Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Buy My Comics, Make Me Rich: RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #30

Yes, I'm writing the new TEEN TITANS title that debuts this summer, but for the moment, the focus is still on those slightly older superheroes, Red Hood and the Outlaws. Out today is the second part of my three-part run on the title, which pits Roy and Kori against Frankenstein (of FRANKENSTEIN AND THE AGENTS OF S.H.A.D.E) and Roy against those aliens who just won't stay down -- plus a certain special guest star.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Great Moments In Comics, Part 40

Archie reveals that he sold his soul to the Devil.

"Goodman Goes Playboy," Help, Feb. 1962, script by Harvey Kurtzman, art by Will Elder

Friday, April 04, 2014

Movies I Watched in March

Not a whole lot of movies viewed last month, but I think I get bonus points for the sheer strangeness of a few of them, including this exploitative little gem...

You may remember the Hilton sisters from Tod Browning's classic film 1932 "Freaks," in which they played conjoined twins, which is exactly what they were in real life. This low-budget quickie was made two decades later, and Daisy and Violet look every day older of those 20 years. I imagine earning a living on the carnival circuit was a tough life, and I'm sure the sisters were hoping this movie would earn them a few bucks. Trouble is, it's both too convoluted and too simple to be entertaining, and it never comes close to approaching the twisted brilliance of Browning's film. The sisters play, essentially, themselves, conjoined twins with a mediocre nightclub act. When a sleazy lothariot plots to marry one of them, things go horribl wrong. The whole movie is told through an awkward double flashback structure, with the judge flashing back to the trial, which then flashes back to the events of the movie. It's deadly dull and incredibly cheap (with a sad, late-career appear by Warner Bros. stalwart Allen Jenkins), but there is one memorable sequence where one of the sisters has a dream where she's separated from her sibling and dances gracefully in a field. It's obvious a double is being used (how else could they shoot the scene?) but as crude as it is, it has a real emotional punch and, in its few seconds, addresses the issues of the film more powerfully than the rest of the crude melodrama.

This sort of movie was a big deal when I was a kid, in the era of "In Search Of" and Scholastic paperbacks introducing us to such arcane concepts as the Loch Ness Monster, bigfoot and ancient astronauts. Though it blew my mind back then, it's pretty obvious to these cynical, skeptical eyes that, as entertaining as it, it's a prime slice of vintage 1970s bullshit. A lot of fun, though, and way better than the too-slick ripoffs of this sort of thing that clog virtually every cable channel in the free world. 

Seriously, how great is William Powell? He never seems to get mentioned among the top rank Hollywood movie stars -- your Gables, your Bogarts, your Stewarts, your Coopers -- but I'd argue he's right up there with them, starring in movies from the silents to the 1950s, with nary a bad one among them, and more than a few classics (including "The Thin Man," "My Man Godfrey" and "Mister Roberts") on his resume. This film, a 1933 pre-Coder, isn't on that level, but it is entertaining, with Powell playing a smooth operator with a solid moral streak who fights back against the corrupt detective he's working for. Fun and fast-paced (it's a mere 66 minutes long) in the way only an early 1930s Warner Bros. movie can be, it's definitely worth a look the next time it inevitably airs on Turner Classic Movies.

This one's been mentioned for the past couple of months, and as much as I love it, I don't have a heck of a lot more to say. Allie's the one who keeps requesting it, and I remain grateful, because she's got a Monster High DVD she hasn't watched yet, and I know when that gets popped into the DVD player, it's going to be all sorts of agony for dad. So as long as she keeps asking for high-quality stop-motion comedy dramas from Wes Anderson, I am more than happy to oblige.

I checked this one out when it aired on TCM a few weeks ago. I'd never seen the film the whole way through, and I love "The French Connection," a movie it gets compared with a lot (and for good reason -- both star Roy Scheider and Tony Lo Bianco, both take place on the mean streets of early 1970s New York, both feature wild car chases and -- most tellingly -- this one was released two years later in an obvious attempt to replicate the blockbuster success of "The French Connection."  Sadly, it doesn't succeed. While "The French Connection" feels driven and relentless even in its quieter moments (thanks mostly to the balls-out performance of the great Gene Hackman), "The Seven-Ups" has some stretches of real boredom. Scheider is good, as always, and the grimy Big Apple locations are fascinating, but I don't think I'll be revisiting this one anytime soon. "The French Connection," though -- hell, I feel like watching that again right now.

It always amazes me how a movie that takes place almost entirely in broad daylight and features more than a bit of sly humor can manage to generate so much gut-wrenching tension by the final scene. This one's considered a true horror classic, and with good reason. The performances are all perfectly pitched and add to the sense of paranoia, and the plot is so intricately worked out that its sheer brilliant malevolence is scary all by itself. And that ending. Oh, that ending. One thought struck me while watching "The Wicker Man" this time around: It really is one of the best, most thoughtful movies about religion I've ever seen -- mostly because it does more than just focus on one religion like most movies do (and, in most movies, that religion is, of course, Christianity). Anthony Schaffer's screenplay is ambitious enough to compare and contrast Sgt. Howie's (Edward Woodward) devotion to Christianity with the villager's decidedly more pagan beliefs. Both sides make their respective points, and even though one of them definitely comes out ahead at the end, the other side never gives up its faith -- something I think would happen in a lesser -- and less intelligent -- film.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Buy my comics, make me rich: RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS #29

Been a while since I've written one of these blog posts, but rest assured that on Wednesday, March 19, there will indeed be a comic book on the shelves with my name in the credit box. It's issue 29 of DC's RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS, and it features bee-yooo-tiful art from Rafa Sandoval (seriously, kids, these images are going to blow your mind) and a seriously striking cover (see above) from Philip Tan. The story focuses on Roy, Jason and Kori, and features some truly offbeat aliens in the adversarial role. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I'm guessing you'll have some fun reading it. If you do happen to pick up a copy, as always, your comments are welcome in this blog. Lemme know what you thought!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Movies I Watched in February

Coming under the heading of "Better Late than Never"...

Allie's Marx Brother fixation continues, and I couldn't be happier. This is currently her favorite of the classic Paramount Marx movie, with the boys starting the film as stowaways on some sort of ocean voyage, then getting mixed up with surprisingly good-natured mobster Joe Helton, eventually saving his daughter from rival mobster Alkie Briggs. Naturally, none of it makes much sense, but there are some great set pieces, including a sequence where all four Marxes try to sneak off the ship using Maurice Chevalier's stolen passport and a series of increasingly preposterous Chevalier impressions. (When Harpo starting singing in Chevalier's voice, Allie thought she had finally heard her favorite Marx Brother speak, until seeing that it was actually a phonograph strapped to his back.)

Having grown up with the glorious cheesiness of the James Bond movies, it's almost startling when one takes itself semi-seriously and plays upon the history of the hero, both for plot points and to add some weight to the story. This one is going to be tough to top for a lot of reasons -- the death of a major character, the introduction of at least two more (though one is, strictly speaking, a new version of that departed character) and the whole feeling of Bond coming to the end of his run. Plus, thanks to the cinematography of the great Roger Deakins, this thing just looks amazing, from the first frame to the last.

I didn't see most of the major movies of last year, I'll admit, but it's hard for me to think of one that would top this effort from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. A flawless mixture of comedy, human drama and suspenseful science fiction, in a perfect world it would be both a global hit and a nominee for Best Picture. I mean, what else do you need? The characters are richly drawn and consistently surprising, the comedy is pitch perfect and hits every note and the movie takes on some big issues -- aging, gentrification, sobriety, the meaning of life and freedom, etc. At least as good as "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," and believe me, that's saying something.

It's been a long, long time since I saw this one in the theater, but we figured we'd introduce Allie to the boy wizard. Couple of observations: The movie isn't exactly bad, but it's not exactly good either. It's the fun concepts of the book itself and nothing in the movie that makes it entertaining. (The movies themselves wouldn't really get good until Alfonso Cuaron took over directing duties with the third film.) And, as you might have guessed, all that CGI has aged rather poorly. Also, the movie spends so much time introducing those intriguing elements -- the train, the kids, the school, the cloak -- that the plot itself sort of pops up about 3/4 of the way through, too late to really care a whole lot about what's happening. The best thing about the film, though, might've been the most difficult element to nail -- the cast is excellent across the board, and over the course of the other six movies, they'd only get better.

Fascinating documentary about The Source Family, a sort of cultish gathering of hippie-types who tried to found an ideal living community in 1970 Los Angeles. Thankfully, they never went the way the Mansons. Instead, they ran an insanely profitable health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip that not only attracted most of the big name celebrities of the day, it was also famous as the place Woody Allen visits at the end of "Annie Hall" and orders (in one of my favorite movie lines ever) "a plate of mashed yeast." This doc covers the entire history of the group, from it's restaurant-based roots to the current day, when its members look back on their past with a mixture of hazy nostalgia and bemused wonder. 

Damned good! I expected it to be a lot of fun, coming from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the guys behind "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," but I don't know if I expected it to be this good, combining laugh-out-loud comedy with some solid emotional moments and even a touch of reality-bending mysticism. I don't want to give away any spoilers -- seriously, check this one out -- but there was at least one cameo I was hoping for but not expecting at all, and the ending went in a direction I couldn't see coming at all. Like the song says, everything is awesome.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Watch a fake chef fool real TV anchors

I've been more than a bit inactive on this blog lately, due to the usual distractions -- work, family, sickness and comic books -- but hopefully this post will make up for it. It's a video of Nick Prueher, one of the geniuses behind the hilarious (and highly recommended) Found Footage Festival, convincing a variety of morning show hosts that he is, in fact, Chef Keith Guerke. He's obviously no chef, but despite his outrageous food suggestions and reference to such unappetizing topics as G.G. Allin, the news crews were completely fooled -- including not one but two morning shows located right here in Rockford, Illinois.

As someone who used to sprinkle fake items in the pages of his hometown daily, this is the sort of activity I can't help but applaud. Please enjoy!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Great Moments in Comics History, Part 39: Special President's Day Edition

Luthor is genuinely sad that he stopped Superboy from preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

"The Impossible Mission," Superboy #85, December 1960, script by Jerry Siegel, art by George Papp.