From producer Tim Burton comes what could be the sleeper hit of the year.
From producer Tim Burton comes what could be the sleeper hit of the year.
My rating: 2 of 5
This little cult classic from Toho Studios almost defies description. On the surface, it’s a fairly routine horror movie about a group of schoolgirls who get trapped in a haunted mansion. But it’s the execution by director Ohbayashi that makes the film my new favorite bad movie.
The story starts innocently enough, with seven girls planning their school break at one of their aunt’s house. The girls are named by their chief characteristics: Gorgeous (beauty), Fantasy (dreamer),Prof (brains), Kung Fu (fighting), Sweet (kindness), Melody (music), and Mac (short for stomach, or perhaps a reference to a McDonald’s Big Mac, i.e., likes to eat).
The craziness begins in earnest even before the girls reach the house. They stop for directions from a watermelon farmer who is eventually revealed to be more than meets the eye. Once in the house, the creepy wheelchair-bound aunt and her sinister cat project a sense of immediate dread. The girls soon begin to disappear one by one in more and more bizarre manners. But it all has a cartoonish vibe that is purposely meant to be more comical than gruesome (although there is plenty of fake blood and dismembered corpses).
One of the reasons the story seems disjointed is that director Ohbayashi turned to his 10-year-old daughter Chigumi for ideas; enough so for her to receive screen credit. And the movie resembles a manga because Ohbayashi published the story as a manga during the long wait for Toho to greenlight the project.
The special effects were purposely made to look fake, despite being made at the home of the special-effects masters that produced the Godzilla movies. Ohbayashi came from the advertising world and wanted the effects to reflect the childish themes of the story. The editing and cinematography also contribute to the amateurish feel, with jerky jump cuts and psychedelic colors permeating the art direction.
Hausu is an idiosyncratic journey into a warped world that will blow your mind with its outrageousness.
I think DC’s relaunch was largely successful. Their sales numbers certainly reflect a large influx of new readers, with Month 3 of the reboot still beating Marvel’s sales numbers. I haven’t read individual monthly comics in many years and I was enticed to try all 52 titles. I don’t see myself reading any of them consistently on an ongoing basis—it took me 6-7 weeks to read 52 issues, about 1200 pages, and I don’t have that kind of time to read comics on a regular basis—but I can easily see getting several of these when the trade compilations come out. Moreover, modern comic book writing relies heavily on long story arcs that are often best read in chunks.
I applaud DC for realizing that comic books are a medium, not a genre. Although heavily dominated by superheroes, this new line-up includes supernatural, horror, mystery, science fiction, western, and war stories. I hope that these find eager audiences willing to take a chance on something different.
There were a surprising number of variations on covert paramilitary operations. Men of War, Blackhawks, Suicide Squad, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Stormwatch, and perhaps to a lesser extent Birds of Prey, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Justice League Dark, and maybe even one or two others, were formatted almost identically except for the milieu they were in. After a while it became hard to differentiate them all.
It is obvious that DC is catering to an older audience, with lots of gore and sexual titillation throughout the line, not to mention the $2.99 cover price precluding unemployed kids from buying too many. DC is also trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by relying heavily on established continuity to assuage the wrath of long-time fans, yet claiming to be wiping the slate clean for brand new readers. I would rather have 52 really well told stories, even if it means setting aside years of continuity, than try to artificially shoehorn often-contradictory backstories into every title.
DC is also to be lauded for including so many female characters in lead roles. I don’t think Marvel has any solo-character books starring females. DC has Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman, (half of) Hawk and Dove, Supergirl, Voodoo, and Wonder Woman. Now, let’s see more female writers and artists to create these stories!
Some people have complained about the perceived sexism in titles like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, and there is certainly a strong case to be made for those criticisms. (Yet, at the same time, there was little or no outcry towards something like I, Vampire’s nearly naked cover art.) What I found most troublesome about some of these titles was the incomprehensible storytelling. These, and many of the other 52, seemed more like Issues #12, or even #50, than #1.
I had fun with the “Where’s Waldo?” hunt for the mysterious hooded figure from Flashpoint #5. There were a few books that took me several tries to find her. Did anyone else note her freakishly long fingers in her appearance in Resurrection Man?
I thought most of the books were good to very good. What were my favorites? All Star Western, Animal Man, Batwoman, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League, Mister Terrific, and Superboy, with guilty pleasures Captain Atom and Red Lanterns. A number of others have the potential to become favorites, depending on how well they continue—for example, Action Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, and Wonder Woman. I suspect there will be other breakout hits as they settle into their strides—and certainly some of what looks good initially will falter along the way.
I’m sure we can expect to see a mega-crossover event next summer as sales begin to flag, to recharge interest, reveal the hooded figure’s identity and purpose, and make some final calibrations on the characters in the new DC universe.
I look forward to enjoying many more tales from the creative folks at DC.
The final two books in “The Dark” group of DC’s New 52:
Aiming to cash in on the vampire craze, DC is resurrecting an obscure property from House of Mystery from thirty years ago and reimagining it as part of the mainstream DC Universe. I, Vampire is the story of Andrew Bennett’s quest to save humanity from the violent uprising of his fellow vampires, even if it means exterminating his own kind. It is also the story of the unrequited love between Bennett and Mary, Queen of Blood. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov has created something vicious and brutal that fills a seldom seen niche in the DC Universe. It will accept occasional visits from the spandex-clad crowd, but should be a fairly self-contained horror thriller. Artist Andrea Sorrentino provides sexy, moody scenes that remind me a bit of Gene Colan’s work. With all the controversy surrounding some of the New-52 Batman titles, I haven’t heard any complaints about Sorrentino’s cover showing the nearly naked Mary, a testament to his ability to turn out something akin to fine art. I suspect this book will read better in the collected trade edition, but I am pleasantly surprised by how well it hooked me with its first issue.
Justice League Dark bridges the gap between the occult and superhero sides of the DC Universe. It brings together a mixture of DCU and Vertigo supernatural characters and throws them into a deadly battle with the evil Enchantress when the regular Justice League is defeated by her powerful magic. Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Shade the Changing Man, John Constatine, and Deadman will defend the world from the province of spells, hocus pocus, and demons.
Writer Peter Milligan gives us a story that is dark but not grim. The action gets going right away, and although neither the character origins nor the extent of their powers are shown, it’s easy to keep up with what’s going on, with the sense that the details will be undoubtedly filled in later. Mikel Janin provides beautiful artwork that is unusually light for a supernatural title like this, and his character designs are flawless. A special mention should go to colorist Ulises Arreloa’s subtle enhancements. As with I, Vampire, I suspect this will read better as a collection, allowing the character development to move forward at a natural pace.
From the “The Dark” group of DC’s New 52:
Frankenstein’s monster is a staple in literature, and has been used by DC many times in the past. DC is counting on Frank to help kick off a new series that reminds me a lot of Hellboy. This summer, writer Jeff Lemire had a very interesting Flashpoint mini-series called Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown that saw Frank and his Creature Commandos fighting Nazis in World War II, being put in suspended animation, and then thawed out and participating in the alternate reality Atlantean/Amazon war. This new book looks to be even more audaciously fun.
S.H.A.D.E. stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and its headquarters is the “Ant Farm,” a mobile, 3-inch indestructible globe that is flying 2,000 miles above Manhattan. Access to the Ant Farm is by a hybrid of teleportation and shrink technology designed by Ray Palmer (AKA The Atom). We’re only on Page 4, and I’m totally into this! But it gets better! Frank is under the direction of Father Time, a shape-shifter who currently has the body of a small girl, looking a lot like Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass (sans purple hair).
Father Time and Frank go to help quell an army of monsters that is attacking a small town in Washington, but just before Frank joins the fight Father Time introduces him to his new team: Dr. Nina Mazursky, an amphibian/human hybrid, Warren Griffith, a werewolf, Vincent Velcoro, a vampiric crossbreed, and Khalis, a mummy of unknown origin (not to be confused with Kahless, the first Klingon emperor). And, oh yes, Frank’s four-armed wife is already battling the monsters, and has gone missing in action.
The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli is just right for this book. The science-fictional hardware looks suitably futuristic, and the character designs and fight sequences look suitably organic. The whole package is a delightful blend of action, excitement, horror, and humor that I’m looking forward to reading more of.
In the late 1990s, the writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning created Mitch Shelley, AKA Resurrection Man, a character who kept coming back to life, but with a new superpower each time. Kind of like Croyd Crenson, AKA The Sleeper, created by Roger Zelazny for George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. Now, Abnett and Lanning are resurrecting Resurrection Man as part of DC’s “Dark” group of the New 52.
The first issue drops the reader into the middle of a fast-paced chase that culminates in an exciting plane crash. Competing agents of heaven and hell are trying desperately to capture Shelley by any means possible. Fernando Dagnino’s art renders the chaotic story in a clear, unpretentious way. While not a true origin story, new readers will have no trouble following what’s going on; it’s an introduction that hints at thrilling supernatural exploits to come.
From the “The Dark” group of DC’s New 52:
Great comic book creators think alike. Marvel’s Man-Thing debuted in 1971, with DC’s Swamp Thing appearing shortly thereafter. Swamp Thing as written by Len Wein and drawn by Bernie Wrightson was a beautifully crafted monster comic. But in 1984 a then obscure Alan Moore reinvigorated the book, creating a three-year run that is regarded as one of the best in comic book history. Many writers and artists have done good work on Swamp Thing since then, but the legacy of Moore overshadows them all. Will Scott Snyder writing the New-52 relaunch of the character be able to make it worth reading again?
Swamp Thing #1 gets off to a decent, albeit unspectacular start. Former botanist Dr. Alec Holland is doing manual labor in Louisiana, trying to remain anonymous for some reason, when Superman drops in to chat about a series of massive animal die-offs occurring around the world. During their conversation they allude to teaming up in unspecified events during the previous year. Then, flying insects attack a group of archeologists, causing them to break their own necks. Finally, Dr. Holland has a nightmare, and when he wakes up Swamp Thing confronts him.
The artwork by Yanick Paquette is generally clear and detailed, although Superman’s face looked a little funky. Snyder’s script is heavy on exposition, and yet only hints at major points of Swamp Thing’s past. It reads like issue #13 instead of issue #1. I know writers are supposed to begin their stories in the middle of the action, but a new reader is apt to be confused. Nevertheless, one can tell that Snyder is setting up some interesting and intelligent scenarios to come. It’s unlikely to reach Moore’s level, but it could still be a fun ride.
Demon Knights stars Etrigan the Demon, who was created by Jack Kirby in the early 1970s, as the leader of a team of magical immortals that includes Madame Xanadu, the Shining Knight, and Vandal Savage during the Dark Ages. It looks like there will be plenty of sword-and-sorcery action, including evil wizards and rampaging dragons.
Writer Paul Cornell keeps the pace moving briskly, without a lot of exposition, and the first issue mainly exists to introduce the main characters and set up the McGuffin they will be questing towards. Penciler Diógenes Neves and inker Oclair Albert create detailed, action-packed pictures. Overall, a pretty good entry point for a new reader more interested in epic fantasy than costumed superheroes.
Comikaze is a new comic-centric convention in Los Angeles. It appears to be making a bid to eventually replicate the multi-media San Diego Comic-Con experience, with something for fans of anime, movies, TV, and gaming. Comikaze was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on November 5-6, 2011. I attended on Saturday only.
I went in not expecting much. A similarly publicized convention in Pasadena a couple of years ago was a dismal failure. I had purchased tickets through Goldstar, a popular discount ticket broker. The tickets were “free” for a $4.50 handling fee, so I didn’t have much to lose by going.
The Comikaze web site indicated the dealers’ room would open at 10:00 a.m., but when I arrived shortly before 10 I discovered that the floor was not going to open until 10:30. So I had to wait a bit, which was ok. I had to redeem my Goldstar receipt for a wristband, and that took a few minutes. To give Comikaze credit, they had workers in the crowd giving out wristbands to full-paying preregistrants, enabling people like me to get to the registration table relatively quickly.
At 10:30 the door opened. Yes, door, singular. The long line slowly snaked in, single file. The cavernous hall was already bustling when I managed to get in. There were a lot of vendors selling a wide variety of products. There were also many tables for artists and celebrities. A large area at the back of the hall
was reserved for gaming tournaments, so there seemed to be something for everyone. In an unusual setup, there were five panel rooms created by curtaining off sections of the hall.
Having looked at the online schedule ahead of time I knew there was to be a screening of the trailer for Daniel Radcliffe’s new horror movie, The Woman in Black, at 11:00, but none of the panel rooms had it listed on the cards in front of the room entrances. Because there was no overall printed schedule or facilities map, or signs of any sort, I ended up having to ask about four or five people where the screening was
before I eventually found it in a meeting room on the third floor of the convention center. I was late, but it didn’t matter since they were still struggling to get the audio-visual equipment working. I waiting until about 11:35 when they announced it would be another 20 minutes to get ready. This was not an auspicious start to the convention!
I spent the next hour and a half walking the dealers’ room, by the end of which I had pretty much seen everything. There were a number of interesting vendors, including a lot of comics, toy, video, and clothing and jewelry dealers.
There were quite a few celebrities in attendance, most charging for their photos and autographs. Stan Lee and his entourage strolled through at one point. Wax figure Morgan Fairchild held court while her handler shielded her from any unauthorized (unpaid) photographs.
Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine apparently didn’t have anything better to do, but looked in amazing shape for a man of 94, certainly better than 85-year-old Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man), who sat looking wrinkled, sad, and lonely. Other famous and not-so-famous stars that I recognized included Butch Patrick (The Munsters), Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica), Alaina Huffman (Stargate Universe), Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager),
Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Carel Struycken (The Addams Family). There were many more that I didn’t recognize.
There were lots of costumed attendees. Just like at SDCC, they regularly blocked the aisles posing for photos. It’s just something a congoer gets used to.
I attended four panels in the afternoon. At 1:00 it was “The World of Batman” with writers Gregg Hurwitz (Penguin: Pain and Prejudice) and Kyle Higgins (Batman: Gates of Gotham). They had a good discussion of what makes Batman Batman. Unfortunately, there was a very noisy cast reunion of Nickelodeon’s All That in the next room which tended to drown out what Hurwitz and Higgins said, not to mention that the acoustics to begin with were poor due to the room being a curtained off area in the giant, echoing cement hall.
At 3:00 I trekked back up to the third-floor meeting room for the Titmouse Animation Showcase. Titmouse produces Metalocalypse and other Adult Swim programs. They have taken over production of The Venture Bros., and series creator Jackson Publick was part of the panel. They also previewed Black Dynamite, a new series set to début next summer.
Back down to the hall for a panel at 4:00 called “From Robots to Monsters: Japan is the Original King.” Moderator Jessica Tseang (ComiCast) did an excellent job of interviewing Tom Franck (North America’s largest Japanese robot collector) and Mike Costa (Transformers).
The final panel I attended, at 5:00, was “DC Comics New 52 Q&A” with a full table of DC writers and artists, including J. T. Krul (Captain Atom), Eric Wallace (Mr. Terrific), Phillip Tan (The Savage Hawkman), Scott Lobdell (Red Hood and the Outlaws), Brian Buccetello (The Flash), Kyle Higgins (Nightwing), Gregg Hurwitz (Penguin: Pain and Prejudice), Mike Costa (Blackhawks), and two or three others I don’t remember offhand. They all seemed genuinely excited about DC’s recent reboot and promised great things to come.
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by the size and quality of Comikaze. Considering that Comikaze was just one week after the Long Beach Comic-Con, the attendance was remarkably high. The organizers have shown that a successful large media convention can be held in Los Angeles. There were some things that need to be improved for next time. Not everyone has a smart phone, so they need to have better schedules and maps available for attendees (and the schedule needs to be cross-referenced by participants). Crowd control was generally pretty good, but flow into and out of the hall and the rooms were sometimes a problem. They definitely need to hold panels in the upstairs meeting rooms and not the makeshift curtained rooms. The L.A. Convention Center is not as well situated as the San Diego Convention Center, i.e., there are not nearly as many nearby hotels and restaurants. For Comikaze to grow to SDCC size, they will have to overcome those limitations, but it should be eventually possible.
For another look at Comikaze, check out this long and detailed report from The Fangirl Files.
“Pilot” written by David Greenwalt & Jim Kouf; directed by Marc Buckland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Earlier this week I took a look at the first of this year’s fairy tale TV series: Once Upon a Time on ABC. Today, I’ll take a look at Grimm on NBC.
Nick Burckhardt (David Giuntoli) is a police homicide detective who suddenly begins to see a few people around him momentarily morph into hideous monsters. His terminally ill aunt, Marie (Kate Burton), who raised him after his parents were killed when he was 12, comes to visit but is attacked by one of the monsters before she can fully explain what’s going on. But what she does say is that Nick is descended from a line of Grimms, monster hunters, and that when she dies, her powers will transfer to him. Nick understandably doesn’t believe her, but when he examines her mobile home he discovers a cache of edged weapons and a notebook with sketches of the monsters he has been seeing.
When an apparent serial killer starts terrorizing the town, Nick and his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) begin investigating. A little girl is abducted and they suspect she is the latest victim. Nick conveniently meets what seems to be the only reformed werewolf (Silas Weir Mitchell) living across the street from where the girl was last seen, and the two track down the evil werewolf to his cabin in the woods outside of town.
Grimm has a lot going for it. It is a police procedural with an engrossing supernatural element. I see a lot of parallels to The X-Files: two law enforcement agents tracking down supernatural menaces, one of them a believer and one of them clueless. There is a conspiracy element as well, with the monsters banding together in secret to rid themselves of the pursuing Grimms. There is some black humor as well, especially from Mitchell’s character, as he gets exasperated by Nick’s naivety about what’s going on, and how he has maintained a “strict regimen” to dispel his killer instincts.
Unfortunately, the pilot episode was up against Game 7 of the World Series for most of the U.S. It does have a good lead-in with Chuck, but Fridays are not great nights for massive ratings to begin with, and it will be up against Fringe on Fox and Supernatural on CW. So set your DVRs, or watch online, because this is a series that deserves a chance to be seen.
The Walking Dead
“What Lies Ahead” written by Ardeth Bey (pseudonym of Frank Darabont) and Robert Kirkman; directed by Ernest Dickerson and Gwyneth Horder-Payton
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
The second-season opener begins shortly after the big explosion that ended the first season. The band of refugees are on the road towards Fort Benning and what they hope will be someplace safer than Atlanta, when they are blocked by a snarl of abandoned cars on the highway. While stopped to repair their vehicles and to scavenge for food, water, and anything else of value, a herd of zombies shuffles past. In the chaos, one of the children goes missing and the remainder of the episode is spent searching for her.
This was definitely a transitional episode that promised more than it delivered. I expect that the action and intensity will ramp up as the season progresses. The zombie herd near the beginning was tense, and the ending cliffhanger left me wanting to see more, but in between there was a lot of soap opera. I suspect that the reason the kid got lost will be more complex than just because she’s a bit slow in the head, but I didn’t have much sympathy for her or the others as they searched for her.
The question of why the zombies congregate in herds should be an interesting mystery to solve this year. With 13 episodes (compared with just 6 for last year), there should be plenty of opportunity to explore this world and to introduce some good new characters and situations. The comic book series excels at this sort of storytelling, so I expect the TV series to do the same.
It remains to be seen how the departure of executive producer Frank Darabont will affect the TV series. Reportedly, he had a falling out with AMC executives over budget and schedule issues, and was fired. His replacement, Glen Mazzara, wrote the first season episode “Wildfire.” The creator of the original comic book series, Robert Kirkman, is still onboard, so I hope this bodes well for the future success of the TV series. Rumors are that Stephen King is scheduled to pen an episode later in the season.
The episode was watched by 7.3 million viewers, making it the most watched drama in the history of cable television. With two subsequent encore presentations, the episode was seen by a collective total of 11 million viewers. This probably explains why there were so many commercials and product placements (particularly annoying was the one for Hyundai). AMC is trying to cash in on this popularity; I just hope they don’t alienate their audience by doing so.
The Walking Dead seems to have spawned a whole class of science fiction shows. The idea of a small group of humans fighting monsters in a largely inhospitable world has been copied by Falling Skies (aliens) and Terra Nova (dinosaurs). But The Walking Dead looks to remain the best of them, and I am looking forward to bigger and better things throughout the remainder of the year.