Persia Blues: spotlighted by the British Council website

I recently ran across the website of British Council Iran, which describes itself as such:

“The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work in three key areas: Arts, English and Education and Society…Art continues to flourish in Iran, with a strong two-way appreciation and profound interest between UK and Iranian artists. We facilitate platforms for the manifestation of this shared interest through promoting understanding of the different arts sectors in both countries…”

In an article titled Images & Words: Weaving Together a World of Iranian Stories, writer Homa Naraghi (no relation, as far as I know) recounts her experience with the graphic novel (and subsequently, the animated movie) Persepolis. She goes on to say:

“No other graphic novel about Iran has been as widely talked about as Persepolis, but there are a few others out there using the opportunities offered by the genre that are worth taking a look at here:”

Among the graphic novels she names are some truly great reads, including my personal favorite Zahra’s Paradise. And she also kindly includes my humble GN, Persia Blues.

“Persia Blues (Vol I & II) Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman. The books take us along on the adventures of its character Minoo as she lives life in three worlds: the mythical and fantastical world that brings together elements of ancient Persia with those of the U.S., the modern day Iran, and the modern day Ohio, U.S. The book won the 2014 SPACE (Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo) prize for best graphic novel and was nominated for two other awards in 2014.”

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It’s a thrill to be listed alongside so many great graphic novels created by the Iranian Diaspora.

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    Talking Persia Blues and more on the Comics Alternative podcast

    Derek Royal from the The Comics Alternative podcast conducts an insightful and lengthy interview with yours truly and artist Brent Bowman about Persia Blues vol. 2.

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    We discuss everything from our collaborative process, to representations of Iranians in the media, writing a female protagonist, the Ohio State University campus, and much more. Click the link above to listen to our talk, and be sure to check out all the other great interviews and reviews at The Comics Alternative.

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      Talking Persia Blues and more on the PVDcast podcast

      Have you ever wondered how the writers and artists of the books you read sound like? Of course not. But that didn’t stop us from sitting down with John Orlando for his PVDcast podcast!

      Brent Bowman and I talk about Persia Blues vol. 2, our process for collaborating together, sources of inspiration, what took so long on my part to complete the script for the second book, and much more.

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      Head on over to the home of the PVDcast to hear our episode.

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      “I’m joined on this edition of the PVDcast by the creative team behind Persia Blues Vol. 2: Love & War. Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman are the two guys responsible for this critically acclaimed graphic novel. (You may recall that Dara joined me back on episode 17 to discuss the first installment of Persia Blues). We talk about their creative collaboration, their influences, their relationship with publisher, NBM and many other topics. A must listen for any aspiring creative people!”

      And while you’re there, be sure to check out John’s archive of great interviews with creative types of all sorts, from writers and artists to wrestlers and movie critics.

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        Review: Jupiter Ascending

        Napoleon Dynamite: This is pretty much the worst video ever made.
        Kip: Napoleon, like anyone can even know that.

        With that quote to set the tone, let me say that Jupiter Ascending is pretty much the worst movie ever made.

        jupiter_ascending_movie_poster_2

        OK, OK, clearly it’s not the worst. There are a ton of other terrible movies out there, many way worse than this one. But here’s the thing: when you have experienced film makers with near complete creative control over the movie (The Wachowskis wrote, directed, and produced this thing), big name actors, and a massive $175 MILLION budget, I’m less forgiving when confronted with such a hot mess. It would be one thing if this was a low-budget Asylum “mockbuster,” or made by some flash-in-the-pan YouTube celebrity of the month, but come on!

        But since I’m too lazy to write out a proper critique (and honestly, this movie just doesn’t rate such expenditure of energy), I’d like to present my review in the same disorganized spirit as this messy, incoherent, choppy movie.

        The short version is that Jupiter Ascending falls way short of the mark at every. single. discipline. of film making: plot, script, dialogue, acting, direction, character design, special effects, makeup, pacing/editing, fight choreography, etc. ad infinitum.

        Classic science fiction franchises like Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and yes, even the Matrix trilogy, have imbedded themselves in the fabric of popular culture for many reasons, but certainly one of the strongest factors is a clear and coherent design aesthetic to their worlds. You can look at space ship or costume or a monster and instantly place it within its respective universe. It’s what separates them from other franchises which may be entertaining and well liked, but are relegated to the “mid-list” echelon, like Stargate or the Riddick films. Even the 2013 Tom Cruise film Oblivion, financially successful, yet ultimately forgettable, displayed a very cohesive design palette in its approach to technology, architecture, and vehicles.

        At least Oblivion tried.

        At least Oblivion tried.

        By Contrast, Jupiter Ascending’s visual look is an overblown, hodge-podge, derivative mess. Sure, the multimillion dollar budget is on full display, but with all the class of a recent lottery winner upgrading from their trailer home to the gaudiest Beverly Hills mansion imaginable. Every video game spaceship design you’ve ever seen, every generic science fiction book cover depicting a futuristic metropolis ever painted, is chopped, dissected, and pasted into this movie. The Verge puts is perfectly: “none of it may be particularly original, but it’s a wonderful screensaver of a movie.”

        Similarly, the action sequences are overblown, too-long, and in perhaps the worst sin of all, are too blurry and choppy to actually see what’s happening. Remember the gorgeous slow-mo fight scenes in The Matrix? Yeah, these are the exact opposite of those. There’s a 10 minute flying chase scene between the skyscrapers of Chicago where you pretty much can’t tell what the hell is happening, other than some things are flying fast and some other things are shooting lasers. Pew. Pew.

        Channing Tatum:

        Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Soldier

        There’s no rhyme or reason to any of the artistic decisions made in the making of this film. The space cops have random pits of plastic-y looking “tech” literally glued to their faces. Because futuristic, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop, but he also has his DNA spliced with that of “something like a wolf.” Because Wolverine, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop with wolf DNA, but he also has a brand on his neck. Because slavery is bad, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop with wolf DNA and a brand, but he also used to have wings, except they they were cut off his back. Because X-Men reference, I guess?

        Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Speed Skater

        Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Back-To-The-Future Hover Speed Skater

        Eddie Redmayne’s nails-on-a-chalkboard, incomprehensible gravely whisper makes Bane’s mumbling in The Dark Knight Rises sound like The King’s Speech. Sean bean has a daughter, who leaves to get supplies and coughs suspiciously, as though sick, worrying her father. What was that all about? Who knows, because we never see her again! Mila Kunis is going to sell her eggs at a fertility clinic so her cousin can use the money to…I don’t even know what, buy an XBox, I think? It’s just one of dozens of unnecessary plot threads introduced and abandoned.

        For the love of all that's holy, Eddie, just speak in a normal voice.

        For the love of all that’s holy, Eddie, just speak in a normal voice.

        The plot is needlessly convoluted. The basic premise of humans as essentially cattle in a vast intergalactic corporations holdings is pretty solid. But then the Wachowskis go and throw a half dozen other half-baked and non-relevant ideas into the mix, which not only don’t add anything to the movie, but make it overly long. Bees were genetically bred to recognize space queens. WTF? Why? Who cares, because it’s irrelevant to the story.

        There are at least 15 scenes in this movie where Mila Kunis s falling off of something. No lie.

        There are at least 15 scenes in this movie where Mila Kunis s falling off of something. No lie.

        The dialogue is atrocious. There’s a particularly cringe-worthy scene where Mila Kunis professes her attraction to Space Elf Emo Goth Soldier through some metaphor about her compass needle always pointing towards the wrong guy, or some such crap, along the lines of that terrible poetry you tried to write in junior high. I’m telling you, that scene will make you squirm in your seat, embarrassed for everyone involved in making it, even the innocent gaffer or key grip.

        Sean Bean is an apiarist (beekeeper). His name is Stinger Apini!!!

        There’s an elephant-headed alien co-pilot. His name is Nesh. (Nesh! Get it?!)

        I could go on and on, but what’s the point.

        Deadspin summarizes it succinctly with “It’s just a sad, lonely trip to nowhere.”

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          Review: Vengeance and 22 Bullets

          (Warning: minor spoilers)

          Every once in a while I’m in the mood for a good revenge movie.

          It’s a a tried-and-true genre, popular across all media, from films to books to comics (The Punisher, anyone?) Unfortunately, it can also be a fairly limiting concept which dictates certain storytelling tropes and cliches, leaving little wriggle room for creativity. That’s why for a revenge story to really capture my attention, it either needs a special element that transcends the basic plot, or has just the right blend of acting, characterization, and visuals that the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts.

          Here are a couple of movies that fulfill those requirements, one in each category:

          Vengeance

          Vengeance_(2009_film)

          This 2009 Hong Kong/French co-production is directed by Johnnie To, and stars Johnny Hallyday as a Francis, a retired hitman. When his daughter is severely wounded and her family murdered by 3 hit men, he decides to track down the killers and seek revenge. He enlists the help of 3 triad assassins and together they set out to track down the other 3 hitmen. However, as the story progresses, we learn that Francis has a an injury that affects his memory. He sometimes is unable to recognize his own partners in crime, let alone the killers they are tracking down. Another plot revelation about his partners further adds to the complexity of the narrative.

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          The film features a lot of the stylistic touches you’d expect from a Hong Kong crime flick, although here they are a bit more subdued, to match the film’s somber tone. This isn’t an all-out action shoot up, but rather a slow simmer. Themes of violence, loyalty, and memory are explored, and it’s the latter that sets this film apart from the many others in its genre.

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          After all, what does it even mean for a man to avenge a wrong if he doesn’t remember why he is doing it?

          22 Bullets

          22 Bullets

          Titled L’immortel (The Immortal) in its original 2010 French release, this film is another “hitman goes on a campaign of vengeance” story. It’s directed by Richard Berry and stars the ubiquitous and likeable Jean Reno, who has made a career of playing tortured hitmen.

          22

          Reno plays Charlie Mattei, a former mob boss and hitman who has retired from the life, having sold his share of the various illegal businesses and rackets to his two childhood friends and partners. But his idyllic life of retirement with his wife and kids is torn apart when he’s ambushed by 8 gunmen and left for dead with 22 bullets riddling his body.

          Gangster's House: Left standing (Luc Palun as Pascal Vasetto)  Back sitting (Dominique Thomas as Ange Palardo) Right/white shirt (Daniel Lundh as Male Telaa) Far Right (Martial Bezot as Franck Rabou)

          Yes, you guessed it. Miraculously, Charlie survives his horrendous injuries, and goes about the bloody business of retribution. All the familiar themes are present once more: family, loyalty, violence, revenge. Unlike the movie Vengeance, there’s no special plot twist that sets this movie apart from its peers. Rather, it tells its conventional story with a confident mix of great acting, interesting characters, interconnected subplots, and strong visuals.

          Where Vengeance is fairly spare in its cast of characters, 22 Bullets is brimming with mob bosses, flamboyant henchmen, a stoic cop torn between her ethics and her own desire for revenge, and more. It unveils its hand with a slow, steady pace that carries your interest forward with the same momentum that carries the characters towards their inevitable clashes. Reno delivers a strong, nuanced performance, as you’d expect. The setting of Marseille provides some fantastic scenery, from tranquil beaches to grimy slums.

          Simply put, it’s just a good story told boldly.

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            Review: Crawl or Die

            Another movie I watched on a whim, this time on Hulu Plus. Crawl or Die is a horror/sci-fi movie about…well, here’s the brief plot summary from Hulu:

            A deadly virus has rendered all women infertile, all but one. Forced underground, the elite soldiers tasked with bringing this woman to safety find themselves crawling for survival from a bloodthirsty creature in a maze of ever shrinking tunnels.

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            What piqued my interest was the “maze of ever shrinking tunnels” part. It sounded like an intriguing premise, and a chance for some very cool, and different, visuals. And on that point, the movie delivered. Did it ever. Several pull quotes describe it as “the most claustrophobic movie ever made,” and that is no exaggeration. In fact, if you’re even mildly claustrophobic, you probably won’t be able to make it through this film. The first metal tube the characters have to crawl through at the beginning of the movie is oppressive enough that I was thinking to myself just how far will they be able to push this “ever shrinking tunnels” conceit?

            As it turns out, a lot.

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            By the end of the movie, our tough-as-nails, punk-haired, elite soldier Tank (played by Nicole Alonso) is practically buried in a dirt shaft smaller than her torso, forced to push and shove her way through sheer will power. I actually felt bad for the actors, because you can’t help but think how physically and psychologically grueling of a shoot this must have been. You will feel your chest tighten, your breathing become labored, while watching this thing.

            Unfortunately, that’s all the movie has going for it. It’s literally an hour and a half of people crawling through tunnels.

            6plain

            It’s a one-trick pony.

            All the stuff about “last fertile woman in the world” and colonizing “Earth 2” in the couple minute flashback scene setting up the movie’s narrative is just a cheap setup. A MacGuffin. There’s no payoff on any of the sci-fi elements hinted at, no character development, no world building, no explanations whatsoever for the existence of the tunnels, the alien creature hunting them, etc.

            2plain

            Which brings up the second area of disappointment in the filmmakers: the complete and utter lack of originality in the creature design. Here was a chance for a cool, creepy alien evolved specifically for crawling through narrow spaces. They could have taken design queues from various burrowing insects or animals. Instead, we get a direct H.R. Giger Alien rip-off, complete with an eyeless, elongated head, segmented tail, black in color, dripping ooze, etc.

            4plain

            There’s not much to say about the acting, since there’s not much of it. I did like the casting choice for the lead character, Tank. Nicole Alonso isn’t your typical Hollywood waif. She actually has some muscle definition and a (somewhat) more realistic body type, making her more believable as a bad-ass soldier. She also carries the attitude well, and even manages to show some vulnerability in a few scenes.

            alonso

            Writer/Director/Editor Oklahoma Ward has definitely crafted a unique film, unlike 99% of the indie horror flicks out there. Too bad it’s so incredibly light on plot and character, relying solely on a single visual motif to carry the entire film.

            Which, you know, could entirely be your cup of tea, but personally I found it boring as hell once the novelty wore off.

            Anyway, here’s the movie’s official website.

            And here’s the trailer:

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              Review: Arkham Asylum, 25 years later

              25 years ago, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel came out. It was a huge hit. I bought it. I read it. I remember liking it a lot; the seriousness of the narrative, the dark atmosphere of the story, the moody art. Last week, I decided to re-read it, after all that time.

              Arkham-Asylum-cover-333x500

              And I pretty much hated it.

              Well, ok, maybe hate is too strong a word. I disliked it.

              I was alternately angry or bored with the story. I found it to be a pretentious piece of wankery, disguised as a “serious” work. Maybe it’s because these days, despite my love of his Doom Patrol, I can’t stand most of Morrison’s superhero work. I don’t know. What I do know, is that I found no joy or awe or fulfillment in the story, other than a respect for the mechanics of the script (the overlayed narrative bits were done well).

              arkhamasylum2

              I disliked the heavy-handed religious symbolism, the pompous psychobabble, the casual use of sexual violence as plot point. I disliked the portrayal of a young Bruce Wayne being chided by his parents for being a “crybaby.” I disliked a Batman who casually grunts “He got what he deserved” when a psychiatrist is forced to slash a villain’s throat.

              I disliked the whole reading experience.

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              And even as I type all of this, I know that there’s a lot of intelligence and depth to Morrison’s story. That it wasn’t just a money grab hacked out by a clueless writer over a weekend. And yet, I still can’t help but feel the way I do about this book.

              The only thing that I did like, was McKean’s art. Which is interesting in it’s own right, because I’m actually not a huge fan of the artist’s work in general, especially in his later career. His moody photo manipulations and pseudo-abstract collages (as exemplified by his Sandman covers) don’t really do anything for me. But in this book, he mainly sticks to paintings, and they’re gorgeous.

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              They’re scratchy and ghostly, subdued and bombastic, monochrome and color burst. McKean switches with ease between large, open pages with a few floating panels, to dense 12-panel grids. He incorporates bits and pieces of mixed-media, enough to make the whole more rich and textured, but not so much to detract from the storytelling. In short, his art makes the book look, and more importantly, feel serious and important, regardless of how you may feel about the narrative.

              mckeanarkham

              So, I’ll keep the book on my bookshelf. I’ll look through it every once in a while for the beautiful artwork. But I’m done reading it.

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                Review: Chiaroscuro

                (Originally posted on my Ferret Press blog, February 2011)

                Chiaroscuro_CoverFront

                Back when IDW published my Lifelike book, they also collected and published two other indie/alternative comics: Pat Lewis’ The Claws Come Out, and Troy Little’s Chiaroscuro. (You may know Troy’s work from his more recent graphic novel, Angora Napkin.) Chiaroscuro started out as a self-published small press comics series, and follows the life of Steve Patch, an unemployed slacker artist living in a mysterious apartment building, and getting embroiled in a case of mistaken identity.

                I really wanted to like this graphic novel, and it’s certainly not bad, but…well, maybe frustrating is a proper description. From a story/plot perspective, not much happens over the 200+ pages of this pseudo-slice of life book. A lot of interesting and intriguing plot points are introduced, to be sure – a ghost only seen by the protagonist, the (possibly) haunted/mysterious apartment building he lives in, strange men accosting him over letters sent to a mysterious person who used to live in his apartment, etc. But the problem is, nothing ever comes of any of these elements.

                Heck, in the middle of the book, an entire issue (chapter) is devoted to the protagonist playing hoops with his best friend and shooting the breeze. So again, it’s not that the writing is bad. Little has a great ear for dialogue, and the banter between Steve and his friends is very authentic and funny. But for such an apparently ambitious narrative, the pace is glacial and the non-ending extremely unsatisfying. Granted, this is listed as “Book 1″ but it’s fairly obvious the series is not going to be continued.

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                On the other hand, Little’s the artwork is gorgeous. The somewhat cartoony style used to depict the characters is juxtaposed against a very realistic chiaroscuro style used to depict the backgrounds and settings. Think Dave Sim (Cerebus) or Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison). In fact, looking at the way Little hand letters everything, and the fact that Sim has had good words to say about the book, it’s no stretch to imagine he is more than a little inspired, and influenced, by Dave Sim. Little is a master of crosshatching, and does amazing things with body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

                chiaroscuro2

                Too bad the narrative was almost non-existent. It’s a matter of personal taste, to be sure, but for me story always comes first. Perhaps if Chiaroscuro was played as a straight slice-of-life yarn, that wouldn’t have been an issue. But with so many quirky/supernatural plot points introduced but never delivered on, it’s more than a little frustrating.

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                  Review: London’s Dark

                  This graphic novel, originally published by Titan Books in 1989, features some of writer James Robinson’s earliest work (who went on to fame on DC’s Starman series, and some would same infamy on the more recent Justice league: Cry for Justice mini-series). The black & white art is provided by fellow Englishman Paul Johnson.

                  Londons_Dark

                  Set in London in 1940, this World War II story is a nice mix of war, romance, and the supernatural. Jack Brookes is a patriot denied entry into the army due to a bad heart, so he does what he can on the home front as an air-raid warden, enforcing blackouts. Circumstances bring him into contact with the beautiful Sophie, a psychic/medium, and the two are soon embroiled in a murder that exposes the profitable black markets of the war-torn city.

                  The storytelling is tight and confident, and experiments with different narrative devices such as multiple voices, flashbacks, and prose interludes. I felt that Robinson captured the bleak uncertainty of life during wartime quite well, while writing a story that’s ultimately optimistic (no small feat).

                  The black & white art is equally experimental, using techniques ranging from photo collages to expressive brushwork, but is really difficult to follow in some places. For example, telling the different antagonists apart was a problem, and some panels are just so dark and cluttered that following the action is somewhat of a chore (sorry, I can’t get a good scan of the interior pages without breaking the binding on the book). Johnson’s later fully-painted color work in series such as The Books of Magic and Interface are amongst my favorites, but here I get the feeling he was still coming into his own. He does a good job with setting the right tone and mood for the story, though.

                  Still, a good read overall, and quite a nice little departure from most of the books out on the stands now. It’s always fun to see the early work of obviously talented creators.

                  (A version of this review appeared on my old Ferret Press blog, February 2011)

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                    Review: Curse of the Dragon Slayer (movie)

                    Back in the day, Young Dara loved anything and everything fantasy. That meant playing D&D with my friends, reading Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser, and watching any straight-to-video fantasy movie my friend and I could rent from Blockbuster. Of course, in those days, fantasy movies were pretty much uniformly derivative, cliched crap with terrible acting and worse special effects.

                    These days, that hasn’t changed much, unless you have Lord of the Rings budget, which pretty much no other fantasy movie does, especially not an indie one. Indie horror movies are a dime a dozen, because they’re cheap to make. All you need are some torn thrift store clothes, a few gallons of corn syrup, and red food coloring. Fantasy movies, on the other hand, require costumes and weapons and armor and horses and castles and fight choreography and special effects. So while I no longer have the interest or patience to watch any ol’ sword & sorcery flick, every once I do yearn for a visit to the fantasy realms I loved so much as a kid.

                    CurseoftheDragonSlayer

                    Which brings us to this impulse watch on Netflix.

                    For starters, I’m not really sure what the official title of this 2013 movie is. On Netflix (where I watched it) it’s called Curse of the Dragon Slayer. On IMDB, it’s cataloged as SAGA: Curse of the Shadow. And on Kickstarter, where the filmmakers were looking to raise $20K (they ended up with over $33K) to “finish up an epic visual effects sequence” after the movie had already been finished, it was called The Shadow Cabal.

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                    Oddly enough, my biggest gripe is actually with the movie’s title, given a distinct lack of dragons, or any plot point having to do with dragons or dragon slaying. I’m not quite sure what the filmmakers were thinking. But identity crisis aside, this turned out to be a halfway decent fantasy action flick. Not great, but much better than you’d expect from a low-budget, independently produced fantasy film. Certainly much better than any dreck that would come out of the Asylum studios.

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                    The plot itself isn’t anything you haven’t heard a hundred times before, about a secret group called the Shadow Cabal trying to bring Goth Azul, the god of death, back to the mortal realm. Standing in their way is a rag tag team of 3 adventurers, each with their own agenda, working together uneasily. You have Nemyt, an elf bounty hunter who’s been cursed by the Shadow. Keltus the Wanderer, a paladin in service of “The Prophetess,” and Kullimon the Black, and orc who has lost control of his war party to another orc under the influence of the Shadow.

                    Nemyt, Keltus, and Kullimon the Black

                    Nemyt, Keltus, and Kullimon the Black

                    Also, for no reason at all, there are a couple of scenes with a steampunk dwarf who uses muskets and blunderbusses. But we won’t concern ourselves with that.

                    curseofdragonslayer4

                    Honestly, where the movie exceeds, and overcomes, it’s obviously limited budget, is in its location scouting, cinematography, and costuming. The filmmakers found some truly beautiful outdoor settings to put their characters in. Magnificent vistas, gorgeous deserts, claustrophobic forests, etc. There are quite a few beautifully framed shots, utilizing nature to its fullest effect. And I found the costumes to be quite well done, as well. There’s a flourish to several of the pieces that transcends your typical medieval-ish looking clothing and armor. You can tell they put a lot of thought into it. If they had spent as much effort on the script itself, this could have been a really solid movie.

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                    The acting was fair to good. Paul D. Hunt, the actor portraying the orc Kullimon, had the standout performance. He managed to infuse humor and introspection into a character that could have easily just been another dumb brute. Richard McWilliams (Keltus) brought a certain zen-like calmness that worked well for his character, and Danielle Chuchran (Nemyt) did a servicable job as the fiesty, fiery bounty hunter, although the character’s propensity for spitting in anger every 5 minutes was somewhat annoying.

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                    By the way, the $33K they raised via Kickstarter for the final battle sequence produced a CG monster only mildly better than a video game cut scene, but I’m pretty sure you’d need a much bigger budget for truly epic VFX.

                    Watching the movie, I got the feeling that the creators were really fans of the fantasy genre and were trying to do a good job at making a movie fellow fans could enjoy. I didn’t see the kind of cynical, half-assed effort that goes into other low budget flicks trying to cash in on the popularity of Game of Thrones or LoTR, so kudos to them. It’s not a great movie, but it is entertaining, with some great eye candy in the form of costumes and settings, and if you’re a fantasy buff you’ll probably enjoy it.

                    Here’s the trailer:

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                      Review: Gotham, ep. 1

                      So, Gotham…

                      When they first announced the series, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. What’s the point of a Batman show without Batman, you know? But in the time leading up to tonight’s premiere, I liked what I was seeing in terms of the cast, the tone, the direction. I didn’t have high hopes for it, but given my love of the source material, I was definitely…curious.

                      gotham

                      So what’s the short verdict? Well, based on the first episode, I have to say that I liked what I saw. I’m definitely in for the full season, provided the show survives the ratings game.

                      I originally thought that going with a straight-up adaptation of the Gotham Central series would have made for a more interesting show. But given that Warner Brothers would never have allowed Batman to appear in such a TV show, the producers definitely did the right thing by focusing on a prequel of sorts.

                      Having a young Detective James Gordon as the focal protagonist was a good move. He’s principled, headstrong, and tenacious; an easy hero figure to relate to amidst the moral ambiguity of a merciless metropolis. Having him partnered up with Bullock, an amoral, opportunistic, tortured anti-hero was also smart. I can see a great dynamic developing between the two characters, as they play off each other. In re-imagining the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents as part of a larger conspiracy, the show has a nice mystery at its core, around which the various characters can come into conflict with each other.

                      Fish Mooney, the ambitious crime boss played with great verve by Jada Pinkett Smith, was definitely one of the pleasant surprises of the show. I was worried there would be the temptation to have her play an over-the-top type of villain, but I think Smith struck a nice balance between realism and comic book villainy.

                      gotham-jada-pinkett-smith

                      As for the other, better-known inhabitants of the Batman mythos (Catwoman, Poison Ivy, The Riddler), we only saw small glimpses, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they interact more with the ongoing story. In particular, I liked recasting The Riddler’s alter ego, Edward Nygma, as a police forensics scientist. Nice touch. And of course, there was the perfect casting of Robin Taylor in the role of The Penguin. I thought he struck the right kind of balance between sadistic thug and powerless victim. The bit with the broken leg was a nice touch, bringing in that body horror aspect of the character.

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                      The writing was good, though not without some rough spots. The Gordon/Penguin scene at the end was very predictable, for example. But then again, every show, even the best ones, tend to have an uneven first few episodes, while the creators, cast, and crew are still trying to figure out the exact nature of their beast. But I think Gotham is off to a decent start, which isn’t exactly high praise, but it’s much better than what I thought FOX was going to deliver.

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