I’m a huge fan of junk food movie tie-in. Actually, a more accurate word to describe me would be “sucker.” Whether it’s a promo in a restaurant chain or a special edition candy bar, I just can’t get enough of them. So I’m sure you can understand my excitement for the Doritos bag that played the entire soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There was no way I could let the opportunity to own one slip away.
Getting my hands on one of these bags was a chore in itself. Doritos was extremely forthcoming about the date they would go on sale, as well as the specific Amazon page they’d be available on. I spent all day constantly refreshing Amazon to only be let down hour after hour. Finally, at around 8 that night, the Doritos finally went live…on a completely different section of Amazon than promised, which I only knew about because of a heads up from a friend.
But I digress. And complain a little more than I should since I did eventually order one.
A couple weeks later, a box showed up and I couldn’t be more excited to tear into it. After cutting through two layers of cardboard, I was greeted by a beautifully printed vision of a familiar cassette player inlay on a faux-wood veneer.
The box is really something to admire. There’s nothing special about it in particular, other than providing a nice display for the bag of Doritos and storage for the accessories.
I carefully opened the lid to be greeted by the bag…
…only to be disappointed. I quickly noticed that half of the bag was off-printed, creating an obnoxious shadow effect on most of the words. Though this is a fairly common occurrence on most bags of chips, it was extremely disheartening to see in this instance. Given the small print run of these bags, one would think Doritos would have a little extra quality assurance to make sure everything came out perfectly. But that’s not the case.
Oh, well. That’s life, I guess. I bought it because it plays music so let’s test that out.
All of those buttons printed under the cassette tape work. Power, Play, Stop, Next, Reverse. The bag works exactly like a Walkman. It’s pretty neat, but I am slightly concerned about the flimsiness of the bag itself. So far I’ve been handling it extremely delicately as everything feels so fragile that I’m afraid I may break it. This isn’t something that would be easy to replace.
I’m not alone in my worry, here; Doritos clearly realized most people won’t consistently listen to the soundtrack through a bag of tortilla chips so they included a mini USB port on the bag, and a cable in the box. You can plug the bag into your computer and download the entire soundtrack in MP3 format and listen to it on any compatible device. The USB port will also recharge the player, in case people do consistently listen to the soundtrack through a bag of tortilla chips.
In addition to the USB cable, the bag came with a set of headphones. Not cheap ear buds like most music players would have but a pair of over-the-head, foam-covered headphones that were popular in the 80s. I plugged them in and followed the directions on the box.
As soon as I pressed the “Power” button, the bag flashed to life. Literally. There’s a light in it that glows when the power is on. Which makes sense. I mean, how else are you supposed to know that it’s on if you unplug the headphones?
The quality of the music is crystal clear. I don’t know the specs of the player itself but whatever it is, it seems to handle high quality MP3s really well. There’s even no loss in quality from the headphones. At least none that I noticed. It sounded as good as music from my iPod (though I do have a 2nd gen iPod so that may not be saying much).
At $29.99 retail, these Doritos are a bit of an investment. However, when you realize that you’re paying for the full soundtrack as well as a marketing gimmick that’s sure to spark some conversations, the cost is still kind of hard to swallow. This is clearly an item for die-hard Guardians of the Galaxy fans, a subset that probably never existed before 2014. But either way, I’m ecstatic to add it to my collection, even if I don’t have any place to display it.
For a few years back in the early 2010s horror mash up stories were all the rage. Take an innocuous but well known thing and mix it with a fantasy horror trope and a new hit was made. These were most evident through books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and probably a few others not written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though that genre has been dormant for a few years, it’s come back quite well with the recent release of Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer.
Written by David Crownson, Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer takes place (appropriately) in 1860, deep in the heart of America’s days of Slavery. It opens with a slave family, the Edgefields, as they escape their plantation in search of a life as free folk. When they run afoul of a trio of shady white men, the Edgefields stand their ground only to discover that these men aren’t exactly what they seem to be. Luckily, a mysterious stranger, the eponymous Harriet Tubman, shows up to save them.
One of the things I liked most about the book is the humor. Within the first couple of pages, Crownson makes a joke at the expense of one of his characters and it’s brilliant because it serves a higher purpose than a mere moment of levity. In addition to setting the tone for the book, that initial joke lets the audience know that despite the heady subject matter, they’re allowed to laugh at the story. This is a necessary cue for readers like me, a middle class white man, during the times that the N-word gets bandied around. That word would (rightfully so) make modern audiences uncomfortable but was necessary to tell a story that borrowed heavily from the time of slavery and Harriet Tubman’s real-life struggle. Crownson breaks the ice early to alleviate any possible squeamishness.
The art on the book is superb. Courtland Ellis’ art is smooth, his figures realistic and graceful. There are no overly muscular men rippling through torn shirts. His women aren’t bodaciously disproportioned, and in fact have noticeably different body types. Ellis uses subtle facial expressions on his characters to portray emotions and tip the readers off to what they’re thinking, but he’s then able to go all out during the funny moments. It can be a jarring juxtaposition at times but really ramps up the humor.
The art isn’t perfect, though. Most of the pages are beautiful, however, there’s some panel progression that feels off. Some of the character movement is choppy and stilted, which is detrimental in a book that relies heavily on fight scenes. Thankfully, it’s easy to overlook because there are so many other things to enjoy but hopefully it improves as the series progresses.
Ellis also shines in how he draws backgrounds, notably in the way he uses large brushstrokes to signify foliage. It’s drastically different from mainstream comics and I absolutely love it.
My biggest problem with the book is the dialogue. While most of the characters’ speech is smooth and energetic, the story is sprinkled with one-liners that just seem trite and unnecessary. It tended to be more good than bad, though.
I also wasn’t a fan of the localized dialect. This was probably included to show how different groups speak differently and was effective in establishing the world the story takes place in. I felt like it slowed down the reading experience, forcing me to puzzle out what the characters were saying. I understand that I’m splitting hairs here and maybe sound a little pedantic but this was definitely my take away from the reading experience.
Also, I need to point out the book’s poor punctuation. Normally I don’t even notice the lettering in comic books but the fact that this drew my attention means that it really stood out. Granted, some of the punctuation choices may have been stylistic but there are some instances that are just inconsistent, making the lettering come off as lazy or rushed. Again, I have hope that this will be remedied in future issues.
Despite its flaws, though, one thing that Crownson gets right is the mystery surrounding Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer. His opening chapter focuses on establishing the characters. He doesn’t dive too far into why the vampires are chasing runaway slaves or even where Harriet comes from. We know nothing of her past, her upbringing, or how she knows how to fight. Crownson reveals just enough to whet my appetite but not too much that I lose interest and don’t return for the second issue.
Having purchased Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer on a whim during Free Comic Book Day (it was funded through a successful Kickstarter), I have no idea how to get a physical copy of the book. However, you can buy it in digital on Comixology and Peep Game Comix. And I wholly recommend you pick it up. Not only is this book a fun read but it’s also an interesting take on the horror mash-up genre and the life of one of the most prolific American humanitarians.
Back in 2014, the world was shocked to find itself entertained by a hard sci-fi comic book movie with a main cast that featured a talking raccoon and a giant tree. Three years later, audiences eagerly anticipated the sequel to that film and here we are, talking about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But does the second film live up to the expectations set by the first?
Guardians Vol. 2 opens on the team, composed of Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), facing off against a pink, undulating, multi-tentacled creature at the behest of a race of beings called the Sovereign. It’s a fun scene that helps set the tone of the film and reminds audiences that they’re in for a good time.
The casting of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is definitely one of the films’ strong points. In addition to our core line-up, we are introduced to a few new characters. The first is Ego, played masterfully by Kurt Russell. We learn that Ego is Star-Lord’s father (not a spoiler) and wants to reconnect with his son (possibly a spoiler, if you couldn’t have deduced that yourself). Russell has such a great on-screen presence that he’s a joy to watch as Ego. He exudes charm in such a way that you believe him to be Star-Lord’s father; there’s no denying these two are cut from the same cloth.
The idea of “Family” is a main theme in this movie. They touched on this a bit at the end of the first film, where the cast begin to see themselves as a makeshift family. This time, with Star-Lord meeting his father, they elevate the theme. But we also see it with Gamora and Nebula (played by Karen Gillan), a pair of sisters who were always at each others’ throats. In Vol. 2, they spend more time together and begin to understand each other better. Also, Baby Groot exemplifies the theme of “Family.” Literally a toddler, Groot has an attachment to each of the Guardians, and in turn they treat him as if they were his adoptive parent. It’s very sweet in the way it’s handled.
We also meet Mantis, Ego’s handmaiden. As a full-fledged Guardian in the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning comic book series, it’s no surprise to learn that Mantis would eventually join the team. Played by Pom Klementieff, Mantis was fun to watch on screen. Her ability to feel the emotions of other by touching them made for a few humorous moments, and though she served a purpose to the plot, I feel like her character was introduced to provide little more than that. That said, I’m happy to see her as part of the team and look forward to seeing more of her.
One character I didn’t quite get was Sylvester Stallone’s Stakar Ogord. Introduced early in the film, Ogord was used as a foil to Yondu (Michael Rooker), and shame him for his past transgressions. Ogord doesn’t make another appearance until the very end, at which point he’s given his very own post-credits scene that points to the character doing something more meaningful. Which makes sense considering they cast goddamn Sylvester Stallone in the role. Whatever it is that writer/director James Gunn has planned for him, I can’t even fathom. To me, his inclusion in the film felt shoehorned and overblown and I could have done without it.
With the exception of Star-Lord, who learns about his heritage, we don’t get a lot of development in the main cast. Some of their backstories are expanded on but it mostly feels like a retread of what we already learned about them in the first film. Instead, the secondary cast gets to step into the spotlight, as Gunn dives into the histories of both Nebula and Yondu. We get a peek into why Nebula resents Gamora so much. Concerning Yondu, we get to delve into his relationship with Star-Lord, which was touched upon a little in the first movie but Gunn really goes in depth here. It makes for a touching story but if you spend enough time thinking about it, it becomes downright unsettling
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is dripping with sentimentality. Mostly it’s handled well; it doesn’t get overly dramatic, like Rocket’s reaction to Groot’s “death” at the end of the first film. However, given the emotions that are boiling over, Star-Lord reconciling with his father, Star-Lord’s confrontation with Gamora about their unspoken thing, and even Drax and his reminiscing about his wife and daughter, we see how despite all of their flaws, the Guardians remain human (a term used loosely given that 80% of them are aliens).
The first Guardians was impressively funny, probably the most humor-filled film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rightfully, Vol. 2 manages to keep that vibe going, and they even upped the humor quotient this go around. I’m not trying to say they squeezed more jokes into the script, which, to be fair, they seem to have done. The tone of the humor was intensified, almost to the point of being cartoonish. A scene in which Yondu, Kraglin (played by the director’s brother, Sean Gunn), and Rocket make a jump to hyperspace really displays the ways James Gunn was willing to push the envelope. It works within the confines of this film, one which is willing to play around with the laws of physics, but it just seemed over the top and unnecessary. I think we’re willing to give Gunn the leeway to do things like this because his track record is relatively clean, but I hope he doesn’t press his luck too much.
One of the ways Gunn improved in the sequel is in the pacing. The first Guardians needed to build its world so some of the scenes felt longer than they should have, mostly because of the wordy exposition used to get the point across. Vol. 2, however, has pretty much established its rules, so the only wordiness is to expand character arcs. There were still quite a few wordy monologues but at least they didn’t feel as expository.
In regards to the composition of Vol. 2, Gunn uses the same formula as he did in the first one, which is the only main downside. We open with a scene from the past, cut to quirky musical intro credits, move into character intros, exposition, exposition, dramatic turn, final battle. There’s nothing wrong with working from the formula (that is, after all, how it became a “formula”), and at least Gunn manages to make this film feel different from its predecessor. If this becomes the norm, however, it could really bring down the series.
As part of the most offbeat series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 could have gone in a number of directions but I’m pleased with where James Gunn chose to take it. Humanizing the cast was a great way to keep audiences connected with the characters. It was also great to see a few of the more underutilized characters from the first film get the chance to shine (while Baby Groot is the clear fan-favorite, Drax had a few pretty amazing moments). All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 never lost sight of what everyone loved about its predecessor. While not perfect, it’s a fun movie that helps to elevate Marvel’s record in regard to sequels. I’m ready for the third one.
As one of the smaller independent presses, Lion Forge Comics is not very well known. Most of their line up consists of comics based on popular 80s franchises (as well as a few not-so-popular). As of recently, though, they are jumping into the super hero game, starting with the release of Catalyst Prime: Noble, a prelude to their upcoming Catalyst Prime universe.
The premise behind Catalyst Prime is that a massive asteroid is heading to Earth and only 5 astronauts are able to stop it. It’s a fairly straight forward premise, one that leaves a lot of room to work with. We’ll learn more about what they’re calling “The Event” on Free Comic Book Day when Lion Forge gives out copies of Catalyst Prime: The Event. From there, the Catalyst Prime universe will slowly unfold in seven monthly comic books. One of these is Catalyst Prime: Noble, which focuses on David Powell, one of the astronauts involved in The Event and what becomes of him in the following year.
The main cast of Noble is only two characters, the aforementioned David and his wife, Astrid. Writer Brandon Thomas was wise to structure the introductory chapter like this as it made it easy to follow. Being new characters, we don’t know much about the kind of people David and Astrid are, so throwing a wide cast at new audiences may become confusing and alienate readers. By paring that down to two, especially two who are so closely tied together, Thomas create a far simpler reading experience while getting the most out of the story.
Most of the issue focuses on David, who has no idea who he is but shows some powerful telekinetic abilities, being pursued by a specialized military team. Everything is left ambiguous; we don’t know why David’s on the run, why these men are chasing him, or who the mysterious “she” is that sent them. It’s a well written, well paced scene that’s enhanced by Roger Robinson’s art.
What I like most about the art is Robinson’s style. He uses a lot of lines, most especially in his figures and when indicating motion. It’s very different from a lot of the more mainstream comics and lends the book a gritty feeling. I use “gritty” as it’s supposed to mean; coarse and dirty, not dark and broody as it’s become to be known. Which I mean as a compliment. The scene involved David being chased by a group of large men through a sandy, desert town. One word that should be used to describe this is “gritty.”
The panel progression is very cinematic. From the very first page we get a slow zoom out from Astrid’s wedding ring as she sits nervously in a waiting room. This transitions to a flashback of not long before, revealing the reason she’s nervous. That lasts less than a page before we return to the present moment, when Astrid is given terrible news and breaks down in tears. Three pages is all it takes to recap her harrowing experience losing her husband in The Event and it’s all that’s needed. Wonderful work by both Thomas and Robinson.
I also loved the end twist. It’s a pretty big reveal that most writers would dangle in front of readers, dropping little clues here and there through subsequent issues in order to keep them on the hook. But Thomas tells us up front at the end of the issue who is masterminding the hunt for David. It’s a great reveal because it opens so many more questions that entice readers to come back without resorting to clichés and cheap tricks.
As a fan of super heroes, it’s nice to break away from the worlds of Marvel and DC, which are steeped in so much history that it’s often difficult to keep up. Catalyst Prime offers a reprieve from that, with strong characters that we get to see evolve and grow in real time. It’s also great to see a comic so deftly blend the techniques of filmmaking into its storytelling. I hadn’t heard much about Catalyst Prime before reading Noble but now I’m definitely looking to go deeper into the universe.
Sleight is one of those movies that almost flew completely under my radar. Despite premiering at Sundance in 2016, I hadn’t heard of it until a tweet showed up in my Twitter timeline. I forget its contents now but the retweeter, Dulé Hill of Psych fame, was promoting the film. Which makes sense considering he’s one of its stars. As a fan of Hill, my interest was piqued.
The movie focuses on Bo, relative newcomer Jacob Latimore, a brilliant kid with a penchant for science. He was forced to drop out of school after his mother died to take care of his younger sister, Tina (Storm Reid). During the day, Bo works as a street magician, performing simple card tricks and levitating items for tourists in the busy parts of LA. But at night he hustles drugs for a local kingpin, Angelo (Hill).
For the most part, his life is going well. His bills are paid, his sister is doing well in school. He even meets a girl, Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). But when Angelo asks him for a “favor,” his golden life starts to tarnish, and he sees that the man he’s working for is not the friend he thought he once was.
Directed and co-written by J.D. Dillard, Sleight really delves into the character of Bo, working hard to make sure the audience really understands what he’s going through. Unfortunately, it does this to the detriment of the rest of the cast. We get a small look into Holly’s home life, with lines that quickly explain away why she’s not as happy as she should be. Antagonist Angelo is a trope-fueled gangster; we never learn why he’s as sadistic as he is, but it turns out it’s never important to the plot. All that matters is that he put Bo in a certain position and all we are supposed to care about is how he’s going to get out of it.
Sleight does do something very right, and that’s the aspect of Bo’s “magic.” We see early on that things may not be what they seem and as the film progresses, our suspicions are confirmed. However, we spend so much time wondering just what is happening that by the time everything comes to a head, the finale seems anti-climactic. Everything that the movie worked up to, the final confrontation that I was looking forward to, was over in five minutes, leaving me with a “that’s it?’ feeling.
The film’s marketing is my biggest gripe with Sleight. The movie billed itself as a super hero film (it was referred to as “Chronicle meets Iron Man”) but it never actually feels that way. Sure, it contains a few elements of super heroism, like the source of Bo’s mysterious “powers.” But at its core it’s a character study. It’s a tale of revenge and redemption. We see a smart kid like Bo get stuck in a harrowing situation due to factors outside of his control, forcing him to do something stupid to try and pull himself out, only to get mired deeper into it. Yes, Bo can do some amazing things but that doesn’t make him a super hero and billing him as such denigrates the achievements of his character.
All that aside, Sleight is a beautifully directed film. Dillard uses natural light as often as possible, probably as a way to keep the production budget down but he does so in a way that makes the film more interesting to watch. Even his framing of characters in certain scenes added life to otherwise static moments; talking heads aren’t very interesting but if they’re shot from the right angle, we can be enraptured.
The acting in Sleight deserves a nod as well. Latimore was perfect in the role of Bo, coming off as cocky in his magic scenes but then awkward and unsure when he’s with Angelo or Holly. Seychelle Gabriel was also a joy to watch; Holly’s backstory didn’t lend much depth to the character but Gabriel manages to keep her interesting, mostly through Holly’s rapport with Bo. It’s a shame Holly was only used as a crutch for Bo. I would have liked to have dived deeper into her character.
Dulé Hill was one of the oddest characters to see in this film. As an actor who generally only plays nice guys, like Gus in the aforementioned Psych, seeing him as the tough-as-nails, sadistic drug czar was certainly a change of pace. At times, it even seemed awkward to hear him drop F-bombs and get physical with other characters. Unfortunately, Hill’s portrayal of Angelo felt a little stilted, like he was trying to make the character his own instead of drawing upon inspiration from other badass drug dealers in early cinema. Which is fine, but when every other aspect of the character is derivative of a hundred other films out there, it doesn’t jibe too well. That said, Hill did well with what he was given.
I’m happy that I saw Sleight early in its release and I do give it credit for what it was trying to do. However, having one interesting character in a cast of overused clichés doesn’t make for a very compelling film. Pair that with marketing that doesn’t wholly apply and you have a recipe for a movie that is bound to disappoint some people. Despite all of that, the character of Bo make it an interesting film, one that I would recommend if you have some free time.
I know this review is a little late considering the issue has been in shops for a couple of weeks now but I really need to talk about Ghostbusters 101. Since IDW announced the title, I’ve eagerly awaited its release. It marks a big step for Ghostbusters as merges the original team with the team from the 2016 reboot movie in comic form.
As the intro to a 6-part limited series, the first issue sets the stage perfectly. There’s not much in the way of action, though the first few pages do pull the reader in quite well. They also serve to introduce new readers to the personalities of the original team of Ghostbusters.
From there we get a glimpse at Walter Peck, the Ghostbusters’s government liaison, and the first seeds of the story arc take root. Basically, the team needs to deviate from their paranormal investigation and elimination and go the route of educators to produce additional revenue. I know it sounds very droll, and for the most part it is. But writer Erik Burnham realizes this and takes the time to poke a little fun at it to help lighten the mood.
Before I get more into Burnham’s writing, let me say that I’m a big fan of Dan Schoening’s art. He takes a lot of inspiration from the actors’ looks from the film but interprets them in his own way. This makes the comic characters feel like separate entities even though the comics relies heavily on the lore of the film. To contrast that, he draws the new team in the spitting image of the actresses, which helps pull the realism of the new movie into the comic. Granted, this is probably due more to likeness rights than character interpretation. I’m sure the producers planned heavily on multiple revenue streams with comics being one part of that.
The art also shines in more than just the characters. Schoening knows how to create movement on the page. His panels are dynamic and exciting, which really goes a long way to telling a great story.
The pencils are enhanced by Luis Antiono Delgado’s vibrant colors. All of the detail and depth he puts into the characters and environments adds life to the book. Also, I love the different effects Delgado uses, such as the glow of the ghosts and the proton streams. They go a long way to making the comic feel cinematic and are beautiful touches.
As the sole writer of Ghostbusters at IDW, Erik Burnham has a strong grasp of the characters. Just like Schoening, he takes influence from the movies but also manages to make them his own. Venkman is still flippant with a dry-wit, Spengler the stoic intellectual. But Burnham takes license and veers the characters into unexpected directions, which is fantastic since it makes the stories less predictable.
But again, just like Schoening, he basically carbon copies the new team into the book. Burnham’s dialogue for Tolan, Holtzmann, Gilbert and Yates is so on point that I could practically hear the actresses’ voices saying the words. This is not a complaint. Since most readers may not be as familiar with the new Ghostbusters, this is a perfect introduction for them into the comic book world. In addition, it’s wonderful to see these great characters brought back to life since we probably won’t be getting a sequel due to less than stellar box office turnout for the film.
After that glowing praise for both the writing and the art, there is a glaring drawback of this issue that needs to be addressed. It is heavily steeped in backstory. Characters make many references to previous events which could easily lose readers who haven’t kept up with the IDW series. Without a doubt, this shows how tightly knit Burnham keeps his narrative, that he can make callbacks to the team’s earlier adventures. But the addition of the new team is bound to draw new readers. Younger readers whose first introduction to the Ghostbusters is the 2016 movie. If they have trouble following the story because of these callbacks, then they may be unlikely to keep up with the series. I’m not saying Burnham should have omitted the references completely, but an old-style Editorial Notes showing previous issues may have been helpful.
I feel that it’s an important step in the IDW series because it brings the new team of Ghostbusters into the comics-verse. Given the vitriol the reboot received, all from the fervor that was created by the casting of four women in the lead roles, having this team of Ghostbusters interact with the “classic” team goes a long way in showing the nay-sayers that a reboot doesn’t negate its predecessor; in this case, it enhances it. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.