Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – A Movie Review

After somehow missing it in the theaters, I’m happy to announce I finally got around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really glad they are continuing to build the Harry Potter universe.  It’s a rich universe ripe for ample storytelling, and I think they got off on the right foot with this installment.  I especially like that they decided to set it in 1926.  This gives it a unique look while providing thousands of different narrative directions for future films.  Furthermore, setting it in New York also set it apart from the Potter films, which is vital if this new franchise is to thrive on its own volition.

I also loved the cast.  Eddie Redmayne is always interesting in his movies, and his New Scamander proved just quirky enough to be a fun, unique action star.  I loved that his Scamander seemed to have an awful time looking people in the eye.  Such a subtle, interesting touch.  Yet, despite his aloofness, he always emitted bravery and a caring heart.

Dan Fogler plays a regular guy who gets ensnared in the magical world and he is delightful.  His character, Jacob Kowalski, is lovable without being a buffoon, funny without being goofy, and has more heart than anyone else in the movie.  I believe his character really makes this film go.

I also loved “Queenie,” a character played by Alison Sudol.  She played her character with such joy, such spirit, it was hard not to root for her.  I’m so glad they seem to be having a romance budding between Queenie and Kowalski.  They are both incredibly likable — even more so when together.

Finally, it’s wonderful to see Colin Farrell back in great form.  He played a character called Graves, and I won’t say much about Graves for fear of spoiling the plot.  If you enjoy Farrell in general, you’ll appreciate his Graves.  Farrell always has so much going on behind his eyes …

So, yes, there’s a lot to like about this movie.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot I didn’t like about this movie.

First of all, the plot proved really … cumbersome.  Considering this is an original script, it seemed awfully convoluted and felt like it was derived from some other source material.  The Potter books always served their adapted films as a crutch.  Not so with this one.  We don’t know this story and so it had to be clearer for us to follow.

Along those lines, it also ran too long.  I actually got a little bored around the middle of the movie.  Why did I get bored?  Well, the plot took a while to get going, and a lot of time got invested in showing the “fantastic beasts.”  They were cool, don’t get me wrong, but the big ones looked very “special effects” to me.  This could be because I watched the film on DVD instead of Blu-Ray, but they looked out of place next to the living actors.

I also had a horrific time understanding Redmayne.  I’ve seen several of his movies and never had such difficulty making out what he said.  There were entire lines of dialogue I missed due to a very thick accent.

I’m also not exactly sure what is going on with the main villain, Gellert Grindelwald.  … Wait, just Googled him.  … Oooooh.  That’s cool.  Wish I’d refreshed myself on all that before watching this movie.  Hmm.  I’d forgotten Gellert Grindelwald played a role in The Deathly Hallows.  Be careful to avoid spoilers, but you may want to search that name and how it relates to Albus Dumbledore.

Do I recommend this movie?  Absolutely.  It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.  It’s got some charismatic actors in place that will definitely be able to prop up the franchise as it continues.  Though I had trouble understanding his accent, Redmayne delivered a character that’s easy to support and admire.  I’m especially looking forward to seeing more of Fogler and Sudol.  All in all, I’m excited to see where this series goes!

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Revival: You’re Among Friends by Seeley and Norton – A Book Review

Don’t call this a zombie book, because it’s not.  In Revival, a relatively small number of recently deceased people in a small Wisconsin town inexplicably return to life.  They can now recover from virtually any injury, and range from remaining exactly the same as when they lived in the conventional sense to, well, odd.

Right off the bat, Tim Seeley introduces us to several characters, each with a distinct personality and role to play.  Officer Dana Cypress appears to be the main character from that bunch, but her college sister, her sheriff father, a snow mobile riding punk exorcist, a CDC biologist, and an eccentric old man all demand our attention.  Furthermore there’s a cub reporter who broke the story as well as a celebrity who, at first glance, appears to be based off of Nancy Grace.  That’s a lot of characters in such a short collection, but Seeley paces them excellently and, more importantly, inserts their stories organically.

The revived themselves are a creepy bunch, and some are obviously dangerous as they tear the throats out of their loved ones.  Other are virtually comatose, and still others function as though nothing has happened.  Seeley reveals just enough to keep us reading, to garner our interest, but he also opens up several mysteries that demand our continued readership.  He walks that fine line of giving us important information while also teasing certain plot threads.

Mike Norton’s art is crisp, understated, and laid out very well with smooth sequencing.  I also appreciated the angles he chose to employ in several of his panels.  There’s nothing outlandish, but he’s just unusual enough to keep the eye stimulated.

I think it would be a tragedy to neglect the colorist, Mark Englert. This is a dark story with flashes of the grotesque as well as little moments of morbid humor.  His colors are tame and work well with the story, but they are still interesting and enhance Norton’s art.  Considering that there is snow in virtually every outdoor picture, I believe his talent is to be commended.

To be honest, I picked this book up at the library because Amazon kept recommending it to me and I thought I’d give it a try.  I truly didn’t think I’d like it as I’m a little burnt out on anything related to zombies, yet the original storytelling, interesting characters, and hints at future plot threads absolutely made me a fan. I can’t wait to read more … especially because of that white demon wandering the woods.  I have no idea where that one is going.

Wonder Woman: Iron by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang – A Book Review

In this third installment of The New 52’s Wonder Woman, Azzarello continues to infuse Greek mythology into the Wonder Woman mythos.  Granted, her roots are in Greek lore, but I don’t believe any Wonder Woman writer has ever utilized the gods in such a dynamic fashion.  I’ve said this before, but I have never read Wonder Woman until Azzarello restarted her series, and it quickly rose to the top of my reading list.  Furthermore, in this volume, he fully introduces the New Gods with Orion.  In my mind, this makes perfect sense and is a stroke of brilliance.  What better place for the New Gods to appear than in a comic book with old gods still very much playing a role.  It is my sincerest hope that he plans a confrontation between the two groups, with Wonder Woman caught between.

I cannot wait to see what Azzarello does next.  His take on not only Wonder Woman, but Orion, Hera, Hermes, Ares, Apollo, as well as the introduction of previously unrevealed children of Zeus … it’s simply a very special story unraveling before our eyes. He and Chiang are not merely caretakers of Wonder Woman at the moment, they are architects of an entirely new mythos for her, they are not simply creating interesting stories, they are building entire worlds.

Their run on Wonder Woman will be remembered as a significant one, I assure you.

Prophet: Brothers by Brandon Grapham – A Book Review

As you may recall, I lauded the first volume of Prophet published by Image comics as a startlingly original, unpredictable, almost revolutionary work in that it went against the grain of most comic book conventions.  In the first volume, we witnessed the rebirth of several John Prophets and followed their plights in unusually alien worlds.  It didn’t’ reveal much of what was going on, did not focus on any one character for too long, explored an expansive universe, and displayed a wildly visionary story.  I’d never read anything quite like it and instantly became a devoted fan.

Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, in the second volume, Prophet comes back down to Earth as it realigns with customary comic book craft.

In this second volume, we meet the original John Prophet.  And though the story takes place far into the future, he is joined by Diehard, who you may remember from the comic book series Youngblood.  We even are given a brief glimpse of the character Supreme.  Old man Prophet is seeking out past allies to aid him in the coming war.  This volume is linear and, though the art is still gritty and thrillingly unattractive, rather boring.  The first volume seemed intent on creating an entire universe, one that delighted with its uniqueness.  But this volume focuses on one character with his prerequisite band of misfit cronies.  It all seemed the antithesis of the first volume.

I’ll be honest, Diehard really ruined the book for me.  I just wanted this book to continue being so inimitable, but with Diehard in it, it can’t help but make me think that this is a “super hero” book when that is the last thing it set itself up to be.  And with all of the imaginative alien names and language, having a character called “Diehard” is jarring to the experience and takes this reader out of the moment.

I will read volume three upon its release, because I believe in the creators’ work, but if things don’t change, it may be my last volume.

By the way, if you haven’t read the first volume, entitled Remission, do so immediately. As probably made evident, it’s one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in some time.

Werewolves Of the Heartland by Bill Willingham – A Book Review

A stand-alone graphic novel from the Fables universe, Werewolves Of the Heartland features Bigby Wolf as he wanders across America looking for a new city to call home.  He comes across Story City, and, as fate would have it, it bears an inextricable link to our favorite Fable.

Regular readers of Fables know that Bigby Wolf saw action during World War II, and this graphic novel spends a small amount of time reliving some of those moments.  However, the majority of the story takes place in Story City, and it involves, as the name would suggest, a society of werewolves against which Bigby must take action.

I love the Fables series, and it usually doesn’t miss, but Werewolves Of the Heartland is nonessential reading and, frankly, moves rather slowly as though trying to fill space.  The storyline is not especially engaging, nor are the characters particularly dynamic.  In fact, without his usually supporting characters, Bigby himself falls flat in this work.

Furthermore, be warned, there is a lot of nudity in this book, both men and women alike.  I won’t go so far as to say it’s photorealistic, but the men and women remove their clothing before turning into werewolves, and the artists made sure to render them anatomically correct.  There are also a few moments of seduction that include nudity as well.  I’ll be honest, like the story itself, much of the nudity felt unnecessary.

As apparent, I don’t recommend Werewolves Of the Heartland.  As an avid reader of Fables, I believe you can bypass this work and still understand the main storyline just fine.

Saga, Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Writing cosmic stories must be incredibly difficult.  On the one hand, it seems a nearly impossible challenge to execute a storyline that doesn’t borrow from Star Wars, Star Trek, John Carter of Mars, etcetera.  On the other hand, if an author does somehow deliver an original plot, the characters must also seem familiar yet different.  We don’t expect space characters to sound like us, to look like us, or to talk like us, yet if they stray too far into that for which we cannot connect, they lose our engagement.

Brian K. Vaughan certainly had his work cut out for him with the first volume of Saga.

The storyline is tried and true: two soldiers from opposing sides fall in love, have a baby, and must now escape the wrath of their respective armies.

As a huge Vaughan fan, I couldn’t wait to read Saga.  After hitting the jackpot and winning a free copy on, I devoured the book the day it arrived.

My feelings about this first volume are mixed.

As with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, Vaughan has given us some charismatic, interesting characters.  Marko, Alana, baby Hazel, as well as various bounty hunters, ghosts, and television-headed royals, create a cast for whom I want to know more.  There is plenty of conflict, both external and internal, and the interpersonal relationships are rife with both passion and hatred.

But here’s where Vaughan loses me a little: this is a story that, for the most part, is full of very human characters that happen to be … well … not human.  They love to use the “f” word, they take God’s name in vain a lot, and they apparently rode school buses.  Now, if this were on Earth, I wouldn’t be as distracted by it, but why in the world do “aliens” know the “f” word?  How are they familiar enough with “God” to take His name in vain?  And school buses?  Really?

And though I’m far from a prude, there’s a lot of nudity and sex in this thing.  Vaughan has always pushed the boundaries within this medium, and, for the most part, I’ve always found him to put the story first and remain tasteful.  In this case, though, I get the feeling some of it is just for shock value.  There were times when I wasn’t quite sure how the overall story was being served by some of the things on the page.  I

So that’s what bothered me a bit about Saga.

However, make no mistake, it’s a fast, entertaining read, and the characters are extremely layered and charismatic.  Vaughan has several plots going, and I don’t doubt for a minute that Saga will soon be epic in nature.  Furthermore, Fiona Staples is extremely talented and her artwork is both beautiful and horrific.  Her particular style suits this story well.  Her humanoids are organic and plausible while her monsters maintain an air of biological credibility.  And, if you’re familiar with my reviews, you know a good colorist always gets my praise, and Staples is yet another example of an artist that deserves our commendations.  Her colors are muted, but they are still so pleasing to the eye, and when she does give us some bright colors, watch out!  She doesn’t miss the opportunity to make those vibrant colors count.

All in all, Brian K. Vaughan seems to be an author who works best when his fantasy is rooted on Earth within the here and now, but I cannot fault the man for trying something new and putting himself out there.  Any artist who leaves his comfort zone will always have my respect.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll stick with Saga.  For one, the sex and nudity were so graphic I wasn’t comfortable having it sit out on my nightstand with my little ones running around.  Secondly, the very trendy human dialogue just proved too distracting.  But, I admittedly want to know what becomes of Marko, Alana, and Hazel, so maybe I will stay onboard after all.

Ex Machina: Term Limits by Brian K. Vaughan – A Book Review

Few conclusions have been as utterly satisfying as Ex Machina: Term Limits.

Ex Machina has always been one of those titles that demanded both patience and commitment.  With its myriad flashbacks, labyrinth plotlines, and complicated subject matter, it often required several readings.  I assure you, in this tenth and final volume, your dedication is rewarded in full.  Vaughan not only answers the series’ major mysteries, but he also grants a sense of finality to virtually every major character in this title.

I came down hard on Vaughan for his final installment to Y: The Last Man.  I felt it was too pedestrian and insignificant.  Not so with Ex Machina.  Vaughan managed to shock me over and over again in Term Limits.  As a reader, I couldn’t have asked for more.  Though I couldn’t believe he dared to do what he did in this volume, I absolutely appreciated his willingness to let the characters organically go where they must, even if that destination was not pleasant.  His boldness is both refreshing and admirable.

Vaughan also shows great maturity as a storyteller.  Yes, on the surface, we get our answers to many lingering plot points.  We even get several jolts that put us on the edge of our seat.  However, there is also a deeper message in Term Limits.  I believe Vaughan made not only several political comments in this work, but also drove home a hard fact about human nature.  The depth of this particular volume delighted me.

As a long time fan of Ex Machina, I can seriously say that I could not have imagined a more satisfying conclusion to Mitchell Hundred’s odyssey.  Vaughan thanked his audience by delivering a tightly-woven finale that, like the entire series, proved intelligent, meaningful, well-crafted, and insightful.

Koko Be Good by Jen Wang – A Book Review

This graphic novel, released by :01 and created by Jen Wang, is something of an enigma for me.  On one hand, the story has been done, the characters aren’t very likable, and there isn’t really much in the way of plot, particularly climax.  However, the art is so fetching that I can ignore the previous complaints.

Koko Be Good is about Koko, a young woman in search of herself and willing to do just about any preposterous thing you can think of.  She is the classic twenty-something narcissist, a stand-out among the “me-generation.”  Unfortunately, there is very little character development with her in the way of significant change, and so she fails to ever connect to the reader in a meaningful way.  Jonathon is also a young twenty-something, in love with a woman across the coast and about to move to Peru with her.  He seems lost, unsure of himself, and unwilling to feel true joy.  His quest ends (or begins anew) with a more substantial moment than Koko, but I’m still not sure I like where he finally lands.  Of course, Koko and Jonathan cross paths, and both have an effect upon the other, but in the end, I don’t think either had as substantive an impact as the story would like us to believe.  And if that’s the point … then that’s a bummer.

Obviously, I didn’t care for Wang’s actual story.  But, she is a phenomenal artist with a charismatic style and a wonderful sense of color.  Her layouts are dynamic, her backgrounds are nuanced without being busy, and her characters are refreshingly quirky in appearance.  I would have liked her word balloons to have been more appropriately placed in some panels as they became confusing if reading left to right, but that wasn’t a major hurdle to overcome.  I truly enjoyed looking at this book.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Koko Be Good on the merit of its story or characters, but I would on the rock-solid artistry.

Neil Young’s Greendale by Joshua Dysart and Cliff Chiang – A Book Review

The graphic novel Greendale serves as a companion piece to the Neil Young album and movie of the same name.  I was totally unfamiliar with both before reading the graphic novel, and, after a little bit of investigating, it seems you can enjoy the graphic novel with no knowledge of its sisters.

That being said, Greendale is an interesting book in many respects, and disappointing in others.

The story revolves around Sun Green, young woman who has inherited a mysterious connection to nature, as do all of the women in her family.  Sun is experiencing visions that she doesn’t quite understand, and when a stranger comes to the small town of Greendale, those visions are forced to become a reality – for better or for worse.

Greendale is set in 2003 and is a politically-charged, socially-relevant commentary on ecology as well as our military actions from that year on.  Joshua Dysart’s dialogue flows along nicely, and Cliff Chiang’s artwork is both pleasing to the eye and incredibly adept at conveying the characters’ moods, thoughts, and personalities.  However, the real star of this book is the colorist, Dave Stewart.  I read an advanced copy of Greendale that was mostly in black and white, but those few pages that were colored were astounding.  I can’t wait to see the final product to see the rest of Stewart’s colors.

On the other hand, Greendale is a convoluted plot that never made total sense.  There are far too many characters with similar names to keep track of, and, at times, I caught myself thinking, “What’s the point of this story?”  Yes, there is a lot of social and political criticism, but there’s also an underlying story involving mysticism that never really rises to the surface in any meaningful and satisfactory way.  I generally enjoy Vertigo’s offerings, but the plot of Greendale was a bit too heavy-handed and vague for my taste (which is a strange pairing).

The art is very pleasing, the coloring is fantastic, the dialogue isn’t bad, but the overall story failed to entice.

Fables: War and Pieces – A Graphic Novel Review

In this presupposed crucial volume of Fables, Bill Willingham and company finally bring about the “final” battle between the Adversary and his Empire … but first, we have to muddle through a clichéd and by-the-book tale featuring the unlikely super-spy, Cinderella, and even her two-issue story was preceded by an issue focusing upon Boy Blue and Rose Red’s festering relationship.

So, as you can plainly see, it takes a while for War and Pieces to actually get to the war part of everything.

I’ve waited a long time for this pinnacle battle, and once the battle ensued, I found myself more than frustrated by its brevity and irreverence.  It also seemed a little too formulaic and lacked the usual panache I’ve come to expect from Fables.

So while I still tout Fables as the best comic series currently running to anyone who will listen, War and Pieces proved unimpassioned, hurried, and a bit too unoriginal when compared to earlier volumes.