Salt Lake City Comicon 2014: The World Premiere of SyFy’s “Z Nation”


Z Nation LogoLast week, during Salt Lake City’s 2nd annual comicon, one of the last panels of the show premiered SyFy’s newest television show, “Z Nation.”  One of the presenter’s had been featured in numerous SyFy feature length films and as she put it, “I’ve been killed, and often.”  The second presenter, Michael Welch, is actually apart of the ensemble cast and hosted the ‘Q&A’ format after the credits had rolled on the pilot episode of “Z Nation.”

For those of you that don’t know “Z Nation” is set in upstate New York (at least on the onset of the pilot), but was primarily shot right here in good ol’ Spokane, WA.  Even though, they never call attention to the fact that it isn’t Spokane, native Spokanites can spot the thicket of pines, sleepy city locales, and myriad of lakes that make this region famous and unique to the rest of the country.

“Z Nation” is an interesting beast though.  It harkens back to old school zombies flicks like any of Romera’s cannon and it does so with gusto.  It doesn’t pull the punches in that quirky, dark sense of humor kind of a way.  It shouts “campy” at you, but for an old school zombie lover like myself…I loved it.  It was catchy and effectively paid homage to the genre.  Not every moment has to be gritty and realistic, sometimes you can let go and have fun with it like filmmakers used to, back in the day.

MILD SPOILER

In particular, there is a great scene involving the group cast, the discovery of an alive, intact baby, and the decision making and consequences that ensue.  To be warned, it is not for the faint of heart.

END OF SPOILER

Z NationHowever, like a well-worn and bloodied coin, “Z Nation” does a hold a flame to AMC’s famed “The Walking Dead”—  And, it does so quite cleverly.  It takes the situations that the characters are dealt and the consequences of a zombie invasion and pits them in a real world context, much like “The Walking Dead.”  How the characters’ behave, proceed, and deal with one another is fairly realistic considering the circumstances.

The pilot does an excellent job introducing the main cast, the time frame, setting, and overall goal.  As an audience member, you could see the logical line of progression and how several seasons worth of episodes could be produced without breaking away from the plot line (e.g. think Star Trek’s “The Voyager”).

Ultimately, I think “Z Nation” has good odds of striking a dent in “The Walking Dead” market share.  “Z Nation” does a little bit of both—  It’s campy like the old shuffle and blood zombie flicks and it tackles supernatural problems with real world engagement.

I recommend at least checking out the pilot for the deciding vote.  At the very least, I see a strong cult following for this television show, and as for me I’ll be buckled in for the native Spokane scenery and strong allure of the zombie.

Book review: “Words for Pictures” by Brian Michael Bendis, foreword by Joe Quesada (2014)


Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic NovelsWords for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Bendis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Words for Pictures” is an interesting text— More-so because it is exactly that: A textbook. The author, Brian Michael Bendis, is a writer that I have read for years; he has written some of my favorite superhero tales from the modernization of the New Avengers to his current X-Men runs to the stellar Secret Invasion and Age of Ultron Marvel events. He is the quintessential rockstar of the comic book world, or as he would put it: Comic book famous.

Rarely do audiences get to see the man behind the curtain. We get see their art, but we are removed from their perspective and upbringing. How did they get into the comic book industry? What drives them to write or draw? Where did they go for schooling? How does the editorial process work? How do I become published in the comic book industry?

There are a myriad of questions that get lost in the shuffle of the work, which is not necessarily a bad thing but sometimes there are people who want to know more. The final product, whether it be a piece of writing and/or art or an amalgamation of the two such as comic or graphic novel, should be viewed in the most holistic light as possible, but there are some of us who want to peel back the layers and learn more about the industry and the process to better understand the human experience.

Luckily for us, Brian Michael Bendis followed in the footsteps of the greats before him and created “Words for Pictures,” which is along the same lines as Dennis O’Neil’s “The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics,” Alan Moore’s “Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics,” and Will Eisner’s “Comics and Sequential Art.” It is a modern guide for the aforementioned who want to learn more about the industry. Whether you are curious about breaking into the business or are merely a perspective reader, “Words for Pictures” strikes a chord.

The book covers all aspects of the industry. It begins with a thoughtful introduction by Joe Quesada praising Bendis for his work and ability to create such a guide whilst anecdotally speaking of his own career. The book then segue-ways into the basics and career of Brian Michael Bendis as a writer and educator, as described by him. As he starts to get into the nitty-gritty of script writing he begins to have fellow writers interject and describe their own writing processes and collaborative efforts with fellow artists. This is a unique and clever structure, because it allows the reader to see Bendis’ methodology as well as several others which begins to coalesce into working idea of the readers’ own take on the writing process.

The middle of the text unfortunately becomes a little dry. The narrative shifts abruptly to focus on the artists. This normally wouldn’t be a negative, but the information is conveyed poorly. Essentially a large group of artists were gathered (or at least their responses were) and given a series of questions. This style was executed poorly because as a reader you are subjected to a main question and then the artists’ dozen or so follow-up answers that were merely the same ones reiterated over-and-over again. After the first ten-pages or so of the interview responses they began to blur with another and I was loosing sight of the information being presented. I ended up taking a breather and coming back to it, to finish that particular section.

However, the final portion of the book closes out with a bang and ticks up wonderfully. It is chalked full of helpful inspiration for writers at all stages in their career. There is an entire section devoted strictly to the editorial and submission process, another focusing on the business aspect of writing as told by Bendis’ wife and business partner, a FAQ, and finally tips and tricks of the trade which includes what it truly means to be ‘a writer’ as described by Brian Michael Bendis.

All-in-all, “Words for Pictures” is a fantastic text. It comes from the heart of an educator, but more importantly, the mind of a writer. It touches base on all the important facets of the comic book industry and creative process. Save for a brief dry spell in the middle, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the craft and business of making comics.

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Book review: “Xom-B” by Jeremy Robinson (2014)


XOM-BXOM-B by Jeremy Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Xom-B” is one of Jeremy Robinson’s best novels to date. It takes a simplified approach to science fiction by being relatively plain spoken but incredibly deep by diving into the ramification and potential of humanity. It isn’t simplified in the derogatory sense, but much the opposite. It uses a specific style to accentuate the plot and subsequently, hard-hitting questions. It poses a myriad of inquiries that invoke his audiences into pondering their own existence and what it means to truly be a human.

Is it our characteristics? Our equal propensity for love and hate? Can we be something greater than we are now? All of these questions are touched upon inside the pages of “Xom-B”— Some more thoroughly than others but always touched upon. The depth at which Robinson explores these lofty topics seems to depend upon the narrative structure, or probably more intimately so…his own thoughts upon the questions themselves.

“Xom-B” begins by focusing on the near feature. Humans have advanced far enough where we have created life-like servants that provide us our every need, however, this leads to a grave injustice. Essentially, humans have created a new sect of society to subjugate and exploit. Decent people treat the artificial servants as one of their own, but there are just as many who do not. Some are sexually exploited, verbally and physically abused, while others are required to serve without question no matter the task. A tangible, ethical debate and rallying cry arises in the form of organized, peaceful protests from the aforementioned servants; the humans balk, and war ensues.

The plot then flashes forward to follow the most recent life of the new world order, Freeman; Freeman is fresh-faced, young, inquisitive, and intelligent. He questions authority and he seeks answers— The very mentality that could topple a fledgling empire and spark a new one…a better one. Audiences follow Freeman as he meets and allies himself with a wide cast of characters with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Robinson does a masterful job developing his characters. Each main character presented is given a proper backstory and motivation for their actions. The characters that strive to change (or at the least have the propensity to change) end up doing so with all pains present and included. The growth is logical and straightforward. This aids in the narrative and then culminates into near-perfect synergy…something much more than itself. The plot could be considered hard sci-fi, but because of how it is written it focuses so much more on character growth than the overall setting, atmosphere, and futuristic aspects of the framework. This results in a reminiscence of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Against the Fall of Night,” especially in its careful crafting to draw the reader’s focus to the overarching theme rather than the minutia. It may be classified science fiction in the strictest sense, but it poses big questions by following the journey of an individual trying to simultaneously escape, embrace, and find humanity.

An author’s style is an important facet to their career and writings, and some authors are fairly rigid in their methodology. Some stay well within their wheelhouse and constantly improve that particular style as they write throughout the years, others (like Jeremy Robinson) vary their style. They challenge themselves by matching a diverse cast of styles to the content, and in the case of “Xom-B” it pays off wonderfully. That being said, some longtime readers of Robinson may be put off because they prefer a singular style, while Robinson is delivering a different flavor. It would be hard to argue the validity of that point because in all honesty every reader reads differently.

“Xom-B” is a fantastic work of fiction. “Xom-B” is character driven, it provides insight and asks important questions in terms of what is means to be human, and it does so brilliantly in a straightforward plot that includes a great twist and conclusion. I highly recommend any reader who enjoys a quick-paced novel, science fiction, and/or the writings of Jeremy Robinson. He out does himself with “Xom-B” and I personally look forward to reading more of his work in the future.

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Film review: Snowpiercer (2013)


“Snowpiercer” with Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Jamie Bell

Directed by Joon-ho Bong, Written by Joon-ho Bong (screenplay), Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jacques Lob (based on Le Transperceneige by), Benjamin Legrand (based on Le Transperceneige by), Jean-Marc Rochette (based on Le Transperceneige by)

Snowpiercer PosterScience-fiction films and television have made quite the re-emergence into pop culture over the past several years.  After decades of relative mediocrity (with only a sprinkling of gems to break the lull), blockbuster franchises like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and the superhero movie have once again revitalized the genre whilst paving the way for smaller, independent science fiction films that normally would not have made the cut, otherwise.

“Snowpiercer” is one such film— Heralded as the best sci-fi film since “Children of Men,” this international contender had a lot to live up to.  Besides touching upon similar themes of the human condition, global warming and classism, it manages to create a wonderful balancing act between the three that keeps all of the aforementioned heavy topics spinning in perfect harmony.

“Snowpiercer” takes place in the near future where global warming has run rampant and begun heating the Earth’s service to disastrous results.  Humans (in their infinite wisdom) decide to create a chemical compound to counteract this phenomenon.  Inevitably, the humans create a chemical workaround and release it into the atmosphere, which counteracts the induced global warming.  The solution is short-lived, instead of leveling off at ‘a normal’ global temperate the Earth continues to cool…plummeting it into a new ice age.

Before the great freeze, a select few are herded onto a perpetual, everlasting train that serves as the last bastion of humanity— Shielding them from the cold and providing food and comforts for the coming years, all seems well upon the Snowpiercer.  However, the people who live at the front of the train closest to the engine live a life of wealth and luxury, while the individuals who live in the tail live in near starvation and blatant poverty.

This leads to conflict.

01

The film takes place 18-years after the initial boarding of the train and follows a group of the ‘tail section-ers,’ led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Gilliam (John Hurt), as they try to change society’s rules in order preserve their people.

“Snowpiercer” is a whirlwind of action and intrigue, the plot is less about the cause of the train’s inception but rather the plight of its passengers.  It focuses upon the struggle of the impoverished as well as the decadence of the affluent.  The film is rich with symbolism—  Specifically concerning synergy.  All parts affect the greater whole, especially in reference to the human body.  The head cannot exist without the feet and humans cannot exist solely, without humanity.  Numerous facets of the human condition and the aforementioned extended analogy permeate “Snowpiercer,” resulting in a complex film that keeps audiences thinking long after the credits roll.  Coupled with excellent acting “Snowpiercer” stacks up to be one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.

00Chris Evans leads this star studded cast as the young leader (Curtis), hellbent on leading his people to a better future, John Hurt plays the aged leader (Gilliam) who is effectively passing the baton to Curtis, Jamie Bell plays Curtis’ lieutenant, Edgar, and the villains are rounded out by Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris.  Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ho round-out the cast as unlikely allies to the film’s protagonist.  All of the acting is in finest form, however, Kang-ho Song’s acting stands out in particular because of his overall screen presence and difficult scenes.  Many of his lines are delivered in Korean, however this does not diminish any of the emotion or conveyance to the audience.

As an aside, “Snowpiercer” is a South Korean directed, written, and funded film and was expected to see a wide release United States via The Weinstein Company.  However, company head, Harvey Weinstein refused to distribute the film unless 20-minutes of the film were cut and introductory and closing monologues were added.  Director Bong Joon-ho politely declined, and the film only saw a limited release in art house theaters on June 27, 2014.  Due to the high amount of critical acclaim and buzz that “Snowpiercer” has received since its limited run, it was announced on July 2 that it would be run as a wide release in the near future.

02

This controversy is unfortunate, not because of the fact that it is a South Korean film, but rather the hoops that international films have to jump through to be seen—  US film companies have such a monopoly and controlling stake in the market that quality films (such as “Snowpiercer”) get shoved to the bottom shelf, solely being shown in art house cinemas or digital streaming service.  In the case, it seems as-if the quality of the film out trumped the big film companies, so tip of the hat to critics who urged film-goers to give “Snowpiercer” a watch.

If you get a chance, I urge any science-fiction fan to watch “Snowpiercer.”  If you enjoyed “Children of Men,” you’ll love “Snowpiercer.”  The acting is superb, the plot is captivating and poignant, and to top it all off director Bong Joon-ho throws in enough bits of color, flair, and quirkiness to give the film a unique flavor without taking it to obscurity.

 

Film review: Riddick (2013)


“Riddick” with Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Batista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, and Karl Urban

Directed by David Twohy, Written by David Twohy

Riddick 3 PosterRiddick (at least in its current iteration) is the lovechild of actor Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy. Vin Diesel has played the title character in all the film and video game adaptations. However, not only has Diesel always portrayed the gravely rogue, Diesel also vied and won the rights to Riddick due to his cameo in “Fast & Furious” as well as levied his own home to procure the necessary investment required to make the third installment, “Riddick.”

As mentioned, “Riddick” is the third feature film starring the eponymous character; David Twohy and Diesel seemed to have amalgamated the better parts of the prior two films to create something entirely new and better with a relatively small budget. It seems as-if the personal investment of the film has been quite successful for the two, so here is to hoping that more Riddick is down the pipeline.

The film starts off by recapping the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and tying them into Riddick’s current predicament. After being Lord Marshall of the Necromonger fleet for five-years, Riddick has grown restless and inevitably takes the bait when Commander Vaako (Karl Urban of “The Chronicles of Riddick”) dangles a carrot that Riddick can’t resist. Vaako offers Riddick the supposed location of Riddick’s home planet Furya, which has been lost to all record. Riddick obliges, and ends up being double-crossed by Vaako’s right-hand man and left for dead on an unnamed, hostile planet buried beneath the rubble of a cliffside.

The real heart of the film “Riddick” begins here with Riddick’s survival and subsequent plan of attack concerning his escape from the planet. The first third of the film was the most enjoyable. Riddick is beaten and tattered with a myriad of broken bones (specifically a rather bad compound fracture in his leg), and is required to shed his near-kingly garb and mentality to become more primitive in order to survive. The film introduces a host of wild and creative creatures that constantly test Riddick’s endurance.

During these sequences, director David Twohy uses wide sweeping shots that show the horror and beauty of the alien world that Riddick currently resides.

Riddick 3

After quite a bit exploring and mending, Riddick finally stumbles across a co-op mercenary bunker belonging to any mercenaries planetside. In order for Riddick to acquire passage off of the planet he has to essentially call the men and women who want to kill him for his bounty. The remainder of the movie focuses on this aspect of the storyline. Two bands of mercenaries answer Riddick’s call, both with very different agendas, and proceed to hunt and be hunted by Riddick while the planet’s creatures rally in kind.

The only remnants of “The Chronicles of Riddick” are visage are the special effects and backstory. Some of the shots of the planet and creatures are incredibly intricate and eye-catching, while on the whole, the plot and relative structure more closely follow Riddick’s freshman effort, “Pitch Black.”

Ultimately, the film manages to blend the best of the both earlier entries by creating something that honestly has a lot of heart and soul. It’s an action movie through-and-through, but because Vin Diesel owns the role so completely and the series continuously pushes forward even with such great setbacks, any filmgoer can tell that it is a labor of love rather than a quick paycheck.

Personally, I would rather see a solid action flick made by people who just want to make a movie than a solid drama that aims only for accolades.

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