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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Film Review - Dirty Dancing


Release: 1987
Director: Emile Ardolino
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey

A classic and no doubt. Patrick Swa-Hay-Zee as my compatriot Stiggy would say it. Swayze is great in any film he is in. I realise this was a chick flick, but it was still cool.

At a family holiday camp in the 50s, Jennifer Grey plays Baby, a young woman with her family who falls for the camp's dancing instructor, the sexy Swa-Hay-Zee. Grey leaves the holidaymakers part of the camp and experiences another world when she joins the dancers in their off-duty sexy fun time. A bunch of sweaty people doing the most suggestive dancing ever seen, especially for the 50s. It's an awakening for Grey in many ways, and Swa-Hay-Zee teaches her what he knows.

Some rather adult themes in the film, so it's definitely not for the whole family, but it's a very decent chick flick.

The most famous line of the film, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner.." was a real F**K YEAH moment

7/10

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Film Review - Dinner For Schmucks


Release: 2010
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, David Walliams

Steve Carell is in one of his more zaney roles in this one, and may be too much for some to handle. His performance is meant to make you cringe. I could watch Paul Rudd is anything, no matter how awful.

It has a wonderful supporting cast full of scene stealing, particularly The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis as Carell's psychic nemesis. Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords is particularly amazing.

I cringed the whole way through, but was elated for the final 20 minutes as everything reached it's hilarious conclusion. Not a comedy to simply write off.

6/10

Film Review - Devil


Release: 2010
Director: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Caroline Dhavernas, Bokeem Woodbine

Four people are trapped in a lift, one of them is the Devil. One by one they're being murdered.

The static location of the lift was offset well by the maintenance crew and police trying to figure it out and stop it, which prevented it from getting a bit dull.

It was a good thriller and an interestingly fresh concept. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would

7/10

Film Review - Deadline


Release: 2009
Director: Sean McConville
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Thora Birch

Ugh.. I liked Britanny Murphy, and this was one of her final films. Shame it's not good.

It's a supernatural thriller and then it's not, and then it tries to be too clever and it just doesn't work. When a twist doesn't make sense, it's just a slap in the face to anyone who's suspended disbelief and engaged themselves in the plot and characters.

It's nearly a clever thriller, but just poorly executed

5/10

Film Review - Collateral


Release: 2004
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jaime Foxx

Took me a couple of years to get around to this one, but boy it was class. Tom Cruise is a great villain, and always plays his roles to perfection. Jaime Foxx is a likeable taxi driver who just happens to take on the fair that will change his life, and then another who will potentially end it.

The cinematography is really interesting, and has that 28 Days Later look from being filmed on DV cameras I believe rather than big Hollywood machines, so it more resembles security camera footage and all the more realistic and frightening.

Mann directs great action sequences, and this film is full of them. It also has great suspense, and is best described as an action thriler.

The club scene with the Paul Oakenfold soundtrack was particularly memorable. The song is called Ready Steady Go (Korean Style) and if you listen to it I guarantee it will be stuck in your head.

This had me hooked from start to finish

8/10

Film Review - Chasing Liberty


Release: 2004
Director: Andy Cadiff
Starring: Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode

Mandy Moore is the President's daughter, and so the most well protected girl in the world. All she really wants is her freedom. She is constantly surrounded by secret services, until she runs off with Matthew Goode. Unbeknownst to her, Goode is also secret service and is given the task of protecting her.

The two travel around Europe in a romantic and comedic fashion. The scenes in Venice were particularly good. The main supporting roles are the two secret service agents on their heels trying to bring them in, and it's nice seeing their relationship blossom as a subplot.

A satisfying teen romantic comedy

4/10

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Film Review - Changing Lanes


Release: 2002
Director: 
Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck

A film I had not even heard of until my Lovely mentioned it. A good action thriller.

Basic plot is Jackson is a man having an incredibly bad day on the verge of losing everything when Affleck mucks up his day even more. Instead of helping his fellow man, Affleck thinks only of himself and drives off and in doing so he leaves Jackson with the one Affleck needs and nothing left to lose.

Affleck is a bigshot lawyer, and all he needs to win a huge corporate case is with one document. In the confusion of the collision, Afleck left the document at the scene and into Jackson's hands.

The two basically go to war to destroy each other's lives in an ever-escalating fustercluck

I was gripped from beginning to end, and the ending was very satisfying. A surpising gem

7/10

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Film Review - Cast Away


Release: 2000
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks

Another film I took little notice of when it came out, but actually thought it was brilliant when I eventually got around to it. This certainly shows why Tom Hanks was Mr Oscars in the 90s. It's a touching tale of love and survival.

Hanks works for FedEx, and is on a plane from Russia to the America ready to get home for Christmas. The plane goes down during a horrendous storm, and Hanks is the sole survivor washed up on an island with a load of parcels as his only equipment.

The desire not only just to live, but to return home to his wife is what keeps him going. To avoid going crazy, he turns a football into his only friend. Eventually he uses the contents of the parcels washed up as a means of escape.

He returns home to find years have gone by, and declared legally dead his wife eventually moved on and remarried. It's a heartbreaking epilogue, but it's beautiful to see how he decides to make it up to those people who never received their parcels.

Films dealing with loss, such as loss of memory, or loss of time, really resonate with me. I was touched to see him crushed by waiting so long to be reunited with his wife only to lose her, and then he survives that too and moves on.

A beautiful film. Well worth it's hype.

8/10

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Film Review - Buried


Release: 2010
Director: Rodrigo Cort├ęs
Starring: Ryan Reynolds

Another 'stuck in one place for the whole film' type a la Phonebooth. I like Ryan Reynolds, and he is a great comedy actor. Could he do a serious thriller and be the sole driving point of interest? Turns out yes he can.

It's one man, buried alive in a coffin, in Iraq somewhere, with a mobile phone, and 80 minutes of air.

I'm not sure what the running time of the film is, but it's not a slow or boring film. It's well paced and Reynolds is superb. It's not a film to write home about mind you, it's just a good thriller.

6/10

Friday, 22 July 2011

Film Review - The Story Of Us


Release: 1999
Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer

An unconventional drama. A married couple reach breaking point after 15 years and separate. While apart they look back on various points of their lives when they were happy, and remember their reoccurring arguments and gripes.

It wasn't well received at the time as it was advertised as a romantic comedy, and comedy it ain't, a tragedy is more like. It's superbly acted, and it feels so real and visceral. The whole is dripping in real emotion. Willis and Pfeiffer come across as very real people, not as characters.

The ending is fantastic, and left me very emotional. It's totally recommended!

8/10

Film Review - Bride Wars


Release: 2009
Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Ann Hathaway, Kate Hudson

Two best friends are forced to book their weddings on the same day. They go from being the best of friends to bitter rivals.

A nice popcorn sort of comedy. It's by no means a good or great film, but I did enjoy it. It's full of "Oh no she didn'" moments and has a pretty touching climax.

If you enjoy a film with no violence or swearing but will still engage you, this is one to think about

5/10

Film Review - Brick



Release: 2005
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin

I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant. He was great in Third Rock From The Sun all those years ago, but with several years of great films under his belt (Inception being the biggest and the new Batman on the horizon), he just goes from strength to strength.

I'd never heard of this film and just watched it on a whim, and it was a bit confusing. It's dialogue is very much in the same school as Clockwork Orange, where none of the characters seem to be speaking English, but instead some kind of slang. It's sharp, and you really have to be concentrating to follow everything

Brendan Frye: Your muscle seemed plenty cool putting his fist in my head. I want him out.
The Pin: Looky, soldier...
Brendan Frye: The ape blows or I clam.

This is a murder mystery. Gordon-Levitt's ex turns up dead after a mysterious phonecall where she seems in trouble. He takes it on himself to find out who was behind it and make them pay.

It's all set in a high school, and it's funny how it closely it resembles a mob club in a noir film. He is constantly getting into fights, but it's not a violent film. As the film poster above mentions, it's a detective drama.

It was cool, but I'd have a bit of trouble recommending it

6/10

Film Review - Black Swan


Release: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis

So much hype, I really didn't see the appeal.. I love Natalie Portman, and Aronofsky does some great films, but this film really didn't connect with me in any way.

It was freaky, certainly, and bits made me squirm, yes, but was I moved or inspired? Nope.

The cinematography was good, and it was well acted, but the general premise and twists really didn't do anything for me.

I honestly didn't see what was good about it..


5/10

Film Review - Billy Elliot


Release: 2000
Director: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters

Another British film I'd written off, but on watching it really understood the hype. I've since become a real fan of Jamie Bell (watch The Eagle, it's class).

Set in a fictional Northern mining town during the coal mining strikes, Billy is a boy brought up in a motherless house by his manly father who wants him to learn boxing. In the same building as the boy's boxing class is a girl's ballet class, and Billy becomes curious. The ballet teacher Julie Walters takes Billy under her wing, and his love of dance comes alive.

He fights to keep his dancing secret, but eventually his father and brother find out. There are some very emotional scenes which all lead towards the father's breakdown and eventual acceptance of Billy's talent. Eventually they get behind Billy and send him to audition in a London Ballet School.

There are some fantastic scenes, one in particular is during a police raid of the town in full riot gear and 70's style beatdowns. The soundtrack of the film is full of T-Rex, and it really works. What a great little film.

8/10 

Film Review - Big Fish


Release: 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup

I was a big fan of Tim Burton's films, but found his films post-2000 weren't quite the same. I remember when this came out and decided to avoid it as it looked so colourful, but when I got around to watching it, I really enjoyed it.

It's the story of Ewan McGregor's life, told from his deathbed, but massively exaggerated. He paints himself to be a larger than life figure who had many staggering adventures. As the film goes on we question just much of it was really exaggerated at all!

It's a gloriously rich visual feast with some great acting broken up into several bite-sized acts. A very pleasant surprise.


7/10

Film Review - Bicentennial Man


Release: 1999
Director: Chris Columbus
Starring: Robin Williams, Embeth Davidtz, Sam Neill

I remember seeing posters for this on bus shelters when it came out. I was in college at the time, and remembered not really hearing any buzz about the film after. It was quite a few years before I saw it for the first time, and since then I think I've seen it another two times. It's a very enjoyable film exploring what it means to be alive.

As with all good robot films, it references Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Robin Williams is bought to be a service droid for Sam Neill's family, but quickly demonstrates his own personality and desires. After some investigation, Neill finds that his droid's personality isn't displayed by any of the same model, and its manufacturers believe it to be defective and think Neill is trying to return him. Robo Williams is quite put out that they think something is wrong with him, and goes on a mission to meet others of the same type to see if he really is the only robot with a soul.

Over the course of the film Robo Williams discovers love, human appearance and feelings, and eventually seeks to be recognised as a man. The epilogue of the film is moving, and really explores the human spirit and acceptance of death. Gets me choked up every time.


8/10

Film Review - Bend It Like Beckham


Release: 2002
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Parminder Nagra , Keira Knightley

Another film I had very low expectations for, but actually found myself really enjoying. The protagonist, Parminder Nagra, is a young Asian girl who wants nothing more to play football, but does so in secret as not to raise the ire of her very traditional parents. She secretly joins a local women's team who are a few good wins away from being watched by American scouts, which is the pinnacle of women's football.

She becomes great friends with Keira Knightley, but soon they come into conflict as they both fancy their football coach. It's got comedy, romance, drama and all the things you would want from a light-hearted but not throw-away family film.

The final act was great, and left me with a smile. A very not-bad British film


6/10

Film Review - Ben-Hur


Release: 1959
Director: William Wyler
Starring: Charlton Heston

Fair play, this was a long film.. So long you have to turn the DVD over in the middle of the film. Seriously, how many films have an intermission?

Length aside (hurr hurr) this was a brilliant classic film. Heston as a Jew isn't the most obvious casting choice, but I'm not fussy. He plays a Jewish prince, Judah Ben-Hur, who gets punished by his Roman childhood friend, and ends up becoming a slave. That one line summary is about an hour of the film by the way.

He somehow survives being a rower on a slave barge for years on pure grit alone, and eventually saves the life of his Roman keeper. The man is shocked by Ben-Hur's compassion and takes him on a servant of his House. Eventually he becomes the Master of the House and returns to his homeland as a Roman noble, ready to face down the man who sent him to his death.

The most famous scene of the film is the final chariot race, and it's a fantastic highly tense sequence. Fairplay it's two and a half hours into the film, and by that point I was well behind Ben-Hur.

The final act of the film involves Jesus, who is being led through the city with his cross over his shoulder. Ben-Hur recognises him as a man who gave him water when he was at his most desperate, and so Ben-Hur tries to help him but is pushed back by the Centurions. The crucifixion scene is moving, and is the primary focus of the film in a way, as Jesus' holiness affects all those in attendance, and even curse Ben-Hur's mother and sister of leprosy. Definitely a time to celebrate the man who died for our sins.

I didn't expect to enjoy the film as much as I did. It was proper class

8/10

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Film Review - Avatar


Release: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez


Another film that was massively hyped on its release that I ignored, plus this was the herald of 3D, which I had and still have zero interest in. I watched the extended Special Edition Bluray version, which was around 3 and a half hours long. To be honest I really enjoyed it.

Cameron created a rich, alien world with lore and history, and made me care about it. It was like somewhere between Dances With Wolves and Fern Gulley. This beautiful forest world is under threat by a greedy human mining company.

A film based entirely on special effects has absolutely no merit to me, which is why the Matrix sequels are a stain on the series. The visual effects in Avatar are stunning, and often breath-taking. I was surprised with how wrapped up I was in this visual feast, and also found myself caring for the plight of the natives.

I'm not sure what sequels could possibly offer (they're making it a trilogy apparently), but I really surprised myself with how enjoyable Avatar was. Impressively most of the technology was developed for the film, so Cameron had basically invented what he wanted in his head and then the technology grew around the idea. Cool beans.

I didn't expect to enjoy it, and you may too

7/10

Film Review - American Beauty


Release: 1999
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari


Sometimes you constantly hear about a film, especially one that wins many Oscars, and is referenced and parodied. Sometimes this happens for a damn good reason. American Beauty is one of those.

Kevin Spacey is a frustrated suburbanite going through a mid-life crisis, and raises his middle finger to expectation and responsibility and changes his life. Not without consequence of course.

He develops a fantasy about his daughter's slutty friend, while his rapidly-becoming-estranged wife looks outside of the marriage for her fulfillment, and his daughter gets involved with the weird loner boy who videotapes everything.

The very first time I saw the film I somehow didn't take note of the fact that Spacey's opening narration says ".. and I'm dead now". His death is as senseless as he considered his life before that point, but he died with a content smile on his face which really resonates.

The cinematography is stunning. As boring and drab as Spacey's world is, it's full of beautiful, rich colour. As the tale of this average family unfolds to its tragic conclusion, I was totally wrapped in the characters and their desires, emotions and failures. It just goes to show you don't need lots of action to be gripped by a film.

If you haven't seen this film, you are seriously missing out

8/10

Film Review - Alive


Release: 1993
Director: Frank Marshall
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano and Josh Hamilton

Based on a true story. A rugby team in the 70s are in a plane crash over the mountains of Brasil. When they realise help isn't coming, they have to find their own way out.

It's certainly not a happy Sunday afternoon sort of film, nor is it a pulse-racing thriller. When all the food is exhausted, they're faced with the difficult decision of eating the dead, or dying themselves.

It's a moving film, and very gripping. It was a long film, and every minute feels like it could be their last. It's an interesting study of human character and the will to survive, and despite the environment being the antagonist as it were, it displays the beauty of nature and the joy of life.

Definitely recommended

7/10

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Film Review - A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)


Release: 2010
Director: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley

Ugh.. what a disappointment..

Haley was perfect for Rorschach in Watchmen, so I was expecting this to be a fairly decent horror film. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was a fan of the original Freddie films, but I've certainly seen them all, the first in particular several times. Haley had apparently deliberately not watched any of the previous Elm Street films so that Robert Englund's performance didn't sneak into his, and he certainly achieved that.

However it's just not a good film. The plot and the script is lacklustre even for a horror film. I think if it was a brand new story it would have been a bit better, but as an audience we can't help but compare it to its predecessors.

The only element that I did like was ruined at the end of the film. The whole time it seems he has a pretty righteous vengeance, because the parents killed him because they thought he was touching their kids, whereas the kids remember him being really nice to them. So we're in a way on Freddie's side, but then at the end it turns out he's a paedo... Oh...

A total waste of film

2/10

Film Review - A Walk To Remember



Release: 2002
Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: Mandy Moore, Shane West


Just a chick flick right? Wrong. It's a formula as old as time - bad boy meets reverend's daughter and have to work together, and he falls in love with her. However this film had me so involved with the characters that you could forget it's a formulaic love story with Mandy Moore.


SPOILERS AHEAD


Our bad boy ends up raising the ire of the cool kids at school, and soon sticks up for poor Mandy Moore, who is the personification of virtue and morality. He transforms from a selfish drifter into a man of substance in a very steady and believable way. Nothing in the plot or its pacing feels forced.

The real twist is when she finally breaks things off with him just as everything seems perfect. By this point he is completely in love with her, and this shatters him. But he doesn't give up. He discovers that the whole time he has known her and loved her, she has been dying from terminal cancer. Nobody knew because she and her parents wanted her last year to be as normal as possible. The remainder of the film sees him trying to win her back, and win her back he does. For a chick flick I found myself really invested by this point and felt genuine joy.

The epilogue of the film was incredibly touching, as a few years later our once bad boy returns after university, and Mandy Moore has sinced passed away. Our bad boy visits her father and they talk about her, his degree and what he will do know. I was moved by how obviously in love he was, so strongly that he knowingly goes on with his life not lonely, because she is still watching him, and their love didn't die with her. It blew my mind.

So imagine how shocked I was at this chick flick!

7/10

(That's right, I just scored this higher than 300.. I never would have expected that either)

Film Review - 300

Released: 2007
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Gerard Butler


Plot? What plot? More than the comic it was based on I can tell you that much! The original was 50 pages of naked Greeks who go off, have a fight and all die. The Spartan Queen is barely even in it.

How often do you hear of book to film adaptations where they'd actually ADDED stuff to the film instead of cutting it out? 300 was a great action film for boys and girls alike. All those airbrushed abs and beards for the ladies, and Persians getting decapitated for the blokes.

With a film like this you don't really need a plot, but Snyder has shoe-horned one in here anyway and added some drama with the Queen and the Senate to give the action a bit of a break. Well done that man.

It's a visual feast of action and gore, but beyond that is has very little merit

6/10

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Film Review - 8 Mile


Release: 2002
Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eminem, Brittany Murphy and Kim Basinger

Similar to Purple Rain, with an artist trying to make it in music, the lead being played by a real musician in a pretty autobiographical part. Eminem plays wannabe rapped B-Rabbit. The film starts with him taking part in a freestyle rap battle at the local rap club in Detroit, but he chokes and gets ridiculed by the very very black audience.

He's pretty much told the whole time that he's a failure, and will never be good enough. The real life locations of inner city Detroit are like a character all to themselves, showing just how run down the neighbourhoods they're meant to portray really are. Rabbit's mother lives in a trailer, and he wants so desperately to escape that life. 

Eminem is a strong lead, and I found myself totally behind him at all times. He showed vulnerability and inner strength, and the last half an hour was fantastic how everything had built up. I could quite happy watch the last scene again and again.

7/10

Film Review - 127 Hours


Release: 2010
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco

Biopic of Aron Ralston, a climber trapped near Moab, Utah. Aron slipped and ended up pinned by a rock, with his arm crushed between the boulder and the rock face. For a long time.
There have been several films since Phonebooth I've noticed where the whole film takes place in more or less one location. Buried being another that springs to mind. Nothing wrong with that, it certainly makes the concept of time feel a bit funny.

I'm a big fan of James Franco. Don't know why, I just am, but he gives a great performance in this. The film is interestingly not just Franco and a rock, but shows how his mind wanders, replaying earlier memories and "what if" situations. Finally it's the sight of a little boy Aron says he knew deep down was the son he was meant to have. Franco really conveys the sense that he HAS to get out of here, and the vision he's just had gives him the perfect motivation beyond simple self preservation. The moment where he has his epiphany how to get out is also very clear without any words or obvious camera and editing work. He's been using a small knife to chip away at the rock, and at one point tries cutting through his arm but realises he'd never be able to cut through the bones in his arm or wrist.

The scene of his revelation and eventual escape are extremely graphic, and I didn't actually watch in the end! After being stuck in that situation for literally days, the relief when he eventually falls onto his back, free, was near euphoric, and this is just watching a film in the comfort of my home. That's when you know you're wrapped up in a film. I was practically cheering him like a marathon runner approaching the finish line as he staggered out of the ravine towards some other walkers.

A very powerful film

7/10

Comics Review - Stephen King's N by Marc Guggenheim and Alex Maleev


Issues: #1 - #4

Very creepy book. I'm a big fan of Alex Maleev's artwork from reading Daredevil, which has been reviewed on my blog before. I'll be honest in that I haven't read a single Stephen King book. I read comics, which is like books with pictures... But I've watched plenty of the film adaptations and been told about some of the books, so I'm certainly aware of the types of stories he tells.

There's something wrong with Ackerman's Field in a forgotten corner of Maine. In a field are eight standing stones. For one unlucky person, looking a bit too closely can result in seeing just seven stones, and that's when the line between what's real and not can get a bit fuzzy..

Insanity is often used in horror and thriller, because dementia and stuff is a very real and terrifying possibility. The idea that insanity is contagious like in N, or that a single idea can destroy you a la Inception, is pretty damn scary.

N is told through three friends, one being a psychiatrist who's patient N is seeing seven stones in Ackerman's Field


The artwork as always is terrific. Alex Maleev is a great storyteller in his art, and his photo realistic style is perfect for a scary tale such as this. It takes a life pretty much every issue building towards it's conclusion. It's hard to make a comic scary or fill you with dread, but this one somehow manages.


Scary stuff

7/10

Comics Review - Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Start Immonen


Issues:  #111 - #128
TPBs: Death of a Goblin, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, War of the Symbiotes

Another fantastic series of comics continuing the excellent Ultimate Spider-Man. The first part of Ultimate Spidey is below if you haven't read it already :) I'd first seen Immonen's work in NEXTWAVE: Agents of H.A.T.E. written by Warren Ellis, which almost like a parody of the Marvel Universe. Immonen has a great style for facial expressions, and all the characters looked different but completely recognisable and familiar.
As always full of
SPOILERRRRRSSS

Issue #111 - The Talk

This was actually part of the last trade, but being the first issue by Stuart Immonen I thought I'd put it here. This was a great little issue with Aunt May confronting Peter about his dual-life as Spider-Man. He doesn't approve of the violence, but appreciates that Peter is trying to make a difference. One page had me particular choked up when Peter explained his actions that with great power much also come great responsibility. Aunt May looks at him all teary and said, "That's what Ben used to say". Awwww. The family dynamic of Ultimate Spider-Man is one of the best parts. In regular Marvelverse, May is reeeeally old and Spidey is grown up and married, but being a teen in Ultimate with such an awesome Aunt is class.

Death of a Goblin

Norman Osborn breaks out of the Triskelion, the base of the Ultimates, and where some of the most dangerous people on Earth are being held. Osborn keeps asking to see Nick Fury, but acting Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is Carol Danvers and continually says that Nick Fury isn't around anymore. It's not explained at all, but from reading Ultimate Power, a cross-over with the Marvel MAX title Supreme Power, which is also awesome, I remember that Nick ended up staying in the Supreme Power dimension instead. Which was nice.

Osborn breaks out and transforms into the Goblin again and wreaks some havoc. This time his first stop is his publicist, and then onto TV to tell the world how Nick Fury stole his company, his money and his son, and then injected him with some stuff to turn him into the Green Goblin. He eventually turns up at Peter's house, but for once Mary Jane and Aunt May aren't in the line of fire. Carol Danvers uses the only thing she can to get Norman's attention - Harry. Norman goes nuts and ends up fighting S.H.I.E.L.D. with the help of Spidey and Kitty, but soon Harry transforms into the Hobgoblin and fights Norman. The fight ends with Norman beating Harry to death, who ends up back in human form. Danvers points out "You've just killed your son". Norman transforms back to human form and in a shocking move pleads to be killed, which Danvers is only too happy to oblige.

A really heart-felt and unexpected end to the arc. In class Peter brings up that Harry has died, and gives a moving eulogy, saying that Harry was a hero.

Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

When I first saw the title of this book I thought, "Seriously..?". Bendis being ironic I think. This sees the return of Johnny Storm to Midtown as he hasn't forgotten about Liz Allen, who meanwhile starts displaying powers of her own. After over 100 issues of mutantphobic, it turns out Liz is a mutant herself.
Once again at the beach, fire is involved, only it's Liz who bursts into flames this time. Iceman features a lot in this story as he and Spidey try to convince Liz that she's been given a gift. It made me laugh how many times Peter tried to say the powers and responsibility line, but kept getting interrupted. With the manifestation of her X-gene, it's not long before Magneto shows up! Liz ends up with a choice between finding out who her father is within Magneto's brotherhood, or joining the X-Men. Initially she chooses neither and blasts off, landing in Mary Jane's backyard. Peter swings by and soon unmasks to show Liz that she's among understanding friends. How many people know Spidey's identity now? Hehehe. When Liz fist shot off at the beach there was a great moment when Kong, Kitty's new boyfriend and former sidekick of Flash Thompson, tells Peter he needs to go after him. He points out that they've all known each other since second grade, and that if needs be he'll speak in code and says "If only Spider-Man were here and could go after our friend". Kong figured out Peter's identity a long while before, but being a good man he never brought it up, rather preferring Peter to come clean himself. But this of course wasn't a normal situation. It was pretty touching though.

This book finishes with a great issue where he is kidnapped by The Shocker, who has appeared several times during the series and beaten down so many times that he has become a joke. This time he kicks Pete's butt and drags him off to a warehouse and zaps him to hell and back. Peter asks him why if he can invent his sonic blasters, why is robbing banks the only thing he uses them for, and Shocker reveals that he had been developing weapons for ROXXON

War of the Symbiotes

Venom is back! To be honest I'd forgotten about Venom by this point as he appeared to have died, even though as I wrote in the last blog, Nick Fury did point out there was no body. Eddie is having to eat people to survive, and the symbiote wants Peter. Peter ends up having a great big fight with Venom, and the symbiote leaves Eddie and bonds to Spidey just as the Ultimates turn up. There's a great scene where Peter is battling for control with the symbiote who is trying to eat Iron Man while Peter is thinking, "I can't be the one who eats Iron Man. He's my hero!". Eventually he gets put down by Thor, and wakes up at home recovered.
When Norman Osborn escaped the Triskelion in the previous book, it also showed some other villains and Gwen Stacy's Carnage-y clone escaping. Gwen turns up in Peter's bedroom with a Carnage face asking for help. Meanwhile Eddie turns up at the door, and Aunt May answers and pulls a gun on him! What a badass she is :D


Eddie fights with Gwen-Carnage and ends up absorbing the symbiote right out of her and becomes a giant Venomy thing. 


This leaves Gwen as a regular naked clone girl, and Spidey left to fight Giant Venon who eventually gets away. After S.H.I.E.L.D. perform loads of tests, Gwen is proved to be just a regular girl with no sign of symbiote, and Peter and May take her home, which I absolutely loved. It was nice for things to go good for them for a change. The book ended with Eddie telling his story on a park bench, where he has eaten anyone who listened, but the last victim ended up absorbing him and revealed himself to be The Beetle (I know, who?) who flies back to Latveria with the symbiote... Ooooh, spooky.

Ultimatum

Ok, I must confess I never bought Ultimatum. I was told second-hand what happens, and after reading Ultimates 3 and being so so disappointed I couldn't actually bring myself to read it. One day I'm sure I'll get around to it... A big wave hits New York and almost everyone dies because Magneto alters the magnetic poles of the Earth, unbelievably pissed at the Scarlet Witch's death.
After this was the new series of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, which I'll be blogging about separately, and I have to say it's brilliant. I'd heard bad things, but when I read it myself it was everything I love about Ultimate Spider-Man!

You rock Bendis

Comics Review - Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley


Issues: #1 - #110
TPBs: Power and Responsibility, Learning Curve, Double Trouble, Legacy, Public Scrutiny, Venom, Irresponsible, Cats & Kings, Hollywood, Carnage, Superstars, Hobgoblin, Warriors, Silver Sable, Deadpool, The Clone Saga, Ultimate Knights

SPOILERS GALORE

Oooooh yeah. What a series. The Ultimate reboot of Spider-Man, and the first Bendis comic I read. I've always liked Spider-Man, especially the Saturday Morning cartoon in the 90s, but find that there's so much history that it can be hard to keep up. Spidey's been going since the 60s, and there's a whole mess of awful storylines throughout the 90s such as the Clone Saga.. Ultimate Spidey's greatest strength as a series is that it's not tied down to any previous storyline and can start fresh. Much like the first Tobey Maguire film,  it really benefits from putting the young Peter Parker back into a high school setting, where he's a geeky outsider picked on by ogrish bullies, something that most people (most comic reading people anyway!) can relate to.

Bendis' greatest tool is his dialogue. It's very rare that you'll find such natural, flowing dialogue in a comic. You can believe that these are school kids, and modern school kids at that. The only more modern dialogue I've seen is in Ultimate Galactus by Warren Ellis where a frat boy says "Dude, you are teh suXXor". The teachers sound like teachers, one or two especially, and the kids sound like kids, well, teenagers. The primary characters are teens, and it's all about teens having to grow up and adjust to this world full of costumed villains, Ultimates, and the Hulk. There's some great highs and many many crushing lows, but it always does it without being emo or melodramatic.

Power and Responsibility

Hard to think this all started back in 2000! Over 10 years of Ultimate Spidey :) Love it. This first arc naturally has Peter being bitten by a spider. Was it radioactive? Was it f**k! I've seen on a documentary that most of our comic characters were results of the Cold War and Nuclear Threat. Radioactive spider, "gamma rays/bomb" creates the Hulk, "cosmic rays" creates the Fantastic Four. In the Ultimate universe it's all about genetics. Nick Fury (now Samuel L Jackson) says many times, "The next war will be a genetic war", and that is a strong undercurrent in the Ultimate comics. Normal Osborn is attempting to recreate the Super Soldier serum that created Captain America, and are doing tests on animals, and it just happens to be a genetically-altered spider that bites Peter.

Uncle Ben's character was excellent. He had a ponytail! o_O Unexpected to say the least. Ben and Aunt May are clearly ex-hippies, and probably in their late 50s to 60s rather than being a decrepit old bat like in regular Spidey comics. May is a strong woman, and she really cares for her family. Mary Jane was another character, and Peter's first love interest and his best friend. She is also a brainy geek, and actually has feelings for Peter before being bitten, and it's wonderful watching their relationship develop.

Norman Osborn naturally doesn't miss the fact that one of his spiders bites a boy, and that boy is on death's door, and then miraculously survives. He's a smart man and figures out Peter now has powers and attempts to recreate the accident with himself as the first human test subject. The lab explodes killing just about all the scientists, with Otto Octavius being one of them, and Harry Osborn nearby. Enter the Green Goblin, a huge fireball-throwing monster thing. Certainly a far cry from the original. 


Without doubt it's a very modern telling of Spider-Man. Naturally that means a lot of things get reinvented, and not always without scrutiny, but get on the bus because the stories are incredible. It's a little rocky of a start, looking back, as it tries to find its feet, but lays the foundations for one of my favourite comic series.

Learning Curve

Peter learns that Uncle Ben's killer had ties to the Kingpin, thus introducing another of Spidey's longest standing villains. It's funny reading Daredevil and Ultimate Spidey at the same time, having two versions of the Kingpin written by the same writer, and both so brilliantly done. I enjoyed this trade, watching Spidey fight his first super powered villain, Electro. Where's the awful yellow and green outfit? It's gone! Lol.. Bendis made the no-doubt-difficult decision to redesign the quote worst costume ever unquote.
The series really goes from strength to strength from here, and Peter reveals his identity to Mary Jane in a really wonderful and touching scene. The two then become boyfriend and girlfriend, and I really found myself cheering for them. 

I realise I haven't mentioned the artist Mark Bagley yet, and the artwork is brilliant. It leaps off the page, and the colouring is always top notch as well. I love that Bagley did the art for SOOO many issues, because the characters are so recognisable with signature looks, and the action and emotions are displayed so clearly and vibrantly.

Double Trouble

First appearance of Doctor Octopus, and again completely redone. The arms were actually fused to his body during the accident that created the Green Goblin, and that trauma has driven him over the edge. He's a frightening and dangerous character, and has one of the highest body counts in the series! Not just a bowl cut with metal arms. Also Kraven the Hunter, a reality TV star, says his next hunt will be Spider-Man. Peter naturally sees this declaration on TV, and wonders why everyone hates him. He really has no luck.
Gwen Stacy makes her first appearance as a punkrock

The climax of the arc has Doctor Octupus holding a press conference outside of an illegal genetic lab ran by Justin Hammer (a rival of Norman Osborn), and ends up in a brawl with Spidey right in front of the press. He beats down Doc Oc, and Kraven shows up and gets layed out too in a great comedy moment. Spidey then has his first say in the press about why he wears a mask and that he's trying to make a positive difference. It was a very "Awww" moment, with great dialogue as always

Legacy

Norman Osborn returns! Dun dun DUUUN. That's Norman and Doc Oc who know Spidey's secret identity, and Norman intends to use this to get Peter to work for him. If he doesn't, Mary Jane and Aunt May will pay the price. You really feel the tension and drama in this, especially as Mary keeps getting in the middle no matter how many times Peter tells her to stay away from the returning Harry Osborn. "They're dangerous!" he tells her, but manages to never actually explain to her why. The Goblin ends up kidnapping Mary Jane and takes her to the top of the Queensboro Bridge, where in the regular Marvelverse is where Spidey's first girlfriend Gwen Stacy died.

I could hardly breathe when Mary Jane gets thrown off and Peter catches her with web and yanks her back before swinging to safety. He puts her down, and she's not moving. I was like, "NOooooo.... they couldn't..." and mercifully she's alive. But for those few seconds I really believe they could have killed Mary Jane, because anything is possible in this series. 

I realise by this point I am COMPLETELY invested in all the characters, and I am strapped in for the roller coaster that is Peter's life

Public Scrutiny

A bank robber dressed as Spider-Man ruins Peter's reputation, and ends up killing Gwen Stacy's father who had started getting friendly with Aunt May. May losing her sister (Peter's mother), her husband and then her new friend Captain Stacy all in very quick succession really takes it toll on her, and again you really come to care for her character by this point. She invites Gwen to live with her and Peter, and is a great addition to the cast, but this really causes problems between Mary and Peter, as Mary Jane gets insanely jealous.

Pretty understanding really. Some great drama in this one and some moments that really had me thinking, "Daaaaaamn...."

Gwen Stacy is a brilliant addition to the main cast, and as with all Bendis writing, she really has a unique voice. In fact Bendis recommend a book on story writing that I've read, and the author writes that if a character doesn't offer anything worth saying or doing, why have them at all? If you have three friend supporting characters and two of them sound too similar, you should make them into one character because they're wasting space effectively. Gwen Stacy wastes no space. Every character has LIFE. Even jerks like Flash Thompson. I find it hard writing jerks, because you don't want them in your life, but without them there's no drama! And it wouldn't be realistic or interesting if everyone was nice.

A random note; Mark Bagley's art is brilliant. And here's a random panel from this trade.


This trade ends rather sadly with Mary Jane breaking up with Peter because of Gwen. And honestly it feels like she broke up with us the reader!! Really involving stuff

Venom

How much balls does it take to reinvent Venom? One of the first Spider-Man comics I read was Maximum Carnage, and through that I worked backwards and read some Venom comics (the one Todd McFarlane did) and it was great. Venom was joined to a unemployed reporter called Eddie Brock that Spider-Man basically got fired, and ended up with a massive Spider-Man vendetta. What I always found interesting was that Venom himself saw Spidey as the villain, and himself as the hero.
The Ultimate reimagining of Venom was surprising, and if you can put everything you've read before out of your mind, it's a damn good read. I can understand why you'd want to change things up. What fun would it be for a writer or reader to read the exact story that's been told before? Peter finds a trunk in the basement full of things belonging to his father. This is the first time in the series so far that the Parker family's past is dug up, and it's very resonating. Peter sees a video of himself as a kid at a picnic with his parents, Aunt May and Uncle Ben, the Brocks and their son Eddie Jr. From there Peter ends up tracking down Eddie who's currently in university in New York.

Eddie has continued their fathers' work, which is a black goo called The Suit, which was designed to be a cure for cancer. It was supposed to bond to a person's body, and use their own immune system to fight any disease or affliction. But it was never finished.

Eddie was another great character, as he appears likable and charming, but as time goes on you realise he's a bullsh!tter and really not very pleasant, especially after he makes a pass at Gwen, a 15-year old who's just lost her Dad.. And then gets annoyed when she rejects him... Nice.

After a brief appearance by the Black Suited Spider-Man, naturally things go from bad to worse for Peter, and ends up fighting with Eddie who's now a big freakin' monster thing. Another person who knows Peter is Spidey. Eventually Venom gets shot, electrocuted and exploded, leaving Peter feeling massively guilty and down-spirited. Nick Fury quips, "In our business, if there's no body, they ain't dead"

Irresponsible

Peter still feeling rubbish over Eddie's death and being single. Gwen convinces him to go to a party with her, where they feel awkward and loserish. In walks Liz Allen and Mary Jane looking like sluts! Peter now feels even worse. Que random guy blowing up cars with the power of his mind.

This arc introduces a mutant (probably) exchange student called Geldof who goes to another high school, and enjoys blowing up stuff to impress his jock friends. A perfect opportunity for Peter to teach him about some power and responsibility, which of course doesn't go over at all! As always I really found myself in Peter's corner feeling that everything around him was incredibly unfair. Every time a policeman shoots at him or gives him a hard time, I feel bad for him.

I think this was the X-Men's first appearance in the series too, as they turn up to take in Geldof. After a bumpy ride in the X-Jet back to the mansion, Peter finds himself unmasked and in front of all the X-Men. I loved this scene, as Peter curses, "Great! Now another bunch of people who know I'm Peter Parker!" to which someone says, "Uhh... we didn't know your name..". Poor kid can't catch a break

Cats & Kings

The Kingpin is back, and also has the Black Cat's first appearance. Love the redesign of the costume, and her flirty relationship with a baffled Spidey is comedy gold. Black Cat steals a mysterious tablet from the Kingpin, and Spidey finds himself in the middle, and of course being blamed in the papers as an accomplice. Ends up with a big fight between Black Cat and Elektra (who's also had great costume redesign), and Black Cat getting killed but again with no body.

Great moment at the end of this wear Spidey is left saying, "I bet the Kingpin is laughing his butt off right now at us", and then shows Kingpin looking despondent by a bed with a woman tied up to machines. From watching the 90s cartoon this resonated a lot, as his wife Vanessa was in a coma and he tried using some magical tablet to revive her. This was the first glimpse of an actual person behind the Kingpin persona.

Hollywood

This was a terrific arc. Peter happens to walk past the TV with a mouthful of cereal as the news announces filming is beginning of a Spider-Man movie right there in New York City. You can practically hear his jaw hit the floor.

This was a very clever and amusing mix of the real world, as Avi Arad appears as the producer to discuss the film, and they have Sam Raimi directing and Tobey Macguire starring. Spidey storms down to the set to have words about how they can make a movie about him without his consent, and naturally pandemonium erupts.

After his earlier fight, Doc Oc is languishing in prison and also hears that a Spidey film is being made, and that his ex wife is a paid consultant about his character. That pushes him over the edge and soon he's storming the set too and runs into Spidey. I really enjoyed how upset Oc was about having to fight him again, knowing how the last encounters have gone down. This showed some believable depth to the character of a villain.

The ending of this one was terrific, as Doc Oc kidnaps Peter and hijacks a private jet and flies off to Brazil. After another great flight, the realisation Peter's not even in the same country anymore is classic. Aunt May was out of town for the week, but was due back that same evening, so Peter did the only thing available... to stowaway on a flight back to the US. In the cargo hold it gets freezing and he's just wearing tights, what can he do except raid suitcases and end up wearing a Hello Kitty jumper and earmuffs. Beautiful.

With his web-shooters mashed by Doc Oc earlier he has to race through the airport and hitch a ride on roofs from New Jersey all the way back to the Queens, with Aunt May making the same trip. Peter comes in through his basement door breathing a sigh of relief and comes face to face with Gwen holding a gun to his face, having figured out his identity and blaming Spider-Man for her father's murder. My heart skipped reading this for the first time. No way was I going to be able to put the book down without reading to the end. Before they can resolve anything, Aunt May comes through the front door!

Carnage

This was a brilliant read, but heartbreaking. Finally now Gwen knows the truth, she and Mary Jane start getting a lot and we get a real feeling that the three of them will be a fantastic group.

After the mess with Eddie and Venom, Peter got to know Eddie's professor Dr Curt Connors (who appears to have met Spidey as The Lizard in a comic not in any of the trades I own), and goes to Doc Connors to get patched up after a fight with The Gladiator. Doc Connors can't help himself and takes some of Peter's blood (he did leave it all over the table to be fair..), and later with Peter's permission start running tests. I thought this was an interesting and very logical choice of plot, as Peter's a big science brain and I'd wonder why he wouldn't do more to investigate what it is that makes him Spider-Man. Bendis acknowledges this with Peter saying to Mary Jane, "I always thought I would. Just like, when I'm in college".

While on the topic of Bendis' dialogue again, I notice all over his books how natural the conversations are. The story book I mentioned earlier expressly says that film dialogue shouldn't sound like a real conversation full of "Umm"s and "Aah"s, but Bendis seems to completely ignore that teaching and yet gets away with it so naturally.

Just as things with Gwen are going so well, she comes home and encounters a weird red blob thing that escaped from Doc Connor's lab which has wreaked some CARNAGE on it's way to Peter's house. I felt so sad as Gwen becomes the next victim, leaving an aged husk on the lawn for Aunt May to discover.

Peter naturally feels rubbish that he couldn't protect her, and knows that this was somehow his fault. The more people Carnage eats it seems to get more humanoid, until it looks like Peter! They have a massive battle for survival, with Peter fighting in his street clothes. The fight itself is told in retrospect, and Peter's monologue is quite powerful. He says about how this creature isn't actually alive, it's just hunger personified and seems to need Peter to survive, and only one of them would walk away. Eventually Peter realises that it hasn't taken his form, but his father's! The original black goo of Venom was based on Peter's father's DNA, and so this thing was a like a mix of the black goo and Peter's blood. The fight ends with Peter throwing Carnage into a foundry, and feels proper rubbish afterwards, so much that he vows to stop being Spider-Man.

That lasts about two minutes, as Peter overhears a mugging taking place. Well Pete, with great power comes great responsibility.

A real downer on this arc, but it just goes to show how invested in the characters I became.

Superstars

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, gets sent to get his high school diploma, and of course ends up in Midtown High School. This was a nice story showing the whole group of school friends in their element. Bendis always writes the school scenes so well. Liz Allen falls for Johnny, and as in real life, gets her friend Mary Jane to approach him and ask him out on her behalf in a fun exchange of dialogue, especially Mary introducing herself as Mary Jane Watson-Parker!

There's a been a strong undercurrent of mutantphobia from Liz since the very beginning, and when a campfire on the beach goes all wrong, igniting Johnny on fire, Liz naturally freaks out and that's the end of Johnny's very brief school experience. There's a great touching scene where Mary convinces Peter to suit up and go talk to Johnny about what it takes to be a hero, and that not being able to go with the girl is often the sacrifice that they have to make.

There's also an interesting little story with Peter having deja vu about meeting Doctor Strange. The origin of the Ultimate Dr Strange was interesting, as it basically used the regular history of Stephen Strange, but that he disappeared years ago, and the current Dr Strange is actually Stephen Jr. Everything else the same, just very inexperienced

The most interesting part of the story is Peter and Mary Jane saving up all their money to go on their first real proper date to a romantic restaurant they can't come close to affording. Mary is sexy, but kind of dangerous-looking, and as the dinner goes on and Peter recounts his tale of meeting Dr Strange, things take a turn for the worst and we realise Peter is trapped in a nightmare. He is faced with the most horrible things of his life, Gwen and Uncle Ben in particular being thrust in his face, and his rogues gallery like Norman Osborn and Doc Oc all pursuing him. What sticks with Peter the most is Mary Jane trying to kill him, and when asked why, she says "Isn't it obvious Peter? Because you're going to kill me! Someone is going to come here and kill me because you're Spider-Man". After being freed from the nightmare, that still sticks with him.

The very last pages were heartbreaking, as Peter sits with his knees in his chest in his basement, with Mary Jane calling him from outside in the pouring rain. "But this was our fancy date..." are the last words of the comic.

Awwwww :(

Hobgoblin

Harry Osborn is back, and he knows Peter's identity. The last time Peter saw him was after S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Ultimates put down Norman Osborn, and Harry muttered "I'll kill you all..". Of course everyone else is all excited to see Harry back, except for Peter. The undertone for this arc is Peter trying to keep Mary out of harm's way, but keeps finding her talking to Harry. Eventually Harry transforms into a big goblin monster and fights Peter, who tries desperately to stop the fight.

Who turns up on the scene mid-fight? Mary Jane of course, and Peter desperately tries to get her out of harm's way. Nick Fury appears with a unit of Hulkbusters, and Harry is put down.

The whole affair completely drains Peter, and his is furious with Mary for getting in the way again, and breaks up with her! Gutted. I can see Peter's point, as he wants so much for her to be safe and well.. alive, but it's also pretty unfair on Mary Jane. She argued in another confrontation with Norman Osborn that Peter had never actually told her what was going on with the Osborns, and again he never really explained why she should stay away from Harry

Warriors

This was a terrific action book. Hammerhead is in town, and looking to muscle in on Kingpin's territory. There's heroes and villains all over the place, with first appearances by Moon Knight, Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, and the return of Black Cat and Elektra.

Moon Knight was a real stand-out in all of his appearances in Ultimate Spidey, as his personality(s) is so well written. A man with four separate personalities, each displayed and conversing well inside his head in some great scenes.

A now-single Spidey ends up with Black Cat all over him, and he just has no idea how to handle her. Her determination to see the Kingpin's downfall ends up putting her on Hammerhead's side, and Elektra also switches sides with the offer a payout, also with the Kingpin's old Enforcers. That leaves Spidey, Moon Knight, Iron Fist and Shang-Chi on the other side. It's an awesome battle, very well drawn as always by Bagley, and Spidey ends up flying out of a window to swan dive into a police car. Ouch.

Meanwhile Moon Knight gets stuck by Elekra, and soon Hammerhead gets stuck and thrown out the window too, and just as Elektra is about to kill another hero, Moon Knight throws one of his moon discs into the back of her head! What a bodycount in this arc!

The ending was hilarious, as Black Cat apologises for switching sides on Spidey and understands what she should have done. She makes a move on Peter and decides she's going to kiss him and pulls off his mask. Pete looks shocked and puckers up, but gets greeted by Black Cat spewing on him and running off. Awww, bless 'im

Silver Sable

Another great arc here, plus with the Annual #1. In the annual, Peter gets a call from Kitty Pride of the X-Men and they start dating. It was a touching and "Awww" comic, and was a wonderfully played out teen romance, but at the same time I felt bad for Mary Jane.

By this point there are have been a ton of sightings of Spidey around Midtown High, and of course it's only a matter of time until a group of bounty hunters turn up to capture him. Sable and the Wildcats were great characters and as always well written with unique voices from the other dozens of characters who've appeared in the series by this point. They follow Spidey to the school and see him drop down into an alley, and pounce on the boy they find there.. Flash Thompson. It was great to see Flash cry in front of the mercenaries after all the bullying of Peter, and after escaping and running to the media, TV crews are pretty much permanently camped out in the school parking lot. Speculation flies about that Spider-Man is either a student or a teacher.

Turns out the man trying to capture him is the head of ROXXON, a company name that crops up again and again, and turns out all the times that Spidey has swung in and beat up some technological villain it's pretty much always been to the rescue of ROXXON. This was a great moment for Peter and the reader, as everything starts clicking into place. The Vulture ends up swooping in and causing chaos, and ROXXON's nemesis is revealed to be The Tinker. Nick Fury shows up to arrest the Tinker and offers him a choice, "Work for me, or go to jail and I'll take all your inventions anyway". He naturally chooses the former..

Deadpool

I have no doubt this one caused a bit of controversy when it came out, hehehe. An automated X-Jet picks up Peter and drops him off at the X-Mansion, where the X-Men have been kidnapped by Deadpool and the Reavers. They're dropped off on Krakoa, an island off the coast of Genosha where mutants are hunted and killed on a reality tv show the X-Men had closed down.

They were prepared to fight the X-Men, but having Spidey there as well just fudges up everything for 'Pool. Another great action comic, but fans of regular Deadpool were probably miffed, but then if they want Deadpool they can read a Deadpool comic..

The fight is broadcast all over the net, and so everyone (Mary Jane) included sees Spidey and Kitty together. Awkwaaaaard...

The Clone Saga

This one no doubt had some controversy too when they started it. I never read the original, but I've been told second-hand what happened, and it sounds like it was a bit of a mess. The benefit of knowing exactly what story you want to tell I think Bendis and Bagley certainly had on their side.

I read this one in one day in work, and couldn't put it down. It's so involving, as Peter struggles to understand what's happening, we're desperately there with him. The Scorpion turns up to trash the mall, and after clobbering him and breaking his mask, Peter is faced with a clone of himself! He takes it to the only people who could possibly have some insight, The Fantastic Four.

Meanwhile Mary Jane gets kidnapped by a disfigured Peter clone who is determined to make her like him, so he'd never have to worry about her getting hurt, and injects her with Oz.. While looking for her, Peter runs into Spider-Woman, who is later revealed to be another clone of him, only a girl, and the most successful clone.

Who else turns up while Peter is looking for Mary Jane? Gwen Stacy! Aunt May is obviously aghast, and to explain Peter reveals his is Spider-Man. May is well pissed off and tells him to take "it" (Gwen) and go, only to be stopped by Peter's dad! My eyes are popping out nearly every page with blow after blow of shocking revelations. As Pete's dad explains where he's been all this time, Nick Fury turns up outside with an army of Spider-Slayers made by the Tinker with the express purpose of taking down Spider-Man. Nice...

Gwen Stacy goes nuts and transforms into Carnage and rampages through the Spider-Slayers and S.H.I.E.L.D. while Aunt May keels over having a heart attack. Peter tries to help, but is assured by his father that he can help instead as he's a doctor. Next the Fantastic Four turn up to stop the fight, and Sue takes Pete's dad and Aunt May to the hospital. Just as Peter is about to give himself up, Spider-Woman swoops in and rescues him, taking him to the only place Mary Jane could be, the abandoned Oscorp building that birthed Spidey and the Green Goblin.

Freaky Pete as I shall call him releases MJ, who promptly transforms into a big red hairy man-beast thing. My heart and Peter's sunk at this point.

The climax of the book had Peter and Spider-Woman as the only surviving clones, and the baddy responsible subdued. Peter stood down Nick Fury who explained that with everything Peter had been through and lost and experienced, that the odds said they were watching the birth of the next big super villain. This didn't please Peter too much, and Nick Fury conceded that against the odds he's actually come out on the other side as one of the greatest heroes. A really touching finish. My pulse really got racing when Kitty convinces the X-Men and Professor Xavier to visit Peter and Aunt May in hospital, and Kitty begs Xavier to wipe May's memory that he's Spider-Man. I was screaming, "Nooooo!!" at the page, and I honestly thought as I was turning the pages that they were going to do it. I breathed an actual sigh of relief that Xavier refused.

Ultimate Knights

Another great action comic, with another great appearance by Moon Knight. Daredevil is recruiting a team to take down the Kingpin after the city's heroes keep bumping into each other rather than helping. Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, Dr Strange and Moon Knight join Daredevil and Spidey. DD tells the group how the aim is to kill the Kingpin once and for all, which Spidey totally objects to. He even goes so far as to say, "If you decided to go through with this.. I'm telling on you. I will go right to Nick Fury and tell". Genius

For the majority of this, Aunt May is recovering in hospital, and so it leaves this huge unanswered question of how she's going to react to the fact he's Spider-Man once they get to finally sit down and talk about it.

The Kingpin is short of a powered assassin after Elektra's death, and so sneaking in someone to replace her is their best bet. Moon Knight is their best bet, and becomes a new personality called Ronin. There's another fantastic scene inside his mind as his three personalities watch on in horror as Ronin battles Moon Knight for dominance, and wins! Ronin pretty much has become the Kingpin's henchman rather than being just a mole, and eventually Spidey ends up in the Kingpin's grasp again. Unfortunately for both Spidey and Ronin, there's a mole in the group, and so Kingpin already knows that Ronin is actually Moon Knight and pounds seven shades of poop out of him before he's dragged away to be executed. It shows two henchmen dragging Ronin's body to a river and shoot him in the back of his head, leaving his body to send a message to other costumed heroes.

Before leaving Spidey to escape, Kingpin lets Peter know that the mole is his lawyer, Matt Murdock, who he knows is Daredevil. Peter swings back to the group and starts pounding on DD, all the while DD is trying to figure out what the hell he's on about. Spidey tells the whole group there's a mole and in a really chilling moment DD turns his attention to Iron Fist. "Did you tell him how my powers work?" he barks at Iron Fist, "Of course. You don't know how they work, do you? I'm a human lie detector Danny!". Soon DD's law office explodes nearby, so Kingpin has officially lain down the gauntlet to DD, who certainly picks it up and takes the fight back.

The climax was really gripping, as Kingpin enters his bedroom and finds Daredevil with the comatose Vanessa Fisk in his hands, threatening to snap her neck. Spidey arrives to try and talk him out of it, and we see a complete change in Kingpin. "Please, don't" he pleads, "It was just business". It was a real sense of human vulnerability, and stood out for definite. DD keeps threatening to kill Vanessa, and Spidey tells him how he tracked down Uncle Ben's killer and had the same choice to kill him. This is the test, he points out, and no matter how much good you've done, if you kill an innocent now, all that other good you did was meaningless. You can never take that back. Especially poignant after the whole Clone Saga affair. Daredevil eventually makes the right choice.

Kingpin is naturally furious, and is on his way to fly himself and Vanessa out of the country, planning on how to completely mess over Daredevil and Spider-Man. Shockingly, the police are there waiting for him. This had me smiling as it showed inside Moon Knight's head, the Ronin persona and the others pleading for the Moon Knight persona (face down in a puddle, dead) to wake up. Moon Knight eventually drags himself to a police station to press charges against Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin for attempted murder and reveals his identity. This was an unexpected move given costumed heroes and villains never seem to stay in jail, but made complete sense and was a terrific finish for this arc.



And so that brings to a close the partnership between Bendis and Bagley for one of my favourite runs on a comic. Bagley had such a signature style, and the characters were so familiar and easily recognisable, and with such great action. The writing as always is just phenomenal.

Coming up next will be Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Film Review - The Fugitive





Released: 1993
Director: Andrew Davis
Starring: Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones

I believe this can be described as a classic (just don't tell Harrison Ford). I remember seeing it was I was young and enjoyed it, but coming back to rewatch it as an adult it certainly connects a lot more. Coming home to find your wife and grappling with the killer before being sentenced for her murder.. the first section of the film is really *oof*. You really do find yourself on Ford's side, you WANT him to escape, but you do identify with Tommy Lee Jones' character and the pursuit of the fugitive.

It has action, suspense, drama, everything you could ask for in a big grown up film ;D Scenes like where he's just shaved off his beard in a hospital and a guard stops him in the corridor and you think, "Oh no! He's been recognised!" and then after an agonising pause points out Ford's fly is undone.. *Shakes fist*

Certainly makes a lot more sense when watching as an adult. Good good film

7/10 

Monday, 4 July 2011

Film Review - Pretty Woman

Release: 1990
Director: Garry Marshall
Starring: Richard Gere, Julia Roberts

What?

Romantic Comedies are films too. I had absolutely zero exectations going in, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Julia Roberts is a prostitute in LA, and Richard Gere is a wealthy businessman on... well, business. He picks her up and pays her for her company and she ends up staying in his penthouse apartment at a luxury hotel.

The hotel manager was a brilliant character, and you really find yourself cheering him on as the film progresses. There's a terrific scene where Julia Roberts goes into a high-end fashion shop, all decked out in finery, just to tell them that she was the same woman that walked in the day before that they refused to serve because she looked too common. In yo face!!

Some films are classics for a reason, and you really do find yourself wanting the two main characters to make it. I found myself riding the emotional rollercoaster completely invested in the film.

7/10

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Film Review - Stranger Than Fiction



Release: 2006
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman

I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this film before I watched it today, as it seems straight up my street for quirky and original ideas. Will Ferrell is an IRS auditor with strict OCD-ish routines. One morning he wakes up and hears his life being narrated by Emma Thompson. Naturally he is a bit disturbed by this, and the early part of the film is quite funny as he tries asking strangers if they just heard the voice describing what he just did. A psychiatrist tells him flat out, "It's schizophrenia... You're hearing a voice. That's schizophrenia". "It's not telling me to do things. It's just describing what I'm doing. In really good English"


Ferrell tracks down Dustin Hoffman, a professor of English, who helps him work out that he is in a literary narrative. He just has to work out what kind. There's a great scene where Hoffman has prepared a questionnaire to work out what type of literary character he is, "Are you compelled to solve murders? Perhaps in a large stately home that you may or may not have been invited to?". Finally he narrows it down to either being in a comedy or a tragedy. If it's a comedy, he will meet a girl who will hate him and eventually they'll fall in love and be together. If it's a tragedy, the story will end with his death.


Wow. Not where I was expecting this film to go. Despite it's quite serious subject matter of life and death, it deals with "living life" beautifully, and Ferrell has a very sensitive role in the film that is so unlike his usual roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays his love interest. A tattooed, bakery owner who Ferrell has been made to audit.


The ending was touching. I really wasn't sure how the last half hour was going to go, which is always a welcome experience given how few new ideas there are nowadays.


Thumbs up for a very original, interesting story. I'd certainly recommend it.


8/10

Friday, 1 July 2011

Film Review - Limitless


Release: 2011
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish

Just finished watching this one. Heard very little about this except for a little hype when it was released in the cinemas, so had no real expectations going in. Was once again pleasantly surprised by the fact it wasn't entirely made up of things you've seen a million times before.

The main character is given a drug which expands his mind, giving him access to the untapped powers of the human brain, and uses it for money and success. Of course there's a dark side to all of that as with any drug addiction, and it turns into a nice little thriller. The very opening scene is him on a high rise apartment balcony about to throw himself off as some people attempt to smash in his front door, so we know already things aren't going well.

But it was an entertaining film, and the plot didn't go the way I would expect, and the ending was satisfying and unexpected too. I've heard Bradley Cooper has pretty much cemented his spot in Hollywood with this and the Hangover, so don't be surprised if he's Hollywood royalty very soon

8/10