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Monday, October 31, 2011

Movie Review - Contagion

Movie Title
Contagion


Year
2011

Genre
Suspense, Drama


Story
The movie starts with a count-up (ie: day1, day2, etc.) with vignettes of different obviously infected characters in different parts of the world, including Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), a young Hong Kong man & a Japanese Executive, all showing symptoms of being seriously ill and then dying in some seriously realistic and horrifying manner.


What follows are other vignettes to help introduce the players, who include Dr. Cheever (Lawrence Fishburne), Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotilard) before the frantic rush to identify patient zero, the source of the epidemic, contain the spread, find a cure and deal with wide-spread panic caused by a greedy and unscrupulous blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law).



When Beth returns to Minneapolis from a business engagement in Hong Kong, what was thought as jet lag takes a deadly turn. Two days later, she died at the hospital and the doctors say that they have no idea why, leaving her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock and grief stricken.

Soon, others all over the world have the same mysterious symptoms: fever, hacking coughs and followed by brain hemorrhage ... and finally, death. In Minneapolis, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, the numbers are growing rapidly: a case becomes four, sixteen, then hundreds, thousands, as the contagion sweeping all borders, fed by countless human interactions during a typical day. A global pandemic explodes.


With a virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers are scrambling to unravel the mystery of the mutating biological agent. 



Deputy Director Dr. Cheever attempts to stem the growing panic, despite his personal problems, and must send a brave young Dr. Erin Mears to danger amid a rising tide of suspicion, instigated by profit hungry blogger Alan Krumwiede, of a potential vaccine and who gets it first. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.


Dr. Leonora Orantes of the World Health Organization is working through the network of connections that can lead her to the source (patient zero) of what they are dealing with.

Acting
The ensemble cast boast of some really heavy weight actors and they do deliver! Of course, with so many big names, you can't expect much screen time from your personal favorites but I think the managed to balance their screen time pretty well.

I have said it and am saying it again, good acting is when you don't realize they are acting. At no point in the movie was I ever distracted by such thoughts.

Overall
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie despite what may seem like a pretty boring way to spend a couple of hours. Kudos to Steven Soderbergh for his fine work. This is the first time that I had been exposed to his work. I unreservedly recommend this to anyone who likes a good yarn that also provides quite a bit of a scare as this could very well happen today.

Go watch it at least once!

Movie Review - Green Lantern





Movie Title
Green Lantern
Year
2011
Genre
Action, Comic Adaptation, Sci-Fi

Story
As with all Superhero movies, this is basically an origin story but combined with a bit of Green Lantern Lore 101 but comtemporarizing the franchise by having Parallax as the villain with a teaser lead-up to the Sinestro Corps.

Before the story begins, the audience is given a narrative to help those unfamiliar with Green Lantern to quickly get up to speed with fanboys like myself. We also learn that it was Abin Sur who had managed to imprison Parallax but now had managed to break free, and the first thing to do was to seek out Abin Sur for vengeance.

With that out of the way, we are then introduced to our hero Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) - a care-free but seemingly irresponsible Test Pilot for Ferris Aircraft and how he is chosen by the dying Green Lantern of Sector 2814 - Abin Sur (supposedly the greatest Green Lantern in the Corps until Hal came along, that is.) to replace him after having been critically wounded by Parallax.

Meanwhile, Hal receives a crash course in Ring-Slinging 101 when the ring brings him to OA where he received personal training from Tomar Re, Kilowog & Sinestro (Mark Strong). The Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians soon learn that Parallax is making its way to OA and none of the Green Lanterns can manage to stop it as it is a creature of fear, the only element Green Lanterns' light has no power against.

While back on Earth, the US Govt had retrieved Abin Sur's body and long-time Green Lantern foe, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), had been invited by Amanda Waller (see comments in Overall section) to perform the autopsy. Unknown to all, Abin Sur's body had been infected by traces of Parallax and in turn, had infected Hector Hammond and turned him into the monstrous we see in the trailers and movie stills who serves as Parallax's herald as he makes his way to Earth to destroy Hal, Abin Sur's replacement.

It's now up to the rookie human Green Lantern to stop Parallax and prevent it from obliterating the Earth.

Acting
I had my reservations about the movie when I watched the trailers as I couldn't quite imagine how a funny Hal Jordan might work. I kept telling my friends how it's gonna tank because a funny Hal Jordan is like a funny Batman! It won't work!

Well, I am glad to be proven that my fears were unfounded. Just as long as Ryan Reynolds doesn't ham it up too much in the sequel (I think there's gonna be one judging from the post credits scene - YES, there is one, stay for it!).

I, along with almost eveybody else, was extremely impressed with Mark Strong's Sinestro! Weren't you?

While 2010's hottest guy Reynolds give the girls a reason to accompany their guys friends to this movie, Blake Lively provides all the eye-candy for the guys as the independent & fiesty Carol Ferris. There is a hint that we might see her as Star Sapphire in a sequel as her pilot handle is "Sapphire".

Overall
Of course, there are differences between the movie and comics lore, some more significant than others, but it won't distract audiences from enjoying the movie.

The juxtaposing of scenes between what's happening on Earth and the Green Lantern Corps on OA/in space is quite well done.

Gripes:
1 - The Guardians do not seem to be too wise or powerful enough to justify their roles as the Green Lantern Corps' bosses or protectors of the Universe. I mean, they let Sinestro talk to them as tho' he was the boss, and they the senile grandparents. C'mon, if I were the Guardians, I'd smack him for talking to me that way!

2 - The designs for Kilowog & Tomar Re were really ugly! I mean, they turned Kilowog into a pig or Rancor's (from Star Wars) fat & mellow cousin and Tomar Re into a fish? What!???


3 - Parallax is more of a emotional/conceptual entity (FEAR) than a physical being and would not be so easily defeated as in the movie.

Fanboys would of course recognise the name Amanda Waller, or the Wall of the Suicide Squad played by none other than Angela Bassett. So, would here appearance here be somewhat likened to Samuel L Jackson's Nick Fury in the Marvel movies and perhaps lead to other DC movies like Suicide Squad or Justice League?

It's not great but it's much better than I had anticipated. Good fun summer movie. Go watch it and perhaps pick up an issue or Trade-paperback of Green Lantern!

Superman: World of New Krypton (part 1)



Title/Storyline
Superman: World of New Krypton 1-4

Publish Date/Year
2009-2010


Creative Team
James Robinson
Art:
Pete Woods


Publisher
DC

After the events of "New Krypton", the Man of Steel has been forced to embrace his past for the future of humanity. A devastating armed conflict with Earth has been avoided.

Superman has finally left Earth. He flies to New Krypton (which now orbits   opposite the Earth around the Yellow Sun) and greeted by General Zod's men (Zod is one of his oldest enemies). They tell him General Zod wants to see him now, but Superman goes to see his aunt Alura first.

Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name) finally accepts Alura's offer to keep him in New Krypton. She is happy with his decision, but advises him to let go of his grudge against General Zod. Superman reluctantly agrees, wanting to be with his people. Alura tells him he has to decide on being associated to a Kryptonian Guild. Superman says he'll need time and goes to see what Zod wanted.

He flies off with Alura's personal assistant Tyr-Van. Superman sees the various guilds as just glorified slaves.

Making his way to Zod's place, he is attacked by Non (a Zod loyalist). Zod said Superman would be a great asset to the Military Guild of New Krypton. Zod tells Superman to think about his offer for him to join the Military Guild.

On planet Oa (the Green Lanterns' HQ), the Guardians of the Universe remember a time when Kryptonian sought universal expansion. They deal with the fact that Superman is, but only one soldier in the Kryptonian Military Guild, not their leader.

The Guardians decide to send Hal Jordan (Earth's Green Lantern)  to observe New Krypton, and to determine whether intervention in the Green Lantern Corps is required. General Zod convinces Kal-El to join the Military Guild, and heads his own unit - the Red Shards as Commander El. 

Superman leads his team on a mission to stop a group of wild animals that are stampeding towards a Sunstone (Kryptonian fuel) plant. Superman shows how his team could carry out the mission without killing the animals. Zod notes Superman's strategy has demonstrated his weakness, but could not disagree with the results of the mission.

Upon Superman's return to the city, he learns that the Labor Guild Kryptonian took hostages in the capital, among them, his aunt Alura. They are demanding new laws and union representation. 

Superman tries to stop Zod from executing the Labor Guild prisoners. Superman says he can stop the emergency by peaceful means and ZOD agrees. Before Superman faces them, he lets an Archer red-sun energy-rifle shoot him, removing his powers for 30 minutes. Tam-Or, Labor Guild leader, is keeping the provisional government captive among them is Superman's aunt Alura.

Tam-Or said that because the Earth's yellow sun gives them the same powers as Superman's, there was no need for rest or food, and the Labor Guild has worked continuously since coming to New Krypton. They want time to relax and see their families.  Finally, they also want representation in the new Science Council. Alura agreed to consider their requests if the Labor Guild agrees to end the hostage situation. Superman resolves the situation peacefully before General Zod's deadline. 

A new planet suddenly appearing in any space would require a inspection of the Green Lantern Corps. When planet New Krypton (formerly Kandor City) appears in the space Sector 2814, it means it gets a visit from Sector 2814's Green Lanterns - Hal Jordan and John Stewart, with Daxamite (super-powered denizens of Daxam) Sodam Yat along for good measure. 

But what starts as a good-will mission turns into a manhunt for some of the most deranged and dangerous criminals who escaped from the Phantom Zone (Kryptonian Prison) and ultimately leads to terrible conflicts between the GL Corps and Zod's Military Guild!
 Art
Pete Woods delivers some really nice images. He employs clean lines with very little shadows into his style.
His work reminds me of people like Frank Cho and Terry Dodson. Yeah, it may seem a little too clean and even cartoony or like a coloring book, but it is refreshing to see this kind of "clean" art once in a while.

Of course, Gary Frank (I love him) provides some really good covers for the series.

Overall
James Robinson is a great writer (Starman fans would agree). He incorporates political diplomacy with recial/class segregation into a sci-fi/whodunnit/super-heroics story involving people in situations that readers may not expect like Superman taking orders from Gen. Zod!!

This is a good read and despite not being a big Superman fan, I found myself itching to read the next issue impatiently. Plus, the good art from Pete Woods really help make the entire package a really good read. Get it as this story paves the way for a truly new chapter in the DC Universe for the Superman mythos and Krypton, whom everyone (incl. non fans) know had exploded long ago along with all/most of the Kryptonians.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Comic Review - Age of X






Title/Storyline
Age of X

Publish Date/Year
2011

Creative Team
Writer - Mike Carey
Artists - Clay Mann (X-Men Legacy #245-247), Steve Kurth (New Mutants #22-24)

Publisher
Marvel

Story
In a reality where the X-men were never formed or taught by Professor X how to control/use their powers, anti-mutant sentiment had grown to such an extent where mutants have all been hunted & killed (the Decimation) until a only small community remains in a fortress that Magneto (who serves as the Mutants' General, while Cannonball as Field Commander) had built, called Fortress X.

Hunted & attacked daily by humans & an alternate version of Sentinels called Exonims, the remaining mutants defend their last stronghold with their lives. They have been surviving in this hostile environment for the last 1000 days under Magneto's leadership. After each assault from the Human forces, they would rebuild their force field perimeter with the most powerful mutants - the Force Warriors*.

* Force Warriors - Legion (Prof X's son, David Haller), Rachel Summers, Psylocke, Hellion, Uniscione (from Magneto's Acolytes)

On such a day, after a bitter victory against the human forces, Legacy (Rogue, some refer to her as Reaper as she absorbs the powers and memories of the fallen mutants) discovers an escapee from the Brig - Katherine (Kitty) Pryde in the battle zone with a camera that was used to see what was outside the safe zone perimeter. Magneto escorts Pryde personally back to the Brig**.

** The Brig, a high security containment facility, kept mutants whose powers were too wild & uncontrollable that they would be dangerous to themselves & others in the community. Some of the mutants included Professor X, Emma Frost & Katherine Pryde. Danger (the sentient entity of the Danger Room) serves as its Warden.

Reaper/Legacy's curiosity is piqued and she finds out Kitty's camera had 247 pictures of white nothingness! Thus, begins her quest to discover the truth by entering the Brig to get answers from Kitty, against Magneto's orders, making her a traitor & fugitive.

She is hunted by the Moonstar Cadre*** but manages to slip past them with a little help from Gambit. This brings Magneto to handle matters personally and he drops a 100 tons of rubble on them to the horror of the rest of the mutant community!

*** Moonstar Cadre (see cover of XML#246)- Dust, Magma, Eclipse (New Mutants' Sunspot), Karma, Cypher, Moonstar (New Mutants' Mirage)

We soon discover that Magneto didn't kill Legacy & Gambit but was in fact hiding them from X**** as he too, sensed that something was not right and was the one who help Kitty's escape.

****X - a sentient entity that is an inherent part of Fortress X, issues orders to all the mutants. However, none of them seems to have seen X.

They then free Professor X (the most powerful telepath) in order to help them pierce the veil of illusion and discover the real villain behind this whole sinister (No, that was NOT a clue, really) reality.

Here are some of Clay Mann's work.

While these are from Steve Kurth.

Art
The Covers by Leinil Yu & Olivier Coipel are, needless to say, brilliant!

The interior art was almost as good. Clay Mann is not a name I'm familiar with as I jumped straight into reading it without looking at the credits. I had thought the X-Men:Legacy issues were actually done by Coipel himself! Yeah, Mann is that good. His work looked a little rough around the edges, but I had thought that this was due to poor ink-work by the embellisher. some may argue that he's a Coipel clone, but look at Phil Jiminez. He's been called George Perez's clone for years but he's establish his own niche and legion (hah, no pun intended) of fans.

Meanwhile, I have seen steve Kurth's work in the Micronauts series from a few years back. I was disappointed with his work then as it seemed cartoonish and inconsistent. However, here, he has demonstrated that his work has improved a lot!

The overall artwork for the entire story is pretty good, unlike many other major events of its ilk - where certain issues had great artists like George Perez (Infinity Trilogy) while others had 3rd rate artists like Ron Lim.
Danielle Moonstar

Clay Mann's AOX character designs
Overall
Age of X is Marvel's latest attempt in re-creating the magic they achieved with the massive success of the Age of Apocalypse from 1996.

From the responses received thus far, it seems that Marvel hit it on the nail this time. Personally, it was a little difficult to read initially as I had not been following any of the x Titles for the past 3 years. So I thought that there were certain events that happened in the X Universe that I wasn't fully aware of. But then I discovered that the story was designed to fill readers in as they went along the chapters.

It's indeed refreshing to have an X-event where Wolverine isn't cast prominently. X-Fans have already given this story their stamp of approval. I agree with them. If you have not picked up any X-Books recently or if you loved the Age of Apocalypse, this is one that you should pick up. Expect Marvel to have more books linked to the AOX story and characters.