Friday, May 25, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro

Written By: Bobby Russell
Released: Spring, 1968
Album: Honey
Single?: Five weeks at #1 on U.S. Billboard

It's super-duper-sappy, but I must confess, it has managed to choke me up in occasional weak moments. Bob Shane recorded it first, but his single didn't spark, so Goldsboro swooped in to turn it into an international smash. I understand that it's broadly loathed in critical circles, considered by some a #1 on their worst list. Fuck 'em. It's manipulative and has a mixed message, but it works.

See the tree, how big it's grown
But friend it hasn't been too long
It wasn't big
I laughed at her and she got mad
The first day that she planted it, was just a twig
Then the first snow came
And she ran out to brush the snow away
So it wouldn't die
Came runnin' in all excited
Slipped and almost hurt herself
And I laughed till I cried
She was always young at heart
Kinda dumb and kinda smart and I loved her so
And I surprised her with a puppy
Kept me up all Christmas Eve two years ago
And it would sure embarrass her
When I came in from workin' late
'Cause I would know
That she'd been sittin' there and cryin'
Over some sad and silly late, late show

And honey, I miss you
And I'm bein' good
And I'd love to be with you
If only I could

She wrecked the car and she was sad
And so afraid that I'd be mad
But what the heck
Though I pretended hard to be
Guess you could say she saw through me
And hugged my neck
I came home unexpectedly
And caught her cryin' needlessly
In the middle of the day
And it was in the early Spring
When flowers bloom and robins sing
She went away

And honey, I miss you
And I'm bein' good
And I'd love to be with you
If only I could

One day while I was not at home
While she was there and all alone
The angels came
Now all I have is memories of Honey
And I wake up nights and call her name
Now my life's an empty stage
Where Honey lived and Honey played
And love grew up
And a small cloud passes overhead
And cries down on the flower bed
That Honey loved

And see the tree how big it's grown
But friend it hasn't been too long
It wasn't big
And I laughed at her and she got mad
The first day that she planted it, was just a twig

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Frank Review of "Blood Mania" (1970)

The Short Version? I wish. Fifteen minutes tops would have been nice.
What Is It? Crime Drama.
Who Is In It? Alex fuckin' Rocco, for a minute or two.
Should I See It? No.

On paper, this sounds like an interesting movie. A personal physician with a past in back alley abortion becomes tied up in a murder-for-inheritance scheme when a blackmailer shows up demanding 50K. There's madness and supernatural imagery and unnecessary nudity every ten minutes. What's not to like? Pretty much everything. This flick is dull as watching shit dry. Almost every second worth seeing is in the trailer, minus a few boobies. The script is an aimless mess, the dialogue is garbage, characters disappear without much reason for ever being introduced, and it finally stops more than ends. While there's quality skin in terms of the ladies baring it, their demonstrations are frustratingly obscured or rendered ridiculous by its use. The absolutely highlight of the film is a purely perfunctory cameo by Alex Rocco, but hey, it's Alex Rocco. It's a small something; a life preserver amidst the fatiguing ineptitude and anti-eroticism, like a peanut in the poop. Do not reach for the peanut.

NSFW Clips:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Dictator" (2012)

The Short Version? Borat by way of Saddam.
What Is It? Comedy
Who Is In It? Ali G, the "Scary Movie" chick
Should I See It? Yeah, sure, why not?

This is not the kind of film that inspires a long winded review, unlike Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and Brüno. Sacha Baron Cohen's previous films were about ambushing unsuspecting people and confronting them with their own secret biases/hatreds in pursuit of daring, insightful comedy. Those were dishonest charades that sought out honest discourse. The Dictator is an above average crude comedy that goes for cheap laughs through shock, some ham-fisted political satire, and chauvinism of all types. Whereas the previous films could be forgiven for tacking on a loose, formulaic narrative to string together isolated pranks, this entirely scripted affair is terribly predictable and uninspired while linking the numerous good but plentiful bad gags. Baron Cohen is an outstanding improvisational character actor bouncing off people, but as a writer in full control of every outcome, there's not that much to distinguish him from the dregs of Happy Madison or Farrelly Brothers productions. Admiral General Aladeen is not an endearing innocent making fucked-up mistakes, but a heinous asshole who milks humor out of cruelty, ignorance, and stereotypes. The anglo actors here are mostly embarrassing (Anna Farris FTL,) but the "ethnic" one are solid. The flick is much better than the trailers would indicate (which include 60% of John C. Reilly's total screen time,) but I doubt you'll be plagued by co-workers quoting it endlessly. However, Cohen's cock makes its third straight appearance in a Larry Charles joint, if that does anything for you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Frank Review of Marvel's The Avengers (Assemble, 2012)

The Short Version? A redhead in black leather and a dapper fellow save the world amidst lighting and thunder. Plus a Hulk.
What Is It? Super-Hero Action/Comedy
Who Is In It? Derek Lutz, Harvard Hottie, Braddock the Nannie Diarist, Detective Giovanni A. Malloy, George Kirk, Sergeant Doyle, Richard Campbell, Robin Scherbatsky, Martin Vanger & Mister Señor Love Daddy
Should I See It? Yes.

Marvel's The Avengers (as opposed to the U.K.'s spy-fi TV series starring John Steed & various female partners) debuted last weekend, after already making a bazillion dollars overseas, thus doubling it to a kajillion. Pity the latest Batman and Spider-Man entries, sure to come in a half decade late and a GDP short by comparison (barring perhaps the autoerotic suicide of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and even then it would probably have to be half a pact with Gary Oldman.) Quality cannot be accurately measured by financial success, but co-screenwriter/director has delivered a lot of former for little latter, so this is his karmic due. Perhaps as a consequence, despite some serious innovations, there's also some unfortunate Whedoncentricities that diminish my appreciation somewhat. The Avengers is the best super-team film ever made, but there's yet to be a great one, so this will have to settle for good.

The flick begins with a bunch of peripheral characters from other Marvel movies hanging out at that lab Simon Tam broke River out of, until that villain already defeated in Thor shows up to kill S.H.I.E.L.D. redshirts. A girl with no discernible personality then has an extended action sequence before she fades into the background for the rest of the running time. Feminism! Then, Scarlett Johansson has an obligatory action sequence, because Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If he could convince people Sarah Michelle Gellar was formidable at 5'4" & 115 pounds, he can also force Scar-Jo to starve herself into a reasonable facsimile Milla Jovovich after inheriting the miscasting. The Black Widow then leads us to Mark Ruffalo, the third actor stuck playing Bruce Banner in nine years, but the first to wisely say "fuck it" and just channel Bill Bixby like everyone wanted from the beginning. Steve Rogers gets in there at some point, but it's just a lengthened version of the post-credit sequence from his movie. What's interesting is these these are all sketches like those add-ons, connected by a plot thread but disjointed and inorganic. The movie doesn't actually start until Tony Stark shows up, followed by Pepper Potts and Agent Coulson. These are familiar characters (aside from the unsettling sight of Gwyneth Paltrow in denim shorts) you already like who have chemistry together, so it feels like Jon Favreau popped in to guest direct.

The super-team movie like for real this time finally starts coming together with the help of Captain America and Iron Man sharing space on a screen (alongside Loki, who throws things off a bit by being Loki in a knife fight with Captain America.) This leads to Thor showing up, which let me tell you, is Thor's role in a nutshell. We all knew Cap, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Nick Fury would be around, and we're cool with them wading into the movie at their own pace. Iron Man is the only star attraction as a franchise player though, which is why his arrival marks an uptick. Thor literally drops in unannounced, and his entry is only an element of the plot and a counterpoint to other characters. Aside from moments here and there, that's all Thor does. He's Loki's brother. He's Hulk's sparring partner. Basically, he's the female member of the team. It's a sort of progress, I suppose, but Thor fans feast on scraps here.

In movies like Fantastic Four, everybody in the team gets introduced in quick succession and gains powers at the same time. In Watchmen and Sky High, everybody was already part of a community that kind of knew each other. Often, other heroes pop up in answer to the debut of the lead protagonist, as seen in Kick-Ass. One of this film's innovations is that it recognizes that there is a preexisting universe of heroes, but they have not met one another, and would not necessarily immediately embrace one another. It's a dynamic the Marvel Universe was built upon, and while somewhat pointless and juvenile, Whedon carries the tradition into film for the first time in a way that works. From there on, the heroes personalities and powers bounce off one another in ways that affirm each individual's appeal while creating an invigorating dynamic as a group. This is especially true for the Hulk, who desperately needed something more interesting to play off than army men and mute monsters. It even helps Thor a little bit.

However you felt about the characters coming into this movie is how you'll leave it. While a bit more brooding and pig-headed, Chris Evans' Captain America is still the same guy as featured in his solo movie. His costume looks a bit goofier, but he gets to do more comic book style CGI-enabled acrobatics. Chris Hemsworth's Thor remembers the lessons he learned, and comes across as a more mature being, even though that also seems to mean he has the least room to grow here. Depending on whom you root for, Robert Downey Jr. is either a bit douchier here than in the Iron Man movies, or he's being perceived as such through the stoicism of Cap. I only have vague memories of Eric Bana's Hulk, and never saw all of Ed Norton's, but Mark Ruffalo is certainly the more personable of the lot. It never hurts to have a lengthy, slightly surreal aside with Harry Dean Stanton, either. Scarlett Johansson looks and acts the part of Black Widow far better here than in Iron Man 2, so I'll try not to whine about her as much. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye gets some interesting usage in the first half of the movie, but the character seems defined by his lack of perceptible human emotions or charm. If he wasn't constantly decompressing his bow like a fratboy working a Borat quote, he could be mistaken for the Vision. Cobie Smulders does her best to compete in the realm of "why are you in this thing" as Maria Hill, and Stellan Skarsgård's reprisal of Dr. Erik Selvig is pretty thankless. Tom Hiddleston is a fun Loki, who hasn't grown an inch, and Nick Fury continues to be the name under which Samuel L. Jackson guest stars as Samuel L. Jackson. Clark Gregg steals his every scene as Agent Phil Coulson, and I hope he continues to have a strong presence in the Marvel movies.

Joss Whedon (along with Zak Penn on the writing end) does an incredible, previously presumed impossible job of pulling together four franchises under one roof, ironing out or contrasting their differences with the help of foundational bridging (the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plus his own new additions (expanding Natasha Romanov's character to be remotely comparable to her male teammates developmentally while feeding on the corpse of Hawkeye's non-role,) while also offering a satisfying self-contained story. It's rare in an action movie, but especially a super-hero one, for the narrative to be so propulsive. Everything happens for a reason, incidents building on incidents, culminating in a tour de force finale. Cap doesn't spar with Red Skull, they become separated, and then Cap goes back to battling Hydra until he gets to battle Red Skull again. The movie just keeps moving forward, upping the stakes and the scale. One shot in particular comes to mind, in which the camera pans through various city views as our heroes battle the forces of evil with their diverse abilities from different locations. In comics, that would be a dense double page spread, and its like has never been captured on film. Not only does the action work, but the dialogue is smart throughout, witty and funny and mindful of the established voice of each character. That said, the dialogue is sometimes too calculatedly funny for its own good, undercutting serious intentions. There's the trademark Whedon surprise character death, right up to the method and target recalling his only other feature film Serenity, coming across as cheap and arbitrary. The villains are an empty throng, and a intra-credit cameo walks a precarious fan service tightrope. An understated anticlimax in the post-credit coda makes up for any misgivings, though.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the swell moments in The Avengers. As a Cap fan, it was awesome seeing my guy lay down strategy and live up to his legend. I often laughed at Tony's quips, could feel the itching under Banner's skin, and so on. While a few characters get short shrift, the film remains an ensemble, and it does so in the midst of cosmic stakes that alone would suffocate a lesser piece. I was impressed with how Whedon brought and kept it all together, and with his original contributions to the visual language of these films. It is so wonderful to see a director convey ferocious speed and a multitude of combat elements while maintaining a clear eye so that the audience can comprehend and marvel at all the happenings. At the same time, there was an awful lot of retreading ground covered elsewhere by other directors and Whedon himself. It reminded me of Sam Raimi aping scenes from Evil Dead on a bigger budget in Spider-Man. I went in with high expectations, and they were mostly met, but I think I'll prefer the movie more on successive viewings with my mental bar set just a mite lower.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mister X: Condemned (2009)

"When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things."

Given that I'm writing a review for a "graphic novel," none of that really applies to me. However, when I was a child, I tried reading comics like Swamp Thing and The One, and was in way over my head. Not only didn't I really understand the books at the time, but their edgy sophistication unnerved me. Getting into my teens, my mind expanded, but I still needed transitional mediums between the super-hero world and an adult one. These included the anti-heroic likes of Batman (The Dark Knight Returns, The Cult,) the Punisher, Grimjack, and Marshal Law. These led me to characters still further estranged from the funny book mainstream, like Morpheus, until I finally became comfortable with mature reading completely divorced from the genre fantastic. By that point, I could look back on books like Watchmen and Brat Pack not only unafraid, but unimpressed.

My first encounter with Mister X was a random issue in a quarter box. In the early '80s, there was a sea change as new independent creators entered the field with no delusions about the nature of work for hire comics and a desire to expand the medium from the edges of the frontier. However, my exposure to this avant-garde was mostly limited to ads in books like Heavy Metal back when I couldn't rely on living anywhere long enough to chance paying for something that would come to a mailing address. Besides, I wasn't digging through the discounted castoffs because I was flush enough to pay inflated low print run cover prices or shipping charges. I tossed through the issue, with interiors that surely didn't match the sleek new wave covers, lacking color, involving people in normal clothes having discussions, with no supporting issues to reference or progress toward. I simply was not prepared to take that plunge.

In the decades that followed, occasional Mister X material was released, and though I felt pangs of interest and guilt, I always passed. The book was revered, but I had no clear point of entry, at least not at a reasonable price. Finally, a few years ago, Dark Horse announced that Dean Motter would be rebooting and reintroducing his creation in an accessible mini-series. I ordered the trade, which collected a thin four issues and was produced in dimensions from that netherworld between standard comics and digests. For some reason, I have a tendency to shove those types of books on a shelf and forget about them for years, as I did with Mister X: Condemned. Only recently did I stuff it into my work bag for lunchtime reading.

Radiant City is an art deco, rigorously calculated creation of a team of architects, intending to work directly on the psyche of its inhabitants. The concept was successful, but not the ultimate result. Rather than being healthy, happy and productive, the city's citizens were driven to bleak neurosis by the design of the metropolis mockingly nicknamed "Somnopolis." A penitent but unbalanced architect dubbed "Mister X" attempts to correct his mistakes by helping to deal with the impact of his creation, including a rogues gallery of creeps straight out of German expressionist filmmaking. Mister X haunted the city like the title haunted the '80s, producing a couple dozen or so issues and influencing filmmakers like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Alex Proyas. It is a compelling premise both perfect for and distinct from standard comics.

Unfortunately, it's also problematic in execution. While conceived by Motter, the early issues were created by Los Bros Hernandez, who quit over payment issues. Motter began doing the actual writing with the fifth issue, but had Seth as a hired hand on art. Other writers and artists produced later issues, making Mister X an early model for the Image Comics studios system of basically pulling the same freelancing contract crap they'd left Marvel over when it was theirs to sign. Condemned appears to be one of the few times Motter has written and drawn his owned damned creation, and the result is tepid. The retro-futurism of modern life filtered through a 1930s aesthetic is now passe. The plot and characters are also very much of that era, meaning an overcooked but under-seasoned plot involving bland, flat subjects. There's a murder mystery and rampant conspiracies, but they're all of the type seen elsewhere, across decades, handled better. What may have been innovative thirty years ago is now rote, and frankly, I suspect the book's reputation had more to do with "helpers" like Paul Rivoche than its credited author, anyway.

I still very much want to read the Mister X guys like Howard Chaykin and Warren Ellis rave over, but this effort only served to diminish my curiosity rather than inflame it. It's a book that tells you it has an interesting premise in the first panels, then neglects to show anything nearly as intriguing as what was suggested. The sluggish narrative manned with interchangeable characters is then sloppily wrapped up in the last few pages, once again through people holding guns while telling you their motivations and prior actions rather than demonstrating them with subtlety. The floorboards are loose, the pipes are rusted, and the whole construct looks ready to fall in on its foundation. This project was at least honest in its title, as it should rightly be condemned.


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