Comic Book Review – Venom by Rick Remender Volume 2

Venom by Rick Remender Volume 2 (2012)
Written by Rick Remender with Jeff Parker, Rob Williams, and Cullen Bunn
Art by Tony Moore, Lee Garbett, Sana Takeda, Julian Totino Tedesco, Lan Medina, Kev Walker, and Declan Shalvey

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Flash Thompson is down and out in Las Vegas, his relationship with Betty Brant ruined due to his obligations as Agent Venom for Project: Rebirth and the shadow of Crime-Smith looming over him. He becomes inadvertently involved in the attempted hostile takeover of Earth by the prince of hell Blackheart. This crisis also brings together Johnny Blaze & the new Ghost Rider, The Red Hulk, and X-23 for the “Circle of Four” story arc. Once this is resolved, Flash finds himself back in New York ready to face down Crime-Smith and Jack O’Lantern. However, they were prepared for him and unleashed their gang of villains, some familiar faces from Remender’s opening arc on The Punisher. All this culminates in Venom’s induction into the ranks of the Secret Avengers and the possibility of a new life for our hero.

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Comic Book Review – Uncanny X-Force Volumes 6, 7, & 8

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Uncanny X-Force Vol. 5: Otherworld
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Billy Tan, Greg Tocchini, and Phil Noto

Uncanny X-Force Vol. 6: Final Execution Book 1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Mike McKone, Phil Noto, and Julian Totino Tedesco

Uncanny X-Force Vol. 7: Final Execution Book 2
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Dave Williams and Phil Noto

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Fantomex has been brought to the dimension of Otherworld and is on trial for crimes against reality at the hands of the Captain Britain Corps. Psylocke is torn between her growing relationship with Fantomex and her loyalty to her family in the Corps. Meanwhile, Wolverine and the rest of the team take on an ever-increasing occult threat that is burning up the countryside of Otherworld. Later, the life of Evan Sabah Nur is flipped upside down when the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants comes to town. X-Force is set up on a mission to take down an assassin for hire network and end up tossed into the far future to see what they could become. Upon returning to the present day, Wolverine must strengthen his resolve to save Evan and take down a foe that touches close to home.

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Comic Book Review – Uncanny X-Force Volumes 3 & 4

Uncanny X-Force Vol. 3: The Dark Angel Saga Book One
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Billy Tan, Rich Elson, Mark Brooks, Scot Eaton

Uncanny X-Force Vol. 4: The Dark Angel Saga Book Two
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opena and Robbi Rodriguez

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Warren Worthington has spent the last few years of his life pulled between the personas of The Angel and Archangel, the light and shadow of his soul. His paramour, Betsy Braddock aka Psylocke, has used her considerable psionic gifts to keep the worst of Archangel caged up allowing Warren to live a relatively peaceful life. But something happened when X-Force killed the burgeoning newborn Apocalypse, the universe declared that someone must fill that vacuum of power. That someone is going to be Warren. The whole team is thrown into an epic battle that will send them across realities to a world where Apocalypse came to power and then back to their own universe for a final showdown against Archangel.

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Movie Review – Ginger & Rosa

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Ginger & Rosa (2013)
Written & Directed by Sally Potter

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It’s London 1962, and the world is feeling the effects of fear surrounding the Cold War. The most significant worry is that nuclear weapons will bring about the end of humanity. Feeling these fears is Ginger, a 17-year-old girl who is just beginning to figure out who she is and doesn’t want the world to end. She sits between her mother, Nat, who wants her daughter to become more responsible and live conventionally and her father, Roland, a free-spirited intellectual who encourages Ginger to rebel and skip school. In addition to these two influences, Ginger has her lifelong best friend, Rosa. While Ginger has succeeded in academics, Rosa has fallen behind and is making drastically different choices in life. Ginger feels pulled to that side of life but is also caught up in the movement to ban the bomb. Eventually Ginger will discover a dark secret about Rosa that threatens to upend the young woman’s life.

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Pop Cult Book Review – The Croning

The Croning (2012, Night Shade Books)
by Laird Barron

thecroningDon Miller has a memory problem. Throughout his adult life he has had strange experiences and encounters, yet now an octogenarian, they are only just returning, spurred on by a series of bizarre events occurring at his rural home in Washington state. His wife, Michelle, is an anthropologist who, even though retired, still jets off to attend lectures and academic conferences. His adult children are busy in their own lives, and this all leaves Don time to reflect. He begins to recall conversations with his grandfather, a man seemingly involved in clandestine affairs. He remembers weird encounters with a young man while milling about the home of a recently deceased colleague. Then there was the incident in Mexico back in 1958…

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Movie Review – Dredd

Dredd (2012, dir. Peter Travis)

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Mega-City One is an urban sprawl filled with crime and poverty. Enforcing the rule of law in this crumbling post-apocalyptic landscape as the Judges, a natural combination of judge-jury-executioner. The most famous of these brutal lawmen is Judge Dredd, an enigmatic figure who is more of a justice-dispensing machine than a human being. He’s charged with testing rookie Judge Anderson on what ends up being one of his toughest days. The call comes from the large tenement Peach Trees that there has been a triple homicide. The Judges quickly learn these murders are tied to a threat is plaguing all of Mega-City One.

Most movie-savvy people are aware of Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 trash fire of a film, Judge Dredd. His adaptation of the popular UK comic book made a ton of errors that betrayed the spirit of the source material. He rarely wore his Judge’s helmet after the opening action sequence, and the script gave a lot of backstory to the Judge. These story elements are pretty antithetical to the nature of the comic book. The film ended up highlighting the more absurd elements and has become a perennial entry of the Worst Films of All Time lists. So, this reboot had a tremendously bad reputation to overcome.

Dredd manages to stay very faithful to the source material, even the more fantastic parts while delivering a character-centered story. Apparently inspired by The Raid, Dredd focuses its action within the walls of Peach Trees, a housing complex that provides plenty of set pieces and a palpable tension. When you have nowhere to run from the forces out to kill you, it will inevitably bring out more ferocious elements in humans. With a character like Judge Dredd, he is absolutely in his environment with this scenario. To say Dredd is a violent film is an understatement. This is a gory, visceral, kill fest. Yet, it tells a compelling story, particularly through Judge Anderson.

In the same way, Max in the Mad Max films is merely a cipher through which to tell a story, writer Alex Garland fashions Dredd into the same type of protagonist. It is entirely unimportant what Dredd was like as a child or the what the moment was that he forfeited his humanity to become an arbiter of justice. Instead, he is the vessel that helps tell the story of Judge Anderson’s loss of innocence. Actor Karl Urban takes on a role many actors would shirk at, the majority of his face covered with the entire film. But Urban, a fan of the comic, expressed that he understood why keeping Dredd’s identity obscured was essential to the character. Olivia Thirlby as Anderson first appears as your typical by the book, nervous rookie but by the end of the film, she is able to hold onto her humanity while acknowledging the violence that people can be pushed towards. The exact route her character will take within the fiction of the film is left for us to wonder about.

Lena Headey plays the movie’s central antagonist, Mama. I was absolutely thrilled with the choices she made in playing this crime boss villain. The minute she spoke I knew I was going to love her performance because she chose to be quiet in the way she spoke. This wasn’t the godawful Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Rising sort of calm quiet then SHOUTING performance. We learned a lot about Mama through how she communicated. In the environment where she grew up, words carried little currency. For people in places like Peach Trees, a threat is worth nothing if there isn’t a physical punishment behind it. Mama makes sure to inflict brutal horrors on people who cross her. Even in the final showdown between Dredd and Mama we have her maintaining a very calm, quiet hate in her voice.

Dredd succeeds and undoing and helping the audience forget everything about the 90s attempt to adapt the property. It is definitely elevated above your average comic book fare as well. It has tons of social commentary cleverly embedded in amongst the brutal violence. It is definitely one of those futures that, while extreme and different than our modern day, still feels unsettlingly familiar and far too close to our lifetimes.

Movie Review – Laurence Anyways

Laurence Anyways (2012, dir. Xavier Dolan)

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Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud) is a literature teacher in Montreal who is a long term relationship with Fred (Suzanne Clément). Laurence is also a transgender woman living as a man and has yet to reveal this truth to anyone around her. Laurence and Fred’s relationship is volatile one, and we find it at a high point, but hints show us there have been many ups and downs. When Laurence finally reveals that she wants to begin transitioning, Fred runs but eventually comes back after she’s had some time to process this idea. She encourages Laurence to start dressing in ways she feels comfortable and to take those steps to begin living the life her partner needs. The rest of the film explores the impact this change has on Laurence and Fred’s relationship as well as how Laurence grows and finds support outside his immediate circle.

Xavier Dolan finally stepped away from merely autobiographical work to make a film about an experience he has never had. The result is a film that is ultimately going to turn some people off if they approach it with a certain expectation. Laurence Anyways is not a film about a fully realized transgender woman. It is a film about transition and expectation. It is a film about making compromises when the things we need to survive conflict with the people we love. And while it has “happy ending” it is not the ending a more traditional filmmaker would come to.

At its heart, Laurence Anyways is a highly French film, like all of Dolan’s work. Emotion runs high and big chunks of the film are impressionistic glimpses into the inner thoughts of our characters. A woman sits on a sofa reading a poem, and we see the set engulfed in torrents of water. Laurence and Fred step forth from a house after a critical moment in their relationship and step through a rainfall of clothing. A character hesitates before a doorway, contemplating how their next step will determine the direction of their future and leaves are violently whipped around just beyond the glass letting them know this could be a risky path. Heartbeats was primarily a queer remake of Jules et Jim and, while I’m not an expert in French or queer cinema, I strongly feel Laurence Anyways is taking on tropes of traditional romantic French films and remixing them with this large, crucial idea of transgender identity.

Dolan doesn’t shie from the uncomfortable throughout the film. The first third has a high, positive energy threaded throughout. Once the formal transition begins though we see characters who were accepting in theory start to question how they feel about Laurence. Dolan doesn’t seek to tell a historically factual accounting of a relationship, rather the emotions of a relationship. Once Fred first comes to accept, or think she has accepted, her partner’s choice she ecstatically tells a friend that “Our generation is ready for this! The sky’s the limit!” When you reach the conclusion of the film these words take on a new context and Laurence and Fred’s relationship is not the simple, easy thing that Fred believed.

Laurence is not a perfect representation of a trans person and the film’s lack of actual trans people does feel slightly problematic. Poupaud’s performance, however, feels incredibly honest. The film uses the framing device of Laurence being interviewed 10 years after the start of the film. She explains to the reporter that she had “stealing the life of the woman [she] was meant to be.” Throughout, no matter how other characters react to or try to advise Laurence she staunchly fights to remain true to herself. This doesn’t mean life plays out with sunshine and rainbows, but this central focus keeps her from failing in this larger ideal. Dolan infuses the conclusion with a bittersweet ending. While Laurence has become on the outside the woman she has always been internally, there has been loss along the way. The greatest changes in our life are wrought with pain and loss but, if they lead us to a greater understanding of the truth within ourselves, we will endure.