Friday, October 4, 2019

review: JOKER

In the world of comic book movies, the year 2019 has three significant achievements. First, 2019 was the year the MCU jumped the shark.  Second, Shazam! was the worst comic book movie of 2019.  Third, Joker was the most artistic comic book movie of 2019.

You have to go into this movie with the mindset that while it is based on the comic book character of the Joker, it is separate and not connected to the classic version. You had to be in the same mindset with Shazam!, but perhaps because Joker is such a much better made and better looking film, it is so much easier to get lost in this new take without constantly finding contradictions with the classic version, one of the many things Shazam! failed miserably at.

Within the first minute, Jared Leto's bungled take from Suicide Squad is completely blown away.  What we have here is a character study of a mentally ill person, Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) that, at times, gets uncomfortable to watch. The concept of giving Arthur Pseudobulbar affect (PBA) is brilliant in its obviousness and makes one think why no story has ever hinted at The Joker having this ailment before.  Arthur is on screen for nearly the entire movie, and we are immersed in his daily life.  Outside of a straight narrative, we also get glimpses of Arthur's daydreams and fantasies.  Just when you think a concept is part of the story, it gets revealed it was only in Arthur's imagination.  Zazie Beetz plays Sophie, a woman Arthur becomes fixated on. Robert DeNiro  plays Murray Franklin, essentially a variation to David Endochrine from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, and surely, the main thrust of this movie is a live action variation of the scene from the graphic novel.  Brett Cullen plays Thomas Wayne as a physician-turned-politician much like in the unused Tom Mankeiwicz Batman screenplay.  Another borrowed idea comes from the recent Gotham TV series, where its proto-Joker Jeremiah Valeska inspired a movement, much like Arthur does in this movie.  One of the more cringe worthy moments is when Arthur begins to believe Thomas Wayne is his father, which I'm sure causes eye rolls from all comic book fans thinking "oh, that's original... make the hero and his enemy brothers". What makes it even more weird is that Arthur and Thomas look to be roughly the same age, even though in real life the two actors are nearly 20 years apart.  There actually isn't too much violence in this movie, but what there is, is very graphic. We also don't see Phoenix in full-on Joker mode until the last act of the movie, and don't expect to see any kind of Joker crime sprees.  But do expect to see that chilling, iconic moment on Crime Alley. 

The direction by Todd Phillips and the cinematography are top notch, and as I said at the beginning, very artistic, and visually Joker completely blows away a film like Shazam!  As I also mentioned, at times this movie does become uncomfortable to watch, but wouldn't it be a disservice if a movie based on the Joker was all lighthearted fun?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: Shazam #7

After an almost comedic amount of delays, Shazam #7 is finally released.  Was it worth the wait? Well... maybe, depending on how you look at the ending.

But first,  the story picks up where the last issue left off, if you can remember that far back. Wizard Shazam brings Pedro and Eugene to the Wozenderlands, a bizarre mash up of Wonderland and Oz (I'm starting to think Geoff Johns might be doing some LSD while writing this. It would also explain the numerous delays).  Then it's to the Earthlands where we see the result of Mary exposing her secret to the Vasquezes, and she convinces Billy to spill the secret also.  Mr. Vasquez seems a little too giddy about it.  Perhaps foreshadowing a heel turn for him down the line?  Then it's cut to the Wildlands and Freddy and Darla, who were missing from the last issue, as they are about to be fed to Mr Tawny.  They say "Shazam" but do not change.  They are about to be eaten, but at the last second Tawny protects them from the other tigers, and the three of them escape.  In an attempt to get back home, the end up in the Darklands.

Then it's back to the Vasquez house where Captain Shazam and Sexy Shazam instruct the Vasquezes to keep their secret.  Sexy Shazam goes to get Wonder Woman to bail them out, while Captain Shazam flies to the Rock of Eternity.  Sivana has won his fight with Black Adam, and Captain Shazam is transported to the Darklands where he sees tombstones of all the characters. The Wizard appears and reveals to Billy there is an imposter - the one with Eugene and Pedro. He gives him instructions, only to fade away, revealing a tombstone for (spoiler alert)....




Captain Marvel.  So next issue New52 Shazam meets Captain Marvel.  Now, knowing Johns' track record, I am not going to get excited about this.  This will not be the classic pre-New52 Captain Marvel returning.  If anything, this will be a way to illustrate "Captain Marvel" is gone forever and all that is left is New52 Shazam.  Johns' script is typical Johns, and the art by Dale Eaglesham and Scott Kolins is rather generic.  This issue gets a C-.  Be back in four or five months for the next issue.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

review: SPIDER-MAN FAR FROM HOME

To cut to the chase, Spider-Man Far From Home is a notch below Homecoming, both directed by Jon Watts.  The first part of the movie has a very similar tone to a 1990s sit-com that has a "very special" multi-part episode where the cast goes to a scenic locale.  Peter and his classmates' summer vacation has a strong Disney Channel sit-com feel to it, mixed with a big budget travelogue. Ned, Flash, and Michelle (aka "MJ") are all back, and Betty Brant, played by Angourie Rice, who I thought was one of the best characters in Homecoming, gets a lot more screen time in this installment.

Mysterio is introduced as a superhero from an alternate earth in the multiverse, who comes here to destroy the Elementals, who destroyed his earth, before they can do the same to this earth. Mysterio takes Peter under his wing.  As with Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2 and the Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man, there is an expected and predicable heel turn. Then the movie finally starts to kick in to high gear. Through the Mysterio character, there are some good natured jabs at the whole CGI dominance in movies, and the ever growing outlandishness of the plots.  Jake Gylanhaal, who ironically was considered as a possible replacement for Toby Maguire in the original Spider-Man films when Maguire injured his back and was uncertain if he could continue in the role, plays Mysterio in a kind of likable, yet sort of phoned in way.  Its as if he figures "this is just a comic book movie, so I won't be using all cylinders of my acting talent".

Tom Holland naturally returns as Peter Parker, and keeps the same light comedic tone he established for his take on the character. Marissa Tomei returns with her radically different take on Aunt May, and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is back to keep this version of the Spidey continuity firmly tied to Tony Stark, as well as attempting to get tied to May. Samuel L. Jackson is along for the ride playing Nick Fury.... maybe.

One of the biggest plot flaws in the movie deals with Mysterio gaining control of Tony Stark's EDITH computer program. Once Happy is informed of this by Peter, he should have been able to simply override Mysterio's control of EDITH. But then the movie would be about 45 minutes shorter.  There is a mid-credits scene that changes the status quo of Spidey's life, and re-introduces J. Jonah Jameson to the movies.  Not to mention any names, but the character is played by the same actor who played him in a previous franchise.

Far From Home is above average and very enjoyable, yet also shows signs that Endgame could be pinpointed as the moment the MCU jumped the shark.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Review: Shazam! #6

This issue picks up with Captain Shazam and Sexy Shazam breaking free from King Kid and searching for the others.  There is an interlude with the fight between Sivana and Black Adam, where in between punches, Adam gives the same kind of over-explanatory speech that was mocked in the movie.  The effects of the fight causes Billy and Mary to magically pop back into the Vasquez house, where Billy comes face to face with his dad.  Billy's dad tells him where he was born and how they moved to Philadelphia and reveals he was a criminal and served time in prison.  He wants to take Billy and search for his mother.  Cut to the Gamelands where Latino Shazam and Asian Shazam are playing the video game to try to escape, when Wizard Shazam does a Batman-like entrance, pissed and looking like he's ready to strip the powers away from the kids.  Cut back to King Kid who mentions for the sake of the reader that there will be a war between kids and adults.  And the issue ends with Mary revealing to the Vasquezes she's a superhero.

Once again, Geoff "The Snake" Johns turns in a mediocre script.  It almost reads like a recap issue, which I thought was a weird way to advance the story, for what little advancement there is.  The artwork by Marco Santucci, Dale Eaglesham, and Scott Kolins is OK but kind of generic.  Once again I could say this book needs a new writer and needs to add Mayo "Sen" Naito as artist, but at this point, I wish DC would cancel this series and replace it with a Thunderworld/Earth-5 series of the "real" Captain Marvel.  But what do I know, I'm just a fan, and as this series and the movie prove, fans are very low on the totem pole of DC's priorities. This issue earns a D.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Double Review: Three Stooges Astronuts and Laurel & Hardy #1

The Three Stooges Astronuts features a new lead story that is similar to the boys' later space themed shorts and features, but on a much larger scale that a comic book can illustrate opposed to the low budget of two-reelers or b-movies.  The script by S.A. Check faithfully captures the mayhem of the latter day Stooge space exploits, and the artwork by Brendan and Brian Fraim is, as usual, excellent, with gray tones by Dan Conner (hey, wait... the Roseanne guy?) giving it a vintage look. My one critique would be, since this is a space themed installment, it might have been better to have Joe Besser or Joe DeRita as the third Stooge instead of Curly Howard.  The second story is a reprint, and like the previous issue, it suffers from a crude xerox black & white look.  It would be better if the reprints that were originally in color were reprinted in color.  This issue earns a B.

Laurel & Hardy #1 (it has yet to be seen if this series will have normal numbering or will follow in the Stooges' footsteps by having all #1 one-shots) presents three stories, all in color.  The first one written by S.A Check, is well done, and I might hazard to say his style may be a better fit for Stan and Ollie than the Stooges.  The second story is written by Jordan Gershowitz, and captures the feel and tone of the classic Hal Roach two-reelers.  Both stories are drawn by Jorge Pacheco, who perfectly interprets the classic Larry Harmon character designs with a slightly more modern look.  The third story is a classic Larry Harmon-era reprint and holds its own opposite the new material.  This issue earns a B+.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: Shazam! #5

This issue picks up with Black Adam being the adult in the Rock of Eternity as he deduces how the kids have screwed up by going to the Magic Lands, albeit a cruel adult who reasons he must destroy Billy Batson "before it's too late".  We cut to the Funlands, where after some verbal back and forth with King Kid (including a reference the movie plot point of Billy being separated from his parents by getting lost is now canon), Captain Shazam un-gags Mary who turns into Sexy Shazam.  Then it's cut to the Gamelands, where Latino Shazam and Asian Shazam, after a quick recap of Eugene's "origin", try to arrange a game with the Gamemaster so they can escape.  Then it's to the Wildlands where Freddy and Darla are on trial by the talking animals.  They are sentenced to death by tiger.  Then it's back to the Gamelands with a quick recap of Pedro's "origin".  Pedro gets ready to challenge the Gamemaster.  Freddy and Darla are thrown to the tigers (with a quick background on Mr Tawny tossed in). Black Adam approaches the Magiclands, to save (or destroy, depending on your point of view) the kids, but hits a roadblock-- Dr Sivana, who orders Adam to join the Monster Society of Evil... or die.  Next issue, the fight no one (except for maybe Mark Strong) has been waiting for - Sivana vs Black Adam.

The issue, written by Geoff "the Snake" Johns is par for the course.  Despite the illusion that a lot is happening, nothing really does, it's just all setting up the next issue, where again, nothing will happen just setting up the following issue.  A far, far cry from the brilliant Otto Binder, who could write a complete and great story with a beginning, middle, and end in about 10 pages. The art is by, well, four different artists, none of whom is Mayo "Sen" Naito.  It's all rather good but generic, and again I say Sen should be the artist on this series.  And really, the Snake needs to be replaced as writer.  This issues earns a D.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

movie review: AVENGERS ENDGAME

Avengers Endgame is the concluding chapter to what could be considered volume 1 of the MCU.  It's a 3 hour movie, so I am going to keep this review short as possible.  Despite being 3 hours, it flows fairly well.  There are some moments that drag on, like some of the "kitchen sink drama" scenes, but over all it does not feel as clunky or bloated as the Shazam movie was.   Unlike Infinity War, which wasn't so much a true Avengers movie, but rather a giant MCU crossover, Endgame is a true Avengers movie that keeps the spotlight on the core team plus Ant-Man, who was a founding member in the comics, if not the MCU, and Rocket Racoon. Captain America, who was a minor background character in Infinity War, resumes his leadership role in this one. One of the film's low lights is Carol Danvers, who doesn't get much screen time, but when she is on the screen, she sucks all the energy out. She is without personality, a card board cut out, whose purpose in the film is to be the MCU version of Supergirl (the original Danvers). Thor is kind of reduced to a joke with a beer gut and self-pitying, so that Carol can fill the role that should be Thor's. Hulk likewise has become more of a comedy character as he has balanced Banner and the Hulk into a merged being.

The main thrust of the film is time travel, and even though the characters joke about time travel inconsistencies, the film goes head first into the same dilemmas.  Case in point  - SPOILER ALERT: turn away now if you haven't seen the film-

when Thor is in the past on Asgard and takes his Uru Hammer from the past with him, does that mean Thor now doesn't have his hammer in any events after that point? (Not to mention Captain America later essentially claims the Uru Hammer as his own. Unless when Rogers took the hammer with him when he returned the stones, he also returned the hammer to Asgard at the same point in time.)  Or when Steve Rogers goes back in time to live happily ever after with Peggy Carter, does that mean Captain America no longer existed from Marvel's The Avengers onward? Or does that mean we now have untold tales of Captain America in the 1950s and '60s battling Communists and Socialists?  Or when past Thanos was killed in the present by Iron Man, does that mean the events in Infinity War never happened?

Despite these headache inducing questions, the movie powers on to a grand battle finale that resembles a football game-the infinity gauntlet being the football. The MCU was founded on Iron Man, and here it ends with Iron Man.  Some characters meet their final fate, some go off to live happily ever after, and some move on to the next adventure.  This movie is a must see final chapter, but it also brings up the question, is this the point where the MCU jumps the shark... will the next chapters live up to legacy or will it start to unravel?