Comic Book Review – Doctor Voodoo

Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural (2010)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jefte Palo

doc voodoo 01

Jericho Drumm has assumed the mantle of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme from Stephen Strange. As soon as the former Brother Voodoo takes on this new role, he is assailed by Doctor Doom and other forces of the supernatural. This causes problems at his medical practice in New Orleans, and Drumm must work to tackle these dark powers that seek entry into our realm. At the root of this assault is the demigod Nightmare who is warping the very fabric of reality into a mesh of the concrete and the abstract.

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Comic Book Review – Punisher: Franken-castle

Punisher: Franken-Castle (2010)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tony Moore, Dan Brereton, and Jefte Palo

frankencastle cover 01

Punisher faces off with Norman Osborn’s HAMMER, the villain’s answer to SHIELD. Dealing the killing blow is Daken, the twisted son of Wolverine. Their rooftop battle concludes with the Punisher sliced into pieces and dead in an alleyway. The end of the story right? Nope. Punisher’s remains are taken underground by a legion of monsters, living in fear of Helsgaard and his forces. Helsgaard is a deformed monster hunter who leads a band of modern-day samurai to purge the planet of all they view obscene and unnatural. Punisher is rebuilt as a Frankenstein-esque creature by the vampire Morbius. He is reluctant to help these misfits at first but circumstances and a reminder of his mission to fight evil draw him into this epic conflict.

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Comic Book Review – Punisher: Dark Reign & Dead End

Punisher: Dark Reign (2010)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opeña

Punisher: Dead End (2010)
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Tan Huat

punisher dark reign

The Marvel Universe has come under the sway of Norman Osborn. The Skrull invasion was thwarted by the business tycoon, and in the aftermath, Tony Stark and the Avengers are smeared as criminals. Frank Castle the Punisher has decided to take Osborn out himself but finds out the “reformed” villain has support in the form of The Sentry and The Hood. Punisher gets help from Henry Russo, a young man with street smarts and tech skills who fills the role of the vigilante’s late support Micro Chip. The supernaturally-powered Hood decides to taunt Punisher by using dark magic to resurrect long-dead villains as well as people that will dig into Punisher’s deepest psychic wounds.

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Movie Review – Boy

Boy (2010)
Written & Directed by Taika Waititi

James-Rolleston-Boy

Boy lives on the eastern coast of New Zealand in 1984. He lives on a small farm with his Nan, his brother, and cousins. He loves Michael Jackson and his absentee father. He hangs out with his pals Dallas and Dynasty while swooning after Chardonnay, a girl in his class. Then one day, when his Nan is out of town, his father returns and enlists Boy in helping him discover money he buried in a field years ago. Boy will spend some weeks getting to know his father better, imagining a life away from this place, and ultimately learning the reality behind his father and the fantasies he has constructed around the man.

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Movie Review – Monsters

Monsters (2010, dir. Gareth Edwards)

monsters

The film begins with title cards that explain that a NASA probe was launched years ago and brought back microorganisms that have mutated into gigantic monsters that rule a swath of land between the United States and Mexico. This area has been walled off and named “The Infected Zone, ” and no one is allowed to pass without permission from the joint-government operation. Andrew Kaulder (Halt and Catch Fire’s Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist guilted into escorting his boss’s daughter, Samantha back into the States. The catch is that in two days all travel between countries is going to be blocked off for a six-month long major operation.

With Star Wars: Rogue One being released in theaters this weekend I thought it was the right time to finally sit down and watch director Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. I’d only seen his Godzilla film, which I wasn’t very impressed by. When Edwards was announced as the director of the first Star Wars spinoff, I was a bit confused. These were the same feelings I had when Colin Trevorrow was announced to director Jurassic World, Marc Webb was set to helm the Spider-Man reboot, and Josh Trank was put in charge of Fantastic Four. There appears to be a trend of picking the “hot young director” to take over a major film property. This sort of mentality defies logic because from the outside this feels like a very risky proposition. The only way this really makes sense to me is from the perspective of a controlling studio who wants a director that has a creative vision but hasn’t had time to build that sense of earned professionalism to think they can make the big decisions. “Hot, young directors” let studios and their notes on dailies wield greater power than with a genuinely creative director who has earned it.

Monsters is a beautiful looking film. The cinematography is masterful, and Edwards does an excellent job of evoking scale. Landscapes fill the screen and when the monsters do appear they are represented as truly towering and powerful. It also becomes very clear that Edwards is not interested in telling a story of man vs. monster. The film is purely focused on the two characters traveling across a dangerous land and the relationship that grows between them. The appearance of the monsters is used to underline some larger concept or idea that is going on between them or to emphasize that they are in peril to get home. There are a lot of fascinating ideas at work in Monsters.

Monsters wants to be an insightful character piece, but I personally found the characters to be shallow and ultimately uninteresting. The film’s tone bounces between a straightforward narrative with hints of Cinéma vérité but never delves deep enough. The stories behind both characters are painted in fairly broad strokes (He has a son and has never been involved in his life, She is running from an engagement she really doesn’t want to be in). Dialogue is a little too on the nose and, while these are good actors, I just don’t think they are skilled enough to bring a full performance into every gesture or look that would tell these characters’ stories at a greater depth. Edwards has a background in digital special effects which explains why the film looks so good, but may also inform as to why the characters ultimately feel flat and undeveloped.  

Movie Review – Heartbeats

Heartbeats (2010, dir. Xavier Dolan)

heartbeats

In watching I Killed My Mother, it was clear that Xavier Dolan had a sharp sense of humor. In Heartbeats he allows himself to make an overt comedy of manners that has delivered more laughs from me than most comedies I’ve watched this year. The story centers on Francis (Dolan), and Marie (Monia Chokri) are best friends who meet Nicolas (Niels Schneider), a young man who entrances them both. They begin a vicious back and forth to decide who gets Nicolas in the end.

The comedy in Heartbeats comes from Francis and Marie’s growing animosity with each other over Nicolas’ affections and the ongoing confusion his behavior and words illicit. During a playful game of hide and seek in the woods he manages to tackle Francis, pinning him to the ground. And keeps him pinned for a longer than usual amount of time before hurriedly rushing away, an act that builds confidence in Francis’ perceived chances with Nicolas. A few scenes later, Francis finds out Nicolas has invited Marie to see a play together without even asking Francis which throws him into confusion about his possible suitor’s intentions. At first, our protagonists attempt to play things cooly and not truly acknowledging the competition at hand. By the end of the film, they have devolved into wrestling on the ground decked in clothing out of place in the rustic, cabin setting they have ended up in.

Dolan has a very deft hand at the awkward moment, particularly zeroing in the desperation people take on when they are incredibly attracted to an individual they see as “cooler” than them or “out of their league.” At one point, Francis makes a completely inappropriately expensive purchase for Nicolas’ birthday and, while this fact is only known to Francis and the audience, it adds tension to the informal gift competition that springs up between him and Marie. As an actor, Dolan has the most perfect uncomfortable, awkward smile. He’s left behind at Nicolas’ apartment and has to receive a monthly allowance being delivered by Nicolas’ mother (played by the remarkable Anne Dorval, who played Dolan’s mother in his previous film). Dorval dominates most of the conversation, revealing her career as an exotic dancer, her broken relationship with Nicolas’ father, and other TMI. Dolan doesn’t fade into the background, though, and through his face and his body language, the audience is reminded of all those intensely awkward conversations we’ve ended up in, and especially those with a friend’s parent or some other acquaintance who shares far too much information.

The new element in this film for me was Monia Chokri as Dolan’s rival. Chokri was fantastic and kept up with her co-star and director by exuding an awkward confidence. As the tension increases, her chill unaffected nature begins to show cracks culminating in a scene where she runs into Nicolas on the street that will elicit the strongest empathic cringe from anyone watching. The awkward humor is never to the intensity that something like Curb Your Enthusiasm produces, it is continually softened through a lens of romantic idealism. Chokri’s Marie is presented as a very composed and intentional person, bearing an early 1960s appearance in both hairstyle and clothing. Coincidentally Nicolas mentions his love of Audrey Hepburn and Marie begins adding accessories that emphasize those aspects of her appearance.

The film is about friendship and the silliness of “profound love” and romanticism. It evokes the visual style of Wong-Kar Wai’s In the Mood For Love in particular moments, but instead of using this imagery to evoke a sense of serious simmering passion, Dolan uses it to cultivate a sense of irony with the protagonist’s actions. This is yet another Dolan film that highlights a different talent than I Killed My Mother and Tom at the Farm. The former is a wonderfully bittersweet character study, and the latter is an exercise in tension and psychology. Heartbeats are Dolan’s take on a romantic comedy, a modern remix of Jules and Jim with his own personal visual flair.

Film Review – Red, White, & Blue

Red, White, & Blue (2010, dir. Simon Rumley)
Starring Noah Taylor, Amanda Fuller, Mark Senter

British director Simon Rumley seems intent on shredding every last ounce of emotional energy I have. As you can read in my review of his 2006 film, The Living and The Dead, he is able to present a psychological horror film unlike any you will ever see. Here too, in Red, White, & Blue, Rumley takes the revenge/gore film made popular in 1970s and still alive and strong today, and goes down avenues no mainstream picture would ever think about. The result is another film that hammers itself into your mind and squeeze every ounce of composure from your soul. The last fifteen minutes left my heart pounding and my head feeling dizzy, shocked at the level of physical gore and psychological torment.

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