Comic Review: Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

Published: 2007-2008
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Olivier Coipel

Marvel Comics, 440 Pages (total)

Review:

When this was current, I had the series added to my pull box at my local comic shop. I loved the hell out of this series and thought that J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot of the Asgardian part of the larger Marvel universe truly reinvigorated the Thor title and all the characters within.

I was a bit worried in revisiting this, as I felt like maybe I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much and with nearly a decade and a half of extra comic book reading mileage. I thought that I’d discover it was riddled with glaring flaws and an overabundance of bad tropes, overused clichés and redundancy.

I’m happy to say that this held up exceptionally well and that it is one of the best comic book reads I’ve experienced in quite some time.

The story is exceptional and it does such a superb job in balancing all of these cool, important characters. Every major Asgardian gets their time to shine and is given their own subplots that have real meaning and tie into the larger story arc of the series. Straczynski even creates some new characters and they all bring a lot to the series and the new lives of all the other core characters.

Additionally, this is where Loki returns in the form of a woman. It gives the character a fresh start in the eyes of many Asgardians, even if she can’t be trusted due to her past. However, she wins over some key characters just enough to develop an evil masterplan alongside Doctor Doom, who is waiting in the shadows for his big reveal, after Loki manipulates her people into accepting a dangerous proposal that effects all their futures.

Beyond the great story, the art of Olivier Coipel is incredible and I don’t mean to use that word lightly. It was this series (alongside Geoff Johns Green Lantern run) and especially its art that got me to pick up comics again, after checking out for a decade.

Coipel creates beautiful compositions in every panel and his work was just on a completely different level than most of the artists at the time. His work looks like paintings and it fits the aesthetic of the Thor mythos and style. It gave these stories a more fantastical and magical look than what was common for the era.

My only gripe about this long run by Straczynski and Coipel is that it didn’t have a definitive ending. It left things open for the next creative team and I get that, as that’s how these things typically go. However, the work of these two guys was so great that I felt like they should’ve been allowed to bring it to a close.

Really, though, I just wish their run was longer.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter Tales – The Legend of Drizzt, Vol. 1

Published: March 21st, 2012
Written by: Geno Salvatore, R.A. Salvatore
Art by: Agustin Padilla
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR, characters by R.A. Salvatore

IDW Publishing, 128 Pages

Review:

This is the first Drizzt Do’Urden story that I’ve read outside of the six volume comics series that IDW published, which adapted his earliest literary stories.

This one takes place further in the future and he doesn’t have the family-like crew that he built up over those six volumes. Here, he teams up with an ally I’ve never seen before, as they hunt down a warrior dwarf that was turned into a vampire.

Once they realize that the vampire dwarf is another ally, they try to help him, as opposed to killing him. Together, the three work together to take down the master vampire.

This is a pretty decent story with decent art and I like the concept of a vampire dwarf. However, it feels pretty weak when compared to the better Drizzt stories.

I wouldn’t call this bad, it just falls below the standard I’ve come to expect from IDW’s Dungeons & Dragons comics.

If you like Drizzt, it’s worth a read but first, I’d definitely jump into the six volume series I’ve already reviewed.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Wiz (1978)

Release Date: October 24th, 1978
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Joel Schumacher
Based on: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, The Wiz by William F. Brown
Music by: Charlie Smalls, various
Cast: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Mabel King, Thelma Carpenter, Theresa Merritt, Stanley Greene, Roberta Flack (uncredited), Quincy Jones (uncredited), Luther Vandross (uncredited)

Motown Productions, Universal Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.” – Scarecrow, “That’s beautiful! Who said that?” – Dorothy, “[modestly] I did.” – Scarecrow

It’s been ages since I’ve seen this but I enjoyed it back in the day. Mainly, because I always thought the sets, style and overall visual look of it was pretty awesome. Although, it was also loaded with people I like such as Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and more.

It wasn’t until more recently that I discovered that this was directed by Sidney Lumet with a script by Joel Scumacher. Also, Quincy Jones was very involved in the production. Having a newfound understanding of the talent involved in this made me want to revisit it with fairly fresh eyes and ears.

I’m really glad that I did, as it still captivated me and pulled me into its magical world.

Now the film has its share of flaws but it’s one of those movies that’s so fun and sweet that you don’t really care about the imperfections.

While Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy, I still think she’s pretty great in this once you suspend disbelief. Originally, the film was supposed to star the young lead actress from the stage musical but Ross really pulled some strings to get this part. Honestly, I don’t blame her and movies are a cutthroat business.

Anyway, Ross is still Ross and she has immense talent, which shines through in her performance. Also, her scenes with Michael Jackson are so genuine and affectionate that it transcends the picture. The two were great friends before this film went into production and I think that personal connection really boosted their performances.

Nipsey Russell is tremendous as the Tin Man, as is Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion.

I have to say, though, the absolute highlight of the film for me is the grand performance by Mabel King, this film’s version of the wicked witch, as she makes her factory workers slave away. Man, this scene is just amazing to watch from the size of the set, it’s design, the amount of performers in the sequence and King’s perfect performance.

Two other really solid sequences are the one where Dorothy meets the Munchkins, which was filmed at the somewhat dilapidated New York State Pavilion at Flushing Meadows. It was a site built for the 1964 World’s Fair but it created such an interesting looking location for Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.

The other was the Emerald City sequence, which was filmed at the foot of the World Trade Center. It’s a beautiful and opulent scene with great music and considering the world we live in now after 9/11, the scene just has much more meaning now. It makes you really appreciate the beauty and immensity of those two iconic structures.

Overall, this is a lively and jubilant picture. I typically don’t like musicals but this is one of the few that I do enjoy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Release Date: December 6th, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Oliveri, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, Alan Arkin, Conchata Ferrell, Caroline Aaron, Dick Anthony Williams, O-Lan Jones, Nick Carter (uncredited)

Twentieth Century Fox, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Hold me.” – Kim, “I can’t.” – Edward

This movie came out around my 12th birthday. But I didn’t get to see it in the theater because I was a kid that didn’t control his own life and it was also the holidays and back then, that meant lots of travel to see cheek-pinchers and older rotund family members that wanted to force feed me into a sugar coma. That’s not a snarky complaint, I actually miss those simpler times and those people, who have mostly passed on.

Anyway, I really wanted to see Edward Scissorhands but I didn’t get to check it out until it was available to rent at the video store. Once I did see it, I was blown away by it and even as a pre-teen, I remember thinking that Tim Burton had truly created something special and evolved really quickly as a filmmaker with this being just his fourth feature film after the previous year’s Batman, as well as Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

As much as I had loved Burton’s previous work, especially Batman, it was this movie that really cemented him as my favorite director of this era behind Steven Spielberg.

This also cemented Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder as two of my favorite actors of the era, as both of them really transcend the screen and put in such beautiful and believable performances that it’s impossible to watch this film and not be emotionally effected.

Furthermore, this also features my favorite performance by Dianne Wiest, an actress I have loved for as long as I can remember. But in this, she really turns up the matriarch persona she is so well at playing. She’s so lovely, kind, has a tremendous heart and you find your own heart breaking, as she comes to realize that as much love as Edward deserves, maybe she made a grave mistake in trying to bring him into her world so quickly. And this realization is where the movie takes a turn and gets much deeper, much darker and much more meaningful.

At its core, this is a Grimms’-style fairytale set in the modern world. However, the modern world is presented in a way that’s sort of timeless. While it features things that were modern for 1990, the look of suburbia is done in a colorful 1950s style. This is one of the things I love most about the movie, as it takes the things that influenced Burton’s development and sort of blends them together. It gives the film a dreamlike, fantastical quality that couldn’t have been achieved had Burton just set this in a place that was blatantly contemporary for the year it was filmed in.

The film is also populated with so much talent and great performances from everyone involved like Alan Arkin, Robert Oliveri, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Conchata Ferrell, etc.

For me, though, seeing Vincent Price in this was truly special. He was a huge inspiration to Burton and myself, as well. This picture provided him with the perfect role to go out with honor and grace. And while he did a television movie after this, Edward Scissorhands was the legend’s true exit from film and his few moments in this were just beautiful and brilliant.

Edward Scissorhands is a close to perfect film. Sure, as I’m now older and hadn’t seen this in a long time, I do see some minor flaws, here and there. However, they’re not worth nitpicking over, as the film has held up tremendously well and the things it does perfectly far exceed the small things that might have been lacking.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Vibes (1988)

Release Date: August 5th, 1988
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Deborah Blum
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Peter Falk, Michael Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Park Overall

Imagine Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’d give you the finger but I’m too refined.” – Sylvia Pickel

I was nine years-old when this hit theaters but I remember seeing the ads on television constantly. I never did see the movie in the theater or thereafter until now, over three decades later.

I generally like Cyndi Lauper but I haven’t seen her act in anything else. In this, she’s not great by any stretch but she’s at least likable and entertaining. Then again, she’s pretty much playing herself with psychic powers.

Beyond Lauper, you have Jeff Goldblum, who I love in everything he’s ever done. He’s good here but he also plays a character that’s pretty much just himself with psychic powers. So neither lead in this movie really had to try too hard.

You also get Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Michael Lerner, Park Overall from Empty Nest and a very young Steve Buscemi in this.

I guess out of everyone, I enjoyed Falk the most.

The plot is pretty damn rickety and it’s not very good. Although, it is somewhat salvaged by the charm of the Lauper and Goldblum, who I thought had fairly decent and unique chemistry.

Vibes just barely kept my attention, though. I didn’t find it tough to get through but had it lasted longer than its 99 minutes, I would’ve probably needed to take a break.

In the end, this is pretty forgettable and I can see why it’s been lost to time and never really gained a cult following, even from the many fans of Cyndi Lauper’s that still exist today.

Rating: 5/10

Comic Review: Red Sonja/Claw: The Devil’s Hands

Published: January 24th, 2007
Written by: John Layman
Art by: Andy Smith, Jim Lee (cover)
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, Claw the Unconquered by David Michelinie, Ernie Chan

Wildstorm, Dynamite Entertainment, 112 Pages

Review:

Yeesh! This was bad.

I thought a story that brought together Red Sonja and Claw the Unconquered would be pretty damn badass. Well, it should have been but this certainly wasn’t.

The Jim Lee cover was really damn cool, though.

I also thought that Andy Smith’s art throughout the comic was pretty good. There were a few spots in the action sequences that I had to examine, though, as the transition from one panel to the next seemed to be off.

As far as the story, it was pretty schlocky. While I like schlock of a certain caliber, this was just lowest common denominator crossover bait, which is something that companies like Dynamite and IDW have become famous for over the last several years. Granted, this is about fifteen years old now but this is also where I noticed IP crossovers really starting to become far more common.

At least this didn’t bring the characters together through magic portals, which has been a bad trope in stories like these.

Anyway, you can totally skip over this unless you’re a Red Sonja completist. But if you are, maybe read this last after all the other stuff.

Rating: 4/10

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: The Lady of the Lake’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

At last, I have reached the final book in The Witcher saga! Well, technically there is one more that takes place after the saga. So, this is the fifth of the five saga books and the seventh of eight, overall. Regardless, it’s been a hell of a ride up to this point and I’m kind of bummed that there’s just one book left.

This book is thicc.

It’s the thickest of the series, anyway, and with that, a whole lot of shit happens.

In fact, this probably could’ve been split into two volumes and that may have made it easier to digest all the details but regardless, it’s still the strongest and best book in the series.

This taps into the King Arthur myth, as it features the knight Galahad and Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. The story starts with Ciri recounting events in her life, which sets up the novel’s story.

In this, we see Geralt and his party face certain doom and very, very few survive. But we also see Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer come back together to close out the series.

Before that, however, we see what happens to Ciri when she’s trapped in the magical realm she entered at the end of the previous book. While there, she grows exhausted of what’s expected of her by the elves that hold the power in that mysterious place. Eventually, she discovers the unicorns, who have beef with the elves and thus, help Ciri escape back to her homeland.

There are a lot of different plot threads weaving in and out and despite the complexity of the novel as a whole, it’s well organized and the story is well told.

In the end, there is a satisfying conclusion and Ciri gets to walk her own path in spite of everyone telling her what her destiny should be over the course of her entire life, up to this point.

This was a solid conclusion to the saga and frankly, the book was hard to put down.

I’m pretty happy that I picked this series up. It actually exceeded my expectations and lived up to the hype, which things rarely do.

Rating: 9.5/10

Ranking the Bosses of ‘Dark Souls II – Scholar of the First Sin’

Since I ranked the bosses of the first Dark Souls game, I figured that I should also rank the bosses of the second game.

I played through this game a few times but not as many times as I played through the original game. There are reasons for this, as I explain in my review of the game. Mostly, I just didn’t enjoy the overall experience as much as the first game.

But as I stated in my previous list, I wanted to take the experience of playing through this multiple times to rank the bosses by how difficult I’ve found them to be overall.

My list certainly is my own and the more I talk to others that have an affinity for this series, we all seem to have a very different take on which bosses gave us the most trouble. I guess, this also has to do with play style and character type.

In the end, though, these are how I’d rank the bosses I’ve faced from hardest to easiest.

1. Ancient Dragon
2. Sinh, The Slumbering Dragon
3. Fume Knight
4. Sir Alonne
5. Blue Smelter Demon
6. Vendrick
7. Afflicted Graverobber, Ancient Soldier and Cerah the Old Explorer
8. Darklurker
9. Orange Smelter Demon
10. Lud and Zallen, The King’s Pets
11. Burnt Ivory King
12. Elana, Squalid Queen
13. Aldia, Scholar of the First Sin
14. Demon of Song
15. Aava, The King’s Pet
16. The Rotten
17. Throne Watcher and Throne Defender
18. The Pursuer (the first one)
19. Lost Sinner
20. Velstadt, The Royal Aegis
21. Looking Glass Knight
22. Nashandra
23. Old Iron King
24. Giant Lord
25. The Duke’s Dear Freja
26. Executioner’s Chariot
27. Belfry Gargoyles
28. Ruin Sentinels
29. Old Dragonslayer
30. Twin Dragonriders
31. Scorpioness Najka
32. Guardian Dragon
33. Flexile Sentry
34. The Skeleton Lords
35. Mytha, The Baneful Queen
36. Dragonrider
37. The Last Giant
38. Royal Rat Authority
39. Covetous Demon
40. Prowling Magus and Congregation
41. Royal Rat Vanguard