Right off the top of my head : what’s Andy doing wearing a Rolex?

Oh, sure, there are many larger and more important things to ponder after watching part seven of Daid Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The Return/Twin Peaks season three than Harry Goaz’ timepiece, but when you see a small-town deputy who probably earns 40 grand a year if he’s lucky riding around with $10,000 on his wrist, it sticks out.

Although, in fairness, so does the following : Laura Dern’s Diane telling everyone she comes into contact with “fuck you” at least once (and is it just me or does she have a special level of enmity for Chrysta Bell’s Tammy Preston?); Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) getting so stoned he can’t find his car; Janey-E (Naomi Watts) dealing with the cops every bit as effectively as she dealt with the crooks last week; Tom Sizemore going from a threating manner of lurking to a sulking one; Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) getting one up on his boss, Gordon Cole (Lynch) by making him say “please”; that mysterious figure from the Buckhorn, South Dakota jail cell waaaaaayyy back in week one graduating to the role of the “Man Behind Winkie’s” figure from Mulholland Drive; Ernie Hudson making a return appearance as the mystery surrounding the dead body of probably-Major-Garland-Briggs deepens; the “lost” pages of Laura Palmer’s diary that Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) found in part six directly quoting Heather Graham’s lines from Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me; the diminutive assassin we met seven short days ago coming after Dougie/Coop (Kyle MacLachlan) with a gun and being dealt with pretty easily (and, it’s gotta be said, roughly) thanks to some timely intervention from the “evolved” Arm; Walter Olkewicz playing yet another member of the apparently-endless Renault clan — I could go on like this for some time, because this episode was packed to the goddamn rafters.

Instead, I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of the truly sublime moments on offer tonight : the Skype call between Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) and Doc Hayward (the late Warren Frost); Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) obviously plotting when he’s going to make his move on his new assistant, Beverly (Ashely Judd, who you knew we would be seeing more of — and we might even be seeing more than that, given that she’s hiding a few secrets of her own); some poor schmuck sweeping the floor at the Roadhouse for nearly two minutes while “Green Onions” plays overhead; Lynch himself getting the first “damn good cup of coffee” line of the series; Norma (Peggy Lipton) holding court at the Double R as the end credits roll. If Twin Peaks fandom could send a video love letter to itself, would it look much different than any of that? Are scenes like this not exactly what we’d all been hoping for — only maybe with Michael Ontkean in there somewhere?

The best thing about it all, though, is that we’re getting so much more than just a rose-tinted serving of nostalgia with this new series — instances like those just quickly catalogued are lovely, to be sure, but they’re the heart of the show, not the backbone. The backbone is the dirt “Evil Coop” is holding over the warden that’s juicy enough to get him sprung; the fourth, still-missing, page from Laura’s diary; the investigative legwork going on in Twin Peaks, Buckhorn, and Washington, D.C.; the “spiritual finger”; the house in Argentina now owned by, literally, a girl from Ipanema; “It wasn’t Bob — I know who it was.”

The questions, the mysteries, the unknown and perhaps unknowable — that’s what Twin Peaks has always been about, and still is. More than ever, I’d venture to say. And for this viewer, at any rate, one of those big mysteries is still what the hell Andy is doing with such a fancy watch.

 

One nice thing about reviewing a new book a couple of days after it comes out rather than a couple of days before is that it gives you a chance to read what others have to say about it before sitting your ass down in front of the keyboard yourself. You can determine what other critics got right in their assessments, and what they got wrong. See what you agree with and disagree with. All that good stuff.

Take, for example, the first issue of the new Image Comics four-parter Winnebago Graveyard, which comes our way courtesy of veteran horror comics author Steve Niles (who created a little something you may have heard of called 30 Days Of Night before going on to, among other things, co-founding Black Mask Studios), architect-turned-artist Alison Sampson, and master of moody hues Stephane Paitreau. By and large people seem pretty pleased with it, and are quick to point out that it’s a fairly heartfelt homage to 1970s “never get off the main road” horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and (most obviously) The Hills Have Eyes, with a little bit of I Drink Your Blood or Messiah Of Evil-esque “devil cult” influence thrown in for good measure. These critics are in no way wrong — but they’re not entirely right, either.

To be sure, Niles is in no way trying to hide the various and sundry tips of the hat liberally interspersed throughout his script, but I think there are more of them than people realize. In fact, Winnebago Graveyard is nothing if not a love letter to all of ’70s celluloid horror in general, given that events play out in a near-dreamlike manner that would make Dario Argento himself proud, but hew closely to the grindhouse ethos of, say, a David F. Friedman all the way through. There’s even a nice helping of Herschell Gordon Lewis-style low-rent blood n’ guts to be had in the opening pages. It all feels grimy, dirty, dark, and dangerous — just like it should.

In fairness, there may not be anything new under the sun — or, in this case, the full moon — on offer here, but damn is it done well : hooded figures in robes perform grisly human sacrifice. Cut to a “blended family” (mom, son, and newly-minted stepfather) in a rented RV headed west. They venture off the highway onto some desolate desert road to check out a travelling carnival. They even hit the freakshow. They then find their titular Winnebago has been absconded with while they were eating cotton candy and gawking at the bearded lady. They head off on foot and pass a dilapidated, probably-haunted house. A potential rescuer in a beaten-down old pickup truck passes them by. They eventually come across what appears to be a ghost town. They’re fucked.

I won’t bullshit you : this comic takes all of about five minutes to read (unless you spend the 10-15 minutes required to take in the very good backmatter essay, which I highly recommend that you do), but Sampson’s art is absolutely gorgeous and you can while away the better part of an hour taking in all the majestically creepy details (a cloud shaped like open alligator’s jaws? How awesome is that?) she packs into every deliriously rich panel. There’s a bit of a late-’80s/early-’90s indie vibe to her style that fans of Guy Davis or Vince Locke are sure to recognize (and dig), but it’s imbued with a more “high-art” sensibility that nevertheless isn’t ashamed of its shadowy, sketchy lineage. Slap on some deep, rich, damn-near textured colors from Paitreau, and you’ve got illustration that I could easily say that I love, but ya know what? Even that might not be praise enough.

So, yeah, these fine folks can just take my sixteen bucks now, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m not sticking this one out to the finish. There are a number of pretty damn good horror series out there right now, but if the next three issues of Winnebago Graveyard are as good as the first, we’re looking at one of the best comics of the year here, easily.

Review : “The Defenders” #1

Posted: June 18, 2017 in comics

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

You know that feeling you get reading the final few issues of a book that’s been cancelled? That “these-creators-are-obviously-running-out-the-clock-but-I-guess-I-want-to-see-how-it-all-wraps-up” feeling? Welcome to all of Marvel Comics circa summer 2017 — even the brand-new series.

“Now hold on just a minute,” I hear you say, “this might be a first issue, but there’s nothing ‘brand-new’ about The Defenders. They’ve been kicking around in one form or another since the early ’70s. Whaddaya got to say to that, smart guy?”

Technically speaking that’s true, I suppose — we even get the old-school logo on this one — but who are we kidding? This latest iteration of the franchise bears precisely zero resemblance to Steve Gerber‘s “un-team,” and is in fact yet another example of Marvel’s Hollywood arm yanking its print division around, since we already know that the Defenders name was plunked from semi-obscurity to serve as the catch-all title…

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There are those who claim that in today’s visually-saturated, sonically-bombarded, information-overloaded world, good, old-fashioned words have lost not only, in many cases, their meaning, but also their power — and yet, with nothing more than one word, David Lynch and Mark Frost stopped Twin Peaks fandom as a whole dead in its tracks tonight.

That word? “Diane.”

And here’s the damndest thing of all : it wasn’t uttered into a micro-cassette recorder by Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper, it came from the mouth of Miguel Ferrer’s Albert Rosenfied, and it was addressed to an actual, living, breathing human being — specifically, Laura Dern. But now we know. Now we know who Coop was talking to for all those years, and all those years ago. And something tells me — and I’m telling you in turn — that’s going to have big repercussions.

Oh, and other things happened in part six of Twin Peaks 2017/Twin Peaks : The ReturnTwin Peaks season three, as well — in fact, it was an uncharacteristically brisk, dense, and harrowing segment, punctuated by the unspeakable tragedy of a child mowed down by a speeding truck and the hyper-violent outburst of a maniacal contract-killer midget. It re-introduced beloved figures like Carl from the Fat Trout Trailer Park (Harry Dean Stanton only gets more awesome with each passing year, doesn’t he?), dropped Patrick Fischler and Tom Sizemore back into the mix for no apparent (as yet) reason, shed an all-too-human light on the nature of the relationship between Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) and his wife, Doris (Candy Clark) that perfectly explains both of their demeanors, offered up a genuinely touching moment between Dougie/Dale and his boy, Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon), showcased Deputy Hawk (Michaeal Horse) doing his best detective work to date, took a minute to breathe a bit more character depth into Shelly Johnson (Madchen Amick), proved that Norma must offer way better wages and benefits than the average cafe owner since the Double R has apparently kept the exact same staff in place for 25 years, and gave Naomi Watts’ Janey-E Jones a hitehrto-undisclosed backbone that was definitely worth the price of admission alone. Yup, a whole lot went down tonight — and in the best Twin Peaks fashion, not all of it was entirely explicable.

Take, for isntance, Dougie’s idiot-savant abilities manifesting themselves in the form of child-like scrawling all over his “case files.” couldn’t make head or tail of any of it, but it sure seemed to impress the hell out of his boss. And where Harry Dean Stanton (who gets the best line of the night with “I’ve been smoking for 75 years — every fuckin’ day”) goes, mysterious power lines seem to follow, as the departure of the dead child’s soul/spirit/essence into the electrical grid perfectly recalls a similar “cut-away” shot from Carl in Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me. And I’m thinking those numbers on the telephone pole probably mean something, too.

And since we’re on the subject of speculation, I think this is as good a point as any for me to officially advance a theory I first floated on facebook a few days back : Eamon Farren’s drug-fueled psychopath? Who can now add “kid-killer” to his resume? The minute I heard he was part of the Horne clan, it hit me : he’s the child of Audrey and “Evil Coop.” And he’s got a lot of his daddy in him. Come on — you know it makes sense.

Fuck me, but there’s a lot to process after this one, isn’t there? We’re officially 1/3 of the way through at this point, and the only thing I can say I know with absolute, lead-pipe-cinch certainty is that John Pirruccello’s Deputy Chad is the biggest d-bag on the planet — but in my experience, that’s almost always the case with grown men named “Chad,” anyway.

At any rate, his is not the name we’re going to keep coming back to again and again as we re-play this episode — sorry, “part” — through our minds, is it? Nope. We finally know who you are, Diane — now, who are you?

 

Sometimes you just know what a movie’s about before you’ve even seen it.

Take, for instance, the low-budget 2015 Canadian production Man Vs that I checked out on Netflix the other night (I gather that it’s also available on DVD). With a title like that, is there any doubt in your mind that we’re going to have some kind of “reality” TV theme going on here? And that it’s most likely a “found footage” film?

You already know the answers to both those questions, so perhaps the first (and, as it turns out, only) surprise on offer from director Adam Massey and his screenwriter, Thomas Michael (working from a story by Massey himself) is that the “reality” host that their protagonist, Doug (played by Chris Diamantopoulos), is based on has a lot more in common with Bear Grylls than he does with Adam Richman. Nobody’s eating a 20-pound burrito or a six-foot-long hoagie sandwich in this flick; instead we’re witnessing one man’s desperate struggle for survival in the Rockwood Conservation Area, a rugged and unforgiving (and, it must be said, quite scenic) expanse of northern Ontario wilderness that most of us would probably be able to make a go of it in for maybe one day, tops. For the sake of his popular TV show, though, Doug’s gonna try to get through five.

Almost immediately, there are problems — not just for Doug, but for the film itself. Diamantopoulos isn’t one of them, fortunately — he’s reasonably charismatic, comes off as being generally likable, and commits himself to his role in the way that one must for these, essentially, one-man productions (don’t get me wrong, he ain’t Redford in All Is Lost, but he more than gets the job done) — but there’s a lot of suspect editing that mars what would otherwise be a nicely-paced first two acts and reduces the believability factor that Massey and his star work so hard on selling, there are several “how is he getting this shot done?” logical gaps that are difficult to overlook, and a handful of the “life-threatening” moments are staged in such a manner that calling them “highly suspect” is probably being kind. Ya know what, though? I can overlook all that given the modest (speaking of being kind) budget Massey and Co. had to work with.

Here’s what I can’t overlook : this friggin’ movie telegraphs its big “shocker” moment so early on that it absolutely ruins the third act — and said act is so lousy in and of itself that really doesn’t need any extra help when it comes to sucking.

In case you haven’t figured it out,  the whole shtick here is that Doug’s not out in the woods by himself. He’s being stalked, Predator-style, by —- something. Now, the minute you glom onto this fact, you already know there’s only a few ways things can go — and Massey opts for the easiest, lamest possibility you can imagine, spells it out for you clear as day, then seems to forget he did so and tries to surprise you with a “revelation” that’s already, in modern parlance, been thoroughly “spoiled” in his own goddamn script. There’s no way that’s gonna work, because it just plain can’t. An Alzheimer’s patient would still see the ending to this thing coming a mile off. Throw in a whole lot of dodgy CGI, and what you’ve got is a film that would be a case study in self-sabotage even if the first 2/3 of its runtime was absolutely flawless — which it isn’t by any stretch, but damn, compared to the final 20 minutes or so, it’s Oscar-caliber stuff.

I hate to be too hard on Man Vs. I really do. You can tell that a lot of work went into getting this thing in the can and that it was probably an exhausting shoot. There’s a really solid performance anchoring the whole thing. Stitching together the “found footage” and “survival horror” genres is a natural. And there’s a lot of breathtaking scenery in front of the lens for nature-lovers to enjoy. But you can’t show your hand at the poker table, pull your cards back close to your chest, and then expect to collect the pot.

I’m not one to stretch a metaphor, but seriously — Massey’s either going to have to raise the stakes considerably for his next feature, or else just fold.

Let’s not kid ourselves — America is fucked. Anyone who follows my ramblings regularly is already more than familiar with my views of our current (and, in my opinion, probably quite temporary) president — and anyone who doesn’t can probably intuit how I feel about the bloated orange mentally ill clown easily enough based on the first couple of lines of this review alone — but one good thing about living in strange and tumultuous times is that the great Howard Chaykin will probably have something to say about them.

After taking us back to the past in his last series, the stylish noir thriller Midnight Of The Soul, Chaykin and his steady collaborators, colorist Jesus Aburtov and letterer Ken Buzenak, are taking aim at the present day (well, three years into the future, as the timeline here would have it) with their new Image Comics six-parter, the provocatively-titled (and speaking of provocative, how about that cover?) The Divided States Of Hysteria. Are you ready for a bumpy ride?

Mind you, when I say “bumpy ride,” I definitely don’t mean that as a criticism — quite the reverse, in fact. I just know my Chaykin (shit, I’ve been reading his stuff for nearly three decades now), and things never go smoothly for anyone in any of his stories. That’s a big part of their — dare I say it — charm.

So, what the hell is happening in this book? That’s something of an open question one issue in : we seem to have a typically Chaykin-esque morally bankrupt protagonist at the center of events here — in this case an undercover CIA operative — and he appears to be undertaking and/or being conscripted into some sort of assignment that involves him assembling a team of recently-busted criminals (among them a high-dollar transgender prostitute, a Henry Lee Lucas-style serial killer, a homicidal maniac who hates white people, and an embezzling accountant turned mass murderer) in order to function as “disposable assets” working high-risk assignments in an America where an attempted (and failed) coup has resulted in some low-level cabinet member or other “inheriting” the presidency given that everyone above him (or her, that part’s not really clear yet) was either implicated or killed in the plot. So, yeah, things are messy — and that’s before they literally go “boom” on our final-page cliffhanger.

Yeah, “messy” — that’s sort of the operative word here. On many pages, a number of panels nearly threaten to get buried under a steady, throbbing stream of sound effects, digital coding, social media posts, and various other forms of electronic “white noise,” and while this represents Chaykin and Bruzenak amping their usual “look” up to about a “10+” on the ugliness scale, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work in terms of setting a visual tone that’s both arresting in its hyper-stylization and probably more than a little too close for comfort as a reflection of our information-overloaded world. I’d say something trite and cliched like “we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore” at this point, but who are we kidding? Kansas is saturated under all of this crap, too.

Keeping up with everything going on here, and accurately processing and collating it all, is something of a challenge, it’s true — but again, how is that anything other than an absolutely accurate and honest representation of today’s social, political, cultural, and media landscape? Chaykin just plain gets that, and he’s not in the business of sugar-coating the truth in order to make it more palatable — never has been, never will be, and don’t let the fact that he’s in his seventies now fool you : slowing down and retreating quietly into his twilight years is clearly and obviously nowhere on his agenda, a fact for which we should all be damn thankful.

I love stories like this, where we’re dropped in at the deep end and presented with no options other than “sink” or “swim,” and the creators trust us enough to navigate our own way out of the drink before we drown. Maybe we’re gonna make it, maybe we’re not, but we don’t need our hand held either way. The Divided States Of Hysteria makes it pretty clear that it thinks most of the American public is a bunch of shallow, self-absorbed, intellectually lazy, lowest-common-denominator idiots — but it doesn’t think you are. Take that as a compliment, take it as a challenge, but whatever you do, take it. We’re all in uncharted territory at this point, and our best bet to come out the other side is to hone and sharpen our critical-thinking skills with sharp, substantive, incisive works of art like this one.

Oh, and  perhaps the most amazing thing of all? Chaykin wrote and drew this before Donald Trump was even the Republican nominee, much less the president. This guy is definitely still ahead of the curve.

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Quick — what do you get when you cross Juno with The Omen?

I can’t say I know for sure, but the answer could be the new Aftershock Comics series Babyteeth, the latest from the suddenly-quite-busy Donny Cates, cooked up in collaboration with Black Road artist/co-creator Garry Brown, which seems right off the bat to be a mash-up of those two popular films, but who knows? It could prove to be something else entirely as events proceed.

Here’s the run-down : 16-year-old Sadie of Salt Lake City, Utah, is more than just a nerdy social outcast comic book fan — she’s also pregnant. The old man — whoever he may be — isn’t around. She’s managed to keep her condition a secret from everyone barring her dope-dealing sister, Heather, but when her first contraction register a 5.0 on the fucking Richter Scale, well — this…

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