Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Frank Review of "Little Children" and "Venus"

I caught "Little Children," a film that turned out very different from what I was expecting, a ways back as part of a double screening at a local art house theater. The first quarter of the 2 1/4 hour film relies heavily on omniscient and quite amusing third person narration, as it brings to our attention the lives of a pair of married people who seem like they'd be much happier together than with their respective spouses. Kate Winslet's husband is demonized and dismissed by the 45 minute mark, never to be seen again. Jennifer Connolly delivers one of her liveliest performances in recent memory, sadly in the form of a one-dimensional overbearing wife. I don't see why Winslet rated an Oscar nomination, even though she's a delight and has a better handle on her American accent than was evidenced in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Perhaps she was being awarded the "goes without obvious make-up and hair styling while playing frumpy compared to Jennifer Connolly" Oscar? Never mind that we get to see her naked repeatedly and in fabulous form, to such a degree that I could see kicking J.C. out of bed for her. Well, I would anyway, but I'm trying to be general here. Anyway, sometime into the second hour, the narration all but disappears, as does the humor, and the dramedy that follows isn't nearly as fun. After the two hour mark, we go headfirst into melodrama, and I guarantee you'll be wiggling in your seat. Worse, most of that time could have been saved and more goodwill engendered if the pedophile subplot that weighs down the picture had been excised completely. For the most part, it only serves as a means to not make a cheat of an ending feel like it came out of left field. I enjoyed this movie, despite my criticisms, but I warn that it was fatty and tonally inconsistent.

I stepped into the lobby, grabbed a few free magazines, and stepped back into a theater to view "Venus." After the enjoyable but overlong film that preceded it, I began regretting this double bill almost immediately. Like "Children," a story point involves an older man lusting after a younger woman. The problem is, Peter O'Toole is supposed to make his lechery endearing, and fails miserably. As a man barely in his thirties, I see the teenage grandniece of O'Toole's best friend as a child at best, bimbo at worse. At nearly three times my age, O'Toole sees a last fling, and just comes off as terrifically pathetic for the full 93 minute running time, as he barters for the girl's attentions as though she were a prostitute. This is another one of those "aged actor plays a thinly disguised version of himself in his probable last major film role" numbers, and serves mostly as a cautionary tale. This beautiful man, once Laurence of Arabia, is now a grotesque, blotto caricature of the once dashing matinee idol. His last ride is dull, charmless, repetitive, and makes the viewer feel unclean by association. Not recommended, unless you want to make yourself feel pretty, young and vital by comparison to O'Toole's ravaged form.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge

The first thing I thought when I started reading this trade was that I must have missed something. I knew from the unbelievably overrated "Green Lantern: Rebirth" that Hal Jordan was back, and generally aware the Corps followed. It's just that I expected some sort of introduction to the new Corps, and an explanation for why Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner were now on patrol off-world. DC Comics has become so incestuous over the past decade, it seems assumed that everyone is following every aspect of a "family" line. Not the case here.

Despite my initial disorientation, the trade started off well enough. A mystery was afoot, and our heroes going away party on the JLA Watchtower was cute. A new, reluctant Korugarian Corpsman was introduced with an understandable personal conflict. More recruits with ties to longstanding DC continuity offered strong story potential. I was almost reminded of all those wonderful Corps annual short story collections from the 80's, and Steve Englehart's daring run. Then recent revisions began to erode my interest: female Guardians... Parallax... Kyle Rayner as Messianic figure rather than blessed everyman.

Patrick Gleason, whose prior work on Aquaman pleased me much, is even better suited to adventures amongst aliens. Gleason is clearly of the post-Bisley school, and his time inking Doug Mahnke made a lasting impression. However, where Mahnke can't seem to progress past Kev O'Neil and company, Gleason incorporates techniques from influences as diverse as Kelly Jones, Chris Bachalo, Ethan Van Sciver and Larry Stroman. It serves him and the book extremely well, especially considering the further I progressed, the more his art was the only thing keeping me going.

The new characters quickly fell into tired "types," engaged in the unengaging-- a rote paranoid thriller involving mostly forgotten villains. Everything looks cool because of Gleason, but the story is connecting the dots to one cliche after another. Gardner the asshole becomes Gardner the coarse veteran, while Rayner is in the optimistic but otherwise generic hero role. The ante is repeatedly upped, but the plot is so well worn it remains a penny game. By the end, fans old an new will groan at the same old shit, and hopefully question why Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons deserve one free pass after another based on past glories.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Walking Dead Volume 8: Made To Suffer (2008)

My first rule concerning "The Walking Dead" is there are no spoilers. I refuse to read most reviews and solicitation copy because of this. I even hesitate to view covers. In my own reviews, aside from stuff that's already all over the web, I try to avoid going further than hinting. That holds especially true here.

You see, I love zombie movies, but find their appeal rarely translates to comics. Typically, the emphasis is on shock and gore, where my interests lie in the reaction of humanity to the most transgressive extinction level event imaginable. Only Robert Kirkman's zombie opus really captures what I love about "survival horror," and to a large degree, comics in generally. I adore a good twist in a narrative that is true to its subject, but still sends your head spinning. There is no current writer that comes to mind who does this as well as Kirkman, or with such startling consistency, and therefore few writers that bring me such joy. My reviews tend toward the negative, as I've read most everything this industry has to offer before, but Kirkman reminds me why I continue to be passionate about this art form. For about five years, "The Walking Dead" has been one of the best comics published, and at its current rate, will become one of the best ever published. The creative team on the book only improves with time, and there's no end in sight.

That said, I can't imagine reading this series in individual issues. The book's pacing is all over the map, with whole collections devoted to melodrama of the like seen in British soap operas. Others, like "Made To Suffer," are so packed with life-altering events as to be completely inaccessible for the uninitiated. A major threat from a previous extended story arc returns to offer reams of exposition, yet little of the surrounding events were revealed. This leads to a series of encounters with the massive cast of characters, few of whom are reintroduced. For longtime readers, that makes it all killer, no filler. For the new reader, the volume's subtitle may be all too appropriate.

About that hinting: One of the two characters I previously felt could carry the series met their end in this edition, and while I mourn the passing, the sea change seems best for the series' vitality. It allows some folks I've grown to appreciate the chance for a greater spotlight, and many other characters that had perhaps outlived my interest had a bit more left to offer. At least one should have probably lived to fight another day, but offered a bit of closure to what proved a bleak but open-ended conclusion.

While Kirkman continued to awe, I reserve the greatest kudos of this installment for Charlie Adlard, the most improved member of the team. For years, Adlard was my go-to artist when concluding that anyone could draw a comic with the right connections. I dreaded his replacement of original series artist Tony Moore, and was often confused by which character was which at first. A few years down the line, I can't imagine a better choice to continue the title. Now, each of his characters is entirely distinct and true to life. At times, you can "smell" them, his depiction is so believable. Where Moore seemed to relish the grisly EC macabre details, Adlard grounds the shambling grotesques in a reality that enhances their impact, rather than muddying the tone of the story with comical ghouls. One thing that struck me as a bit odd was that a great many panels reminded me of the Bart Sears/Ray Kryssing art team of the 90's, specifically their work on "Eclipso." One character in particular seemed tailored to that style. Maybe I just have a screwy frame of reference, but I liked this new direction.

Cutting to the chase, "The Walking Dead" remains one of the best comics in comics, is improving with age, and is bought without question here at ...nurgh... It receives my highest recommendation, but for God's sake, don't start with "Made To Suffer." No pudding before your supper...

Monday, July 28, 2008

San Diego ComiCon 2008 Analysis

Didn't go, but I'd like to dish regardless...

The new Watchmen movie character posters FTW. The funny thing is, I'm not a huge Moore fan, but this looks to potentially improve on the source through translation, at least for my entertainment dollar.
  • I'm going to get politically incorrect for a moment. A friend of mine's brother is autistic. At least five years ago, he dressed for Halloween as a pirate. I complimented his costume. Every single time I've see him since he asks me, repeatedly, enthusiatically, "How's my pirate ship?" You'll forgive me then, when I hear Jason Vorhees is now laying devious traps and moving at high rates of speed with pinpoint precision, I ask, "but, Jason's a fucking retard?" I realize our modern society no longer fears the creeping inevitable, unless its an economic recession, so gone are lumbering mummies, zombies, and now-- et tu, slasher? The main thing that bothers me is that if any of these remakes should have allowed for high octane holiday-themed massacres, it was "Halloween." Michael Myers started it all, and despite bad sequals, was a clever killer who could have been refitted for the 90's on better chassis than white trash with a 70's AOR soundtrack.
  • While I'm offending minorities, what does it say about the progress of the American Negro when Black Entertainment Television produces a brand new Marvel Super Heroes cartoon? I mean literally, like the show that ran from 1966-69. I can almost see the wires. I love the Black Panther, but my interest is on the decline. It was safe to assume the Reggie Hudlin material would be the basis for the series, and I've tried to support his repeatedly, which amounts to shame on me.
  • Gaiman on Batman? For two issues? I smell the stink of disappointment coming off three of the four winds, but we'll see how she blows next year.
  • In order to keep everyone honest, the Ultimates line was all about producing entry-level books for new fans coming out of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies. It's now long in the tooth with elements that muddy the throughline of the new batch of Marvel movies. Plus, Marvel allowed their top talent to work on in-continuity titles, while the line went to seed. Is it any wonder we're seeing the unpcoming contract-and-expand rebirth of the line? With the talent already handling Iron Man/Captain America/etc does it serve a purpose anymore?
  • Somebody explain what DC is thinking with this integrated licensing business? I like the Milestone characters, and see no reason why they can't exist on Earth-35 and host DC characters in a new mini-line. I don't get the rights nightmare of incorporating Icon and Static into Teen Titans and JLA, unless Milestone Media has signed away rights, which seems more unfortunate to me than anything. Was ownership compromised from inception, queering Milestone taking, say, Hardware elsewhere-- in the manner of DC being unable to get movies made outside Warner Brothers? Worse is this business where the Archie super-heroes will be joining Batman in the new Brave and the Bold. I hate to burst the bubbles of the 15 combined fans of Mighty/Red Circle/!mpact characters, but they are absolute losers. They have never, ever, in any way been a sucess. They died quickly in the Golden Age, and have had one non-revival lasting under three years per decade since the 60's (70's exempted.) They are failures, DC won't redeem them, and I don't understand why anyone would need to have that reality explained to them. Good money after bad, but Archie praises Jesus for the rubes.
  • Speaking of DC failing lines, didn't they just reboot Wildstorm a couple years ago? Third time's the charm?
  • What is it with Marvel feeling the need to date their line with a bunch of geriatric 40's/50's throwbacks? Sentry, the Twelve, the Lost Generation, Agents of Atlas, and now Blue Marvel? Didn't "Truth" get this shit out of your systems? I reckon it would have been nice ti have had black super-heroes in the 40's and 50's, but the Marvel Universe truly began in the 60's, and they gave us some great heroes like Black Panther. DC needs "Blue Marvel." Marvel needs to get its head out of DC's ass and live for today.
  • Case in point: War Machine. Boo. Yah. That's the stuff.
  • Anyone ever read Mister X? I've always wanted to...
  • I'm really looking forward to Darwyn Cooke on the "Parker" books.
  • Rose McGowen is too old and surgically victimized to play Barbarella, but with a time machine or vaseline on the lens that could still have worked great. Red Sonja? Bridgette Nielson could still snap the increasingly twiggy McGowen in half. You need at least Jessica Biel's build to qualify for She-Devil With A Sword. Green screen won't cut it.
  • It's about time Image named Robert Kirkman a partner, and I sincerely hope he focuses all his creative energies on creator-owned properties in the future. That guy's a real talent, but it was squandered at Marvel. Maybe he could steal a reasonable facimilie of his Ant-Man back, like the Image Seven all did when forming their company?
  • "Image United?" Did we forget "Shattered Image" and the 10th (--er--15th--ish) Anniversary Hardcover? Highly dubious.
  • Christos Gage's "Absolution?" Should have went to Image instead of Avatar...
  • Really getting excited about the animated D2DVD Wonder Woman. I'm pleased with her more ethnic features, as well.
  • I'm just going to say it-- "Batman: The Animated Series" was far from perfect. I don't feel it was built for repeat viewings. You had two kinds of episodes; the ones that were involving and memorable, so you didn't want to see them too often; and the ones that were plain dull. The Superman series fares better with far fewer episodes because they were more action-oriented with a wider variety of locales and guest-appearances. They weren't nearly as smart, but they were more generally fun. The new Brave and the Bold series seems to give viewers the Dark Knight, with Superman's pacing, and Justice League Unlimited's cast of hundreds. I'm very enthused about this.
  • Sunday, July 27, 2008

    Ask's Top 99 Women 2008 Edition

    I like these kind of lists on websites, but not the billions of ads, redirects, and impossibly slow load times. Until the matter is addressed, I will spoil these mother bitches at will!

    "'s Top 99 Most Desirable Women is an annual list compiled by readers and staff, ranking the famous females deemed to be the year's most alluring. In casting their votes, readers are asked to look beyond sex appeal and beauty to pick women who have the characteristics they value in a potential companion, like intelligence, humor, charisma, and ambition. The result is an annual list that acts as the definitive gauge for identifying what modern men desire most in their female companions.

    This year, over 5 million votes were cast as readers identified the females from the worlds of music, fashion, sports, and entertainment who they felt best represented their ideal woman. So who has joined the likes of Jessica Alba, Beyonce and Adriana Lima in being named 2008's No. 1? Find out by making your way up through the list --"

    99. Blake Lively (Gossip Girl)
    98. Jenna Fischer (The Office)
    97. Vanessa Minnillo (Nick Lachey's girlfriend)
    96. Giada de Laurentiis (Food Network's Everyday Italian)
    95. Lindsay Lohan
    94. Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
    93. Ashlee Simpson (singer)
    92. Ali Larter (Heroes, Resident Evil: Extinction)
    91. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard, Death Proof)
    90. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil Trilogy, Ultraviolet)
    89. Kerry Washington (Fantastic 4: Silver Surfer, The Last King of Scotland)
    88. Jessica Chobot (IGN Weekly)
    87. Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose)
    86. Sophia Bush (The Hitcher)
    85. Rachel Weisz (The Fountain, The Mummy)
    84. Ivanka Trump (The Apprentice)
    83. Olivia Munn (Attack of the Show!)
    82. Naomi Watts (Eastern Promises)
    81. Hilary Duff (singer)
    80. Alyssa Milano (Charmed)
    79. Ana de la Reguera (Nacho Libre)
    78. Nadine Velazquez (My Name is Earl)
    77. Rashida Jones (The Office)
    76. Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer)
    75. April Scott (The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning)
    74. Maria Sharapova (tennis star)
    73. Ana Ivanovic (tennis star)
    72. Dita Von Teese
    71. Cate Blanchett (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull)
    70. Federica Ridolfi (random busty Itallian)
    69. Lucy Pinder (frequently topless Brit)
    68. Leona Lewis (The X Factor winner)
    67. Mallika Sherawat (Bollywood actress)
    66. Padma Lakshmi (Top Chef)
    65. Michelle Marsh (random Brit model)
    64. Nelly Furtado (singer)
    63. Anne Hathaway (Get Smart)
    62. Cassie (Step Up 2 the Streets)
    61. Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical)
    60. Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid)
    59. Kristen Bell (Heroes, Veronica Mars)
    58. Kate Moss
    57. Rose McGowan (Grindhouse)
    56. Sara Varone (Buona Domenica)
    55. Gwen Stefani (singer)
    54. Sienna Miller (Stardust, Interview)
    53. Michelle Lombardo (Entourage, Californication)
    52. Salma Hayek (Latin Goddess)
    51. Hayden Panettiere (Heroes, awful singer)
    50. Reon Kadena (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
    49. Danna Garcia (model)
    48. Nicole Scherzinger (Pussycat Dolls)
    47. Jessica Simpson (singer, "actress")
    46. Gemma Atkinson (Brit model)
    45. Sofia Vergara (Entourage)
    44. Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl)
    43. Katharine McPhee (American Idol runner-up *corrected*)
    42. Elin Nordegren (Swede model)
    41. Petra Nemcova (model)
    40. Emmanuelle Chriqui (You Don't Mess with the Zohan)
    39. Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean)
    38. Shakira (singer)
    37. Rachel McAdams (The Notebook)
    36. Christina Aguilera (singer)
    35. Angelina Jolie (Wanted)
    34. Kelly Brook (model)
    33. Layla Kayleigh (model)
    32. Brooke Burke (model)
    31. Bianca Beauchamp (model)
    30. Alicia Keys (singer)
    29. Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives)
    28. Kim Kardashian
    27. Aishwarya Rai (Bollywood actress)
    26. Penelope Cruz (Latin Goddess)
    25. Heidi Klum (model)
    24. Elisha Cuthbert (Captivity)
    23. Carrie Underwood (American Idol winner)
    22. Monica Bellucci (Shoot 'Em Up)
    21. Halle Berry (Things We Lost in the Fire)
    20. Bar Refaeli (model)
    19. Miranda Kerr (model)
    18. Cheryl Tweedy (Popstars: The Rivals)
    17. Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard)
    16. Gisele Bundchen (model)
    15. Natalie Portman (V For Vendetta)
    14. Beyonce (singer)
    13. Keeley Hazell (Brit model)
    12. Megan Fox (Transformers)
    11. Maria Menounos (Entertainment Tonight)
    10. Adriana Lima (model)
    09. Marisa Miller (model)
    08. Rihanna (singer)
    07. Jessica Biel (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry)
    06. Scarlett Johansson ("actress")
    05. Jessica Alba (Latin Demi-Goddess, "actress")
    04. Eva Mendes (Ghost Rider)
    03. Kate Beckinsale (Underworld)
    02. Alessandra Ambrosio (model)
    01. Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up)

    VERY NSFW Language

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    An Index of Frank Movie Reviews

    [REC] (2007)
    [REC] 2 (2009)
    28 Days Later... (2002)
    28 Weeks Later... (2007)
    42nd Street Forever Vol. 1 (2005) & Vol.2 (2006)
    50/50 (2011)
    200 Cigarettes (1999)

    A History of Violence
    A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
    A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
    Across the Universe (2007)
    Aeon Flux (2005)
    The Amateurs (2007)
    The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
    American History X (1998)
    American Reunion (2012)
    Amores Perros ("Love's a Bitch," 2000)
    The Astronaut Farmer (2006)
    Ator: The Fighting Eagle (1982)
    Ator l'invincibile (1982)
    Avatar: An IMAX 3D Experience (2009)
    Avengers Assemble (2012)

    BaadAssss Cinema (2002)
    Le Battement D'ailes du Papillon (2001)
    The Beast Within (1982)
    Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
    Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (*The Side Effects of Being American)
    Blood Mania (1970)
    Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)
    Blue Manhatten (1969)
    Boy Eats Girl (2005)
    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
    Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
    Brideshead Revisited (2008)
    The Brother From Another Planet
    The Brothers Bloom (2009)
    Brüno (2009)
    Burn After Reading (2008)

    The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
    The Candy Snatchers (1973)
    Captain America: The First Avenger 3D (2011)
    Casino Royale (2006)
    Che: Part One & Part Two (2008)
    Children of the Living Dead (2001)
    Choke (2008)
    Chronicle (2012)
    Coraline (2009)
    The Crazies (2010)
    Cruel Intentions 3 (2004)

    D.C. Cab (1983)
    The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
    Dark Corners (2006)
    The Dark Knight
    The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
    Dawn of the Dead: European Version (1978)
    Day of the Dead: The Need To Feed (2008)
    Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005)
    Day of the Woman (1978)
    Dead and Gone (2008)
    Deadgirl (2008)
    Death Wish (1974)
    The Devil's Hand (1961)
    Diarios de Motocicleta (2004)
    George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (2007)
    The Dictator (2012)
    Die Hard 4.0 (2007)
    District 9 (2009)
    Drag Me To Hell (2009)
    Dredd 3D (2012)

    Emmanuelle (1974)
    Evil Dead Trap
    Exit to Eden (1994)
    Eyes Without a Face (1960)

    Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer
    Farinelli: Il Castrato (1994)
    Fatal Beauty (1987)
    Fidel (2000)
    Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (2006)
    Food, Inc. (2009)
    The Fountain (2006)
    Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
    Fright Night (2011)
    Funny Games (1997)
    The Fury

    Gakuen Mokushiroku (2010)
    The Gathering (2002/2007)
    Ghost Rider
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
    Gods and Monsters (1998)
    Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
    The Green Hornet (2011)
    Green Lantern (2011)

    Hacked To Pieces: The Rise and Fall of Slasher Movies
    The Hamiltons
    Happenstance (Le Battement D'ailes du Papillon, 2001)
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: An IMAX 3D Experience (2009)
    Henry & June (1990)
    Hey, Mom! (1969)
    Highschool of the Dead (2010)
    The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
    A History of Violence
    The Hole (2001)
    Hooker's Revenge (1974)
    The Howling (1981)
    Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985)
    Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)
    The Hunger Games (2012)

    I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
    The Ice Harvest (2005)
    The Incredible Hulk (2008)
    The Invasion
    Iron Man (2008)
    Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience (2010)
    Iron Man 3 (2013)

    Jisatsu Saakuru (2002)
    Juno (2007)

    Kuffs (1992)

    Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2008)
    Léolo (1992)
    Let the Right One In (2008)
    Little Children
    Live and Let Die (1973)
    Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
    Looper (2012)
    Lord of the Flies (1963 & 1990)

    Machete (2010)
    Madmen of Mandoras (1963)
    Maid in Sweden (1971)
    Man of Steel (2013)
    Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
    Milk (2008)
    The Monster Squad (1987)
    Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
    The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

    Network Two-Disc Special Edition (1976)
    Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
    Night of the Comet (1984)
    The Night We Never Met (1993)
    Nightmare in Wax (1969)
    A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
    A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

    ParaNorman 3D (2012)
    Penny Dreadful
    Persepolis (2007)
    Phantasm (1979)
    Phantasm II (1988)
    Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)
    Phantasm: OblIVion
    Pineapple Express (2008)
    Popcorn (1991)
    Prometheus (2012)
    Pumpkin (2002)
    Punisher: War Zone (2008)

    Quantum of Solace (2008)
    Quills (2000)

    Rambo (2008)
    [REC] (2007)
    [REC] 2 (2009)
    Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D (2010)
    Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008)
    Resident Evil: Retribution 3D (2012)
    Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)
    Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)
    Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005)
    Rise: Blood Hunter (2007)
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
    Rocket Science (2007)
    Rogue Male (1976)
    Rosemary's Baby (1968)
    Rudo y Cursi (2008)
    The Ruins (2008)
    The Running Man

    S. Darko (2009)
    The Sand Pebbles (1966)
    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
    Seraphim Falls (2007)
    Sex Drive (2008)
    Sherlock Holmes (2009)
    The Shining (1980)
    The Short Films of David Lynch
    Shortbus (2006)
    The Singing Detective (2003)
    Sinister (2012)
    Skyfall (2012)
    Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
    Snatch (2000)
    Son of Greetings (1969)
    Southland Tales
    St. Ives (1976)
    Stand By Me
    Stanley (1972)
    Star Trek (2009)
    Suicide Club (2002)
    Super 8 (2011)
    Syriana (2005)

    Teknolust (2002)
    Terminator Salvation (2009)
    Terrified! (1963)
    Terror in the Aisles (1984)
    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
    Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000)
    They Call Her One Eye (1974)
    They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963)
    Thor (2011)
    Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1974)
    Trailer Trash (2007)
    Tropic Thunder
    True Blood (1989)

    V For Vendetta (2005)
    V/H/S (2012)
    Videodrome (1983)

    W. (2008)
    Waitress (2007)
    Walk The Line (2005)
    Watchmen (2009)
    White Zombie (1932)
    The Wolfman (2010)
    The Woman in Black (2012)
    The Wrestler (2008)

    Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)
    Zombi (1978)
    Zombieland (2009)

    Book vs. Movie/Movie vs. Movie

    Abre Los Ojos vs. Vanilla Sky
    Lord of the Flies (1954/1963/1990)
    Reservoir Dogs vs. The Usual Suspects
    Superman II: Richards Donner vs. Lester


    Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2009)
    Doctor Strange (2007)
    The Girl's Guide to Depravity: Season 1 (2012)
    Girls: Season One (2012)
    His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2009)
    Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns
    Masters of Horror: Imprint
    Night Court: The Complete First Season (1984)
    Night Court: The Complete Second Season (1984-1985)
    Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008)
    Superman: Doomsday (2007)
    Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000)
    V, Season 1.1: 'Pilot' and 1.2 'There Is No Normal Anymore'" (2009)
    The Venture Bros. - Season One

    Music Videos

    Retrospective: The Videos of Suzanne Vega (2005)


    Juliana Hatfield at The Engine Room (2005)
    Kids in the Hall 2008 Tour
    Veruca Salt at The Engine Room 10/17/05

    Current as of 7/8/13

    Friday, July 25, 2008

    1981 George Pérez JLA/JSA Pin-Up

    Justice League of America #195 featured the umpteenth annual team-up of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, this time under the pen of a master. I'm not slighting guys like Mike Sekowsky or Dick Dillin, but when it comes to iconic, perfectly on-model images of super-heroic collectives, Pérez is one of the undisputed champions. The JLA is dead solid perfect, excepting the first three at the top. For some reason, I've never been able to accept Pérez on Superman, perhaps because his realistic style minimizes the Man of Steel. His Wonder Woman was one of the best by the mid-80's, but here his handling is bland and unsure. Red Tornado seems both too robotic and too lifelike, if that's possible. You see, Pérez offers RT a mystique with his narrowed eyes and his subtle Mona Lisa smile. Meanwhile, Red Tornado has always been a shit character with no personality and the nuance of a jackhammer. Those three seem woefully out of place amongst the other gorgeous, finely rendered Leaguers.

    The JSA had more problems, as their proportions are awkward, looking a bit too much like fan art. Robin looks excellent though, recalling Pérez's work with the young her on New Teen Titans, and most importantly covering up his terrible Earth-2 costume. At least Dick was in that fetid Composite Batman suit he was also afflicted with at times. Huntress and much of the bottom row also fared well.

    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    A Frank Review of "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson"

    It's unlikely this will come up in any other review, so let me just say it and be done: the similarity between Grant Morrison and Hunter Thompson, specifically during his early 70's bid for sheriff, is uncanny. From stone sober liberal activist to psychedelic, sometimes nonsensical druggie fantasist. Let's hope Grant's career does take the nosedive of Thompson's.

    "Gonzo" is an excellent introduction to Thompson. Much of the film is made up of circumstances surrounding and anecdotes related to his great works, "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72." Through archival footage and interviews with friends and enemies, a portrait is painted of the man and his times... up to a point. The problem is, Hunter's times were the turbulent 60's and indulgent 70's. That god damned picture has been painted so many fucking times, I half expect Bob Ross to peek out of the side, dabbing at a trippy little cloud. The whole film is plagued with "been there, done that." Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in 1998's film adaptation of "Vegas," narrates (mostly through reading passages from Thompson's work.) Whether you lived through the times or were buried under the retreads of the 80's and 90's, this visitation feels more nostalgic than exploratory. Even Pat Buchanan chuckles in remembrances of Hunter, de-fanged long before his 2005 suicide.

    Hunter S. Thompson was a fascinating individual and a monumental asshole. A film should be made about his early development, as this doc picks up just shy of his 30's, and his decades of decline, which are glossed over in favor of indulging the legend. "Gonzo" is a modest pleasure, but it's awfully shallow and highly repetitive, when you get down to it.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    The Comic Book Heroes: The Return of the Heroes

    Chapter 5 of Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones' 1985 edition of "The Comic Book Heroes" began with Julie Schwartz mulling over more Golden Age reworkings of the long underwear set. The new Flash's positive reception earned him his own title in 1959, and he was soon joined by Green Lantern, "in a version departing much further from his inspiration than had Flash," becoming "Schwartz's mighty hero, his answer to Superman." The book applauded the creators' imaginative direction, which led from trial appearances in "The Brave and the Bold" to the securing of a "Green Lantern" series. An overview of the title's first nine issues was given, noting that writer John Broome stole the concept of the Guardians from a story he'd done in the early 50's for the Captain Comet strip. The authors detailed the creation of the Green Lantern Corps, Qward, Sinestro, Carol Ferris, Pieface, Star Sapphire and more within the first couple dozen issues. Of special consideration was Pol Manning, an identity assumed and resumed by an amnesiac Hal Jordan when he would be pulled into the future, Adam Strange style, by scientists to defend their world. This identity even came with its own love interest, Iona Vane, to keep Hal coming back for more!

    "Such innovations made Green Lantern an instant hit. A straw poll of readers, published in Green Lantern 3, showed him to be, for the moment, DC's most popular hero, with 888 votes to Superman's 600; Flash followed with 521, Batman with 512." Schwartz followed the trend with another reworking, this time of the super-team concept, with the JLA. "This successor to the old Justice Society of America was Schwartz's most ambitious project yet. In this team he was entrusted not only with his own two heroes but with five from the stables of other editors: Weisinger's Superman, Robert Kanigher's Wonder Woman, and Schiff's Batman, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, to be joined in issue 4 (May 1961) by a fourth Schiff hero, Green Arrow." Gardner Fox, creator of the Justice Society (among many other notions,) was tapped to write the book, both for his proven aptitude and as a nod toward the emerging mature fandom of the Golden Age comics. Jacobs and Jones went on to synopsis and critique the titles' early years over several paragraphs.

    Gardner Fox took on another three revivals, though they fell short of the popularity of Schwartz's initial trifecta. Aside from adding sci-fi trappings and the undeniably equal role of his wife and crime-fighting partner, Hawkman returned to comics largely unaltered. "Although he sparked great enthusiasm among the older set, Hawkman apparently failed to enthrall the children who comprised the bulk of DC's readership. After a three-issue run in The Brave and the Bold, his sales were not quite adequate to justify his own comic. Schwartz, out of fondness for the character, gave him another three-issue tryout a year later... but again sales fell short." The authors seemed to cast the blame upon series artist Joe Kubert, who's history with the character dated back to the 40's, but whose style was more raw than the cleaner work from the rest of Schwartz stable. The debate among readers was "the first serious issue to rise in DC's letter pages." It wasn't until Murphy Anderson replaced Kubert and a greater emphasis was placed on the science fiction that sales took the necessary leap to progress to series.

    Fox next reintroduced the original Flash, and by extension a second Earth housing all the rest of the Golden Age DC heroes, to excite among readers young and old. Following that fan service, Fox and Gil Kane went in an entirely different and contemporary direction with the reinvented Atom. The early issues of Ray Palmer's adventures "set a standard for ceaseless invention and variation on the theme of smallness that made them gems of children's entertainment." Fox "also gave us another tough, charming Schwartz heroine in the person of lady lawyer Jean Loring, and a twist on the usual comic book romance: in this case it is Ray Palmer who proposes marriage every issue, and Jean who puts him off for the sake of her career." Atom's "Showcases" stories sold well enough to launch him in an ongoing.

    Gerard Jones' 1997 revision of "The Comic Book Heroes" streamlined most the above information, excising the lengthier issue synopsis in favor of more background information. For instance, it noted that except for Archie Comics, the comic industry held off on super-heroes until they saw how well DC's follow-ups to the Flash revival turned out. Jones devoted a paragraph to Gil Kane's career up to starting on Green Lantern, and the circumstances of his time on the strip (including his dissatisfaction with his inker.) "He was smart and opinionated, with artistic ambitions, the way Schwartz always liked his coworkers." Of writer Broome and the new Lantern concept, Jones opined, "The American mainstream then seemed comfortable with authority, and Green Lantern as a space cop serving a brain trust of self-appointed leaders suited America's kids well. In the Green Lantern Corps we can see a foreshadowing of the coming Kennedy administration, with its unelected Ivy League decision-making team and its Green Berets and Peace Corps. In the dark, fearsome aesthetic of the 40's, superheroes had blazed like beacons of justice in a world black with chaos; in the aesthetic of the new DC, rapidly establishing itself as the mainstream of comic books, the heroes were reflections of a well-lit and benevolent world order, the villains eccentrics or products of an alien system like Qward... Broome played on his authoritarian themes with a wit and fantasy that made his the most sophisticated superheroes scripts of his time-- or any time."

    Such thoughtful analysis and insights are directed at the other heroes covered, including the boon offered the Atom by having a lawyer girlfriend that attracted "thieves, hoodlums, and spies to fight right off the bat... after years of DC pussyfooting with physical combat, editors were finally getting bold enough to let [Gil Kane] strut his gift for action."

    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

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    A Frank Review of "Southland Tales"

    I remember the wonder and excitement I felt while watching "Donnie Darko" for the first time. I wanted so much to share the movie with others, and come to understand it better through outside information and interpretation. I eventually watched the deleted scenes; which did not put me off, as they were extant; and listened to the commentary track, which was forgettable. No, what did me in was the "Director's Cut," which reedited and re-contextualized the movie with lame new effects, clearly showing the film's creator didn't understand his own creation. I have not been able to enjoy the movie since. I also saw "Domino," for which he wrote the screenplay, and of which the less said, the better.

    I had a good idea what I was in for after the chilly reception "Southland Tales" received at Canne and afterwards, but still, no one can truly prepare for it. The film is stunning, profound, and exceptional. By that I mean I was stunned by Kelly's cluelessness with regard to his subject matter, found the effort profoundly stupid, and the work of all involved was exceptionally bad. It's "Springtime For Hitler," so utterly misguided as to presumably be inept by design. It's a top-down disaster, and as such best taken in with a bellyful of alcohol and a sense of humor. Lord knows no such thing can be found in the flick itself. The cast is brimming with Saturday Night Live and MadTV alumni in material dubbed comedic, but so unfunny as to make the last half hour of any given Saturday Night Live look like "The Aristocrats." The dialogue in no way seems intended to elicit humor, so the only assumption I can make is that the miscasting combined with straight lines was intended to be the source of the theoretical amusement. That experiment failed epically.

    All that being said, there is no pain to be found in watching "Southland Tales." Again, the movie is so obviously without merit from the very beginning, there is never any danger of emotional investment or misleading depth. You, the viewer, know what you are watching is worthless as anything but a train wreck, and so you can just partake of rubbernecking the spectacle. You can enter the picture at any point and come to this exact conclusion before the end of any given scene. It's willfully dense, yet obvious despite itself. Your expectations are never lifted, and there's a comfort in that.

    Mandy Moore is the finest actress on screen. Let that sink in for a moment. Nora Dunn is, in my estimation, next in line. Ditto. Seann William Scott-- forever to be known for variations of his Stiffler character-- plays a dual role... and is the dramatic core of the film. You read that right. "Southland Tales" is the sequel to the Darko "Director's Cut," or else Kelly is repetitive as fuck with his transcendental nonsense and related motif. Worst use of a Pixies song ever, and their best besides. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a little bitch who thinks he's a pimp. Does that interest you? The film itself is a little bitch who thinks it's a cross between "Brazil" and "Dr. Strangelove." Only if you add "Rat Race" and severe head trauma to the mix. Make no mistake: I am smarter than this movie, you are smarter than this movie, and every intended subject of ridicule is smarter than this movie.

    "Southland Tales" is at war with making a point. It has always been at war with making a point. It would like to skewer Conservatives, but a spatula is not the ideal weapon of choice. It is too broad and too yielding. The film would also bludgeon Liberals, but a pencil is too light and too narrow to provide more than mild nuisance. Unfocused and imprecise, the movie shadowboxes rather than assaults. "Southland Tales" is friends with everybody. "Southland Tales" just wants everybody to get along.

    There's a short animated feature on the DVD. It would like to be "Watership Down," but it's more Down Syndrome. There is also a making-of featurette. It provides the cast and crew the opportunity to explain that either they didn't know what they were doing and just followed orders, or that they were giving orders, but clearly didn't know what they were doing. There is no commentary track, so we must assume Kelly has some due shame and awareness of his limitations. I know that isn't true, but I wish it aloud regardless.

    Some will complain that the film is indecipherable, but comic book people should be able to piece everything together by the end. They should then chuckle at the expense of those who couldn't, not to disparage their intellect, but to express amusement at their gullibility. Watch it the next time you wish to feel superior to an all-star cast desperate or dumb enough to have participated. Take some small satisfaction in knowing Booger from "Revenge of the Nerds" is still available for feature films and children's birthday parties for a nominal fee. Note that I didn't even bring up the Cohen Brothers-Lite musical number with Justin Timberlake and a parade of Marilyns. God bless America, but Kelly-- enough with the Jesus talk already! No more religion as pseudo-science for you! Tell Ben Stein the same!

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    A Frank Review of "The Dark Knight" and the trailer for "Watchmen"

    Like most every other comic book fan in the continental United States, I was roped into seeing "The Dark Knight" opening weekend, so I might as well review it. My caveat is that I've actively disliked the Batman for at least a decade, and never been much on the films, so don't expect much gushing. But then again, this is ...nurgh... so you should know I hate everything by now.

    I will not say that this is my favorite Batman film of the series, though time and reflection may change that, but I will say it is objectively the best Batman film ever made. A problem I have with super-hero movies, which I generally dislike, is that they always seem to me like a series of set pieces strung together. Factoring in my contemptuous familiarity with most of the subjects, I'm typically bored to tears by one rote, obligatory moment after another. "The Dark Knight" is the first comic book movie I can readily recall where I was absorbed by the narrative. For once, instead of sitting in a theater making mental comparisons to the comics or simply being aggravated by a weak narrative, I was immersed in the story being told by Nolan. I actively cared about what was happening onscreen, both to the characters and with the plot, which is exceptional. Clearly, that makes "The Dark Knight" one of the best films of its ilk, period.

    I believe in Harvey Dent. Since at least Miller and Mazzuchelli's "Batman:Year One," he's been among the most fascinating rogues to face the Caped Crusader. I was greatly disappointed in Tommy Lee Jones' pass at Two-Face in "Batman Forever," his being a once favored actor in the midst of a creative free fall and determined to out-clown Jim Carrey. Aaron Eckhart seemed a perfect remedy for that foul memory going in, and coming out all the more so. Dent is the hero of "Dark Knight," the whole movie turns on his journey, and I was with Eckhart every step of the way. My only complaint is that Eckhart needed a second picture to progress from Dent to Two-Face, as he earned so much good will, my sympathies could not reasonably be expected to turn on silver dollar.

    In "Batman Begins," I felt a more personal connection to Katie Holmes' sweater than her character, as she could not have been more of a tacked-on love interest in a film that needed to be trimmed of that fatty subplot entirely. Maggie Gyllenhaal redeems the character, imbuing her with life in her performance, while the script made her presence essential. The combination had me falling for Rachael Dawes, now made a unique and surprising heroine that added immeasurably to my enjoyment of the movie.

    Gary Oldman is certainly one of the most daring actors working today, sometimes to the peril of his productions. His portrayal of Jim Gordon is full of distinct ticks that had the potential to distract, but instead allow him to fully inhabit a character never remotely as fully realized outside comics as he is here. Again, the influence of "Batman: Year One" is more deeply felt in this sequel than in "Batman Begins," and it is all to the good.

    The same can be said of Gotham City itself, as for the first time it feels like a place human beings live, as opposed to having slightly more dimension than the cardboard backdrops of the German Expressionist films that so clearly inspired the Tim Burton cycle. Aiding in this is the support of many name and unknown actors filling out the population, including Nestor Carbonell as the mayor, Eric Roberts and Michael Jai White as crime bosses, Anthony Michael Hall as a television reporter, Colin McFarlane as the police commissioner, William Fichtner as a bank manager, Ron Dean as a veteran cop, and Monique Curnen as *not* Det. Montoya. Sure, they're all from stock, but they're at least quality stock, not glorified backdrop.

    Morgan Freeman, as usual, plays Morgan Freeman. Thankfully, Lucius Fox might as well be Morgan Freeman, so the shoe fits comfortably. Michael Caine, as usual, plays Michael Caine. As Alfred, I find myself less forgiving of the coasting, but I allow myself to let it go by just watching Michael Caine do his thing.

    Heath Ledger is very nearly the physical embodiment of the Joker. The way that he moved-- fought-- his mannerisms-- the build-- all so close to the ideal gestalt of many comic book incarnations. The script reflects this, as for once, the Joker is maddeningly brilliant; his insane motivations and general unpredictability made a force above and beyond any super-villain to ever make the leap into live action. This is a mind that could clearly bedevil even the Batman. That said, the scars and voice do not suit the character. Too often, the barely-there green hair dye gives way to Ledger's long blond locks, betraying the pretty boy under the half-assed make-up. Ledger can't pull off the iconic laugh, and irritations like his constant licking about the mouth recall a sexual deviant more than the Clown Prince of Crime. The "Disappearing Pencil Trick" was a movie moment for sure, but also a physical dynamic outside the more dandy comic book Joker's abilities. This is not an Oscar-worthy performance, but "Brokeback Mountain" was, so let's not kid ourselves should it yield posthumous reward to balance a prior neglect.

    After seeing "American Psycho," I joined the legions of fanboys in casting Christian Bale as the best possible Bruce Wayne. Unlike those legions, I'll own up to my mistake. Bale's American accent continues to underwhelm, and his grasp of Wayne remains tenuous and utterly without charm. His Batman is worse-- his affected rasp so seemingly painful and occasionally unintelligible it amazes that anyone can take him, seriously or otherwise. His costume does him no favors, so tight around the mouth as to make it puff out like fat around overstuffed pants. The stunt work involving the suit is terrible, necessitating the banal obfuscation that comes from extended use of vehicles, firearms, and quick cuts. When Iron Man comes across as more lithe, it's time to reconsider fabrics.

    I loved the modern comic book continuity, with a mini-episode early on involving a returned Scarecrow, again (if briefly) played by Cillian Murphy. The movie could have used a couple more of those, but for reasons you may not expect. You see, this movie comes to a rousing conclusion, and then the sequel starts, leaving you squirming in your seat. Characters speak voluminous dialogue and spoon feed text and subtext to the point where you wish someone would take a hit from the Riddler or something. The film is so bloated, it needed bullshit extras so that it could be chopped in half and sold to audiences twice. Also, that theoretical sequel has a really awful, ham-fisted ending that taints much of what came before. Jim Gordon's closing monologue had me begging for the credit crawl as it droned on without consideration for the audience or its own inanity. The movie closes the deal, then won't shut up, and ends up going home alone (but still has your number.)

    On the other hand, more action means more lousy action directing. When it comes to fisticuffs, everything is muddy and the mind checks out. Also, speaking of Iron Man, there are numerous, ridiculous leaps in technology that would destroy the film's credibility if it didn't run so blasted long you eventually forget the contrivances. The Batman movie plague continues in that the villain so outshines the hero, the Dark Knight Detective must resort to deus ex machina to save the day. The screenwriter and direction serve so many characters so well, and then the ball is dropped on every level when it comes to the supposed star of the production.

    In the final analysis, "The Dark Knight" is a swell crime movie with horrific digressions, and the only thing getting in its way is the super-hero business. I'm glad I saw the movie, and believe it to be the best made of the perpetually flawed Batman movies. Do go see it, do enjoy it, but do get over the hype.

    A major draw for my going into "The Dark Knight" was the opportunity to see the trailer for "Watchmen," if only for the irony of seeing the two titles intertwined once again. "Watchmen" seems to be in the submissive role here, with the trailer's use of the Smashing Pumpkins' "The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning" from the "Batman and Robin" soundtrack. Its also a variant version of their "The End Is the Beginning Is the End," which won the '98 Grammy for "Best Hard Rock Performance" and was an international, if perhaps minor hit. Even the Batman-centric video was up for a bunch of awards. Odd choice that.

    I strongly suspect that the CGI on display will improved greatly by next March, or else it will look embarrassing on DVD. There's a slightly rubbery and highly staged feel to the world presented. The costumes are pretty damned nice and functional, though. I'd say Nite Owl looks more like Batman than the stiff Cat-Man from "Dark Knight." My only problem there is that they look too good, seeing as how these are supposed to be silly poseurs well past their prime.

    There is so very nearly a peener on Dr. Manhatten that I'm delighted by the audacity. Jackie Earle Haley, based on one line and gorgeous visuals, seems absolutely perfect as Rorschach. "Watchmen" has never been one of my favorite graphic novels, but the movie looks to be such a strong adaptation, I may well end up preferring it to the source material. We shall see...

    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    1966 Mattel "Fright Factory Thingmaker" Ad

    I'm still shocked to see such a gruesome image on the back of a comic book, specifically one of this vintage. That kid is tore up! I actually find this a bit disturbing. Kudos to Mattel, for the image, and for getting "Plastigoop" trademarked!

    Friday, July 18, 2008

    1978 Slim Jim "Satisfy Your Meat Tooth" Dracula Ad

    I guess we'll make this a Vampire Weekend in the advertising department. I almost skipped scanning this one, because the ad was so prominent in comics and magazines when I was growing up, I took it for granted everyone knew it. It has been near thirty years, and it was a fun piece, so I figure to enshrine it here. Anybody know the artist? Looks like Jack Davis

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    1966 AMT "Grandpa Munster "Digs" The Drag-U-La!" Ad

    I got away from the old school scans when my computer went ker-floopty and I lost aspects of my favorite program. I've trained myself with new software in my work at the Idol-Head of Diabolu, so it seems like it's about time we got back to the goods. I'm sure everyone's sick of my reviews by now, anyway...

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008

    The Great Comic Book Heroes: Superman

    Jules Feiffer observed, "The advent of the superhero was a bizarre comeuppance for the American dream... Once the odds were appraised honestly, it was apparent you had to be super to get by in this world." He went on to note that all the pulp heroes like the Shadow and Green Hornet were fakes getting by with gimmicks, while Superman was essentially omnipotent. That being the case, Feiffer questioned the geeky Clark Kent put-on. "Superman as a secret masochist? Field for study there... why not a more typical identity? ...The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but for the reader. He is Superman's opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we, the noncriminal element, were really like." Fans of "Kill Bill" may recall Tarantino and Carradine swiping the argument. I beg to differ.

    Who amongst us talks to children openly as equals? That don't wish to be arrested, or at least become scorned by society? How can you be anything but at least a little patronizing and reserved amongst minds that just are not mature enough to be subjected to naked truth? It isn't that Superman critiques mankind-- it's just that Clark Kent is as close as he can come comfortably to our level. Yes, he's talking down to us, but with the best of intentions.

    "It seems that among Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Superman there existed a schizoid and chaste menage a trois... it appears he wanted Lois to respect him for his fake self... to be there when he pretended he needed her. She never was -- so, of course, he loved her. A typical American romance. Superman never needed her... Lois chased him -- so, of course, he didn't love her... Clark Kent acted as the control for Superman... Our cultural opposite of the man who didn't make out with women has never been the man who did -- but rather the man who could if he wanted to, but still didn't... Real rapport was not for women. It was for villains. That's why they got hit so hard."

    Alternately, Superman could be the overprotective guardian. Lois wants Superman, in ways a child should not want her super-daddy. Superman, naturally, races to protect her when she once again is endangered, but is then skeeved out by her advances. However, Superman is a loving authority figure who doesn't want to damage the girl's self-esteem, so he provides her with a safe, undesirable affirmation of her womanhood-- Clark Kent. Just a theory.

    Next we could consider Larry Niven's 1971 essay, Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex. Suddenly, his heartbreaking, repetitive returns to save doomed Krypton make so much sense. Even if the Strange Visitor from Another Plant were willing to stoop to pedophilia/bestiality and lie with creatures of another species, who's to say they wouldn't "break." Of course he'd know unfathomable longing for his time-lost movie star lady love... it's the reciprocity I wonder about. Sure, Superman would be a sweetly naive, rugged brute of a man to a native Kryptonian. That might keep your interest for a while. Then it starts to set in that this guy has not spent his life amongst his super-intelligent brethren, but simple grade-schoolers. Likely the "special" kind. What would you talk about? Further, if there's one area Superman would fall short under the circumstances, it's "experience." Faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? These are not quite accolades when applied to one's tender nether regions. Perhaps it was best to leave Krypton as it no longer stood? They'd always have Argo City...

    I once had similar thoughts about the Martian Manhunter, until he went through a streak in the 90's when he started bed hopping. I came up with another idea for him, which can be read here.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    A Frank Review of "28 Days Later..." (2002) & "28 Weeks Later..." (2007)

    The Short Version? Zombie apocalypse, sans "zombies."
    What Is It? Horror.
    Who Is In It?. "Days:" Cillian Murphy. Chris Eccleston. "Weeks:" Robert Carlyle
    Should I See It? Yeah... alright... damn it.

    My favorite movie monster is the Living Dead. Usually, I just say zombie, but semantics are important here. You see, in the golden age of Hollywood, zombies were a reasonable approximation of the zuvembi of Caribbean origins. In "voodoo," zombies were the reanimated dead, put to work as soulless slaves by a "witch doctor." Research has suggested there was such a thing, but rather than the dead, these slaves were actually "junkies" strung out on particularly nasty drugs. This being the case, zombie's gotta eat. According to myth, zombies couldn't eat meat, salt, or anything particularly flavorful, as it would awaken their taste buds and their minds to the fact they ought to be dead, and that's where they'd go again. The popular notion of zombies was forever altered in 1968, when the film "Night of the Ghouls" had its name changed to "...Living Dead." Romero and Russo introduced these truly vacant creatures as our loved ones turned mindless and hungry for warm human flesh. This opened the international floodgates for apocalyptic cannibal horror, and while I don't recall whether "Night" referred to its creatures as zombies, that's exactly what they were dubbed.

    I explain this because screenwriter Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle steadfastly denied that their "28 Days Later..." was a zombie movie, but instead a tale of violent masses infected with a virulent horror known only as "Rage." This is utter and complete bullshit. The trailer below for their film even claims "Danny Boyle reinvents zombie horror." Again, bullshit. Like "Resident Evil," the story steals liberally and near wholesale from a variety of sources, but unlike the much maligned Paul Anderson picture, it is defiantly unapologetic about the matter, and pompous in its denial of derivation. Innovations? Like when the soldiers become so loathsome you begin rooting for the zombies and the few civilians the troops plan to rape and murder. Right up to featuring a named "hero" zombie, that movie was filmed in 1985 as "Day of the Dead" by George Romero. Fast zombies? Russo's "Return of the Living Dead" had some speedy brain suckers in 1985. Not that it matters, as Tobe Hooper had already done "Lifeforce," which ends with diseased masses of ghoulish "vampires" rampaging the devastated streets of London. Turning the supernatural "zombies" into the scientific "infected?" Romero did that also, in "The Crazies." There's the flashback monologues that help invest you in the characters and horror of the situation, while not straining your budget, but Romero did the same thing in most of his "Dead" movies. So Boyle did a zombie movie, Garner pieced a script together from other zombie movies, neither will own up, and the movie isn't a Tarantinoesque salvage job so much as a variation on themes from equally good or better films.

    The part that drives me nuts is that "28 Days Later..." is a good film. The performances are solid, the audience responds to the characters, the frenetic cinematography sells the terror and the movie glides right over budgetary restrictions. If its creators weren't so galling in their plagiarism and invented schism between "zombie" and "infected," I'd be more willing to give it credit. So your mob of vicious, mindless killers beats and tears people apart without the eating of intestines. This is hardly reinvention. Also, the highly effective dread early in the film gives way to suspense and finally fatigue as the story progresses. I appreciated the genre rebelling ending, but by that point I'd lost interest. I do love the music though. Shit, okay, Boyle reinvented "zombie horror" with a better soundtrack. Happy now?

    After my less than complimentary review of its predecessor, you might wonder why I would have seen the sequel. I guess the scale of the production seemed impressive, and so much source material for stolen plot had been mined last time, I figured they had to try something new. I was right, in that they found new avenues to plunder, seeing as much of the tone of "Weeks" is right out of the new wave of zombie pictures that followed in "Days" wake.

    Like Cameron with "Aliens" (not to mention "Resident Evil,") the focus shifts from a few isolated civilians surviving to a heavily armed military response to the alien threat. Like Romero's "Day" and "Land of the Dead," we are presented with a reoccurring "hero" zombie that motivates much of the action and aids in the final resolution. Like "The Omega Man," we've got the immune human whose blood can potentially cure a plagued people, and like "Return of the Living Dead Part 2," our guide into zombie land is a prepubescent boy (though I wasn't sure for a ways into the movie, as he was something of a mongoloid Taylor Hansen.) Not to mention, with its propulsive pacing, explosions and constant child endangerment, it was pretty obvious someone had taken Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" to heart. The characters are cardboard, except for Robert Carlyle, who gives one of his best performances yet. I had massive problems with the contrived situations and painfully obvious set-ups, but ultimately, I enjoyed the film as a no-brainer. It is more intense, and more consistently so, than the original (while aping Boyle's style to maximum effect.) As a zombie fan, I found this movie far less antagonizing than the first, but it is more of an experience than a story, and one I'm unlikely to repeat.

    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    The Vixen #1 (Nov-Dec 1978)

    "THE VIXEN No.1, November-December. "Who Is The Vixen" is by Gerry Conway, Bob Oksner, and Vince Colleta. Fashion model Mari McCabe comes in contact with the Tantu Totem, and suddenly regains her long forgotten past, as well as the powers and abilities of three animals. At the United Nations, she attacks the African ruler who murdered her father, years ago."

    That was the synopsis given by The Comic Reader #159 (August 1978) as part of their announcement of DC titles caught in the infamous "Implosion." You can read in great detail the circumstances in this article at Dial "B" For Blog. The gist is the suits at Warner Brothers and sales impacted by heavy snows conspired to cut DC comic production by 40% in one fell swoop, robbing what should have been the first African-American super-heroine with her own title. I'm quite fond of Mari McCabe, and am pleased that she's begun to get her due a quarter-century later through the Justice League of America comic and cartoon.

    Dial "B" For Blog covered the first issue of her non-series, among many others here. That's also where I got the art poorly and hastily colored under duress by myself above. According to that blog, "Created by Gerry Conway with Carla Conway... The story's final caption reads: "THE END…AND THE BEGINNING." Vixen finally made her official debut three years later, in Action Comics #521." You can also find the splash page for the aborted project there.

    Unsatisfied with those slim details (wrapped in an otherwise highly informative article,) I cast about on the internet for more. Luckily, I came upon the Answer Man Bob Rozakis' synopsis of the issue, as part of fantastically extensive coverage of Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, the only place Vixen's story ever saw print. Here's what he had to say...

    "The last full-length book included in is THE VIXEN #1. Is she the same character who finally debuted in ACTION COMICS #521, three years after the DC Implosion? The same one who became a member (with Vibe and Gypsy) of what's been referred to as the Justice League of Detroit? Well, yes…and no.

    Super-model Marilyn McCabe is on top of the fashion world and a modern businesswoman, but after seeing President Manitoba of the African nation of D'Mulla on TV, she faints. This brings back awful memories of her childhood, memories buried in her subconscious oft her father being murdered by Manitoba.

    After consulting with her attorney and realizing she can not pursue Manitoba from a legal standpoint, Marilyn discovers that a necklace left with her by her father has mystical powers. It awakens powers within Marlyn and she dons the costume of The Vixen.

    The Vixen learns that Manitoba, while now preaching peace, intends to unite all of Africa under his rule…by force. His true mission in coming to the United States is not to preach peace, but to murder the sole remaining witness to his crimes in his own country. Luckily, The Vixen is there to save the day. In the battle that ensues, Manitoba is killed by his own manic attack, bringing down a massive cross which crushes him.

    The story ends with Marilyn feeling that a new energy has taken control of her, that she has been reborn. And the bottom caption promises us that this is "The End…and The Beginning." (Well, so, it took three years before she actually appeared. Maybe she was just a slow starter…)

    Beginning with issue #2, there was to be a back-up feature in THE VIXEN, one that I was going to be writing. It never got past script stage… and a few columns from now, I'll be sharing all the details about a series SO canceled that it never even made it into CCC!"

    So there you go. Hopefully The Vixen #1 will be available for us all, but until then, I'm happy to have enough details to keep me quiet in the meantime.


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