Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family (The New 52 – 2014)

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I’ve read some good Joker stories over the years, most notably ‘The Killing Joke’ one-shot by Alan Moore. This arc compares very favorably to that. After DC (and Marvel) rebooted most of their lines in 2011, Scott Snyder took over Batman. The first two volumes saw Batman battle a mysterious ancient cult for the control of Gotham.

This volume sees the return of the Joker. After an inexplicable absence of a year the Joker makes a dramatic return to a life of mayhem and chaos. He raids the GCPD to steal his face from an icebox and from there lures Batman into an elaborate trap by systematically and slowly reenacting his famous crimes from the past. Joker’s tactics and Batman’s response puts a severe strain on Batman’s relationship with his extended ‘family’, hence the title.

Snyder’s Batman series is dark, constrained and tense. He likes to put the Dark Knight in the most perilous situations to test his mettle and his morals. Capullo’s art is a good complement to this style. He keeps the panels crowded and cluttered and induces a real sense of claustrophobia and fear. Snyder has written the Joker just right, and in some parts he is incredibly creepy. The extent and scope of his crimes (which provides an unwanted glimpse into his twisted psyche) is downright terrifying. The conclusion is sort of bittersweet and a bit ambiguous. Readers will be left to wonder if the Joker really succeeded in his goals or not.

Years from now we will look back at this arc as one of the more memorable Batman stories. This deserves to be in the pantheon of great comic book arcs.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Winter Storm and Monday Mornings

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Status: good. more than good. I’m liking these pain-free Monday mornings, and the reclamation of my Sundays as well. I may continue on with this past the end of January. Maybe.

Discovered over the weekend what I had been telling myself vis-à-vis being comfortable when out-and-about taking photos. We had our first winter storm of the season over the weekend, which was an optimal time to practice photography in the inclement weather conditions. Problem: I don’t have the equipment to stay outdoors in -30c (with wind-chill) weather. Made an attempt on Saturday and lasted about 10 minutes, I think, before I binned it in favour of the warmer indoor environment. My hands were aching so badly, it took a good 15-20 mins to for them to warm up and stop aching. That’s a major red flag, and a sign that perhaps I shouldn’t do that. It foolish to flirt with disaster like that. And of course, something I already knew and was reminded of; when it comes to photographing outdoors, you need to be comfortable in order to be able to stay outside for long periods of time. I don’t have the right equipment for that, but going forward I need to make sure that I’m prepared. Another lesson learned on this journey to photography nirvana.

Insurance company. I accepted the offer over the weekend, so the ball is now in their court. Not overly enthused about the position because it feels like I’m covering old territory, however it may be best to enter the new company through a familiar paths versus green fields. I mean there is going to be plenty of new things to get used to – people, environment, culture, systems, etc. – so, this will be one less thing to tackle. And I expect that they’ve not told me everything, so there will be surprises. That said, the pay is good. It’s actually very good. They’ve been very accommodating on that front, so I’m very grateful for that.

Expect that my start date will be somewhere in May, so that will give me some more time to work on these Bucket List items.

 

 

 

Coffee Dates and Book Sales

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Status: good. still good. (still still good? Or, the still goodness continues. IDFK, I feel good, let’s leave it at that). I honestly feel way too wholesome and want to tear it up with some like-minded female company. I can feel that and other unpleasantness scratching away at the box I placed them in (depression I’m looking at you), but I’ll keep them locked firmly away for now. I promised myself a low key January with no alcohol and I aim to deliver this promise I made to myself. Besides, I suspect that these activities are fueling the unpleasantness and I think this January abstinence will/should confirm my suspicions.

And, I’ve purposely left the said ‘unpleasantness’ vague and undefined so that I can explore in more detail within future posts. It’s messy and complicated, and I need some time to unwind all of it before I slowly drip feed it onto the page.

Coffee date with the bad driver this morning. Our second attempt. Was it worth it? I had the Ethiopian Macchiato Espresso (pictured!) which was yummy, so from that aspect it was definitely worth it. The date itself – meh. She was 15 minutes late, of course. Got the distinct feeling that this girl has nothing going on in her life. Directionless. Throw in a few contradictions around what she does for a living and how she was able to step out of the office mid-morning to drive downtown for coffee, and my common sense is tingling. She’s a lost girl, the type I usually attract. Think I’ll let this one quietly drift away into the ether. I’m not up for dating a lost girl.

Books. Sold. Finally. After the failed first attempt I took them to a new store and had them processed this afternoon. Without getting into dollar values, they offered me 5x the price of the first place. Suspected as much. Also noted that the guy at the first place had swapped the duplicate books between the sale pile and the older more valuable pile which I likely wasn’t going to sell. Sneaky. Was getting this snake vibe from the guy at the first place; happy to see my suspicion confirmed. My instincts are typically quite good, I need to trust them more. Decided to keep the older more valuable books for now, but may change my mind later. At least I’ve found a trustworthy buyer who will give me a good price for them. In any case, it’s done, so that’s another task I can tick off the list.

 

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Deadpool (2016) – Movie Review

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Wanna know what reading a Deadpool comic is like? It’s like waking up pants-less, ferociously hung over, and covered in a variety of cuts, bruises, and condiments, but then getting to eat a big stack of pancakes off the back of the hooker still sleeping next to you. Or, it infects your brain enough that those are the sort of similes you’re liable to cough up. And yet, for the reigning king of contemporary nerd humour, who plays like a cross between Kick-Ass and a Canadian Guardians of the Galaxy (smaller- scale and more belligerent), it’s been surprisingly agonizing bringing everyone’s favourite chimichanga-chomping Merc with the Mouth to the big screen in his own film. Thankfully, Fox’s common sense was tingling. So, fans: think long and hard (snicker) about the uncompromising, mostly amoral, full-on bonkers Deadpool movie you’d lacerate any limb for. Your wishes have finally been granted.

Debut director Tim Miller manages the impossible: a film quintessentially built on fan- service that doesn’t suck. It’s appropriate that Deadpool has borrowed DMX as his theme tune (at least until the George Michael kicks in), because this crudely charitable spirit ebbs throughout the flick. Want some deliciously profane, sex and hyper-violence-stuffed whimsy, replete with a Guardians-calibre hilariously on-point soundtrack, and the comic’s fourth wall-shattering snark integrated in a way that’s actually funny? How about daring to dream even bigger: a big studio production that mercilessly pokes fun at its skittish budget cuts, the former cinematic bungling of the titular antihero, and even the requisite Hugh Jackman appearance in every X-Men spin off – even the magical (jizzing) unicorn of a superhero origin story without waiting an hour for the lead to appear in costume. Want all of that? Wade gon’ give it to ya.

But don’t make the mistake of dismissing the film as a feature-length meme: Miller is savvy enough to understand there’s more to Deadpool than quips and dismemberment. Sure, the plot is about as flimsy and insubstantial as anything, but, like a messier, crunchier Guardians, that’s not the point. The point lies in the emotional and character beats. Like most of cinema’s funniest, Deadpool’s psychotic humour roots in real pain, and Miller doesn’t shy away, lingering on the physical and emotional pain of Wilson’s cancer and his multifaceted torture in attempting to cure it through forcible scientific mutation to a genuinely uncomfortable extent, to ensure that neither plays as gratuitous.

But lest you be feeling goth enough to slink off to the premiere of Blade III, the film’s real surprise is yet in store. For all the gleeful irony of its Valentine’s Day release, Deadpool is a surprisingly heartfelt, hilarious and tragic romance at its core. Yes, really. Only the most ‘Pool-schooled readers would recognize that peeling away the irreverence, pancakes, and phallic samurai swords reveals a hugely self-conscious, sentimental sap within, but Miller is clearly one of the initiated. Appropriately, some of the film’s most charming, hilarious, and devastating scenes involve Wilson daring to let his guard down enough to fall in love, and, like a reddit-rattling Phantom of the Opera, too crushingly ashamed to reconnect after his superpowered facelift leaves him looking like, as T.J. Miller’s Weasel puts it, “an avocado had sex with an older avocado”. This is about as profound as the character ever really gets, but there’s poignancy and pathos to be gleaned from Wilson’s grubby fumbling at sentiment, and Miller and Reynolds nail it here.

But don’t worry – we’re still miles away from the doom ‘n gloom of the average contemporary superhero austerity, and their generic ‘all the CGI sets crumble’ climaxes. Sure, Deadpool being pared down to three action sequences does draw attention to its comparatively tiny budget, but in this age of bloated superhero excess, seeing fights kept this lean is a godsend in itself, even if it weren’t clinched by a not-so-subtle hysterical recurring gag justifying their sparsity. Still, we’re hardly left wanting: the fights are short, snappy, creatively ultra-violent (“count the bullets” being the most meta and thrilling), and stylish as hell, just as they should be, while fellow X- folk Colossus (flawlessly animated and finally Russian; a hilariously po-faced foil) and Brianna Hildebrand’s amiably sulky Negasonic Teenage Warhead allow for some buddy banter and help keep the action beats bumping all the while.

There’s no secret that Deadpool is the Ryan Reynolds show though, and his burning passion for the character fuels a now career-defining performance. Imbued with the divine gift to make even the crudest riffing gleam with cheery, sparky charisma, Reynolds nails each beat of wacky humour, springy physicality and seething, volcanic rage and hurt so effortlessly there’s the uncanny feeling of him dripping ink from being lifted off the pages of a comic. Despite having to combat a disappointingly under-written part, Morena Baccarin matches Reynolds in adorable damaged snappiness, steering just shy of sultry, manic-pixie-dream-girl stereotype by keeping the right amount of crazy in her eyes. T.J. Miller is consistently hilarious and uncompromisingly unsentimental as Wilson’s buddy Weasel, while Ed Skrein as “that British villain” brings enough pompous, brawny sadism to make his Francis-ahem- Ajax only feel slightly generic. The under-used Leslie Uggams is perfectly salty as Deadpool’s crusty roommate Blind Al (not an abductee here…), making a recurring IKEA joke surprisingly sweet. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for half of Vancouver in the background.

I’d waste time with more adjectives, but you get the idea, and can use a thesaurus as well as me. Basically, Miller and Reynolds have delivered the most cathartically satisfying cinematic Deadpool imaginable, sure to capture the hearts or slice off the heads of diehards or inductees alike.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Excuses

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Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them. 

Status: good. still good. no excuses to get things done. Trying a new routine this morning. Want to see if this will make it easier to focus on the writing. I mean honestly, I’m my own worst enemy and I’m doing a disservice to myself by not trying to create an optimal framework which is conducive to being creative.

There are of course other things going on here. Stubbornly holding onto the idea that it needs to be perfect (there is only one person reading it), and letting the challenge of the task intimidate me into not starting (just start, accomplishing something will build encouragement and momentum). My initial efforts are not going to be great and that’s okay. The purpose of the exercise is to learn the lessons I need to learn so that I can improve and become more competent as time goes on.

Ok.

Date yesterday cancelled. Actually, I cancelled it. Texted me at the time we were due to meet and said that she’d be there in 20 minutes. I have zero tolerance for people who are cavalier with my time. She told me some excuse about taking someone to the hospital. That’s a new one, I thought, I’ll give her points for originality. I’m about to leave the café,  but instead decided to order an espresso and chill. I mean, I was already there and you know, that rack tho. The espresso went down like liquid awesomeness. Turns out that she ran over someone’s foot with her car and had to take this person to the hospital. I stop to admire her creativity for a second….and then inform her that I’m leaving. She responds with it’s probably best if she stays at the hospital with her victim. (Probably?) I agree with her, that’s actually the right choice in this situation.

So, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned about my date so far. Cons: poor timekeeper, bad driver. Pros: creative, does the right thing, nice rack. Okay, so the Pros have it 3 to 2. All joking aside, she did apologise profusely during the back-and-forth texting and I accepted the apology, so we’re going to try again on Friday.

Gillette. Feel the need to address this in a blog post which no-one is going to read. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the new Gillette commercial and I don’t use their products. I’m not the target audience/demographic for this ad, which means they’re not trying to sell me their products. I’ve seen people on one side of the issue getting annoyed/upset at the content of the commercial, and on the other side defending it. My take on it is this: they’re trying to sell more product by appealing to a new and/or underserved demographic. The primary purposes of a company is to maximise profit and increase shareholder value. If they think that this marketing effort will achieve those things then that’s good business. It is, as we used to say back in the day, “just business” (alluding to it not being personal, we’re just acting in the best interest of the company). It’s not the first time that a company has put profits ahead of a morally ambiguous decision, and it won’t be the last. That said, my question is this: what happens when the target audience for the commercial realises that they’re victims of salesmanship? That the company is just telling them what they want to hear in order to sell them (more) stuff?

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Imperfections

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Imperfections are attractive when their owners are happy with them. 

Status: good. still good. Typically this is the first day that I’m starting to feel like myself after partying on Saturday night. Three days to catch up on sleep and completely recover. That’s too much.

I’m not writing. Other than this blog I haven’t been writing. Thinking that maybe I should stop beating my head against this wall and do something else. It’s getting underfoot. I’m sitting here waiting to start and then never starting. That’s time which could be spent doing something else. I still feel like I have it in me, but maybe I should focus on something else in the meantime.

Updated offer came through from the Insurance company. It’s good. It’s real good. I’m still going to try and drag this out a little bit so that I can enjoy some more freedom from the corporate grind. Aim to accept the offer on Friday. That’ll also give me extra time to field an offer from my network contact which has been a little slow in materialising. At this stage I’m mostly just curious about the contents of the offer. It would have to be materially better than what the Insurance company has offered for me to backtrack.

Date yesterday went okay. She’s definitely a very Earthy hippy. We vibed well, but she is definitely not my type. Pleasantly surprised to find out that she isn’t a hardcore partier, but she is definitely one of these Lost Girls. Having been a Lost Boy myself it’s a case of the Devil recognising one of His own. Not really interested in seeing her again, but she has just texted me to say, “you have nice energy!”. Dead surprised that she’s interested at all.

In the meantime, I have another date this evening. She seems normal. We’ll see.

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Suicide Squad (2016) – Movie Review

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First: 2015’s abominable Fantastic Four. Now: Suicide Squad, the latest in a slew of big-budget train wrecks, resulting in an acrid cocktail of the wrong directors being given too much agency coupled with boneheaded, contradictory studio hand-holding. Still, it’s hard to strictly call studio interference party foul here, as the film is so inherently muddy it’s hard to imagine any iteration successfully coughing itself to life. It’s hard to resist a spectral Queen chorus of “Is this the real life?” running through your head watching the shambolic mess unspool – Suicide Squad wants desperately to strut, but stumbles on every step, before toppling into the void of being utterly forgettable.

We can excuse the embarrassingly gratuitous Justice League tie-ins (hey – at least Ben Affleck’s Batman acts somewhat more like Batman, saving villains from certain death rather than branding them in the face). We can **sort of** excuse the flagrant piggybacking plagiarism of Guardians of the Galaxy, from the hyperactive prison montage antihero character bios to the soundtrack, nonsensically cobbled together like a caffeine-high teen with a gift card to the iTunes store (and no, you’re not mistaken – that Norman Greenbaum song is yanked straight out of the Guardians trailer. The theft is that blatant). We can even try to excuse director David Ayer’s uncomfortable balance between dopey, wannabe slick humour and self-important wannabe ‘darkness’, even if it mostly manifests in the film’s indiscernible, murky lighting (grossly counterbalanced by splotches of colour, like a toddler vomiting play-doh). Still – a film full of villains-turned-antiheroes must bring SOMETHING original to the table. Right…?

And this is what we can’t excuse: Suicide Squad is not only a bird’s nest of content and tone, but also a fundamentally trashy, soulless, redundantly small-minded film. It loudly parades some of the worst nonlinear editing and pacing seen in a recent Hollywood film, to the point where its gossamer-thin plot (literally a lazy, boiled down version of The Raid – the entire conflict can be reduced to ‘climb the building’) becomes almost incomprehensible at times when really nothing is happening. There’s so much daft flashiness (yes, including Ezra Miller), sense is thrown to the wind. But, lest we get confused, Ayer is sure to slop in massive exposition dumps every 10-15 minutes, which rudely bring the film to a screeching halt every time it starts to pick up steam. The tiny blips of action are so bland, they fade from consciousness and memory before they’ve even finished feebly sputtering on. Finally, the glut of action figures-sorry-characters is so unreasonably vast, several Squad members are given no introduction, and literally dispatched within minutes with no send-off. Several are so extraneous they could be trimmed without anyone even noticing (Katana, anyone?). Initially, there’s hope for the effectively creepy uber-villains, but, after memorable introductions, they spend the majority of the film sulking in puffs of CGI, waiting for Ayer to remember they exist. Even worse: even some of the most iconic secondary players – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s iconic Killer Croc, for one – are so underused, they’re effectively there to snarl on command, and burp out unfunny “B.E.T.” punchlines. Ouch.

It’s even more of a shame, as Ayer does scatter nuggets of genuinely compelling material to grapple with. Peel aware its slathering of smarm and gloom, and Suicide Squad is a film about characters struggling with bad relationships. Smith’s Deadshot regrets his daughter being overly permissive of his career as an assassin. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo spends the rest of his life owning up to his superpowered tantrum gruesomely murdering his girlfriend and children (the sole flashback which actually works, infusing the film with tragedy, scope, and as sombre a cinematic allegory for domestic abuse as we’ve seen lately, and Hernandez is unexpectedly moving). And let’s not even start on whatever warped, emotionally abusive relationship the Joker and Harley Quinn share. These interludes may not propel the story, but when Ayer allows himself to linger in the darkness, he digs up the film’s only real illumination.

The film may have been transparently retrofitted to accommodate Will Smith, but he’s worth it. Arguably the film’s greatest asset, Smith warps his boundless, sassy charisma and badassery into the film’s uneasy moral compass, supplying (the film’s only) surprisingly compelling emotional arc. Margot Robbie, conversely, hits her marks with an unshakable sense of her performing Harley Quinn rather than getting under her skin. She’s oodles of fun, but her crazy is as wobbly and vaguely forced as her accent. Thankfully, Viola Davis is steely perfection as the Machiavellian Amanda Waller, and Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang is funnier and more unpredictable than he has any right to be as such a boorish bogan stereotype. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg is one of the most infuriating military grunts in recent cinematic memory (and this is a generation that survived Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Godzilla…). And then there’s Jared Leto. Hoo boy. If ‘forced’ was already a shroud ensconcing the film, his blingy Joker is its bleating fog machine of artifice. He’s loud and irritating, but embarrassingly far-removed from appropriate levels of sinister or unhinged, no matter how many rings of knives he lies in or pools of toxic waste he dives into.

There’s a bit near the end of Suicide Squad where Kinnaman’s Flagg, suffering a change of heart, offers the Squad the chance to escape, and live their lives. Cliché dictates they will instead seek redemption, and stay to fight (yawn). Instead, Courtney’s Boomerang prances up, and, without a word, jackrabbits out of the room. It’s the film’s biggest laugh, partially for its unexpectedness, but partially for being the single most sensible move in the entire production. Suicide Squad is a sinking ship, and the fact that all involved didn’t follow Boomerang’s example (and even he idiotically crawls back – boo), makes the title exquisitely apt.

 

3 out of 5 stars

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