Archive for December 17, 2016

mv5bmjmwmjq4mzu2ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmju5mtkxote-_v1_sy1000_cr007711000_al_

From what I can tell, “micro-budget” writer/director/producer Ryan Callaway is a pretty cool cat. Sure, you could argue that I’m biased toward any and all “Ryan C.”s in the world, but seriously — when I wrote a middling review of his film The Girl In The Cornfield a couple weeks back, he was not only gracious about it, he actually went so far as to engage in that rarest of internet rarities with me afterwards : a respectful and productive conversation that acknowledged his flick’s strengths and weaknesses in a manner that showed he harbored no ill will towards me for not showering his efforts with unmitigated praise. Granted, my appraisal was hardly negative on the whole, but ya know what? I get the distinct impression that even if it had been, he would’ve been okay with that, too — and in a world where far too many backyard Burtons and dime-store DePalmas take it as a personal attack when you don’t immediately acknowledge them as the next Hollywood superstar in the making, that counts for a lot with me. For that reason alone, then, I decided to give his latest, 2016’s The Watchers : The Beginning Of Sorrows, a shot when I noticed it available for streaming on Amazon Prime the other day.

In fairness, this 50-minute production is hardly what you’d call a “feature-length” film, and it’s also, apparently, the third entry in a series (titled The Watchers, as if you didn’t already know) produced by Callaway and his wife, Amy — but even for all that, I didn’t feel terribly confused or anything going in, as the story stands fairly well on its own. The title’s a bit on the long side, sure, but when you consider that it’s basically an “episode” in a longer narrative, even that makes sense in context. So, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we just have to answer one question — is it any good?

mv5bnzu4nja1nty3mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzk0otuzote-_v1_sx640_sy720_

As with almost all movies of this nature, the answer is “yes and no.” The story’s certainly interesting enough on its merits : Madeline Tanner (played by Haley Chapel) had been searching for her missing kid sister, Briana (Rachelle Bieber) for about six months, and appeared to be making something vaguely resembling progress, when the truly inexplicable happened and she ended up disappearing herself! Madeline was convinced that the answer to her sibling’s whereabouts was to be found in the realm of the supernatural, and her own spiriting away (lame pun pretty much intended) has certainly confirmed that suspicion in the mind of her best friend, Laura Leeds (Elizabeth Wellman), who is now taking up the reins of the investigation herself despite the “double danger” it represents. Will she find one or both of the subjects of her search — or just end up yet another “missing persons” statistic?

mv5bmtq5njm5otm5nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwotgynjuxote-_v1_sx640_sy720_

The acting is up-and-down in this one, it’s true, but “up” gets the slight edge in the final tally as Wellman in particular cuts a pretty fine performance despite obviously lacking anything like formal training. As for everyone else, what the heck — most of the rest of the performers acquit themselves reasonably well, at least the majority of the time, and again the Callaways are to be commended for assembling an almost- entirely-female cast and giving them reasonably-fleshed-out roles that don’t simply call for them to either scream, strip naked, or both. Not that I necessarily mind either of those things, of course, but it’s well past time that horror, in particular, gets its head out of its ass and acknowledges that women are people, not props or plot devices. It seems downright bizarre to me that a maker of “homemade” films in New Jersey is doing a better job of that than purportedly “progressive” Hollywood, but such is the way of the world, I guess.

mv5bmty0mje0ntcxof5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzaxntkxote-_v1_sx640_sy720_

On the directorial front, Callaway shows a bit less style here than was on display in The Girl In The Cornfield, which featured some genuinely breathtaking shots on occasion, while this flick, by contrast, is more of a “point-and-shoot” affair — and while that certainly doesn’t mean that it looks actively bad in any way (especially by “micro-budget” standards), it’s definitely not what you’d call visually ambitious, either. There could be a million and one perfectly reasonable explanations for this — most (if not all) having to do with time and money, of course — but I guess I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed by the overall “look” of The Watchers : The Beginning Of Sorrows.

On the whole, though, fans of “this sort of thing” should find a fair amount to like here, provided they make the usual allowances one must for production values and the like. For my own part, whatever that’s worth, I found myself reasonably intrigued by, and involved with, the proceedings throughout, and chances are that if there’s a fourth Watchers film, I’ll give it a go — and hey, I expect that I’ll probably end up enjoying that one (assuming it happens), as well.

431634-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

A few weeks back, we took a look at what Marvel was doing with the “classic” Clint Barton iteration of Hawkeye in the pages of Occupy Avengers #1, but Clint’s not the only archer at loose ends in the MU these days — his protege/successor/sidekick, Kate Bishop, is on her own on the West Coast and finally ready to step out of her mentor’s currently-troubled shadow after playing second-fiddle to him in the last three (Jesus, guys, seriously?) Hawkeye series by starring in her own solo book. And since a year apparently can’t go by without a new Hawkeye #1, December 2016 sees our annual quota met with the first issue of Kate’s new title courtesy of writer Kelly Thompson, artist Leonardo Romero, and colorist Jordie Bellaire. But does it hit the mark?

d7cd2870fc5cec756ccce3108139b857-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

Based on what’s on offer here, I’m pleased to answer that question with an enthusiastically tentative (how’s that for an oxymoron?) “yes.” Thompson has a superb handle on her protagonist’s voice, mannerisms, speech patterns, and overall attitude, and since “attitude” is the arguably the most dangerous (and fun) metaphorical arrow in Kate’s equally metaphorical quiver, that counts for a lot. As we watch her attempt to set up shop as a private eye in Venice Beach, California, we get sass and smarts to spare, are introduced to a tight but intriguing supporting cast, and hey — there’s even a pretty slick Point Break-esque bank robbery sequence that plays out in a manner that you could almost be forgiven for calling charming. Yeah, alright, Kate’s first case does seem like a rather standard-issue affair, but there’s even hope for that, as the last page shows that what we thought to be a rather “open-and-shut” affair is probably anything but. In short, then, the operative word here is fun, and that’s something that’s been sorely missing from any Hawkeye book since Matt Fraction and David Aja left the building.

d2b57eecc783a2c169224dc126387820-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

Romero’s art is of the “crisp, clean, and contemporary” variety, with some cartoon-ish influences at the forefront that suit the tone of the script quite well, and while it’s not what you’d call outright remarkable in any way, it’s certainly several steps above merely “competent” and definitely reinforces the comic’s overall “let’s not take ourselves too seriously here, folks” tone. I’m not sure that his style would work on, say, Captain America or any other “traditional” super-hero book, but on this one, it not only does the job, it does it well. Bellaire’s color work is always among the best in the business, of course, and here she employs an uncharacteristically bright and lively palette that further cements the feeling of fun and light-hearted (though hardly insubstantial for all that) adventure established by the line art while eschewing the temptation to fall completely over into the whimsical and/or farcical. The end result is that rarest of rarities these days : a single-issue “floppy” that both reads and looks like it was intentionally designed to be experienced as such, rather than simply as the first chapter of an inevitable trade paperback collection — and this, friends, is something that I dig very much, because the monthly (or thereabouts) single is still where my heart as a comics reader lies.

hawkeye_2016_aja

On the subject of monthly singles, though, I don’t think it’s any secret that I was less than enthusiastic about yet another “Marvel Now!” relaunch back when it was originally announced — even if its arrival meant that Civil War II was, mercifully, over with — but I have to say that on the whole I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by what’s come out of it, particularly as far as our two favorite bow-slingers are concerned. Any gripes I have about the new Hawkeye #1 are very small indeed (for instance, while I love Julian Totino Tedesco’s cover, shouldn’t it say “The Adorable Archer Takes Aim — At Danger?”), and for anyone who’s been waiting for Marvel to “get it right” with the Hawkeyes again, between this book and Occupy Avengers it looks like they’ve done just that. Thompson, Romero, and Bellaire have scored a real bull’s-eye with readers on this one, and ya know what? It doesn’t hurt a bit.