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Non-Review Review: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is only ninety-three minutes long, but it feels much longer. In more ways than one.

As with Scoob! or Trolls World Tour, there’s something slightly cynical in releasing Artemis Fowl direct to streaming. The film feels like it might have wallowed in a theatrical release, with little to distinguish it from other young adult adaptations like The Maze Runner or The Mortal Engines. Although derived from a series of beloved children’s books, the cinematic adaptation of Artemis Fowl was never going to be this generation’s answer to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or The Hunger Games – despite the belaboured sequel hooks.

Fowl play.

The most interesting question that occurs when watching Artemis Fowl is at what point this became clear to the production team. Artemis Fowl has the look and feel of a movie that has been fed through a meat grinder. It is appreciably shorter than most would-be tentpoles, even though there is a seemingly continuous voice-over delivering reams of exposition. The plotting is haphazard. The character arcs are broad. There is a palpable sense that something happened in getting from page to screen, and the real mystery is where in the process things went so wrong.

Watching Artemis Fowl becomes almost an interactive mystery of itself. Was the project always this disjointed and chaotic, or was that something that happened in postproduction? More than that, was that process something that happened before or after Artemis Fowl was earmarked for a streaming release? When exactly on the creative process did everybody working on Artemis Fowl just give up completely?

A flying finish.

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May the Fourth Be With You! 25% “Opening The X-Files” at McFarland Books, May 4-11!

Quick post to announce that my publisher McFarland Books are having a massive sale on their pop culture books to mark the week of May 4th. Using the coupon PopCulture25, readers can get a discount of one quarter off the retail price of a wide range of books covering film, television and pop culture. If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to pick up a book, this is a good one.

I have a bit of a vested interest in the sale, given that McFarland published my book. Opening the X-Files offers a critical history of the original run of The X-Files, all the way from The Pilot through to I Want to Believe. I’m very proud of the book, and very grateful of the opportunity that McFarland gave me. And the reviews have been quite kind.

It has been described as “an informative and engrossing critical history of the series”, “one of the most confident, assured and enlightening reads on Chris Carter’s seminal show ever produced”, and “one of its essential texts.” To quote the great Jose Chung, I’m going to call those an unqualified rave!

You can visit the company’s website here. You can view all the books included in the offer here. You can order my book, Opening the X-Files, here.

All you need to need to do is just enter the code PopCulture25 when you reach the check-out. No muss, no fuss.

May the fourth be with you!

Non-Review Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Early in the film, a supporting character reveals the ingredients of the eponymous culinary delight, the mysterious “potato peel pie.” Those ingredients are, somewhat predictably, potatoes and potato peels. With some small measure of pride, the character in question boasts that his potato pastry remains conceptually pure. There is no flour, no sugar, no flavouring. There is only potato. Watching The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this almost feels like a moment of self-awareness.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society could certainly use more flavouring.

Pie in the sky thinking.

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Todd McFarlane’s Run on Spider-Man (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Todd McFarlane is undoubtedly one of the best artists ever to work on Spider-Man. His take on the character is iconic and influential. He really captures the sense of Spider-Man as a character who should be unnerving or disturbing – a character who is part insect, whose limbs are able to bend and contort in ways that would seem unnatural to a casual observer. His run on The Amazing Spider-Man with writer David Michelinie is one of the most underrated Spider-Man comics ever produced.

McFarlane was working at Marvel around the time that the company was investing more power in its artists. More and more, artists were becoming more essential to the creative process – whether credited as “plotters” or “writers.” Jim Lee was wresting control of the X-Men franchise from veteran writer Chris Claremont. Rob Liefeld was writing and drawing on his popular X-Force, launched from New Mutants.

Holding it together...

Holding it together…

In this context, it made sense to allow Todd McFarlane to branch out and write his own Spider-Man title. Launched to run alongside The Amazing Spider-Man, McFarlane’s adjectiveless Spider-Man remains one of the comic book success stories of the nineties, selling 2.5 million copied on initial release. It remains one of the best selling comic books of all time, with the original artwork recently selling for over $675,000.

As with many of its contemporary artist-drive series, McFarlane’s Spider-Man is a compelling read. It’s a glimpse inside the mindset of the comic book industry, a snapshot of trends that were still developing. McFarlane’s writing might be a little over-cooked, his plotting a little weak and he may not have the strongest sense of theme or structure. However, McFarlane’s artwork is absolutely spectacular, and there’s something very fascinating about McFarlane’s attempt to write Spider-Man as a horror comic starring the iconic web-slinger.

A sting in the tale...

A sting in the tale…

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Non-Review Review: Divergent

As far as adaptations of popular young adult novels go, Divergent lacks the strong charismatic lead of The Hunger Games or even the campy pleasure of The Mortal Instruments. Working with a premise that feels like it would have made for a delightfully cheesy piece of sixties socially-conscious science-fiction, Divergent proceeds to take absolutely everything far too seriously. Cliché moments play to an over-the-top soundtrack, terrible dialogue is delivered with earnest profundity, the movie failing to take any joy in anything that it does.

There’s a sense of cynicism in Divergent, with the sequels already mapped out, and the studio committed to their release. The result is a movie that never feels compelled to rush, instead spending most of its runtime spinning its wheels, covering familiar ground. It’s over-long and poorly paced, with the first two acts often feeling like a hyper-extended training montage, meaning that by the time anything starts happening the audience can’t wait for it to end. The result is a heavy-handed and over-cooked attempt at social commentary, one reeking of anti-intellectualism and simplistic pandering.

Don't worry, her training covers this...

Don’t worry, her training covers this…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 11 (Review/Retrospective)

I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty for glossing over the World War II era of The Spirit. The era tends to get ignored because Will Eisner effectively handed over control of the strip to a variety of writers and artists while serving in the Armed Forces. The talent involved professionals like Jack Cole and Lou Fine, so it’s hardly as if it was neglected. Still, without Eisner’s passion driving the strip, it seemed to lose its way slightly. The aesthetic shifted even further the longer Eisner was away. Fans skipping from the first collection of post-Eisner work (The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5) to the work included here will see a radical change in style. While there was still a strong influence from Eisner, the comic simply didn’t look right. However, the differences extended deeper as well. On some primal level, The Spirit of the World War II era didn’t really feel right either.

Hounded by the Spirit of Will Eisner…

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Infinite Crisis: Villains United (Review)

This month I’m taking a look at DC’s massive “Infinite Crisis” Event. Although it was all published in one massive omnibus, I’ll be breaking down the lead-in to the series to tackle each thread individually, culminating in a review of the event itself. Check back for more.

I have to admit that, as a rule, I have a great deal of respect for DC’s massive event-related tie-ins. Rather than typically offering expanded or deleted scenes from the main crossover, the tie-ins to their gigantic crossovers will frequently serve as prologues or epilogues to new concepts and relaunches. With Final Crisis, for example, Legion of Three Worlds served as prelude to a rebooted Legion of Superheroes and Rogues’ Revenge offered something of a hint of Geoff Johns’ return to The Flash. Infinite Crisis: Villains United is no different. While nominally the story of evil Alexander Luthor Jr.’s evil Secret Society, it’s actually something of a stealth pilot for Gail Simone’s Secret Six, introducing the characters and the concepts that would define the series.

Just an average day at the House of Secrets…

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Non-Review Review: Now is Good

Now is Good wallows in all the clichés that we’ve come to expect in these stories of young lives cut tragically short. There are long sequences without dialogue, scored to music designed to cue our emotions, inviting the audience to contemplate the profundity of everything going on. There’s care not to dwell on this as a bleak or depressing story with an inevitable downer ending. However, despite the awkward and trite direction, the script itself is surprisingly sturdy. While it seems to check off all the items on the list – not that set down by our protagonist, but the one codified by other recent stories of child mortality – it does have a hint of humanity that shines through from time to time. “Life is a series of moments,” the narration is prone to remind us, and there are some nice moments to be found in Now is Good, slotted between the plotting and structure dictated by the genre.

Their troubles are far afield…

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Friends & Crocodiles (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

Stephen Poliakoff is regarded as one of the best British film, theatre and television writers working today. In 2006, the writer and director produced two television movies linked by character and by theme. While Gideon’s Daughter is perhaps the more successful of the two, Friends & Crocodilesremains an interesting – if not consistently satisfying – viewing experience. While it doesn’t have as strong a cast as its companion piece, I think it covers more interesting ground, and feels a tad more ambitious, even if it does succumb to the same awkwardness in places.

Dealing with his inner Damians...

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Alan Moore’s Run on Swamp Thing – Saga of the Swamp Thing (Books #5-6) (Review/Retrospective)

This January, I’m going to take a look at some of DC’s biggest “events.” You can probably guess which event I’m leading into, but I don’t want to spoil it…

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is a run to treasure. I mean, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Scott Snyder’s new run on the character, especially since DC have decided to release it in hardcover, but Moore’s Swamp Thing remains one of Moore’s longer runs in mainstream comic books, demonstrating that it is possible for an extended in-continuity run on a (relatively) mainstream character to still transcend the expectations of the superhero genre. The eighties were full of fascinating creative ideas in comics, both in miniseries, independent and mainstream books, but I’d still argue that Moore’s Swamp Thing is remarkable due to its work redefining the superhero genre and its impressive length.

Into the sunset...

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