Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

For the final entry in our look at some of the lesser-seen (and even lesser-budgeted) flicks available for your Halloween viewing pleasure via Amazon Prime’s streaming service, we come to a curious, and often fascinating, little number called The Grinn, which was filmed earlier this year in Pacific Grove, California for (at least as IMDB would have it) the king’s ransom of precisely $300.

And, honestly, in may ways it shows : the sound quality can be uneven, some of the camera angles are a bit suspect, and the script is obviously an amateur effort with some real pacing problems — but here’s the kicker : it’s both inventive and surprising enough that you’ll likely be more than willing to overlook its production and plotting flaws.

And speaking of  the plot, here’s a brief, reasonably-“spoiler”-free rundown : A guy named Vance (played by John Carroll) wakes up with no memory of where he is, why he’s there, or even who he is beyond knowing his own name. Fortunately, he has a “guide” of sorts : one who first communicates with him only by means of his cell phone, but then later “takes charge” personally — but by then, larger questions have arisen. Is all this taking place only in Vance’s mind? And if so, is he even still alive? And what’s with the weird, scurrying figure in the mask?

Disjointed flashbacks of questionable veracity fill in a lot of the blanks (or do they?), and give supporting players such as Sarah Leight and Michka Hawkins a chance to relieve Carroll of shouldering the entire load as far as the acting in concerned, but it’s not until the film’s (really rather memorable, it must be said) third act that everything comes together in a way that can truly be said to “make sense.” If this all sounds a bit Memento-ish, you’re not too far off the mark, but this is no simple amnesia tale told in reverse in that Vance’s own sanity, as well as the reliability of his memories, is constantly in question. The first 2/3 of the film are a bit of a slog at times (I warned you about the pacing here), but stick with it and I think you’ll find the investment of your time and attention during even the slowest sequences really pays off by the time all is said and done.

As mentioned a moment ago, Carroll doesn’t have to carry the weight of the entire production on his back, but as I think should be obvious by now, he’s required to carry most of it —and for an amateur actor, he’s more than up to the task. His confusion, fear, and frustration are palpable, and the film’s sparse and enclosed setting is probably his best “co-star” in that regard : there’s no sure footing to be had, either mentally or physically, in The Grimm, and the quality of the acting and the (mostly-) singular location both reinforces this feeling and, on a purely practical level, helps alleviate the necessarily-dodgy nature of some of the movie’s production values. No flick made for $300 is ever going to be close to perfect, but this one at least does a whole lot more than just give it “the old college try.”

About the nearest thing to an unforgivable sin to be found here is the fact that, as things turn out, our titular “Grinn” (the figure in the mask) turns out to be completely superfluous to requirements, but if that’s my one major gripe,  then hey — you’d have to say that Kalamane, his sparse cast, and even more sparse crew have done one heck of a job here, and that by saving this one to the end of our Amazon Prime Halloween overview, we’re closing on a very high note indeed. I guess there’s nothing more to do here, then, but for me to recommend in the strongest possible terms that you give The Grimm a shot at your earliest convenience — and to wish you a safe and happy Halloween, of course!

 

 

 

A Tribute To Our Little Trixie

Posted: September 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

That’s Trixie. We never really knew how old she was, or what kind of life she had before we picked her out at the pound, but we knew we loved her from the minute we got her — just a little over three years ago.

She was a pudgy little thing, and lazier than hell even by domesticated cat standards, but she could show a surprising amount of energy at the drop of a hat — when we first got her, for instance, she’d race to the kitchen and guard her food the minute you headed in that direction.  And she had a little bit of a pissy attitude, too — she hated being picked up, she’d snarl at you just for the hell of it sometimes, she’d go from purring away to biting at your fingers the instant you started rubbing her the wrong way, and she went through a couple of phases where I swear to God she made a game out of trying to trip you whenever she could. But she definitely mellowed over time, and as she eased into what we guessed to be her old age, she got a lot more picky about what she’d eat, when she’d come greet you at the door, or how often she’d even open her eyes sometimes.

About a month ago she wouldn’t come out from underneath our kitchen table for a couple of days, so we took her to the vet and they tested her blood, gave her a fluid injection, and put her on a steroid to get her strength back up. While we waited on pins and needles for her test results, she tore around the house like a cat reborn — at least for a couple of days. Her bloodwork came back looking good, no problems as far as her liver or stomach were concerned were evident, but her energy level went back down in fairly short order. Then it bottomed out altogether. Last Sunday morning, I found her sprawled out beneath an old chair that she’d never sat under before, unable to walk, stand, or even lift her head. Her skin had turned a dullish yellow color overnight and her eyes were completely glazed over, yet open wide. Back to the vet.

Aaaaand you don’t need me to tell you that she never came back home. Our little troublemaker’s kidneys had failed on her and we had to put her to sleep. We got to hold her as she peacefully shuffled off her mortal coil, which was bittersweet in the extreme, and of course we’ve been missing her ever since. Deinell and I haven’t been without a cat in over ten years, and I don’t imagine we will be for long, but we won’t find another like Trixie, that’s for sure. We still instinctively check for her the minute we get home, see her moving out of the corner of our eyes, hear her claws clicking and clacking on the floor. When I’m sitting at my laptop writing, I still look over and expect to see her sitting on her favorite blanket, watching me. We loved her, she’s gone, and I won’t kid you, it sucks. I hope we made the last few years of her life her best ones, but five or ten more sure would have been nice. Oh, and I suppose we don’t need to save out empty Amazon boxes anymore :

So, if you’re wondering why things have been a little quiet at trashfilmguru recently, that’s one big old heartbreaking reason. But there’s another, as well : I’ve decided to “split off” my comics criticism into its own site (a move long overdue), and so I’ve been plugging away trying to get some content slapped up over at https://fourcolorapocalypse.wordpress.com/. It’s sort of fun starting a new blogging venture up from scratch, and downgrading my expectations accordingly (50 views a day is “good” for me over there, while 500-6oo is the norm at TFG) is good for my ego, but it is going to take some time to really build up anything like a steady readership over there, and that means fewer film reviews for a few months or so while I try to get things established at FCA.

October, however, will be an exception to that not-exactly-a-rule. It’s Halloween again (well, almost), and the TFG tradition of talking all horror movies, all month long isn’t going anywhere. I’m also going to be sticking with the streaming-service-oriented theme I started a few years back with “Netflix Halloween,” but we won’t be doing “Halloween On Hulu” again this year simply because most of the horror offerings I found on that site last year were less than inspiring, to say the least. So, as you’ve probably already guessed by now, it’s going to be “Amazon Prime Halloween” this year, and I’m looking forward to opining on some of the lesser-known and certainly lesser-seen horror flicks I find on there for the next 31 days, starting — ah, what the hell, how does tomorrow sound? Okay, good — it’s a date, then.

 

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to name my all-time favorite Jack Kirby story, on most days I think I’d have to go with the two-parter from issues five and six of 2001 : A Space Odyssey known in fan circles by its short-hand title, “Norton Of New York.” This pair of comics has anything and everything you could ask for — high drama, deep philosophical questions (specifically in relation to the subjects of individuality, the heroic ideal, the ever-fragile male ego, and the ever-deepening flight of huge segments of the populace into realms of pure fantasy), superb cosmic artwork, dystopian existentialism, even something of an unrequited love story. We’ll get to all of that (and more, I promise) in due course, but first a little bit of backstory for those not steeped in comic book history —

With the near-unprecedented success of Marvel’s Star Wars film adaptation and spin-off series (which, as it turns out, may very well have saved the company from bankruptcy given that their cash-flow was extremely tight, despite their dominant market-share position at the time, thanks to a series of questionable business decisions), the so-called “House Of Ideas” revealed that they had a dearth of precisely those and actively went searching for other cinematic properties, specifically of the science fiction variety, to exploit in the funnybook pages. The problem was that, unlike these days, there just weren’t that many “blockbuster” films ready-made for mercenary licensing opportunities in the late ’70s — so they had to go back a few years. Thus was born the rather unlikely marriage of Marvel Comics and MGM Studios, who worked together to come up with a deal to publish a “Treasury Edition” (basically a larger, thicker comic with heavy cardstock covers) adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s legendary film 2001 : A Space Odyssey (based, of course, on Arthur C. Clarke’s equally-legendary novel), to be followed by a monthly series — and with Jack Kirby recently returned to the fold, there was probably never any doubt about who the perfect choice to helm this particular four-color ship would be.

Kirby’s “Treasury Edition” film adaptation is breathtaking stuff that makes brilliant use of every extra inch it’s given in order to literally overload readers’ senses with mind-boggling outer space imagery that sears its way into the visual cortex, but I think it’s fair to say that the follow-up comic series takes a little while to find its feet, given that each story, whether told in one or two parts, tells a separate and disparate tale vaguely informed by, but not overly chained to, the film and novel. The first four issues are perfectly fine reads with some amazing artwork, with Kirby wisely concentrating his creative energies on portraying various and sundry situations where the iconic Monolith would act as a kind of cosmic “critical mass” or “wild card” and push a situation (usually of the evolutionary or developmental variety) forward rather than going the dull and unimaginative route of, say, directly continuing the story seen in the film and letting us know “what happened” to Dave, HAL 9000, etc., but it wasn’t necessarily all that clear where The King Of Comics was going with the whole concept.

Until issue number five (cover-dated May, 1977 and bearing the story title “Norton Of New York, 2040 A.D.”), that is, when the answer became clear : Kirby was taking us much farther than we ever could have hoped to expect.

Our saga begins with an ostensible super-hero who calls himself “White Zero” taking on a horde of space monsters in order to save a captured princess, but in a move that some may consider tipping his hand a bit too early, Kirby makes it clear that the whole scenario is a cheap charade — a paid afternoon’s entertainment for bored aficionados of the fantastic at a theme park known as “Comicsville.” The King’s abilities as a Cassandra are well-known, and here he accurately predicts everything from so-called “cosplay” to indoor paintball games to the pathetically immersive nature of today’s various fandoms decades in advance. “Comics have reached their ultimate stage,” the narrative caption-boxes inform us, and “what began with magazines, fanzines, and nation-wide conventions has culminated in a fantastic involvement with the personal life of the average man!”

All of which leads one to suspect that the life of “the average man” in the year 2040 is a particularly empty and vacuous enterprise — and so it is. “White Zero” is, in actuality, Harvey Norton, an interchangeable office drone who yearns for more than his post-industrial world has to offer (and has something of a shallow and superficial streak, as his reaction to the “princess” shown below demonstrates) — a yearning that’s exacerbated by his first brief encounter with a Monolith within the confines of his pseudo-heroic “interactive” narrative — but at the end of the day, he still inhabits a New York that’s the logical end-result of soulless consumer capitalism : atomized, isolated people with little to no connection to each other transported, zombie-like, on over-crowded subway trains through a city covered by an “astrodome” and choked with smog to the point that everyone wears the same drab protective suits as they make their way from vapid escapist entertainment complexes like “Comicsville,”enclosed shopping centers, and vitality-sucking corporate workplaces to warehoused high-rise living quarters where they select  pre-recorded serial programs (years before steaming services were “a thing”) and vegetate in front of their “hologram boxes” as they consume self-heating frozen dinners and treat themselves, if they can afford it, to doses of packaged “fresh” air.

Kirby’s visual depiction of this all-too-accurate future is equal parts breathtaking, harrowing, and visionary, and the following page communicates everything you need to know even minus its expertly-crafted wordsmithing :

How, exactly, one can escape an edifice of pure spectacle and reach for something authentic that transcends artifice is a struggle that’s been exploited time and again within the science fiction genre, but let’s keep in mind, this is well before The Matrix or even The Truman Show, both of which borrowed liberally from the scenario Kirby outlines here. And yet there is still apparently a place for actual nature in the midst of all this, or so it would seem, as Norton is planning to spend his Sunday at the beach — which leads to what is, for my money, the most impactful and devastating sequence in this already-remarkable comic :

The beach, as it turns out, is no beach at all — “it’s not real! It’s film and solar lamps! It’s wave machines and plastic sand!” — but there is, in fact, something very real beyond the illusion : the Monolith, and once again it prods Harvey Norton forward in pursuit of something other, something greater, than the thoroughly homogenized, commodified, hollow world of 2040 has to offer. And hey, before you know it, our guy Harvey is in outer space!

Kirby mentions briefly the two-year training program that his protagonist has to go through in order to earn himself a spot in the “space program,” but in a whiplash-inducing moment, we literally go from the Monolith at the “beach” to “1,000 miles above the planet Neptune,” where Norton and two fellow astronauts are reeling in a mysterious capsule of some sort that they find orbiting in the distant gas giant’s upper atmosphere. They manage to get in on board their ship, where it opens automatically in fairly short order, and within it, wouldn’t you know that they find —

That’s right! An honest-to-goodness “space princess!” And while the obese woman at “Comicsville” may not have been to Harvey’s tastes, this bizarre-looking alien female appears to be right up his alley, and transfixes him immediately. Still, he may not have much time to pursue the object of his affections, because no sooner does he set eyes on her than he and his crew-mates find themselves taking heavy fire by an unseen and unknown enemy! The barrage is short-lived — “a show of power, rather than an attempt to destroy us” — but it’s clear that the “giant battle craft” that has pulled up close to their vessel is populated by beings that have designs on the “princess” themselves. To say that the situation is “fluid” and “up in the air” would be an understatement of mammoth proportions, but as this issue closes, Norton knows that “whatever happens now can only fulfill my destiny!”

As issue six (cover-dated May, 1977 and titled “Inter-Galactica,” subtitled “‘The Ultimate Trip!,'”) opens up, the detente between the alien spacecraft and Norton’s proves to be short-lived — the cover demonstrates a level of communication between the antagonists that’s never actually achieved, as the spacemen’s language can’t be translated, but whatever — the one-sided firefight picking up steam again within a few pages, and heavier than before. To say that Norton’s head isn’t exactly “in the game” is probably a polite way of putting things, as even in the midst of battle he can’t help but comment that the monstrous ship firing at them is “a comic fan’s dream,” but what he lacks in social graces he more than makes up for in a sort of intuitive understanding of what’s going on that his colleagues clearly don’t share — he just knows, goddamnit, that it’s the “princess” those weird-looking fellas are after, and he’s got a plan to save everyone.

I’ll be the first to admit that what happens next is — how should I put this? — problematic. But as a logical extension of Norton’s so-called “character arc,” it does make perfect sense : with their ship heavily damaged and exposed to the vacuum of space, the three crew members desperately scramble to find their space suits, but in the confusion, Harvey, having figured out that the aliens have a “fix” on the capsule containing the “princess,” absconds with her in an attempt to both draw the aliens’ fire away from his (now former) vessel, and — uhhhmmm — get her to safety. It’s a risky strategy as well as an inherently contradictory one, but over and above all that, it’s also an act of desertion at best, possibly treason at worst. Fortunately for Norton, his fellow astronauts don’t see it that way — one exclaims that “he was a damned hero!” after he reads the hand-written note (no, I’m not kidding) that good ol’ Harv had the decency to leave behind — and the ensuing space-chase gives Kirby a chance to illustrate visionary and awe-inspiring starscapes for page after page, ensuring that kids (and anyone else) who bought this comic in 1977 got way more than their thirty cents’ worth.

As it turns out, the “capsule” piloted by the “princess” proves to be anything but, and Norton’s probably not too far off the mark when he refers to it as a “tin comet.” Still, their pursuers are relentless, determined, and better-armed, and as they reach the very “edge” of the solar system, the “bad guys” unleash “a mass of flaming energy” that Harvey says has “set fire to the universe!” Rather than dodging the inferno, though, the “princess” plunges their craft right into it, engaging the tiny ship’s “star drive” as she does so, which causes them to “leap” both “the solar system — and the galaxies beyond!” Following an incredible journey that sees “Norton’s senses desert him,” the pair finally emerges — well, somewhere. Specifically, here :

Wherever “here,” is, though, doesn’t seem to be a place where the “princess” is very popular, either — her compact craft quickly draws fire again, and a crash-landing leaves her injured and the two of them sitting ducks. As armed interlopers sweep down upon the apparently-helpless duo, Norton quickly learns how to handle an alien blaster/ray-gun and manages to get his charge to safety — or what passes for it, at any rate, as they enter a cavern that leads to a teleporter (or a “‘sending’ mechanism,” as Kirby terms it) — but if escape is to be had, it will have to be had separately. It’s not for lack of trying to say together, mind you — the “princess” beckons Norton to join in her disappearing act, and he makes it clear he’s eager to accompany her, even imploring her to not to leave without him — “but fate has planned differently for Norton,” and as another fierce blast shakes loose the cavern’s rocky walls, she disappears and something else comes into view behind Harvey as he lies prone and unconscious —

When our “hero” next “awakens,” he really is that — a hero — just as he’s always dreamed of being. His name? “Captain Cosmic.” His domain? A “unique skyscraper” that overlooks “the city he loves” — a city that “stands clean and clear against the brightening dawn,” as opposed to the grim reality of the New York he knows all too well. It appears that Harvey Norton’s deepest desires have all, finally, come true — but his triumph is to be a short-lived one, for, in a manner similar to the magnificent third act of Kubrick’s film, he is aging rapidly in preparation for the “change” that will see him re-emerge as a “cosmic fetus” traversing the universe until it finds the proper time and place to be born anew, a literal “child of the stars.”

What happens next? Well, shit — who knows? The “teaser” at the end of this issue strongly hints that the following month’s yarn, entitled “The Child,” will show the final fate of the Harvey Norton “Star Seed” — but as it turned out, number seven was about another, different, “upgraded” former astronaut altogether. I suppose it can be reasonably assumed, or at the very least intuited, that the reborn/reincarnated Norton had a similar journey, but any way you slice it, “Norton Of New York” is, strictly speaking, a two-part story.

And my, what a two-part story it is. Kirby’s art in 2001 : A Space Odyssey numbers five and six, with expert embellishment from his finest (in my view, at any rate) inker, Mike Royer, is bold, expressive, very nearly unbearably imaginative, and the very definition of “next level” stuff — but for my money, it’s The King’s writing that elevates this epic (in the truest sense of the word) tale to “legendary” status. Its flawed protagonist, as the logical extension of the very “fan culture” that his author/creator essentially gave birth to, is at once an easily-relatable “everyman” and a hopeless dreamer doomed to disappointment — until, suddenly, he’s not. And yet, just when it seems his “happy ending” is finally within his grasp, he loses it — only to get it, albeit temporarily, from a source even more unexpected than an actual “space princess.” This time, though, it’s in service of a purpose greater than his own ego gratification — one ultimately beyond his own understanding, and perhaps even ours. For what is one man in the face of a faceless, heartless monoculture? What is one man in the face of his own dreams and expectations? What is one man in the face of insurmountable, odds-stacked-against-him battle? What is one man in the face of an uncaring, but all-knowing, cosmos? These are the questions Kirby asks in “Norton Of New York” — and four decades later, I’m still puzzling out the answers. I heartily encourage you to read these two extraordinary comics and do the same yourself.

 

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Do the books themselves even matter anymore — or is the announcement of their forthcoming arrival enough?

I ask that question in all seriousness because it gets to the heart of one the major problems (among many worthy contenders) in Nick SpencerDaniel Acuna, and Rod Reis’ Secret Empire #0, the first chapter (or maybe that should be pre– first chapter) of Marvel Comics‘ latest sure-to-disappoint-most “crossover event” series. Within these pages you’ll find, for instance, a team calling itself “The Defenders” that hasn’t made its “official” debut yet, and  you’ll see Tony Stark back as Iron Man even though, according to “present” continuity, he’s still in a coma. But Marvel knows that you’re already aware of these “future” events because, hey, they’ve all been announced.

Likewise, they know damn well that pretty much everyone reading this book — even those who haven’t been keeping…

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Review : “Grass Kings” #1

Posted: March 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

My latest comic review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

I’m not sure what it is about human beings and plots of land, but ever since our species (well, most of us, at any rate) gave up its nomadic ways, the places we’ve chosen to inhabit have become downright sacred to us. On the one hand, that can manifest itself in generally innocuous, perhaps even quaint, ways such as hometown pride. On the other, it can give rise to genuinely ugly impulses such as nationalism and a fear of the other, of those who come from somewhere else.

It remains to be seen how attachment to place will play out in the pages of Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins‘ new series Grass Kings, the first issue of which has just seen print courtesy of Boom! Studios, but there’s no doubt that this particular patch of dirt near a lake (referred to simply as “the” lake)…

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Review : “Super Sons” #1

Posted: February 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

My latest review for Graphic Policy website.

Graphic Policy

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After originally being solicited for release back in September, one of the most-eagerly-anticipated DC Rebirth titles is finally here — Peter J. TomasiJorge Jimenez and Alejandro Sanchez‘ “kid-friendly” Super Sons #1. Methinks the delay, while admittedly somewhat aggravating, makes sense — after all, Jon “Superboy” Kent and Damian “Robin” Wayne needed to be teamed up elsewhere first to establish some sort of prior relationship, and a recently-concluded two-parter over in the pages of Superman managed that task of “groundwork-laying” quite successfully indeed. With all pretext and preamble out of the way, then, now is as good a time as any to strike while the iron is hot and turn things over to the next generation of heroes who are about to embark on what promises to be a decade or more of being stuck at right around 12 years old. Sigh, if only the real world worked…

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Review : “God Country” #1

Posted: January 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

I contribute “mini-reviews” to Graphic Policy weekly, but it’s been a little while since I did a full-lengther for them. Now that it’s 2017, I hope to do a better job of contributing more often.

Graphic Policy

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Some books, you just know they’re gonna be all kinds of bad-ass before they even hit the shelves.

Such was the case with God Country#1, the first of several highly-touted new releases from Image Comics to make its debut in 2017. The brainchild of writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw, preview pages for this title looked absolutely spectacular, although it was hard to tell if Shaw or colorist Jason Wordie was the real star of the show, visually speaking. And ya know what? Now that the comic itself is here, I’m still not sure who’s earned that distinction.

Let’s just call it a draw, then, and say that Wordie’s “digital-watercolor” palette and Shaw’s dynamic, high-energy pencils and inks complement each other really well and make for one hell of a good-looking book. Bleak Texas landscapes have never seemed so weirdly breathtaking, but when “shit gets cosmic,” well…

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