Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Frank Review of "Monsters vs. Aliens" (2009)

The Short Version?
The title about covers it.
What Is It? CGI Kid Flick.
Who's In It? The voices of Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Kiefer Sutherland, etc. etc. etc.
Should I See It? No.

I honestly don't have a lot to say about this movie. I've seen the first couple Shreks, and was amused by them. They were thin and as heavy in pop culture references as Saturday Night Live, but they had some heart, and didn't offend my sensibilities. Others weren't so lucky, and I feel I understand those people better now, because MvA embodies every criticism I've heard about the Shrek franchise.

It was bold to center a CGI movie around a female lead, but there's only a handful of scenes telling her story. Susan's arc is so by-the-numbers, it actually becomes shorthand. After her extended wedding day tragedy introduction, Susan becomes a generic POV character with a few brief, obligatory nods to a sketch of a romcom heroine. Her fellow "monsters" aren't even allowed that-- just a few second origin story each. If you took the amusing side characters from another CGI flick and cast them as leads with no further development, you'd have this picture.

The movie is a rarely funny stunt-cast-a-palooza with a mundane story. In-jokes for sci-fi/monster movie aficionados arrive by the truckload for the too-easily amused. The computer graphics are smooth, but the story is completely plastic. The 3D is very in your face, but I suffered from distortion when it came to the most extreme usage, and the novelty wore off fast. Compared to the sublime use of the process on Coraline, AvM is plain obnoxious, emphasis on both "plain" and "obnoxious." There's a good deal of action, but none of it is particularly interesting, and I confess to nodding off briefly in the third act because of it. To steal a tagline from another Vs. travesty, whoever wins, we all lose.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Shove A Meme Up Your Myspace, Blogger Bretheren

I haven't logged onto MySpace since mid-January, and not regularly in nearly a year. I don't have a Facebook account. I will not Twitter. I am an anti-social, overly-opinionated fuckwit with bad hair and a slight overbite. This being the case, I don't understand why anyone should care about trivial details of my miserable, hateful existence, much less wish to form some sort of self-destructive misanthrope community at my side. Yet, folks will send me viral "awards," include me in memes, and generally compromise the The Lord God's Intended Purpose for blogs-- to keep Blogger "types" off street corners, announcing the coming apocalypse with our sandwich board signs, spewing with vomitous breath about how George Lucas raped our childhood.

That being the case, good writers are well-read, and good bloggers follow a similar if comparatively fallow trajectory. In hopes of introducing others to blogs I like, I will deign to introduce them here...

  1. when is evil cool?: Chris Bankrobber reminds me of Vern at AICN... plays at being rough around the edges while discussing alternative media, but is really very clever and precise. He's great about getting at the heart of his praise/complaint and grabbing your interest without rambling. It helps we're into a lot of the same stuff to boot, though he can be blamed for this post, so there's that.
  2. Occasional Superheroine: This is a popular comic/geek culture blog I've followed for a few years, even though I kind of hate it a whole lot. Valerie D'Orazio is one of those women who's great at winning sympathy by painting a portrait from her viewpoint, until you realize how self-important, myopic, compromised, "victimized," and generally shrill she can be. So this has gone from a blog I followed in the "oh, that poor girl with the broken vagina terribly abused by the industry," days to "gee, what's that nakedly opportunistic, deluded Brontë character going to whine about today?" It's fun to watch the wimps vs. the trolls, though, and Val reads way more comic columns than I do, so she's not completely useless.
  3. Pretty, Fizzy Paradise: Kalinara is the anti-Val, sidestepping a cult of personality in favor of a clubhouse. There's a lot of fluff pieces about deeply flawed television and movies to sort through, but where she really shines is in probing and insightful explorations of characterization in serial fiction. Kalinara has blown my mind a time or two by coming at a fictional persona from a perspective I never considered, validating even the worst writing by forming a gestalt impression of a character that makes perfect sense.
  4. The Absorbascon: Scipio is another blogger with skills I admire, as he applies Ivy League education to the juvenile comics medium, specializing in DC and Golden/Silver Age material. He's also one of the rare bloggers who can make me laugh out loud. However, he can also be very snide and dismissive of contrary opinions (especially the faintest hint of Marvel Comics,) so he's also one of the more infuriating personalities I intentionally encounter.
  5. Deep Fried: Jason Yungbluth completely immoral comics were fantastically funny in their heyday, and his political blogging helped me drown out my sorrows during the Bush Administration.
  6. Egotastic!: Because after a hard day of geek blogging, you sometimes have to unwind by reading gossip about reality show tools and masturbate to B-list celebrities naked.

Okay, I was instructed to offer six, so there you go.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Nightwing: Freefall

Dick Grayson has been a favorite of mine for almost as long as I've been reading comic books. I loved Marv Wolfman's work on the character up until the '90s, and his return to Nighwing with Love and War showed promise. However, The Lost Year was dreadful on every front, leaving the next creative team with nowhere to go but up. I've gone on at length about The Trouble With Nightwing, and was somewhat heartened on starting this trade paperback that writer Peter J. Tomasi seemed to share some of my concerns. In his initial run, he wrote a lighthearted Grayson that could never be confused with Matt Murdock, frequenting the Batcave as he pleased, and fraternizing with his replacement as Robin. This Nightwing carried over old foes from his Boy Wonder days, took advantage of his fortune to enable his heroics, and began building a new lair of his own. All this, and drawn by Rags Morales to boot. What's not to love?

A bit too much, I'm afraid. Most of the trade is devoted to entanglements with Talia, mother of Batman's bastard child. However, Talia was usually a reluctant aid against the schemes of her father, Ra's al Ghul, meaning Nightwing is stuck with the suddenly villainous but mostly dismissible daughter of a far more worthy foe. Alternately, there's mad scientist Creighton Kendall, a leftover from the largely forgotten Black Condor series Rags drew in the early '90s. These do not inspire confidence in the abilities of our hero.

Next, there's Grayson's new role as a museum curator, not unlike Hawkman, from another series drawn by Rags. This development comes out of nowhere, is highly derivative, and poorly suits the lead character. How about his new librarian girlfriend Deborah, separated partly by his old librarian girlfriend Barbara Gordon by (snicker) blond cornrows? Cameos by Superman, Flash, and the JSA show how easily Nightwing can network, but they're used so casually, and without canonical support, that they seem out of place. There's repeated references to Nightwing skydiving that just take up space. The cavalier script reads like a more graphic retread of old '70s comics, the second coming of Gerry Conway or Mike W. Barr. The story itself veers into bad Roger Moore Bond territory. The final battle is especially ridiculous, as Nightwing relies on lightning precognition to place an unimpressive villain right where he needs him at the exact second. Plus, Don Kramer has to pick up the ball for Rags routinely, leaving the art inconsistent.

There's no weight here, and Nightwing remains firmly on the B- List. Shoudn't having been one of the most recognizable heroes in the world once still mean something, or will he always remain in the shadow of not just the Batman, but even the latest Robin?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

DC Challenge #3 (1/1986)

Previous issue writer Len Wein set up Aquaman's salvation just as Doug Moench would play it out, but felt Moench had "copped-out" on the symbol Superman found in the bomb crater. Len would have had B'wana Beast use his power to combine or disassemble two or more animals to separate the Manticore into a lion and a scorpion.

  • In ancient times, Jon, the Viking Prince kept night watch. He was alerted to long-dead Hrolf using a laser to carve a portion of sacred runes off a cave wall. A demon flowed from Hrolf's chest, and defeated Jon with the help of one Cuthbert J. McGonigle, an anachronistic pedantic dressed in a white double breasted suit. McGonigle next merged the prince with a lance that he then threw into a deep trench.

  • A bald, pointy-eared alien had viewed recent goings on in this series through a monitor. "I am not pleased. Let him in." A merciless despot was allowed into the alien's chambers for a dressing down. "Mongul, you not only failed-- you left another clue for subject Superman. " Mongul replied, "I warned that these Earth super-heroes would not be easy to--" but was cut off. "Never mind the excuses, Mongul! I want you to get back to their moon with another relay device at once-- or Project X will never be successfully completed. Now go-- the next crew is already waiting to leave."

  • Jonah Hex swerved to avoid the nuns and children, though he did smash into another couple of cars in the process. Then, the Djinn/Other that fought the Manticore last issue arrived, explaining he had only left the battle to retrieve Hex's piece of the stone. Once that was done, the undead gangsters vanished, while Hex himself was returned to his year of departure, 1876.

  • Congorilla and B'wana Beast were in the Manticore's clutches, until the latter used his powers to merge the golden gorilla with the mythological monstrosity. Congo Bill then did some brain swapping, but in the end everyone's psyche returned to where they had started. The Manticore eventually left the scene in search of the Other...

  • On the moon, Superman somehow determined the symbol left in the crater referred to Deadman, though I'd say it more closely resembled half a pretzel, or maybe the letter "D" (hey-- wait!)

  • In Midway City, Batman delivered the stone tablet and number sequence he'd received to museum curators Carter and Shiera Hall for further study. Shiera determined that the tablet's message had been altered, having found a deceptive "plug" covering a piece extracted from the tablet. Word then came over the radio that the Manticore was rampaging in town, so the couple changed into their super-hero garb as Hawkman and Hawkwoman. Hawkman took with him the viking lance seen earlier...

  • In Metropolis, Floyd Perkins underwent hypnosis to recall he'd reached the mystery floor at the Daily Planet by pushing the lobby button while on that floor. With the help of Jimmy Olsen, Superman learned of this, and detected radiation traces on the Planet's roof that were also strongly present at the WGBS broadcasting antenna...

  • The Other was in Midway City, inserting Jonah Hex's stone into the Hawks' tablet. The Hawks themselves fought the Manticore, until Hawkman threw the viking lance into the creature's forehead gem. Shattered, the Manticore vanished, while a gem shard found by Hawkwoman now contained a tiny Viking Prince...

  • In the Sahara Desert, Aquaman snatched a vulture that intended to feast on him from the air, and turned the intent against it. Rejuvenated by the 97% water found in its blood, the Sea King rose to carry on with his trek. Less than an hour later, another seeming oasis proved real, and Aquaman emerged from it to find the classic Justice League of America had homed in on his signal device. As an aside, among them was a Green Lantern John Stewart that was clearly a recolored Hal Jordan.

    Aquaman explained, "I was on duty in the JLA Satellite [even though it had been destroyed once or twice by that point in continuity]-- when I detected unusual transmission beams originating from the moon, and teleported myself down to the beams' target point-- an excavation site here in the Sahara. From hiding, I overheard the Arab diggers say they were looking for 'cuneiforms of Allah's sacred words' which would give them 'the power to defeat all' ...When I snuck into one of the tents to steal a burnoose disguise, I discovered a device [duplicating Mongul's] of apparent alien technology... and I also saw that the diggers were not really Arabs."

  • The Hawks returned to the museum and the tablet. With the new piece and some time, they determined a coded time and place-- almost twelve hours hence in the Peruvian jungle. Hawkman took the gem shard with him to Peru, leaving Hawkwoman to wait for additional information from Batman...

  • In the Batcave, the Dark Knight determined that the number sequence could mean the end of the world, and set about contacting Midway City...

  • Hawkman arrived at the allotted time in Peru, only to be struck by a Zeta Beam and teleported to the planet Rann. Adam Strange greeted him, as the pair fought through rampaging monsters to the lab of the scientist Sardath. Rann was overrun by warring factions of their ancient mythological beings, and these were the same alien "demons" continuing the fight to Earth. Hawkman presented Sardath the gem shard, from which a projector ray released the Viking Prince. Just then, Hawkman was knocked out by a collapsing roof, while Adam Strange's zeta-beam radiation wore off, returning him to Earth. From above, a monster attacked...

  • Back in the Sahara, Aquaman explained he'd had to run into the desert after being detected, only to find he'd just given the full skinny to aliens of the type commanding Mongul, disguised as the JLofA. Resuming their true forms, the aliens directed their ray pistols at the Sea King...

  • Batman and Hawkwoman reached the Peruvian jungle, but were attacked by a green monster that ripped off the heroine's wings. As the pair were about to plunge off a cliff to their doom, Adam Strange arrived. He couldn't save the duo and catch the Zeta-Beam home, could he?

  • "Viking Vengeance" was by Doug Moench, Carmine Infantino and Bob Smith.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Frank Review of "Quills" (2000)

The Short Version? The definer of sadism taunts authority from an asylum.
What Is It? Period Dramedy.
Who's In It? Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, & Michael Caine.
Should I See It? Yes.

At the heart of Quills is a rather disturbing point; that art can indeed inspire evil, yet must still refuse responsibility for its misdeeds to service the greater good. It's a tale of common people with undesirable lives enlivened by the deviance of the Marquis de Sade. The film is intended as a fable, and is therefore far from historically accurate, but a wicked delight nonetheless.

The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has evaded execution after the French Revolution by getting himself committed to an asylum. He benefits from the liberal policies of the institutions director, the Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) until Napoleon gets wind he's still getting his deviant work published with the aide of the wash maid Madeleine LeClerc(Kate Winslet.) This brings down the oversight of Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine,) a man whose callous methods puts the Marquis' pretend sadism to shame. The Marquis strains at his leash, while Maddy makes the padre's collar chafe, sending the madhouse dangerously close to a fever pitch.

The performances across the board are spectacular, even if the casting is completely inappropriate when compared to the historical figures. Winslet is far too mature to play a girl not yet out of her teens, and Phoenix is about as removed from a middle aged hunchback as one can imagine. However, these characters are not meant to be biographical, but allegorical. The material originated as a play, and retains that feel, remaining a modern morality play for a preferably polluted crowd. Doug Wright's script begs for personal interpretation and debate, but not during its running time, when one is expected to be transfixed by its deviant charm, as well as its serpentine shifts in plot and tone. This is an adult cinematic experience, surprisingly light on graphic sex, more concerned with engaging the mind and emotions. By the end, viewers have trod a grim path, but its difficult to leave without a smile.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

1987 Brian Bolland Valkyrie! Pin-Up

From the June cover-dated Valkyrie! #2 (of 3,) published by Eclipse Comics.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

1987 Brent Anderson Valkyrie! Pin-Up

From the June cover-dated Valkyrie! #2 (of 3,) published by Eclipse Comics, and featuring Airboy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

nurghophonic jukebox: "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" by Nat King Cole

Written By: Music- Duke Ellington. Lyrics- Bob Russell.
Released: 1940 (music only, as "Never No Lament"); 1942 (with lyrics, as "Don't Get Around Much Anymore)"; 1957 (Cole's cover)
Album: Just One Of Those Things
Single?: A Standard.

Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Couldn't bear it without you
Don't get around much anymore

Thought I'd visit the club
Got as far as the door
They'd have asked me about you
Don't get around much anymore

Oh, Darling I guess my mind's more at ease
But nevertheless, why stir up memories

Been invited on dates
Might have gone but what for
Awfully different without you
Don't get around much anymore

Monday, March 23, 2009

1987 William Stout Valkyrie! Pin-Up

From the June cover-dated Valkyrie! #2 (of 3,) published by Eclipse Comics.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

DC Challenge #2 (12/1985)

First issue writer Mark Evanier: "See, what's interesting about this round-robin DC CHALLENGE is that the story can go a zillion ways and no author has to solve things the way the guy before him did. Like, I had no idea who that clown was who decked Superman on the moon; I figured, let Len dope it out."

  • Unable to contact anyone about the bomb from the Gotham City Power Plant, Batman used a batarang to shut down service to half the city. His taunting, turbaned, pointy-eared antagonist vanished in the confusion. Numbers were left written on a wall as a clue.
  • The year was 1876 in Flagstaff, Wyoming when Jonah Hex gunned down some bandits with an inscribed glowing blue rock. Caught in a dizzy spell, Hex looked up to find himself on a city street in modern times. "Welcome to 1985, Mister Hex. Welcome to your nightmare!"
  • Game ranger Mike Maxwell and famed explorer naturalist Congo Bill were being interviewed for television by Olivia Cortez of News-Nine. Both were campaigning for funding to help the Save the Ape Foundation, but their plea was interrupted by an earthquake. Bill rescued the reporter from falling into a fissure caused by the ascent of the Manticore, "After too many centuries beneath this cold, foul Earth..."
  • On the moon, Kal-El's merciless foe returned to his device. "I know not how Superman found me here-- but he was a fool to challenge me! In none of our previous encounters has he ever truly been a match for the power of-- Mongul, Master of Worlds!! And now that I'm certain the relay mechanism is undamaged-- I can finally finished the cursed Kryptonian once and for-- eh? He's disappeared-- but that's impossible--! He should have been powerless against the red-sun energy of my Enervating Ray--! He shouldn't have had strength enough to breathe, let alone escape me--! And if he has escaped, where has he gone--?" The Man of Steel had used the last of his heat vision to burrow into the moon rock, then lept out to punch Mongul! Superman again decked Mongul, sending his flying into his relay device. The resultant explosion seemed to obliterate master and machine. Little trace was left for Superman, except some sort of writing that materialized at the center of the bomb crater. "Great Krypton! It can't be--! I know that symbol-- but the one to whom it belongs is dead!"
  • Jonah Hex stole the only horse he could find from a city policeman, lost it, and was held up by classic movie gangsters led by Peter Lorre.
  • The Manticore demanded the same thing as the spirit creatures that Superman and Wonder Woman had fought: "Where is he whom I am sworn to stop?! Bring me-- the OTHER!!" News cameraman Milo refused to stop filming. Congo Bill vanished to rub his magic ring and trade minds with the Congorilla, whom he'd brought with him for an exhibition. Mike separately donned his B'wana Beast costume, but was dismayed to find the Golden Gorilla missing. His own ape companion Djuba was called to action, as well.
  • In the Sahara Desert, a robed figure wandered the wasteland. At the sight of water, Aquaman cast off his protective garb, only to be crushed by the realization it was just a mirage. Delirious, the Sea King collapsed into the sand, vultures circling overhead.
  • Milo the cameraman figured he'd retire with the profits from his footage, until the Manticore seized him. However, Milo's scent was unusual, and then he released his own spirit creature to fight the Manticore. "So-- at last! Then let the battle begin!" The silent Congorilla and B'wana Beast teamed up to protect civilians from escaping zoo animals. The Manticore drove off the Djinn with its scorpion tail, then turned its attention toward the jungle heroes.
  • Jonah Hex was led at gunpoint to the '30s gangsters' car, which was being driven by what last issue resembled Nosferatu, but under this creative team was clearly an Arabic genie-type, complete with rubied turban. Peter Lorre thanked Hex for surrendering "the tablet," but put up a fight when the gangsters appeared set on drilling him. Hex beat or shot everyone but "Pointy-Ears," who vanished, leaving his car heading straight for "a group of innocent children and nuns" crossing the rain-swept street.
  • "Blinded By The Light" was by Len Wein, Chuck Patton and Mike DeCarlo.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

1985 Mayfair Games New Teen Titans DC Heroes Role Playing Game Ad

I'm not sure who penciled this piece, though the awkward stances and figure placement suggest it might have been a lesser known or amateur artist. The inks are strongly reminiscent of early NTT art though, so I suspect Romeo Tanghal may have inked it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

1986 DC Comics Aquaman Mini-Series Ad

This is gorgeous Craig Hamilton promo art for the 4-issue mini-series he did with Neal Pozner that should have redefined the character for the '80s. Even though it was a modest success that actually picked up readers by the last issue, a planned sequel languished in development hell, and licensing concerns did the reinvention no favors. I hope, as a tide of liberalism had swept into conservative DC during that decade, that Pozner & Hamilton's sexual orientations didn't play into the boondoggle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

David Lapham's Young Liars 1: Daydream Believer

Two things I don't in any way trust? When someone relates a comic book to rock & roll, or when the premise of a new Vertigo series sounds very much like an old Vertigo series. In the case of the former, what the hell is so revolutionary about "rock" half a fucking century past its introduction to popular culture? Mountain Dew is rock n' roll, according to particularly unimaginative marketing fucks. As for the latter, well, let's just say Vertigo wishes to whatever gods they worship for a flagship title or three to always assure their fortunes. Admittedly, guys like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison probably got their feet through the door at the chilling realization Alan Moore would probably never write for Karen Berger again. However, no one speaks in hushed tones about "Black Orchid" or "Kid Eternity," their most naked attempts to channel Moore. "The Sandman" transformed into an evergreen property once Gaiman embraced his love for obscure mythology and folklore, while Morrison's great works came about once he embraced hallucinogenics.

How about "Fables" breaking out after Bill Willingham toiled for years on mediocre Sandman spin-offs? Or how everyone's time was wasted by Jamie Delano following Ennis and Dillon's "Preacher" with the immediately suspect "Outlaw Nation"? So color me cynical when I heard David Lapham of "Stray Bullets", a great noir title that nevertheless rode the coattails of "Sin City", was assembling a series about a group of young eccentrics on the run from a secret multimillion dollar organization run by sexual deviants. Touted by Gerard fucking Way of My Chemical Ronmance, none the less!

However, I'm here to tell you "Young Liars" is not a shallow retread, but more of a punk cover. Yes, the central characters are a couple, and the girl is the one exceptionally gifted and dealing damage to her fellow human beings. Rather than a rip-off though, Lapham makes the similarity to Preacher feel like an homage at best, but more likely an in-your-face snarling satire. Danny and Sadie do not have an idyllic love that will overcome incredible obstacles, but a deeply heinous co-dependency built on deceit and psychosis. Their cohorts aren't lovable rogues, but absolute shit-stains on society. I confess that Way was on the money in his introduction, when he stated that if you've ever been young and urbane, you've either known or been these people, who lie to others and themselves just to make it through to the day they get over or die.

Lapham actually tries a bit too quickly and neatly to express this to the reader in his first issue, likely too formulaic to appeal to its hip target audience. An issue-long flashback in the second chapter slows the pace enough to more naturally delve into the head of our point of view character . Each segment offers suggested music to listen to while reading, and by the third portion you begin to realize the entire trade is following Rob Gordon's rules for crafting a proper mix tape. Here, any sentimentality or sincerity shakes loose, and jokes set-up previously start paying off like dominoes tumbling. The killing machines stalking our "heroes" are laughably incompetent, the "heroes" themselves could easily be villains in another story, and their grand quest is just an excuse to bludgeon all parties for our sadistic kicks.

Young Liars is sexy, vomitous, exciting, perverse, derivative, original and a glorious, balls to the walls showcase for situational ethics. By rights, you should hate the book and everyone in it, just like the most gifted and infuriating music artists. At a low introductory price of just $9.99, it's cheaper and will last longer than a dose of smack. Take a hit, why don't you?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Emanuelle in America (Part 4, 1976)

Character Name:
Actress: Laura Gemser
Actual Movie Title: Emanuelle in America
Known Aliases: "Brutal Nights," "Black Emanuelle en Amérique"
Country of Origin: Italy
Character Nationality: U.S.A.
Character Age:
Occupation: Photographer (news, nudes)
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Locales: New York
Release Date: January 5, 1977 (Italy)
Director: Joe D'Amato
DVD: Emanuelle In America (1976)
Stats: Third Black Emanuelle, 2nd with Laura Gemser

Story: Emanuelle attends a swank soiree, where she blows off a boorish fellow trying to make time with her. She then runs into a fresh general, who she also dismisses. She's more interested in the ridiculous bleach blond with the porn 'stace; Beastie Boys "Sabotage" by way of John Holmes in a white polyester leisure suit. A homely middle aged woman butts in, "You get your own drink." It seems Gregor, who wore a black and gold choker with a "5" engraved on it, had been "won." The woman would only allow Emanuelle to look at him from a distance she guided her to. "In the Caribbean Islands there's this delightful club for single women. It's quite extraordinary."

While Alfredo Elvize, Duke of Mount Elba (Gabriele Tinti) and his wife Laura (Paola Senatore) greet their guests, sneaks off to a secluded room... filled with fine art forgeries. The Duke grabs her arm from behind and growls "I don't like people who are too inquisitive." Alfredo had informers who had told him all about Emanuelle, and he thought she had a miniature camera secreted in her bracelet. Emanuelle confessed, showed him her bracelet was not so encumbered, and explained she wasn't there for work. "...Those forgeries don't interest me professionally. If you put one over on van Darren, I'll find that amusing." Alfredo still isn't sure he can trust her, but Emanuelle calmly explains "You can kill me if you like... Half of New York knows I'm here. Do you think it's worth it?" Alfredo relents, explaining he likes to collect paintings, and half of the ones in the room were genuine. As for customs, "a noble title has its advantages." Emanuelle thought his collection was perfect, "something like your marriage." Emanuelle was grateful for the help in confirming her doubts about matrimony. "I might even have changed my mind."

The Duke led Emanuelle back to the party, as his wife announced to all it was time to make the affair more interesting. A cake standing a good six feet was brought in, and everyone supplied a slice. An older, nerdy man finds the golden peanut in his piece, and is awarded another nubile piece hidden within the cake's frame. Nude, on a leash, and covered in frosting, the girl is led about-- and soon attracts other onlickers. Meanwhile the aggressive general is again rebuffed by Emanuelle, her eyes rolling, while the party converts to an orgy. As it turns out, Emanuelle's miniature camera was hidden in her necklace, and she finds the hardcore inserts of fellatio for European distribution far more interesting than the art scam. Don't we all? Alfredo and Laura bump uglies on the floor, along with everyone else. A lesbian couple sixty-nine, and Emanuelle doesn't even stop snapping when the general strips and suckles her. All the while, Nico Fidenco synths anticipate Goblin's score for "Dawn of the Dead."

After the gondola ride to the airport, Emanuelle strokes the cheek of her anonymous steward and tells him sardonically "You're the cleanest, sweetest memory I have of Venice." Clearly regretful, Emanuelle is ready to go back home...

...to be continued...

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Frank Review of "Snatch" (2000)

The Short Version? Your got your stolen diamond in my bare-knuckle boxing match!
What Is It? Dick Flick/Comedy.
Who's In It? Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro.
Should I See It? Hell Yes!

I saw this picture in the theater with my best friend, exactly as it should have been, barring the inclusion of more guy friends. To this day, it's probably the best flick we ever saw together and both enjoyed. It is thoroughly a guy picture, to the point of a guy named Guy directing it, but chicks can dig it to. I've seen the picture many times since, and never with an audience that didn't have a blast. Clever souls can keep up with the byzantine plot and heavily accented banter. Dummies can coast on the flamboyant visual style, mad characters, superb sourced soundtrack and omnipresent cool. The only sourpusses are movie critics in the latter camp who can't stand being outpaced by the former.

The film starts with Turkish (Jason Statham) and his partner Tommy (Stephen Graham) sitting in an office, patiently if cryptically explaining themselves to the audience. The scene then shifts to a bank of security monitors following a group of Hasidic Jews through a jewelry supplier's offices as the credits pass. Cue a loud techno title sequence followed by a cartoonish montage introduction to all the major characters. At this point, viewers may begin to feel the film grasping at their imaginary scrotum, and it is up to each individual to decide whether to recoil or enjoy its silken caress.

We return to Turkish and Tommy, as Statham offers the snarky presence that made him a star and allows fans to forgive him his constant career missteps. Statham's voice is among the ideals you could hear narrating your own life, much less a movie. Alternately, there's Brick Top (Alan Ford,) one of the most vicious twats in cinema history. Put these two in a room together discussing the boxers they individually manage, and the movie offers a psychosomatic Smell-O-Vision testosterone experience. Dennis Farina's just around the corner, accentuating the musk to a near overpowering level. Already, Guy Ritchie's writing is greatly enhanced by a diverse cast of very distinct actors.

To detail more could potentially spoil the fun, though likely not, as every set up swerves repeatedly throughout the production. Brad Pitt's turn as the indecipherable pikey Mickey O'Neil is another iconic role for the actor. An ill-fated match early in the flick made my heart sink to the tune of "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. Lennie James, Robbie Gee, Ade and Goldie are hilarious as a group of hoods in way over their heads. Vinnie Jones as Bullet Tooth Tony is one of the few legitimate hard motherfuckers since the heyday of Bronson and Eastwood. Finally, there's Boris The Blade (Rade Serbedzija,) the conniving, unkillable Russian that offers a great deal of belly laughs.

Snatch is a thorough pleasure that stands up to repeat viewings. It obviously owes a great deal to Tarantino, but while Quentin reworked hoary Hollywood tropes, Guy Ritchie's film feels modern and graced with verisimilitude. Also like Tarantino, Ritchie later diversified away from his strengths, which diluted Quent, but nearly destroyed Ritchie. Perhaps if Ritchie had continued to repackage this premise, I'd look on it less kindly, but compared to Swept Away and Revolver, it's downright brilliant.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Frank Review of "Amores Perros" ("Love's a Bitch," 2000)

The Short Version? Mexican Tarantino
What Is It? Indie Action/Drama
Who's In It? Gael García Bernal.
Should I See It? Half of it.

I've had people recommend this flick to me since my days work as a video store clerk, so my girlfriend didn't have to twist my arm to finally sit down with it. Things start out strong with a car chase involving a wounded dog that ends in a multi-car wreck. Flashback to a few months prior, and we're introduced to the world of dog-fighting through our first protagonist, Octavio (Gael García Bernal.) Octavio has the hots for his schoolgirl sister-in-law Susana (Vanessa Bauche,) who had a baby with his abusive sibling Ramiro (Marco Pérez.) Tensions build as Octavio finds a champion in his brother's dog Cofi, a vicious gang of rivals, and new money begins flowing into his household. Subplots begin to surface with seemingly unrelated characters, but Octavio's story drives the film for 57 1/2 compelling minutes of crime fiction...

...and then it all goes to shit. Famed model Valeria (Goya Toledo) had popped up in passing a few times earlier, and her story jarringly takes center stage. From the grit of the barrio we're transported to a vapid upper class life that the filmmakers seem to have little interest in. That being the case, twists in her and Daniel's (Álvaro Guerrero) tale become a morality play straight out of a segment from an old British horror movie anthology. Even the slowest members of the audience now realize each tale will pivot around the too-clever devices of the car crash and the love of dogs ("Love's a Bitch," get it? Get it!?!) Guerrero sleepwalks, while Toledo does her best with an under-written part. The audience suffers for 36 1/2 minutes, including the continuations of a third subplot, and the complete absence of Octavio's arc.

El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría,) the derelict hitman, finally gets his turn. If that sounds like the set-up for one of the many awful Pulp Fiction knock-offs that plagued the mid-90s, your hearing is fine. This installment is downright silly, seeming more intent on tying the various threads of the film together than telling a fully coherent story of its own. A movie that start out with promise and my full interest creaked and groaned toward the 2:30 hour mark, stretched far beyond the breaking point.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's direction is solid throughout, but Guillermo Arriaga's script is overconfident and aimless, producing a film in desperate need of merciless editing. Even if the entire middle chapter were excised, El Chivo's eccentricities would be difficult to rein in, to the point where I'd just as soon see the first installment extended into its own feature. The soundtrack is excellent, at least.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

1986 Elvira Mistress of the Dark T-Shirt Ad

I used to have an Elvira bathing suit poster where she was rubbing Moon Tan lotion on that didn't survive a cross-state move. I was quite a fan circa 1987.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Whatever Happened To Dr. Mid-Nite?" (1/1981)

Dr. Mid-Nite was wrestling with would-be narcotics dealer Alvin Miller in Memorial Hospital's medical supply room, even though his infra-red goggles now did little to help his fading eyesight. Applying a blackout bomb to a situation that once would have been a cakewalk, Mid-Nite found "It's far worse than I feared! I'm becoming totally blind-- even in the dark!" Dr. Mid-Nite had to rely on his experience and hearing to knock Miller out, right before the cops showed. "Luckily, I know the layout of this hospital well enough to get back [to his office] without revealing Dr. Mid-Nite can't see! Having a blind super-hero and a blind doctor would be too much of a coincidence!"

Dr. Charles McNider contacted his old friend and ophthalmologist Dr. Gordon Ogilvy in hopes of saving his super-hero career. Ogilvy had developed glasses that worked like sonar, and was testing them a young man named Tim when McNider rang his telephone. Gordy explained to an insistent Tim the glasses still needed work, but told McNider over the phone they were coming along great. Tim beat Ogilvy to death with his cane, leading Dr. Mid-Nite to rush to the scene. Mid-Nite's vision returned intermittently, so he combined it with his detective skill in search of Tim. Luckily, two toughs on the seedier side of town just happened to discuss a $1,000 bet that blind Timmy couldn't swipe one of Senator B.J. Potter's collection of sculptures in McNider's earshot.

Dr. Mid-Nite caught up with Tim inside the senator's mansion, but the former's night-sight was again fading fast, so the latter slugged him easily. "A blackout bomb will blind him-- What am I thinking about?! This guy is able to see in the dark-- better than I can!" Worse, Mid-Nite's night-vision finally conked out!

Mid-Nite's only advantage was that he knew Tim's glasses only drew shapes through movement. The Doctor hugged a wall, leading Tim on. The murderous thief decided "this time I'm doublin' up my fist-power" and punched a statue draped with Mid-Nite's cape with both his now broken hands. The big ball of stupidity wrapped with the senator investigating via lit candelabra, as though the story took place during the late 19th century.

Alvin Miller, dude raiding the hospital supply room, was provided a surname for two pages of work. Tim should be so lucky, as he was sent up, and his victim put in the ground. Millions lost out because of a "foolish wager," though Mid-Nite hoped to adapt Ogilvy's glasses for his own problem. "Combined with my infra-red goggles, Gordy's seeing-eye-glasses will enable Dr. Mid-Nite to continue his fight for justice!"

This silly back-up story from DC Comics Presents #29 (1/1981) was bungled by Bob Rozakis, Alex Saviuk and Joe Giella.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DC Challenge #1 (11/1985)

  • Floyd Perkins, Daily Planet copy boy, had been deposited on a floor of the building that shouldn't exist. Men in strange outfits held a meeting, and at the head of the table, a fellow who resembled Nosferatu demanded he leave. On the way out, Floyd ran into Humphrey Bogart.
  • Three miles away in Metropolis, a demonic entity rose out of a man's body to fight Superman. Someone sent Superman a mental message telling him the creature was vulnerable to low air pressure, which the Man of Steel produced. As Jimmy Olsen looked on, Groucho Marx stood beside him. The "demon" vanished, so the Last Son of Krypton took the man from which it was emitted to an iron lung in Gotham City. Clark Kent learned from Commissioner Gordon that the man was small time crook James Hoyt, presumed dead in 1967.
  • The Riddler sent Bruce Wayne a Beta video cassette stating the he knew Batman's real identity. Clues led the Dark Knight Detective to the Gotham Museum of Knighthood, where he busted second-story man Lenny Horton stealing as ancient stone tablet.
  • Superman flew to the JLA satellite, where Aquaman had abandoned monitor duty for parts unknown. Kal-El determined his was not the first recent "possession" through the ship's computer, and that the demonic releases were tied to phases of the moon. Traveling there, Superman spied a light coming from a crater, itself produced by a device of alien origin. "It's powered by solar energy... but not from our sun. I can feel that it's energy from a red star. It looks like it's some sort of relay device, taking in signals and sending them out again... towards Earth!" A figure walked up behind the Kryptonian, then fired a crimson ray that drained him of his energy. There was no sound as Superman collapsed in defeat. As for the unknown foe wearing purple boots, the intruder turned and nonchalantly walked off to go about his business.
  • Floyd Perkins and Jimmy Olsen compared notes, but could not relocate the hidden floor. They returned to the staff room, where they found Perry White arguing with a plainclothes Adam Strange about reaching Superman to protect a stone tablet. "In fact, the whole world needs it."
  • At the Pentagon, Steve Trevor and Diana Prince were compelled to find a missing "nuclear device the size of a paperback book," preferably with Wonder Woman's help. Granted, the Amazing Amazon visited the lab from which the device went missing. A demonic spirit exited Professor Samuel, fought Princess Diana for a bit, then fled by air.
  • Batman learned the real Riddler was still behind bars, unaware of the videotaped challenge. At the power plant clues had led him to, Batman found another Nosferatu type. Turns out the nuclear device was inside Bruce Wayne's Betamax, set to explode in eight seconds...
  • "Outbreak!" was by Mark Evanier, Gene Colan and Bob Smith.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

1985 CBS Saturday Morning Cartoons Comic Book Ad

Presumably the only time Gil Kane drew Hulk Hogan, and I hope to God it was profitable. Featured cartoons included the boring ass Berenstain Bears, the friggin' Wuzzles, and the lousy Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling To the best of my knowledge, the Young Astronauts never aired, due to concerns following the Challenger tragedy. Jim Henson's Little Muppet Monsters only lasted three episodes trailing Muppet Babies before the plug was pulled. I think it's safe to say this was not one of the Tiffany Network's banner years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Whatever Happened To Johnny Thunder?" (12/1980)

Johnny Thunder was "DC's longest running and most durable western character." After John Tane made a deathbed promise to his mother to "become a school master and teach your pupils that books are more powerful than bullets," he couldn't follow in the footsteps of his sheriff father. However, the old man couldn't keep up with the lawless, so John assumed the identity of Thunder to help keep the peace. He'd color his blond hair black, disguise his voice... even ride a different horse!

This was all well and good, until John came to suspect blond Jeanne Walker to be the strawberry bandit Madame .44, and she was on to him as well. While .44 was a self-proclaimed "Robin Hood," Silk Black was pure outlaw, as his gang robbed the local bank. Tane and Walker ducked for cover separately, while their alter egos emerged to give chase.

Johnny Thunder was winged in the shoulder and briefly blacked out. Sheriff Tane drew on Madame .44. Silk Black made his getaway, followed by Madame .44, followed by the sheriff, and finally the recovered Thunder on his horse, Black Lightning.

As rain fell, Sheriff Tane lost the trail, but his son caught sight of Silk laying in wait for the madame, and offered cover fire. A rock slide ensued, sending Thunder, .44, and their horses over a cliffside leap into the river below. Madame .44 broke her arm in the fall, and would have drowned if not for Johnny.

Silk Black continued to fire on the pair from above, so while the madame offered left-handed cover fire, Johnny Thunder waited for a lightning flash to reveal the outlaw's position. "Silk Black's limp body falls where it can never be found..."

The storm had washed away Tane and Walker's disguises, and their injuries insured the sheriff would know who Johnny Thunder and Madame .44 really were. Though they had an amiable ride to the sheriff's office, John had to turn Jeanne in. However, John saw to it his father arranged for a full pardon from the governor, and the sheriff was proud to see his son had been his secret "deputy" all that time.

Johnny Thunder and Madame .44 continued to patrol Mesa City as a couple, while in their real lives they settled down with their two children, Becky and Chuck, to whom they were open about their adventures.

This back-up story from DC Comics Presents #28 was crafted by Mike Tiefenbacher and Gil Kane.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Whatever Happened To Congorilla?" (11/1980)

Congo Bill started his adventures in "Darkest Africa," but "civilization has arrived and lit up the place." Bill's young white protégé Janu the Jungle Boy was now the grown-up VP of a large industrial firm. Janu was dismissive of natives reacting superstitiously to a comet in the night sky, even though Congo Bill had gained the ability to become Congorilla while they still ran about in the bush. Regardless, Janu reported the activity to company president Bill, who was also dismayed that in post-industrial Africa people still believed the fireball heralded the coming of a silver gorilla "which will bestow power, wealth, and long life on all who bring it raw diamonds..." Bill had his aid Okantu call a meeting of the company's staff to quash these rumors, but too many of his staff were unwilling to let go of the native legend.

Congo Bill, Janu, and Okantu made their way to an assembly where Banaka, the Gorilla God, through his representative K'bani, asked "Who will be first to receive his blessing?" Bill felt the best way to expose the scam was to confront this silver gorilla with a golden one, as he prepared to switch his mind with the Congorilla.

Congorilla spied Fred Cantrell, "a crook who was jailed in Nigeria for trying to steal the oil rights to tribal lands," dressed as the silver gorilla. Cantrell and K'bani used fireworks to simulate the mythological fireball, and were quite pleased with the diamonds their racket was racking in. Congorilla decided to fight fire with fire, appearing before the "silver gorilla" and the villagers from out of an incendiary flare. This golden gorilla was also perceived as "the gorilla god of my ancestral tribe," leading to a brawl between the simian "deities." Cantrell had been a pro wrestler, which allowed him an initial advantage over Congorilla, but the crook lacked the strength to finish the job. Congorilla unmasked Cantrell, then allowed the angry mob to carry the false god and K'bani off for some jungle justice, while Bill "appropriated" those raw diamonds to turn over to the authorities.

Later, Okantu congratulated Congo Bill. "You not only exposed those diamond-cheaters, you made our people realize ancient beliefs were superstitious nonsense!" Way to suck up to the rich white oppressor! Besides, Congo Bill was more than capable of applauding himself. "If those swindlers had done their homework, they'd have realized there isn't room for two intelligent gorillas in this land! Besides, gold beats silver every time!"

This back-up story from DC Comics Presents #27 was crafted by Bob Rozakis, Romeo Tanghal, and F. Chiaramonte.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Frank Review of "Watchmen" (2009)

The Short Version? Adult Super-Heroes Face Nuclear Armageddon.
What Is It? Action-Drama.
Who's In It? Nobody you know.
Should I See It? Yes.

I always hesitate to admit this, but truth be told, I've never been impressed with Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen comic book mini-series/graphic novel. A great deal of my reaction is due to having read it in 1993-- years after The Dark Knight Returns, Marshal Law, Brat Pack, and even some of Moore's own Marvel/Miracleman. There was a quote years past that proclaimed DKR the brass band playing at the funeral of super-hero comics, and Watchmen the autopsy. Moore's intricate, clinical story certainly bore that out for me, but the shock was never there, and I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I suppose it's a remarkable bit of craft, and my negative opinion has softened over time, but I expect I'll never be a fan. The text portions were too precious and pretentious, and I mostly hooked into the origin sequences, as I've always been a sucker for first person narration. Still though, a book like Watchmen felt inevitable to me. Only Frank Miller would combine Micky Spillane's hyperbolic pulp detective storytelling with '80s Walter Hill action swagger, political satire, and post-apocalyptic super-hero fantasy. Watchmen was just a typically British piss-take on the natural evolution of the melodrama originated by Stan Lee in the '60s, standing out mostly for staging and perspective comparable to Orson Welles. It was good at what it did, but someone else would have gotten around to it eventually.

Once I saw the first trailer for Watchmen, I felt confident it would improve on the graphic novel. All of Dave Gibbon's cinematic touches, which seemed to pad the story and slow its momentum in print, are quickly and cleanly effected in their proper milieu. Moore's cold characterization is enlivened by living actors imbuing his words with their emotions. All that iconic imagery and ominous tone, too native to comics, seemed revolutionary when ported to celluloid. I mean, in a world still impressed by Batman breaking legs, how much more rock and roll could you get than full frontal male nudity and dogs fighting over a little girl's remains?

I am proud to stand by my initial impression. Watchmen as a movie kicked my ass in a way the book never could. At nearly three hours, I felt no fatigue, as the film is swollen to near bursting with fine performances, clever dialogue, brilliant visuals, dynamic action, intriguing choices, and the barest hint of fat. It turns and it turns, never allowing you to take it for granted, always shining a new facet at your eyes, converting you into an entranced magpie. There is some gloriously extreme violence here, occasionally ridiculous, but wonderfully conveying the horrors of this fascistic vision. There is no glory to be found in this type of aggression, as the abilities of those most capable of inflicting damage inspire not awe but terror in their application.

One of the interesting things about the book's translation is how characters played musical chairs in terms of interest. Dan Dreiberg was very much the point of view character in Moore's original. A dumpy, middle-aged Peter Parker, this Nite Owl was past his prime in a way readers could relate to, allowing them to revel in his triumphant return. Patrick Wilson does a fine job playing Dreiberg, despite being far to young and fit, but his story arc is too weak to hold up against the competition. In the book, Dreiberg is probably the only character with a perceptible pulse, but on film there are so many more fantastic images and nuanced subjects, Nite Owl pales by comparison. Dreiberg's most interesting contribution is a bout of impotence, but this failing is communicated so clumsily it takes an assumptive leap to even determine that's what was happening. That the resolution is bothy swift and laughably glossy renders Nite Owl impotent once again, just in impact rather than text.

Dr. Manhattan was my least favorite character from the comic books, and the best example of my feeling that the author couldn't connect me to any of his character's emotions, so that I couldn't differentiate them terribly much from Manhattan's isolation. The film greatly enhances the Manhattan persona, so that the character very much dominates the film and the concern of the viewer. You're often left unsure if Billy Crudup delicate, sensitive voice is expressing the sorrow of Manhattan's existence, or if it's a patronizing fabrication from a demigod to wretched humanity. The performance is pitch-perfect, and the only way to have improved on the unearthliness of the CGI being would be to look toward stop-motion ala Harryhausen. I'm proud that a big budget American film has a computer generated cock of substantial size swinging through it for several significant scenes. However, Dr. Manhattan's overly-endowed body doesn't really jibe with the comics, where I always enjoyed the contrast between the being's nigh-omnipotence and his middling pecker. It reminds one of sculptures featuring Ancient Greek heroes that emphasized the importance of athleticism over their minor, flaccid manhood.

I feel like Malin Akerman has been unfairly judged as Silk Spectre. In the book, Laurie Jupiter was a whiny shrew, which interestingly is excised by greatly reducing the character's role in the film. However, combined with actualized stunts and sensual embodiment, Silk Spectre suddenly becomes an empowered, desirable heroine. While this betrays Moore's intention to show both Spectre's as victims of this elaborate aggressive male fantasy, I feel it's healthier to show the woman as controlling her own destiny and pivotal in the unfolding events. Akerman doesn't exactly rate an Oscar nod, but she serves the needs of the film, and presents a Silk Spectre I can actually root for. My sole nagging concern is that the subplot involving her predecessor/mother is given short-shrift, with forced revelations and a lack of true resonance. Carla Gugino is solid as the original Silk Spectre, but she's just not pathetic enough as the aged Sally Jupiter, here a slightly toasted WASP. Her old-page make-up setting practical effects back twenty years doesn't help.

Matthew Goode's miscasting as Ozymandias is where the real trouble begins. From his too-thin frame to his bad dye job and especially ze faint German accent, his portrayal fairly screams "Bond villain!" There is no mystery here, no gut-wrenching reveal-- Goode is obvious and idiotic.

I've heard complaints about Jackie Earle Haley's voice as Kovacs/Rorschach, but I think his obvious affectation suits the character perfectly. Unlike Christian Bale's Batman, Haley can enunciate, and I feel his performance in general is far superior to Heath Ledger's Paul Giamatti impersonation from The Dark Knight. If anything, the only flaw is that Haley is so effective at conveying his power and menace, the ridiculousness of Walter Kovacs never quite comes across. Kovacs is a weird extremist nerd, where Haley only enables the popular misinterpretation of Rorschach as a "bad ass." If this were another god damned franchise picture like "X-Men," Haley would have dominated the story and screen time as this film's Wolverine. Blessedly, the screenwriters made sure to tell a story about a group of characters, not craft an action vehicle for a sociopath.

The Comedian poses a similar hazard, as Jeffrey Dean Morgan is surprisingly charismatic in the role. Production photos really did a disservice to my initial reaction to Morgan, as in still he looked ridiculous, but in performance he completely sells the character. In the graphic novel, it's amazing someone didn't kill the Comedian before his demise could begin the story. Here, the audience is bound to miss Morgan once he departs the picture, and a sordid twist familiar to comic book readers is understandable when presented with Morgan's on-screen charm. The Comedian is unquestionably a piece of shit, but utterly irresistible.

There is some inexcusable confusion in the translation from comic to film, though. Who the Minutemen were and what they represented are not adequately explained, so the disparity between the original super-team and the abortive Watchmen is never illustrated. In fact, it isn't even really clear what the various leading super-beings really have to do with each other in the film. The role of Hollis Mason is not explained until well after he's introduced, so that the Nite Owl legacy is never imparted to the uninitiated. Folks seemed to enjoy the flashback imagery during the credit sequence, but connecting it to the story was made difficult by a narrative to disjointed and presumptuous to be followed upon initial exposure. I love films that are enriched by multiple viewings, but basics of the story are offered in such an obtuse manner that even diligent viewers will be left frustrated and confused without the benefit of foreknowledge. I'm reminded less of the non-linear storytelling techniques of early Tarantino, which demanded but rewarded the audience's attention, and more the cryptic arrogance of the Wachowskis' Matrix trilogy.

I'm not sure if director Zack Snyder was shooting for surrealism, but the effect was unavoidable. Some of the practical make-up, as with the prosthetics used to create Richard Nixon, are comically bad. Some of the blood sprays and the entire Vietnam sequence would have felt more at home in a video game cut scene than a serious picture. There was also a back lot feel to many of the sets, and some questionable bit casting choices, that made me think Snyder had brought sequences from the film out of an alternate dimensional 1990 where Sam Hamm's script was filmed by Tim Burton. I also appreciate the time and theme appropriate music, but I hate when source is painfully overused and obvious. With three of Dylan's biggest hits, two of Leonard Cohen's, and fucking Simon and Garfunkle, you'd be excused for thinking someone had left the oldies station on after the pre-show advertising slides. Where's Kraftwerk? Television? Grace Jones? Compared to Hendrix, even Zep would be comparatively obscure.

Finally, the changes made to the ending, while understandable, failed me. The gruesome spectacle is replaced with a phony city in dust, and there's a pat tacked-on feel to the final scenes. Rorschach's final moments feel overblown and excessively emotive, while a touch of irony from the book is lost to edits and a sad semblance of the dreaded back-door sequel. Even with as loving a tribute as this feature was, there are still bits like these to leave a bad taste in one's mouth.

Complaints dutifully lodged, I can't say I'd be the least bit surprised if I, an inveterate cheapskate who prefers vast expanses of time in between viewings of a movie, pays to see this again in IMAX. I'll maybe even brave a dollar show before it hits video. I'll wait with baited breath for the extended director's cut. Among my best liked narrative strands from the book was "Tales of the Black Freighter," so the ancillary animation will now be a must see. Despite its flaws, "Watchmen" is a feast for the senses that transports you to worlds unseen since the days of Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and Terry Gilliam's finest. Returning to the spirit of Stan Lee hucksterism, it's an instant classic that inspires its own tradition, the most faithful comic-to-screen adaptation of all time. I don't feel like the graphic novel was as revolutionary as its reputation, but there's never been a comic book movie like Watchmen, such a singular work that I can't reasonably expect to see its like again until the generation of filmmakers it will inspire rise to its challenge.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who's Who Update '87 Vol.4: Minutemen

Beginning our Watchmen weekend is the profile page for their predecessors, the Minutemen. Art by Dave Gibbons.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Emanuelle in America (Part 3, 1976)

Character Name:
Actress: Laura Gemser
Actual Movie Title: Emanuelle in America
Known Aliases: "Brutal Nights," "Black Emanuelle en Amérique"
Country of Origin: Italy
Character Nationality: U.S.A.
Character Age:
Occupation: Photographer (news, nudes)
Zodiac Sign: Gemini
Locales: New York
Release Date: January 5, 1977 (Italy)
Director: Joe D'Amato
DVD: Emanuelle In America (1976)
Stats: Third Black Emanuelle, 2nd with Laura Gemser

Story: Emanuelle takes in a sauna (fully nude, 'natch,) and is joined by Gemini (Lorraine De Selle,) who confesses that Eric van Darren hasn't given her the medallion that signals a zodiac girl being his bedmate for the night in two months. Gemini once "answered him back," and is being punished by being sexually teased without authorized release. She refuses to leave, "And go where? To go back to Spain to my father's dirty restaurant? Gemini is obsessed with the boss and her pampered life, and can't stand the thought of those grabby truckers back home. Emanuelle likes the occasional trucker herself, but will have none of van Darren's conditioning. "Will you stop it!" Emanuelle demands while shaking Gemini, who protests "You think you're different!" Emanuelle smugly replies, "I certainly do. I like choosing my men, and never for money." Gemini breaks down, desperate for some kind of love, and Emanuelle gives it to her in spades. Cue '70s porn funk music, bad jump cuts, and glistening bodies making out.

Emanuelle receives the medallion, and plays up her enthusiasm in van Darren's bedroom... only to turn a factious offer to flog her into a scathing lecture of the poor little rich boy. "Shut up, stupid bitch!" Emanuelle continues about how she thinks women terrify van Darren, and how he has to pay for everything he gets. Eric van Darren begins to like this provocative game, but only to a point, as the boss clutches Emanuelle by the nape of the neck. "It's going to be fun for me to tame you; a new diversion." Tubby van Darren gets to feed her his chubby, blessedly off-screen.

The cut to a game of pool offers a symbolic transition to rival Alan Moore's "Watchmen," or at least Benny Hill's "The Benny Hill Show." Emanuelle is in the game room with the rest of the zodiac, fully clothed for once, and hoping to join Eric van Darren and Duke Alfredo Elvize high stakes game of backgammon. No wait, poker dice? James Bond wept! Why not Yahtzee, fer chrissakes? Emanuelle rolls a Full House, a Straight, Four Aces, and most especially van Darren, who still insists he never loses. Well, when the Duke rolls out in his crappy sedan the next morning, we see Emanuelle has stowed away in the back seat, after claiming to be headed for bed. Emanuelle had used her winnings to buy her freedom, and asked "Would you please let me off at the first bus stop?"

Alfredo Elvize, Duke of Mount Elba has something in common with the Emanuelle: a desire to screw van Darren. Maybe that's why he only freaks a little about his extra passenger. The Duke with a 400 year old lineage of Venetian nobility soon offers to take Emanuelle to his golden palace on the grand canal, and she smells a story.

Meanwhile, Emanuelle's boyfriend Bill is at his apartment when he finds out over the phone from his newspaper editor that his piece on illegal arms trading is being sidelined in favor of the more sensational harem story. "You mean to say that my political pieces can't be used? ...She's a monster, but she's my girl and I love her. Can't wait to have her back in my arms again... Where is she now?" Following that lead to Venice, Bill 'ol boy...

At the Duke's digs, Emanuelle meets his wife, Laura Elvize (Paola Senatore.) Laura seems to like her husband's new friend, though Mrs. Elvize's heralding of matrimony falls on deaf ears. Bill is still on his way, however. "We have a very special relationship. We're very free, both of us."

Later that night, Alfredo and Laura have a shouting match behind closed doors after the wife is caught in bed with another man. The scene attracts Emanuelle's attention, and she's invited into the drama with a champagne. Laura excuses herself to take a bath, while the Duke sets about seducing Emanuelle with the mouth whoopee. Laura returns to sneak in as an oral pinch licker, which at first seems to unnerve Emanuelle, but not for long. Emanuelle revs up the couple, but stealthily departs before things get too serious; her unique form of marriage councilling.

Emanuelle meets Bill at the airport, who confesses that while he missed his best girl, he did "console" himself in her absence. Bill excuses himself to make a phone call, but instead books the first flight to London. Emanuelle is pissed that Bill couldn't arrange to stay a few, or even one day. "But no, just a couple of hours between one plane and the other." Bill has his own work to pursue, but earmarked a sexual pit stop. The giddy couple, anxious for available space, find themselves in a standing fuck outside a symphonic practice hall, to classical accompaniment. Bill's headed back to his away plane before the other performance is through...

...to be continued...

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Frank Review of "Coraline" (2009)

The Short Version? Girl goes through the looking glass; finds wonders and terrors.
What Is It? Family Horror Adventure.
Who's In It? Famous voices and lovely armatures.
Should I See It? Yes.

Let me just start by saying Coraline is one of the finest stop motion features I've ever seen, both in terms of story and animation. It was so fluid, in fact, that I initially assumed I was only watching CGI mimicking clay. I'll follow by adding that as much as I love the process, most full-length stop-motion spectacles leave me cold (yes, even The Nightmare Before Christmas.) Not only was Coraline an outstanding exception under normal circumstances, but I was especially blessed to catch the experience in 3D. There's another process that has improved by leaps and bounds, though there was a moment or two where the mass of details spinning in different dimensions tripped up my poor, weak eyes.

As in Pan's Labyrinth, we have a precocious girl escaping reality into a fantasy world that leads her to surprisingly scary territory. Unlike Ofelia in Pan's, Coraline has an engaging personality that overcomes her sometimes unpleasant attitude. Also, Coraline is truly a fantasy film with an effective spookiness, where Pan's was a period drama bait-and-switch. If you couldn't tell, I'm trying to say I preferred Coraline to Guillermo del Toro's art house favorite. Just to salt the wound, I'll added that Coraline will please young and old, as there's plenty enough meat on its bones without resorting to actual bloodshed, and entertainment value to sustain anyone who sees it.

Dakota Fanning provides the voice for the heroine, both far more believable and intelligent than what one typically expects from this fare. Robert Bailey Jr. is solid as Coraline's sort-of friend Wybie, but my girlfriend only fell for his silent version in the "other" place. Teri Hatcher as Coraline's mother is fine, while her Other Mother could join the likes of Cruella de Vil and the Wicked Witch of the West in unforgettable villainess territory. Keith David as the cat steals every second of screen time in which his voice is present. Ian McShane and Absolutely Fabulous' French & Saunders have small but amusing parts.

As I've mentioned, Coraline is a treat for all, even with the surprisingly creepy elements that fill the third act. While those are great, there are some problems in between the scares. A game of great consequence is played with unexplained rules, and there's a lapse in time toward the end that doesn't make much sense. The resolution is also a bit too neat, with the resolution to Coraline's issues going into her journey left unaddressed in a satisfying manner. Still, the film is such a treat for all the senses, not least of which the brains they run to, rarely left so nourished by "kiddie" movies.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

1986 Challenge of the GoBots Comic Book Ad

Look, I grew up poor, so the only Transformers I could afford were the little crappy Matchbox-size ones like Bumblebee, or cassette tapes for Soundwave. Now they've got a mega-million sequel coming, and my toy of choice G.I. Joe gets a flick this summer as well. So my question is, where's the motherfucking GoBots love, bitches? Not even Direct-to-DVD? Starring Brian Austin Green and Roma Maffia? Represent for GoBotron, yo!


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