Thursday, January 28, 2010

Movie Review: Whiteout (2009)

Released 2009
101 mins.

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, and Tom Skerritt

Synopsis: Antarctica has some dangerous and downright deadly conditions, but also contains some of the most beautiful and unique sights on the planet. Populated by researchers living in base camps only accessible by airplane it’s a constant battle with the elements with liquor your only friend on the endless winter nights.

Kate Beckinsale is a US Marshal on her last stint at the South Pole just days from the annual winter exodus from the camps. When a mysterious dead body is found her instincts kick into overdrive as the frozen continent sees its first murder. What disturbing event caused her self-imposed exile to the coldest place on earth and can she solve the crime before being added to the body count?

Mike Tells It Straight: If you only want to see this movie because Kate Beckinsale is hot, then turn it off after the first ten minutes. The rest of the movie is a decent murder drama set amid the harshest conditions of Antarctica. You’ll get plenty of plot twists and a good attempt at a shock ending, but stop to think at any point and you may notice a few cracks in the ice. The weather would have done a lot more damage to our US Marshal’s face, but I gots to get me some thousand-year-old ice for my next cocktail!

Based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka – booya!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

X-Men: Inferno Omnibus Hardcover Review

X-Men: Inferno
Marvel Comics
Oversized Hardcover “Omnibus”
600 Pages
ISBN 9780785137771

Contributors: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson, Mark Gruenwald, Walt Simonson, Marc Silvestri, Jon Bogdanove, Terry Shoemaker, Bret Blevins, Jim Fern, Rob Liefeld, Dan Green, Bob Wiacek, Al Williamson, Al Milgrom, Joe Rubinstein, Mike Manley, Hilary Barta, Glynis Oliver, Petra Scotese, Gregory Wright, and Tom Orzechowski

Reprints: X-Factor #33-40 and Annual #4, X-Terminators #1-4 (of 4), Uncanny X-Men #239-243, and New Mutants #71-73

Synopsis: Hell comes to Manhattan in the form of a hot redhead and the demon hordes of Limbo. The city suffers from a wicked heat wave along with the demonized transmogrification of most of the city’s denizens/objects (think Ghostbusters). The X-Men and New Mutants are smack in the middle of it all and we’ve got a major throwdown:

• The X-Men are believed dead by the world and have been living in the Australian outback. Madelyne Pryor and Alex Summers (Havok) have a budding relationship after her apparent abandonment by Scott Summers (Cyclops). Distraught at the disappearance of her son she attracts the attention of the demon N’astirh who promises to find the missing baby. Has the demon bitten off more than he can chew when she begins manifesting incredible amounts of power reminiscent of the Phoenix?

• X-Factor has been posing as a service hunting mutants for the benefit of the general public, but was recently outed as the original X-Men. Cyclops has been unsuccessfully searching for his wife Madelyne Pryor and their son. He originally left them to investigate the return of the supposedly deceased Jean Grey. Torn between family duty and his long-lost love will Cyclops be able to save the hate-stricken Goblin Queen from herself?

• The New Mutants are trying to save one of their own from becoming the thing she hates most. Illyana Rasputin is the X-Man Colossus’ sister and was kidnapped to Limbo where she apprenticed under the demon Belasco. Eventually rebelling and conquering the realm with her mutant ability to control the teleport discs native to the dimension, Illyana has slowly succumbed to her dark side. Belasco’s former henchman S’ym was infected by the transmode virus and is gathering power to overthrow the Darkchylde. Will the friends be able to save Illyana and stop the demonic invasion?

• The X-Terminators are the teenagers brought together by X-Factor’s mutant-hunting services. They uncover a mystery involving disappearing babies and demons, but these youths are more enthusiasm than skill. Will they be able to make a difference or die trying?
Affected by the demonic influence permeating the city both X-Men/X-Factor teams must stop trying to kill each other long enough to save the world and one of their own. Once the dust settles the real perpetrator is revealed!

Pros: Claremont's writing is perfect and each character is his own personal creation honed over 150+ straight issues, Silvestri’s art is pure sex and easily some of the best of his career, beautiful over-sized hardcover including the main storylines from Inferno, clears up some major ongoing plot threads such as Magick/Illyana/Darkchylde + Madelyne Pryor/Jean Grey/Phoenix, great extras including house ads and additional covers, ‘80s fashion/trends were in full effect when this was created and you’ll get to relive all the good (and bad)

Cons: Simonson’s art just doesn’t hold up to Silvestri’s and even Bogdanove’s art is sexier/more coherent for a team book, Rob Liefeld (briefly) contributes, doesn’t include the many other tie-in stories from Spider-Man/ Daredevil/ Excalibur (it would be most excellent if another volume were produced to collect them)

Mike Tells It Straight: Gnarly to the max, the ‘80s are back! I first started reading X-Men comics when “Inferno” hit shelves and this story was a real blast from the past. You will get your X-Men/New Mutants fix right here, but be warned: this book is not recommended for new X-Men readers. You need to know a lot of back-story to really enjoy the conclusion to several major plot threads. Recommended reading for complete preparation: Uncanny X-Men Omnibus vol. 1 (intro to Phoenix), Dark Phoenix Saga (exit Phoenix), From the Ashes (intro Madelyne Pryor), Phoenix Rising (Jean Grey returns), Mutant Massacre (intro to Marauders), Essential X-Factor vol. 1 (Cyclops reunited w/Jean Grey, Madelyne goes missing), and Fall of the Mutants (‘death’ of the X-Men). Now you’re ready!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Inhumans Review

Marvel Comics – Marvel Knights
Softcover Trade Paperback
288 Pages
ISBN 0785107533

Contributors: Paul Jenkins, Jae Lee, Richard Starkings, Dave Kemp, and introduction by Alex Ross

Reprints: Inhumans #1-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: The Inhumans are a race living in secret isolation for millennia in the domed city of Attilan with a society based on diversity. Their king Black Bolt bears a terrible burden possessing a voice powerful enough to level mountains and must remain in complete silence. He is represented by his wife Medusa and surrounded by the royal family.

Attilan has moved to the recently risen Atlantis where human nations are focusing efforts to mine rediscovered technology. Maximus the Mad languishes in prison dreaming insane dreams as a new group of youths pass through the transforming Terrigen Mists. His terrible plot hatches and brings humanity within reach of the city, endangering all within. Only Black Bolt can save them, but what if he does nothing at all?

Pros: Lee’s art is elegant with a touch of realism, he does some great redesigns for Karnak and Gorgon, Jenkins captures the core of these characters and spins a tale appropriate to all, mature tone with some action, introduces a new set of young Inhumans which appear in a sequel, the scene with humans dressed up as Inhumans is great, nice insight into Triton’s past and the sinking of the Lusitania, more insight into Inhuman culture

Cons: You’ll need a rudimentary knowledge of the Inhumans and their society prior to reading this story, along with how Atlantis is on the surface again (see Fantastic Four: Atlantis Rising storyline) and why the Inhumans are back on Earth (they were originally in the Blue Area of the moon), Lee’s art tends to be really dark and shadowy, I get the feeling the Inhumans lives are very antiseptic and forced (old traditions), it’s uncertain if anything of lasting importance happens in this story, Alpha Primitives still lurking in the dark with no resolution

Mike Tells It Straight: Great story and art on this one makes it a strong recommendation. Jenkins revitalized the Inhumans franchise for Marvel with this subtle, complex story. It definitely builds to a climax and has a few twists to keep you entertained, but you have to be patient. I still don’t know what Black Bolt’s thinking!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie Review: Daybreakers (2010)

Released 2010
98 mins.

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Claudia Karvan

Synopsis: Welcome to America ten years after a plague turned most of the world’s population into vampires and humans are an endangered species. Don’t worry, your local Starbucks is still in business and you can get a little blood in your coffee along with the espresso triple-shot. Plus you can smoke...constantly. 

Now a critical blood shortage (due to the over-eager hunting of humans) threatens to de-volve the undead population into mindless bat-monsters. Ethan Hawke plays a vampire with a conscience and Willem Dafoe offers some comedy relief.

Mike Tells It Straight: Vampires go corporate! If you want to wash the taste of the last tweeny-debacle Twilight installment off your eyeballs then here’s your chance to see a vampire flick with some over-the-top gore. Don’t get your hopes up on a memorable plot as this movie is still just a B+

TO BUY and Recommendations:

X-Men: Deadly Genesis Review

X-Men: Deadly Genesis
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
200 Pages
$19.99 (2007)
$24.99 (2006) Hardcover
ISBN 0785118306
TO BUY: X-Men: Deadly Genesis

Contributors: Ed Brubaker, Trevor Hairsine, Pete Woods, Scott Hanna, and covers by Marc Silvestri

Reprints: X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: A mysterious mutant has awakened in Earth orbit and falls to Earth. Professor X has been missing since M-Day (House of M event when the Scarlet Witch erased 90% of all mutant powers) and the X-Men are under self-imposed incarceration by the government to protect the last remaining mutants at their Westchester estate. Investigating the crash landing near their home several of the core X-Men members go missing and Wolverine is left for dead. The mysterious mutant has a serious vendetta against the X-Men and Professor X in particular.

A senses-shattering secret of Professor X’s past is revealed in this storyline shedding new light on the original “Second Genesis” story which first introduced us to the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men over thirty years ago. The secret is so big it claims the life of one of those original mutants and changes the X-Men dynamic forever

Pros: Finally wraps up one of the longstanding X-Men sub-plots started well over a decade ago, introduces two powerful mutants to the X-Men pantheon, Brubaker and Hairsine are rising talents in the field

Cons: Art finishes get a little sloppy in the final issues, Krakoa would have eaten everyone, have to suspend some major disbelief to get this storyline to knit together 100%, where’s Mr. Sinister?

Mike Tells It Straight: Must-read, controversial X-Men material and prequel to the Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire storyline. Charles Xavier’s reputation has taken a beating over the years (especially after birthing the Onslaught entity) and this one pushes his face farther into the mud. It ends up being a decent page-turner and you won’t be disappointed (unless you happen to like the X-Men member who gets flash-fried halfway through the story)

TO BUY and Recommendations: X-Men: Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Decimation: X-Men - The 198 Review

Decimation: X-Men – The 198
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
168 Pages
ISBN 0785119949

Contributors: David Hine, Jim Muniz, Kevin Conrad, and covers by Juan Doe

Reprints: X-Men: The 198 #1-5 (of 5) and X-Men: The 198 Files

Synopsis: After the House of M (where the Scarlet Witch has a mental breakdown and erases 90% of all mutant powers) and M-Day there are only 198 known mutants with powers remaining. The government has set up an internment camp for their protection at the Xavier Institute under the watchful eye of Valerie Cooper, the X-Men and a squad of Sentinels. Someone is manipulating events behind the scenes and turns this sanctuary into the most dangerous place on Earth to be a mutant.

Pros: Propaganda-esque covers, continuation of storyline from District X and Mutopia X, files on some obscure mutant characters, mature subject matter, somewhat interesting, continued in Civil War: X-Men

Cons: Art is kinda weak, storyline doesn’t quite gel, resolution to Mr. M sub-plot is unsatisfying, Lorelei character is a cheap (seriously, she’s a stripper) Medusa knock-off, some really obscure (read – crappy) mutants survive M-Day with their powers (Bling! and Squirrel Girl, why?)

Mike Tells It Straight: Skip this story unless you’re really into House of M or David Hine’s X-Men sub-plot writing.

TO BUY and Recommendations: House of M District X

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: The Road (2009)

The Road
Released 2009
112 mins.

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Robert Duvall, and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Synopsis: A father and son travel through a grim, post-apocalyptic America after nuclear winter conditions have devastated the land.  Civilization has degraded to roving bands of savages committing unspeakable acts to survive.  What little shelter the two have is interrupted by constant pursuers with bright yellow teeth and extreme body odor.  The only refuge from the daily horror of keeping his son from being skull-f@#$ed are the dreams of his dead wife giving up in the face of a hopeless future. 

Mike Tells It Straight: This movie is the most depressing thing I have ever seen.  There are no redeeming qualities to be found here.  It will ruin your day/night/week/weekend/month/bar mitzvah.  Avoid this movie at all costs - you have been warned!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Madrox: Multiple Choice Review

Madrox: Multiple Choice
Marvel Comics – Marvel Knights
Softcover Trade Paperback
120 Pages
ISBN 0785115005
TO BUY: X-Factor: Madrox - Multiple Choice

Contributors: Peter David, Pablo Raimondi, Drew Hennessy, Brian Reber, and covers by David Lloyd

Reprints: Madrox #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Jamie Madrox has started a detective business in Mutant Town and gets a visit from two of his former teammates (Wolfsbane and Strong Guy). In staggers one of Madrox’s dupes with a fatal stab wound and a reluctant Jamie absorbs him (along with the pain of his dying). A flash of memories involving a particularly beautiful woman gets the original Madrox heading to Chicago to solve a noir-esque, gumshoe mystery of the old favorite “who killed Madrox?” storyline.

Pros: Prequel to X-Factor series, Madrox is a character with a lot of potential and David brings him center-stage for some interesting material, some good twists and turns to keep the story lively, Wolfsbane and Strong Guy offer some good background material

Cons: Noir stories can be cheesy and some of the lines in this one are pure cheddar (on purpose of course), includes covers but no additional extras

Mike Tells It Straight: Essential reading if you're a fan of Madrox or the current X-Factor series (volume 3, I think). A decent one-time read, but suffers from typical X-Book syndrome - new readers will be lost without knowing some backstory on the characters and their current histories.

Recommendations: X-Factor Vol. 1 The Longest Night X-Factor Visionaries: Peter David Vol. 1

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Astro City: Life in the Big City Trade Paperback Review

Astro City: Life in the Big City
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
192 Pages
$19.95 (1995) Trade Paperback
$39.95 (1995) Hardcover
$49.95 (1996) Limited Hardcover
$19.95 (1999) Trade Paperback
$17.99 (2011) Trade Paperback
$29.99 (2011) Hardcover
ISBN 156389551X
TO BUY: Astro City TPB Astro City HC Astro City: Life in the Big City (New Edition)

Contributors: Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, Alex Ross, and Steve Buccellato

Reprints: Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: Astro City is a unique metropolis where exciting things happen every day and tourists flock for the chance to catch a glimpse of real-life superheroes. An anthology collection of ‘slice-of-life’ stories featuring a tableau of characters unique yet familiar.

Samaritan balances a superhuman life saving the universe with the mundane existence of a normal man.  A reporter is fascinated by the mysterious secret of the Silver Agent.  Cracker Jack is a loud-mouthed hero who needs to reconnect with the common man.  The Hanged Man is a spectral entity which protects the slums in a superstitious part of town.  Two heroes try to take a moment to themselves and enjoy an honest-to-goodness date.

Samaritan is a Superman-like figure who sacrifices his time to have a
life with saving lives as a superhero
Pros: Exceptional storytelling which really focuses on the human element amid the backdrop of larger-than-life events, Busiek accomplishes quality stories outside the confines of the established characters from Marvel/DC while remaining reminiscient, great sketchbook section from Ross

Cons: Not much, each issue is a separate story although there is no resolution at the end of the book, most of the characters are one-offs of popular heroes (i.e. Samaritan = Superman, Winged Victory = Wonder Woman, Jack-in-the-Box = Spider-Man, and the First Family = Fantastic Four)
Winged Victory and Samaritan go on a date
Mike Tells It Straight: Astro City was an immediate classic and won an Eisner Award in 1996 for Best New Series. These stories are an extension of what Busiek started in Marvels by adding a man-on-the-street perspective to the grandeur of superhero fiction. The stories are not just flash and action, but will touch your heart and captivate you with their subtlety. If Norman Rockwell drew superhero comics they would look like Astro City.

TO BUY and Recommendations: Astro City: Confession Astro City: Family Album Astro City: Local Heroes

Friday, January 1, 2010

Deadman: Lost Souls Trade Paperback Review

Deadman: Lost Souls
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
200 Pages
$19.95 (1995)
ISBN 1563891883

Contributors: Mike Baron, Kelley Jones, Les Dorscheid, and introduction by Archie Goodwin

Reprints: Deadman: Love After Death #1-2 (of 2); Deadman: Exorcism #1-2 (of 2)

Synopsis: Deadman has been a ghost under the service of deity Rama Kushna for ten years and grown extremely lonely. He reads about the ghost of a female aerialist, investigates and falls in love, but first he must free her from her husband’s demonic circus. In a second storyline Deadman has been driven insane by the hallowed ground of an ancient, abandoned church. Three evil spirits are loosed threatening to open a doorway to hell and only Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, and a handful of regular humans can save the world.

Pros: Groundbreaking character art by Jones depicts Deadman as a spectral corpse, Deadman stories finally become ‘horrific’ thanks to Baron

Cons: Second storyline is weak and convoluted, Boston Brand gay bashes, revelation of childhood trauma with his brother Cleve taints the character

Mike Tells It Straight: Deadman finally gets the horror treatment he so richly deserves under Baron and Jones. The first story is a real winner, but the second is so bad it practically ruins the character forever.  Pick this collection up if you're a Kelley Jones fan because he does some of his best work here.  Otherwise skip it (especially Exorcism) and get the two-part Love After Death set.

TO BUY and Recommendations: Deadman Vol. 1