Thursday, August 28, 2014

Music – Sirenia


One of the killer bands I have discovered on Pandora is Sirenia. Hailing from Norway, their current lineup is: Morten Veland (guitars and vocals), Ailyn (female vocals), Jonathan Perez (drums) and Jan Erik Soltvedt (guitars). Their sound is hard to classify, but I suppose Goth metal/rock is pretty close. However, they aren’t some head-banging percussion metal noise band. They have an unusual sound mixing elements of Classical, Opera and Rock. Female vocalist Ailyn has one of the clearest, most piercing voices in music. And they have a true understanding of harmony and melody. This is some well-written, well-constructed music that can’t easily fit in any musical box. It especially can’t be written off as “Goth/metal,” it’s entirely too sophisticated for that.

The band has six albums out so far. Here is my favorite of many mind-blowing songs; The Other Side from the album Nine Destinies and a Downfall. I think the song is about a woman saying goodbye to her dying little sister:

You can listen to the full album free of charge here.

Sirenia’s lyrics are always intriguing and better yet, understandable. Band leader Veland says their songs are about “reflections on life, death, love, hate, paranoia, anxiety and mental decline in general.” That sounds pretentious but he regularly pulls it off.
Here’s one of their recent songs, Seven Widows Weep from the album Perils of the Deep Blue. It starts out as heavy metal with a driving rock beat, then turns into a beautiful operatic symphony. The video is as hokey as Norwegian Viking metal videos can be, but I love the song. Their music is really like nothing else out there.

The only thing I don’t care for in their music is the occasional use of a screamer. Some heavy metal twit sings a verse or two in the middle of a song in Christian Bale’s Batman voice. It’s a tool they don’t use very often but I still wish they would discontinue the practice. It adds nothing to their music. Overall, Sirenia is a sublime mix of musical styles that rise above genre or expectations.

5000 Blog Views!

I tend to keep the self-referential blog entries to an absolute minimum, but wow! 5049 views! To me that is a major milestone. When I started Humble Opinions on February 24 of this year, I didn't know anyone would ever look at it. I love writing it and will continue as long as anyone, me included, finds it interesting. On to 10,000!

(The best thing about this--only 4872 views are mine!):
Pageview chart 5049 pageviews - 80 posts, last published on Aug 27, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Movies - Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I enjoy Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and have for many years. And I enjoyed the original Sin City movie, since it was about as close a comic adaptation as can be made. Sin City is what it is—over the top, noir-inspired and blood-spattered moderately good guys vs. bad guys. Sin City 2 was more of the same, and probably slightly better than the first film. Three tales are twisted together to form A Dame to Kill For; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a can’t-lose poker player going up against the evil Senator Roark (a scenery-chewing Powers Booth), Stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) vs. the same Senator Roark, and Dwight (Josh Brolin) twisted around the finger of femme fatale Ava (a dangerously gorgeous Eva Green). The tales zigzag in and out of each other, leading to characters overlapping and man mountain Marv (Mickey Rourke) as a constant in all of them. The movie really belongs to Eva Green, a tempting seductress who inspires men to commit serious felonies for her. She’s naked most of the time, and that smoky voice and those emerald green eyes are enticing. The movie is right out of the comics, with two of the stories adapted from previous Sin City comics and Gordon-Levitt’s tale being original for the movie. Stylized, violent and rather fun, there are no surprises here. If you like Sin City comics or the first movie, you’ll like this.
Apparently most people didn’t, as I think my friend Rob and I were the only people in the U.S. to see this movie over the weekend; it bombed royally. Well, we enjoyed it.
Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

Rachel Rising #27
Rachel Rising #27: Rachel Rising gets better with every issue. Why this isn’t in the top 10, no, top three comics published I have no idea. Right now it’s not even in the top 100. Work this good should get more attention and sales.

Rachel has returned to life after being murdered in the small town of Manson. She is trying to solve her murder and stop a mystical, demonic takeover of her town. That’s a high concept for a thousand TV shows and movies who would not execute the idea half as well as writer/artist Terry Moore. This issue features a great character moment between Earl and Aunt Johnny about Earl being in love with Rachel’s friend Jet. It also announces the winner of a social media contest offered by Moore to get the book more attention. Winner Jeff Branget had the honor of being brutally murdered this issue by Manson’s resident serial killer, Zoe. And he is. As always, Rachel Rising receives Humble Opinion’s highest recommendation.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Astro City #14
Astro City #14: Astro City is veteran comic book writer Kurt Busiek’s look at a city full of superheroes mostly from the “man on the street” point of view. The book has been around over 19 years now and is storywise stronger than ever. Part of the reason for that is the consistent creative team, Busiek on writing, Brent Anderson drawing, and the great Alex Ross as cover artist. I think last month was the first fill-in artist in the book’s history, Graham Nolan, and he did a bang-up job.

This month is back to style-master Brent Anderson on pencils. Ellie is a kind old woman who loves robots. She collects all kinds and types, mostly left over from some supervillain scheme of world takeover or mind control, and stores them in her desert museum. She gives tours for a few dollars, content to fix them up and spent time with them as her only friends. Enter her ne’er do well nephew Fred. Fred is one of those “get rich quick” continual screw-ups whose ambition only equals his greed. He comes to stay with Aunt Ellie for a few days to get back on his feet. When Fred sees the potential in Ellie’s Robot Museum, he begins to make suggestions for improvements. Then exhibits start disappearing. In a remarkable coincidence, robot crimes start to increase. The day Ellie notices many of her robot friends have disappeared overnight, the cops show up to arrest her. Continued next issue, but time to see if Fred is just a greedy dupe or a villain himself. Knowing Busiek, the answer won’t be what readers anticipate. Great stuff.

Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

Coffin Hill #10
Coffin Hill #10: More vibrant art and intriguing, three-dimensional characters. The story flashes back between 2012 and the present. In 2012, Eve Coffin discovers the serial killer she is tracking as a rookie cop is using magic to commit murder and stay hidden from the police. She uses her own magic skills to track him down and gets closer than ever. In the present, Eve sits in jail back in Coffin Hill, arrested for a murder she didn’t commit. A few fellow prisoners find out she used to be a cop and try to prove red is the new black. She dispatches them rather easily and shows her physical combat skills for the first time. She suspects the attack wasn’t random but rather a paid hit on her life.

Coffin Hill is becoming more and more onion-like with each issue, as writer Caitlin Kittredge peels back the story of Eve and her friends. This is a satisfying and meaty comic book experience, washed down by some skillful and atmospheric art by Inaki Miranda.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Lady Zorro #2
Lady Zorro #2: Esperenza Borges was devastated when Spanish soldiers killed her husband and family for not paying their taxes. Inspired by Zorro, she seeks revenge as the swashbuckling and sword swinging Lady Zorro. In the last issue, Esperenza was forced to kill the evil wife of Capitan Ramon, the Spanish governor. Now the Governor is out for bloody revenge. He captures Lady Zorro’s soldier companion Hugo, then tortures him for her whereabouts. In a Zorro-worthy rescue on horseback. Esperenza seizes him back, carves a few “Zs” and heads for the hills with Hugo.

Writer Alex de Campi's work has impressed me in the past, and here she creates a decent story that moves at a brisk pace. It would be nice if she named her characters occasionally so readers could know who everyone is. The art by Rey Villegas is dull and workmanlike, certainly not worth the $3.99 cover price. If I pick up the rest of the series, it will be for the sexy and dynamic covers of Joe Linsner, whose images tend to leap from the comic page.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Star Trek: New Visions - Time's Echo
Star Trek, New Visions: Time’s Echo: Writer/artist John Byrne continues to blaze new trails with brain-expanding stories and eye-popping visuals. This is the third in Byrne’s “photonovel” series featuring the original Star Trek cast. This book includes two self-contained stories, one a time-travel tale of the Enterprise crash-landing to a fiery death on a planet 1000 years ago. The other is a short but poignant tale of why Yeoman Rand left the Enterprise on its original five-year mission. Both tales feature visuals taken from the original series, then Photoshopped into totally new stories. Byrne’s work is so fun here I almost miss the fact that he isn’t drawing them. But this will work for now. These books are a must-see for Star Trek: TOS fan. More like this, please.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Vampirella #3
Vampirella #3: This latest relaunch of the long running female vampire character is by novelist Nancy A. Collins and artist Patrick Berkenkotter. They’ve done an excellent job so far, as Vampirella, the “good” vampire, tracks bloodsuckers from different cultures and parts of the world. And kills them. Here she is in Thailand, tracking a Krasue, one of the weirdest and most disturbing creatures I’ve seen in a comic. A Krasue manifests itself as a flying head connected to lungs, heart and a mass of trailing entrails. It’s not pretty, and Berkenkotter portrays it as horrifically as it sounds. Of course the Krasue’s favorite meal is human children, so our heroine is in the Thai city of Pom Klua to destroy it. Collins does a great job with the supporting characters, such as the couple with a young child being attacked by the Krasue, or the Nosferatu assisting Vampy for his own reasons. An enjoyable read that doesn’t skimp on the horror.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars

Alex + Ada #8
Alex & Ada #8: BOOK OF THE WEEK: Things are heating up for the best sci-fi book in comics. The government is cracking down on robots with sentience, and Alex and Ada know it is only a matter of time before they get caught. Seeking advice, they go online to the 3D chat rooms run by other folks who enjoy sentient robots. Ada has a virtual drink with some android buddies and confesses she has developed feelings for Alex and wants to take things to the next level. Back in the real world, she builds up the electronic nerve to tell him and ... he rejects her? Idiot. After some heavy thoughts about it, Alex tells Ada that she will never know if her feelings for him are genuine until she experiences some other events and relationships. Devastated, she sits on the couch all night and considers the situation, then makes a devastating decision that may well change the direction of the book.

Another outstanding issue. This story is always thought-provoking science fiction. What's next for Alex and Ada? Will she be discovered and destroyed? I can’t wait to find out. This book has me gleefully hanging on its every plot twist.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars.

Comics Controversy - Is This Cover Sexist?

Spider-Woman #1, Variant Cover

Is this a sexist piece of art? That’s some of the hubbub on the Internets these days. This is the variant cover of the first issue of the upcoming Spider-Woman series from Marvel Comics. The art is by Milo Manara, an Italian artist who has a long history of erotic stories and cheesecake art, an artist whose work I enjoy quite a bit. He has also drawn some incredible historical and fantasy stories as well.

From a story on Comic Book Resources, Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort has responded to the rampant criticism surrounding Milo Manara's Spider-Woman variant cover via his Tumblr:

"I think that the people who are upset about that cover have a point, at least in how the image relates to them," Brevoort wrote. "By that same token, Milo Manara has been working as a cartoonist since 1969, and what he does hasn’t materially changed in all that time. So when we say 'Manara cover,' his body of work indicates what sort of thing he’s going to do."

No kidding. I know Brevoort is just trying not to step on anyone’s toes, but I also think it is stupid to commission and publish that cover, then say people have a point about being upset about it. To me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, it’s a beautiful piece of art. Yes, the character is naked with some color painted on. So what? Comic books are fantasy stories, where the men are as idealized as the women. Characters like Marvel’s Hercules and Namor the Submariner give as much beefcake as Spider-Woman and Emma Frost give cheesecake.
Marvel's Hercules
Here is part of artist Manara’s analysis of the uproar:

“On the erotic side, instead, I found it pretty surprising. That said, I should like to add a premise: it seems to me that both in the United States and around the world, there are things much more important and serious to worry about. What’s happened in Ferguson, or Ebola’s dramatic rise, for example. The fact that some people take this so seriously … Unless the point is that, in these days, a sort of hypersensitivity to erotic images is spreading, maybe due to the ongoing discussions we are facing related to Islam. We know that censorship on woman’s body should not be a Western trait. That too, is quite surprising to me.”

How offended you are by that is definitely a personal thing. My offense meter sits at zero. Perhaps anyone with their offense meters set at such a low threshold should read Amish Housewives Monthly instead of Spider-Woman. I hear it’s zucchini bread month in AHM.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Upcoming Movies - Northmen - A Viking Saga

The trailer for Northmen - A Viking Saga. There's nothing I don't like about this trailer. Vikings, Scotsmen and lots of swordplay. I'm there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Comics - DC Showcase: The Trial of the Flash

The Trial of the Flash is nearly 600 pages of 1980s comics goodness, collecting DC Comics’ The Flash #323-350 in a thick Showcase volume. I don't usually think much of early to mid-80s DC (little did I know that compared to today that time was the company’s Golden Age). I've never read this story but I heard it recommended on a podcast. How right they were. Flash (Barry Allen) is getting married again, years after the villain Reverse-Flash killed his wife Iris. Reverse Flash speeds in to repeat history and kill Barry's new bride. The Flash stops him, accidently (or was it?) breaking his neck in the process. Flash is arrested and put on trial for manslaughter, which is then upgraded to 2nd degree murder.
This story originally took two years to unfold, and writer Carey Bates deliciously takes his time while keeping the reader's attention. What a journey! There are some drawbacks; some of the tropes definitely shout 1980s, such as the goofy dialog and the Rogues Gallery that has nothing better do to than fight the Flash. The worst offender is the main plot itself. In real life, Flash would never even be arrested, even in Berkeley or Portland. He was protecting the life of an innocent person from a convicted murderer. No crime was committed. But if you can suspend disbelief there, you can enjoy a large, complex and wonderful bit of storytelling from Bates and artist Carmine Infantino. The most intriguing plot point? Reverse Flash is really dead. No fake outs, no "But I got better!" In this continuity, Flash kills the Reverse Flash. Other interesting points: The Flash's lawyer hates him, but considers it her duty to defend him. Flash never takes off his costume, even in jail, and is actually tried as "The Flash." The Flash's intended new bride has a nervous breakdown after the attack and is pretty much damaged forever. The ending is satisfying but a bit controversial, and led to the end of the series and Flash's eventual fate in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Despite its flaws, the book is a brilliant piece of almost-forgotten comics history.
Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Movies - Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—actually lives up to its hype as a comedic, all-out action adventure movie. I say that not because I think the concept is silly—I loved the comic series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning on which the flick is loosely based—but because Marvel and director James Gunn pulled it off. The film cuts the razor edge between goofy and serious space opera. The plot is simple; Peter Quill, the Legendary Star*Lord (Chris Pratt), is arrested for stealing an ancient artifact and meets a crew of vicious rule breakers in prison. The group includes Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon and tree-man Groot. Star*Lord teams with the group to track down the artifact and keep it out of the hands of big bad Thanos (Josh Brolin). On the way they fight zealot Ronan the Accuser (whose look and attitude is right out of the comics) who, while ostensibly serving Thanos, desperately wants the artifact for himself. Their meeting provides a thrilling, city-destroying epic battle much better realized than the destruction-porn portrayed in Man of Steel.
Depicting the Guardians could have gone so wrong. But the cast fits their roles well, and computer-generated Rocket Raccoon and walking tree Groot alone are worth the ticket price. The story is balanced perfectly, with plot, laughs, character growth and special effects all given room to breathe. And the post-credit sequence, complete with a guest star out of left field, is a hoot. The movie isn’t a comedy, but definitely has a sense of humor. I loved it.
Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TV Rampage

TV Rampage - Televison Reviews
A look at some recent television shows and if they are worth anyone’s valuable time.


True Detective – I’d heard a lot about this series, and I have to say it not only lives up to, but surpasses my every expectation. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson both give the performances of their careers as two Louisiana Detectives investigating a series of murders. The action takes place in 1996 and 2013. I won’t spoil a second of the plot, but there is so much more to the story being told. Through the outstanding script, makeup, body language and plain ol’ acting, the two main characters portray younger men with possibly the last of their youthful idealism fading away, then much older men with more than their share of mileage. One question the script asks is if either of these men have any of the drive for justice or moral integrity left in them that they had when younger. The answers are amazing. As television writer Ken Levine (Cheers, Frasier) noted, “McConaughey put on a shirt and became an actor.” Highest recommendation.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars.

Tyrant – Bassam al Fayeed (Adam Rayner) was raised as a prince by his dictator father in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin, then moved to America as a teenager. Now an American citizen and pediatric physician, he’s gone native and never returned home. Until he takes his family to attend his nephew’s wedding. When his father dies of a heart attack during the visit, Bassam (now “Barry”) stays as a temporary advisor to his ill-equipped and evil brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), who has now become “President.”

At first Barry enjoys playing politics, but soon realizes it’s tough to be even a benign dictator (his brother is anything but) in the modern age. Soon he is working behind the scenes to make deals and bring diverse voices to the table to make peace. Of course none of these things work because the world is what it is. So Barry starts making more extreme decisions.

Tyrant is only five or six episodes in, but has become fascinating to watch. Bassam is now making more and more compromised choices, until an action he takes in the latest episode is something from which he cannot come back. Now it looks like he has decided his brother can’t be controlled and will run against him in the upcoming presidential elections (or dispatch him some other way) so he can ... what? Stay and become President? His American wife and children may have something to say about that. Dispatch his brother and install a puppet government? Jamal and his power-hungry wife Leila (Moran Atias, the most exotic and beautiful woman on television) are not going quietly.

One problem the show’s writers will have to overcome is that of no likable characters. Barry was likable enough until his actions this week. His wife is bland and not a force on the show. If there is no one to root for, why watch the show? Or, the show could be about power and how it corrupts. Right now the overall theme of the show is unknown, but it’s been fun so far to try and figure it out.

Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

The Strain – Another vampire show? AAAAAAAAAH! Not to worry though, The Strain is different enough to catch viewer’s attention. When an overseas plane comes to rest on the tarmac in New York with all passengers dead, CDC doctor Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his team are called in to investigate. What they find is a disease they can’t identify bringing dead bodies back to life a bit thirstier than they were. The show is dark, creepy and moody, and the “vampires” do drink blood, but are different enough from traditional vampires that they can just be called monsters, I think. The bad guys are other vampires (a Nazi I can’t wait to see roasted on an open fire and a master vamp we haven’t seen much of yet) and a dying billionaire seeking immortality. Allies include David Bradley (Filch from Harry Potter) as a weary monster hunter, old and tired, but doing his duty.

Dr. Goodweather is an interesting character, but the writers have made him a bit too complex. He’s a brilliant doctor married to his job, fighting the wife he still loves in a divorce for custody of their son, and an alcoholic who struggles to attend AA meetings. I think that’s a little too busy, let’s see which aspect of his life they throw under the bus first for the sake of time.

This is a fun show, which at its base is simply about good vs. evil. I’ll take it. Happily.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Married – This new comedy is a little too accurate. Marriage is a black hole of happiness, consisting mostly of disappointment, horror and celibacy. The situations and attitudes depicted here are right on target. Somewhat funny, but who wants to watch that every week? Especially if you lived it?

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

You’re the Worst – Jimmy and Gretchen meet at Jimmy’s former girlfriend’s wedding. Waking up the next day after a drunken one-night stand, they decide they may actually like each other. The problem is that they are both selfish, amoral prigs with toxic personalities who tend to avoid emotional attachments like the plague. Now this is more my style. Vulgar, irreverent and funny, Jimmy and Gretchen stumble their way through what may be a relationship with alternating lies and brutal honesty. There just may be a chance for these two crazy kids.

You’re the Worst is an adult comedy that offers honest laughs, I love it. But don’t watch if you’re easily offended.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Ray Donovan – I’m currently in the middle of the first season of this Showtime series about a Hollywood “fixer” with an out of control personal life. While good drama with excellent writing and acting, Ray Donovan suffers from the problem of too many adult dramas—no likeable characters. In fact, Donovan takes it a step further—most all characters are extremely dislikable. The show is full of despicable characters doing despicable things to each other. Ray (Liev Schreiber) is despicable. His wife and family are despicable. His clients and coworkers are despicable. Why would I want to watch that, exactly? The only non-awful characters are Ray’s Parkinson’s disease-striken brother Terry (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes) and his son Conor (Devon Bagby). That’s not enough to make viewers care about the show or what happens to the characters. Even veteran Jon Voight’s wonderful performance as Ray’s despicable father gets lost in the static of the show’s nihilism. The show is dank and dark with no sense of humor or light characters/storylines to balance out the doom and gloom. Okay if you have a high tolerance for this sort of thing.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Books - Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia

I hate Larry Correia. He makes it look so easy. There is no one out there like him. I just finished Correia’s latest novel in his Monster Hunter International series; Nemesis. I have one big problem with it ... it wasn’t 10,000 pages long.

Monster Hunter International is about groups (some private, some government sponsored) who fight monsters. And they take on some biggies. Master vampires, werewolves, demons, Godzilla-types and even some Cthulu-inspired, god-level threats. Up until now, the stories have mostly dealt with the specific private United States group Monster Hunter International, run by Earl Harbinger and “Chosen One” Owen Pitt. Nemesis puts the spotlight on government agent Franks, a popular MHI supporting character.

Franks is a famous monster from pop culture history--it's not too hard to figure out. He is the toughest, strongest, meanest, indestructible almost-human missile in the government’s arsenal to take down monster things. Correia establishes Franks’ character in a perfect scene near the beginning of the book. Franks is dropped into a group of powerful demons. Vastly outgunned and outnumbered (well, maybe not outgunned), Franks just stands there and looks at them. The head demon shouts “It’s Franks! Everybody run!” Bloody chaos ensues.

Franks holds his own novel well. This is a “man (er, monster) on the run” novel, as Franks is framed for the murders of several government agents and has a bounty put on his head by evil government agents (are there any other kind?). As a result, every government and private monster hunter organization in the world is tripping over themselves to kill Franks and bring in the millions in bounty. Turns out Franks has been fighting for the United States since 1776 (he’s much older), and part of his contract with the Revolutionary government states that the U.S. will not try to replicate creatures such as he. A top secret government agency is trying to do just that, but knows Franks will destroy them if he gets wind of it. Thus the frame-up and resulting explosions.

When Franks discovers the plot, he goes on a massive killing spree of bad guys. In one scene, on the run and beaten down to a nub, Franks is enjoying a brief moment of respite with his few allies. “What do we do?” one commando asks. “Kill ****ing everything” is Franks’ reply. He tends to be a monster of few words, letting his Glocks and massive fists do the talking. As Correia himself put it, this novel is “Franks against the world.” I put my money on Franks.

Monster Hunter Nemesis also develops Franks as a character, delves into his creation and expands the back-story of who he is. It seems we don’t know the whole story about where Franks really came from. When we find out, it’s a game changer. And it explains why he doesn’t want any more around like him.

There are incredible battles in Nemesis, with firearms, bombs, and a fantastic no-holds-barred fight between Franks and MHI’s favorite, nearly omnipotent werewolf character. The book is also full of humor, great one-liners and it definitely moves the story of the MHI universe forward. I couldn’t put it down. I can’t wait for the next one!

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Tales of My Father - The Marines #1

My father has been gone four years now and I miss him terribly. Here's a short tale of his time in the Marines:
Dad was just joining up and was at the bus station waiting to go to basic training. The DI was giving the troops instructions, no talking, no chewing gum, etc. When dad stepped up into the bus to leave, he heard a “crack” and the guy in front of him came tumbling back down out of the bus on top of him with a bloody mouth. The DI came to the top of the steps pointing a finger at the guy.

“When I say, ‘No mother****ing chewing gum,’ I MEAN no mother****ing chewing gum!”

That’s when dad wondered what he'd gotten himself into. Always proud to be a marine, though.