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Archive for May, 2012


Review by C.J. Bunce

Micro: A Novel is a solid footnote to the successful writing career of Michael Crichton.  It doesn’t approach Jurassic Park in terms of character and intrigue, but it would fairly line up alongside the likes of Terminal Man, The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Congo.  Crichton had completed only about one-third of the book when he died in 2008.  Richard Preston, author of fiction and the non-fiction work The Hot Zone, picked up the reins to complete the book, finally published in November 2011.

I am always incredibly curious to read a book featuring co-authors or a work finished or packaged posthumously.  Louis L’Amour died in 1988 and for years it seemed like his estate kept churning out books as if he were still writing.  In the first issues of Kevin Smith’s The Bionic Man, I was very interested in how much content came from Smith and how much from co-author Phil Hester.  With this final Crichton work, I initially spent more time thinking about structure and technique more than getting engrossed in the book, asking myself “Is this Crichton, or the imposter?”  This was true for me for the first third of the book.  At some point, however, I jumped in fully and went along for a fairly thrilling ride.  And if Crichton didn’t write it all, then Richard Preston was able to fake it very well.

The biggest hurdle in embracing Micro was the struggle for the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  In Jurassic Park, Crichton made readers believe that you could take dried mosquito blood from ancient amber, mix it with frog DNA and grow your own dinosaurs.  It was explained so simply so as to be believable without question, despite how impossible it would be to replicate in the real world.  It was harder for me to grasp the concept of taking humans and shrinking them to a half an inch tall.  Micro explains the science perhaps too briefly, taking from some apparently real-life experiment showing that magnetic fields acting on an object could shrink the object’s size.  Extrapolating that to organic beings of any size or complexity on any scale or scope that matters seems plainly absurd to me.  This despite the fact that “I want to believe” and am an open-minded science fiction reader, and despite any number of past suggestions in science fiction going back to The Incredible Shrinking Man, which might prime the open mind for such a possibility.  Didn’t The Fly teach us there were too many variables to consider to be able to make an experiment like this work?  It is that type of question, and the philosophy behind Crichton’s techno-thrillers, that are often as intriguing as the works themselves.

In Micro when a scientist criticizes another for being a vegetarian—he is written off with the pointed question, “how do you not know plants have feelings, too?”  Basically, end of story, vegetarians are illogical.  In the preface, quoting statements made by Crichton tied to this novel, Crichton seems critical of global warming theory.  We know from Jurassic Park that he embraced chaos theory and the science of complex systems.  We know from his work Prey that Crichton jabbed at believers of global warming, or at least those purporting to understand the puts and takes of global warming.  Here in Micro he implies that, because there are too many variables we can never understand nature.  Yet at the same time he tries to get readers to understand nature, and through his characters he suggests that if you do study nature you can use it to your advantage, to even save your life in the most crazy, unlikely, and perilous circumstances possible.  I am sure if you could only interview Crichton today he may be able to iron out this apparent ambiguity.  In the end, I think you can enjoy Micro as a thrill ride, but as an attempt at anything more serious, the piece doesn’t stand up.  If he believed that we can never fully understand nature, why spend any time researching nature, or why care about the characters in this book who do?

Like Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, where Crichton seemed to switch from hard science in a way similar to Tom Clancy’s delving into every nuance behind the military-industrial complex (similarly, both sometimes ad nauseum), to a more instantly cinematic form of storytelling.  Micro, too, seems to be written directly for ready-made actors to jump into their roles for the impending Hollywood release.  Its ending is better than several of Crichton’s early works, where Crichton never seemed to know when to stop the story, or like Sphere, the story dazzled at first then drifted to boredom at the end.  Here the ending is full of catastrophe and skin-of-your-teeth, nick-of-time wrap-ups.  It all works as the stuff of a thin-science, romping summer blockbuster.  And it may work for readers who don’t ask too many questions.  Such as:

  • Can you safely carry people around in a plastic baggy?
  • Can you envision a vehicle that you can fit into your pocket?
  • Could you fly a plane that was an inch long across the entire island of Oahu and arrive at any intended destination, no matter how many times you tried?
  • Would the sheer terror of encountering bugs that were bigger than you not induce a heart attack or even slightly put you off kilter so as to not allow you to tap your immense knowledge of the science of beetles to think about ways to assemble poisons to be able to successfully eliminate the creature?
  • If your co-worker was held underground by a wasp as a prisoner, to be the wasp’s offspring’s lunch, would any human in any context feel sympathy for the offspring who was to be deprived of his lunch if your rescue succeeds? (As noble and naturalistic a thought this may be, I think terror would win out in any event).
  • At what percent of normal function could you function if your arm, as an example, was injected by a giant insect with its larvae, using you as a host?  Could you then fly a plane that you’d never seen before, or would you just freak out and cower in the corner, or beg your friend to cut off your arm?

The best part of all Crichton novels is the creation of a small think tank of a half dozen experts of distinct disciplines pulled together seemingly to research some project, only to realize their real purpose is to solve a difficult problem under unthinkable conditions.  Crichton creates these mini-universities where ideas can be shared, theories argued and defended.  The human condition—personalities, foibles, belief systems, behavior–always gets in the way, but never to the detriment of the entire operation.  Here we have seven graduate students, anxious to get their own deals post-grad with private industry.  Then Vin Drake, president of tech corporation Nanigen, comes along to recruit.  One of the students, Peter Jansen, has a brother Eric who already works there.  They all fly to the headquarters on the island of Oahu.  First Eric turns up dead, and in attempting a quickly and poorly thought plan to get an admission from the killer, the seven are sucked into the microverse and left to die in the woods.

Meanwhile enter a local detective, Police Lieutenant Dan Watanabe (my favorite character in the book), who is part Officer Gunderson from Fargo and part Marshal Gerard from The Fugitive, but would have been nicely played on the big screen by Jack Soo (Barney Miller), Kam Fong (Hawaii 5-0), or Kwan Hi Lim (Magnum, PI).  He’s getting misinformation about a group of bizarre deaths, and they all have one company in common.  The story works back and forth among Watanabe (just not enough for my taste), the seven students, and the villain of the story and his minions.  The ride has its moments.

To my surprise, what also becomes most “real” in the novel is what made Jurassic Park real for me—the shock and horror.  To this day the most vivid scene for me from any Crichton novel is when a character is hiding in Jurassic Park in some inner hallway in the dark after all the dinosaurs have escaped their pens.  Something moves past him and he doesn’t feel much or know what happened, until he reaches down to feel his intestines are in his hands, quickly and seemlessly slashed by some plotting raptor. Several of these gut-churning scenes abound in Micro, all involving the fleshy, oogy, gory, grizzly, and grotesque that would likely occur when encountering bugs head-on when they out-size you.  If anything, the encounters as concepts are predictable—get out a sheet of paper and write out every worst-case encounter you would have as an insect—as prey—and you will see each of those scenarios revealed as happening to one of the characters somewhere before the final page.  Horrific to be sure, but it’s that kind of thrill that makes you soar to the end to find out what happens to everyone.

The result is a book worthy of Crichton’s catalog, and an interesting last entry for those that have gobbled up everything else he had to offer.  Available everywhere books are sold.

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By the borg.com Writing Staff

As the spring TV season winds down, we thought we’d take a moment to reflect back on this season’s viewing, looking at what ultimately made our “must watch” list, and what didn’t.  Look back to see our reviews, then check out our weekly lineup!

Let’s start with what didn’t make it for us:

  • The Firm.  Although we enjoyed the performances, and the overall series mystery seemed intriguing, the focus on courtroom melodrama bogged this one down.  The fatal moment, though, was an episode in which the Rules of Criminal Procedure were so wildly distorted as to kill any suspension of disbelief.  Note to courtroom drama writers: We’ve all watched twenty years of Law & Order.  You need to step up the writing if you want to succeed.
  • Terra Nova.  This series just lost us.  The pilot was serviceable and showed us the great potential the ideas behind this series had, but episodes quickly devolved into a weak combination of weekly world-destroying strawman threats (yawn) that just felt more and more incredibly contrived, and a confusing (and, IMO, un-needed) effort to create a dark, mysterious, earth-shattering plot with shadowy characters and alignments similar to the epic Lost.  The last two episodes we watched (in January) were literally painful to watch, mainly due to the largely wasted potential that a time-traveling colony in the Cretaceous era. WeI’ve heard that the last few episodes in this season showed promise, but we won’t be tuning in unless we hear some positive buzz on the show once it starts again in the fall.
  • The Killing.  This is the only show that Jason can remember where he actively rooted against it succeeding.  The first season treated viewers with such contempt for their intelligence, after a promising pilot and first couple of episodes, and that means any resolutions for the plot or characters are unimportant.

Hanging on by a Thread:

  • Once Upon a Time.  This one is still nabbed weekly by our DVR, but we missed a couple of episodes during the holidays and never bothered to get caught up again.  There was nothing really wrong with it; we were enjoying it–but other series (see below) bumped it from the tight nightly schedule.
  • Ringer.  See OUAT, above.  The ongoing soap opera gained momentum after the midseason, but ultimately fell victim to things that held our attention a little bit more.  Escalating outrageousness and cringe-inducing (in a good way!) plot twists raised the stakes for the series, so this one deserves a marathon to get caught up.
  • Falling Skies.  Our review of this summer series here at borg.com remains unchanged; we saw great potential, and though the series had its issues, it also had its positive aspects, and we’ll be tuning in this summer when episodes resume on TNT on June 17th at 9pm Eastern Time.  Hopefully the second season comes out with a bang and delivers on this series’ massive potential.  And you can catch a promising glimpse of the season opener here.
  • 30 Rock.  One of the favorites of past years, it isn’t at the top of viewing lists anymore, though if the episode focus is on Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, it can still be magic.  Because it only streams on his computer, it is tough for Jason to watch now.

So, what are the big winners this season at borg.com?

Lost Girl.  We are loving this lighthearted adult urban fantasy!  Satisfying world building based in European fairy lore combines with strong performances by the supporting cast to make this a weekly guilty pleasure.  It’s like Buffy for grownups–what Angel was trying to be, only done right.

Awake.  Launched in the same Thursday night time slot as The Firm, (which also hosted another fine debut series, Prime Suspect), this paranormal crime drama only gets better.  Jason Isaacs makes a compelling lead, and the series writers have wisely increased the genre stakes for the series, giving it extra pull.  They’re teasing the paranormal plot out very slowly, but when the moments hit, they pack a wallop.  We’re looking forward to seeing the mystery build.

Grimm.  Elizabeth’s personal favorite this season!  After a compelling pilot, this series has taken a while to get going.  But, as with Awake, they’re finally starting to really build the ongoing genre plot, adding complications to the established “monster murder of the week” formula.  New characters and a stronger focus on the otherworldly underbelly have given Grimm a much-needed boost, and we were happy to see that it’s been picked up for another season!  Friday nights just haven’t been the same without Chuck.  One thing we’d like to see more of, please: strong women characters.

New Girl.  C.J.’s favorite comedy of the past ten years and favorite series of the year.  He still cannot believe each episode is only a half an hour, since the writers crammed so much into each show.  Zooey Deschanel’s Jess is as put-upon as any classic female comedy lead in the Mary Richards variety, and is as brilliantly funny, smart and zany.  The supporting cast only got better throughout the first season, but the funny stories didn’t really explode with humor until they finally linked-up Max Greenfield’s Schmidt with Hannah Simone’s Cece.

Psych.  Still occupying the top spot in our must-watch lineup, the second half of the Psych season really delivered.  From beginning (the great season re-opener guest starring Cary Elwes) to end (that CLIFFHANGER!), with very few missteps in between (not sure what to make of “Let’s Do-Wop It Again,” with Shawn in the hospital and minus Keenan Thompson), all around, the show’s still got it.

The Walking Dead.  The second season of this series just got better and better, with deeper storylines, clever surprises, and a real aura of uncertainty around favorite characters survivability.  And the season finale was one of the best of the year (Michone!!!).  It’s the one series I simply cannot wait to resume in the fall.

Community.  This is Jason’s only show he will watch in real time.  The characters keep developing and adding depth and when the writers create a personality quirk, it is in service of character and not the story of the week.  He would visit the Greendale campus (and did as a background extra) to see all the characters, but attending Greendale would be the worst decision of his or anyone’s life except for those that want to learn to make a diorama.

House, M.D.  After Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) drove his car into Dr. Cuddy’s home we thought this series was pretty much done for.  We still had doubts that we’d need another season after House’s prison stint.  Then BAM!  This last season is on par with the best of its eight season run, especially because the writers have let Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) be Wilson, Chase (Jesse Spencer) be Chase, and Russian bride-in-name-only Dominika (Karolina Wydra) almost make it as House’s single perfect mate.  Although Charlene Yi and Odette Annable are fine as Drs. Park and Adams, the show still struggles with the one note Cameron/Thirteen replacement role.  We wish we had Amber Tamblyn back.  Although Omar Epps’s Dr. Foreman pretty much vanished, Peter Jacobson’s Dr. Taub continues to amuse to the bitter (?) end.

Fairly Legal.  Although we’ve fallen behind thanks to new diversions like Awake and Lost Girl, the sophomore season of this unusual, lighthearted legal drama continues to entertain. Star Sarah Shahi is cute and engaging (although we liked her better as a cynical cop in Life and as Gus’s adrenaline junkie girlfriend in a guest spot on Psych), even if her harried approach to life gets a little exhausting.  We’re hoping for a bigger role for Gerald McRaney this season.

In Plain Sight.  We’ve let the final season of this solid crime drama get backed up on our DVR, but from what we’ve seen so far, they’re going to round the series out nicely, with the same sharp dialogue and complex relationships that have given this series staying power despite a history of scheduling mishaps.  It’s nice to see Tangie Ambrose (Agent Parmalee) get a stronger role, Tia Carrere is always fun, and all things considered, I think everyone prefers baby Norah to Jinx and Brandi.

Parks and Recreation.  April Ludgate, Andy Dwyer and Ron Swanson continue to be three of the best characters on television.

A few other shows we’re thinking about, but haven’t mentioned here before:

  • Surburgatory. Jason has no clue what makes this interesting.  He laughs and that’s a big part.  The supporting cast (Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell (SNL) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) is just so, goofy and fun. Mostly, it is earnest father and daughter relationship of the two leads, Jeremy Sisto and Jane Levy.
  • Modern Family.  The second season of this award-winning series was side-splitting.  Better than the great comedic actors and fantastic use of the “mockumentary” format is the terrific writing of the scribes behind the show, particularly Jeffery Richman  & creator Steven Levitan. The stories of the three households making up the dysfunctional Modern Family intertwine effortlessly to create the funniest half-hour on network television.
  • CSI (Crime Scene Investigation).  After a dozen seasons in the bag and numerous cast changes, CSI could easily be slipping off of most people’s radar, especially with the mid-season exit of long-time favorite Marg Helgenberger.  And though it will never likely recover the viewership it enjoyed when William Peterson was on the cast, the new additions of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue has been a breath of creative fresh air.  After missteps with recently departed cast, especially the badly conceived Dr. Ray Langston character portrayed by the excellent Lawrence Fishburne, the series seems to be back on an even keel and cranking out the crafty, clever alternative plotlines to the rote procedurals currently on the air everywhere else. Amen.
  • Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.  Only four episodes in, but having James Van Der Beek play a cartoon version of himself, keeps paying funny dividends.  If that lasts, this will be a keeper.
  • Mad Men.  Jason got rid of his cable and finding this show in a legal manner can be tough, but he knows it is worth it.
  • Archer.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy spy situations or give me death!”
  • Bob’s Burgers.  Jason says, “Give me the voice of H. Jon Benjamin in crazy burger joint situations or give me death!”

Enough of politics, enough of personal issues.  It’s about time audiences get Arnold Schwartzenegger doing what we all love to seem him do–star in action movies.  Brash, cool, obnoxiousness, big in every way, no one surpasses Arnold as the biggest action hero, although everyone who ever has come close will be joining him in the new movie, The Expendables 2.

I passed on the first of the series, The Expendables, when I had heard that Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger signed up only for cameo roles.  But it will be hard to pass up the sequel coming this summer.  Every action hero who has ever been a BIG action hero from the 1980s onward has apparently signed on for this sequel.  I’m not talking about guys like Cruise or Gibson or Damon.  I’m talking about the guys who look like they could actually bend something, or someone, in half.

Here’s the preview:

So who’s on the team?

They’ve got Chuck Norris.  What constellation of events had to occur to bring in Chuck?  Did you hear he and Superman once had a bet?  The loser had to start wearing his underwear outside his pants.  Did you hear that when Batman needs help he turns on his Chuck Norris symbol?  (We’re here all night, folks).

They even have Jean-Claude Van Damme as the apparent bad guy.  Who doesn’t miss Van Damme and his mid-air balancing splits, flying 360 kicks, and cool accent?  Bloodsport, Sudden Impact, Timecop?  I’ve seen all his 1980s and early 1990s flicks over and over.  Arnold says “I’m back” but I’m glad Van Damme’s back.

Sure, Jason Statham is back, too–probably the current mega-action star of every other action film Hollywood churns out.   Check out The Italian Job if you want to see his best.  Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren are back from the original, too.

Sylvester Stallone returns as the lead.  Bruce Willis is in.  And Arnold.

Who the heck are they missing?  (Scratching head).  Maybe Steven Seagal?

The Expendables 2 is scheduled for release August 17, 2012.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

If you are a fan of Doctor Who or Batman or Star Trek or The Lord of the Rings, there is really only one series that should top your TV viewing list right now.  And that series is Sherlock, airing Sundays on Public Television.  This week’s episode charged past even the original three episodes produced by the BBC that first aired more than two years ago.  We’ve waited a long time for the series’ return and we couldn’t have been happier with the result.  A stunningly good plot based on a classic Holmes story, introducing an enchanting new character, and as much Holmes and Watson verbal sparring as you could pack in one week’s time slot.

Why watch Sherlock?  Let’s count down some reasons.

1.  Sharp writing.  The show is smartly written by the best current TV writer anywhere—Steven Moffat.  Moffat has been dazzling us with the best stories on TV including 20 episodes of Doctor Who, and his stories are always interesting, even exciting, and always full of twists and turns.  Moffat has written episodes of Sherlock, including this Sunday’s episode “A Scandal in Belgravia” and next week’s episode “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”  With all the drama are equal doses of laugh-out-loud humor.  You will laugh at Sherlock’s oddities and Watson’s dumbfounded expressions.  I can’t think of a better written series since the original Life on Mars, and this week’s episode is one of the best stand alone TV episodes you’ll ever see.  If you think I am exaggerating, I just dare you to watch this week’s show and tell me I am wrong.

2.  A modernized classicSherlock?  The British show on Masterpiece Theater?  Make no mistake: This isn’t Masterpiece Theater of the past.  This is no stodgy series re-hashing old plots.  Yes, the stories are rooted in the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but the updating to today is brilliant and artfully done.  This Sherlock and Watson get to excite a new generation of fans to the sleuthing and detective mind of Holmes, only using the modern technologies and investigative methods—some methods even ahead of their time as only a guy named Sherlock Holmes could do.

3.  The acting.  What other TV series has the soon-to-be biggest performers in the blockbusters of tomorrow?  Usually once an actor makes it big he leaves TV and doesn’t turn back.  But for right now Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Watson’s Martin Freeman are still doing TV and it will be among their best works no matter what they do from here on.  Freeman and Cumberbatch also make for great old fashioned buddy cops.  Like the masterful ensemble cast of the A&E series Nero Wolfe and the TNT series The Closer, the supporting cast of Sherlock is fun to come back to visit each week in their own right.

4.  You like Batman.  Who doesn’t?  How many writers of some of the all-time best Batman stories were inspired by Doyle’s classic detective?  If you’ve read Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush, the 19th century Holmes permeates every inquisitive angle of the Dark Knight Detective’s sleuthing.  And it’s not just Batman.  The New 52’s Batgirl series includes an updated Barbara Gordon who is in many ways yet another Holmes in training.  If you like the Mystery in Masterpiece Mystery, you will find yourself sucked into the plot and trying to beat the master detective as he follows the clues of each week’s quandary.

5.  You like comic book style.  The “special effect” of printing words on the screen as Sherlock moves from location to location, indicating the speed and scope of Sherlock’s genius mind should be familiar to comic book readers’ world of thought balloons and sprawling visual effects using words.

6.  You like The Lord of the Rings.  If you like The Lord of the Rings like me, you’ve probably continued to follow the cast members who played the characters in the trilogy in their projects after the movie.  Why not start early with the new star of The Hobbit, Martin Freeman, Sherlock’s Dr. John Watson?  And Benedict Cumberbatch, who will be the voice of Smaug in part 2 of The Hobbit?

7.  You like Star Trek.  Khhaaaannnn!  One day it’s “official” the next day it isn’t and the studio’s PR machine isn’t helping quell rumors, but whether or not Benedict Cumberbatch will reprise Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, he is some type of villain in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, next year’s 12th film in the Star Trek franchise.  No matter how loyal you are to the late great Montalban, no matter how much of a traditional Trekker or Trekkie you consider yourself, you, too, will be convinced by Cumberbatch’s ability to take on any role by watching his performance as Holmes.

8.  You like Doctor Who.  I’ve already mentioned Steven Moffat writing the series above, but if you want to get a glimpse at the only actress rumored to be among the first considered to replace Matt Smith as the first female Doctor, you need look  no further than the stunning performance  by Lara Pulver as Irene Adler in Sunday’s first episode of the second season.  And heck, True Blood and Robin Hood fans will like seeing Pulver here, too!

9.  You’re an anglophile.  Doesn’t the mere sight of the London Eye ferris wheel at the beginning of each Sherlock episode want you to go buy plane tickets?  And this week’s story took place in part in Buckingham Palace.  What more could you want?  And if you like James Bond, who ever was a better ringer for Ms. Moneypenny, fawning over the great 007 spy, than Sherlock’s poor coroner Molly Hooper, and her unrequited love for Holmes?

10.  You believe that “brainy is the new sexy.”  Hey, it’s not my quote.  Just watch this week’s episode.

It’s one of the lamest marketing messages I’ve ever read, and many shows have used it before, but basically I’ll use it here because it applies: “there is simply no reason not to watch” Sherlock.   And every reason to watch it.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

By Art Schmidt

Marvel Studios’ newest and boldest superhero movie yet, The Avengers premiered on Friday in North America.  To celebrate the superhero team-up movie five years in the making, AMC Theaters nationwide offered an all-day Ultimate Marvel Marathon in select venues, previewed here last week, showing all five previous Marvel Studios super heroes movies, in order, leading up to the midnight premier of The Avengers:  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger.  I reviewed the movie Saturday here at borg.com, but now I want to share the most excellent movie-going experience I had at the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.

I had been to AMC special events before; they carry the Fathom Events series, including the excellent Lost panel I attended prior to the series finale.  I had also previously attended their all-day screening of the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was discussed here at borg.com.  So I knew AMC would do this event right, but even I had no idea how Mighty it would be.

Early Thursday afternoon, the theatre was packed and there were tons of fans sporting their hero gear, many throwing props to their favorite heroes from both within the Marvel and DC universes and without (one guy sitting near me had on an Archer T-shirt, which I thought was hilarious.  Several fans were wearing Justice League gear, like silent cries for DC to follow in Marvel’s footsteps and begin work on a similar movie featuring their favorite DC characters.  There were several good costumes floating around, including a convincing Tony Stark in party tux and a great home-made Thor outfit which drew lots of cameras.  The folks at the AMC 30 Theater I attended the event at had things well planned out.  Marathoners had lanyards and special 3D glasses provided, and a limited supply of a free special issue of The Avengers comic book.  There were activities planned including trivia in between each movie and select prizes for the correct answers (posters, additional 3D glasses, and masks).

Before the showing of the first movie, Iron Man, the AMC hostess took a favorite character survey among the “Big Four” Avengers (the ones who have had their own movies thus far) and though it was close between Captain America and Iron Man, Tony Stark pulled it out during the second round of voting.

When the lights dimmed, the surprises were far from over.  Before each of the five movies leading up to The Avengers premier, there were short “debriefings” shown featuring none other than our favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Phil Coulson.  He provided brief reviews of the movies’ main characters, personalities, and the circumstances leading up to them becoming involved in The Avengers Initiative.  Before Iron Man, Coulson did a very funny bit throwing out a copy of Tony Stark’s own description of himself (in a very thick binder), and then showing Coulson’s own single-page description which was entirely inked over, being heavily redacted by the government.

There were very big cheers when each movie started, and huge laughs during all of the funny scenes in every movie.  The crowd was loud and raucous, and the carnival atmosphere was everything I had anticipated and more.  It was like being in the middle of a gigantic, six-hundred person nerd love-in, and everyone was loving it.  When Stark announced “I am Iron Man” at the end of the initial movie, you couldn’t hear yourself think over the huge cheers.

When Nick Fury came in for his first cameo at the end, the theater filled with an unexpected electricity his final words: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”  That scene took on a whole new meaning for the assembled crowd of fans, and the cheers were deafening.

Throughout the showings of the movies, there were big cheers at the first appearance of each of our beloved heroes, and Marvel-ous applause every time a Stan Lee cameo occurred.  When the Hulk kicked a heavily souped-up Captain Emil Blonksy into the tree in response to the “Is that all you’ve got?” the crowd roared the loudest it had thus far.  And things only got better.

The folks at AMC posted pictures on their Facebook page throughout the day and evening which fans happily scanned through on their smart phones in between shows.  The great crowd even made Iron Man 2 enjoyable, with lots of applause and laughs especially at the expense of Justin Hammer, played with gleeful scumbaggery by Sam Rockwell.

The last three films, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers were all shown in 3D.  Agent Coulson’s debrief prior to Thor ended with the instruction: “The time has come to put on your S.H.I.E.L.D.-supplied enhanced eyewear for three-dimensional presentation”.  Big laughs at that one, like good little Junior Agents, we all did exactly as we were told.

The movie Thor actually played a bit more corny against the others, or perhaps kitschy is the right term, when viewed along with the other films, especially the little New Mexico (?) town that never quite looks or feels quite real (as compared to Asgard, which was incredibly well-conceived and heavily detailed).

And thanks to free refills for large drinks and popcorns, the lines were never short at the concession stands all day long (nor for the bathrooms!)

The debrief prior to Captain America contained more humor, with Coulson beaming like a little kid as he shared with the audience that Captain America was his favorite hero.  “I have all of his trading cards,” he nearly gushed, before quickly regaining his composure and asserting, “But enough about me.”  Little did we know that this bit would play directly into the plot of The Avengers.

Just before the premiere of the main event, at midnight the AMC folks led the entire audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to an audience member who was turning 21 at midnight.  The song was accompanied by huge cheers and applause, and I know we made that guy’s day.

And then the main event started, and it was a great present for us all, birthdays or not.  AMC did this event right, a great movie event for movie lovers, and I’ll be sure to be on the lookout for future events such as this.

(Photos copyright AMC Theaters 2012, reprinted from their Facebook page)

In a big comic book week that was highlighted by the release of the second wave of New 52 comics by DC on Wednesday, The Avengers Marathon in theaters on Thursday, and the U.S. premiere of The Avengers movie on Friday, droves of comic book readers young and old raided comic book stores Saturday across the country for the annual Free Comic Book Day.  Even at a big store like the one where I get my weekly books you could have showed up hours into the day and have a nice pick from dozens of books, from the obscure like My Favorite Martian to DC Comics’ and Marvels’s latest freebies.

The strangest free comic must be Graphic Elvis by Liquid Comics, a bizarre homage to the King of Rock and Roll that even includes a story by Stan Lee of Elvis going to heaven (for anyone thinking he’s still around).

I always pick up the latest Aspen comics book to see what they are up to–always full of good art of the Michael Turner influence, but unfortunately not a full story issue.

Boundless Comics’ Lady Death: The Beginning actually included a cover to cover, complete story with great artwork.

For the three people out there that missed DC Comics’s New 52 releases, The New 52! Issue #1 offered some nice overview panels including previews of this week’s Second Wave titles.

Dark Horse offered up a younger-leaning flip book featuring Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Guild, both with half-length stories.

Borg fans will like seeing that the Marvel free book was a complete Ultron story, The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Liquid Comics presented what really is a cool sketch book featuring a preview of the new Dinosaurs vs. Aliens graphic novel due out this summer.  Only a short amount of Grant Morrison’s story was included but the art was superb, including sketches and script page excerpts.  I just hope the full version is not another Cowboys and Aliens type release that can’t get past its title.

But the big winner is Archaia Entertainment’s hardcover–in part for being the first Free Comic Book day hardcover edition ever released.  Comprised of six complete short stories including one from the brilliant writer/artist David Petersen and his Mouse Guard characters, this book reminds me of how cool it was when Batman: The Killing Joke hit the stands as the first big and shiny prestige format comic years ago.  Great design and content = a book more than worth the trip to the comic store.

Of course, as we mentioned earlier last week, you could see plenty of writers and artists doing signings and sketches.  One fireman visiting Elite Comics was very impressed with a caricature drawn of him by a local artist.  We had fun with costumed characters giving several kids and adults a chance to get photos with their favorite genre characters.

CJ Bunce as Gimli’s taller brother Jimli, John Clark as Superman from this week’s Action Comics #9, Iron Man from IBOT, and Trina Rice as American Dream, at Elite Comics in Overland Park, KS. Photo by Justin Cline.

I always enjoy catching up with Ande Parks, who mentioned a new Dynamite series he is writing to be released soon featuring WitchBlade.  And plenty of visitors bought back issues for half price or less, which can’t be beat.

Another successful Free Comic Book Day is “one for the books” as they say.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by Art Schmidt

Overall this is probably one of the best Marvel Studios has produced thus far.  Despite the multitude of heroes and personalities on the screen, which could have easily lent itself to a convoluted, overly-busy and confusing plot, the movie sails right along with only a few minor bumps in dialogue or story.  The tight script by director Joss Whedon manages to bring out the individual personality of each character, as well as showcasing each ones strengths and, in most cases, their weaknesses, without anything feeling like it was shoe-horned in the middle of a scene or duct-taped onto the end of a conversation.  It all flows exceedingly well, to both Whedon and Zek Penn‘s credit.

Early on, many questioned Whedon’s ability to transform from a televised series format where he’s had his greatest critical and commercial successes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse, to the big screen, despite having written stories and/or screenplays for several films including Toy Story, Alien: Resurrection, and Serenity.  Well, The Avengers have assembled for what is currently Earth’s Mightiest Movie, and Whedon has answered all of those critics with a guttural roar heard all across America yesterday:

“Joss SMASH!”

Smash, indeed.  It appears some records are about to be smashed, judging by the movie’s world-wide tallies and first-day numbers in the United States.

In fact, it may very well be Whedon’s experience with television’s shorter episodic format that enabled the director to write such crisp, fast-paced exchanges between the characters, expressing multiple points of view in relatively short conversations without feeling pithy or trite.  Of particular note is a scene mid-way through the movie, as the Team wrestles with each other’s hidden objectives and priorities, trying to make sense of how they can possibly agree on even one thing, much less begin to work together.  S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury’s agenda is questioned, as is Thor’s long-term plans for his captive brother Loki, played again with devilish delight by Tom Hiddleston.  Steve Rogers (a.k.a Captain America) questions Tony Stark’s patriotism, and Bruce Banner tries to remain out of the fray altogether, because in reality he doesn’t trust any of them.  And it is Banner who aptly frames the team’s troubles with the quip showcased in the previews: “We’re not a team…  we’re a time bomb.”

Of particular note is newcomer Mark Ruffalo, taking up the role of Bruce Banner formerly portrayed by not one but three other actors, the fairly straight-forward scientist on the run character (“David” Banner) that Bill Bixby gave us in the seventies TV series, the brooding scientist with the weight of the world on his shoulders as portrayed by Eric Bana in Ang Lee’s The Hulk, and the mousy, sensitive fugitive we were shown by Edward Norton.

Ruffalo gives us a character more true to the Banner of the comics, nerdy and analyzing, shy around people and reluctant to get involved, with much hand wringing and avoiding eye contact, even when the camera isn’t squarely on him.

The Hulk himself, finally, comes into his own in an odd way, with hints that Banner now has at least a tiny bit of control over the beast.  The CGI Hulk is a rare cinematic treat, fun to watch, exhilarating with his combat acrobatics and both vicious and funny to behold in all his rage.  He definitely grabs both some of the movies best action sequences and its funniest sight gags.  Whereas many studios anymore give away the best parts of their movies in the previews in an attempt to trick an audience into the seats, The Avengers saves the best stuff for the theater, and I won’t be so callous as to spoil one single juicy bit of it here.  I will say that when Banner tells his “big secret” to Black Widow and the rest of the team during the finale, it drew some the biggest cheers of the night.

Although now in an apparently steady relationship with Pepper Potts, played in a few brief scenes by Gwyneth Paltrow with the warmth and grace she brings to every role, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is at his most self-centered and narcissistic throughout the entire film.  Which of course is to say at his most fun, especially for the audience.  His cooler-than-thou attitude grates against almost every other member of the “team,” and much of the early in-fighting amongst the team is either attributed to, or enflamed by, Stark’s ingratiating self-importance.  Again, to the audience’s delight.

Despite the excess of charisma, Iron Man does not end up leading the team, of course.  That honor goes to Captain America, although next to the high-flying and alien-smashing abilities of the other “big three,” the star-spangled man in blue tights seems, as times, a bit under-powered.  But the Captain’s confidence and, ultimately, loyalty to his teammates is what brings out his leadership skills, and the others end up swallowing their pride and prejudices and looking to him as their quarterback, their general, their Captain.

Chris Evans does a skillful job of maintaining Cap’s Boy Scout innocence amidst the highly experienced and jaded folks around him, even when faced with deadly threats and other-worldly beings.  Steve just pitches in and helps, whether it’s assisting Iron Man in getting a rotor repaired, sneaking around S.H.I.E.L.D.’s vaults to uncover their secrets, or directing New York’s finest to execute their duty to protect and serve.

“Why should I take orders from you?” one veteran police sergeant asks dubiously.  The response is pure popcorn delight.

Chris Helmsworth recites Thor’s Olde English dialogue with clarity and ease, and though at times you can almost see the words in your head in the fancy font used in the comics, it rolls off of his tongue naturally.  The God of Thunder actually feels more real in this movie than in his own, partially because the other heroes bring him down to Earth a bit (no pun intended), but also because of the balancing effect of the Hulk.

As Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson has enough to do and gets plenty of screen time, even discounting the shots of her character walking away from the camera, but compared to those who have super-natural (or super high-tech) abilities, her martial arts and weapons skills seem flashy but inadequate.  As one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top operatives, however, she in right in the mix and given some tough assignments, like dealing with Banner / Hulk and figuring out how to ultimately stop the bad guys at the end.

Hawkeye suffers from a similar fate (played by Jeremy Renner), although his trick arrows do bring some surprises and satisfying butt-kicking moments.  His arsenal isn’t as tricked-out as in the comics, but his skill comes across (especially when he’s eyeing his targets a full forty or fifty degrees from where he’s aiming his bow) and his automated quiver is a fairly neat addition to the Avenger’s arsenal.

Samuel L. Jackson has been playing Nick Fury with his own unique brand of quiet cool through almost all of the Marvel movies leading up the this, and I was looking forward to seeing him in some action sequences in The Avengers.  Though Fury does unleash some on a few bad guys, his role is mostly as the S.H.I.E.L.D. administrator and liaison to those in power calling the real shots.  Too bad, maybe next time.

All in all, the movie aims to please and hits the mark dead-on, with tons of thrills, laughs, great action sequences, characters who sound intelligent and a story that makes sense.  Usually with superhero movies, you’re lucky to get any three of those things and call your money fairly spent.  Well, Joss Whedon and company have assembled the entire team and anyone who enjoys action / adventure movies should walk away with a huge grin on their face.

Be sure to wait until after the credits for a great nugget!  I won’t give it away, but it is unlike any of the others Marvel has planted at the end of the movies leading up to this one.  And joyously so!

  

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spoilers!

James Robinson was able to do with his first issue in Wave 2 of DC Comics’s New 52 what the other DC Justice League creators didn’t do in the initial launch–he created an exciting and interesting play on the DC universe.  And with Paul Levitz they have re-ignited the superhero books when it seemed like the titles across the board were wavering a bit.

Robinson’s Earth 2 takes DC back to its origins up through the 1980s when characters traversed parallel universes before there were all the myriad multiverses in the DCU with series in the 2000s, such as that found in the weekly series titled 52.  Levitz switched up the classic DC title known for Batman and Superman team-ups–World’s Finest, flipping the apostrophe to account for the parallel worlds into the new Worlds’ Finest.

You can’t read one title without the other.  Issue #1 of Worlds’ Finest nudges Earth 2 only a bit because of its focus on a new Huntress and Power Girl, so far missing their own titles in the New 52.  But are they really who they appear to be?  Back to that in a bit.

I love parallel universe stories, ever since reading the battle between the Earth 1 and Earth 2 superheroes in the pages of Justice League of America as a kid.  These two issues brought back all the fun of those earlier stories.

The first book of the parallel DCU is Issue #1 of Earth 2, and you’ve just got to envy Robinson and artist Nicola Scott with what they were allowed to do here–show the death scenes of not one but all of DC’s big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.  Scott even folded in her own versions of the supersuits, which are cooler than the earlier New 52 outfits.  But these characters only die on Earth 2 (not our Earth 1) in a battle called the Apokolips War (really, why do they always have to spell it so strangely?) by the leader of some “parademons” under a leader called Steppenwolf (usually with such a unique name you’d have an explanation for it, but neither the band, the novel or the wolf appear to apply here).  Regardless, Steppenwolf kills Wonder Woman first, but not before she has an encounter with the God Mercury, followed by the explosive death of Superman.  Batman sacrifices himself to blow everything to kingdom come, but not before a sign-off with daughter Helena, presumably his daughter with Catwoman, who is fighting the parademons as Robin, Batman’s sidekick.  Supergirl, here Karen Starr from DC’s 1970s, and Helena are part of the explosion and their ongoing story continues in Worlds’ Finest Issue #1.

But Earth 2 continues as we meet the Earth 2‘s Green Lantern (although he doesn’t have that title yet) Alan Scott.  And the issue ends as the God Mercury shows up to meet 21-year-old self-described screw-up Jay Garrick.  The name for a classic Flash in the DCU, no doubt we can see where Issue #2 will go with this character.  The how of showing Justice Society leaders Green Lantern and Flash getting together is well worth looking forward to.

Kudos to DC Comics for putting James Robinson on this title–his Justice League-Cry for Justice, although criticized by some, is one of the best reads from DC in years of limited “Crisis” series featuring the JLA.  Robinson can handle the intertwining story elements of something as complex as merging two Earths.

In Worlds’ Finest Issue #1, writer Paul Levitz and artist George Perez pick up the Earth 2 story by following the adventures of Robin and Supergirl as they decide to change their personas on Earth 1 into Huntress and Powergirl.  The big question is:  What happened to Kara Zor-L, Supergirl of Earth 1 and Helena Bertinelli, Huntress of Earth 1?  We know Supergirl is in her own Earth 1 series and Huntress recently finished up a trip to Italy in her own limited series.  Will we get to see a Supergirl vs Power Girl battle as we’ve seen in the past?  And Worlds’ Finest starts with the mention of Earth 1 Helena Bertinelli’s death.  But how?

Worlds’ Finest has great banter and chemistry between Karen and Helena, like we saw in the Gail Simone/Nicola Scott era of Birds of Prey.  Here this Worlds’ Finest issue is what I’d hoped for with the New 52 reboot of Birds of Prey.  You could easily see Batgirl of the New 52 joining up with these two superheroines at some point.  Helena fills the shoes as the Batman clone Huntress very well here–Huntress is at her best when she is written as Batman with a different hairdo and all the detective skill.  Karen’s Power Girl is outgoing and fun. not the typical spacey, serious and ethereal Supergirl.  But fans of her revealing Power Girl suit note that that outfit is long gone, replaced with a more updated supersuit.

I was pleasantly surprised with these first two issues of the New 52 second wave.  The re-hashed origin story that caused me to stop buying Justice League after the first few issues was disappointing, so it is nice to have a similar topic approached in such a refreshing and fun way.  Anxiously awaiting the second issues next month!

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I first read Jeff Jensen when a friend introduced me to his long explorations on each episode of Lost.  Almost two years after we both said goodbye to the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, I read his Dark Horse graphic novel, Green River Killer: A True Detective Story.   I enjoy, wait, strike that pronoun and verb, let me start again.  The study and pursuit of serial killers by law enforcement agents interests me.  So, before I delve into what this book made me think about, let me just say that it’s a fascinating look at a detective who pursues the Green River Killer, Tom Jensen, the father of Jeff.

Whom does the author decide to follow?  For Jeff, I’m sure it was an easy decision to paint the portrait of his father and his family through the years and to intersperse it with the interrogation of Gary Leon Ridgway and a couple of scenes from Ridgway’s point of view.

For this genre, it’s a unique take.  For the take of the investigator, you have the books of John Douglas.  For the view from the killer, you have a number of books and movies like American Psycho and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  This one, though technically the story of Tom Jensen, gives the obvious feeling that it is told through the eyes of a son.  Maybe I read too much into it, but the art of the novel feels like the scenes with Tom Jensen are from a perspective of someone shorter, listening to stories about how his father met his mother and looking up at him and his achievements.

It made me think of other graphic novels, books and movies and how that simple change of an author’s perspective can make a completely different story.  Think of Blade Runner from the perspective of Rachael, as a guy comes in and gives you the replicant tests.  Once that happens, if we follow her character, this revelation could change every relationship she has.  Does she wonder how people look at her?  Does she try to find answers at her job?  How would the movie change if told entirely from the viewpoint of Pris and how she just wanted to live, but a ruthless killer kept pursuing her?  What if it was from the angle of J.F. Sebastian who just wanted to find companionship?

I could go on as you can probably already see the different angels of your favorite movies, but humor me for a couple more.  What if The Lord of the Rings came from the view of the elves?  What if Eight Men Out told the story of the victorious Cincinnati Reds and how they won the World Series but the losers and their scandal overshadowed their victory?  What if instead of Harry Potter, the books focused on the bright, muggle-born Hermione Granger?

The whole idea of Wicked is The Wizard of Oz from a different view.  Elizabeth Bunce retold the story of Rumpelstiltskin in A Curse Dark As Gold completely from the view of the miller’s daughter and made her the heroine.

How does a writer choose a perspective?  What character can interest both the writer as they write and the reader as they read?

When I went to Comic-Con and sat in on a panel with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, they said what made Batman so interesting is that people could relate to him.  He’s human like us all and he has suffered terrible losses.  Everyone can understand those feelings and motivations.  They said it made it easy to write and create for that character.  They could interject themselves into the story.

On the other hand, Hannibal Lecter inspires book after book and movie after movie and I don’t think there are many genius cannibals in the world.  Then again, do writers need to be genius cannibals to step into those shoes, or just need to find the mundane and the ordinary contemptible?  I find it interesting that Lecter becomes a kind of hero in the stories movies even though he is a sadistic killer.  In real life serial killers aren’t heroes; they are Gary Leon Ridgway.  The eponymous Dexter makes a bit more sense as a hero because he only kills other killers.  If you accept that, then it’s not that far of a stretch to get back to Batman who doesn’t kill, he merely beats and cripples the bad guys.

At their heart, these example characters seek justice.  Rick Deckard seeks justice for the people the replicants killed to escape.  The criminal justice system places the Black Sox on trial to make them atone for accepting money to throw games.  Batman seeks to keep the streets safe from crime so that no one will have to face the pain he did.

A search for justice beats at the heart of many a crime story.  The search for love lies at the heart of love story.  If you want to tell a horror story, it’s about trying to find safety, and if you want to tell the story from the opposite side, it might be the search for retribution or something much darker.  If you make the darkness ridiculous enough, you’ve got yourself a dark comedy.

We all have a story to tell.  We all have a unique point of view.  Every author has to decide what their story will be and what character can best tell it.  I’ve heard it said that every story has already been written, and while that may be true, not every story has been told from every point of view.

With the eve of the opening of The Avengers finally upon us, the movie studios are gearing up for even more summer blockbusters, releasing updated and expanded versions of trailers that have already been playing for months, previewed earlier this year at borg.com in earlier versions.  And each new blockbuster will open on in its own weekend in June, only a month away.

Brave

The best must be the new trailer for Brave.  The downside is that it tends to show so many apparently good scenes that one worries if there will be anything left to be surprised by with the actual movie.  The positive is that Brave looks to be among the best animated films so far, up there with Beauty and the Beast and Up.  The visuals of the characters and setting are simply stunning.  You might watch this trailer if you haven’t yet convinced yourself to see this film when it is released on June 22, 2012.

Prometheus

Next up is the new trailer for Prometheus, a film whose marketing (with the recent David 8 preview) seems to be just getting better and better.  The ships, the future technology, the strange new worlds, all look intriguing.  And if there were any doubt this film will pull a lot from the kind of plot seen in past Alien films, including space horror shockers and blood spatters, it’s all pretty much settled in this preview.  The downside is that the opening scene conversations play a tad like bad SyFy Channel made-for-TV movies.  Will special effects and scenery make up for iffy dialogue?  We’ll find out June 8, 2012.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

The new trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation has several bits from past trailers but reveals more about the plot of the organization called COBRA to take over the world.  The filming and story looks a bit like the X-Men series, which may be a good thing.  Then there is the ninja battle on the side of the mountain–no doubt this new G.I. Joe film will be as much fan as the last.  We like Dwayne Johnson movies.  We hope Bruce Willis is here for more than just a cameo.  This movie will be released June 29, 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises

Finally, there is a new trailer (that makes trailer #3) for The Dark Knight Rises.  Emphasis on the word “dark.”  We have a bad guy, Bane, whose face we mostly cannot see, and so his dialogue seems muffled in the trailer.  We have Anne Hathaway, who we want to love as Catwoman, yet she seems a bit weepy and not very seductive or cat-like.  Her role must be bigger (fingers crossed) than what we’re seeing so far.  And Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne looks…just like we’ve seen him in the past films, depressed and bedraggled like he looked before he went off to find himself in Batman Begins.  Compared to The Avengers (and there will be plenty of comparisons and contrasts this summer with dueling Marvel and DC movies)–which looks all-out exciting–The Dark Knight Rises looks plain dreary.  Goodbye Gotham.  Goodbye Batman.  Dreary.  This summer blockbuster hits theaters June 15, 2012.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com