Thursday, April 26, 2007

Music Review: The Story

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile's lastest CD release The Story was recorded almost completely live and boasts collaborations from the likes of The Indigo Girls. This was my first CD from the guitarist/songwriter. It's an in-store play at my Barnes & Noble and I liked what I heard, so I had to buy it. Brandi reminds me quite a bit of the sort of rock music you would hear coming from Melissa Etheridge, although it has a country edge to it that's more apparent in some songs than others, when it leans more toward a Bonnie Raitt sound. One thing is certain about Carlile in the end: she has a damn strong voice. Even when she sings softly, you can almost feel the power behind it. Unfortunately, there were too many of those ballads. I wish she'd showcased that voice a bit more than wasting it on so many slow numbers. She has such command over her art, and such confidence that I believe her to easily be one of the best vocalists working presently, but aside from a handful of great breakout songs, she puts her talent to waste. Key Tracks: Late Morning Lullaby, The Story, Turnpentine, Have You Ever, Until I Die. Bottom Line: B+

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Links

Check out the new sidebar links if you get the chance. One you may know, as Sean Collins used to blog on comics before getting a job at Wizard. His AttentionDeficitDisorderly Too Flat is now primarily a horror film blog. Critical Mass is a new blog from my articulate roommate Jordan that focuses on film and music reviews.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Manga Monday 31: Fushigi Yugi

The Mysterious Play (Volume 1): Priestess
Yu Watase

This manga has been on my periphery for awhile now. With my manga pile receding, I took the opportunity to peruse the bookshelves at work and with a recent reminder of this title from Patrick, I picked this up on impulse. I follow Watase's Absolute Boyfriend in Shojo Beat monthly, and while I enjoy it, it's not quite at the level where I feel compelled to buy the volumes, let alone seek out other works from the creator. But comparatively, I like Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play much better. Absolute Boyfriend kind of hits the same note over and over and never really does anything all that interesting, and I also sometimes get confused with the characters, particularly the boys, who all seem to look the same with similar hairstyles. I don't have this problem with many manga, but Absolute Boyfriend is really a problem, especially when a third boy joins the storyline or the "other" love interest takes off his glasses... Now, Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play is different. It's an earlier work from Watase, but I definitely prefer it to where she's gone artistically. Every character is distinct, with more personality than I've seen in Absolute Boyfriend thus far, and the art is a little fuller: more background detail, more elaborate clothing design, etc. A simplified artstyle can be great too, but I just don't think Watase pulls it off the best.
.
Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play follows a young girl who does her best to make her mother happy by studying hard to get into an impossible school. While she's at the library with a friend one night, they stumble upon a book, The Universe of the Four Gods, which claims to grant a wish to the reader if they finish the entire volume. As they begin to read it, the two girls suddenly find themselves transported to Ancient China, where a beautiful young man saves them from a pair of hooligans before rushing off, leaving them to reappear in present day Japan without witness. Miaka and Yui can hardly stop thinking about the book until Miaka has a big fight with her mother and takes refuge at the library, where she again finds herself before the mysterious book, whose next page describes the events that she and Yui experienced together on their first adventure. Miaka quickly finds herself transported to Ancient China again and is soon given the task of seeking out seven Celestial-Warrior protectors to complete the quest that the book has layed out for her before it bestows a wish upon her. Meanwhile, she meets quite a few interesting characters as she stumbles her way through a foreign land. It's really a pretty fun premise and while it holds quite a bit of promise, I just find that there's much more manga out there that I want to read before another volume of this book, although fans of Watase will find this book superior to the one currently being serialized in Shojo Beat. C+

Friday, April 20, 2007

Idiot's Quote of the Day (& It's not by GWB!)

"This week's historic massacre puts mindless mayhem movies like Hot Fuzz in perspective..."

- Scott Holleran (Box Office Mojo)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Samurai: Heaven and Earth

Ron Marz & Luke Ross

Ron Marz, the former Crossgen creator, writes a samurai epic that's easily superior to his attempt at a samurai story on Crossgen's bland The Path. Collaborating with him on the Dark Horse five issue mini-series is Luke Ross, whose art reminds me quite a bit of Greg Land, without looking as stiff and photo-referenced, but much more natural; Very realistic and really just beautiful with scenes of cherry blossom trees and palaces. And credit has to be given to Jason Keith, whose work on the colors served to bring everything together in a great package. The battle scenes in this collection are pretty fantastic, and even though the protagonist and love interest are the boring iconic characters with little personality you'd expect them to be, there are some supporting characters that make the adventures of our hero worth it as he attempts to reunite with the one he loves. The Three Musketeers in particular are playful, fun characters with witty dialogue between them. Overall, this is a great epic story that spans continents with bloody samurai battles that mean the end of centuries-old rulers, and political assassination attempts that incriminate our hero. It's certainly entertaining enough, but the art is what really cinches the deal and makes this something exceptional. A-

Monday, April 16, 2007

Manga Monday 30

Welcome to Manga Monday! This week, reviews of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Dragon Head!

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Volume 2)
Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki

The second installment of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service continues to follow a group of five (or perhaps six) individuals who collectively work to grant restless spirits their last wishes through their respective gifts, taking on these spirits as clients who are often able to pay through some means to make their interest worthwhile. This volume of the book is a little different than that of the first, with a story covering the entire book instead of working through self-contained chapters. As it is a single story, the focus falls on certain characters, while others are absent through nearly the entire story. But even if a favorite isn't highlighted this time around, this is an incredibly compelling story that really delves into the motivation of Ao Sasaki, the "leader" of the group if there is one. Yuji Yata, probably the most mysterious of the bunch also takes center stage as his and Sasaki's interests both lead them to Nire, a company that helps those left behind by the dead to move on. But, of course, something sinister is brewing at Nire that involves a girl - Mutsumi Nire - who is able to reanimate the dead. This volume takes the basic concept and characters from the first book and pretty much takes them to the next level. This really is an exciting, fresh book with some of the best art in manga presently. A

Dragon Head (Volume 6)
Minetaro Mochizuki

And if you thought that the last volume of Dragon Head left off at a painfully suspenseful point, just wait until you get to the end of this volume. I think that this series turned into a stand-out with volume five and it just keeps running with it as the action takes readers from cover to cover without much of a break from the thrills. Brutal chase scenes and madmen court Ako and Nimura as they try to track down much-needed medicine for Teru in the eerie setting of an empty, ravaged town. There are some beautiful, beautiful gory panels in this installment. A+

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Inverloch (Volume 2)

Sarah Ellerton

The second volume of Ellerton's Inverloch follows the young beast-like Da'kor, Acheron, as his quest for the long lost elf Kayn'dar is in full-swing. While this volume contains more action than the first, it's still mostly dialogue, as Acheron journeys south, following clues, and gaining traveling companions that seem to clash, but make for interesting dialogue nonetheless as the politics of the world slowly unfold through their various outlooks. Among Acheron's new friends are Lei-ella the mysterious Elven thief-catcher, Varden the thief, and Neirenn the mage, incorporating several key roles of a typical fantasy, but thus far, surpassing most in quality with its amazing art and really intriguing plot. This is a fine all-ages fantasy with an epic feel that's sure to appeal to fans of Bone, and is in the upper crust of genre comics being published presently, in a beautiful presentation from Seven Seas. A

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Grindhouse

One of my most highly anticipated films of the year has opened in all of its glory to a shabby fourth place at the box office, but on the bright side, it's one of the best reviewed movies of the year according to Rotten Tomato's counts, it seems to have longevity since it opened over a family weekend of Spring Break and the buzz is positive, and it's likely to make back its production budget, especially with talk of opening the movies separately overseas, and rereleasing them separately in the US as well to make up for some of its losses. Selling it off of the concept of the "Grindhouse" was foreign to a lot of people - that and using the directors' names to fan the fires was probably a mistake. This is America after all: Are We Done Yet was obviously a shoe-in for the top three, especially given its low rating of less than 10% critical approval and atrocious trailers. But enough of the disappointing financials; In the end what matters is the art - and Grindhouse was awesome.

Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror was more of a Grindhouse movie than Quentin Tarantino's film, and while it wasn't as good as Death Proof, it was still really, really great with its oozing zombies, strippers (excuse me - go-go girls) and general parody of the genre. Rodriguez went all-out in his attempt to replicate this sort of movie, with grainy film and missing reels that skipped chunks of story. I didn't realize Fergie was in the movie until afterwards when Patrick joked that the zombies found her "Fergilicious," but the cast overall was really great, particularly Rose McGowen and her phantom limb accessories. All-out cheesy good-fun, this was a fantastic beginning to the double feature.

The faux commercials between the two feature films were all pretty fun, but Eli Roth's trailer for "Thanksgiving" was easily the stand-out, despite a surprise guest appearance attached to Rob Zombie's. When the films are split, I assume these will unfortunately be separated from either film, which is a shame. But it's a shame generally that people won't be able to enjoy these movies overseas the way they were meant to be seen (at least until the DVD release, presumably).

The real gem of Grind House was without a doubt Quentin's film Death Proof, although without this movie's attachment, I would have still been thoroughly entertained. Death Proof was a little too good to be a Grindhouse movie, but like A.O. Scott said on Ebert & Roeper where he guest-reviewed, Tarantino took a different approach and combined aspects from different types of movies to create his: car chase films, women revenge thrillers, his own movies... Rose McGowan was also in this movie, playing a different character in a supporting role, with Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson heading this film up. Uma Thurman's stunt double from Kill Bill, Zoe Bell, performed all of her own stunts in this CGI-free film in some amazing scenes, as herself. What really won me over in the end was the dialogue, which Tarantino is known for. It seems quite a few people didn't enjoy this aspect of the film and thought that it kind of padded it out, but I loved it. The soundtrack, featuring a fantastic song by April March, is also incredible and I immediately went out and purchased it. It's not as good as Tarantino's soundtracks for Kill Bill, but it's definitely worth seeking out.

I highly, highly recommend Grind House. Death Proof is my second favorite Tarantino movie after Kill Bill (which happens to be my favorite movie of all time), and the rest is just icing on the cake. You just can't replicate the experience you have seeing this film in the theater on a DVD, so I suggest seeing it before it's pulled. It's worth the admission ten times over and really, what better way to spend three hours than in celebration of grindhouse films?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Manga Monday 29

Welcome to Manga Monday! This week, reviews of Alien Nine and Drifting Classroom!

Alien Nine (Volumes 2 & 3)
Hitoshi Tomizawa

The final two volumes of Alien Nine pick up where the first volume left off and continues to tell the story of a world being invaded by aliens, friendly and otherwise. It is a wacky manga that follows three girls who wear aliens as helmets to help them track down hostile entities at their school, and continues in the direction the last book took, into that of a darker tone that all but consumed these last two volumes. All three of the girls are changed by their roles, whether they're possessed by an alien who makes them act differently, or their body is mutated to reflect the bond with the creatures, the permanent changes the girls undergo all but wipe the "cuteness" from the book and leave things unsettling and kind of depressing. It's a great metaphor for the changes of adolescence and growing up, but the energy of the series overall was lost from that of the beginning and I kept wishing it would return, although once we grow up, we can not go back to childhood in the same way we experienced it before, so I suppose that the shift was all too appropriate. It was exciting when things began to move in a dark direction in the first book, but the series ultimately never recaptured the magic of those initial chapters, opting to warp the characters until they were disturbingly alien to the reader. Ultimately, I still really do like the series, but I feel the same way about it that I feel about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (a popular coming-of-age fantasy series, if you hadn't heard of it): the first volume is easily the best, and while the others go in an interesting adult direction, they're just not as fun and don't sustain the level of excitement. I do still highly recommend the series however, as it's an interesting progression and it is a great read despite its dark downward spiral. As with the first book, these final two are out of print, so getting your hands on the books require a little extra effort, but I think it's worth it. And they're pretty cheap through used booksellers on B&N and Amazon. B+

The Drifting Classroom (Volume 5)
Kazuo Umezu

Volume four of the craziest manga out there left readers on their edge of their seats...so does this one. We've had homicidal maniacs, food depletion, riots, giant space bugs, flesh-eating insects...and of course, crying, screaming, trying to kill fellow classmates, and all of the other staples of the series that occur in every installment. This writer's holding nothing back as it just keeps getting better and better. Don't be the last person who hasn't checked this series out! A-

Friday, April 06, 2007

Omega Flight #1 (of 5)

Michael Avon Oeming & Scott Kolins

The new mini-series spun out of Civil War begins with a gathering of heroes. In New Avengers, in wake of House of M, Alpha Flight was slaughtered by a cosmic being. Now a new group of heroes must protect Canada. Omega Flight both makes fun of its several past incarnations and holds up the original team to a legendary status. The gathering of the next generation of Canadian heroes is a direct result of Civil War, and Canadian officials aren't happy with the US, watching its mess spill over their borders. They are forced to act quickly in coming up with a solution to control the superpowered criminals who are invading their country to escape registration and the government cells put into play to track down superheroes and villains alike. Indeed, some of the new members of Omega Flight are themselves superhumans who were once regarded as heroes, who have escaped registration to begin anew in Canada. Among these ranks are USAgent and Julie Carpenter (or Arachne, who just had a fantastic appearance in Ms. Marvel recently), as well as actual Canadian heroes like Talisman and Sasquatch. Beta Ray Bill will also be joining the team in future issues, and heading up the team is Vindicator...or Guardian...people in the book seem to be just as confused on the title of the ringleader. The Wrecking Crew are the big bad supervillains that are doing the most damage on their trek across Canada, where an initial confrontation with Sasquatch doesn't go well for the do-gooder. The American heroes involved with the new team don't even make an appearance in this book yet, but so far, all is looking well and the parallels to drafting are at least interesting. I wouldn't recommend running out and jumping on this title, but it has potential at the very least. C

Monday, April 02, 2007

TMNT


You should see this movie. It's the best thing to come out of the franchise thus far.