26 April, 2013

I've got something to say!

All this talk about Ann Coulter being a "racist." Pleas! Sell you sad story somewhere else! Muslim isn't a race! It's a choice! Same thing being a papist or in a trade union or Arab. And as for my so called "distasteful" flaming cross display, if you want to scare somebody out of the neighborhood, I'd like you to come up with a better idea.

Oh, what's that? Use ghosts? It's 2013, people aren't even scared of vampires anymore and people give so little of a fuck about werewolves they carry them in handbags. Ghosts? Please. Sit back down.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, yes you can drive a lawn mower on city streets while drunk, but you can't drink while driving. Fun law fact. Next question.

Gun Machine is Good Medicine

Gun Machine, like most of Warren Ellis' work is about shoving interesting people into a situation that is both familiar and chock full of  big ideas that one would never think to associate with something as pat and done as a murder mystery. Law and Order this is not.

With Ellis it's always been less about the results than it seems to be about this passage of time between the covers. There are exceptions to that, but you look at Planetary or Crecy and you see that the grand story takes a backseat to the plot. The moment is more important than the sum total. He is less interested in presenting the why of an interplanetary spaceship hidden underneath the pavement of New York City than he in presenting what that would do to a guy. The depths of his work come out of passing through the world and not out of some traditional conclusion. He rarely ever bothers with telling you that this all means something, instead he lets you sort it out from the puzzle pieces he left behind.

Gun Machine is very much in that style. It seems to be about what these characters are presently dealing with rather than how all of the pieces come together. It is about gears, not the machine. This approach to a procedural prevents the story and all of its threads getting in the way of its main characters. You see this the various history lessons it presents (that seem to have only a tangential baring on the plot) and you see it in how they go about solving the crime. There aren't any hard revelations, there is just the continuation of these characters putting work into this horrific murder contraption that spans New York City. Rather, there's just people dealing with their moment to moment problems. Sometimes those moments involve horrible, roccoco murders.

And you see this in the fact that the serial killer of the story doesn't even have a name (and it even says in the book that it doesn't seem to matter). It isn't about who he is or why he's doing it, the story is about what he is doing and how to stop him.

Another one of Ellis' strengths are his characters. While all great stories tend to have really memorable characters, there is just something special about characters like Spider Jerusalem or Jakita Wagner or just about anyone from Agents of HATE. He writes vulgar, violent characters that are fun to listen to and who you want to hang out with, even if they are utter maniacs and Gun Machine has all of that in spades, even if they aren't as cranked as high as the kind of characters that populate his comic book work (or even Crooked Little Vein, from what I remember).

Ellis' John Tallow, like James Bond, seems to have a name that is designed to be forgotten. He's a terminally uninteresting person and has spent much of his life working at that.

Ellis doesn't seem to be too interested in Tallow's life. That might be because he doesn't have one. The lifeless detective is a blanched human being just short of being a cipher. But being a cipher at least shows the hand of the author, however lazy, Tallow is just, well, he's just a nobody. He's a cop that, like so many people seems to be in the place he is because life carried him along like a piece of driftwood.
Another character that Tallow reminds me of is another sluggish, troubled detective, which is Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole
In that way he is different from the long tradition of troubled detectives. Tallow might not be as complex as a Harry Hole (by the very nature of Hole being featured in nearly 10 novels), but he also cannot be accused of being cliched, except by the laziest and, I'm sure, simple of critics. It certainly is brave to write a main character with no distinguishing personality and it's certaintly a sign of skill if the author can get away with it like Ellis does.

And I want to see the further adventures of John Tallow. Though, there is another difference, which is that Nesbo avoids giving his audience hard and definite ends to al of his book's crises because he has a series to continue and Hole has a life to live beyon this one book. Ellis, on the other hand, just doesn't seem that interested.

What Tallow and this world exists as is perfectly fine. Yet, I want to see more of the batshit insane CSU personnel and I want to see Ellis contrive a way to make Tallow into some kind of a human being, which is something that Tallow seems desperate to try and avoid.

In a way it doesn't matter as this book is all about present action. Seeing Tallow in the future where the past begins to creep into his life would be interesting to see, I also just want more lines like “I am a Crime Scene Unit detective for the New York City Police Department, you heinous fucking mongoloid and there is nothing I cannot do.” If that means that some of the quality of the story is going to suffer, then I guess I'll just have to be okay with that.
On the downside, too much of the story relies on coincidences that a first year screenwriting student would be forced to hack out.Then again it's these coincidences that keep the book from getting bogged down. They're depressingly convienient plot devices. While the plot and the characters are what stand out in this book, they also stand out because they have to do most of the heavy lifting. In many ways the story is an excuse to get their people into rooms with each other and to explain weird things about New York's crypto-geography and that's all well and good, but I don't know that's what the novels were built for.

I still wonder if the novel is Ellis' artform. I do not that even if it isn't one of his mastered mediums, he can still crank out a worthwhile novel that still has all of the massive ideas and creative cursing that you come to expect from the man who dreamed up Spider Jerusalem. Though, creative cursing isn't exactly what one goes to books for (or even comic books for that matter). Ellis is lacking something in this book. As much fun as it is and as many wonderful ideas are on display, none of it adds up to something more significant than just a kooky murder mystery. I guess I'm okay with that.

I just re-read Ennis' Global Frequency, which was recently re-printed in a single trade in its entirety. It's a fantastic comic book and a perfect example of what the medium can do. As a book it moves like a hyper-manic love child of Mission: Impossible and The Twilight Zone. This book introduces these amazing ideas and then casts them off as soon as the story moves along. It isn't in love with its own cleverness, just in telling the story. Besides being a good yarn, it also might make one wonder why the fuck the X-Men need 27 issues and four cross-over books to tell the same kind of story (but with less thrills, emotions, and cost).

I mention this book in the same breath as Gun Machine because, while they are completely different kind of books, they share the same DNA. They are both stories about ideas and these ideas, in turn, help move the plot. The only real difference is that Global Frequency doesn't ever feel like a character has shown up simply to let you know about something rad. There simply isn't enough space for that sort of thing.

Global Frequency reads like a form of Ellis' style and interests that has been boiled down to a crystal form that is either perfectly suited as a weapon or a high-quality narcotic. It takes all of the dark corners that Ellis' stories exists in and only shows us them in these fast-paced forms that are already half-way finished by the time we get to them.

They are almost all tinged with Ellis' unshakable sense of hope, as well. He isn't an optimist, not exactly, but he is a guy that seems to believe that if the right people are there they can outsmart, outfight, outkill, and outlive the worst that the universe has to offer.

While it is also infected with Ellis' hyper-competent, benevolent dictator/Nietzchian superman character that he loves so dearly (ie: Men and women so intensley skilled that you deserve to be murdered by a robot for even bothering to ask who they are and why they are yelling so loud. See: Spider Jersualem, Elijah Snow, and Miranda Zero and maybe the bad guy in Gun Machine if he wasn't, you know, a baddie). As a comic book archetype, there are worse people to spend time with. At least they help stop cyborgs or solve mysteries about angels or gouge out each others' eyeballs.

Reading these two books in such close proximity, though, reminds me why I like Ellis so much and why he is so well regarded in the comics community (or at least why he should be). This trade also serves as is another piece proving that Ellis is not only one of the great storytellers living, but he is also one of our great idea men.

(And not to end this on a love in Wolfskin and Black Summer are both swollen dog corpses that were drowned in a shit-bog. Avoid these comics at all cost. One is lifeless to the point of being offensive and the other is incoherent dreck only serves to remind one that there are stories that exist that have beheadings for a reason.)

21 April, 2013

So, This is On TV

There's a scene in this movie where a Holocaust survivor is singled out by the Muslim terrorists, along with all of the other Jewish passengers.

Now keep in mind this is all scored to an overbearing 1980's synth soundtrack and was immediately preceded by Chuck Norris being re-recruited by the Delta Force to a score that would have seem not out of place in Team America: World Police. It's completely ridiculous and it'd be offensive if it wasn't clear that their intentions were sincere and, oh and if it hadn't actually happened in real life.

And. . . I think it got to me, even though I was laughing at a bad child actor shout "Please don't take my daddy," somehow through all of the bad music and character actors, I still got a little tingle. I guess that's a sign that this movie might just work.

Now Lee Marvin is suiting up to take back a plane chock full of hostages. Let's hope he gets out of this okay. Oh, hey, Robert Vaughn is in this movie.

That's never a bad thing.

13 April, 2013

Adventures of Imperial Glory!

A Quick Thought About the Lives of a Bengal Lancer--

This movie isn't a great one. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer in terms of Imperial Adventure moves falls below GungaDin, but above The Northwest Frontier (and probably well above Carryon Up the Khyber if the You Tube clips are accurate). There are certain kind of movies that I am drawn to though, and regardless of the quality I have to watch them. I've been over this before, but besides the obvious choice of WWII movies, movies about Imperial adventure are high on the list. It's a problem I have.

Outside of my own ridiculous solipism, movies like The Lives of a Bengal Lancer meet a larger need. They're the grease that keeps movie studios going between bouts of costumed affair dramas and biopics about dead jerks. Like the Western or the War movie or the screwball comedy, it meets a certain need, it stars a certain kind of actor, and it gets in and out without you having to think too hard. It's old fashioned film making and for better or worse it represents the kind of movie they don't make anymore.
And considering that it comes on a dual-disc with the movie Beau Geste,, I think that means that this isn't the most popular Gary Cooper film of all time. . . except maybe with Adolf Hitler, apparently (then again A Matter of Life and Death comes similar packaging and that movie is just about perfect). This movie is no A Matter of Life and Death, though, what it is is the perfect B-picture. It meets every need that it is expected to meet and it does it without you really ever having to pause and be embarrassed by the fact that this movie has a dramatic use of brown face.

(To be fair the brown face scenes are awesome. Hear that, liberal elite? Awesome. Also: It is totally grounded in historical fact. Chew on that, hippies.)

What I like is its expedience in storytelling. It's the kind of thing movies like it (or their distant relatives) should take note on. There are no B-plots that don't get resolved or flow into the main story. There aren't any ruminations on what this all means or the impact of their mission unless it directly

This film has no fat. A butcher would be proud.

It seems that movies forgot what they were. Nowadays everything is getting longer and longer. I suppose it is as a response to television and video games being what they are (3d is also a symptom of this fear). They want cinema to be more cinematic and one thing TV can't do is make something that's three hours long.

Looking at this movie (and many more like it), I think that they're missing the point. You don't need a one-hundred forty minute running time to make a movie cinematic. Since the birth of cinema they've made good films that are good partially because they're short and to the point. Making them longer, to me, is an attempt to treat the wrong symptoms.

There's also the old adage of quality over quantity, but I'm being a hypocrite here, so let's just move quietly along, shall we?

Another reason this movie benefits from its percieved brevity is that we don't get much of a chance to mull on the fact that this movie tacitly supports the subjugation of about a fifth of the world's population. That tends to put the damper on enjoyment, as a rule. Its storyline is also about as pat as a movie like this can get. There's no surprises, there's no real insight, it's just a story that follows three men (a jaded veteran, a cocky upstart, and an unproven rookie) as they take on an Afghan warlord (I should make a list of that stock character's apperances. . .) and then the movie ends as soon as they've accomplished that.

It's a frolic. There's no substance, there's no real philosophy, there's just men doing their jobs and then a big bad guy with an accent dies at the end. In between there's some horse riding, aome costumes, a some outdoors, a dragon lady, and dialogue that ranges from glib irony to cloying sincerity. In short: It's an old fashioned adventure film. What more could a man want?

06 April, 2013

The Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Comic You Didn't Know You Wanted

East of West is the craziest comic I've read since. . . well, the last time I read a Hickman comic.

East of West feels like a blend between a high-concept indy comic that you saw at a convention (and would likely never read) and the most low-brow, straight forward pulp to fall out of Image's ass in the mid-90's. Due to what alchemy, I do not know, the results are something rather amazing. Violent, oblique, and ambitious, and amazing.

Did I say it was amazing?

East of West tells the story of. . . I don't know what. There's a supernatural trio of murder machines (with a missing sibling) that exist in an alternate future where the United States was segmented into seven different nation and a nuclear war went down in the middle of the 21st century. Then there is a prophetic Mao Ze Dung and the president gets his head blown off. It's pretty good.

At the very least it's a fine first issue and considering how much of this world has yet to be revealed, I think this might end up being a very fine trade indeed.

My interest flagged slightly when the exact identity of the Four is revealed, which takes the mysterious power of these characters and then anchors them to one of the more well-worn pieces of Biblical mythology. It doesn't ruin anything, it just seems to present an answer where I didn't need or want one. Ideally, as the story unfolds, the intent and origin of the Four will reveal itself as something slightly different than that great Biblical quartet.

I know I throw the word “crazy” out quite a lot. Too much, probably. That's the trouble with not having an editor currently and that's the trouble of having the same thought over and over again. East of West is demonstrably a crazy book.

I know I've said it about Nowhere Men and I know I've said it about Prophet (hey, both are Image books, strange. . . ). It's true with this book too.

Ignoring psychiatric diagnoses for a moment, let me ask you a question: Is there anyone in comics doing as much varied and exciting work as Bryan Hickman is right now?
Between The Manhattan Projects, Secret, The Red Wing, his Fantastic Four run, and this I'm hard pressed to think of someone doing as many out-there projects as he is-- and that's without including his mainstream comic book work. At the risk of naming the Great Bearded One and bringing up all that name connotes, Hickman's current position in the industry reminds me of Alan Moore.

Time will tell if Hickman is also a bitter, old crank. We already know that he's a wizard, but that could mean anything.

You should read the first issue. It doesn't matter if you like science fiction or westerns or. . . whatever genre this actually is you need to buy it.

Another congenital defect of my writing is my repetition of the phrase “This is what comic books should be.” In this case it's still true. This is what a comic book should be. It's what the market needs more of.

At the very least I know it's what I need more of.

03 April, 2013

You Had Me at "A"

Man. I really need to rewatch Winter's Bone. And No Country For Old Men. And do some laundry. And stop drinking.

Man, I really want to see whatever the hell this movie is.

01 April, 2013


Careful. This is important.

See that trailer? Congratulations, you saw the only good parts of The Raid: Redemption. What follows between the split second cuts is a moldering heap of nonsense, bad CGI blood, and follie work thrown into a blender,spat into, and then hard-boiled. Somehow the featureless, grey mush that pours out is considered a film by some. These people are art-criminals.

At some point I stopped watching the movie as it was intended and instead began to watch it in fast forward. After about five minutes of that (I don't think I missed much), I grew weary of that, too, and quit the entire project all together.

Don't watch this movie. Not drunk. Not high. Not with friends. Not ever. Roger Ebert was right. Everyone else is wrong. It's a nonsense movie. It's the kind of martial arts movie snobs mean when they say, “Oh, isn't that a martial arts movie?”

There's nothing interesting or redeemable at all about this film and I say that as a fan of violence. The plot is non-existent. The main character is a non-entity. The bad guys are just various tank top wearing goons that might have accidentally fallen out of a closeted bisexual's fever dream (nothing but long hair and a lack of sweat despite all his exertions). The main villain himself an out of shape man in a tank top. Even the set itself is a boring, nondescript place that makes you wonder if The Wire ever happened. Or if set design ever happened. Or if reality actually exists in a form that can be observed by any of the production crew at any point in their lives.

Hold on, I'm keeping back the vomit here.

Okay. Let's carry on.

If someone gets their throat slit it should mean something either because it's a horrible thing to happen to a person or because it is the culimination of a lot of other bad things. In this, like everything else in the movie, it's just a thing that happens. Regarding the violence, though, it's my love of violence in film that makes me loath this film just so much, because I've seen this damn thing done right.

That isn't awesome. That's grotesque in a way that is almost autistic in its misunderstanding of how violence works. Violence isn't awesome because it's on screen. Children get this. Why this director thinks that the popping of arteries devoid of context or meaning or emotion is awesome makes me think that he should be put in a home in the country and held down with a series of wet medical-grade blankets.

Then maybe someone should read a story to him, because there's a chance he's never actually encountered one in his entire life. (He is Welsh and they are a people in need of many things. And if this movie is any indication, literacy might have been one boon too many).

If you want a good movie about clearing a tower of criminals watch Die Hard. Or Dredd 3d.  If you're keen for trash, then go check out Fast Five, at least. And if you want an insane martial arts movie watch Ong Bak 2 (a film that involve pirates, child/alligator fights, ninjas, and Babar: King of the Elephants all within the first fifteen minutes), which, for its many flaws, does include things like people and set design in its overall aesthetic. If you want an Indonesian movie then check out Marentau, which isn't even very good either, but at least it has a heart. And a story. And, like things that exist in a place somewhere adjacent to the planet earth. Then it ends.

Fuck. Fuck.

Fuck this movie.

The only redemption to be found is watching a better movie afterwards. In my case it was The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. With you it could almost be anything.