Saturday, June 28, 2008

me! i disconnect from you...

So, the past few weeks have been pretty lame. I'm job hunting, which just sucks all around, and it's hot, humid, a typical New York summer. Gross. Muggy. Icky. And it makes people surly. Surlier than normal. It's a bad scene, man, all around around. And being broke and unemployed and depressed in the city is no good either. So, basically, aside from sending out resume after resume and keeping my fingers crossed that someone, anyone out there will throw me a few rubles to ply my trade, and aside from catching up on my napping and coming book reading, and moping and brooding and sitting vacantly in my apartment doing jigsaw puzzles and playing pinball online, I've been catching up on my movie watching, which has fortunately proved reasonably rewarding over the past couple of weeks.

The big thing going down right now is the New York Asian Film Festival, which hasn't been as spectacular as it was last year, but has provided a few cheap thrills at least. The first film I caught was "Chanbara Beauty," based on the Japanese video game Onechanbara. Unlike American video game adaptations, which tend to try and graft narratives onto video game scenarios, this flick plays almost exactly like a video game, with scenes of kinetic action interspersed in between long stretches of awkward dialogue and exposition. The result is about as uneven as it sounds. The action is good, the drama is bad, and the end result is goofy and slight but ultimately fairly entertaining. Though the performances throughout are fairly stilted, Eri Otoguro, as the bikini-clad, samurai sword wielding zombie killer Aya, is appropriately cute and fun to watch, exuding maximum pathos and attitude with minimal dialogue. What the hell, I've spent worse 86 minutes...

This year's winner so far is without a doubt "Tokyo Gore Police," which reminded me a bit of last year's "Never Belongs to Me," only more hyperactive, violent and gore soaked. I was admittedly a bit unenthusiastic about this one. The title and trailer gave me a real bottom-of-the-barrel shot-on-video Japanese gore porn kind of vibe. Thankfully, I was wrong, and from beginning to end "Tokyo Gore Police" is wall-to-wall violence, splatter, humor, perversity, absurdity, interesting and likable characters, creative ideas, social parody and witty references to other sci-flicks, particularly the ouvre of Paul Verhoeven, and up in there, particularly "Robocop" and "Starship Troopers," as well as cult sci-fi flicks like "Blade Runner" and "Videodrome." Like these great films, "Tokyo Gore Police" has a strong political element, not only in regards to the body politic (I'd say this is one of the most oddly anti-misogynistic sex and gore exploitation flicks you'll ever see, and one of the most coroporeally obsessed), but also a warning against the dangers of privatizing public services, and allowing control of everyday life to fall into the hands of capitalist interests. In this case, the alienation of late capitalism is personified but a mind-body disconnect, in which the flesh becomes a virtual playground for all variety of exploration and exploitation, and, more often than not, mutilation (be it in the form of combat, surgery, or self abuse)...

What this movie has going for it, both literally and figuratively, is guts. Both in terms of its' ballsiness, and in terms of the acres of viscera sprayed across the screen. "Tokyo Gore Police" is doubtless one of the most violent and gory films I've ever seen, with gallons upon gallons of blood sprayed across the frame and quite often directly into the camera, along with a multitude of other bodily fluids and organs, both real and imagined. Director and effects technician Yoshihiro Nishimura presents a menagerie of imaginative grotesqueries, among them a penis-gun (fleshier and less funny than the one from "Never Belongs to Me"), a set of vagina dentata that puts "Teeth" to shame, a snail woman replete with shell and extended orbitals, tv ads for self-mutilation and suicide implements, a handgun that actually shoots severed hands, a quadruple amputee dog woman, and perhaps most bizarrely a breathing flesh chair with a hyperactively urinating vagina. And yet, admidst all this, as well as a legion of samurai armor clad proto-facist police slaughtering citizens and mutants every which way but loose, "Tokyo Gore Police" charms rather than offends.


The key to the film's overall digability is no doubt largely due to the cleverness of Nishimura's script, written in collaboration with "Uzumaki" screenwriter Kenjo Kaji and actress Sayako Nakoshi, which lays to grue on thick but does so with a wit and intelligence that keeps the viewer from becoming detached from the explicit onscreen action. Also keeping things cool is lead actress Eihi Shiina, of Takashi Miike's "Audition," who strikes an excellent balance between cool-eyed super killer and vulnerable, identifiably human protagonist. No small feat for a leading lady almost constantly being splattered with, or drawing, copious quantities of plasma, and who spends a good third of the feature saddled with some reasonably ridiculous prosthetics. What else can I say? "Tokyo Gore Police" was an absolute treat, smart, enjoyable and engaging on every level...

I was hoping to catch "the Rebel," a serious historical epic from Vietnam, tonight but my compatriot Adele needed a ticket so I gave her mine- you can read her review here. I was also hoping to check out Kenta (son of Kinji "Battle Royale/Black Lizard/Green Slime/Tora Tora Tora/Yakuza Papers") Fukasaku's X-Cross at midnight tonight, but it just wasn't in the cards (my buddy Justin and I wound up watching "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" instead, a thoroughly nerdy but enjoyable alternative). Later this week I'll hopefully make it to "Satori," the remake of "Female Convict Scorpion," and who knows what else. Reviews to follow...

Meanwhile I've also watched a few non-festival things that I'll write about later, including the fascinating "House of Numbers," from Russell Rouse, director of "The Oscar." I'll also be posting more comics stuff (Deadshot, Dr. Fate, the Spectre, Madame Xanadu, Mr. Miracle etc.) soon. Just keeping posted, and stay negative...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

i've got nothing to say...

Yeah, I don't really feel like participating today. There should be some posts coming this weekend and next week, since the New York Asian Film Festival is on and I'm going to check out a few screenings. But, whatever, meanwhile, here's some more Deadshot.
These two come from Batman and Detective Comics in 1984, two of the character's last appearances as a grist-for-the-mill villain/antihero before he really started to be developed as an interesting and complex character in Suicide Squad a few years later.
Both of these stories are written by the extremely prolific (and talented) Doug Moench, who wrote dozens and dozens of comics for DC and Marvel throughout the 1970s and 80s. For DC, he wrote a lot of Batman and related titles, including Catwoman, as well as the 80s incarnations of Mister Miracle and the Spectre (more on the Spectre in future posts). For Marvel, he created Moon Knight, and co-created Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu. He also worked on the script for the movie "Red Sonja," but don't hold that against him, his comics writing is generally really interesting and thoughtful, full of nice, small touches added primarily to flesh out the characters and give them more depth. This stories below are pretty cool, focusing on Batman's butler Alfred and his discovery of a long-lost daughter in Montreal, of all places...

Batman 369 (1984), written by Doug Moench, art by Don Newton & Alfred Alcala, cover by Ed Hannigan & Dick Giordano:



Detective Comics 536 (1984), written by Doug Moench, art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith, cover by Paris Cullens & Dick Giordano:



More coming soon. Stay negative, or something...

Friday, June 20, 2008

tales of unemployment...

So, obviously, the bad side of losing my job is that I don't have a job, my future is uncertain, I'm stressed out and nervous, it challenges my ideas about myself and where I should be in life at this age etc. etc. etc. The upside is that I have more time to watch movies. Which, naturally, means I've been totally squandering that time watching really bad movies. And not even necessarily negative pleasure bad movies. Like, last night, I watched "Coneheads." I didn't even really want to, I just watched it. The other night I watched "Weekend at Bernie's." I don't even know what I can say about that. There's no justification. I'm just watching this stuff. There are thousands upon thousands of films, many of them quite good and potentially somehow fulfilling, out there in the cinematic pantheon, and I'm avoiding them like the plague.

Well, that's not really true. I did watch Russell Rouse's 1966 antimasterpiece "The Oscar," which I've been aware of for years and never had an opportunity to watch until earlier this week, when Bill Maher (thanks, dude) curated a screening of it on TCM. At this point, I've seen most of the "cult" films out there. I mean, I'm not bragging, I've just been at this for a long time, watching these things, tracking them down, so the number of movies on my "list" is relatively low at this point. Anyway, "The Oscar" was one of the few I'd really been waiting for, and, man, was it worth the wait.

"The Oscar" comes from the same cultural currents as the novels of Harold Robbins (he wrote the Carpetbaggers, which was filmed by Edward Dymytrk in 1964, and also wrote "The Lonely Lady," with Pia Zadora, which has a plot very similar to "The Oscar.") or Jacqueline Susann (although "Valley of the Dolls" the film didn't come out until a year after this) in that it's a presumably meant-to-be serious, very remarkably over-the-top, hyperlurid expose of the rich and famous. In this case, it's Frankie Fane (played by Irish actor Stephen Boyd), easily one of the least likable leading characters ever to carry a movie on his back (I suspect some of the character's slimier characteristics come from co-writer Harlan Ellison, who's kind of a notorious bastard), a burlesque hustler who travels the country with his sidekick Hymie Kelly (Tony Bennett, actually kind of good in his only acting role) and girlfriend Laurel (Jill St John), a dancer.

After some setup showing how down-and-out these kids are, and how much of a self-obsessed bastard Frankie is, he gets fed up with the girl and hits the road, through a variety of circumstances and his own force of will becoming a top Hollywood actor. Along the way, Laurel dies and Frankie reunites with Hymie (and, yes, the character is meant to be half-Jewish, half-Irish), as well as hooking up with Elke Sommer and Eleanor Parker. Milton Berle becomes his agent/manager type character, and Joseph Cotton is the studio head who gives Frankie his big break even though he feels the actor is missing something...namely, humanity, which becomes apparent when his films start to flop.

Ernest Borgnine shows up as a sleazy private detective. Bob Hope, Edith Head, Hedda Hopper, Merle Oberon, Frank & Nancy Sinatra all appear as themselves. Acting as actors are Ed Begley Sr, Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford & Peter Lawford. I think upon release this was expected to be a big hit but it totally flopped, I'm sure in large part due to the main character's lack of appeal, and in some other part I'm sure due to this whole package being kind of a ridiculous mess. But it's the kind of glorious, utterly engaging mess that they don't make it anymore.

In the vein, witness "Southland Tales," Richard Kelly's ridiculously self-important, overlong, underdeveloped follow up to the remarkably overrated "Donnie Dorko." That some critics took "Southland Tales" (all two and a half painful hours of it) seriously makes me want to look for something in this to latch onto, but whatever that thing might be, I couldn't find it. This is the kind of expansive cyberpunk stuff that's never really worked, except maybe in "Blade Runner" (which narratively was alot more intimate than this anyway) or the tv miniseries "Wild Palms," which could accomodate the length necessary to play out an epic, multi-character storyline. "Southland Tales" is more like "Strange Days"- in fact, it's ALOT like "Strange Days," crossed with the pretentious, cameo-laden faux-art-posturing of "The Fifth Element," with more than a little "Johnny Mnemonic" style stupidity thrown in.

Ostensibly, this intended to be some kind of parody, but exactly what it's meant to be parodying, I had no idea. There's no point of view, and the characterizations- exaggerated and archetypical- aren't rooted in any kind of reality, but rather are sloppily cartoonish. Hence we get a whole bunch of characters crowding up the screen, none of them really inspiring very much interest, or reflecting any kind of reality. And that there's supposed to be some kind of humor involved...parody requires perspective, I think. It requires...well, it requires a purpose, otherwise it's just the kind of broad, scattershot "Airplane" style humor that isn't really funny anymore. But "Southland Tales" doesn't even have that. It's like parody written by an alien, who has no real sense of the reality that he's parodying, or maybe just parody written by someone who isn't very funny or isn't very smart, and thinks that just mentioning conservatives and liberals in a sci-fi flick amounts to some kind of social commentary.

The sci-fi aspect of the film is equally half-baked. It seems to be the perogative of pretentious movies about "big ideas" to latch on to concepts that are vague enough to seem intelligent without really being explainable, as in "Pi" and "Donnie Dorko" itself. Here the idea has something to do with a perpetual motion machine and time travel, but who cares? These are just catchphrases signifying "ideas" and "intelligence" in order to mask the overwhelming vaccuousness and stupidity at the core of this rotten apple. For a "real" science fiction film that manages to keep its' ideas within the constraints of its' intelligence, check out the low-key, low-budget "Primer" from a few years back. It actually works, when you think about it. In the case of "Southland Tales," one gets the sense that Kelly really wanted to fuck with people's minds, but he lacked the intelligence to do that, so we all just wind up with his dick in your ear.

Also squeezing any possible bit of joy out of "Southland Tales" is its' half-baked hipness, which amounts to alot of middle-of-the-road talent, Saturday Night Live alumni, and would-be ironic cameos by the likes of Wallace Shawn and John Larroquette. Justin Timberlake, becoming pretty ubiquitous in mediocre films, even has a mediocre musical sequence scored by Mr. Mediocrity, Mr. Middle-of-the-road himself, Moby. I will admit that I did think The Rock was pretty funny in parts, which is funny because I don't tend to think of him as a good actor, where as "Tumbsucker's" Lou Taylor Pucci, who I tend to think of pretty good, is actually totally horrible as...well, who really cares? He's just another body moving up on screen, doing stupid things, saying stupid things, and generally wasting my time.

So, yeah, see "The Oscar" at all costs and avoid "Southland Tales" like the plague. Meanwhile, the New York Asian Film Festival starts this week, so I'm going to try and check out a few of the flicks on display and write about them here. And comics, more comics are on the way. And ennui, waves and waves of it, radiating through everything I think, feel and do...

Stay negative, fuckers...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

deadshot...

So, I guess I've been on kind of a roll with the comics posts lately, so why not keep that going? Man, I don't know. Whatever. Words. Anyway, one of the things I wanted to do was showcase some of my favorite comics characters, so I'm starting that here now with Deadshot. This is the kind of character I actually generally don't like, all he really does is shoot guns, he's kind of a tortured anti-hero type of guy, it's a recipe for a really bad, boring character. Somehow, though, Deadshot managed, and he's probably the only gun-wielding angst-ridden character to escape this fate, but he managed to avoid getting revamped and overexposed in the 1990s, which is cool because he was so well-developed in the 1980s as a member of the Suicide Squad, one of my favorite all time series, written by John Ostrander.

So what's the deal with Deadshot? He first appeared in 1950 as a Batman villain, then didn't show up again until 1977, with his cool-looking red, white and yellow costume with wrist guns and some kind of techy looking monocle thing. After the '77 revamp (by one of my favorite Batman teams- Englehart, Rogers & Austin), he didn't appear again until 1982, making a few fun but generally unremarkable appearances in "Batman" and "Detective Comics," including at least one (seen below) drawn by Gene Colan.

Deadshot got really interesting when he became, after DC's "Legends" mini-series, one of the members of the Suicide Squad, a team of ex-villains recruited by the government to run covert missions. Writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale kind of kept Deadshot as a peripheral character, but did a great deal to flesh him out and make him interesting. In a 1988 Deadshot spin-off miniseries by Ostrander and Yale, we find out a bit more about the character's background and his motivations (I'm not going to go into a ton of detail about this stuff here since I plan on posting some stuff from these over the next couple of weeks). After "Suicide Squad" ended in the early 1990s, Deadshot again became a (thankfully) marginal figure in the DC Universe, before becoming more prominent again in recent years with revivals of the "Suicide Squad," another solo miniseries, and appearances in "Villains United," "Secret Six," and "Checkmate."

Below, find some images from the character's 1977 revival and a couple of his early 1980s appearances in Batman and Detective Comics...

Detective Comics 474 (1977), written by Steve Englehart, art by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin:


Batman 351 (1982), written by Gerry Conway, art by Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga:

Detective Comics 518 (1982), written by Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz, art by Don Newton & Bruce Patterson, cover by Jim Aparo:




Detective Comics 520 (1982), written by Gerrt Conway, art by Don Newton & Alfred Alcala:

Hope this are appropriately pleasing. Stay tuned for more 80s Deadshot appearances in the days to come, then some stuff from Suicide Squad and the 80s Deadshot miniseries, then some more recent appearances, maybe. After this, I'll be focusing on some of the supernatural characters I'm into. And of course film reviews, coming soon, in abundance.

Meanwhile, still need a job, still need hope, energy blah blah blah etc etc etc

Monday, June 16, 2008

burn. convulse.

So, here are a few more scans from the last issue (#4) of the Steve Gerber- Gene Colan "Phantom Zone" series from 1982. I particularly like this sequence because it takes place in a punk club. Especially as early as '82, comics and punk never really connected. I mean, it sort of makes sense, guys who wrote comics in the later 70s and early 80s I'm sure tended to be a bit older and it's not like they were totally cool dudes or anything, y'know, comics guys, nerds, stuff, I'm not excluding myself from this, even if I did get into punk (though now it's more postpunk, at the risk of sounding totally pretentious. Yeah, wouldn't that suck?). Anyway, the lack of connection is kind of evident here, it seems like Gerber is kind of down on the punks, but whatever, it's a cool scene and I like, if only for the mercurial murderousness of the Phantom Zoners. Actually, this sequence is somewhat similar to the ending the 1982 film "Alone in the Dark," where a bunch of crazy killers wind up in a punk club at the finale, and it seems like we're supposed to be wondering who the really crazy ones are, or something like that...





Check back soon for comics and the promised Southland Tales review, plus some other shit. Also, give me a job, or just some money. Either way, but seriously, I need a job...

Friday, June 13, 2008

phantom zone follies...

I think I said I was going to put this up a while ago, and got sidetracked or something, but I got down to scanning some comics for future postings today, and figured it was time to roll it out. Here, for your perusal, are some pages from DC's 1982 "Phantom Zone" series, written by the late, great Steve Gerber with art by the equally great Gene Colan (who has been having some health problems recently, read about it and how you can help here). Gerber and Colan had worked together several times prior to this 4-issue mini-series, most notably on "Howard the Duck," Mr. Gerber's signature creation at Marvel. Other collaborations between the two included work on "Daredevil" and "Marvel Preview."

Creatively, Gerber and Colan were a great match. Colan's moody, expressionistic yet oddly realistic style is perfectly in tune with Gerber's thoughtful, esoteric writing. "Phantom Zone," with I'm guessing was kind of a throw-away mini-series designed to cash in on the popularity of the second "Superman" film is actually a great example of both of these masters working perfectly within their element. Gerber uses the space to continue the kind of self-referential, metaphysically experimental work he'd started years before on "Howard the Duck" and "Omega the Unknown," and Colan is perfectly at home in the shadowy recesses of Gerber's psychological netherworld. It's also a great chance to see Colan working on heroes he didn't draw that often- Superman, Supergirl, Green Lantern, even Elongated Man and Zatanna (Batman and Wonder Woman also appear- Colan was later a regular on both WW and Detective Comics)...

Anyway, take a gander and enjoy. I'm still pretty bummed over (everything) Gerber's death earlier this year. The final issue of his Dr. Fate series in "Countdown to Mystery" was released recently, which I guess he wasn't able to finish before he died, so DC, as a tribute, had several different writers do different endings based on how they thought Gerber would have wrapped things up. The results are at once touching, funny, exciting and left me wanting more of this particular take on Dr. Fate (on of my favorite comic characters), and wishing that Gerber was still around to write it...







I'll be posting a few more scans from this series in the near future, and promise (sincerely) more comics-related posts in the near future, including more Gene Colan and some spotlights on a few of my favorite comic book characters. Also coming soon, of course, more movie reviews, including one for the stuipifingly bad "Southland Tales."

Stay negative....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

they just keep bugging me, they just keep bugging me...


Oy gevalt, the past couple of weeks, y'know, well...I've had better. For one thing, I got let go from my job. Is it even worth talking about? I'm tired. Somehow, lying in bed last night, just on the verge of falling asleep, I came up with this whole thing I wanted to write here, some kind of confession or just, something illuminating, y'know. But of course I fell asleep after that and forgot the whole fucking thing and now here I am with nothing much to say. Fucking life, fucking world, fucking everything, huh? Or whatever...

Meanwhile, I finally got a chance to see the horror film "Teeth," which I really wanted to check out in the theatres but missed my chance, as sometimes happens. Reviews of this flick tended to be kind of dismissive, oh, y'know, it's a b-movie, it's a horror picture, no sense in giving it too much thought, or whatever, some snobby bullshit (this is all from the same idiot critics who are praising "Iron Man" and "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"- seriously, read the reviews of this shit, money=being taken seriously by idiots). Too bad, because this is a decent flick. Granted, it is a b-movie, but it's a good B-movie, and alot more thoughtful and thought provoking than most of the more mainstream flicks that are out there.

In a nutshell, Teeth is sort of the more lightweight version for fans (such as myself) of body-oriented horror films like "May," "Ginger Snaps," or David Cronenberg's earlier work. "Teeth" is a bit more geared towards comedy than scares, though it maintains a respectable tone of uneasiness throughout, and doesn't overly rely on the gross-out factor inherent in its' scenario, though when it does, it's willing to go nearly all the way. That said, it isn't scary, exactly, or really at all, and the humor, though uneasy, isn't hilarious, not exactly.

That said, there's nothing really wrong with "Teeth," which follows the horror of a religious teenager's discovery that she possesses vagina dentata. Dawn's failure to discover her own abnormality until she is nearly adult can be blamed on her own pledge of abstinence, as well as her school (and parents) unwillingness towards sex education or even proper anatomical education (Dawn's sex ed book sports a large sticker covering the illustration of the female reproductive system, which the school board has deemed too obscene for study). It is her own burgeoning sense of sexuality that finally unleashes the proverbial beast here, as sex play leads to sexual assault and her internal organs reveal themselves to be kind of a built-in self-defense system.

The film relies heavily on Jess Weixler's performance as Dawn and fortunately the actress is quite good. She doesn't push the religious fanaticism in earlier part of the film too far, and does a great job with the character's discomfort in regards to her body and sexuality. Later in the film, as Dawn begins to view her body as less of a curse and more of a weapon, she plays up her sexuality and menace with some subtlety. It's a good turn and I look forward to seeing Weixler in more interesting roles like this. Equally good is Hale Appleman as Tobey, Dawn's sort of boyfriend, a " born again virgin" whose hormones get the better of him, leading to Dawn's initial discovery of her powers, and the first of many severed penises to grace the screen in this flick. There are also some nice turns from character actor Josh Pais as a gynecologist (loses fingers) and "Twin Peaks" co-star Lenny von Dohlen as Dawn's good-natured stepfather.

Teeth's one true failing is probably the sub-plot involving Dawn's stepbrother, Brad, played by John Hensley. I'm not sure if it was the character or the performance, but something about this portion of the film didn't really work for me, didn't ring true in either a realistic sense, or withing the reality of the film, a slightly tweaked version of real reality, if you know what I mean. Movie reality. Or whatever. The ideas in this sub-plot were interesting, but somehow the filmmakers gave them more weight than was necessary, this became more of a major plot point than the ultimate revelation of whatever it was supposed to be really revealed. Which is to say, it wasn't that interesting.

But, whatever, that still leaves like 80% of the film at genuinely pretty awesome, and that was enough for me. Horror and B-movie enthusiasts with some taste and general distinction will find "Teeth" to be generally quite effective and satisfying. Suckers and dumbasses better stick to their Marvel comics and Zohan movies. Or they can just go to hell. See if I care.

Meanwhile, give me a job!!!! I'm smart, really I am, educated, ambitious, driven- why not hire me to write some shit? I'm also good at filming things. Or writing things to be filmed. Or just come up with ideas for stuff. Anyway, fucking hire me already. And try not to abuse me too much this time, I think we've done enough of that, right?