Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Book of Life

It's not Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. But the book of life is quite possibly the best animated film of the year. Now it may not have the same level of pulling on your heartstrings like Pixar does so well, but the originality of the story, humor, music, and visuals, are on par with anything the big animation studios can offer. Originality being the most important. What is it with Mexican's and death? The Book of Life is inspired by the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, which starts at midnight on October 31st and goes through November 1st and 2nd. The film does not follow the holiday exactly of course. But that inspiration makes for a stunning looking story. And this story is about a timeless tale, two friends and a girl. Some SPOILERS to follow.

Juaquin, Maria, Manolo

Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), Juaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum), and Maria (voices by Zoe Saldana) grew up together. The three friends are inseparable. Of course Monolo and Juaquin both have more romantic feelings for Maria. They "fight" for her affection in as much as two boys who are best friends would. Despite the fact that they are rivals for Maria, Manolo and Juaquin remain good friends and have the highest respect for eachother. And it should be noted that Maria is not interested in being fought for. She is a tomboy. And she is as brave (and crazy) as the boys who want her affection. They grow up and follow what their fathers, and families, expect of them. Juaquin becomes a soldier and the towns hero, trying to live up to the reputation of his legendary (and deceased) father. Manolo comes froma family of bullfighters. The Sanchez name carries a heavy burden especially if what you really want to do is play music. Maria is expected to be a good housewife and upstanding young women by her father. Into this mix comes the rulers of the lands of the dead, Xibalba and La Muerte.

Xibalba, La Muerte

Xibalba rules the Land of the Forgotten. A desolate places where souls go when no one remembers them. El Muerte rules the Land of the Rememberd, a vibrant realm where the dead live in perpetual holiday. They are basically a married couple. They argue, but they love each other. Xibalba is tires of his kingdom of sorrow and ash. So he makes a bet with La Muerte. If Juaquin marries Maria, he gets to rules the Land of the Remembered. Of course Xibalba bets on the wrong man. Long story short, he tricks Monolo into death. Monolo then has to become who he really is on the inside to return to the land of the living and win Maria's heart. And everyone stays friends in the end.

Sounds a bit cheesy when I describe it like that, but remember that these characters were best friends since childhood. But this just reinforces that these characters are equals, each living in the shadows of their families, each struggling to step out of those shadows, and each loves and respects each other. It's important to note that Maria, Monolo's mother, and the other supporting female characters are never seen as weak or subservient. Culture and tradition demands they follow the men, but that does not keep these women from being very independent and unique. Which brings me to the twins.

Adelita and Nina are two of Monolo's Sanchez family ancestors. They fought in the revolution... and won. They are a nod to the women soldiers (called Adelitas) who fought alongside the men in The Mexican Revolution. It's another nice detail in the film. But of all the supporting cast (and this is just a personal opinion here) there is a seriously awesome story there that just begs for it's own film.

But back to this film. The designs are spectacular, especially with the characters. I'm hoping for some great cosplay to come out of this. But other details bring it to another level. The music for instance. Some popular songs from various genres make there way into the film. Most will recognize Just A Friend by Biz Markie in the previews. But the film does not stop there. There is a great version of Creep by Radiohead that also shows up. You'll know where when you hear it. There are a lot of details that make The Book Of Life an amazing and original film. You should look up the rest of the voice cast. It's pretty awesome too. I have to concede that due to my own heritage it probably struck more chords than another story might. But that's why we need more diversity in all films. I lived my life as an American and never had all that much to do with my Mexican heritage. But seeing something that spoke to and had a lot of love and respect for my background felt good.

You don't have to be of Mexican or any other Latin decent to love this movie. It's is good on it's own merits. It's something different that a lot of people have no visual reference for. It makes you wonder how many more stories can be made with this level of love and respect for a culture. Not that Hollywood does not respect cultures. But this is proof that you don't have to water things down to make something beautiful.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ready Player One

This might be one of the more difficult reviews to write. Not because I didn't like this book. I love the book. Maybe every time I tried to write, it just wasn't feeling like I was doing the book justice. Anyway...

Ready Player One is a thriller set in a dystopian future of 2044, where civilization is falling apart. Wade Watts, a high school senior, lives in a trailer park. Like everyone on the planet, he spends most of his time logged into the Oasis, an online game which is kind of like the cross between the Sims and World Of Warcraft. But this is more then just a game, It's a virtual reality environment that is so good, it looks nearly like the real world. It's also become so huge, that it has essentially become the internet. It's a virtual alternate reality where you can become whatever you want, even non-human. The best part, is that you explore the Oasis not on a screen, you are immersed in it just like the holodecks in Star Trek. James Halliday was the designer of the Oasis. It made the eccentric programmer one of the richest men in the world. And when he died, he willed his fortune and his controlling stock of his company, to whoever could solve a puzzle in the Oasis. Three keys will unlock three gates. Whoever finishes first gets the prize. After five years, no one made any progress. That is until Wade found the first key.

This book is great. Ernest Cline created a a very rich and believable world. He also wrote a book with so many nerd and 80s references, it's hard to keep track some times. But it's fantastic. Just some FYI, Cline was also the screenwriter for a certain movie called Fanboys. Both are great. And both make you wonder if Cline is a Rush fanboy. But back to the book... Fans of games, nerd culture, and pop culture from the 1980s will find plenty to enjoy with all the references. It's amazing how much Cline works in to the book. And all these things are not just thrown in to be nostalgic, though that is a big part of it. The obsession of the 80's, gaming, and any other nerd stuff that is too long to list in general because there is a lot of it to mention, is part of the quest Halliday invented. Okay, I'm gonna list a little. Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Lord of the Rings, ect. Each genre of sci-fi and fantasy literally has it's own world. And in the Oasis you could explore them all. That's not even covering all the references to 80s movies, music, and TV. Halliday's contest made the entire world obsessed with his obsessions

If this review seems all over the place, it's because I don't even know where to begin or end with this book. There is even a film adaption in development.  Though I don't know how they are going to get the rights to even half of the properties that appear in the book. It's going to take some legal legwork to make it happen. But hopefully it does work out.

So let me conclude this mess of a review. Read Ready Player One. It's funny, sad, fun, and just plain good.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mystery Babylon

 “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be freed from his prison.” – The Book of Revelation

An evil cult and a one thousand year old prophecy…
A demon who has sworn to keep the world safe…
…and her only help is from an air-headed priest and a guy named Judas.
What could possibly go wrong?

The Whore of Babylon had one job, free Satan from his 1,000 year imprisonment. She is one of the most powerful demons. She can return ultimate evil to a world that survived the biblical apocalypse. But she really doesn’t want to. And she just can’t seem to get passed that. She just wants to be left alone. I’d call her a reluctant hero, but the great Mystery Babylon, aka Kick Girl, wouldn’t even want to be called that. She has enough on her mind and enough regret to last several lifetimes. The fact that she is a demon and cannot die just makes her problems even worse. She would also be more proactive in preventing the return of ultimate evil, she just lost the map to the gates of hell.

So… Enter a naive priest, Zero, who was given a vision of the location and made a map…. That looks like a child drew it.

Add in a cult that worships Kick Girl as a demonic savior...

...and Crusaders who want her dead.

Oh, she is also aided by a guy named Judas. Because in a biblical tale, of course his name would be Judas.

Basically, chaos ensues.

Mystery Babylon is a unique idea. Take a story from the darkest chapter of the Bible, and turn it into a humorous tale in a light anime style. It could go very wrong and just seem in poor taste. But artist/writer Val Hochberg pulls it off. It's a funny series.

I met Val at the 2014 Alamo City Comic Con. Which brings me to one of the best things about a convention, if you take the time to look, you can find great comics from independent writers and artists. I came across Val’s booth and the great art and bright colors caught my eye. And then the humor and the writing got me hooked. It's a good series. More importantly, it's good, and it's original. The fact that the story does not take itself seriously is a great contrast to the source material. Also worth note, I would call this an all ages read. Well, maybe the little ones won't get it, but the humor isn't crude, there isn't foul language, and there is no bloody violence. It's just a fun action saga that is well written. There is an arc to Mystery Babylon that will finish at some point. Val has an idea of how it will all end (her husband shakes his head and mouths the word "no" as she answered my question)  but is not sure when that will be. So this ride will go one for a while. I hope I run into Val and her husband again at a con. They are good people.

As of this article, I have only read Chapters 1 and 2 of the Mystery Babylon saga. Both are available as trade paperbacks online through the, where you can also read the entire series, which is now on Chapter 4. Val also has Chapters 1 and 2 at her convention booth.

Alamo City Comic Con 2014 REVIEW

With all the momentum Alamo City Comic Con started with in its first year, expectations were high for ACCC 2.0. The conventions organizers didn’t disappoint. There was only one major fix that the con needed, more space. Last year the floor was closed due to overcrowding. This year, one hall was dedicated to dealers and celebrity autographs, one hall for artist ally, another for cosplayers, wrestlers and Stan Lee, and more indoor room for registration. Basically, it was two to three times the size as last year. And it was still crowded, even on Sunday. Adding a preview night for 3 Day and VIP Pass holders also helped keep the registration lines from getting too crazy.

As with any big convention, you can’t make it to every panel. And I’m just going to give a brief description of the panels I attended because there was a lot going on.

75 Years of Batman with Neal Adams, Denny O’Neal and David Finch
Gonna be honest, I was not a Bat comic reader so while the stories were interesting, I’m sure Bat fans got more out of it. What was really interesting was that Neal Adams REALLY didn’t feel to warm and fuzzy about the recent Man Of Steel film. REALLY. He does think MARVEL has a good handle on filmmaking. All three also talked about how they started with Batman.

Spotlight on Kevin Eastman
Kevin Eastman gave a Power Point presentation about the origins and history of the Ninja Turtles up to the current film. There were a lot of great behind the scenes pictures (the 80s were not kind fashion wise). Eastman told the tale of how the Turtles were born, almost as a joke, and then how the comic went from a limited circulation to exploding almost overnight and then was picked up to become the animated series that invaded the world, and then the feature films, and proceeded to talk about the current incarnations.

30 Years of Transformers with original voice cast
Much like last year’s voice actor panel, this one was good. Paul Eiding, Gregg Berger, and Dan Galvizan fielded Transformers questions and couldn’t help but speak in the voices a lot of us grew up with. Of course the fans couldn’t help request these guys speak in those voices either. Easlit one of the most entertaing panels.

Costume Contest
There were three costume contests, one for each day and all sponsored by Sideshow Collectables, who offered up some limited edition toys as prizes. This first contest was a little informal, and was hosted by the Comic Book Men (Mike Zapsic, Ming Chen, and Brian Johnson).

Saturday (aka 80s Day)

Weekend At Burnie’s with Andrew McCarthy, Jonathon Silverman and Terry Kiser
Did you know that Andrew McCarthy directs episodes of Orange Is The New Black? Kiser did a lot of the sunts as the dead Burnie, some of which we would assume was a dummy being thrown around. He racked up a few injuries during production of the original film and the sequel. Which by the way, none of the actors believed Weekend At Burnie’s 2 was a real thing that was happening pretty much until production started.

Cobra Kai with William Zabka and Martin Kove
I was wondering if when this panel started there would be shouts of “Mercy is for the weak” and “put him in a body bag” from the audience. I was not disappointed. Both also appreciated the joke that Johnny was the true hero of The Karate Kid that was started in the TV series How I Met Your Mother. There was also a lot more backstory that never made it to the film, such as the reason Kries became evil (a Vietnam vet who became bitter after being denied the chance for victory) and even a backstory to Cobra Kai that never made it out of the idea phase. (They were originally a band of pirates in the orient.)

Weird Science with Athony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchel Smith
Both Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Michael Smith have grown up. Ilan still sounds like Gray though. Most questions were for Hall about Weird Science and the other John Hughes films he appeared in. Interesting facts… Fats, who appeared in the blues bar scene, got his start in acting when he was homeless and helped run down a thief who stole a camera from a film set. Also, Anthony Michael Hall’s charters in John Hughes films always has a girlfriend who lives in Canada.

Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols really like to tell the story of how NASA hired her to recruit the first female astronauts. Nearly every question she answered circled back to her job with NASA. It wasn’t bad though. Her and Koenig were great. He also expressed that his role on Babylon 5, though only in a dozen episodes, was more fulfilling than his work on Star Trek.

The Walking Dead with Scott Wilson, Iron-E Singleton, Brighton Sharbino, and Kyla Kennedy
Kyla Kennedy admits that she would be the first to go in a real zombie apocalypse. She also almost stole the panel nearly becoming the moderator. As with other members of the cast, they are grateful for the fans and really enjoy interacting with them.

La Bamba with Lou Diamond Phillips and Esai Morales
Again, the crowd did not disappoint. If you wanted to know the story behind Bob moments like “Richie!” and “Eat it!” this was your panel. These were also among the things that the crowd shouted out. Philips and Morales have a good chemistry and neither expected the film to become as big and influential as it became. Phillips also announced that despite cancellation, Longmire is being shopped around to different networks.

Costume Contest
The second of the costume contests was just as fun and had more participants. Convention organizer Alfredo “Apple” De La Fuente presented The Jonathon Vela Trident Award, which will be awarded every year to a cosplayer for service to his or her community.

It is in honor of a local San Antonio cosplayer Jonathon Vela, aka Aquaman San Antonio, who passed away earlier this year.

This first Trident Award was presented to Jonathan's family.


George Takei
George Takai talked about his play “aaa” and how there is no animosity between him and William Shatner, despite Shatners… drama. He put it this way, every family has that weird uncle who is… weird, but he is still family and is loved. Shatner is the “weird uncle of Trek.” And he described the Trek family just as that, a family.

There were other panels on Sunday and a final cosplay contest. But I kinda had to tap out. After working all week, as fun as the con was, it was crowded (even on Sunday) and I was getting tired. One more highlight was interviewing Val Hochberg, artist and writer of the online comic Mystery Babylon. It’s a great comic which you can by the trade paperbacks for the first two chapters. A full review is can be found HERE.
Alamo City Comic Con 2.0 was great. Expanding to additional halls solved the overcrowding problem from year one. And even with the extra space of two more convention halls, it was still pretty packed. The signature element of this con is putting the comics and artist first and keeping the comics in the con. The second signature element are the unique panels. Who would have thought to reunite the casts of classic films from the 1980s?