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Non-Review Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has style and charm. It doesn’t have much more than that, but never underestimate how far style and charm can get you. Guy Ritchie has always had a nice a sense of movement, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. always moves at a nice pace, even when it’s not entirely sure where it is going. A film so light that it threatens to get caught in the gust as it breezes by, it is also important never to overestimate how far style and charm can get you either.

Ride along...

Ride along…

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Hannibal – Entrée (Review)

It’s nice that we got this far into the season before Entrée was necessary. It’s the kind of episode that a show like Hannibal was always going to have to produce relatively early on, allowing it to air the laundry, so to speak, and to overtly and clearly distinguish itself from a popular predecessor. In this case, it’s The Silence of the Lambs.

Although we haven’t met Clarice Starling yet, although the credit at the start of each episode cites Red Dragon as the show’s inspiration, it’s hard to escape the shadow of one of the most popular horror films ever made. Many argue that The Silence of the Lambs was the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Even today, it remains a cultural touchstone, and there’s an incredibly large number of people who are only familiar with the character of Hannibal Lecter through that story and – in particular – through the film adaptation.

Hannibal hasn’t been shy about referencing The Silence of the Lambs, nor should it be. Crawford’s office from the start of Aperitif seems arranged in homage to the film, while the arrangement of two of the victims in Coquilles couldn’t help but evoke Hannibal’s dramatic escape from his cell at the film’s climax. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Entrée exists mainly to allow the show to indulge and engage in the imagery and iconography of the film, so that Hannibal can truly distinguish itself.

"Oh, goodie..."

“Oh, goodie…”

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Non-Review Review: Superman Unbound

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman Unbound is a little disappointing. These direct-to-video animated films can offer brilliant and energetic takes on established comic book characters and stories. The recent two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and the animated version of New Frontier come to mind. However, Superman Unbound seems to be just treading water, offering a fairly generic Superman story with no real insight into the character and his world.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away…

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Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Silver Age comic books are, by their nature, different from modern comics. It’s more than just evolving social norms, or even shifting artistic sensibilities. There’s a massive world of difference between a fairly average comic written in the mid-sixties and a similarly average comic produced today. While I’d be reluctant to describe the comics contained in Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 as “great” or “brilliant”, they have a certain charm or novelty to them. They feel alien and unique, as if offering a raw and unrefined sample of a mood that Superman has been chasing for the past two or three decades.

While I don’t think Batman was as well-served by the sixties as he was by later decades, there’s a surreal innocence to these comics which speak to Superman as a character. These are the comics that probably inspired Richard Donner’s Superman film, and though artists like Al Plastino, Curt Swan or Dick Sprang might not have drawn a Superman who resembled Christopher Reeve, it’s very easy to imagine him fitting in among these stories quite easily.

The Silver standard?

The Silver standard?

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Superman: The Animated Series – Ghost in the Machine (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Ah, Lex Luthor. Luthor is, in the right hands, an absolutely fascinating character. The arrogant, ruthless, egocentric hero of his own story – the man who resents the world for not acknowledging his genius are recognising his boundless compassion. He’s a crusader against the alien threat that has lulled his city into a false sense of security, and he’s willing to make untold sacrifices in order to expose Superman as the menace that Luthor knows deep down that he is.

Well, not really. Luthor is a greedy and manipulative sociopath with delusions of grandeur and a ruthless streak a mile wide. However, there’s something quite intoxicating about the romantic mythology he’s created from himself. Ghost in the Machine is really the first time we’ve focused on a character taken in by that mythology, somebody won over by Luthor’s propaganda and his alpha male charisma.

Mercy Graves was never the break-out character that Harley Quinn was, but she’s another valuable addition to the DC universe made by Bruce Timm and the rest of DC animation. Ghost in the Machine is as much her story as Superman’s or Brainiac’s, as she finds herself caught in the middle.

Another day in the body shop...

Another day in the body shop…

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Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Comic book nostalgia is a funny thing, particularly when it comes to dealing with continuity. There’s a tendency to suggest that modern comics have lost their way, to suggest that modern reboots – both “hard” and “soft” – represent a break from the past and a gimmicky attempt to fix problems that are greatly exaggerated. However, while past reboots might not have enjoyed the same publicity as Flashpoint or Crisis on Infinite Earths, it is interesting to note that comic book creators have been reworking a retooling their creations for quite some time.

Indeed, almost every comic book character has been reimagined a couple of times before settling on their most successful portrayal. Sometimes those changes happen gradually – Superman’s evolution from a man who could leap tall buildings to a man capable of juggling planets – but others were quite sudden. The issues collected here, under the title Kryptonite Nevermore, represent one shift and decisive attempt to consciously “reboot” or “retool” Superman as a character, recognising that sometimes it’s necessary to do some radical reworking to update an existing concept.

A Superman story with bite!

A Superman story with bite!

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Superman: The Animated Series – Blasts From the Past, Parts 1 & 2 (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Blasts from the Past feels like it should be a better episode. After all, Superman’s relationship with his Kryptonian heritage should be fodder for good drama. If you read Superman as a parable for the American Dream – the story of an orphan from far away who comes to America and makes something of himself – it’s always fascinating to look at that story from the other direction. What are Superman’s ties to Krypton, a planet destroyed before he could speak? Does he define himself as Kryptonian?

Some versions of the character’s mythology suggest that his outfit is Kryptonian armour. Most recent takes on the character suggest that the famous “S-shield” is the emblem of the House of El. There are a lot of interesting questions about how an alien from a dead world who has become the protector of Earth must see himself. Is he one or other, both, or neither? Most interpretations seem to opt for “both”, although the suggestion is that Kal-El leans more heavily towards Earth.

Blasts from the Past should be a vehicle to explore this, bringing back two Kryptonian characters and allowing Superman to interact with them. At the very least, perhaps it could be an exploration of how much a childhood on Earth changed Superman. Instead, it feels like a rather bland rehash of Superman II, just with some names changed.

Red sky in the... well, eternity, I guess...

Red sky in the… well, eternity, I guess…

 

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