31 May, 2014

I'd Hate to See The Union Busters

I'll be brief: You should read COWL #1.

As though engineered to anger my father, COWL tells the story of the world's first unionized superhero team.

Rather than using that idea as a set-up for some kind of reflexive, high-concept nonsense that floods the pages of Previews every month ("Hey, what if Batman was actually a vampire!?" and "Hey, what if Superman retired and got into cock fighting!?" they all said, choking on their own sick), COWL actually uses its concept to tell a story which, again, looking at the pages of Previews, actually is a kind of high concept in and of itself. . .

In short order, we're thrown into a familiar (but not too familiar) 1960's Chicago where we see a team of heroes closing out a case against a supervillain. It's a high concept deployed correctly and it's a story that feels new and different instead of playing off of a story we've seen a hundred times before (but with, I don't know, more drugs and uses of the c-word). If it's playing off anything, it's Mad Men and even that's only in the comic's set dressing.

It's the comic book that I didn't know I wanted. It's also mature in the proper sense of the word. Yeah, it has the murder and death, but so does Law and Order. By sprinkling in some sexism or brutality, writers Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel are informing the world and the narrative, not just thumbing their nose at the Big Two's editorial policies. They aren't pushing buttons, they're creating a world.

Besides the sex and violence (and one delightful bit of public urination), it's also a book with a sense of humor. It also deals with complex relationships between people and it does so all in a very short amount of time. It's a fun book that smartly plays between the kind of "realism" we're used to seeing in superhero comic books post-1985 and the kind of fun that made us pick up comics in the first place.

And the art. . . Oh man, the art. You ever have that moment where you see an indie book that looks interesting and you pick it up to see what it's like inside and it looks like somebody who couldn't get work at DC? This isn't that.

As strong as the cover is, the interior is even better. Rod Reis' work looks like a comfortable mix between Bill Sienkiewctz and Phil Noto. It's a look that almost any book would be lucky to have and in this case, with this story, it feels a bit magical. Something special is going on in this first issue and I'm really excited for what the future might bring.

Go support good comics. Go support weird and new ones. Go read COWL.

Oh, and here's a free blurb: "COWL is Watchmen and The Wire meets FIST."

There. That blurby enough for ya?


There's a character called Arclight. And he flies. And I should have thought of it. But I didn't. And I hate it.

James Kislingbury writes comics and records podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter @kislingtwits.

26 May, 2014

And Death Stomped With Him

Some Thoughts, Feelings , and Pained Metaphors on Godzilla (2014)

If you asked me a year ago about how much we need a Godzilla reboot, I'd say that we need one about as bad we need teeth in our asshole.

Ignoring the brain-dead fiasco that is Roland Emmerich's 1998 fiasco, even the original Godzilla movies are silly, if charming, balls of cheese. At worst, they're Final Wars. They're the kinds of film that you watch because you've either got a real yen for camp, you're eleven years old, or you're very, very high.

That is to say, overall, with the exception of the very first film, Godzilla movies are not high art that has changed the way we watch movies. So, yeah, the idea of a remake, even one helmed by the director of Monsters made me feel like I ate too much burrito: Tired and a bit queasy.

And I'm not alone. In 2004 Toho, the "Owners and Creators" of Godzilla, pulled the plug on Godzilla. Or, at least they saw fit to have him hibernate until there was a worthy reason to bring him back. And that's how I thought it would be until the end of time.

Then the teaser came out.

And then I realized that a new Godzilla is exactly what we needed.


Gareth Edwards' first big foray into Hollywood is exactly what you want out of a Godzilla film: It's a B-movie told with the seriousness and professionalism. It also does so without losing any of the energy or charm that made you fall in love with those old rubber suit movies. It's an actual film about giant monsters and it isn't embarrassed about it. If Pacific Rim hadn't come out last year Godzilla would have been the giant monster movie we've been waiting for.

One of the biggest complaints about the movie-- that Godzilla is held back for so long-- is proof of how well it has been made. Holding back the monster is what you're supposed to do. That's how these things work. Alien does it. Jaws does it. The Thing does it. Pacific Rim didn't do it, but Guillermo del Toro can do whatever he damn well pleases. Godzilla (1998) didn't do it either and look how that turned out. By holding Godzilla back, Edwards firmly places this movie alongside some of the best monster movies of all time. It shows that he knows what he's doing.

By building up the anticipation, it make Godzilla that much more of a mythical figure. It somehow tricks us into thinking that we've never seen something like this before. It makes us wonder when will he show up? What will he do? What exactly is this behemoth capable of? It makes that initial Godzilla scream that much more impactful. To take a sixty year old property, one that even its owners aren't too fond of, and gives it back its mystique.

But, of course, I'm burying the lead: Godzilla clocks in at a mere two hours. That gives the director plenty of time to establish a world before it starts blowing it up. It has a human length. If only for that Godzilla might be the best blockbuster this year.


As much as Godzilla is about watching cities that didn't do anything wrong in their life getting smashed like your drunk grandpa's vase, it's a movie about people. . . and whether or not these people are going to get smashed. For the most part, the characters that aren't giant monsters are perfectly capable of moving things along.

As far as square-jawed leading men are concerned Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a perfectly acceptable collection of right-angles. While I loathed Savages, he was one of the less loathsome things in the movie. I mean, beyond his hair. But in this movie he has a crew cut, so it's fine. He actually reminds me of Orlando Bloom's performance in Kingdom of Heaven, which is to say neither of them are very good, but at least they've got the good taste not to get in the movie's way.

Elizabeth Olsen also delivers a perfectly fine performance, giving scene an emotional grounding when they need it or accentuating the drama where needed. While I don't buy her as a mother of a five year old for one single second, at least she doesn't look entirely ridiculous.

Where the film's strength lies is in its supporting cast-- a collection of actors either too old, too talented, or too expensive to give the lead to. They elevate every scene. It's a thankless task, but it serves the movie's purposes. It's a better drama for them being wasted.

Right off the top, we have Juliette Binoche who even when collecting a paycheck delivers a performance that is far greater than the length of time she is on screen. Then there is Sally Fields also shows up if only to remind us that Happy Go Lucky has been on our Instant Queue for two years now and that we still haven't watch it.

We also have Bryan Cranston. He's great. We all know this. He's about as underused as the rest of the cast that doesn't have a military haircut. Fortunately, in the few scenes that he has, he acts his ass off. Like Binoche, he isn't on for long, but he makes those moments count.

Then, of course, there is Ken Watanabe (who, like Morgan Freeman, is the kind of actor you patch into a movie if you need a scene to have gravitas). Even in sillier films like The Last Samurai, he's a man who commands your attention and Godzilla is no exception. Even in a room full of military goons, he's the man you're waiting to speak. Every film he appears in, he seems like the perfect choice. Godzilla is no exception.

The best moment in the movie-- that doesn't involve monsters duking it out-- focuses on Watanabe. In it, he and David Strathairn are looking over a seemingly doomed San Francisco, wondering what the hell to do.

There's something beautiful about that little moment. It's about monsters fighting as much as it is about everything but monster fighting. It's one of the few scenes that match up to the promised metaphorical heights that Edwards mentions in interviews and that the original film was built around. It also doesn't make me think about weird 9/11 allegories and that's always a good thing.


I like the new Godzilla. He looks like Godzilla. That's always a good start for a Godzilla movie.
Keeping in the tradition of other recent franchise reboots, this incarnation of Godzilla is meant to be  realistic take on the the King of Monsters. Or as realistic as a 300+ foot tall lizard is ever going to get.

But the Weta-assisted design actually works. Unlike a lot of CGI, eveven recent CGI, this is a monster that has real weight and impact. As easy as it might be to poke fun at Godzilla's bulk, everything suddenly makes sense when the first move he makes in a fight is a two-handed sumo wrestler slam. Even the sillier bits of the design have a well thought out function. That's always nice to see.

As important as Godzilla is, the mark of a good Godzilla movie is a good villain. King Ghidorah, Biollante, and Mechagodzilla and Charles Barkley are just as significant as the King of the Monsters himself. Fortunately, this time around the film makers got it right. The baddies are smartly designed and have the same kind of heft that Godzilla does.

What's interesting is that they don't just look like bugs that have been scaled up. Instead, they look like living fossils. They look like they are of earth, but that they don't quite belong. They look like they fall somewhere between something at the Natural History Museum and a Pokemon. They're anchored in this world, yet there's something fantastic going on. That's a good place for a kaiju to be.


A lot of the flack being hurled at Godzilla centers around what polite people would call “pacing problems” and what others would call “boring.” Over the years I've backed away from spitting venom at people with whom I disagree,* but it needs to be said: These people are idiots. Godzilla, for all of its smashing, is not a movie made for or by idiots. For all of its special effects Godzilla is a movie about the human beings. Apparently that makes things "boring" now instead of "dramatic."

While I'll agree that the human aspect of the film leaves something to be desired, Gareth Edwards still delivers a rock solid action film. It looks great, it moves along nicely, and it delivers exactly the kind of thrills that you want out of a giant monster movie. It doesn't quite have the depth that some other action movies might have that doesn't mean that it still isn't worth your time and money.

The original Godzilla practically invented a genre. This film does not do that. What it does do is deliver an exciting action film that belongs in the pantheon of monster movies. It's the kind of movie you would love as a kid and unlike a lot of crap that you watch as a kid this movie might actually deserve it. A lot of people are mentioning Steven Speilberg in the same breath as this film. While Godzilla does not hit the highs of those great blockbusters, it is a fun film and a fine start to the blockbuster season. If only more blockbusters could be as insubstantial as this one.



I'm a fan of Vice and this article is no different. With a headline like that, I can't resist it.

Here's a more coherent review of the film from Rafael Gamboa. Even though I don't agree with it, I went to high school with this guy and he wasn't terrible, so I'm going to be nice. Also, it's really well written.

As always: Kermode is also available.

Since we're at it, why don't we all relive Roger Ebert's amazing review of the 1998 Godzilla.


My current feeling on the movie is that I think it'll slide into obscurity and only be viewed by the odd Godzilla nerd or kid who is getting into scary movies, but can't quite handle actual scary movies. That is until the sequel, which has already been green lit. As cynical as I sound, I'm kind of excited for what that movie will look like. I'm excited by the idea of Gareth Edwards (or whoever) trying to square Mu or King Ghidorah into this semi-realistic world that they've built. I want to know how they're going to meld Battle of Algiers with Cloverfield.


*Yes, I realize that I complained that Only Lovers Left Alive left me a bit bored, but that also didn't have giant bugs and reptiles smashing things for an hour. Being a bit boring is also a part of that movie's charm.  And, yes, I know that I also complained that The Wind Rises was boring, but fuck The Wind Rises. And another thing, Only Lover Left Alive was two hours of people talking in rooms and that was boring. Godzilla is maybe an hour of people talking in rooms and then it has another hour of monsters smashing shit. What the fuck do you morons want?

14 May, 2014


Or "How I Got My Shit Together and Finally Started Reading Akira"

I started reading Akira.

More specifically, I finally started reading Akira. I might have been inspired by iFanboy's series on the show or I maybe Spex mentioned it to me one time to many. Or maybe my collective ignorance finally made me feel guilty enough to finally check the damn thing out. Maybe I just broke. You happy now?

I think the first time I ever saw this book on display was at the Virgin Records in Burbank. If you're looking to help date this: Virgin Records no longer exists. I'm fairly certain Burbank has been taken by the mole people, as well.

It wouldn't have been too long after seeing that I began my short foray into the world of anime. It's not a time I'm super proud of, but it wasn't nearly as dark as it could be. One of the reasons for this is that Akira was being re-released in theaters with a new voice acting (I didn't let the fact that Tetsou sounded exactly like one of the Digimon kids distract me. . . Mostly because I really like Digimon).

I might have seen Princess Mononoke at that point (on a VHS tape at my friend's house along with The Big Lebowski and Rushmore and, for whatever reason, Heavy Metal 2000), I was certainly aware of the medium-- but seeing Akira play out was like hearing Led Zeppelin* for the first time. It was the kind of seminal moments that you get when a work of art completely expands your horizons. It was what the medium was supposed to be. Looking at the comic book, even with it being nearly thirty years old, I realize that it still is everything the medium should be.

Akira is the first comic in a long time where I've though "Can you even do that?"

Katsuhiro Otomo does things in the comic that should be impossible to do in the medium. You see a lot of this in bad comics. You see people trying to fit too many words onto a page. You see people used to working in one medium (almost always film or prose and almost always as failed movie pitches) failing to work in the other. You see all kinds of mistakes based on a basic misunderstanding of how comic book grammar works.

As an amateur, I've caught myself doing this when I write. Most of my mistakes involve a character doing too much in a panel (like, you know, moving) or it involves a sound effect (Note: You cannot cut on a sound in a comic). It's a terrible habit and it's something easy to do if you aren't completely versed in what a comic book can and cannot do.

With Otomo what you see is a man who knows the rules and who breaks these rules whenever he feels like it, and who then gets away with it.He inverts panels, he turns them on their head, he stacks them up and cuts up their borders. He chops things up, he shifts back and forth. He hides things from the reader. This comic has dissolves-- dissolves, for God's sake! That's not a thing you can do in comics! But he is and he's getting away with it!

What's impressive, beyond the strength of the actual artwork, is how seamless it all looks when you're reading it. It doesn't read as a man showing off what he can do, it just reads as good comics. It's the kind of good that seems so simple and so obvious that I wonder why more people don't straight rip it off. At least I know why I haven't ripped this book off.

In all those decades I can't think of anybody that has done what Otomo has done. I can only think of imitators and I can only think of imitators that fall short. And, really, that's all there is. There is Akira and then there's everything else that came after Akira. It isn't only that Otomo is a master draftsman, there is something magical going on inside this book that I can't quite put my finger on.

Again, it makes me feel like an idiot for having waited this long. Don't be like me, go out and read it right now. You won't be sorry for long.

I'm two volumes into the book. I only stopped because, for whatever reason, I'm missing volume three (which means I need to drive over to Long Beach and steal that copy from my friend Alex or just break down and actually buy the damn thing). I can't wait to blaze through the rest of this book. And to finally pick up Domu, which has sat in the back of my mind for nearly two decades with the rest of my hazy memories of Dark Horse's ads. That is if I can find a copy of Domu. After that I'm going to watch the movie again. And then I'll check out Steamboy one more time. And then. . .

James Kislingbury writes comics and podcasts. You can follow him on twitter.

Actually, you should all go and see Memories. I think I wrote about it once. . . Anyways, one of the shorts in the film is directed by Otomo and you should check that out, because nobody directs rusty industrial design quite like Otomo.

*I now realize that Zeppelin is one of the most profoundly over-rated and over-played bands in all of time and space, but we were all fourteen at one point and, thankfully, we were only fourteen once.

10 May, 2014

The Vampire Hit the Street Junksick

The Vampire Hit the Street Junksick:
Some thoughts on Only Lovers Left Alive

For some reason the need to watch a movie about people blowing up aliens has gone right out of me.
Instead, I want to see a movie about people. I want to see a movie that somebody actually wanted to make. What I don't want to see is something that was made to pad out a conglomerate's figures on the tertiary market. Over the past few years I have made great strides to avoid being a snob. I have no problem with popular cinema. I'm just tired of it. I want to see movies about emotions and things that I haven't felt or seen before.

So I went and saw a vampire movie.

As far as genres go, it'd be hard to think of a more dessicated one than the vampire movie.

Jim Jarmusch, as you might recall, is a great filmmaker and side steps all of the typical pitfalls of the vampire legend by instead re-framing it within the context of music legend. Instead of Bram Stoker and Anne Rice, we get Link Wray and Iggy Pop. There is a club scene in the film, but it's about as far away from The Hunger or Blade as you could imagine. It looks like a real place inhabited by real people who have real emotions, but a few of them just happen to be vampires.

As much as the movie is a reflection of other works of art (it name checks Byron and Mary Shelly to name but a few), it stands on its own. It's a kind of film that, like Le Samourai, a movie he paid homage to in Ghost Dog, doesn't emulate any sort of scene. It is the invention of a scene. To say that it is a "cool" movie makes it slightly trite. It makes it sound as though it's the kind of movie that people in their early 20's enjoy and no one else. As it is more than a vampire movie, it is more than a cool movie. It's a literate movie about people trying to make sense of their lives. They just happen to be really cool. And vampires.

One of the other aspects that makes Only Lovers Left Alive stand apart from the other genres in its bloodline is that it is proper art. And not because it's good or because it's slow and has some subtitles or that a movie with a flaming crossbow can't be art. This movie is art because it's thoughtful in both an emotional and intellectual sense. It has something to say about human (or vampire) relationships and how they change over time. It has something to say about the state of the world and about the many things we fill our minds with to keep from thinking about death. It's about more than that, as well. It's the kind of movie that you talk to your friend at a party after you've had too much red wine.

Only Lovers Left Alive is, like The Limits of Control and Broken Flowers, a movie for the patient. It takes its sweet time and it doesn't particularly care whether or not you're following along. Like everything that is truly cool (and I think that we can all accept the premise that Jim Jarmusch is a cool man, I mean, just look at him), it doesn't feel the need to help you along. It doesn't need to rush anything. Instead it convinces you that you're right there with it, that you're hip enough to know what's going on at all times. It's a trick of cinema and a testament to Jarmusch's skill that you are convinced right up until the last frame.

More than skill, though, one of the admirable aspects on display in Only Lovers Left Alive is Jarmusch's love of making movies. Another line of his that I cary around with me is that he doesn't see himself as a professional, but as a amateur. He doesn't make movies to make money. He makes movies becuase he loves them. Even in his worst film you can see this drive at work. In Only Lovers Left Alive, you not only see it, you feel it. This movie comes from a place of love as much as it is about love.

Towards the end of the film John Hurt, playing the long-since-thought-dead Christopher Marlow, says to his adopted family that "Humility will get you nowhere." It's clearly posed as an ironic statement (and not a spoiler, incidentally). There's a smile at the edges of John Hurt's mouth in a way that only he can that tells you that there is something more to his words. It's a line that encapsulates the depths that the movie possesses. It's melancholy, yet slightly funny. It speaks to a larger world, yet is also about a few people having a moment. It also sums up the man who wrote it.

Unlike the Marlow of this film Jim Jarmusch is in no danger of suffering the same fate. While many other indie directors have changed course or become massive stars or simply faded away, Jarmusch is still there, quietly being the artist that we would all like to be. Humility, it seems, has gotten him somewhere.

This is the coolest vampire movie I've seen since Near Dark. It defines itself in a different manner. Near Dark is about violence and family. Only Lovers Left Alive is about guitars. And it's also about books. And all of the albums you talked about with your first girlfriend. It's about all of the emotions you invest in these things criss-crossing with one another. Most of all, though, it's about love and what that does to people over the long term. It's a movie that you're surprised that no one has made before. It seems to fully formed, so fully thought out, that it seems like it's always been there. It's the kind of movie that only Jim Jarmusch could make.

(Because, at a certain point in this movie, Adam and Eve have a full-blown junkie lean going on. You'll know it when you see it.)

James Kislingbury writes comics and podcasts. You can follow him on Twitter @kislingtwits.

03 May, 2014


Have you ever seen The Salton Sea? There's a sequence in it-- this sequence-- that basically sums up the entire experience of Luftrausers.

As a game, it's a madhouse cocktail of Hotline Miami and your best memories of Raiden II. It's everything a videogame should be and shouldn't be. It's fun, addictive, and I walk away from it feeling that my brain is just a little more fried than it should be. It isn't the diversion that Papers, Please or even FTL is.

I'm seeing it when I close my eyes. Just dozens of pixelated planes flying back and forth shooting bullets bigger than their entire ship. I can't remember the last time that I've experienced that from a videogame before. It was maybe with Tetris, but probably with Hotline Miami. Which, you know, makes sense.

That game was like some kind of crack. But not Luftrausers, though. That's pure lady crystal, through and through.

Oh God, I need to rause right now.