Archive for January, 2013

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Just when I’m starting to lighten up a bit on the entire Before Watchmen enterprise, along comes a one-two punch from Len Wein to fully hammer home this project’s essential pointlessness all over again. It’s honestly tough to pick which is a bigger gaping black hole of nothingness, script-wise — the Dollar Bill one-shot, which I savaged in an earlier review today, or the fifth installment of Wein and Jae Lee’s Ozymandias mini-series. I’m happy to call it a draw, bag and file both books away, and not think about either one ever again, thank you very much.

I know, I know — this is a review, so a plot recap of at least some sort is in order, but seriously : nothing fucking happens here. We continue with Adrain Veidt’s narrated recap of his life and exploits and more a little bit closer to and ending that was already given to us 25 years ago by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That’s it, barring a couple of admittedly somewhat interesting wrinkles, the first being that we get to see the origin of Ozy’s genetically-engineered super-cat companion, Bubastis, and the second being that we get to see how a famous episode of The Outer Limits that Moore’s often been accused of cribbing his conclusion to the original Watchmen from actually fits into the so-called “smartest man on Earth”‘s master plan.

Apart from those quick little touches, this is a dull and lifeless affair, in terms both literary and artistic, from cover to cover. Hell, even the supposedly climactic scene where Veidt reveals the secret of his dual identity to the press — and, by extension, the world — seems to catch none of the assembled media throng by surprise. And while Wein is bombarding us with his by-now-standard purple prose that says a lot but communicates nothing of any actual value, Lee dishes up 22 pages of artwork that frankly fits the bill perfectly by again being all style and no substance. Once again his work is completely stiff and lifeless, devoid of backgrounds, and he resorts to mere shadow-outline images whenever and wherever possible. There’s no flow to any of it, and it would all work so much better as a text story with an accompanying illustration or two on each page, because as a sequential narrative the marriage of Wein’s words and Lee’s drawings is a complete failure.

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Hell, even the covers this time around — by Lee and Jill Thompson, respectively, as shown — suck. This series has been struggling to prove its relevance from the outset, and with its fifth issue, Before Watchmen :Ozymandias seems to have finally given up altogether and Wein and Lee seem happy to just cash their checks and run out the clock.

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The fine comics blogger J. Caleb Mozzocco, whose work can be found at everydayislikewednesday.blogspot.com, among other places, had this one pretty much pegged : he said that the very existence of a Dollar Bill one-shot as part of the Before Watchmen project is proof positive that DC comics in 2013 has become effectively immune to parody, because they’re spoofing themselves without even knowing it.

It makes sense, when you think about it — Dollar Bill, after all, isn’t even so much a character as he is a quick little cautionary tale in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen : he’s the guy who got shot by bank robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s pretty much all we need to know about him. Expanding his story into a book-length tale literally can’t be seen as anything other than an exercise is complete and utter fan-wank. It’s a move that would only be made by a company absolutely bereft of anything that even smells like a new idea.

Still — who knows, right? Maybe writer Len Wein and artist Steve Rude have something up their collective sleeve when it comes to Bill Brady. Maybe there’s something we don’t know about the guy that wasn’t revealed in Moore’s “Under The Hood” text pieces back in the original series. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a treasure trove of great stories to be told about the guy who was a superhero-for-hire employed by the fictitious National Bank chain.

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Or, hey, maybe not.

Honestly, Before Watchmen : Dollar Bill makes the two-issue Moloch series look relevant by comparison. There is quite literally nothing in the 26 pages of story and art in this book that Moore doesn’t cover in a couple sentences back in his “Under The Hood” backup text pieces, which I’ll prove in the wrap-up to this review (no skipping ahead). What’s even worse, Wein hasn’t even bothered to disguise the fact that he’s completely mailing in his effort here. While playing college football for Dartmouth, for example, Brady suffers a career-ending injury, and his team then “declines an invitation to the Rose Bowl,” because they know they have no chance to win without him. Excuse me? No college football program has ever turned down any invitation to any bowl game for any reason, even if they know damn well they’re probably going to lose, and sorry, but even in the “Watchmen Universe” it seems unlikely that an Ivy League team would play in the Rose Bowl — that’s been strictly a Big 10-vs. Pac 10 (now 12) affair from day one. And while little touches like naming the three executives who run National Bank Misters How, Dewey, and Cheatem, respectively, is a clever little touch, it also shows just how “seriously” Wein is treating this assignment.

The same, fortunately, can’t be said for Steve Rude (who also, for the record, handles the lettering chores on this book). Ever since his days drawing Nexus, “The Dude” has been, well, the man in my book, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park here. For proof of how far and wide this guy’s artistic influence has been, look no further than the work of Minutemen writer-artist Darwyn Cooke (who just so happens to be responsible for the second variant cover, shown directly above, for this book, the first — at the top of the post — being by Rude himself, and the third — reproduced below — being the handiwork of Jim Lee), whose style owes a very heavy debt to Rude’s retro- visionary stylings.

As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the mainstream comics industry in 2013 that Rude has to stoop to this level to find work. If this were a just world, he’d still be ranked among the top talents in the business and names like Jim Lee would be forgotten to history. He hasn’t “lost a step,” “fallen behind the times,” or any of those other quasi-polite ways of saying “this guy just plain can’t draw anymore.” His work still looks as crisp, fresh, and vital as ever. Seeing him waste his talents on a project like this is, frankly, depressing.

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And now for that wrap-up I talked about earlier that will prove the utter pointlessness of this one-shot beyond any shadow of a doubt — Bill Brady was a star college athlete who was hired by a bank chain to be its resident “super hero” as a PR stunt. He got shot by some robbers when his cape got caught in a revolving door. That’s what we knew about Dollar Bill going into this book, and that’s what we know about him going out. We get some very pretty Steve Rude illustrations here to accompany these two sentences’ worth of information, but that’s it. Waste. Of. Time.

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Jim Wynorski is one of those guys whose continuing appeal as a supposed “cult auteur” has always mystified me. I mean, I like low-budget crap as much as anyone — obviously! — and he’s spent his entire career on the lower rungs of the independent exploitation/straight-to-video ladder, but for a variety of reasons, most of the B-movie fare he’s cranked out has just never appealed to me. For every rule, however, there is an exception, and in this case that exception is 1986’s Chopping Mall, a Roger Corman-produced quickie that Wynorski shot at the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping center that’s certainly nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is nevertheless a damn fun little way to while away a mere 77 minutes of your time on this planet.

Packaged and sold as a slasher-type flick after it went nowhere under its original (and far more honest and accurate) title of Killbots, the “crazed psychos” in this movie have a lot more in common with ED-2000 from Robocop (which, to its credit, this film preceded in release by a year) than they do Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers because, well — they’re malfunctioning robotic security guards, not flesh-and-blood lunatics in masks. They’re just as tough to bring down as any of the superstars of slasherdom, though, with the extra added bonus of their near-indestructibility actually making a kind of logical sense being that they’re, ya know,  machines and all.

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The basic premise, as you’d expect in a movie with a duration of under 80 minutes, is simple enough : mall hires robots as security guards, a group of kids who work at a carpet store in said mall decide to have an after-hours party complete with the usual drinkin’ an’ fuckin’ teen shenanigans, said robots go haywire when a bolt of lightning hits their central control antenna (or something), and soon it’s a horny high schoolers vs. killer mechanical sentries battle royale (with plenty of cheese).

A lot of the fun to be had with Chopping Mall comes in the form of playing “hey, look! isn’t that —?,” since soon-to-be-more-recognizable stars like Re-Animator‘s Barbara Crampton and Tony O’Dell from TV’s Head Of The Class are cast among the group of randy teens and Wynorski populates his merry troupe of supporting players with long-time cult favorites like Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Mel Welles and Angus Scrimm, all of whom are obviously having a good time picking up a check for a quick day’s work, but the film certainly has a little bit more going in its favor than that. The “killbots” are effectively designed and move around pretty nicely, the body count they rack up is fairly impressive, the various murders themselves are fun to watch (go ahead, phone my shrink now) and people don’t necessarily die in the order you expect them to even if the choice of final two survivors is pretty — okay, I’m being polite :entirely — predictable.

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On the minus side, well — let’s be honest here, any horror movie set in a shopping mall is going to suffer in comparison with Dawn Of The Dead, even if the horror movie in question isn’t doing much of anything to invite such comparisons. There’s no commentary on rampant American consumerism and greed to be gleaned from Chopping Mall‘s subtext as there was in Romero’s masterwork because, well — this flick has no fucking subtext! What you see is what you get, and what you see is a competently-executed, fast-paced, absurd-on-its-face 80s teen horror with a fairly timeless fear-of-technology twist. It’s all in good fun, and Chopping Mall is both good and fun. Plus, nobody can overplay getting zapped with a couple thousand volts like Dick Miller. The man’s a legend for a reason.

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Wynorski, to his credit, also knows when to cut and run with this one, a trait he doesn’t show with some of his other, more heavily-padded (even if the runtimes are always short anyway) work. Ten more minutes of this thing probably would have been too much, and it’s always nice to welcome a guest into your home who knows when it’s time to leave. At a lean and mean 77 minutes, Chopping Mall doesn’t hang around for one drink too many. It hits the road in plenty of time for you to get up rested and ready for work the next day and doesn’t bore you with one or two extra anecdotes from its life that you don’t care about anyway. Don’t you wish your friends and relatives were this considerate?

To my knowledge, this flick is available in a couple of different ways on DVD, both from Lionsgate — there’s a stand-alone release that includes a commentary from Wynorski and a “making-of” featurette, and it’s also included as part of a two-disc, 8-movie set bearing the less-than-inspired titled of “Horror Movie Collection,” where it shares space with other also-ran features like Slaughter HighWaxwork, and The Unholy, among others. Both feature the same decent-enough widescreen transfer and equally-decent-enough 2.0 stereo sound, and you can probably score either for less than ten bucks.

 

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I don’t know about you, but I’m not always in the mood for a movie that’s out to expand my horizons, tax my mental capabilities, or even do anything remotely different or unorthodox. Just get me from point A to point B and keep me reasonably entertained along the way. Next time you’re in one of those moods, Chopping Mall would be a fine choice for your evening’s viewing.

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Subtitled A Sick Man’s Dreams, writer-director James Rewucki’s 2008 Winnipeg-filmed Aegri Somnia is one of those indie horrors that wears its influences so conspicuously on its sleeve that you can’t help but compare it to what’s come before. Obviously, you can’t even think about making a movie in Winnipeg without having a little bit of Guy Maddin rub off on you almost by default, but it’s David Lynch’s Eraserhead that Rewucki is so clearly drawing most of his inspiration from here.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose — both Screamplay and Combat Shock owe a pretty heavy debt to Eraserhead, and both end up being even better than Eraserhead, so hell, maybe this one will be too, right?

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Well — not so fast. To be sure, Aegri Somnia is a feast for the eyes from start to finish. Each frame is worthy of slow, careful study and appreciation for its inventive visual flair alone. That’s pretty commendable in and of itself, and Rewucki should be damn proud of what he’s done with his $130,000 budget. But a movie’s gotta do more than just look good to be considered anything other than a qualified success in my book, and unfortunately, that’s where this one comes up a bit short.

The premise is intriguing enough, I suppose —a go-nowhere schmuck named Edgar (a nod to Screamplay‘s Edgar Allenpoe, perhaps?), portrayed rather convincingly throughout by Tyhr Trubiak, lives in a shit town, has a shit job, a shit marriage, and generally a shit time of things across the board. One day, his wife suddenly decides to top herself, and Edgar’s feelings of guilt and shame, combined with the oppressive monotony of his daily existence, start causing him to have ever-more- vivid hallucinatory dreams that threaten to consume him soul — and, it would seem, his body. What’s real and what’s unreal becomes increasingly blurred as the film progresses, and Edgar’s ultimately left with the age-old existential dilemma of whether or not to set himself free from his own internal demons or get swallowed up by them forever. The “feel-good” movie of the year has arrived!

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The main problem, of course, is that after awhile the whole thing becomes as plodding and pretentious as it sounds. Self-conscious stylistic touches like alternating between black-and-white and color for each scene don’t help matters much, either, and end up reinforcing the feeling that Rewucki’s main goal here is just to shout out “look at this movie I made!” at the top of his lungs. To his credit, what he’s created here is most certainly worth looking at, but the “mind-fuck” angle he’s playing with the script falls pretty flat and the story is completely subsumed underneath the film’s (admittedly, again, stunning) visuals. Looking at something interesting is great, but actually caring about the interesting thing you’re looking at is even better.

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To be honest, I think Rewucki’s main problem  is one that plenty of young filmmakers have — he’s more concerned with making something memorable than just making something good. I can’t say as I really blame him for that — toiling away in obscurity on solid-but-unspectacular low-budget independent pictures in the vain hope that someday somebody might notice sounds to me like a tedious fucking grind that promises little or no payoff at the end. But make a film that people are sure to find spectacular, even if it’s not all that solid, well — somebody’s gotta notice that, right?

Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder mined pretty similar thematic territory a lot more successfully than this, but it’s probably (okay, certainly) not fair to expect a guy from Winnipeg with just over one hundred grand to play around with to match the quality of a film like that, so let’s just give Rewucki credit for what he has managed to accomplish here, which is to deliver an hour and half of haunting and indelible images tethered to a story that you pretty quickly stop giving a damn about. That might sound like guarded praise at best, but hell — it’s a more significant artistic achievement than you and I will ever produce, and it’s definitely worth watching at least once.

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As with the recently-reviewed-on-this-blog Long PigsAbolition, and Werewolf FeverAegri Somnia is available on DVD as part of R-Squared Films’ five-movie set floating around  under the titles of either “Extreme Canadian Horror” or “Pure Canadian Horror” (same disc, two different labels — don’t ask me what’s up with that because I don’t know). The fifth film included is something called I Heart Doomsday that I haven’t watched yet, but will probably get around to reviewing once I do. They all feature nicely-done widescreen picture transfers and more-or-less flawless 5.1 sound, and at under ten bucks the disc is certainly a terrific value. All the films have their flaws, sure, but all provide a good example of the imagination and creativity currently gathering steam on the Canadian independent fringe. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear a lot more from every one of these filmmakers in one capacity or another in the years to come, but if Aegri Somnia is any indication, my best guess for James Rewucki is that his talents might possibly be better suited to a visual medium where adherence to narrative is of less, or even no, importance — music videos, perhaps?

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Here’s to the old school, didn’t matter if ya looked cool —

If there’s one phrase that can be tacked onto writer-director Brian Singleton’s 2009 effort Werewolf Fever, “old school” is it. This is short, quick, funny, nasty stuff. Hell, just look at that poster. Tells you all you need to know right there.

Filmed in Renfrew, Ontario on a budget apparently beneath $200,000, Werewolf Fever gets down to business and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Clocking in at 66 minutes, there’s no time to waste with things like set-up or motivation, the characters are more cardboard caricatures than anything else, and Singleton doesn’t seem to have much on his mind beyond letting the blood flow and the innards ooze. What’s not to love, I ask you?

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At the Kingburger drive-in, the staff is underpaid, the food sucks, the kitchen is a pit, and everyone would rather fuck off on the clock than do any actual work for their asshole boss. The joynt gets attacked by a former employee who’s bitten by a werewolf and consequently becomes one himself, and honestly, that’s as complete a plot recap as you’re ever going to need here. Story? We don’t need no stinkin’ story!

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Okay, as you can probably tell from the photo above, the werewolf (with, apparently, the fever) here doesn’t look like much of a werewolf at all. It looks more like a — well, I don’t know what the fuck it looks like, but it looks cool. That’s good enough for me. It rips. It slashes. It bites. It dismembers. It hacks and chews and tears and disembowels and — well, you get the picture. It gets the job done. And you couldn’t come up with anything nearly as good on the budget these guys had to work with.

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Good n’ gory, that’s all we’re really looking for here, right? And on that score, there’s no question that Werewolf Fever delivers the scarlet-soaked goods. The actors, a transparently yet endearingly half-assed lot one and all, are quite obviously not taking any of this very seriously, nor is their boss, so why not just have some fun? As a matter of fact, why not just make a movie that, for horror fans at any rate, it’s downright impossible not to have a good time watching? Singleton doesn’t even slow down long enough to give you a chance to think, and ya know what? You don’t need to. Overthinking Werewolf Fever — hell, giving it any thought at all — just defeats the whole purpose. This is a movie that throws you in at the deep end and doesn’t let up until the slaughter is over. Throw in some dumb-shit moronic humor to spice things up, and you’ve got yourself a pretty tasty, if familiar, stew.

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As the hippies used to say, “Just go with the flow, man!” And when it comes to blood, entrails, and viscera of any sort, it’s flowing in this flick from start to finish. There’s not much by way of dramatic tension or any of that superfluous high-fallutin’ stuff (although the cinematography on some of the night-shoot outdoor scenes is surprisingly professional and nicely evocative of the the Universal Monsters era), but damn, there sure is plenty of gore to go around, most of which is amazingly well-executed given the resources at Singleton’s disposal. Somebody else already invented the wheel a long time ago, why rain on their parade? Let’s just tweak their work as much as we can with what we’ve got and see if the folks out there don’t have as good a time watching it as we did making it. That’s the basic philosophy at work here, and it’s one I can get behind  any time.

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Like the other Canadian indie horrors we’ve been taking a look at around these parts (off and on) in recent weeks, Werewolf Fever is available on DVD as part of R-Squared Films’ “Extreme Canadian Horror” and/or “Pure Canadian Horror” five-movie collection. There are no extras, but the widescreen picture transfer and 5.1 sound are both great, and speaking of great, this disc definitely constitutes great value for money at under $10 from most online retailers. Werewolf Fever   is definitely the most tongue-in-cheek and least self-conscious flick of the bunch, and while that may not make it the best movie in the collection, it’s certainly the most fun. Sit back, shut your brain off (you probably weren’t doing much with it anyway), and  enjoy the bloody, brutal, stupid ride.

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1. Busting The Fourth Wall

How many films well and truly grab you with their very first line? The moment Simon Sinistrari, incomparably brought to life on screen by the criminally-underappreciated Andrew Prine, turns and looks right into the camera and says “My name is Simon. I live in a storm drain. When it rains, most people go in — but I go out,” director Bruce Kessler’s 1971  exploitation opus Simon, King Of The Witches has you hooked. There’s really not much you can do about it; maybe this guy really is a magician. His story begins and ends in massive, violent, torrential storms — and those are plenty exciting in and of themselves — but that 80-or-so-minutes in between  bookending monsoons,well, how many ways can you say “sublime”?

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2. “Does the district attorney know that his daughter’s dropping pills?”

Okay, none of it makes much sense. Simon’s apparently been crashing in his concrete home beneath the obvious-stand-in-for-Los-Angeles that is “West Side” for some time, but he doesn’t seem to know anybody. All that changes, however, when the cops decide to pick him up for vagrancy and he makes the acquaintance of fellow guest-of-the-establishment-against-his-will Turk (played with a mixture of  impish glee and all-too-believable naivete by George Paulsin), who’s cooling his heels at County on a loitering charge. It’s no secret how Turk makes his living — he tells Simon right off the bat — but,  as with Kessler’s previous effort, The Gay Deceivers, it’s made clear from the outset that any homosexuality in this flick is engaged in by necessity, not choice.  Damn, though, there sure are a lot of “poofters” to go around : take, for example, Hercules Van Zant, whose high-society parties Simon is introduced to by Turk. Or the hapless Stanley, an attendee at one of said soirees who Simon uses in his magickal working to energize the rod (snickering is most definitely permissible here) that he’ll use to penetrate his mirror/portal and “take his rightful place among the Gods.” Simon ropes him into his ritual because he discovers from an earlier failed attempt that his working won’t succeed if he has a partner who turns him on! Each gay guy in this flick is more OTT and, frankly, pathetic than the last, but hey — the movie’s a product of its times, and even admitting that homosexuality existed was a bridge farther than most of its contemporaries were willing to travel. Portrayal with dignity would have to come later, I suppose.

Still, in some ways Simon was willing to buck societal preconceptions. Let’s not forget that this was the height of Manson-era “hippies are evil” paranoia, and here not only is the obvious Charlie doppleganger portrayed sympathetically, he’s even good enough to date the daughter of the DA (who he meets at one of Herclues’ shindigs, naturally), while her old man is depicted as being an asshole for trying to keep them apart. Anti-authoritarianism has a definite friend in the King of the Witches.

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3. “Don’t touch me, I’m a religious object!”

It’s said that this film’s screenwriter, one Robert Phippeny, was some sort of occult initiate himself, and that he worked with several serious practitioners in  the development stages of his story, but I don’t buy it — and that’s part part of the charm here, of course. Simon’s tarot readings are like nothing I’ve ever witnessed, and he worships some strange combination of the old Greek gods and Left Hand Path-style, quasi-demonic forces. It’s all about as “authentic” as Velveeta. Still, even Simon recognizes the hodge-podge nonsense of Wicca for what it is :  his crashing of a local Wiccan coven’s get-together, with Turk in tow as his chauffeur, is one of the film’s more memorable sequences, and lays bare the secret of its ultimate success — simply put, nobody’s taking this thing all that seriously. Simon’s having fun exposing the priestess-in-charge for the fraud she is, Turk’s trying to get a peek a the naked chick who serves as the group’s living altar, and Kessler and Phippeny are probably off in the shadows snickering, wondering if anybody out there is stupid enough to take any of this at face value.

Gary Lachman’s 2003 book Turn Off Your Mind : The Mystic Sixties And The Dark Side Of The Age Of Aquarius, an absorbing and well-researched examination of exactly what its title states, would have noted in detail all the contradictory messages, mixed pantheons, and outright hokum on display here, but for the non-academic among us, it’s pretty fun to just sit back and enjoy the show. Remember the cardinal rule : if the people who made the film didn’t take it, or themselves, too seriously, then there’s damn sure no reason why we should, either.

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4. “Magnetic — electric — charge — CHARGE!!!!!!!!!!!!”

It occurs to me that the photo above could be easily misinterpreted — Simon’s girlfriend, Linda (Brenda Scott) is actually holding a huge red ball in each of her outstretched hands, but they match the color of her dress so perfectly that you could be forgiven for taking a quick glance  and thinking she’s just got enormous boobs. Which brings up another of this movie’s most endearing qualities , namely that appearances can be pretty deceiving here. We’ve already established that it’s readily apparent that the people who made Simon, King Of The Witches did so with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, but that doesn’t mean they were out to deliver a shoddy piece of work, The costumes are first-rate. The sets all have a surprising air of authenticity. The performances — especially Prine’s — are out of this world. And David L. Butler’s cinematography is first-rate and endlessly inventive, especially when Simon passes through his mirror and has one of the most effectively-realized psychedelic “head-trip” experiences ever committed to celluloid. You don’t  have to set out to make great art to end up making great art — sometimes shit just happens.

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5. “Please don’t think I’m prejudiced, Rabbi — I hope you’ll be very happy here.”

Those are the words spoken by Simon’s landlord when he moves into his new pad (hey, a guy can’t live in a storm drain forever) and draws a pentagram on the wall for mystical protection. And misunderstandings and fuck-ups play a key role in the film’s climactic third act. As far as fuck-ups go, none are bigger than the one Simon himself commits — he’s been planning his whole life to take his place among the Gods. He’s plotted the precise moment when his voyage to the “other side” absolutely must take place. Hell, for the entirety of the film’s middle act it’s pretty much all he talks about. And yet — he misses the preordained moment because he’s listening to a couple of his small-time drug-dealer buddies   bitching about the no-good, dirty narc who’s been snitching out everyone in town to the cops.

Obviously, there’s going to be hell to pay. You don’t miss out on your one and only chance to become a God and just get over it and move on. And yet rather than blame himself, as you or I might do, Simon decides to take things out on the powers that be. He’s got a vengeful side — watch what happens to the guy who writes him a bad check early on in the film — and this time, he’s determined to exercise his wrath on, in his own words, “The mayor, the DA, the whole system!!!!!!!!!!”

Simon’s a friend to dope pushers, hustlers, con artists, and petty thieves — when he finds himself stuck on our lowly mortal plane for the duration, the enemies of “his people” are sure to find themselves in for a very rough ride, indeed.

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6. Simon As Jesus?

It began with a storm, and ends with one — but this time the deluge is of Simon’s creation. “The next few days are mine,” Simon tells his pusher pals as he brings down the rain on West Side, and the pain on the heads of his foes. His girlfriend OD’ing doesn’t do much to help his mood, either. And yet — just as he’s taking righteous vengeance on those who would oppose his will, he’s laid low by his own Judas Iscariot, who facilitates both his death and, it’s strongly hinted, resurrection. Or ascendance. Or something.  It’s not Turk who deals the fatal blow — as a matter of fact, when Simon severs his bond with his youthful sidekick, it’s a strangely emotionally resonant moment — but the betrayal stings just as harshly, if only for an instant, until the darkened lamp-post shown at the beginning of the film suddenly lights up out of nowhere and we come to realize that, hey, maybe Simon didn’t miss his trip to the “other side” after all — he just needed to get there by means of a different, infinitely more painful, route.

There’s no right or wrong way to achieve Godhood, I suppose — give Simon credit for eschewing, even if by accident, the easy road, and doing things his own way. Rather like the film that bears his name.

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If you haven’t yet, please — do yourself the favor and pick up Dark Sky’s DVD release of this psycho-psychedelic gem. For a supposed “special edition,” its selection of extras is pretty weak — there are interesting on-screen interviews with Prine and Kessler, the original theatrical trailer is included, and there’s a selection of radio spots on hand, but geez, a commentary, at the very least, would sure have been nice. Still, the widescreen transfer looks great, and the remastered mono sound does the job nicely. This is everything I love about exploitation movies in one glorious hour-and-a-half potion. It’s engaging, quirky, authentic in its inauthenticity, sincere in its bracingly honest insincerity. These people didn’t know squat about the occult, but they were game to give it a go, and the end result is pure magic.

2826850-2013_01_20_minmen_cv6_ds_superSo, this is it — the “no-holds-barred” (so we’re told, at any rate) finale to what has become, either by default, design, or — most likely — a little bit of both, the “cornerstone series” of the entire Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza. I suppose now would be an opportune moment for me to take a bow, since as things turns out I had the “shock surprise” ending figured out more or less detail for detail, but ya know what? I’m not going to do that, for two reasons:

1. This issue actually left me feeling considerably better about this series than I had been, even though I could see the ending coming a mile away; and

2. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke actually throws a little extra wrinkle in here that I didn’t see coming, and even though said minor twist actually ends up setting up yet another final (supposed) gut-punch that, to my credit (okay, I’ll shut up now — wait, no, I still have at least 3/4 of this review left to write, so I guess I won’t), I also predicted on this very blog in advance, for just a split second there it was enough to make me second-guess myself —and since surprises have been so few and far between in the world of Before Watchmen, a surprise that ends up leading to an ending that’s really not all that surprising  is still better than no surprise at all. Whew! Did that make any sense? It will if and when you read this issue, and if and when you’ve read my previous reviews of Minutemen.

For the record, though, if digging through those past posts is too much hassle,  I had prognosticated  that the other Minutemen would come to the realization that Hooded Justice was the child-killer that they had been hunting, off and on, throughout the six-issue run of this book (okay, fair enough — throughout five issues of it, since nothing happens in the first installment), that they would kill him themselves rather than turn him over to the cops, and that it would be revealed later, in one of the other BW books, that it turned out they’d actually killed the wrong guy. Apart from one or two little details (I won’t say which particular ones in case you haven’t read the book yet), that’s more or less how things play out here — but like I said, Cooke takes an interesting-enough turn on the way to arriving at this expected conclusion that I don’t feel to cheated as a reader even if I did see the whole thing (or at least most of the whole thing) coming.

So where does that leave us at the end of the day? Good question. Cooke really draws his butt off this issue, it must be said, and even though the art for this series has been of a generally high standard from the get-go, the extra effort he puts into this finale really shows — in particular, there’s a terrific  sectioned-up splash page featuring Dr. Manhattan  at the halfway point of this one that might be the best single image in any of the BW books, so that goes some way toward elevating my overall feelings about this title, as well.The variant covers by Cooke (see top of post) and Becky Cloonan (see below) are both pretty damn amazing, as well. The story’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and was obviously constructed to be read in collected form since it isn’t paced or plotted to work particularly well in single-issue chunks at all, but you know what? I think folks who read this in the upcoming hardcover and eventual trade paperback collections are going to be pretty pleased with what Cooke has done here. The characterization has been consistent, we’ve gotten to know Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, especially, a good deal better than we did before, and all in all the whole thing doesn’t feel like a giant, gaping, yawning waste of time.

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Damning with faint praise? Possibly so. And maybe my expectations have been ground down so low under the onslaught of pointlessness that is the rest of Before Watchmen that even an okay series like this one seems better than it actually is when compared to its fellow travelers. Certainly there are more ideas and multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to be found on pretty much any given page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series than Cooke manages to fit into six entire issues here. At its best moments, this was pretty much just superbly-drawn, competently-written, straight-forward comics storytelling. At its worst, it had a tendency to drift into the realms of “why-the-fuck-am-I-even-reading-this”-ness that BW books such as ComedianRorschach, and Ozymandias have firmly planted their flags in and never left. But it didn’t stay there for too terribly long, and Cooke always managed to find a way to at least keep his readership engaged in the proceedings. That hardly makes for revolutionary stuff, by any means, and this series doesn’t really do anything to add to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen legacy, but at least it doesn’t in any way detract from it, either. If you’re willing to settle for a decent-enough little story featuring  characters that first appeared in a timeless classic of world literature rather than holding out for, well, another timeless classic of world literature,  then you’ll be more than suitably entertained by Before Watchmen : Minutemen. If you were hoping for something more, as I guess to one degree or another we probably (and, let’s face it, foolishly) all were, I don’t know what to tell you — this is DC Comics in 2012.  A snappy superhero adventure yarn with pretty pictures is, sadly, about as good as it gets from them.