OK, so not having internet sucked a bit more recently than normal. Posting has been a chore. Thus, two weeks...
Still reading a lot of comic stuff, but got some other reading and some movie watching in this week.
Bucket of Blood: Finally, the truth about beat poetry is exposed in this shocking film about a waiter turned sculptor who gets mixed up with artists and drug dealers. Dick Miller is awesome as the much put-upon buss boy who just wants acceptance, and will take out anyone he needs to in order to get it. The beatniks are frickin’ fantastically goofy and bearded. And they love ugly art. Crazy, man.
Paul: Two hopeless dorks from the UK visit the US for the San Diego Comic Con and run into a hard living alien looking to get home. Running afoul of government agents, religious nutters, sleazy authors, and all sorts of nefarious samples of Americana. It’s a great nerd movie, with tons of odd gags and call-backs. Plus, it features one of cinema’s all time badasses, Keith Nash. I don’t know if you have to be a nerd to like it, but I’m sure it helps. And you gotta be OK with potty humor.
Phase IV: This film starts out unsettling, and just kind of keeps going. 70s science fiction tended to have a certain weird, awkward vibe to it, and this one certainly fits the bill. Of course, the scientists are soulless and take no head of what damage they might cause. It’s beautifully shot and the music is excellent. But the characters are like aliens or robots, not really relatable in any serious way. It’s stuff like this that gives John Q. Public types their fear of science and of scientists. But it should serve as a warning to not let civilians in your lab.
Hell on Wheels: The mad dash to build a railroad across the continent is the backdrop for this tale of vengeance, blood, betrayal, survival, family, and money. A Confederate soldier is killing his way through a unit of Union soldiers that took everything from him. A former slave is finding his way in a world where he’s free in name, but not always in reality. A businessman, stretched beyond his means is trying to make a fortune and shape a nation. And the wife of a slain surveyor may have fallen in love with an idea of America others don’t see. Just a few of the many broken and lost souls building a path through hostile lands. The production is fairly lavish, the violence occasionally quite harsh, and the characters not always what you expect. But it sure is nice to see some serious Western TV. Makes me want to watch a bunch of Westerns, and it really makes me want to sit down to Deadwood.
Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals: Oh, those Italians. The movie starts out with some awful, then gets worse. Totally above-board and ethical reporter Emanuelle, played by the ridiculously gorgeous Laura Gemser (who I’m more and more convinced is allergic to wearing clothing), does all sorts of messed up and often random things to get a scoop. The dubbing is AMAZING. It seems…so na-…..tural, the way….they….all speak. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure a bunch of ‘The Amazon’ is filmed on the Mediterranean, ’cause a lot of it looks like North Africa. Could be wrong; don’t care enough to find out. Full of the usual twisted morality and random actions you get in Italian films. Not good. Even for this sort of Euro-trash.
|So boring, even the characters want to watch something else.|
Thief: When I was watching Drive last year, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I can totally picture late 70s James Caan in this.’ I think that was the memory of this movie floating around in the back of my head. The movie is a very slow burn, as Caan lives the life of a professional thief who doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone but himself and his dream. And nobody is gonna get between him and what he wants. But you know movies like this. Someone is going to think they can get away with screwing him over. Someone always thinks they can get away with screwing over a professional. Well, they learn. They learn. It’s Michael Mann, so you know it has that deliberate camera work, gorgeous shots, sudden and extreme violence, interesting music, and a heightened, stylized feel to not only the look, but the acting and the story.
Jackson County Jail: “That dumb bastard. Ain’t ever gonna get that bird. Not in a million years.” A woman makes the horrible mistake of driving across country from L.A. to New York, where of course, she runs afoul of dumb hick lawmen and other no good rascals. A cast of sleazy yahoos and Corman regulars have Tommy Lee Jones to deal with, though, and you know that ain’t good. Seriously, though. The confluence of awful, thieving, drugged out, rapey sickos tests credibility to say the least.
The Tomorrow People: Though extremely uneven over its many seasons, sometimes extremely preachy, with occasional lapses into truly awful production values, this show about a bunch of next-stage humans is pretty good. Like a lot of other UK ‘kids’ shows, The Tomorrow People is frequently sophisticated, challenging, and sometimes asks some rather difficult questions. And not every story ends on a good note. The cast changes over the years. I liked how often it challenged generally accepted cultural ideas, be it religion, politics, or what have you. If I had to sum it up in the briefest of ways, I’d say, ‘imagine the X-Men being done in England, by the folks who made Tom Baker’s Doctor Who episodes.’ I think that captures the feel about right. For science fiction fans, this is one to check out for sure.
Australia: As this movie opens, I can’t help but feel Baz Luhrmann was aiming for a 40s/50s broad romantic comedy epic, like something you’d have seen a young Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, or Burt Lancaster in, with Kim Novak or Deborah Kerr or someone as the invading lady. The same kind of relationships, the same odd attempts at broad comedy, alongside somewhat serious subjects. This is heightened by his super-stylized editing, coloring, and effects, giving it an almost cartoony vibe at times. Unfortunately for every Spartacus, there’s a Land of the Pharaohs. I think you can enjoy this movie a whole lot more if you turn off your modern cynicism. However, even getting past it, the film is, I think, only OK. Everyone is acting with the broadest of strokes (“Curse you, you little creamy.” -actual dialog delivered in a fitting way; I just wish the guy had a pencil mustache.), matching the overblown script and direction. The film reaches a satisfying conclusion at around an hour and a half. But that’s only the fist half. The second half feels a bit tacked on, or like a sequel or something. The heart was in the right place for this sprawling WWII era would-be epic. Sadly, the head isn’t. I came away wishing I could have loved it, but instead I can now say, ‘that’s a movie I’ve seen.’
The American: “All men are sinners.” Along with Drive, Hanna, and a few other recent films, this movie embraces that quiet, pensive, thoughtful style more common in the late 70s. Early Michael Mann comes to mind. It also revels in its setting, steeped in Euro-ness, filled with various accents and scenic vistas. Even the women feel retro. Especially Thekla Reuten, who looks like she stepped right out of a 70s spy film. This is the Clooney of Solaris, working the eyes, the silences. Inspired in part by old Westerns, especially Spaghetti Westerns, it plays with some of the themes and plot structure. A lone man in a remote village. The whore. The priest. Outsiders, betrayal, and a desire to escape the past.
I’d been wanting to re-watch some of the new Doctor Who, recently. So, Ben and I watched the first few. It’s odd looking at it again. Such a different tone and style from the original show, yet, still capturing the fun and crazy.
I read a new Kolchak novel. It wasn’t bad. (See my review here).
Boom! Studios launched a new series, Extermination. It has a great, crazy premise. Basically Batman (here called Nox) and a Lex Luther-type (here called The Red Reaper) survive an apocalyptic alien invasion, and are forced to team up. The idea is bugnuts enough to be fun, and the art is another indication that Boom! is stepping up their game. The actual dialog isn’t bad, but feels a bit off, and I’m really curious about how long it can be sustained. If it’s a limited series, OK, but as an ongoing one, there had better be some serious planning for the future going on.
And I got a chance to read the first volume of the new Wonder Woman series and the first volume of the 28 Days Later comic series (read my reviews here).
Reading self-published and independent comics can be tricky. On the one hand, there’s the effort that goes into these projects, which is worthy of respect. On the other hand, there’s the quality issue. I’ve been on both sides, having worked with some self-publishers, seeing it from the inside, and as a customer at places like SPX, buying self-published work. Carl Chrappa’s comic, Behemoth well produced with fair art. But the writing is not good. I don’t know where he’s planning to take the story, but the overuse of captions is extremely awkward. One of the frustrations I’ve had as a writer working in small press comics is that so many artists think they’re writers, too. But usually, they’re not. This comic feels like that sort of thing. Team him up with a writers and there might be something good to come out of it, but an artist should usually focus on art. Few can do both. Fewer can do them both well.
In my box searching, I came across several artifacts from cons past. One was Alex Cahill’s The Last Island which I think I got last year at SPX. It’s a nice little, mostly wordless comic about a kid on an island and some strange adventures. This is the sort of thing SPX is great for, a reminder that there are talented artists out there, doing their thing and that comics are for much more than just super heroes. Is it my thing? Not really. But it’s well done and a nice little find.
Over the course of the week, I read the Womanthology, a substantial collection of short works from a wide variety of female comic creators. It was one of the first Kickstarter projects I was ever aware of, and I sadly did not contribute to its creation. But, hopefully, purchasing a copy helped in some small way to fund more projects. (See my review here).
On Friday night, Lisa hosted the first meeting of her graphic novel reading group, The Ultimate Justice League of Extraordinary Book Club. There was a lively discussion of Astonishing X-Men, the first half of Joss Whedon’s 24 issue run on the venerable title. Lisa, Jill, Amy, Robert, Brad, and myself enjoyed wine, cheese, and snacks of many types, as we discussed the ever evolving metaphor of the X-Men. From their beginning during the era of the Civil Rights movement, through the conformist 80s, into the modern LGBT debate, the X-Men have always stood in place of the outsider, the persecuted, the feared, and the ignored. With this story, Whedon brings in a ‘cure’ that will remove mutations, making folks ‘normal.’ But what is normal? And what are we without our differences. And what will fighting to halt evolution do to us in the long run? It was nice having different perspectives as well as different comic book experience levels. Though a comic reader of nearly 10 years, I’ve never kept up with any of the Marvel titles, which has always made me feel like a bit of an outsider among comic folks. But with this crew there were questions and ideas going beyond the usual fanboy jibber jabber about who would win a fight, or wasn’t it actually in issue 96 that… or whatever. It was a nice night, discussing a lot of stuff, all circling around a shared reading. Sweet. (See my review for the two volumes here).
So, a good week. Lots of variety when it comes to my various dork interests. I’ve also been listening to an audio book I should finish up and review soon. And digging some classic rock, like The Guess Who and ELO. I’m still trying to figure out how to schedule another game night some time. Everyone’s just so busy, myself included. I may have to try a couple spontaneous get togethers and see how that works.
My weeks always feel a little better if I get out on some kind of adventure. And a journey into DC to see a stand-up comedian fits the bill quite well. Otherwise, the usual. A bunch of movies. A bunch of comics. Good times.
The Great Yokai War: Shock Meister Takashi Miike takes on old style, myth based Japanese kids movies with this super-stylized weirdness. If Japanese film has taught me anything, it’s that growing up in Japan must be one of the most terrifying experiences a young person could ever have. It’s like day after day, year after year of brown trousers time. Also, when you see how completely bug-nuts another culture’s mythology is, and how it seems perfectly normal to people of that culture, you can look at your own culture’s mythology with new eyes, and see how totally bug-nuts it is, too. Seriously, though. This is crazy s*%#. One of the better Japanese movies I’ve seen from the last 30 years. And one of the least irritating child character I’ve ever seen in a Japanese film. The mistreatment of the stuffed hamster is really something.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: A favorite of mine since first seeing it in theaters, this movie was pretty much tailored for me. It is an homage to so many of my favorite things. I bring it out ever year (if not more) for a refresher. The style, the world, the cast, it’s all such a great callback to classic adventure like King Kong, Lost Horizon, Captain Midnight, and many more. One of the great frustrations of modern cinema is that Carry Conran didn’t parlay this film into a successful career. The other is realted; why didn’t the viewing public embrace such a fun, cool movie?
Crossfire: Who did it? Why? When a seemingly nice, unassuming guy ends up dead, likely at the hands of someone in a group of soldiers, it’s up to Robert Young to figure out the motive and opportunity. It doesn’t take too long for the audience to start getting a handle on who did it, and a few dropped phrases and inferences give you an idea of why, which is when you start to see that the film is more than just a murder mystery. In post-War America, Hollywood started to wake up to some social issues, hate being just one. Gloria Grahame shows up briefly in an Oscar nominated role as what I can only assume is a prostitute, though it’s never said out loud. And Robert Mitchum turns in one of his less sinister performances as the seen it all, done it all soldier. It’s a good movie, with some solid performances and some great Noir-style lighting and locations.
Doctor Who: The Sensorites: The Doctor and his friends land on a space ship and find a couple dead people…or are they? It turns out, some luckless travelers have gotten themselves caught in a trap set by some weird psychic aliens who play with people’s minds and drive them to fear. Like a lot of these early story arcs, it spirals off into new directions that you would never expect from the opening. Twists, turns, reverses, cliffhangers, and revelations. It’s probably an episode or two too long, but interesting none the less. It feels like the writers were really trying to make Susan a less useless character, and turn Ian and Barbara into more seasoned adventurers. You can frequently tell that these early stories didn’t have a lot of retakes, with people stumbling over lines. But this one is a touch more obvious than some others. Lots of flubs, but hey, it wasn’t far from being live. The DVD has an especially interesting short documentary about tracking down information on the mysterious writer of the episode, Peter R. Newman.
The Walking Dead: Season 1: What starts off as a shockingly good adaptation of the first story arc of the great comic series, goes sadly off the reservation in the final two episodes. But, early on, things are pretty good. The show is really, really violent and much more gory than one would expect from basic cable. And it does have some zombie goodness. Plus, I really like a few of the actors and characters. But, I really don’t like some others. I knew the show would have to break from the comic at some point; I just wish it hadn’t been so early, so drastic, and so…eh. Still, the show is pretty good and worth checking out. I’m curious where they take it, and how many elements of the comic will eventually work their way in.
Venture Bros. Season 1: Man, what a deviant show. All the wonder and excitement of the golden age of cartoons, embodied by Johnny Quest, the Super Friends, Scooby Doo, and the rest gets a good rogering. A show about not making it, about failure, about making the wrong choices, about being the lesser man. It’s funny, and crass, and disgusting, and irreverent in nearly every way you might imagine. If you’re easily offended…well, grow up. But also, don’t watch this.
Nazis at the Center of the Earth: Hey, Dominique Swain. Remember when you were gonna be somebody? Well, now you’re working for The Asylum. Ouch. Like a lot of Asylum films, this has a fun idea, but more than a lack of budget sinks it. A lack of effort is the real problem. It is, generally, better than previous films from the company that I’ve seen. I can’t say it has any especially new ideas, or that it does anything especially new with the ones it uses. But I’ve seen worse.
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s usual super-stylized, surrealistic eye is turned on the pains of youth, of not belonging, of first love, in this charmingly offbeat adventure. Now, if you don’t like his odd dialog, artificiality, and awkward family relationships, you might want to avoid this. But if you do, or if you’re one of those misguided folks who believes there’s ‘nothing new’ coming out, check it out. It really captures the mindset of my own youth, and the adventures my friends and I had (though I was never in a Scout camp, and sadly, there were rarely any girls involved). The cast is excellent, the humor often tinged with sadness, but still very funny, and the look of the film is amazing. It captures that 60s family photo feel so well.
The Nude Vampire: A music video for some free jazz, a showcase for swinging 60s runway fashion, a slow paced occult horror film with dream-like plot progression. It’s all those things and more. Jean Rollin does his thing. For a Rollin film, it’s fairly dialog heavy. And the title should probably be changed to The Lightly Garbed Vampire, or The Vampire in Semi-Transparent Cloth. But, I guess like with Unstoppable, they were more concerned with a catchy title than accuracy. Oh, this one has Goth twins, for folks who like that sort of thing. As usual, it doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. And for a film called The Nude Vampire, directed by Rollin, I would have thought there’d be more nude folks. The ending is totally crazy, and kind of awesome.
Charlie’s Angels Season 2: I loved the first season of this show. Almost every episode is a classic bit of campy joy. Beyond the obvious charm of seeing three beautiful young women run around in crazy outfits and occasionally kick some butt, the writing was a silly joy. Season 2 is missing something, and no, it’s not just Farrah Fawcett. Cheryl Ladd is pretty and sweet in that innocent mid-west farmer’s daughter kind of way, and she seems like a good addition to the team. But the episodes don’t have the magic. Only one of the problems is Kate Jackson being relegated to the ‘wait in the van’ role. Every episode has some reason why she shouldn’t get very involved in the investigation, almost never working as a lead Angel. She almost always does the research, or monitors the operation. Why? She’s basically Bosley from the first season. Heck, Bosley gets more action in this season. I think another issue is that other than a few episodes that showcase Cheryl Ladd in bathing suits, this season seems to lack the innocent sexiness of the first season. And not just because Kate Jackson doesn’t seem to wear anything but turtlenecks…EVER. It does still feature a lot of great ‘That Guy’ actors.
I’ve been kicking around the idea of reading Robert Kirkman’s Invincible for some time, though it was never high up on my list. As these things usually happen with me, the whim struck and I read the first trade paperback. What a fun read. It’s kind of like classic Spiderman, if it were written well. There’s an ‘aw, gee, shucks’ kind of attitude, with some very clever bits. The characters are likable and pretty well handled. It plays with Superman, among others, yet is not a parody or a ‘deconstruction’ like so many others. This isn’t ironic. It’s just a fun superhero comic book, and quite refreshing. I’m holding off on doing a more involved review until I read the first hardcover collection, which I hope to do in the upcoming weeks.
I read the first trades of the new Batwoman and Batman comics. (See my reviews here). After many years, I picked up a volume of Tom Strong. (See my review here).
I read issue two of Secret. It still feels like a lot of set-up with nothing paying off yet. But it’s sure intriguing. Lots of mysterious characters doing mysterious things, with hints of violence both subtle and overt. I’m very curious to find out what this series is really about. It feels like it would make a good movie, though again, so far it’s build-up.
Issue 3 of Ragemoor was up next. That’s some dark Gothic crazy. Still feeling like something out of Hammer or American International. I can imagine Vincent Price living in this world, and perhaps a young Caroline Munroe as Anoria. Corben’s art goes along with Strnad’s writing very well. I can’t wait to read the final issue.
A new story arc starts in Winter Soldier issue 6. The missing sleeper mentioned in the first arc is awake and up to some funny business. What are his plans, and how will Bucky do when he faces a man he once trained? It’s weird how the rest of the Marvel universe happens around this comic, which feels much more ‘real world.’ It’s like watching Casino Royale, and having James Bond watching a news report of the Avengers battling Skrulls. It’s just weird. But I do like this Cold War shadowed modern spy/assassin stuff. I like that the Cold War is to Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) what World War II is to Captain America. Even though he fought in WWII with Cap, it is the Cold War that haunts him, giving his story a much different feel.
Issue 7 of Winter Soldier puts Bucky on the defensive, with plenty of action as they trace the brutal trail of the missing sleeper. He’s got some big plans, but will Bucky and Black Widow find out what they are before it’s too late. There are a bunch of twists and turns, some obvious, some less so as the game of cat and also cat is played out.
On Friday night, thanks to Lisa, I got to see one of my very favorite stand-up comedians, Steven Wright, at the Warner Theater in DC. It was actually my first time seeing a stand-up comedian live (I don’t count Henry Rollins, who though funny, is more of a raconteur). With a mix of his material from throughout his now long career, including a bunch of stuff I hadn’t heard before, he had me in stitches for an hour and a half. A few songs, several stories, lots and lots of his signature surreal, deadpan one-liners. I love how his head works. My two favorite comedians are Steven Wright and Lewis Black. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, as they seem to represent the two sides of my own personality, taken to extremes. On the one hand, the absurdist weirdo (Wright) and on the other, the frustrated rage monster (Lewis). Both are thoroughly confused by the world they find themselves in, and by the people around them. One of the things I like about Wright is that you’re never quite sure how much of what he’s saying is true or total BS. Somehow it all rings true, even at its most false. Does he really have a parrot? What about the planetarium? Touching, funny, sick, dark, and all the things that make Wright awesome. Great show.
As you can see, it’s taken me a bit of time to get these posted. It’s been a very rough few weeks outside of being a Dork (nothing drastic, just rough). Not much time online.