15 July 2010

Medal of Honor: Frontline baby! (The Pacific Part 3)

Part 3: Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Moving away from the war scenes, the marines now find themselves down under, in Australia, back on turf with no conflict or fighting, but with women, alcohol and luxuries. When they first arrive, it’s a massive shock noticing the hundreds of people who have come out to see them and cheer them on. It only leads to them wanting to be young again, chasing tail and drinking. With the three separate storylines, each one having different problems, with one receiving the highest honour, the medal of honour, the one chasing a woman, and the other seemingly trying to marry another. It follows the path of each very well without being too distracting or boring and keeps the pace up. By having this episode the light humour in-between the death and destruction, it shows the two lives the soldiers live, the one for killing and the one for socialising. And this episode marks the first sex scene and as you’d imagine from HBO it’s pretty graphic. This also shows that the marines are starved of their natural human ways, and sex is something they’ve gone without for many many months, maybe even years. It’s more emotional than sexual in this scene. But later on, more sex scenes appear and i guess it shows the true nature of being a Marine at war. A good in-between episode, which i expect to pick up next week.

An Introduction to Comic Books (Part One)

Giant Pennies and Dinosaur Statues:

Okay, so I’ve been promising our mysterious benefactor, one Mr. Childs, that I’d do this column. I made
this promise a good five or six months ago. And, the lazy **** that I am, I’ve never gotten round to doing it. But, on this warm night in June, with my body clock all out of whack, I’ve decided I may as well use this free time to divulge to you the first in a series of articles detailing an introduction to the world of comic books. Week by week I’ll be talking to you about the current status quo of the comic book industry, how I got into comics, what comic books are good for reading if you’re just starting out, and some comics that I’ve been reading recently.

Yes, I share an office with Batman.

If I may, what will follow here is a very general, almost patronising account of the current worldview of comic book culture. Time was, a lot of people thought comic books were the domain of children and sad, lonely men who can’t get laid. This is, well, stupid. Stupid, completely wrong and not a nice thing to say at all. Since as early as the late 70s, comics started taking on a darker tone, reflecting real world problems and slowly being aimed at a more mature audience. Even that sentence isn’t totally true, as adults have been reading comics just as long as kids have. The kids who grew up reading about the new and exciting exploits of Batman, Superman et al, became adults and continued reading. The writers themselves were adults, so how could they not put in their adult views, emotions and political views into their work? Many comics in the 70s dealt with the Vietnam war, moving beyond the propaganda-esque comics of the 40s (Superman fighting Hitler, anyone?) and detailing a realistic view of the most unpopular war in history. As the 80s hit their stride we were given stories about the AIDs epidemic, drug abuse, child abuse, and many more darker themes besides. But I digress.

Watchmen, one of, if not the most, revolutionary comics out there.

As soon as “Wat
chmen” hit the shelves between ’86 and ’87, a lot changed. This was the turning point. No longer was everything like an Adam West “Batman” show, with all the “baf-bam-pow” cheesiness. No, sir. After Watchmen, we were fully presented with utterly (and scarily so) human characters. Of course, this was two – three years before I was born, so I’m giving this information to you second-hand. But the evidence is there – Watchmen, for the past twenty years, has spent much of that time in some of the highest positions on The New York Times’ bestsellers list. You know, that list dominated by esteemed literature and the like. Anyone who has ever read Watchmen has nothing but praise to sing about it.

Whether you’ve seen the film or just heard about it, what everyone should do is go out and read it. A 12-part “maxi” series, with a beginning, middle and end – Watchmen concerns a mostly-defunct team of vigilantes living in an alternate 1980s, one where Nixon stayed on for an extra term, and tensions during the Cold War are so intense that both the USA and Russia have their finger planted just above that doomsday button. It’s a world where vigilante “superheroes” emerged in the twenty-year period between the 40s and the 60s, and their successors helped to win the Vietnam war. The story offers a real-world look at what power and responsibility could do to people with the best of intentions. In this story, the heroes are sometimes indistinguishable from the villains. This is where the strength of the comic lies. But let’s not forget the expert multi-layering, the subtle background themes, the real-world commentary, the expressive art, and one of the best lines in comics, ever.

“I did it thirty-five minutes ago.”

Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen, has been hailed as one of the greatest comic book writers of all time. He’s British to boot. Moore is also responsible for “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, a stellar run on “Swamp Thing”, and “V For Vendetta”. Dave Gibbons was revolutionary in his artwork – adopting nine panels a page, for every page, this technique was astounding; he wasn’t trying to shock you with awesome art and page layout, “look-what-I-can-draw”... he was merely laying the art out in perfect sequence, letting the story grab you by the balls (or whatever you’ve got down there) and then topping it off with great art. I’m not going to go too far into detail about Watchmen as it’s been much-discussed elsewhere. Another notable comic of the 80s was Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”. You may recognise the name – he is the man responsible for “Sin City”, “300”, and some of the best “Daredevil” you will ever read. “The Dark Knight Returns” is critically acclaimed – it’s a story of Batman, Bruce Wayne, being an old man. The plot is pretty basic – set in a dystopian future, Batman comes out of retirement to fight crime. But there’s much, much more to it than that. Lauded by many as one of the best comics around since it’s publication, DKR remains a timeless piece of work – and, was another of the building blocks of comics getting darker, grittier, and more true-to-life. Well, as true-to-life as you can be when dealing with a guy who dresses up like a bat and jump off rooftops in his car, which also looks like a bat.

This image has become iconic since it’s debut as the cover of #1.

These seminal
comics are a great discussion point as we can now discuss what followed in comic book history – the 90s, and the Noughties. One important, the other... not so much. The 90s were basically horrendous for superhero comics. Hammy art took over, with big muscles, big guns and lots (and lots) of pouches being the flavour of the week... and decade. The grittiness of Watchmen and DKR were amped up to 11, with many comics going over-the-top.

Rob Liefeld, the “wr
iter” and artist, was big in the 90s, and one of the biggest perpetrators of this kind of art. He made thousands, if not millions, of dollars. But his art is awful. This remains one of the biggest mysteries in comic book history.

Writing took a massive backseat, and Crossovers took hold. The crossover, essentially, is this
– if you understand the concept that all of Marvel Comics’ books (for example) exist in the same universe (Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, etc etc) then a crossover would be when you have all these characters teaming up to stop some big world-threatening menace. Whereas, say, you’d be reading one book – Fantastic Four maybe – to get the whole story of a crossover, you would also have to get Spider-Man and X-Men. It’s a big financial move, a way to get more money off you. Now, fortunately, we have good crossovers, so more often than not, it’s worth the money. But in the 90s – it was sh*t. It was so sh*t. As previously mentioned, it was all about crappy art with worse writing. Add to that they’d print multiple versions of the same comic, except with a different cover – called a “variant”. This introduced a whole collectible aspect, and soon enough Marvel was looking at the bad end of bankruptcy. But that’s an article for another time. There were some good stories of the 90s, and I look fondly back at a few – the 90s was when I started out reading comics, and I was just a little kid at the time – so some of these crossovers I look back at with really fond, nostalgic memories. Re-reading them recently, however, is shocking – after the comic book world had experienced the greatness of stuff like Watchmen, it was hard to believe that comics had regressed like this.

The Onslaught Saga, a cr
ossover I remember loving as a kid, does not stand the test of time.

So, at the start of the year 2000, things weren’t looking too great for Marvel. There was a lot of structural change happening within the company editorially, and they knew they had to do something to save themselves from bankruptcy. DC Comics were not fairing much better, only staying afloat because they were/are owned by the massive Time Warner corporation. But superhero comics were pretty crappy across the board. Marvel, to stay afloat, auctioned off the film rights for their characters – for example, they sold the X-Men rights to Fox, Spider-Man to Sony, etc etc. And, when Fox decided to make an “X-Men” film, we all know how that turned out. People started turning to the comics because they saw the films, and the writers of the comics started evoking the films. For example: in the comics (and as I’m sure a lot of you will remember from the awesome 90s cartoon), Spider-Man had mechanical web-shooters. When the film said that he had organic web-shooters, the comics changed to this idea. The X-Men are known for their colourful, unique costumes – but when they were all wearing black leather in the films, they all started wearing the black leather in the comics.

“New X-Men”, published in July 2001, reflected a lot of what the movie created, and was much more besides.

Personally, I don’t know what happened. Something clicked in these creators’ minds, and all of a sudden we were getting great comics across the board. Artists got better, writers got seriously crazy, and some of the best comics you could ever read were published in the first decade of the 21st Century. Lord only knows what’s coming next. Obviously we’ve now had a string of great comic book movies – The Dark Knight, Iron Man, etc, and comics have been flung into the public purview. It’s now even deemed pretty cool in some social circles to read comics, a huge leap forward for those fans who were belittled for sitting in their “parent’s basement” (I hate that stereotype) doing nothing but poring over these great characters, who offer us good morality tales and awesome escapism from the dreary tic-tac-toe of our lives.

The Dark Knight offered us
a great comic book film, all the while drawing in curious strangers to the art form... yes, comics are an art form.

I’m going to delve more into this past decade of comics in the next instalment, but for now, let me tell you – life is good for the average comic book reader. Really good. All I’ve spoken of here are superhero comics for the most part – there are so many more independent comics out there that branch out to many different genres – romance, horror, sci-fi... and heck, I’ll probably cover those too at some point. More and more people ar
e flocking to comic book stores, more and more Waterstones are stocking “graphic novels”, and I’ve got many more people to talk shit about comics to. Hopefully you’re one of them, if you’ve carried on reading this far.

Comics can now be found pretty much everywhere.

Take away this message, dear readers – go read Watchmen. Go read The Dark Knight Returns. Comics are for everyone. They always have been. Come back here next week and I’ll give you more recommendations. Because once you read those two, you’ll be crying out for more - and my friend, there is much, much more to be read.

Dan Woburn

11 July 2010

The Beatles: Rock Band – The Early Years

Nowhere Boy - Sam Taylor-Wood

A massive Beatles fan, been playing Beatles Rock Band, listen to the early albums like Please Please Me, watched the documentaries about the band from the beginning and have even spent an evening on Wikipedia just researching every detail about the band and then i saw this, recently released on DVD, the early life of John Lennon, played by Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Johnson, and how he began the band The Quarrymen. I knew it had received some good reviews, and was expecting an accurate, funny, interesting story in how Lennon became the man he was, and how he met Paul McCartney and the rest of the band. I was expecting some good music, some entertainment, and some light hearted fun. Unfortunately i came away unhappy and not fulfilled in filling the huge gap of information that i wanted to receive in the way of John’s upbringing and him becoming John mother flipping Lennon.

The story follows John as he lives with his Dad and his girlfriend whilst he is at school. The relationship he had with his Dad was very special, you can see the deep emotional love they had for each other and how the Dad influenced John into becoming a musician. After the Dad dies early in the film, sorry for the spoilers, John becomes a tearaway, meeting his biological mother and becoming close to her whilst becoming further away from the woman he lived with, his step-mother. He flunks at school and after listening to new types of music, wants to form a band with a few of his friends to get money, to get famous and to get girls. He successfully forms a band, and they play well together, but with more people going to see them perform, fellow musicians also want in, and beg to play with the band, one of these people is the one and only Paul McCartney. They join forces in the band, and you can instantly see the connection and how they perform excellently together, even from an earlier age and i think the actors they got to play these two were spot on, Aaron Johnson as John Lennon, and Thomas Sangster as Paul McCartney, even though Sangster is very weedy at that age.

So overall, it’s a disappointing film, and i was expecting a lot better as what the reviews beckoned for it to be, but sadly, some reviews are utter shit sometimes, and you can’t always believe what you read I guess.


Simon Childs

The Mighty Boosh: The Film or is it?

Bunny and the Bull – Paul King

After seeing the posters in tube stations, seeing trailers on the TV, and seeing behind the scene featurettes, i finally got to see Bunny and the Bull on DVD and I’m glad i have. I was worried i was going to miss seeing this film because of rubbish cinema times, but after watching it, and loving pretty much every second, i can reveal that this film is awesome. It truly lives up to its reviews and fame it gained from the underground scene in which The Mighty Boosh is the film of chose, Camden is the place of choice and Top Shop is the clothes of chose. It all follows a trend in which “young” people are meant to be a part of. But luckily, the film deviates from this trend and creates a new form of cinema that i haven’t seen before. It continues the trend of British cinema but adds a twist, something that is unexpected. The plot moves along quickly but at the same time is confusing to follow. It doesn’t have a direct path, nor does it finish properly at the end, there isn’t a fairytale ending.

So moving onto the plot, Bunny and the Bull tells the story of a road movie, kinda, where Stephen played by the excellently emotionally detached human being Edward Hogg, recalls the story of his year of travel in the past with his best friend Bunny, played by Simon Farnaby, a scene stealer. The ascetics of the scene are all constructed using objects in Stephen’s flat, inanimate objects which come to life and form the memories and hallucinations. On their journey, they visit various places which are strange and wonderful, meet various people, both crazy and delusional, and end up trying to win the heart of a woman they meet named Elosia. Throw in comic appearances by Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding (The Mighty Boosh) as a dog-loving Russian tramp and a Spanish alcoholic ex-matador, with also a surprise appearance from Richard Ayoade, Moss from The IT Crowd, and the film is exciting, surprising and very fun all at the same time.

The way it moves from being serious to funny is perfectly done, where the audience are pressured into seeing sad, but get those genuine feelings, like throughout most of the film, i was rooting for Stephen’s character by how hard done he was and how unlucky he was in every situation thrown his way. I really haven’t got a bad word to say about the film, it’s surprisingly good and the style is defiantly unique which you may fall in love with. Go check it out now!


Simon Childs