Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Laura Gemser Interview Excerpts from "A Hard Look" (2000)

Laura Gemser giving an interview

"This interview is a small part of the documentary "A Hard Look" by the British film director, journalist and actor Alex Cox. It was first released in 2000. It focuses on the making and the social effects the Emmanuelle / Black Emanuelle movies had and maybe still have today."

"It seemed like a long-- one long, long movie that didn't end. You know, it was always... the same story, the same things happens and... uhm... I'm... I think it's just one, one, one, one, one big movie...

When my first Emanuelle came out, there was this big poster, with me on it, and I was naked 'til here... and it was one day out, and they censored it. Censored-- can you say that? They took it off, and so people are curious to see it, because, you know-- it was-- and it's only twenty years ago... or maybe? So nowadays, you see-- everywhere, you see-- I mean, even in TV you see everything. You see-- I mean, in those days it was... rather... rather... How do you say it? Uh, scandaloso...

I know Francis Giacobetti because I made-- made pictures with him. Fashion pictures. And... he ask me if I do small, little, small role in his movie...

...You get used to it. I mean, it's hard to--to make love with the women. I mean, it's-- it's really hard. But, you know, you get paid for it, so you do it. You just... do it.

...I didn't really read the script, but they told me you were doing it-- I was doing it in Kenya, so I said yes... That's the only... idea-- to go to Kenya, and that for me was okay. I don't care about the script...

I will say I was... a journalist... a photographer... and they always sended me out to... to find some criminals... to get some drug criminals. There was a lot of drugs, right? And then.. there was always the same situation... always had to get myself undressed to get something... I don't know...

Any excuse is good to get-- get naked. I saw the one-- the first Emanuelle, because I was curious. But then... but then I felt baaad, because... I didn't expect to see... I refused a lot of scenes. They put in stand-in, and I didn't know. So... when I saw the movie... I really don't-- I rather felt bad... There was a scene... in a train. I think it was... she was making love with a whole... football team... or, I don't know. I don't remember. But, I refused that scene, and they used stand-ins, and-- I don't know what are the scenes... I forgot. Really, I forgot...

...A little bit tired of doing this, and I was trying to do some other kind of movies. But... I had that label on me, and it's very hard to get out of it. So I said 'I hate it,' so I stopped doing it."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Frank Review of "Exit to Eden" (1994)

The Short Version? Cops after crooks on S&M island.
What Is It? Romantic Comedy.
Who's In It? Rosie O'Donnell, Dan Aykroyd.
Should I See It? No.

Having made a killing off his direction on Beaches and Pretty Woman, Garry Marshall rewarded himself with a T&A fest. Still, he couldn't let go of his situation comedy roots, so he adapted Anne Rice's erotic sadomasochistic romance into a Harlequin romance, overly seasoned with an entirely invented buddy cop subplot... involving Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Aykroyd in fetish gear. Never mind that Marshall didn't seem to know the first thing about BDSM, and his island paradise looks like it was being defended off-camera by Ator, the Fighting Eagle. A tone deaf, stupid, dull, laugh-less, erection eradicating spectacle followed. As has been mentioned elsewhere, this movie stunk on ice, so I'll mostly focus on counting the ways.

Paul Mercurio was meant to be the next Patrick Swayze after Strictly Ballroom, but turned out more like Don Swayze, only with a less impressive resume. He's strictly awful here-- mugging for the camera, charmless, unconvincing, and not even particularly cute. How anyone with brain cells could fall for this idiot, I'll never know, but he's still working.

I had a serious crush on Dana Delany during her years on China Beach, and she's great at playing an Irish hardcase with a guilty conscience. She would have been perfect for the role of the female investigator, and I still hold out hope she'll land on a decent CSI incarnation like Marg Helgenberger one of these days. As a dominatrix, and especially some sort of queen domme? Fat fucking chance, though I appreciated the not-occasional-enough full frontal nudity. She's okay during flashbacks to her initiation, but even then she's trying to play way younger than rings true, and her delivery is strictly cornball.

Hector Elizondo provides the only gravitas here, as a master with the right presence and tools. Of course, he has about four minutes of screen time, most of it scored with "Sadeness (Part I.)" John "Bo Duke" Schneider in a cameo as a top? Not so much, but he only has about a minute of same, sans Enigma (though take heart, the band do return.)

Surprisingly, I don't hate Rosie O'Donnell. She's obnoxious and unfunny, but that's what people pay her for. If you eat at McDonald's, how can you blame the fry cook for your lousy meal? Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd is not obnoxious, but his unfunny was even stronger than O'Donnell's. Again, his filmography immediately prior to production included North, My Girl 2, and Coneheads. His most recent highlight was Dragnet. Duh.

Monday, December 29, 2008

nurghophonic jukebox: "Saturday Saviour" by Failure

Written By: Ken Andrews & Greg Edwards
Released: 1996
Album: Fantastic Planet
Single?: Uncharted





Sunday, December 28, 2008

1994 Marvel Pepsi (Mexico) Quicksilver Hologram #1

I mentioned in my blog about the 1995 Mexican DC Pepsi Cards that the set featured "Metalicas" chase cards for Flash and "Flash Reverso," as well as three of five holograms devoted to Flash, "Impulso," and, seriously, Max Mercury. Now we have a foreign exclusive Quicksilver card, featuring nobody's favorite anti-hero ever, which was merely basic card #13 from our '94 Fleer Flair set. That's all the attention domestic audiences would tolerate. This proves that as the French hail Jerry Lewis as a genius and Germans love David Hasselhoff, Speedy Gonzales is the single most influential American export South of the Border. See, my jaundiced perspective would have had me assuming they'd favor "aquatic" heroes, but clearly generations of running from La Migra has geared them toward super-speedsters.

If you'll excuse me, I have to prepare for my girlfriend's feeding me rat poison burritos tacos next time she cooks for me. While we await my final blog post ever, feel free to read up on this set here.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

1995 DC Comics Legion of Super-Heroes/Superboy Promo Card

The bearer of this card is a member in good standing of the Legionnaires, or so says this Omnicom card, meant to promote a crossover between an issue each of the team's dual contemporaneous titles and Superboy's.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Great Comic Book Heroes: Captain Marvel & The Spirit

"The problem with other superheroes was that the most convenient way of becoming one had already been taken. Superman was from another planet. One of the self-denigrating laws of all science fiction is that every other planet is better than ours... Superman had all other planets tied up legally. Those one or two superheroes who defied the ban were taken apart by lawyers (nothing as super as a writ)... The answer, then, rested with science... The Shield... Steel Sterling... Captain America... the Human Torch... And not only science... flying men, webbed men, robot men, ghost men, minuscule men, flexible-sized men -- men of all shapes and costume blackening the comic-book skies like locusts in drag..."

"Understandably, this Pandora's box of men-of-steel was viewed gravely by Superman... The most savage reprisals in comic books were, just as in revolutions, saved not for one's enemies but for one's own kind. If, for a moment, Superman may be described as the Lenin of superheroes, Captain Marvel must be his Trotsky." Jules Feiffer continued by describing the Shazam cast as "A Disneyland of happy violence," with Dr. Sivana singled out as "uncannily" resembling Donald Duck. "The Captain himself came out dumber than the average superhero -- or perhaps less was expected of him. A friendly fullback of a fellow with apple cheeks and dimples, he could be imagined being a buddy rather than a hero, an overgrown boy who chased villains as if they were squirrels. A perfect fantasy figure for, say, Charlie Brown." Feiffer took issue with the magic word "Shazam," a damned thing which worked for none of Captain Marvel's readership as it did for Billy Batson. "I had a vague feeling Captain Marvel was making fun of me. More and more of his adventures took on the tone of parodies... I was not prepared for frivolousness on the part of my superheroes!" Feiffer couldn't have cared less when Fawcett settled a lawsuit leveled by National, who felt Captain Marvel too resembled their Superman, and took the hero out of the game. His interests had moved on to more brutal but sophisticated fantasies, produced by a creator whose Wonder Man had also fallen prey to very similar litigation.

"Eisner had come to my attention a few years earlier doing a one-shot black-and-white feature called 'Muss "Em Up' Donovan in a comic book with the flop-oriented title of Centaur Funny Pages... Heroes and readers jointly conspired to believe the police were honest, but inept, well-meaning, but dumb -- except for good cops like Donovan,who were vicious. Arraignment was for sissies: a he-man wanted gore... wandered outside the reach of the law, pummeled everyone in sight, killed a slew of people -- and brought honor back to Central City, back to Metropolis, back to Gotham... In those pre-civil-rights days, we thought of that as a happy ending..."

"Will Eisner was an early master of the German expressionist approach in comic books... The underground terror of RKO prison pictures." Eisner had begun at Fiction House with 'Muss "Em Up' Donovan and Hawk of the Seas before moving on to the Quality Comic Group, where he helped create most of their signature features. "He'd draw a few episodes and abandon the characters -- bequeath them to Lou Fine, Reed Crandell, others. No matter. The Quality books bore his look, his layout, his way of telling a story... His high point was The Spirit, a comic-book section created as a Sunday supplement for newspapers..."

"Just as Milton Caniff's characters were identifiable by their perennial WASPish, upper middle-class look, so were Eisner's identifiable by that look of just having got off the boat. The Spirit reeked of lower middle-class: his nose may have turned up, but we all knew he was Jewish... What's more, he had a sense of humor. Very few comic-book characters did... Spirit's violence often turned in on itself, proved nothing, became, simply, an existential exercise... The Spirit could even suffer defeat in the end... Not that he wasn't virile. Much of the Spirit's charm lay in his response to intense physical punishment. Hoodlums could slug him, shoot him, bend pipes over his head. The Spirit merely stuck his tongue in his cheek and beat the crap out of them... I collected Eisners and studied them fastidiously. And I wasn't the only one. Alone among comic-book men, Eisner was a cartoonist other cartoonists swiped from."

The Great Comic Book Heroes is available from publisher Fantagraphics Books and from in either the slim essay-only or original hardcover formats, the latter with copious Golden Age reprints.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Polish Movie Posters

Polish movie posters first came to my attention through a series of novelty articles at CHUD. Therein, the editors would take a picture from a Google image search and assign it a movie title, in an attempt to compete with the seeming randomness found in the Polish works. Through excellent reference pages such as this and this, I came to understand that the iconic poster art associated with the Socialist movement bled into their state-sponsored film industry. As noted on Mekatharra, "Polish posters for American films exhibit that rare trait of having absolutely no interest in marketing a film in a conventional way. In other words, a Polish film poster is first and foremost an abstract piece of artwork. This can be both fascinating and sometimes a bit disturbing at the same time." Thanks to Socialism, there were few if any commercial considerations regarding film, providing artists with another avenue of expression, as opposed to our inclination to sell an audience with the same devices to turn a safe profit.

The golden years apparently began in the mid-'50s, through the beginning of a slow, steady decline in the '60s. The movement was effectively dead by 1989, thanks to the fall of the Soviet Union. A Pole who lived during this era noted in a blog, "The posters often revealed the designer's lack of knowledge of cultural movie context which was kind of funny. But a lot of these were based on clever ideas shortly and precisely describing a movie that'd give a poster a life of it's own."

Here is a collection of some favorites I've found while visiting sites like Retrocrush, Polish Poster Gallery, The Art of Poster, Polish Poster Shop and Cinema Poster. At times you can make a game out of trying to determine in what way the images relate to their associated movie, but each is worth a gander for art's sake. I also recommend taking a look at the above links, to see how some of your favorite films came out Polished.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

1997 Just Comics Merry Xmas Suicida Private Commission

Created and owned by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, the latter supplied this piece featuring the Marshal Law villain engaged in a depraved deviation of holiday cheer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Frank Review of "Teknolust" (2002)

The Short Version? Living computer viruses want love, cum.
What Is It? Science Fiction/Chick Flick
Who's In It? Tilda Swinton, Jeremy Davies, Karen Black
Should I See It? No.

Imagine the least insightful and most aimless feminist-skewing philosophical musings. Marry them to the slowest moving low-key foreign sci-fi, like the stuff the French and former Soviets inflicted on viewers during the Cold War. Season with generally lousy acting and a tone akin to a basic cable sitcom. Find yourself with a perfect recipe for wasting 85 minutes of your life.

Tilda Swinton plays 3 1/2 characters, the sort of exercise that compels good actresses to "prove" their talent in really crap flicks. They include the scientist Rosetta Stone and her "Self Replicating Automatons," named Ruby, Marinne and Olive. They are essentially a cross between clones and a computer virus, each color coordinated. They live off sperm, but since the movie is pure saltpeter, don't expect anything approaching arousal. That would imply a discernible level of interest, where this movie could induce bradycardial issues. It takes the Species series semi-seriously, then gives it to a pedestrian director whose idea of vision is public access-quality effects. Jeremy Davies appears as the sweet-natured weirdo, because if Jeremy Davies appears in a movie, it is as a sweet-natured weirdo. It's as predictable as the sun rising in the east, Christopher Walken dancing, Jim Carrey mugging and Crispin Glover creeping you the fuck out.

I bought this DVD at a moving day garage sale for two dollars. I hope the sellers' U-Haul got a flat.

Monday, December 22, 2008

nurgh's Worst. Songs. Ever. #1: One Sided Love by Mandy Moore

It's been ages since I returned to "nurgh's Greatest Songs of Our Time," always intended to be a monthly feature. I've also neglected music-related posts in general, but I like to really take my time researching songs that fill me with joy. On the other hand, it occurs to me that there's a lot of wretched shit out there I could mock at the drop of a hat, so why not lay a steamer on you instead?

Of the teenybopper/jailbait trend of the late '90s/early oughts, I always felt the worst for Mandy Moore. See, Britney had the best production, Xtina had the best voice, and Jessica the most popular body. Avril had the anti-Britney (except in I.Q.) crowd sewn up, while Hillary Duff became the poster child for asexual purity and wholesome values. Then there's poor Mandy, whose overwrought production fails to hide her middling vocals and lyrics as poetic as any found in your average schoolgirl's Hello Kitty diary. She admits to having sex, but doesn't flaunt it, and her transition into film has been neither stellar nor embarrassing (save American Dreamz.) However, she also seems the be the most well-adjusted, genuine, and (Heaven help them) intelligent of the lot. I've been listening to her eponymous album, and it's pretty solid, if painfully redundant in theme and sound. One song does stand out in its painful mangling, prompting me to remind singers that, for their own sakes, at least don't screw up the chorus. Lavigne, a shoo-in for future Worst. Song. Ever. entries, is at least savvy enough to pull off reasonable sing-along choruses. Sampling good choruses has made the careers of otherwise entirely untalented rap artists. Mandy, learn from your *sigh* betters...

I know you're tried your best
But that's not good enough for me
Understand, nevertheless
Love's gotta go both ways

Well you push me to the left
Then you push me to the right
But you gotta meet me in the middle
If you wanna make this right

But you gotta believe....
So here it is, here it is, baby here it is....

I wanna help you out, tell you what it's all about
What I feel, what I need, how's it gonna be
So what you wanna do, what you really wanna do
'Cause I've decided everything i want from you

One sided love
Is never gonna work
So let me tell you something
That' I'm sure you've never heard of
Tender love and care
In case you're unaware
So I tell you what
Let me tell you where it's at
Hit me with your best shot

I'm giving you a second chance
But you gotta understand
If you don't know how to love me
I will find someone who can
So read my lips for the last time
I tell you now with no regret
if you don't get your act together
Even your name, I will forget

I wanna help you out, tell you what it's all about
What I feel, what I need, how's it gonna be
So what you wanna do, what you really wanna do
'Cause I've decided everything i want from you

One sided love
Is never gonna work
So let me tell you something
That' I'm sure you've never heard of
Tender love and care
In case you're unaware
So I tell you what
Let me tell you where it's at
Hit me with your best shot

(Best shot... best shot....)

One Sided Love.

One sided love
Is never gonna work
So let me tell you something
That' I'm sure you've never heard of
Tender love and care
In case you're unaware
So I tell you what
Let me tell you where it's at baby

Sunday, December 21, 2008

1995 DC Pepsi Cards (Mexico)

God bless her heart, my girlfriend was a little geek tomboy growing up in Mexico, and recently presented me with a binder full of her native comic book cards. Among them were a repackaging of the 1994 DC Master Series set, put out by the soft drink company. You know what the funniest thing about these Mexican cards is? It's the little differences. I mean they got the same stuff over there that they got here, but it's just-- just there it's a little different. Example?

Cards 1-37 feature the same characters, then Vandal Savage and the evil lesbian version of Raven are omitted, possibly because of the copious blood and flesh on those pieces. The Spectre and Deadman also vanish, possibly because of the rotting corpses present. There is also no checklist. In their place are some random cards from a whole other set, Batman Saga of the Dark Knight, allowing second solo appearances for Batman, Nightwing, Two-Face, The Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman and most curiously, Ra's al Ghul. Oddly enough, the only non-Gothamite to get an additional card was Hal Jordan, with art taken from a chase card. The Pepsi Cards rejiggered other chase cards from the set, eliminating the Double-Sided Spectra Etch in favor of additional cards, and offering five holograms not produced in the States.

Most of the alien names went unaltered, but for some reason, many heroes had the "the" in their names dropped. Just Flash-- Atom-- Guardian. The funniest was "Deathstroke, Terminator."

Is it safe to assume the Mexican cards are of a lower quality. Mmm-- yeah. The stylized foil lettering pressed for each character's name is replaced by flat print in a different font. The foreign cards are thinner, less glossy, and the printing isn't as good. Artist credits are tucked into the indicia, replaced by a new card number, as the old was covered by the "Pepsi Cards" icon. Pepsi Co. also assimilates the Skybox Master Series logo.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this little trip south of the border. I myself was frustrated by the lack of Detective Marciano, Gitana or even Triunfo cards for my Martian Manhunter blog. If you're also left wanting more, a handy checklist can be found here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Ice Harvest" (2005)

The Short Version? Dirty Deeds at Xmas time.
What Is It? Noir Comedy.
Who's In It? John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton
Should I See It? Yes.

A lot of hate has been directed at this supposed misfire, which is about par for a black comedy. It's a tricky genre, built specifically to alienate segments of its audience in search of misanthropic humor. In this case, the vehicle is film noir, the morally ambiguous crime picture that has also been known to turn back the more upright citizen. Between the two, you're bound to piss people off, as fans of one won't necessarily find the other palatable. Sure, the best noir points out the folly of life, but to be both arch and broad must seem an unforgivable sin to a purist. Meanwhile, it's also a Harold Ramis picture, so fans of Meatballs and Caddyshack aren't any more likely to appreciate the intentionally unlikable characters, nihilism, and detours into drama. For me, with exceptions, its a gas-- a swell anti-holiday romp.

This is to my mind easily John Cusack's best role since High Fidelity, playing a mob lawyer who, outside self-preservation and an object of lust, has very little interest in his life. I enjoyed watching Cusack wading deeper and deeper into a cesspool of his own making, as he's traded his boyish looks for a more defeated middle-aged slack, in the manner of fatherly Fred MacMurray's nastier turns. He's been numbed to his own existence, until being prodded to embezzle a small fortune from a gangster by Billy Bob Thornton, in one of those increasingly rare instances where he plays a son-of-a-bitch you want to see on screen. Things don't go quite as planned, and before you know it, a body count builds. The mad turns in a flick like this are what make it, so I'll spoil no further. Let me just say Cusack's character has a fair share of bitter pills to swallow, and the more enjoyment you can find in his resigned discomfort, the better off you'll be upon viewing.

Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, and Randy Quaid serve their parts well, while if Ramis is somewhat atonal in his presentation, c'est la vie. The director's one great misstep is in the awful, tacked-on theatrical ending, much improved on DVD by the option of an alternate. This one is recommended to only the most unrepentant Grinch.


  • Alternate Endings Essential to your walking away from this movie satisfied. The actual ending is d. u. m. b. Choose only the second though, as both include the entire last chapter from the film, and the first is a brief variation on the second.
  • Outtake with Billy Bob Thornton Channeling Carl from Swingblade.
  • Cracking the Story A solid seventeen minute talk with the author of the novel and the screenwriters about the production.
  • Beneath the Harvest A dull collection of interviews and on-the-set footage running thirteen minutes. Do they still run stuff like this as bumper material between pay-cable movies?
  • Ice Cracking: Analysis of a SceneHow the scene on the doc was shot.
  • Audio Commentary with Director Harold Ramis Typical stuff.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Underlining Meaningful Passages In My Copy Of The Qur'an: Sūrah 1- 2.29

Sūrah I: "Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds... Master of the Day of Judgment..."

Sūrah 1-2.7: Praise for the Muslim Bible.

Sūrah 2.8-12: "Of the people there are some who say, 'We believe in Allah and the Last Day,' but they do not believe. Gladly would they deceive Allah and those who believe, but they only deceive themselves, and realize not! In their hearts is a disease, and Allah has increased their disease, and grievous is their penalty, because they are false. When it is said to them, 'Make not mischief on the earth,' they say, 'Why, we only want to make peace!" Surely, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realize not.

Sūrah 2.13-16: "When it is said to them, 'Believe as the others believe,' they say 'Shall we believe as the fools believe?' No, surely they are fools, but they do not know. When they meet those who believe, they say 'We believe,' but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say 'We are really with you, just kidding before.' Allah will throw back their mockery on them, and give them rope in their trespass, so they will wander like blind ones. They have bartered guidance for error, but their traffic is without profit, and they have lost true direction."

Sūrah 2.17-20: Unbelievers are bad, and Allah will treat them very harshly.

Sūrah 2.21-22" "O ye people! Adore your Guardian-Lord," and here's more adulation to explain why Allah is grand.

Sūrah 2.23-26: "And if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a sūrah... call your witnesses... to prove your doubts. If you cannot, and you surely can't, then fear the Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones, which is prepared for those who reject Faith. But give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness, that their portion is Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits there from, they say, 'Why, this is what we were fed before,' for they are given things in similitude, and they have therein companions pure, and they abide therein. Allah does not disdain to use similitude in things, lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know it is truth from their Lord, but those who reject Faith say, 'What does Allah mean by this similitude?' By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads onto the right path, but he does not cause those to stray but which forsake Him"

Sūrah 2.27-29: Unbelievers are bad, and Allah will treat them very harshly.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Frank Review of "Rocket Science" (2007)

The Short Version? Teenaged Porky Pig picked for debate team.
What Is It? Indie Comedy.
Who's In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No.

Speaking as someone who saw Back To School, three Porky's, and too many films from the Patrick Dempsey and/or Christian Slater oeuvre in theatrical release, far be it for me to question the lousy taste of teenagers at cineplexes. Teen movies have been awful since at least the days of Frankie and Annette, which proves they're meant to be cheap and easy, like your date, and anyway, you aren't old enough to know better. No, what I don't get is at what point the quirky teen indie flick developed a formula and bankable audience? Napoleon Dynamite? Rushmore? Revenge of the Nerds? Brewster McCloud? Because I swear, I've seen this exact movie before. Maybe it was called Thumbsucker, or maybe Chumscrubber, or even something that doesn't end in "er" about an awkward male outcast placed in unusual circumstances to elicit knowing, pained amusement in the audience? Isn't this all a bit too specific a personality type for demographically targeted dollar grabs, because surely something so rote couldn't possibly have been intended as art?

Nicholas D'Agosto plays the nerd, whose st-- whose st--... He has a st-- you see, this speech imped-- a-- he can't... Yeah, that doesn't get old, does it? A mystical transference is hinted at that could allow his character to become a championship speaker, Anna Kendrick plays the love interest who anoints him as such, and hijinks ensue. I swear, I saw this film weeks ago, intended to at least get a review out of it, then promptly forgot it existed. When it isn't trying for that smug, self-aware indie vibe, it's borrowing from the John Hughes' toy box. Many of the best moments involve Long Duk Dong, here split into a father-son combo, so we can all laugh at the "skewering" of Asians stereotypes. Or not. Yeah, not.

The movie's one great accomplishment is that it unfailing flouts normal expectations of the story. I will give it that. It's generic and obvious, right up until it isn't, repeatedly. It's a good way to alienate any viewers who might take this as just another teen comedy, but the set-up comprises the entire picture, so that the joke seems like one of those rambling monstrosities that has lost all momentum before the punchline.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Marshal Law #6 (April, 1989)

Marshal Law #5 (December, 1988)

Marshal Law had the airport staked out for Buck Caine, strip searching suspects at gunpoint at his own discretion. The Public Spirit was likely wounded in his fight with the Sleepman, reducing his flying ability. After catching a decoy, Law knew his prey was nearby, and gave chase through an airliner graveyard. The Public Spirit was "pumping ions," using his powers in ways that temporarily increased his offensive capabilities, and swelling his body.

Meanwhile, SHOCC had recovered and partially revived the Sleepman, though Marshal Law had watched the waters where he sank for hours to insure his passing. Father Hood and Doc SHOCC expected he would have further use, but "at first Danny will have ze mind of an infant und need a new mother... Bring zem forward. I tried zis experiment on chimpanzees: I remove ze baby from its' natural mother at birth, to see which surrogate it would respond to... Soft Mother who is gentle und loving... or Wire Mother who is hard und cold, but ze provider of food..."

Marshal Law thought back to his time with Lynn, and reference she had for a college paper. "The secret symbolism of the Public Spirit. How he's really the ultimate phallic symbol of male power." Exploration of this notion-- combat heroes as sexual metaphor-- continued over the present action. Law recalled the aggrandizing Public Spirit bubble gum cards, contrasted against "Zone Cards," an underground affair that depicted the grisly truth of what happened during America's dirty super hero war. Joe Gilmore's childhood favorite was Public Spirit, and one had led him to the other. "I was five when he left for the stars-- I remember I'd wanted to wear my Public Spirit costume to school-- twenty-nine when he returned. But he never grew old. He was like the heroes in the comic books. Forever young. Like all those who died in the Zone. Forever young."

Marshal Law felt the Public Spirit had betrayed the American dream and the super heroic ideal, leading young soldiers to the slaughter by his example. Caine turned the example around, pointing out Law's responsibility as a role model for his son. Danny knew Marshal Law could never return the love of a born super hero, so he resolved the conflict by becoming the Sleepman to please his birth mother and surrogate father. Physically beaten down, Marshal Law flew into an impotent rage at the accusation, as his former hero continued the assault. "You wimp! You fairy fighter! Anyone can tell from looking at you, you're a faggot! A pinko! A leather-clad tinker-bell! That's what's wrong with this country today... The feminists and the pinkos and the faggots are trying to take over... spreading subversion-- like AIDS! Spreading perversion!"

Part of Caine's theory was confirmed when Danny, at Doc SHOCC's urging, chose his mother... "Ma... Ma... Marshal Law..."

Law managed to hit Public Spirit with a fear-inducing neuro-toxin. "The realization he was all washed up made Public Spirit go 'soft'. He seemed to shrivel up in front of me... Now I'd never dream of hitting a man when he's down... That's true, you know... Well, all right... it's partly true... Okay, it's a lie." The Marshal worked Caine over good, and was prepared to haul him in, when a sniper rifle spilled Caine's brains from out of his head. Commissioner McGland thought Law would be pleased, but "I was looking forward to the trial of this piece of shit... So people can see the lie... So it can't happen again." Alas, that would have been too much of an embarrassment, and McGland already had a plane crash cover story to insure the Public Spirit's continued legacy...

Marshal Law visited the grave of his girlfriend, who had written of him before she died as Public Spirit's Dark Star Nemesis. She had questioned what kind of role model this fascistic, sadistic, but potentially masochistic figure would be. Regardless, the future of super heroics was his...

Created and owned by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill

Monday, December 15, 2008

JLA: Salvation Run

This is a book about super-villains being sent off to a global prison filled with creatures trying to kill them. If you were asked what was wrong with DC Comics under Dan DiDio, and you didn't have copies of Countdown, this trade would be an excellent alternative summation. It seems like writer Matthew Sturges, with bait & switch opening chapters by Fables' Bill Willingham, was given a premise and series of plot points he had to fill in with journeyman investment. Perhaps on a later page he was supplied with a cast of characters, each with a one line description from which he based his usage. It isn't like there's much indication he knows or cares for most of his cast, as they're mostly a concern for artist Sean Chen.

Poor Mr. Chen is forced to draw one massive crowd scene after another, requiring all sorts of reference, whilst Mr. Sturges can rarely be bothered with the briefest of character sketches. Little wonder the lion's share of the focus is on the painfully overused Joker and Lex Luthor, characters readily familiar to any person exposed to popular culture over the last forty years or so. From there, you just go for the most violent and obvious option. If a villain has an exposed vulnerability, smash it to bits, regardless of any other consideration (like matching a powerful telepath against a goddamned clown.) If there are two intelligent apes, have one beat the other to death, because the other is surely superfluous. If things get stale, throw in a super-hero, who'll serve no actual story purpose whatsoever. Like every character and situation in the book, be stupid and brutal, and hope that alone entertains the audience.

Despite my earlier sympathy for Sean Chen, his art is not good. Everything looks sketchy and rushed, lacking depth. The story is awful and threadbare enough to distract from how ugly the pictures are, until, Joe Bennett steps in for a chapter, and puts all other parties involved to shame for wasting his talent on their association.

This book is shit, and it is easily discarded. So too is much of DC's "output." Avoid like the rubbish it is.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Frank Review of "Let the Right One In" (2008)

The Short Version? Prepubescent outcast boy falls for vampire.
What Is It? Foreign Horror Romance
Who's In It? I See Swedish People.
Should I See It? Yes.

I liked the Swedish film "Låt Den Rätte Komma In," possibly for its twists on genre. In truth, I can't figure out if its that or because, if stripped of its more Euro-centric sensibilities, it's such a slave to time-tested, audience pleasing formula. Something of a mash-up, really. Imagine if John Hughes had become fixated on The Hunger, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's the bittersweet coming-of-age tale of a bullied lad named Oskar who, had the film been made in its early 80's period setting, might have maybe been played by Anthony Michael Hall. Ally Sheedy could have been the vampire Eli, who moves into Oskar's apartments and accumulates a body count with her aide, Håkan. As Eli and Oskar grow closer, the boy's torments worsen, and Håkan begins causing problems of his own.

Broken down, it's a rather simple, predictable tale, but the execution is more than capable of selling it to the art house crowd. Those same hipsters are howling over a proposed remake next year by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves, though as I've noted, there's nothing inherently wrong with embracing the mainstream aspects of the story. In fact, Reeves has stated the intention of returning to the bestselling source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which involved darker elements barely hinted at in the version directed by Tomas Alfredson. Then again, the pedophilia angle would be lost if the leads were recast as teenagers in a PG-13 debacle, so it'll probably end up as a goddamned "Twilight" cash-in.

Returning to the film actually being reviewed, Låt Den Rätte Komma In has a wonderfully deliberate pace, and some visuals that are bound to stick with you. There is a restrained use of CGI and practical effects that pay off enormously in small doses, a lesson Hollywood is in desperate need of. Amidst the occasional gore and austere setting, there is also a genuine sweetness and some cutting dark humor. There's intriguing ambiguity at play as well, some of it the viewer can catch, with others requiring the perspective of the original novel. Regardless, there's subtext that upends the sometimes-too-conventional interests of the director's vision of the material that might just send you deeper into the story after the credits roll. If nothing else, the film is a success in providing enough investment for the audience to want to explore further.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Great Comic Book Heroes: Batman, Fox & Fiction House

Jules Feiffer noted the Golden Age Batman's owing more to "rich idlers who put on masks" than Superman, including the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, and especially the Green Hornet. "Batman got more meaningfully into the fray and, in consequence, was more clobbered... There was some reason to believe he had a glass jaw... Superman's superiority lay in the offense, Batman's lay in the rebound... With Superman we won; with Batman we held out own. Individual preferences were based on the ambitions and arrogance of one's fantasies." Feiffer suspected Batman fans had healthier egos, but with his poor marks and being bad with his hands, "I preferred to play it safe and be Superman."

"What made Batman interesting, then, was not his strength but his storyline... Kane's early drawings, pretentious and stiff, coordinated perfectly with his early writing technique -- a form of florid pre-literacy so typical of comic books of that day... Kane's strength, as did Shuster's, lay not in not in his draftsmanship (which was never quite believable), but in his total involvement in what he was doing (which made everything believable). However badly drawn and crudely written, Batman's world took control of the reader."

Like the Phantom, Batman helped popularize the notion that "when you put on your mask, your eyes disappeared. Two white slits showed -- that was all. If that didn't strike terror into the hearts of evildoers, nothing would."

The Batman's world was the most cinematic of his publishing line. "For just as the movie studios had their individual trademarks... so did comic books. National, who produced the D.C. line, was the MGM of the field. It had the great stars, the crisp-brittle lighting, the elder statesman touch -- smoothly exciting, eschewing the more boisterous effects of its less wealthy competitors... The opposite extreme was Fox -- the Monogram Studios of the industry. Fox had the best covers and the worst insides... Since the covers of Fox's books were drawn by good men and the insides drawn by bad men, the hero on the cover could only be connected to his facsimile on the inside by the design of his leotards... a slender, inadequate-looking hero who beat up slender, inadequate-looking criminals." Feiffer disparaged a pseudo-star Fox foisted on the public: Blue Beetle. The original was a moonlighting cop whose costume owed much to the Phantom, and somehow was supposed to terrify crooks. "He was a great favorite for a far longer time than he deserved."

"As Republic was to Monogram, Fiction House was to Fox. Its one lasting contribution: Sheena, Queen of the Jungle..." Her boyfriend Bob was cast in the Steve Trevor mode, and their adventures were of little interest to Feiffer. "Beating up lions did not particularly interest me; my problem was with people." His distaste extended to the rest of Fiction House's line, down to their "boxed, constipated" dialogue balloons. "Rectangular balloons were depressants... textbooky. They were no more to be trusted than those cartoons that gave up balloons entirely and ran an open narrative across the bottom of the panels -- cartoons trying their damnedest not to look or sound like cartoons -- set in the past tense, full of he saids and she saids. The past tense was a violation of comic-book decorum..."

The Great Comic Book Heroes is available from publisher Fantagraphics Books and from in either the slim essay-only or original hardcover formats, the latter with copious Golden Age reprints.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Frank Review of "Thriller: A Cruel Picture" (1974)

(Nudity, Violence, and a nasty opening scream...)

The Short Version? Mute girl forcibly turned out and mutilated seeks bloody revenge.
What Is It? Revenge Flick
Who's In It? Nobody
Should I See It? Maybe, with enough rot in yer gut.

"They Call Her One Eye," a.k.a. "Thriller - En Grym Film," a.k.a. "Hooker's Revenge," was the obvious inspiration for "Kill Bill." While I disliked Tarantino's overlong and underwhelming revenge saga, it might as well be "Citizen Kane" by comparison. I'd say above all else, "One Eye" is notable for its lack of dialogue, nor actors with any skill to speak lines. It's easy to say someone like Denise Richards of Shannon Elizabeth can't act, but they have a semblance of charisma, and get an "e" for effort. The performers in "Thriller," when burdened with speech, deliver with all the nuance of Max Stein reading stereo instructions aloud. The lead actress plays a young woman kidnapped, drugged, and forced into prostitution with such authenticity, you'd swear she was strung out on industrial strength depressants throughout shooting.

Actually, the movie itself seems stoned, with its lax, disinterested pacing and extended slow motion sequences. Outside of when the mute, cyclopean girl earns her nickname via scalpel through a reasonable approximation of an eye, the sex scenes are the true shockers. While edited during its U.S. run in the 70's, the Swedish original (banned in its native country) features pornographic imagery. While you may be used to famous actresses employing body doubles for nude scenes, it's quite another thing to see a nude actress disappear as a stand-in vagina takes actual cock in her place (much less a cum shot that signals the end of a portion of sodomy.) I guess I shouldn't be surprised Netflix carried this, as I'd previously rented "Shortbus" from them, but that at least was "art house"...

NSFW Abridged Version

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Frank Review of "Shortbus" (2006)

The Short Version? Sexually and emotionally dysfunctional 20-somethings visibly work their shit out.
What Is It? Dramedy
Who's In It? Nobody
Should I See It? Maybe.

John Cameron Mitchell's follow up to "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is quite graphic, especially between the gay couple. Even with fair warning, you just don't expect to see a man ejaculate into his own mouth in the first ten minutes of a movie. Porno movies save that sort of thing for the second reel. It is perhaps poetic, considering the storyline about the girl who can't reach orgasm, that the film doesn't so much reach a climax as just wander off into the final credit sequence. Still, the characters are likable, and I don't feel I wasted my time on it, but I don't expect to ever bother with it again. I forewarn though, I only got through about ten minutes of Hedwig before giving up, so that might just be me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Emanuelle in Bangkok (Conclusion, 1976)

Character Name: Emanuelle
Actress: Laura Gemser
Actual Movie Title: "Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage"
Known Aliases: "Black Emanuelle II," "Emanuelle in Bangkok," "Black Emanuelle Goes East," "Black Emanuelle En Orient"
Country of Origin: Italy
Character Nationality: United States
Occupation: Photojournalist
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Locales: Italy, Thailand, Morocco
Release Date: May 7, 1976 (Italy)
Director: Joe D'Amato
DVD: Black Emanuelle's Box, Vol. 1 (1976)
Stats: Third "Emanuelle Nera" film, second with Gemser.

Previously, in Part One.

Part Two: Emanuelle headed for the airport, where she petitioned the immigration office for exit out of the country. She then stripped for the authority in charge, promising sexual favors for escape, both granted. On the way out, Emanuelle ran into the now single Frances, who decided to make her way to Kathmandu. Emanuelle was headed to Casablanca to surprise Roberto. The pair ended up on the same plane until a transfer in New Delhi, and took advantage with a sapphic bathroom break. Black Emanuelle also offered up some bits of personal philosophy: "I never give up, and I never forgo anything... I never think about the future. The present-- It's only the present that counts in life, how much time we lose... I will help you, and you will feel happy."

Emanuelle made her way through Casablanca by coach, bus and foot before reaching the American Embassy, where a representative named Mr. Jackson promised to help her extend a 48-hour visa. A pretty young blond was listening in, and told Jackson she would wait for her father outside. She and Emanuelle shared a meaningful glance on the way out, and the girl later called out to Emanuelle as she hit the street. Debra (Debra Berger) was the daughter of another Debra, as well as the American consul, and had lived in the city for seven years. She was enamored with Emanuelle's beauty and exciting vocation, in sharp contrast to the fat tourists her father usually has to take by the hand. "I know that you are Emanuelle, the famous photo reporter." Debra invited the temporarily indigent Emanuelle to stay with her family.

After a short tour of Debra's home, Emanuelle felt comfortable enough to strip naked for a shower and nap, her new friend looking on much of the time. Later, Debra introduced Emanuelle to Tommy and her father, David (Venantino Venantini.) Emanuelle recognized the former as Thomas Quizet (Chris Avram,) an internationally translated graying author who covered ancient history, and from whose book Emanuelle had learned a lot about Greece. Debra's father made a crack about his daughter's preferring comic books, while Tommy noted he made friends with David because of his abilities to mix and drink alcohol well, for lunch and dinner. Over the course of the meal, Emanuelle told her Bangkok story, prompting David to recognize her as the journalist who discovered the oldest living man in the world, located in Siberia. David also warned Emanuelle of Debra's possessive nature with regard to friends, as she had already busted up several ill-fated near-marriages of Tommy's. Back in her room, Debra explained she'd been smoking for a couple of years after being inducted by a young Swedish archeologist, which reminded Emanuelle of Roberto.

Emanuelle made her way to Roberto's dig by donkey, where she met his lovely bespectacled college/fiancé Janet (Gaby Bourgois.) Emanuelle was happy for Roberto, but was still faced with Janet's quiet jealousy. On a walk with Emanuelle, Roberto revealed he'd perhaps overstated his interest in Janet to bed the girl, who needed to love her partner. Emanuelle felt naked without her camera, so Roberto lent her one. Later, Roberto shagged the petulant Janet while Emanuelle slept in the same tent, and enjoyed his spare hand.

The next day, Janet warmed to Emanuelle during a road trip, while the carburetor clogged with sand. The stranded trio were approached in the desert by Tuareg, a nomadic Arabic warrior tribe astride horses, brandishing scimitars and rifles. Emanuelle decided to ride with their party, and invited Janet, leaving Roberto to his own devices. The pair found themselves among a circle watching a nude black woman sorta-kinda belly dance to music, until Janet decided to join her. Emanuelle soon followed, as did a probable gang-sheiking of booty. After, Roberto jokingly protesting hearing anything about their naughty escapade.

Roberto took Emanuelle back to Casablanca, where he was briefly introduced to Debra. Later, Emanuelle was happy to receive her camera and other items from Bangkok through the help of David. "I'll never be grateful enough to your daughter." David approved of their friendship, though he bemoaned Debra's mercurial temperament. Since her mother died in childbirth, David had drowned his sorrows, leaving Debra much to her own devices. Thomas Quizet criticized his friend's alcoholism, though there might be hope for him when David returned to the United States in six months time. Emanuelle thought it was strange that the sharp tongued pair were otherwise so different, yet old friends. The pair initiated Emanuelle into their circle, with David insuring, "You can count on us for the rest of your life." Surprisingly, no three-way followed, and in fact the middle-aged men never appeared in another Emanuelle movie. Related?

Roberto and Janet visited Emanuelle, which gave Gabriele Tinti more time to fiddle with his glasses in lieu of characterization, and Janet the chance to dump him. "We're not engaged anymore, and the truth is we never really were... I won't miss you, for that matter." She had a lot more notches she wished to add to her near pristine bedpost. Emanuelle kidded her that she had more than she was mentioning, after that night with the Bedouins.

Back at the house, Debra showed Emanuelle her paintings for the first time. Emanuelle said she was talented, and that she wouldn't claim something she didn't truly believe. Emanuelle also gave Debra a pep talk about her self-confidence, seeming increasingly like an inspirational Wonder Woman, but with occasional hardcore inserts instead of a magic lasso. Debra had abandonment issues, though Emanuelle made it clear her job would carry her away eventually. To soothe her friend, the pair bathed each other over the soothing tones of the love theme from "Emanuelle in Bangkok," obviously sans cock. English lyrics include, "Sweet Emanuelle... I want to say goodnight, just as your mother would."

Walking through a marketplace, Emanuelle continued to improve Debra's self-image and offer her own philosophy. "I don't even know what kind of woman I am anymore, and I stopped thinking about it a long time ago... I was able to achieve my freedom. And I choose my life. Men, friendships, what I want to do, how I want to spend my life... You still have to learn not to be scared of anything..." Roberto spotted the girls from his ATV, and offered a ride home. He was pretty much immediately in Emanuelle's bed, devouring her. Debra silently, though conspicuously, looked on from around a corner and fondled herself. Roberto caught her out of the corner of his eye, stopped everything, and began mocking her. Emanuelle felt, "Your irony is stupid and out of place." Roberto began to manhandle Debra, insinuating she was a pervert. Emanuelle threw him out, and offered solace. "Men assault you when they are weak, when they're losing, and when they are not able to understand." By solace, I also mean cunnilingus.

Emanuelle met with Thomas Quizet, and told him about being over heels in the love that dare not speak its name because its tongue is still sore from last night. Quizet admired the dichotomous Debra, and explained that Emanuelle's strong infatuation might be driven by her being every kind of desirable woman to Debra: mother, friend, mentor and lover. He also warned that she should allow pleasure to turn into a dangerous game. "Consider that everything; sex, pleasure, is a game. It's wonderful, but it's a game all the same." Quizet took rolls of Emanuelle's film to deliver to her director, and confessed he would have liked to sex her up. Emanuelle considered the same, but the time was just never right. "The world is not that big, and I am sure that we'll meet again."

Emanuelle seemed genuinely in love with Debra, and decided to break off her pseudo-relationship with Roberto. In her confusion, she maybe even considered setting down roots? Then again, she recognized the absurdity of it all-- the allure of the taboo.

Debra showed Emanuelle a painting she had done a Nera nude, then presented Emanuelle with a letter from New York. She was being sent on an assignment to Paris, but was still without her passport. Ashamed, Debra revealed to a suddenly stern Emanuelle that she had been hiding the passport since her father retrieved her camera. Emanuelle softened, but both women knew their time was over. At the airport, Emanuelle swore to never part with her painting, then turned and left without a kiss or another word... and that shitty, goonie alternate score kicked in as the credits rolled.

Notes: This was the third "official" Emanuelle Nera film... at least as official as a knock-off series can get. However, it's only the second for actress Laura Gemser, who was replaced in the first sequel by Shulamith Lasri. I offer as a fan wank that you could either count Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman (1975) as the second Gemser "Nera" appearance (and a crossover to boot) or ignore "Black Emanuelle 2" entirely, as that actress played a different character. Besides, "Orient Reportage" was actually released before "Black Emanuelle 2," and was the first directed by the series-defining Joe D'Amato.

In the French version I saw, Thomas Quizet is named "Tommy Griffith" in the credits.

Venantino Venantini ("David") had played "William Meredith" in the first Black Emanuelle, the infamous polo player in "Emmanuelle 2," and would next appear in "Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade."

Summation: One of the most coherent Black Emanuelle stories, even if it was soap operatic nonsense with weak sex scenes and a crippling lack of fucked-up shit. Also the most clearly influenced by the official Emmanuelle films, with the Prince, Quizet and even Emanuelle herself offering Mario/Jean philosophical nuggets. You've got the young girls being lead into the ways of raunch, the doomed Sapphic romance, the jealous lover, the post-rape consent, etc. etc. This film really needed to mix sex and death in disturbing ways, which is one advantage "Black Emanuelle 2" had in tying to the rest of this series.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Ruins" (2008)

The Short Version? Young WASPs eaten by evil plants in Mayan temple.
What Is It? Horror
Who's In It? Jena Malone
Should I See It? Maybe.

The Ruins is about as serious and high quality a production as one could expect from a killer plant movie. Jena Malone is as always excellent, taking a slight, potentially irritating character and giving her the presence of an actual person. The rest of the pretty twenty-something cast, including Shawn "Iceman" Ashmore, are less successful. Still, you believe they're suffering, and that's all they exist for. I mean, come on-- we're not here for high art. This is about people dying in long, painful, gruesome ways that make you and your friends howl and squirm. Done. We've got things sliding into the human body that ought not to. We've got amputation and mutilation. We've got head shots that enter through the nose. We've got the Audrey II at maximum overdrive. If that's your thing, what more need be said, except perhaps to make a point of watching the darkly comic alternate ending?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Frank Review of "Waitress" (2007)

The Short Version? Waitress gets knocked up by asshole husband, but finds escape with her OB/GYN.
What Is It? Comedy
Who's In It? Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith
Should I See It? Maybe.

I've heard that the only widely accepted bigotry in modern life is directed at the obese. I would refute that claim, as Waitress proves misandry continues to thrive at the cineplex. Yes, another one of those tales where every single woman is quietly heroic, and every single man in a jerk, either overtly or otherwise. This is a chick flick somehow afforded indie caché, based on the film's protagonist being allowed a few negative attributes, and perhaps some slight twists along the way. Still, for a film of its stripe, writer-director-actress Adrienne Shelly exceeds the audience's expectations. Though self-consciously quirky, and occasionally too precious or broad, I found Waitress ultimately managed to win me over.

This movie has many problems. Like The Astronaut Farmer, it tries to balance real world issues with a fairy tale quality, but fails the delivery on both. They even share a ridiculous windfall scenario that solves pretty near all the complications set up during the running time. The Southern Fried characters are a bunch of lovable yokels, to be laughed at as much as with, and they feel completely fabricated. Again though, it begs forgiveness, and you're likely to grant it.

Keri Russell does an fantastic job of carrying the picture, completely believable as a depressed, sarcastic woman who cannot summon affection for her pathetic husband nor expected child. She is outmatched only by Andy Griffith, deliciously caustic and totally in his element whenever he appears. Nathan Fillion is as charming as ever, but his country-boy-by-way-of-Canada voice makes one wonder why his character's being from Connecticut wasn't written out of the script. Cheryl Hines seems to have based her entire performance on Flo from old "Alice" re-runs. Jeremy Sisto does his best to give depth to the bad material he has to work with as the needy, abusive husband.

Adrienne Shelly is said to have written the picture as a vehicle for herself, and it shows. She's clearly in love with her heroine, and allows none of the other characters to exist in a real way beyond sitcom fare. This extends to her own conciliatory part, which she plays well, but in which she graces herself much more screen time that was genuinely warranted. However, she proved a strong director with a clear vision for what she wanted, and women who relate to her star are liable to fall hard for the picture. Waitress has some genuinely witty dialogue at times, and serves up a big 'ol slice of wish-fulfillment for those in need of comfort pie.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Super-Heroes On Gay Marriage

Superman: "I've vowed to protect all the peoples of the Earth, which means I must avoid taking stances on political issues like this. It could compromise my access the world over."

Spider-Man: "Oh man, I so don't want to talk about marriage anymore. Seriously. But look, whatever makes people happy, I say go for it."

Batman: "No. I've heard the whispers-- about what goes on between myself and my boy companion in the Batcave-- for years. Every time some 'artist' tries to appropriate our image for their agenda, I call my lawyers. Whenever I think of them, it reminds me of the times the Joker has touched me inappropriately. It makes me want to smash their faces with my gloved fist."

Nightwing: "I shaved my legs and wore short pants with pointed booties until I turned eighteen. Any hang-ups I had about sexuality, I worked out years ago."

Daredevil: "The precident is pretty clear on this, which explains why judges are now regularly overturning gay marriage bans. The United States should not tolerate second-class status being bestowed upon any of its legal citizens, regardless of sexual preference."

Captain Marvel: *blush* "I-- you mean-- and they-- ? Holy Moley, I've got to go!"

Ghost Rider: "Only the guilty must fear my Penance Stare!"

Green Arrow: "You fundamentalists and the rest of you sex police are no better than Darkseid!"

The Hulk: "Hulk say people are people! Why can't people life in harmony?!? Why can't people leave Hulk alone!?! Hulk smash all people!!!"

Hawkman: "Filthy humans and your deviant practices! It's unclean, and spreads disease amongst your kind!"

Wolverine: "Ain't my business, one way or the other. Your's neither. Let 'em be, eh?"

Wonder Woman: "My Amazon nation of Themyscira is often referred to as 'Paradise Island.' There is a reason for that. Also, when I first came to Man's World, I read all of your Judeo-Christan-Islamic Bibles. There were no derogative mentions of lesbianism, and far fewer condemnations of male homosexuality than of the still common practices of eating pork and committing adultery. Suffering Sappho, why can't people just respect one another in this modern age!"

Iron Man: "If they want to be as miserable as the married couples I know, that's their problem, not mine. I've got real issues to deal with, like superhuman registration, directing S.H.I.E.L.D., the 50 State Initiative, and a Skrull invasion."

The Flash: "I'm from the Midwest. We don't believe in all that liberal nonsense. I've worked alongside and fought against gays, so I don't deny the lifestyle, but Christian marriage is between a man and woman. It's a simple fact."

The Thing: "Y'know, we all talked about that stuff at the H.Q., and we all figger it's no big deal. Reed yacked about all that anthropological yadda-yadda, an' Sue n' Johnny both get all their fashion tips from the light-in-the-loafer types. What's the harm?"

Green Lantern: "I've visited more planets than I can count, and been exposed to about as many different cultures. It's hard to get bent out of shape over Proposition 8 when you're serving the laws of the Guardians of the Universe."

The Punisher: "I saw my wife and children gunned down in front of me. I've spent decades since ridding the world of scum in their memory. I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I don't want to see some chic queer meth-heads turning it into a joke."

Aquaman: "I can name sixteen fish and four amphibians, including salmon, that practice homosexuality. It's natural. Your certificates mean nothing."

The Mighty Thor: Verily, thine gods in Asgard wish her people to make the womb fruitful. Thou shouldst not be as fuðflogi nor flannfluga, but produce offspring who wouldst till the soil. Still, should a man find needs unfulfilled whilst away from womenfolk in battle, he may satisfy the call of his loins with a lesser male. 'Tis preferable thou dost not become sansorðinn, as it dost not befit the warrior!"

John Constantine: "What, did Thatcher drop a bastard child in the States and name her Coulter on the way back 'cross the pond? Why should anyone care if some bloke up another wants to make like husband and wife?"

Captain America: "It's a common misperception that I'm some sort of nationalist, fighting for the interests of one political party or another. People also forget I'm a New Yorker who lived through Prohibition. I even grew up with a gay childhood friend, though I didn't find that out for years after. I've sworn to the Uniformed Services Oath, which means I'm willing to give my life to support and defend the ideals of the Constitution signed by our Founding Fathers in 1776. Based on it, the Bill of Rights, and the spirit behind their creation, I can't imagine their intention was ever to restrict the freedom of our nation's citizens. If consenting adults are willing to enter into the union of marriage, regardless of gender, I'm perfectly willing to defend their choice to do so."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reservoir Dogs vs. The Usual Suspects

I'm trying to determine once again what my all-time favorite movie is. This process usually falls apart after a while, but I've watched enough favs since last year to feel like I can finally pull this off. Since these are all-time, I'm trying to look at dated picks that have perhaps fallen out of favor over the years. Both of these two qualify, and I even put them into a heist marathon (also featured: "Sexy Beast" and "Snatch") to make them feel more relevant. Still, neither cuts the mustard as a top tenner anymore.

Quentin Tarantino vs. Bryan Singer & Christopher McQuarrie
Obviously Quent revolutionized cinema with his work as a writer-director in the early 90's, but many may forget that Siskel and Ebert gave "Reservoir Dogs" two thumbs down on release. It's certainly true the material seemed more fresh at the time, and 20/20 hindsight reveals how "written" the supposedly natural script now sounds. I've found "Reservoir Dogs" gets weaker with each successive viewing, and seems merely a prelude to the masterpiece that was "Pulp Fiction."

Meanwhile, "The Usual Suspects" was initially viewed as riding on "Reservoir Dogs" coattails, but in fact the film holds up better than its supposed inspiration. While I'd say the film owes a debt to both of Tarantino's initial directorial efforts, there's an Old Hollywood class to "Suspects" that both those films lack. Much of the tone and framing of the picture seems right out of 50's noir. While there is as much graphic violence in Singer's film as Tarantino's, the air of intrigue trumps their intensity so that you just don't notice. "The Usual Suspects" makes no pretense about being anything but a deliberately crafted story, and I think that gives it the edge.
Winner: Singer/McQuarrie

Tim Roth vs. Gabriel Byrne
Wow, but this is a blowout. Roth plays the American Mr. Orange in "Dogs," which seems like retaliation for the Englishman Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins." His accent is horrible, wavering, and downright hilarious when he occasionally sounds like Grover off "Sesame Street." I finally came around to Roth's work in "Four Rooms," but generally speaking, I pass on movies with his name on them. He was the obvious weak link in his cast. Meanwhile, Gabriel Byrne was in "Miller's Crossing." I need not say more, but even Byrne will concede that he essentially plays variations of himself in every movie. That's okay, because he's an engrossing individual, and he's smart enough not to overextend himself as Roth did.
Winner: Byrne

Harvey Keitel vs. Kevin Spacey
Woo boy, but this one's tougher. I happen to think these roles were among both actors' best, and they carry them off marvelously. Spacey's is the showier performance, but did you ever doubt Mr. White's conviction or sympathy? Still, as has been often noted, Spacey not only has to play a palsy sufferer, but give an additional subliminal second performance on top of the first that rewards repeat viewings. This was a deserved star-maker for Spacey, so...
Winner: Spacey

Michael Madsen vs. Stephen Baldwin
I really wanted to avoid this match-up, but how could I? Both of these guys play the homicidal sociopaths in their respective films, both oozed charisma, and both squandered any audience love and respect for the rest of their careers. Forget "Bio-Dome"-- since finding Jesus Baldwin has appeared in a third generation knock-off of "Point Break" combined with the Wesley Snipes' vehicle "Drop Zone," which co-starred Tom Berringer and Dennis Rodman. Since finding that tequila worms taste better than gummy bears in equal quantity, Michael Madsen bypassed "Free Willy" as a career low and moved on to a Uwe Boll production co-starring Meatloaf and the Terminatrix. I confess to having a Man-Crush for Baldwin in "U.S." and nowhere else (he reminded me of Roger Moore in "Ffolks",) but everyone knows this is Mr. Blond's category.
Winner: Madsen

Steve Buscemi vs. Kevin Pollock
Quick: Name a Steve Buscemi movie before "Dogs." Quick: Name a Kevin Pollock movie after "Suspects." Now you understand why Steve Buscemi has carved a respectable niche for himself in Hollywood, while Pollock has become the Geoffrey Lewis to Bruce Willis' Clint Eastwood. Sometimes less is more.
Winner: Buscemi

Benicio Del Toro vs. Quentin Tarantino

It's been said Quent really wanted to act. Well, Del Toro turned his nothing role into another scene stealer, while Tarantino made the first of many grating cameos that reminded everyone why it's best directors usually stay behind the camera.
Winner: Benicio

Chazz Palminteri vs. Laurence Tierney
Hands down, the best behind the scenes stories came out of Tierney's presence, but onscreen, I've got to go with Dave Kujan.
Winner: Palminteri

Chris Penn vs. Pete Postlewaite
In a bit of a shake-up, I really do like Chris Penn. He's a fun guy in real life, and I'll take his silly "filmography" over all Pete's "serious work." Besides, he's dead now, so it's nice to see him win some kind of recognition, even posthumously.
Winner: Penn

Well, it seems my loyalties are with "The Usual Suspects," though I found neither flick could crack my top films list...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Emanuelle in Bangkok (Part One, 1976)

Character Name: Emanuelle
Actress: Laura Gemser
Actual Movie Title: "Emanuelle Nera: Orient Reportage"
Known Aliases: "Black Emanuelle II," "Emanuelle in Bangkok," "Black Emanuelle Goes East," "Black Emanuelle En Orient"
Country of Origin: Italy
Character Nationality: United States
Occupation: Photojournalist
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Locales: Italy, Thailand, Morocco
Release Date: May 7, 1976 (Italy)
Director: Joe D'Amato
DVD: Black Emanuelle's Box, Vol. 1 (1976)
Stats: Third "Emanuelle Nera" film, second with Gemser.

Story: In a pre-title sequence, Emanuelle worked in a dark room with a randy fellow who seduced her. Not exactly James Bond, but certainly a taste of what to expect. Next came wacky theme music that recalled Roger Miller, so far from left field Emo Phillips says "Hi." Emanuelle then wandered city streets, until being met by her archeologist friend Roberto (Gabriele Tinti) and boarding a steamboat. The pair had agreed to travel together until reaching Bangkok, at which point Roberto would continue to a dig, while she would remain to begin an investigation. Eating in the dining room, Emanuelle took note of Roberto's flattery and mild jealousy, before the pair adjourned to make love to the rhythm of the ship's pistons. An alternate, less absurd Emanuelle theme chimed in.

Having made port, Roberto tried once more to talk Emanuelle into staying together. She didn't see them as a viable couple, with their globe-trotting careers. "Remember our agreement, each one on his own path. Don't ruin everything with romantic nonsense." Goodbye kisses were exchanged, and Emanuelle stepped into her waiting car, where she found a bouquet of pink flowers and a note: "Prince Sanit welcomes his lovely guest Emanuelle." Her driver literally took the scenic route before dropping her at the hotel. He refused her tip, so we can all blame the director for the padding. Escorted to her room, Emanuelle found a fit Thai bellhop running her a bath. She wasted little time in doffing her clothes while the bellhop looked on, though he proved skittish and made his exit.

Emanuelle met the cousin of the king, Prince Sanit (Ivan Rassimov,) for dinner on a boat. She pressed him for access to the king to obtain photos and an interview, but his price had risen since he last offered his service. Dollar figures weren't so much a concern as a desire for Emanuelle's continued company, which she accepted. The pair toured Bangkok, as the Prince explained royal lineage, and how his pro-American views were in direct opposition to the king's. Emanuelle spotted an Anglo man in sunglasses and military greens with long, heavily receded hair spying on her.

Prince Sanit sent Emanuelle to visit a massage parlor he recommended highly, where she was tended to by Gee (Koike Mahoco.) Though the body-to-body massage isn't even as interesting as Emmanuele 3's pale imitation of Gemser's own from Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman, the girls decided to become fast friends. The pair chatted while touring the markets, then lunch, before Emanuelle returned to her hotel alone. She again spotted her stalker (Fausto Di Bella,) and brushed off an awkward advance from the concierge before bathing in her room. She found the bellhop hiding in a corner, and invited the timid young man to dance, as well as give her a far more engaging massage. Unfortunately for the poor boy, Roberto came knocking on the door, signaling that he would go no further. Roberto's jeep had broken down, forcing his return to Bangkok. "Emanuelle, you really are incorrigible."

Later, Roberto took Emanuelle and Gee to meet the American couple who gave him a lift back to civilization. Jimmy (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) and Frances (Ely Galleani,) tourists who'd pretty much seen the whole world, claimed, "There's nobody in Ohio who has a [souvenir] collection like the one that we have." The wealthy pair of republicans got on famously, and never fought. Director D'Amato played with perspective to really show off the sights during this obligatory travelogue sequence through temples and villages. There was even a dazzling sword fight and exotic strippers (to be poorly swiped for Emmanuele 3.)

Everyone ended up back at one of Prince Sanit's homes, smoking opium. Unsurprisingly, an orgy followed. Match Card: Roberto vs. Frances; Jimmy vs. Gee; Roberto & Jimmy vs. Emanuelle; Frances vs. herself; Frances vs. Gee. Once everyone else had passed out, Emanuelle and Prince Sanit moved on into a room of their own. The prince waxed pseudo-philosophical in the manner of Mario, while trading nekkid massages.

The next day, Emanuelle visited a village alone, snapping shots of a bloody cage match between a cobra and mongoose (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi victorious.) Why? 'Cuz.

Emanuelle returned to her hotel room to strip, only to find Roberto banging Gee in her bed. Why? Why ask why? Emanuelle briefly looked on smiling, then headed poolside, and met Jimmy. It seemed the night before had hit the married couple "like an atomic bomb," making them recognize their complacency and lack of sexual dynamic. They separated, with Frances intent on amicably returning alone to the States. Roberto and Gee soon joined Emanuelle and Jimmy, then the archeologist split off with Emanuelle. They mocked the dissolving marriage, wondering who gets custody of all those souvenirs? Roberto was off to a new dig 200 miles east of Casablanca, while Emanuelle was set to interview the first mistress of the king. Roberto wished she would join him, but the Italian was again rebuffed. "Life would become boring for us, and we could ruin everything."

Left alone at Bangkok International Airport, Emanuelle returned to her hotel room to find it ransacked. Her cameras, pictures and passport were all missing. The bellhop explained "I tried to hold them back, but they were too many." The concierge arrived in time to be briefly scolded as Emanuelle stormed out of the hotel.

Arriving at Prince Sanit's house, Emanuelle found it abandoned, save for an upturned bouquet of pink flowers. Emanuelle was confronted by her stalker, and a mass of additional creeps soon materialized. Emanuelle was sexually assaulted, but began to turn the tables on her attackers with gentle caresses. It seemed to soften their hearts, though not their pricks, as Emanuelle was gang raped. Still, she heard Prince Sanit words about her erotic powers again in her mind, and seemed to take the ordeal largely in stride. Her stalker even walked her out to a car, explaining she needed to leave the country, as Prince Sanit was now under investigation regarding a coup conspiracy. The prince was in prison, awaiting exile, while the stalker was merely a hireling of the king. He encouraged Emanuelle to contact the local authorities about her missing passport...

...To Be Continued...

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Astronaut Farmer" (2006)

The Short Version? Failed astronaut turned farmer builds rocket, but ticks off government.
What Is It? Family film
Who's In It? Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Blake Nelson, J.K. Simmons
Should I See It? No.

I love Billy Bob Thornton as a screenwriter, and often like him as an actor, but I wish he did more of one than the other. The man is not the most discerning when it comes to performing other folks' scripts, y'see. For instance, this movie, while good-natured, is just all kinds of dumb. It seems to chase the Disney crowd, but Billy Bob's character is too much of a flake and questionable role model to sit well with that lot. He plunges his family deep in debt, yanks his kids out of school, runs afoul of Homeland Security, and even turns down a free ride on a modern rocket in pursuit of a really dangerous dream. Don't do this at home. The movie also seems to push for science education and a love of of conventional space travel, but any fans of that sort of thing are going to bust a gut at the gross inaccuracies portrayed.

Billy Bob himself is one-note. Virginia Madsen is much better, completely selling an unlikely character. She deserves better. Tim Blake Nelson serves well in a thankless role. Bruce Dern seems befuddled, hopefully on purpose, and appears a few times as a deus ex machina. J.K. Simmons puts on his J. Jonah Jameson cap. Kiersten Warren is 41, and must bathe in the blood of virgins, along with the nearly 50 Madsen. There are also some celebrity cameos, including Billy Bob's co-star from that other astronaut movie he was in, which was somehow more plausible than this. Seriously.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Comic Book Heroes: "The Other Guys"

"In the 1940s the Big Companies-- with real offices, carpeted lobbies, pretty receptionists, "respectable" product, parental advisory committees, Hollywood licensing deals and deep-pocketed owners-- were National/DC, Fawcett and Dell/Western. Below those three snow-capped peaks stretched a bloody battleground of independents, hustlers, speculators, trend-watchers, pretenders, fly-by-nighters, check-bouncers, soft-porn peddlers, and moonlighting pulp publishers." Per Joe Simon, Leon Harvey pronounced that superheroes were still dead in early 1959. His Harvey Comics were all about kid-friendly fare like Casper the Friendly Ghost, while the former MLJ was now Archie Andrews' world. Fawcett was mostly out of the business, Charlton was geared toward keeping their presses running with low rent comics, Gilberton found their niche with Classics Illustrated and Martin Goodman's various lines were just another of the bunch of poor quality "mystery" comics still eked out under Code restriction against "horror."

After DC found some success with their super-hero revivals, these other publishers took note. While Archie was doing gangbuster business, they dipped their toes into the coming trend with Simon and Kirby's The Adventures of the Fly and Simon's The Double Life of Private Strong, both begun in 1959. According to author Gerard Jones, "Then National's lawyers got a look at Private Strong and sent a letter claiming that the Shield too closely duplicated Superman's powers. The series was instantly cancelled..." Meanwhile, Archie Comics managing editor Richard Goldwater didn't like Jack Kirby's art on the Fly, wanting that slick look the DC books had. "The new Fly crew-- John Giunta and John Rosenberger, a couple of DC backbenchers-- did indeed have DC's Frigidaire gloss, but their work was as dead as an empty refrigerator, and the hero buzzed along listlessly only until 1964." It was trailed by the "equally dull" The Jaguar, dead inside two years.

Charlton Comics took a stab in 1960 with the Captain Atom feature in Space Adventures. The title was usually "devoted to dark and apocalyptic SF in the pre-Schwartz mold," and mostly distinguished by the art of Steve Ditko, an unrecognized talent light years removed from the DC/Archie style. While the Captain Atom premise had promise, "in practice it rarely transcended red-baiting jingoism... reviving the aesthetic of the failed super-hero comebacks of 1953, when everything stank of McCarthyism. Captain Atom lasted only nine issues, by which time Ditko was able to make a living almost entirely from the Goodman company." Charlton tried again in 1964 with a Blue Beetle revival, whom they had bought cheap from Victor Fox. It ran a year and a half under Joe Gill, Bill Faccio, and Tony Tallarico.

"Western was an anomaly in the business, a respectable children's press," wrote Jones. "Through Dell it was hooked in the American News Company, making it the only comic book publisher with access to the erstwhile monopoly's high-profile newsstands." They held all the big licenses, like Disney, and were said to cancel any title selling under 600,000. "The the '50s it was the giant of all comics publishers, at times reportedly outselling all of its competitors combined... This was an old-line 'class' company. Remarkably few Jewish and Italian names appear in Western's credits in the early days, quite a contrast to the competition." The closest they came to superheroes were Turok: Son of Stone, The Phantom, Tarzan, and Korak: Son of Tarzan. That is, until they leapfrogged from a dime standard price to 15¢, 3¢ more than other publishers. Dell's bottom fell out, and there was a schism with Western, which began its own Gold Key imprint. National took the front in the aftermath, and their continued success with titles like Justice League of America inspired Gold Key to create Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom in 1962 and Magnus, Robot Fighter in '63. Lesser lights included Space Family Robinson, Mighty Samson, and Total War/M.A.R.S. Patrol, all in the mid- '60s. "Western's adventure line was ever thus: finely wrought, never electrifying."

Gerard Jones continued by noting, "For all their efforts at modernity, what's astonishing in these comics is their profound conservatism." Black and white morality, celebration of bourgeois self-sufficiency, preindustrial values and so on. "Magnus was at once a man-versus-machine tale with nineteenth-century echoes, a work-ethic warning of the dangers of indolence, and a flashback to the aristocratic terrors of losing control of the workforce-- not excluding the white terror of a slave insurrection from the antebellum South. One can read Magnus himself as the ultimate overseer, raised by a slaveowner's fantasy of the loyal slave to battle renegades and abolitionists. This was not, of course, the intention of the creators, but Western's traditional aesthetic adventure aesthetic carried with it old cultural shadows... well-intentioned and well-composed, but impossibly out of step with the youth culture of the 1960s."

American Comics Group stuck with "mystery" monster fare, aside from Nemesis, Magicman, and Herbie Popnecker's excursions as the Fat Fury. Harvey Comics stuck to its guns, only offering reprints of The Black Cat, while Jim Warren circumvented the Comics Code with his black and white horror magazines Creepy and Eerie (as well as Blazing Combat.)

Amongst all these throwbacks and parodies were few challenges to National's ascendancy, at least until Stan Lee decided to make his own run at Martin Goodman's company...

"The Other Guys" was chapter 6 of the 1997 edition of The Comic Book Heroes, and was not present in Gerard Jones' earlier collaboration with Will Jacobs. You can buy the 1997 edition of The Comic Book Heroes: The First History of Modern Comic Books - From the Silver Age to the Present from


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