Ghostbusters (2016) – A Movie Review

If you have a chance to make it to the theater to see this, I recommend you do.

I loved the original Ghostbusters.  I still remember sitting in the theater as a little kid, being a little more afraid than I expected, and laughing  at those jokes I actually understood.  (As an adult, I realize now there was quite a bit of humor that went over my head.)

When I heard they were introducing a new cast with some of the funniest ladies in the business, I got really excited.   I mean, who doesn’t want a Ghostbusters with today’s special effects?  And in an era of reboots and reimaginings, I appreciated that they were introducing a completely new element by featuring female leads.  Best of all, yes, these ladies are Ghostbusters, but they are totally independent characters from the original.  There is no legacy here, it’s a fresh start.  Of course, certain elements we love must remain, which they do, but they also followed their own path to a large degree.

I guess I shouldn’t say there is no legacy at all, though.  I won’t spoil anything, but there are cameos galore, and every one of them is satisfying.  (Oh, and stay through the credits.  There’s a certain mention you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re a fan of the original movie.)

In fact, that’s how I would describe this iteration of Ghostbusters.  It’s satisfying.  I laughed through the whole thing, as did my wife.  It didn’t blow us away, but it was a fun date movie with plenty of laughs.   Speaking of laughs, Chris Hemsworth played the dimwitted secretary, and he showed his comedic talent as well.  In fact, no spoilers here, but his role ended up being much bigger than anticipated.

I’ll admit that parts of the movie felt a little disconnected – there were moments it seemed to be a series of comedic skits.  And while they attempted a cohesive story, it never quite achieved connectivity throughout.  But, let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone shot for too much depth with this story line.  Let’s not make it more than it needed to be.

However, it did need to look great, and the special effects were a treat.  The director, Paul Feig, is not an action movie guy, but he actually had far more adventure and effects than I guessed he would.  The proton packs were fantastic, the ghosts looked amazing, and the scale of the movie proved bigger than I expected.

The bottom line is that the ladies are really funny, the special effects are amazing, and the cameos were perfect.  If you’re looking for a fun summer movie to take in with a significant other, Ghostbusters won’t disappoint.

Wonder Woman – Leaving the Boys Behind

So you heard me gush about the Justice League trailer yesterday, and then I saw something that appears even better – Wonder Woman.  If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, prepare to be impressed …

“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” Doesn’t the tag line say it all?  We’ve waited a long time for a Wonder Woman movie, but if this trailer is any indication, it was worth it.  Here are a few reasons why Wonder Woman is now the movie I’m most excited to see …

One detail that people may not realize about Wonder Woman is that her origin and story is heavily infused with Greek mythology.  Her mother is literally Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  Yes, those Amazons.  There are different iterations of Wonder Woman’s creation, but Zeus played a role in them all.  The fact that they name-drop Zeus in the trailer tells me that they are not shying away from this vital, and rich, aspect of Wonder Woman’s character.  And seriously, those magic lasso scenes?  Awesome.  They are going for it!

I am also shocked they are planting her firmly in the middle of World War I.  Batman v Superman certified she hasn’t been seen as Wonder Woman in 100 years, which, by my estimation, means the war scenes in this trailer must be the Great War.  Do you know the courage this takes?  First of all, a comic book movie featuring a female lead has not exactly proven a successful endeavor, but to also make it a period piece?  I love it.  The Wonder Woman team has no fear, and that’s exactly what you need to make a great Wonder Woman movie.

Speaking of no fear, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful entities on the planet.  She’s a warrior-born, the best of a warrior race.  I love the battle scenes in this trailer because they put that on full display.  She takes on a battalion of enemy soldiers using mortars and machine guns with her sword and shield!  That moment of her climbing the ladder from the trenches … mesmerizing.  You don’t get much cooler than that.

Let’s face it – there’s a lot riding on this movie.  Not only does it need to make money to secure a sequel, to bolster the shared universe they’re trying to build, and to recoup their expenditures, but it also needs to fulfill an incredible void in the super hero cinematic world.  Little girls need more than just Black Widow (who is awesome, of course).  Wonder Woman is an icon on par with Batman and Superman, and little girls need her.  They need a hero with whom they can relate, who can inspire them, who can show them that they don’t need to stand behind or next to the boys — they can take the lead and leave the boys behind!  Compared to the male-dominated movies of the last fifteen years, this will be a breath of fresh air.  And let’s face it — boys could stand to see a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman on screen who isn’t there merely to serve as a love interest or sex object.

Finally, the majesty.  The cinematography of this movie looks majestic.  Gal Gadot emits a regal aura.  Her costume absolutely looks like the garb of an Amazonian princess.  The colors are rich.  The scenes are epic.

Plainly stated, it looks beautiful and feels full of heart.  “Power.  Grace. Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Absolutely.

 

 

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 is one of my favorite comics so far in the Rebirth initiative because it’s very well written and very well drawn.

I’ll admit, though almost 40 years old, I have very limited knowledge when it comes to John Constantine.  I think my first encounter with him was the 2005 movie.  I then got to know him a little in Justice League Dark.  And though it wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed his NBC show.  I’ve always meant to go back and read the classic stories, particularly the ones by Ennis and Azzarello.  Ah, so much to read, so little time …

This issue worked really well because it cut to the core of Constantine’s character, displayed unusual, interesting art, and also proved to be very well constructed.

Constantine is not really a decent man.  He is a master of the dark arts, he’s not particularly nice, he’s rather selfish, he has lots of bad habits pertaining to all kinds of things, and he couldn’t care less about much of anything.  I won’t spoil it, but this issue brings all of that to the forefront in an organic way that progresses the story without bopping you atop the head.

Also, Moritat’s art is so beautifully weird.  I caught myself studying every panel in this comic book for all the little details peppered throughout, and those pages with throngs of people in the background mesmerized me.  I can’t remember the last time I saw an artist depict so many diverse people in a single panel.  The art is a little cartoonish, a little creepy, yet magnificently rendered with cool angles, layouts, and, best of all, facial expressions.  Maritat is the master of facial expressions.

I think what I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, is the way Oliver constructed it.  It’s not a linear story, but, by story’s end, it all makes sense.  It hints at things past and things to come, yet it concludes satisfactorily.  It is packed with different scenes, characters, and conflicts, but it all feels cohesive and unfolds smoothly.  I groaned a little when I flipped through it and saw a few colorful cameos, but Oliver managed to make their appearances interesting and used them to further his characterization of Constantine and even lay down some potential plot threads.

I bought The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did.

 

New Super-Man #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I won’t even pretend to be objective during this review.  I am a Gene Luen Yang fan.  I first discovered him when I started teaching American Born Chinese, and he just keeps winning me over.  After all, the guy is the official National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature!

So, it’s probably obvious I’m going to sing New Super-Man praises.

Yang is no stranger to Superman, having written the character before, but New Super-Man is a world away from everyone’s beloved Clark Kent.  New Super-Man is Kong Kenan, a young man in China who is not particularly nice, humble, altruistic, or, well, heroic.  He’s a bit of a bully, doesn’t get along with his dad all that well, and has attitude to spare.

So how does he become New Super-Man?  You’ll have to read the book to find out, but, as one would expect, Yang lays the groundwork for a very rich, complex character that I’m sure will become even more layered as time progresses.  After all, Yang excels at depicting relatable characters overcoming internal turmoil.  There are some fun bits of action, moments of quirky Yang humor, and the last page will force a double-take.

I love the entire premise of what Yang is doing with New Super-Man — I’m frankly surprised DC went for this idea.  It’s funny, but even though this book literally uses the name of the most famous super hero in the world, it is by far the most original comic I’ve read in ages.  Sure, Yang borrows from Superman mythology, but he does so with a wink and a nudge.  Anyone who believes this book is a ripoff is not paying close enough attention.

Packed full of characterization, action, humor, and heart, Yang’s New Super-Man is off to an exhilarating start.

… That last page.  This is going to be interesting.

 

 

The Secret Life Of Pets – A Movie Review

My daughters wanted to see this movie very badly, so we took them this opening weekend.  Needless to say, they loved it.

The general premise is that this movie looks into the life of pets while their owners are away.  I expected it to be a series of jokes about what’s going on behind those closed doors, but it actually turned out to be a far different movie than I anticipated.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but it becomes an adventurous comedy, a search and rescue of sorts.  The gags follow one after the other with plenty of laughs throughout, and just as things seem to start slowing down, new characters are introduced to liven it up again.

It is PG and a kids’ movie, and, for the most part, it’s totally appropriate for the little ones.  There is no real violence to speak of, though there are plenty of verbal threats.  The only time I actually wondered if they were going a bit too far is when some unwanted pets talked about wanting to kill their owners.  The conversation lasted a few minutes, and it never went beyond just talking about it.  There is no foul language other than words like “stupid” or “idiot.”  Of course, I have warped sense of humor, so I loved the ample never-ending poop and pee jokes.  Ample. Poop. And. Pee. Jokes.

The voices were fantastic as well.  Kevin Hart as the bunny Snowball stole the show, as you might imagine.  Jenny Slate’s Gidget also proved a riot.  But with Dana Carvey, Albert Brooks, Louis C.K., Lake Bell and many others, each and every pet had a distinct, hilarious personality.

The Secret Life Of Pets is a fast ninety minutes that kept the kids and me in stitches.  It doesn’t have the heart or emotional resonance of a Toy Story or Up, but it’s an entertaining flick that parents will enjoy along with the kids.

 

On Working With Sandy Vick of Wintrust Mortgage

Years ago, in 2010, my wife and I needed a mortgage broker.  A trusted source recommended Sandy Vick to us.  We were pleased with the experience, but in the chaos of building a home, Sandy’s service got lost in the mix.  I did remember liking and trusting her, however, and so in the last few months, when we wanted to refinance, we tracked her down and gave her a call.

Now with the entire process complete, I can authentically tell you that the experience with Sandy proved exceptional.  We appreciated her professionalism, her expertise, her patience, and also her willingness to accommodate our schedules. Furthermore, she responded quickly to emails and phone calls and made herself available literally at any time of day or night. We felt completely at ease as we worked with her because of her obvious trustworthy character and good humor. Sandy exceeded our expectations at every level.

If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area and you’re looking to take out a mortgage or refinance, I wholeheartedly recommend Sandy Vick.

You can reach Sandy at the following …

Mobile: (309) 706-6539

Address:205 North Williamsburg Drive, Suite A, Bloomington, IL, 61704

Email:svick@wintrustmortgage.com

Website:loanswithsandyvick.com

Sandy Marshall Vick

Justice League: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic) Book Review

I am absolutely a fan of Bryan Hitch’s art.  I remember first encountering it way back when he worked with Mark Waid on another Justice League title.  I recall it impressing me much the same as when I saw my first X-Men cover by Jim Lee.  Since that moment, Hitch has never let me down when it comes to art.

That being said, I’ve never experienced Bryan Hitch the writer.

I’m not a big fan of that Bryan Hitch.

Justice League: Rebirth had a sound, even necessary, plot.  A giant alien menace arrives, the Justice League, stunned by the death of the New 52 Superman, seems ineffective against the behemoth, so therefore the pre-New 52 Superman suits up to help out.  As you can imagine, a cautious partnership consequently develops, one that will apparently be mired in distrust from both sides.

The art is very pleasing to the eyes with dynamic, fluid movement and thrilling sequences.  The dialogue, unfortunately, did not go so smoothly.  Characters were redundant, verbose, and even awkward.  They often felt as though they were speaking to me rather than to each other.  The writing proved a bit distracting and because of the lackluster writing, the alien plot ventured into fairly cliche territory.

Hitch is an artist worthy of rendering these icons and, despite the writing, I will certainly pick up the collected editions of his work on Justice League and Justice League of America.

Justice League: Rebirth is visually a joy, but the writing did not quite live up to my expectations considering this is the first interaction between the League and an unknown Superman.

Descender: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen – A Book Review

Because this title has enjoyed great buzz, I thought I’d give it a try.  Descender is a an interesting science fiction book that explores the meaning of family, humanity, consciousness, and morality.  Of course, these universal topics are unfolding in a universe filled with robots, aliens, and gargantuan mechanical world destroyers.

Tim-21 is an android developed to look like a child and act as a friend to a human companion.  He finds himself alone after a long slumber, cut off from his family, but quickly finds his robot dog and befriends a labor robot called Driller.  Tim-21 may hold the key to understanding the enormous machines that threaten all worlds across the galaxy, which has made him the target of good and bad alike.

The themes of the book are pretty standard to Lemire, though I personally found his dialogue even better than usual.  The story itself is interesting but not necessarily unheard of.  No, what sets this book apart is Dustin Nguyen.

Nguyen’s art in Descender is absolutely beautiful.  The colors, the figures, the layouts – exquisite.  Nguyen’s talent and careful work makes Descender a must-read.

Descender is a book that has broad appeal.  Science fiction fans will appreciate the aliens and robots.  Those interested in the human condition will find the themes and the exploration of what it means to “live” interesting.  Those craving action will be thrilled.  But at the end of the day, if you love comic books, or just art in general, Dustin Nguyen will delight you with every page.

The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon – A Book Review

Though previously unfamiliar with Glen Weldon, a friend recognized my love of Batman and recommended I read this historical overview of the famed detective.

Of course, any item pertaining to Batman generally makes me happy, so I immediately checked The Caped Crusade out from my local library and set to work.

Weldon uses a highly entertaining writing style.  He is an articulate and expressive author with a fun, even humorous, voice.  While delving deep into the history of Batman beginning in 1939, he also offers analysis as to why the character survives – even thrives – year after year, decade after decade.  This blend of scholarly prose mixed with awfully funny asides makes for an engaging, informative, and amusing read.

Fans of all eras will devour this piece.  Of course, as it probably stands to reason, I became most interested once he hit the 1980s.  As a forty year old, it was thrilling to remember the comics I enjoyed as a child viewed through a historical prism.

Another aspect of the book riveted me.  The subtitle of The Caped Crusade is actually Batman and the Rise Of Nerd Culture.  Weldon correlates Batman with his most rabid fans from the early days all the way to present.  Of course, anyone with Internet access knows how ugly the comment sections and message boards can be, and Weldon offers insight into why and how “nerds” came to such a state.  Most interesting, though it’s easier than ever to spout off, “nerds” have been raving about The Dark Knight as far back as the 1950s, just through different means.

Weldon also embarks upon a fascinating angle dissecting those “nerds” who love to anonymously threaten others via the Web.  He only touches upon the topic, relatively speaking, but it’s clearly something we, as a society, need to reflect upon.  I think he would agree that this goes beyond just “nerds” venting in animosity.  Yes, there are those who take it way t0o far when they see a “Batman” they don’t like, but such vehemence is not contained to comic book characters alone.  Politics, sports, movies, celebrities … there is a culture taking these things far too seriously to the point of threatening bodily harm, even death, to those in disagreement.  I would love to see him devote an entire book to this culture in a broad sense and not regulate it only to the Batman “nerds” within the faction.

If you’re a Batman fan, I know you’ll enjoy this book. Much of it I knew already, but Weldon did introduce some new information I’d never before encountered.  And even though I already had most of the facts, the lens through which he delivered it made it all feel fresh, new, and, most importantly, fun.