Wolfman is a remake of a werewolf movie from 1941 with the same name. Maybe because of that the story doesn’t manage to surprise or break new ground, despite excellent performances of all actors involved. Each turn and twist can be seen from miles away. That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t enjoyable, but at times watching it felt like seeing an episode from a generic horror-TV-show (or an adaption of some generic horror novel) with incredible production values. What it lacks in originality (both content- and structure-wise) is made up by the visual style.
This is how a good “horror” movie (well, more a good monster movie, but who really cares) looks like. Moody and dark, deeply ingrained in Victorian style England. And above all, the relentless violence of the werewolves is a nice break, compared to the cookie cutter depiction of werewolves in recent times. Great fun all around. Just don’t expect some literary masterpiece, this is an old-school monster movie.
Pan’s Labyrinth combines two layers of reality: a hard and unrelenting place in the recent past and a bizarre and weird fantasy world. The movie takes place in the early Franquist period, where the pro-Franco forces fight the anarchists who wanted to see the oppressive regime ousted. The main character is a girl, whose stepfather is the captain of the local pro-Franco forces. Hard and cruel, he makes life miserable for her (and deadly for many other). Even her mother doesn’t help at all and instead demands her to give into the insanity. Instead the girl learns of another world, her true origin, where she’s a princess. But to access that world Ofelia has to pass three tests.
According to statements of the director, the fantasy is the real thing, not merely a psychological construct. That said, even with this positive spin the movie remains pretty grim. After all, not everyone gets the escape route. And while the final image of the fantasy world shows a brighter place, the fantasy layer shown during the course of the movie manages to be pretty disturbing. This is a clever misdirection, that forces you to wonder whether the fantasy is actually better than the real world.
The fantasy layer is one of the high-points of the movie, with a style and symbolism more reminiscent of horror than fantasy movies. It’s claustrophobic and violent, using an insectoid inspired creature-design that is more repulsive than appealing. Instead of defusing the already grim setting of the real world, it compounds it. Apart from the (still pretty bittersweet) ending, this isn’t a very uplifting fantasy. But a fascinating one.
Mirrormask’s main strength are its visuals. No, wait, that’s actually the only point in favor of the movie. Most of the time, when Neil Gaiman is involved in something, at least the story is solid. But in Mirrormask is a big, gaping void where the narration should have been. There’s some sort of story, but it’s all over the place, not very coherent, generic and overall not very good. I found it perplexing, that someone like Gaiman, who is in general really good at writing compelling characters and plots, completely missed the mark here. If at least the visuals were able to convey the story on their own. But all they do is create a strange and bizzare fantasy world. They are doing great in that regard, but it becomes boring after a few minutes.
Good god, this is brilliant. Take the perspective from Ultima 7, the tactical battle system from old AD&D-PC-RPGs and you get this fun, little gem. I can’t say much about the full game, as this demo for Knights of the Chalice is it’s own thing (mini module) and completely separate, but if the full game is as much fun, then I can’t wait to play it. Okay, some of the encounters are quite challenging and the part which the lich and his minions is a bit extreme (I don’t know how often I played that until I managed to beat it, with a big portion of luck). Fighting and smart character building is part of the core experience, but the few plot tidbits in the demo convince me that the overall writing is good enough to be enjoyable on that level. The strange thing is, objectively the demo is a complete generic piece of an RPG. But the mix of old-school qualities with a more modern interface is incredibly compelling.
I’m a big fan of the book by Neil Gaiman. Recently seeing the Sky One TV adaptations of the Discworld books, I remembered that there was a British mini-series of Neverwhere (don’t wonder, sometimes the brain makes strange connections). The mini-series actually came first, but during its run Gaiman published the book version. After seeing it I definitely prefer the book treatment. The mini has too much of the typical weaknesses of older TV stuff, which is quite confusing as the series is from 1996, but looks at least as if it’s ten years older. There’s a lack of convincing special effects and even the mundane scenery looks cheap. Considering how effective the book was in evoking the urban fantasy mood, of giving you the sense of cities having mythical qualities, of vast, secret undergrounds with strange, yet similar societies, the series completely fails to evoke anything similar.
So, with the look and feel such a disappointment, the show could have only be saved by the actors. Sadly, the acting is only subpar and has the same amateurish feel as the rest of the show. Most annoying was the main male character. He’s like a younger Tom Cruise, but with less of the coolness of his movie characters and more of the craziness of the real one. He’s kind of twitchy and less sympathetic than his book counterpart. The rest of the characters are equally ill chosen. Overall watching this one was less entertaining and more torture than I expected.
My initial positive impression of the game (see my thoughts about the demo) mostly evaporated after playing the full version. Sure, the production values look very good on the outside: neat old-school graphics and excellent controls.
But the level design and the overall variety is a complete letdown. Typical for many platformers on the PC the levels (especially the later ones) are overly big. They feel empty and aren’t much fun to traverse. Due to the size it’s also not easy to anticipate whether there’s something deadly on the ground or not. Only a few elements kill you instantly, like the swamp water, but it’s annoying enough. Due to the size of the levels the game becomes tedious very fast. Each level you have to find keys to open a set of doors to advance, but it feels less like play and more like (boring) work.
The number of different monster designs is also quite low. Only every few levels you meet a new enemy type and later on even boss sprites are re-used. All that wouldn’t be so bad if the game was actually fun to play. Sometimes repetition or even bad level design can be overcome by good gameplay, a spark of fun. But Jasper’s Journey is completely underwhelming in that aspect. A good looking game on the surface, with not much else going for it.
This short mini-series, which was later followed by a second mini-series and a third only published as TPB, takes place in some post apocalyptic future where robot sentinels roam the streets and control the remains of humanity. This is a superhero world, where all the heroes have died after some undefined apocalypse. The art and the storytelling reminded me strongly of 80ties superhero comics.
There’s nothing about it that makes it really stand out, everything feels like stuff I’ve seen before, but it isn’t too bad either. The main characters are three youngsters who raid a superhero graveyard and get powers themselves. As expected, they go after the robot sentinels. The characters are arguably the strongest aspect of the mini. They aren’t original, but Krueger manages to make them convincing and compelling to watch.
If this weren’t Dark Horse but instead Marvel or DC, I would say they tried to set up an ongoing series. At the end of the mini none of the bigger issues are really resolved, but a few plot developments that have taken place make this cliffhanger ending somewhat satisfying.
This is the source for the animated pilot episode of the never realized Screw-On Head TV-series. Compared to the animated pilot there’s less plot, every scene is shorter and some stuff from the pilot episode isn’t present at all. The comic feels more like a short sketch instead of a fully realized story. Screw-On Head follows his enemy, a short showdown, the end. There’s just not much meat to talk about. The art style is the same that Mignola used for Hellboy, but the dialog is cranked up to the max to sound completely over the top. As if Mignola wanted to make fun of his own Hellboy comics. It’s far from being an essential read, but definitely fun.
A (very) short special for the Death Jr. series. While doing their Halloween rounds Death Jr. and his friends get attacked with eggs by a group of teenagers, but Death senior turns up, frightens them and they drive into a electricity generator and die. While the interaction between Death Jr. and his slightly weird friends is entertaining as always, the death of the teenagers seems a bit harsh, even for Halloween. Sure, the deaths weren’t planned and you can’t see any gruesome details, but the outcome still seems pretty vindictive.
The plot of Turtles Forever reminds me of the recent DC animated movie Crisis on Two Earths. The turtles discover that there is a multiverse of worlds where the turtles are present in a myriad of variations. The Shredder of the Turtles 2003 universe tries to reach the primary world, because he believes if he destroys that, the turtles will be gone forever, all over the multiverse. Either he doesn’t care or can’t believe that his actions will also destroy the rest of the multiverse with it.
That story is actually one of the smartest moves to cross the continuity of the older animated turtles series with the more recent series from 2003. Part of the charm of the movie is seeing the two sets of turtles interact with each other. If you have grown up with the old series you’ll feel like revisiting old friends. But the crossover of old and new turtles isn’t all there is to Turtle Forever.
The discovery of the multiverse allows the a visit to the primary turtle world. And here lies the biggest strength of the movie (compared to the DC movie Crisis of Two Worlds). There’s no bad pop-science involved, this is all about metafiction and crossing the different adaptations of the turtles. The primary turtles world is in black and white tones and represents the world of the first published turtles independent comics.
Especially clever is how the 2003 turtles are portrayed in comparison to the originals. The movie plays with the stereotype that the 2003 version is much more violent and rough, and shows by comparing them to their originals that they are still pretty much mainstream, just as much as the set from the first animated series.
That said, the movie doesn’t try to say this or that version of the turtles is better. It’s mostly having some clever fun with continuity and tries to show how far the turtles have come from their humble origins. This seems like a movie from fans for fans that also manages to be fun and entertaining for those who aren’t into turtles.