Archive for April 30, 2007

Frank the Tank

April 30, 2007

My favorite comic book creator ever, Frank Miller, takes on the Hollywood establishment, squeamish DC and WB executives, critics of his recent balls-to-the-wall Batman books, black ice, and, of course, The Terrorists in this really rather awesome profile in the L.A. Times. It’s refreshing to read an article about someone from comics in a mainstream publication that can intelligently articulate the differences between the work of the creator in question and that of comparable contemporaries–in this case, Miller’s use of space is contrasted with that of John Byrne and George Perez, believe it or not. I’m so impressed that I’ll forgive them for comparing The Dark Knight Returns to that graphic novel masterpiece The Watchman. (Hat tip: Cookie Jill at The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire.)

Yeeeeaaahh…that’s the ticket!

April 30, 2007

With Hulk, Lee brings what has been churning in his oeuvre for a decade to a boil. In the commercial American film industry, it takes guts, after 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to let a man of color (albeit green) take on the United States military in the desert and survive. Given Hollywood’s bottom line of profitability, the fact that Lee would let an out of control non-white “alien” rip army helicopters out of the sky and escape into the camouflage of a Third World jungle needs to be given credit. The A-bomb be damned–the Hulk condenses the Viet Cong and Osama Bin Laden/Saddam Hussein into one gargantuan challenge to the U.S. military-industrial complex.

–Gina Marchetti, “Hollywood/Taiwan: Connections, Countercurrents, and Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk,'” FilmInt

Um, okay.

(Via Matt Zoller Seitz, who by the way is killing the game with his Sopranos recaps.)

Horror will out

April 29, 2007

I had a conversation with a buddy of mine this week that really made something click for me. After hearing how much I liked Hostel, he warned me that Saw, a movie I haven’t seen but to which Hostel is frequently compared, actually really sucks. He then worried that because of its success it’d cast a long shadow over horror movies. Suddenly I realized that while this may be true in terms of the horror movies that the studios get made, it doesn’t have any long-term effects on the health of the genre itself, because horror aficionados ignore the crap and concentrate only on what they like. So sure, you saw a million Scream knock-offs in the 90s. Then you saw a bunch of Sixth Sense clones. Then a bunch of Ring rip-offs. Now, I suppose, we’re on to Saw and Hostel wannabes. But in each case, while commercial product was cranked out, people who really cared about the genre focused on what worked, eschewed putting out ripoffs, and continued to help the genre develop and grow. And this will always be the case, no matter how many bad torture movies get thrown at high-schoolers.

A conversation

April 29, 2007

Sean: What do you think of Lost this season, anyway? We haven’t really talked about it before. Do you think it’s lost momentum? That’s what people are saying.

Sean’s Missus: …I think it’s different than it used to be. I don’t think it’s lost momentum.

Sean: Do you think it’s better? Do you think it’s worse?

Sean’s Missus: I just think it’s changed. It’s not better or worse, just different.

Sean: A lot of people have complained about that this season.

Sean’s Missus: But shows have to change as they go on.

Sean: You’re right–it’d just be treading the same territory over and over if it was the same as it used to be. Still, people think it’s too Others-centric now…

Sean’s Missus: I’m sure The Sopranos has changed, hasn’t it?

Sean: Absolutely, and people complain about that, too.

Sean’s Missus: Okay, but look at The X-Files. That show didn’t change, and look how that turned out.

We get letters, part the third

April 28, 2007

The Horror Blog’s Steven Wintle, bless him, was very patient with me during the months I’d bust Hostel‘s chops without actually having seen it. Now that I have, and changed my tune accordingly, he writes regarding my earlier reticence:

I can completely understand people not wanting to see it because of the gore, or even the context of the gore. I find many slasher and giallo films to be far worse in depicting brutality and demeaning acts against human beings, but the idea of someone being tied down and having things happen to them as opposed to, I don’t know, running through the woods and being impaled on a tree by a machete really freaks some people out. And that’s fine. I don’t think anyone should expose themselves to something they can’t handle (I know I do). I just couldn’t get over the idea that most people criticizing Hostel hadn’t seen it! I mean, House of Wax was probably more cringe-worthy in its violence then Hostel, for me at least. Hostel is a long movie with little flashes of violence, not a non-stop parade of carnage. And it plays out like a straight-up suspense story, as if Hitchcock decided to throw in some splatter. That whole final segment, where Paxton is trying to escape with very little dialogue and that fantastic score, had me at the edge of my seat, and not because I wanted to see someone’s head smashed in.

As for Roth’s comments on the movie, I understand where you’re coming from. I find that happens quite often, in that the creator either accidentally made something that was better then him, or, more likely, he or she just isn’t a very good orator. I lean more towards the second cause mainly because I’m a very visual person, and I find communicating my thoughts through words to be extremely difficult. If Roth, or Tarantino, or most of those guys could shoot a small film whenever they wanted to make a statement to the press they’d probably come off a whole lot better.

His point about the context of the gore in a torture film is a really good one. Without the element of a chase or an ambush or the other usual settings for violence in a horror movie, the brutality is kind of in its purest form, and it’s off-putting in a way that even really over-the-top violence in other contexts just isn’t.

The final sequence to which Steven refers reminded me a lot of similar sequences from Children of Men. Now THERE’S a double feature.

Finally, which is it: Did Roth make a movie that was better than him, or is he just kind of an inarticulate doofus when it comes to talking about his work? I’m really not sure.

We get letters, part the second

April 28, 2007

Long-time reader Josh, noticing my love of all things wet and frightening, alerted me to Peter Watts’s undersea, online sci-fi mythos, Rifters.com. Surprisingly, I’m not much of a science fiction fan when it comes to reading–unless you count 1984, I don’t think I own a single science fiction novel–so I’m not sure this very hard SF is my cup of meat. Still, I do love me some water monsters, and I’m always interested in ways the Internet can be used to tell scary stories, so I’ll be digging around. Perhaps you might want to do so too.

We get letters, part the first

April 28, 2007

It’s been a full week for the ol’ ADDTF mailbag. First, one of my favorite (and all too infrequent) horror bloggers, Joakim Ziegler of Mexploitation, writes:

Not to toot my own horn here (ok, yes it is to toot my own horn), but if you liked that Panic O’ Clock book cover, you’re going to love the two mexploitation posters from my collection that I’ve posted on my blog.

First the hippie one…

…And then, the illegal alien sex one.

I don’t think it gets much trashier than that.

He’s not wrong!

You are not what you own

April 27, 2007

This week’s Horror Roundtable asks us to name some bit of horror-related ephemera we couldn’t bear to part with. I came up with a pair of items from the same source…

ADDTF: For all your giant squid news needs

April 27, 2007

It’s getting to the point where scientists finding giant squid specimens is no big deal. Finding them in the Atlantic Ocean–where they’ve never before been reported–is a cephalopod of a different color. The Winston-Salem Journal has the scoop.

(Hat tip: Craig Woolheater at Cryptomundo, the blog where those of us who love water monsters go to find ’em.)

Acme Novelty Grindhouse

April 27, 2007

One of my all-time favorite weird factoids is that Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan and the world’s greatest living cartoonist, and Robert Rodriguez, director of Sin City and El Mariachi, were friends and fellow student-newspaper comic-strip artists at UT Austin. That wonderful bit of information and loads more–including updates on Sin City 2 and the Madman movie–can be found in a very comics-centric interview with Rodriguez over at Wizard.

I gotta tell ya

April 26, 2007

My thoughts on the latest issues of Justice Society of America, 52, Daredevil, Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two, Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, Powers, and The Walking Dead may be found at this week’s Thursday Morning Quarterback.

(One spoilery note about 52, by the way: I can sort of see where Dirk’s coming from, but in terms of dreariness, there’s kind of a world of difference between, say, Dr. Light raping Sue Dibny and an evil alien intelligence trapped in a nearsighted worm’s body transforming into a Cthulhoid butterfly that eats universes, isn’t there?)

Carnival of souls

April 26, 2007

My New Plaid Pants blogger and longtime ADDTF chum Jason Adams insists that Mike White’s Year of the Dog is a tragedy rather than a feel-good film. But like Reihan Salam (and as opposed to my uninformed concern, derived from what in retrospect was a misreading of Salam), he thinks White is fully aware of this, and that the critics who are getting it wrong are doing so all on their own.

Rue Morgue’s blog, the Abbatoir, has a pretty bitchin’ mini-interview with Hostel director Eli Roth on how he got his fake trailer for Grindhouse, Thanksgiving, to look so awesomely decrepit. Am I the only one who didn’t realize it was shot in Prague, by the way?

Matt Zoller Seitz’s weekly Sopranos recaps/reviews/analyses remain second to none. I was particularly taken with two passages from this week’s post:

[Tony’s] back to being beat-up-’em, bed-’em-down Tony, except more of an automaton, a bad boy reverting to type but not really reveling in it.

I think that might be overselling his return to his old self a bit, but the part about not reveling in it is astute. Even better:

…was [this week’s episode] “Remember When” really that muddled, or have the show’s writers just gotten more confident, more inclined to let scenes and lines of dialogue complement each other obliquely, without the Playwriting 101 symmetry that many TV series (even The Sopranos) equate, often speciously, with Art?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is what makes The Sopranos brilliant–and, incidentally, why I’ve always enjoyed but never loved that “College” episode from Season One wherein Tony balances taking Meadow on a tour of prospective colleges with murdering a rat he happens across; it always seemed a little easy for me.

I’ll tell you, I wish I had this passage to hand a few weeks ago when I was trying to explain to a coworker why my appreciation for the work of Alan Moore has dimmed somewhat over time. If one were in an uncharitable mood, “Playwriting 101 symmetry” would feel like an appropriate way to refer to an awful lot of his ostentatiously writerly and artifice-ial work, wouldn’t it?

Guesstimates

April 25, 2007

Two theories that involve slightly spoilery information about Lost and The Sopranos, so if you’re not all caught up with both, you might want to tune out now:

1) In the Slate.com dialogue for the latest Sopranos ep, Jeffrey Goldberg airs a suggestion from his friend David Segal that Paulie is a rat. Anything’s possible. What grabbed me here is that in the dream Paulie has, he asks slain snitch Big Pussy, “When my time comes, will I stand up?” People have been assuming this to mean that he wonders if he’s got what it takes not to be a rat if the offer is presented to him. But Pussy’s last words before Tony, Paulie, and Silvio killed him were to ask if he could sit down.

2) Since he finally got back from the Others’ compound and got a change of clothes, Jack from Lost has been wearing…a red shirt. Given the fact that the show’s writers are giant nerds who indeed have referenced the redshirt phenomenon during this very season, are we to interpret this as coincidence, fate, or fake-out?

I resemble that remark!

April 25, 2007

I was reminded, in some ways, of Planet Terror, a outbreak flick (zombies, not madness, but still–) which has been reproached in similar terms by a lot of clueless critics. But Rodriguez artfully foregrounds those “flaws,” and transmutes such dross into the solid gold of an awesome, exhilirating movie experience. Here, they’re just annoying. There’s a difference between gonzo intensity that never lets little things like character or plot get in the way, and simply poor writing.

So says Curt of The Groovy Age of Horror about the book Panic O’Clock, the latest in the neverending stream of vintage trashy horror pulp to grace his blog. I like the way Curt gets right to the heart of good trash, pointing out its almost alchemical nature, though as one of those “clueless critics” I’ll have to disagree about whether Planet Terror pulled it off.

Mostly, however, I wanted to show off the truly badass cover for Panic O’Clock that Curt scanned, and encourage you to visit Groovy Age if you’re interested in loads more where that came from…

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

PS: Does anyone else who’s experienced Hostel‘s blend of sex, violence, fetishism, and Eurotrash think it would actually be right up Curt’s alley, despite his arguments to the contrary?

I do not think it means what you think it means

April 24, 2007

If I learned anything this past weekend, it’s that I should probably shut my mouth about movies until I’ve actually seen them. That being said, Reihan Salam’s complaint about Mike White’s Year of the Dog–namely that what it presents as liberating is actually just kinda fucked up–reminded me an awful lot of my own beef with Steven Shainberg’s Secretary. Beats me whether this is a legit crit of White’s flick, but given the usual blind spots of mainstream film critics, I wouldn’t be surprised. Okay, shutting mouth now.

Day job follies

April 23, 2007

Kiel Phegley interviews Kevin Huizenga, the most compelling new alternative cartoonist of the decade.

Keith Giffen offers 52 closing thoughts on 52, one of the most interesting mainstream comics of the past year.

Your water monster update for today

April 22, 2007

Oddweek.com brings you 10 horrible deep-sea creatures. (Via Rue Morgue.)

CNN reports that the remains of a missing Chinese child were found inside a slain crocodile.

MSNBC reports that Florida fisherman have landed a half-ton mako shark.

Boola boola

April 21, 2007

What the fuck?

In the wake of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.

“Weapons to go offstage; Trachtenberg cites Virginia Tech attack,” Courtney Long, Yale Daily News

My alma mater, ladies and gentlemen.

(Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.)

Hostel, or The Passion of the Dudes

April 21, 2007

I just finished watching Hostel for the first time. Looks like I owe someone an apology, and that someone’s name is Mr. Eli Roth.

Simply put, this was a remarkable and powerful horror movie, and I feel bad that I let the patness of Roth’s political read of the movie–and, if I’m being honest, just plain being scared to watch it–keep me from experiencing it until now. With everything so fresh in my mind it’s tough to describe why it connected with me the way that it did, except through a laundry list, but I’ll try to avoid that anyway…

For starters, it was actually quite sophisticated, politically or philosophically or however you want to put it. Horror movies have a tendency to beat you over the head with their deep thoughts, or what passes for their deep thoughts, or what they can get mainstream film critics to think are deep thoughts. But for all the ugly Americanism going on here on the part of the two lead characters, and for all the anti-Americanism on the part of anyone else, I actually thought it was played with a fairly light and deft hand. You never saw Paxton or Josh proudly proclaim their American-ness while beating someone up or sexually harassing someone or making wildly racist or xenophobic comments, which would have been easy (too easy) to have them do. Instead, it’s just kind of there–their distance from home, an air of privilege that they didn’t ask for and yet also take for granted, and all the values and prejudices they’ve inherited from their country and class and era and gender.

Obviously the latter category is enormously important. I can’t remember the last horror movie I saw that linked misogyny, pornography, and sadistic violence together this relentlessly and astutely, without seeming like an example of that link itself. And I don’t even mean the gorgeous, topless women they run into at seemingly every turn, but little moments like the revelation that their horndog traveling companion has a daughter, as does the slightly too friendly Dutch businessman they encounter on their way to the titular hostel. Watching the four men ooh and aww–sincerely, I don’t doubt–over the cuteness of the adorable little girls, then mentally contrasting that with their enthusiastic to the point of pathological quest for Pussy–which they discuss in the same acquisitive manner as one might a hot car or a cool new video game console, when they’re not busy pejoratively referring to one another as one…I was impressed, mightily so.

I know the movie has gotten a rap as homophobic, but I can’t see it at all. The characters are homophobic, again almost pathologically so, but that’s a critique, not an endorsement. (I certainly realize that the movie could be read by your average meathead opening-night horror-audience dude as FUCKING AWESOME, AND IF YOU DON’T THINK SO YOU’RE A FAGGOT, but in a weird way that’s a strength–it’s mocking these people to their faces and is smart enough to get away with it.) Again, it’s not just the constant “that’s gay, this is gay, you’re gay” bullshitting that makes the point: There’s that brilliant scene where the Dutch businessman tells Josh that making the decision to have a family was the right one for him, but that Josh should make his own decision. If one were to surgically remove (if you’ll pardon the image) that scene from this movie and plop it into some suburban-ennui indie flick, you’d have one of the most sensitive explorations of the closet and its lure I’ve ever seen on screen.

And then there’s the horror stuff itself, which is as strong as you’ve heard. It scared me, which is saying something. But it’s the stuff that surrounds each really graphic shot that gives the film its impact. Take, Paxton’s encounter with the German, for example: the German’s literally breathless excitement at getting to torture an American; Paxton’s use of German to beg the man not to hurt him (un-subtitled–a callback to an earlier display of idiocy by Paxton himself); the German’s subsequent, seeming reluctance to do so, only to be revealed as a pause to grab a ball gag; and, especially uncomfortable and uncompromising, (to quote Radiohead) the panic, the vomit.

Certainly that scene and many others are simply The Texas Chain Saw Massacre turned to eleven. Indeed, the whole movie could be read as a what-if: What if they actually showed all the violence you didn’t actually see in TCSM? The meathook going through the back, the chainsaw going through the bodies, and so on. Hell, the German even slips and drops his chainsaw on his leg–but in this case, instead of a gnarly but shallow wound, it chops his whole leg off. It’s in your face.

But back to the stuff around the gore. I think my favorite moment of the film was when Paxton, on the verge of escaping in a stolen car, hears the screams of a girl from inside the charnel house. He ends up turning around and going back inside, of course, as we expected given his earlier story about being haunted by the screams of a mother whose young daughter he’d seen drown when he was a kid. But there’s no bravery, no grim-faced resolution in his face, courtesy of a masterful performance by Jay Hernandez–there’s just an almost physical need not to bear the guilt of the girl’s suffering. He rushes to save her in almost the same way a nauseous person rushes to the bathroom to get sick.

But he’s a decent guy, which is the trick of the film. I’m not saying he’s a good guy by any stretch of the imagination. I see him like a cast member of The Real World. These young Americans aren’t murderers or animal abusers or corporate criminals–they’re simply “moral morons,” to borrow Flannery O’Connor’s term, people who can justify countless minor abuses of other people’s dignity and trust with a “hey, that’s just who I am” or an “I’m finding myself” or an “I deserve to be happy.” Paxton is a homophobe and a hedonist and a philistine and a misogynist pig, to be sure; but he likes children, he cares about his friends, he reaches out to a stranger when he sees she’s distraught, and he really does wish he could have saved that little girl. That decency beneath all the bullshit gets one final despairing expression when he rescues Kana, in two heartbreaking sentences: “What do you want me to do, honey? I don’t understand what you’re saying!”

And there’s more. The pressured-speech macho-asshole American businessman’s “Who wants this motherfucker!” The mirroring of the Amsterdam cathouse with the torture factory. The shots–of Kana’s face, of the multiple hit-and-run victims, of the two middle-aged ladies getting sprayed with blood on the train station–that prove Roth has a Troma Diploma hanging on his wall somewhere. Takeshi Miike’s cameo, and his one line of dialogue. The killer children. The fact that the professional killers’ one apparent remaining taboo–they’re not going to run over a dozen kids–is their undoing. Paxton’s quixotic attempts to hang on to his severed fingers. The electronica version of “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man during the sex scene. The most sympathetic, most thoroughly developed character not ending up being the main character. Even the very ending, by far the least convincing part of the film, works because of Hernandez’s and Jan Vlas├ík’s performances and its antiseptic savagery.

It’s a great horror film.

Day job follies

April 20, 2007

Holy smokes, it’s a smorgasbord.

Rickey Purdin interviews Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright. The Monster Squad and Point Break are discussed.

T.J. Dietsch interviews An American Werewolf in London and Animal House director John Landis. Landis provides a list of who he’d classify as a “Master of Horror.”

T.J. Dietsch interviews Re-Animator creators Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli. The pair name their two favorite horror films of recent years.

The whole staff, led by Ben Morse, bring you the oral history of Captain America, as told by nearly every major living creator to work on the character. Some of ’em wander off the reservation in offering their opinions, so keep an eye out for that.

Last but not least (okay, maybe least), my opinions on the latest issues of 52, World War III, The Mighty Avengers, Justice League of America, Love & Rockets, The Pirates of Coney Island, Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, and Ultimate Spider-Man can be found at this week’s Thursday Morning Quarterback.

Bam!