Thursday, January 31, 2013

What I Bought 1/22/2013 - Part 4

While I was hanging out with Alex over the weekend, he convinced me to watch The Watch. Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, aliens invade podunk Ohio community? That movie was meant to be a satire of action films, wasn't it? Besides being a vehicle for raunchy dick jokes, I mean. It was the big shootout at the end that brought the point home for me, the guns never running out of ammo until it's necessary to build suspense, the slow-mo of Jamarcus tossing away empty guns, only to draw more from his coat. It had that knowing wink feel to it Hot Fuzz did. Except considerably less funny and well done.

Oh, and I'm going to talk about Secret Avengers today.

Secret Avengers #35, 36, by Rick Remender (writer), Matteo Scalera (artist), Matthew Wilson (color art), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - The next time the Avengers try hiding inside with the lights off when solicitors come around, they might want to remember to close the curtains on the upper floors in case one of the salesmen is a giant robot.

Black Widow, Venom, and Valkyrie are in The Core, and they found Parvez. But O'Grady found them, and is in the process of kicking their butts, while whining about how he's allowed to be selfish. You know, if Thomspon were putting any thought into using the symbiont, be could smother O'Grady in about 3 seconds. I know, Flash Thompson and thinking don't go together.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye, Captain Britain, and Beast figure out a way to escape the Undead Universe with the Orb of Necromancy. Braddock is a surprisingly good bluffer. Also, Hawkeye killed Vampire Wolverine with a Pym created artificial sunlight arrow. Bet that took him less time to perfect than Willow Rosenberg's sphere of sunlight spell. Did she ever get that down? The heroes return to the 616 reality is ruined because Father and the Descendants have made their move. The appeal to the U.N. to recognize them as sovereign rulers of Bagalia (after Max Fury signed it away to them), is met with shouting about "terrorism", which is kind of a conversation-stopper. Not quite up there with invoking Hitler, but close enough. So Father has his people who are hidden among the populace release a nano-mist that will remake every person on earth into a artificial being. Including the Soviet Super-Soldiers apparently, which is an odd choice by Remender, but I guess it can be ignored readily enough.

With the Avengers and FF trapped in their respective headquarters by some adaptive metal. It's down to our three heroes, plus Spider-Man. And they have the Orb of Necromancy. Fire it up, and they can kill the nano thing before it alters humanity. But it'll also kill all the Descendants and the Avengers aren't keen on that notion, especially Hawkeye. Then Deathlok Wasp and Pym show up, and Jan grabs the Orb, but McCoy brings Pym back to himself (mentally, he's still half machine), and it's Cyborg Giant-Man versus Master Mold thing as the conclusion approaches.

I have concerns about how the concluding issue is gonna go. Hawkeye has been so adamant about Avengers not killing, and he seems completely willing to acknowledge the Descendants and living sentient beings, that I can't help but fear Remender's going to make him kill them as some sort of commentary on "growing up", or the futility of moral absolutes, or something. Given his cack-handed approach to Hawkeye thus far, it wouldn't surprise me. Beyond those worries, I liked the writing. I'm hoping Remender will come up with a creative, non-lethal solution, and Father is the kind of villain where you can't take anything he says at face value, which means I can't take anything the people working with him say, either. Like, does Jim Hammond actually believe humans will never regard as a real person? When one of his best friends is Steve Rogers? When he managed to make friends with Namor, who gets along with almost nobody? Or is Father exerting influence?

I don't have much to say about Scalera's artwork. I would have liked a little more variety in the designs of the artificial lifeforms in the double-page splash at the beginning of 35. Give the Sentinels a sense of individuality, since they are (in theory) individuals, albeit ones all working towards the same goal. That said, the panel of Master Mold glaring into the window of Avengers Tower was pretty good. The glowing eyes in shadow look is always gold, especially when it's a giant robot that somehow got the drop on an entire team of Avengers. Nice awareness there, folks.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What I Bought 1/22/2013 - Part 3

It's an All-Captain reviews day! As Carol is the higher ranking of the two, and I don't see her as the sort of commanding officer who sits back at HQ, she gets to lead off.

Captain Marvel #9, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), Filipe Andrade (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Should I be concerned about the frequent turnover in artists for this book? This is the third different primary artist in 9 issues (Soy and Emma Rios being the other two). That's Defenders or Resurrection Man instability right there.

It's a day in Carol's life, which based on this day, is terribly annoying. Tony Stark hacked into her phone and rearranged her calendar. And did not apologize, because Tony Stark is a domineering jackass (if you had forgotten that fact). Carol needs to take her grumpy cat to the vet, but is waylaid by dinosaurs. Then she has to send Jessica Drew to pick up Helen Cobb, and an eager grad student to pick up her cat, while Carol investigates an offer to help deliver food and medicine to disaster areas. That leads to beating up some goons who don't want people to help with that. I guess disaster relief is big business (what isn't?) Then everyone meets at the doctor's office, where Carol learns she has a lesion in her brain, so she can't fly. I'm not clear on whether that means at all, or just by using her powers. I'm guessing the former, but who knows.

I haven't received issue 8 yet, so maybe it came up there, but the headache thing was out of left field. Other than that, I like the writing. Carol's still confident, glib, and a bit snarky. She's perhaps not the best long-term planner, but she's good about delegating in a pinch, like convincing Roberto the taxi driver to take her cat to the vet as Avengers business. Can she get the Avengers to reimburse him for that? I'm sure Stark can find the money in the couch somewhere. Unless he's broke again. I can't keep track.

As for Andrade's art, it's a bit too exaggerated for my tastes. It has a bit of a Skottie Young vibe to it, but Andrade doesn't have the consistency in his figures Young has. Spider Woman's body in the top of page 11 keeps freaking me out. The distance her legs are apart, where the left leg seems to be coming from, how her hands are so tiny. It's distracting. There's definitely a lot of energy to it, the force of impact is conveyed well, and some of the faces have that knock of depicting a particular emotion with very few lines. There's some definite potential, but Andrade needs to I don't exert a little more control over anatomy.

Captain America #2, 3, by Rick Remender (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Klaus Janson (inker), Dean White with Lee Loughridge and Dan Brown (color art) - Kind of weird to see an inker. I feel like a lot of the artists I see these days are apparently doing that themselves. Aja, Soy, Isaacs, Samnee, Freddie Williams sometimes.

So no, I don't have issue 1 yet. Not hard to follow though. Cap was brought to some weird dimension by Arnim Zola, and escaped with a boy named Ian in tow. Now they're out in this weird place trying to stay alive. Which is pretty hard when seemingly everything perceives them as food. Zola's creations, the ones who fight Zola, the mindless animals that are native to this world. Steve and Ian are nearly executed by Zofjor, who leads the people trying to survive against Zola, but spared when it's pointed out Steve was fighting Zola's creations. He and Ian are taken in by Ksul and his family, and things are good. For about five minutes, until Steve mentions that Zofjor is a tyrant, at which point Zofjor kills Ksul, and tries to do the same to Steve. Doesn't go too well for Zofjor, but doesn't go too well for Steve either when a wound reveals he has a Zola TV-face in his chest. Zola also has a kid back at his compound with Omnisenses that I assume will be relevant later. Certainly be useful as a tracker.

I like the idea behind this story. Remender's taken Steve away from everything familiar to him, thrown him into an alien world that operates by its own rules. We get to see how Steve responds in such a situation, as a way of seeing who he is at his core. What we see is a guy whose first instinct is to protect a child, to strive to survive. Someone who tries to respond peacefully first, and fights when it's necessary. He doesn't believe in people ruling through fear, or placing themselves above others (which makes me wonder if this Steve Rogers would be part of a stupid Illuminati group). I really like this Steve Rogers. Can't say much about Ian yet, 'cause he hasn't done anything other than be there.

I know some people don't care for Romita Jr.'s artwork. I've been one of those people on particular runs (his work on Uncanny X-Men and Spider-Man in the mid-90s, primarily). It works here. The roughness is well-suited for a beat up Captain America, and Romita seems to be having fun drawing weird monsters and creatures. There's a familiarity to the landscapes, but things are different enough to make it noticeable and strange.He's well-suited for the book. I will say that the kids in the flashbacks to Steve's childhood seem to have enormous noses. The bridge of their nose seems unusually far ahead of their eyes. Other than that, I've got no complaints.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What I Bought 1/22/2013 - Part 2

Let's step over to the DC side of things today. All three of these books shipped in January, but one is a December release. This also marks the end of my time reading Green Arrow.

Batman Beyond Unlimited #11, by Adam Beechen (writer), Norm Breyfogle (artist), Andrew Elder (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) for "10,000 Clowns: Dark City"; J.T. Krul (writer), Howard Porter (pencils), Livesay (inks), Carrie Strachan (colors), Saida Temofonte (letters) for the Superman story; Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen (writers), Ben Caldwell (artist), Saida Temofonte (letterer) for "Beyond Origin: Barda" - On first glance at that cover, I couldn't figure out where the Joker King's left foot was. Then I realized most of his shoe was white, so it was blending into the background.  I do like McGinnis' blood forming his shadow on the ground.

Let's see, Wayne can't stop the Joker King, but he does get through to Terry, who rushes to the rescue. And promptly gets his butt kicked by the Joker King, too. Meanwhile, Doug's been prattling on about how he reached this point. Blah, blah, vision, blah, blah, gullible sheep. On the good news front, Drake figured out how to deactivate the explosions, so no more stuff going boom. Grayson has an inkling that something may be wrong, but no telling if he'll figure it out yet. Not sure why he and the others didn't hear Wayne's message, too. Their radios are all supposed to be set on the same frequency. I thought Beechen's dialogue for Wayne drifted too far into Frank Miller territory for a minute there. That seems more appropriate for Vigilante. Catwoman constantly hitting on Dick Grayson is amusing. I think Breyfogle's expressive work with McGinnis is best when his face is in shadows, and you can just see the eyes. Breyfogle makes that work, the small amounts of light against the shadows. Also, the sequence with the Dee Dees, especially their sheepish reaction to their bombs not detonating.

In the Superman story, we get the Trillians reason for wanting Superman dead. I suspect it's a rather jaundiced account. Their first attempt to kill him fails, so they're gonna call in Lobo. Oh boy.

Moving on, we get Barda's history, though about half of it is her mother's history. Her mother's name was Breeda? Um, OK. She was friends with the lady who became Granny Goodness, until she hid Barda's existence from granny, at which point Breeda lost her daughter. Probably the best thing that could have happened to Barda in the long run, since being a Fury is how she met Scott, and decided to leave Apokolips.

I like the repetition of certain images or poses. The relationship between Breeda and Barda's father represented by their shadows against a wall as troops march past, and Barda and Scott's being shown the same way. Also, the way Breeda leaps at Granny one the first page (when they're children), compared to her attack when Granny takes Barda. It's also similar to Mercy's attack on Granny, which ended the same way as Breeda's second attempt. Each of the origin stories has had its own artist, and each has their own style, but they all have enough similarity they don't feel out of place compared to Nguyen's art. There hasn't been a photorealistic artist in the group so far, which is good. It wouldn't really fit the look. It's kind of the issue I have with Porter's work. It isn't photorealistic, but it's needlessly busy compared to Nguyen or Breyfogle, and his hyper-muscled Superman doesn't bear much resemblance to Nguyen's more slimmed down version.

Dial H #8, by China Mieville (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (pencils), Dan Green (inks), Tanya & Richard Horie (colorists) - Jeez, I'm only the second book now? Freaking anthologies.

Nelson and Roxie arrive in Toronto. Nelson dials up as soon as he can in the hopes of drawing out the dial user. Which he does, but the guy doesn't seem to have much control. Then again, Nelson was having some trouble remembering whether he's Nelson, Flame War, or Manteau. He doesn't succeed in making friends with the other dial user, and the Human Centipede catches sight of him, tracks him, and swipes the dial away. That can't possibly end well, especially since he may be planning to go into business for himself.

This wasn't my favorite issue. There's a lot of incremental movement. The possibility the Centipede's about to go rogue. The hallucinations Nelson had as Flame War, unless they weren't hallucinations. I suppose I should have guessed O stood for "Operator", but now I'm curious as to how Centipede's people know that. So there's a lot of little things. Alberto Ponticelli stepped in as artist, which is a pretty severe shift from Lapham, but it's a move more back in the direction of Santolouco's art, which I won't complain about. I'm not sure if his hero designs will have quite the manic energy of Santolouco's, but Trash Talk might be a promising sign. I want to see an angry trash can fight crime with smack talk.

Green Arrow #16, by Ann Nocenti (writer), Freddie Williams II (artist), Allen Passalaqua (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer) - Is Ollie fighting Mitch Shelly on that cover? When did Mitch decide to start shanking people? I guess learning the truth about himself made him become a jerk again!

Ollie fends off Harrow's boys, then the cops show up. Harrows off to jail, everything's great. Then Gloria shows up with word Pike (the kid that fought the dog) is going to blow himself and Harrow's warehouse full of explosives up. Ollie manages to talk Pike down, but then Harrow shows up, so he and Ollie gotta fight. Ollie wins the fight, then makes sure everyone escapes the warehouse safely. He's still not too happy, which seems to disappoint the jogger lady who shows up twice in this issue.

For the last issue of a run, this feels inconclusive. The head injury is still getting mentioned (even if the art fails to depict this bloody spot on the back of Ollie's head Harrow references), but not paying off. It's an odd place to leave him. Ollie seems convinced that not only is he broke, he's lost his friends. Which couldn't certainly be true, but I'd like to have seen it happen, rather than rely on his sketchy self-awareness and some comments they made last issue. Ollie saved everyone from the immediate danger, even found out Pauline Pearl (from issue 10) is now grateful to Ollie for saving her, but it doesn't seem to do much for him. I think it's supposed to be the realization of how little he's really helped Pike by "saving" him that bums him out. He's butting up against the limits of what he can do as Green Arrow, and realizing he could do a lot more if he hadn't pissed away his fortune chasing skirts.

Monday, January 28, 2013

What I Bought 1/22/2013 - Part 1

The comics came in the day before I departed on another brief trip. So I decided to wait until I returned to do the reviews. Well, I'm back, so let's review.

Avengers Arena #1-3, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), with Jean-Francois Beaulieu on #2, Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Yeah, I decided to start with this. What the hell.

The story, you probably know. Arcade somehow spirits away several teenage super-types from around the globe, and deposits them in some hidden location. Then he tells them they've got a month to kill each other. He expects only one of them to be alive when the month is over, or else he'll kill them all himself. Which he has possibly developed super-powers for the purpose of doing so. The kids scatter, some forming small groups, but someone is picking them off one at a time. Or appearing to pick them off.

That's the big thing about this story for me. There's an air or deception, or sleight of hand hanging over everything. Part of that is by design, since Hopeless and Walker are keeping the person attacking the various camps out of sight, and part of it is the things that don't quite add up. Arcade's powers, these Braddock Academy kids, some of X-23's actions. Everything is off, in a way that it feels staged, that all the most important stuff if happening off-panel. That's how I'm reading so far, like a mystery. Everything is a clue, and I want to piece it together before Hopeless tells us.

It's a detached way of looking at it, but I'm not indifferent to the characters. If you must know, I'm rooting for Darkhawk and Cammi myself, though things weren't looking too good for Chris Powell there at the end of #3. Like I said a while back, though, the deaths don't bother me much. If Marvel wants to ignore the results of this story, they will (assuming there isn't some trick to the deaths). In the meantime, Hopeless is trying to make us care about the characters. He hasn't done much with the Braddock Academy kids yet, but Rebecca Ryker's story in issue 2 was pretty effective. A girl who's been regarded as an instrument her whole life, by her dad, SHIELD, someone in this current group.

Kev Walker's art probably helps the book a lot. You can tell he's really trying to, anyway. I thought the campfire scene in issue 2 especially. He definitely tried to convey something about each of the Braddock Academy bunch with their postures. Kid Briton holding up the fiery sword in front of him, but the way he stares at it with this forlorn look. His faces are less busy than they were the last time I saw them (in Annihilation: Nova). No repeats of "Quasar as current Robert Redford" here. A less is more approach, stronger lines, but fewer of them. The action sequences look good, too. I don't know who to credit for the sort of blur effect on some of the flashbacks (like Cammi's). Seems like something Walker might be doing, but it might also be Martin, as part of his color effects. I do like the color work generally. A lot of action takes place in either snow, or at night, so Martin gets to show off against either a predominantly white or black background, which helps everything else stand out more.

I had been expecting this to be a lot worse. The dangers of reading too much Internet hyperbole. It's not a great book, but it's not the dumpster fire a lot of people have made it out to be, either. There's a lot of mystery so far that has me interested, there's Walker's very good art. Mostly, I have all these different suspicions and theories about what's happening, what will happening, and who is responsible, and I want to stick around for the answers.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Burn Notice 4.9 - Center of the Storm

Plot: The episode starts with a storm hitting the town. In the midst of it, Vaughn pays Michael a visit, as Michael wants to meet with Simon to ask him about the book code. Vaughn makes a counteroffer: Give him the book, and let his guys look it over. An impasse is reached, and nobody is happy.

After the storm, Michael receives a visit from his old FBI acquaintances, Lane and Harris, who need a favor. They were supposed to guard James Bailey until he can testify against a Turkish syndicate. But they were ambushed by a guy with a shotgun and Bailey scattered. They're being called in for a chewing out, so they need Michael to track down Bailey. He opts to start by tracking the shooter through his gun, and good news, he succeeds! Bad news, Cole still got the drop on. So Michael pretends to be the other shooter hired, a Matt Reese, and tries to work with Cole. Problem is, Michael has less idea where Bailey is than Cole does. Also, the real Matt Reese is still out there. Which means Michael must rely on his powers of pop psychology to sway Cole to his side.

Personally, I think he'd be better of developing those trucker summoning powers Cole thinks he has.

While all this is going on, Fi has a visit from Vaughn. He decided she'd be more receptive to his pitch about handing over the book. Especially if he offers to have Jesse reinstated. Fi, unsurprisingly, doesn't take Vaughn up on the offer, but also doesn't kill Vaughn, which was slightly disappointing. No, she decides to trust Michael to make things right by Jesse, and Michael will get right on that. . . Just as soon as he finishes talking to Simon.

The Players: Vaughn ("Trusted" Teammate), Lane and Harris (Not Friends/The Clients), Pano (Gun Dealer), Cole (Expert Killer), Reese (Hired Gun with a Team), James and Joanne (In Need of a Friend)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'I risked my life! I got a man burned! And I've caught an endless wave of grief about it! Now I'm losing my patience. I'm asking a simple favor, and before you say no, you need to remember that I'm pretty dangerous, too.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? No.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 1 (14 overall)

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall)

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall)

Other: Michael was Matt Reese for awhile. Sam was Detective Charlie Finley, Jesse was Mr. Vane, and Maddy was Smokin' Mama. This is what happens when you introduce CB radios into a plot.

I was a little surprised Mike admitted to Vaughn that he had a book code, but I guess that was the only way he could make his argument to meet with Simon. That quote I used was his argument to Vaughn about it. It didn't work, and Vaughn responded with his own threat, about there being other storms than this one coming. Which was more poetic, but less cool.

I still think Fiona should have just shot Vaughn.

If they were going to have Michael lose a fight to the real Matt Reese, they might have a hired a more imposing actor. The guy looks like Louis CK or Nick Bakay or something. How can Michael not beat that guy's ass?

I feel like someone with the superpower to summon truckers to their aid should fight Ghost Rider, don't you? Like how Orka (the Marvel one, not the Batman villain) gained strength from whales, and could summon them to his side. Maybe Jason Aaron already did that. One more reason to buy that Omnibus, I guess.

Jesse seemed unusually condescending towards Maddy this week. Shouldn't he have realized by now how sharp she is?

I really don't have anything else to say about the episode. It's not one of my favorites. The whole bit with Cole not really being that bad didn't interest me, considering he admitted to killing at least a couple of people already. Mike trying to use the feds to intimidate Vaughn was laughable, considering the influence he and Management were shown to have. At least Vaughn pointed it out immediately afterward, but that makes me wonder what the point was.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Do I Contradict Myself? Apparently So

Sally had a post last week discussing some of her concerns with the Green Lantern books, and the new 52 in general. This has sparked a bit of discussion, a lot of it dealing with how DC threw out most of their old continuity with the relaunch, and how this has left many of the writers at a loss. Including (or especially) Geoff Johns, since he does love to mine the old stories for things he can build on.

I had a slightly different thought. Do you think the writers would have more success if they could just go nuts with their stories? Set aside how the creative teams are shuffled around like it's a game of 3-card monty. We've read interviews with more than one writer that talks about how their scripts are being rewritten after they've been turned in, or being told they can't do X, because it contradicts something. Sometimes the something is another writer's work, other times it's some rule the honchos want in place about whether a particular character exists or not. This doesn't seem like the best environment to encourage creativity.

If they really wanted to start fresh, get the characters back to basics and go in exciting new directions of whatever, they could do worse than letting the writers just write, and the artists draw. Tell them, "give us an entertaining issue each month." Let them use the characters they want to, or create new ones if they want. If one book contradicts another, the writers can decide if they want to bother addressing it. It's supposed to be a new universe, so things are in flux, a little unstable. They'll sort themselves out as they go along.

I don't know, the fans probably wouldn't accept it. They'd demand the books sync up, and why is this character evil in this book, but good in this book, you know the story. I've been as guilty of it as anyone. Still, if they're going to throw out (most) of the old stories, I'm not sure it makes sense to restrict the people responsible for coming up with the new stories.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Capricorn One

Originally we were going to watch The Notorious Landlady, but the DVD in the case was a different, inferior Jack Lemmon film. Then we tried The Prize, get a little Paul Newman going. But it wouldn't play. So here we are.

A short list of things that made my dad laugh while we watched Capricorn One:

- Telly Savalas repeatedly telling Caulfield (Elliot Gould) to 'get his goddamn head down'.

- My complain that an astronaut played by a former football player (O.J. Simpson), should not be exhausted and dying in the desert faster than one played by the guy who was on Law and Order for 20 years (Sam Waterston).

- Immediately after that, I shouted, "Your bullshit won't save you this time!" at Waterston.

- My advice that before Brubaker (James Brolin), tries explaining to the country that his landing on Mars was faked, and now Shadowy Forces are trying to tie up loose ends, he might want to clean the raw snake entrails cleaned out of his teeth.

I incorrectly identified the evil Dr. Kelloway (Hal Holbrook) as the jerk mayor from Jaws, when really, he's the leader of the vigilante cops from Magnum Force.

I'm not saying my dad laughed at that, I'm just mentioning it.

The movie has serious pacing problems, and chooses to waste time on the strangest things. We spend a couple minutes watching Waterston struggle up a mesa that he should have walked around, while he tells himself some joke. That went on forever. We were also treated to a lesson on proper journalism by Caulfield's boss, which only served to waste more time and raise the question of why the hell he hadn't already fired Caulfield, if he's so terribly at his job.

The approach of the Shadowy Forces to removing Caulfield didn't make any damn sense. They're going to the extreme of faking the astronauts' death, then pursuing the astronauts with two helicopters through the desert when they made their escape. Yet they take this half-assed approach to Caulfield. When tampering with his brakes, accelerator, ignition, and emergency brake failed to produce results, they tried shooting him at a ghost town. except they sped off after the first try. There was no one else around! He's on the ground! Walk up and put two in his heads, morons! Then they decide to impersonate FBI agents and plant coke in his bathroom and have him jailed. They don't shoot him and plant a gun, they don't have him shivved in holding. He gets bailed out, and goes on investigating.

And on top of all that stupidity, the ending is some ambiguous mess of Caulfield and Brubaker crashing Brubaker's own funeral, running towards it in triumphant slow-motion. But we're never told what the fallout is from all this, since the whole reason for faking it was the space program couldn't suffer a failure, and the project would have failed otherwise, since they cut corners on their life support system.

It's only 2 hours, but it feels longer, in a very boring way. It would have been one thing if the film had devoted more time to showing how they faked things, like Wag the Dog, but they basically handwave it so they can waste time on other crap.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Vikings

Having watched The Long Ships last month, dad convinced me to try The Vikings, even with the presence of Kirk Douglas and his crater chin.

It starts with Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar, raping a queen by the name of Enid. After he killed her husband, naturally. With the king dead, and Enid keeping her pregnancy a secret, this jackleg Aella is named king, and Enid has to send her son Eric off to a monastery in Italy for safety, with the stone off the end of the handle of his father's sword around his neck.

Decades pass, Aella's still in charge, still fretting rumors of Enid's son, and finally decides to marry a princess so he can produce his own heir. Enter Morgana (Janet Leigh). He also takes the announcement of this as an opportunity to arrest a traitor, Egbert, who subsequently escapes and hides out with Ragnar's people. Where we meet Einar (Douglas), Ragnar's son out of wedlock. The one he knows about, I mean. There's also a slave, rather handy with a falcon, who Einar (an arrogant prick if there ever was one) dislikes. That the slave, who just so happens to wear a stone around his neck (and is played by Tony Curtis), uses his falcon to remove Einar's left eye doesn't help matters.

Eric survives the punishment, and Egbert, who recognized the stone, claims him. Meanwhile, Einar abducts Morgana off Egbert's suggestion. Of course, Egbert was thinking of ransom (though quite why he expects Aella to pay, rather than Morgana's father, I don't know), but Einar's got other things in mind. So does Eric, who was moved by the prophecies of Kitala, the rune reader of the village, and has concluded he and Morgana are destined to be together. So he decks Einar, and off they go. They try teaming up with Aella, but he's still a pain in the ass, so Eric has to team up with Einar, temporarily. Have fun storming the castle.

I'm a little surprised neither side were the "good guys". The English (or Saxons, whatever), are primarily represented by Aella, who is a petty, sleazy, insecure guy, with a serious ingratitude problem. Or they're represented by Egbert, who's a traitor concerned only with his own wealth. Of course, the Vikings aren't any better. Ragnar's a drunken boor who talks fondly of how much Einar's mother fought him, and he encourages Einar to see Morgana's resistance as a good thing. Which makes it almost, not funny exactly, but kind of fitting that Morgana refuses to give Einar that when he approaches her quarters wanting her to fight. She won't even give him that satisfaction. Not that I think it would have mattered much in another minute or so, but Einar's a spoiled, vain brat, so it's good to see him not get his way.

The only people I suppose are good are Eric and Morgana. And Kitala. I'm not clear on what her motivations were for trying to save Eric from Einar's revenge, but she did make the effort, and she provided him with the key to navigating in fog, which was the only reason Einar was willing to work with him. Maybe she thought saving him would save Ragnar, or maybe she sees Eric uniting the Vikings and the Saxons into a superpower. Or maybe she just calls it like she sees it, regardless of the consequences. The runes said it was a bad idea for anyone to kill Eric, so she said that.

That is one problem with the movie, the secondary characters tend to drop out abruptly until they're needed to advance the plot, even when they shouldn't. Kitala accompanied Eric and Morgana on their trip to England, but one they arrived, she's nowhere to be seen until after the return to the Vikings' village. You'd think a seer who figured out the compass would be of some relevance in negotiating with a king. Also, Egbert kind of dropped out of sight during the pursuit of Eric and Morgana, which is odd since he was planning on using Eric for his own gains, and Eric stole Egbert's boat.

Also, there's one black character (Sandpiper, played by Edric Connor), a deaf mute slave friend of Eric's. He's basically just there, the closest he gets to useful is he's the one carrying the compass while Eric steers Einar's fleet through the fog (as Eric wisely didn't explain how he can navigate through fog). Could have at least given him some lines.

It's basically what you'd expect of a movie of the era. Guys settle things with violence, women are pretty much reduced to putting on brave faces or being scared. I would have really enjoyed it if Morgana had picked up the sword Einar set out for her and tried to kill him. I know, that was when he wanted to fight, and she was taking the passive resistance route. Maybe after Eric knocked him out she could have stabbed Einar?

Tony Curtis is a little too neat to be a Viking. He has a beard, but it's very short and neatly trimmed. Still more than you can say for Douglas, though they lampshade that when Ragnar explains his son is too vain to cover his face. Borgnine's the only one who got into it. He has the gray, scraggly looking beard. It's probably fake, but at least it looks like something I can picture a Viking having.

The castle siege was pretty good. I had my doubts about their strategy of ponderously wheeling this battering ram across the English countryside in broad daylight, but it worked out. Also, the solution to the 2nd drawbridge was established in an earlier scene about how Vikings settle marital disagreements.

That being said, some of the arrow shooting, and especially spear-throwing was pathetic. You wonder if some of these people understand how to throw anything.

Einar's description of his father's bellowing as 'a moose giving birth to a hedgehog' was pretty clever. And it's gross enough I can picture a Viking saying it.

We can't discuss the movie without mentioning Odin. These guys invoke his name constantly. Every time you turn around, someone is beseeching him, or just calling his name. I picture Odin up in Asgard, grumpy because he's trying to deal with Loki's latest attempt to destroy the Golden Realm, or he's trying to settle into the Odin Sleep, but these damn Vikings keep interrupting, asking him to help them in battle, or call up a wind to reverse the tide. He's a busy god, you know, he's got other stuff on the itinerary. I was disappointed nobody went Shatner in Star Trek 2 with their "ODIN!" shouts. I know, the movie predates that by decades, but still, someone could have gone for it. It's right up Douglas' alley. I really thought he would at the end, but no.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

There's a Spider In The Foundation

The Fantastic Fangirls had a Q&A a few weeks ago asking what would happen if your favorite comic character wound up in your favorite non-comic story. This gave me a bit of difficulty because all the favorite stories I thought of didn't seem like great fits for Spider-Man at first glance.

My two favorite authors are Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. I did consider Peter in The Gunslinger, because it might be funny to have him out in the desert with nothing to swing from. Also, Roland wouldn't know what to make of his costume. Now that I think of it, with Spider-Man along, Jake wouldn't fall to his death in that book. Which means he doesn't spend the second book back in his world, tormented by memories of his own death. Not sure what it would mean for Roland to have both of them along from that point forward.

Asimov's worlds might suit him better, since they're more science-focused. I'm sure he'd feel more comfortable there, but at the same time, the stories I've read most are operating on a galactic scale. Conflicts between entire star systems, where the result is preordained because Hari Seldon mathematically deduced out what would happen years before. Would Spider-Man fit in the Foundation series?

I think there's something you could do with him. Have Peter end up on Terminus (where the First Foundation was established*), but without any idea where/when he is or how to get home. He manages to find some sort of work, maybe science-related, maybe, given his lck of suitable papers, a janitorial job at a science facility (since he figures that's his best shot to get home). He can have coworker hijinks, and because he's Peter Parker, he'll catch the eye of some unusually attractive woman, whose attention he'll try to deflect (I'm going with married Spider-Man). In the meantime, he keeps doing his Spider-Man thing, swinging around, saving people from accidents or random violence**. The citizens have never seen someone like Spider-Man before. Guy in a bright costume, not affiliated with a law enforcement or political entity, randomly saving people in trouble. Spidey's actions begin to affect the populace. More people take things into their own hands (for good or ill), or express disdain for authority figures (even on an alien world, in some new universe, Spider-Man would still mouth off at people who told him to stop doing whatever a spider can). Scientific inquiry is being diverted into augmenting humans, instead of advancing faster-than-light travel, or terraforming, or whatever.

It starts on Terminus, but word spreads to other systems through the Traders, and the stories are exaggerated, misconstrued, probably dismissed in some systems, while taken as cause for alarm in others. It's almost a given some planet would see Spider-Man's seemingly random acts of altruism as a smokescreen for what was a test of some new weapons' program the Foundation was starting. After all, it's easy to detect a fleet of ships with planet-devastating power heading towards your world. One seemingly innocuous spaceship, which just so happens to carry a super-being capable of destroying the world single-handedly, would be another matter. That Spider-Man hadn't demonstrated that level of power could be dismissed as part of the smokescreen, or with the idea he's a prototype or infiltration/espionage specialist. Rather than destroying the world, simply steal critical information or destabilize society. Things are getting stirred up. Terminus has diplomatic situations to deal with they aren't prepared for, especially since their government actually doesn't have anything to do with Spider-Man.

That's part of why I think he might work here, if we go with the idea of Spider-Man having a lot of the trickster in him. Admittedly, this is something JMS played around with, and that might be reason enough to want to avoid it. But I like the idea of throwing someone with that sort of bent into a society where people trust in this mathematical formula that tells them everything is gonna be OK. It knows when a particular problem will arise, tells them precisely how to deal with it, and they go along with it. This could take place before the Mule's arrival, or after, depending on how you want to play it*** . Throw in a guy who monkey wrenches all that, but, unlike the Mule, isn't doing it to conquer. In fact, nobody can figure out why he's doing it, except because he wants to help. But there are suspicions, and there are theories.

If we do this after the Mule, people in the First Foundation are going to suspect him of working for the Second Foundation. His actions may seem random, but they'll be perceived as part of some plan to guide events so things stay on the course the Plan has charted. Not only will Spider-Man be pursued by people who don't want to fear manipulation at the hands of psionics, the people he saves might also be at risk, as people will wonder what greater role they're going to play. Meanwhile, the Second Foundation doesn't know who the hell this spider guy is, but he's mucking things up. Those diplomatic issues I mentioned? They weren't supposed to arise at all. Which means things are off the plan, and that's unacceptable. So the Second Foundation sends their best agents after him. Then there are the people afraid of him simply because he has powers that differentiate him from everyone else, and after the Mule, folks are likely to be gunshy about that.

Meanwhile, overall confidence in the Seldon Plan is on the decline. One mutant who throws things off, is one thing, but two? What if it's the start of a wave of them? Seldon couldn't have predicted that, could he? The people concerned about Second Foundation interference are putting a lot of stock in the actions of individuals, given it's groups that are supposed to be predictable and able to affect large-scale changes. And the Second Foundation is confounded by the fact someone is disrupting the Plan, seemingly without even meaning to.

I don't know what the endgame for it all would be. I can't imagine Peter would be able to elude the Second Foundation forever, unless he plays the First Foundation's hunt for him against them. If they do catch him, the fact he remembers Earth could lead into the later books, if Peter thinks the key to his getting home lies there. Both Foundations might be glad to be rid of him. Or it could turn out that people reject the Plan, start trying to actively go against it, and the new Galactic Empire might fall apart before it even gets started. Which would trigger that 35,000 years of chaos Seldon was trying to avoid, so maybe that's too much chaos into the system.

* I'm not sure when in the series I'd be introducing him. Certain things work best with the situation in Foundation, others would work better with Second Foundation

** I never had the impression the Foundation worlds were utopias, and certainly there were crimes in the Robot series books, since they were murder mysteries, although they take place thousands of years earlier.

*** Or simultaneously if you want Peter to struggle with how to stop a Xavier - or greater - level telepath at the head of a space armada who probably won't come out of his space ship anywhere near Spider-Man, and could likely take over his mind if he did.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Quest For The Clockwork Master

When I went to trade in those 360 games I had decided weren't for me, the store I visited didn't have any 360 games I wanted. Not at a price I was willing to pay, anyway. Maybe if they hadn't contended Super Street Fighter 4 was too scratched to accept. I like to think of that as the game's way of tormenting me. I won't futilely try to play it any longer, so it simply refuses to let itself be traded in. Sadistic.

I went with a pair of Original Recipe XBox games instead. One Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams, which I have now purchased on 3 separate occasions. I don't think I'll be trading it in to lower the price on some other game again. I picked it up because I'd never beaten the sub-mission, Made From A Wish, and I might want to play the main story again some time.

The other game was Syberia. It's described as an "adventure" game, though I tend to think of it as a "puzzle" game. My picture of "adventure" would involve more jumping and trap avoiding, less searching bookcases for the instructions on how to run an automaton assembly plant. I guess that's really an "action" game, though.

Syberia is one of those games where you explore a location, examining and collecting all sorts of different items, as you try to figure out what you have to do to advance the story. In this case, you're playing as Kate Walker, a lawyer from the U.S. who has come to the small French town of Valadilene to complete the sale of a small automaton factory to a giant toy company. Except the owner has just died, which was prepared for, except it turns out the owner's brother isn't dead, as has been believed for about 70 years. Which means Kate has to track this Hans Voralberg down, and get him to sign off on the papers. This takes her ever father east in a windup train which Hans designed, and his sister constructed for him. Hans wants to use the train to reach the distant land of Syberia, where he believes there are still live mammoths (he sustained a head injury trying to recover an ancient doll mammoth as a child, which might explain the fixation on mammoths). Kate just wants to get the paperwork signed and go home to her demanding fiance and asshole boss. Then again. . .

Something the game does very well is build the sense of exploration and, dare I say it, adventure. As it progressed, I was drawn in, and left wanting to know more about this world. Based on Kate's phone conversations with her friends and loved ones, the U.S. sounds pretty much as we know it. But everywhere Kate goes, things seem to be dying. The university at Barrockstadt sits near ruined buildings, and is protected by a massive wall. What, exactly, they need protection from, is unclear, but I want to know. I want Kate to keep going so I can learn more. Which means I have to keep playing, because I'm the one controlling her.

What's smart about it is that Kate grows to feel the same way. She views some of the hoops she has to jump through to get things done frustrating (like me), but she also finds the whole thing kind of cool. It helps me to feel invested in Kate as a character. When she complains, it's probably about something that bothered me. When she's strangely nonplussed by some rough news her best friend gives her, well, I'd seen it coming for awhile, so I wasn't surprised, either. Since it's a 3rd-person perspective game, it's like I'm tagging along with Kate, so we share the highs and lows.

About those hoops, though. It's probably a nature of the game, but the path to success can be a convoluted one. In Barrockstadt, Kate has to talk to the station master, then talk to him again, then talk to the chief paleontologist, then the rectors, then the station master again, just to get access to a private garden that has some grapes she needs. This is made more annoying by the time it takes to get from one person to the next. Kate's not a very fast runner, and you have to press the A button when near the stairs to get her to go up or down them. She also has to be standing still; you can't try to hit A while still approaching the stairs, which is a bit of a nuisance.

Some of the puzzles are more interesting than others, varying from helping a cosmonaut fake a blood test, to mixing it an alcoholic beverage (not for the person who needed blood testing, mind you). The controls are a little finicky. Sometimes it seems there's only one particular place you can stand for the interaction symbol to appear or a given object. You might walk right up next to it, and not be able to do a thing, because you need to be standing 5 feet behind it and to the right. Little frustrating. I don't know, some of the control issues might be my controller. After 9+ years, the top of the left joystick is starting to disintegrate.

The dialogue is pretty good. Each character tends to have a distinct voice and personality, though there were some curious choices on accents. Why the head of a Russian spa has a British accent I don't know. They did make a bit of a joke of this with the tug captain, who speaks some mixture of about 5 different languages. I know I say some French, Russian, and German in there, along with some other non-English ones I don't know. Fortunately, his wife can translate, though she has a bit of a Russian accent. I'd also say the voice actors had some fun with it, especially whoever was doing the rectors. Their stuffy attitudes and sniping at each other over protocol or differences of opinion can be pretty funny, depending on how much of a hurry I'm in.

The landscapes are beautiful, if a little flat. What you're able to interact with is fairly limited in any given screen, and so most things don't aren't given as much depth, since they aren't supposed to move or react. The character movements are also fairly stiff, but most of what we see is people walking, or maybe pulling a lever, so I guess they didn't feel they needed motion capture to work from.

The story itself ends with finding Hans Voralberg, but his quest is picked up in the sequel, which I haven't bought yet. I feel as though after my complaints about how Rage ended, I should be more annoyed by that. Somehow, I'm not. Because the game, from very early on, makes it clear Kate is supposed to find Hans. That's her quest. We aren't even totally sure what Hans is up to or where he is until the end. Also, there's never any sense from the game you shouldn't track him down. Kate wants to do it, from a sense of duty if nothing else. Her boss is after her, her fiance is after he to wrap it up so she can come home. Rage spent the first third of the game telling me to avoid the Authority, then it shoves me into the Resistance where I have to fight them. Then it doesn't provide any sort of satisfactory conclusion to the conflict with the Authority. Meanwhile, Syberia has Kate find Hans, complete her job, and then she makes the decision to keep going into the sequel. What's more, like I said, I wanted to see more of this world, so I wanted Kate to keep going, whereas I never wanted any part of the Resistance in Rage.

So Syberia, despite some frustrating gameplay aspects, sucked me in with the storytelling and world building, and I think I probably will pick up the sequel at some point.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do I Venture Back Into The X-Verse?

Marvel finally got around to releasing their solicitations for April last Friday, and they've provided me with my pull list decision for the month. Whether to buy the new Wood/Copiel X-Men series.

I didn't do a post for last month's solicitations, but if I had, the decision would have been whether to buy the next round of Atomic Robo Real Science Adventures in single issues, or tradewait. I've decided to leave that one up to the vagaries of Jack's attention to detail. If he notices it and orders it for me, OK then. If not, trades it is.

Back to X-Men. On the plus side, Brian Wood has a pretty good rep as a writer, though I don't have any more experience with him than I do with Cullen Bunn. But how do you get experience with someone's writing if you don't try it, right? Though perhaps corporately-owned characters which carry editorial constraints aren't the best assessment tool.

I have at least a passing fondness for all the characters involved, though Wood's writing is going to play a serious role there. I like Hawkeye, but I can't say he's been the strongest part of Secret Avengers, seeing as I haven't cared for Remender's rendition of him. Theoretically, there's a baseline of character history there to work with that can keep the characters familiar, but still let Wood have his own perspective on them.

The solicit doesn't have a lot of details, but offhand, it sounds like an interesting story. Aliens, old enemies, special babies, ancient conflicts. Maybe it's all tied together, or maybe they're separate issues, but it does sound intriguing, if vague.

Copiel's a pretty good artist, sort of. He can do some really beautiful work, detailed, with a strong sense of scale or majesty. That double-page spread he did for JMS' Thor run of the newly recreated Asgard is still one of my desktop wallpapers. He gave each character on the cover a different pose, and each one probably says something about the character. The more casual stance Rachel took, where shes partially obscured by Rogue, versus Kitty with a more straightforward, aggressive stance.

On the minus side, well there's still Copiel. I've never been that impressed by him as an action artist. Fight scenes aren't really his strong point. At least, they weren't in AvX. Maybe that was a reflection of his writers, as most writers at Marvel these days don't have a clue how to script an interesting fight scene. Probably because they're too busy working on their "clever" dialogue. Maybe that wasn't Copiel's fault.

He isn't exactly a swift artist, though. Marvel made him the artist for the Siege event, which was only a 4-issue mini-series, and he couldn't even keep that on schedule. If you pick up the book because you love Copiel's work, you better keep in mind the potential for another Cassady on Uncanny Avengers situation, where Copiel's gone in a few months. Who the hell knows who'll take over then? Might be an upgrade, might not be.

The other big minus is the $4 price tag. I'm kind of trying to limit how many of those books I'm getting, and as far as Marvel goes, there's already Captain America, which I'm sure I'll get to read one of these days. Not sure I want to commit to another one on top of that. I know Wood and Copiel don't set the price tag, but it does factor in. I need to expect - and get - more if I'm going to pay more. I don't mean more issues, mind you, Marvel can stop double-shipping any time now, the quality of the work needs to be higher. I don't know if they can pull it off. The last two $4 books I got from Marvel were Defenders and Secret Avengers, neither of which is a strong argument for the creative talent being able to give me my money's worth.

It's a question of how much confidence I have in Wood and Copiel. Alternatively, it's a question of how big a sucker I am. The answer has yet to be determined.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Burn Notice 4.8 - Where There's Smoke

Plot: You may recall Kendra was hired to kill some guys who botched a bank robbery. And Marv provided Fiona with the information on which bank, and I guess, which deposit box. So now Mike and Jesse are planning to pull off the heist themselves, after Madeline helps them assess the bank's security response. Which she manages, with the help of her dead husband.

Meanwhile, Fi is still steamed at Michael, so she's teamed up with Sam to take a job as security for some big manufacturer. He's having a party to show off his new battery, and he's concerned someone will try to take it. Turns out they're more interested in taking Sarah, his wife, and holding her for ransom. As Fi and Sam are badly outgunned, Fi opts to play a wealthy woman herself, so she'll be taken hostage as well.

From there, the whole thing becomes a matter of time. Fi has to keep herself and Sarah safe, while figuring out some way to either escape, or clue Michael in to their location. Which is made more difficult when Christian goes against the plan and agrees to pay the ransom. Too bad the kidnappers let Fi and Sarah see their faces, so there's no way they can be allowed to live. . .

The Players: Sarah (The Client), Eddy (Hot Headed Little Brother), Jacob (Lying Big Brother)

Quote of the Episode: Michael - 'It's one of them against four of you.' Fiona - 'Don't feel bad for them, Michael.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? A light bulb, but more credit for getting loose of a chair she was handcuffed to. Sure she separated her shoulder in the process, but that just makes the fact she beat Jacob's ass a few minutes later even more impressive.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (13 overall).

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall)

Michael Fake Laugh Count: 0 (2 overall)

Other: Mike didn't have an alias this week. Fiona was "Charlotte", and Sam was "Charles Finley". For, whenever it's needed. Oh, Sam, you're incorrigible.

They did another car commercial, when Michael was rushing to get to the pay off.

Michael still doesn't know Spanish. I'm amazed that doesn't work against him more often, considering Miami has a sizeable population from Spanish speaking regions.

The revelation that Jesse has feelings for Fi kind of came out of left field. They've worked well together, certainly. They have a similar temperament and preference for the direct approach, but it was still a surprise. Maybe it was a surprise to Jesse, too. It's hard to say without knowing how it would have played out, but offhand, I'm glad they aren't going to play some love triangle thing with Fiona playing Archie Andrews. Fi and Michael's (positive) feelings for each other have been reaffirmed by the end of the episode, and Maddy dropped a painful truth bomb on Jesse. 'Fiona and Michael love each other, and hate each other. But it's always, each other.' Doesn't mean it won't have an effect on Jesse's behavior going forward, but it would have been awkward to do the triangle thing.

Michael would obviously be Veronica Lodge in that scenario, Jesse is Betty Cooper.

The little thing I enjoyed was the Sam/Fi interaction. Fi still gives Sam a lot of crap, but I'm finally starting to feel like she does it as a way of demonstrating affection, rather than disdain. It isn't like my friends and I don't bust each other's chops, but we eased into it, you know? It didn't start until we were comfortable as friends. Fi started out hating Sam, and has gradually softened that stance. That she and Sam played a married couple, and she largely refrained from embarrassing jokes was a change. She didn't give him a bunch of crap for not rushing out to confront the heavily armed guys when he only had a handgun. She told Michael that Sam values her opinion. OK, that was more a jab at Michael, but I still believe she meant it, which means she recognizes that about Sam and appreciates it. Sam, for his part, has been pretty consistent in his concern for Fi for the last couple of seasons. He just usually doesn't want her to know about.

This is really Fi's show, though, since Michael and Sam are only able to help in terms of stalling Jacob, and only a little at that. Fi does most of the work herself. She keeps Sarah calm, and more importantly, gets Sarah to go along with her on her plans. Sarah, for her part, is pretty game. She picks up the thread of complaining or fake arguing without much prompting. Clearly Fiona is better at the soft touch than Michael.

Mostly, I like that Fiona never seems too worried. She's not overconfident, she can't afford to be with Sarah there, but she's working on an exit strategy from the moment they get shoved into the basement. She gets the guard tossed out before Jacob's even had a chance to leave the basement. She manages to play vulnerable enough that Jacob actually feels bad for her. Which makes him inclined to do little favors for her, favors that help her bring him down. She took his idea of how she should behave, and used it against him perfectly.

So Fi's back safe, the kidnappers are going to jail, the Annual Relationship Pattern may have moved on, and they have the contents of the safety deposit box. A Bible, that once belonged to a little man named. . . Simon.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

First Impressions Are Everything

I've read both volumes of Resurrection Man by now, the original and the nu52. Both of them had a common stumbling block for me. I was never interested in Mitch's search for his past.

That's not entirely accurate, since I was interested in things like where his powers came from, why his soul was so coveted, things like that. But Mitch seemed more interested in learning who he had been before his memory loss, and that didn't matter to me at all. I thought the first volume picked up significantly once Abnett and Lanning established Mitch had been a sleazy lawyer who got killed when he started to change his mind, because once they covered that, they could move on.

I'm not sure why I wasn't invested in those plotlines, but my guess is because I didn't think it mattered. Mitch kept learning he hadn't been a particularly nice fellow. A real bastard in the nu52, actually. Sort of. So what? By the time we learn that, we've had issues of him using his powers t help others. We can see he isn't like that any longer, and I already like. I'm not inclined to stop liking because of stuff he did some time in the past before we were introduced to the character. If regaining his memories has produced some demonstrable change in Mitch's behavior, it might have been different, but he typically processes the information, then goes on as he was before.

I'm also a sucker for redemption stories, so that may limit the impact of dark histories on me. Add it in, and I just retrofit his past heroic deeds to some idea of his subconscious trying to make up for things he doesn't remember doing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prelude To The Year In Review

My best guess is the 2012 Year in Review posts are gonna have to wait until February. I don't even have all the comics I ordered from last year yet, then I'll have to do standard reviewing of them, then get to the big show. So who the hell knows.

I thought what we could do, is incorporate books and movies into it. 


I didn't read a lot of new books. I spent most of the spring reading books I hadn't read in 8 years or more, for the purposes of this, I'll stick to stuff that was new to me. The fall was a little better, thanks to my dad, but even so, there weren't a lot of books that really stood out. Hemingway's Boat was interesting, certainly made for a more detailed perspective on Hemingway. I don't know how much to agree with some of his suppositions about Hemingway's personal life, but the letters he wrote, the conflict they portray inside Hemingway's mind, that stuff was fascinating. But I didn't feel like the boat was as strong a hook for it as the title implied. How much I should hold that against it is up for debate.

The Savage Garden was the strongest of the three Mark Mills stories I read. I appreciated how much thought Mills put into how the garden would be designed to tell this story, and how it would slowly be unraveled, tied together with dual stories of hidden murders. That same sort of attention to detail and world-building (or world-deconstruction) was the strongest part of World War Z, though I like how Brooks occasionally has certain characters show up in different accounts. Since the writer is supposed to be writing up a report, it provided this sense that he was piecing it together following any thread he could get. The United States and Chile: Imperialism and the Overthrow of the Allende Government wasn't the feel-good book of the year (not many of these were, except maybe The Dark Monk), but I liked the depth of research Petras and Morley put into it, even if the conclusions weren't exactly surprising.

Worst book? I gave up on Robert Goddard's Beyond Recall within 30 pages, which isn't encouraging. I wasn't a huge fan of Found Wanting, either. it was a decently tense suspense story, but I kept expecting the main character to come to his senses and go home. Of books I actually finished, Allende: Death of a Marxist Dream, by James Whelan. It wasn't any less slanted than Petras and Morley's book, but they at least backed their bias up with facts, and information, rather than slanted tales by people with a vested interest in justifying their actions. Whelan put enough in there you figure there's an argument to be made about whether Allende needed to go (setting aside the question of whether Pinochet specifically was an upgrade or not), but he clearly wasn't the one to make that argument. Too much of an ax to grind.


When I made up some preliminary lists for this, I was dismayed to see I had more movies in the bad category than the good. I didn't even include things like Nightmare on Elm Street, which I didn't care for. Well, that's how it goes. Let's figure out what was the worst.

The Long Ships was just aggressively mediocre. It had the cast to be better, but didn't bother to try, but it wasn't terrible. Except for the comedy rape scene. That was terrible. The Riddle of the Sands wasn't bad, just lacking in tension. My problem with Betrayed was dissatisfaction with the ending. The movie was OK, otherwise. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was enough of a mess I hardly paid attention the last hour. 

There are three films on the list that tried to hang their hats on a gimmick (or stylistic choice, if you prefer). Lady in the Lake, shooting everything from the Marlowe's perspective, meaning we are responsible for every cutting remark he makes, and there are a lot of those. If you enjoy being a dick constantly, then it's probably great fun, even if you can come up with better insults than Robert Montgomery. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid had to use those clips from old noir films, and have Steve Martin pretend to interact with them. Too bad, I thought the movie could have been good otherwise, but too much reliance on it. Sucker Punch, of course, had an absurd amount of slow-mo, because it's Zack Snyder, and not much else.

That leaves two options, Six Three Three Squadron and Dark Star. The first one isn't the first war movie to try and brush off loss of lives with some pap about abstract constructs like squadrons surviving, so it's OK, but it was particularly galling to me here, because it was so blindingly obvious how they could have done things differently to try and minimize it. After I watch a dozen 2-man crews die because command is a bunch of dumbasses, I don't want said dumbasses to reassure me it's OK because the squadron lives on. As for Dark Star, it was supposed to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh once. That's a pretty complete failure on its part so Dark Star wins! Congratulations! Sucker Punch, you tried hard, but you'll have to settle for the consolation prize.

Enough crap, what did I like?

Touch of Evil was interesting from a cinematography standpoint, especially since this version included the memo Welles sent the studio execs, where you can see exactly how much thought he'd given to how to set up scenes, dialogue, and music to get across the themes he was interested in. But it wasn't a movie I loved as entertainment. It's like Citizen Kane that way.  Hanna was a really good action film, even if it wasn't quite what I thought it might. I still figure it's as close as I'll get to a Cassandra Cain Batgirl film. Other than Isaacs, who was totally unbelievable as a threat to Hanna, it was well put together, some decent twists and character moments, and the fights were done very well. Nothing too flashy, just effective and mostly realistic. Well, Eric Bana's fights felt realistic, Hanna's less so, but that was OK. 

Call this paragraph the one for standard plots that were boosted by a particular performance. His Kind of Woman certainly wasn't anything special as a film, but Vincent Price was excellent in his delivery. It's strange to see him play a genuinely nice guy, rather than a spooky one, and pull it off. Even so, he's a bit of a windbag, but he gets poked enough you don't mind. The Enemy Below was a standard hunter/hunted war story, but Mitchum and Jurgens' performances elevated the material (contrast that with Widmark and Poitier in The Long Ships). The Violent Men uses the corrupt, greedy cattleman, but in this case it's Barbara Stanwyck (rather than her husband, played by Edward G. Robinson) as the ruthless Martha Wilkison. I liked the fact they didn't try to mitigate or dampen that. Westerns were known for having unambiguously evil antagonists, and in this case it was her, which seems an unusual role for a woman, and Stanwyck ran with it. Martha wants all the land, and everyone around her is just a pawn to that purpose. Husband, brother-in-law, daughter, incompetent, wussbag sheriff, all the townspeople. She'll sacrifice any of them to get what she wants, no hesitation. Plus, they let her be obviously racist which was surprising.

All that said, the two strongest films I saw this year were Attack the Block and Duck, You Sucker. I thought they had the best combination of engaging plots, good acting, and strong dialogue. And each one deals with unintended consequences. In both cases, the main characters tend to regard people not in their group as disposable, to be used or terrorized as suits them. And in both cases it backfires, badly, in ways they probably never would have imagined, which kind of emphasizes the random nature of things in a way I appreciate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Devices and Desires

I can't track down my review of The Black Tower, the last time my dad and I watched an adaptation of one of P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. I do remember being dissatisfied, largely because Dalgliesh seemed so uncertain of himself. He couldn't decide if he wanted to be involved in the investigation or not, when he was involved, he lacked conviction, it was all very irritating.

That isn't an issue in this story. Whatever it was that had Dalgliesh down in The Black Tower isn't in evidence here. He's visiting the countryside to settle the affairs of a deceased aunt, and winds up in the middle of a series of murders committed by "The Whistler". Adam may be on leave, but he agrees to help Chief Inspector Rickards with the investigation.

Besides that, there are a host of issues at a nearby nuclear plant. Plant manager Alex Mair is eagerly awaiting a transfer. Hilary Robards is demanding Alex marry her, much to his sister's consternation. There's a young scientist who can't calm down about the direction the plant is going, and is justifiably worried about a computer virus attacking their systems, which Mair dismisses. Robards is also not terribly popular with the locals, as she's considering evicting a drunk artist and his family from their home. There's also a young couple living in a trailer campaigning against the plant.

And then Robards turns up dead, seemingly another victim of The Whistler.

There are a lot of threads. Relationships, old and new, plots, schemes, ugly past histories. There's even a subplot about the approaching birth of Rickards' first child, and his wife going to stay with her mother (at her mother's insistence, of course, because mother-in-laws are a pain in the ass, amirite?)

The psychological profile on The Whistler suggested they were a loner with a hatred of women. Well, James made sure to include a lot of people who different things in their past you could see as shorthand for "hates women". It was kind of spooky after awhile. Oh, so this lady had a domineering housekeeper raise her because her mother was too busy off jet-setting? Throw it on the pile with the guy whose mum made fun of him for being soft and sent him off to stay with relatives every time she found a new beau.

I like Dalgliesh more here than in The Black Tower. Not only because he acts as though he really wants to help catch the killer. In general, there's more opportunity for him to show his good nature. He's constantly giving people rides, offering advice, acting as a sounding board for their problems, and trying to offer solutions, even if the solution is just, "Why not take a day to think it over first?" There's a real sense in his actions that he thinks a helping hand at the right time can keep things from escalating to where you need a policeman.

At the same time, he doesn't always have the right words. There are a few occasions where someone confronts him, or says something too forward, and he doesn't know how to respond. Typically, he ducks his head (which Roy Marsden does a lot anyway, probably because he's very tall), and smiles awkwardly. In those cases, he usually doesn't say anything, or mumbles out something inoffensive. Like a lot of people, there are situations he doesn't feel comfortable in.

The character I most enjoyed was Theresa Blainey (played by Lisa Ellis). With her mother recently deceased, and her father living in the bottle (and too proud to accept help), Theresa has to do most everything. My guess is she can't be more than about 13, 15 tops, but she works as a servant for the Mairs, does the shopping, looks after her three siblings, and bears it all quietly. She doesn't bother pleading with her dad, because she sees it's a waste of time. She sees the work that needs doing, and sets to doing it. But you can see the strain it puts on her, and her attempts to deal with that without troubling her dad. Still trying to protect him, when it ought to be the other way around.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Orson Welles Week Might Have Been Better Off Abandoning Ship

Odd thing about The Lady from Shanghai: Internet Movie Database says Welles was the director, but that he was uncredited. And no one else was credited as director. Not sure what to make of that.

I wouldn't call it one of Welles' stronger efforts, ranking well behind the other films of his I've watched in the last week. It has the bog-standard plot about a poor gullible guy (Welles), who falls in love with a beautiful woman (Rita Hayworth), married to an old, physically infirm, cruel man. Michael O'Hara ends up serving on Mr. Bannister's boat for a cruise down the Pacific coast, which doesn't help to diminish the attraction between himself and Elsa Bannister. An attraction which is plain to everyone around them, including Mr. Bannister and his legal partner, George Grisby. O'Hara would love to take Elsa away from all this, but he's a poor man, traveling the world in hopes of learning something he can turn into a novel. Then Grisby asks O'Hara to kill him, sort of, in exchange for 5 grand. O'Hara, like a dope, agrees, and things spiral down for him shortly thereafter.

I think I might care more for Michael if he were more obviously a fool, but he isn't. He has a long speech, to the Bannisters and Grisby, about how he once saw sharks go into such a frenzy they not only ate each other, they started tearing at themselves. it was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen, before these three people he stood before. He's under no illusions of what these people are, yet he throws himself in among them. For all his desire to "save" Elsa, she understands more than he does, and sees how blind he's being. Given the story, I guess we have to consider everything she says to him as really designed to spur him on, rather than to save him. The beautiful princess, willing to suffer herself, but not willing to see him suffer. Again though, he'd seen this, and understood it, and went ahead anyway.

Well, he did say that when starts out to make a fool of himself, nothing can stop him until it's done.

This film didn't seem to have Welles' usual play with light and shadow, which is why I thought he didn't direct it. It does have some interesting shots. We observe Grisby watching Elsa swimming through a looking glass, and we know what he's looking at because she's reflected in the lens at the end. The other one came as Grisby tells O'Hara he wants him to kill him. The camera's been maintaining a distance during their conversation, as they wind their way through Acapulco. Now, it moves in, sitting a foot or so above them and off to the side, like we're peering over a ledge to eavesdrop. The two are standing very close together, a few inches between them at most, squeezed into the shot together. They'd walked to the end of a overlook, and all we see behind them is the surf crashing against the cliffsides. The whole thing is very furtive, covert, but also dangerous. Michael's on the edge of the precipice, right next to the guy that seems so eager to go over himself.

The Lady from Shanghai has its moments, but on the whole, I'd advise watching any of the other films I've reviewed this week if you're in need of an Orson Welles fix.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Battle of Salamis - Barry Strauss

The book is what the title suggests, a discussion of the battle at Salamis between the Hellenic League and the Persian Empire. Strauss actually starts before that, with the basically simultaneously battles at Artemisium and Thermopylae, the former a naval battle, the latter a land one. The Persians didn't really lose either engagement. The Greek naval withdrew, the Spartans were wiped out, but the toll was a tad higher than Xerxes had expected, which plays a role in the mentality of certain key figures.

What Strauss tries to do is give an overview, not just of the battle or the run up to it, but also of the different acts that lead to it, and the fallout. He supplements this by zooming in on various figures who are either important (Themistocles, Xerxes), or simply notable in some respect. These can be a mixed bag. Some of them are interesting, as are the attempts by Strauss to give the most accurate picture of what took place given conflicting or incomplete records. Others feel pointless, filler pieces. There were a few occasions where I got tired of interludes describing Tetramnestus, king of Sidon, or Hermotimus the eunuch, and wanted Strauss to get to the description of the actual battle. I at least understood how Tetramnestus might be relevant, as he was a Phoenician king, and they were the best sailors Xerxes had. I still don't know why we needed to hear about Hermotimus. Your mileage with the book will depend at least in part on how much you enjoy those micro-scale descriptions of the battle.

Strauss might be a bit too biased in favor of Themistocles. For the most part, Themistocles deserves it, if he was as clever as the records indicate. Still, I wasn't so quick to brush aside his demand of tribute from some of the islands the Persians had previously conquered or frightened into submission. Perhaps Strauss is just more understanding of what was culturally acceptable at the time.

The description of how the Persians might view the war overall was quite amusing. Essentially, the Persians marched into Greece, slaughtered the Spartans at Thermopylae, burned Athens, and having demonstrated their power, left so the Greeks could resume killing each other. The Persians meanwhile, would fortify their current empire, rather than expand it dangerously. It's an interesting perspective to take, the moreso for being technically accurate (though any failures are blamed on people other than the Great King of the day, naturally). So there's a fair bit of wit and humor in the writing, to be expected when dealing with the Ancient Greeks, who all apparently loved to get in jibes at each other.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Burn Notice 4.7 - Past & Future Tense

Plot: Jesse's old boss, Marv, is in town for some big meeting of operatives and diplomats. Jesse hopes Marv will look into the attempted bank heist Kendra mentioned, and give them a lead. Marv is not eager to be helpful, even though he claims not to believe the accusations against Jesse. Perhaps having Michael - who has a terrible rep -  was a mistake? They rectify that by having Fi make the next approach, a little business casual flirting, Marv comes to a hotel room, and there's Jesse. He makes his pitch, and Marv agrees to help. He turns the info over to Fi, and even throws in a bonus. Marv's been looking into the file download Jesse was accused of, and he found some avenues to investigate that might clear Jesse's name. As this would also reveal Michael's guilt, Fi destroys that piece of paper.

OK, that's the overarching plot stuff out of the way. The other issue is that Michael noticed a Russian wetworks team at the conference after Marv gave him the brush off. A quick conversation with Alexi, utilizing Mike's reputation among the Russkies, and we learn they're here for a Paul Anderson. He had a mole in their government 20 years ago, and they want to to know if the guy is still there. At least Mike isn't in the bullseye for once. Mike and Sam track down Paul Anderson at the Banana Fish Bar and find. . . Burt Reynolds?! Well, an old guy with a drinking problem and a grudge against a local Congressman. Paul got drunk, got on a message board, and basically outed himself as a spy. So they'll have to keep him alive until the find some leverage on Congressman Cowley to get Paul federal protection. Paul thinks he has something, but they'll have to get past the Russians to get it, then get to Cowley.

Which they manage, as Michael plays off his rep again, and Maddy comes through in getting Cowley away from his fund-raiser, glad-handing p.r. bullshit or whatever it was. Turns out Cowley signed off on sending American troops into Colombia back in the '80s, off the books. That's bad for Cowley. But he found an embezzling general to take the wrap, so that won't work on him. That's bad for Paul, and everyone else, since Cowley's a vindictive asshole. Not as vindictive as the Russians, though, and their arrival does provide us all with a chance to see Cowley removed from the halls of power forever. Unfortunately, Michael decides to save everyone and capture the Russians, then let Cowley take credit in exchange for Paul's protection. So that all works out well.

What isn't working out well is that Fi's starting to feel the strain of ostensibly working with Jesse, while also working to keep him in the dark.

The Players: Marv (Jesse's Old Boss), Alexi (Russian Operative), Paul (The Client), Vitali (Wetworks Specialist), Bill Cowley (Congressman)

Quote of the Episode: Alexi - 'You joke. Everyone in Russian special forces has heard the name Westen. He is like the boogeyman - not real.'

Does Fiona blow anything up? Nope. She mostly has to chat up Marv. But hey, she gets to flirt with Burt Reynolds.

Sam Axe Drink Count: 0 (13 overall). sam's too busy to drink this week.

Sam Getting Hit Count: 0 (8 overall)

Michael's Fake Laugh Count: 1 (2 overall). I assume those were fake laughs.

Other: Everyone else is using aliases this week. Paul was living under a different name. Fi introduced herself to Marv as "Barbara". Maddy approached Cowley as "Helen Foxvog"? I hope she came up with that herself. If that was the name Sam suggested, he's really slipping.

Perhaps it was in the spirit of an episode based on Cold War conflict, but Michael's driver's license photo looked it was taken in the '80s. It was like he stole Arnold's hair and jacket from the first Terminator flick.

When Maddy askes Sam if he'd still love her if she switched to 'autumn colors', I have no idea what that means.

I too, want to know what the giant key was about. We need a flashback movie about Paul's adventure with the giant key. I'm not sure who you can find to play Burt Reynolds three decades ago.

Alexi had a bad go of it. Punched by Jesse, threatened with slow death by dehydration, strapped to a bunch of explosives, shot in the leg with a nail gun. Kind of surprised Cowley had one of those inside his house, rather than in a shed. He doesn't strike me as a man who does anything for himself.

I didn't really like the first punch Paul hit Cowley with. The form was really awkward, like Burt stopped halfway through, then started again. The two he landed once Cowley was on the ground, though, those were much better.

OK, explain this to me. How is it worse to get caught with your 'hand in the till', than to illegally send American soldiers into another country? Considering the latter is actively getting people killed, that is completely ass-backward. Which is par for the course. Lives are cheap, money is sacred.

I wonder if Paul's character was meant to be a take on Daniel Craig's Bond, how he'll end up. Paul has the same sort of hard-drinking, flirty, "solve all problems by shooting them" attitude. And he ends up alone, with stories he can't remember, and friends who either hate him, or aren't alive any longer. More ghosts to collect. He likes Michael, likes his style, but he seems too impatient, doesn't want to wait for Mike's plans to come to fruition. 'Are you telling me I can't kill Russians when they invade Florida?' I loved the frustration in Mike's voice during the car chase, when Paul began shooting at the pursuing cars. "Stop that right now!" It's the same tone of voice my dad gets when Charlie won't stop barking, or trying to climb in his lap, but with less profanity.

A lot of this episode seemed to be about Michael's reputation. Marv, Cowley, Alexi, Vitali, they've all heard of Westen. With the exception of Cowley (who is too stupid and arrogant to know better), they're all scared of him. Marv for different reasons than the Russians, but it all translates to fear in the end. Another story for Michael to collect. You wonder though, considering the game Mike's playing with Jesse, and Fi's sudden strong reaction to it, whether they'll end up as ghosts for Mike, or those friends who hate his guts.

I found it interesting that when Fi uses Michael's experience to try and dissuade Jesse from pursuing the facts of his getting burned, Jesse brushes it off with 'different circumstances'. What does he mean by that? Marv made a point of telling Mike he never believed what was said about Jesse, but didn't offer Mike the same benefit of the doubt. Jesse made it clear when he first approached Mike for help that he was not one of the people who thought Mike was framed. So has Jesse been working with Mike all this time, still believing Mike did all those acts of Simon's they pinned on him? Otherwise, what's different about it? Mike was kicked out for things he didn't do. So was Jesse. Jesse believes it happened because of the case he was working on - and he's sort of right, Mike needed his files on it - but in reality he was collateral damage. I guess that's a difference. Vaughn, Management, Carla, they selected Michael, wanted him for this job. Jesse was just unlucky. I don't see how that makes a difference in their respective attempts to get unburned.

I thought Fi's crisis of conscience was rather abrupt, and I can't believe she hadn't come to the conclusion Michael only cares about the idea of people before now. Michael didn't help matters any by claiming what they were doing was bigger than one person's career. Because Michael has no ambitions whatsoever to use this case to get his old job back. No sirree. One wonders if Paul was that delusional when he was still active. Either way, considering the crap Mike's dragged Fi through in his efforts to clear his name, he can't be surprised it was a poor argument to use.

Yes, it appears the Annual Michael and Fiona Relationship Pattern has moved into the region! This cold front will produce lots of turbulent winds and lightning storms, with a corresponding sharp decline in temperatures. You may wish to seek shelter until it blows over.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

It Must Be Orson Welles Week

I've mentioned previously - almost exactly a year ago, in the review of The Violent Men - that I'm not typically a big fan of Edward G. Robinson. Not as a gangster, anyway. So I was a little concerned about watching The Stranger, since it was in one of those noir collections.

Fortunately, Robinson plays Mr. Wilson, who works for the Allied War Crimes Commission.  He convinced them to release one prisoner, Konrad, in the hopes he'd lead them to his commanding officer, who was a brutally efficient C.O. at a concentration camp. The plan works as Wilson hopes, and leads to the small town of Harper, Connecticut. Where Wilson (not very good at trailing people unobserved), gets konked on the head and loses the trail. We didn't lose the trail, and learn Konrad seeks Franz Kindler, now Charles Rankin (Orson Welles), who is to be married that day to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), daughter of a Supreme Court justice.

Konrad and Rankin take a walk in the woods, where we learn two important things: One, Konrad found religion, and two, Rankin hasn't abandoned the cause, he's decided to play the long game. And that's the end of Konrad. Wilson stays around, trying to pick up the trail, and gradually grows suspicious of Rankin, enlisting Noah Longstreet, Mary's brother into the investigation. Rankin begins to feel the strain, and takes some risks, poisoning Mary's dog after it had found Konrad's body, generally becoming extremely domineering towards Mary. Wilson tries to get Mary to help them, to tell what she knows (she met Konrad before he found Rankin, but she's denied this), but Mary refuses, swearing loyalty to Charles even as she starts to break under the strain. Which makes Charles take ever more desperate actions.

It all ends about how you would expect, the villain doomed by his own obsessions. I would have liked some mention of Mary coming out of it OK. She seemed like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, maybe even suicidal over the idea she'd fallen in love with him so completely. I did enjoy the fact that, when it came time for there to be shooting, she got to do it. Not Wilson or Noah, her, the one Rankin had tricked the worst, who had been through hell over this indeterminate period of time. because Rankin admits to killing Konrad to her, but frames the story so that he did it out of love, that he's an innocent victim, something we'll come back to.

But let's stick with Mary. For most of the movie, she's left with the sort of traditional role, or being emotional, terrified, unable to handle the strain, unwilling to listen to all those around her. She did frustrate the hell out of me at times. Damn it lady, you married a Nazi, get it through your head already! The comes a turn late in the film, when Rankin wants her to meet him at the clock tower. Her maid has been ordered not to let her leave without Wilson knowing of it, and the lady fakes her own fainting spell to keep Mary there. Extreme, but effective. Mary's concern for Sara overrides her love for Charles, so she asks Noah to let Charles know she'll be late. He and Wilson rush there, and nearly fall victim to the trap Charles had planned. When Charles returns home and finds her well, he lets slip what he had planned, and Mary's had it. She demands he kill her, but hands him a fireplace poker, telling him not to lay his hands on her if he does it.  Help arrives before we know if Charles will go through with it, and Mary faints. None of that is great, though I appreciated the breaking point. That night though, she wakes up, slips out of the house, and makes her way to the clock, making sure she isn't followed. She climbs the ladder, up to the point Charles had sawed through the rungs. He's there, and she tells him to pull her up. She takes his hand and lets go of the ladder entirely. Outright dares him to drop her. And then she confronts him. Wilson does show up, and probably lands the final hammer blows to Rankin's confidence, but when the gun hits the ground, it's Mary who comes up with it, and comes up firing at Charles. No hesitation, he hadn't taken the opportunity to kill her, but she wasn't going to make the same mistake.

Rankin makes a speech about how of everyone in the world, only the Germans haven't learned the cost of this war. Or rather, they refuse to accept it, and wait eagerly for the next Barbarossa or Hitler to come along and lead them into it again. Which is a bit strange, since it almost advocates the necessity of exterminating the Germans, if they're simply going to start it allover again. Then again, the movie paints Kindler/Rankin as the guy who really worked out how to do the Final Solution, so he's no stranger to the idea of genocide. But that idea of distancing or ignoring the truth of matters is central to him. His lies about Konrad, and ultimately why he killed him, designed to paint him as a sympathetic figure. When Mary finds him, he tries to paint himself as something greater than Man, looking down on everyone like they were ants. When those ants find him, encircle him, he's reminded he doesn't tower above them, and he seizes on that. 'I was following orders,' he pleads, which Wilson swats aside. 'You gave the orders.' he gets right in Kindler's face and confronts him, like Mary unafraid. Kindler is only a man now, and a pitiful one, scurrying about in the rafters of this tower like a rat.

It wouldn't be a Welles directed film if there wasn't clever use of lighting. The part I noticed was how the shadows deepened around Rankin, especially when he was around Mary. He's this dark ugliness threatening to envelop and destroy her. Mary is usually brightly lit around him, and usually wearing light clothes, emphasizing her love and openness towards him. That lighting seems to dim, and her clothes are frequently darker shades when she's around others. Rankin's a shadow draped around her, convincing her to wall off her kind nature and intelligence from everyone else. It's the difference between viewing a house with heavy drapes from the outside versus the inside. Outside, everything may look dim and gloomy, uniformly unfriendly. Inside, you're able to perceive there are places of light and shadow, and boundaries between them. It's a quiet struggle you can't see from outside, where Mary appears standoffish, impatient, and blind.