Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Movie Review: The Punisher

Well, I know I said I wasn't going to start reviewing movies I'd seen on TV, but after seeing this on Sky Movies I just had to comment.

Released in 2004, The Punisher stars Thomas Jane (Deep Blue Sea) as the titular character out for revenge when crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta) has his entire family killed. The is the Punisher's second big screen outing after 1989's attempt starring Dolph Lundrgren was a fairly big flop.

This more recent effort didn't exactly set the box office alight either, but it has obviously raked in enough money to justify a sequel, as IMDB lists Punisher 2 as currently being in pre-production.

I didn't really know what to expect from this film. It certainly wasn't very heavily promoted in the UK, and the buzz surrounding the film at the time of its release was generally poor. Indeed, Sky Movies gave it one star out of five, which prompted my wife to comment , "Are you sure you want to watch this?"

What followed was a very strange, very flawed but very watchable movie.

As is fairly obvious, I'm a big comic book fan, and a fan of Marvel Comics in particular. However, The Punisher is a character I've never been particularly familiar with. I know his origin story, his look, I've read a few comics with him in them, but that's it. So I can't comment too much on how true to the comics this was, or whether the supporting cast from the movie were drawn from the comic.

Firstly this film is very dark, very violent, and very, very graphic. We're talking multiple, graphic stabbing, beatings and shootings. Lots of blood.

Secondly, this film is very funny. We're talking a comedy, fat neighbour here.

Occasionally the violence and humour are mixed...those moments are particularly strange.

Thomas Jane fits the role of Frank Castle very well, but this movie does commit one of the cardinal sins of comic-book movies. This film is The Punisher's origin story. Pick up the first issue of just about any comic book, it's highly unlikely that it will be the character's origin story, at best you'll get glimpses of the character's origin in flash backs. For me, The Punisher in particular would work much better this way. His origin is so intense...that...for me...introducing us to the happy, likeable Frank Castle and his perfect family, and then killing them all and destroying him before our eyes is a little bit too intense. My personal view is that it would have been more interesting to introduce us to The Punisher first, and then explore what made him that way. That also saves us from the "Crumbs, I've been watching The Punisher for half an hour now and there's still no sign of The Punisher..." effect. That would also give you the option of starting the movie with a big, set-piece action sequence starring your title character, which is always a plus point.

I guess I should mention John Travolta, who is in this movie. I can't stand John Travolta. I liked Pulp Fiction, but that was more in spite of him rather than because of him. He's ok in this film, but, well, check out this article on Scientology from the Conspiracy Archive to see why I have a general dislike of him.

So, a flawed but watchable film. I'll be interested to see what they do with the sequel.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, January 30, 2006

An Experiment In Colour

Well, I was bored at lunchtime the other day so I decided to try and figure out how to colour comic book pages. Mainly meant as just a bit of fun, I'm also expecting to have to colour the new version of Young Gods #1 if I ever get it finished, so I wanted to try and figure out exactly how to go about it. For a first attempt I'm fairly pleased with the results. As usual, click on the image for a larger version (Pencils: Ryan Stegman Inks & Colours: Ian Sharman).

On the inking side, I've just completed two pages that Ryan Stegman sent me and I'm pretty pleased with my progress. It's all starting to click into place now. Tonight I'll be making a start on a page that Inaki Miranda has sent me, which will be a challenge as it's in a totally different style.

It looks like I'll definitely be attending the Bristol Comic Expo in May. I'll be taking the train there and staying at the Hotel for the weekend. I'm really looking forward to it as I'll be able to meet up with everyone I've met via the Markosia site and hopefully introduce myself to a few other companies...assuming there's anyone there to introduce myself to! Hopefully I can come away from it with a few more good contacts, and maybe some inking work. We'll see....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Movie Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

I was not particularly keen on seeing this. It's not that I only like big blockbuster action films, after all I raved about Constant Gardener, it's more that I wasn't in the mood. Plus, I know it's the second film to be directed by Rob Marshall, whose only other directing credit was for Chicago...which I thought was awful. Also, I was tired, fell asleep during my second viewing of Underowlrd Evolution the night before and have a ton of work that I really should have been getting on with at home. But still, having been accused on many occasions of refusing to see films that my wife wants to see, I felt duty bound to sit through this. I'm glad I did.

The film has had seriously mixed reviews. Based on a novel by Arthuer Golden, it tells the story of a young girl who is sold to a Geisha house and fights to find love and independence against a backdrop of misery and abuse. Set in mid 20th Century Japan, some have criticised the film for casting three Chinese women in the three leading female parts. Others have criticised its highly idealised depiction of a Japan that never really existed. Yet more have criticised the decision to have the cast deliver their lines in a heavily accented English. I have to confess that I viewed this film from an entirely Western perspective am not possibly qualified to criticise it on any of these grounds. I was not aware that the actresses were Chinese, and have no idea why they were cast instead of Japanese actresses. From my point of view, it doesn't matter, and didn't affect my enjoyment of the film one bit. As for the depiction of Japan...this is Hollywood, Americans struggle to depict their own culture and country accurately. I've learnt to live with Hollywood's depiction of Britain and British life and to just enjoy the story. I've also had to put up with Hollywood casting Irishmen to play Scots, the Welsh to play English, etc, etc. Considering the fact that of the actors that have played that great English icon James Bond, one has been Scottish and another Irish, I think we just have to accept that Hollywood is just like that. As for the final point about the accents...well...I would agree that at times it seems a little odd, but in general it's not too jarring. It's clear that this film is portraying a very Western view of the "Mysteries of the Orient" and as such, it succeeds. It's not supposed to be a realistic portrayal and shouldn't be judged as such.

Most reviews I've read have focused on Ziyi Zhang's portrayal of the adult Sayuri, which is outstanding, but it is as a child that we first get to know this woman and become engaged in her story. The young Suzuka Ohgo is captivating as the little girl who is sold without knowing what is happening to her. Feel and understand her pain as she is seperated from her sister and thrust into a totally alien environment. An environment where she is hated by older Geisha Hatsumomo (Li Gong) purely because she is pretty, and therefore a threat.

The plot is complex and winding often leading us down the path of despair as we believe that all of Sayuri's hopes of being with the Chairman, the object of her affections, have been dashed forever. Ken Watanabe is, as always, outstanding in this role. Of course, the presence of Watanabe-San in any film is a cue for my wife to spend the whole movie sighing.

The real outstanding set-piece moment in this film comes when Sayuri performs a dance in the theatre. This is an attempt to make her the most desirable Geisha in Japan, so that she will attract the highest bidder for her virginity. This partiular subject is handled very tastefully, with an incredible degree of subtlety. The entire film is very tastefully done, considering the subject matter, with no sex and no nudity. Returning to the dance - it is purely breathtaking as she dances in a rain of petals, with a particularly effective lighting effect at the end of the dance, as the petals turn red and look like a rain of blood.

The entire film is beautifully shot and wonderuflly acted and really should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. This is another film to take your other half to and rack up loads of brownie points for seeing a movie they want to see, while thoroughly enjoying it yourself!

Rating: 9/10

Monday, January 23, 2006

Movie Review: Underworld Evolution

Underworld came and went so quickly at my local multiplex that we missed it before we even knew it was out. I couldn't wait for it to come out on DVD and it has since become an essential part of my DVD collection. I'm still trying to justify to my wife that we need to get the extended version, but she's never been too keen on us having two versions of the same film. Still, not wanting to make the same mistake twice, we made sure we got to see this latest chapter in the war between Vampires and Lycans on opening night.

I had mixed feelings going into this. I love the first film, it's brilliant, but that left me with a mixture of high expectations and dread where the second film was concerned. I know the creators always envisioned this as a trilogy from the start, but could they stick to that vision given the higher budget that the success of the first film brought?

The answer is a categorical YES! This film can immediately take it's place among a select elite of films - it's a sequel that's better than the first film. Basically, every element of the first film that was good is built upon and improved. The stage has already been set, so there's no time wasted here. The film picks up literally seconds after the original ends. It's a true sequel, not a rehash just to cash in on the first film's success.

It's really hard to say too much about the film without giving away many of the suprises, but suffice it to say that one of the strengths of this series is the excellent cast. After the death of Bill Nighy's Viktor at the end of the first film (Nighy makes a small but sufficiently hammy cameo appearance during a flashback to the 13th century), the last remaining Vampire Lord, Marcus is awakened...and he has a very old score to settle. Played by Tony Curran, probably best known as The Invisible Man from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Marcus is the right blend of charismatic and dangerously unstable. Wheares Nighy's Viktor was evil suppressed and under control, Marcus is wild and out of control.

Despite not appearing in the trailer, Scott Speedman is back as Michael Corvin, the Lycan/vampire hybrid who has won Selen's heart. He plays a fairly major role in the film but I did feel that one of the film's flaws is that it didn't sufficiently explore just what he was and what he can do.

Lastly, of course, there's Selene herself, played by the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale. A heroine tough enough to appeal to women, and sexy enough to appeal to men too. What does Underworld have that Blade doesn't? I think the answer would have to be the lovely Kate (actually, to be fair, Underworld outperforms the Blade series in just about every department).

I'm off to see this again tonight, it's that good.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Elephants From Norway Go Mad In Winter

"Oh, good grief!" Will probably be the response of the few people out there who know what this is.

To be as brief as possible, when I was eighteen I decided to write a book. The surprise was that I actually finished it. With a cast including Mad Elephants, Angels, Demons, Nuns and Militant Kumquats, it is, at times, a little odd.

While it's far from being the best writing in the world it is, at least, genuinely funny at times (well, I think it is...).

What it definitely is, is ten years old, and so there are numerous pop-culture and sporting references that are seriously out of date.
I guess I'm making it accessible here because it is, after all, a piece of me. Hopefully some people will read it and it'll make them laugh. I really don't expect anything more of it than that.

So, without further ado, here it is, a novel, by Ian Sharman: Elephants From Norway Go Mad In Winter

Note: It's probably best if you save the file to your hard drive and then open it, rather than opening it in your browser, as the text doesn't wrap in the browser window which makes it almost impossible to read.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Two Hundred Hits and Counting!

Well, here's to the first two hundred hits!

The site is beginning to take shape now and it's starting to receive a steady stream of visitors.

Internet Explorer users may have noticed things going a bit odd over the last couple of days. I got the site just how I wanted it, and then decided to just have a quick check to see how it looked in IE. Oh dear....everything had gone a bit wonky. I personally use Firefox both at home and at work, and the site displayed perfectly. Still, everything's fixed now, and the code's a little bit tidier too. I would recommend Firefox though, not just for viewing this site, but in general.

I think I've made a decision regarding The Young Gods. I'm going to completely redo #1. As much as I was very happy with how #1 turned out, it really isn't what I had in mind when I started. It was a huuuuuge learning process, and, as such, I feel I can now better achieve what I originally set out to do. I've still got a lot of setting up to do, but I'm hoping to get a lot of work done on the book this week. It'll end up having a lot more of a traditional comic-book look to it.

I'll post images as soon as I can.

'Till then, I'm just going to enjoy hitting the 200 hit milestone.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Young Gods featured in Daz3D's Gallery of the Month!

Yes, today's good news is that a picture of Impact fighting the security drones from Young Gods #1 was selected to feature in Daz 3D's Gallery of the Month for January 2006. Basically, that means a little bit of exposure for me, and a $25 voucher to spend on the site. I'm chuffed because those gallery of the moth images are all pretty amazing, and it's great to have my work be judged as equal to that.

I almost entitled this post "OK, what's with all the ads?" because I also want to explain...well...why there are all these ads all of a sudden.

Firstly, there are the Ads by Google. Basically, Blogger has recently added a facility for me to quickly and simply integrate ads generated by Google which will be generally relevant to this site. As you can see, they are just a single line of text ads and are as unobtrusive as ads can get. Why have them at all? Why does anyone put adverts up anywhere? To make some money. I'm not really expecting to make much, if anything, from these adverts, but I do put a lot of time and effort into maintaining this site (admittedly mostly for my own amusement) and it really wouldn't hurt to get a little something out of it.

Secondly, there are the new Daz3D ads. Basically, I've signed up to the new Daz3D affiliate program. That means that, yes, I will make some money if you click one of these ads and then buy something from Daz. However, making myself money is only a part of why those ads are there. If it wasn't for Daz3D there would be no Young Gods, and if there were no Young Gods then I would never have hooked up with the guys from Markosia, and if I hadn't have hooked up with the guys from Markosia then I wouldn't be inking again...and so on... Basically, I really want to support Daz3D because it's a fantastic resource and I would genuinely recommend them to anyone wanting to get into 3D artwork.

So, there you go, I didn't want to stick the ads up without commenting, and I certainly didn't want anyone to think that I'm in any way "selling out" by plastering ads everywhere. This is still a very young site and we've had relatively few hits, but the site's popularity is growing. I'm fascinated seeing where people are accessing the site from, and what keywords they've used when searching Google or MSN that have led them here. Quite a few people have ended up here because they're fans of Skander Keynes, who plays Edmund in The Chronicles of Narnia. I must admit to finding this a little odd, but hey. (And, of course, it's no coincidence that I've just mentioned him again, either). The really cool thing is that over the last few days I've started to see people coming to the site after specifically searching for my name or for the site itself, so things are starting to take off.

Oh, and lastly, I finally found out who the mystery Spanish person is. So...here's a big hello to Inaki Miranda! Inaki is the penciller on The Lexian Chronicles, published by ... of course ... Markosia! To bring things full circle - you'll be able to see both my3D art and Inaki's pencils in the forthcoming Lexian Chronicles tradepaperback, due out in March.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Movie Review: The Producers

What is wrong with people?

I've just been reading online that, supposedly, loads of people have been walking out of this movie. The critics have panned it and the word on the street is that it's awful.

To be honest, I did get the impression while I was watching it that while half of the audience were pissing themselves with laughter the other half were thinking "What the hell is this?!"

To be honest, I've never understood the whole walking out of a movie thing. It's the cause of a fair bit of friction between my wife and me. She says that part of the reason we got Unlimited cinema passes was so that we could walk out on bad movies without feeling that we've wasted any money...but I still won't walk out. Even if she's sitting there complaining that she's bored and huffing every five seconds. The problem is that no matter how bad a movie is, once I've got more than about twenty minutes in I want to know how it ends. Mary Kate & Ashley's "New York Minute" was on TV the other night and we put it on while we ate because we wanted to watch something we wouldn't mind missing the end of because we both had work to do later that evening. And I was STILL reluctant to stop watching it.

Anyway, that's all a moot point with The Producers because we both loved it. We've both grown up with Mel Brooks films. I have clear memories of being sat in front of Blazing Saddles at a very early age so that I could enjoy the campfire scene (parp!) and, of course, being a family of Star Wars fans, we all went to see Spaceballs at the cinema. But be it Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety or Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Mel Brooks films were a staple part of both of our childhood movie diets.

Which makes it all the more odd that I haven't actually seen Brooks' classic 1968 original movie The Producers, which almost makes me feel unqualified to write this reveiw of the new movie of the musical of that original classic. Of course, I was minus eight years old when it first hit cinemas, so I have a bit of an excuse...

This new version sees the hit broadway musical based on the 1968 film brought to the big screen with much of the cast from the stage version intact. Both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are outstanding in the two lead roles, but the real surprise is Uma Thurman...who knew she could sing and dance? Apparently not even her... Oh, and it's no surprise that Will Ferrell is totally off the wall insane as the neo-Nazi writer of "Springtime for Hitler." Apparently he begged them for the part.

Which brings me to one of the few sticking points in this movie. While Mel Brooks remains one of the few people in the world who can get away with lampooning Nazi Germany in this style, there are still times when it leaves you feeling a little uncomfortable. You know...when you catch yourself doubled over with laughter...at Nazis...and...um...yeah...

Gary Beach is also outrageous as the supremely over-the-top-camp director of "Springtime" who ends up playing Hitler after Will Ferrel's character breaks his leg. Some might argue that Brooks can get away with the Nazi jokes because he's a Jew, but maybe he can't get away with the gay jokes because he's straight (unless there's something I don't know...). But, really, the scene where we meet the director and his partner provides some of the funniest moments in the movie, and, ultimately, it's setting up the joke of having a gay man play Hitler in the campest style you can imagine.

This film is brilliant. Very, very funny and entertaining throughout. Plus it has Uma Thurman acting sexy. Yum.

The generally accepted view is that Mel Brooks isn't funny anymore. This movie puts that lie to rest. Looking at his filmography, that opinion seems to be based on Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which is one movie that I did switch off before the end (actually, after only about five minutes...ugh...). It would be more accurate to say that Mel Brooks doesn't make movies anymore, hopefully this film marks the end of that trend.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Look to the Skies

Chemtrails - Predictions

This article may seem a bit obscure to some of you, but it's a topic that I keep coming into contact with.

I sincerely hope it's all paranoid delusion because the alternative is unthinkable. However, we seem to have seen a series of unthinkable events over the past six or seven years.

If this guy's right then it would seem that whoever is behind it has also set up the perfect excuse for a worlwide pandemic - avian flu.

As I said, though, it's probably all paranoid delusion...

...I hope...

(By the way, to find out more on this ubject I'd recommend clicking the "Conspiracy Archive" link to the right).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Inky Fingers

I've been having a great time this week visiting an old passion of mine.

It's ok, my wife doesn't need to be worried, I'm talking about inking comic books.

A brush, a pot of ink and a page of exquisite pencils (courtesy of Ryan Stegman) and I've been in heaven. I don't intend on putting my drawing board away again, ever. I'm back for good now. I'm just going to keep working at it until someone starts paying me to ink. I just have to find some more pencils to practice on...

Meanwhile, enjoy the sneaky peak at my inks here.

Movie Review: Just Like Heaven

This probably isn't going to be a long review as I saw this a few days ago now so it's not quite as fresh in my mind as usual.

I went into this movie with fairly low expectations, which is usually a good thing as it wasn't likely to disappoint me (unlike King Kong...). I've seen quite a few films starring Reece Witherspoon and they've all been fairly enjoyable, but I wouldn't have gone out of my way to see a film starring her before.

The basic plot os that a landscape gardner (Mark Ruffalo), who is getting over his wife's death, moves into an apartment that was formerly occupied by a workaholic doctor played by Reece Witherspoon. Soon after moving in he encounters her "ghost" and after some initial anomosity towards each other they fall in love. I won't say much more than that about the plot as I don't want to spoil the twist (my wife figured it out about five minutes into the movie and spoiled it for me...ah well...).

I've read some critics complaining that the premise is not very realistic. Ummm....well...no...but...uh...it's a movie. Not only that, but I expect these same people praised Batman Begins for being so realistic. I don't need to spell out the absurdity of that, do I?

So, yes, this movie is silly, and light and fluffy and sweet. It also made me cry, a lot. Both sad and happy tears. To me, any movie that can elicit an emotional response like that has got to be good.

I don't want to go on about this film too much, but I would heartily recommend it. the cast are excellent, with some wonderful chemistry between Witherspoon and Ruffalo. Witherspoon is especially good and you can really understand why he falls in love with her. The supporting cast are also superb. Donal Logue provides a lot of laughs as a slightly dodgy shrink, but the stand-out performance is from Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as weird book store owner Darryl. Early on I suspected that he was going to "make the movie" (as in, be the best thing in it) but he was actually slightly underused.

Take your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife to the cinema and snuggle up in front of this movie, you won't be disappointed.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

So Little Time...

Wow, what a couple of weeks!

Let me start by wishing everyone a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

2006 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for me which I sincerely hope will see me well on the way to a long hoped for career change.

I'm going to catch up with some exciting news today, even though I have a movie review pending (I recently saw the excellent Just Like Heaven, I'll post more about it later, but in case I don't, it gets 9/10, go see it!).

To the exciting news! Well, the first bit of news is not so great, Markosia won't be publishing The Young Gods, which is a shame, but not a total shock. That said, I really don't have the time to work on it right now, because of the exciting news that is to follow. I'm not too sure what the future will be for The Young Gods right now, I have some thoughts but nothing fully formed. If there is to be a future for the book it will probably be completely redone with a new art team, maybe with me just producing cover art, but the problem there is finding an art team!

Anyway, enough of that, on to the good news!

The good news is that Morkosia still like my stuff and have asked me to come up with some variant covers/pin-ups for their ongoing title, The Lexian Chronicles, featuring the main character from that book, Reena (who can be seen in the pic' above, expertly pencilled by the very talented Ryan Stegman). This has been quite a challenge for me as it's meant using Poser to produce a picture of a pre-existing character. I've had to replicate her costume and her look, which has been fairly tricky. I'm quite happy with the results (which I won't share with you as they're for Markosia's eyes only right now) but I might be purchasing a better leather texture...we'll see. Hopefully they'll like what they see and my artwork will be gracing the cover of a future issue of The Lexian Chronicles, but even if it doesn't it's been great fun and a rewarding challenge. It's definitely stretched and improved my Poser skills and forced me to dabble in the murky world of re-texturing.

That's not all the good news though! Some of you may know that many years ago I trained as a comic book inker and tried to break into the industry that way. Tim Townsend, possibly the best inker in the world, was kind enough to spend far more time than I could ever have hoped for guiding and teaching me and I got to a point where both he and I felt I was good enough to ink professionally. However, for reasons that I'll never know the doors stayed firmly shut and I ended up working in graphic design (nowhere near as fun). Anyway, flash forward to the present and I find myself chatting online with Midnight Kiss penciller Ryan Stegman about inking. He doesn't currently work with an inker and was commenting on how hard it is to find a really good one. Oh, and he mentioned that his dream was to have Tim Townsend ink his work. OK, to cut a long story short I've dusted off my drawing board, bought a new brush and a fresh pot of ink and I'm working on some inking samples for him. It's been far too long since I've inked but it's going really well so far. I forgot why I used to love inking - because I'm an inker.

It finally feels like all those doors that slammed shut in my face the last time I was trying to break into comics have finally started to open a crack. The difference this time is that I'm older and wiser. Not only does that actually improve the quality of my work, but it helps to keep me firmly grounded. If nothing else, I'm having a lot of fun right now (working 'till gone three in the morning, but having fun) and that in and of itself is great. Anything else is a bonus.

Yes, of course, it would be great to be inking professionally with a healthy side line in producing covers and pin-ups. That is the ultimate goal, the dream. Maybe do some writing too. But that's the future, right here, right now, I'm having a blast.