Thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I actually saw this the weekend it was released (two weeks ago, now), but various things conspired against posting about it at that time.  I shall now rectify this grave, grave oversight.

I thought it was okay.  It entertained me, but didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and there were huge plot holes.  It also heavily truncated Wolverine’s history from the comics.  It was, however, much better than X-Men: The Last Stand or Spider-Man 3, and light years ahead of some Marvel-inspired films.  (Ghost Rider, I’m looking at you.)

So, the movie worked reasonably well as a mindless summer blockbuster—some cool bits, nice action sequences, and, well, that’s really all.  It didn’t really offer any deep insight into the character, or if it does, the ending sort of makes that irrelevant.  It suffers in comparison to some of the recent excellent superhero movies by just being a summer action movie.  So, pretty darn entertaining, but sort of empty.

I’ll get more specific after the cut.

Continue reading Thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2009

In the last issue of The House Always Wins

The intrepid investigator House had scoped out the Pulp Show and Sale, but that was not the only mission that lay before him.  After completing his search there, he set out to the Toronto Reference Library, to battle the faceless hordes of the 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

Lighthouse Comics presents…

The House Always Wins #54: “Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls…”

Scene: Outside the Toronto Reference Library, 4:15 PM, Saturday, 09 May 2009.

House (monologue): Time is running out.  Hiding from the weather and investigating the Pulp Show set me back more than I had anticipated.  But that didn’t matter.  I had a mission, and I’m the best there is at what I do.  And what I do is buy webcomic merchandise.

Scene: Lobby of the Toronto Reference Library, beyond which the main exhibition area can be seen, filled with people and exhibits.

House: I hadn’t anticipated so many people.  The place was crowded.  Too crowded.  If a fight broke out, there’d be trouble.  The main show area was six of seven floors high; why couldn’t flight be one of my powers?  But no, I had to fight my way through the crowds.  I’m good at that, too.

People are going every which way around me; I have no idea where anything is, and nothing I see looks familiar.  I push my way through to the back, where, out of the corner of my eye, I see a sign directing me to the webcomics pavilion.  Bingo.

This room is much smaller, with the exhibitors set up around the edges, leaving the middle free.  From the middle, I’m able to scan each of the tables.  I see Bryan Lee O’Malley, behind stacks of Scott Pilgrim books, signing away, and this confuses me—that’s no webcomic.  I feel a flash of regret, not having brought any of my Pilgrim stuff to be signed, but that’s not why I’m here.

I finally see my target: Chris Hastings, of Dr. McNinja fame.  I recognize him by all the merch in front of him.  I buy two shirts, though in one size smaller than I’d prefer, and a poster and a book, which he very coolly sketched and signed.

House: “I’m a big fan of the comic.”

Hastings: “Yeah, I can tell.”

House: “I even went as the Doctor for Halloween a couple of years ago.”

Hastings: “Nice.”

House: “Keep up the good work.”  I’m a man of few words.  And my mission was accomplished.  I got out with ten minutes to spare, because I’m the best there is at what I do.

Scene: Toronto Reference Library, 1:15 PM, Sunday, 10 May 2009.

House: Mother’s Day.  I got here too late to get into the panel on Newspapers, Comics, and the Internet, and so I took the time to give my mother a call instead.  That went well enough, but I still had time to kill.  This proved to be mistake—I ended up with Two-Fisted Science and Galaxion, as well as an art book.  Like I’ve said before, I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do is buy stuff.

Scene: Learning Centre 2, Toronto Reference Library, 2:30 PM.

House: After running into a friend, I took in a panel on Editing in Comics.  This may have been a mistake.  Unfortunately, the venue was not very sound-proof, and the noise from the main exhibition floor readily made its way through the glass walls of the Learning Centre.  Coupled with the low volume of the microphones meaning the panelists couldn’t be heard, it was challenging to pay attention.  Ultimately, the take-away was that comics editing usually amounts to either censorship or selection, and there’s not usually much back-and-forth with creators.

Scene: Main Exhibition Space, Toronto Reference Library, 3:45 PM.

House: My cash was used up, and so was my interest in panels.  Still, the Comic Arts Festival was good.  It was nice to see so many excited people out to a comics event, and it showcased the huge variety of comics that are out there today.  This thing will come around again in another couple of years.  I’d better start saving up….


The Pulp Show Caper

Saturday, May 9th dawned dark and gloomy, but I didn’t mind.  I was still flying high after a round of heavy Star Trek the night before, and even taking my best gal to the airport in the rain couldn’t get me down.  I knew she’d be back.  She always came back.

But a man can’t live on happy feelings alone, and so after I got back to the dive I call a home, I got some food, and a shower, and waited out the heavier rain.  I had a case on the books, and today I had to do something about it.

See, a Mr. Interweb had been coming by the office more and more often, of late, lamenting that science fiction magazines are dying—maybe even all of science fiction.  Worse, he was afraid it might be his fault, but he couldn’t stop what he was doing, now.  He was too far along, and too heavily invested in being what he was.

This was all well and good, but until someone is actually dead, there’s not much for a private dick to do.  That’s when Mr. Interweb pulled out the show-stopper.

“I know where the bodies are buried,” he said, sinking into the wobbly chair across from my desk with a dejected sigh.  “I… I didn’t kill them.  Not all of them.  Some were killed by cheap books, some by radio, some by television and video games and movies, and some from simple neglect.  Some of them just couldn’t compete.”  He looked me in the eyes, then, and I shivered at the empty loneliness that hung behind his glassy stare.  “But I know where the bodies are.”

And so it was that, after the rain stopped, I found myself trudging toward Toronto’s Lillian H. Smith Library, where the annual Pulp Show and Sale was being held.  I had been to this place a couple of times before, for a panel and a book launch—it maintained its science fiction connection through ownership of The Merril Collection.  I had already missed most of the scheduled activities, but the dealer’s room in the basement was still going strong.

The stench of old paper filled the room like the stink of death.  Bodies were everywhere, some wrapped in plastic, others just crammed into boxes, creases in their covers, rips and tears revealing the yellowing pages within.  There was a bustling trade in these antiquities—issues of The Shadow were priced at several hundred dollars—and there were knock-offs available for considerably less.

What struck me was how many there were—Mr. Interweb hadn’t been kidding.  There were a lot of bodies, many of them from before his time.  Amazing Stories, Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Startling Stories were among the many science fiction and fantasy pulps, plus countless others in different genres.  Makes a man envision a time with newstands full of entertainment and fiction, not celebrity gossip and exercise tips.  Makes a man think he’s too old for this game.

A kind dealer pointed me toward his discount bin, where I picked up a copy of Planet Stories from Summer 1955 (featuring stories by Poul Anderson and Leigh Brackett) and an issue of Startling Stories from April 1952 (featuring another Brackett and one by L. Sprague de Camp).  (Must remember to bill Mr. Interweb for expenses.)  What struck me most as I skimmed through them was how little today’s “Big Three”—Analog, Asimov’s, and Fantasy and Science Fiction—have changed from the style of 50 years past.

Sure, these old magazines were a bit larger, and so the text was in two columns instead of one, but they were still printed on that same newsprint-style paper, with the glossy colour covers and a few black-and-white illustrations inside.  But apart from that, you’d almost think they were published at the same time.  Makes a man wonder if Mr. Interweb is the only problem they face if they’re to survive—I mean, there are not a lot of other magazines looking like that on the shelves today, and the ones you do see are even worse off.

And so I left the show, feeling somewhat pensive.  As Mr. Interweb suggested, there were indeed bodies.  But I was left with more questions than answers.  We knew—or at least suspected—what killed these old pulps, but it was little help in keeping the surviving magazines from suffering the same fate.  The case wasn’t closed, not by a long shot.  But the library soon would be, and so I called it a day.

Thoughts on Star Trek

The new Star Trek movie has been heavily reviewed, lately, and has been winning almost-universal praise.  (It currently has a 95% fresh ratintg on Rotten Tomatoes, which is really, really good.)  I basically agree with all the praise.

The movie looks beautiful, the story is fast-paced and fun, and the casting is more solid that anyone could have hoped for.  Karl Urban is rock solid as McCoy, Zachary Quinto—surprisingly—does a good enough job as Spock to make me forget he is also Sylar, and Pine is actually okay as a cocky young Kirk with daddy issues.  The rest of the cast are also solid, although they received much less attention and development than the big three.  (We did get to see Sulu with a sword, which was most excellent.)

The action sequences were also very cool, if cut together a little too quickly and thus making it hard to follow at times.  Having a young cast and a budget for a stunt crew means the action can be more intense and fast-paced than in most of the Trek movies we’ve seen.  It all works together to provide an extremely fun and entertaining movie that sucks you in while you’re watching it. Star Trek is also, I think, accessible to new audiences, while rather cleverly showing a connection to the original series and its spin-offs in a way that explains and justifies the differences.

That said, it doesn’t hold up quite so well once you stop and think about it.  You don’t really notice in the theatre, because the pacing and action and visual excitement keep you off balance, but there are a number of issues that challenge the verisimilitude of the movie and problems with the nature of the story and the common sense of characters.

From here on in, things will get full of spoilers, so I’ve moved that behind the cut.  Before that, I’ll leave you with my mini-summary: Star Trek was a good, fun, summer movie, that I think almost anyone can enjoy on some level.

Continue reading Thoughts on Star Trek

Quick Thoughts on Monsters vs Aliens

I ended up seeing Monsters vs. Aliens quite by accident, when—while questing for movie gift cards—my girlfriend suggested we see a movie, since we were already there, and it was really the only thing of interest at that time that I hadn’t yet seen, and she had been kind of interested anyway.  (I am uncertain whether that was a clever plan on her part, banking on the fact that I’d rather do just about anything instead of go home to work.)

So we ended up seeing the movie—in 3D, no less—and it was okay.  The animation was fairly typical for a computer-animated movie, the script was reasonably funny (albeit laden with already-dated jokes and pop-culture references), and the voice actors was fine.  I was entertained.  The 3D did not give me a headache or hurt my eyes.  It doesn’t hold up well in comparison to anything from Pixar, but then, few movies do, and it’s not especially clever.  But it had its moments.

It’s not something you need to rush out and see, and I don’t think the 3D element was so awesome as to make it worth seeing in the theatre.  But, it’s an amusing enough movie, and will likely keep you entertained.

Thoughts on Fanboys

It was some weeks ago now, but the movie Fanboys—which I had seen trailers for over two years ago, and had been waiting for ever since—was finally released in Toronto.  (It apparently comes to DVD on May 19th, so this review may be somewhat timely after all.)

The movie is set in 1998, and focuses on a group of friends who are die-hard Star Wars fans.  When they discover one of them is terminally ill and won’t live long enough to see the release of The Phantom Menace, they decide to road trip to Skywalker Ranch and break in to see an early cut of the movie.  As you might expect, wackiness ensues.

The story has the trappings of a zany road-trip comedy, but has some slightly more mature character arcs than typical, dealing as it does with death, mortality, and growing up.  It also has plenty of slapstick humour, typical jokes about Trekkies and Star Wars fans, and cameo appearances by actors running the range from Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, and Jason Mewes to Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, and William Shatner.

The movie has gotten fairly low ratings, but I really liked it.  I may, perhaps, identify a little too closely with the source material, being a die-hard Star Wars fan myself.  And like Hutch, one of the characters in the movie, I used to have a set of all-Rush mixtapes that were the only things to be played in my car.  If you like the classic Star Wars trilogy and know it well enough to get all the references to it, and if you like the slapstick Harold & Kumar/Superbad/American Pie-esque humour, you’ll probably like this movie.