and massive hordes of Velociraptors, among other things.

Frank Cho is one of the best artists around and I checked out the book primarily to see his work. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the writing side of things, but the seven issues included in this trade has a pretty decent story arc and plays out like an action film.

Some may be turned off by the titillation, but Cho is a master at rendering women who aren’t just waify, sexy supermodel-types who just happen to have super-strength spouting from some unseen source – Shanna actually looks the part. Her thighs are dense and her arms and back muscular, and when she impales a dinosaur with a massive tree trunk, you believe that she did it. When you see her knocked into a car by a T-Rex and still manages to get up, you believe it. Shanna is also not stupid and while different men try to take advantage of her in the book, she sets them straight pretty fast.

The colors only add to the visuals, and the dinosaurs are all very nicely-rendered as well as backgrounds, vehicles….everything. Nothing is forgotten and everything stands out in an exceptional way.

This is worth a read if you like adventure stories, dinosaur tales and books like Red Sonja or Vampirella. You may come for the titillation and gorgeous art but you’ll stay for the substance. Give it a try.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand (2011)

Jim Henson's Tale of Sand (2011)

Mac, the mysterious main character, finds himself involved in a cross-desert race with only a rucksack full of odds and ends to aid him. In the meantime, he is doggedly pursued by another mysterious man known only as “Patch”, who seems to be paying everyone off. His end goals are unknown, only that he needs to somehow make it to the finish line – wherever that may be.

In this existential dark comedy, Ramon Perez and Ian Herring beautifully and expertly bring to life the only un-produced full-length script by Jim Henson (Muppets, etc…duh) and Jerry Juhl (Muppets, Fraggle Rock). Written between 1967 and 1968, the creators take you through what feels like a Terry Gilliam dreamworld fantasy rife with surreal and amazing images.

Though the dialogue is sparse, it’s meant to be that way. What really shines are the images with Perez’s pencils and Herring’s colors bringing us as close as possible to a full cinematic experience. From Arabs, to cowboys to football players you’ll be caught up in Mac’s dreamlike experiences right up until the last page.

If you love Jim Henson, you owe it to yourself to check this out. However, it IS dark and it’s not something that’s quite for the kiddos. There’s violence, gunfire and sexual themes (boobie alert) and undertones. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

1985 (2008)

1985 (2008)

Marvel’s 1985 collects issues #1-6 of the miniseries written by Mark Millar (Civil War, Fantastic Four) and art by Tommy Lee Edwards (Bullet Points, The Question).

The year is 1985 and a young boy named Toby loves all things Marvel. When super-villains from the Marvel Universe find a way into OUR world and begin to tear it apart , Toby doesn’t realize that he may be the key to finding the Marvel superheroes so that they can put a stop to the killing and destruction. With the help of his father, a divorced comic book nerd, as well as his intimate knowledge of the Marvel universe, he has a difficult task ahead of him.

I picked this up at the library the other day, The title spoke to me, as I’m very familiar with the comic books of those years in the 1980’s when I was first introduced to the medium. (I was born in 1981)

Mark Millar’s expert storytelling combined with the amazing, life-like (yet comic-book-styled) artwork by Tommy Lee Edwards makes for an almost cinematic-quality experience in the form of a comic book.

We get to see the Marvel villains and how truly horrible they’d be in “real” life, with no superheroes to quash their evil doings, as well as the touching and all-too-real modern relationship gone awry in the form of Toby’s parents.

What you end up with as the reader is something that’s hard to put down if you’re like me and you’ve ever wondered if the Hulk smells really bad (According to Toby….he does) or if it were possible for someone like M.O.D.O.K. to murder an entire town by leading them to their deaths like the Pied Piper.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★