Sunday, August 31, 2008

tommy gun...

Here for your viewing pleasure is the next issue of Adventure Comics, 426. With this one, the horror-adventure story idea is taking a step further via the creation of "The Adventurers Club," basically just a framing device featuring a white-haired safari-type dude who interviews various people for their membership in his macabre explorer's club. Adventurer's Club must not have generated much interest, since it only lasted for two issues, but what it did bring to Adventure Comics was artist Jim Aparo. We'll be looking at a lot of Aparo art in the weeks to come as we explore his runs in Adventure on the Spectre, and on the solo Phantom Stranger book. Here he's working with writer John Albano, who wrote a ton of horror stories for DC, Marvel and the briefly ressurrected Atlas throughout the 1970s, and also did some good humor comics including Angel & the Ape and Plop! for DC. The cover, featuring b-story hero the Vigilante, is by the great Dick Giordano.






Also, this year Negative Pleasure will once again be engaging in a post-or-more-a-day Halloween countdown throughout October. Jon's Random Acts of Geekery blog is already gearing up for the countdown, which I guess is sooner than I realize (they're already starting to throw the Halloween stuff up at the Rite Aid and Walgreens), and even made a nice banner for those who are participating:


Anyway, something to look forward to...

Friday, August 29, 2008

movies i didn't see this summer & why they sucked...


You can't judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, but, honestly, when it comes to Hollywood product, I think it's pretty safe to say you can pretty easily judge how interesting a movie is going to be based on the poster, trailer or even lead performer. In such fashion, here's a list of movies I didn't see this summer and why they sucked, based entirely on my own uninformed opinion.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan- First off, this looked stupid and horrible. Second, my general political outlook makes a movie, a comedy no less, where the hero is an Israeli death squad commando, highly questionable in my eyes. Third, what's the deal with Adam Sandler make such a point of making sure the world knows he isn't gay? First that was that Chuck & Larry movie, which seemed awful, and now this one (and keeping in mind my knowledge of the plot is based entirely on the trailer and the NY Times review), where he's a hyper-macho hairdresser? Methinks the lady doth protest too much. There's that one scene that they showed in every trailer and tv ad over and over again, where he sticks his foot in some guys face and tells him to "smell it, now take it." To me, that seemed gayer than if this were just gay porn. Also, Adam Sandler isn't funny, so I didn't see this movie.

The Promotion- I didn't realize this movie wasn't "Stepbrothers," which I also didn't see.

The Happening- M. Knight Shalaman's just been remaking the same movie over and over again for almost a decade now, and from all appearances, shit keeps getting clunkier each time.

Hulk- I actually would have gone to see this if someone had been like, "Hey, wanna go see the Hulk?" although I was bothered by the fact that this is basically a remake of a film that's only a few years old. Also, I liked the Ang Lee version of the Hulk, which I think most people have started trashing just because everyone else does now (this anti-hype cycle is already starting for the last Superman movie, which is apparently being remade now too).

Get Smart- I thought the trailers for this were a cell phone ad or something. Seriously, this was a real movie?

The Love Guru- Michael Meyers, fishing pathetically for a new catchphrase, at the expense of who? Hindus, the most peaceful religion on Earth? I mean, people who do Yoga are pretty retarded, but making fun of the Hindu religion is like going up to a kindly old man on the street, who's just minding his own business, handing out pieces of hard candy to children, and generally being wise and noble, and kicking him in the balls. Which would probably be right at home in a Michael Meyers movie. Seriously, though, why does so much humor these days have to be at the expense of a race, religion or some minority group? I'm glad Hindu groups protested this and I'm glad it flopped. Oh, and just because Justin Timberlake is your fucking coke buddy, doesn't make him funny.

Wanted- I'm glad Angelina Joile does a lot of charity work for developing nations (even if she's too fucking stupid to pick a political candidate who's going to do anything for developing nations), but has she ever been in a good movie? Roseanne (the one who used to be on the TV) of all people, put it best on her blog: "Aren't you supposed to be somewhat enlightened, or do you not know that the african daughter you hold in every picture had parents who suffered and died because of the republican party's worldwide economic assault on africa over the last few decades since reagan?...Now go back to making your movies about women who love to handle big guns that shoot hundreds of people to death." Also, this was based one of those comic-books-trying-to-be-a-big-budget-action-movie-type-thing that I don't really care about, by Mark Millar, who I don't really care about.

Hancock- I actually wanted to see this, but I didn't. Sorry, sometimes I like lame shit.

The Wackness- I was a teenager during the summer of 1994 and I hated white hip-hop kids who dealt pot back then, don't know why I'd have any more use for them now.

Hellboy 2- I would have gone to see this too, but my asshole friend who was going to go with me went without me, so fuck him. You hear that, Eric? Fuck you! You owe me a movie...

Journey to the Center of the Earth- Didn't realize this wasn't made for the Sci-Fi Channel...

Meet Dave- I have nothing funny to say about this one. It just didn't look that good...

Harold- Actually wanted to see this, didn't realize it had come out already. Next time, buy some posters or something...

Dark Knight- I really hated the last Batman movie. Too violent, too much kung fu, not enough detective-ing (Batman's supposed to be the world's greatest detective y'know. He's also a scientist), and it looked ugly as shit- too much golden brown light. I've never liked the all-black costume- they don't fuck with the togs when they make a Superman movie, do they? What's his face reminds me way too much of himself in "American Psycho" to really pull off Batman or Bruce Wayne for me- he's got problems, but he's still basically supposed to be a good guy, y'know? The trailer for this one looked boring as hell. I never thought Heath Ledger was that good an actor, and from what I've seen in this, he was just aping Jack Nicholson in the Tim Burton Batman movie (sorry, but the only good Jokers have really been Ceasar Romero in the 60s show, even with the moustache, and Mark Hamill on the animated show, who was really the best for my money). I even saw not-Siskel (whatever the fuck his name is, not-Ebert, either. Roper. Roeper?) on At the Movies basically praise Ledger for his Nicholson impersonation without ever realizing it (he was praising his "Chicago accent," which basically is drawn out and nasal, like Jack Nicholson). From outside appearances, this film just looked BAD to me, and nothing I've heard about it, even from those who lavished excess praise upon it, has made my interest in it anymore. And I really like Batman, the character. But these movies leave me cold. I'll see it eventually, I'm sure, but anything that so many people like so much has to have something wrong with it, like McDonalds, or Ronald Reagan...

Mamma Mia- There's no reason on Earth I could possible imagine for my seeing this movie. It may be great. I'll never know.

Step Brothers- I think I've reached my limit on Will Ferrell movies. They're basically all the same (except the occasional bid at respectability ala "Stranger than Fiction") and they've been getting progressively less funny since "Anchorman." I'll probably watch this when it hits the cable.

X-Files- I've only seen like 2 episodes of the X-Files show. It just never caught my interest.

The Mummy- Once again, didn't realize this wasn't made for the Sci-Fi Channel.

Swing Vote- What was this movie even about? Political parodies have to actually be about something. Is it in any way possible for a presidential election to come down to one vote? Was this a science-fiction story? Isn't Kevin Costner banned from doing science-fiction films? And doesn't he really, really kind of suck anyway? And, I forget if it was on the Daily Show or Real Time with Bill Mahr, didn't I see him pretty much announce he was apolitical? So why would I want to see a movie about nothing with no point-of-view? And isn't the sort of snarky, insider-y, behind-the-scenes look at the political process a really, really tired cliche at this point? It was bad enough when Robin Williams made a shitty movie like this last year. So, yeah, fuck "Swing Vote." Make a movie called "Vote for Obama" and I'll watch that, except I probably won't, because I already know why I want to vote for Obama.

Pineapple Express- As a young white male, I am legally obligated to see this film, but god help me I'd like to avoid it for as long as possible. I just don't find those "frat pack" motherfuckers very funny. In fact, I find them kind of repellant. And I used to like them when they were "Freaks & Geeks," when they were kind of like the underdogs. But now they're superstars and it turns out they're just as shitty and gross as everyone else making movies. So fuck 'em.

Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2- The only reason I could think to see this is because I find some of the actresses in it really attractive, but that's really, really not enough to make me sit through this...

Elegy- How many uninteresting movies can Ben Kingsley make in a year? Apparently, several. (I know this entry probably stopped being funny a while ago, but I made a list, and I want to get through it. If you get bored and stop reading, I'll never know.)...

What We Do Is Secret- Once again, I wanted to see this, but didn't realize it was playing (about four blocks away from my apartment, no less) until after it was already gone. No ads, no posters, I don't even think they showed it for a full week. Guess maybe I'll catch it on DVD...

Mirrors- God, how many times can they make the same bad horror movie over and over again? This isn't even a remake of a Japanese or Korean film, as far as it I know, it just looks like one. Which makes it a knock off of a knock off. And it's done by the guy who made "Haute Tension," which I thought was really pretty lame. Also, Keifer Sutherland? Was Charlie Sheen too busy? Couldn't get Emilio Estevez? (yeah, I know 24 is really popular, but it's also pro-torture right-wind propaganda bullshit made by Fox News demon Joel Surnow, so fuck it).

Star Wars- Whatever the new one is called. The last Star Wars movie I really liked was Empire Strikes Back. I didn't even really go for Return of the Jedi when it came out, and i was like five. I'm just not a Star Wars fan.

Vicky Christina Barcelona- I think I used this joke already, but Woody Allen hasn't made a good movie since "Crimes & Misdemeanors," and really hasn't made a watchable movie since "Deconstructing Harry." This one looks unbearable.

The Rocker- I don't know. I just looks pretty bad. I could probably sit through it though. At least Jack Black isn't in it.

Death Race- The Paul Bartel film "Death Race 2000" that this is based on is one of my favorite movies of all time. This remake looks like it's been robbed of all of the humor, intellligence and exploitation savvy that the late Bartel and Roger Corman, producer of the original film, brought to the plate. Really, the whole existence of this watered-down, in-name-only remake kind of offends me. Also, how many gritty, tough guy action films does that British dude need to be in a year? Or really any British guy, there's like one of them coming out a week with Jason Statham or Vinnie Jones or the James Bond guy. And they're all exactly the same. Anyway, fuck Death Race and everybody who had anything to do with it. I hope they all get herpes or something. Actually, they all probably all already have herpes. I hope they all stub their toes every time they get up to get in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom for the rest of their lives. Except they're all Hollywood cocksuckers so they're up all night doing coke off of hookers' asses anyway. Anyway, fuck Death Race.

the House Bunny- From what I can tell, this movie is about a semi-retarded Playboy playmate who moves in with a bunch of smart, socially-awkward but basically really cute, different, individualistic girls and teaches them how to attract men by being more like Playboy bunnies. So, yeah, that's a message for Hollywood to be sending out to all the young girls (and young boys, and older boys and girls, and men and women) who see this movie. A fucking horrible, detestible, culture-crushing message. Sometimes just being alive in this media culture fills me with such a horrible, sinking feeling, I just want to bury my head under the covers and cry for days on end. Sometimes I come pretty close. Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'll never have another girlfriend again for as long as I live, because I'm horrible and so is life, so why do I even worry about what gender messages the culture is implanting in people's brains these days? I guess I'm just still all humanistic and shit. But seriously, I'm going to die alone. Hey, prove me wrong. I dare you. No, seriously, prove me wrong. Please, somebody, prove me wrong...

The Longshots- This movie was directed by Fred Durst. The guy from Limp Bizkit, or however the fuck that's spelled. I will probably never watch another movie produced by the Weinstein Company ever again. Seriously, if anybody sees this movie I'm going to find out who they are and slap them.

Ok,so, yeah, life sucks and so do all these movies, maybe. I don't know, I'll probably never see most of them, and now you know why, and know just a little bit more about what makes me the horrible person I am.

Until next time...

adventure comics 425

Hey, here's the first of several posts focusing on early-to-mid 1970s Adventure Comics, leading up to Michael Fleischer & Jim Aparo's classic run of Spectre stories starting in issue 431. Adventure started out as "New Comics" in 1937, becoming "New Adventure Comics" with issue 12, then "Adventure Comics" with number 32. Throughout the 1940s, it featured superhero stories featuring Hourman and the original Sandman, eventually giving way to Superboy, Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes stories throughout the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. With issue 425, it switched focus briefly to a kind of adventure-horror hybrid. Adventure Comics 425 (December 1972) is an especially beautiful package. Behind a typically evocative Mike Kaluta cover, there's a lead story (by Lynn Marron) with some terrific Alex Toth art, followed by a backup tale writte and illustrated by the great Gil Kane. Kane we've discussed before, Toth worked primarily at DC from the late 1940s through the 1970s before refocusing his career on animation. As a comics artist, Toth doesn't necessarily have any "definitive" work, but his style remains highly influential. Workin in animation for Hanna-Barbera he designed Space Ghost, the Herculoids, Birdman and Sealab 2020 (much of his work has been re-purposed for Adult Swim cartoons) and worked on Super-Friends. He died in 2006. Below are some of his exquisite images from Adventure Comics 425, Kaluta's cover and the title page of the Gil Kane story...





Tuesday, August 26, 2008

you have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way...

I'm sick. Yeah, boo hoo, right? Well, whatever, it happens. I'm sick of complaining about things. Oh shit, now I'm complaining about complaining. Life is horrible. Meanwhile, when I'm feeling a little better, I've got a bunch of films to review, starting with "Hamlet 2," which I caught this weekend, along with the double feature of "Maniac Cop" and "Maniac Cop 2" at Anthology Film Archives, with filmmaker Bill Lustig present. Maybe tomorrow, I dunno. Also, on DVD and video, "S.O.B.", "L.I.E.", "Serial," "Smothered" (doc about the Smothers Bros.), "Somebody's Watching Me!" and "the Nail Gun Massacre." Doubtful I'll get to all of them, but hopefully I'll do some or most. Any requests from the peanut gallery?

Meanwhile, here's what I guess is the first post in what'll be a long run of comics-related posts about DC's supernatural superheroes. First off is DC Super-Stars #11, featuring the "Super-Stars of Magic," those being Zatanna and some bad guy from the future who fights the flash. From 1977, this reprints a 1971 Zatanna story from Adventure Comics #413, written by Len Wein with art by Gray Morrow. Morrow's one of my favorite comics artists, and we'll get into him more relatively soon when we get to the 1980s "Spectre" series he illustrated for a time. Len Wein, of course, is a prolific writer and editor who's been active in comics since the late 1960s. He co-created Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson, and Wolverine with John Romita and Herb Trimpe. This Zatanna story is odd, somewhat insubstantial but decent enough, and nicely illustrated by Morrow, who also did the cover for this comic. The backup story is from Flash 128 (1962), written by John Broome with art by the great Carmine Infantino. I love Infantino's art, though sometimes it seems like all his characters look like kids. Meanwhile, the issue is loaded with little "extras" including a bio of Houdini with art by Mike Nasser & Terry Austin, who also did the title page illustrations of Zatanna and the Flash. Also, there's a piece on conjuring, and several magic tricks (of which I'm scanned one). Also below are a funny Hostess ad featuring Batman & Robin against some soul singing robots, and another ad for DC's horror line from the 1970s. Please to enjoy...

cover by Gray Morrow...

title page by Mike Nasser & Terry Austin...

Zatanna by Len Wein & Gray Morrow....


The Flash by John Broome & Carmine Infantino (inks by Joe Giella)...

Houdini by Nasser & Austin...



Elfish Hipsley? A Hostess ad featuring Batman & Robin...

Don't you creeps know how to enjoy Halloween? Ad for DC's horror line...

More to come...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

my brain hurts...

Damn, man, this summer just keeps dragging on and on. Somebody wanna give me a job yet? Yeah, didn't think so. Bastards. Well, whatever, life is pain...Meanwhile, last week, Netflix accidentally sent me the 1978 Rene Cardona Jr film "Cyclone" instead of the 1987 Fred Olen Ray film of the same title. I suppose, had I realized in advance the latter film was directed by maven of mediocrity Ray, I might never have queued it in the first place, but lucky me, since the Cardona film turned out to be pretty worthwhile. In this US/Italian/Mexican (Cardona's homeland) production, written by Cardona with Carlos Valdemar, a group of tourists, some off an airplane and some on a tour boat, find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean after a large cyclone ravages the Mexican coast.

For two hours, we watch the group struggle with exposure, lack of food & water and general tedium. As things get increasingly desperate, they begin to turn on one another. Eventually, they're forced to eat a dog, and then as things get more desperate, resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Making matters worse is the fact that the group, which includes Arthur Kennedy, Carroll Baker and Lionel Stander, are a bunch of miserable, unpleasant assholes who hardly share a modicum of affection or group spirit amongst themselves. A few of the more likable characters manage to escape when things start getting really ugly, and wind up faring much better than the rest, who are attacked by sharks after their tour boat sinks.

This is a difficult, harrowing film and certainly an interesting one. The viewer is given nothing to focus on but the discomfort and desperation of the main characters, the desperate grasping for survival, and the increasing sense of doom as it becomes apparent that their chances of survival are pretty grim. It certainly made me interested in checking out some of Cardona's similarly themed films such as "Tinoterra"- a JAWS clone, "Guyana, Cult of the Damned"- about Rev. Jim Jones, and "Survive!"- about the Soccer team whose plane crashed and was forced to turn to cannibalism (made more than a decade before "Alive" the Hollywood version of the same story). Yowza!

I also had a chance this week to check out one of Oliver Stone's early-ish films, "The Hand." Michael Caine plays a popular cartoonist who starts to lose it after he loses his drawing hand in a car accident. Aside from no longer being able to draw, he has odd hallucinations of his severed hand coming to life. The severed hand may or may not be committing murders of people who upset Caine, or Caine may be committing these killings himself during increasingly frequent blackouts. To the film's credit, the real culprit of the killings is never made clear.

Throughout the film, Caine's character can't catch a break. His wife, played by Andrea Marcovicci (from THE FRONT) is losing interest in him as she finds comfort in the self-help movement (and the arms of her Yoga instructor), and his young daughter doesn't seem to mind her father's increasingly decreasing presence in her life. His agent wants him to turn over his comic strip (a Conan-like fantasy character) to a young underground cartoonist (comedian Charles Fleischer- the voice of Roger Rabbit). When Caine, having moved across the country to take a teaching position at a hippy dippy university, seems to find some comfort in the arms of free spirited, slight depressed coed, it turns out she's also shacking up with one of his sleazy colleagues (Bruce Magill of ANIMAL HOUSE). I suppose it would make sense that the character would have some resentments against his lot in life...

I'm loathe to praise an Oliver Stone production (doesn't his forthcoming Bush biopic "W" look like it could be the worst movie ever made?), but this film is actually good. Made before Stone found his "voice" as a self-important reinvisioner of history (or the maker of crappy, flashy faux noirs ala "Natural Born Killers" and "U-Turn"), "The Hand" is stylish and relatively simple. Stone gives little context for Caine's character's hallucinations, so the audience is left to wonder "did that just happen?" as we are given brief glimpses of strange happenings, multiple interpretations of flashbacks, and occasionally odd flashes of white light. The best of these odd moments is a lunch scene between Caine and his agent, in which a crooked crab on a plate seems to move, with neither of the people at the table noticing.

As a straightforward horror film, "The Hand" works pretty well, but occasionally the lack on context works against the overall effectiveness. We're never really given a clear sense of who Caine's character is supposed to be, difficult since he appears in nearly every scene in the film. Is he supposed to be likable? He has a temper, but are we supposed to interpret it as a fatal flaw, or a natural reaction to bad situations? Is his life leaving him because he's a bad husband, or because she's a new age flake (to be fair, Stone doesn't seem to dig chicks all that much)? Also, the character is a fantasy cartoonist, and we're shown that he has a very strong attachment to his work, but we see no evidence of an interest in fantasy or comics in his home or other surroundings. The attempts to paint a portrait of the comics world are made up of about two references to Walt Kelly's POGO, which, though a highly influential comic, would perhaps not be the singular point of reference to someone who draws a sci-fi barbarian type of comic. So, there's that. The supporting cast includes Viveca Lindfors (I like her!) and a pre-REPO MAN Tracey Walter (I like him too!). The Hand seemed to play on TV all the time when I was a kid, I'm surprised it took me this long to see it, but I liked this film, and for that, once again, I am very ashamed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

moderate excitement this weekend...

Without getting too personal, or too complainer-y, this week has sucked. Nothing has gone wrong, per se, I've just felt off since like Saturday or Sunday and it's been having a negative impact on my outlook and interactions. That said, there is plenty to look forward to in NYC this weekend. As I mentioned a while back, Anthology Film Archives, one of the city's most integrity-having (albeit not comfortable seat-having) movie houses, is doing a weekend of NYC-themed revenge/exploitation pictures. It starts tomorrow, Thursday the 21st, with a screening of Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 at 7pm, and a showing of DEATH WISH at 9. Friday they have Bill Lustig's MANIAC COP at 7 and MANIAC COP 2 at 9:15 (I'll be at both, as will be B. Lustig, apparently- yay! He's a fun speaker). Saturday, DEATHWISH again at 5 (or if you're feeling a little avant-gardey, Michael Snow's WAVELENGTH on their smaller screen at 4:30), Lustig's VIGILANTE (This is our Waterloo!) at 7 and MS. 45 (with Abel Ferrara present, and I've you've never seen him speak, it's a sight to behold, if he doesn't get pissed off and storm out, as he did at the New York Film Festival last year) at 9 (I'll probably be checking out the 5 and 7pm screenings). These are fun, good, trashy movies and it's good to support AFA, so I says check 'em out, and say hi if you see me there. Or don't, whatever. But check out the films...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

just one pic, but a nice one...

From 1988, the cover to DC Comics' CHECKMATE #2, by the late, great Gil Kane. This is a reasonably simple, very comic-booky image, but I like that simplicity, and the vaguely early-1960s crime/noir/Charlton Comics feel to it. Kane is one of those artists whose work, no matter what era it came from, to me seems to evoke that early 60s feel (I'd say the same about Gray Morrow, Russ Heath and a few others), I think stemming from the use of fine lines (it's helped, I'm sure, but the fashion choices- the brown suit with striped burgandy shirt and no tie- or the silenced revolver that looks straight off the poster for "Blast of Silence"), and other things that make me wish I had more of a vocabulary for describing things that I like about the pretty pictures...

Kane (real name Eli Katz) had kind of amazing career in comics, starting in the 1940s on DC titles like ALL-STAR COMICS, ADVENTURE COMICS and ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN. A lot of his best and most well-known work came in the late 1950s and 1960s, at DC, working on SHOWCASE, STRANGE ADVENTURES and MYSTERY IN SPACE on characters like Adam Strange, the Atom and Green Lantern (Kane's work on Green Lantern is probably his best known). Later in the 1960s, Kane was one of the originators of the graphic novel format, working with Archie Goodwin on HIS NAME IS SAVAGE and BLACKMARK, both written by Archie Goodwin. During the 1970's he did a stint at Marvel, working on DAREDEVIL, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, CONAN, OMEGA, THE INVADERS, THE CHAMPIONS, STAR WARS and STAR TREK, among others (he was very prolific). In the 1980s, he returned to DC, working on SUPERMAN, ACTION COMICS, GREEN LANTERN, SUPERBOY, SUPERGIRL, THE SWORD OF THE ATOM miniseries and others. Kane remained active in comics up until his death in 2000.

CHECKMATE, meanwhile, was one of many great, underrated titles released by DC in the late 1980s, really one of their most creative periods. Written by Paul Kuperberg, it featured some similarities and several crossovers with John Ostrander's SUICIDE SQUAD (very well covered in out Deadshot posts) from the same era, as well as MANHUNTER, also by Ostrander (with Kim Yale). Some of the characters in the series included the slobby ex-cop Harvey Bullock, from Batman, and a female version of the Vigilante character introduced in Teen Titans, who had his own Marv Wolfman-scripted series throughout the 1980s (some issues had Gil Kane art). The series has been by writer Greg Rucka revived in recent years (as has MANHUNTER, written by Marc Andreyko) as an espionage/political intrigue with superheroes book, and is one of my current favorites titles (as is MANHUNTER). Anyway, that's a lot of set up for just a cover, so enjoy...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

i'm amused, also ashamed...


A while back I watched the "Death Wish"-rip off revenge thriller "Death Sentence," which was directed by the guy who did "Saw," a film I really didn't like at all. Since then, I've been totally dragging my heels on this review, and I've realized why- "Death Wise" wasn't all that interesting. I mean, it was bad, and I like writing about bad movies, but sometimes it's kinda hard to get it up for something so mediocre. I should have taken the "from the director of SAW" tag as a warning. I mean, I like Kevin Bacon (check him out in "The Woodsman," or his theatrical directing debut "Loverboy," starring his wife Kyra Sedgwick, both are pretty great), but he's co-starring with Scientologist (insert derogatory expletive here) Kelly Preston and a horribly overacting, miscast, inexplicably accented (Chicago? Louisiana? Egypt?) John Goodman (it's been a loooooong time since the Big Lebowski for that dude) in an action drama that aims for the gritty realism of "Death Wish" but winds up more like the ridiculous overnblown inanity of "Death Wish 3." If you like to flex your celtic tribal tattoos to a nu-metal soundtrack, "Death Sentence" might appeal to you. Otherwise, you need not apply...

"Tropic Thunder," meanwhile, is an entirely different beast. Though I thought there were some funny moments in the trailer, I had no real intention of seeing it. Blackface? Making fun of retarded people? Ben Stiller, Matthew McGoonallahalllay and Tom Cruise all in the same movie? Fucking forget about it, man. But Friday night my friend texted me to go meet him at the big AMC theatre over on Times Square to see "Hell Ride," the new 1960s-style biker flick directed by minor 1960s biker/b-movie actor Larry Bishop (he had supporting roles in a handful of AIP biker flicks and the counterculture semi-classic "Wild in the Streets"). Unfortunately, when we got there, "Hell Ride" wasn't showing anyone (ironically, it had actually moved to a theatre on Houston Street, about three blocks away from my apartment), and the other pickins were generally pretty slim. "The Dark Knight" was out because my friend only wants to see it in IMAX, and also we were both looking for something entertaining. Although as young white men we're legally obligated to see "Pineapple Express," neither of us could muster much enthusiasm for it. Woody Allen hasn't made a watchable movie since "Crimes & Misdemeanors" (well, ok, "Deconstructing Henry," but that was still a decade ago), so his new flick was out. So that left "Tropic Thunder," which my friend had already seen, but liked enough to sit through again.

I really genuinely kind of dislike Ben Stiller, but mainly because I used to really like him, and am just kind of non-plussed that the guy who really played a major role in defining contemporary comedy in the 1990s with "the Ben Stiller Show" and "the Cable Guy" has basically become the kind of mediocre hack he used to so often parody, but he still has the nerve to make these in-jokey, self-congratulatory comedies with all his lame Hollywood friends. In my eyes, he's become somebody who has no credibility, and on the surface, "Tropic Thunder" just seemed like more of the same. Really, do we need another movie by a bunch of shallow, brainless Hollywood phonies about how shallow, brainless and phony Hollywood is?

The answer, of course, is no, but "Tropic Thunder" is still pretty consistently funny, enough so to make me overlook a lot of its many, many flaws. Well, all of its flaws but one- the casting of Scientologist creep, bad actor and all around awful cultural presence Tom Cruise as the Jewish-stereotype producer. In a film that's caused some controversy for a number of reasons, this is the only parody that has no basis in anything other than wringing some cheap laughs (and one genuinely funny line about Purim) out of a tired, offensive stereotype. If this role were played by another actor, it might come off. Stiller himself, of course, is Jewish, as is co-star Jack Black (or David Cross, who isn't in this film, or Larry David, or dozens of other performer), but the casting of Anglo, Scientologist Cruise is just kind of a slap in the face. I mean, someone who speaks out against psychotherapy and antidepressant use is inherently anti-semetic. Sorry, bad joke, but Tom Cruise is a fucking creep, and seeing him play this disgusting (the character is even called Grossman) stereotype character was bothersome.

This is different from the other stereotypes parodied in the film, because in the other instances, there is actually an element of commentary involved. Robert Downey Jr, of course, as has been much, much reported, plays an Australian actor who has undergone pigmentation surgery in order to portray an African American character, something frequently called into question by an actual African American actor (played by Brandon T. Jackson) throughout the film. It doesn't always work, but it works enough that the comedy comes through and doesn't offend, at least not the racially diverse crowd I saw the film with, who seemed to enjoy Downey's antics but obviously also preferred Jackson's telling him off. The other controversy surrounded by the film, the portrayal of a retarded character, is kind of unfounded. If anything, "Tropic Thunder" pokes fun at actors who play mentally disabled characters as a crude ploy to win awards. I think the specific protests against the film stem from the use of the word "retard," but just being opposed to the use of one word at the expense of noticing the nuance that actually supports their cause, we'll, it'd be crass to call that "retarded," but this film is beings attacked by the same group that endorsed the Special Olympics themed Johnny Knoxville vehicle "The Ringer," which most crassly wrung emotional resonance out of 90-minutes of "retard" jokes by employing actual disabled actors, which is to say some people don't know who their friends and who their enemies are. Which is to say, kinda lame.

But whatever, "Tropic Thunder" tries to push some buttons, sometimes effectively and sometimes not, but overall the film sustains because it is frequently very funny, and that's something. Stiller, oddly enough, is almost a non-presence, as is the very one-note, kind of miscast Matthew McGoonahygoohoo, whatever his fucking name is, that guy hasn't been in a worthwhile movie since "Dazed & Confused." Even Jack Black doesn't have much at all to do, at all. Meanwhile, scenes are stolen by Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan in small roles, and by Jay Baruchel, as one of the main cast. Best of all is preteen Brandon Soo Hoo as the child drug warlord who torments Stiller and co., and toddlers J. Thomas & Jacob Chon who collectively play a child adopted and condescendingly referred to as "Half Squat" by Stiller, and who wind up stabbing the shit out of him in the finale, one of "Tropic Thunder's" funniest moments. Jackson is also very funny as hip-hop mogul turned actor Alpha Chino, but the revelation that his character is gay is obvious and a trite way to add depth to a character that already seems to possess some depth.

So, yeah, "Tropic Thunder" doesn't offend where it's supposed to, does offend where it doesn't intend to, generally kind of fails to really be a parody of big budget action movies because it is actually a 90 million plus dollar action comedy with lots of cartoonish gore, explosions and movie stars, but it does pack enough laughs to keep a viewer laughing and happy for nearly two hours. Stiller's sense of humor is far, far too broad to really successfully parody anything anyway, his jokes are too all over the place. Still, I laughed, I laughed a lot. "Tropic Thunder" is part of a cancerous blight on cinema and popular culture in general that must be eradicated, but I enjoyed it, and for that I am deeply, deeply ashamed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

the last deadshot post...

Ok, this is it, the last Deadshot post, at least for now. First up, some images from the last issue of John Ostrander's "Suicide Squad," which features a lot of panels of Deadshot walking through the jungle. These appeared originally at the bottom of the page throughout most of the issue's big battle scene and made for a nice visual motif. The overall end of the series has Deadshot and Captain Vertigo resolving their murder/suicide pact thing, with both walking away still alive. I like the sparseness of the last page, it certainly packs a nice, if subtle, emotional punch. Yay Deadshot!
Next, some images from the Legends miniseries in which the 1980s incarnation of the Suicide Squad was introduced, and a nice painted image of Deadshot (and Bolt, who I don't really know anything about) by Rebecca Guay from the 1996 Rogue's Gallery 1-shot special.

Suicide Squad 66 (1992), written by John Ostrander & Kim Yale, art by Geof Isherwood & Robert Campanella...






Legends 2 (1986), written by John Ostrander & Len Wein, art by John Byrne & Ken Kesel...

Legends 3, by Ostrander & Wein, Byrne & Kesel...

Legends 6, by Ostrander & Wein, Byrne & Kesel...

Rogues' Gallery (1996), art by Rebecca Guay...

So, that's it. In some Deadshot related news, there's a new Secret Six ongoing series coming out soon, featuring Deadshot along with Catman, Ragdoll, Scandal and some other sort-of-villains/antiheroes. Simone is one of the best superhero writers in comics these days, and she's done some cool stuff with these characters before, so I'm hoping this series will be decent. Also, Mattel has issued a Deadshot figure as part of their JLU line. I love these little figures, they're very toy-ish, as opposed to the more collectible-looking super-detailed superhero action figures that are out there these days. Unfortunately, this figure is really difficult to find, and goes for big bucks on ebay (I wouldn't mind the Big Barda figure it comes with, either). Lame!


Next up, some misc. comic stuff before I start going into the Spectre. Film wise, expect a new review or reviews soon...