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A NEW DIGITAL TRIP THROUGH THE WIRES
After months of preparation and development, the TRIPWIRE bimonthly app will be available for people to buy from iTunes this month. We shall be producing a new edition every two months so issue two will be out in Feb, issue three will be April and issue four will be June. It will give us the opportunity to cover material from the worlds of comics, movies, genre and related fields with the same approach we have always taken: quality, intelligent journalism. The first issue includes a piece looking at how mainstream superhero films are killing quality Hollywood, what’s wrong with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD show and an audio interview with Ian Rankin, talking about his new Rebus book and much more. To tantalise everybody, here’s the cover image to the first issue. We are all excited at the future opportunities digital has to offer and we’ll be taking full advantage of them. I have neglected this blog over the last few weeks but I shall be back with a vengeance over the next couple of weeks. Come back here to see my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this week. But in the meantime, TRIPWIRE digital app is available from iTunes as of now. Please visit the following URL (the app is free but each edition only costs £1.99)
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/tripwire-magazine-comics-film/id717140470?mt=8&ls=1

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WARNING SPOILERS



NICE KNIGHT FOR IT?
After a four-year gap, we have the third film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman, The Dark Knight Rises. This year has already seen Marvel’s Avengers (Assemble), which had a record-breaking box office internationally. The Dark Knight was a very impressive effort, not least because of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker performance. So Nolan had set the bar pretty high for this third film. The Dark Knight Rises opens eight years later. Batman has disappeared because he has been accused of the murder of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse. Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), an enigmatic mercenary figure, determined to take over Gotham City. We are also introduced to Selina Kyle/ Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), a thief whose motives are a little unclear. Bane seems to be a force of a nature, a character who appears to be unstoppable and when Batman tries, he is physically incapacitated and left to rot in a prison in a mystery country. There are returning characters here: Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Michael Caine as Alfred are all back but we also have Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), whose role becomes more pivotal as the film progresses, and Matthew Modine as policeman Foley and Joseph Gordon Leavitt as police detective Blake. So The Dark Knight Rises deals with redemption and whether Batman, with the aid of people like Blake, Gordon and Fox, can help Gotham City rise phoenix-like from the ashes of what Bane has created: a city locked down under his control. Its running time is nearly three hours and I admit before I saw it, this did give me a little cause for concern. But Nolan has managed to craft a tale which is epic, cinematic and which mostly holds your attention. There are still flaws here: the audio for Tom Hardy’s Bane makes it impossible to make out everything he says and sometimes Bale’s gruff Bat-voice can be a little grating. But these are minor quibbles: The Dark Knight Rises feels like a film made by a grown-up, proper filmmaker where everything is there for a reason. It’s impossible not to compare this with The Avengers (Assemble) and, while Marvel’s team film was very enjoyable and a lot of fun, Nolan’s effort feels more like a real cinematic experience. Nolan manages to wrap up the story of Batman on screen with style and panache while leaving things open for further adventures. Both he and Bale have stated publicly that this will be the last Batman film from them but this means, presumably, that there will be a Spider-man-style reboot in about three years, which would be a real shame as Nolan has planted the seeds for a truly intriguing potential future for the character. It’s not perfect, and it’s not quite as well-made as The Dark Knight, but The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy addition to Nolan’s work as well as a great showcase for what can be done on the big screen these days…

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UNBOUND: A MONTH IN
TRIPWIRE 20 has been up at Unbound for around a month and it’s 5% into its pledges. So it’s a decent start to proceedings and I thought I’d talk about the process so far and share the images I’ve had in for the book. It’s been very interesting so far: TRIPWIRE 20 is the first project I’ve ever done through crowdfunding and so I have had to think of something to say every day on Twitter and Facebook to keep people interested. Because TRIPWIRE has such a rich history (with 55 back issues to dip into), I’ve been putting up whole classic features in the author’s shed, a place on the Unbound website that you can only access if you pledge on the specific book. I’ve also been plundering my contacts book to get publicity for the book. Having worked as a journalist and a sub editor for fifteen years have proven to be very useful. I have also been writing guest blog posts for people like my friend Stevyn Colgan and genre figures like Christopher Fowler have been kind enough to give the book a plug. The other thing, just like when we did the tenth anniversary book but perhaps moreso, has been the joy of getting images in to run in the book. As of this writing, we have art in from Drew Struzan, Henry Flint, Phil Hale, Walter Simonson, Dave Dorman, Ben Templesmith, Mike Mignola, Frank Quitely,  Roger Langridge, Jon Haward, Chris Weston, Duncan Fegredo, Dave Taylor, Joe Kubert, Mike Perkins and Howard Chaykin. This is an amazing list and one that keeps on growing. I have also come to realise that people don’t check Twitter and Facebook religiously so I have to keep informing them about the book. So here’s some of the images that I have in already. Please feel free to pledge on the book by going to www.unbound.co.uk/books/43 (also until 12th June, there’s £5 off pledges and that includes US residents. All you have to do is get the voucher code from here: http://eepurl.com/mddlX)Hope you enjoy the images…
TRIPWIRE 20th Unbound

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HOUSE OF LIMITED IDEAS?

I went to see Avengers Assemble, as it is called in the UK because the Sixties TV series called The Avengers trumps Lee and Kirby’s creations. Before I begin, I just want to say that Avengers Assemble isn’t a bad film: it rolls along at a decent pace and there are moments that make you smile. But one of the big problems with gathering together half a dozen or so characters on screen means that it is nigh on impossible for any character development or much characterisation. Every review so far has been falling over themselves to declare Avengers Assemble as a movie classic, up there with the best films ever made. Now, Whedon has made a decent fist of bringing Marvel’s franchise movie creations into a single film but there are occasions when Avengers Assemble feels like The Transformers it’s okay to like. Action sequences descend into Michael Bay-style video game artifice very quickly and the mcguffin of the film, Loki bringing alien invaders to Earth to rule it, is a plot so slight that it disappears if you look at it sideways. For anyone reading this review who thinks that I am damning it because I don’t enjoy films of this kind, that is not the case. Branagh’s Thor was a fun superhero movie that offered intelligence and some well-orchestrated action and Favreau’s first Iron Man was a mainstream delight. Downey Jr’s Stark has a few zingers here, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has a few moments that match the best that Thor had to offer and Jeremy Renner looks the part as Hawkeye. But Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow couldn’t be much less wooden if she tried and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/ The Hulk really doesn’t have a great deal to do. Plus, Samuel Jackson’s Fury almost makes you forget that there was a time that he was an actor to contend with. There is no sign of director Joss Whedon’s smarts here and Avengers Assemble really does feel like a toy movie with some decent scenes in it, created by committee. As of writing this, it has had the third biggest opening weekend in UK cinema history so it will clean up at the box office. So Disney/ Marvel must be pleased as must its shareholders but Avengers Assemble is a likeable piece of fluff that goes out of your head almost as soon as you’ve seen it…

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MILITARY IMPRECISION
Marvel had a sizeable hit on their hands earlier this year with another of their second-tier creations making it to the big screen. Thor was a very enjoyable film that managed to distill all that is best about the character while making it work on a big screen. So expectations for Captain America: The First Avenger were reasonably high. Director Joe Johnston seemed well-suited as The Rocketeer (1991) was great, able to bring the 1940s to life with rare style. Unfortunately Jurassic Park 3 (1993), also directed by Johnston, was disappointing, a studio picture by the numbers. Captain America exists mostly as an extended set-up to next summer’s Avengers. It opens with an icy scene set in the Antarctic where a US government operation discovers a strange object embedded in the ice. Flash back to the Second World War and we are introduced to skinny nebbish Steve Rogers, desperate to enrol in the US army but physically they won’t give him a chance. He is always trumped by his mate James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes, who gets to go off to fight for the US while Rogers (starting life as a very skinny Chris Evans) is stuck in the States. But one day Rogers meets German scientist Dr Abraham Erksine (played by Stanley Tucci), who offers him the opportunity to take part in an experimental programme in the US army. So Rogers, seeing his chance at last, jumps at this and so he’s off to train with the other soldiers. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) is his commanding officer and he’s not convinced that Rogers is up to the task. Rogers also meets Peggy Carter (the slightly stilted Hayley Atwell) during his training, a British army officer, who he takes a shine to. He gets the treatment and turns from a weak, having sand thrown in his face to a pumped-up super soldier. But the US army only want to use him for propaganda, performing as Captain America surrounded by dancing girls to keep soldiers’ morale up. When his fellow combatants are kidnapped by evil organisation Hydra, headed by the man who’s too nasty for the Nazis, Johann Schmidt aka The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Rogers decides to disobey orders and go to free the soldiers. The Red Skull is bent on world conquest thanks to unearthing an object of immense mythic power. So Rogers and his team encounter Schmidt and the stage is set for the last act of the film. The film concludes with a scene set in the modern day, which sets things up for the aforementioned Avengers next year. Evans looks pretty good as Captain America but Johnston doesn’t do enough with the Forties setting, making it feel like everything takes place in a bubble away from reality. Weaving makes a very entertaining Red Skull but he doesn’t have loads to work with and Atwell is a little bit too stiff for there to be any real chemistry between her and Evans. Evans also doesn’t have the charisma to be totally credible as a character as likeable as Rogers. Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t a bad film as Johnston, coming from a special effects background, does know how to direct action. But it lacks the characterisation of something like Thor and the plot is weaker. Also because it is a set-up to another film, it smacks of a calculated marketing exercise at times. So there are worse films you could spend two hours watching but it lacks the heart and substance and pulp likability that it needs to engage with the audience…

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FROM BOY WIZARD TO SUPERVILLAIN
I have been to see two films at press screenings over the past two weeks and, while they are two very different movies, I thought I would review them in the same blog post. First up is Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now unfortunately with each Potter film that has been released, they make less and less of an impact on me as a viewer. Harry Potter is one of the few modern film franchises that seems totally impervious to critical response. As I write this, Deathly Hallows Part 1 racked up an opening weekend in the US of $125m and made over £18m just in the UK. So the audience for Potter is so huge around the world that it wouldn’t matter if every critic, every magazine and every newspaper slated it. So I am going to present my thoughts here knowing full well that it won’t make the blindest bit of difference. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1, directed by David Yates and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, adapts the first half of the final Harry Potter novel. School Hogwarts plays no part in this story as villain Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has his firm grip on the magical world and so The Deathly Hallows deals with Harry, Hermione and Ron attempting to avoid his agents while working out a way of foiling the evil magician’s diabolical plans. There are several problems with this film and the most heinous crime it commits here is that there is no concession to anybody who hasn’t lived and breathed Harry Potter for the past decade. Alright, this is the seventh part of a film series but anyone who isn’t conversant with the canon or the characters would not understand or really care if they sat and watched this film. Additionally, the opening sequence, where Moody (Brendan Gleeson) alters the appearances of several of the other characters to look like Potter so that Voldemort’s agents are thrown off the scent, is a nifty idea but one that is thrown away after the first 15 minutes and replaced by what feels like hours of turgid dullness with Harry, Hermione and Ron wandering through the forests and fields of the country, while all of the grand battles and action seems to occur off-camera. Two-and-a-half hours is a long running time for this, especially when a large proportion of this feels like filler and time-wasting. There are a couple of nice scenes, namely the chase at the beginning and the animated sequence where we learn what the title means is visually very impressive. But perhaps the other scenes were more powerful on the printed page but it slows the pacing down significantly. If all of the key plot moments occur in the second half of The Deathly Hallows, then Part 1 cannot work as a film in its own right. If you are a Harry Potter obsessive, then you would have seen this film already and if you are not a fan or interested in the genre, then you won’t see it anyway. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a very frustrating film…
Megamind is the latest animated film from DreamWorks and stars the voice talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt. Megamind takes the Superman story (alien gets rocketed to Earth from a dying planet) and turns it a little bit on its head. Megamind is the lifelong nemesis of square-jawed Metro Man but when he gets his wish and wipes Metro Man out seemingly for good, his life becomes meaningless. So he sets about creating a new superhero adversary for himself but that’s when things start to go wrong. Ferrell as Megamind is extremely good and Pitt ( Metro Man) and Fey (as reporter Roxanne Ritchi) are very talented vocal foils for him. The animation here is fantastic, using 3-D to very impressive effect. The flying sequences are particularly effective but the whole film utilises the format very cannily. Its script is funny and sharp where it needs to be and its mild subversion of superhero and comicbook tropes make it a much cleverer film than you might expect. Its running time of 95 minutes means that it never outstays its welcome and holds your attention throughout. Dreamworks has been one of the only animation houses to truly challenge Pixar’s dominance of the modern market and Megamind is a worthy addition to that canon…