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