27 December, 2015

11 World Dictators That Had Problems With The Force Awakens

11. Francois "Poppa Doc" Duvalier

10. Benito "Il Duce" Mussolini

9. Idi "BYOB" Amin

8. Muammar "Momar" Gaddafi

7. Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier

6. Joseph "Iron Joe" Stalin

5. Phillipe "Le Bristles Stache" Petain

4. Robert "Bobby" Mugabe

3. Kim "Il Communication" Il Sung

2. Pol Pot

1. Adolf "Hitler" Hitler

02 November, 2015

November Road Trip Spookaganza Part I: Pasadena to Cambria

When I told my old lady that I was going to take a road trip without a plan she looked at me like I should be in a home. But I don't know how else to do it. Whenever I went on trips with my mom and dad and when I went on trips alone with my dad especially, that's how it appeared. We drove as far as we needed to for that day, then we stopped and stayed at whatever place seemed right. Sometime you got bad ones (like the Blue Gum Motel, which I remember for being particularly crappy and for having the remake of Diabolique on the TV) and sometimes we ended up at the Grand Union. That is how we do.

That's more or less how I'm traveling. And, admittedly, I'm pretty darn bad at it.

There is a shape to it, at least. I'm taking two weeks off of my dead end job. I'm going to see the sights. I'm going to get drunk. I'm going to spend way to much goddamn money. Most importantly, I am going to write. It's been a year and two days since I started my novel. It might be wishful thinking, but it's about time I finished this son of a bitch. A roadtrip up the Pacific coast seemed like the thing to do.

This, by the way, is the most driving that I've ever done. On my last big roadtrip, I don't think I touched the wheel once. A few years before that I went on a trip up to San Francisco with my dad and I maybe drove once or twice. Here, though, it's ridiculous. It's all lower back pain and paying attention and hoping, god forbid, that you don't need help. And that's travelling, too.

I don't know how many years ago, but my dad and I went on a trip and the car broke down on the first day. I think it was somehere outside of Sulvang that something blew out on the car. We had to get towed by about two hundred miles to Pasadena. It was only eleven at night, but that seemed so late to me at the time, especially considering that I was crammed between my dad and a tow truck driver for what felt like a trillion hour.

There will be no such bullshit this time around.

So far it's been real nice. No real traffic. The only thing I could bitch about-- and I won't, because it's great-- is that it was raining.

The only stop I made was in Solvang because it has Split Pea Andersen's, an obligitory stop on a California road trip if there ever was one. I'll tell you, though, that place is a lot less grand in real life than it was in my memory. Not that it was bad, but there was a grandiosity to the place in my head that couldn't be matched by its acutality. The further I get into my real memory that harder it is for me to picture the fake place. But anyways. . .

I stopped for the night in Cambria, a cute little town off of the 101. I was treated with a double-rainbow as soon as I got into Cambria, which, I gotta say, it still pretty fucking impressive. I mean, I can't remember the time I saw a rainbow this strong.

I mean, rainbows are still pretty cool, right? (By the way, you can see it here.)

Also, I just realized that Cambria has nothing to do with pre-historic times, but with Wales. Which means, as I understand it, that the Pre-Cambrian and the Cambrian Era are just named that because some asshole found some cool rocks there once, which basically proves that white people are the worst (that is if you consider the Welsh to be white, which, if you're any sort of racist, you do not).

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, travel. That. It's cool. It's good to be out. Doing stuff. Wasting money. It's relaxing. Knowing that my shit-ass job won't be stepping on my neck for at least the next two weeks. That's. . . That's nice.
Now, if you'll excuse me, The Grand Dictator is on TMC right now, which means that I have obligations elsewhere.


My dad, "Waldo" to his friends and "Waldo" to his enemies has a book. It's about pre-Prohibition saloons, bars, and cigar stores. It might not be your thing, but I'm really just trying to work the SOE game right now. If you're into that sort of a thing, check it out. If not, still check it out. You can see it all here.

20 October, 2015

Design in Force

By all accounts The Force Awakens looks like it will be a good film. The new trailer seems to be one more exhibit proving that it will be a good film. Time will tell, yet, like most of the world, I am hopeful. The Force Awakens has every reason to be a good movie.

This, however, is a godawful.

What in God's holy name is that?  Star Wars: Laser Fuck? Are they at war with symmetry? With graphic design? Will this Star Wars finally complete the promise of the second Matrix movie by having a rave in every movies? Is the Galactic Empire centered around you not knowing exactly where to look? What the fuck is this shit?

Of course, it's a modern movie poster. This is what they look like now. You plop down enough money for a special effects franchise, you're going to get a poster full of people's heads looking mildly concerned.

Just go look up any of the Marvel movies that have come out in the past ever and tell me that I'm imagining it. I know one of you will and I'm here to say that you're a naysaying asshole.



You know what had good posters?

This movie.

And this one.

And this one.

I bring it up, because it's an ongoing problem. Not so much a trend as the shape of our world. For whatever reason, at some point, movie posters have become terrible.

I also bring this up because I can't help it. I just care too much.

This has been spoke of by smarter people with a deeper understanding of graphic design and art history (and don't forget this link, either). But if someone as dumb and poorly educated as myself can see this, I don't see why somebody with 300 million dollars in their pocket can't. Or maybe they can and they just don't give a shit. I mean, it makes sense.

There are plenty of bad movies with good posters and there's plenty of good movies with bad posters. The Force Awakens will probably fall in the latter camp, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth talking about, if only for a few minutes. The art our culture produces is a direct result of who we are. If we're producing bad art, it's because we like bad art. If bad art, is ugly art, hell, if racist or sexist art sells, then that is a direct reflection of where we are. A bad poster or a series of bad posters isn't as bad as, oh say, the career of DW Griffith, but it still means something. It all means something. It's art. That's what it's supposed to do.

I'm not sure what the solution is. It isn't as though I'm going to "punish" Disney by not seeing their new Star Wars movie. I know you aren't, either. But as a culture, we should be better about what we look at and what we consume. Maybe it's a stretch, but I think that we can have an appreciation of the finer points of art and still enjoy laser fights. The Force Awakens will easily make a billion dollars. We know that. Most of this country is going to see this movie in one form or another. If we're going to see this movie, then why can't we also have a better understanding of aesthetics, of art history, and the knowledge that a bunch of floating heads over a bunch of colors is bad design? It's not like we have to choose.

Also, am I really expected to believe that Drew Struzan was so booked that he couldn't crank one out for us?


16 October, 2015

Mark Watney of Mars

A Review of The Martian (2015)
by James Kislingbury
The past decade or so of Ridley Scott's career has not been the greatest. Since the early 2000's successes of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, his output has been one long run of questionable films that range from the half-baked, the butchered, the confusing, and the downright awful. During this period, his technical skills only seemed to remind us that he once seemed capable of making good films. And then we remembered that his last unqualified good film came out around ten years ago.

The Martian, thankfully, defies this trend. It's the best movie Ridley Scott has turned out in a decade.  It's fun, it's light, and despite lacking the depth of his best works, it's an eminently watchable film. Considering the amount of calories I've wasted defending Kingdom of Heaven and Prometheus, this is exciting for me.

The Martian is about Dr. Mark Watney, hunk and space botanist, who is stranded on the red planet after a freak storm. From there, it's a series of duct-tape drama, self-surgery, and, back on Earth, an oddly gripping story that revolves around resource allocations (that and conversations about how people should just, like, try harder). It's more Robinson Crusoe than it is Enemy Mine, more Apollo 13 than it is, uh, Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

It's tackles the science fiction genre in a way that I don't think I've ever seen. Namely, it's a movie that is about actual science. Films in this niche have always dabbled with this sort of thing. Interstellar jumps most immediately to mind and 2001: A Space Odyssey jumps most unfairly to mind (as though anything should ever be compared to a Kubrick movie, for good or for bad). Those films only use the science a starting point for the drama. With The Martian, the science is the drama. It is the end all, be all of the film. It's a film without a villain, where doing long division is more important than bravery.

For the most part it works. Seeing a guy, step-by-step figure out how not to die is pretty intriguing. You know, that's cool. The problem comes from the fact that there's no real emotion in the film. It's a long line of problems that need to be solved and smart people doing bloodless math in their heads about how it gets solved. I mentioned it in my podcast, but later on, I thought of United 93 and the thrills Paul Greengrass manages to eek out of bureaucratic procedure and couldn't help but realize that I've seen it done better than it was in The Martian.

The Martian is a perfect title, because nobody in the film ever seems to act like a human being. People assemble into rooms, assess a problem, and then all go to their respective corners like no collection of human beings in charge of multi-billion dollar programs would ever do. It's a movie where Jessica Chastain is stoic. I don't know about you, but stoic is not why I show up to a Jessica Chastain picture.

The film seems more interested in maintaining momentum than it does in creating individual moments where characters can be confused or upset or indecisive. Human beings don't fit into alegebra, so the film moves right past them.

As lacking as the film is in emotion or any sort of attachment, it does have its moments here and there. You have Donald Glover taking the set of skills he honed in Community to be the most obvious quirky scientist this side of The Big Bang Theory (which, like JPL, is also in Pasadena). Then there's you have Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels dueling in a series of industrial offices over who can appear the most affably schlubby without tipping over into "I have a puppy in my van" territory. Most importantly, you have a montage set to David Bowie's "Starman," which is important if only because it is only the third most obvious David Bowie song about space and someone deserves credit for that coup. Then, after these moments, the story kind of slides back to its steady, unwavering tale about a dude trying to figure out how he can, oh boy, "science the shit" out of his space car.

Beyond the drama and beyond its technical achievements, The Martian deserves viewing, because it speaks to the importance of space exploration. Between the various disasters that have plagued our space program and the various earthbound horrors we've witnessed over the past decade or so, we've lost our ability to stare at the stars and wonder what could be. We've forgotten what they mean. The Martian steadfastly ignores this sort of cynicism. Like its drama, there's no place for it. Space travel is an incredible achievement. It is something that represents the best of our race. In this film it isn't some asshole's talking point about how we should spend that money feeding people in America instead of sending people to space (as though we have to choose). Going to space is, in a very real way, the best we can do as a species. If this film can put us right on the importance of space exploration, to get us wondering about what could be, then The Martian will have done its job.

Imperfect as it may be, The Martian is one of the smartest blockbusters to come out since, well, Interstellar. It is a film that, despite its failings, manages to strike a balance between hard science fiction and populist entertainment. It's, you know, pretty cool for the most part. As many better films of this sub-genre as there are, there are few that are as well produced as this one and even fewer that are as technically accomplished. The Martian is a respectable, enjoyable film that is also about as overflowing with human feelings as the planet it depicts.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and an Explorion. 

04 October, 2015

Zero Narc Thirty

A Review of Sicario (2015)
by James Kislingbury

I've been burnt by films like this before.
The Counselor leaps most readily to mind. It had a perfect cast, a great director, a screenplay from the English language's greatest living writer, and it was a disaster. Top to bottom blegh. A front to back conveyor belt of vomit and fish heads that is was so perfectly constructed, you almost have to wonder if Ridley Scott was entering into some kind of a Fat Tuesday-like purge of his baser artistic instincts. More recently True Detective Season 2 pops to mind, but the less energy spent on that thing the better.

I say this because expectations can be a terrible thing, especially when your expectations are not only not met, but pulled forcibly from your arms and thrown into a well. Even when a film is good, your expectations can often sabotage your appreciation of that film. "Well, it could have been better," you say, walking through the parking lot, glumly talking to no one.

Sicario defies this tradition. It's a fantastic film, one of the best I've seen this year. It is a film that not only meets my impossible to define, solipsistic expectations, but it, more importantly, it is a film that is as good, if not better, than the collection of talent behind it. The end result is a film that is as horrifying and compelling as anything you will see in 2015.

A shorthand description of Sicario would pit it as Zero Dark Thirty* meets The Counselor (but if The Counselor was good). It's a nihilistic procedural that collides with reality. In this case we follow FBI door kicker Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is recruited into the War on Drugs. The film also stars Josh Brolin as a suspiciously laconic OGA spook and Benicio del Toro, who seems to have channeled all of his typical scenery chewing into being as imposing as possible. Along with Macer's partner played by Daniel Kaluuya**, the team charges headlong into the underworld of Mexican (and American) crime.

As you can imagine, things go poorly for everyone.

This is a movie that begins with the discovery of over forty bodies packed into the drywall of a cartel-owned house. It doesn't let up from there on out. Sicario is a film that manages to use this setting without exploiting it for shock value. The desecrated bodies that hang from Ciudad Juarez's freeways are not titillation, they're facts of life.

Few movies embraces Werner Herzog's concept that "The poet must not avert his eyes" as well as this one does. To show what the current war on drugs looks like is sure to turn off many and hopefully piss off a lot of other people, but it's a vision that works. The story requires its characters to walk through this underworld and, like us, they walk out changed. And maybe not for the better.

One of the reasons Sicario stands out as a film about drugs is that unlike Savages or Scarface, it's a movie that nails the double-think of the War on Drugs. In order to beat brutes, we must become brutes. In order to stop crime, we have to let it carry on. In order to bring things to light we have to hide them. It's a film with all of the glamor and sheen of a head on collision. And each collision is couched inside of a thrilling, perfectly put together action sequence. You can have your nihilism and eat it too.

It reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty, not because of the driven female lead or the deadly bearded men running around in military kit. Both are films that steadfastly refuse to give you an answer. It simply shows you. These are the facts. Here is what a human being suffocated and stuffed into a wall looks like. This is what your government is willing to do for the sake of. . . justice? This is what happens to a man who has lost everything. No judgment, no music cues, no twists just the facts. It isn't a film that is looking to meet you half-way, which is why I like it so much.

Another bit of grounding in the film is Emily Blunt's performance. I would say she was a revelation if it wasn't already clear that she's one of the coolest actors in the business. She's the female Tom Hardy, which is to say that Tom Hardy is the male Emily Blunt and that I would watch them both in any movie that they appear in. Also they should both be James Bond***.

If you haven't seen her in Live. Die. Repeat, All You Need is Kill, The Edge of Tomorrow, you should. It's the best video game movie ever made and she's the best thing about it. Sicario is a very different kind of a film, but she carries it in the same way that Tom Cruise carries The Edge of Tomorrow. She has charisma. As bad as things get in this movie, as abused as she may be, you want to hang out with her while she is going through this. As much as she carries you through this film, she also carries the burden of the story in a way that is somehow mundane to the core, yet heroic in a way that all lost causes are.

Drugs are all around us and as a culture, as a species, we still don't seem any closer with grappling it today than when we did, well, ever. Beyond being entertaining, Sicario is a way to digest this complex subject in some way. That's what great art does. It leaves us with something more interesting than answers.

Twenty minutes into Sicario, we see Blunt's Kate Macer washing the results of a particularly brutal SWAT raid on a house. That is a thesis statement of the entire film. It's what you'll want walking out of the film or maybe you'll agree with Kate later in the film “I need a drink.”

Amen to that.

Sicario isn't exactly a fun movie. It's packed with tension, it's thrilling in places, and even manages a few laughs, but it isn't fun. It doesn't provide answers or edification. It points its lens at the Abyss for two hours and let's the camera roll. Sicario deserves to be seen, not because it's an uncompromising look into the War on Drugs, but because it manages to be, on the one hand, suffocating and heartless, and on the other, completely and utterly gripping. It's a film that needs to be seen. No, it's more than that. Sicario a film that needs to be witnessed.


* Coincidentally, Kathryn Bigelow produced a documentary about the border and vigilantism called Carteland this year. Obviously something is in the air and it's not just Don Winslow, who I imagine burns his typewriters after every novel to "free the demon.

** Oh, he's British? Of course he's fucking British.

***And also Idris Elba. Rotating Bonds. Can you dig it?

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and DAREs to be drug free. You can check out his podcast A Quality Interruption here. You can support his creative endeavors on Pateron here. You can follow him on Twitter here. There are no wrong answers here.

19 August, 2015

Le Homme de ONCLE

The Man From UNCLE (2015)
A Review by James Kislingbury

If you're a fan of spy movies, 2015 has been an embarrassment of riches. The year started strong with Kingsman: The SecretService, a film made by a former Guy Ritchie collaborator that had no right being as good as it was. Next up we have the uninteresting named Spy, staring Melissa McCarthy. After that up is the fifth Mission: Impossible film came out, which, like many of these films has a history going back decades. Then, of course in November we get an actual James Bond movie. Even Steven Spielberg is getting in on the action with Bridge of Spies, which, admittedly is a very different kind of spy movie than the rest. In a very good year for spy movies, The Man From UNCLE fails to stand out among its peers. In a bad year for spy movies it might not even do that.

The Man From UNCLE is a hard movie to screw up. In that way it reminds me of To Catch a Thief, which was probably one of the first movies sold to a director with the pitch "You'll get to spend three months in the French Riviera." Alfred was probably on the next flight to Nice. There seems to be that level of care put into The Man From UNCLE.

While To Catch a Thief has Cary Grant and Grace Kelly to make up for its flaccid script, The Man From UNCLE has Armie Hammer in a turtleneck and Rome. With resources like that, a movie can only be so bad. Yet, like Hitchcock's worst films, this movie fails to be anything more than good looking people in good looking clothes.

They don't even smoke in this movie, for God's sake. It's the 60's, damnit. Everyone smoked. The president smoked. The queen smoked. The pope probably smoked. But not here. Not even the villains!

The movie does deserve some kind of credit for making human beings look this good. I mean, it nails the hell out of that idea. Watching at Henry Cavill stand around in a suit makes me questions whether or not we're the same species. The same goes for Alicia Vikander who seems to have been born to wear mod pencil skirts. I wish better things would happen to these actors, because they're clearly talented. Between the obligatory action sequences these people almost appear, at many times, to be very interesting. Plus, one of the  bad guys looks like Jason Schwarzman in that one short film that Wes Anderson made. And then something explodes. And then we're assaulted with a bunch of split screens (which I can't tell if these are an affectation of the era or just of Guy Ritchie. . . Or an affectation that Guy Ritchie thinks is of the era). And that's basically it. It's a series of good looking things flashing on screen and sometimes those things explode. Writing this hurts me, because there is so much in this film that I want to like.

The Man From UNCLE's cardinal sin is what it does with the world its built. Which is to say it does nothing with the world its built. It's a catalog of cool things. It's a tale told by a disinterested director, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing. And I like looking at vintage catalogs, damnit. Considering that there's a Mission: Impossible film in theaters now, I have this funny feeling that if I wanted to see a film that was all surface, I might have better options.

Or, you know, I could watch a bad Hitchcock movie for way cheaper. In that case I would also be watching a movie that takes place in the 1960's and not one that just reminds me of the 1960's.

In between scenes of people eating fruit on yachts, there are a few moments that remind you that Guy Ritchie was once a promising, young film maker, far from the beaten down man you see today. The moment I'm thinking of is a dancing sequence. It's a single, still shot of Armie Hammer trying to play chess in the foreground and in the background and out of focus, Alicia Vikander is dancing. And that's it. She's just looking cool and dancing to a great song and that's it. That's the moment where all of the things Guy Ritchie may or may not be trying to do in this film all come together. It reminds you why movies are great. And then it ends. The movie moves on and you move on and that's all it was. A moment.

Also a Nazi accidentally catches fire at one point. That's good, too. More of that, please.

Knowing how strong Guy Ritchie started his career and knowing how hard it hit rock bottom, it's odd to see him in his third phase, which is making these massive blockbusters that, at their heart, are utterly void of any meaning or perspective. They're just kind of there. But with more slow mo. What's even more queer is that Matthew Vaughn (who produced Ritchie's first two films) made Kingsman this year. That's not a perfect film, it didn't put as many dollars on the screen as this movie, but damnit it had heart. It was trying. The Man From UNCLE isn't trying. It's satisified with where it is. As much as I might like going to movies to look at attractive people spying on one another, I don't like watching movies that play it safe.

Every once and a while, something wonderful slides into frame and you think “This might be it, this might be the moment when the movie turns around.” Then it doesn't. Instead, it gets loud and it gets big and some ugly things happen to some attractive people and then we're baited with a kind of cliffhanger for The Man From UNCLE 2: Because We All Have It Coming At This Point. And that's fine. In an atmosphere so full of spy movies (and so many good ones) and where the lingering scent of Mad Men is still in the air, The Man From UNCLE has to be more than just fine.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and an amateur expert on the great game. You can listen to his podcast here or subscribe to it on your favorite podcatcher. You can fund it here. Or not. Whatever.

29 July, 2015

The Ant Man Cometh

A Review of Ant Man (2015)
by James Kislingbury

Sorry to get to this so late! I've had a few personal things come up and I'm going nuts with, like, what feels like eight different writing projects. I didn't mean to neglect you, dear reader! So, with no further ado, here's my review of the incomparable Ant-Man--

Pandemonium. That is the only word I can use to describe the excitement in Hall H as Ant Man was announced. “Ant Man,” they said. You could feel it like a wave. As the peels of turgid excitement washed over the crowd of sun-burnt and crowd drunk virgins, I thought to myself “This is what Marvel does. This is what it gives the people.”

Would we be worthy enough for Ant-Man?

Would I be worthy enough for Ant-Man?

Did this place validate parking?

While the need was always there, the technology wasn't. After a decades long gestation period, cinemas are finally read for the vision of Ant-Man that so many millions of children and man-children have pined for.

We are living in times of miracles.

Why didn't this guy get a movie earlier?
Paul Rudd is perfectly cast as the titular super hero. He brings a special edge that no Marvel movie has ever had. By blending affability with an avuncular charm Rudd allows the scenes to breath, allowing the comedy to come through naturally. Yet, between all of the humorous asides, I still bought Rudd as an actor in the Ant-Man movie. And, believe me, his likeness is very believable as you see it on the various stuntmen and computer generated images that make up the bulk of the movie.

While Rudd brings the chuckles and the kapows, much of the film's gravitas comes in the form of the film's older, distinguished actor. The older actor added a lot to the scenes he was in, lighting them up  by delivering exposition and occasionally reminding Ant-Man what the stakes of the film were (I think it was Infinity Gems). Also, he said something about Bruce Banner which, in the theater I was in resulted in fifteen solid minutes of applause.

There is also Evangeline Lily, who is a brunette white lady.

I kept on typing "Ant-Man Villain" into Bing and
this kept on popping up. I don't know.
Of course, as pretty as white ladies are, that isn't why you go to a Marvel movie. You go to see action and spectacle that you can only see in other Marvel movies, two to three times a year. And, lemme tell you Ant-Man delivers. It's a bang-smash popcorn munching flick of epic proportions (or should I say “miniscule proportions?” Yes. I should. Thank you for pointing this out). Whoever directed Ant-Man does a great job of balancing the story with various special effects that you would expect from the House to Astonish.

For me, I'll know I'll look back for years to come at the first time that Ant-Man got small. It just took my breath away. And just when I thought I had seen it all, he then became regular sized again. How do they come up with this stuff? It was what Munsterberg meant when he called cinema “That beautiful, living dream” probably.

Hero? Yes.
All of this leads up to a satisfying, massive showdown at the end of the film between Ant-Man and the bad guy that is slightly different from Ant-Man. As much fun as the showdown is, it does tend to run a bit long. But what can we expect? Ant-Man is simply too much character for one screen, for one actor, for one director. I mean, it's not a Joss Whedon film, imperfections are going to appear here and there. What I can say is that, despite the imperfections, Ant-Man was definitely two hours long and did not consist entirely of room tone and flashing lights. What more could you want from a movie?

As the credits rolled, set to a slightly off kilter rock song, and the much needed reminders of Marvel's future movies flashed across the screen, I thought back to my time at Hall H. As I hung upside down, caribined to one of the convention center's walkways, one particular fan stands out in my mind.

I hope you're prepared for Ant-Man's signature line,
"I am Ant-Man."
As the Marvel executive said those fateful words on that hot July day, I looked down at this fan. He had become so overcome with the sheer ectasy of Ant-Man being on a very large screen that he lost control of all of his limbs. As he rended his shirt from his white, white body, he screamed the names of all of the great artists and writers from Ant-Man's illustrious an lauded run at Marvel.His mania seemed to go unnoticed by those around him, as each fan was consumed with a rapture of his own. As the shirtless honkey swallowed his own tongue, pink foam erupting from his mouth, I thought to myself “This is important. I must remember this” because I knew that this was as pure of a love for Ant-Man that I would ever, could ever see. I shed a single tear for that moment. Also, the stench of a thousand people losing control of their bowels was horrifying. A lot of people died at that panel.

Seeing this new ad for Avengers 3 I now know that had that man lived, he would have loved to see the truth of Ant-Man come to pass.

I personally cannot wait for Ant Man 3 and 4 to grace our movie theaters. I only hope that we are still worthy.

16 July, 2015

Uphill Climb to the Bottom

A Review of Minions (2015)
by James Kislingbury

I think this requires some kind of explanation.

As a piece of design, the minions are wonderful. They're simple, cute little guys. It's easy to see why they're so popular and it's easy to see why you can't turn a corner in this city without seeing them pasted on a bus and on McDonald's and on very large domes. I have a soft spot for cute things. Hamsters. Puppies. The odd kitty cat. Minions. It's all there. For that reason, I was willing to see Minions. When I heard that Mark Kermode liked the film, I became a little more interested. When I heard that it was also set in 1968, I was sold.

"Well, alright," I said to myself. If I'm a sucker for anything besides cute critters, I'm a sucker for fake 1960's spy-fi mod designs. You ask anyone and they'll tell you that those are basically my two main things. With Minions, I was guaranteed at least one of these things. So, you understand, it was with a sense of completeness that I set out to see this movie, yes?

And, so I figured one of two things would happen: It would be a good movie and I would use that as an excuse to go see more movies or it would be a terrible movie and I would use that as an excuse to go see more movies. It was win-win, as far as I was concerned.

For better or for worse, Minions is a silly film. On that level, it succeeds. Personally, I don't think it needs to be much more than that. Minions aims for a very particular target and it succeeds. To ask it to be anything more than a silly, funny movie about cute, little whatsits, is madness. And it's kind of depressing, because if you don't find joy in seeing these dumb, little critters dressed up in Napoleonic garb, running around, then what do you enjoy? Pulling the wings off of flies? Setting fire to derelict buildings? Collecting the tears of children for your own craft cocktails?

You sicken me.

As far as comedies go, I think you're allowed a certain amount of leeway as to the substance of your film. I know that's not something I've ever said before, but it's true. I don't think there's a lot of political subtext keeping The General afloat, but it has a guy doing stupid stuff on a train and sometimes that's enough. The story is also primarily told through its visuals and it quotes Modern Times. It's very clear that Minions knows what it's doing as a film. It knows where it comes from. In the background, it also has at least one joke about group sex with inanimate objects and one joke about BDSM (which I cannot recall as I write this.I was very intoxicated while watching this movie. I will admit as much). So, I don't know. At least it's a film that's willing to get weird.

Admittedly, though, it would have been nice to see the film be about more than. . . I don't actually know what it's about. It's not like the minions have story arcs.. There's nothing for a kid to take away from this, except that butts are funny. And butts are very funny, but that's nothing new. The film makes one or two references to the villain Scarlet Overkill's rise in the man's world of super villainy, but it doesn't go anywhere with it. To me, teaching kids about something like feminism, showing them that a woman can be just as evil as a man is kind of important. When kids are five, six, seven, that's the time to pound that sort of thing into their heard. It doesn't go anywhere with anything except for the gags. I suppose that's something. You can at least admire its purity of vision, if nothing else.

I also wonder what John Hamm is doing in this film, Obviously, he's there to fill out the big names on the poster, but why him? What does he bring to this movie besides being another name on the poster? As a character he's underused and as a voice actor, he's underplayed. He seems to be there for the sole purpose of showing us that between the knit ties and the Vidal Sassoon haircuts, the 1960's had some real dumb fashion trends. Pinstripes? Sideburns? Disgusting. Terrible. People like this should be in jail. Time jail. Only the Beatles should be allowed to look that bad.
Minions gets art.

What holds Minions aloft is that it is very smart about its stupidity. It has to be. Otherwise it's just, well, stupid. The movie strikes a balance between the two things in the way that all great comedies do (not to say that Minions is a great movie, but it at least knows what makes Chaplain and Keaton work). Minions backs up its dumb ass with its animation. It's a meticulously animated world. Had Minions been handed to worse directors or slapped together by a low rent studio, I'd be slagging it off right there with you. But it looks great. Somebody put time and care and effort into these really silly jokes about butts and bananas. Apparently people expect more from a movie than that. I say: Fuck those people. The visuals in Minions are as much of a storytelling asset as the acting or cinematography or music in a "real" movie. Hell, I've seen a lot of shitty serious movies lately and none of them are half as well done as Minions.

I've been nipping at the edges of an argument for this entire argument, so I guess now is the time to tackle it head on: A lot of people hate the minions. I am sure that like the people who supported Pol Pot or the kind folks that rationalize the actions of Stalin or William F. Buckley, these people have their reasons. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It's America and until Jade Helm runs its course, they're all entitled to it. It's just that hating the Minions makes these people into tremendous bummers.

Personally, I suggest that, like communists and young Republicans, you cut these people out of your life until they recover. Your energy is better spent cussing at the sun for being too bright or trying to get a gopher drunk. It's madness. These people are better off being shot into space because I simply do not see the function of hating something as harmless as the minions. Or Minions. It's a movie about a bunch of yellow guys having a silly adventure. Sometimes they're Eskimos. Sometimes they play corgi polo. It's that kind of a movie. It is exactly what it is meant to be. You don't like that? Well, then, I just feel sorry for you.

Also, fuck you.

I just finished watching A Field in England this week. It's. . . uh, quite the film. It's 90 minutes long and it took me two weeks to watch. It's not exactly a corker. Still, I really liked it. Or, parts of it, anyways. It reminded me why I love films. It reminded me why films are worth loving. As much as I need movies like A Field in England, I also sometimes need to laugh. Sometimes I just want to have fun. And, sometimes a movie doesn't have to be about men slowly losing their minds to be good.

I complain a lot about movies.

Sometimes I drop my guard. Sometimes a bunch of cute little monsters come into my life and they make a movie about the most pivotal year in Western history since the end of WWII. Sometimes I want to laugh. And sometimes all of those things come together at once. The Minions is silly and I liked it. Sometimes that's all a comedy has to be.

Plus, you know, butts.

James Kislingbury is a writer. He does a podcast about movies called A Quality Interruption. He thinks a lot about dumb stuff. A lot.

07 June, 2015

Come for the Movie, Stay for the Guy Behind You Talking About Peter Boyle's 1970's Hair

I'll tell you this: If John Huston asks if you're getting laid, you damn well answer him.

Winter Kills is an odd one. The cast alone is what sold me. Jeff Bridges, Toshiro Mifune, John Huston, and, oh yeah, Anthony Perkins. And Elizabeth Taylor. And Eli Wallach. And Sterling Hayden. And it was shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. With music by Maurice Jarre. I had to see this movie. The fact that I had never heard of it made me even more interested. I refused to look anything up. Was it a western? Was it a war story? Was it a musical? Early Dogme 95? Porno? I had to know! So I drove my ass out to the New Beverly tonight and I saw it.

And, let me tell you, Winter Kills is one hell of a mess.  A hilarious mess, a mess with some fine performances, but a mess nonetheless. The kind of mess you need to clean up with a hose.

Depending on what stage of your chemical exporation you are on, Winter Kills is a take off on the labyrinthine world of JFK assassination theories, and it's either a comedy with aspirations to thrill its audience or it's a thriller that thinks it can do comedy. I mean, I don't know, man. I'm not sure it's director knew either. I'm not sure I care. The mystery of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself.

The whole movie plays out like The Parallax View by way of Joseph Heller. But not Catch 22 Heller. Closing Time Heller. While it doesn't match the heights of other conspiracy thrillers of the time like Three Days of the Condor, it certainly is as brown, if not more so. So brown.

John Huston seems to be the only person having any fun in the film, which is just as well. He is one of the main reasons I saw it. I have to imagine he was thinking about his paycheck the whole time. Good for him. The real revelation in all of this is Anthony Perkins, who seems to have seen John Huston's dailies and went "I can beat that." Because his performance is bananas. It's ecstastically bonkers in a way that only the best of Jimmy Stewart of Nick Cage seem capable of delivering. He actually got applause for his big speech towards the end of the film. Somebody get that guy more work.

Then you have Toshiro Mifune, who is on screen for maybe three minutes before he is buried behind the wall of the film's insane plot. It's just as well. In hindsight the film benefits from layering on the confusion like this. There's a lot more fun to be had looking back and going "What the hell was that about?" than to eyeball the actual plot of the film.

Before I go off about the actual quality of the film stock, I'll give you a few highlights of the film to mull over:
  • There's a wig warehouse owner that is a full blown Williamsburg Beardo. Powerful stuff.
  • During a sex scene Jeff Bridges has to smother his girlfriend to keep her from screaming. He fucks that good.
  • John Huston (spoiler) dies after clinging to a massive American flag.
  • Sterling Hayden drives a tank. Because he's a man, damnit.
  • Jeff Bridges has the vapors at one point.
  • Belinda Bauer looks really, really good dressed like a man.
I'm sure I'm breaching some well-worn code about complaining about the quality of an old print, but I can only tell you what I saw: The reel looked like it had been dragged through hell and back. The color was shot to hell. There was a lot of dust on the frames and, what are those? Like, track lines? You know. The things that run up and down over a bunch of frames? I'm so far removed from actual film lingo I have no idea what to call these. I feel like a spoiled aristocrat trying to come up with the right words to describe the weekend.

Artist's concept of writer
"Well, you know, it's the day where you don't work. I mean, not that I would. But, others don't work. Except for our staff. Which is the entire town. And farmers. But, well, hmmm. . . "

Then again, there's a certain charm in being reminded what worn out, old film looks like. I can see why Quentin Tarantino insisted that the theater only show film. . . Wait. No I don't.

The second problem I had with the presentation was that there was, what I can only guess, is fifteen minutes missing from the beginning. The entire beginning of the film is missing. At first I was wondering if the film was just that daring, then it slowly dawned on me that, no, this wasn't how the film was supposed to be shown. After it ended, I asked the man behind me (who, before the film began was pontificating on his friend about the pluses and negatives of the film Hardcore), if the first reel was missing and he didn't seem sure. It's that kind of a movie.

And, again, maybe it makes me a snob. Maybe I'm missing the point. As charming as the physical medium of film is and as much of a rollercoaster thrill ride as wondering "Will this movie's color be completely blown out? Will the reels be in order this time?" I would much rather just straight up watch the damn movie.

That isn't to say that I won't be back. As flawed as this outting might have been, the New Beverly Cinema is delivering a service. It's showing films that nobody would show if it wasn't for this place. It's a place that still believes in the communal experience of the theater, of the actual physical medium of film, of the kind of artistic divinity that you get sitting with a group of strangers in a dark room watching a movie, especially some strange movie that you would have never heard of or never seen without the aid of the New Bev. Netflix is great, but it can't replicate that experience. And Hulu certainly can't because I think that site is run by apes. Stupid apes.

I just probably won't be back to watch Winter Kills.

James Kislingbury writes, draws, and does a few other things. You can listen to his podcast, A Quality Interruption. You can donate to fund that program here. Keep your eyes peeled. He's going to weird crap coming down the pipeline.

18 May, 2015

From the Ashes of the Old World

A review by James Kislingbury

I find it completely baffling that it took thirty years for another Mad Max to come out. That's four presidential administrations. That's longer than my entire life. It's insane. It's even more insane to think that after three decades out of the theaters, we have another one in the form of George Miller's fourth installment in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road. Having watched it, having done the math on this, I've come to the conclusion that the thirty year wait was worth it.

What is Mad Max? What are you, one of those cult kids in Texas? It's Mad Max. It's a series of films that launched an entire aesthetic. What other movies can you think of that can describe an artwork or a song or a jacket in short hand than Mad Max? These movies loom large in our imaginations, in our culture. For a good chunk of time the original Mad Max was the most profitable film of all time. The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2 if you're naughty) is one of the gold standards of action films. Even maligned Beyond Thunderdome lives beyond its flaws in the form of the title alone. As this Warren Ellis brain-projection will tell you, to at least one person on earth it's his Star Wars.

Fury Road's strengths are not so much that it's an excellent sequel, but that it is an excellent film. It's a film that is worth of its name, but also worth of its legacy. It's a film that like the first films, will be recgnozied for the wake of creative wreckage that it leaves behind it.

It's also a bone-crunchingly intense film from beginning to end. Almost the entirety of Fury Road consists of a chase. It's broken up, intelligently into bite-sized chunks. In its fury, it manages to relent just long enough to make us care a little bit more about the characters and get our appetites whetted for the next blast of carnage. In that way Fury Road doesn't seem so much like a sequel to Beyond Thunderdome as it does a strange spawn of Apocalypto.

Now, we could talk about the acting and the directing and the music and how great they are, but to me what i indicative of all of those things is the art design. You look at the design of this film and you understand everything else that went into it. One cannot be separated from the other. This film is details. A team of people lovingly crafted this film. They wanted to make this movie the best movie that they could and it shows. As a viewer you see this movie and you know it's no bullshit. It's clear in each and every frame that this is a movie helmed by a man who loves his subject matter, who respects his audience, and still wants to make a lot of executives happy.

Why does she have a robot arm? Because when you see it you understand everything you need to know about this woman (though her Alien 3-era Ripley hair helps). We're not dumb. We see that and we understand who she is. No monologues, no Basil Exposition. Just cinema beamed directly from the screen to your brain and it's awesome. It's these small things that add up into something much larger. Something much more monstrous and loud and awesome.

God, it's awesome, guys.

As much as Fury Road is a movie about movement and the universal language of aciton, it is a movie that's also about ideas. It's funny, because as loud as the movie is, it has thoughts to spare. Fury Road is a spectacle film that works in a way that something like Interstellar does not. It's themes are as much as part of the story as the story is a part of the themes. Like the design and the direction, the two are inseperable.

Fury Road is fundamentally about genders roles and, as Uhh Yeah Dude would phrase it "The relationaship between man and woman." It's a world of the hyper-masculine and the hyper-feminine, mixed in with pair of the baddest warrior monks this side of Lone Wolf and Cub (actually, is Furiosa a "battle nun?"). The film is about the interplay between all of these factions, between the aggressive male and submissive female, between freedom and oppression. And about, you know, cars smashing into shit. It has me thinking about gender roles in a way that I haven't thought about them since, like, Alien. Maybe that's more a mark against myself than it is a mark for the film.

There's also something personally edifying about the successes of Mad Max: Fury Road. I love the fact that the public seems to have embraced it in the way that they have. William Gibson was re-tweeting about it. So was Patton Oswalt (though, what doesn't he tweet about?). My co-workers are talking about it. Rotten Tomatoes is ranking it as one of the best reviewed movies of the year, aciton or otherwise. To me it proves that people want something to bite into. They want something bigger and better than a movie that is simply bigger and better.

Disney's Marvel's The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron seems like the antithesis of this film. Even the people who enjoyed it didn't really seem to enjoy it. They seemed to vaguely tolerate it. They seemed to aprove of its spectacle in a way that I find to be profoundly depressing. I'm not even going to get into the amount of think pieces this movie generated. While I wasn't a huge fan of the first one (In short: too long, too all over the place, and too safe), that movie had fans the world over. They were people of all religions, races, ages, genders, whatever. People loved that movie. To many it was a triumph of the genre. To its manufacturers, it was a financial triumph, as well.

Fury Road seems to have an energy behind it that DmtA2:AoU doesn't seem capable of. There's something in the air that makes me feel that Fury Road is this movie that everyone was waiting for. They didn't know they needed it until it was here. It's like some sort of violent, cinematic messiah. Like a thief in the night, here comes Fury Road, all eight-cylinders and pumping blood. What is more is that Fury Road is worthy of this energy. People recognize that it is not so much a bill of sale, as it is a work of cinema. It's a carnival. It's cinema. It's what we go to movie theaters to see. It isn't the artifice of spectacle or what we're told spectacle looks like, either. It's pure in a way that people can see. Fury Road is a movie with weight.

I don't know if Fury Road will have the staying power of The Road Warrior, a movie that like Blade Runner doesn't seem to so much have fans as it has acolytes. The Road Warrior is less a film, more of a sacred text in blood-fueled action cinema. It's a cult film in the most proper sense of the word. Fury Road is awesome. . . I said that already, right? It's a great film. It's a both a breath of fresh air and a familiar blanket that you can wrap yourself in. That's a fine line to walk.

Fury Road does what so many big action movies haven't done in what feels like forever: It is as awesome as it is good. It is a film full of creative energy that feels like nothing else I have ever seen. It's pure energy played out on a forty foot screen. I know it sounds like I am speaking in hyperbole, but I feel rather strongly about this film. It is a movie that needs to be seen in theaters, at great speed, and with as many friends as you can muster, because like Max himself, Fury Road is a creature that seems to be increasingly rare in the world it lives in. 

I can't wait to see it again.

James Kislingbury is a survivor. He podcasts about cult movies. He's working on a book. He has a Patreon up if you want to fatten him up a bit. 

. . .

I think I'm over not writing for this place any more.

I think I'm back.

Also, I can't find a clean image of Carrie's hand shooting out of her grave, so just imagine I did that right here.

That was fun, wasn't it?

25 February, 2015

This is How it Ends

A Review of Prometheus: Omega
Part Sixteen of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

I was going to say that “Fire and Stone has been a real shit show,” but then I realized that calling it such terms doesn't do it justice. The real value of Fire and Stone is that it's been a learning experience for me. This comes on the heels of me realizing some things about my “career” (which is a term that needs some bold quotation marks). Fire and Stone hasn't pointed me towards this exactly, but one thing I've learned, or at least one thing that has really codified a philosophy I've been developing for some time. Basically, I realized that as bad as something might be, it's not my job to fix it. And it's certainly not my job to fix it for free. As flawed as Prometheus might be as a comic and as just plain incompetent as Alien Versus Predator is, it's not my job to sit there and think of ways that I could make this better.

Because that's a sucker's game.

And that bums me out. I should be the target of internet vitriol. I should be the one with snarky blog posts aimed at me. I should be the one losing sleep to meet a deadline on a book that nobody will remember in two years time. I'm not saying that a “creator” is inherently better than a “critic” (they aren't, just tell me that Roger Ebert hasn't contributed more to art and civilization than Uwe Boll). I've just been struck by this general sense that I need to do more. Whatever that means.

Maybe I should thank each and every book in the Fire and Stone line-up. It wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back, but it has pushed me. In different ways, each one of these books has pushed me to be a better writer. Maybe.

Anyways, with all of that said, when I found out that Fire and Stone was seventeen parts and not sixteen, I know I groaned. I must have. There's no other sane response to finding out that I'm going to get suckered out of another four bucks on a self-imposed dare. All of that said, this last book came as something of a surprise. Because, Blimey. Prometheus: Omega is really, really good.

Omega is written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, she of Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet (which shares the same pulpy/political DNA that made up the first three Alien movies). That should have told me that this was going to be an excellent book. Of course nobody told me this. It's nice to be pleasantly surprised, though. As much as Pretty Deadly is most certainly not my thing, she is a writer with a point of view and a set of skills that I like to see put to work. There's also this tinge of liberal guilt in the back of my head telling me that it's nice that women are writing more comics and that these comics are good (I'm currently reading a trade of the new Ms. Marvel run. It's so good, guys). There's no inherent value to that, I suppose, but it's nice. And it certainly can't be any worse than the men who worked on AvP.

Agustin Alessio deliver some solid work as the book's artist. Like the artist behind Prometheus, Alessio delivers a painterly quality that gives the work a level of class that you don't see in a lot of other books. Often when you see this style of work in a comic, it ends up being a series of good looking pictures that, when put together form a bad comic book (the companion to this phenomenon would be when a screenwriter or a novelist tries their hand at making a comic). Fortunately, that isn't the case.

Alessio's work isn't perfect, though. His work does lack some of the impact and the kinetics of Mooneyham had on Predator (a very different book, but one with a steady hand behind the art). Yet, conversely, therein lies its strength. His work isn't fantastical. It isn't showy. It's grounded and it gives the story the kind of weight that a horror (or adventure) story like this should have. The world of Prometheus: Omega looks less like a comic version of an alien planet than it does an alien planet. Tonally, it shares the most similarities with Patric Reynolds's work, which couldn't look more different stylistically.

I like it a lot is what I'm saying. I'm sorry I lack the vocabulary for writing about art. I should work on that.

MUTANT OF THE WEEK: Dare I say. . . It's Elden.

That's right. Elden: My Most Hated of Characters. Elden the Abomination. Elden the Plot Device That Just Won't Die. Elden the Least. He's kind of great in this. As listless and silly as he's been in the hands of other writers, DeConnick actually manages to put him into the right place at the right time and turn out a corker of a story.

As I say this, keep this in mind: There is a mutant mountain full of alien juice that the team has to escape from. Elden, for his achievements in this book, is cooler than a living piece of the planet- Cooler than an actual xenomorph as defined in the dictionary.

Then again, Elden's final scene is him becoming a Giger tapestry. How can anything in the world compete with that?

Nothing to do with the topic at hand.
I'm just excited for this movie.
After a long spell in the cold, it's a relief that I can give Prometheus: Omega FIVE OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS. It's nice to see something this well put together cap it off the only miniseries event that I've ever partaken in. I'm glad it's over, but I'm also glad for the few highlights cut inbetween the crap. Omega is a rare beam of light.

As a stand alone comic it also works. It's well written. It's funny. It's weird. It's good looking. Like Predator, it's everything a comic book should be and, even better, it's everything this particular comic should be.

If you have any affection at all towards Prometheus, Aliens, Predator, or any combination there of, this is a comic you should pick up. Or you should just pick it up because Kelly Sue DeConnick is a talented lady who deserves your adoration and dollars. If Fire and Stone only provided her (and the team on Aliens and on Predator) a forum for more people to see them, then perhaps it was worth it.

Perhaps. . . 

You can read all of "James Versus Fire and Stone" here! There! It's all there! Read it!
Alien Versus Predator #4
Predator #3
Aliens #4
Prometheus #4
Alien Versus Predator #3
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is basically over it.

22 February, 2015


Predator #4 Review
Part Fifteen of James Versus Fire and Stone

I can't believe I've made it. I can't believe we made it. I can believe that I'm this late, though. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. In reality, this whole thing. . . Well, I guess I'll get a little more meditative when I review Prometheus: Omaga. . . Whenever it is that I get around to that one.

Back when iFanboy* had a website complete with writing one of the running gags, or complaints, really, was that it was hard to write things about good books week in and week out. There was Brubaker's run on Captain America. There's books like The Walking Dead (which they read in different formats, but still). Even now they still kind of go on about how it's hard to say new things about books that are continually good (Batman under the tutelage of Scott Snyder and Greg Capulo comes to mind)

I always saw that as a lack of creativity. Or will. Some kind of intellectual cowardice. Well, I'm here to say that I'm an asshole. It's hard to say more good things about Predator #4.It's just a solid book. It's fun. It's funny. It looks good. It feels good in a way that I cannot quite quantify. It's possible that it isn't the most intellectual stimulating book on the market, but I bet a lot of smarter books don't also have an alien big game hunter getting into a fist fight with a living god. If you like Predator, then go buy this book. Go read it at your local library. Just do something, will you?

It ends in a stronger way that any of the other books have. A solid portion of my good feelings towards the ending is down to this being an otherwise excellent book. So, if the ending is open-ended or incomplete in some way, oh well. The rest of it was fun as hell. In the end we get the journey and the destination. Good for Predator.

Also, shouldn't it be enough that something doesn't make people feel bad about things? That's an art, right?

If you want to imagine what this book is in my brain, it's Christopher Mooneyham and Joshua Williamson doing donuts in the school parking lot while everyone else from Fire and Stone looks on in frustration, trying to finish their assignments (not sure if Sebela and Olivietti can see it from the special education building down the way, but they can definitely hear those sweet, sweet donuts getting pulled). That's what it is. Imagine two bros pulling donuts in a parking lot forever. That's Predator: Fire and Stone.

Fuck it: I give Predator #4 FIVE OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS. I love it. It excites me. There's something about taking a thing as silly as a Predator/Prometheus/Alien crossover and taking it just serious enough to crank out a fun book. Go read it. Contrary to my whining about the BOOK WHICH SHALL NOT BE NAMED, this is the type of thing you should support. It's not high art, but it doesn't need to be. It's a genre piece that works and, since we're all friends here, I'm not afraid to say this: Sometimes that is as good as you need to be.

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Alien Versus Predator #4
Predator #3
Aliens #4
Prometheus #4
Alien Versus Predator #3
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

*Gee, I sure mention iFanboy a lot. Probably because it's one of the few sources of comic opinions that I've listened to over the past eight years. And it's not like I'm going to link my friend Joe's opinion or a back issue of Wizard or something, appealing as that might be to everyone. . .

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and a survivor. You can follow his show here. You can donate to his endeavors here. Or you can just hire the poor bastard. Have you seen how skinny he is? He can't be eating well.

15 February, 2015

As an Expert in Lesbian Pulp Novels. . .

As an antidote to the unfortunate macho postering of Nick Pizzolotta's Galveston I picked up Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt.

I don't know what you've heard, but this Patricia Highsmith character can write the hell out of a book. And I don't care who knows it! Even though it isn't a book about murder or sociopaths (I think there's only one possible sociopath in the book), it still managed to keep my attention. But that doesn't need to be said. The book claims to be a "masterwork" right on the cover. It also claims that Nabokov ripped it off for Lolita in the same sentence so, like a lot of my criticism, I don't see the need in taking on The Price of Salt from the front.

What I'm impressed most by is the importance of correspondence in the novel.

To a person who has sent, maybe, three personal letters in his his entire life, to see this many people send this many letters over this many miles is utterly foreign to me. Reading about mercenaries in Africa or Nazi hunters makes more sense to me, is more familiar to me, than to send a letter to somebody on vacation not knowing where exactly they are. I mean, who forwards letters? Who has the time for that?

And that's what most of the last third of the novel is about. As much as it's about bouncing around the USA in a car (something I am deeply familiar with), it's also about people's words bouncing back and forth to each other. Entire relationships are formed and dissolved based on what people write in letters. This also means that most of the "action" in the book is based around people stopping what they're doing, sitting down, and processing what other people are saying. It's an interesting way to tell a story and it speaks to Highsmith's skill that she manages to ring this much enjoyment out of an idea that sounds so tedious on paper.

I suppose that's the other thing I am impressed by. I am impressed by how much nothing happens in this book. And I mean nothing. Long stretches of it. Not that it's a bad thing. Highsmith has a wonderful grasp of the English language, and like my favorite authors, she has a beautiful handle on the inner workings of human beings. As much as I love procedural novels and books about people moving through the motions, I also love how this book seems to be about people going on about their day. Going to work. Going to a bar. Writing a letter. Then, POW, a gun and lesbians sleeping with each other are introduced within the span of ten pages. It's like it was making up for lost time.

I guess there's also a learning experience in the doomed relationship of Richard and Therese, but that's another entry for another day.

Also, what's that title actually supposed to mean? I haven't felt this confused about a book's title since The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. As a title Carol makes more sense and even then that title doesn't exactly tell me anything.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcast, and an aspiring set designer.

11 February, 2015

In Which I Finally Crack

Or “Well, that got out of hand quick”
A Review AvP #4
Part Fourteen of "James Versus Fire and Stone"

The nightmare is over. We have reached the end of the tunnel and there is light. Alien Versus Predator did not bury us, but sometimes I wish it had.

In many ways AvP #4 is worse than I could have imagined. The one-liners seem to have been written by a child. The art is lazy and muddy in new and stupid ways. The story. . . well, it actually makes sense, so there's that. Yet, despite all of this it's also the funniest released so far. AvP #4 is the issue in which is has passed through the vortex and emerged on the other side as “So Bad It's Good,” as opposed to “So Bad It Should Be Sealed Away in a Vault Forever and Ever.” Congrats, Sebela and Olivetti. You did it.

All that said, don't buy this run of Aliens Versus Predator. Don't read it. Don't even think about it. Speak not its name. Know not its horrors. With all of that said, I have this horrible feeling in the back of my head that tells me that my life is going to be ironically saved by this final issue somehow, and, honestly,, I don't know if death is better.

“Consumer” is an ugly word, isn't it? I'm no communist, but it is certainly revealing of what the people in charge of production think of us, doesn't it? What do you do? Do you enjoy? Do you ruminate? Do you meditate? Do you absorb? No. You consume. It's a reduction of a human being to a medium that moves money.

It's part of a trend, or at least a change in our perception of what art is. It's a devaluing of what it is. You see it all over and, unlike being a consumer, you actually see

I guess it's probably always been this way. I mean, how old is that "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" essay? Gotta be pushing a hundred, right? The modern twist is that we seem to have accepted just how crappy things can be. This is a crappiness not thrust upon us, but a crappiness we have taken into our hearts.

You see this with how we watch TV. We don't watch it any more, we "binge watch." It's depressing. Besides it taking its terminology from one of the more decadent mental dysfunctions we've drummed up as human beings-- is that it has helped eliminate the idea that we should pause and take any time to think about anything. Want to think about what this means for Walt and Skyler's relationship? Maybe? Fuck it, put the next one on. There's no breathing room. There is no time for (Japanese word for “breathing room”). There's just non-stop noise. A wall to wall assault on the senses

What'd you do with Breaking Bad? I consumed it. Great. I'm sure that's what Vince Gilligan and everybody wanted you to do with their art. Then again, maybe they did. I'm sure the paycheck doesn't look any different.

It is as though, at some point, we all watched They Live, smiled, nodded, and then put on another episode of Friends (now on Instant Watch!). Sometimes, some of us need a Trashcan of Reason to the head. I paw through AvP, desperately trying to make sense of it, and I think that Trashcan has finally arrived at my head.And if you're not a consumer, it's not like you get upgraded. Instead, what are you? You're a fan. Great!

“Fan” is an equally ugly little word. It comes from fanatic. I supposed being a fanatic of Transformers is a vertical move away from the type of cave dweller that flies planes into buildings, but the connotation is there. I mean, nobody likes fanatics, do they?

I look at Aliens Versus Predator, and the trend our media is stuck in in general and I think “God. Can't we do better than this?” We're science fiction nerds. We supported Star Trek and Richard Matheson and Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut. We watched Twilight Zone when it was more than just a marathon on Thanksgiving Day. We believe in ideas. We like weird shit. Now what do we foam at the mouth at? A Jurassic Park sequel? Another Disney movie based on a ride (based on a retro-future)? Is this the future we were building for ourselves? Do we somehow deserve this?

The depressing capper on all of this is a realization I had about Steven Spielberg. Twenty-some years ago he made Jurassic Park. If he was an up and coming film maker today, he would be relegated to a Jurassic Park reboot. Or a fucking monkey movie reboot sequel and you fucks think you're going to break me? And, yeah, most of those movies are fine, some better than fine, but, really, what would you rather have? Jurassic Park or another Jurassic Park sequel?

So Dark Horse pumps out bullshit like Aliens Versus Predator and it sells. And it has for decades. To quote a film executive in the early 90's, “I could piss on a wall for two hours and call it Alien 3 and it would make sixty million dollars.” Names sell. Divorced of even its source, we still lap it up and, why? Because we're consumers. We're fans. It's what they expect of us because it's the easy thing to do. And, fuck that. It's a marketing strategy that takes us for saps.

But there's hope. There are people doing right by us, people that aren't looking for another inch of flesh to fuck us in. In comics we have Jonathan Hickman, for one. Between East of West and Manhattan Projects, he's making some of the craziest, most interesting sci-fi out there (and that isn't to mention his work for Marvel, of which I have only read Agents of SHIELD, which was, well, a book of questionable quality and purpose). He's a man who is swings for the fences and connects most of the time. He's a writer who is worth spending some time with.

Then there's Matt Fraction, Fionna Staples, Grant Morrison, Ales Kot, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Brian K. Vaughn. John Arcudi, Guy Davis, and Mike Mignola are still doing their crazy apocalytic stuff with Hellboy and the BPRD with the same publisher that shoveled AvP out into the street. There's also Brandon Graham and his legion of artist and writer collaborators, who are playing DM with the Prophet license (proving that you can take a terrible license and make it into something wonderful). Hell, if we want to let Brian Wood back out of the cold, he's doing some solid work with The Massive. Then there's the legion of small publishers and indie artists doing their thing under the radar. It's not all gloom.

Now that I think about it, if you're into that sort of thing, even licensed comics seem to be pretty good nowadays. So, I don't know. There's hope. We just have to accept it. As consumers, as fans, as binge watchers, it's up to us to us to determine what the marketplace looks like. Or, god forbid, a gallery space. What's the Against Me lyric? "Be the bands you want to hear."

Overall, I look at the way we look at art and the way it's presented to us is done so in the most crass, disposable fashion. We aren't aficionados. We're consumers. Or we're fans. We don't appreciate thing. We binge on it. And we are expected to move on to the next thing. I don't think that's the way to look at good art and I don't think that it's the way we should be looking at art. Like I said, we're better than that.

Life is short and miserable enough without going out of your way to fill it with bad stuff. It's an exhausting way to live. That's the only lesson I think I can impart to you: Seek out the things you love and go love them. Try to make sure that the things you fill your life with and spend your money on aren't crass and disposable. You're better than that. Unless you just want to live in garbage, because the universe will always find a place for simple people with too much money in their hands.

What does AvP #4 get? ONE OUT OF FIVE CHESTBURSTERS. It's barely a book. It's barely a story. It's terrible. Read anything else, because the odds are good that even if it sucks, it'll be better than this piece of shit. The only pleasure I got from the book was when it was done. And even that was tinged with annoyance.

Ack. I need a musical break.

You can read the previous installments of "James Versus Fire and Stone" below:
Predator #3
Aliens #4
Prometheus #4
Alien Versus Predator #3
Aliens #3
Predator #2
Prometheus #3
Alien Versus Predator #2
Aliens #2
Predator #1
Alien #1 and Prometheus #1

James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster and a big game hunter. If you like what you read, you can support his podcasting endeavors by going to his Patreon. Or don't. Whatever. Be that way.