Thursday, July 20, 2006

Adam's seen Clerks 2!!!
And...oddly enough, I'm conflicted.
I haven't laughed so hard in a movie in two years (since Team America: World Police, to be exact).
That being said...the story itself is why I'm not so sure I'm willing to suckle Kevin Smith's tremendous cinematic donkey dick this time around. When he tries to pathos and emotion, I'm waiting for a good dick or fart joke to drop.
Clerks 2 is hilfuckinarious when it wants to be. Smith's writing, when he's going for a laugh, is about as sharp as it gets, and with almost nobody in the film except his personal theater company, everyone knows their part like they were born to it.
In some ways, the conflict of the movie is the conflict of Smith's own life. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) is going nowhere in life. He's worked at Mooby's for a year after the Quick Stop burns down. Kevin Smith's film career is treading water, going back to the well that is the View Askewniverse after the train wreck that was JERSEY GIRL. And, when given the opportunity to get the fuck out and actually change his life, Dante's going for the brass ring. He's gonna blow Jersey for the sunny shores of Florida with his girlfriend Emma (Jennifer Schwalbach, Kevin Smith's real-life wife).
Who can blame him? Emma's hot, loves him, and carries with her the promise of a better job (managing one of her dad's car washes) and a house (and an enormous clit).
There's a problem, though. Dante's kinda sorta got it bad for Becky (Rosario Dawson), the sexy manager at Mooby's. The two of them have a great friendship and an easy chemistry.
Now, personally, between the two of them, I'd hit Rosario in a New York minute (the goodies looked damn FINE in Alexander). But, that's me. Dante's gonna have a harder time with it.
Much as Dante gets the story arc, Randall (Jeff Anderson) gets (most of) the laughs. What moments he doesn't shine onscreen are utterly stolen, owned and trademarked by Trevor Fehrman's Elias and Jason Mewes' triumphant return as Jay. Mewes is utterly fucking fearless, and lets it all hang out this time (well, everything except what he has tucked).
Elias, a new addition to the View Askew crew, is the perfect foil to all of this madness. He's a sheltered, barely-there kid with Upright Christian Parents, a yen to revisit Middle Earth and a deep, abiding love for Robots in Disguise. Much as Randall hates the little fanboy, he's part of the crew. Fehrman's performance is so damn perfect, you'd almost think he was a geeky shrinking violet. Thanks to all of Smith's online diaries, I know the opposite is the case.
There are, of course, copious in-jokes and sight gags that will be rediscovered on DVD, and some terrific cameos by View Askew veterans Ethan Suplee, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee. Wanda Sykes and Earthquake have an extended cameo that sells one of the better jokes in the film. And there's a donkey show. But, you'll probably blink and miss that, right?
Smith hammers a few jokes one too many times like the proverbial dead horse, but 99% of the time, he's gold on the yucks. His serious moments, the big emotionally-charged moments...well, those could have been left on the Lifetime network where they belong. However, the ending, much as it gets sappy, is a fitting bookend to the chronicles of Dante and Randall. It may not be the end for our favorite Clerks...but it's almost as good as a ride off into the sunset.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ultimate X-Men #69

writer: Robert Kirkman
artist: Ben Oliver
published by Marvel Comics

I've been enjoying Robert Kirkman's career as a writer. As the man behind what's arguably still my favorite comic today (The Walking Dead), I've sampled quite a bit of his work over the last couple of years. Occasionally, he misses. But when he hits, watch out.
This is the first issue in the "Phoenix?" storyline...which might well mean some bad juju is coming down the pipe for the Ultimate versions of my favorite mutants. Professor X has taken in another mutant, this time a reality-altering guy named Elliot who can't control his powers. Jean's being tested by a religious organization (who may well be aliens) who believes her to be a mythic being called the Phoenix. Rogue's having trouble adjusting to having Remy LeBeau stuck in her head now that he's taking a dirt nap. Nick Fury's calling in an old marker with Wolverine. And Angel's attending the Homecoming dance at Emma Frost's Academy of Tomorrow (though he's there undercover for Professor X).
See where all of this is going? Neither do I. And that's half the fun of the Ultimate line. You think you know the history of these heroes, but you don't. Things can change. The basic architecture of classic Marvel is there, but the writers and artists can have fun doing things in new and creative ways.
I'm looking forward to the rest of this storyline except for one thing. The art. Ben Oliver can not draw. Period. He's a grade above stick figures.
Get a better artist, Marvel. You have enough of 'em.

SPL (aka Saat Po Long)
directed by: Wilson Yip
available on Deltamac Home Video (Hong Kong)

Simon Yam, Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen have long been favorites of mine. Why I waited so long in watching the first movie to feature all three together, I have no clue.
Now that I have viewed To say I didn't see that coming would be an understatement. SPL is a sweeping, near-epic cop drama with themes that aren't explored much anywhere, let alone Hong Kong.
Simon Yam Tat-Wah plays Chan, a detective for the Royal Hong Kong Police pre-handover. He's a good man, dedicated not only to his job, but to his adoptive daughter -- who was orphaned when her parents attempted to testify about ruthless crimelord Wong Po (Sammo Hung). Chan wants to put Po away, but he's playing on borrowed time -- he's due to both retire soon, and he's got an incurable brain tumor. Talk about stacking the deck against someone...
Chan's squad is fiercely loyal to him, and they want him to go out on a good note. During a bust, they steal a bag of money to provide for his daughter's well-being after Chan is gone. They also do everything possible to bring Wong Po down.
Yen plays Inspector Ma, Chan's replacement-to-be. He's a good cop with a reputation: he once hit a suspect so hard, he left the guy with brain damage. Ma is sort of the odd man out in the squad, though, since the rest of them have been working together for years. They don't seem to trust him, and he's not sure that he can trust them.
How far is too far, exactly? At what point do you step over the line and are no longer doing good? After Wong Po has an undercover cop killed, the unit springs into action, trying to pin the murder on him, even though they have a videotape that shows someone else pulling the trigger (the tape iteself would have gotten a conviction in the US, but apparently you have to do the deed yourself to be considered a murderer in HK). They're willing to manufacture evidence to frame Wong Po...even to murder the real put Wong Po behind bars. Ma objects to this and finds himself in confrontation with his men before he's officially in charge of them.
Ma has his reasons. He actually DID hit a guy so hard that he left him a half-wit. And since then, he's taken on responsibility for the man's life. He got the former criminal a job as a janitor and he visits him weekly, always losing when they play fighting games together at the arcade. Ma knows what happens when you go too far.
Wong Po, on the other hand, doesn't have the problem of a conscience. He dispatches his most brutal agent to deal with Chan's men -- which he does quite bloodily. Chan and Ma are helpless to stop the unit from being killed, leading to a final confrontation in Wong Po's nightclub that will ultimately destroy all three of their lives.
If I were to choose, off the top of my head, a list of the greatest martial artists working in film today, the top two spots would probably go to Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. It's no surprise that the two of them would have a very physical confrontation when they finally did throw down.
I wasn't at all prepared for their fight scene. To say the least, it's easily one of the most brutal fights I've ever seen. It's long, bloody and you get the feeling that even the victor would have a hard time walking afterwards. The two of them use everything in their arsenal -- kicks, punches, grapples, throws, holds -- and then some. I half expected them to end up in the kitchen and for someone to get clocked with the proverbial kitchen sink just to let the audience know that they've gone as far as they could.

For as big as this movie is, it holds tight to its three leads, particularly Simon Yam and Donnie Yen. Both put in admirable work, and it brings me back to a frequent question...why hasn't Hollywood snapped up talents like these?
Yam lives in America pretty much full time now, and Yen's from Boston. Sure, Donnie Yen did the martial arts choreography for and appeared in both Highlander: Endgame and Blade 2...but he's easily one of the most dynamic, charismatic guys working in cinema anywhere today. Is it just because he's Asian? Aren't we beyond all that bullshit yet? Yam has always been a great actor, able to move from comedy to action to romance to drama with ease. Either of these guys should be able to get a job in any type of movie, and yet they're both pretty much unknown in the US.
Of course...look what they did to Sammo Hung when he came over. I'm sure Chuck Norris meant well getting Sammo a gig starring in Marshall Law, but the show was a poor showcase for one of the most talented acrobats and fighters ever. As he enters his golden years, it's good to see him get a good character role where he can still show off a bit physically. Unfortunately, he had to go back to Hong Kong to get it.
With any other trio of actors, I'm not sure that I would have enjoyed SPL. But with the stars that they got, this movie became something I'm glad I finally got off my duff and saw. It combines moral drama, police procedure and some great action into a film that really ought to get a good release in arthouses here. The import DVD is all-regions, though, so anyone can enjoy it. Pick it up on eBay or at your local Asian market. It's well worth the search.

Silent Hill
directed by Christophe Gans
written by Roger Avary

I believe the word I'm looking for is daaaaaaaaaaaamn. And oddly, it goes both ways. Damn, this movie gets right in there and scares the bejeezus out of you...and damn, what a waste.
Christophe Gans' new horror film Silent Hill is another push to the envelope of what can be shown onscreen, both from a visual standpoint and from the perspective of just out and out mayhem and violence.
But...there are points where it doesn't work. When it doesn't, you just slap your forehead and wonder what Roger Avary was doing that day when he was supposedly writing. But when it does, and it fires on all cylinders, this is not only one of the more unique looking creepshows out there, it's also one of the most effective.
I saw the film with a bad audience. A rarity for the Arena Grand, but still a possibility. And, after a few touch and go minutes at the beginning, they got shut up. Not by theater staff. No, sir. By the movie.
The first big scare got two of the group to scream in fright. The other two were freaked the fuck out and they fled, never to return. Sure, they talked through the entire movie, but they were quiet except when they were screaming their asses off.
That worked just fine for me.
Radha Mitchell (you might remember her from Pitch Black or Phone Booth) really has to carry the movie. Sean Bean (still in the running for Greatest Geek Actor of All Time) plays her husband Christopher. But, the two of them pursue their investigations of the town of Silent Hill more or less on parallel paths. They get one or two scenes together to show off the fact that they're married and that they both love their adopted kid, and for the rest of the movie, they're apart. Sort of an odd choice, but I believe the video game is about lone heroines confronting ancient evil, so the married couple can't be together. If there weren't a phone message from Christopher about how much he loves the child, you'd start to think that he didn't care, and that's why he didn't go.
Mitchell plays Rose DaSilva, an Ohio housewife and mother to a child (Jodelle Ferland) who's having problems. She has nightmares and sleepwalks, and often ends up waking up screaming the words "Silent Hill" over and over again.
Mom's done her research (isn't Google great?) and found a town called Silent Hill in West Virginia. A ghost town. Complete with a disturbing and tragic past that culminated in a gigantic coal mine fire 30 years ago that wiped out most of the town. The problem? Sarah was adopted from an orphanage in West Virginia. An orphanage very near Silent Hill.
Rose puts two and two together and knows something is terribly wrong. And all the answers lie in Silent Hill. Problem: if Sarah came from Silent Hill, she'd be almost as old as her adoptive parents, right? The town is DESERTED as far as she knows. She packs up her daughter and heads for West Virginia against Christopher's wishes. She's not being rational, and this is gonna bite her in the ass. Big time. Of course, she acts all freaky in front of a deputy, Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden from The X-Files) who follows her into the town.
Both end up crashing their vehicles in separate locations.
When Rose wakes up, Sharon is missing. Things get weird from there. Everything is sorta foggy, sorta smoky in Silent Hill. And there are horrible things coming out of the fog. Inhuman things. And, every once in a while, a siren wails. Everything goes dark. And then, the REALLY nasty things come out.
Meanwhile, Christopher drives down to West Virginia after his wife. He and a decent cop (veteran character actor Kim Coates) investigate Silent Hill on their own. It's the same town, but it's different. It's rainy where Rose's Silent Hill is foggy. It's deserted, and while Christopher feels his wife is there, they can find no trace of her.
The mystery is sorta compelling, and the horror segments truly are frightening. A funny thing happens about two thirds of the way through the movie, though. Everything stops. I mean LITERALLY stops. The movie grinds to a halt and everything goes white for a minute. Then, everything is explained. Back story. What's happened thus far. And what's GOING to happen. Yes, they explain the end of the movie. Before it happens.
We fade back into the film in progress, and then everything happens, exactly as it was explained it would.
Something tells me that this moment was cribbed from one of the Silent Hill games. But, where the same exposition might have worked in an interactive game (where you might not be able to fulfill said prophecy or where you might need crucial background information to solve a final puzzle), it falls flat on its face in a narrative motion picture. You can't give away the last third of a film and expect people to be satisfied when that's exactly what happens.
The only thing they didn't give away is the very final moment of the film, and by that time, you're so damn annoyed that they spoiled their own damn movie, you forget to care. And that's too bad, because that final moment, cribbed as it is from some other films, could have worked. If fails to resonate, though, because the storytellers failed the audience.
There's a lot of craft to Silent Hill, and a lot of interesting ideas. Avary and Gans tried to make something different from the normal Hollywood fare and remakes of J-horror. If they cut the momentum-stifling explanation of the town's history and the entire third act, the ending (and the movie itself) might have clicked. Instead, it just sorta fizzles.
As it stands, Silent Hill is an ambitious film. I give it credit for trying to do something new for the genre. But I'm upset that they couldn't make a cohesive, logical story and follow through on it.

Podcast Planet 4.0

Nobody Likes Onions

So, put three supposed stand-ups together in a room and you'd think someone would bring the funny, right?
Nobody Likes Onions just plain sucks ass. Unfunny, unoriginal, uninspired. So many insults come to mind. Calling people fags is about as funny as these guys get, so they play like gangbusters with the Jr High set. Three quarters of their callers haven't hit puberty yet, and to punctuate it, the NLO gang sings along perpetually with Hillary Duff's "Sweet Sixteen".
Boy, howdy. That's the essence of comedy.
Hearing three supposedly grown men beg someone on a webcam to show her tits is kinda pathetic, but not particularly entertaining. And it drags on for TWO FUCKING HOURS???

NextWave #3
NextWave #1: Director's Cut

writer: Warren Ellis
artist: Stuart Immonen
published by Marvel Comics

Man, I'm late getting this up. By this time, issue 4 (heh. now it should be 5) should be out, and I haven't gotten my lazy ass to the Laughing Ogre to buy it yet.
From the beginning, I knew I was going to like NextWave. It was smart and spiteful, yes, but it's also a comic that revels in its comic-bookiness.
Warren Ellis is a cynic, but he's a cynic with a healthy balance of idealism behind his jaded ethic. NextWave is full of honest-to-goshness gee-whiz moments, peppered with pop culture parody and winking irony. The heroes are mostly familiar Marvel characters, with the exception of The Captain (aka Captain ****). And the situations they're in are familiar to anyone who's ever picked up a sooperhero book. The plot is convolutedly simple: The Beyond Corporation sponsors a SHIELD-esque rapid-response team called HATE (Highest Anti-Terrorist Enforcement) to combat America's enemies. It's all lies and bullshit, though. The Beyond Corporation are the baddies, in reality the super-terrorist organization SILENT.
After discovering this, the NextWave team (all second-string heroes banded together to be a branded presence in toy stores and TV screens) turns traitor and fights both HATE and the Beyond Corporation.
In the third issue, the team discovers a "hyper techno samurai" seed has been lost and jumps into action to find it. It's been discovered already, by a cop who epitomizes the perjorative "PIG". The seed jumps into him and...changes him.
So, now NextWave not only has corporate-sponsored law enforcement and terrorist agents after them, but they also have a rapidly evolving supertechnical biomechanical creepazoid to throw down with. And throw down they do.
The next issue promises the origin of NextWave's most mysterious member, the aforementioned Captain. Since the book's not in the soon-to-be-defunct Max line, we know we're not finding out what **** the Captain really is. But, we might find out why everyone aside from the book's readership hates his surly ass.

The director's cut of issue 1 doesn't add a thing to the story. None of Marvel's "Director's Cuts" ever do. It does, however, come with a few extras. All of the Director's Cut series include the issue's script and occasionally the odd sketch or character design. This one's no exception. Reading Ellis' pared-down script really does let you in on the fact that he's pretty much got the book visualized in his head. That he gets an artist to do exactly what he wants if part of the fun.

New Avengers #18
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Mike Deodato Jr
published by Marvel Comics

For the most part, much as I naysayed the book beforehand, New Avengers has kicked unholy amounts of booty.
Where I found his run on Daredevil to be talky and at times wholly pointless, he seems to have gotten the gist of what makes a team book like Avengers or JLA tick -- conflicts far beyond the ken of any one hero.
The latest threat brings the new team to Bendis' old stomping grounds of Cleveland, Ohio to confront a mysterious individual named Michael who seems to be not only unstoppable but also possessed of enough power to bring back Ms Marvel's Binary powers with little or no effort on his part...and to spontaneously disassemble Iron Man's armor without even batting an eyelash.
Half of the Avengers are scrambling for those answers on the SHIELD Helicarrier while the other half is getting their asses handed to them in Cleveland. At the end, Spider-Man seems to have figured it out, but Michael's streaking back to the conflict, and it doesn't look good for Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
My theory? Michael's possessed of all those missing mutant powers that Scarlet Witch turned off on M Day. Which means that the lead-up to this summer's Civil War crossover may also finish off the whole House of M/Decimation storyline for good. Considering that the whole thing's been going on for a year, that's probably for the best.

Masters of Horror: John Carpenter: Cigarette Burns
directed by John Carpenter
written by Drew McWeeney and Scott Swann

I sort of know Drew McWeeney, half of the writing team that created this entry into Showtime's Masters of Horror series. I've frequented the Ain't It Cool News website for quite a few years now (where he's known as Moriarty), and I've had occasion to have dealings with him over various issues and misdeeds.
So, I happen to know exactly what inspired Cigarette Burns. Some have accused him of cribbing from Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness or Lovecraft or a dozen other sources. But none of them could suspect that the inspiration for the infamous film that causes madness and violence in all who see it was actually a Monty Python sketch: The Joke.

So, I had that in mind when I sat down to watch the DVD.
Norman Reedus plays Kirby Sweetman, the owner of a revival theater and a procurer of rare film prints for wealthy collectors. When an eccentric (Udo Kier) approaches him about obtaining the Holy Grail of rare films, La Fin Absolue du Monde, a film so disturbing that it drives viewers to murder...and worse.
Art is powerful. It's caused riots, it's started and stopped wars. It's wooed maidens and debauched the virtuous. Art has raised man and dashed him to the winds like dust.
Imagine something so powerful that it has destroyed everyone who's watched it. Imagine a film so blasphemous that it damns the viewer forever. That's what Kirby's looking for.
The closer he gets, Kirby starts seeing things. Glimpses of startling images, all through a "cigarette burn", the mark that theater projectionists use to find reel changes.

I can see a little bit of "The Joke" in the premise to Cigarette Burns, but that's really where the similarity stops. The film does take some cues from media theory (read: Marshall McLuhan), but is more influenced by the entire subculture of film geeks out the writers themselves, and each of the directors in the Masters of Horror. It's a film about film lovers, and that's probably its most endearing strength. We movie geeks have all gone out to obsessive lengths to see some rare film or get an import or bootleg DVD of some forgotten film that's near and dear to our hearts...or something we've heard about and simply must see.
That's the case here. Carpenter and the writers have created a mythical must-see picture that cineastes the world over would be scrambling for were it real. Were it an actual film, I'm kinda guessing that I would have attempted to track down La Fin Absolue du Monde years ago and paid the consequences. I'm reminded of my own weakness and love for film, and that's what sold the story to me.

What this film has done for me is make me instantly want to see a new feature by Carpenter in the theater (not that I didn't before, but now I'm REALLY itching for it). The man IS a master, not just of horror, but of film itself. I realize that Ghosts of Mars kind of sucked. But the vast majority of his catalog is absolutely classic -- essential viewing that any film aficionado should see.
I'm also jazzed to see something else from McWeeney and Swann. I've been reading some of their stage plays and unproduced scripts lately (thanks for putting them up, Drew). They've got some great ideas and they have a good voice working together. Someday, they might just knock us all on our coal mining asses.

The DVD isn't bad, though full retail is still sorta steep for a one hour film (thankfully, I got it for much less than that thanks to a sale and a coupon). There's oodles of extras, including two commentary tracks (one by Carpenter and one by the writers) and a handful of featurettes. Anchor Bay does a nice job with normal stuff, and they handle little genre gems like this even better.
I'd be much happier if they put out a season box of the entire Masters of Horror series, but I suppose I can pick and choose a disc or two here and there and assemble the first season piecemeal. I'll just whine and kvetch about it a lot.

Astonishing X-Men #14
writer: Joss Whedon
artist: John Cassaday
published by Marvel Comics

The X-Men are in trouble. We, the readers, know that a new incarnation of the Hellfire Club is gunning for them, bolstered by their catspaw, the White Queen. For those of us who read Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men and Whedon's previous season on Astonishing X-Men know that Emma Frost is one formidable superbitch.
Emma finally turns it on in this issue, taking her lover Scott Summers apart piece by piece. Not in a violent way -- even though she could if she wanted to. No, Emma Frost is too subtle for that. She takes him apart from the inside, undermining his confidence and ability to lead...and then finally forcing him to confront his deepest, darkest fear.
What's left isn't worth a fart in the wind.
There's some great character moments in the book, including a humorous interlude where Shadowcat loses control of her powers during an encounter with Colossus. We're also soon to get an answer about just what Ord from the Breakworld was talking about when he said an X-Man was destined to destroy his world (maybe). But Whedon and Cassaday keep the focus on the pairing of Emma Frost and Scott Summers...and how she's using her own love for the leader of the X-Men to destroy him.
So far, Whedon's run has been...well, astonishing. Now he's kicked it up a notch. The rich characterization and dialogue in this issue has equalled anything that Morrison offered, building on his material as well.
If you're not buying Astonishing X-Men, get your ass out there and get the collections of the first two storylines. Catch up with your favorite mutants and the best writer to handle them in a long time.

Art School Confidential
written by Daniel Clowes
directed by Terry Zwigoff

Every artist occasionally makes a dud. It's inevitable.
Sadly, this happens to be that occasional dud for Terry Zwigoff. He's had a storied career, starting with his brilliant portrait of underground comics legend R Crumb, his first foray into the Clowes universe in Ghost World, his genius bio-pic of Harvey Pekar, American Splendor, and the splendidly evil holiday film Bad Santa.
Art School Confidential isn't a total bomb. It's got great characters, especially John Malkovich's turn as Professor Sandiford. It handles the art school experience terrifically -- with so much truth in the fakery and politics of the classroom that some might think it almost a memoir.
However, plotwise, the film tries too much. And ends up being entirely vanilla where it could have been as evil as Bad Santa or as funny as a National Lampoon picture.
If you're a huge fan or a budding artist, it might be worth putting in your NetFlix queue. Otherwise, read some Eightball instead.

All-Star Superman #3
writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Frank Quitely (digtally inked and colored by Jamie Grant)
published by DC comics

I loved Grant Morrison's run on JLA. It's what truly made me a fan of his work. I'd read some of his stuff before, like Arkham Asylum or Animal Man or Doom Patrol. It just didn't quite click that the man was a super-genius until he got ALL the toys at DC and showed us that he could do superheroes better than anyone without being cynical or cheeky or overly clever. His run on JLA brought me back to the DC Universe and made me care about charaters I'd long since abandoned.
All-Star Superman is all about reminding me that nobody -- and I do mean NOBODY -- does it better than Grant Morrison. What we have here in this issue is a self-contained story that showcases Superman's lady love, Lois Lane. It's her birthday, and Supes has gotten her the ultimate gift -- a vial containing a liquid that will give her all of Superman's powers for 24 hours. To give her equal footing with the Man of Steel.
Add to that a pair of time-travelling strongmen and a trans-dimensional powerhouse and you've probably got a recipe for trouble. But, it's nothing Superman can't handle, right?
The thing I love about this book is that it can be huge and epic and awe-inspiring and still be about the human moments that truly matter to this character. Superman might be his natural state, but he truly does aspire to be Clark Kent -- it's not just a disguise or a judgement on humanity, contrary to Kill Bill. Clark Kent is the man that Kal El wishes he could be, to be able to blend in with his fellow earthlings and woo Lois (have I mentioned that this story takes place prior to the whole Marriage/Death/Rebirth storylines of the 90s?).
Oh. The art. Well, it's Frank Quitely, so I get sorta gushy about his stuff anyway. The art is fantastic, and with the addition of the ink and colors provided by Jamie Grant, there's not a book out there today that looks quite this beautiful (not even Shaolin Cowboy. Shut up.).