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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Four!

And so we arrive, at last, at my five favorite movies of 2015.  Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteenClick here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.

And now, my five favorite movies of 2015!

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5. Inside Out Another triumph from Pixar, this hugely original film explores the inner workings of the mind of an eleven-year-old girl.  I am blown away by how magnificently well thought-out the film is, how carefully considered every detail is.  The film is a complete fantasy, and yet it’s a remarkably sophisticated presentation of the way the emotions inside a young girl might actually work!  This is genius-level filmmaking here, with brilliant philosophical ideas wrapped in a deeply moving adventure tale.  The film is elevated into the stratosphere by its magnificent casting, with the absolute perfect actor chosen to represent each of Riley’s five main emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), & Disgust (Mindy Kaling).  The film is very funny and also absolutely heart-breaking.  (Has the great Richard Kind ever been better than he is here is Bing-Bong?)  Inside Out is a master class in the how animation can be best utilized to tell a remarkable story, a story that couldn’t possibly be told any other way.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Avengers: Age of Ultron I can’t believe how under-rated and under-appreciated is Joss Whedon’s spectacular follow-up to the smash hit that was 2012’s The Avengers.  Yes, Age of Ultron doesn’t have the never-been-done-before thrill of that first huge super-hero crossover film, which was the culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One, bringing together all the characters from the proceeding individual films.  (This was something that had never, ever been done before, a fact easily forgotten now that Marvel’s model is being widely imitated by every studio in Hollywood.)  It’s incredible to me that now, only a few short years after The Avengers, the extraordinary achievement that is Age of Ultron is being dismissed as ho-hum.  Just look at pretty much any frame of this film and marvel (pun definitely intended) at how amazing is it how Joss Whedon and his team have brought all of these wonderful characters to life on film!  Who ever would have thought such a thing would happen?  Who ever would have thought we’d ever see the famous comic-book villain Ultron depicted on film (brought so brilliantly to life in the film by James Spader)?  Or The Vision???  (Paul Bettany’s performance combined with note-perfect make-up effects and CGI made it feel … [continued]

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“The date is set!” — The X-Files returns to TV on January 24, 2016!  Please don’t disappoint me, Chris Carter!!

This is a great article listing 10 Making-Of Documentaries That Are Better Than The Actual Movie.  In many of these cases I don’t actually agree with the “Better Than The Actual Movie” part, but these are certainly ten of the very greatest documentaries about the making of specific movies.  These are all essential viewing for movie fans.  (The only one of the ten listed that I haven’t seen is Cleopatra: The Epic That Changed Hollywood.)  Hearts of Darkness is endlessly fascinating, one of the best movies about movies ever made, period.  I wrote about The Sweat Box, the documentary that Disney doesn’t want you to see about the making of what became The Emperor’s New Groove, here.  It’s fascinating and heartbreaking.  The documentaries on the Alien Quadrilogy are magnificent, particularly the staggeringly no-punches-pulled version on the Alien 3 blu-ray.  (The doc on the original DVD release was edited by the studio who felt that some of the behind-the-scenes material was too honest and raw.)  I have written endlessly about the amazing Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Appendices (elaborate, hours-long making-of documentaries) on the Extended Edition DVD/blu-ray sets.  (Click here for my thoughts on the behind-the-scenes material from An Unexpected Journey and here for my thoughts on The Desolation of Smaug.)  And I am glad this list also included two of the many magnificent making-of documentaries on the DVDs and blu-rays of Ridley Scott’s films, all of which was masterminded by Charles de Lauzirika.  Dangerous Days is an exhaustive look at the making of Blade Runner, and though Prometheus was a bomb, the four-hour long look at the making of that train wreck, titled Furious Gods, from the Prometheus blu-ray set, is amazing.  (By the way, Charles de Lauzirika also masterminded all of the Alien documentaries on the Quadrilogy set, making him the king of this list of making-of documentaries.)  I highly recommend all interested film fans track down these documentaries, they are wonderful.

I recently read Jerry Weintraub’s terrific memoir: When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead.  Mr. Weintraub was a music producer who worked with Elvis and Sinatra, and in his later years he became a movie producer as well, most notably working with Steven Soderbergh on Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen.  The book is terrific — Mr. Weintraub is a wonderful raconteur and, man, does he have some great stories to tell. I highly recommend it.  Here’s a link.  In a related story, birthmoviesdeath.com recently posted this loving look back at Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy.  I never thought too highly … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Avengers: Age of Ultron!

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Marvel Studios is on a winning streak the likes of which I have rarely seen.  (The only recent comparison I can draw is Pixar’s incredible run from Ratatouille in 2007 through Toy Story 3 in 2010.)  Right before seeing The Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of my friends sent me a ranking of all of Marvel’s movies.  In response I created my own ranking (which I might publish on this site one of these days).  The bottom two films on my list were Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk.  What’s astonishing is that each of the rest of the eight Marvel films on the list were all pretty great films that I loved a lot — and even those bottom two films were pretty enjoyable!  There really isn’t a true failure in the mix!  Over the past eight years, since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has done what had not only never been done before, but really never even conceived of before: they’ve created a vast cinematic universe of interlocking films, with characters and story-lines flowing from film to film in an epic continuing saga.  What’s even more incredible is that, at this point, they make the whole thing look so damn easy!  It’s astounding.  I know Marvel is going to stumble one of these days, but for now I am sitting back and loving every minute of this ride.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is an amazing film.  I loved it.  Watching this film I had a huge grin on my face for the entire run time.  There are so many reasons this film could have been bad.  Sequels are hard and usually disappoint.  In addition to all of the main Avengers characters, this film introduced a number of new characters and we’ve all seen superhero films (particularly sequels — I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3) collapse under the weight of too many characters.  Whereas The Avengers was the culmination of the first run of Marvel films, Age of Ultron needs to set up the next several years of story-lines, and that could easily have made the film feel unwieldy and unsatisfying (the fate that befell Iron Man 2).

But thanks to the incredible skill and talent of writer-director Joss Whedon and his astounding team of collaborators (overseen by Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, the guiding force behind all of these Marvel movies), Age of Ultron soars.  It’s a long-movie but it never drags, it is hugely enjoyable from start to finish.  It’s got enormous, staggeringly gigantic action sequences that astound, but it’s also deeply routed in character with some wonderful moments for every one of the film’s sprawling cast.  It’s serious and tense but it also … [continued]

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Did you know that genius Calvin & Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson recently drew a few new comic strips?  I sure didn’t!!  Here’s the whole crazy story of how master artist Bill Watterson wound up collaborating with Stephan Pastis on his comic strip Pearls Before Swine.  And here are the cartoons.  Wow.  Holy cow am I jealous of Mr. Pastis!!  Well done, sir!

In last month’s News Around the Net post, I noted the 30th anniversary of both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  This summer also marks the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters (holy hell, the summer of 1984 was AWESOME), and, to celebrate, the film is getting re-released to theaters on August 29th!!  Mark your calendars!  I’ll certainly be there.  (I love these sorts of revival screenings and wish the studios would do this far more often with their great films of yore.  As it happens, I’ve been able to see Ghostbusters a few times on the big screen in the last decade-or-so — click here for my thoughts on a screening of the film from 2011.)

And, sticking with Ghostbusters for just a moment longer, this is an awesome 30th anniversary infographic.

Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) and Dave Gibbons (the artist of Watchmen) have collaborated on a short comic-book story.  Here it is, and it’s great.

This collection of Lucas Lee’s fake movie posters from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World really made me laugh.  I love that movie!!

This is a great, great list of the five best episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

I love this fantastic look back at two classic Newsradio episodes.  My lord that show was great.

Here’s another great stroll back down TV memory lane (as well as another reason to dearly miss the great, late Phil Hartman): a look at one of the very best episodes of The Simpsons, and one of the very best half-hours of television ever: “A Fish Called Selma.”

The Wachowskis are working on a ten-episode sci-fi show for Netflix, and the co-showrunner will be Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski?  OK, I am interested.

Speaking of Netflix, is Rosario Dawson going to be playing Karen Page on Netflix’s upcoming Daredevil show?  That would be awesome.

This is a fun article: Kramer, Meet Feldman: 19 TV Bizarros.

Joss Whedon has some fascinating thoughts on the state of super-hero movies today.  I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Meanwhile, is Nathan Fillion going to be in Guardians of the Galaxy???  Holy cow that’s … [continued]

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The Top 15 Movies of 2013 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2013, and click here for part two!  And now, let’s complete my list:

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5. The Wolf of Wall Street This is a very polarizing film.  I’ve had a lot of debates with folks ever since I published my very positive review of the film.  I stand by every word I wrote.  This is Martin Scorsese back at the very top of his game, telling a raucously entertaining but also fiercely angry story about Wall Street scumbags.  This is an epic film, three hours long, but I felt that it flew by and felt like a film half its run-time, so engaged was I by the story unfolding before me.  There are some spectacular performances in this film, particularly a very, very funny Jonah Hill and an absolutely magnetic Leonardo DiCaprio, using every watt of his charisma to show us how this man, Jordan Belfort, rose from nothing to become a man of huge wealth, all on the backs of others.  This is a film that might offend some, as Mr. Scorsese and his team don’t flinch away from showing us the sex-and-drugs-fueled antics of Jordan and his cronies.  How great is it that 71-year-old Martin Scorsese is still making movies that can push people’s buttons!  Personally, I was spellbound by the bravura filmmaking on display.  (Click here for my original review.)

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4. Gravity Speaking of bravura filmmaking: Alfonso Cuaron’s thrilling survival story in outer space is a visual effects extravaganza, gloriously beautiful and dazzlingly ambitious.  Mr. Cuaron’s filmmaking is beyond anything I have ever seen before, taking full advantage of the 3-D to pull the audience right into the middle of the story.  Watching this story unfold in IMAX 3-D was a riveting experience.  Mr. Cuaron’s lengthy, seemingly uninterrupted takes are incredibly inventive and impressive from a filmmaking aspect, but they’re not just empty cinematic exercises — they give this fantastical, sci-fi story a you-are-right-there-in-the-middle-of-it reality that is extraordinary.  All of this would be useless, though, were not this sci-fi story balanced by a small-scale, deeply personal tale of one woman’s struggle to find a reason for living again in the wake of grief, and were it not anchored by Sandra Bullock’s gripping, gritty performance (and great supporting work from George Clooney).  This is a marvelously original movie that pushed the boundaries of cinema while also telling a heart-pumpingly engaging story.  I loved it.  (Click here for my original review.)

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3. Much Ado About Nothing Joss Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, filmed on a low budget over twelve days in Mr. Whedon’s … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

November 14th, 2013
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After making The Avengers, Joss Whedon got a bunch of his friends and frequent collaborators together and, over 12 days and working in and around his own house, shot a black-and-white adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  I missed this when it was very briefly released in theatres this past summer, but had a copy in my hands the week it came out on DVD.  What a delightful, joy-filled film!  This is a magnificent adaptation — a wonderfully funny, dramatic, and romantic concoction.

I must admit that Much Ado About Nothing has never been one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  I always find myself far more interested in his tragedies and histories than I am in his comedies.  But under Joss Whedon’s hand this story of love and deceit comes to life, and I was quickly rather completely enraptured by the story being told.

The great joy of the film is seeing so many familiar televison faces (almost all of them from various Joss Whedon shows) doing Shakespeare.  And they are all, to the last, extraordinarily impressive!!

The two leads, Beatrice and Benedick, are played by Amy Acker (Angel and Dollhouse) and Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse), and both are marvelous, easily carrying the weight of these major roles.  Ms. Acker is a great beauty and a fiercely talented actor, someone who well-deserves to be the lead in LOTS of movies. She is particularly nimble with the dialogue, and her performance of the “if only I were a man” speech is powerful.  Alexis Denisof is equally engaging.  I was particularly impressed by how well he was able to play the comedic side of the rcharacter.  The scene in which he preens himself outside, doing all sorts of outlandish stretches in an effort to impress Beatrice, is one of the biggest laughs in the film.

There are an incredible number of talented performers in the film, each of whom shines in many different ways.  I was particularly impressed with Reed Diamond’s work as Don Pedro.  I was immediately taken by how facile Mr. Diamond was with the dialogue.  It’s extraordinarily impressive how well he was able to speak the words and to bring their meaning to life, in an incredibly naturalistic way.  (Watching the special features, it turns out he went to Juilliard and has been waiting his whole life to have an opportunity to play Shakespeare.  Well done, sir, you hit this one out of the park.)

I was also extremely taken by Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk’s work as the bumbling inspector pair Dogberry and Verges.  The two men are HILARIOUS together, a terrific comedy team.  Nathan Fillion doesn’t seem quite as … [continued]

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Much Ado About Whedon

March 8th, 2013
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Oh my god.  Yes please.

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The Top 15 Movies of 2012 — Part Three!

In Part One of my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012, I listed numbers 15 through 11, and in Part Two I listed numbers 10 through 6.  Let’s bring it home with the final installment of my Best Movies of 2012 list!

5. Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino’s fierce, fiery, take-no-prisoners assault on the institution of slavery in America is at once a very serious attempt to look this great evil of American history straight in the eye, while also being a phenomenally entertaining, funny, exciting, action-packed and blood-soaked Spaghetti Western adventure.  That Mr. Tarantino’s film succeeds so wildly on both counts is a testament to his enormous skills as a filmmaker.  Django Unchained is unquestionably the product of Mr. Tarantino’s wonderfully distinct cinematic vision.  The film is filled with astoundingly beautiful dialogue, incredible tension, various (very funny) anachronistic touches, spectacular (and very bloody) action, and a glorious musical score — all of which are Mr. Tarantino’s specialties.  Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz are both absolute perfection as the twin anchors of the film, totally commanding in their roles, with each creating iconic, memorable cinematic characters.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson are both equally spectacular as the film’s abhorrent villains.  Django Unchained feels transgressive, it feels dangerous.  It is without question fiercely alive and engaging from the very first frame to the very last, and I found it to be one of the most fun, visceral, intense experiences I had in a movie theatre this year.  (Click here for my original review.)

4. Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal have together created an astonishing cinematic document that powerfully brings to life not only the complex, often seemingly hopeless decade-long search for Osama bin Laden, but also the vast human cost (on all sides) of that pursuit.  For almost three full hours, I sat riveted by the drama on-screen as CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain), assigned to the U.S. embassy in Pakistan, worked — together with other operatives, interrogators, and analysts — for year after long year, trying to piece together a chain of evidence that would lead U.S. forces to discover the hiding place of Osama bin Laden.  This film revels in the details, in the minutia of Maya’s world, without dumbing anything down or over-explaining anything to audiences.  This is a film that assumes a lot of its audience: that we are decently well-versed in the historical background, and that we are capable of paying close attention to the film as it unfolds.  Jessica Chastain does magnificent, star-making work as the driven but haunted Maya.  The action sequences are phenomenal, particularly the climactic assault on bin Landen’s compound in … [continued]

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An Important Message From Joss Whedon

August 16th, 2012

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Josh Reviews The Cabin in the Woods

So, yeah, we all know that Joss Whedon (mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and many more pieces of beloved work) co-wrote and directed Marvel’s huge film The Avengers, opening in a few weeks (and which I am desperately anticipating).  But did you realize that he was also involved in a horror film, The Cabin in the Woods, that was made back in 2009?

Yep!  Mr. Whedon co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Goddard (a frequent collaborator with Mr. Whedon who was also an author on Lost and the co-writer of Cloverfield), who made his directorial debut with the film.  Unfortunately, the movie was never released by MGM, due to the studio’s financial turmoil.  Eventually the film was sold to Lionsgate and finally released a few weeks ago.

Go see it.  Go see it right now!

Don’t let anyone tell you anything about it.  Don’t read any reviews.  (Really — I’m going to be super-vague but I invite you to stop reading this piece.)  For goodness sake don’t watch any of the trailers.  Just trust Joss Whedon and trust me and go see this film.

It’s almost impossible to write about The Cabin in the Woods without spoiling any of the wonderful surprises.  There are some great actors in the film that I had no idea were in the film.  They’re extraordinary, but I don’t even want to name their names!

So what CAN I say?  I’ll say that the scene that interrupts the opening credits made me think that I was pretty sure I was going to like this film.  Then there’s the moment, much much later in the film, when all the elevators open at once.  Five seconds later, I was pretty much convinced that The Cabin in the Woods was the greatest friggin’ movie I’d ever seen!

Well, with some further reflection, it’s clear that The Cabin in the Woods is not, in fact, the greatest friggin’ movie I’ve ever seen.

But it is damn good.

The film is a deliriously clever twist on the horror genre.  I don’t really like horror films, but I dug the heck out of the Cabin in the Woods. It is a horror film, don’t get me wrong.  There are real scares and some grisly deaths.  This is NOT a sweet romantic comedy!!  So there are certainly aspects of the film that I know won’t appeal to everyone.  But the film is based on an absolutely genius idea, and the main delight of the film is watching the petals of that genius idea slowly unfurl, and as the realization slowly dawns on the viewer and on one or two of the main characters as to what … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Check out this sneak peek at Game of Thrones season two!  AARRGH, I can’t believe we have to wait until September!  (But I’m intrigued by the rumor that seasons 3 and 4 will shoot back-to-back and will comprise a two-season adaptation of the third book, A Storm of Swords.)

Speaking of waiting, looks like Star Trek 2 (or whatever they’re gonna call it) finally has a release date: May 17, 2013.  That’s a long four years after the 2009 release of the first (or eleventh, depending on how you’re counting) film (which was itself delayed from its originally scheduled release in December, 2008).  Here’s hoping the film is good after such a long wait, and that Paramount can get the third (or thirteenth!) film rolling with a little less down-time…

While we’re on the subject of Star Trek, check out these fascinating early-draft versions of the famous “space… the final frontier” opening monologue.

I love Devin Faraci’s recent piece on the increasingly crazy Frank Miller.  Click here to read The Devin’s Advocate: Frank Miler is an Asshole, but I Still Like His Work.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Interesting the hear that David Simon feels that four seasons is his ideal length for Treme.  God, I love that show.  Season three is definitely happening, so I really hope HBO give sMr. Simon and his team their desired fourth and final season.

There’s a new trailer out for John Carter (of Mars).  I wish I was more excited about this film.  The trailer looks absolutely gorgeous, but I am really not loving the glimpses we’ve seen of Taylor Kirsch so far in the lead role.  Maybe I am letting bad feelings from his appearing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (as Gambit) get to me.  Or maybe it’s that Disney’s butchering of the title (it should be called John Carter OF MARS!!!) that has me uneasy.  We’ll see.  I’m crossing my fingers big-time on this one.

Speaking of movies coming out this spring, Joss Whedon’s film Cabin in the Woods looks like it’s finally, FINALLY getting released after sitting on the shelf for two years.  Love the new poster.  I don’t really know anything about this film other than the fact that Joss Whedon directed it, but that’s enough to get my butt in the theatre.  (UPDATE:  A trailer was just released and now that I’ve watched it I know MORE about this film than I wish I did!!  BEWARE SPOILERS, and watch at your own peril.)

And speaking of movie adaptations that I should be anticipating but aren’t (I’m referring back to John Carter (of Mars), now, not Cabin in the Woods!), comes word that the [continued]

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New Comics! Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale and Dueling Versions of the Origin of Superman!

Here are some of the comic books I’ve been reading lately:

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale — This gorgeous hardcover graphic novel finally reveals the mysterious back-story of Shepherd Book, the enigmatic preacher from Joss Whedon’s dearly-missed TV series Firefly.  I always felt that the character, played to such perfection by Ron Glass, was one of the more intriguing members of the show’s ensemble.  This man of peace clearly had a great deal of knowledge of war, and about the inner workings of the Alliance, but we never got to know the character’s full story.  With Book’s tragic death in the film Serenity, and that film’s poor box office killing the hope of any further sequels, it seemed that Firefly fans would be left always wondering about the much hinted-at history of Shepherd Book.

Dark Horse Comics to the rescue!  The publisher has put out several Serenity comic books over the past few years, but The Shepherd’s Tale is the high-point.  Written by Joss Whedon and his brother Zack Whedon (a very talented writer in his own right, Zack was a key creative voice behind Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and wrote Dark Horse’s terrific recent Terminator series), this is the official, canon, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth version of Shepherd Book’s story.  It’s a wonderful tale, presented in vignettes told in reverse chronological order.  In a clever touch, we begin with Book’s death (and, by the way, Book’s narration of the moment of his death is so perfect, so wonderful, that once again my heart aches at the demise of Firefly) and then work our way back through his life.  (I should note here that, as wonderful as the choice to present Book’s life in reverse chronological order is, its impact was a bit diminished for me since I have long held Star Trek Annual #3, “Retrospect,” published by DC Comics back in 1988, to be one of the greatest comic books I’ve ever read.  That issue, written by Peter David and illustrated by Curt Swan & Ricardo Villagran, presents the story of Scotty’s life-long love affair with a doomed woman in reverse order, from the moment he learns of her death back all the way to their first encounter as little kids.  It broke my heart when I first read it as a kid, and I have re-read it a thousand times in the years since.  But back to Serenity…)

Chris Samnee’s art is gorgeous, dense and atmospheric.  He’s not an expert at capturing the features of the actors from the TV series, but his art is so expressive that I didn’t mind a bit.  He totally captures the “feel” of Shepherd Book, and he’s an expert at creating a … [continued]

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EZ Viewing: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

December 9th, 2010
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The fourth feature in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog!  (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and here to read about film three: Tropic Thunder.)

This is one of my very favorite things ever.  It’s a super-villain musical!!  (Click here to read my original review.)

Only 45 minutes long (the series was originally created as three 15-minute-long internet shorts), Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s Doogie Howser, M.D. – and also now a lead on How I Met Your Mother) stars as the titular Dr. Horrible.  He’s a fairly pathetic loser, desperate to be taken seriously and accepted into the Evil League of Evil.  Unfortunately, his schemes keep getting foiled by the heroic and handsome Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion – Mal from Firefly).  In his personal life, the good doctor has an enormous crush on the pretty girl-next-door, Penny (Felicia Day) who he keeps bumping into at the Laundromat.  Will he ever be able to defeat Captain Hammer and speak to Penny???

The ridiculously-talented Joss Whedon created and Wrote Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog along with his brothers Jed and and Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen during the WGA strike.  Mr. Whedon told NY Magazine: “I was in meetings with companies to make deals to create stuff for the Internet, in a cheaper fashion — but still on a grander scale than Dr. Horrible — but nothing was going. Nothing was going! So I did something I should’ve done a long time before — I took matters into my own hands.”

He elaborated to TV Guide’s Matt Roush: “”I was really sick of not doing things. I’d been writing movies nobody was making. I got tired of that. And even though I had this series (Fox’s Dollhouse) coming up, we were on strike—and well, I thought we were going to hold out a little bit longer—but it just felt right.”

Whedon funded the project himself.  He commented: “Freedom is glorious… The fact is, I’ve had very good relationships with studios, and I’ve worked with a lot of smart executives. But there is a difference when you can just go ahead and do something.” As a web show, there were fewer constraints imposed on the project, and Whedon had the “freedom to just let the dictates of the story say how long it’s gonna be. We didn’t have to cram everything in–there is a lot in there–but we put in the amount of story that we wanted to and let the time work around that. We … [continued]

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On the Comics Shelf!

Last month I wrote about a number of great comic books that I’d read lately.  Here’s some more of the fun stuff I’ve been reading these past few weeks:

The Marvel Art of Joe Quesada — I remember taking note of a young artist named Joe Quesada back when he was illustrating Azrael for DC Comics and a variety of books for Valiant Comics (like Ninjak and, as I recall, a zero issue of X-O Manowar), and I’ve been following his work ever since.  These days he’s one of the biggest superstars out there, but not just as an illustrator — Mr. Quesada has been the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics for a decade.  This gorgeous oversize hardcover is a comprehensive look back at his work for the House of Ideas.  In particular, I love the spotlight given to all of his phenomenal cover work.  I wish there was a little more commentary provided along with all the beautiful reproductions of his work (I’ve been spoiled by the way the Cover Run: The Art of Adam Hughes book contained commentary by Mr. Hughes for EVERY IMAGE), but that’s a minor complaint.  A stunning collection that sits proudly on my bookshelf.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships — Another winner from Mike Mignola and his team.  Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden (working together to bring the lead character from their novel Baltimore,: or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire to the world of comic books) with wonderfully atmospheric art by Ben Stenbeck (and phenomenal coloring by Dave Stewart), the mini-series has me gripped so far.  Lord Henry Baltimore hunts vampires across Europe in the early 1900’s.  It’s grim and bloody and phenomenally good.

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects — Speaking of Mike Mignola, I must also heap praise on this wonderfully loony hardcover collection of his one-off story, The Amazing Screw-On Head (about a robotic head that can screw into various elaborate action-figure bodies in order to hunt monsters for Abraham Lincoln) along with a variety of other equally bizarre short-stories (many of which were written and drawn specifically for this collection).  Wonderfully off-beat and gorgeously illustrated by the phenomenally talented Mr. Mignola, I am in love with this handsomely-designed collection.

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories — I was a bit dubious that the characters from Joss Whedon’s triumphant web-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (read my rapturous review here) could translate to comics, but this softcover collection (reprinting Dark Horse Comics’ Dr. Horrible one-shot from earlier in the year along with several other short stories spotlighting different characters from the Dr. Horrible universe) but boy was I wrong.  Zack Whedon wrote all of … [continued]

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News Around the Net

Quint over at AICN has posted an amazing, career-spanning interview with the extraordinarily talented Drew Struzan.  Mr. Struzan has illustrated many of the most iconic movie posters of the last several decades — posters I’m sure you’d recognize for all of the Indiana Jones films, the Star Wars films, the Back to the Future films, and so many more.  The man is an incredible talent.  I have already ordered my copy of The Art of Drew Struzan, and I can’t wait for it to arrive!

The AICN seaman has also been posting a really fun series called The Behind the Scenes Pic of the Day that is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already been following it.  Maybe you’ll want to start with this one that has done far worse than kill you, he’s hurt you, and he wishes to go on hurting you.  Heh — fits right in with my current run of cartoons!!

A fun animation test for the abandoned Roger Rabbit 2 project, from 1998, has recently surfaced on-line.  Worth checking out.

This recent brief interview with Joss Whedon, discussing his work on the upcoming Avengers film, has been making the rounds of the net but it’s worth reading if you haven’t seen it yet.  I love Mr. Whedon’s comment that “I would like to put these actors in a room and just make Glengarry Glen Ross.”  Boy would I happily pay to see that!!

This is an interesting list of the 33 Greatest Movie Trilogies of all time, as voted for by readers of Empire magazine.  There are some weird choices (I think the terrible fourth entries in the Die Hard and Indiana Jones series would disqualify those as trilogies — and what the hell is the Star Wars prequel trilogy doing on that list???) but it’s a fun read.

So actor Robert Wuhl, who once played a sports agent on the TV show Arliss, is now hosting an actual sports radio show?  That’s pretty funny.

I love this:

[continued]

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Have you heard that they’re making new Looney Tunes cartoons to show theatrically?  Check out this glimpse of the first new Road Runner cartoon in far too many years:

Battlestar Galactica lives on!  Rumors are that SyFy are working on an on-line BSG spin-off, tentatively titled “Blood and Chrome” that would depict a young Bill Adama during the first Cylon War.  I LOVED the glimpse at a young “Husker” Adama that we got in Razor, and would LOVE to see more.  I hope this comes to pass!

I’ve been reading for years about the Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow film series, in which famous films are screened in a location connected in some way with the film.  It’s always sounded like a cool idea, and these special posters for the upcoming tour are just phenomenal.  I love movie posters, and these are about the coolest posters I’ve seen in a long, long while.

If there’s one sliver of a silver lining from MGM’s financial woes forcing Guillermo del Toro to leave the in-development Hobbit films, its the announcement that he’ll next be directing an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, a project that del Toro has been talking about for years.  Should be awesome.

As readers of the site are probably well aware, I am one of the few people on Earth who unabashedly loved Superman Returns.  So I wholeheartedly second this plea from CHUD that Brandon Routh be allowed to reprise his role as Clark Kent/Superman in the next Superman film.  I thought Routh was pretty much perfect, and I would be thrilled to see him continue.

Speaking of superheroes, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the official announcement of The Avengers‘ cast and line-up at Comic-Con last weekHere are some more details from the panel.  Pretty astounding cast, if you ask me, and I think Joss Whedon is a perfect choice as director.  Now please please please don’t screw this up, gang!!

Here are some fascinating reports from the Thor panel & footage from Comic-Con, as well as the Captain America panel.  I cannot wait to see some actual footage from these two films.  I really hope Marvel is able to pull these movies off.

Behold The Infinity Gauntlet!!  Awesome.

OK, enough Marvel, let’s talk DC!  I was very underwhelmed by our first look at Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern, but I love this peek at Sinestro.

Lost‘s Damon Lindeloff is re-writing the Alien prequel that Ridley Scott is directing? Pretty cool.

If they ever actually make another Judge Dredd movie, I love the idea of Karl Urban under the helmet.

Some interesting TV [continued]

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Love that photograph.  (I first saw it here.)

My friend Andy recently pointed me in the direction of a terrific web-comic called XKCD.  It’s a self-described web-comic of “romance, sarcasm, math, and language.”  My buddies who work in the computer world picked this comic as their favorite.

Here’s an interesting article that compares various shows’ original pilot episodes with what actually made it to air.  I was particularly intrigued since I recently saw Joss Whedon’s original, unaired pilot for Dollhouse that was rejected by FOX (it was a special feature on the season one DVD set), which Steph and I agreed was FAR superior to the pilot that aired (and, frankly, superior to ANY episode that actually aired during the first season!!  The two episodes that FOX never aired, that pilot and the epilogue episode Epitah One, were far far better than any of the 12 episodes that were actually broadcast.  But that’s a blog for another time…)

Here‘s an interesting list of one fella’s thoughts on the 10 best series of the 21st century so far (2000-present).  Some interesting choices there.  Love his description of season 1 of Battlestar Galactica (though beware a spoiler for that season’s shocking finish if you’ve never seen it!).

Click here for an absolutely fascinating, lengthy look into Spike Jonze’s almost decade-long effort to bring Where The Wild Things Are to the big screen, from the New York Times.  I cannot wait to see what he has created.

There’s a really intriguing new trailer out there for Up in the Air, the new film from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) and starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, and Zach Galifianakis that looks spectacular.

Last year I wrote a piece that I called My Farewell to Heroes, in which I vowed to stop watching that incredibly disappointing show.  Luckily (judging by the consistently terrible reviews that the third season of the show got) I was able to stick to my vow.  Life is just to short to watch shitty TV.   Anyways, there’s an amusing review of the third season DVD set up at DVDactive.com (a terrific DVD/Blu-Ray site) by someone who shares my disdain for the show.  Worth a read.

I’ve breen pretty down on the movies of summer 2009.  My feeling has been that this was one of the more disappointing summers in recent memory.  But a recent article by Devin Farici over at Chud, listing his 10 best movies of summer 2009 just might cause me to change my tune.  I haven’t yet seen Moon, Away We Go, or World’s Greatest Dad (missed ’em in theatres, but … [continued]

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More Goodness From Comic-Con!

Battlestar Galactica vets Hamie Bamber (Lee Apollo) and Tahmoh Penikett (Helo) will be together again on the season 2 premiere of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse! Click here for more details.

Speaking of Dollhouse, any interview with Mr. Whedon is always worth a look, and this piece contains some tantalizing glimpses at the unaired Dollhouse episode “Epitah 1” (which screened at Comic-Con and sounds super-cool) as well as hints at a sequel to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (one of my favoritest things ever)!!

So wow, Capone over at AICN has a report from Peter Jackson covering about 10,000 upcoming projects, all of them enormously exciting!!  Click here to get an update on The Hobbit, District 9, The Lovely Bones, Tintin, and more!

The Sci-Fi channel (urg, I really don’t want to call it Sy-Fy) has posted video from all of its Comic-Con panels.  Perhaps, like me, you couldn’t care less to watch video of people talking about Stargate: Universe — but be sure to check out the full hour-long panel about Battlestar Galactica: The Plan and Caprica!

Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill will be lending their vocal talents to The Simpsons?  Awesome!  Here’s some additional info that came to light at Comic-Con on the season’s upcoming 20th (20 years!  Unbelievable!!) season.

I am disappointed, but not terribly surprised, to read that Kevin Smith might have to change the title of his upcoming buddy cop movie (starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan), A Couple of Dicks.

By all accounts, the Iron Man 2 panel was pretty awesome.  (Click here for a description.)  Why can’t some of this footage be found on-line??  Grrr.  But here’s another interesting tidbit of Marvel movie news: some hints about the line-up for the upcoming Avengers movie!  Some interesting choices.  I really hope that they use Millar/Hitch’s magnificent Ultimates series (which I reviewed here) as the basis for this film.

Since Comic-Con is also a place for news about, you know, comics, I’ll close with a piece of comic-book news that should get any true comic fan very excited:  Planetary #27 is finally being released in October!!!  Can it possibly live-up to the hype generated by the years-long delay?  We’ll see!… [continued]

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Here Come the Superheroes! Part III of Josh’s Look at His Favorite Graphic Novels!

Over the past two days I have listed several of my favorite graphic novels.  (Click here for part I and here for part II.)  You’ll notice that most of them had nothing to do with super-heroes.  This was purposeful — although super-hero stories dominate the American comic book scene, there are so many other types of stories that can be told using the comics medium.  That’s something I wanted to highlight.

But that’s not to say that I don’t also love a terrific super-hero story, because I certainly do!  Here are some of my favorites, that are available in graphic novel or collected-edition formats:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Following the death of Robin, Bruce Wayne retired his Batman persona.  It’s been 10 years, and Gotham City has sunk into an urban decay of crime.  Bruce Wayne is a broken man, empty and lost.  But when something drives him to put on that mask one more time, everything changes.  (Although not necessarily for the better!)  Along with Watchmen (which was also released in 1986), Frank Miller’s magnus opus changed the comics industry forever, demonstrating without a doubt that it was possible to tell sophisticated, mature stories with super-hero characters.  (It also was a tremendous influence on the look and tone of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film.)  This story is intense and shockingly brutal.  It is also a gorgeous work of art, filled to the brim with overlapping narratives that tell the stories of an enormous cast of characters, all struggling to make their way in the brutal urban jungle that Gotham City has become, and all of them somehow affected by the shadow of the bat.  The Dark Knight Returns is also infamous for Miller’s depiction of an almost fascistic Superman, and his battle with the Batman in the series’ final chapter is a show-stopper.  (I should also mention that I am quite fond of Miller’s Batman: Year One, illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, from which a great deal of the story of Batman Begins was adapted.)

The New Frontier — Darwyn Cooke’s brilliant series re-tells the origins of many of DC Comics’ most familiar characters, albeit set in the years in which they were originally created.  Similar to the way in which The Right Stuff showed how American fighter pilots gradually became our astronauts, The New Frontier tells the story of how the pulp heroes that came out of the second world war gradually became the costumed super-heroes of a brave new age.  Cooke’s somewhat retro, simplified art style is stunningly gorgeous and absolutely perfect for the story being told.  The New Frontier captures the innocence and wonder, as well as the growing dangers, of the 1950’s and … [continued]

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OK, here we are with my final “Best-of” list, the Top 10 DVDs of 2008!  To be included on this list, the DVD in question had to contain a high-quality TV show, movie, or special and also a great presentation on DVD, with lots of cool special features.  Behold my list:

10.  Mystery Science Theatre 3000:  20th Anniversary Edition — I adore this show, and this 20th anniversary celebration of its existence just rocked.  On this set, the gang haves fun with four great/terrible films: First Spaceship on Venus (1960), Laserblast (1978), Werewolf (1996) and Future War (1997).  Even better is the inclusion of an in-depth 3-part documentary on the making of the show, from its creation through to its end.  The icing on the cake was the neat tin case that included fun stuff like a little model of Crowe T. Robot, which now sits proudly on my desk.

9.  John, Paul, Tom & Ringo: The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder — This DVD contains three lengthy, rare interviews that Tom Synder conducted with Paul McCartney (in 1979), Ringo Starr (in 1981), and John Lennon (in 1975).  The Lennon interview is the last televised interview that John gave before his death.  Snyder is an engaging interviewer, and these lengthy conversations with 3 of the 4 Beatles are a real find.

8.  The Office: The Complete Fourth Season and 30 Rock: The Complete Second Season — Complete season sets of these two NBC shows at the top of their game were released in ’08, I can’t tell you how many hours of enjoyment I got out of these DVDs.  In the fourth season of The Office, Ryan the temp is promoted, moves to New York City, and falls to pieces; Andy begins dating Angela; Stanley finally loses it with Michael (“did I stutter?”), Michael is deposed in Jan’s case against Dunder Mifflin; the gang creates an ad to run on local television and participates in Michael’s “fun run” towards a cure for rabies; Toby finally leaves for Costa Rica; and of course Michael and Jan invite Jim and Pam over for a dinner party.  Over on 30 Rock, Jack launches a new reality series called  MILF Island; Tracy and Jenna feud over Liz’s attentions; Liz adopts a hippie writer (played by Carrie Fisher) as her mentor; Devon Banks (Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett) feuds with Jack over the top spot at GE; Jerry Seinfeld discovers Jack’s plan to digitally insert him into all of NBC’s new fall shows; Jack falls in love with a Democratic Congresswoman from Vermont (Edie Falco); and while Liz Lemon faces a pregnancy scare, Jack takes a job working in the Bush Administration along … [continued]

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Well, I hope you enjoyed my lists of the Top 10 TV Shows and the Top 10 Movies 0f 2008.

But, you know, EVERYONE writes those sorts of top 10 lists!  So today, I wanted to send some love in the direction of the best comic books that I read in 2008.  2008 was a PHENOMENAL year for comics, with a lot of great material out there.  Here’s what I felt was the best of the best.

15.  Top 10: Season 2 (issues #1-3 published in 2008) — One of Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta)’s greatest works of the past decade was the first “season” of Top 10, published between 1999 and 2001.  It chronicled the efforts of a police force in a bizarre city that seemed to be a meeting point for all sorts of fantasy characters from comics, TV shows, and movies.  Although Mr. Moore has not returned for this second installment, talented writer Zander Cannon along with returning artist Gene Ha have crafted a story every bit as weird, complex, and compelling as Mr. Moore’s original.  Ha’s art remains staggeringly complex and detailed, filled with lots of fun surprises in the background for an attentive reader.

14.  Detective Comics #846-850, “Heart of Hush” — Although Grant Morrison’s “Batman: R.I.P.” storyline over in Batman got all the attention this year, it was writer Paul Dini (one of the guiding forces behind the amazing Batman: The Animated Series) who was behind my favorite Batman story of 2008.  Enigmatic villain Hush returns with a complex scheme to take down the Dark Kight, while in a series of flashbacks we learn how the friendship between young Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliott went wrong.  Throw in Catwoman and gorgeous art by Dustin Nguyen, and you have a classic.  (Collected edition available here.)

13.  Ultimate Spider-Man (issues 116-128 published in 2008) — I cannot believe how much I continue to enjoy this Spider-Man book.  Guided by the incredible writing of Brian Michael Bendis, who has been writing this reinvention of Spider-Man since issue #1, this is everything a super-hero comic book should be.  It is filled with great action, terrific humor, and incredible continuity and character development.  I don’t know of any comic that is consistently more fun, and the fact that such a high standard of quality has been maintained for 128 issues and counting is amazing.  (The entire run of USM is available in collected editions.  Here is the latest.)

12.  Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (issues 1-5 of “The Long Road Home” and 1-4 of “Treachery” published in 2008) — A complex but coherent story and absolutely gorgeous art by Jae Lae and Richard … [continued]

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How did I miss this?? Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog!

January 14th, 2009
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I cannot believe this has been in existence since the summer and I only just saw it a few days ago!!!

What am I talking about?  It’s the incomparable Joss Whedon’s 3-part web-series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which has just been released on DVD.  

Some back-story: Conceived during the writers strike, Joss Whedon (Firefly, Serenity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), along with a gaggle of his friends, created a 3-part web series (each installment totaling approx. 15 minutes in length) that was released, for free, on the web this past summer.  It was quite a success, crashing various web-servers and garnering a lot of acclaim in the mainstream media.  

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a super-villain musical.  Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) turns in quite possibly the best performance of his career (certainly the best performance of his that I’ve ever seen) as the titular sad-sack super-villain, Dr. Horrible.  His nemesis: the handsome and super-strong hero Captain Hammer, played by Nathan Fillion (Captain Tightpants himself — Mal Reynolds from Firefly and Serenity).  In addition to their repeated conflicts over all of Dr. Horrible’s nefarious schemes (undertaken in an attempt to join the League of Evil), the two quickly fall for the same girl:  the beguiling Penny, played by Felicia Day.  And did I mention this was a musical?

All of the actors (the three leads and a variety of other talented folk) all turn in magnificent performances, but Neil Patrick Harris’ Dr. Horrible is one of the great creations of recent memory.  The story opens with a lengthy monologue straight into camera by Harris, delivered without cuts — this is our introduction to his video blog.  The sequence is astounding — a magical combination of a talented actor and a sharp, hilarious script by Whedon.  If you’re not hooked by its end, then I really don’t think we have anything in common.

Great actors and a hysterical, poignant script — that would be enough, no?  But I was blown away by the quality of the songs.  There are 14 songs in total, and they are really astounding.  Judging music is not my forte, but I found all of the songs to be catchy, witty, and well incorporated into the overall story.  I was humming quite a few of them after my first viewing.

Although I am astounded that I let something of such high quality go un-watched by me for so many months, I don’t regret too strongly holding out for the DVD release.  That’s because in addition to a high-quality image and some terrific special features (an in-depth “making-of” and a fun, insightful commentary) there is … [continued]

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Astonishing

September 17th, 2008
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The various X-Men comic books have been a sales juggernaut for Marvel Comics for almost forty years now, and the success of the three X-Men films has certainly furthered the spread of this franchise.  There have been a heck of a lot of talented writers and artists involved in the X-Men over that long stretch of time, but one man really deserves the lion’s share of the credit: Chris Claremont, who wrote The Uncanny X-Men comic book from 1975-1991. 

Over the course of that incredibly lengthy run, Clarement shaped the characters, the stories, and the world of the X-Men, so much of which is known and loved world-wide today. 

I started reading Uncanny X-Men towards the late-middle of Claremont’s run, in the mid/late 80’s.  I’d been reading comics for a few years (my enjoyment of Marvel’s Transformers comic book series lead me to various super-hero titles such as the Fantastic Four and the Avengers), and people kept telling me “you can’t be a comic fan and not be reading X-Men.” I finally took the plunge, and I was immediately sucked into the series.  Claremont was incredibly skilled at crafting interesting, really three-dimensional and human characters, and his stories were dense and sophisticated.  (Claremont was the master of the “sub-plot,” in which various story-lines would weave in and out of the comic, sometimes for YEARS, before finally dovetailing with the main story being told.)

After Claremont left the X-Men comic in 1991, I continued to follow the series for many years, but it was never able to recapture for me the greatness of the Claremont era.  Various writers and artists would rotate through the book, and some entertaining stories were told… but after a while I finally began to get bored, and I ultimately stopped reading.  Once or twice a year I’d pick up an issue or a mini-series, but nothing ever held my interest enough to warrant my reading the title again on a monthly basis.

Then, in 2001, the British writer-artist team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely took over one of the X-Men comics.  (By this point, there were several!)  I purchased their first issue, titled “E for Extinction,” and was blown away.  Suddenly, the characters were interesting again, and the world those characters inhabited seemed dangerous again.  I was hooked, and with no small amount of disbelief I started reading an X-Men comic every month again.

Maybe I’ll return to this topic at a later date to write a lengthier review of Morrison’s run, but ultimately I was disappointed by what had begun so promisingly.  From the beginning, Quitely wasn’t able to keep up a regular schedule, and without his magnificent art the stories … [continued]