Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Monkey's Name is Jennifer (2003)




In the early '90s, Evan Dorkin turned a wedge of cheese and a carton of milk who became anthropomorphic sociopathic pop culture critics into such a hit (by post-B&W boom standards,) that it put tiny publisher Slave Labor Graphics on the map. Years later, Jhonen Vasquez created a series about a homicidal maniac that went over with the goth kids at Hot Topic by actually being sold there, and surely helped SLG land some Disney licenses.

Taking these two things into account, it makes sense that Slave Labor publisher Dan Vado would take a good long look at a book about a little girl with a pet ape that she dresses in doll clothes, and which is filled with murderous rage at the world around it. The girl has surreal misadventures, and the monkey thinks about biting peoples' testicles off. There's also random quirky shit like skeletons wearing suits and pirates and mad scientists attempting to weaponize childhood glee. Also, toss in full color back cover pin-ups by comic book luminaries, which helped Madman make Kitchen Sink Press some dough, and you might have something.

I'm certain the process wasn't as cynical as I make it sound, but the end result is still an unfunny, repetitive book with surface similarities to very successful predecessors without the insight or talent to deliver on a deeper level than pale imitation. The stories seem geared toward children, but a bit too nonlinear and heavy in coarse elements to play to the younger crowd. Adults might appreciate their matter-of-fact weirdness, but be frustrated by how arbitrary and familiar the diversions are, as well as the basic lack of craft on display. The book just doesn't look or read particularly well, and is too soft or too hard for any given readership. I didn't feel a strong compulsion to finish the thing beyond grist for the review mill, but the final pages switch format to 1-2 page stories that prove much more charming and palatable.

Ken Knudsten does seem to really believe in what he's doing, and he has his fans, so perhaps instead of taking my word for it, you'll check out his blog for lots of free pages.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Frank Review of "Dead and Gone" (2008)

The Short Version? Bad things happen at that run down cabin...
What Is It? "Horror"
Who Is In It? Angela from "Sleepaway Camp," Veronica from "Clerks," Kage from "Tenacious D," and the guy who shouted on the first Evanescence album in celebrity cameos.
Should I See It? No.



Short and sweet: Hollywood British boy toy loses his aging producer meal ticket to a liposuction accident. Hides out in a Nevada shack with his wife of convenience on life support until he can find a way to squeeze a few more dollars out of a bad situation. Rednecks cause problems, there's a dalliance with a ridiculous but hot police officer, and things break down. It's The Shining meets Evil Dead meets mental retardation. Slow, cheap, boring, derivative, pointless, with the intentional gags usually falling well short. When Kyle Gass is listed on the box as a co-star after maybe five minutes of screen time because you need the audience draw, enjoy your stay in the dollar bin. I'll give the movie this: there's some nice gender-bending, and even if it plods, I've seen much worse.

Extras?

  • Gone With The Dead: The Making of Dead and Gone Someone was paid to edit a half hour documentary for a quarter-assed movie. Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun making a bad picture.
  • Deleted Scenes Most of the movie should have been deleted down to an unmemorable thirty minute show, so the actual deleted scenes are like stabbing yourself in the brain with a spoon. Why would you do such a thing to yourself. Just stop. Don't.
  • Outtakes Cute. Ish. And brief. Brief is important.
  • Trailers Lionsgate isn't exactly known for its discriminating taste, and especially on horror movies they'll sprinkle in piss with the punch on even their best-selling DVDs, but this one showcases nothing but turd after turd. "Clearly you're only watching the main feature on a dare, as part of a drinking game, or what have you, so here are some future OMFG releases for your peculiar group activities."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wednesday Is Slim Pickings For All I Care #114

Conan: Island of No Return #1
Empowered "Ten Questions for the Maidman"


This column gets leaner and more sporadic the less I buy floppies, but on the plus side, there will be more time for Dirty Traders, since I have both new collections and stacks of unread ones to get through.



Conan Island of No Return #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
I grew up on Conan, and especially enjoyed the early Barry Windsor-Smith material that Bart Sears conjures up through a return to the "costume" used in those issues. Writer Ron Marz also teases that era, with Conan as a sneak thief and philanderer teaming up with whoever decided to bring him in on a job. However, those '70s stories were really great done-in-ones that usually condensed original Robert E. Howard stories to a sweet fuck'n'run. This is an entirely new work by a couple of creators past their prime that still has all the failings of modern comics. Conan is pursued for a crime for seven pages, spends three pages negotiating his next heist, eleven pages physically negotiating the terrain toward the spoils, and a final splash setting up the first fight with a creature. The back stories of two new characters are discussed along the way, but otherwise, this was maybe five pages of an old school Conan comic. Sears has panels that rock, but a lot more where he hacks out rubber people with no eyes and dubious anatomy. Colorist Mark Roberts does a good job of covering for the inconsistency, but the contrast between good work and bad is hard to miss. I still prefer Sears to a lot of the guys currently working, especially when he's in storytelling mode, as he is here. Too often, he'd rather inflict a design scheme meant to maximize the resell value of pages while actively sabotaging the narrative (see: Captain America and the Falcon.) The story is boilerplate Conan, enjoyable more for the nostalgia than any inherent worth. It's okay for a modern Conan mini-series, but not something I feel any urge to continue with.



Empowered Special #2 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
As I've stated in my reviews of every one of the Empowered trades and the other special, this series is among the best on the market, which is why I'm so bitter when an edition is less than great. This was less than great. It's another reasonably priced introduction for theoretical new readers, this time using color and guest artist Emily Warren as an added draw. This is not a cheat, since Adam Warren not only writes the whole thing, but draws fifteen B&W pages to insure those who take the dive into trades know what to expect. Unlike the prior special, there is a fair amount of continuity recap here, setting the tale sometime during or after volume six, with some series spoilers of volume 5. Aside from the recappery, this feels more like a standard Emp story, and so a better taste of the flavor of a full volume. Also, it's a nice Maidman spotlight, who rocks by the way, as possibly the greatest transvestite super-hero ever (apologies to Madam Fatal.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "St. Ives" (1976)



The Short Version? He's clean. He's lean. He's the go-between.
What Is It? Crime dramedy.
Who Is In It? Paul Kersey and oodles of character actors.
Should I See It? Nope.

St. Ives is a lame, lazy movie. Raymond St. Ives is a laid back guy who rarely hurries and never seems especially invested in anything. He's a former crime beat reporter who was supposed to retire to write a novel, but since he never did, he takes the occasional job as a bag man. He's supposed to be a high stakes gambler, but the movie drops that joke fairly early on, and only one obnoxious character keeps bringing up St. Ives' unfinished book. There's only one real action sequence, involving the very young Jeff Goldblum and Robert Englund as muggers. Bronson was clearly too old to do much heavy action, and in fact one wonders if he didn't pull something vital in this scene that forced him to take things easy for the rest of the production. Pretty much the whole movie is St. Ives stumbling upon fresh bodies, getting questioned by police, and then questioning other people. St. Ives knows all the hoods in town, so if anything happens, a crook is invented to provide the necessary exposition for the next scene. Since there are only a handful of returning characters, it's a simple matter to figure out into which slot everyone will fit by the final act. In terms of quality of execution, it feels like a failed TV pilot to a totally watchable yet totally missable show. Everybody is just phoning it in, but their obvious disinterest lends a certain bemusement to the proceedings. "Why am I here? How much above scale am I getting for this? What was my line, again?" The best parts are Bronson's pained deadpan delivery that'll have you trying to find a cue card in the frame somewhere, and a cast of dozens of familiar faces from period crap. If you decide to make a drinking game out of spotting them, lightweights should select Elisha Cook Jr., while the bingers should pound 'em back to Harry Guardino. Sadly, Michael Lerner and his rarely seen quasi jewfro are only in the one scene.

Extras?

  • Bronson St. Ives CheeZY promotional puff piece fluffing Chuck's peen furiously.
  • Theatrical Trailer He is not mean. No one puts enough effort into this thing to qualify as mean.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wednesday is Foreign For All I Care #113

Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #1 (2011)
Daomu #5 (2011)




Alpha Flight #1 (Marvel, 2011, $3.99)
You’ll pardon me for being a tad hyperbolic, but I think Alpha Flight is a fine example of everything that’s wrong with comics. Let me explain. The Sub-Mariner was one of the first comic book superstars, but he got cancelled along with most everybody else in the Post-World War II bust. I think he had a brief revival in the ‘50s, and he definitely helped usher in the Marvel Age in the 1960s. Thing is though, I don’t understand how sailor fucks mermaid equals immortal scion of the seven seas, or whatever the fuck Namor’s tagline was. Over in the X-Men book, they had another somewhat eleven foreigner asshole with a rage-on against humanity in the 1960s named Quicksilver. Pietro was never a fraction as popular as Namor, but he was still the 1960s model of the type, so maybe one or the other needed to shuffle off by the 1980s. Instead, we got Northstar, who never to my knowledge actively pursued widescale death of homo sapiens, but otherwise looked exactly like a young Namor with all the douchiness of Quicksilver. His only distinctions were that his powers were slightly different than Quicksilver’s, he had a crazy sister, the least awful of the trio’s costumes, he’s Canadian, and he’s queer. That means we now have three of the exact same guy in the same universe, none of them are going anywhere, and Northstar is one of the least useless members of Alpha Flight.

John Byrne was an extremely popular creator in the 1980s, which I guess is why Alpha Flight #1 came into existence, and I bought the thing. Byrne was an okay writer if you were a kid reader, but even by his standards (a.k.a. “this comic is so pretty that it makes up for the tepid script,”) the title was pretty stinky. The characters were all very polite and somewhat more diverse rip-offs of other Marvel characters who in the ensuing years have all been killed off at least one (usually many more, though) with no one much caring except people who believe being the only Canadian super-heroes of note earns them more respect, a sentiment not always shared by actual Canadians. They’ve got Wolverine and a strong claim to Superman, so why should they give a fuck about Snowbird? I’m sure Alpha Flight is at least a little embarrassing, eh?

So anyway, Alpha Flight managed to eke out an existence as the only alternative X-Men spin-off book to New Mutants for a while, but as the X-Factors and X-Forces and such piled up, the Alphans only reason for existence was wiped out. Marvel has repeatedly tried to relaunch the series based on the shaky premise that there’s nostalgia and inherent conceptual value in Alpha Flight, and this latest mini-series has actually enlisted solid talent, tied the book in with a big event, and restored the “iconic” team after a bout with mass deadness. I will say that this is a solidly okay effort, although after three years distance from the Bush Administration, it’s hard not to think a Canadian retread of their politics feels like old news. The big bad conservative brother to the north has turned on the nation’s wimpy ass heroes, and even the quippage of the writers behind Incredible Hercules can’t make the individual members matter to anyone. Alpha Flight has never been worth a damn, and the longer the industry carries this kind of obsolete baggage on its back, the more apparent corporate comics themselves being antiques becomes. Kill Alpha Flight, kill Quicksilver, consider killing Sub-Mariner, and then figure out what the Namor-type of the twenty-teens should be like.

An aside: a sketchbook and an interview? Not worth an extra dollar. Hold the line, bitches.



Daomu #5 (Image, 2011, $2.99)
The inside front cover of this book featured brief character bios for all the major players in this story. I think it's great when publishers make that kind of effort to reach out to potential new readers. Unfortunately, there isn't a basic plot synopsis offered, so all those bios might as well be written in a fucking foreign language for all their content meant to me. This must be what it's like for normal people when some inarticulate geek starts rambling a bunch of insider bullshit at them. I don't even understand whether some of the nouns mentioned are people, places, or things, it's so goddamned obtuse, and I've had motherfucking decades of experience reading this kind of shit. So screw it, I had to read the actual story pretty near blind, and I didn't give a queef about most of it.

A bunch of Asian people (to narrow it down: not East Indians, but that's the best I got) are involved in some organization. Two of them do some tomb raiding. One's a heroic type, and the other is a two-faced fat asshole. They kill a mummy, and their friends find them in time for the tomb to try to revenge up their asses. Everybody escapes, but the action is really muddy, so I had trouble deducing the means by which that escape occurs. Also the dialogue is b-movie shit, but there's all these pretentious "Confucius say" caption boxes throughout. The art isn't great, and the story is either really flat or impenetrable, because I only catch pieces of what's going on.

Oh wait, the plot synopsis was on the back cover. That makes everything better. Highest possible recommendation.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Frank Review of "Super 8" (2011)

The Short Version? Stand By mE.T.
What Is It? Sci-Fi Dramedy.
Who Is In It? That guy from that show and that guy from that other show and that girl who's the sister of Dakota Fanning.
Should I See It? Yeah.



My girlfriend asked if I wanted to see this movie, which was her way of telling me that we were going to see it, unless I was going to ruin her fun by making a stink. I said that I didn't not want to see this movie. I wouldn't make a point of seeing it, but I wasn't opposed to it, either, and so I did. It wasn't super great (Gene Shalit R.I.P., whenever you get around to dying already,) but it was totally okay, and I'm fine with that. If you expect better from J.J. Abrams, you're a fucking sucker, so I'm just happy this film exceeded the low bar he's set.

Most of the trailers were real mysterious like, and the movie has not a little of the cliché about it, so why spoil the fun in a review? You'll enjoy it better the less you know. It's Spielberg, so there are going to be aliens, suspense, and a bit of childlike wonder℠. It's J.J. Abrams, so there will be elements of conspiracy and a quality of television smallness. A train will derail while some kids are trying to make a zombie movie on the kind of film you had to develop at a Kodak center. It's set in 1979, although not a version I find 100% authentic, but close enough for secondhand nostalgia. I figure Abrams is a child of the '80s trying to mythologize an era the way his fore-bearers did with shit like The Wonder Years, but even Generation X lacks the full-blooded egocentricity that only the Baby Boomers could conjure up as the sheltered spawn of The Greatest Generation.

The script is dumb and full of conveniences without logic. There's a Paul W.S. Anderson level lack of regard for linear transition at times, and the flick is atonal as fuck. The adult characters are all assholes, and despite much effort, they never really redeem themselves in a way that resonates. It doesn't matter, because the kids are alright, and we all fall in love with Elle Fanning like we're supposed to (purely platonic, or Hanson sic balls.) You can spend the entire movie pointing out the obvious, arch influence of other movies, but it's still very well shot and nicely directed. It's a shaggy dog that's tough to hate and easier to like, so let's just do that.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out (2011)



You're Robert Kirkman, and you've already seen far more success with a fucking zombie comic than anybody would ever have dreamed possible. You've passed the three-quarters of a hunnerd mark, and you don't know if that (cable) network mini-series (season my ass) is going to go over. Understandably, you might feel pressure to simultaneously offer a major(ly hyped) story arc to capitalize on what might end up being the greatest visibility of your career. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I understand, and I forgive, but "No Way Out" was just okay.

As usual, we had our slow build volume or two, and this was supposed to be the pay-off. There's a couple of "oh fuck" splashes. One either didn't sell itself properly, or is just so common at this point as to have no impact. I think a two-page spread might have been in order, but that came later with the only real slap in the face offered. Unfortunately, I had that spoiled by a Tucker Stone review, so my response was "so that's where that happened." It's kind of telegraphed, so I like to think I would have seen it coming.

Without ruining it for anyone, it should come as no surprise that zombies overcome obstacles to get to innocent people. That's happened once or twice before, per volume, minimum. Nothing clever comes out of dealing with it. Fucked up shit happens to characters that had already outlived their usefulness. I won't say whether or not we lose another long lived cast member, but unless you're some kind of serious sissy, don't expect to shed any tears. Rick continues to test the outer limits of his being a sympathetic protagonist, but at this point he's already my least favorite old timer, so I'd be fine if he finally crossed the point of no return. Most of the people I like better had at least one strong character moment to dig on, and Carl got several. There's a twist or two, including the big resolution, but this one is really business as usual. Someone's saving the serious shit for the centennial, or we're in a holding pattern while Kirkman gives all those interviews for the TV show. Don't go forgettin' where ya come from, boy...


Monday, July 4, 2011

A Frank Review of "Eyes Without a Face" (1960)

The Short Version? I lost mine, so we'll take yours.
What Is It? Moody Horror.
Who Is In It? French people (and an Italian.)
Should I See It? No.



Twice in the 1980s I checked a large hardcover book out of a public library which offered a critical analysis of the hundred or so greatest horror movies up to that point. While I've never made a concerted effort to track down most of the flicks, I have this mental checklist that I've gone through over the years when opportunities to see movies from that list have presented themselves. I can finally mark off "Les Yeux Sans Visage," whose objective worth I can see, but like many of those movies, subjectively was found wanting.

The film opens with a female assistant (Alida Valli) dumping the nude corpse of a disfigured young woman in a river, so you can't accuse it of lallygagging like many old horror movies. The dead girl was the victim of Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur,) a master control freak and plastic surgeon driven to recover the face of his daughter. Christiane Génessier (Edith Scob) has been wasting away in seclusion since her features were mangled in a car accident, for which her father was responsible. To atone, the doctor has taken to grafting the beautiful faces of other, unwilling women over his daughter's. However, the grafts tend not to take, so Christiane spends most of her time wearing an unnerving, featureless mask.

As mentioned previously, the film cuts to the chase, laying out all the grisly details in the first reel. There's no stalling, red herrings, or other irritants common of the time. Unfortunately, there's also nowhere for the movie to go beyond its premise. Instead, the film sort of loiters in the Génessiers' world, depicting Christiane's mental breakdown, her father's frustration, and the machinations of their accomplice in procuring women for the experiments. As a result, the movie has a complete absence of sympathetic characters, instead relying on a host of villains who operate on pure text. Everyone's motivation is clear, so there's no ambiguity as they go through the expected motions. In that sense, it's something of a precursor to American Psycho, disturbing for its time, and not an experience one would rush to repeat. The difference is that Eyes Without A Face is terribly earnest, without the pleasure of satire.

The special effects are well ahead of their time, and I was surprised by the level of graphic detail in the heterograft operation that sees a young woman's face removed. The score can be amusingly off, and the tone of the film is rather bleak. At the same time, there's a clinical flatness to the proceedings, so that the audience is more likely to register disgust than terror. The final act gets into surreal territory, with some memorable imagery that recalls German impressionism, but the emotional blankness mutes its potential effect. I ended my viewing thinking about how potent a remake could be, with more capable artists employing virtually the same materials, just more effectively. In fact, there are any number of places where Eyes' influence can be felt, from '60s mod Wonder Woman comics to Halloween's Michael Myers to Vanilla Sky, all of them better realized than the source. I find it funny this was a scorned film upon release, embraced as a lost classic in modern times. I suspect that once again, critics' assumptions of the "simple" lives of earlier generations and lowered expectations play into retroactively making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Home" by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Written By: Jade Castrinos & Alex Ebert
Released: 2009
Album: Up from Below
Single?: #28 on Billboard Alternative Songs



Lyrics:
[Her:]
Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my ma and pa,
Not the way that I do love you.

[Him:]
Holy, Moley, me, oh my,
You're the apple of my eye,
Girl I've never loved one like you.

[Her:]
Man oh man you're my best friend,
I scream it to the nothingness,
There ain't nothing that I need.

[Him:]
Well, hot and heavy, pumpkin pie,
Chocolate candy, Jesus Christ,
Ain't nothing please me more than you.

[Both:]
Ahh Home. Let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Ahh Home. Let me go ho-oh-ome.
Home is wherever I'm with you.

La, la, la, la, take me home.
Mother, I'm coming home.

[Him:]
I'll follow you into the park,
Through the jungle through the dark,
Girl I never loved one like you.

[Her:]
Moats and boats and waterfalls,
Alley-ways and pay phone calls,
I've been everywhere with you.

[Him:]
We laugh until we think well die,
Barefoot on a summer night
Nothin new is sweeter than with you

[Her:]
And in the streets you run afree,
Like it's only you and me,
Geeze, you're something to see.

[Both:]
Ahh Home. Let me go home.
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Ahh Home. Let me go ho-oh-ome.
Home is wherever I'm with you.

La, la, la, la, take me home.
Daddy, I'm coming home.

(Talking)
Him: Jade
Her: Alexander
Him: Do you remember that day you fell outta my window?
Her: I sure do, you came jumping out after me.
Him: Well, you fell on the concrete, nearly broke your ass, you were bleeding all over the place and I rushed you out to the hospital, you remember that?
Her: Yes I do.
Him: Well there's something I never told you about that night.
Her: What didn't you tell me?
Him: While you were sitting in the backseat smoking a cigarette you thought was gonna be your last, I was falling deep, deeply in love with you, and I never told you til just now.

[Both:]
Ahh Home. Let me go home.
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Ahh Home. Let me go ho-oh-ome.
Home is where I'm alone with you.

[Him:]
Home. Let me come home.
Home is wherever I'm with you.

[Her:]
Ahh home. Yes I am ho-oh-ome.
Home is when I'm alone with you.

[Her:]
Alabama, Arkansas,
I do love my ma and pa...
Moats and boats and waterfalls,
Alley-ways and pay phone calls...

[Both:]
Ahh Home. Let me go home.
Home is wherever I'm with you.
Ahh Home. Let me go ho-oh-ome.
Home is where I'm alone with you...

...nurghophiles...

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