Archive for December 4, 2016

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There’s something kind of fun about going into a new comic with no preconceived notions about it because you don’t know the first thing about any of the creators involved.

Okay, fair enough, I know that one of the writers of the new Black Mask Studios series No Angel, Adrianne Palicki, is a star on the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, but I don’t know the first thing about her writing ability, nor that of her brother and co-author/co-creator (and, perhaps curiously, sole copyright holder) Eric. Artist Ari Syahrazad is a name I’m completely unfamiliar with, as is colorist Jean-Paul Csuka. So, yeah, as far as “unknown quantities” go, this book features nothing but. And that’s kinda exciting.

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As is the premise here : a PTSD-afflicted Iraq vet named Hannah returns to her hometown after the murder of her father and brother and immediately smells a rat as far as the investigation goes — there’s some angle here no one is even considering, but what is it? Hannah’s not so good with people in general, which means that her exchanges with the local authorities — one of whom may be a former high school flame — and even her own estranged family members don’t go so well, but all that’s nothing compared to the rapid-fire revelations that will follow. For one thing, her old man appears to have been carrying on a years-long affair. For another, she’s even got a sister she never knew about. And for yet another, said sister doesn’t appear to be, well — human. I’ll say no more than that, but the cliffhanger splash-page at the end of this first issue makes one thing perfectly clear : this comic only seemed like it was a police procedural, in actuality it’s — well, let’s just say the title should probably be taken literally.

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The Palickis have delivered a smart, sharp, quick-moving script here that gives you terrific insight into their protagonist and sets the stage for an intriguing mystery at the same time, and the dialogue is authentic and well-timed. They’re not afraid to let the pictures tell most of the story, but even though the whole thing can be read in about 10 minutes it doesn’t feel like an insubstantial comic in the least. There’s plenty going on in this issue, and the particulars are laid out with a minimum of fuss and plenty of gritty, street-level style. Chances are you’ll end up reading it twice, back-to-back, just like I did.

The art, unfortunately, is a bit more of a mixed bag : there’s nothing wrong with Syahrazad’s illustration, per se, but it’s definitely derivative — it’s a pretty fair approximation of Andrea Mutti, and given that Mutti’s style is an approximation of Alex Maleev’s, well — let’s just say the artistic family tree is readily apparent here, and that each branch, unfortunately, seems to yield diminishing returns. Csuka’s colors don’t help matters a whole lot, either, opting as he does for an extremely limited palette  with curiously-chosen dominant hues signifying different points in time. The Iraq flashbacks awash in gaudy greens and yellows are particularly tough on the eyes.

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Still, that can get better with time — one hopes — and the story here is certainly strong enough to keep me around for the duration provided it doesn’t go off the rails. No Angel is ambitious, highly involving stuff that gives no clear clue as to where it’s going or how it’s going to get there. That sort of uncertainty usually makes for an exhilarating ride, and this looks to be one that I’ll be happy to be along for.

 

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The siren call of micro-budget horror cinema has been lodging itself deep into my brain with something akin to relentlessness lately, and for those who like their fright flicks done on the cheap, Amazon Prime’s streaming service is definitely the place to be these days. Films that will quite clearly never go any further — and often ones that you’d be amazed even made it this far — are as plentiful as seagulls at a landfill there, and often the garbage metaphor turns out to be a pretty good one. Still, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked, and you eventually find yourself speaking almost an entirely different cinematic language, of sorts : production values are gauged on a scale of relative plausibility in accordance with the budget at hand, you make a lot more allowances for obviously substandard acting, you learn to find needles in haystacks in the form of unexpectedly effective shots that belie some usually-accidental sense of genuine artistry, and you gain a newfound appreciation for things like lighting, shot composition, story pacing, etc. that don’t necessarily require a tremendous amount of money to pull off well.

And yet, even for all of that, there’s no denying that most of these flicks are just plain bad — the question is, would they be any good with some actual resources behind them? To be honest, the vast majority of micro-budget efforts don’t provide enough evidence either way to answer that question definitively. Most offer flashes of something potentially greater here and there, but they come and go pretty quickly and are usually buried under waves of sheer incompetence that no amount of money could fix — after all, the backyard autuers who make up the micro-budget rank and file are usually undiscovered and/or ignored by Hollywood for good reason, in the same way that most film bloggers such as myself probably don’t have “what it takes” to be the next in-house movie critic for Rolling Stone or somesuch. Still, these amateur directors, actors, screenwriters, producers, etc. are probably in it for much the same reason myself and my fellow armchair critics do what we do — because it’s fun, and we can.

Ryan Callaway is one such “in it for the love of it” dime-store Spielberg, and he seems to be making a go of it — earlier in 2016 he wrapped his latest feature, The Girl In The Cornfield, and he’s got a solid backlog of flicks you’ve no doubt never even heard of, much less seen, behind him, as well as a couple others in the works that will probably make it onto Amazon just as this one has. So, hey, more power to him and his wife, Amy, who serves as his frequent co-writer and co-producer. He’s obviously got some ability, as this is a reasonably good-looking flick, and he should be given “props” for concocting a film with a more-or-less entirely female cast that doesn’t require any of them to lose their tops or giggle like silly schoolchildren and instead presents women as the real, actual people we know they are — but when he tries to move from the real to the surreal, well, that’s where he kind of loses his own plot.

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Speaking of which — BFFs Heather (played by Briana Aceti) and Corrine (Tina Duong) are driving home late one night with Heather’s little sister, Tiffany (Madeline Lupi) in the back seat. It’s been a long day, and when Heather starts to nod off at the wheel, she ends up hitting a woman in a white dress (Mollie Sperduto) who stumbles out of the cornfield at the side of the road and right into the path of her vehicle. The supposed “crash” isn’t particularly well-executed, but with a budget of $20,000 (according to IMDB, at any rate) there’s only so much you can do. And what our titular girl from the cornfield has apparently done is fucked off back to wherever it was that she came from. Our ostensible heroines follow a trail of blood left behind in her wake, but of the mystery woman herself, there’s no sign. They report the incident to the cops — hey, you’ve gotta venture off the Children Of The Corn script at some point — and then return home, only to discover that whoever (or maybe that should be whatever) they made violent contact with has come with them, and is determined to ramp up her campaign of terror from nightly apparition-style visits to flat-out destruction of their very lives in due course. Next time, I guess, make sure whoever you hit is good and dead.

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I’m not sure where this was filmed, but things get a lot more authentic-looking once they get out of the cornfield, which looks like it was slapped up in a low-rent soundstage to me (even if it wasn’t). Authenticity is the order of the day for the principal cast members, as well, none of whom are especially great, by any means, but who are all generally believable in their various roles and could probably make a go of it as TV guest stars or something with a few more acting lessons under their belts. So it’s not like we’re dealing with a completely hopeless production here by any means.

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That being said, this is a darn fine example of a micro-budget director trying to bite off more than he can probably chew. Callaway delivers a handful of quite gorgeous shots (such as the one pictured directly above), but his script loses focus precisely when it should be ramping up, and he simply doesn’t have the cash on hand to effectively traverse the more “trippy” supernatural road that things go down and would probably (okay, certainly) have been better served tethering his ambitions to a more earthly — and therefore achievable — realm. He’s got a sequel in the works, and maybe that will address some of these problems, but given that it’s got a working title of Where Demons Dwell : The Girl In The Cornfield 2, it sounds like he’s determined to double down on the ethereal and supernatural. He’d better hustle up at least 40 grand if he wants to do it right.