As I probably said, I’m quite busy at the minute. But I like to write to relieve the stress. So I wrote this. It’s about the Friday The 13th movies, being a dad, the implacable march of time and the Friday The 13th game on PS4. It’s of limited interest, except to students of the pointlessly self-indulgent. But that's never stopped me before!Read More
It’s 2016! I don’t know about you but I know that the one thing I really need right now is another year to get through! Nothing quite gets me smilin’ like the feeling I’m starting from scratch all over again. Sisyphus ain’t no mythyphus, Camus! Ugh. What is it with time? It just never stops. Ugh. Time. Double ugh. So, before I pull the covers back over my head, here’s some stuff on movies which you’ve all already seen and made your minds up about. I tried to make it even more useless than that even, but it just wasn’t possible. HAPPY NEW YEAR! The movie WHIPLASH (2014) in one panel.
Last year I didn’t go to the movies, they came to me! Which sounds super glamorous and exciting, as though Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams popped round in an ironic flurry to personally preview for me the latest derivative piece of billion dollar budgeted, pulseless shit brimming with lens flare and fan pandering. Alas, the reality is that due to bone idleness and a refusal to accept the fact that the outside world exists I don’t get out to the picture house, and so I relied this year largely on blu-rays and streaming services. Yeah, we know, John, and we know you mostly watch unpleasant foreign films, largely involving women being stabbed in the face, because you are a weird old misogynist forever locked into old horror movies as a coping mechanism for your utter failure to take control of your life, and, also, John, in a vain attempt to stem slightly the bitterly venomous resentment this inculcates in you for people better than you, and we do so hope your mother is proud, John! Ah, uh, well, okay, can’t deny you might have a slight point there, but in my defence I am vast and sometimes I watch other stuff. This year, okay, sure, I was on a bit of a horror kick, but despite my best efforts some proper muck snuck in too. I won’t go into everything I watched (please stem your disappointment) but here are the highlights of John’s Movie Year (2015):
All pictures ripped from the bleeding heart of Wikipedia because I am in a rush. As ever, all “And she said”s are supplied by La Belle Dame sans Merci and used without permission.
THE BABADOOK (2014) Directed by Jennifer Kent Written by Jennifer kent Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear Music by Jed Jurzel And she said, “I had my eyes covered! What happened!”
I liked this low key, small scale, Oz set nerve jangler quite a bit. I was particularly partial since it was obviously about something, which is always nice. What it’s about is the horror of being a parent, specifically the horror of being a single parent. Being a single parent is, undoubtedly, more horrible than being one of a pair of parents, but I’d wager they have much horror in common and it’s the intensity that differs. In the interests of balance I should say that being a parent has its upside, but this is a horror movie so that’s not the side it sets its sights on. I mean, yes, THE BABADOOK is about a nasty kind of Struwwelpetery thing which gets out of a kid’s book, and menaces a mom and son duo in a horrific and violent manner, one which escalates towards a seemingly inevitable and tragic ending. But it’s also about the fear of being unable to protect your kid, and even moreso the definitive parental terror that sometimes the person you need to protect your kid from most is yourself. Think of REPULSION (1965) but centred around a stressed and sleep deprived single mother rather than a woman too sexy for sanity. Folk without kids will have a fun and spooky time with plenty of jump scares mixed in with a real sense of threat, but parents get most fun for their pennies as they’ll feel like they’ve been kicked around the room a bit. Noah Wiseman makes for a realistic kid; one at times irritating, at times infuriating, but still a kid for all that. While Essie Davis seizes the screen with her authentic portrayal of a mother clearly aware of the impossibility of what is happening and eaten away by her failure to affect the final shape it seems fated to take. But they are just stand out performances, and by rights everyone involved should be proud they made a movie about a thing in a top hat which jumps out of a kid’s book which not only shit me right up but was GOOD!
GATE OF HELL (地獄門, Jigokumon) (1953) Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa Written by Teinosuke Kinusaga Starring Kazuo Hasegawa, Machiko Kyō, Isao Yamagata, Yatarō Kurokawa, Kōtarō Bandō, Jun Tazaki, Koreya Senda, Masao Shimizu Music by Yasushi Akutagawa
And she said, “It’s like Powell and Pressburger made a samurai film!”
Oooh, hark at her with her high-toned comparisons! She wasn’t wrong mind. And that’s the highest praise there is Chez Kane – P&P being shorthand for Peak Cinema hereabouts. This was an elegant, stately paced and sumptuously costumed period samurai tragedy. Cinematically this was just operating on another level really; as good as everything else here was, this was better. Sometimes that’s just how it is, no offence to all the other movies here. No one’s ever going to confuse it with 13 ASSASSINS because it’s not that kind of movie, but if it’s the kind of movie that could be confused with Powell & Pressburger then it’s my kind of movie. Like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE this one was pure cinema. Just lovely, lovely stuff; a movie as colourful and sedate on the surface as it was as dark and turbulent in its heart; all the codes and protocols, all the honour and values of the samurai could not build a society robust enough to resist the evil born of human weakness. Oh, being flash I watched this on blu-ray via the Masters of Cinema series and you should know that the big thing about blu-rays is how variable the image quality can be. I guess people are still getting the hang of the tech or something, but I’ve seen some real stinkers. I’m not going to get sucked into technical specs, but I can assure you the picture quality on this one is magnificent; everything has a slightly faded opulence as befits the subject and the only degradation here is in the souls of the characters. Sure, GATE OF HELL is old, and it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs and it certainly wasn’t a high–octane thrill ride but it was vivid, captivating, painfully poignant and basically EXCELLENT!
And she said, “I like that top she’s got on.”
This is a B&W romantic/coming of age/vampire movie set in (a hopefully imaginary version of) Iran, I think. I’m letting you know upfront it’s B&W because some people are funny about that. Like they are about subtitles. Oh, yeah, it also has subtitles. So, to recap - it’s B&W and it’s also got subtitles, so it’s maybe not your thing. That’s okay, I’m not judging. Michael Bay’s still working, so you’ll be okay. HA! I was judging you all along! Stealth judging! Christ, lighten up; watch what you want. I do, so I watched this and I just really grooved on this one as an experience. It was just my cup of cinematic tea, seeing as how it was very much like a young David Lynch adapting an unwritten Barry Gifford novel. Yes, it was like that, but that’s not all it was. Lynch and Gifford are some weighty blankets of influence to chuck over a nascent film maker, but Amirpour’s up to it and wrestles free to produce something unique. I’ve not seen a movie so in love with silence for a long time. No, smartlips, silent movies don’t count. It’s not like G W Pabst had a choice is it? Now, I’m not saying it was quiet but I’ve heard more dialogue between Yorkshiremen fishing. So, okay, I am saying it is quiet and the whole embracing silence for large parts of the movie thing worked spectacularly well. It takes some special cinematic magic to make a boy oh-so-slowly crossing a room to a girl feel more thrilling than a Bond pre-credits sequence. My cuticles were screaming for mercy. Just great, great stuff; stepping back and letting scenes take as long as they took really helped with the immersion. If I was still in my twenties I’d be a living miracle, but I’d also have this poster up next to WILD AT HEART (1990) because it’s very much a movie about being Young. Or the particularly romantic view of being Young the Young have. In short the movie was as bleakly romantic and thrillingly unhurried as, er, a girl walking home alone at night. (Also, the bit with the skateboard. Yes!) VERY GOOD!
YOU’RE NEXT (2011) Directed by Adam Wingard Written by Simon Barrett Starring Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A. J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Margaret Laney/Sarah Myers, Aimee Seimetz, Ti West, Rob Moran, Barbara Crampton Music by Jasper Justice Lee, Kyle McKinnon, Mads Heldtberg, Adam Wingard
And she said, “Well, it was better than I thought it was going to be when it started.”
This was a fun one. It’s one of those home invasion movies which by their very nature have to involve an upscale middle class family, since, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, you can get from the front of my house to the back in three steps; any high stakes games of cat and mouse would be severely truncated and somewhat sparse on the suspense fronta s a result. Rich family – big house, makes sense set up wise. Unlike FUNNY GAMES (1997) which wants you to know the director is cleverer than you and wants you to hate yourself for watching people die, YOU’RE NEXT understands that watching people die is just part of modern day relaxing, like candles in the bathroom and Candy Crush. YOU’RE NEXT is supposed to be a pulpy bit of fun and it succeeds in that, but it was also a bit better than that might lead you to expect. It doesn’t mess about and gets stuck in pretty quick, rarely letting up from then on in, but it still draws the characters vividly and as obnoxiously as you might expect of a wealthy family gathering in a horror movie, but when the bad stuff kicks in somehow you start feeling a bit bad for them. I mean, the brother at the start is set up as a major douche and no mistake, but he rallies and you feel a bit sad for him as his evening gets progressively worse. Look, my surprise at the fact a horror movie actually evoked empathy for its victims speaks, I feel, more about the poor quality of modern horror movie making than any lack of humanity on my part. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Fast, funny and pulpy YOU’RE NEXT was like an updated John Carpenter siege movie starring a Joe R Lansdale heroine. Even without the perfectly healthy nostalgic pleasure conjured by the comfortingly reassuring sight of Barbara (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, BODY DOUBLE, CASTLE FREAK) Crampton shrieking under extreme duress it would still have been GOOD!
IT FOLLOWS (2014) Directed by David Robert Mitchell Written by David Robert Mitchell Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe Music by Disasterpeace
And she said, “That’s that guy from FRED: THE SHOW!”
Like the thin musk from a faded car deodorizer in a suspiciously shiny ‘58 Plymouth Fury John Carpenter was (again) a phantom but persistent presence during IT FOLLOWS (2014), through the widescreen framing of shots, implacable pacing and the cunning use of music in particular. But no one likes that kind of untrimmed nosehair talk so let’s stick to the fact that IT FOLLOWS was basically a movie about teens who had to fuck to live. Oh, that got your attention didn’t it now, trampyhands. Well, leave the moisturising creme in the bathroom, because this movie is about as sexy as spilt Lilt on a Pound Shop floor. Purposefully so; it’s a horror movie not a skin flick. Unlike the (decent) slasher flick CHERRY FALLS (1999) doin’ it here wasn’t a guarantee of safety but just a stay of execution. Whatever the IT was attracted to was passed via, uh, intimate contact, to the partner who then had to, uh, romance someone else with their groin before IT got them. If IT caught up and got the last person to, er, shingle someone’s roof then it would work its way back down the daisy chain. In a killin’ way. Also, when IT appeared IT would resemble someone you knew such as your Granddad or Mom which made IT’s appearances super creepy. Particularly if IT was grinding IT’s groin against yours as it throttled you like you’d just spent the rent. EeeeW! IT FOLLOWS was stylish stuff which successfully mutated the mundanity of its working class USA setting into an almost surreal theatre of horror, and while the metaphor at first seemed clear (promiscuity!) it was certainly a tad more complex than that (Her Dad? You get that?). Oh my, metaphors yet! Ugh, trim those nose hairs, John! Ignore all that dusty chunter because IT FOLLOWS was an intelligently creepy time, cleverly directed, well-acted by all involved and it set off some real ripples of unease behind my eyes where rumour has it my mind hides. IT FOLLOWS was GOOD!
WHIPLASH (2014) Directed by Damien Chazelle Written by Damien Chazelle Starring Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Jim Neiman, Melissa Benoist, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Chris Mulkey, Damon Gupton, Suanne Spoke Music by Justin Hurwitz
And she said, “D’ya wanna feel the Spirit of Jazz up inside ya!”
This is that movie everyone, even your parents, liked in which J Jonah Jameson shouts at a kid so he will play the jazz drums better. Full disclosure - I’m hardly the most musical of men (check out my
record CD collection for proof. Haw haw haw!), and cinematically the last jazz outing I saw was that episode in DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) where Roy Castle and Kenny Lynch upset The Spirit of Jazz by nicking his rhythms. (Bad Voodoo ensues.) In essence, then, I’m not exactly Dr. Jazz, you know. But I got the gist of this; about pushing yourself and drive and gifts and talent and, and, and, basically, and all that stuff I’ve never really felt the need for. I’m largely inert ambition wise; I just hope to get through life without killing anyone or starting a war, and maybe having raised a decent kid. It doesn’t sound like much but it sure fills the hours. The world will have to look elsewhere for excellence in jazz drumming, I fear. So, I’m probably not the ideal audience for something like WHIPLASH with its driven jazz drummer and question(s) about how much is jazz drumming worth giving up? Sure, it was extraordinarily well executed visually; at no point was I as bored as I am when people are actually jazz drumming in my vicinity in reality. And it felt like the thing had the structure of a thriller (I didn’t check though; maybe it didn’t, but it felt like it did, and that’s more important) which helped with the whole keeping-the-musically-illiterate-ambition-averse-viewer (i.e. me) interested thing. And the performances were great all the way through. Even the little parts were well done (Paul Reiser!) and the big parts were screen excellence par excellence. I hear old JJJ shouted at the kid so well that he got an Oscar(?), but, you know, Miles Teller as the kid was good too; he had the harder part I felt since he was a dick, but sometimes with great jazz drumming must come great dickishness. I think the idea was to suggest some of that “Oooh, it’s a bit of a Grey Area!” people are so fond of these days. I wasn't convinced by the ending either, but what can you say, a well made movie is a well made movie. Alas, I’m unfashionably hard line on this one; playing the jazz drums well is super special and all that, but I don’t think jazz drumming at any level is worth some kid stringing themselves up from light fittings (Don’t worry, that’s not what happens to him. I don’t do spoiling. Hopefully.) Call me old fashioned but don’t call me trad, Dad. Unhip I may be but I’m no churl, so WHIPLASH was Jazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! (Oh, okay, it was GOOD!)
Next Time: COMICS!!!
Yes! It’s that thing where I watch some movies you aren’t interested in and then tell you what I think about them, while prefacing my words with a comment My Lady of Infinite Patience made about them. Look, I just haven’t had chance to read anything lately. Sorry but, uh, them's the breaks. Anita Strindberg in Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972)
Anyway, this… PHENOMENA (1985) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini Starring Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, Fiore Argento, Frederica Mastroianni, Fiorenza Tessari, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Patrick Bauchau and Donald Pleasence as Professor John McGregor. Special Guest Chimp “Tanga” as Inga Music by Simon Boswell and Goblin
….and she said, “I think I’m going to be sick…”
That wasn’t a comment on the movie; we were barely forty minutes in when She of The Streaming Content was taken badly. This left me with a dilemma: I could either watch a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga, or…or…or I could provide succour and comfort to my ailing heart partner. Obviously, I watched the movie. Now, before you trip over yourself in your rush to judgement may I just remind you that this was a ridiculous movie in which a baby-faced Jennifer Connelly hunts a serial killer in a Swiss girls school aided only by her ability to communicate with insects together with wheelchair bound pathologist Donald Pleasence and his trained chimp, Inga. Sometimes Life’s all about priorities, kids.
Even though we (well, I. Sorry, dollcakes) watched it via a streaming service and so it wasn’t HD, and thus it was like watching it through a piece of soiled muslin, Argento’s much lauded stylishness was still more than apparent. Having avoided his work thus far in my life I am really warming to Dario Argento; there is just something supremely endearing about the seriousness and sheer graft with which he approaches the most preposterous baloney. As preposterous baloney goes PHENOMENA is amazingly so right until the end. At which point the preposterousness and the baloniness reach such a hysterical pitch that they pummel you into submission. Truly, the ending to PHENOMENA is just a thing of wonder and a joy forever, because this ending goes on for a good half hour and just keeps piling insane nonsense atop insane nonsense, in a kind of splendidly insane nonsense Jenga of an ending. And somewhere in there Donald Pleasance is “doing” a Scots accent to boot. HELP MABOAB! Look, if you are okay with a barely pubescent Jennifer Connelly attempting to locate the killer’s house by taking a fly on a bus ride then you, sir or madam, are in for an intoxicating treat. PHENOMENA was PHENOMENAL! (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Shame is for lesser men!)
TENEBRAE (1982) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento Starring Anthony Franciosa, Giulana Gemma, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D’Angelo, Veronica Lario, Ania Pieroni, Eva Robins, Carola Stagnaro, John Steiner, Lara Wendel, Daria Nicoldi, Giuliano Gemma and John Saxon as “Bullmer” Music by Massimo, Fabio Pignatelli and Claudio Simonetti
…and she said, “Do they not have bras in Italy then?”
Oh, we both liked this one. Belay that, we both loved it! Sure, enjoyment was expected but amore was a pleasant surprise. That Dario Argento, the tricksy scamp, outflanked me by making a wicked-smart movie; one not just with a plot that made sense but one with real cinematic smarts too. The stuff cineastes adore is here with “doubling” abounding, a meta-textual message to his critics embedded in the meat of the movie (one that needs to be reconsidered once the movie ends) and playful jumps between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Or, cough, so I hear. For us layfolk who are here for the entertainment that’s all well and good, but it’s probably nicer that with TENEBRAE Argento’s got several people who can act in the cast, rather than the usual just one or two (or none). Also, style? This thing is lacquered in style. It’s so ‘80s I was tempted to try and snort it through a rolled up tenner. TENEBRAE may mean shadows (or darkness) in English but the movie is shot in such a way as to eradicate as much shadow as possible. This is Hell in the glare of a neon flare. Murder in a world lit like a Supermarket. (Some of my trademark overstuffed writing there in case you were missing it.) Even a chase through a park at night denies the quarry the safety of shadows. A park at night, even! That’s visually tricky stuff to pull off that is. But Argento et al pull it off, alright. There’s just something fantastically right about TENEBRAE; as though it’s the movie Argento was working towards and everything after it could only ever be a decline. (Calm down, Argentophiles: That’s relatively speaking; his “decline” still includes PHENOMENA see above). Argento is just ON with this one. He even has one of the most flamboyantly pointless camera moves in history and it’s just a delightful indulgence soundtracked by the best blare of Death Disco soundtrack yet.
Anthony Franciosa winningly essays a charmingly jovial author whose new schlocky horror novel (‘Tenebrae’, natch) is found at the scene of a brutal murder which leads to the police taking an interest in him, and his taking an interest in the crimes. After all, imagine if “Peter Neal” (for 'tis he), could catch a killer - imagine the book sales! Unfortunately he fails to consider what might happen should the murderer have other ideas –imagine the bodycount! Don’t worry you won’t have to. You’ll see it. There’s some mighty fine murders in this one. Although Franciosa’s persistently upbeat performance owns the movie he gets good support from the ever sturdy John Saxon (who has fun playing with his hat and wiggling his eyebrows), the cops (Carola Stagnaro and Giulano Gemma) are sympathetically puzzled and Daria Nicoldi gets the best of the female civilian roles (most of the other female roles involving screaming and bleeding) and, really, the only weak spot in the main players is what seems to be a young Martin Amis in a bad jumper. But, you know, for an Argento movie the cast is like MAGNOLIA solid. Not only that but the plot makes sense. I know! I wasn’t expecting that at all. Usually you’d have more chance identifying the killer by opening a book of Baby Names at random, but this time if you’ve got your wits about you the smug luxury of being right is within your reach. TENEBRAE’s not perfect, there are still some of Argento’s bad habits like some truly ridiculous plot contortions to get a character to accidently enter the killer’s den and some stilted lesbian arguing but when it ends you won't remember any of that. When TENEBRAE ends you'll just remember that sometimes the darkness is within. TENEBRAE is TENEBRAE!
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) Directed by Sergio Martino Screenplay by Adriano Bolzini, Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini Story by Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini Based on the story The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe Starring Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia, Riccardo Salvino, Angela La Vorgna and Enrica Bonaccorti as “Hooker” Music by Bruno Nicolai
…and she said, “Phew! For a minute there I thought we weren’t going to see her breasts.”
Seriously, who could resist a movie with a title like that? Not I, honeythighs. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY ! It’s like something a bell-bottomed Howard Victor Chaykin would use to chat up “foxy chicks” in the ‘70s at a roller disco: “YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY!” (Subtext: THE KEY BEING MY PENIS!) Fan-tastic. Obviously the movie doesn’t live up to that promise of staggering ridiculosity, but it certainly has an admirable crack at it. YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY is a 1970s Italian movie adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, but in a really sleazy giallo stylee. So, there’s pair of gloved hands, some heavy breathing POV, blaringly cool murder tunes, scads of stabbing and a pint pot of plot twists. That’s the giallo bit taken care of. The 1970s bit is covered by the unpleasantly leering air, the use of unfortunate racial terminology, a supercrazysexygroovy party scene, excessive motocross footage, asphyxia mocking levels of smoking, and wardrobe choices which turn everyone into a sartorial criminal.
Well, everyone except Luigi Pistilli who has that distinctly craggy machismo which enables him to carry off looking like a disco shepherd. Anyway, he sulkily plays a debauched writer who can’t write, and so like any writer fills his time by drinking, smoking, throwing supercrazysexygroovy parties, drinking, abusing his wife (Anita Strindberg doing a nice line in “Crazy Lady Eyes”©®), smoking, drinking, feeding his black cat (“Satan”, natch), smoking, drinking and knocking off (in a sexy sense) his ex-student. Then someone knocks off (in a dead sense) his ex-student and things escalate into a crazy slasher flick for a bit before calming down into a movie normal human beings might endure at a push, but then his sexually, uh, accommodating niece (a very, uh, vigorous Edwige Fenech) turns up and things hurtle off into the a realm of mental delirium so unapologetic Poe would probably approve. (Although he’d probably have had conniptions over the surfeit of tits.) YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY was DELIRIOUS!
So, um, next time – COMICS!!!
Sorry! I hate the silent times too, but needs must sometimes. Alas, due to circumstances and stuff I haven’t read any comics for weeks. This is no reflection on comics, but it does leave me with little to lighten your lives with. It may well be that absence makes the heart grow fonder but it doesn’t make writing any easier. (Secrets Made Flesh Dept: Not writing is an astonishingly easy habit to get into. Scarily so.) So bear with me as we all endure a warm up about some movies I watched while gormlessley slumped in a chair at various points during the last howdiddly ever long it’s been. I have prefaced each with the best thing my long suffering life partner said about the movie in question. Those are the best bits, but if she thinks she’s getting paid for ‘em she can go whistle.
Anyway, this… THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) Directed by Fred Dekker Written by Shane Black & Fred Dekker Starring: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Stephen Macht, Duncan Regehr, Tom Noonan, Brent Chalem, Ryan Lambert, Ashley Bank, Michael Faustino, Mary Ellen Trainor, Stan Shaw, Lisa Fuller, Jason Hervey, Adam Carl, Carl Thibault, Tom Woodruff Jr., Michael Reid MacKay, Jack Gwillim and Leonard Cimono as “Scary German Guy”
“If he’s up tonight, you’re handling him.”
I watched this with “Gil” because he’s at that stage where he wants to watch a horror flick even though he still gets nightmares and wanders into the room to startle me into incontinence at all hours of the night. To temper his disappointment that I wouldn’t let him watch EVIL DEAD 2 or MOTEL HELL (what can I say, cinematically speaking I’m a high-brow fucker). I found this on one of those streaming services we appear to have subscribed to in such abundance I suspect someone thinks we have a lot more time (and money!) on our hands than we actually do. Also, I’ve wanted to watch this for years. Whenever I’ve read about it it sounded like a solid bit of fun so it seemed like the perfect choice for some of that bonding stuff I’ve read about before the boy starts hating me in about, oh, two years. Turned out it was a bit of a mess (I suspect some poor editing decisions and studio tinkering there) so quite a lot of it didn’t make sense. But then again this is a kids movie so expectations are adjusted accordingly. It’s kind of THE GOONIES but with the Universal monsters chucked in (i.e. Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), the Mummy and The Creature From The Black Lagoon; it’s 2015 now so someone will need this list, I’m afraid). The kids are engaging and just rude enough for “Gil” to think he was getting away with something, and it was spooky enough for him to get comfortably creeped out while being occasionally gory enough for me to reconsider my decision. All the adults are familiar faces and all of them are enjoyable but Tom Noonan’s Monster and Macht and Shaw’s cop buddy double act stood out most. The script is as snappy as you’d expect from Shane Black; sure, it’s no KISS KISS BANG BANG but it’s crisp and clever and, remember, (it’s crucial this) it’s for kids. Fred Dekker directs and seeing his name reminded me I enjoyed NIGHT OF THE CREEPS way back when I had hair, and I don’t know where he ended up, but two movies I like makes me hope he’s happy out there. “Gil”, our lady of multiple streaming subscriptions, and even myself, The Bitterest Man In England, all had a GOOD! time.
PROMETHEUS (2012) Directed by Ridley Scott Written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Emun Elliott, Benedict Wong, Kate Dickie with Peter O’Toole as “T.E. Lawrence”
“How could anyone think that was good!?!”
It was a good question. A better question than the movie merited, I think. Jesus, I hardly have the highest of standards (I just ordered LIFEFORCE on blu-ray. Oho! Now who’s judging who! You scamp!) but PROMETHEUS was a bloated, ponderous and, in essence, thuddingly dull exercise in polishing the ancient crock of horseshit made famous by Erich Von Daniken with all the Brasso 21st Century CGI could bring to bear. It looked good, but looking good isn’t enough. Having failed to float through life on my spectacular physical beauty alone I can assure you of that, PROMETHEUS. Actual grown ass adults have told me this is an intelligent movie, this despite the fact that the script is basically all that silly shit Jack Kirby turned to creative gold back in the 1970s with The Eternals and all that Celestials stuff. All those millions of dollars and thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of people-hours, and a sun faded and badly foxed 1970s Jack Kirby comic still comes out on top. The level of intellect on show here is just pitiful. It’s just a stupid, stupid, stupid movie. And while stupid isn’t a deal breaker (see below), it’s unpleasantly stupid; there’s no fun in it and that, muchachos, is a deal breaker. On a couple of occasions the movie forgets its pretensions and lowers itself to deliver an action scene but these are poorly executed and weightless. The bloody thing is even badly directed is what I’m getting a there. Christ, everyone on screen acts like a complete moron. All the time. It’s like being at work. Charlize Theron states at one point that she has spent “trillions” on getting them all into space; she should have saved some money on interior décor and employed a better crew. These cretins are mostly scientists but they wilfully endanger themselves and everyone around them like safety and control aren’t actually built into scientific endeavour. The pilot (who we are supposed to like because he is Idris Elba and he has a squeeze box which once belonged to Stephen Stills) is so stupid he doesn’t move the ship closer to the whatever; consequently we spend a fifth of the movie watching people to-ing and fro-ing from one place where they endanger themselves to another place in which they endanger themselves. (The pilot is also so stupid he spent his money on a squeeze box which once belonged to Stephen Stills. Who gives a flying fuck. Memo to writers: Just because you think something is cool doesn’t mean everyone else does. Stephen fucking Stills. I ask you.) I could spend all night writing my way through every stupid thing in PROMETHEUS but it’s not like they aren’t all right here in front of everyone who watched it. If you didn’t see them you chose not to. The best scene in the movie is a clip from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA which sums up the whole thing nicely with a bit of tweaking: “Of course it’s shit! It’s not minding it’s shit that’s the trick!” Yeah, yeah, Fassbender is great in it, but if he wanted to be the best thing in CRAP! he should have pursued a career in scat.
TERROR AT THE OPERA (1987) (AKA OPERA , and THAT’S THE LAST TIME I LET YOU PICK A FILM, SONNY JIM) Directed by Dario Argento Written by Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Antonella Vitale, William McNamara
“You like some real shit you do.”
This is not a good movie but it was an amazingly enjoyable one. I used to watch shedloads of naff crap like this while pissed off my tits, but I am older now and I don’t drink around “Gil” (don’t worry, in all other respects I am a terrible, terrible parent. He’s currently playing that new MGS, so prison beckons for this bad Dad. (Also: A fire whale; WTF, Japan?)) Luckily, this movie is so exuberantly preposterous from soup to nuts it’s like watching something while shitfaced without actually having to get shitfaced. Jesus, where to start with this thing. I guess it’s the Phantom of The Opera but updated to be absolutely addlepated. Like some sadistic pre-teen’s idea of The Phantom of The Opera; with all the nuance and intellectual rigour that suggests. It’s the kind of movie where someone plays their own mother in a flashback by putting on a wig; it’s the kind of movie where someone knocks out the killer and instead of dropping a sewing machine on his head (or just running right the fuck off) creeps back reeeeaaaaalllllllyyyyy s-l-o-w-l-y to remove his mask (that ends well for her); it’s the kind of movie where they are putting on a production of Verdi’s Macbeth but the only Shakespeare I recall anyone quoting is from Hamlet; it’s the kind of movie where someone says “If you had ten pairs of hands it would still be a pile of crap!” and it’s the best line in the movie; it’s the kind of movie where everyone is dubbed badly, even the people who seem to be English speakers; it’s the kind of movie where a small child castigates her mother for being naked all the time, and it’s the second best line in the movie; it’s the kind of movie where the ventilation system in an apartment building allows fully grown adults to scamper around it like it’s one of those kids play tunnel things they have in pubs which end with a slide into a ball pool; it’s the kind of movie where the Italian police forensics department apparently can’t tell the difference between a dummy and a human corpse without weeks of tests; it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t have three good lines; it’s the kind of movie where people go on holiday to the Swiss alps and relax by tying a bluebottle to a piece of fishing line and film it buzzing about (I have no idea. Really. Answers in the comments. Please. Hurry!); it’s the kind of movie where someone has paid Bill Wyman to do some of the music (perhaps Stephen fucking Stills was busy squeezeboxing. Stephen fucking Stills. Just don’t.); it’s the kind of movie where while you know the plan to unmask the killer will be ridiculous it still manages to exceed your expectations by several football pitches (why is that dude inside the cage?!? Why didn’t he just walk over and open it from the outside?!?); it’s the kind of movie where ravens out act the humans by a comfortable margin; all of which is to say it’s unique. Hopefully. However, in all fairness the bit with the aural misdirection involving the lady carrying crockery was good.
Cineastes and horror connoisseurs will be baying for my face on a stick by now because this was directed by Dario Argento who they regard as a genius. Sadly, I’m not here to make friends, so they are all wrong and a bunch of delusional fools, every man Jack of them. No offence. Argento’s movies are essentially exercises in sumptuously executed set pieces of sadism strung together by ridiculous horseshit with, at best, one person who can actually act in the cast; which is fine. Honest. Recently I’ve watched THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’NINE TAILS and DEEP RED; all were entertaining exercises in style over sense (the clockwork dwarf: WTF?!?), but here the style is leaden, the set pieces outstay their welcome, the token actor has been omitted and the unrelenting deluge of horseshit suggest the knackers yard is on the cards for this ailing nag of a movie. If anyone says this is a good movie ask them what lenses Brian DePalma used on MISSION TO MARS and I bet they can tell you. Bully for them! But I’m not that kind of movie fan(atic), just a casual viewer so TERROR IN THE OPERA was CRAP! (but FUN!)
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000) Directed by Kar Wai Wong Written by Kar Wai Wong Starring: Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Tung Cho ‘Joe’ Cheung, Rebecca Pan, Kelly Lai Chen, Man-Lei Chan
“She had to be sewed into those dresses, you know.”
Despite the fact that at no point during the sprightly 98 minutes running time of this slow punch to the heart of a movie does anyone wrestle a big starfish with a mouth like a lady’s woo-woo, use dressmaker’s scissors to cut open a sternum, blow up a werewolf with dynamite or, indeed, do anything more physically exhilarating than run to avoid the rain while buying some noodles this is almost certainly the best movie here. I would tell you what it’s about but since part of the joy of the movie is having it unfold in front of you I’m not going to. Tough shit, kiddo; going in cold is how the grownups do it. Know this though: IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is pure cinema; a supersaturated wonder of movie making. It’s very definitely the best movie I watched out of all of these thus far, and I suggest very strongly that you just trust me on this one. Find someone you love, watch it together and let it carry you both with it. Warning: emotions may occur. Cinema? It’s still got it. EXCELLENT!
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) Directed by David Lynch Written by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergen and David Lynch. Based on the books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu Starring: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt,, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick and Stephen Stills as “Squeezebox Johnny”
“You can watch that one on your own. It’s very good, but it’s too sad.”
Worst superhero movie ever. EVER. I mean, really. You know how when JURASSIC PARK came out there was CARNOSAUR, and when (the children’s entertainment) STAR WARS hit big there was STAR CRASH and a billion other ropey rip-offs? Well this big pile of blatant opportunism is clearly the latest cheap, quick cash in on Marvel©®’s exquisite cinematic concoctions. Oh, the hot stink of money has brought all the chancers and Johnny-Come-Latelies out of the woodwork, all wanting a slice of that fat cash pie but without wanting to put any of the artistic effort of Marvel®© in. None of them have been more abject than this effort from some David Lynch guy. I don’t who he is but he’s clearly no auteur like Joss Weed On. Any fule kno that the first flick should be the origin, but this Lynch guy just sails right past that stuff with a really muddled and unclear opening. Mind you, that’s probably just as well because, apparently, Elephant Man is the result of his mom being either raped or trampled by elephants. You have to be operating at the giddy heights of a Mark Millar to get away with something that sick. And this David Lynch guy? He’s no Mark Millar. Then later on this rapey tramply shit gets retconned into an illness, like that makes it more realistic or something. Lynch seems to consistently miss the point about super heroes at every opportunity. It’s not just about having a costume and fancy name; you got to have powers, dude. Elephant Man’s powers seem to be an inability to speak properly, the power to shamble very slowly around and, best of all, the power to build ornate matchstick models of buildings he can only see a bit of from his Elephant Den window. Look out crime! And all the while El Phanto’s dressed up like some cheap DARK MAN rip-off. I hate it when reviewers tell creators what they should do as it displays an arrogant obliviousness of monumental proportions but, for instance, and I’m just saying this to help, Elephant Man could spit peanuts like bullets or maybe strangle people with his trunk (which he does not have! Look up elephants some time, David Lynch! They are trunk city! And ears! Ears like palm leaves!) Sure, Lynch does have enough sense to give Elephant Man a rogues gallery but even this is an opportunity for further Fail. The first bad guy is a boozy porter who hurts Elephant Man’s feeling by bringing whores to laugh at him. A thrilling fight does not ensue; no, he gets fired by Top Hat Man, who is kind of Elephant Man’s mentor; like Ras Al Ghul in Batman Begins, but not evil. Oops, spoiler. Next up is (promisingly) a kind of Joker played by a stubbly old man with a face like collapsed fruit studded with British Teeth© who steals Elephant Man off to his spooky carnival lair. Hopes are raised for a kind of riff on Killing Joke but, no. Instead, once again Top Hat Man turns up and after a bit of shouting takes Elephant Man home. A bit of shouting; it’s not exactly BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT is it? Clearly he’s no Christopher Nolan, this Lynch guy. And Elephant Man’s kryptonite? His big weakness? Turns out it’s not having enough pillows. That’s lamer than Donald Blake.
Oh, and in a pitiful bid to make this industrial sized lump of Fail seem more interesting it’s all set in this sort of made up Steampunk world with hissing pipes and top hats and frock coats. But it’s totes lame steampunkery because no one has a calliope chain-gun or even a zeppelin hat. Now, I’m not one for pointing fingers but the roles for women in this are appalling; they are either nurses, whores or entertainers. Sexist much, Mr. Lynch? And don’t get me started on non-Caucasian representation! What is this, Victorian England? I think we need a strongly worded article from The Beat. Stat! Honestly, this Lynch guy can’t get anything right; at one point we get the obligatory shirtless bit, but John Hurt’s no Chris Hemsworth amiright, Beat gals? No one wants to ogle some pasty English dude who looks like he’s sculpted from tubers.
Not only does Lynch film it in B&W like it’s the 1940s or something but, fatally, nobody in this film is less than forty, they are all like old and stuff. If I wanted to watch old people I’d be, well, I’d be a pervert. Ugh, old people, with their crêpe faces and fear of Social Media! Entertainment is just for the under thirty-fives! Check your demographics, David Lynch! Old people don’t watch movies that’s why there are dominos and sleeping! No one ever made a profit by taking the audience for complacent fools, so Lynch has reaped what he sowed and, I hear, has had to run off to television. Mind you he’ll find the competition tougher than he expects now the crème of comics like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick are wallowing about in the old cathode ray money trough. Frankly, cinema’s better off without chancers like this David Lynch fellow. Here’s to the next Phase of Marvel movies! Excelsior! (Oh, c’mon, THE ELEPHANT MAN will always be EXCELLENT! It doesn’t even need saying.)
Yes! There it is, finally, that endearing combination of lofty disdain, overworked and painfully obvious humour, terrible grammar and disproportionate sarcasm which means I have entered that heavenly zone of judgemental prickishness for which I am renowned. Next time (at some point) – COMICS!!!
There’s a new JURASSIC PARK movie out! I’m not particularly bothered! I won’t be going to see it! But I did read a comic adaptation of the first movie! So why waste happenstance! And that’s about as zeity as my geisty gets.
JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith Anyway, this… JURASSIC PARK#1 -4 Art by Gil Kane & George Perez Written by Walter Simonson Lettered by John Workman Coloured by Tom Smith Based on the screenplay by David Koepp Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and on adaptations by Michael Crichton & Malia Scotch Marmo TOPPS COMICS, $2.95ea (1993)
In 1978 Michael Crichton wrote and directed the entertaining slice of speculative hooey WESTWORLD. This had robots run amuck in a theme park. Because genius cannot be hurried it would take Crichton a further 12 years to come up with the idea of replacing the robots with dinosaurs, which he did in his 1990 novel JURASSIC PARK. It would take a further 3 years before Steven “ALWAYS” Spielberg would deliver the technically innovative but peculiarly unsatisfying movie of the same name. As a tie-in the short lived TOPPS Comics threw this four issue adaptation out into the world. Several years later I bought them off E-Bay because I saw Gil Kane’s name on the listing. Last week I found them in the garage and finally read them. Which brings up to date, I think. I haven’t read the book so I’m not getting into that. I am as scientific as a chimp so I’m not getting into that either. But I do know I don’t really like JURASSIC PARK the movie and I know that because I’ve never owned it. And this is from a man who owned FALL TIME, TRACES OF RED and FTW on VHS. Yet never JURASSIC PARK. This is less because while JURASSIC PARK has many leathery denizens Mickey Rourke isn’t one of them, and more down to the fact I found JURASSIC PARK a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s okay when you’re sat in front of it but as soon as you go and do something else there’s a nagging sense that you’ve just done something for the last 127 minutes but a maddening lack of specifics about what exactly that thing was. Usually when that happens I’m wearing a dress with blood in my hair and there’s a uniformed man outside with a bullhorn and some well-armed friends. All you know is it definitely involved Jeff Goldblum and a cup of water. For something that cost $63 million that seems like a remarkably poor return. Usually you can point at something about a movie and say That! That! is why it failed to entertain! But JURASSIC PARK is well directed, well scripted, ably cast, brimming with special FX which are special and, y’know, dinosaurs and…none of that ever actually comes together to make a good movie; it’s just stubbornly bland. As much of an achievement as the FX were at the time surely the eternal achievement of JURASSIC PARK is making a movie about resurrected dinosaurs running amok in an island paradise less engaging than sneaking a fart out.
Of course, I had already been somewhat spoiled on the old dinosaurs running amuck front by Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH in 2000AD (1977-1978). Despite “Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH” sounding like something that would be seized at Customs, it was in fact a luridly violent strip aimed at children which involved time travelling Future Cowboys harvesting dinosaurs, in the course of which the tables quickly, predictably, and violently turn. It was fast, nasty and punched its point home like it was trying to grab your spine. In comparison JURASSIC PARK is like a dinosaurs’ tea party where the worst that happens is T-Rex spills milk on a doily and the Velociraptors say something unfortunate about someone’s sister. I don’t want to be crass (but we aren’t always all we want to be) but how many deaths are there in JURASSIC PARK? Four or five? Six tops. That’s pitiful. There are six deaths on every page of FLESH. And if there aren’t (because someone will take me literally) it feels like there are. The deaths in JURASSIC PARK are frictionless punchlines to efficient action set-ups. The deaths in FLESH, however, are nasty and brutal with much screaming and precision about exactly what is happening and how unpleasant it all is. Look, In FLESH you get dialogue like “Gotta STAB this she-hag right in the BRAIN!” and that’s always going to trump “Have some ice cream. Twenty two flavours and I tested every one!” Sure, no one talks like people do in FLESH but then no one is going back in time dressed as cowboys and farming dinosaurs for future supermarkets. YET! If you’re calling foul on dialogue on that creative battlefield you’re getting hung up on the wrong barbed wire, pal. Maybe that’s it - JURASSIC PARK tries to marry spectacle to respectability. Come on, anyone trying to make a respectable dinosaurs run amuck movie has failed at the first hurdle. Basically then, I remain ashamed that I enjoyed CARNOSAUR more.
I can’t actually speak to how well the adaptation and the movie line up because I was unwilling to give up some of my valuable time spent staring into the middle distance and being disappointed in myself to rewatch it. And if you think that makes all this pointless exercise in self-amusement then have a banana! Take two; knock yourself out! Flash Fact: this is my free time. Anyway, parts of the comics adaptation are ridiculously faithful and I’m kind of thinking Walter Simonson simply and efficiently adapted the script (or at least a near to shooting script). I mean that’s basically all he does. I’m not making any huge perceptive leaps here. That’s no foul. Obviously expectations may be raised because of all that pushing-of-comics-into-weird-new-shapes-in-order-to-evoke-the-experience-of-the-movie he (and Archie Goodwin) did with ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. (I may have mentioned it previously. At length.) But Simonson doesn’t do that here so don’t be expecting what he hasn’t done. What he has done is deliver a meat’n’taters movie on the page. In fact, the most interesting thing visual invention wise is how John Workman positions his (as ever) wonderful lettering FX; they really help shunt the eye through the pages. Also interesting are the slight deviations from the movie I could identify. Unless I’m wrong there’s an extra scene with the lawyer at an amber mine (more lawyers talking to capable men in short sleeved shirts outdoors; that’s what JURASSIC PARK needed!) and I know I’m not wrong when Simonson has Kane & Perez illustrate Sam Neill’s “no one in the audience has ever heard of Raptors but you need to be aware of how awesome they are or all this build up simply won’t work…”speech to that random kid as a kind of dream sequence.
I also thought Bob Peck was in charge of the luckless wage slave bit at the start, but here it looks like it’s Howard Victor Chaykin sporting some shades. (And another thing, I mean, seriously, the whole fiasco is down to employers thinking they don’t have to adhere to basic Health & Safety because, what, it impacts on the “bottom line” and affects “targets” (trans: “money”). There’s a lot of huffing and puffing trying to make the lawyer the villain (because tradition) but all that dude wants is everyone to do what the law says. Fuck that dude, with his safety concerns; I hope he dies humiliatingly hiding in a portable loo. Look, I don’t care how cuddly Richard Attenborough is, he still values human life less than a theme park ride. That misty eyed reminiscence thing about the flea circus? Get real, people, Life is the Circus to Richard Attenborough and we, the people, are THE FLEAS! Dude’s a cock of the first order. Does he get eaten? No, he does not. That’s bloody Rule #1 in dinosaurs run amok movies- payback! Payback for the shitters of the world! Ultimately JURASSIC PARK is toothless (Oh God, that’s some great wordplay. Professional level shit there, John; keep that up! Publishers will be “interested” (trans: “money”) so it’s no wonder I can’t be doing with this movie.) Mind you maybe Gil Kane did that as a joke (recap: the Howard Chaykin in shades thing) because Gil Kane seems to be playing pretty loose character design wise.
Oh, yeah, that’s why I have these comics – Gil Kane. No, not because I ever believed the lie of easy riches implicit in the “Special Collector’s Edition” status of these books with their protective sheaths (which you have to re-insert the comics back into; if you close your eyes you can imagine putting a French tickler on Gumby) and the trading cards included therein. Man, never has a generation been so betrayed as the Comics Fans of the ‘90s. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were all going to be rich. None of us learned life skills because we were going to cash on our mint holofoil BALLJUGGLER#1s and live a life resembling a blizzard of jizz and glitter but with added cats in speedboats. None of us can actually even talk to people never mind hold down a job! Shit like this is why I’m in favour of regulation. Well, that and the whole global financial collapse which threw my country rightwards and into the arms of the Tories. Other than that though, it’s definitely the whole trading cards thing. So, Gil Kane. We were talking about Gil Kane; well, Gil’s here but so is George Perez. Look, I have no beef with George Perez’ work usually; it’s fine. A bit busy and stolid for me personally, but if you want a lot of superheroes all in one place George Perez can do that pretty well. But, man, here in the place where there are no superheroes his heavy lines and consequent dearth of suggestive space where the reader’s mind can play really flattens Kane’s work into inertia. I guess it’s decent enough stuff; he keeps Kane’s basics intact, nothing is omitted. In fairness there are a couple of “imaginary” scenes where the detail gets pared back and in those bits Perez and Kane are a team to reckon with. But Perez’ signature insistence on specificity really hurts Kane’s inherent grace and flow. It’s just a less than ideal combination; both men on their own – smashing, but together, meh, not so much. Hey, that’s how it goes sometimes.
The salt’n’marshmallow art combo sure makes some of Kane’s faces look weird as well. There certainly seems to have been some kind of power struggle over Laura Dern’s face (artistically speaking). There’s no doubt in my fat and generous heart that Gil Kane was a phenomenal artist but he could only draw two ladies faces- either a goddess or a crone. Laura Dern is neither; she just looks like a normal human being. I’m saying it looks like George Perez redrew her face. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on with the faces here. Kane nails Wayne Knight (artistically speaking) but his Samuel L Jackson looks like he’s never heard of Samuel L Jackson, his Richard Attenborough looks like he’s got a mossy skin disease instead of a beard and (the late, great) Bob peck who looks like Gil Kane drew him in reality doesn’t look like Gil Kane drew him here. I find the face work in these comics fascinating but I can tell from the depth and regularity of your breathing that you want to move on. Why am I even talking about faces! It’s a comic about dinosaurs run amuck and I’m talking about faces! There’s the crux of the matter right there. I never got within about 2000 miles of Gil Kane but you don’t have to be Thought Jacker to guess he probably turned up here to draw dinosaurs, not a bunch of mostly normal looking people in drab clothes ambling about impressively unmemorable set designs. Eventually Kane does get to draw dinosaurs but Walter Simonson, tumbling into the trap of hyper-fidelity to the source, has knacked the pacing. So the bits where Gil can go dino-crazy are well worth showing up for but they are also kind of cramped and hurried. Meanwhile there are all these pages of weird faces saying words, none of which are why anyone turned up, least of all the audience.
I love Walter Simonson and I love Gil Kane, John Workman is a little cracker and George Perez ain’t never done me no harm so these comics weren’t a total wash. But Honesty, like Christ, compels me to admit they’ve both done better work elsewhere and there are even better dinosaur run amuck comics. So, sure, given the talent involved JURASSIC PARK may be EH! but then that goes for the movie too. So, as adaptations go it’s spot on.
What I want to know is, if dinosaurs were around for so long how come they never invented – COMICS!!!
In which an old man suckers you in by talking about a movie you might have seen recently and then bores your balls bald by chuntering on about a triple bill of flamboyantly and unrepentantly 1970s Vincent Price horror movies. Cardomon - it's the spice of life! No, wait, it's variety!
THE GREY (Universal, 2011) Starring: Liam Neeson (Ottway) Frank Grillo (Diaz) Dermot Mulroney (Talget) Dallas Roberts (Henrick) Joe Anderson (Flannery) Nonso Anozie (Burke) James Badge Dale (Lewenden) Ben Bray (Hernandez) Anne Openshaw (Ottway’s Wife) Directed by Joe Carnahan Written by Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers Based on the short story Ghost Walker by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers Music by Marc Streitenfeld
I wasn’t going to watch this one; I figured it was going to be some kind of dumb but entertaining Liam Neeson versus wolves thing (“I will find you and I will skin you.”) but my Lady of Infinite Patience assured me it was better than that. Turns out it’s one of those movies about a small group in a hostile environment being picked off one by one. Personally I’m all about that elegant narrative concoction so she was bang on. She was also right in that the film should have started when the cast of salty roughnecks boarded their ill-fated plane. If you hang on in through the overly explicatory first ten minutes then you’ll be rewarded with a really good time watching other people having a really bad time. There are some great jolts (the snow that suddenly isn’t there; the quiet pan revealing the silent feral shape), plenty of emotional punches to the solar plexus (“You’re dying.”; the wallet growing increasingly obese with the family snaps of the deceased); good performances (everyone; no exceptions), tight scripting (the sparse words worked like sled dogs); sound direction (good at action; good at inaction) and I swear there’s even a faint keening of Meaning. Sure, there are a couple of bum notes (Ottway is fucken terrible at his job) but it’s certainly far more thoughtful and successful a movie than I’d expect from something where a character jury rigs some brass knuckles by taping broken miniatures to his fists. GOOD!
THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES (AIP, 1971) Starring: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes) Joseph Cotton (Dr. Vesalius) Peter Jeffrey (Inspector Harry Trout) Virginia North (Vulnavia) Terry-Thomas (Dr Longstreet) Aubrey Woods (Goldsmith) Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) Directed by Robert Fuest Written by James Whiton, William Goldstein & Robert Fuest Music by Basil Kirchin
Doctors are dying and someone must be called to account. Inspector Harry Trout is on the case and soon finds not only that the murders homage the Plagues of Egypt but also that the finger of suspicion points to one Anton Phibes. Yes, Doctor Anton Phibes, the noted surgeon and accomplished organist whose wife died while under the ministrations of a rapidly attenuating list of physicians. Unfortunately Anton Phibes is himself deceased, having died in a car accident. What manner of deviltry is afoot and can the forces of law and order prevail before this diabolical masterplan reaches fruition?!
This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. There are two things this movie is immediately reminiscent of: an episode of The Avengers and a comic book. Obviously there I’m talking about John Steed Avengers (the best Avengers of all) on which Feust worked (1961,1968-9) just prior to this movie. No surprise then that this delightfully offbeat thing seems to take place in its own pocket universe and chooses to ramp up the artificiality of everything. It’s set in the 1920s Art Deco period but it’s Art Deco through a very ‘70s filter. The Abominable Dr Phibes isn’t really bothered about historical veracity (it’s set in 1925 and features a song written in 1943) but then it doesn’t actually take place in the real world (the song is played by a band of Frank Sidebottom looking automata; Dr Phibes is a surgeon and a world class organist; the whole film is basically to realism what salt is to slugs).Very much like The Avengers The Abominable Dr Phibes is utterly charming nonsense delivered with a strangely tongue-in-cheek solemnity; an approach quite often found in comics. It also uses a couple of narrative tricks (notably scene transitions bridged by a single line of dialogue pertinent to both) comics have nicked. That latter one’s a very 1980s Alan Moore move and with its disfigured nutter of a protagonist, his memorabilia laden lair and his elaborate murders there is lot of Doctor Phibes in V For Vendetta. (There’s also quite a lot in V For Vendetta which has nothing to do with Dr Phibes). The Abominable Doctor Phibes is a very comic book movie despite having nothing to do with comic books. That just struck me really strongly this time around.
All of which probably managed to eradicate any of the sense of vitality and joy which informs this odd duck of a movie. It’s a stylised gem of a thing filled with dark whimsy. A bizarre mix of visual delights and cheeky wit. It's a movie where the villain not only puts his face on like Mr Potatohead but amonst the face bits on his tray slumber a pair of sideburns. Who is in the details? The Devil himself! It was also nice to be reminded that just like many a 1970s teenage boy Dr. Phibes spends an unhealthy amount of time looking at pictures of Caroline Munro while playing his organ. (I forget; are we still permitted to make jokes like that?) There's a lot to love about The Abominable Doctor Phibes if you're built that way. And since I am built very much that wayThe Abominable Doctor Phibes is GOOD!
DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN (AIP,1972) Starring: Vincent Price (Dr. Anton Phibes) Robert Quarry (Darrus Biederbeck) Valli Kemp (Vulnavia) Peter Jeffrey (Inspecter Trout) Fiona Lewis (Diana Trowbridge) Hugh Griffith (Harry Ambrose) Peter Cushing (Captain) Beryl Reid (Miss Ambrose) Terry-Thomas (Lombardo) John Cater (Superintendent Waverley) Gerald Sim (Hackett) Lewis Fiander (Baker) John Thaw (Shavers) Keith Buckley (Stewart) Caroline Munro (Victoria Regina Phibes) Directed by Robert Fuest Written by Robert Fuest & Robert Blees Based upon characters created by James Whiton & William Goldstein Music by John Gale
This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. Again. However, it is my sad duty to report that this movie doesn’t work. Which is odd because it has everything the first movie had in Vincent Price (still Vincent Price, still can’t dance), The Frank Sidebottom Swingers and the old organ (nicely juxtaposed with an Egyptian tomb), ridiculous murders (clockwork snakes; man in bottle), witty dialogue (“Where do you think we are?”, “I don’t think! I know!”, “ I don’t think you know either.”), Terry Thomas (as a different character), brief glimpses of Caroline Munro (the one woman Kickstarter for 1970s male adolescence) and some very stylish sets. There’s even new stuff (Peter ”The Cush” Cushing (but just for a minute), Beryl Reid (the legendary), Egypt (well, some palm trees and sand). For all that though (and all that’s fun enough) there’s something missing you can’t quite put your finger on.
Whatever it is, its absence results in a disjointed mess even people inclined towards this stuff struggle with (a person not like me said it was “****ing ****”; honestly, she’s like a sailor sometimes!) I think the big thing missing is clarity. In Phibes everything was ridiculous but you knew why it was happening; it all made sense within the rules of the Phibes world. Here everything is ridiculous and you don’t know why it’s happening; it doesn’t even make sense in the Phibes’ world. It doesn’t help that there’s no one to root for. Cotton’s sympathetic doctor is replaced by Robert Quarry (as emotive as his surname) and he just seems like a big shit. So much so that you’d think they were maybe repositioning Phibes as a more sympathetic figure. Or you would if Phibes didn’t just seem to be killing people just because they’re around. For most of the movie he’s picking off an Egyptian expedition the members of whom he hasn’t even met before he gets stuck in. It’s just a shame. It isn’t a complete loss. I mean, Inspector Morse gets mauled by a hawk in a catacomb so, you know, there’s lots to enjoy. But damn if it just doesn’t work. If you loved Phibes you’ll merely like this but you’ll only merely like it because it’s EH!
THEATRE OF BLOOD (United Artists, 1973) Starring: Vincent Price (Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart) Diana Rigg (Edwina Lionheart) Ian Hendry (Peregrine Devlin) Milo O’Shea (Inspector Boot) Eric Sykes (Sgt Dogge) Harry Andrews (Trevor Dickman) Jack Hawkins (Solomon Psaltery) Diana Dors (Maisie Psaltery) Arthur Lowe (Horace Sprout) Michael Hordern (George William Maxwell) Robert Morley (Meredith Merridew) Dennis Price (Hector Snipe) Directed by Douglas Hickox Written by Anthony Greville-Bell from an idea by Stanley Mann & John Kohn (with contributions by a certain Mr. William Shakespeare Esq.) Music by Michael J. Lewis
Critics are dying and someone must be called to account! Inspector Boot is on the case and soon finds not only that the murders homage the plays of William Shakespeare but also that the finger of suspicion points to one Edward Lionheart. Yes, Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, the noted thespian and accomplished ham whose career died while under the ministrations of a rapidly attenuating list of critics. Unfortunately Edward Lionheart is himself deceased, having thrown himself off a balcony in a fit of pique. What manner of deviltry is afoot and can the forces of law and order prevail before this diabolical masterplan reaches fruition?!
This is one of those movies where some nutjob with a grudge picks off a bunch of character actors in a series of ridiculously convoluted but thematically linked scenarios of slaughter. If that sounds like it’s basically the same as The Abominable Dr Phibes then that’s intentional on my part. Maybe it was intentional on the part of the film makers too; there’s having certain similarities and then there’s straight up taking the piss. And there’s just no way Theatre of Blood isn’t absconding with industrial quantities of urine. With its adoption of the same basic template (and star) it’s highly likely Theatre of Blood is a wilfully raucous riposte to the earlier, more genteel movie. While Phibes’ nastiness is tempered by its campily weightless tone Theatre rubs its malice in your face like riverbed mud; at one point the beloved narrator of Paddington Bear is knocked off. Oh, it’s revolting stuff but it’s still campy and very, very funny; it’s just the humour is lip smartingly brackish so it reduces the horror not a jot. If anything it makes it worse. Location shooting makes Theatre feel more alive and grounded in reality than Phibes; the squalid goings on in Theatre are going on in a very squalid and very real world. This has the added bonus of an absolute beauty of a moment; in the background of a scene outside Meredith Merridew’s house a woman pauses midst rummage in her handbag upon noticing the commotion the film crew over the road are making. Due to the nature of the role Phibes could be said to have largely wasted Price under latex and afterdubbing but Theatre gives Price his druthers and allows him to belt out The Bard as he’d never been able to before (typecasting, darling; plays merry Hell with careers). Not only that but Price is given a ridiculousness of grotesques (groovy chef; camp hairdresser being the highlights) to portray which display both his range and utter lack of conceit. Some of these and the generally grubby demeanour of the movie itself might paddle in what modern viewers may believe is a very ‘70s kind of bad taste. In the film’s (and the decade's) defence I think Theatre draws its lewd and impudent tone from farther back; as far back in fact as the revenger’s tragedies it and Phibes’ basic plot echo so strongly. I’d say it was Jacobean but you’d think I was crackers.
Other than getting you to watch this movie, I think my point was that bad taste is eternal because we all enjoy a bit of it on the sly; we always have and we always will. While the casts of the Phibes movies are all good with a few standouts the whole cast of Theatre is great; each fruity thesp clearly revelling in ensuring his/her critic is as odious or foolish as possible. In fact they might be a bit too good because by the end you’re kind of starting to see Lionheart’s point. Luckily this veritable shit of critics counts amongst their number Ian Hendry and no one presented, as we are here, with the ineluctable allure of Ian Hendry in a too tight polo neck would ever wish harm on Ian Hendry’s head. Alcohol robbed cinema when it took Ian Hendry. As good as The Abominable Doctor Phibes is (and it is GOOD!) Theatre of Blood is better; it is VERY GOOD! it is also the only movie in the history of cinema with a 'Meths Drinkers Choreographer' in the credits. Probably (I didn’t check; I'm not made of Time).
So there you go. Watch ‘em or don’t just remember to read some – COMICS!!!
Okay, there’s nothing happening in my head comics wise at the moment. But I wanted to chuck some content up so here’s some stuff about movies. The earliest one here was made in 1947 and the latest one was broadcast a week ago so something for everyone? Highly unlikely. Anyway, this… QUIRKE: Season 1, Episode 1: CHRISTINE FALLS Directed by John Alexander Adapted by Andrew Davies Based on the book by John Banville (writing as Benjamin Black) Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Nick Dunning, Janet Moran, Brian Gleeson, Geraldine Somerville, Michael Gambon etc Music by Rob Lane BBC, 2014
Christine Falls is the first in a trio of newly minted BBC Benjamin Black adaptations; Benjamin Black is the pen name used by John Banville when he’s writing entertainment rather than award winning literature. (No, I don’t know why he feels the need to separate the two.) Now, I haven’t read either his (John Banville’s) literature or his (Benjamin Black’s) entertainment but on screen Christine Falls was one of those dour detective things in which even when the sun is shining it seems like it isn’t. It’s set in Ireland during The Age of Men in Hats and revolves around Gabriel Byrne’s drunken disaster of a pathologist sticking his nose where he shouldn’t and then wishing really, really hard that he hadn’t. It involves family secrets, kids and The Church and since this is Ireland and everything’s shot like we’re in someone’s bowels you can bet it’s not going to be about how The Church and kids are a good mix. The Beeb appeared to have strategically blown most of the budget on Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon, thus leaving necessity to mother invention via zooming in on people’s noses for the duration of a conversation or having a close up of some water dripping with rain SFX sizzling on the soundtrack to suggest a storm; it’s the kind of TV thing where Boston is one house, two cars and a coastal road and it works because there’s a strong plot and quality acting taking the strain.
Actually, the biggest problem was nothing to do with the budget but rather the running time. A whole heck of a lot happened over 90 minutes with nary a breath being drawn between each incident. As a result the very hallmarks of this type of fiction (intricate interconnectedness; historical wrongs presented in a fictional context; the past coming back to bite; hero beaten up), seemed more than a little credulity suffocating. Obviously, Television is better than books because you can see things and hear things without any effort on your part but books do have the edge in that over a couple of hundred pages you can pace the proceedings as you like; something this dense probably reads a lot better than it views. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible or anything, just flawed. I certainly did appreciate the way it didn’t end with someone falling off a building in slow motion or exploding in space but instead went with a complete, and deserved, trepanning of the initial cliché of the cheeky and sexually alluring drunken rogue of a hero. I know it’s tricky sticking a book on the screen but they had a fair crack at it here; the worst I can say is it could have done with a bit more running time to stretch its legs in. That’s not bad so I guess it was GOOD!
BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH (AKA OUT OF THE PAST) Directed by Jaques Tourneur Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (with James M Cain & Frank Fenton) Based on the novel by Daniel Mainwaring Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb etc Music by Roy Webb RKO, 1947
This is a noir and other folk with more time on their hands can argue about how noir it is. Me, I reckon it’s none more noir; maybe it could do with a bit more German Expressionism but then any expressionism is a bonus when Robert Mitchum’s involved. A joke there; I like Old Bob, he might not have been a great actor but he was always a great Robert Mitchum and the way he plays this patsy to Fate (casually doomed; like an exhausted man spending 90 minutes sliding resignedly off wreckage and into the sea) is just right. Mitchum plays a guy who’s both clever and honest but not enough of either to save himself from Jane Greer’s bright eyed moral vacuum. Everybody else in the film may be a better actor but this movie is Mitchum’s and while Mitchum always looked like he was smuggling a side of beef under his shirt in this movie his presence is positively titanic. So much so that even Kirk Douglas (Kirk Douglas, yet!) looks small, seeming to scamper nattily (and nastily) around Mitchum’s stolid menhir, as Greer’s decidedly fatale femme sneers from the sidelines. This is the movie where Mitchum talks about dying being okay as long as you die last and it’s also the movie where Mitchum says “Baby, I don’t care” so hard the whole world goes weak at the knees. I watched this on the BBC and the print was shocking but that didn’t matter; this is a great film. It’s a great movie about lies and where they lead and yet it’s a movie that’s honest enough to end with a lie setting someone free. And it’s a lie from someone who can’t speak. Like I said; none more noir. I’m a laugh a minute kind of guy and I thought Build My Gallows High was EXCELLENT!
THE WORLD’S END Directed by Edgar Wright Written by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike etc Music by Steven Price Universal, 2013
For around three quarters of The World’s End’s run time the slick and inventive direction, skilfully affable acting and fairly amusing jokes (“A poo?” Other bits. ) enabled me to concentrate on the amusing relocation of one of my favourite genre tropes (no spoilers!) to a refreshingly bucolic and familiar setting, and to do so largely to the exclusion of my teeth baring dislike of the menopausal male nostalgia elements it wallowed in so jocularly. And then there was the final half hour. Now, I don’t make movies for a living but it appears self-evident to me that in much the same way as it’s wise to leave the house only after ensuring your cock isn’t hanging out it’s also advisable to have an ending written before you start filming. Otherwise the results are likely to be EH! However, My Lady of Infinite Patience liked it far more than I did so maybe I was just that way out. I understand I can be quite mercurial at times so I could be wrong about this one (TWIST: I’m not).
ACE IN THE HOLE Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels & Walter Newman (from a story by Victor Desny) Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal etc Music by Hugo Friedhofer Paramount Pictures, 1951
It’s tempting to get my Elitism on and taunt the modern viewer by pointing to this movie as evidence that at one time a blockbuster movie, rather than consisting of things hitting each other, could be an examination of the world its audience inhabited so intelligent, incisive and entertaining that it would remain all those things some sixty-three years later. Tempting but untrue, because there’s a lie in there; Ace In The Hole wasn’t a blockbuster. Oh, it should have been a blockbuster; they intended it to be a blockbuster. It had Billy Wilder as director and co-writer, it had a star in Kirk Douglas and the money thrown at it is all on screen. But the money is mostly on show in the form of an expensive mine set to trap Richard Benedict in for the film’s duration; the money is largely spent on making a dark cramped place. And Kirk Douglas, the star, portrays a man with a dark cramped soul; he plays a disgraced reporter (Chuck Tatum; oh man, those old timey names) willing to do almost anything to get back in with the Big City boys; willing even to exploit a man’s tragedy for his own gain. Pretty soon he finds that there’s no almost in it for nearly everyone else around him and it’s not long until everyone is involved in a vortex of sociopathic self-interest and events start to outpace even Chuck Tatum and his fancy footwork.
In the end Tatum finds out that as far as he’s willing to go, others are willing to go further as long as the tab’s picked up by somebody else. And as dreadful as he is (and he is; he’s a real stinker) Tatum still comes out best as all the decent characters prove ineffectual and it’s only Douglas’ character who has a modicum of self-awareness. He actually has to think about how to exploit the situation but for everyone else it’s instinctive. And it’s the most natural of these natural predators, Jan Sterling’s simultaneously satanically self-interested and self-pitying house frau, in whom Tatum decisively meets his match. Wilder didn’t get away with it with Ace in The Hole; he had got away with it in the past because he’d directed his scathing blasts at drunks (Lost Weekend), insurance men (Double Indemnity) and Hollywood (Sunset Blvd); targets Joe Public could disdain without cost. But Ace in The Hole holds up everyone as either a fool or a fraud and it isn’t too particular about stepping on toes. Ace in The Hole leaves a nasty taste in even the dullest of mouths. So Joe Public politely declined and Billy Wilder found out that sometimes you can go too far. I imagine Kirk Douglas survived okay; he was made of stronger stuff; he was made of Kirk Douglas stuff. But Billy Wilder wasn’t. Ace in The Hole’s reception took the wind out of Wilder’s sails for a good few years and his output took a turn for the more comedic. Billy Wilder bit the hand that fed him and paid the price. But that was in the short term and while it’s no comfort to the deceased Billy Wilder it is still a fact that in 2014 A.D. I watched Ace in The Hole and it was EXCELLENT! See, tastes may change but misanthropy don’t date. You can still almost hear Chuck Tatum laughing in the Hell he damned himself to.
SKYFALL Directed by Sam Mendes Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan. Based on characters created by Ian Fleming Starring: Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear etc… Music by Thomas Newman 007 Theme by Monty Norman MGM & Sony Pictures, 2012
Every now and then I wonder what it’s like to root for The Establishment so I watch a James Bond film. This is a modern one so James Bond is played by a sexy knuckle and every shot is slathered in mustards or teal so that we can pretend this is more serious than a Roger Moore Bond film. It isn’t though. The best bit in this one was when James Bond (played by an aerobicised to within an inch of his life Sid James) sees a Komodo dragon and reacts like a delighted child all pointing index fingers and popping eyes. It was just a split second but it was a great split second. That doesn’t mean there weren’t any other good bits because there were, and while these usually involved, as ever in Bond, a preposterous plot, fantastic tailoring, ridiculous stunts and (mostly foreign (Boo! Hiss!), sometimes ladies, occasionally foreign ladies) people being killed in thrilling fashion they also included some sturdy performances (Dame Judi Dench kicking ass and taking names; Albert Finney as a violent Father Christmas; the sneaky decency of Ralph Fiennes; Rory Kinnear as a wigless Brian Molko; an eight year old child playing Q; Javier Bardem’s flamboyant bad guy (the damp squib of whose ending was partially redeemed by his earlier removal of his dental plate and the consequent collapsing of his face; just like my old Mum “settling down” for the evening). What with all the guff about how people reckoned ready for the knackers yard still have a bit of spit and vinegar in ‘em Skyfall even came close to having a theme; which is good because the best thing I can say about the actual singing theme is that I didn’t actually notice it. Rumour has it (rumour has it (rumour has it (rumour has it))) it was Adele? Not exactly a great compliment for a James Bond theme there; not remembering it. Other than that though this was polished 21st Century blockbuster brains-off, Up The Queen entertainment, so it was GOO(7)D!
No, I don’t expect you to die, Mr. Bond; I expect you to read some – COMICS!!!
So, I didn't get near any comics this Holiday but I am always writing nevertheless. In my head mostly. So, although I haven't got anything about comics I have got a head full of dumb words about some Peter Cushing films I watched this year. Usually I just dump this head written stuff into the ether but I felt like posting something and this was all I had. So I dumped it on you. Attractive, non? Anway; an old man, some old movies and a spatter of tired old jokes. What better way to see the New Year in. Have a drink, it'll read better that way. Everything's better when you're insensate with drink. That's what it's for. Oh yeah, Happy New Year everybody!
Oh yeah, none of these are Oscar(C) winners in waiting but they are all fun so they are all GOOD!
All images taken from Wikipedia.
TWINS OF EVIL Directed by John Hough Screenplay by Tudor Gates (Based on characters created by Sheridan Le Fanu(?!?)) Music by Harry Robertson (Hammer, 1971)
Yes, there is a joke there isn’t there? One about breasts; but I won’t be making it. Knock yourselves out though by all means. Then try and look your mother in the eyes, pal. In this movie, the quality of which is indicated early by the choice of Hot Electric Pink for the titles, Peter Cushing plays Gustav Veil whose surname is not only an anagram of “evil” but is pronounced “vile” and that’s about as restrained as this one gets. Seriously, there’s a bit where a lady is enjoying the physical attentions of a gentleman and the camera zooms in to show her hand lightly gliding up and down the shaft of a candle. Y’know, like a penis. Keep up. Anyway, Peter Cushing, equipped with a buckled hat, blithely classes this silly exercise up in his role as a Puritan who roams about at night with his Puritan pals burning single young women as witches. Cush & Co. average one a night which suggests that there is a preternaturally large population of single young women in and around his village or someone is bussing them in so Cush’n’chums can have their fiery fun. It’s testament to Cushing’s performance that when someone says Vile “means well” despite there being nothing in the script which indicates he is anything other than a murderous misogynist you do actually think, oh, maybe he’s just a tad, a smidgen perhaps, overzealous. So anyway, his twin nieces, or what have you, come to stay and one’s a bit of a scamp and is lured into depravity by the sleazy Lord of the manor who has been en-vamped. Unfortunately he’s played in a way that’s about as threatening as a doily. After a few creepy scenes of young women leading old men on (“What would your Uncle say?” Urrrggghhhh. No thanks, 1970s.) and flashes of flesh it’s all boiled down to The Cush vs the fanged doily man for the souls of his flock! There’s some mileage in that; the bloke who was seeing Evil everywhere where there was none now has to deal with real Evil right in his own home. But, basically, this movie prefers to find excuses to chuck some knockers up on the screen.
THE BEAST MUST DIE Directed by Paul Annett Screenplay by Michael Winder (From the short story by James Blish) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1974)
This mangy but loveable cur of a movie has a spectacularly inappropriate theme tune. Oh, It’s really good, don’t get me wrong but it’s the kind of swinging up-tempo floor shaker more suited to a title sequence in which Oliver Reed checks out ‘birds’ from his Union Jack mini as he tootles down Carnaby Street. Here it sits oddly atop a movie about a bunch of weird people lured to an island retreat by a big game hunter who believes one of them to be a werewolf. The most dangerous game of all just got dangerouserererer! I can’t lie; it’s a bit dull beyond the campiness but it does perk up whenever Peter Cushing uses his fantastic accent, someone dies or when everyone has to fondle a silver bullet in a game of Pass The Death Sentence. Oh, and there’s an exciting bit where our superfly hero hounds the werewolf in his helicopter and tries to machine gun it. Mind you, that last bit now looks like nothing more than a man shooting at a very large German Shepherd and inadvertently ruining someone’s potting shed in the process; I can assure you that was very thrilling when you were 10. But then so is hopscotch. Near the end a ticking clock fills the screen and you have to guess who the werewolf is. I don’t know how the movie knows what you’ve guessed but every time I watch it it’s (SPOILER!). I’m not saying the movie struggles to fill its screen time but it will find a favourable reaction amongst people fond of watching Michael Gambon driving about in a jeep.
AND FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds) Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1967)
In which Frankenstein doesn’t but what he does do is trap the soul of a wrongly executed man in the body of the guy’s disfigured girlfriend; she having drowned herself on seeing his execution. Together with Thorley Walters (played by Eddie Izzard) Peter “The Cush” Cushing as Baron Frankenstein fixes her face (and her hair; Blonde Contretemps by Boots) and everything turns out just dandy, thanks. No, no it doesn’t, you fool! See, the soul of her boyfriend makes her hunt down the three fops who not only teased her about her face but , worse even, murdered her father and left her beau to take the rap. Some people probably say that the scenes where a man in a woman’s body seduces then murders his/her victims are ripe with trans gender subtext. Well, they might if they weren’t distracted by the fact that the victims are all dressed like Willly fucking Wonka. Anyway, if The Baron had fixed her face in the first place all that unpleasantness could have been avoided. So, basically, it’s a movie about getting your priorities right.
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL Directed by Terence Fisher Screenplay by John Elder Music by James Bernard (Hammer, 1974)
This is the one in which Peter Cushing plays Baron Frankenstein one final time. It isn’t the best send-off but Peter Cushing doesn’t flag and nor does he falter. So, The Baron is now covertly running an asylum he’s supposed to be banged up in because he’s got the goods on the pervy dude in charge. He’s landed on his feet but his hands are giving him grief. His burned mitts are hampering his quest to stitch together the mentally unhygienic into a perfect man. Good thing then that Shane Briant (played by Twiggy) gets locked up in his gaff. And it is lucky because not only is Shane a surgeon in training he is also The Baron’s biggest fan. What are the odds? They are good, my friend. Anyway these two knock up a makeshift man who looks like a shaved ape and has a penchant for sticking broken glass in people’s faces. Shane Briant is also feeling moral pangs about The Baron passive aggressively badgering the inmates into committing suicide so he can play pick’n’mix with their parts. Oh, Madeline Smith wafts about the place as well giving the place a woman’s touch and some pathos; a bit anyway. Anyway, everything goes tits up pretty quickly. It’s possible to read the film as an indictment of the parlous state of the care of the vulnerable and how, without regulation, the gaolers become worse than the gaoled; but, basically, it’s a movie about how if you’ve got Peter Cushing in a top hat you’re sorted for 80 minutes and change. Cush Fact: the feathery wig sported by the great man himself is the exact same toupee which adorned his magnificent bonce in And Now The Screaming Starts… which, ah, here it is now…
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS..! Directed by Roy Ward Baker Screenplay by Roger Marshall (David Case) Music by Douglas Gamley (Amicus,1973)
For about 40 minutes this enjoyable but not exactly good period set horror film consists of scenes of Ian "The Saint" Ogilvy and Stephanie “Powders” Beacham reacting badly to odd events in a stately home. A severed hand, a slashed portrait, something going bump in Stephanie Beacham’s night, a Richard Harris impersonator and hushed references to something terrible bad in the past combined to leave me clawing for clarity and wondering if I was suffering another dry drunk or what. Thankfully at that point Peter Cushing sauntered into the movie and delivered a performance which managed to make the whole thing watchable at least, and this is despite his sporting the aforementioned alarmingly feathery wig. Actually I spent a lot of time looking at this unsettling hairpiece so I could have missed some nuance or subtlety in what followed. It’s doubtful though as what followed not only had Patrick Magee pretending to be strangled by an invisible severed hand but also featured Herbert Lom as a not entirely convincing example of the landed English gentry who lets things get out of hand; sparking all the unpleasantness off with a poorly considered decision to reinstall the droit de seigneur tradition. From then on Cushing attempts to combat superstition and supernatural vengeance with the new-fangled Science Of The Mind! It ends badly for everyone involved. Where is your science now, Peter Cushing!?!
THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR Directed by Vernon Sewell Screenplay by Peter Bryan (Trigon, 1968)
This is the one with the lady who seduces men, turns into a big moth and kills ‘em. I see no subtext. Probably because there isn’t one; the script has it all on trying to make sense. Which it doesn’t but when did that ever matter; just entertain me, you mad fools! Peter Cushing is on record as claiming this is the worst film he ever made. Steady on, old boy; that’s a bit harsh. I mean even I haven’t seen every film Peter Cushing ever made but I think maybe the proximity of filming to his wife’s death coloured his judgement. Don’t get me wrong it’s quite, quite terrible but it is not without its charms. There’s Roy Hudd popping up to give the 1970s version of an amusing cameo(i.e. it isn’t; amusing that is); Cushing’s fellow plod is played by Dave the barman from Minder; some good performances convincingly delivered in spite of everything; an electrifyingly perfunctory climax in which Peter Cushing and Dave from Minder set fire to some piled up leaves, which the moth cannot resist and so meets its fiery end. And then the credits whizz up the screen. One of the things I never noticed about these movies until this re-watch is how tight they all are with film. No sooner has the final line slipped into silence than BANG! THE END! CREDITS ROLL! They might as well have someone shout "That’s yer lot! Ain’t ya got homes to go to! Fawk off home! G’wan! Whaddya want, Jam on it? Home! Now! Go!"
Speaking of which…THE END.
Happy New Year!
So, yeah, to help us through the content drought I one finger typed a few words about a couple of movies I watched. I hear people like the movies, popular amongst the younger crowd so I hear. So maybe you'll like this? I don't know but I know this - it's FREE! People sure like FREE! stuff. Anyway, this...
THE GUARD (2011) Directed by John Michael McDonagh Screenplay by John Michael McDonagh Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, David Wilmot, Katarina Cas et al.
Did you like In Bruges? Firstly let me compliment you on your impeccable taste and, secondly, let me assure you you’ll like The Guard. That was easy. Cheers. Piece of piss this reviewing lark. I’ll have a Guinness, if you’re asking. What? Time to kill have you, okay then. Stand us a scotch and we're off. That's the ticket, cheers. Now then, like In Bruges The Guard is a blunt consideration of mortality smuggled in under the cover of comforting genre clichés. Here though the clichés are more tightly adhered to and, as most of them belong to the mismatched buddy cop comedy genre, this movie has a far more affable surface. You can’t get much more affable than lovely Brendan Gleeson can you now? Even though the grand lad himself is playing a man whose lust for life has found itself stunted by the life he has lead, and who now finds sour solace in baiting those around him, magical Brendan Gleeson still charms like nobody’s business.
Smashing Brendan Gleeson is of course one of those rare actors who makes whatever he’s in worthwhile at least while he’s onscreen. This is a problem in awful shite like that there Mission Impossible movie where, when the grand fella isn't on screen, they might as well just turn it off and everybody involved, everybody who isn't sweet Brendan Gleeson, should come out and apologise to you personally for the remainder of the running time. Fret not, this isn’t a problem in The Guard as everyone else in the movie is just grand too. Just not as grand as the grand lad himself, Mr. Brendan Gleeson. Even that there Don Cheadle fellow acquits himself well as the FBI man sent over to help the delightful Brendan Gleeson put a stop to some rum doings with drugs. In fact I'm pleased to report that having checked with everyone we, the peoples of the United Kingdom, have now decided to let Mr. Cheadle off for the debacle of his accent in those Ocean’s films.
It may well be the lesser role but Cheadle doesn't bring any less to bear on his endearing performance as an essentially decent man hampered by his solipsism; a man silently and increasingly angry that everyone he meets is disappointed he isn't from The Behavioural Sciences Unit (like in the movies, you know). The rotten sod role is split between three fine actors so (rather than In Bruges’ towering evocation of evil turdery as personified by Mr. Ralph Fiennes) here the evil is diffused across three equally strong performances which makes it a little more palatable as befits the (slightly) more comedic tone. Because, as I have probably failed to get across, this movie is very, very funny. Early on in the movie Gleeson dryly teases an overexcited rookie with, “So what you’re saying is, this could be the work of…a serial killer.” he’s having fun, but serious fun. And yes, serious fun can be done as it is here in The Guard (which is VERY GOOD!).
THE WOLFMAN (2010) Directed by Joe Johnston Screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self (Inspired by the 1941 Curt Siodmak screenplay) Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving etc.
Sometimes I take time out from being a fussy prick and just watch stuff like this. This is the kind of film where a doctor bellows “This man could no more turn into a wolf than I could grow wings and fly through that window!!!” and you know exactly what’s going to happen in the next three minutes. How you react to this knowledge will, I predict, be an accurate measure of how you react to this film. This film being about lycanthropy in Victorian England. It’s OKAY! Nothing special really but nothing terrible either and there are, fair’s fair, some really nice bits. On a couple of occasions there are werewolf attacks and, man, these are pretty tasty coming across like shark attacks on dry land. Actually, that suggests the wolfman just lays there wheezily expiring while crusty villagers insolently kick him around a bit. That’s because I’m a bad writer.
In actual fact there’s people running and screaming while a furry blur swoops and loops around lopping off limbs and spilling intestines like egg noodles from a clumsy waiter’s tray. They are a bit over the top the werewolf attacks are, is what I’m saying there. And all the better for it. If there’s one thing this film would have benefited from (besides a bit of script polishing. The “My father told me…” scene in the pub just sits there like a daft lad waiting for his tea. That should have been a slam-dunk.) it’s a bit more gusto. GUSTO!
The only person having anywhere near enough fun with this stuff isn't even a person, it’s a pair of sideburns which are wearing Hugo Weaving. Bafflingly Anthony “Hammy Horror” Hopkins declines to chew the scenery until the end when he is required to do so quite literally. For most of the film though the sneaky imp contents himself with tinkering and fiddling with stuff so as to draw attention from whoever else is in the scene with him. Emily Blunt has the most thankless role in the film (well, she is a Victorian lady) and works the minor miracle of making her nothing of a character appear somewhat independent and self-possessed without it coming across as anachronistic as wearing a miniskirt and body popping. Del Toro’s a bit disappointing and comes off as just being really, really tired or something like he’s really missing his dog back in L.A. Distracted, he seems distracted. His finest moment occurs on seeing the corpse of his dead brother, where he unleashes a Full On Frankie Howerd OOOoooooOOOOOO! of a look if ever there was one. I wouldn't seek this one out then, but if I was sat there when it came on I’d stay where I was. Which is exactly what happened. Another glimpse into my rock’n’roll roller-coaster life there. You’re welcome.
(Any quotes are approximate but hopefully retain the spirit of the original. After all I hardly sit there with a notepad and pen whule I watch stuff. Expecting a bit much that is.)
And like Don Cheadle's guilt - I'm gone!
That's right! Those were movies - not COMICS!!!
Comics, TV, and a movie, after the jump.
Comics, first? OK with me!
FUCK ALAN MOORE BEFORE WATCHMEN: MOLOCH #1: Much like MINUTEMEN, this would be one of the FAMBW books that I was at least curious about -- we don't really know a lot about Moloch, and he's arguably a principal... well, "catalyst", at least, if not "character". And I was hopeful because, hell, Eduardo Risso is drawing it, and that cat can fuckin' draw, y'know? Sadly, though, it has all the subtlety of any other comic that J. Michael Straczynski has written recently, that is: slim-to-none, and the result is just a cliched horrible mess -- Moloch's bad because he's ugly (no explanation for the bat ears is given), and because all women are horrible predatory whores. Yay!
Even Better is how this was hastily solicited to fill in a massive scheduling hole, where, suddenly, they seem to have lost an entire month's worth of
FAMBW titles -- going from weekly to skipping five week's worth of issues is a kick in the gut on momentum on this series which was pretty strongly selling to a specific group of customers who are buying the entire project (not specific minis, like I thought in advance) -- well, damn, it makes DC suddenly look like Marvel in terms of schedule.
Either way, I know this isn't aimed at me, but we continue with "Exceptionally pretty, but emotionally bankrupt", which the closest on the Critic scale is, I think, EH.
DEADPOOL #1: Brian Posehn (!), Gerry Duggan, and Tony Moore do the Marvel NOW! relaunch of "the Merc with the mouth", and he's pretty much a character that I've never really cared one teensy bit about ever -- to the point where I don't believe (from the tags) that we've ever once reviewed a straight Deadpool comic on the site ever! -- and, hey, guess what, I thought it was reasonably entertaining! I can't say I'd personally add it to my monthly reading stack, but there was some charm and wisecracking, and an imaginatively funny series of antagonists, and it's almost certainly modestly GOOD.
What's funny for me, as a retailer guy, is just how much better this is selling right now then the next book (about 250% of that figure), as well as outselling it's previous incarnation, handily (for now at least) -- I went long on this #1, chasing that fat 70% discount, and I'm confident they'll eventually go (week 15, or 16, I'm guessing), while the next book I can already tell I'll never ever sell them all. *sigh*
IRON MAN #1: is that next book, and, in many significant ways for this retailer, my real litmus test for the commercial viability of MarvelNOW! as a branding exercise for Marvel.
I'm sure that in a month or two I'll write a post-mortum on the launches for TILTING AT WINDMILLS, but going into this my feeling was that Marvel comics are a significantly more popular "brand" than DC, and have a MUCH larger number of "lapsed" readers. The "New 52" launch succeeded by any dream of avarice I might have had, where even books where it was clear that they WOULD be cancelled within a year (HAWK & DOVE, anyone?) still sold 70-80% more copies than I ever thought they possibly could have, and the "big books" totally dominated fourth quarter sales charts.
Now, to me, IRON MAN is the modern quintessential Marvel comic -- two hit movies, lead role in the AVENGERS film, can't HELP but benefit from a big wide "push". DC reboots sold like 500%+ their previous issues, I didn't feel at all shaky going 300% of "current" IM sales, scored the extra discount on the first issue, at least (as I did with most, but not all, NOW! books)
So far? I've sold precisely one FEWER copy of #1 than I have of #522 in the same time period (day #6). Uh? What? The? Fuck? Again: I'm sure that will pick up eventually, but, damn, that's the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen.
The big problem is that I can't actually push the comic very hard on the strength of its contents -- I'm no real fan of Greg Land's stiff-and-lightboxed art, and Kieron Gillan's script, despite being one of the "Yeah, that makes sense!" names attached to NOW!, gives us a story whose premise is essentially that of "Armor Wars". I've read "Armor Wars". God help me, I've even read "Armor Wars II", this isn't what I want to read as the Big Relaunch.
I mean, it isn't terrible, or anything, but it's also not much better than OK, and for a $4 asking price, am I really going to suggest people buy this over, say, STUMPTOWN or even the next book, this week? Yeah, didn't think so.
This week is going to be the real test of it, I think (with 6 NOW! books), but I'm starting to feel like MarvelNOW! is going to be as big of a miss as New52 was a hit, and that's truly terrifying if that's playing out in the rest of the world the same way.
DIAL H #6: A beautiful, beautiful done-in-one story essentially ruminating on the stupidity and banality of some characters, and just how hard it is to "fight crime", and the real selling point for me was that the issue was drawn by David Lapham, who, of course, isn't even cover billed. Yeah, this was a truly great issue of this series -- I thought it was VERY GOOD.
How about some TV? Sure, can do!
ARROW: much to my disconcertion and surprise, I thought this was kind of non-shitty. I was expecting more "Smallville" (ew), but instead it's kind of about as close to "Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters" (well, or more properly, the monthly book by Grell & Hannigan just AFTER that mini-series) as you're likely to find -- there's a structured mystery, and plan, and it seems like it is playing out alright, and while it's a version of Green Arrow from Earth-TV (Speedy is his sister, Deathstroke is some sort of army torturer, or something, the probably-some-day Black Canary is named "Laurel", rather than "Dinah", so on, so forth) it has an interesting continuing flashback structure -- yeah, I don't love it (I'd never have watched it if I didn't own a comic book store), but I like it very fine. Marc Guggenheim has managed to make a very solid little weekly vigilante TV show.
Two notes: first: man, the budget on this thing seems loooooow, to me -- they're constantly setting scenes in "night clubs" which are fairly clearly a soundstage, with a curtain hanging in the background with colored lights playing against it, and like two silhouettes dancing behind it -- yet they sell it pretty damn well.
Second: this Arrow (oddly called "hood" by most characters IN the show) is a STRAIGHT-UP killer. Some episodes the body counts top a score. And it's all very kind of sub-rosa -- I mean, yes, the cops are after him, but one gets the sense it's more from being a vigilante, rather than being a KILLER vigilante. You'd think that "Laurel", as written, would be appalled by Arrow's actions, but, yeah, kind of not. It is odd.
Anyway, I think this show is watchable, and surprisingly OK.
THE WALKING DEAD: So far, season 3 has been going swimmingly (I'm a week behind, I think?) -- this has been going breakneck speed, and shock follows shock pretty much every week. What I'm liking the best is that all of the same pieces are in play from the comic, but things come in different order, at different times that you can't really second guess it much. I mean, clearly, we have the prison, we have the Governor, but other than that, "anything can happen". I'm finding this a real thrill this season, and some of the acting this go round is getting downright good -- especially a recent reaction to something that happened involving Rick -- that was some raw-ass human emotion there. This really has been VERY GOOD, with only memories of the first "half" of Season 2 keeping me from wholly embracing it.
What, and a film, too? Sure! (though this has to go faster than I thought, since I just got the call that the truck with this week's comics will be here in a few minutes!)
SKYFALL: The latest James bond film was, I thought, one of the better ones -- it's actually ABOUT something, and when viewed with CASINO ROYALE (skip out on QUANTUM OF SOLACE, I think), it really projects a lot of new possibilities for the character -- but the last act of the film, while emotionally connective, was almost terrifyingly "small" in scope and range for a Bond movie, where you expect it to get bigger and bigger and ludicrous. There's a crazy villain, however, and bi-sexual flirting (!), and a surprising denouement there at the end, and it even had what I thought were the best credit sequence of the entire series (seriously, it was almost entirely nude woman free, AND relevant to the actual movie, for once). You have to go far to beat MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in my heart (and SPY WHO LOVED ME / MOONRAKER in my memory, though, watching those again with Ben, I didn't care for either much), and this didn't beat those heights, but, yeah, I thought it was terrific and thoughtful in most ways. It's a very strong GOOD.
Whew! Gotta bounce! How about you? What did YOU think?
Hey, I remembered there's no podcast this week! Just so you don't miss out on your free content I banged some words down about three films. It has nothing to do with comics at all. Nor sense. But I did it for you because I care. Anyway, I hope Messrs Lester and McMillan are having a right old knees up or whatever they are doing. And I hope you all find some tiny distraction in the words which follow.
Bit of a rush job here again so, y'know, not even a picture before the "more". Slacking, innit. Sort it out!
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (2007) Directed by Sidney Lumet Written by Kelly Masterson Original music by Carter Burwell Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (Andy), Ethan Hawke (Hank), Albert Finney (Charles) and Marisa Tomei (Gina)
My hopes weren't too high for this one what with it being Sidney Lumet’s final film and also it being about a “botched heist”. Chances were high it was going to be some kind of geriatric attempt at a Tarantino-type pop culture and profanity doohickey. You know, a film about other films. Being old, there’s a limit to how many films I can watch about how many films the filmmaker has watched, and I reached that limit in about 1996. Charmingly Mr. Lumet seems to have made a film about people. How quaint! Oh, don’t worry they are odious and repellent people and their morally bankrupt antics send them into a downward spiral which is quite hard to watch at times. Lumet tests his audience’s resolve from the off by immediately attacking your eyes with the image of Philip Seymour Hoffman enthusiastically trying to shove himself inside Marisa Tomei, which is a bit like seeing an articulated lorry repeatedly rear ending a shopping trolley. After that you’ll be pleased to hear everything gets worse for everybody. There's a nicely tricksy time structure to Masterson's (excellent) script that makes the inevitability of everything even more psychologically claustrophobic. The whole ordeal left me feeling grubby, upset and a little bit less hopeful for the future of the human race. Which is VERY GOOD! because I am a chirpy rascal and no mistake.
44-INCH CHEST(2009) Directed by Malcolm Venville Written by Louis Mellis & David Scinto Original music by Angelo Badalamenti Starring Ray Winstone (Colin Diamond), Ian McShane (Meredith), John Hurt (Old Man Peanut), Tom Wilkinson (Archie), Stephen Dillane (Mal) and Joanne Whalley (Liz Diamond)
I only give him a tap and he’s sparked right out. You clear the upstairs but don’t mess on the bed like last time, it’s dirty and there’s no real need. Here, he was typing summat. It says here, right, it says here, “I like good dialogue and I’m pretty enamoured of wilfully baroque banter that draws attention to its artificiality while also inexplicably appearing to be naturalistic. While light on plot the film succeeds due to the excellence of the cast and the almost epicurean pleasure they take in the words which they roll around their reliable mouths… ”. What’s that about, eh, what’s he on about there, tell me that why don’t you. Sounds like one of them la-di-dah college types, don’t he now? Like a right royal wanker. Hang on, let me get this lit. Better. Bad for me, what are you, me nan. Sell ‘em in sweet shops don’t they, can’t be bad then. Kids and shit, see. Me uncle Ted smoked two packs a day all his life, where’s the harm, eh. Course he died at twelve. Just messing, little joke there. Lightening the mood and that. Hey, I seen this film on dodgy from Big Ted Nutkin down the car boot. Not really stealing is it. Guess what this film is full of. Words, pal. Chocka, in fact. Knoworrimean. Think Pinter, think Little Marty Amis. Nowhere near as good but that’s what they’re after. Think nasty men in a crappy room smacking a dishy waiter around ‘cos he went and diddled one of their missusses. The cheek, diddling a missus. Not so cheeky now, is he? Nor her neither. Can’t have that. Actions have consequences, girl, and no mistake. Could be a dream cunnit, or a whassit, a psychodrama thing. Bout misogyny, y’know, men and women, all that business. Feminist rubbish, innit, everyone loves their old Mum. Or maybe it’s a bunch of top actors effing and jeffing and smacking a bloke about for a bit. Think what you want, son. Free world and all that. Right, he’s coming around, get the silver and let’s f*** off out of it. What? VERY GOOD!, do I have to spell everything out, you total c***.
SPEEDWAY CHIMP (1964) Directed by Richard Thorpe Written by Alan Weiss Original music by Joseph J. Lilley Songs performed by Elvis Presley Starring Elvis Presley (Chet Flip), Sylvia Gams (Mahogony Weatherbee), Bill Bixby (Danny Bridle), Walter Matthau (Chet Flip Snr), Angel Lansbury (Talulah Flip) with Disraeli (Chitters The Chimp)
One for Elvis completists here as it's only available to subscribers of the Journal of Official King Ephemera. Speedway Chimp was abandoned during post production due to the death of Sylia Gams during filming, in circumstances described by Variety as "inexplicable" and "uncouth". The surviving footage has been newly restored and re-mastered by MGM and released on this once-in-a-lifetime collector's disc. Fans of Elvis' cinematic oeuvre will be cock-a-hoop to learn that this is another knockabout sing-a-long romp no-brainer from Elvis the Entertainer! The King plays a half-Cherokee, half-Hawaiian, half tree stump heir to a soda pop fortune, who escapes the responsibilities he is soon to inherit by joining a travelling speedway circus. Chet soon finds a pal in the person of jolly jackanape Danny Bridle but the pair's good natured japes attract only disdain from tomboy mechanic Mahogony Weatherbee. To win her reluctant heart Chet enters a Singing Speedway-Burn-Off . Complicating matters somewhat it turns out that Chitters The Chimp has witnessed a mafia killing and in order to keep him safe Chet must pretend he is his pillion pal! He's got a lot of wooin' to do! He's got a lot of animal witness protecting to do! And Elvis may just have the songs to do it all! An EXCELLENT! film to lift the hearts of anyone who is very easily pleased indeed. Anthony Lane gushed, “This is awful. Please take it away.” Pauline Kael declared it “The death of Cinema. With songs.” Featuring the songs “Girl Surprise!”, “You Can’t Peel A Banana In A Sports Car”, “Flingin’ Shit”, "Dance You Little Bastard, Dance!" and “Speedway Chimp (Cha-Cha-Cha)".
Have a simply splendid week, my darlings! Cheers and all that stuff.
(I would like to make it clear that I did not get 44-INCH CHEST from the car boot. I watched it from the rental shop and paid sterling to do so.)
I mean, I kinda hate saying "reviews," when the proper term for it is really, uh, "bitches about," but feel free to join me behind the jump for scattered thoughts (seriously, really scattered thoughts) about the Amazing Spider-Man movie. Think of me like your virtual movie buddy! You know, the one you didn't come with, but who is sitting directly behind you in the otherwise empty matinee performance muttering comments under his breath because he is lonely, oh god so terribly, terribly lonely.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (the movie reboot): As it goes, this is actually a pretty great recreation of the 1977 TV show starring Nicholas Hammond: crap spidey-lenses, weird-looking suit modeled by a scoliotic stuntman with a half -yard of spandex riding up his asscrack, cipher-like villains, time-killing script, ear-stabbable music score...
Okay, it's not quite that bad, but it really is not very good. Almost all of the charms come from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, even though Garfield is a bit overly mannered and Stone's character has nearly nothing to do except react (usually to Garfield) and wordlessly emote (usually to Garfield).
(Though there is that one scene where Gwen, in order to keep her father from entering her room [although the way the scene is filmed, it doesn't really seem like he's about to], talks about her period to drive him away. Oh, 21st Century Hollywood! You really are the most progressive place on Earth, aren't you?)
The entire enterprise lives and dies by these two talented young actors seriously committing to leaden material that's utterly uninterested in humanity but also lip-puckeringly absorbed in its continuity revisions. It's kind of unfair but that appears to be the state of Hollywood these days: an entire generation of craftsmen contributing their end of the affair with the help of excel spreadsheets, screenwriting programs, and small armies of non-unionized computer programmers and animators, and then tossing the resulting quasi-homogeneous paste -- with a shrug and an "eh, you're the one getting paid millions of dollars, you figure it out" -- at the thespians.
I know a lot of people really liked 500 Days of Summer, which struck me as similarly dull-as-hell-but-for-the-charms-of-its-leads. I guess it is this eye for talent that has allowed Marc Webb to overshoot the "director of more than two dozen Sunny D commercials" destiny his abilities would otherwise suggest.
Most of the other actors are...okay, I guess? Rather than try and make Dennis Leary look like the original Captain Stacy (a pretty smart call since the original looked like John Romita, Sr. trying to draw Vitamin Flintheart), they went with...I don't know, Donald O'Connor from Singing In The Rain? Something went weird with Leary's face, that's for sure, but maybe that was all stuff he did to himself? I admit it, I spent some time in wondering if, after they hired him, the producers recognized Leary's superficial resemblance to Willem Dafoe, the first franchise's Green Goblin, and decided to change up his features.
(I also admit to idly wondering at one point what Bill Hicks' Captain Stacy would've been like -- "Gwen, come down here and eat this hash twinkie! And stop hanging out with that Parker kid...he looks like a fucking narc!" -- as well as what other roles Hicks might've ended up playing in Hollywood if he were still alive. You know, would he have disappeared into the woodwork and only came back when Judd Apatow cast him as the dad in Undeclared? Or would he have kind of carved out this secondary career for himself while still doing comedy, a la Louis C.K. or what? Anyway, I only got as far as: bit roles in Soderbergh's Traffic, The Limey, and Ocean's 13; Howard Cosell in Michael Mann's Ali; and the voice of voice of Paul in Paul; it'd be awesome if he'd, like, gotten cast in the Kevin Spacey role in American Beauty and gone on to this whole other level but I just can't see that happening, which tells you something sad about how much fantasy I can bear to bring to my fantasy universes.)
I could tell you about the plot and stuff so you could feel like you were getting a real "review" but...why? There's not really much of one, to be honest: after burglars break in at the Parker home, Dad Parker and Ma Parker leave young Peter with Ben and May, promising they'll be back soon. Then they die in some plane crash type thing and Peter becomes Andrew Garfield, a twenty-nine year old man pretending to be a teenager who walks around with a skateboard and a camera and who sticks up for the little guy despite being unable to lift his arms except to convey inarticulacy a la James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause.
Then he comes across his dad's briefcase which has some stuff in it including a picture of that guy who got naked in Notting Hill who's now working at Oscorp. Peter goes there to get close to the guy who got naked in Notting Hill...to find out what he knew about his parents, I guess? But by then, there are spider bites and mouse mutations and a weird-ass video game and yakkity yakkity yakkity and by the time the movie is over, you realize Peter never got around to asking any questions about his parents and in fact doesn't really seem to give a shit, and this is even before you realize the movie sells out its tragic ending twice before the final credits roll.
Oh, and they break Spider-Man, which kinda sucks.
See, in the movie, Uncle Ben gets shot by a blond dude who has just robbed a bodega (where Peter didn't do anything to stop him, of course). So Peter becomes obsessed with finding the guy, and he begins listening to a police scanner, and starts wearing a modified wrestler's outfit, and running around in the night, and well, okay, this is 2012, right, so they got to update some stuff, fine, I get it.
But here's the thing: Peter never finds the guy. He keeps busting various blond dudes and none of them are the actual guy. (They lack the crucial tattoo on the inside of his wrist Peter and the audience sees when the guy robs the bodega.)
And then later, when Peter has dinner at the Stacy household, Captain Stacy starts talking about this crazy vigilante running around who has to be stopped. And Peter does the old "stick up for your alter ego" shtick, saying "oh, I don't know, I think this guy is doing something the cops can't" and "this Spider-Man is actually interested in justice." (Of course, since Garfield overcommits to the role a wee tad, it's stunning nobody at the table goes, "Wait a minute. That guy is you, isn't it?")
But what's worse is, he's wrong. The way the scenario is set up in the movie, Peter is out for vengeance. He's not acting from a sense of guilt, or the knowledge that with great power, comes great responsibility. (Unless they somehow dramatically misunderstood that expression and they're trying to show that, yeah, Peter now feels greatly responsible for his uncle's death.)
Although they show Spider-Man doing heroic stuff in this movie (and the setpiece on the bridge is actually quite good), he is, for the most part, not a hero. To the extent you see him helping fight crime, it's only because he thinks the guy might be the person who killed Uncle Ben. When Peter is sticking up for Spidey at that dinner table, the people responsible for the movie have screwed things up so badly that he's actually wrong. Spider-Man isn't interested in justice in this film: he's interested in vengeance and it's not the same thing.
It's weird. I'm a big obsessive Spider-Man nerd (so much so that (a) I spent no small amount of time in this movie thinking that C. Thomas Howell in the bridge sequence actually looks like a guy Steve Ditko would draw, he has that exact same "thin lip/mouth bursting to the brim with teeth thing" Ditko does, and (b) I kept getting distracted by how much the Lizard actually looked more like the Scorpion in close-up) and I never considered how essential it is that the guy who shot Uncle Ben is caught in the very first story.
But if you don't have it happen, you risk fucking up something kinda inherent in the character: some quality to his anguish and his decency gets tarnished because he's no longer helping people out of a yearning for expiation that so clearly cannot be granted it becomes indistinguishable from goodness. Even with an actor so good I wish I'd been watching him through the three Sam Raimi movies (of which the second is the only one for which I have any affection and the only one which I'd actually call something close to a good movie), this Spider-Man is not only struck me as EH, and not so much "amazing" as "ersatz."
Staggeringly, I've still barely read any comics this week, due to a confluence of many things, but maybe fewer means more in depth? Let's see below the jump!
Part of it, for me is being hit by crossover burnout hard this week -- 3 different "Night of the Owls" tie-ins, which, basically, all have the exact same story, three from AvX (more on that later, I suspect), and two parts of "The Culling", which, surprisingly, isn't leaving the involved books cancelled. Ugh.
(I think I've mentioned before that I kind of have to get through the shittier books first each week, before I "let" myself read the presumed good ones, because otherwise I'd never read much of the superhero books, and, then, wouldn't be able to do my job as effectively.)
There's only two things I read that I feel like saying anything about this week.... but first, a late-ish movie review!
AVENGERS: because we're in the last week's of elementary school right now in San Francisco, things are crazy hectic with performances and other end-of-the-year stuff, so I didn't get to see this until this weekend. On the upside, I got to see it with two eight-year-old boys, which was kind of awesome in and of itself.
I don't think it's any real surprise after the film has made One. Billion. Dollars!....but, jeez, what a terrific film! I walked out thinking "Oooh, I want to see that again", and I've already had one customer in the store tell me he's seen it six times so far. Yikes!
What I think I like the most about it is just how strong the script was, giving every character plausible character arcs, a place to drive the greater plot, and a moment to shine with how awesome the characters are. That's a crazy hard trick.
It also worked remarkably well as a Classic Marvel Comic Book -- it's absolutely a continuation of various threads from other movies, but if you never saw those movies, everything you might need to know is clearly spelled out in both dialogue and action -- worked better, in fact, most current Marvel comics do in that regard!
Honestly, most big budget blockbuster movies are usually ultimately shallow affairs more about spectacle, but Avengers very nicely ties all of it's set pieces to individual character's arcs.
The action is big and crazy and maybe even, post 9/11, a bit disturbing, but it's also very well shot and staged, and things are almost always clear as a bell of what is happening. It also showed just how terrifying super-humans can be as engines of utter destruction.
I really think this might just be the most perfect super-hero film ever made -- it has as much brains as brawn, and it juggled a gargantuan cast of characters with the utmost of aplomb.
There were a few things I didn't really like -- I thought Scarlett Johanson was really kind of one-note/look through the whole thing. And I don't believe her as a Russian even one bit. I also thought the new Cap mask looked pretty bad. I thought Hawkeye's arc was weakest (though it tried really hard to find a way to make "real" Hawkeye's "reformed villain" origins work in movie continuity), and took him off the board for too much of the film. I thought the death in the movie was kind of uneeded, and the "hey, we got blood all over your nostalgia!" was a bit off-note for the rest of the film. But, hell, those are all just quibbles really. None of that could possibly take away from my consensus that this was an EXCELLENT movie!
Joss Whedon should now be allowed to do whatever he wants, however he wants (though that's been true for years), for doing such a loving job in bringing to the screen such a remarkable version of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's (among many others) creations.
Just two comics I want to talk about, as I noted, so here we go:
TRIO #1: Here's one of those weird riddles of comics and ownership and all of that. John Byrne is well beloved for his run on FANTASTIC FOUR, a run which certainly couldn't have been without Lee & Kirby before him. Byrne doesn't/can't work at Marvel any more, but many people seem to want nostalgia from their superhero works, and they're sad he can't draw FF any longer. Ah ah, but what if Byrne instead came up with something that was remarkably LIKE FF, but wasn't legally-actionably the same, huh? There's a brute made out of stone, and a character that both stretches and turns invisible, and they're fighting some sort of a sea ruler and... well it hits every note just right, but it's just enough different. I'd almost say it's like "What if Paul McCartney, rather than Neil Innes, formed The Rutles?"
So if you want to read Byrne doing the almost-FF (and, if you like action adventure "classic" Marvel-style comics, yeah you probably do), then this is certainly the thing for you. I thought it was pretty GOOD.
WALKING DEAD #97: I'm not afraid to say that I think TWD has been a smidge off its game the last few months, with the super-crazy-hyper competent ambassador from the big settlement really feeling kind of out of place, but now that we're starting to think about starting to work through a "Big Bad" again in the form of Negan, I've lost most of my hesitation. This arc is looking as strong as the book has ever been, which is great because this is the first issue that will come after the second compendium ends (and/or v16), and is a great place to jump on to the monthly reading experience. This was VERY GOOD.
OK, time to go get ready for the NEXT week's worth of comics...
What did YOU think?
I thought the trailers were all incredibly blah, but I thought "Well, it's the director of FINDING NEMO and WALL-E, so it's probably got to have something going for it.", so when the envelope arrived with the free movie tickets, I thought, "OK, for once, I'll go stand in line for one of these" (Though, god, am I schmuck or what? I shoulda just put the call in, and I totally could have reserved seats to a press screener...)
Also? Took Ben with me -- and he loved it too.
Here's the first thing I'll say? The "Host" of the screener was KOFY TV. They're an independent local station. And when I say "independent", I don't mean "The WB" or something -- seriously, go look at their web site... they host a dance party on air, for god's sake! Actually, I think they're great because how many markets truly have a indy TV station like this any longer? But, from Disney's POV, it's the promotional partner you go to when you're trying to help the movie, but you expect it's just going to die.
The second thing? The theater was like half-empty. Damn, I didn't even need to stand in line, I guess... (oh well, an hour with my boy is an hour with my boy!) -- but clearly, the movie is in trouble, if they can't even get people to see it for FREE.
I'm not sure if I've ever actually read the ERB original (most everything "I remembered", but was it from the prose, or from like an adaptation or pastiche or homage, since there have been so many? If it was the prose, it was when I was maybe 12 or something? I know I didn't read them all), but there is a surprisingly deep world and backstory going on here with three different factions in battle, and another pulling various strings. There's culture and language and all kinds of crazy-ass world-building going on, and yet it's very open and very accessible, and very... mm, what's the right word? "Vital", maybe? I actually began to care about the cultures and the CGI characters inhabiting them, in a way that I very much don't usually get in Science Fiction.
The action is big and grand, the characters vivid, and the world engrossing; it's got a nice light touch for humor as well -- pretty much everything you want from a big Science Fiction movie... and if AVATAR made 2 gajillion dollars, there's no reason this shouldn't make at least a zillion.
I have problems with the movie (when do I not have problems with things?): It is a bit long, and I think that's almost all from the ERB-related wrap-around story that, while charming (IF you already knew that "Ned" was Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I kind of think less than half of the audience understood), it didn't add much to the tale itself. I also thought the flashbacks to pre-War JC didn't fit in the jump-cut way and when they were inserted, but that's small concern.
We saw a 3-D showing, but I didn't think it added anything -- I'd not hesitate to see it in regular old 2-D. In fact, there were maybe 2-3 places where I thought the 3-D made the CGI look really fakey. At least I assume it was the 3-D?
The lead, Taylor Kitsch, was actually quite good, but his look is a little "pretty boy" for me. Dejah Thoris was played by Lynn Collins, and she played both "hot" and "lethal" and "smart" equally well. Dejah kicked ass, and I think would be a good "role model" for girls, for those of you who care about such things.
I took Ben (who is 8 and in third grade), and it's probably a smidge more violent then I should have let him see, BUT virtually all of the blood is blue, so I was ... well, not "OK", but less than "annoyed" about the spurting blood. There wasn't any language stronger than "god damn", that I remembered. His favorite scene was the White Ape fight, and especially the end when JC comes bursting through the monster, sword in hand, which, had it been red, would have been gory and gross, but in blue was actually pretty funny.
The media has it marked as DOA, and the turnout at the theater would seem to indicate the audience doesn't know it wants to see it -- the marketing has been atrocious (and the end credits say that the name of the film is "John Carter of Mars", BTW), and while I don't know that I necessarily have any interest in making Disney profitable, this might really be one of those places where we need a Nerdtervention -- I strongly think you should see it because it's far far better than the trailers would seem to indicate.
Ben gave it a 9 (but, to be fair, he gives anything with a high enough wonder-factor a 9), and I'm quite happy to report that I thought it was VERY GOOD, and you definitely should go give it a see in a movie theater.
I'd ask "what did YOU think"? But it's still like a week from release, sorry.
And we're back with big finale of the podcast we recorded twice and edited twice (and, in a fine bit of "oh, ha-ha-ha, where's my magical suicide gun?", I had to write this entry twice because the first one got wiped out, ha-ha-ha, no really, where is it?). Included in this installment's topics are The Trial of the Flash Showcase, Flashpoint #5, Thor: The Motion Picture, Flashpoint #5, the first volume of Bakuman, Fighting American and the Newsboy Legion, Flashpoint #5, Kid Eternity, the marketing of Schism, and the comic event that is not Fear Itself #5.
This embarrassment of riches (or, alternately, embarrassment, depending on how you feel about these things) is available to you on iTunes and also right here in this very fine blog entry that will make me lose my mind if it crashes out again before I can schedule it:
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Two Comics, and a Film!Let's start with the film, shall we?
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER: I thought this was a fun and charming little movie, largely living up to the promise of the trailer. Cap, himself, is somewhat one-dimensional -- he doesn't have the drunken insouciance of Iron Man, or the charming arrogance of Thor, just a lot of earnestness -- but Chris Evans plays Cap with all of his heart, and sells it well.
(If you know nothing whatsoever about Cap the character, then there might be SPOILERS below, but I'm going to assume you know the basics?)
Like THOR before it, as long as you don't go in expecting more than popcorn fun, you'll get it, and this time leavened with a direct moral message of how important it is to stand up to bullies.
While the move from Nazis to Hydra was slightly disappointing from a purist POV, it did allow us to get Big! Mad! Science! everywhere. It's hecka revisionistic, but it yielded a fun movie, so all is well.
The script has a few problems: I really had a hard time understanding why Steve was staying in costume in the field, after the first time (and, heh, that scene of "early costume" Cap sneaking into the Hydra base was rendered pretty funny with that giant flag strapped to his back), and I thought they did a really bad handling the transition from '40s to c21 -- Ben turned to me immediately and asked me "What do they mean, 'you've been asleep for 70 years'?" "Well, Ben, he got frozen in a block of ice for all of that time" "How, daddy?" And, yeah, it sure ain't on the screen.
Also, as long as I'm complaining, the staggeringly multi-culti Howling Commandos kind of freaked me out, in the same way THOR's Warriors Three did... plus, historical accuracy and Sam Jackson's race aside, Nick Fury really should be leading them, damn it! And, uh, was Jim Morita talking into a modern operator's headset in that scene?
But then there were the swell and fun easter eggs -- did you spot the Human Torch on display at the World's Fair? How about the Red Skull's translation to Bifrost? That brilliant first, foreshadowing, shot of Arnim Zola? The filmmakers know their Marvel comics, and it shows.
I'm also kind of crazy excited for AVENGERS, now, which is maybe a terrible idea knowing that low expectations is one of the reasons I have dug THOR and CAP so much. Ben loved CAP, too -- gave it his usual "10 out of 10!", though he rates them: THOR, IRON MAN, CAP. I think I vote for IRON MAN, CAP, THOR, though.
Anyway, liked it a lot: VERY GOOD.
DAREDEVIL #1: Let me get one thing out of the way first: Marvel pretty much ruined Matt Murdock with "Shadowland", and it would take a lot of hard work, time, and redemption to get him back to anything resembling a sympathetic protagonist again.
Or you could just "pull a DC" and basically just ignore all of that, and then make it such a fun and entertaining story than cynical old farts like me have their Charm Barrier broken, so we grumble and say "OK, you get away with it... this time!" (rassen frassen Mark Waid!)
A lot of the credit really needs to be given to Paolo Rivera and Marco Martin, two dynamic artists with such strong individual styles, yet who flow well from one to the other.
I'll tell you something else, as well -- I'm usually leery about letting Ben reading my current comics, there's a ton of content that he's just not ready for in modern comics, but when he asked if DD was appropriate for him, I assented pretty quickly. And he was ENRAPTURED by the book, reading it very closely for quite some time. Then he went downstairs and told mom all about it "...So, see, he's BLIND, but he's got this wicked RADAR SENSE...")
Yeah, that was an EXCELLENT comic book.
INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #506: You know when I read the scene with Stark's sacrifice in FEAR ITSELF, I thought "Wow, that's a great moment", but this issue's fully-fleshed out version really kind of wore on me -- I found the foul-mouthed dwarves to be really overdone (and that thing about "content that I wouldn't want my son to see yet" from up above? Yeah), and then when the issue ends the way it ends, well, I just thought it was too easy. I also was really troubled with not having Tony deal with the aftermath of Paris personally. I don't know, I kind of realized that I haven't really liked this book at all in months (since #500, I guess?) I'll go with a very low EH.
That's me, this week: what did YOU think?
And here we go with our conclusion to Episode 47 of Wait, What? In it, Graeme and I talk X-Men: First Class (the movie) and Green Lantern (the movie), Gingerbread Girl (the graphic novel), Graeme's picks for DC's September relaunch, and more.
This installment can be found on iTunes, and you can also listen to it here:
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At first, I was just going to write about Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Gingerbread Girl, but I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to say about it. (Uh, things? And, uh, stuff?) So, after the jump, Gingerbread Girl, X-Men: First Class (the movie), Star Wars Omnibus (Vol. 3), and more...things and stuff.
(oh, and don't forget to scroll down for the shipping list...and John's reviews...and Graeme's reviews?! Holy shit. We need to learn how to pace ourselves.)
GINGERBREAD GIRL GN: In an age where comics are taking their cue from movie and cinema, it's delightful to read Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Gingerbread Girl, a graphic novel about a mysterious twenty-something in Portland, OR and her odd affliction: it's comics shot through with a big ol' dose of live theater, as every character breaks the fourth wall to address the reader about what they know about Annah Billips. (I'm not much of a live theater guy at all, but more than once I was reminded of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (basis for Hello, Dolly? I did not know that. Thanks, Wikipedia!).) Tobin's speeches are shot through with high-end whimsy -- "But of course that's all we really we want from someone," Annah's reluctantly smitten date says at one point, "Destroy a lover's mystery and they're less glimmering. Throw breadcrumbs at pigeons and they'll flock to you in droves. Throw a bread loaf at them and they'll scatter. Crumbs of a mystique are just right. A loaf of explanation is too much." -- but they've still got nothing on Coover's delicious art, able to invest seemingly anyone and anything with charm and clarity.
Gingerbread Girl is a mystery of sorts, with the lead character believing she has a twin created from her own stripped away Penfield Homunculus, and everyone else trying to figure out if she's crazy or not. As the above speech suggests, the graphic novel decides not to solve that mystery, but rather leave us tantalized on the edge of realization. It's a fun choice, but one that left me feeling more than a little cheated. I'm sure the idea is to make me look from the book's plot to its possible theme -- I'll take "narratives about narrative strategies" for $500, Alex! -- but I can't help but feel we could've gotten that and a more traditional nod toward conventional narrative climax. One of the things this gorgeous looking book repeatedly reminds us about its main character is that she's a tease. It's a reminder the reader would do well to take to heart about Gingerbread Girl itself. Being teased is much more fun when there's little to lose, and $12.95 doesn't exactly grow on trees these days. GOOD stuff, I think? Or maybe just at the very highest end of OK? I still can't decide.
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS: The last thing I expected from this movie was to be reminded of Mario Bava, and yet as the film hit hour 35 of lovely visuals, paper-thin characters and a boredom that teetered on the edge of hypnotic, it was the reference point I came back to. Of course, I expected a movie about a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Something-Or-Other-Because He's-Still-Magneto-To-Me (Michael Fassbender) recruiting mutants to fight Sebastian Shaw's Hellfire Club to have more than a dash of Brian Singeresque touches to it, so I figured there would be the usual queer subtext (tearful speeches by young teenagers about how they wish they could be like everyone else, young men with full lips and big eyes rubbing their bare arms). But Matthew Vaughn turns X-Men: First Class into a sensual free-for-all, with ladies walking about in excessively cumbersome lingerie, diamond girls being tied to beds by the rails of the bed itself, excessively nude exploding female mannequins, and I'm not even getting into the whole Xavier/Magneto/Mystique triangle.
More than that, though, Vaughn's tremendous sense of visual flair and attention to detail makes the movie just visually sensuous: it sounds goofy, but there's a scene where Magneto plucks a submarine out of the water, and the way the droplets spun off the propellers had me transfixed. There were at least a dozen more moments like that and I savored each one of them.
Unfortunately, the movie has just too much fucking stuff in it -- it's sodden, is what it is -- showing us not just the opening of the first X-Men movie where a young Erik pries at the gates of Auschwitz, but also the scene that comes after that, as well as what Charles Xavier was doing at that point. We not only get their meeting in mid-action scene, but the CIA's decision to help them recruit mutants, a long recruitment sequence, Hank McCoy as both versions of the Beast, a long sequence introducing the Hellfire Club...none of it is bad, exactly (except for January Jones, who in her inability to smile, talk, drink or even walk convincingly I now believe to be the genuine embodiment of the Martian Spy Girl from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!) but there's just no fucking room for anything to breathe. It's three good movies jammed into one exasperatingly long and dull one, with every dramatic conflict boiled down so much they might as well been bullet points on a Powerpoint presentation.
I think if I'd seen this movie while hopped up on prescription pain medication, I would've loved its horny languor. (If it turns out that Vaughn knocked up January Jones as the rumors have it, it won't be surprising at all. In fact, what would be surprising would be if he didn't also impregnate the script girl, Zoe Kravitz, Rose Byrne's slip, and that kid who played The Beast.) But it was a slog and a chore to make it to the end of this movie and it really didn't have to be. Somewhere between EH and AWFUL.
STAR WARS OMNIBUS, VOL. 3: At Graeme's suggestion, I picked up a copy of this from the library way-too-long ago and have been poking through it at the rate of a few stories a week. These are the Marvel comics from the early '80s reprinted, covering the period immediately following The Empire Strikes Back. As I told Graeme on the podcast, the ESB is exactly where I jumped off the Star Wars comic wagon, in no small part because it became obvious that none of it really mattered: nothing says "we've told the creators of our licensed product nothing" like a romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia and the infamous "Luke, I am your father" speech.
Did I say "nothing"? That is a lie, I admit it -- what really says "we've told the creators of our licensed product nothing" is reading this volume in light of the events of Return of the Jedi. The subtitle for this volume is "A Long Time Ago..." but it really should've been "George Lucas' Galactic Twincest Follies." There are no less than half-a-dozen disquieting scenes where Luke and Leia almost kiss or spend quiet moments pondering their unspoken, but strongly felt feelings for one another. If only V.C. Andrews could've written that "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" sequel!
But Graeme is right in a lot of ways -- these stories, the majority of them by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson, with Simonson plotting and doing layouts with Tom Palmer doing heavy finishes, are a lot like watching the original trilogy over and over again. Curiously, even though this takes place after Empire, the only real bits the talent take from that movie are Lando and the idea of a rebellion always on the run from a seemingly all-powerful Empire. Otherwise, it's a lot of impervious imperial bases that need exploding, blasters that need blasting, feelings that need trusting, and possible romantic triangles where two of the participants are siblings. There's probably a good reason why Marvel's creative teams continued to treat Luke Skywalker as the untarnishable focal point -- my guess is Luke, young and orphaned and full of questions and potential, was much closer to the '70s Marvel hero archetype than awesome, dashing (kinda assholey) Han Solo -- even as Lucas threw a whole bunch of cold water on the idea of Luke as hero in Empire.
Ultimately, the story I enjoyed the best was the weirdest one -- the two-parter by Chris Claremont, Simonson and Carmine Infantino where an inventoried John Carter of Mars story is shoehorned into a Star Wars story. I've always enjoyed Claremont's infrequent work on Star Wars (pre-teen Jeff would've told you that his favorite Marvel Star Wars issues were #17, co-plotted by Claremont, Star Wars Annual #1 with art by Mike Vosburg...and also Star Wars #38 with that awesome Michael Golden art, Claremont be damned) and here he gets a chance to let his ham actor instincts dig into a story in which Princess Leia crash-lands on a world suspiciously like Barsoom, and the swashbuckling hero suspiciously like John Carter gets something suspiciously like a space boner for her. Strong, courageous, and the survivor of brutal torture, Princess Leia is Chris Claremont's idea of a hot chick and he makes the most of the first person narration by the Carter pastiche to talk about her brave resourcefulness and sad eyes. In its way, the story is a better acknowledgment of Star Wars' roots than what Lucas went on to do in The Phantom Menace, though the airships here show a marked similarity to what is done there. However, because these stories were written in simpler, far less ambitious times, there's not the thorough airing out of influences there could be, where we can really get the sense of just how much Star Wars owes to Burroughs' desert landscapes, exotic princesses, alien pals and low-gravity swashbuckling. There's just a repurposing of art, a light feeling out of topics that will later become fetish (for Claremont, anyway) and then it's on to the next.
I thought this stuff was highly OK, and in some places quite GOOD, but I guess I prefer more Cosmic Twincest Follies far more intentional and far less accidental. It was fun revisiting what so many of us thought Star Wars was, instead of what it actually turned out to be.
FLASHPOINT: LEGION OF DOOM #1: "My name's Heatwave. I've got a hunger... burning in my gut. The only way to stop it... is to satisfy my appetite."
So begins the dumbest, most inept comic I've read in a while. It's so bad I'm shocked Hibbs passed it over for his ever-increasing number of "I Have Read The Worst Comic I Have Ever Read" columns. Here, Adam Glass and Rodney Buchemi treat us to a tale of non-starter supervillain Heat Wave, who starts off the book incinerating one-half of Firestorm's secret identity because he wants to fight a guy whose head is on fire. Then Cyborg shows up and awesome dialogue like "Didn't your mommy ever tell you not to play with matches, Heatwave?" "Sure did! So I burned her to death." Then Heat Wave makes a train run out of control by...shooting it with flames? Then Heat Wave ends up in prison where he proves himself to be a bad-ass by breaking the leg of a dude who must have shins made out of breadsticks. Then Heat Wave gets manhandled by prison guard Amazo, which totally makes sense because Amazo is a robot with all the powers of the Justice League in an alternate universe where there never was a Justice League. Then there's a Hostess cupcake ad, just like we had back in the '70s, except it's eight pages long and it's about Subway. Then the awesome Legion of Doom headquarters shows up but here in the Flashpoint universe it's a prison for super-tough criminals but for some reason Heat Wave is put in there, too. Then Zsasz threatens Heat Wave. Then Clue Master turns up. Then Heat Wave kicks a dude in the nuts. Then, later in their cell, Clue Master clutches his stomach, coughs up blood, and then Plastic Man pulls himself out of Clue Master's mouth. Yes, Clue Master was a mule used to smuggle in Plastic Man who on the last page is standing there grinning evilly, saying "Okay, you ready to blow this popsicle stand?" as one bloody arm still juts from Clue Master's mouth. The next issue caption helpfully says, "NEXT ISSUE: PLASTIC MAN!"
(Finally, I know why Jack Cole killed himself. Poor precognitive bastard.)
If you're the fan of the noise that's made when someone scrapes the very bottom of the barrel, this is the book for you. I actually hope this book has 100% sell-through for retailers, because I worry it will otherwise end up being donated to a hospital somewhere and make ill and injured children lose the will to live. This book gets the seldom-used ASS rating which is actually overrating it by just a tad. Please don't tell me you bought it and enjoyed it.
I had to wait a little while to see Green Lantern because of scheduling issues with Ben -- he's in a crazy amount of camps, with enrichment afterwards (soccer, swimming, etc), and then weekends with his grandparents that Wednesday was the first chance we had to go together. And what's the point of seeing a superhero movie if you're not taking your seven year old?
Before we get to my reaction, let's have his: Ben thought the movie was great. "Oh?" I asked, "what would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best?" A Ten.
Now, one thing to bear in mind is that Ben isn't exactly a sophisticated movie watcher -- he loves ALL movies, and when I asked him what the WORST movie he ever saw was, he said the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, that he really didn't like that one. "Yeah? And what would you rate that one?" A Seven.
So there you go.
One thing that I would like to note, and actually condemn the movie for, is some unnecessary use of language. I recognize that the film was rated PG-13, but there's a "Bullshit" and an "asshole" in here, both of which were entirely and completely unnecessary, and caused Ben to turn to me in the theater with a scandalized hand to his mouth. I don't care about the "damn"s and the "hell"s (though sure some people might), but there's really no need for that kind of adult language in a movie pretty much custom designed for kids. Just sayin'.
OK, now to me.
The critics have not at all been kind to this film, and for some pretty good reasons -- it's pretty much a hot mess. But I'm sorta glad I read so many massively negative reviews before going because I had negative expectations walking in, and, so, it wasn't quite as bad as I feared it would be.
The movie does have two Major problems. First: there's just not a lot of real human emotional core to the film. Oh, it tries to build in a whole bunch of strands with Hal's family/daddy issues, or the triangle between Hal/Carol/Hector, but there's so little screen time given to them, and in such a desultory way, that none of it really goes anywhere or means anything. Large bits of it (like the triangle) aren't even mentioned for the first time until well into the film, stripping it away of any power it might have had. It's a shame, because there actually was a possibility of having something interesting come out of all three human character's relationships to their fathers, and how they each dealt with it, but it really amounts to no more than background noise here. Likewise all of the talk about facing fear was just a lot of blahblahblah that never tested out in any kind of meaningful way -- Hal never actually faces any kind of fear other then a semi-generic "Parallax is kinda scary looking, ain't he?".
Look, no one expects a summer popcorn action flick to give deep insights into humanity, but it seems a shame to me to have these thematic elements sorta put upon the table, and then do fuck-all with them.
The other Major problem with the film is that it's packed with two movies worth of story, and it therefore does almost nothing good with either of them. It is easy for me to armchair quarterback, but I don't see how anyone thought it was a good idea to try and have GL's origin, Hector Hammond, the Corps, AND Parallax all jammed into a single movie and expect it be compelling.
I'd like to point out that in the comics, Hal never met the Guardians until his eighth story (and then they made him forget!), and we don't meet a single member of the Corps (other than Abin Sur) until GL #6 -- I certainly wouldn't have taken Hal to Oa in the first movie. I think it would have been much stronger to stay Earthbound and to not have even a whiff of the Corps until maybe the last few seconds of the film.
There's a lot of Telling in this movie, rather than showing -- there's a throw away line about being a space-cop, but there's not even a second of "policing" shown by anyone, for example. There's also a lot of screen time frittered away on things without a payoff -- we're introduced to Hal's family, and there's a clear setup for something with his nephew, and then you never ever see those characters again; we're shown the entire Secret Origin of Amanda Waller (though one who is physically nothing like The Wall, nor who is indicated to be anything other than a scientist), but why? She, too, then disappears from the film. I hope, at least, that John Ostrander is getting a hella big check.
It's a real shame, because there's a few minutes of real visual creativity and wonder -- I really loved the sequence with the out-of-control helicopter and the racetrack -- and if more of the movie had been about the Cocky Fighter Pilot Learning To Use His Magic Wishing Ring To Fight Crime, then I think it would have had more of the Sense Of Wonder that superhero movies really kind of need.
I thought Ryan Reynolds was adequate in the role. My largest problem is that my Hal Jordan is cocky and arrogant, but he isn't Sarcastic. I also really didn't like the CGI costume, but, eh, I'm a bitter old man and who thought I would?
I also kind of can't believe what happened to both of the antagonists. Way to build a rogues gallery!
There's an extra scene in the middle of the credits. It is very very bad. It makes no sense whatsoever after seeing the backwards Earth Man single-handedly defeat the Big Bad that that character, of all the characters shown in the film, would take that action.
One last note: the music was terrible. I actually started dreading anytime the musical cues came on because it was so horrible, almost 1980s hair bands, and really inappropriate to the action. It's rare that I actually notice scoring, but this time I did because it was awful.
So, yeah, not a good movie at all, and if I were an adult seeing it with another adult (and paying ELEVEN DOLLARS to get in? Are they INSANE? Is that what movies actually cost? This is the first non-matinee priced movie I've been to in a long time at a mainstream theater), then, yeah, AWFUL movie... but I saw it with a seven year old and he had a blast (except for the unneeded swearing) and I had fun watching it with him, and, yeah if you approach it as "one and only shot to cram in 50 years of GL" then the structure of it works a little better, and, alright, charitable Dad-based me says it was a low OK.
My advice: take a seven year old boy with you (except for the swearing, those fuckers!)
Dunno, what did YOU think?
I'll get back to print in the next day or so, but I wanted to dive into a few things-on-film for a moment.
(I quite imagine there will be SPOILERS here, so be careful, kiddo!)
THOR: Saw an advance screening on Saturday morning (10 am, what an odd time for a preview screening!), and yeah, pretty decent film. My reaction could possibly be the result of low expectations -- I mean, seriously, did anyone ever think there could possibly be a Thor movie based on the comic, prior to 3-5 years ago? Let alone a good one?
It largely kept my attention, and it has some astonishing design on display -- I particularly liked their interpretation of the Rainbow bridge -- but while it won't win an Oscar or anything, it will keep you chewing through your popcorn just fine. I'll call it an easy GOOD.
It has problems, to be sure. For the first thing, I couldn't figure out Loki or his motivations AT ALL. Loki *should* be the master trickster and manipulator, but as on display here he was far more capricious than clever, actually telling his family about his betrayals, rather than playing it off. Plus the denouement was a PHYSICAL FIGHT between Loki and Thor which is... well, that's just stupid, isn't it?
I also think that most of the earth-based stuff really didn't work -- part of that stemming from the SHIELD-centric nature of the earth stuff, part of that from giving Jane Foster a comedy-intended sidekick -- but mostly going off the Odin arc.
Odin, as we all know, sends Thor to earth to learn humility. In the comic, Odin does so by binding Thor to a mortal man, where here he just depowers Thor entirely. The thing of it is, when Thor eventually regains his powers, I can't see HOW he learned humility? There's a thing that happens that I think is meant to be "ultimate humility", but it really isn't. Let's try this for a strained metaphor: it's like I take you to a batting cage, but put you in handcuffs. Yes, sure, you will then learn "I need to use my arms in order to hit a ball", but you still aren't even a single step closer to learn HOW to hit a ball.
Then there's the whole Big Kiss at the end, and, again, I was thinking "where the hell did THAT come from?" -- it's not like there's ANY reason for Thor to be majorly into Jane like that was presented on the screen. And, anyway, he should have a thing for Lady Sif, shouldn't he?
I mean, I guess if felt to me like the movie was still getting rewritten up to the very moment they shot it, or something. Or maybe a bunch of stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, or something? If you know the story that already exists, in terms of Loki's motivations, Odin's or Jane's actions, whatever, then you see that they "got to where they should be", but what's ACTUALLY UP ON THE SCREEN doesn't really support any of that happening.
I also thought it a smidge unusual that there was much taken from THE ULTIMATES, rather than Stan & Jack proper -- particularly that interrogation sequence, and the implication that Thor is just nuts (except that the audience, in this case, KNOWS he's who he says he is, so it kinda doesn't work), and the look of "Hawkeye" (who I don't think is actually called that in the film -- just "Barton")
But despite all of that, I still liked it fine -- and seven year old Ben who I was with proclaimed it EXCELLENT! which is maybe all that matters?
Last note: because of the preview nature, and wanting to sit in our 4-person group, rather than scattering in the theater, we ended up in the first row, which is normally just fine, but in this case, made the 3-D nearly unwatchable. It was 100% fine in any dialogue scene, but once things switched to heavy action, with shaky zooming cameras and all of that usual modern film trickery, it was nearly impossible to tell at all what was going on. I imagine it was better if you were in the "sweet spot" of the middle of the theater, but, based on my experience, I absolutely suggest trying to find a non-3-D showing.
BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD: Not any particular episode, really, but this whole new season has been pretty batshit insane, so far. Absolutely embracing the Morrison-thought that every Batman story is true, we've had utter insanity like adaptations of the Bat-Manga, Bat-Boy and Rubin, and Scooby Doo team-ups; we've had a joker-POV episode (including changing the opening titles to be "The Joker: The Vile and the Villainous") where, among other things, he entirely explodes Kamandi's future; we've had mummy-Batman, and Aqua-Batman, and a really really fucked up episode where Batman becomes a Vampire and kills all of the JLA; hell we've even had an episode with (cowboy) Vigilante breaking out a git-tar and singing about the legend of the blue and the gray.
This show is OFF THE CHARTS CRAZY, and in an utterly great way. I'm horrifically disturbed it hasn't been picked up for more, because this is everything you want in a Batman cartoon (that isn't TAS) -- this is KITCHEN SINK BATMAN. I truly hope they put out a complete series boxed set at some point, because this is just way too good of a show to not preserve. I love this show, and will give it an overall EXCELLENT rating.
A GAME OF THRONES: I love love love love love the books (even if I'm afeared JJM is going to croak before he finishes all seven), which I would liken to the same kind of thril you get from WALKING DEAD -- that is, NO CHARACTER, even the leads, ARE NOT SAFE, and the most crazy fucked up shit happens to these people. I was pretty nervous about the show, but, so far (I've seen the first two), I'm thinking its doing a really good of adaptation of the books. Adaptations are always hard, and usually butchered, but they got the gist pretty close here.
If you've seen the show, but not read the books, then I really urge you to pick up the books; and if you've done neither, then, yeah, pick up the books. EXCELLENT stuff there.
I'll give the show a VERY GOOD, mostly because I don't care for how they framed a few shots (the finding of the direwolves was pretty weak), and I'm largely unsure if the actress playing Daenerys has half of the chops needed to make it work -- her thread in the novels is my favorite, and so far my lest favorite in the TV show. Peter Dinklage is AWESOME as Tyrion, though.
ACTION #900: I'm putting this in the "television" column mostly because of the crazy coverage the news media put on this. When I read the comic (before the story of Superman's citizenship broke) I thought "Man, is that a poorly phrased way of putting that" because OF COURSE Superman isn't a US Citizen -- he's a citizen of the world, and always has been.
SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, anyone? Here: from wikiquotes:
***** Superman: Madam Chairman, I don't represent any one particular country, but I'd like to address the delegates. U.N. Chairwoman: Well, in that case, you will need a sponsor. [ALL delegates raise their hands] I believe that will do. Please.
Superman is not an American, per se, and hasn't been for at least 24 years (and I'm certain I've read 60s era comics espousing the same principle, so probably more like 40+ years)
Either way, "Superman" couldn't possibly be a citizen of anything -- it's an assumed name!
Anyway, what did YOU think?