Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Frank Review of "Avatar: An IMAX 3D Experience" (2009)

The Short Version? Guilty white guy and noble savages versus evil military, all in CGI.
What Is It? Action.
Who Is In It? The Terminator: Salvation guy, Uhura, Ripley, Letty, Frank Buffay Jr., and more
Should I See It? Yes.

What some people don't know is, Michael Jackson conceived love children with Jocelyn Wildenstein, and that in the future, their offspring will have an orgy with the Blue Man Group and an NBA team. After even more incestuous sex, they will spawn a race of nine foot tall navy cat people who can reenact the "Billie Jean" video wherever they step. Oh, and at some point somebody used R2-D2 as a marital aid, because they can cold jack into, like, the global wildlife mainframe, yo. But don't worry, because even in this far off time, the same old cliché evil corporation/military/Hollywood liberal bullshit will still be just as familiar as it was when you slept through that anti-Iraq war movie from 2003. But it's cool bro, because everything else got their own fuck on, so there's hammerhead rhino and shit to keep your eyes moving.

To summarize, Avatar works well as a fairy tale and the longest, most finely rendered video game cut scene yet. Everything but the environments looks like it's made of rubber, but the actors playing aliens/Avatars have their faces well integrated into the CGI. This is less true of Stephen Lang, whose obviously motion-capped role of Brigadier General Jack T. Ripper couldn't have been less of an animated farce. Guys like General Ripper make the flick look like sci-fi, but nobody this side of George Lucas could so completely fuck-up and stupefy such an inherently intellectual genre, so that's just window dressing for a ham-fisted parable.

Sam Worthington, who played a cyborg in an abandoned James Cameron franchise, is a dumb unethical self-important cypher in this third person RPG. That's because Michael Biehn got fat and old, and because Americans love Australians who can't quite handle American accents (see also: Mel Gibson, pre-2000.) Sigourney Weaver, who played the heroine in a prior James Cameron film, reprises her role as Dian Fossey, because she also got too old to star. She's the tough but fair scientist who will get killed in the second act to increase audience sympathy. Don't call it a spoiler, unless u r dum, because it could only have been more obvious if she were the black sidekick or the veteran in her last days on the job. Michelle Rodriguez, who played the Vasquez role in a knock-off of James Cameron's Aliens (but with zombies,) plays the Vasquez role in James Cameron's retread of Aliens and The Abyss (but with even more heavy handed politics than a Romero zombie flick.) Giovanni Ribisi plays Carter Burke, the corporate scumbag, because Paul Reiser was too busy cashing his Mad About You residuals checks. Ribisi forces a totally over the top accent, but I still respect him as a diverse actor who can play a range of roles. He just read the script, and as soon as he learned his company was kill-crazy hot in pursuit of the rare material "unobtainium," knew how to play this stupid cartoon shit.

Joel Moore doesn't play the Bill Paxton role, and I can't figure that out at all. Was Jack T. Ripper the Bill Paxton part? This would have been a better movie with that Bill Paxton magic. Zoe Saldana doesn't play anybody iconic. Was she in the Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio part? The Dark Angel part? I just remember she was blue, talked funny, and I was never quite sure if that was a shadow or a cyber-nipple under that flower. Oh wait, she's just fuckin' Pocahontas! Duh! That also explains Wes Studi as the Indian chief, and that guy as the Apache dude who had a hard-on for Pocahontas and totally had it in for John Smith. Didn't you know this was a Western? It's totally, totally a five-hundred-million dollar B-western. And you people thought that shit couldn't make money. How many times have you watched Tombstone, right? Maybe not five-hundred-million dollars worth of times, but only because Val Kilmer didn't cough at you in 3-mother fucking-D. If Tombstone looked like extra-articulated He-Man action figures three inches from your nose, it could have made a brazillian dollars.

You might think I'm calling Avatar a bad movie, but that's horse shit. I love a good western, and I dig a quality barbarian movie, and I especially love ridiculously well meaning so-unoriginal-its-practically-plagiarism scripts. I swear, Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil is my favorite guilty pleasure, and I really liked Extinction too (but not Apocalypse, because I gots some taste, dude.) At nearly three hours, your resistance will melt by the sheer force of good intentions and Old Hollywood craftsmanship.Child soldiers in the Sudan know this story backwards-and-forwards, and would critique its naive politics, if they had time. But hey, these bitches won't chop their own arms off, right?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Frank Review of "Sherlock Holmes" (2009)

The Short Version? Less detective, more dick (flick.)
What Is It? Actioner.
Who Is In It? Iron Man, Gigolo Joe, that Notebook chick
Should I See It? No.

Someone took a Roger Moore era James Bond script, and converted it into a Victorian version of The Wild Wild West. At times it's as good as an episode of the Robert Culp TV series, but it's mostly as much a muddle as the Will Smith cinematic flop from 1999. Robert Downey Jr. is surprisingly charmless here, going through his stock eccentric mannerisms without their having any desirable effect. Jude Law fares much better as possibly the most interesting Doctor Watson I've seen, if only because he serves a greater purpose than stroking Holmes' ego at each brilliant observation. Instead, he's a tough, but proper, partner in crime investigation. Mark Strong has the face of a great villain, but not an ounce of actual menace in his performance.

Forty-four years of Downey Jr. on this Earth and at least a quarter of that spent on hard drugs have left their mark on his features, while thirty-one year old Rachel McAdams looks like she takes her nightly bath in warm milk. She's meant to be Holmes' equal or better as a conniving grifter femme fatale with whom he has a history that would seem to date back to her junior high prom. Maybe I'm just getting old, but their age differences really made me think less of our hero, and considering what a smarmy, neurotic, prancing little shit he is, imagine my horror. Worse, McAdams sounds like she's still playing opposite Lindsay Lohan in a bubblegum flick, she's so woefully out of place.

Since Richard Keel is no longer among the living to reprise his role of Jaws, a replacement was found in Robert Maillet. With roles on his resume including "Uber Immortal," "Behemoth Jones" and "Kurrgan," he brings the physical bigness. It's probably the next best performance after Law's.

As for the story, well, its a trifle. There's a grand, moronic conspiracy involving Freemasons, dark magic, CSI: London, Steampunk Tasers, and explodey-go-boom-boom. Director Guy Ritchie, whose mind never recovered from his penis entering Madonna, offers tepid slo-mo bare knuckles brawling put to shame by his own Snatch, and noticeably little else. If you like your pictures to be there, doing that, and not be a bother about it, Sherlock Holmes is for you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008)

During the Writer's Guild Strike of 2008, Joss Whedon produced a 41 minute web only musical dramedy about the romantic and professional hurdles of an aspiring super-villain. It stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, and was broken up into three acts...

Friday, December 25, 2009

1993 Advance Comics The Sandman Holiday Wish List Postcard by P. Craig Russell

This Morpheus of the Endless postcard came polybagged with a distributor catalog. "Art by Craig P. Russell." Philistines.

1997 Wizard Magazine Holiday Present Tags

Featuring Deadpool, the Strangers in Paradise girls, Kevin Matchstick of Mage, Madman, the Silver Surfer, Ash, Gen13, Darkchylde, and Power Man himself, Luke Cage. "Sweet Christmas" indeed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

1985 Who's Who Vol.IV: Captain Comet (6/85)

From the June, 1985 issue of Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe comes Adam Blake's initial entry, drawn by the great Murphy Anderson and likely written by Len Wein or Marv Wolfman.

Alter Ego: Adam Bake
Occupation: Professional Adventurer
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: John and Martha Blake (parents) .
Group Affiliation: None
Base of Operations: Mobile
First Appearance: STRANGE ADVEN­TURES #9

Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 lbs.
Eyes: Brown Hair: Brown

Born just as a brilliant comet flashed through the night sky, Adam Blake was destined to become a great man, his father claimed, and as the years passed, Adam began to demonstrate powers and abilities that made his father's words seem pro­phetic indeed. At four he could find lost ob­jects almost effortlessly. At eight he was able to read an entire textbook in minutes, then recite it back in its entirety. In high school he could play any musical instru­ment flawlessly. And, of course, he ex­celled at any sport he tried. Yet, despite his successes, Adam Blake was a lonely man. Determined to find out what made him different from his peers, Adam sought out Professor Emery Zackro, a prominent physicist. After much testing, Zackro discovered that Adam was a mu­tant, an accidental specimen of future man, born with powers and abilities that would not be common on Earth for another 100.000 years.

With Zackro's help, Adam perfected his powers and, at the elder man's suggestion, adopted a secret identity to protect himself from those who might seek to use Adam's powers to their own advantage. Since he was born beneath a passing comet, Adam took the name Captain Comet, and for the next several years he protected his home-world selflessly.

At last, feeling out of place on a world where he was so far superior to anyone else, Adam constructed a starship called The Cometter, and took off for the stars to find himself.

Several decades passed on Earth, while Adam, because of his mutant nature, barely seemed to age. Finally, Adam re­turned to Earth to discover a world much changed during his absence. Ignorant of current events, Captain Comet allowed himself to be used for a time by the Secret Society of Super Villains, be­coming their fiercest foe when he teamed how he'd been duped.

Recently, Captain Comet discovered his mutant powers were latent at birth, activated only by the passing comet's unique radiation, and thus were beginning to wane. With the help of Superman, Adam restored his powers to their fullest, and now continues to fight crime on Earth, still seeking to find his true place in the world.

Born a mutant 100,000 years before his time, Adam Blake possesses a variety of physical super-powers, including super-strength and limited invulnerability. His mental powers include telekinesis, telepa­thy, and a photographic memory. White his telekinetic abilities enable him to fly for short distances, he uses a jet-powered flight belt to travel at any length.

The epitome of human perfection,Cap­tain Comet is an extraordinary athlete and a highly skilled hand-to-hand combatant •

Friday, December 18, 2009

Captain Comet Postcard by George Pérez

I've enjoyed the little walks down memory lane I've taken while discussing George Pérez's 1984 DC Comics postcards, and have decided to continue without the benefit of actual postcards. I'd also like to talk about non-DC characters at some point, and since Pérez has drawn most everybody notable in comics, he'll be my go-to guy for these things. Here, I've altered a panel from 1986's History of the DC Universe #2, inked by Karl Kesel...

A mutant born one hundred thousand years ahead of his time, Adam Blake left Earth to explore space, aided by his incredible mental and physical abilities. He returned twenty years later to battle the Secret Society of Super-Heroes with his evolved strength, speed, intelligence, stamina, telekinesis and telepathy.

Captain Comet was in the mid-80s house ad for DC Challenge, but with his nondescript red costume turned mostly toward the back, I mistook him for a generic sci-fi character. Truth to tell, I wasn't so far off, as Comet started his life off as a curious hybrid of bland pulp speculative fiction and a last gasp for the super-hero genre between the Golden and Silver Ages. I want to say my next exposure was thumbing through Secret Society of Super-Villains back issues around 1987, more intrigued by the titular concept, but curious about who exactly was this sole unknown hero tasked with battling a host of bad guys. I learned from somewhere (Who's Who?") that he was the first comic book mutant, predating the X-Men. Besides the Martian Manhunter, Captain Comet was the only official DC super-hero of the 1950s, and with his vast (and similar) powers, I was fascinated by what he must have gotten up to in an era (almost) all his own. I continued to stumble upon Comet over the years, most notably in his '90s revival series, L.E.G.I.O.N. Even with all his potential, he just played straight man to the unethical brilliance of Vril Dox, the amoral mayhem of Lobo, and the more high strung Stealth. Imagine Jim Dial in tights.

I skipped following Comet in his most recent appearances from Mystery in Space, because I was pissed DC broke the mini-series' collection up into two volumes, the first foisting The Weird mini-series onto me in a fairly expensive reprint. I still think there's massive amounts of untapped potential in the character, and fell he's interesting enough to merit his own (long threatened) mini-blog, which I'll subject you to occasionally here at ...nurgh...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Frank Review of "Brideshead Revisited" (2008)

The Short Version? Manity Fair.
What Is It? Period Drama.
Who Is In It? Ozymandias, Professor Sybil Trelawney.
Should I See It? Yes.

I'm an American who's never read Evelyn Waugh's beloved and very British novel "Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder," nor seen its revered eleven hour BBC television adaptation. I was that much desired receptive audience approaching this cinematic translation as a blank slate. I can honestly say just about anyone will be able to tell there's great chunks of the story missing here. While the film offers enough of a taste to intrigue the uninitiated, it will more than likely come to serve as a gateway to its more involved predecessors, rather than a destination unto itself.

Charles Ryder is a poor boy whose eyes constantly glance upward, toward a high society he would sacrifice much to make his own. Does he dabble with homosexuality to win over an affluent school chum? Does he leave the boy a drunken wreck and court the approval of his devoutly religious mother? Can he better deal his way toward the sister? Does he possess human emotion, or is he just an animal driven by his personal ambition?

Aside from a slightly hammy turn from Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain, perhaps after too many years on Harry Potter sets, the cast is universally perfect for the film. You can see where Zack Snyder was going with his casting of Goode as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen through the actor's portrayal of Ryder. The sets and locations are magnificent, lending significant production value to a modestly budgeted affair. A lovely score by Adrian Johnston is similarly beneficial. Much to the relief of the males in the audience, Julian Jarrold's direction is stylish, offering very modern quirks to the period piece that hold the attention. Clearly, the maudlin yet distant text might be tougher to deal with. Still, considering how much ground needed to be covered, I found this a fairly brisk and mostly painless two-and-a-quarter hours. In fact, charting Ryder's cool, predatory path seemed to be a greater pleasure to me than to my better half. The movie is an intelligent exploration of class, religion, and sexuality that, while not wholly satisfying on its own, is worth sampling as a companion to other works.


  • The World of Brideshead A documentary that performs the usual sucking of source material cock, begging the audience not to hate it for diverging from the TV adaptation, while strutting its own distinctions.
  • Deleted Scenes More extended scenes actually, allowing a bit more time and interaction within sequences. Nothing earthshaking, but good enough to play through.
  • Audio Commentaty Typical, with director Julian Jarrod, producer Kevin Loader, and screenwriter Jeremy Brock.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unknown Soldier: Haunted House (2009)

All over the front and back covers to Unknown Soldier: Haunted House, the first collection of the new Vertigo series, are quotes from comics luminaries about how important this book is. I have to call all kinds of bullshit on that, because no one in a position to effect change is going to pick up a goddamned mature readers, small circulation trade paperback and be exposed to the horrors of genocide in Africa for the first time. Any person with a decent education knows Africa's been chock full of awful for centuries, bopping from one country to another. While it might be cathartic to see a fictional heroic figure emerge from one of these real life bloodbaths, it's ultimately considerably less helpful than the light Sylvester Stallone shone on Burma in his orgy of violence, Rambo. Let's start by saying early aughts Uganda is a colorful and evocative setting for a war comic, and focus on its entertainment value, because the Unknown Soldier isn't saving any lives outside these pages.

Dr. Lwanga Moses and his wife Sera are a loving couple, diplomatically influential, and committed to using their medical skills for the benefit of war-ravaged Uganda. Despite their best intentions, they find themselves exposed to rapists, child soldiers, murderers-- simply one atrocity after another. As a result of these horrors, the Unknown Soldier enters their lives, offering grisly answers to Uganda's troubles they may not be prepared for.

The Unknown Soldier began its life as a patriotic World War II era series about a disfigured master of disguise proudly serving his country, at the same time the unpopular Vietnam War and animosity toward our own troops was at a miserable level. A revival appeared late in the Reagan Administration, written by the rare black comics writer Jim Owsley (a.k.a. Christopher Priest,) and featuring a more critical Soldier. Vertigo previously took on the character in 1998, when Garth Ennis' writing the Soldier as a corrupt tool of the C.I.A. seemed novel, as oppose to de rigueur. I liked that take, until the usual limp Ennis resolution, but little came out of that mini-series. The new Unknown Soldier has a lot more to say, and is perhaps for the first time truly relevant to his time, even if the series is set nearly a decade past. As I said, a bit further back was Rwanda, and today we have Darfur, and tomorrow the Congo will blow up again. Africa is the perfect place to set a series in need of a perpetual shitstorm as backdrop. Even as Barack Obama is applauded for his diplomacy, its nice to see a black man blowing the bad guys all to hell.

Joshua Dysart does a good job walking the fine line between exploring the horrors of Uganda through this series, and exploiting them for effect. He doesn't pussyfoot around the likely fantastic origins of the new Soldier, which frees him up to work around the borders of the masculine melodrama that unfolds. Even more than a war comic, this story is reminiscent of a spaghetti western. A lone, disfigured hero, nursed back to health by a kindly nun, fending off savages at the gates of his sanctuary. Alberto Ponticelli isn't the most polished of artists, but his storytelling is solid, and he handles the often grisly material with the necessary verisimilitude. His rough, urban style excellently captures the environment and tension, which also distracts from this, again, being a western at heart. Regardless, there's nothing new under the sun, but a heartfelt script with believable dialogue, engaging characters, and potent art is always welcome. I loom forward to seeing where this series goes next.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Singing Detective" (2003)

The Short Version? Warbling dick.
What Is It? Musical Drama.
Who Is In It? Iron Man, the Princess Pride, Martin Riggs, Joey Potter, Sally Jupiter, and more.
Should I See It? Maybe.

Dan Dark is a bad mystery writer and an ill-tempered patient hospitalized with crippling psoriatic arthropathy. Wracked with pain, Dark's mind drifts constantly; to his pulp detective fictions, his traumatic childhood, his wretched relationships with women, and an intermingling of same, often accompanied by music.

Robert Downey Jr. is his usual awesome self in the lead, necessary for making his belligerent paranoiac character remotely sympathetic, even while buried under latex casts of mottled skin. Robin Wright Penn struggles for the same empathy as Dark's much abused wife. Mel Gibson is virtually unrecognizable as Dark's wily psychiatrist, also immersed in latex, and proving he can successfully hide his Australian accent if he really tries. Carla Gugino once again plays a sexpot trafficking in rough trade, a career specialty. Alfre Woodard, Adrien Brody, Jeremy Northam, Saul Rubinek, Jon Polito and Katie Holmes lend stable if broad support, typically also playing off their familiar roles.

The Singing Detective is the American film version of a well-regarded BBC radio drama and mini-series that I'm completely unfamiliar with. Apparently, writer Dennis Potter took liberties with his own material for the translation, but everyone got pissed off and dismissed it as another cross-Atlantic Yankee fuck-up. It's actually a pretty decent, entirely watchable little flick with eccentricities likely to turn off a good many potential viewers. If you're into '40s film noir crime stories, that aspect is given short shrift in favor of psychobabble and metatext. If you enjoy the dark comedy, you'll be sitting through a lot of angsty medical and marriage drama. Even as an actors' showpiece, and there are some surprising performances here, the lip-synched musical numbers of '50s pop hits will turn you off. Get through all that, and there's still seriously coarse language and sexual situations, designed to antagonize and unnerve rather than amused and titillate. The movie is a hot mess, too convoluted to gloss over so much detail, and too intimate to play out over such a sprawling scape. Still, despite it all, it will entertain you if you let it.


  • Commentary by Director Keith Gordon: Fun fact- He co-starred with Downey Jr. as Rodney Dangerfield's son in Back to School. Gordon seemed devoted to the integrity of Potter's vision, while constantly using Potter's adaptation license to apologize for offending purists to the original series. It's a passionate track from a director with plenty to say about his production, including much needed kind words for producer Gibson.

Friday, December 11, 2009

nurghophonic jukebox: "Angel's Son" by Sevendust

Written By: Lajon Witherspoon & Sonny Mayo
Released: November 7, 2000
Album: Strait Up
Single?: #11 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart

Written and performed in memory of James Lynn Strait (1968-1998) of the band Snot for a tribute compilation, and rerecorded as the final track on Sevendust's 2001 album Animosity to modest chart success.

Life is changing
I can't go on without you
Rearranging. I will be strong
I'll stand by you

(You were fighting everyday)
(So hard to hide the pain)
(I know you never said goodbye)
(I had so much left to say)

One last song
Given to an Angel's Son
As soon as you were gone
As soon as you were gone

I have a new life now
She lives through you
What can I do
Feel so alone now
I pray for you
We still love you

I can't believe you're gone

I can't believe

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Batman and the Outsiders: The Chrysalis TPB

Between when this series was solicited, and when the first issue shipped roughly on time, the creative and fictional teams were radically altered. Assuming that Chuck Dixon was probably writing scripts for both Julian Lopez and Carlos Rodriguez as they drew an entirely new issue each, both to be inked by Bit, it's an amazing accomplishment they hold up as professional caliber material. This pair of issues was fast paced and light weight, with characters leaving and arriving in abrupt but adequately explained manner. The dialogue pops, the art is pretty, and all's fun.

The problems don't begin to creep in until the third issue, during a solicitation obligating but logically troubled row with the Justice League of America. Characters begin to break character, people start showing up rather inexplicably, and the A-plot continues from here as an unresolved and unsatisfying subplot. The shit really starts to hit the fan by the fourth issue, which is as messy as one would have expected the earlier issues to be, and the final book reprinted here peters out more than ends.

The Chrysalis isn't bad comics, especially given its difficult birth. It's just largely disposable, with a few moments here and there that are bound not to sit well with segments of the readership. Whether Dixon is trying to disprove his disputable homophobia by exploiting lesbian titillation and a sexually ambiguous villain, or some of the poor choices made with regard to characterization needle you, or you just wonder what that fuss was about at the end, something's going to be a mild irritation. Still, if you like the characters and have time to waste on the mildly entertaining, you could do a lot worse than this, especially at DC, and especially on The Outsiders. Must I invoke Judd Winick?


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