Archive for June, 2008

I think I’ve seen more movies this year than I have in the past 2-3 years combined. It’s been a little tough on the pocket book, but I really can’t complain because it’s been a great “summer at the movies” so far, and with a couple of months left to go it looks like I’ll be seeing at least 2 or 3 more.

Anyhow, my Mom’s birthday was this weekend and she was itching to see WALL·E, so we ordered the tickets early, loaded into the car, and braved the opening night crowds to celebrate. Surprisingly, eight of us were able to shuffle into the 5:00 p.m. showing with no incident, get the exact seats we wanted and enjoy the show. I was also surprised when the short film “Presto” fired up on screen as, despite devoting some time to it here, I had completely forgotten it was going to precede WALL·E until I took a moment to recollect what short film we’d be treated to. And, while short indeed, It proved to be as good as I anticipated, and definitely carried with it a Warner Bros. feel throughout. Hope y’all enjoy it.

As for the main feature itself, WALL·E is a masterpiece. Pixar did such a good job animating this, for example, that I had to remind myself that I wasn’t watching a live-action feature at times. It does become a little more evident that this is an animated piece when we get our glimpse at the humans in the story but this is not the CGI of even 2-3 years ago and it is literally amazing what we’re seeing on screen. I sure hope folks take a moment to consider the “magic” as they view these obvious labors of love from Disney & Pixar (especially when they’re this well done).

As for the story itself, you likely already know that the feature follows a quirky little robot (a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class unit a.k.a. WALL·E) whose directive is to convert an immense amount of human waste into neat, disposable, piles in order to help clean up the mess humanity has made of the earth. The planet hasn’t been able to sustain life since ~2100 so the Buy ‘N Large company initiates a program to take humanity into space while the waste allocation units clean the place up. So, yes, there’s an environmental message at play here but it doesn’t get so heavy handed that it becomes distracting or distracted (I’m looking at you Happy Feet) and who among us doesn’t appreciate the fact that we all need to go a little further in taking care of ourselves and the environment around us – so I don’t begrudge the message. But back to the little guy. In the hundreds of years its been since humanity left WALL·E not only becomes the last remaining unit, but he also develops a curious, playful, personality and genuinely enjoys new discoveries, and tinkering with collectibles that he finds in his daily trash duties. But beyond this, each day is fairly predictable, until a space ship arrives on earth and out pops an “Eve” unit. It’s love at first site for our hero and the movie really takes off (no pun intended) from there.

WALL·E is a fantastic family movie, it has a highly original cast of characters that you’ll be cheering on throughout, some heart-breaking moments (which you had to see coming if you were following the trailers) and it adds those extra layers to the experience as we become fascinated with watching WALL·E defy all odds, save the day, and remind us all of a thing or two about the value and quality of life along the way. Please go enjoy it for yourself, and take a moment to marvel at how far animation has come…and where it’s going.

Thanks WALL·E!


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The Incredible Hulk

I was itching to see The Incredible Hulk on opening night, certainly on the opening weekend, but circumstances prevented me from doing so and I had to put that enthusiasm on hold a little until I could free up some time to spend an evening at the theater. Which means that I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to avoid spoilers and such until I could go. Well, my Dad and I finally managed to free up an evening last night and go see the film so I thought I’d spend a few minutes discussing it a little here.

Like a number of moviegoers, I wasn’t really a big fan of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk release, so I was really looking forward to seeing what the new Marvel Studios would be able to do after re-aquiring the license, particularly after their stellar Iron Man debut. And, honestly, not really knowing what to expect going into the film I can say that I wasn’t the least bit disappointed and genuinely enjoyed the film very much. Anyhow, for those that haven’t seen the film yet, and it appears that – like myself – there are still a few late to the party, here is how Marvel describes it:

‘The Incredible Hulk’ kicks off an all-new, explosive and action-packed epic of one of the most popular super heroes of all time. In this new beginning, scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) desperately hunts for a cure to the gamma radiation that poisoned his cells and unleashes the unbridled force of rage within him: The Hulk.

Living in the shadows—cut off from a life he knew and the woman he loves, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler)—Banner struggles to avoid the obsessive pursuit of his nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) and the military machinery that seeks to capture him and brutally exploit his power.

As all three grapple with the secrets that led to the Hulk’s creation, they are confronted with a monstrous new adversary known as the Abomination (Tim Roth), whose destructive strength exceeds even the Hulk’s own.

And on June 13, 2008, one scientist must make an agonizing final choice: accept a peaceful life as Bruce Banner or find heroism in the creature he holds inside—The Incredible Hulk.

That’s actually more than you’d likely need to know going into the film, but having it fleshed out on the big screen is where the fun is. I freely admit that I was hoping to see an awful lot of “Hulk Smash” in the flick, I mean this is what the character does and what he does really well, but there is certainly more to the Hulk than smashing and sheer violence (always has been) and I was absolutely blown away with the way Marvel personified the Green Goliath, effectively balancing the creature’s absolute rage with a child-like nature that merely sought to be left alone, even cared for it the scenes between the Hulk and Betty Ross are an indication. These scenes underscore the fact that the Hulk isn’t a “monster” in the cruel sense of the word, but a tragic child-like innocent that resides deep in the heart of a behemoth who merely desires to protect himself and the ones he most assuredly loves.

It was fun to contrast the Hulk, with the misguided desires of both General “Thunderbolt” Ross and Emil Blonsky, particularly in the case of the latter. Blonsky’s thirst for power, and an edge, leads him down an all-together different road than Bruce Banner and in direct confrontation with the Hulk throughout the course of the film. But I don’t want to spoil too much there, just rest assured that there are some intense action scenes between Emil and the Hulk and that they are indeed epic. There’s a lot left to mention. I obviously loved the connection to Captain America that you can find in the film and turned to my Dad briefly to fill him in and quickly voice my enthusiasm (quietly of course). I also really appreciated the nod to the 1970’s Hulk series, including: the transformation scenes, the”Lonely Man” score that played during Banner’s exile, and Lou Ferrigno’s role as the Hulk’s voice and a security guard in the film (which was a fun scene between him and Edward Norton). And speaking of Norton, he really does do a fantastic job playing Banner. The scenes featuring his dejection and utter exhaustion are honest, but he brings just enough sense of humor to the role that the performance doesn’t become too “angsty” for its own good – just the right balance. Liv Tyler also did a very convincing job as Betty, impressively running the gauntlet of emotions that a character like this would have gone through, from utter joy at Bruce’s re-appearance to outright horror at the actions of her father, etc. Her anger management scene on the streets of New York, in particular, was a real hoot! I need to wrap this up, but I can’t do so without saying how much I enjoyed that final fight scene between the Hulk and the Abomination. With Iron Man, I was so impressed with the film and the conflict throughout that I was satisfied with the confrontation between Stark and Obediah at the end of the film, but when contrasting it with the final battle in The Incredible Hulk, there really is no comparison (now mind you, Iron Man obviously has its own strengths). Rarely, and probably not since Superman 1 & 2 have I been as engaged in a fight sequence as I was with the final confrontation between these two. The Hulk simply came to life on the screen in a way that was even greater than my expectations, and his fight to keep Betty safe and defeat the Abomination was felt in every punch, kick, and scream. Likewise, seeing his strength grow with his rage was awesome, in the literal sense of the word. So cool!

I really wanted to see this in the theater so as to take advantage of the larger than life visuals, the atmosphere and the sound. It was loud, and during some of those fight scenes the seats literally shook from the power of the speakers. It was almost as if you were right there watching the two battle it out and I highly encourage anyone that hasn’t seen it to try to get out and do so. So, yes, needless to say I loved the movie, it’s great fun, and I probably rank it somewhere just behind Iron Man, and right there with Spider-Man 1-2, which are my favorite Marvel movies to date. That’s darn good company.

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As I mentioned a little over a week ago, I was really excited about the release of Hironobu Sakaguchi & Akira Toriyama’s Blue Dragon back in August of ’07, but when it finally hit store shelves my wallet was already hurting thanks to other purchases I’d made and I decided to hold off on the game while it recovered a little. There was also some negativity surrounding Blue Dragon in some circles, and while it did put something of a damper on my enthusiasm, a lot of the comments I was hearing just didn’t ring true, or seem all that valid a concern to me, so I made it a plan to wait until I could afford to pick it up and see for myself. Turned out to be a good decision because thanks to a little patience I managed to pick it up for ~ $8 a few days ago, brand new, sealed in the wrapper.

Well, yesterday afternoon I had a little free time and the Blue Dragon case was sitting there calling for me to open it and give it a quick spin…y’now, just to see what I was in store for. As I waited for the game to load I recalled the gorgeous screen shots I had been seeing for months and got really excited about the prospect of seeing Toriyama’s art style fully realized as a fleshed out world again (as was the case with Dragon Quest VIII) and as the opening sequence started I was glad to see that it didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The cut-scenes are fantastic, effectively capturing the wonder of Toriyama’s art in three-dimensions, and when I got control of Shu (the lead character) I was just as impressed with the level of fluidity and detail as I ran around checking things out. The three protagonists that you start off with are more interesting (and entertaining) than I was anticipating and in sitting down to play for “just a few minutes” I was glad to find that I had to convince myself to go ahead and turn it off. I managed to do so and went off to putter around the house…only to fire the game up again about an hour later! The story is engaging thus far (and really ramps up later I’m told) so I’m enjoying that, but I was also happily surprised to find that the game-play itself is really addicting. About an hour into the game the kids receive “shadows,” which are giant, monstrous, entities that rise up from the kids shadows and fight in their place (complete with nifty animations that flow very well into the combat itself) and these shadow guardians can be leveled up and put into specific job classes to raise stats in certain areas for more effective combat. These classes can then be switched, skills swapped, etc. to create a very well rounded attack machine. Somewhat related, one of the criticisms I kept hearing was that Blue Dragon was just too traditional an RPG (which isn’t a bad thing to me) and didn’t bring a lot of innovation to the table but I found that the ability to fight with the shadows, preemptively attack opponents, dash/back attacks, and grouping foes together for bonuses in battle a heck of a lot of fun. Additionally, there’s an attack meter that appears with certain skills that asks the player to try to hit the “sweet spot” on the bar that will result in a better execution of your skills. There’s also this trick where in grouping some of your enemies together to battle some of the monsters will enter a “Monster Fight” and begin picking each other off, which gives you time to take ’em all out, or deal with fewer numbers when all is said and done. That’s pretty durn innovative in many respects, and it’s certainly entertaining. Likewise, constantly racking up skills and unlocking new classes has served to make it awful difficult to walk away once I hit that next save point. All in all I played for about 3 1/2 hours yesterday, got the shadows to level 10 or so, and am itching to play as I type this up. So, as far as first impressions go, obviously I’m very impressed and hope that things only get even better from here. I’ll keep you posted.

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I’ve been enjoying the 1977 Lupin the Third series again recently (incidentally, my girlfriend loves Lupin so I can actually get away with it) and I thought I’d take a moment to once again heap praises its way.

For those who aren’t familiar with Monkey Punch’s creation, the basic premise is that Lupin and his gang of thieves travel the world in search of the next big heist, while trying to avoid the relentless Inspector Zenigata and the law. And while it’s often hard for me to get past the fact that we’re cheering for thieves in other television series’ and movies, with Lupin it just plain works. Likely for the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The comedic exchanges between Lupin, and his foil, Inspector Zenigata are the stuff of legend and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching Zenigata (or “Pops”) try to nab our ‘heroes,’ only to “miss it by thaaaat much.” I actually can’t decide who my favorite character is between Lupin, and Pops as the two are so inseparably connected that the one wouldn’t be as complete without the other. And beyond the thief/cop dynamic, one of the great things about the relationship is that Lupin & Zenigata actually appear to have a healthy respect for the other and I suspect that neither would ever really be happy if the long chase actually ended.

Likewise Fujiko, Jigen & Goemon round out what has to be one of the most complex and entertaining casts in the history of animation. Whether it’s the drop dead gorgeous Fujiko struggling between her desire for riches and hidden desires for Lupin’s affection, Jigen’s cool demeanor and crack shot, or Goemon’s honorable samurai thief shtick — the characters just play off of each other in a seamless, comedic, way that makes it hard to not jump to the next episode, to the next, to the next…There are, however, serious moments and these glimpses into the hearts of our ‘heroes’ provide that extra understanding that really round out these fantastic characters.

The television series is a heck of a lot of fun (though I caution that there are sexual overtones on occasion) as are a number of the movies, most notably Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro. If you love comedy, high adventure, and animation with distinct flavor, do yourself a favor and try the first volume in Pioneer/Geneon’s release of the ’77 series, or the well loved Castle of Cagliostro, and see if it’s something that’s up your alley. And with a theme this awesome, how can you go wrong!? In fact, the Lupin the Third television series has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard.

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While technically it’s not Spring anymore, lazy summer days are in the air and I’m sure Disney enthusiasts will enjoy this volume just as much now as they ever would thanks to the timeless nature of the stories. I look forward to these special issues each year (incl. Christmas and Vacation Parade) as it’s fun to open these hefty volumes and read of Ducks and mice for a solid hour or two. Remember, for the $9.50 cover price, you’re getting 80-pages, the equivalent of almost [4] standard comics that will cost you at least $2 dollars more. And the material you get for the money? Well, I’ll leave that up to The Scoop:

Spring is here, spring is here,” as classic satirist Tom Lehrer used to sing. “I think the most wonderful time of the year is the spring, I do; don’t you? ‘Course you do!” But only one thing makes springtime complete for us at Gemstone Publishing. That’s Walt Disney’s Spring Fever, our 80 page annual Disney trade paperback loaded with thrilling, chilling, and truly outrageous spring sonnets. It’s time to enjoy warm weather; to reconvene with nature; to battle with beasties and get that obnoxious spring cleaning going…and that’s only half the trouble Donald, Mickey, and Uncle Scrooge are getting into!

Take our lead epic, for instance. In Carl Barks’ “Too Many Pets,” springtime finds street performers returning to the Duckburg roads. But one organ grinder is leaving for the army, so his super-smart monkey ends up with Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck. Now, the boys had been having problems with animals all spring, or, rather, Unca Donald’s been having problems with them! It take little time for Jingo to land in hot water, too. But what happens when someone else takes an interest in the brainy banana-burner, a wartime spy with scoundrelly deeds in mind? This classic 26 page 1943 adventure has been out of print for 14 years, and now it’s back better than ever, replete with a new back cover pin-up by Italian fan favorite Marco Rota.

What’s up next? Looks like “Sticky Business” for Goofy in a new Noel Van Horn ten-pager. Our determined dawg wants to spend springtime fixing his roof, but how to deal with seasonal storms, a nasty neighbor, and a truckful of “Joe’s Secret Tar Sauce”? Gawrsh!

Springtime finds Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s Junior Woodchuck troop in an exciting woodland marathon race. But their footwork gets fractured when “Music Hath Charms”… the charms, in fact, of Gyro Gearloose’s patented, hypnotic Pied Piper pipe. And playing it is a devious Donald, deliberately trying to foul up his nephews’ merit badge quest! Written, but not drawn, by Carl Barks some forty years ago, “Charms” has now been done over in high Barks style by modern day heir Daan Jippes. Check it out!

And then stick around for “Blot On Their Friendship,” a new Donald and Mickey adventure by modern day aces Byron Erickson and Cesar Ferioli. It seems Donald and Mickey fell out over a gorgeous girl on their last adventure together. But now Don’s letting bygones be bygones, and he’s back to rope Mickey into a treasure hunt for Uncle Scrooge. Or is it for Scrooge? And how did Donald get over that feud so easily? Before long, Don and Mickey find that Donald is enslaved by hypnotic suggestion, and that a Phantom Blot revenge scheme is really what’s up! Can our heroes stop him; and more importantly, stop bickering in time to save themselves?

Rounding things out are three delicious shorts. In Vic Lockman’s “The Skipper,” Scrooge sets out to experience springtime…er, nature…er, well, Scrooge is doing something that normal people would do in the spring in a natural locale. We can’t help it, though, Scrooge is Scrooge. And Scrooge is also Scrooge in “Tabloid Tattletale,” by Frank Jonker and Bas Heymans. This little saga from Scrooge’s early life shows us his brief fling with Wild West banditry. And with tabloid publishing, we’re not sure which is scarier! Finally, “To Bee or Not to Bee” is a 1932 tale by Floyd Gottfredson. When Pluto and Mickey go out to the woods today, they’re in for a big surprise…


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Were any of you aware that Bret Blevins had been illustrating a series of Scarecrow of Romeny Marsh adventures for (the recently canceled) Disney Adventure Magazine?! In an article on Newsarama today about Rick Remender and Blevins new series Legion of the Supernatural (which sounds awesome!) Blevins had this to say about his work on the Scarecrow series:

I painted a series of short comic book stories in full color of Scarecrow of Romney Marsh adventures with writer Michael Stewart for the now defunct Disney Adventures Magazine. That showed me that I wanted to paint comic books!

I never even knew this existed! So if anyone reading the blog has any idea what issues of Disney Adventures these appeared in I’d really appreciate knowing so that I can try to track them down. And should I find out what issues those are, I’ll be sure to include them here as I know I’m not the only one interested in owning these. Thanks!”

As for Legion of the Supernatural, jump to the article using the link above and enjoy the preview image and solicitation:

The upcoming series Legion of the Supernatural from IDW finds writer Rick Remender and artist Bret Blevins taking a motley assortment of monsters and putting them into a more heroic spotlight as they emerge as the last line of defense against an invading army of “starving inter-dimensional vampires.

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What better occasion is there than Scrooge’s 60th Anniversary to add a third Gemstone title to the line-up?! Well, honestly I’d promote any occasion to pull that off but I’m getting ahead of myself a little here.

For months now, Gemstone Publishing has opened lines up to the fans to see if there is enough interest for them to justify publishing a third Disney comic title, presumably in the “prestige” format that they’re using to great effect in Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney Comics & Stories, but other formats may be under consideration. Discussion has been ranged as to what features that third title would focus on. Perhaps it would balance Donald and Mickey stories, or more prominently featuring characters like Pluto, Goofy, Brer Rabbit & the gang, Bucky Bug, L’il Bad Wolf, and more? Personally, I’d probably prefer a focus on some of the 2nd tier characters which would allow Uncle Scrooge to potentially focus solely on Donald and Scrooge (though it does this well now), WDC&S to focus on Mickey and Donald almost exclusively, and the third title to feature something like a Donald, Scrooge, or Mickey feature and a host of back-up stories for some of the characters that don’t get near the attention they also deserve. But I’d be interested in a number of approaches to that third title and merely hope that it actually happens.

If you’d like to voice your support for a third title (in whatever form and format) please take a few moments and jump over to Gemstone Publishing and shoot them an e-mail to express your support. That, and it’d probably help if you picked up an issue or two of the ongoing award-winning work to boot!

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