Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Frank Review of "The Crazies" (2010)

The Short Version? Rage Virus in Bumfuck, U.S.A.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell
Should I See It? Maybe.

Despite the original Dawn of the Dead being one of my absolute favorite films, I've never been especially fond of director George A. Romero. I've seen quite a few of his movies, and most fail to make a strong impression. For instance, I rented his 1973 film The Crazies about twenty years ago, and never needed to see it again. Like many zombie nerds, I was expecting a variation on Night of the Living Dead, but with townspeople turned homicidal by a chemical agent, rather than attacked by flesh eating ghouls. I did get a variation, but it was instead amateur local actors in a micro-budget thriller that mostly takes place in one house. What most people take away from it is the anti-military-industrial complex angle, which got grafted onto scores of survival horror projects since (Return of the Living Dead, Resident Evil.) Hell, one of the supposed innovations of 28 Days Later... was simply marrying The Crazies to Romero's Dead films. Anyway, my point is that I can only barely recall the original film as a handful of striking images and transgressive acts. Beyond that, there's only room for improvement in a remake, which I was able to watch with preconceptions.

That said, the modern Crazies owes more to Danny Boyle than George Romero. It's very self-aware, in that it knows you've seen this type of movie before and don't need to be bored by recitation of the obvious. The first crazy person shows up almost immediately, while the leads are all in place within minutes. The cause of the outbreak of infectious lunacy is determined and addressed, obligatory scenes like the town sheriff warning a disinterested mayor are as brief as possible, and the first thirty-minutes hits every obvious beat in shorthand. Your ass is in a theater seat to see crazy people, and the film is cut together to get you crazy people as quickly and with as few obstacles as possible. The flick is very clever and concise in this regard. It is also the film's great failing.

You see, The Crazies is so busy delivering the most obvious and desirable goods to the masses, that it has no actual life outside jump scares and well crafted carnage. The leads are all types that speak in exposition, with no souls or real personalities. You root for them because the alternative is to side with ugly murderous subhumans. There is no text, much less subtext. It is the motion picture as video game proxy. It looks cool and moves fast, so you don't have time to think about how empty it all is. Fans of this genre will find it comfortingly familiar, except for its almost total lack of balls. A dark ending you see set up by the middle point never pays off, the imposing military presence is just scared kids following orders, and any opportunity to say anything with this picture besides "look out for the monsters" is avoided. Because of this, you're pretty sick of the repetitive crazy attacks by the last reel, and are just ready to wrap the damned thing up. It's strictly a popcorn flick, and stale before you leave your seat.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

2009 Red Wolf and Lobo Commission by John Byrne

Click To Enlarge

I'm always pleasantly surprised when anyone remembers one of my favorite disregarded Marvel heroes, Red Wolf, much less a big name like John Byrne drawing him. I wasn't aware the Initiative replaced the last Lobo with Rahne Sinclair, but if Longshot can join the X-Men, I guess Warpath can gain a 'lil Injun buddy in X-Force. I still need to work on my Captain Comet Bantum Blog, but sooner or later the Masked Avenger of the Western Plains will get his, and Byrne's brief '70s work on the character will be covered. Be sure to click the pic to get the full story on the enlarged art...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

When Captain America Slings His Shitty Casting Short List

I've been a comic book fan since the Carter Administration, so I've seen more than my fair share of bad comic book movies, especially from Marvel. Though it's increasingly just a bad memory, Marvel movies were 'round about uniformly terrible cheapies until Blade, with Incredible
television specials being among the high water marks. Nowhere near that level were the two 1970s Captain America TV movies, and the 80s "theatrical" film stunk so bad it never even played in its native country. However, the previous decade raised the bar in a major way, with highly respected actors and directors assuming the roles of Marvel's greatest heroes in blockbuster (and not so much) features. Among their most iconic remains my personal favorite, the Sentinel of Liberty himself, so of course only the most respected actor could fill his cavalier boots on the silver screen. You know, like goddamned Matthew McConaughey.

Can I get a "what the fuck?" After a decade in which Robert Downey Jr., Ed Norton, Wesley Snipes, Ben Affleck, Christian Bale, and other luminaries have taken up super-heroic guises, why does Captain America persistently get the shitty end of the stick? How can a filmmaker have been found who gets a barely-A-list character like Iron Man so right he becomes an international sensation after nearly fifty middling years, but we can't scrounge up someone who understands Cap at the most basic level?

Director Joe Johnston still doesn't impress, and he appears to be looking to the worst possible candidates to cast as the Living Legend of World War II. Let me offer up some pointers:
  • Steve Rogers was born in 1920s New York, where he grew up during the Great Depression a sickly child with an unemployed alcoholic father. His mother died young after devoting her life to supporting the entire family, and her husband had already passed of consumption before her. Rogers was 6'2", but he weighed about 98lbs. He carried on through his intellect and force of will. Rogers was so determined to fight the Nazis, even before the U.S. entered WWII, that he took suicidal risks to prove himself in the Super Soldier program.
  • After becoming Captain America, Steve played a goofball ne'r do well in the Army while secretly going AWOL to battle the forces of tyranny.
  • Cap would have to have a commanding voice and inspire the utmost respect to lead both the Invaders and, when sequel time comes, the Avengers.

Taking all that into account, why are the auditions for the role of Captain America populated by pretty young California surfer dudes and nigh-middle aged sitcom stars?

Yahoo News and Comic Book Resources have both recently commented on Jackson's short list for the role. It's pretty much shit. Let's take a look:

  • Chase Crawford

Associated Words: Boring. Dandy. Forced. Emo.

  • Mike Vogel

Associated Words: Dude.

  • Michael Cassidy

Associated Words: Deep nasal voice. Skinny. Stiff. Slightly effete. CW.

  • Patrick Flueger

Associated Words: Dumb. Skinny. Gnarly.

  • John Krasinski

Associated Words: Average. Round. Oldish. Lame. GTFO.

  • Wilson Bethel

Associated Words: Soft. Skinny. Blank.

  • Garrett Hedlund

Associated Words: Attitudinal. Emo. Skinny. Unfortunate hair.

Thankfully, there are a few not embarrassing options. Longshots, of course, but here are the best of the lot...

  • Jensen Ackles

Associated Words: Ruggedish. Fake accent. Committed. Jared isn't an option, why?

  • Ryan McPartlin

Associated Words: Captain Awesome. Good body. Really tall. Funny. Oldish. Voice that could command a Norse god?

  • Scott Porter

Associated Words: Genuine fan. Enthusiastic. Good voice and body. Young. Range.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Walking Dead Volume 10: What We Become (2009)

I've been a busy blogging beaver for many months now, but I had no idea it had been over a year since I last read and reviewed my favorite flesh-eating zombie survival horror soap opera comic, The Walking Dead. The previous volume was something of a low point for the series, so I guess I can forgive myself for letting two trades and a solicitation for a third pass me by before finally getting back to it fresh.

Where I might have groaned about our crestfallen protagonist Rick still playing telephone games and having nightmares about the departed, I was instead relieved to have hooks back into the series' status quo after such a lengthy absence. I'd forgotten who all had managed to survive volume eight and regroup, so some reacquainting was due, not to mention reminders that there's a slew of new characters I'm now slightly less prejudiced against. In truth though, Abraham remains the only one making a real impression, as his personal history and escalating tension with Rick are the main driving forces in this edition.

Picking up from last time, the crew continues their slow push toward Washington, D.C. After the fall of their longtime previous home, our survivors need a reason to keep going, but it's clear their psyches and interpersonal relationships have been devastated in the aftermath. When Michonne is your most calm and stable cast member, things have certainly taken an ugly turn. The latter half of the book revolves around Rick and his son Carl returning to their old neighborhood in search of supplies and a loose thread left hanging since the earliest issues of the series. Abraham is in tow, and unsurpringly, things take a turn for the grimmer and barely let up.

Never moreso has it been clearer that the walking dead of the title are not the zombies, but the increasingly disturbed humans barely getting by. Where last time, Rick's whining and delusions seemed regrettably indulgent, it now is apparent that he's just succumbing to the psychological traumas that have plagued the weaker cast members in the past, but now leave even the most hardened unscathed. Coming full circle back to Rick's starting point illustrates how terrible things have gotten, and how the hopelessness of the situation is unsettling everyone to the point where it's tough to feel safe in the company of even the oldest, most comfortable cast members. As an added bonus, we finally get the classic "ghouls breaking into a house" sequence that dates back to the granddaddy of this genre, Night of the Living Dead.

Long time readers know Kirkman writes this book in cycles. Here We Remain was his dull, talky establishing of a new status quo. What We Become is the slow burning development of the current conflicts, and it ends on a build toward the inevitable shitstorm in volume 11. Luckily, now that I'm back on the book, I'm just a bit of reading time away from seeing how that plays out. After all, despite the failings of the last edition, The Walking Dead remains consistently the best series on the stands, and I buy each new collection without hesitation or remorse.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pride of Baghdad (2007)

I remember when Brian K. Vaughan was first coming up in comics, as fans bellyached over his "off" fill-in work on various Marvel and DC titles. The only mainstream thing he ever did that I liked was The Hood mini-series, starring characters he created. I figured that was probably his forte, so I gave both the initial trades of Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man a try, but they came off limp. I also read his entire run of Runaways, and I guess that was okay. It was one of those books I was interested enough to read for free while coasting on the momentum of the book's intrigues, but never gave a shit about the characters or worried I might miss out if I didn't finish. It was just convenient and disposable.

A friend passed me his copy of Pride of Baghdad and a recommendation over a year ago, but it sat on the back shelf of my closet until I moved, at which point it sat on my new IKEA bookshelf. He had actually forgotten I had it, and accused another friend of swiping his copy, so egg on his face when he spotted it again at my place. He then told me to read it or give it back already, so with that ultimatum, I moved it up my reading pile.

You see, Pride of Baghdad is about escaped lions roaming Iraqi streets during the U.S. invasion of 2003. Thing is, I don't give a fuck about animals. Sure, I'll play with somebody's pets for a while when I visit their place, or feed the odd stray, but I don't care to keep any for myself. "Oh, your beloved 'family member' got run over? Look, you go inside and cry it out, while I scrape this up and chuck it in a dumpster. We'll swing by the pound later and get you a replacement." I remember when everybody was jizzing over We3, which to me was just saccharine Disney crap with shitty texting dialogue, some automatic fire and over complicated layouts.

All this is to say I finally started reading Pride of Baghdad as a chore while my girlfriend was getting her taxes done at H&R Block, and could not put the fucker down. This is in no way pandering, but a straight-up bad ass page-turner that just happens to involve talking jungle cats. Each of the primary characters are well defined within a matter of pages, and by the thirteenth you've had your first "oh shit" shock that lets you know this is an adult work with a serious mind. I'm not the kind of reader who usually invests emotionally in human characters from most comic book stories, but in fairly short order I felt deeply for these beings. Their circumstances are dire, the situation is intense, and even incidental characters impact on your reading experience and psyche.

Artist Niko Henrichon matches the script beat for beat, imbuing the characters with personality and soul. The visual storytelling is clear, fluid, and lushly colored in autumnal tones. Pride is a thing of beauty; a masterwork from both creators. This is a powerful, mature graphic novel that should be among the first things you grab when introducing new readers to or attempting to validate the medium. I implore you to pick it up at the next opportunity, before someone inevitably adapts it to film and you feel like a jerk for not having embraced it sooner.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Frank Review of "The Wolfman" (2010)

The Short Version? Classic Wolfman, not werewolf. So, Victorian England, upright standing, and no titties.
What Is It? Gothic Horror.
Who Is In It? Franky Four Fingers, Hannibal Lecter, Agent Smith and Emily Chalton
Should I See It? Maybe.

Most horror movie fanatics, especially if they were indoctrinated into the darkness at a young age, have respect and some nostalgic fondness for the Universal Monsters. Weekends in my childhood were often spent watching the dawn of American horror in the form of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein & Mummy, Béla Lugosi's Dracula, and Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman. Truth to tell, aside from the ones directed by James Whale, I found I preferred Abbott & Costello's send-ups of the Universal Monsters to the dull, serious, official offerings. Still, there was something inherently cool about the granddaddies of nightmare that I never felt was reflected in their then-modern slasher counterparts.

Because I grew up on the poor side of town, I had a lot of the dirt cheap off-brand action figures made by Remco, including every single one of their glow in the dark Universal City Studio's Monster figures. Despite some incredible packaging and okay looking figures, you could find them for less than a dollar in bargain bins. It was an early indication that, while I learned to appreciate horror history, most kids my age had no time for those hoary old beasts.

All this is to say, even I as a horror fan wrestle with the relevance of the Universal Monsters. Bram Stoker's Dracula as meant to change that in 1992, but despite generally positive reviews, I thought it a ludicrous spectacle. Old man Coppola dropped a shitty young cast into an ill-fitting period setting, and tried to jazz the proceedings up with overt sexuality and tricks he swiped from Raimi, but mishandled. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein tried to pick up the fetid gauntlet a couple of years later, but because it took the material seriously and actually deferred to the literary original, it laid a goose egg with modern viewers. It took another sixteen years for another attempt at getting a Universal Monster right (let's not mention Van Helsing, shall we,) and we've gone from Kenneth Branagh and the director of The Godfather to the guy what did Jumanji. This might explain why I've spent three paragraphs talking around The Wolfman rather than about it.

Director Joe Johnston, probably tired of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids defining his career, also reached back to Sam Raimi and others for his over-stylized but heartless take on the Wolfman. It's a great looking movie, from the production design to the costumes and locations. The special effects are pretty good, if a bit heavy on familiar CGI. There's some awesome bits of gore that should make you cheer or wince as inclined. The acting is solid throughout, and the script offers some twists and a bit of mystery. It just seems like the whole endeavor is played a bit too fast, like a 33 1/3 album run at 45rpms. You can't fault it for being indulgent with time, but you can for the lack of emotional investment and mood. Virtually none of the scares work, both because the ruthless editing robs the film of tension, and because the flick is so busy, you never become immersed enough in the proceedings to be startled from a settled place. I suspect that an awful movie ended up on the cutting room floor, which would be a canny move, but what remains is more like an extended trailer than a film.

I'm disinclined to discuss the plot at any length, as there's little to the story beyond reaching plot points, and even a brief summary would ruin the only thing an intellectual would likely have to hang on to. Benicio Del Toro works as Lawrence Talbot, a stage actor investigating the death of his brother at the request of his fetching widow, played by Emily Blunt. Anthony Hopkins is a fair bit better here than his turn as Van Helsing, but it doesn't take long to realize what he was paid to bring to the movie. Hugo Weaving shows up a ways in an a police detective looking into the deaths as one would expect his modern counterparts to. In fact, one of this production's strengths is in the assumption that since this is a well-trod story, it can skip the rote bits and keep the story moving forward. As soon as Talbot is bitten, virtually everyone in the film knows what's coming, and those too arrogant to miss the obvious pay in a satisfying manner. I'm grateful I was never bored, but the indifference I felt wasn't anything to aspire to. There's also some silly bits (the new howl; facial close-ups during running sequences; a late game brawl that recalls the trampoline-"enhanced" Wolf) that don't quite take the film into camp, which means it doesn't even work as a guilty pleasure. In the end, The Wolfman is neither a victory nor an embarrassment, but just sort of sits right there in the middle.

Monday, February 15, 2010

nurghophonic jukebox: "Tall Cans In The Air" by Transplants

Written By: Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston
Released: 2002
Album: Transplants
Single?: Fuck no!

'Nobody move, nobody get hurt'

Take a look around baby, yeah my whole crews ugly
But we still got the most game, the most money
The most hoes, the most honeys, it's so funny
How you hate my fuckin' guts but at the same time love me
From the Lincoln to the gold to the lowriding bike
I always catch you hatin' but you know that you like
What you see is what you get, nothing more, nothing less
I'm chillin' smokin' chronic while you're chokin' on stress

Tall cans in the air, let me see 'em... fuck you! [x2]

I see you're mad at the fact that my pockets stay fat
Is it the cash I made on whacks or the cocaine sacks?
Is it the crew I roll with or the one that you lack?
I wish you would come around, I'd lay you flat on your back
You better hope you fuckin' miss me if you see me drinkin' whiskey
You know, me and Diablos get way past tipsy
Whether drunk, high, or sober, yeah we're still gettin' over
Catching tats at 3 AM, head to toe, tread to joker

Tall cans in the air, let me see 'em... fuck you! [x2]

I never sing, no, never, I only shout
We're coming clean forever, without a doubt
Like a machine gun trigger, you'd better watch out
Yeh, Transplants don't give a fuck, that's where we're at
So here we come again with our original style
I said 'Who the fuck are you? I been here for a while.'
We got Distillers, AFI, LFB, and Crystal Sound
Transplants are fearless and the most original

Tall cans in the air, let me see 'em... fuck you! [x2]
'Nobody move, nobody get hurt'
Tall cans in the air, let me see 'em... fuck you! [x2]

If you think I give a fuck, well you better think twice
U.S. Thugs, Wolfpack, and I ain't nothing nice
Check the date and time, lyrically committing hate crimes
Noose from the cord of my mic, now it's hang time
Blow minds with rhymes designed to break spikes
Transplants comin' through and we're one of a kind
With a chrome to your dome, make you flip like a flapjack
Two tall cans and a packet of blackjack

Tall cans in the air, let me see 'em... fuck you! [x2]


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.