I discovered Manchu through the French cover for Glen Cook’s The Dragon Never Sleeps. He’s the French equivalent of the likes of John Harris or John Berkey, thought since he his art sports very clear lines and no expressionistic elements, the best fit is actually Chris Moore. And like the latter one, I like him stupendously when he does space art, but his more common covers or even his fantasy art leaves me mostly cold.
The Starship[s] art book from Delcourt is quite nice, but like most art books I have seen, I really can’t say I completely satisfied with some of the decisions they made. But first where they did good: a big (31,4 x 24,8 x 1,4 cm), sturdy hardcover with excellent paper quality. And often the cover art is page sized. But, sadly often you find three covers squeezed onto one page. Now, I don’t have a problem if these are minor covers, but when you title your art book Starship[s], I expect the spaceships to be featured as the premium content. There’s no logic behind which cover got it’s own page and which not, and sadly some of the small sized covers are much better than those later in the book that have their own page and often aren’t spaceships or even space art. Also, thought this doesn’t happen to often, some of the bigger covers bridge the gutter. Which should be an obvious no-go in any art book, but it seems people who do art books can’t wrap their head around this.
I don’t really want to complain about the few written texts in the book, that offer gushing praise for the artist and lack any interesting critical insight into his work. But I expect those. What I really can’t stand is when you’re already halfway there quality wise and still manage to fuck some important things up. This art book could have been great, instead of merely good (and that mostly because Manchu’s space art is so fantastic). But since so many art books I’ve seen makes all the same mistakes I wonder if I should lower my expectations. Nah.
A title like Cowboys & Aliens invites one question from the start, what the hell do the aliens want in the wild west. I think everyone can think of a more interesting answer than the one the movie did come up with. Really, as much as this is more enjoyable to watch than Battlefield Earth, it’s just as dumb. Aliens that are after the gold. Really? REALLY??? This is not just dumb, this is stupendously dumb. Just to make it clear how dumb this is, imagine someone inventing the technology for flying, then builds the most modern jet you can imagine to fly over to America and then robs a small convenience store. This doesn’t come close, but it’s the best analogy I can come up with to describe how dumb this is, even just from an economic viewpoint.
The movie itself seems like made up of pieces from countless westerns and a few science fiction flicks, and is fun, as far as you’re watching for just that reason. But as a movie in its own right, it falls flat on its face. And the big name stars don’t really help much. Daniel Craig as the silent, brooding hero doesn’t work all that much in a movie that calls for a more talkative hero to explore just how ridiculous the concept is, or at least acknowledge the whole situation with more than a hearty hmm. And Harrison Ford shows the same angry facial expression he did in the last ten movies I saw him in. I can’t imagine why I ever thought he could act.
The bad rep the movie is getting all around the net is soundly deserved. As much as wish this could have been a fun pop-corn movie to watch (mindless but with a base competence in most departments), even these low expectations had been too high.
Suits is the right kind of the wrong thing I like. My own view of corporate life is more Dilbert than Suits, but I do so much want it more to be like the fairy tale that Suits is selling. You know, not the kind of crazy boss who is really just crazy, but the kind of crazy boss who underneath is all competence, where your co-workers are all slightly brilliant and you are also. Rather than reality, where you are nothing more than a semi-competent tool and your co-workers bring all their personal madnesses and agendas with them, even if they don’t know.
Suits is littered with brilliant people, from the college dropout who is actually sort of a genius but due to personal circumstance never managed to get on with his career, to his boss who at first sight looks like the generic, work environment shark but who turns out to be a responsible, caring boss (who is also very clever). Or the female co-worker/love-interest who is extremely smart, but still held back also by being extremely scared of exams. The show makes us able to still emphasize with them, even if they are all kind of brilliant and not really like us.
So, yes, it’s a fairy tale and the narrative hooks it’s plowing into our ego pretty obvious. But like the best fairy tales, even if we see the obvious we still want it. We want to believe in a better world, even if our everyday experience says otherwise. Humans are dumb like that. Even the brilliant suits on the show.
There are few games I consider perfect, as far as this is even possible. Deus Ex is one of them. What is so remarkable about the game is that it hasn’t just a great story, it’s a game where the story is inseparable from the gameplay itself. Oftentimes games with a great story feel like that whoever created the game actually wanted to write a book or make a movie, and doing a game was the fallback plan. Some of the best plot developments in the game are a result of the many choices you make. Whether you play a mostly peaceful hacker who avoids killing people when it’s unnecessary or a trigger-happy killer whose answer to every provocation is violence: How you play isn’t just an option for different modes of gameplay, it leads to different NPC reactions and makes you feel like the story is evolving around your actions, not you following a predestined path like in many games.
And then there’s the setting. The dense mix of cyberpunk with conspiracy theories and near-future political intrigue is something
that still, after all these years, feels very present to me. I can start up the game anytime and dive into its world without much need of adjustment. Despite all the SFnal elements, the nanotech, the man-machine interfaces and so on, it still feels like it’s a future that might just be around the corner. All the characters that appear, whether human or transhuman, have worries that I find much more tangible than those of characters in the more numerous fantasy RPGs. Granted, I love science fiction much more than fantasy, especially the transhuman/ posthuman futures, but few games, whether science fiction or fantasy or else present such a cohesive, comprehensive vision that makes you forget your surroundings and still feel like it is more than just escapism.
I play games because I like playing games. Sure, it’s tautological, but also true. Whenever I see a game that has a great story, but horrible or just mediocre gameplay, I wish I had read the book or the movie that wasn’t made. But when a game offers great gameplay, presents an engaging narrative and does manage to explore all the question that linger in my mind about where we are going as a species, man, then I’m in heaven. Often, the best science fiction is found in books. Movies, comics and games always seem derivative of ideas that have been old in prose fiction twenty or more years ago. But every few years each of these mediums present a vision of the future in a way that feels both unique and fresh and most of all, one that couldn’t have done with the same impact in prose fiction. Deus Ex is exactly that, an original take that references older ideas yet doesn’t feel like just another re-hash of old science fiction with a little bit of gameplay tacked on.
I admire Kirby for all the things he did for comics, the boundless energy and innovation he worked into it. Mostly, when I talk about comics, I talk about the writers and give the artists short shrift. But not with Kirby, his influence is too important to overlook, nor is it always clear how strong the divide between artist and writers was in all of his work. But what is also true, is that despite all the things I admire, in that he inspired writers and artists I really like, I also really dread reading his stuff.
His work, like in Thor: Tales of Asgard, that collects the stories about Thor’s youth with all-new coloring, is more or less a pain to read. It’s pompous, devoid of convincing characterization, full of painfully theatrical conversations and writing that really grates on my nerves. Also, the plots don’t have any narrative stickiness. After reading a couple of issues I can’t even remember what happened a few issues back or why the characters are doing what they are doing at all. Basically, it’s some of the worst written stuff I’ve seen in comics, thought by far not the worst. How Kirby’s work managed to inspire so much stuff that I actually like, while the original tales are so awful, will always remain a mystery to me.
If you ever heard the term “visual storytelling” and had no idea what it actually means, look no further than Grant Morrison’s We3 comic. The main characters are augmented pets (a dog, a cat and a rabbit) who have been repurposed as killing machines to work for the military. Like so often with prototypes, their usefulness has run out and it’s end of the line for them. Due to a sympathetic human they get a chance to flee and are hunted furthermore by the military, which can’t allow one of their dangerous experiments running around. And makes no mistake, these animals are dangerous, as they don’t understand the complexities of humans society and have a pretty binary view of friends and foes.
The biggest chunk of the work rests not on the shoulders of Morrison’s words, thought, as the talking skills of the three pets are limited, and most of the plot is conveyed through the visuals. Frank Quitely, often perceived as the perfect partner in crime when it comes to Morrison’s work, is doing wonders again in We3. While not an experimental comic per se, there’s some incredibly experimental stuff going on here that I haven’t seen anywhere else. And yet, following every panel remains easy. Some of the stuff is just mind blowing (also pretty brutal, so don’t look if you’re kinda squeamish). And despite the limited amount of words, everything needed to understand the comic is there: reason, emotion, action, character, setting. Overall, one of Morrison’s & Quitely’s best collaborations.
The sequel to District 13 manages to tell nearly the same story as the first part (evil high society guy wants to solve the problem of District 13 with bombs), but needs nearly 2/3 of the entire movie to establish this set-up, something that the first one managed in a few minutes with the rest of the information offered on the fly during the entire movie. The two main characters from the first movie are back, and when they are in action it’s really fun to watch, but those moments are few and far between the boring rest.
Also, while the movie shares many plot elements with the first part, the biggest difference is the attempt to re-make the criminals inside of District 13 into a force of good (kind of). And honestly, anyone with half a brain will see the ridiculousness of that. These aren’t even Robin Hood-types who do good for their fellow men, just common criminals banding together. To elevate them to a symbol for a better tomorrow for District 13 (while they actually are the biggest problem of District 13) at the end of the movie feels woefully naive.
I can see where this is coming from, especially if you follow the social currents in France in the last decade. You can see that they have massive problems, which makes the evil power player such a seductive villain, but to blindly accept such a binary view, with the government/ corporate players on one side and the criminals/youths on the other, is not realistic nor useful.
Some movies don’t really need a complex plot or an important issue to succeed. Movies, after all, are also about visuals, about showing things in motion in a way that no other medium can do. Sure, District 13 is a vehicle to show what can be done with pakour, but man does it look cool. But back to the basics.
The movies takes places in a near future where a ghetto/slum in Paris has been abandoned by the government and confined within a wall. The police that controls the few exits is there not to solve any crime, but to make sure that nobody leaves the walled hell (aka District 13). That’s for the setup.
Mainly the plot of the movie is about a lost A-bomb within District 13 and the attempt of one of those living there and a police officer from the outside to find and deactivate the bomb. The rest is all about people chasing each other on foot and fight scenes. Conversations are snarky and clever, the fight scenes are amazing and it just fun to watch everyone move like there’s no tomorrow.
There are novels I hate through and through and then there are the novels I fail to like despite wanting to like them. Lightborn has both ambition and skill, something that made me want to see the book succeed. And nothing saddened me more to see the book meander along on an entirely mediocre path til the end. The book has a few things going for it: an enthralling apocalyptic beginning reminiscent of zombie apocalypse movies, new technology to rewrite the human BIOS (which then gets out of control) and an interesting new status quo after the outbreak in one contained city.
The ingredients are all there, but in the end the book follows uninteresting character trajectories for the majority of the book. I can easily forgive that at the core of the plot sits one of the oldest SF-cliches, but being boring is a cardinal sin in my book. At least the ending offered some exiting moments and a few explanations for what really happened. And the whole rooting via smell instead of sight was a brilliant idea, but those few moments of brilliance weren’t enough to safe the book.
The biggest crime of the Hoodwinked sequel is that it takes itself entirely too serious. Considering where it takes place (a slightly demented, modern fairy tale world) and the characters that appear, this makes for a certain amount of ridiculousness. Whereupon the first had some fun with its narrative structure and overall insanity of it, the second one plays everything straight, with characters plagued by personal demons and so on.
In general I prefer it this way, where everything is played straight even when taking place in a fantastic setting, but for that you need a setting that works on its own. And Hoodwinked’s setting isn’t really a setting, but a collection of reference points for similar movies or movies it makes fun of. It’s usable for light comedy and simple adventure, but it’s not really convincing for characters dealing with their inner demons.