Archive for April 2, 2017

Don’t look now, but it appears as though toiling away with too little recognition for far too long is finally paying off for superb cartoonist Anya Davidson, who is having something of a “moment” in the (admittedly rather insular) world of “alternative” and/or “underground” comics. Her strip “Hypatia’s Last Hours” was one of the standout entries in Kramers Ergot #9, the handsome hardback collection of her Band For Life web comics from Fantagraphics was one of the best-reviewed titles of last year, and she’s now followed up those successes with the release of her new long (-ish) form original hard-boiled crime/period piece Lovers In The Garden, yet another distinctive release to see the light of day under the auspices of the Retrofit Comics/ Big Planet Comics co-publishing venture. Set  smack dab in the middle of New York’s 1970s heroin epidemic, this comic definitely wears its Serpico-style “police thriller” and blaxploitation influences proudly on its sleeve, but rather than wallowing in storytelling standards of days gone by instead filters them through a decidedly singular artistic lens to come up with a truly unique and instantly memorable reading experience.

Edgy (a term I generally despise), gritty (ditto for that), and at all times authentic, this story of most-likely-doomed souls plays itself out via a means of Tarantino-esque intersecting vignettes focusing in brief on the lives of Vietnam vets-turned-hitmen Shephard and Flashback, art dealer/crime lord Dog, ambitious undercover cop Coral Gables (love that name), mob enforcer Mystic Blue (the hits just keep on coming), and lush reporter Elyse Saint-Michel, as well as various hangers-on rotating in and out of their respective orbits, with each short-form segment inexorably moving its pieces chessboard-style toward a final and climactic confrontation/denouement/heaping helping of karma that will irrevocably shatter lives at best, end them at worst. Its heady stuff delivered in deceptively low-key, “slice of life” fashion, but you can never escape the feeling that things really aren’t gonna work out too well for anybody.

And, hell, maybe they shouldn’t — Davidson’s view toward her characters is never less than sympathetic, but it would be a reach to say there are any genuine “good guys” on offer here, apart from perhaps Coral, who is still guilty of hiding some pretty big secrets of her own and seems to enjoy play-acting the part of smack-seller a little too much for her own good. Everyone is given a surprising amount of depth for the rather short amount of “screen time” each is offered, though, so by the time the shit finally hits the fan, there’s a definite air of Greek Tragedy about the whole enterprise. None of these folks are anyone you’d want moving into your neighborhood, but at the same time you can’t help but feel sorry for each and every one of them for any number of reasons. The gut-punches each of their downward spirals serve up are mitigated somewhat, though, by Davidson’s thick-lined and almost relentlessly “upbeat” art style, awash in vibrant-bordering-on-garish colors, but as much as a strict formalist might feel it all looks a bit “cartoony” for its heavy subject matter, for my part I found the illustrations served as yet another humanizing factor that prevented any of the cast from crossing the line into pure caricature. These are drawings of people, not tropes, and while it would be a lie to call the art in this book “fluid,” it’s nevertheless highly expressive and wonderfully effective.

Stop me now, then, before I run out of superlatives. Intricate without feeling forced, complex without belaboring its own cleverness, Lovers In The Garden is essential reading that will richly reward careful second, third, fourth (and more) perusals. I’d tell you to go out and get it right now, but even “right now” may not be soon enough.

I keep hearing great things about Logan. People say it’s the best “X-flick” of the bunch. I’m looking forward to seeing it, but I just haven’t had the time yet. Or, perhaps I should say, I haven’t made the time yet — but I probably should have made it the other night, because I stayed home and watched 2016 indie no-budget horror Jack Logan on Amazon Prime instead, and guess what? That turned out to be a huge mistake.

This Florida-shot travesty comes to us courtesy of one-man wrecking crew Al Carter, who directed the flick, produced it, wrote the script and, according to the credits, served several other functions such as “key gaffer,” as well. He even found time to get in front of the camera for a spell as a character dubbed “Hey Mister,” but the less said about that, the better. Which, now that I think about it, isn’t a half-bad tack to take in regards to the entire film, but what the hell, we’ve come this far —

Our setup here proceeds thusly : six friends (Spencer Strickland as Kim, Melissa Hansen as Kora, Joshua Roux as Ben, Giselle Cidserrano as Sam, Zulma Sandchez as Nessa, and Tiona Hill as Page) are heading out for a weekend of “roughing it” on St. George Island, a place Kora’s heard about since her youth, when her mom would tell her stories about their family’s ancestors who, along with other “concerned” citizens, were determined to develop the area against the wishes of a travelling gypsy band led by one Jack Logan (LeRone Reid) who had taken to calling the place home. You can’t stand in the way of progress and expect to get away with it for too long, of course, so one fateful day in 1920 the gypsies were wiped out en masse and Logan was buried alive (sadistic bastards these would-be settlers), but you already know how that’s gonna turn out — he’s gonna rise up out of the grave and take his revenge on everyone. And so he apparently did, even though some of ’em seem to have gone on to have kids and grandkids, but whatever. Nobody fucks with the island anymore and that, as they say, is that.

Until now, when a bunch of annoying early-20-somethings with sex and partying on their minds figure they know better than the generations of folks who have come before. Yeah, that’s sure to work out well.

Garden-variety death, mayhem, and destruction ensue, with our uniformly horseshit actors being picked off one by one until they’re all gone, and while watching these folks try to play movie star is fun for about ten minutes, it really does grate pretty quickly. When it comes to these homemade numbers I’m always mindful to check (as in lower) my expectations accordingly, of course, but even by the more-than-generous standards I usually judge these sorts of things by, Carter’s flick is a dull, hackneyed, entirely predictable affair. If you can’t see everything coming you must be blind, but when it comes to watching Jack Logan, trust me when I say that blindness is probably a blessing. I know I was ready to claw my eyes out to spare myself any more suffering well before the halfway point of this monstrosity.

The goofiest thing about it all (among many contenders) is that Carter not only sets things up for a sequel no one in their right mind could possibly care about, he even goes so far as to give us a cursory last-second introduction to the principal cast members for part two and slaps on a “to be continued” notice right before the credits roll. I guess quitting while he’s ahead is a concept he’s unfamiliar with (not that he’s in any way “ahead,” so maybe it’s a moot point), but you, good reader, are not nearly so stupid. Not only are you going to take a richly-deserved pass on Jack Logan 2, you’re not even going to bother with the first one — right? Heck, I’d even go so far as to beg you to stay away from it, but I’ve compromised enough of my dignity, self-respect, and even sanity by sitting through this flick to the bitter (non-) end, and I refuse to debase myself any further.