The Losers (2010)

As we were walking to the theater last night, I told my brother Dave that I’d be satisfied with The Losers if it was at least as good as an episode of Human Target. I didn’t need a completely unique experience; I just needed to be entertained for a couple of hours.

And I was. I would’ve been considerably more so had the trailers not already shown me so many of the most exciting parts, but that’s a different post. The Losers is a fun action movie. It’s nothing new or unusual – though there was certainly thought given to its look to make it feel new and unusual – it’s pretty much the same as any other action movie about a group of special ops guys (each with his specific area of expertise) going up against the corrupt government official who burned them. It’s pretty much The A-Team, is what it is. But if you like The A-Team – and I do – and wouldn’t mind a little appetizer before that main course, The Losers will whet that appetite quite nicely.

My biggest complaint about it is that it goes too far over the top at times. Jason Patric does a really nice job making the villain interesting, but the script calls for him to do some pretty ridiculous stuff in the name of showing how evil he is. Which, okay, is fine, I guess, except that he’s not consistent with it. He’ll shoot a girl in the face for moving the umbrella she’s supposed to be holding over his head, but his primary security agent – who’s defeated and made to look ridiculous again and again by the Losers – keeps getting let off the hook. It’s all very cartoony and unbelievable.

Then again, cartoony and unbelievable can sometimes be good. Like when you use an exploding motorcycle and its rider to take out a jet airplane. That’s just cool. Actually, that scene was worth the price of admission by itself. Chris Evans’ T-shirts, Óscar Jaenada’s hat, and Zoe Saldana’s underwear were just added bonuses.

Three out of five finger-guns.

The Neptune Factor (1973)

The Neptune Factor is most assuredly not “the most fantastic undersea odyssey ever filmed.” That wasn’t even true in 1973 (not with movies like Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea predating it by 20 years). What it is is a fairly mundane, ’70s disaster flick only without the all-star cast (Ernest Borgnine was the biggest name they could muster) or special effects. That’s not to say that it’s worthless; just very disappointing.

The plot’s pretty simple. An undersea earthquake sends a submerged ocean lab into the giant crevice that it was located next to and a rescue is mounted. Tension is created not through action, but through the lack of it. The search for the missing lab is long and tedious for the workers, but the movie does a nice job of making that interesting for the audience. Since it never cuts to the lab to let us know if they’re okay or not, we’re invested in the hunt too. And that makes us equally frustrated by frequent setbacks like unusually strong underwater currents, aftershocks from the quake, and waiting for proper equipment.

One example of proper equipment is a mini-sub called Neptune. Before it’s arrival (it’s just been overhauled and hasn’t been tested since it was), the primary search was conducted by a military sub that was too large to go into the crevice to look. Once Neptune arrives, things start to look up, except that her by-the-book captain isn’t as emotionally invested in the search as the rest of the team – people who’ve worked with the missing men for a long time. So there’s some interpersonal drama too as the rest of the sub crew tries to make the captain take risks against his better judgment.

How to make giant fish lame after the break.

Eventually, the Neptune goes deep enough into the trench to hear a distress ping from the lab, but the search is complicated by the discovery of giant plant and animal life. It’s nothing like what’s on the poster though. The special effects suck – even by 1970s’ standards – and the “illusion” is created by filming a miniature model of the sub tooling around an aquarium.

Most of the giant fish that are supposed to be so menacing are clownfish, anemones, and other tropical sea life, not piranhas, but there are a couple of cool sequences. At one point Ernest Borgnine gets out of the sub and is menaced by a giant lionfish. And there’s a crab that tries to push the sub over a cliff. There’s also a fairly nice shot of some divers being threatened by a school of eels, though when the eels eventually attack the result is pretty silly.

It’s too bad, because they spent a lot of time building tension and couldn’t pay it off. They tried, but didn’t have the budget to make creatures that were actually menacing.

Two out of five giant lionfish.

Art Show: It’s a Kind of Magic

Aquaman in High Speed

By Leo Matsuda.

Mermaid

Artist Unknown [Never Sea Land]

Baroque Battle Bug

By Sam Nielson. [Avalanche Software Art Blog]

Man-monsters, space girls, heroes in fishnets, Johnny Quest fights robots, and the coolest Fantastic Four line-up ever after the break.


Johnny Quest

By Andy Kuhn. [ComicTwart]

By Francesco Francavilla. [ComicTwart]

Black Canary

By Cliff Chiang.

Frankenstein

By Jean-Léon Huens. [Frankensteinia]

Hulk

By Craig Wilson. [Art Jumble]

Zatanna

By Garrie Gastonny.

Saturn Girl

By Jim Lee.

The New Fantastic Four

How great would that be? That’s Robert E Howard’s Belit, Queen of the Black Coast in back, if you were wondering. By Dan McDaid. [ComicTwart]

Rogue

By Arie Monroe. [Girls Drawing Girls]

The Princess and the Frog

Speaking of New Orleans and capturing its flavor, The Princess and the Frog does a mighty fine job in its Disney sort of way. From the main character’s dream of opening a Cajun restaurant to the fairly-tame-but-still-spooky voodoo doctor to the adventures in the firefly-lit swamp, the movie does what Disney is so good at by emphasizing the locale’s magical qualities while eliminating the negative aspects.

Even Mardi Gras looks like a fun, family-friendly celebration with all its parades and costumes and no one having to show anything in exchange for beads. Voodoo isn’t exactly played up as a positive thing, but there’s little blood in the way the Shadow Man practices it or any disturbing trances or mind-control. It’s all skull-paint and spooky shadow-creatures; living voodoo dolls and talking masks.

The story itself is pretty good. Tiana is a young girl who’s working hard to fulfill her father’s (Terrance Howard) dream of opening a fancy restaurant. I appreciated – as I’m sure Disney expected me to – the focus on hard work and doing your part to meet your goals. In contrast to that ideal, Tiana’s childhood friend Charlotte is the spoiled – but likable – daughter of John Goodman’s character, a wealthy plantation owner (the movie’s set in the ’20s, so slavery isn’t an issue; race-relations in general are never brought up either). Charlotte’s never had to work a day in her life and fully believes in wishing upon stars. Tiana’s father, on the other hand, always taught her that wishing only gets you so far, a message that Tiana’s taken to heart. Unfortunately, she’s now in danger of missing out on important things like love and friendship by neglecting to spend time with people. The message of the movie is about balance, and I can get behind that.

Voodoo, frogs, and what didn’t work after the break.
Into all this comes Naveen, an Indian prince who’s been disowned by his parents in hopes that he’ll settle down and learn some responsibility. He’s got a lot in common with Charlotte in his outlook on life. He wants nothing more than to listen to jazz and dance with beautiful women. He expects things to just come to him and he thinks he’s found a perfect match in Charlotte, who dreams of marrying a prince, even a penniless one.

Naveen’s servant Lawrence is also lazy and self-serving, so when the evil Dr. Facilier, the Shadow Man, devises a scheme to get rid of Naveen and have Lawrence fill in for him as Charlotte’s future husband, Lawrence readily agrees. Facilier turns Naveen into a frog and steals enough of his blood for a spell to make Lawrence look like him. The blood needs to be resupplied every so often in order to keep the disguise going though, so when Naveen escapes, Facilier sends shadow-creatures out to bring him back.

Of course, Naveen crosses paths with Tiana and since both of them are familiar with the fairy tale of the Frog Prince, they decide to give it a try by having Tiana kiss Naveen. Tiana’s reluctant, but Naveen promises that when he marries Charlotte he’ll help Tiana get the money she needs to finally open her restaurant. Unfortunately, Tiana’s not a princess and the kiss backfires, turning her into a frog as well. They escape into the swamp, chased by shadow-creatures, where they meet dancing fireflies, a trumpet-playing alligator, frog-gigging Cajuns, and try to locate a blind voodoo-woman who may be able to turn them back into humans.

There’s lots of adventure and lots of magic and I had a great time watching it except for a couple of things. The songs were fair – some of them even quite good – and reflected a range of musical styles from ballads to Dixieland to zydeco to gospel to big musical show-stoppers, but there were way too many of them and they slowed down the story way too much. I began losing patience towards the end.

The other thing that didn’t work was Tiana and Naveen’s inevitable romance. I love that they both learned from each other and balanced each other out, but I didn’t buy that they fell in love – as frogs, no less. I would have preferred it had Tiana simply learned that she needed love in her life and then exchanged looks with some new guy at the end whom we could imagine her someday falling in love with. That would’ve left a reformed Naveen free to marry Charlotte; giving her the happy ending she wanted so much. I suppose that may have sent the wrong message by rewarding Charlotte’s laziness, but it would’ve felt right emotionally. And perhaps a reformed Naveen could have done Charlotte some good. As presented, Tiana and Naveen seem thrown together just because they’re the main characters. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that animated Disney characters could have no chemistry together, but here we are.

Still, as a magical New Orleans fantasy, it was full of characters I liked and places I wish existed so I could visit them. It also served its purpose of reminding me that CGI animation is no replacement for hand-drawn. CGI is good – and often great – and works as a supplement to hand-drawn cartoons, but it should never replace them. We need both.

Three out of five shrimps etouffee

Pass the Comics: Tarzan vs Machine Gun Kelly

Tarzan Rescues the Moon

[Diversions of the Groovy Kind]

Sheena vs the Entitled Bitch

In which I lose all respect for Sheena in the final panel. [The Comic Book Catacombs]

Public Enemy

While Alex Ness and I are still working on getting our Machine Gun Kelly story ready for publication, here’s another comic featuring my favorite gangster. [Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine]

Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story

My pal Kody Chamberlain has a new Crime series called Sweets that’s coming out through Image starting in July. I’ve always known Kody could draw, but this is his first outing as a writer and I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s from southern Louisiana too, so I’m also looking forward to seeing how well he captures the flavor of one of the coolest cities in the world.

According to the solicit:

A spree killer terrorizes New Orleans days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. Detective Curt Delatte just buried his only daughter, and he’s in no condition to work. But when the bodies pile up, he masks his grief and joins the hunt through the bowels of the Big Easy. It won’t be long until his city–and his evidence–gets washed away.

There are preview pages in that link too, so check it out.

C2E2’s Pulp Fiction Panel

This week’s Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs was about C2E2’s panel on the resurgence of Pulp, not only in comics, but in popular culture at large. It was a cool discussion that covered the merits of old Pulp vs the new stuff, how to make modern Pulp feel like classic Pulp, and the endurance of the genre in general.

Speaking of C2E2, I’ve finally got all my photos uploaded to Flickr if you want to see more.