Archive for December, 2012

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So — this one’s done. J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Kubert’s Before Watchmen : Nite Owl series has been the book fans love to hate, even the ones who didn’t hate the whole BW “concept” from right outta the gate, and why not? Truth be told, it’s been pretty wretched, and while no single subsequent issue has been  the complete waste of paper that the first was, the sad fact is that it would take a pretty remarkable parts 2-4 to make up for that dreadful debut, and “pretty remarkable” is something this just hasn’t been.

Which isn’t to say that this wrap-up is altogether unsatisfying, simply because, well — it satisfies me to know that this series is over, and that JMS will, hopefully, never get a chance to write Rorschach again, because, if we’re honest, that’s been the real problem here : Staczynski’s take on Dan Dreiberg’s “Nite Owl 2.0” hasn’t been all that actively bad, per se, but dear God — his characterization of Rorschach has been flat-out atrocious.

In this issue, we learn that a youthful Walter Kovacs actually — SPOILER ALERT! — killed his own father, while the guy this book is ostensibly about gets relegated to second-fiddle status once again, and ends up with a broken heart to boot by the time all is said and done. Oh, and we also get served up a limp and unnecessary tie-in with a throwaway line from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series after our Nite Owl/Rorschach/Twilight Lady triumvirate brings down the demented preacher who’s been bumping off hookers in grisly fashion, too, that pretty much serves as a textbook illustration of how pointless and ultra-pedantic true “fanwank” can be, and that’s it — we’re done.

On the artistic front, Bill Sienkiewicz takes over on inks for the late (and sorely missed) Joe Kubert in this issue, thus completing his career decline from full-fledged Alan Moore collaborator on Big Numbers to last-second fill-in inker on a book that’s cashing in on Alan Moore’s creative legacy against The Bearded One’s wishes, and to say the results are unimpressive is to be too goddamn generous. Joe’s richly detailed linework, the unquestioned highlight of this series, is sorely missed. The covers aren’t anything too remarkable, either — the Andy n’ Bill combo provides the “main” one shown at the outset of this review, while Ethan Van Sciver is responsible for the variant reproduced immediately below:

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And speaking of wrap-ups, this is gonna do it for Trash Film Guru in 2012. It’s been an interesting year of blogging, and while I certainly didn’t foresee the extent to which reviewing comics would take things over around here, the good news for those of you who haven’t enjoyed this admittedly lengthy side-step (and let me say a very profound “thank-you” to those of you who have) is that 2013 will more than likely see movie reviews rise to prominence around these parts again, although I do plan on finishing out this whole Before Watchmen thing, my sanity be damned.

So hey, Happy New Year one and all, and I look forward to seeing any and/or all of you back here on the other side of the calendar flip. Stay safe on New Year’s Eve, and if you insist on doing something stupid, please — do it at home, willya?

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One thing I’ve read and heard from many — even his most ardent fans — when it comes to the writing of J. Michael Straczynski is “JMS doesn’t do subtle.” He certainly has proven that to me with his work on the Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan books, but damn — Before Watchmen : Moloch #2 has gotta take the cake in the “whack-you-over-the-head-with-it” department. He starts with Ozymandias assuming a crucifixion pose on the second page while he implores Edgar Jacobi to “let me save you,” and just ramps it up from there.

Seriously, this book is a case study in completely one-dimensional characterization from start to finish : Adrian Veidt is portrayed as nothing but a deeply pathological megalomaniac, and Moloch is a “heart of gold”-style simpleton —the ultimate irony being, of course, that when it all comes to a head at the end, it will be the simpleton who willingly sacrifices himself to the megalomaniac’s audacious “save the world” scheme, thus completely reversing the roles of savior and saved as depicted in the “come to Jesus” panel I just mentioned.

Again, pretty damn unsubtle stuff all around, here. And ultimately pointless. The trajectory of the plot this time around can only end at exactly the point we know it does, with Moloch’s death as depicted in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series, and since the resolution to that story makes it pretty clear how our pointy-eared friend indeed must have died, all Straczynski and artist Eduardo Risso (who also did the “main” cover, depicted above — the variant, by Olly Moss (by way, it has to be said, of Matt Wagner) is shown below) are doing here is filling in the details.

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All of which isn’t to say it’s exactly a terrible comic — Risso’s art is probably worth the purchase price in and of itself — it’s just, stop me if you’ve heard this one a thousand times already — not in any way, shape, or form a necessary one. Reading it won’t add to your appreciation of Moore and Gibbons’ original work, nor will it detract from it, and that seems to be the editorial endgame strategy that DC is employing on all these titles — just don’t fuck anything up, and we can all get paid, go home, and pretend that none of this ever happened.

And speaking of things we’d like to pretend never happened — John Higgins’ “Curse Of The Crimson Corsair” back-up strip comes, mercifully, to its conclusion here. At first this pirate story was pretty much the best thing about the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, but to say it’s gone off the rails in the last couple of months would be an understatement. While the quality of the artwork has remained consistently high throughout, the story has taken an absolute nose-dive into the most hackneyed territory one can imagine. It wraps up with the most simple and predictable resolution possible, but Higgins’ deeply purple prose renders even this most straightforward of conclusions a garbled, nearly-incomprehensible mess. I thought this strip was going to run all the way to the finish line of all the BW books, but apparently the plug’s been pulled on it a little early, and I don’t think anyone’s really going to mind that in the least.

We’re almost done, folks. Two more issues of Comedian and Ozymandias, one more of MinutemenRorschachNite Owl, and Dr. Manhattan, the Dollar Bill and Crimson Corsair one-shots, and the pain will all be over. What arrived with a bang clearly seems to be heading out with a whimper, as sales for these books have all nose-dived when it became crystal clear that none of these creators had anything to say with any of these characters and were content to merely tread water. It appears that DC has sought to do nothing more with Before Watchmen than strip-mine the initial concept — and the reading public’s good will — for all they’re worth.  If that’s the case, then congratulations — mission fucking accomplished.

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Continuing this series’ pattern of being the BW book most determined to exactly ape Alan Moore’s writing style (albeit with only the most limited handle on the quantum physics-related concepts The Bearded One was attempting to explore with the title character), the third issue of J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes’ Before Watchmen : Dr. Manhattan is at least readable, and certainly beautifully drawn, so I’m not going to gripe too much here.

Things kind of took a turn for the duller last time around as we ventured into purely Marvelesque What If —? territory, but in this latest issue Straczynski decides to have “Big Blue” go about the business of consolidating all possible alretnate realities into one (at least apparently) definite one. Which makes the proceedings at least reasonably interesting for the most part, apart from the horrendously predictable decision to make the point at which all realities diverge be — you guessed it, that goddamn fateful first meeting of the Crimebusters again, a scene we’ve seen replayed in just about every one of these prequel series now.

But hey, maybe I’m just feeling the Christmas spirit or something, but I feel like being (mostly) generous with this book. The variant covers by Hughes (above) and Neal Adams (below) are both well-executed and rather striking in their own way, and the interior art continues to impress with Hughes drawing Dr.. Manhattan in a style vaguely reminiscent of Dave Gibbons, sure, but with his own singular stamp. Combined with a perfectly competent script, the overall impression is one of two creators at least trying to bring their so-called “A game” to the project, which is more than you can say for a lot of the others involved with this enterprise (hell, it’s more than you can even say for Straczynski himself when it comes to Nite Owl).

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And yet — the ending to this issue is pretty flat, leaving us off at the point of Dr. Manhattan’s creation yet again, thus ensuring that there’s basically no dramatic tension heading into next month’s wrap-up. We’re most likely in store for the kind of story that ultimately leaves us exactly where we started, which might make for a pleasant enough diversion, but in no way advances an argument for this book’s necessity. Straczynski and Hughes are at least not actively detracting from our appreciation of their title character in the same way that, say, Brian Azzarello is doing over in Comedian, but they’re not adding anything to our knowledge or appreciation of him either. It’s all just so very — there.

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First off, credit where it’s due — for the second time in three issues, artist Lee Bermejo has delivered one heck of a cool and inventive cover  (shown above — the variant, by Chip Kidd, pictured a paragraph or two down the road here, ain’t half-bad, either) for this series.

Unfortunately, all thought put into Before Watchmen : Rorschach #3 pretty much ends there, because once you open the book, it’s another ho-hum wanna-be-hard-boiled crime tale, with a pointless dose of unreconstituted fanfic of the most pathetically obvious sort thrown in (“what if Rorschach asked a girl on a date? Wouldn’t that be a fucking trip?”). As with Azzarello’s scripts for his decidedly lackluster Comedian mini-series, inspiration is completely absent from the proceedings and even the most basic workaday “noir”-type thriller would be decidedly preferable to the flat-out laziness on display here.

And when I say lazy, I do mean fucking lazy. The basic plot outline for this issue is almost a carbon-copy of the first —Rorschach gets set up for a nasty fall by the crime-boss villain of the book, Rawhead. Issue one showed the massive ass-whooping our friendly neighborhood vigilante nutcase took at the hands of Rawhead’s goons while this one leaves its inevitable arrival as a “cliffhanger,” but apart from that, the only difference between the main narrative thrusts in chapters one and three of this story is that here in three, the infamous New York City blackout of 1977 hits right as Rorschach is walking into the trap that’s been set for him. Oh, and as mentioned earlier, he asks Nancy the waitress out on a date.

In other words, Azzarello has thrown in a couple of cheap n’ handy gimmicks in the hope that you won’t notice that he’s got no new actual ideas on offer here — and while that sort of thing merely pisses me off when I’m reading his “work” over in Comedian, it’s almost tragic in this book because, even sleepwalking through his job as he is, it’s obvious that Azzarello has a solid handle on Rorschach’s character and understands both what makes him tick and how to write convincing narration and dialogue for him — two things he frankly struggles with when it comes to Eddie Blake. So “Azz” probably could, indeed, write a very good Rorschach story (as opposed to, say, a great one — we still need Alan Moore for that) — he’s just chosen not to.

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On the artistic side, Bermejo looks to be rushing things again. His illustration in the first ish was flat-out superb, and while it wasn’t enough make you forget Dave Gibbons by any stretch, it really captured the essence of 1970s Times Square sleaze. Since then, however, he looks to be pretty obviously drawing under deadline pressure, and his illustrations look rushed and sloppy.

This particular segment ends with the serial killer known as “The Bard,” who’s been lurking around  as a  background subplot  for no discernible reason up to now, being shoehorned into the story proper in what I’ve come to think of as  typical Azzarello fashion — namely, the most  obvious way possible. This series ends next month and you can pretty much tell how it’s all going to play out already. Try to contain your excitement, please.

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Hmmm — what to make of that strange symbol on the poster for 2011 Canadian shot-on-HD indie horror Abolition? It sure looks quasi-occultish —maybe even Kabbalistic —in some way, doesn’t it? For that matter, what should we make of the film’s title? It’s referring to the “abolition” of what, exactly?

If you’re looking for answers to these and other, let’s face it, less than pressing questions, don’t look to the flick itself, because it doesn’t answer them — and it raises a few more along the way that it doesn’t bother resolving for us, either. All of which is not to say it’s a lousy movie.

Confused yet? Well, you’ll be even moreso after sitting down to watch this thing, so I guess I’ll just begin at the beginning, as they say, and you can make of it what you will —

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Joshua (Andrew Roth, who delivers a very nicely nuanced performance) was apparently born in the midst of the inky black mess you see above, and now he’s a full-grown adult who works as the live-in maintenance man at some shitty suburban Toronto-area halfway house/rehab center/apartment complex. The place is about to be condemned and he’s  gonna find himself out of work. But none of that has soured his overly-generous personal disposition — he still gives away whatever money and food he might have to even less fortunate losers than himself. All in all, he seems like a regular saint of a fella.

There’s just one catch, of course — bad shit seems to happen to the people around him quite literally all the fucking time. Female friends find themselves almost getting raped, male friends find themselves attacked by desperate and hungry vagrants — it’s enough to make a person reconsider hanging around with this guy. The funny thing is, though, that whenever things start to get really ugly, Joshua blacks out, the would-be perpetrators of harm upon his acquaintances get dispatched (read : probably killed, but we never see the proof), and everything ends up being hunky-dory.

These spells of “missing time” are increasingly starting to freak poor ol’ Josh out, though, and even though he soon lands on his feet with a new building-superintendent-type gig, he decides to pay a visit to his mom, who lives way out in the sticks, to get some answers as to these mysterious powers of his. Something I probably would have done well before I was a forty-something like he is, but whatever.

Problem is, his mom’s not spilling the beans on anything. And his new “good samaritan”-type boss (he’s a defrocked former priest) really freaks out when he sees the symbol that Joshua’s always doodling in his notebooks (shocker : it’s the one pictured on the poster at the top of this post). For all his Christ-like actions and his inner-peace-radiating demeanor, it appears that this symbol Joshua’s so fond of drawing is actually the mark of some super-secret organization dedicated to watching over and protecting one specific person for one specific task.  The term “antichrist” is never specifically used, but it’s pretty strongly hinted at.

Joshua’s got a thing for a married gal, too (played by Elissa Dowling), who has a history of being drawn to strays and wayward souls (her husband’s a physically abusive plumber and former drug addict). Is her new extracurricular love here to finally provide deliverance from her emotionally drained existence, or is she getting in deeper trouble with him than even she ever dreamed possible?

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All these various and sundry plot threads coalesce (sort of) when Joshua is fucking crucified by his boss/benefactor, and he actually manages to climb down off the cross-in-the-boiler-room contraption he’s nailed to relatively unharmed (see above). Then it’s time to gather his new followers, who flock to him outside his apartment building after his “resurrection” (that none of them actually saw), and take ’em all out to his now-dead mom’s country house to finally meet the members of this shadowy “organization” ( I say “members” — we only ever actually see one of them, right at the very end, just before the credits roll) that’s been “looking out for him” by setting him up with a series of shitty apartment “super” jobs.

If all of this makes Abolition sound like a bit of a mess, well — it is. But it’s at least an interesting mess. The questions it lays out — is Joshua the antichrist?; if so, why is he helping people all the time?; is he really killing folks during his “blackout” periods?; what is the “ultimate destiny” he’s being prepared for?; how does changing ligthbulbs and unclogging sinks in flophouses exactly prepare a person for much of anything? — never get answered, and the ending feels like more a setup for a sequel that’s quite likely never going to happen than it does and honest-to-goodness resolution, but hey, what the heck? Director (and co-writer) Mike Klassen obviously enjoys asking some big questions, even if he hasn’t thought many (hell, any) of them through to their conclusion.

Visually speaking, it’s a pretty finely-crafted piece of work, as well, and even though HD isn’t anything like it’s cracked up to be by its partisans in my book, the whole thing looks pretty darn good. The story moves along at a nice little clip and never gets dull. Most (though not all) the acting is of a surprisingly high standard for a $150,000 (estimated, according to IMDB) production. And there’s a real sense of foreboding hanging over things from start to finish. All in all, Klassen seems to have a pretty good handle on how to make an effective low-budget horror film — apart from the pesky little detail of shooting a script that actually makes any fucking sense in the first place.

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Like Long Pigs, which we took a look at around these parts yesterday, Abolition is part of R Squared Films’ “Extreme Canadian Horror”/”Pure Canadian Horror” (depending on which label they slap on the one you buy) five-movie set, and it’s presented in a more-or-less flawless widescreen presentation with nice 5.1 surround sound and no extras to speak of — apart from great value for money since it usually retails for somewhere around ten bucks. If you’re into well-executed, atmospheric, ominous, and ultimately thoroughly confusing movies that frankly don’t even attempt to resolve any of the numerous questions they’ve spent the previous 90 minutes raising (and occasionally I am), then you could do a heck of a lot worse than giving this one a shot. Prepare to find yourself  interested and frustrated in equal measure and you’ll come out of the whole thing just fine.

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I know, I know — it’s been pretty well established by the largely self-appointed horror “intelligentsia” out there — you know, the guys and gals whose blogs and websites get more hits in an hour than mine does in a week, NOT THAT I”M RESENTFUL OF THEIR SUCCESS OR ANYTHING (ahem!) —that the whole faux-documentary “hand-held horror” thing is  past its prime and strictly running on fumes at this point. Yes, the same folks who breathlessly told us in no uncertain terms that Blair Witch was the greatest thing ever, then told us a few years later that no, it was actually pretty stupid and just a cheap gimmicky flick after all (and somehow managed to change their opinions without admitting that they were actually, ya know, wrong about it to begin with), are now ready to heap scorn and contempt on pretty much any “mockumentary”-style horror flick before they’ve even seen the thing.

And you know what pisses me off about this whole situation the most? The fact that these pompous assholes are, at least in this instance, by and large right. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here — the Paranormal Activity franchise aside, this is one seriously played-out subgenre (and even the last PA movie was kind of a step backwards, quality-wise, from the others). All of which brings us , finally, to the film I sat down at my computer to write about this evening — indie Canadian release Long Pigs.Anthonysmiles-300x200Maybe it’s the fact that this flick was made in 2007, before the hand-held horror craze had run its course quite as thoroughly as it has today (though it didn’t get anything like an official release until 2010 — if you count DVD screener copies making the rounds at horror conventions as an “official release”). Maybe it’s the fact that its $250,000 (Canadian, mind you — oh, wait, there dollar is worth pretty much the same as ours now) budget doesn’t really allow for co-directors/co-screenwriters Nathan Hynes and Chris Power to make it look like they’re spending a bunch of money to ape a “cheap look” because they well and truly can’t afford anything other than an authentically cheap look in the first place. Maybe it’s the gusto with which lead actor Anthony Alviano tackles his role as cannibal-next-door Anthony McAlistar. Or maybe the Canucks are just better at this whole thing having  had the chance to see Bruce McDonald’s seminal Hard Core Logo hundreds of times over. Whatever the reason, Long Pigs has an air of freshness and excitement to it that has been sorely lacking in most all the mocu-horrors to come out of the Hollywood pipeline for a good many years now.

Not that it’s perfect, by any means — but its imperfections generally only add to its, dare I say it, charm. By and large, this really does feel like the real deal, and even when it doesn’t, you still gotta respect Hynes and Power for giving it the ol’ college try. Anthony seems like a real guy — he plays beer-league hockey, visits his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother in the nursing home, and has generally learned to adopt a “go-along-to-get-along” attitude at his dead-end gig parking cars at a posh downtown (Toronto, I think) eatery. He just happens to murder folks (prostitutes, mostly, as if you couldn’t have guessed) and hack ’em up in his makeshift basement abattoir for their meat (for those of you not in the know, “Long Pig” is a euphemism for the flesh of our fellow human beings).

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Now, I did say this film has its flaws. The insertion of clips from a “shock-jock” drive-time radio host are pretty well pointless and serve as cheap info-dumps for expounding on plot points necessary to move the story forward that occur outside the main narrative thrust of the proceedings. The psychobabble ruminations on the nature of serial killers, cannibals, and all their ilk by a stereotypically liberal female academic -type character that pop up from time to time are pretty pointless, as well. And the story itself really does bog down a bit around the 2/3 mark of the film. But these are all forgivable sins, surely, especially considering that the various “talking-head” bits do  sort of come into play a bit as the film reaches its rather abrupt, but nonetheless pleasantly surprising, conclusion — I just think Hynes and Power could have found more inventive ways of presenting and communicating this information.

On the “big pluses” side of the ledger, however, we’ve got some seriously great blood n’ guts effects work (the fake human carcasses they’ve molded for this film are especially amazing and put most major studio prosthetic constructions to shame), some downright awesome “slice of life” sequences (the accidental visit to an actual pig farm is a real treat), and a killer turn in the lead role from Alviano, who I sincerely hope we see a lot more of in the future. All in all, the good outweighs the marginally bad by a pretty fair margin.

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I found this little gem on a recently-released five-movie, single-disc DVD collection from an outfit called R Squared Films titled “Extreme Canadian Horror,” which is part of their “Cutting Edge Films” series (I understand it also bears the alternate title of “Pure Canadian Horror” on some of its labels for whatever reason), and while it’s probably the best of the bunch, the other four flicks all have something interesting to offer, as well, and I’ll be getting around to talking a bit about most, if not all, of them in the coming days and weeks — hence my little “North-Of-The-Border Horrors” series title for these posts. As far as technical specs go, the movies are all presented in widescreen format with 5.1 sound, so no complains in that department. There aren’t any extras like commentaries and what have you, but come on, folks, you’re getting five feature-length flicks for under ten bucks — how much more do you want?

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I strongly urge you to give Long Pigs a go, whether as part of this set or if you find it somewhere out there (like, say, the internet) on its own. It’s hardly revolutionary stuff by any means, but it gave me hope for a genre I had all but given up on. There might just be some fight in the old dog that is mockumentary horror yet.

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So, this is it.

For months now, those of us who are actively following the goings-on in and around the various Before Watchmen titles have been hearing stirrings about a “major revelation” to come in the fifth issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen series — one that would be “controversial,” earth-shaking,” and would form the lynchpin and/or turning point not only of this book, but of all the various other BW series, as well.

And sure enough, it’s in there, playing out over the last couple of pages following (well, following might be generous — to be honest, it feels more like a hastily-tacked-on “cliffhanger”-type scene) a  quite- nicely-done little stand-alone adventure story that sees our erstwhile, and heretofore mostly incompetent, costumed adventurers taking on a handful of Japanese “fifth column”-type infiltrators determined to unleash a deadly wave of nuclear radiation on New York City as post-war retaliation for the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s the Minutemen’s finest hour — and frankly Cooke’s as well, as it’s a tightly-scripted, impeccably-drawn affair that showcases his natural ability to tell  a traditional period-piece adventure with a modern sensibility at its very best.

There’s just one problem with this whole “major revelation” thing — it’s not in the least bit surprising. Seriously, Cooke’s been telegraphing this thing to us since the second issue, and all but hammered us over the head with it in the fourth. If you didn’t see this coming, well — I just don’t even know what to say, except that you’re probably the kind of person that can be trusted with even the most obvious of secrets. So maybe that’s a good thing.

All of which begs the question — why haven’t I chosen to spill the beans, specifically, on this “big” not–so-secret myself in this review? Well, two reasons, really — one, I do realize that there are folks out there who read a number of reviews of movies, comics, books, etc. before deciding whether or not to spend their money on them, and I can certainly respect that; and two, if you’ve been reading this series up to this point, it’s all so painfully fucking obvious that you flat-out don’t even need me to.

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At the end of the day, then, Before Watchmen : Minutemen #5 suffers from something of a split personality. On the one hand, the first twenty-four pages stand up really well on their own as  a self-contained story. Cooke’s scripting is solidly professional, and his always-noteworthy art has never been better (the variant covers by Cooke and Michael Cho, respectively, as shown, are none-too-shabby, either), but the “moment we’ve all been waiting for” that wraps up the issue — in addition to reading like a quickly-slapped-together and hopelessly disjointed addendum to the proceedings — is, in fact, a moment that we’ve all seen coming from a mile away.