Two collages of sketch requests from visitors to my Rose City Comic Con table. (Click to enlarge.) Thanks for a great show!
Two collages of sketch requests from visitors to my Rose City Comic Con table. (Click to enlarge.) Thanks for a great show!
Movie review in the Friday, Sept. 20 Oregonian....
For much of its running time, the grim thriller "Prisoners" is as concerned with psychological confinement as it is with the literal confinements that drive its story.
First, the literal confinements. The film, directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Incendies") from a script by Aaron Guzikowski, starts on a rainy Thanksgiving. A working-class couple (Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello) and their middle-class friends (Terrence Howard, Viola Davis) are spending the holiday together, kids underfoot. Then each couple's youngest daughter disappears.
Circumstantial evidence suggests a low-IQ oddball (Paul Dano) had something to do with it; he'd parked his ratty RV in the neighborhood at the time the girls vanished. But a driven police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) can't find enough hard evidence to press charges, so the oddball goes free.
This prompts Jackman, nearly feral with rage, to take matters into his own hands and kidnap Dano -- the plan being to torture the kid until he reveals where the girls are hidden.
As you might imagine, Jackman's assumption of guilt -- which may or may not be flawed -- leads to a few plot complications and moral quandaries.
Which leads us to the (arguably more interesting) psychological confinements.
The story is furiously acted and loaded with dread, and gets more than a little bizarre as it develops. But at its best, "Prisoners" dwells on the ways the characters affected by the case are held mentally captive -- by conviction, compulsion, procedure, skewed beliefs, rage, and grief -- and how each character's blind spot and/or maniacal focus furthers or frustrates the search for the girls.
Villeneuve (working with Coen brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins, who piles on the slate-grey gloom) creates a world in which faith and despair wage quiet war, where people with different notions of "justice" undermine each other's efforts. It creates a deep-tissue suspense, because you could easily see the mystery never being solved as a result. Some of the film feels like a companion piece to "Zodiac" (underlined by Gyllenhaal's presence) or the original 1988 Dutch version of "The Vanishing" -- where the filmmakers were as interested in the obsession with solving a mystery as they were in the mystery itself.
Unfortunately, at its not-best, "Prisoners" also feels a little at war with itself.
Villeneuve and Deakins milk the material for every ounce of Serious Meaning, and all the actors dive in head-first (Gyllenhaal and Dano in particular are excellent; I refer readers to James Franco's geek-out over Gyllenhaal's performance at Vice.). But is there a limit to how much Serious Meaning can be gleaned from Guzikowski's script -- which goes all pulp-mystery loopy every once in a while?
Without spoiling anything, there's just enough weird melodramatic pop-thriller coincidence threaded through the story -- just enough of the 1993 American remake of "The Vanishing," if you will -- to slightly undermine the vibe, and the filmmaker's efforts at profundity.
(The movie also drags Howard and Davis into the torture plot without quite knowing what to do with them once they're there, which is unfortunate, because it makes these initially central characters suddenly seem extraneous.)
Putting it another way: Matters get slightly outlandish, and they get just outlandish enough to undermine the whole Deeply Serious Prison of the Human Mind meditation the movie's been carefully building during its two-and-a-half-hour running time.
"Prisoners" is still a fascinating, skillfully directed, overpoweringly atmospheric mystery. If they'd better reconciled the grand ambitions with the story kinks, it could have been great.
(153 mins., rated R for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout) Grade: B-minus
'Prisoners' (The Oregonian, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013)
I'll have a table (specifically, Table M-14 in Artist Alley) at the Rose City Comic Con, set for this Saturday and Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center. Come by and say hi. I'll sketch you something.
What are my wares? These are my wares:
1. FREE "Sabertooth Vampire" temporary tattoos. The design is pictured above (though the actual tattoo is blessedly smaller). Grab one while supplies last.
2. "Super Cosplay Dance Party" prints. Double-sided.
3. "Pete & Brucilla" prints. (Both prints come in lovely custom envelopes.)
4. "Sabertooth Vampire" minicomics. I'm close to selling out of the current Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 print runs.
5. FREE "Jaxxon's 11" ashcans.
6. "Santa's Lil' Gimp," a heartwarming tale for evil children.
7. And, why not, a few copies (hot off the presses) of an educational comic I co-wrote with economist Joe Cortright about cluster economic theory. The art's by Adrian Wallace, the colors are courtesy Bill Mudron, the pages are A4 (it was printed in Denmark), and I'm pleased with how it turned out.
Barring disaster, I'll also be appear on a panel at noon on Saturday, in Panel Room 4 -- a discussion of "Comics to Film," featuring Christopher Yost (co-writer of "Thor: The Dark World"), Joe Kelly (co-creator of "Ben 10"), and my former podcast host Bobby Roberts (now of "Welcome to that Whole Thing"), all of it moderated by Dawn Taylor of "Ham-Fisted Radio" fame.
Rose City Comic Con (official site)
... the front and back images of this year's Hood to Coast team shirt should form a sort of comic strip
Our team captain also wanted temporary tattoos for the crew this year. I attempted to capture our super-positive health-conscious warrior spirit.
Movie review in the Friday, Aug. 9 Oregonian....
I've had to review my fair share of "Harry Potter" knockoffs since 2006. A partial tally would include "The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising," "Eragon," "Inkheart," "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant," and probably something I can't remember with a title like "Frankie Haversham and the Mystery of the Alchemist's Worrystone" with Nic Cage as the evil warlock Blastaplast, or something.
And even with all that in my eyeballs, I still find the "Harry Potter"-aping of the "Percy Jackson" films sort of breathtakingly shameless.
Mind you, the two "Percy" flicks -- 2010's "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" and this week's "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," both adapted from Rick Riordan's novels -- aren't nearly as shabby as most of the other "Potter" copycats. The "Percy" actors have real charm, there's humor to the proceedings, there's money behind the effects, and the series was kicked off by actual "Potter" director Chris Columbus.
But in the films at least, there's something so naked about the "Potter"/"Percy" story parallels that's it's hard not to sit there as a viewer and get distracted playing connect-the-dots. Let's see: A boy with special powers and a lousy home life finds out he has supernatural parentage and gets invited to a remote training school for other special kids where the teachers are monsters and the sports rivalries are brutal and then the boy goes on quests and solves mysteries with his two best pals (a boy and a girl) and there are lots of set-pieces involving monsters and wacky potions and weird transportation and the boy gets caught up in a prophecy and a larger war between old superpowered enemies? Hm.
It's enough of a carbon copy that it feels a bit like watching one of those mystery-solving-teen knockoffs of "Scooby-Doo" that choked the airwaves in the '70s. And after watching star Logan Lerman bring such delicacy to "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," Percy feels like a slight waste of his talents.
Anyway. If you liked/can remember watching "The Lightning Thief," you'll be happy to hear "Sea of Monsters," directed by Thor Freudenthal ("Hotel for Dogs" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"), is more of the same, only with fewer off-color jokes and slightly more dramatic tightness.
This time the kids (Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario) are looking for the Golden Fleece to save a poisoned magic tree that protects their training camp, lending a bit more urgency to the proceedings than last time. They're joined in the hunt by a klutz Cyclops (Douglas Smith) and a warrior princess (Leven Rambin) -- the latter character feeling slightly redundant given that the warrior princess from the first film (Daddario) is still hanging around, only now with less to do.
There are one or two shameless nods to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The guest-star turns from Stanley Tucci as an on-the-wagon Dionysus and Nathan Fillion as Hermes are pretty amusing, and there's a cleverly designed bit with a killer mechanical bull at the top of the film. (Tucci also gets the movie's best line as he complains about Zeus turning his wine into water, and Nathan Fillion is somehow allowed to make a thinly veiled reference to the cancellation of "Firefly.")
Unfortunately, the issues that plagued the first installment persist. The story still has a forgettable exposition-setpiece-exposition-setpiece rhythm that leads to an undistinguished action climax, and the insertions of Greek mythological figures into real-world locales (including a product-placement-y UPS office) still feel more like kitchen-sink-cleverness than part of any larger organic story (though the six-armed barista the kids run into in Washington D.C. is kind of funny).
And seriously, the warp-speed taxicab driven by the three Graeae witches sharing a single eye needs to be roughly 100-percent less like the "Prisoner of Azkaban" Knight Bus or the "Chamber of Secrets" flying car than it is:
Still. If "Lightning Thief" was the "National Treasure" of "Potter" knockoffs, "Sea of Monsters" gets by as the "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" of "Potter" knockoffs. Here's a poster blurb: Your child's attention will be briefly diverted.
(106 min., rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language) Grade: C-plus
'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' (The Oregonian, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013)
So I just added "Pete & Brucilla" and "Super Cosplay Dance Party" prints to my online store. They’re printed old-school on thick paper on a press , fit nicely in a record-album frame, and look great in a kid’s room. They also come in a custom envelope while supplies last. And I totally priced them to move at $10 a pop.
I'll also have these for sale at the Rose City Comic Con on Sept. 21-22. Come on by; I'll sketch you something.
Movie review in the Friday, July 19 Oregonian....
As horror movies go, "The Conjuring" is an extremely skillful, entertaining remix album.
That's not an insult.
Director James Wan ("Saw," "Insidious," "Death Sentence") has crafted a wickedly effective horror thrill-ride -- taking well-worn elements of the genre (from a long list of classics including "The Exorcist" to "Poltergeist" to "The Shining" to "The Birds") and re-combining them using solid actors, a minimum of splatter, and a carefully engineered sense of dread.
It isn't particularly deep, but it's a grab-your-seatmate good time at the haunted house.
The movie fictionalizes the adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), most famous for the controversial "Amityville Horror" case that became a 1977 book and 1979 movie (and another influence on "The Conjuring").
Ed is a non-ordained demonologist -- in the exorcism game, sort of a cool private eye to the Catholic Church's police force -- and Lorraine's a clairvoyant with mental battle scars from a long-ago exorcism gone wrong.
Wilson and Farmiga underplay the couple as loving, supportive and smart. * They ground the film, and probably a sequel or two, given how well this one works and given the gallery of possessed objects Ed keeps in a locked office -- genie bottles waiting to be opened.
"The Conjuring" follows the Warrens' attempts to help a family in Maine (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and five adorable and well-sketched daughters) as they're menaced by a demon taking them in full '70s-horror style through the stages of "Infestation, Oppression and Possession," as the Warrens helpfully outline for us on a chalkboard at one point.
What makes the film connect is the way Wan and his collaborators build trepidation through patient technique -- using character, shadows, anticipation, sound, music, POV, camera moves and the opening and closing of doors rather than gore, excessive CGI or cheap shocks. (Well, okay, there are several shocks, but they're well-placed).
By the time things go bananas, as the Warrens would absolutely not put it, Wan has earned the right to make us nervous about the simple stuff: floating sheets, the opening of any door, the point just beyond the range of a light source, and assorted scary dolls and music boxes. Every ghost-story cliché in the book, in other words, made fresh using classic tools.
* That said, my sole beef with any performance in the movie is that Wilson's light Boston accent leaves him sounding a little like Dan Aykroyd in "Ghostbusters" on a couple of lines. Wait for the bit where he says "This is where the witch committed suicide" and you'll see what I mean.
(112 min., rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror) Grade: B
'The Conjuring' (The Oregonian, Friday, July 19, 2013)
Thanks to Jamie S. Rich for asking me to do this. Been a Mike Allred fan since college (where I once saw him at Kinko's Xeroxing early "Madman" promos), so getting a chance to play around in this universe was a pretty big deal for me personally.