Comic Review: Black Hammer, Vol. 1: Secret Origins

Published: April 11th, 2017
Written by: Jeff Lemire
Art by: Dean Ormsto

Dark Horse Books, 152 Pages

Review:

I didn’t know what to expect from Black Hammer but in the last year and a half that it has been out, it has been pretty popular and even spawned a few spinoffs within its unique universe.

I have historically loved Dark Horse’s original titles. I’ve read Hellboy and B.P.R.D. on and off for years, I was a massive fan of Umbrella Academy and have occasionally checked out other titles. Plus, I was always happy with their Star Wars books for the long period of time that they had the publishing rights to that megafranchise.

I saw that this was a series by Jeff Lemire, who had some good runs on some major titles over the years, most notably SuperboyJustice League DarkAnimal ManGreen ArrowTeen Titans: Earth OneHawkeyeOld Man LoganMoon Knight and Bloodshot.

Originally, Lemire was going to do the art for this book but he’s a busy guy, so the art was created by Dean Ormsto.

I love that this is a book about a superhero team but it is probably the most nontraditional superhero team book that I have ever read. The story follows a group of former heroes, trapped in a Twilight Zone type of small town. They have been stuck there for years with no way of getting back to their own reality.

The story is highly emotional, as each character tries to deal with their new reality in their own way. The most interesting character is Gail, who was a superhero woman that grew into old age but is now trapped in her superhero persona: a small girl. She has lived a full life, enjoyed sexual maturity but is cursed with an adult mind and needs in the body of an elementary school student.

All of the other characters are interesting too but I felt that Gail’s story had the most to offer, at least only having read the first story arc.

I’m looking forward to keeping up with this series. So far, it’s pretty good. Time will tell how it develops and if it can grow legs. So far, things look pretty promising.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: I’d have to assume Black Hammer, Vol. 2. There are also some similarities in style with other Dark Horse series Umbrella AcademyHellboy and B.P.R.D.

Film Review: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Also known as: Star Trek IX, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Prime Directive, Star Trek: Rebellion, Star Trek: Stardust (working titles)
Release Date: December 10th, 1998 (Cinevegas Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Michael Piller, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If a court-martial is the only way to tell the Federation what is happening here, Admiral… I welcome it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is my least favorite Star Trek film of all-time. Yes, I even like The Final Frontier more than this. The problem is that this just doesn’t work as a story or an event worthy of a Star Trek motion picture.

When you get to the end of this film, you realize that it is almost worth forgetting. It really just feels like a mediocre episode of The Next Generation TV show. It has some grandiose moments but it is a very small story when compared to the scale of what all the other Star Trek movies were. I mean, you just saved the Earth from a time traveling Borg invasion and now you’re off to La La Land to protect a mere 600 people from being tricked by a villain to live in a Holodeck that is made to resemble their village. I mean, really? This was the story? It felt like a rejected script for a filler episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

I liked that F. Murray Abraham was the villain and he did do a tremendous job in the role, fully committed to playing an insane person with a face that looked like beef jerky stretched over a basketball. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough to save this picture from being a lame and stale bore.

Star Trek films’ special effects have always been pretty amazing. However, even that area lacked in this picture. This was the first Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for its starships. The Enterprise-E looked good for the most part but the ship with the sails looked bad, the effects of the nebula weren’t well refined and then the attack drones on the planet’s surface looked terrible. It was like watching a cheap TV movie on SyFy from twenty years ago.

This film was also heavy handed with the lightheartedness and humor. Most of it was hokey and weird. There was an entire subplot about Lt. Worf going through puberty. He had a big zit, an angry teenage temper and pretty much just constantly reminded us that his body was going through some changes.

They also emphasized the relationship between Riker and Troi, which was actually fine but most of the scenes seemed out of place and sort of interrupted the flow of things.

Picard also had a love interest in the form of a 300 year-old woman that looked like she was forty-five.

The producers wanted a lighthearted movie after the doom and gloom of First Contact. They admitted to the fact that they were trying to do their generation’s version of The Voyage Home. It just didn’t work nearly as well, as The Voyage Home felt organic and natural where Insurrection felt odd, strange and incredibly dull.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the death knell of the franchise. We would still get one more movie from The Next Generation‘s cast after this one.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Nemesis.

Film Review: Boy (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Written by: Taika Waititi
Music by: The Phoenix Foundation
Cast: James Rolleston, Taika Waititi, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, Moerangi Tihore, Cherilee Martin, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell, Haze Reweti, Maakariini Butler, Rajvinder Eria, Rachel House, Craig Hall

Whenua Films, Unison Films, New Zealand Film Production Fund, New Zealand Film Commission, New Zealand On Air, Te Mangai Paho, Transmission Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t call me dad, it sounds weird.” – Alamein

I’ve been a Taika Waititi fan since first seeing Eagle vs. Shark and Flight of the Conchords. I didn’t see Boy when it first came out though and I put it off for too long. I have heard great things but the subject matter was pretty close to home and I wanted to save this for a later date because I assumed it’d be a good movie to keep on the back burner when I needed something really good to watch.

Well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed and I ended up loving this more than I thought I would. It’s funny and emotional while also having a perfect balance between lightheartedness and seriousness. Really, it was crafted with perfection and with a real love of the story and the characters within.

The young James Rolleston had to carry this picture on his back and he did so with gusto and really made the film a magical experience. You saw the world through his eyes, felt his pain but also felt his youthful enthusiasm, even when he was faced with tremendous adversity and a broken heart. He had Waititi at his side in the toughest scenes but this kid shined and really represented the feelings that many boys and men have in regards to fathers that treat their sons like an afterthought. And even though Rolleston’s Boy eventually releases all his pent up anger and disappointment, he still takes the right step forward and leaves the door open to his shitty dad, showing a child much more mature than the man that made him.

This film deals with a lot of serious subject matter and emotion but it mixes in the comedy elements very well. Waititi is the master at blending tough subject matter and humor. Between this film and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he’s proven that he is a master of his craft in this regard.

Boy, the character, was such a fun kid to get to know. But the other kids were also great and had their own smaller stories sort of woven into this great tapestry. His younger brother Rocky had his own view about things and Dynasty had some serious problems she had to deal with that were directly tied to Boy and his nitwit father Alamein.

Certain moments in the film were emotionally difficult to witness but it was all presented so perfectly and beautifully. And regardless of the hardships all of these characters face, the film ends pretty optimistically with hope. It seems as if things will get better after all the bad stuff that happened. Ultimately, it shows me that Taika Waititi understands life and this film is really a celebration of it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. 

Film Review: Key Largo (1948)

Also known as: Gangster In Key Largo (Austria, Germany), Huracán de pasiones (Spanish title)
Release Date: July 15th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Richard Brooks, John Huston
Based on: Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor

Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey Curly, what all happens in a hurricane?” – Ralphie, “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.” – Curly

Contrary to popular belief, not all men are created equal. Reason being, there was once a man named Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart had a rare talent and that talent saw him transcend the screen. He was a superstar before anyone was even called that. He had charisma, a rugged charm and was a man’s man that many men tried to emulate and most women wanted to be with. And the best way to enjoy “Bogie” was in roles like this one.

The fact that Bogart is even in a movie, pretty much makes it a classic. Now add in his favorite leading lady, Lauren Bacall, one of the greatest on screen gangsters of all-time, Edward G. Robinson, and throw in veterans Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor (who won an Academy Award for this film) and you’ve got the star power of a supernova.

Did I mention that this was directed by John Huston, a true master behind the camera?

The plot is simple but it is an effective setup to one of the most tense Bogart movies of all-time.

Bogart plays Frank McCloud. He travels to a hotel in Key Largo to pay his respects to the family (Bacall and Barrymore) of a soldier that died while serving under him. Once there, he and the widow get a bit smitten with each other but at the same time, it is revealed that the other guests are gangsters. The head gangster is played by Edward G. Robinson. On top of that, a hurricane strikes Key Largo, trapping Bogart, Bacall, Barrymore and the gangsters in the hotel. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco was exiled to Cuba years earlier and is still very dangerous.

There are a lot of intense moments in the film and every time that Bogart and Robinson are opposite each other in a scene, it is bone chilling. There is one really tense moment where Robinson goes off for a few minutes while getting a shave at the same time. The added element of the shave just added more tension to the moment and this was one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen from the great Robinson.

A lot of this was shot on location in the Florida Keys and those scenes came off remarkably well, adding to the exotic allure of the picture. Add in the great cinematography by Karl Freund and you’ve got an otherworldly, majestic looking film.

John Huston shot this film meticulously and it shows. At the same time, he had the benefit of having one of the greatest casts ever assembled.

And despite the greatness of Bogart, Robinson, Bacall and Barrymore in this picture, Claire Trevor stole every scene that she was in. She was certainly worthy of her Academy Award for this picture.

Key Largo is a damn fine motion picture. It is one of the best film-noirs of all-time and one of the best films of its era. All the big stars here had long, storied careers but this is a highlight for all of them and director John Huston.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Dark Passage. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: The Clay Pigeon (1949)

Release Date: March 3rd, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Carl Foreman
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine

RKO Radio Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

I’ve heard a lot of praise in noir circles about The Clay Pigeon. However, I found it to be pretty dry and run of the mill.

The story is about an ex-POW that wakes up from a coma to discover that he’s been accused of murder. Confused and uncertain about this discovery, he escapes from the Navy hospital to search for his best friend, who was also a POW that was with him.

For me, a lot of the script seemed like it was a bit nonsensical and that certain things were too convenient and that the writing was a bit lazy. However, this was a 63 minute B-movie simply used to beef up a double bill. For RKO Pictures, it was probably an afterthought and not as lot of care was given to it.

Also, the acting is very bland and there just isn’t much excitement or energy in the film.

Still, this is Richard Fleischer’s first foray into film-noir. It’s not a bad attempt and it is watchable but it definitely doesn’t measure up to his far superior film-noir, The Narrow Margin.

I don’t know, there just isn’t much I can say about this. It’s not terrible but it just sort of exists. At least it led to better pictures for Fleischer.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Richard Fleischer film-noirs: Armored Car RobberyHis Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Also known as: Star Trek VIII, Star Trek: Borg, Star Trek: Destinies, Star Trek: Future Generations, Star Trek: Generations II, Star Trek: Renaissance, Star Trek: Resurrection (working titles)
Release Date: November 18th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Neal McDonough, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Robert Picardo (cameo), Adam Scott, Majel Barrett (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“[Quoting “Moby Dick”] And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

After the torch was passed from one generation’s crew to the next in the appropriately titled Star Trek: Generations, it was only a matter of time before The Next Generation‘s cast got their own film series. This is the first movie that is wholly theirs.

This is also the first and only movie to utilize the Borg as a threat on the big screen. Really, the next film should have probably followed this up with a bit more Borg stuff instead of whatever the hell Insurrection was supposed to be. However, the Borg would be used a lot on Star Trek: Voyager where things got more intense and the Borg mythology was greatly expanded.

I love that this film added in a bunch of talented actors other than just the standard crew. Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell are both great in this and are two of my favorite Trek characters because of this film. Cromwell would reprise his role again on television but Woodard sadly never returned for more. Also, you have a very young Neal McDonough in this. I wish he would have gone on to continue to appear in these films but he met a bad end. Then there is Alice Krige as the Borg Queen and while this is probably her most famous role, she’s had a great career in the horror and sci-fi genres. You also get to see Adam Scott and a cameo by Robert Picardo, which was a nod to his Star Trek: Voyager character.

The plot of the film sees the Borg go back in time to prevent humanity from inventing warp drive and thus, attracting the first alien contact with Earth. The reason behind this was that the Borg would have an easier time assimilating Earth and its population. The Enterprise crew also goes back in time to prevent this from happening.

The story is pretty good and although this isn’t the first Star Trek movie to utilize time travel as its main plot device, this all still takes place in the future, so the “fish out of water” shtick that made Star Trek IV so friggin’ great, wasn’t rehashed. But that’s good because this wasn’t trying to be Star Trek IV, it was certainly its own thing and the film worked on its own merits.

While this is considered to be the best of The Next Generation set of films, I’m the weirdo that really likes Nemesis. But that’s probably because I had been yearning for a movie featuring Romulans since around the time of Star Trek IIIFirst Contact is still really damn good and my favorite after Nemesis.

I like that Jonathan Frakes got to direct this, which followed the path of the original cast’s films where Nimoy and Shatner both got chances to direct.

First Contact is in the upper echelon of Star Trek movies. It is much better than its followup, Insurrection, and it had an edge over Generations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: Insurrectionand Star Trek: Nemesis.