The Maze Runner

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I haven’t been getting out to movies much regularly, which I’ve found is good and bad. The last few things I’ve ended up seeing at the theater were complete surprises (good and bad). It’s amazing how differently you might feel about a movie when you have no preconceived notions from watching the trailer once a week for the six months leading up to its debut. As much as I love previews, I might have to sneak to the bathroom during them from now on. Obviously, I can’t just show up late because being late is wrong.

My subconscious had placed The Maze Runner somewhere in that recent bland outcropping of young adult future dystopian science fiction properties (Hunger Games and Divergent come to mind immediately). It feels like there have been a lot of those recently, but I can’t judge, since those were my favorites to read when I was younger. Maybe I’m just jealous that kids these days can get their dystopian future adventures delivered with only a mild, generic case of the ‘trust-no-ones’ and without the  overwhelming helping of anti-communist political sentiment.

The Maze Runner was definitely the best version of this movie that I have seen in a long time. I attribute this primarily to two distinguishing features. First, there was very little context at the beginning of the movie, we just get thrown into the center of the maze with the protagonist and we learn everything as he does. This worked, I don’t need a title sequence where we witness whatever implausible apocalyptic backdrop motivated these circumstances, that always works better as a sort of mystery. I was happy to have the action start right away.

The second positive attribute, and this makes me feel like a bad an awesome person, but we get to watch a lot of the kids die. There’s nothing quite like sitting through a child actor’s performance and then being rewarded by watching a monster carry him away. So I’ve set that up like it’s a bad thing, but let’s dive a little deeper into what I really mean.

  1. All of the background characters were distinct and memorable. Even if this meant giving someone an accent, or making someone the fat kid. It wasn’t like a discrimination thing, just a way for quick identification when you’ve got two dozen kids in the supporting cast.
  2. When there was an action sequence, I could tell who was involved. Relative positions of characters remained consistent as camera angles cut. At the end of the sequence I could identify the winner and how he had won.
  3. When a character was killed off, there was a momentary acknowledgement, but they didn’t stop and have a funeral because they were still being hunted. Some of the kids were even too scared to go back for the injured.

I say all of this in because it seems in stark contrast to the similarly rated PG-13 Hunger Games, where I suppose it was controversial to show the children killing each other, and specifically that one little girl’s death. Maybe children killing each other is worse than letting monsters kill children? I figured it was about the same. I am a monster.

Maybe I should be concerned that my misogyny is showing slightly. I am fully prepared to consider the notion that I can’t relate to a young female lead, and that having a male protagonist made this movie more enjoyable for me compared to the Hunger Games or Divergent. It’s horrible to consider, but after all I am a monster.

The Maze Runner fell apart a little bit at the ending, where this maze was supposed to be part of some larger conspiracy. I don’t know if I would be interested in a sequel now that the basic puzzle of the maze has been solvedgladeboys

Versus the Dolphin move? I would watch The Maze Runner again.

The Judge

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While I was super psyched for the John Wick movie, I will have to wait a few more days. This weekend, we went to a movie with our friends, they offered to drive over from the city so we let them choose the movie. After going out of our way for so many social events recently, it was a relief to arrive at such a reasonable compromise. Like adults almost.

So I got to watch the highest budget, longest Lifetime Original movie I’ve ever seen in my life since the 1990’s. The Judge featured an impressive cast who did their jobs exceedingly well, but why? I wanted to draft a nasty condescending review of this film, full of ideas about how an idiot could have put together a better version of this movie, about how it was offensively stupid. But that’s all wrong. I cared so little about this movie, that I already can barely remember enough to fill up more than a paragraph.

At least I didn’t ‘pay’ to see this one. MoviePass is a life saver.

Versus the Dolphin Movie? There is no way in hell I would ever watch The Judge again.

Celeste

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I reviewed Dark Ages earlier this summer. It was a new Image book from Abnett and Culbard, which were names I recognized from Vertigo’s New Deadwardians. I was caught off guard by the quality of the art which was simultaneously awkwardly stylized and brilliantly laid out. I got over the sculptured facial features and eventually came down on side of, yeah Culbard is a really solid visual storyteller and I want more.

Fortunately, Culbard made a stand-alone solo graphic novel this year, published by the London based company Self Made Hero. I had been planning to eventually order a copy, but trusted that I would forget and never read the thing. Best of intentions, right? Then I ran across a copy of the book at Small Press Expo, and the man with an accent wanted my money even though I wasn’t wearing the coolest clothes from the 80s, so I bought the thing…

Celeste

My copy of Celeste is a beautiful hardcover volume with smooth matte interiors on paper I want to rub all over my face. It comprises about 2 trade paperbacks worth of story, about an hour of reading, although owing to Culbard’s easy to read art you can easily move faster. I can’t stress enough that amount of story and the physical quality of this book is more than I expect at the $25 price point. No actually, it’s what I want at that price, but I’m usually stuck with two Deadpool trades and a free flyer about a crossover event. What I’m saying is, Self Made Hero, thank you for your professionalism and for living up to my meager standards.

So who else would enjoy reading Celeste? Overall, I’d describe the book as maybe magical realism? Or maybe more like surrealism? There are elements of psychological horror, romance, fantasy, and crime drama genres, but not enough of anything in particular to classify the book in that manner, or to bring in other fans of those styles.

The book follows three individuals, an all business middle aged white man in California, a young albino woman in London, and a suicidal artist in Japan. Suddenly, all three find themselves alone, or maybe almost alone, or maybe just alone with themselves. This means something different to each person.

The man in California finds a kidnapping victim with amnesia in a car trunk, and begins to unravel the mystery around what he and the stranger have in common. The albino girl in London goes on a spontaneous date with a punk rock red headed babe from the tube station. The man in Japan falls down into a rabbit hole of bizarre nightmares. Eventually each person realizes that they are all more alone, but also possibly more in control of their experiences than originally expected.

Final interpretation is left open to the reader. For me, this was an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be left alone with myself. It’s one of my biggest fears because I can be so bad to myself sometimes. I also believe that we’re always turning around on ourselves and chewing ourselves up, that it makes us better and worse to sacrifice who we were. It’s an important idea to me, but one that I’m not good at articulating yet. Culbard gets close in this book.

Such a huge amount of Celeste was visual only, with limited dialogue even when characters were interacting with  each other. It was easy to follow with the images just jumping into your brain effortlessly. With the story so easy to consume, you have the extra energy available for important reflection.

The story is well paced as well; starting slowly with large scale splashes and small details, with an ending that accelerates and leaves you a little breathless, just wanting to sit and finish digesting the ideas. It was an enjoyable read for me, but  a little intimate and definitely not for everyone.

Own for Sharing, Buy Ongoing, Trade Wait, Borrow, Ignore

Small Press Expo

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So I went to Small Press Expo down in Bethesda last month. This seemed like a great idea at the time. I mean, I love reading comic books that aren’t published by the big guys. I love meeting creators and hearing about how passionate they feel for their projects. Really, I just love the ‘Artist’s Alley’ section of the comic book convention. That’s sort of what I was expecting at SPX, a chance to talk, in person, to all the kids trying to kick-start their comic books. I was so wrong.

Small Press isn’t a modifier which describes something that is missing (support from a mainstream publishing house and traditional distribution channels), but rather a positive description of a genre. It is a genre defined by absurdity, mustaches, cats, a particular slightly pastel palette, and ill fitting flannel shirts. It was like a million Adventure Time knock offs locked into a middle school gymnasium for a weekend. It smelled that way too.

I have never felt more like a football playing jock in my entire life, than the afternoon we spent at Small Press Expo. Everything looked completely homogeneous and everyone spoke a slightly different language than me, and I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with all of them instead of me.

I stopped to ask some questions typical of what I ask other comic book fans and creators: what are your influences? what other movies or books do you find exciting right now? what inspired you to create a  comic book, and why this medium instead of something else like a novel? why did you choose that style of art? GIBBERISH answers from almost every table where I stopped.

Oh? You feel like your work defies comparison and it’s just sort of about your life? Well, that’s great, and also maybe the reason you have to self publish. Huh? You think that Hollywood movies are destroying individuality and you don’t want to be associated with the sheeple who watch them? No that’s okay, I was just trying to start a conversation, I will go somewhere else and not buy anything from you. Oh yeah, the people here are totally so much friendlier than at the big conventions, I’m having a great time.

Punchline: I don’t care if your book is charmingly whimsical if it isn’t also either exquisitely beautiful or efficiently telling a story with a point.


Disclaimer: I was super bitchy for no reason the day we went to SPX this year. I will definitely go again next year, with modified expectations, possibly with a larger group, and while not wearing clean denim purchased at a department store.

Coupon Archeology

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So life goes in cycles where sometimes you feel like you’re on top of things, and where sometimes you feel like you’re entirely overwhelmed just by laundry. If you’re anything like me, as you start to climb back out from the bottom of the ditch there comes a point where you need to sort through the pile of vaguely important stuff you’ve just kept on the side. Like envelopes after you’ve paid the bills, and receipts with surveys for free cookies at subway, and flyers for farmer’s markets you totally wanted to check out the next time you woke up before noon on a Sunday.

This time there was an envelope of coupons. First, it’s hilarious that at any time in the last year, I was actually using coupons regularly. Meaning, I had the coupons in a place where I could easily find them, I remembered to bring them to the store, I planned menus around what featured on the coupons, and then remembered to give them up at the end of the trip. Oh that’s so much effort for saving like $2 on a grocery trip.

Now forgetting for a moment the absurdity of my ever using coupons, now I have a to face the bleak reality of finding them in my pile of junk. To be clear I have an envelope with a snapshot of a day when my life was in order, with dates and everything. I can see the healthy, delicious food I was planning to eat, on specific days. It’s like digging up a dead body with photographs of the murder and there are time stamps and fingerprints on everything.

Honestly, it feels like a different person put that junk aside. I’m rediscovering who she is by digging through her garbage. I’m like a creepy stalker reading deeply into the tiniest detail. Oh!! Looks like she went to subway every Tuesday, I wonder if she was meeting someone there, or maybe there are no leftovers. Oh! After getting a latte every Thursday she suddenly got tea instead, I wonder what happened?!

Nothing happened. Life changes. Maybe in a few months I’ll start using coupons again.

The Field

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I met Ed Brisson at NYCC this year. He threw this book at me while I was dressed as a Prophet clone. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the quality of the book, but it was an awesome moment.

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The Field is definitely a book to own. It is a really fun read. There is just enough mature content like swear words and violence to forget you’re reading a comic book. The mature content is also thematically justified which keeps this book distinctly out of the gore porn genre. It’s also a story contained perfectly in a single volume. When someone stops by my house, looks at my bookshelf and wistfully sighs that he wishes he read more comic books, this is one that I can reach for as a loaner. Take this book, it’s a great example of what can be done in modern graphic novels.

The Field is maybe a little genre defiant in general. There is a bit of a mystery, with a science fiction explanation underneath. But I would never sell this book to someone as a sci-fi story. Generally, Grant wakes up in the middle of a field and then crazy shit happens involving a cell phone receiving anonymous texts, a Bible Salesman, a biker gang, and self righteous cosplayers in Star Trek uniforms. Everyone is on their worst behavior. To say any more would be to ruin the small puzzle of the book. That’s also not to say that the mystery is so mind blowing or original either, but it’s done well and not drawn on so long. This might sound crazy, but reading the ending gave me the warm fuzzies like I had finished reading an Issac Asimov story. That same sort of ‘this is the right ending’ kind of feel.

Technically, the book comes together really well. Brisson does dialogue lettering, leaving the sound effects in the art work. It’s a shame that the best thing I can say about comic book lettering is that it disappears from conscious thought, and helps convey a sense of timing in the dialogue. I suspect that Brisson had a significant role in setting the layouts as well.

Simon Roy does illustrations with Simon Gough providing colors. I’ll have to look up who else I’ve seen color Roy’s work, but I definitely like what I saw in this book. Roy does these thoughtful, detailed backgrounds which make a book feel grounded, no matter how outlandish. It’s like his attention makes the place real. I would compare this to the one Geoff Darrow book I read (Shaolin Cowboy?) where even the crushed beer can in the corner of the page was lavishly penciled, but there is no comparison. That book was indulgent and pointless. In contrast, Roy moves a narrative along, using layouts that strike a balance between confusingly complicated and printed storyboards, saving the less conventional layouts for the action sequences in between a variety of more standard panel progressions. Roy activates just enough of the reader’s brain to get us trapped in the artwork and the story. We have to participate to get through, and then the story become ours too.

It’s not work though, it’s still a nearly effortless read, and something I would point to as a positive of example of what I what in modern comic books.

Own for Sharing, Buy Ongoing, Trade Wait, Borrow, Ignore

The Giver

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When media isn’t 100% good or bad, sometimes you need distance to really form an opinion. I remember enjoying reading Lowis Lowry’s novella in elementary school. I remember enjoying watching a few specific parts of the movie, the parts with Jeff Bridges that were closest to the original book. However, I also remember being quite bored, confused, and frustrated by the majority of what I saw. At the end, we were happy that we had gone to the cheap, second run movie theater instead of paying full price when it opened.

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Katie Holmes with a terminal case of resting bitch face.

And yet somehow… Katie Holmes with her resting bitch-face snapping “precision of language” every chance she gets has seeped into my daily life. She is my hero. That is my jam, as the kids say these days. Honestly, thriving in a dystopia built on rules and order and rationality would be a dream come true for me. I would be so content under such circumstances that I’d happily become the villain as soon as some inspired humanist starts to liberate mankind. Plug me in. I want to be assimilated.

So sometime a film changes your life without being extremely good or bad. Maybe it just takes one outstanding moment and the right mindset to be open to suggestion. I can think of another obvious example of this phenomenon in my life. Again, for a mediocre adaptation of a science fiction book I loved when I was in elementary school. Oh wait, that describes at least half the movies I’ve ever watched, so it’s not particularly helpful to add that observation as a segue. Anyways, Contact is a decidedly mediocre offering from the late nineties. It features Jodi Foster as a plausible lady scientist who hilariously shouts “okay to go” while her space ship is shaking. Over and over. Quite dramatically. Until the words lose meaning even. I wasn’t the first person to notice this, but it’s part of my life now too. It’s a good way to remember an old friend.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch The Giver depending on mood.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch Contact depending on mood.