Archive for February, 2016

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It’s no secret to anyone and everyone who follows this site that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ 12-part comics series Providence has sparked your humble host/author off on a major H.P. Lovecraft kick the likes of which I haven’t been on since my early 20s when I first started getting into his work, and my thirst for HPL-based cinematic offerings is well-nigh insatiable at this point. We’ve taken a look at some of the good (Cool Air) and some of the bad (The Tomb) in recent months around these parts, and I’m pleased to report that just the other night I discovered an unassuming little shot-on-HD no-budget gem that definitely falls under the “good” category : director Tom Gliserman’s 2014 adaptation of The Thing On The Doorstep.

Now, I can’t claim to know much of anything about Gliserman and the other folks behind this project (such as producer Will Severin and screenwiter/co-star Mary Jane Hansen), but my best guess is that they’re Lovecraft fans first and filmmakers second, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in my mind, even if it means there are (remarkably few) technical glitches here and there in this flick, because it ensures they bring a real passion for the material to the proceedings and that passion definitely shows through from word “go” to word “stop” here. Labors of love are always interesting, at the very least, and this one is both interesting and extremely well-executed on the whole, so if you’re able to make allowances for the film’s sub-Hollywood-level production values (and if you can’t I have to wonder why you’re a reader of this site in the first place), chances are that you’ll end up walking away from this one every bit as impressed as I was.

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First, a few particulars for those who may not be terribly familiar with the story : married soon-to-be-family-man Daniel Upton (played here by David Bunce) is something of an older brother figure/constant source of assistance to his lifelong friend, Edward Derby (Rob Dalton). Daniel’s wife, Marion (Susan Cicarelli-Caputo) is a pretty good sport about the “third wheel” in their relationship since Edward, interesting though he may be, doesn’t really seem to have any other friends and indeed is something of a social misfit/eternal adolescent. That all changes in a hurry, though, when the big kid meets amateur hypnotist/woman of mystery Asenath Waite (Hansen) at a party and is immediately taken with her. So taken, in fact, that in fairly short order they’re travelling the globe together before getting married and buying the rattiest, most run-down “fixer-upper” you can possibly imagine. Except they never get around to fixing the place up much. They employ a brusque maid who acts more like a gatekeeper than a household helping hand. And Edward quickly progresses from being smitten with his new bride to fearing her and the terrible secret he’s convinced she’s hiding. The truth, when he finally pieces it all together? Well, let’s just say that it’s far stranger than anything he could have dreamed up in his now-fevered mined and that the survival of his consciousness/soul is very much in danger — even if his body will keep on keepin’ on.

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For the Lovecraft “purists” out there, rest assured that this film is a very  faithful cinematic translation of its “source material” despite the fact that, largely for budgetary reasons I’m sure, it takes place in the modern day rather than back in the 1920s, Hansen’s screenplay takes a few liberties here and there, sure, but they’re few and far between and all make sense given the contextual leap from the printed page to the screen. In short, if you’re not into seeing Lovecraft played for laughs or dumbed-down for lowest-common-denominator audiences, you’re really going to dig the tone, tempo, and mood of this remarkably respectful movie.

I mentioned already that the production values aren’t Spielberg-level by any means, but that doesn’t mean that Gliserman and company don’t make the best of what they have to work with. The locations utilized are all pitch-perfect, the largely unprofessional cast all acquit themselves splendidly right down the line, and there are a number of astonishingly effective shots that would earn the filmmakers an “A+” if this were, say, a grad school project. This is micro-budget movie-making at its most accomplished, and there’s never any sense that anyone here has a “well, hey, we can only do so much” attitude — indeed, rather than “settling” for a lesser product, everyone seems determined to wring as much as they’re able to , and even more, from the hand they’re dealt and to create a finished product that’s not only watchable, but is something they can be proud of. As well they all should be, frankly, since everything from the acting to the cinematography to the editing to the visual effects to the musical score is of the “good-bordering-on-great” variety.

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I can’t say for sure that I know where The Thing On The Doorstep circa 2014 was made — I think I read somewhere that it was in Ohio, but don’t hold me to that — but I do know where you can find it : in addition to a self-funded/self-distributed DVD (the technical specs, extras, etc. of which I’m not qualified to comment on since I didn’t see it in that format), it’s available for streaming on Amazon, and you can even watch it for free if you’ve got a Prime membership. How long it remains available  there is anyone’s guess, though, so I strongly and whole-heartedly recommend that you do yourself a favor and check it out immediately.

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As we’ve already established around these parts in earlier reviews for his Shaft and Shaft : Imitation Of Life series, David F. Walker is the man. I don’t think it’s an act, either — this guy just plain knows the streets. He understands the vibe, tempo, rhythm, and flavor of an urban setting in a way that no one else working in comics right now does, and so when I heard that Marvel had chosen him (minus usually-present the “F” in his name, for some strange reason) to spearhead their umpteenth relaunch of Power Man And Iron Fist, I knew they had hired the right guy for the one-time Heroes For Hire. Now all I have to do is sit back and say “I told you so” for a few paragraphs.

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Simple, straight-forward, and to the point — that’s Walker’s M.O. across the board, and here he uses it to great effect : Luke Cage and Danny Rand are back together — for a day, not permanently (yet) — to greet their former secretary, Jennie Royce, as she gets out of prison. Neither of them visited her much while she was locked up, it’s got to be said, but then Luke was busy getting married to Jessica Jones and starting a family while Danny was off galavanting around the globe, as detailed in his recently -concluded, Steranko-esque solo series. Jennie doesn’t seem to hold much of a grudge, though, and is glad to see her former bosses — especially since she could use their help getting back a piece of jewelry with heavy sentimental value attached to it. Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right? The only problem — the necklace in question is now the property of bad-ass underworld boss Tombstone. And he doesn’t tend to let his possessions go easily, especially since he’s got more than enough hired muscle to ensure that he can keep whatever the hell he wants wherever the hell he wants it.

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If you’re thinking some bad-ass fight scenes are in store, you’re right on the money, but there’s more to Power Man And Iron Fist #1 than just  good, old-fashioned brawling (not that we have a problem with that). Walker’s got such a firm handle on the characters right from the outset that you could be forgiven for thinking he’s been writing them for years, and the issue has an underlying comic tone that serves it well and puts one in mind of the dearly-missed Superior Foes Of Spider-Man. There’s a lot of seriously cool shit happening in this book, sure, but it never takes itself too seriously, and in today’s ultra-grim, ultra-dark comic book landscape that’s a very welcome thing indeed. Walker hits the exact right tone in every line of dialogue in every panel on every page, and watching a master at work like this is more than just fun, it’s an absolute joy.

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Please don’t get the impression that this is anything like a one-man show, though : artist Sanford Greene brings a fresh, dynamic approach to the look of this series that’s about as far removed from the visual trappings of a traditional super-hero book as one could ever hope to find in a “Big Two” comic, and when you combine his rough-hewn, energetic pencils and inks with the superbly-chosen color palette of “steady hand” veteran Lee Loughridge, the result is pure magic. This is a comic that looks every bit as contemporary and “real” as it reads, and all I can say is that I hope this team remains together for a good, long, prosperous run because as much as I didn’t want this issue to end, multiply that by about a thousand and you’ll know how much I  really don’t want this series too, either.

So let’s all do our part to make sure it’s with us for the long haul, shall we? The popularity of the Netflix Jessica Jones television series should go some way toward steering the curious towards this title, but it’s a glutted marketplace right now and “niche” books like this sometimes have a hard time standing out from all the “Bat-books” and “X-books” stuffing the shelves. Marvel deserves some credit for reserving at least a corner of their corporate universe for comics with an “indie vibe” like this one, but whether we’re talking about the Fraction/Aja run on Hawkeye or the already-mentioned Superior Foes, their patience for the “offbeat” never seems to last all that long. One thing can change their minds in a hurry, though, and that’s sales — so buy this book, get your shop owner to add it to your pull list, and then tell your friends about it.

Now, the cynical and/or realistic among you are probably of the opinion that it’s a bad sign that I’m worried about the long-term “health” of this title after only one issue, I suppose, but I offer the rejoinder that a book must be pretty damn good indeed for me to have a heightened level of concern about its prospects this quickly. So consider this an opportunity to make both you and me happy at the same time — get on board with Power Man And Iron Fist right now and enjoy what promises to be one heck of a fun ride.

Review : “Snowfall” #1

Posted: February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

Another new review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

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In my experience, taking a “flier” on a new book you’ve attached no pre-conceived expectations to going in can pay off nicely. Right now, in fact, my pull list is populated with a number of series that I’m absolutely loving — from American Monster  to Hip-Hop Family Tree to Last Sons Of America to The Violent — that are the work of creators who I was either “down on” at one point and decided to give another chance to, or whose prior work (assuming there even was any) I was completely unfamiliar with.  I like the new. I like the unexpected. If I want the familiar, well — there’s always “The Big Two” for that.

Writer Joe Harris and artist Martin Morazzo are not, of course, new names — at least not for those of us who read their Image Comics series Great Pacific — nor are they…

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Let’s be honest : for at least a good decade or more, the only reason to follow M. Night Shyamalan’s once-promising career (remember when Time called him “The Next Spielberg”?) has been to see just exactly how much further it can plummet. Every time he directs a new film, he seems to dig himself in a little deeper : you think The Village is going to be as bad as it gets and then he serves up Lady In The Water. Followed by The Happening. Followed by The Last Airbender. Followed by After Earth. Are you detecting a pattern yet?

Of course you are. And so is everyone else. This guy’s movies just keep getting worse, and not just by small steps, but by leaps and goddamn bounds. Clearly, he seems to be following some sign that says “this way to rock bottom,” and that sign keeps moving further and further down the pit as he chases it. Maybe a change of strategy is in order.

Enter 2015’s The Visit — a film that I admit I skipped when it hit theaters but recently watched via our cable company’s “on-demand” streaming service (it’s also available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal now) — which represents exactly that. No more big stars and big budgets. No more big concepts and big effects. Just a simple, bare-bones, “found footage” horror flick —produced by Jason Blum’s factory for same, BlumHouse productions — that is about as far-removed from “wannabe-blockbuster” territory as you can get. And, whaddya know, all in all it’s pretty good stuff.

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The story is pretty simple : amateur filmmaker Becca (played by Olivia DeJonge) and her would-be rapper younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are going away for a week to meet their estranged grandparents, who they just call Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), for the first time while their freshly-divorced/abandoned mother (Kathryn Hahn) heads off on a cruise with her new boyfriend. The family sort of tore itself apart when the grandparents made it clear they didn’t approve of the older man their daughter was marrying, but when he turned out to be every bit the piece of shit they had warned her that he was, rather than saying “I told you so,” all they wanted to do was finally get to spend some time with their now-teenage grandkids, and so our youthful ostensible “stars” are off to a farmhouse in BF Pennsylwania while mom takes in the Caribbean.

Things seem absolutely swell at first, but pretty soon gramps’ and grams’  weird “house rules” come into play : Don’t go in the basement. Don’t leave your room after 9:30. Don’t mind grandma’s scratching on the walls and puking in the hallway.  Climb inside the oven when we ask you to clean it. That sort of thing. And as the week goes on, events only get stranger and stranger.

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Credit where it’s due : all four leads in this film do a super job, and that’s absolutely essential for a character-driven story like this. Shyamalan has always been big on the morality lectures and they’re as unsubtle here as ever, but even when the story starts to lag in the middle thanks to his proselytizing our principal actors are able to see us through the lull and carry us into the film’s frenetic final act. Dunagan and McRobbie are staggeringly kind and creepy in equal measure, and their performances seem even more impressive once Shyamalan hits us with his customary — and, in this case, surprisingly reality-based given his track record/pedigree — “big revelation” about them, and the kids, who easily could (and probably by all rights should, especially Tyler) come off as annoying little shits are actually quite likable and, dare I say it, even charming.  You’re going to like everybody in The Visit — even the people who confuse and scare you. That’s pretty damn remarkable right there.

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And what the hell — I’ve enjoyed hating Shyamalan over the years almost as much as I’ve enjoyed hating Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, but maybe it’s time to let that go. I already mentioned that his moralizing is as heavy-handed as ever here, and yeah, that’s still fucking annoying, but he’s concocted a really involving and unassuming film here that wins you over pretty quickly and rewards your trust with an extremely satisfying payoff.

The Visit, then, perhaps shows us the M. Night Shymalan that could have been and could hopefully still be : a guy who’s more suited to being the next Rod Serling than he is the next Steven Spielberg and who’s more at home telling tales of the inexplicable, uncanny and unthinkable that happen in our own homes and towns rather than on other worlds or in other dimensions or whatever the hell. If the relative critical and commercial success of this film gets him back on Hollywood’s “A list” and Warner Brothers or 2oth Century Fox or whoever shows up at his doorstep with millions of dollars and an offer to direct the next Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise blockbuster, I hope he’ll have the good sense to say “thanks, but no thanks.” We know what he’s good at, and it isn’t that sort of thing — it’s this sort of thing.

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So, I’m looking around online for an image of the poster for director Iain Softley’s 2015 BlumHouse-distributed horror flick Curve and I notice that all of them have that little “bonus :  a twisted alternate storyline” blurb on them, which tells me that not only was this thing released straight to video (since I’m assuming the “bonus alternate storyline” is some sort of Blu-ray/DVD extra), but that there was never even any intention of giving it any sort of theatrical play, even as a limited release or a one-off screening, given that a “proper” movie poster, complete with credits, is usually done up for films that are going to get some action on the festival circuit or, at the very least, a single-showing “premier” at a rented theater in LA. Hell, poster mock-ups of some sort are usually done even for films where the distributor/production company might be considering having a “one-and-done” screening. The fact that one was apparently never made for Curve, then, tells me that BlumHouse knew exactly what they had on their hands here from the outset — and so should we.

I’ll confess right out of the gate that I saw this thing on Netflix and therefore can’t comment on this whole “alternate storyline” thing, but I will say this much : whatever it is, it has to be better than the film itself, because while Curve is in no way especially awful, it most certainly is one of the most formulaic, “cookie-cutter,” by-the-numbers “survival horror” movies you’ll ever see, and fades from memory more or less the instant the end credits stop rolling — assuming you even make it that far.

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Our set-up goes as follows : idealistic young lovebird Mallory Rutledge (played by Julianne Hough) is moving cross-country to Denver to marry the man of her dreams when a phone conversation with her sister, Ella (Penelope Mitchell) plants the “wild hair” idea in her mind to go and check out the Grand Canyon. Out of the blue, though, her rental truck up and dies in the middle of nowhere and, lo and behold, she can’t get any cell phone service to call for help. Never fear, though : a handy young drifter who knows his way around an engine named Christian Laughton (Teddy Sears, perhaps best known as Jay Garrick on TV’s The Flash) is there to lend assistance, and Mallory offers him a lift in exchange for his “Good Samaritan” routine once he’s got them all “road-ready” again. The ride goes south pretty quickly, though, once Christian starts talking dirty to her, pulls a knife, and orders her to take them to the nearest fleabag motel, and Mallory, upstanding young lady of virtue that she is, figures her best bet is to intentionally run off the road and hope that, I dunno, she lives, he dies, and she can crawl her way to safety.

Okay, so it’s not the best plan, but it’s all she’s got — and it meets with a mixed level of what passes for “success” when she wakes up to find herself still among the living, but with her leg trapped under all manner of vehicular wreckage and her would-be “suitor” nowhere to be found. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, so presumably he was thrown either clear or to his doom, but will she live long enough to find out if he’s still both out there and in any condition to stalk her? Blazing desert heat, a bum leg, numerous internal injuries, and a foggy head are enough to contend with in and of themselves, especially in the middle of fucking nowhere, but throw in a revenge-hungry psychopath and your odds of making it to sundown become even slimmer.

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If all of this sounds almost atrociously familiar, rest assured that Softley — who proved with The Skeleton Key that he’s capable of directing a good horror film — does nothing to dispel that feeling as he methodically goes about his lackluster business here. Admittedly, Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson’s script doesn’t give him a whole lot to work with, but he’s so clearly phoning it in here (wait! I thought there was no service?) that you’re to be congratulated for your perseverance if you don’t start tuning this out at about the 30-minute mark. Sears makes for a convincing-enough predator in the early going, but when he’s (mostly) absent and the film starts depending almost entirely on Hough to carry it, well — she struggles, let’s just leave it at that.

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And, I must confess, I’m struggling a bit myself to think of anything else to say about Curve. If it were standing in the middle of the road, I’d do whatever I could to avoid it, even if it meant throwing my car off an embankment and taking my chances.

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Talk about going from bad to worse —

As my last review no doubt made crystal clear, I was in no way enamored with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 cinematic adaptation of Scott Spencer’s Harlequin-novel-on-bad-acid Endless Love, but measured against what director Shana Feste did with (essentially) the same story in 2014, it’s fucking Citizen Kane. Sure, much of the book’s subject matter had either been neutered or twisted into new and unrecognizable (yet somehow decidedly less interesting) shapes, but damn — giving it the Nicholas Sparks treatment is just beyond the pale, and that’s exactly what this hollow, insipid, worthless remake does.

Probably to reduce confusion with (or an injunction from) President Obama’s political adviser of the same name, our David this time out hails from the Elliot rather than the Axelrod family tree, and while the actor who plays him, an empty shell named Alex Pettyfer,  certainly looks a good few years older than the “new” version of Jade Butterfield ( played by the equally-vacuous Gabriella Wilde), the whole “age difference” thing isn’t really at the fore of why her parents, Hugh (the always-underrated Bruce Greenwood, who is at his scenery-chewing best here and represents the only real reason to see the film) and Anne (an uncharacteristically detached Joely Richardson) despise him so — still,  it’s fun to read that concern into the proceedings simply because their real  reasons are overly- oblique  to the point of being well and truly dull. Mom, at it turns out, is just envious of their “true love” at the end of the day, while dad is reeling from his inability to somehow save his dying son and the guilt he feels at carrying on an affair behind his old lady’s back and is just taking it out on this poor let’s-not-call-him-a-kid because he doesn’t want to “lose” his daughter on top of everything else.

Bored yet? You should be. Because any elements of “danger” that may have been lost in translation between the book and the first film are paved over altogether this time around, and what we’re left with is a story about a flawed-but-nice girl who meets a flawed-but-nice guy and if daddy would just learn to let his little girl be happy with the man she loves — well, she’d go off and be happy with the man she loves. But she’d still love her family, too. Why can’t grown-ups ever seem to understand that?

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Feste’s directorial “style” can best be summed up as “Lifetime TV movie of the week with too many damn ‘soft-focus’ shots,” and while I’ve never subjected myself to pablum like The Notebook or Safe Haven, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that sort of dreck was the main influence on this thing. Feste co-wrote the screenplay for this rehash with Joshua Safran, and while the two of them try to “flesh out” Jade’s character a bit more by giving her a bit of a “past,” and go for a more slow-burn effect in terms of spacing out the so-called “revelations” about David, none of it is in any way involving simply because Pettyfer and Wilde are both such flat, wooden performers. When you hire on the basis of looks and looks alone, folks, this is what you get, and while throwing in a little bit of internal “can I really trust this person?” relationship tension I guess makes this version of the story more “realistic” to modern audiences — at least that’s the intention — you still have to give a damn about the characters in the first place before you can give a damn about what happens to them, and that’s something that Endless Love circa 2014, to an even greater degree than its predecessor, never figures out.

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I’ll give the “creators” of this film credit for engineering a somewhat more believable means of introducing our two leads in the first place, I guess,  but that’s about it — beyond that 2014’s updating of Endless Love feels almost like a modern-day romance flick produced by Harry “NyQuil” Novak, only Harry would throw out a threadbare “plot” in order to string together some sort of logical reason for why his performers would go from one dull, “point-and-shoot” sex scene to another, while here the “story” exists for the sole purpose of moving the lead models (it’s really not even fair to call them “actors”) from one Calvin Klein fragrance commercial to another.

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And on that note, I think I’ve said enough  — hell, more than enough. I want to wish any and all of you valued readers out there a happy and romantic Valentine’s Day, and I implore you to please not spoil the occasion by watching either version of Endless Love — especially not this one.

In closing, let me offer (not that I’m anything like an expert on the subject) these humble words of wisdom when it comes to matters of the heart : true love may be eternal, sure, but it’s definitely not endless — and no, the difference between the two isn’t just a matter of semantics.

 

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I know I’ve got a well-deserved reputation as a movie and comic book curmudgeon, but believe it or not I also possess a sentimental side, and I thought I’d let you lucky readers have a rare glimpse of it here, on this most romantic of holidays.

Yes, friends, love is in the air, and while the cynical among you might think that Valentine’s Day is nothing but a twisted exercise perpetrated by florists and greeting card companies to torture single people since most couples end up forgetting about it altogether, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, all of us married guys damn well better not forget to buy some flowers, chocolates, a card, and a gift, or it’s gonna be a cold night out on the couch. A dinner reservation and a romantic movie might not hurt, either, fellas, so do keep that in mind. It seems that Deadpool is destined to be the big Valentine’s weekend box-office draw here in 2014, but in a simpler, more romantic age — say, back in 1981 — the meaning of this day had yet to be buried under a wave of crass commercialization and ultra-violent bluster, and the flick of choice for couples everywhere that year was Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love.

Based on the runaway best-selling novel of the same name by Scott Spencer and given the Tinseltown treatment by then-“hot”  screenwriting talent Judith Rascoe, this movie would seem to have everything lovebirds in the early-’80s could hope for : a pedigreed director (he’d done Romeo And Juliet, for Christ’s sake! Who could possibly doubt his credentials?), Hollywood’s most bankable young female lead, semi-risque subject matter, and a schamltzy, over-wrought theme song courtesy of Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie. I can only imagine the pressure most folks who were paired up at the time felt to live up to the relationship standard set by Endless Love.

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Or, ya know, maybe not. After all, this isn’t so much about a love affair as it is about a doomed love affair — and doomed for good reason. Well-heeled 15-year-old rich girl Jade Butterfield (played by Brooke Shields at the height of her fame and popularity) is introduced by her brother to a dashing, but somewhat mysterious, fella named David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt) who’s two years her senior, they fall madly in love instantly, and her loving but over-protective parents, Ann (Shirley Knight) and Hugh (Don Murray) disapprove either passively and with a hint of jealousy (in Mom’s case) or near-violently (in Dad’s). They conspire to do everything in their power to keep the star-crossed young lovers apart — not that their efforts are entirely successful given that David does, in fact, manage to “de-flower” their precious little rosebud — but all this meddling comes with a heavy price : when the heartbreak of not being able to see Jade gets to be too much,  you see,  David goes and burns their fucking house down. And you thought you had some psycho exes —

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Cue a nice long stint in a mental hospital for our “hero,” but he still can’t get that jailbait out of his mind, and the minute he’s a free man he has only one objective — to win back his lady-love,  despite the fact that they have both supposedly “moved on” with their lives,  and to rekindle that special magic that made a forlorn pyromaniac out of him. At this point, the only thing that has any chance of keeping them apart is if one or both of them recognize what everyone in the audience already has — that maybe they’re really not all that good for each other after all, and that love and obsession are two very different things. Good luck with that, kids.

As melodramatic and frankly absurd as all this sounds, my understanding is that Spencer’s novel is even more unbelievable : set in the ’60s rather than the (then-)present, the Butterfields in their printed-page iteration are actual hippies rather than well-to-do ex– hippies, and take their “free love” pretty seriously — Jade’s mom, for instance, goes so far as to pull up a seat and watch her daughter have sex with David, and the night the house burns down the entire clan is tripping on acid together as some sort of “familial bonding” exercise administered by dear old dad. Zefirelli and Roscoe were probably wise to chuck all that, but they threw the baby out with the bathwater,  since the book definitely made David out to be an unhinged, and quite dangerous, stalker (back before they were even called that) who Jade was enamored with at first, sure, but came to fear pretty quickly. In the film, all that’s been swapped out in favor of a rather milquetoast “over-enthusiatic young love” depiction of their relationship that’s hell-bent on insisting that she’s every bit as unhealthily fixated on him as he is on her. Besides, whether we’re talking about Play Misty For Me or Fatal Attraction, if there’s one thing Hollywood’s taught us it’s that the stereotypical “scorned female” is always the one you have to watch out for when it comes to the whole “stalker phenomenon” — never mind that way too many newspaper headlines and pretty much every reputable sociological study on the subject has shown us that just the opposite is usually the case.

ENDLESS LOVE, Brooke Shields, 1981. ©Universal Pictures

Still, there’s nothing wrong with Endless Love that a couple of semi-believable lead performances couldn’t save, right? I mean, if Hewitt and Shields can really “sell us” on the idea of their all-consuming passion, then logic and reason can go right out the window and we’ll take their bait no questions asked. Unfortunately, they’re both ridiculously bland and one-dimensional and you get the overwhelming sense that not only were their lives somehow “incomplete” before they met each other, they literally had nothing else to do prior to their first, fateful encounter. All of Zeffirelli’s artful staging can’t change the simple fact that when two beautiful but boring people meet, all you’re gonna get is a beautiful but boring “love” story. And honestly, for all the technical bravado he brings along to the party,  the director seems as coldly disengaged with the proceedings here on an emotional level as his listless young stars are (plus the talents of Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight are wasted in throwaway roles as David’s parents — but be on the lookout for a very young James Spader and an even younger Ian Ziering as his brothers!), and it almost seems as though he feels that adapting a trashy grocery store check-out aisle “romance” novel for the screen is too big a “come-down” after Shakespeare (which, let’s be honest, it is) for him to give it much by way of effort.

So, yeah — all in all, Endless Love just isn’t all that great. But take heart, all you romantics out there — Hollywood would give the same story another go in 2014. Would it make this film look like amateur hour or Masterpiece Theater by comparison? I’m sure that you probably already know the answer, but we’ll confirm your biases for you in our next review anyway.

 

 

 

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Comic fans, you know the feeling — once in awhile you’re lucky enough go into your local shop on a Wednesday, spy a new title on the racks, and say to yourself “oh, hell yes.” Today I got to do that. And I got to say the same exact thing after I’d read the book. So I’m feeling pretty goddamn happy right about now.

The four-color “floppy” in question is issue number one of Shaft : Imitation Of Life, the debut installment of Dynamite Comics’ long-awaited four-part sequel to last year’s superb mini-series starring the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks by writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, and while Evely’s off doing DC Comics Bombshells and other projects these days, Walker is back for round two and that’s the key thing because this guy gets the character of John Shaft every bit as much as Gordon Parks, Richard Roundtree, and even his creator, Ernest Tidyman, ever did. In fact, it’s fair to say that the Shaft we were presented with in Walker’s first story (as well as in his superb Shaft’s Revenge novella, originally available only digitally but now also out in paperback from Dynamite) was probably the most humanized take on this bad mutha — shut your mouth! — that we’ve ever seen in any medium, and the fact that he was able to add a level of depth and complexity to an already, as Isaac Hayes said, “complicated man” without compromising his essential bad-assness in any way, shape, or form, speaks volumes about his skills as an author. If you want to know why people have been so jazzed up about this guy being chosen to head up Marvel’s Power Man And Iron Fist relaunch (which hits next week!), well — the work he did on Shaft is the reason. And now he’s back for more.

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Shaft : Imitation Of Life starts off right in the thick of some nasty shit, with John putting the wraps on a high-profile, high-body count case that eats away at his soul every bit as much as his Vietnam experiences (as detailed in the first series) did, and he consequently decides that some much-needed R&R is in order. Still, a few months sitting on the sidelines is all it takes for a man of action to get restless, and when he gets “back in the game” he decides to take on a missing persons case that no one else will touch due to the homophobia rampant at the time. Now, you might think that seeing John put himself in harm’s way protecting a, in his words, “fairy” in an alley fight might seem out of character,  but let’s never forget that this is a man who will “risk his neck for his brother man.” Heck, by the end of this first issue, Shaft’s even got himself a gay Latino sidekick — but still hasn’t compromised his macho “street cred” one bit.

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As far as the art goes, while I do think Evely was a perfect choice last time around, new penciller/inker Dietrich Smith definitely delivers the goods, as well, and has something of a more refined line to his style that gives things a slightly more “polished” feel without being too smooth. A good Shaft story should always be at least a little bit rough around the edges and I’m pleased to say the visual feel for this book gets that delicate balance more or less exactly right. The stylistic homage to Jacen Burrows’ “fixed camera” four-panel horizontal grids in Providence that Smith showcases in the early going of this issue really made me smile, as well —  and do I even need to tell you how way-beyond-fucking-perfect Matthew Clark’s cover is? Nope, you’ve already seen it at the top of this review.

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Still, let’s not kid ourselves — the comic-book version of John Shaft is now Walker’s baby, and frankly I can’t conceive of anyone else even wanting to take the reins if and when he decides he’s had enough. His stock-in-trade with the character is to put him in new and/or unfamiliar situations and use them to show sides of his personality that we’ve both never seen before and instinctively know to be “true,” and while it may seem like sacrilege to some to make the comparison, I think he’s proving himself to be  the closest thing the comics world has ever seen,  and maybe even will ever see, to the legendary Iceberg Slim.

Yeah, he really is that good. And so is this comic. So get your punk ass up out the house and go pick up Shaft : Imitation Of Life #1 right the fuck now, sucka.

Another new review for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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It appears that the success of Harrow County over at Dark Horse has given other publishers the idea to try out this “Southern Gothic” thing for themselves — DC is certainly taking Swamp Thing back in that direction in Len Wein and Kelly Jones’ new six-part series, for instance — and given the “horror-centric” bent to their Vertigo line since its inception, it’s no surprise that the former National Periodical Publications would  want to get that imprint in on the act sooner rather than later, I suppose, as well,  and that they’d have them do so with something of a (red) splash given their relative financial “muscle.” Truth be told, I’m kind of surprised that their big late-2015 don’t-call-it-a-relaunch didn’t include a horror book set “below Tobacco Road,” but no sooner did we flip the calendar over than we were presented with The Dark & Bloody #1, the opening salvo…

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It occurs to me that as we begin the second “leg” of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence with the just-released seventh issue that we as readers are on no firmer ground, metaphorically speaking, than hapless protagonist Robert Black is in a more literal sense — having fled Manchester without even knowing how much time he spent there much less what happened both to and around him, our hero/victim next turns up in Boston smack-dab in the middle of the notorious round of riots and looting instigated by the city’s police strike of 1919, an engineered debacle both triggered by the actions of, and then capitalized for political gain by, then-governor Calvin Coolidge, one of early-20th-century America’s more loathsome figures. For our hopelessly cracking (or maybe that should be already cracked)  former newspaperman, though, the violence and depravity he sees unfolding on the streets of Beantown is a pretty accurate reflection of his own mental state, and as we open this issue turmoil (both inner and outer) seems to be the order of the day.

Fortunately, he makes the acquaintance of beleaguered soon-to-be-former cop Eamon O’Brien, who manages to not only direct, but accompany, him to the residence of photographer/painter Ronald Underwood Pitman, the man Black has traveled to Boston to meet, and while both are certainly glad to be quickly ushered into Pitman’s home, this is a visit that will end very differently for each.

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I trust I’m not giving anything away at this point if I reveal that the H.P. Lovecraft “anchor story” for this issue is Pickman’s Model, with Pitman functioning as our “stand-in” for doomed artist Richard Upton Pickman himself, but what struck me is how this new installment is something of a “throwback” to the first couple of chapters, with Moore focusing his ever-sharp eye on just one Lovecraft tale rather than incorporating elements from several into a sort of “tapestry,” as was the case with numbers three, four, five, and six (especially five and six). This “extra-special attention” definitely pays off in terms of expanding the breadth and scope of the horror at the heart of Pickman’s Model, despite the fact that the premise is essentially unchanged (painter transcribes scenes of horror onto his canvas that are a little too real for most tastes, most featuring a recurring “hairy, toothy monster” theme), and in fact goes some way toward disproving the time-worn adage that “it’s what you don’t see that’s most scary,” since both Moore’s script and Burrows’  wonderfully-realized, detail-rich art go a long way toward establishing a much more graphic realization of the terror Lovecraft only hints at — until the very end, at any rate — in his original yarn.

Black, though — ever the creative interpreter of events — at first seems almost pathologically clueless to the fact that he’s actually going from the frying pan into the fire here, and constructs, for the sake of maintaining his own sanity if nothing else,   a political subtext for Pitman’s works that the perpetually-nervous-but-strangely-sympathetic (his speech is littered with “uhm”s) artist is all too happy to play along with despite the fact that it’s painfully obvious he’d never considered such an “alibi,” if you will, himself. If you’re thinking that Black’s skewed take has something to do with the creatures — who Pitman refers to as “saprovores” — representing the “1%”-types sucking on the blood and marrow of their working-class “victims,” you’re pretty close to the mark.

Still, the full extent of Black’s almost heroic capacity for self-deception isn’t made completely clear until after he meets “Pitman’s model,” a gigantic deep-cellar-dweller who goes by the name of “King George” and takes pride in being both a “good boy” and a “hard worker.” The nature of his “work” should be immediately apparent to anyone who either knows the term “saprovore” already or bothered to look it up when Pitman first mentioned it, but for those who just keep plugging ahead with their reading regardless, rest assured that Moore makes things perfectly clear pretty quickly, and yeah — it’s creepy as fuck, even though we don’t even blink at the thought of worms and maggots doing essentially the same job.

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What wasn’t entirely clear to me until my second reading of this issue was how Moore is having a bit of self-referential fun with his audience here (yes, Providence can, at times, actually be fun) — there’s been a running theme of class-related issues at play here almost from the outset of the series (as there is in much of Moore’s work, and in much British literature, film, and television in general), with the “fish people” of issue three being looked down upon by the “respectable citizens” of Salem, the inbred Wheatley clan of the fourth issue being an object of scorn for both their neighbors and former “colleagues” in the Stella Sapiente order, and the “elite, refined” Wade family being the receptacle/vessel of the most malignant entity we’ve met so far in issue six. His message, at least to me, seems quite clear — no matter how monstrous and evil some of the “lower-class” people we meet on this journey are, the rich are always worse, and represent the true “villains” of the story. Here that point is driven home by King George  — who has brothers, we learn, named George Washington and, even more curiously, Mary Pickford, and I confess that I spent a good long time figuring out just how the saprovores might come by their unique “handles” before discovering that, as usual, the fine folks over at http://factsprovidence.wordpress.com had beaten me to it —bemoaning the fact that he and his brothers “work hard” while the “yankees” who live above them “have many things and — do not work hard. And always we are underneath them.” And yet, in a knowing wink to readers, Moore presents Black’s political reading of Pitman’s work as being nothing but a desperate attempt at rationalization by an equally desperate man, even while he invites us to do the same with his own subject matter here. Irony, you can be so delicious.

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We’ll wind things down, then,  by dove-tailing back to a couple of near-throwaway comments I made previously, since I seem to be absorbing via some form of osmosis Moore and Burrows’ penchant for not letting any tiny piece of information, either of the scripted or illustrated variety, go to waste. I mentioned that the visit to Pitman’s home ended “quite differently” for Officer O’Brien than it did for Black, and while a fiendishly subtle clue as to the flatfoot’s eventual fate makes an appearance when Black dons an apparently-spare overcoat before his descent into the tunnels beneath the house (a scene which plays out via the same straight-ruled vertical panels than Burrows employed for our protagonist’s subterranean journey in issue #2), the dread becomes deeper when King George asks Pitman if Robert is the brother of the “other,” in his words, “red and black one,” and all becomes painfully clear in the last panel of the issue — in keeping with the story upon which it’s based,  of course,  but the added dimension of specificity that Providence #7 gives to events Lovecraft referenced in more oblique fashion really gives the final image here an extra dose of “holy shit!”-ness even though it’s hardly a surprise by this point.

As far as the second brief (I promise!) point I wanted to get back to goes, this time in regards to Black’s — how did I put it it, “heroic capacity for self-deception” or somesuch? —well, I’ll just say that the bizarre “spin” he puts on his meeting with King George, and on his entire 10-day stay with Pitman in general, just has to be read to be believed, and provides yet another sterling example of why, much as the “main” story reveals, you should absolutely never skip over the backmatter at the end of the issues in this series. Besides, if you do, you’ll miss the laugh-out-loud-in-spite-of-yourself thrill of seeing how the truth of what happened to Robert in issue six finally assert itself into his consciousness — even if, as ever, he completely fails to realize it.

Still, Black’s return to blissful unawareness is rather richly deserved at this point. The guy’s been through a hell of a lot, and while us lucky readers are learning more with each successive installment  (as far as major revelations go, this issue packs a doozy with the introduction of the notion that the world of dreams is an actual, physical plane of existence far beneath the Earth, with the saprovores inhabiting a middle ground between the two and the Stella Sapiente engaged in a project of “flipping” the “upstairs” and “downstairs” realities around ), I think he’s sort of earned a breather. We all know it’s both destined not to last and entirely a product of his own rationalization, but still — it felt good to see him smiling as this chapter drew to a close. Even if walking past a cemetery gives him some pause.

In closing, it appears as though we’ll be waiting until April for Providence #8, but I’m not complaining. I’ve read this issue four times already and look forward to reading it about a dozen (at least) more, and anything that can be done to prolong this title’s stay on comic shop shelves is welcome, as far as I’m concerned. 60 days between installments is hardly a death-knell for sales of purportedly-monthly “floppies” with today’s “delay-trained” readership, and in fact there seems to be a positive “buzz” building around this book the longer it goes on. Besides, if Sex Criminals fans can wait twice that long, on average, for each new issue, then how much do we really have to bitch about here? You can’t rush perfection, as they say — and right now Providence is as close to a perfect comic as any that I’ve read in the past decade, at minimum. Take your time, Alan and Jacen — we know you’re working hard.