Monday, November 28, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a renewal of a magical story

Fantastic Beasts is a renewal of a magical story
by rick olivares

Watching “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is like a homecoming. The familiar wonder is there but in brief scenes such as the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), the apartment of the Goldstein sisters, and in that place where main character of Newt Scamander stores his magical creatures.

For the most part, this is a dark film akin to the last few books and films of the Harry Potter saga.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is like a prequel as it is set in 1920s America and in a more urban setting. I love it as it gives the film a totally different feel, a period-piece if you will, and it is good so the story stands on its own legs instead of being simply another spin-off.

The story revolves around Scamander’s brief but highly eventful stopover in New York before heading for Arizona. Some of the magical creatures in his briefcase escape such as the mischievous and playful (and cute to a certain extent) Niffler, and Newt has to capture them before they cause more problems. Around the time of Newt’s arrival, New York is beset by undetermined troubles that are suspected to be the work of dark wizard Gellert Grindlewald.

Mary Lou Barebone, a No-Maj (as a Muggle is called Stateside), claims that the problems are caused by witches and wizards. There is the threat of discovery and war between the No-majes and the wizarding community. Newt witnesses one such rally led by Barebone and at the same time catches the eye of a disgraced former Auror Tina Goldstein who eventually hauls him over to MACUSA as an unregistered wizard in hopes of regaining her former position.

When Newt’s suitcase is accidentally switched with that of No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, he seeks its return and also enlists the latter’s help in recovering the creatures. Their paths intertwine with the Goldstein sisters (including the lovely chanteuse Alison Sudol who plays the vivacious Queenie) and in the process, discover the dark secret of Mary Lou’s son, Credence, and also MANCUSA magistrate, Percival Graves.

In “Fantastic Beasts”, there is no compunction in the use of magic in front of the ordinary folk. As of 2014, the Big Apple has been destroyed 66 times in film whether via King Kong, a tsunami, nuclear weapons, alien invasion, Godzilla, the zombie apocalypse, or by climate change among many others. This film is now an official entry and it is unique because it is the first to make use of magic and well, fantastic beasts.

David Yates returns to direct his fifth film in the Potter franchise and I have to say that “Fantastic Beasts” fits in nicely with the established filmography. Although, I have to say that there’s a matter of the story bogging down a bit at some parts but it doesn’t detract too much.

Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, Jupiter Ascending) is a brilliant as the diffident Scamander. In the Potter-verse, Scamander is a David Attenborough-like character who was expelled from Hogwarts due to an uncited incident. He also wrote that book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, a textbook found in the first Harry Potter book and film.

And for such an undertaking, it requires a bookish, nerdish quality and Redmayne pulls it off fabulously. He doesn’t directly look at people and prefers to look down or at their shoes. He’s like when we’re first introduced to Harry Potter, a nice and thoroughly-likeable fellow even if he is odd.

Am not sure what to feel about Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein and that perhaps is why at certain intervals in the film, I felt it drag. The one time I liked a scene of hers is when she returns to her apartment where we see magic at work in the kitchen and we’re introduced to her sister Queenie who reminds me just a little bit of Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney (in Dick Tracy) who lights up the film with her aura and good nature.

Queenie is attracted to Kowalski, played by native New Yorker Dan Folger who like Sudol, is a recording artist but is also a stand-up comedian having played hilarious roles in Take Me Home Tonight and Kung Fu Panda. Folger’s Kowalski is like Michael Peña’s Luis in Ant-Man, an everyday man who is the filmgoer’s point of view in the film and provides startling yet powerful comedy relief. Plus, I love the ending with Queenie.

Ezra Miller plays the troubled and tortured Credence and the transformation from what I know of him from The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Flash in Dawn of Justice is pretty good.

I know there is a lot going on in the film but it would have still been nice to see Colin Farrell’s Graves be given a little more exposition. Only by film’s end do we understand his true motivations. A little more exposition would make me feel or understand Graves. It wasn’t there.

And Ron Perlman as the Italian-accented goblin gangster Gnarlack is so cool. This character needs more screen time. The jazzy atmosphere in The Blind Pig, Gnarlack’s pub) gave me that Cantina feel. Hopefully, there’s more in the sequel (in what is said to be a five-film series).

Aside from the actors, there’s a Jim Henson-like feel discovering all these fantastic beasts (I love the bowtruckle) that are a wonder.

And that is what this film is – a wonder. I love how the setting is out of England. I love the characters (even the ones who needed more exposition) and the beasts and the fact that we get to hear of other wizarding houses (Ilvermorny that the Goldstein sisters attended).

There’s so much to mine in the Potter-verse. And “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a good start.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Revolution: Not your dad’s GI Joes & Transformers

Revolution: Not your dad’s GI Joes & Transformers
by rick olivares

This is where the IDW Universe finally unites all their main action books in one continuity – Transformers, G.I. Joe, Mask, Action Man, Rom, and Micronauts. But at what cost?

Incidentally, all the characters here began as toys either owned, sold, and manufactured by Hasbro, Kenner, or Parker brothers. Transformers, GI Joe, Rom, and Micronauts enjoyed successful comic book publication by Marvel Comics in the 1980s while Mask was put out by DC. Since the lapses of their contracts, they are now all currently under the umbrella of indie publisher, IDW.

This multi-comic book crossover is titled, “Revolution” and has the feel of a big budget Michael Bay film. The basic plot is a body snatchers/alien invasion story where the alien Dire Wraiths have infiltrated GI Joe and Mask and have put in motion an elaborate and long-running plan to pit the Cybertonians against the humans. Relations between Earth’s inhabitants and the Cybertonians are already strained following Optimus Prime’s controversial annexation of Earth into the Council of Worlds and where Ore-13, the energon cubes that power the giant robots begin to explode and threaten the world with nuclear annihilation.

Yes, this aren’t your daddy’s Transformers or GI Joes all right.

It doesn’t help that the interstellar space policeman Rom wades in the midst of a testy battle between GI Joe and the Autobots and wastes two soldiers (whose life forces have been consumed by Dire Wraiths) – one who is Joe Colton the head of the Joes. Yet even after that first battle, there are questions that linger among some. Why kill only four Joes and not all? Some Autobots took a lot of fire but never even bothered to return fire.

Modern comics have followed that summer Hollywood blockbuster with their annual comic events that span several issues and involver many other titles. When done right are lauded by fans. When they aren’t… they can be universally panned such as last year’s DC event, “Convergence”.

The problem of many of these crossover events such as Marvel’s “Civil War II” or even DC’s “The Dark Knight Returns III” is they are too long and then they suffer all sorts of delay problems.

Not so with “Revolution”.

First and foremost, the main series is five-issues long and is bi-weekly; meaning it takes only three months. The tie-in issues are very few and greatly add to the main storyline. Furthermore, the creative team is consistent. And by the time this is all over, the entire story is relevant.

What I mean by that statement is for example, “Civil War II” was supposed to be seven-issues long. Like the preceding “Secret Wars II” crossover event, it went into an extra issue and the new books that were supposed to be launched after the final story was published and put on the racks – they all came out even before that final story. Talk about anti-climactic endings.

“Revolution” is a good push for all the characters and comics under IDW. But properties like Action Man and Mask need it more because I really don’t see them having lengthy runs. Micronauts… I picked up the early issues of this title under IDW and some of its runs from Devil’s Due (the publishing company that picked up the publishing rights after Marvel). The problem is what made the title so popular during Marvel’s run was its synergy with some original Marvel characters such as Commander Rann, Marionette, and Bug. Acroyear has potential but hasn’t achieved that. The robots Microtron and Biotron aren’t anywhere in the same galaxy as an R2D2 or C3PO. The new crew have the feel of a Firefly-inspired team.

Furthermore, the challenge of the Micronauts is like Marvel’s X-Men today -- the Transformers and GI Joe have become unrecognizable. Some main characters are there but they are all greatly changed. Hence, the question, do you care?

Should you want to give it a try, the main “Revolution” titles are still available. If not, the trade paperback should be out in a month or two. "Revolution” a good jumping on point for Transformers and GI Joe fans. Just be prepared for the surprise.

The Revolution crossover event and all related titles can be purchased at your nearest comic book specialty shop.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Back on track... Ang Ilog #4&5.. Summertime 2017.

Good komiks from Komikon

Good komiks from Komikon
by rick olivares

The November Komikon, the two-day year-end convention, held at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig City has come and gone bringing a close to the 12th year of a gathering of the local comic industry’s best, brightest, and promising.

Aside from all the cool back issues from American publishers that I picked up, here are some of the stuff that I liked from this pop culture gathering:

Zuma The Origin (Wellsprings Publishing)
This is a huge throwback. Created by writer Jim Fernandez and artist Ben Maniclang, Zuma first ran in the old Aliwan Komiks back in the 1970s. The son of the Mayan serpent god Kukulkan, Zuma was a conqueror; a villain. I recall this character receiving the screen treatment with Max Laurel and Snooky Serna in starring roles.

Fernandez has brought back the character this time with another of those classic Filipino artists, Hal Santiago in a 68-page graphic novel. This re-tells Zuma’s story for a modern audience and how the villain resurfaced in this century.

Crunch Time Komiks Vol. 2 (Yellow Couch Comics)
I picked up the first volume because I liked the nifty clean yet dynamic art that is inspired by Japanese manga and anime yet in a Filipino setting. This anthology series continues the science-fiction and fantasy stories from the first volume.

Tanod #2 (Mahiligsa Komiks)
The continuing adventures of the barangay tanod known as Donato who seeks to keep his neighborhood safe from the supernatural. Artist Jerico Marte, whose style I previously wrote that is reminiscent of American illustrator Bart Sears, gets all crazy and messy. The result is mayhem that leaves you with a cliffhanger.

After Lambana (Visprint)
Writer-artist Mervin Malonzo, in my opinion, is one of the best talents to come up in recent years. His horror series, Tabi Po, is bloody frightening and a riveting read. His re-telling of Jose Rizal’s Noli Mi Tangere, in Ang Subersibo showed he is an artist with deep roots to the past. Then he joined forces with superstars Manix Abrera and Harvey Tolibao for the Beyond anthology where Mervin’s story, Terrorium tells of the post-apocalypse where the world is devastated not by nuclear holocaust but by carnivorous plants.

Now, with writer Eliza Victoria, they come up with the graphic novel, After Lambana, a Gaimanesque story about the fabled land of Lambana where there Magic Prohibition Act has been passed as law. Main character Conrad’s life can only be saved by magic. However, doing so means breaking the law.

As always, Malonzo’s work is a food for the soul of a pop culture addict.

Kikomachine Komix Blg. 12
“Mandirigma ng Tadhana” more from one of the geniuses of the medium.

Tales of the Deadman #1 (Cranky Zombie Productions)
I picked this up as a fan of Gloomcookie and Oddly Normal that really reminds me of this title by Louisa Quiros. The first issue introduces us to the swamps of New Lothayn and the world where Karl, the last living necromancer, lives. Light hearted but fun reading. Again, if you enjoy Gloomcookie and Oddly Normal, you’ll like this.