POWERFUL STUFF

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The Power of Poison is a new exhibition that’s running at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane and I got to see a press preview of it last Thursday. It ran in the US at the American Museum of Natural History and it has been transferred to the UK. We were lucky enough to have its US curator Mark Siddall present when we were getting a sneak preview of the exhibition. The Power of Poison looks at the roles that poison plays in everyday life, in medicines, in nature and in literature over the centuries and it is intended to make people more knowledgeable about the subject, demistifying it and pointing out the different roles it plays. It covers poison in history and also in books like Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes. The exhibition is a mix of models and live animals like the tiny frogs used by South American natives to tip their arrows in poison. They hadn’t quite finished setting up but it is an impressive exhibition, perfect for school kids but with enough here to interest adults…

 

OLD SCHOOL WITH A TWIST

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The western periodically makes a comeback. It’s in vogue for a little while and then it’s gone again. The Salvation is an old-school western directed by Dane Kristian Levring and starring Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal) as Jon, a settler to the US who is forced to take revenge when his family is murdered. This act of retribution brings him head-to-head with gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Jon has to take him and his gang down on his own. Mikkelsen is a suitably sympathetic protagonist and Levring manages to make the Western US setting feel beautiful and bleak at the same time. Morgan is very good as villain Delarue and the running time of 90 minutes means that it never outstays its welcome. The Salvation is a well-made and enjoyable western with some good performances and a simple but diverting plot. Sometimes it is refreshing to see a film that does exactly what it set out to do…

MAKING A KILLING

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John Wick came out in the US last October but it’s taken a few months to come over here. Keanu Reeves plays the eponymous hitman who decides to get revenge on the son of the Russian mafia godfather when he takes everything from him. Very much in the Taken mould, John Wick is a straight action revenge film with support from Willem DeFoe as Wick’s fellow assassin Marcus but what lifts it is the fact that visually it is very impressive. On a large cinema screen, John Wick looks incredible. The script is very silly indeed and Reeves spends much of the film dispatching people in incredibly over-the-top fashion but director Chad Stahelski does have a very visual flair for the dramatic. I don’t know if this is a new direction for Reeves whose career has taken a rather forgettable turn over the past few years but John Wick is a decent slice of 100 minutes of action with enough visual flourish that you won’t be bored while you’re watching it and it doesn’t take itself seriously so tonally it mostly works too. By means a work of genius, there is still something perversely entertaining about the whole proceedings…

RUNNING OUT OF STEAM

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Liam Neeson has become the slightly past-it Hollywood action hero over the last few years. It started with Taken and since then, he has starred in a catalog of forgettable films. Run All Night is the latest in this long line. Neeson plays burnt out Irish pitman Jimmy Conlon, who is forced to choose here his allegiances lie, with his estranged son Mike (Joel Kinnaman) or his lifelong friend Irish gangster Sean Maguire (played by Ed Harris). It is competent enough although much of the dialogue is beyond cheesy and there are some truly stupid action scenes peppered throughout the film. Run All Night is entertaining fare while it lasts but it’s a film that won’t even make any impact on your memory as soon as you leave the cinema. A Walk Among The Tombstones, where Neeson played Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, which was released last year, did prove that he can still act but sadly most of the time he chooses generic action shlock like this. A real shame…

MEANER STREETS

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While the 2014 Oscars were dominated by the likes of The Imitation Game, Birdman and The Theory of Everything, Nightcrawler also hit the cinemas. Available on DVD and Blu-ray now, Nightcrawler portrays Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), an LA resident with a directionless life who gets attracted to filming the underbelly of the city. He finds an affinity for capturing the horror of the crimes that are committed in the city each night and begins to sell his video footage to minor TV station manager Nina Romina (Rene Russo). But as the film progresses, we become to realise that the true horror is that Bloom’s personality mirrors the violence and the amorality of Los Angeles. Nightcrawler is also a dark commentary on the desperate nature of media as it turns out that Romina is so desperate for ratings for the minor station she works for that she is prepared to overlook things like the facts of a story. It is a brilliantly satirical film, a true work of proper cinema, director Dan Gilroy has done a wonderful job creating a very very hyper-real LA and Gyllenhaal is mesmerising as Bloom. Fans of real cinema which has something to say should check Nightcrawler out, a film which is destined to be a cult classic…

CONVENTIONAL BEHAVIOUR

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This March sees the fourth London Super Comic Con. Taking place again at London’s Excel Centre in Docklands on 14th March and 15th March 2015, I asked its organisers a few questions about this year’s show…

1) Who are the big guests for this year’s show?

Interesting question.  When we put this year’s guest list together we try to pick guests that cross all eras.  There are many names on our list that are obvious “big names” such as Arthur Adams, Neal Adams, Charlie Adlard, Brian Bolland, Garth Ennis, Dave Gibbons, Paul Levitz, Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz  and John Romita Jr to name just a few.  But we have seen in the past creators, that haven’t been to the UK before, being just as popular.  Examples include Herb Trimpe and Mark Texeira.

2) With this being the fourth LSCC, what are you doing to build on what has become an established comic convention?

When we first decided to set up the show there were many detractors that didn’t believe you could have a large “comic convention” in the UK without celebrities, manga and anime.We spent the first three years establishing the foundations of the show.  A strong comic show should be built on a core of creators, publishers and exhibitors.  As our attendances have shown that  there is an audience in the UK for comics we will continue to enlarge the show.  This year there will be more creators, more exhibitors and some interesting additions to the show floor.    The floor plan will be revealed soon.

3) What panels can we expect to see at this March’s show?

There will be a mix of publisher panels, creator spotlights, comic production, cosplay skill and other panels.  They will be announced very soon.  We will for example, be hosting a Comic Geek Speak 10 year anniversary with Pants, Bryan and Murd at the show and Titan have already mentioned their Doctor Who panel.

4) How important is it for a show like yourselves to include US as well as UK guests?

To put on a large convention you need to provide attendees with a reason to travel.  If we have the same creator mix that people can find at their local show they won’t travel to London.  We believe that we have to keep providing our attendees with something new whether they have attended every con or it is their first visit to LSCC.  We generally only invite US guests that haven’t been to other cons in the UK recently.  This seems to work as our attendees come from the width and breadth of the UK and from Europe.

5) I see that you have cosplay again at the show. What does this bring to the show?

Cosplay brings the visual aspect of comics to life.  Our cosplayers with their skills and acting capabilities bring a buzz to the show that encourages the younger generations to enjoy the convention and to read comics.  You can see in a kid’s face their excitement at meeting a Batman, a Superman, Spider-Man or Wonder Woman.  If a child enjoys a convention they are more likely to associate comics with fun and pick up a book rather than just watch superheroes on TV.

6) You have a wide range of US comic dealers exhibiting again at the show. What attracts these US dealers to attend the show each year?

LSCC provides collectors with the opportunity to find comics that they can’t find locally.  We have many UK dealers as well as the best dealers on the US convention circuit attending the show.  They know that if they bring the widest selection of comics from the Golden Age to the latest modern variants our attendees will buy  them.

7) Each year you have offered exclusive prints and comics at the show. Will you be doing this again this year and can you give us any clue as to what you’ll be offering?

Yes we will.  If you take a look at the ticketing website you will see that there are prints from Bob Layton, David Mack, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jamie Tyndall already for sale.  We will be announcing a John Romita Jr print soon.  In terms of comics we have already listed a Ninjak #1 LSCC Variant cover and Titan have announced the world premier of their Doctor Who: Ninth Doctor #1 with an LSCC variant available at the show.

8) With next year the fifth anniversary of LSCC, are there any plans to make it an even more special occasion?

Yes, but you’ll have to wait till closer to the 2016 show to hear the news.

 http://londonsupercomicconvention.com

NO FOCUS

FOCUS_Main_PosterFebruary is the period where film companies bury their releases months before the spring summer frenzy of the big superhero movies. Focus, Will Smith’s latest vehicle, stars Smith as Nicky, a con merchant who meets Jess, played by Margot Robbie. The pair fall for each other but the path of love doesn’t run smoothly. Smith is a very limited actor and while directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have created a beautiful-looking film, Focus is a film that’s vacuous, vapid and devoid of any substance and any real meaning and characterisation to it at all. The whole thing actually feels rather dated, there is a scene that is reliant on such a ridiculous contrivance and the payoff is stupid and pointless. Robbie does look staggeringly beautiful but you soon get bored with the double and triple crosses and the fact that Nicky lives in a world populated by nothing but supermodels gets very dull very quickly. Focus passes an hour and three quarters pleasantly enough but once you leave the cinema, you won’t remember a single second of it…

NEVER GETS OUT OF ORBIT

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First came Bound and then there was The Matrix. The Wachowski Brothers had made a splash in modern Hollywood. But then we had The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions, two horribly messy sequels which squandered the brilliance of the first film. Speed Racer was a garish love letter to the original material and Cloud Atlas was bloated and self-important. So now we have Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowksi siblings’  latest effort. It was supposed to come out last year but it was pulled from the schedule and put back to this year. Milan Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a girl seemingly of Russian descent who discovers that her lineage is far more impressive than she first thought and she is part of an intergalactic royal family. She gets embroiled in a war to stop the tyrant in the family from taking control. Jupiter Ascending is intended as a grand sci fi epic with many of tropes that they entail and it is a frustrating film. Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, the genetically engineered warrior whose role is to protect Jupiter Jones, and he looks the part. Kunis is decent enough but there isn’t really much here to work with anyway. Eddie Redmayne plays tyrant Balem Abrasax while Sean Bean is fellow warrior Stinger Apini. Redmayne makes for a suitably entertaining pantomime villain and Bean does what he always does. But while there are some visually interesting ideas on screen here, the CGI is muddled, making many of the battles hard to follow, the script is awful and the film suffers from the worst excesses of the Wachowskis’ past efforts. Restraint is not a word that comes to mind when watching it and there is just too much of everything thrown at the wall here. Like Star Wars directed by Liberace or The Fifth Element with the brakes taken off, Jupiter Ascending is a cliched, muddled and annoying mess of a film. It is as if the Wachowskis have forgotten how to rein themselves in and perhaps what could have been an intriguing sci fi movie is just another bloated monstrosity…

MAKING A NEW KILLING

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Ever since The Killing, Scandinavian television has made a real impact in the world of mainstream popular culture. Series like Borgen and The Bridge have built up an impressive following thanks to quality writing and admirable acting. The Legacy, just released on DVD, is a new Danish drama, shown on Sky at the end of this year and beginning of this, with no murders and no mayhem. Artist Veronika Grønnegaard dies and her house is up for grabs by her family which includes daughter Gro (Trine Dyrholm), who wants to turn the house into a museum and her son Frederik (Carsten Bjornlund), who has other plans for it. But there is a spanner thrown into the works when Veronika’s daughter Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) reappears and stakes her claim on the house. The Legacy is an intriguing family drama, showing the dysfunctional manner they operate under. It’s well acted and well written and if you like Scandi drama, then The Legacy will appeal to you.

 

THE MAN WITH THE GOLD-PLATED GUN

kingsman_the_secret_serviceMatthew Vaughn is an occasionally talented director. Starting his career as Guy Ritchie’s producer, thanks to the proficiency of Layer Cake back in 2004 which brought Daniel Craig to the world’s attention, he has led quite a charmed life in cinema. He has only directed five movies and Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on the comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, is his latest. We are introduced to young Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton), from a council estate in north London, who is taken under the wing of Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Hart decides to train Eggsy so that he can join secret organisation The Kingsmen, a modern day MI6 that operates out of a Savile Row tailor’s shop. Samuel Jackson plays Valentine, the megalomaniac bent on destroying the world with only the Kingsmen seemingly able to stop him. But all is not as it seems and Eggsy is put in a position where he doesn’t know who to trust. It’s not a terrible story and the comic’s sense of fun remains in this film adaptation but Vaughn just can’t resist his more puerile flourishes and despite the fact that it is a likeable modern spy film, with decent support from Colin Firth and Michael Caine as the head of the Kingsmen, Kingsman: The Secret Service feels like a teenager remaking one of the worst Roger Moore James Bond films. It feels like a waste of some decent acting talent. Subtlety is sacrificed on the altar of pyrotechnics and Egerton’s Eggsy is just a loutish kid with very little character development. It is a shame as Vaughn showed with X-Men First Class that he’s not just a 1990s lads mag throwback but this is slick and clumsy, and ultimately a totally empty confection. Considering that they are releasing it in a strategically quiet period at the cinema, it will probably clean up at the box office…