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.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about following the “career arc” of cartoonist/screenwriter Daniel Clowes is noticing the subtle shift that his work has taken toward the cautiously optimistic over the years. I’ve been a major fan of his for about as long as he’s been at it, and there’s not a single of his “major” works that I don’t consider to be flat-out masterful, but the outright nihilism of Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron shifted a few degrees toward the sympathetic unease of Ghost World , which then gave way to the happy-but-ultimately doomed resolution of David Boring, and then the bleak everyday hopelessness of Ice Haven and the quiet loss of a largely illusory past in The Death-Ray. One way or another, though, the message always seemed to be a variation on the idea that we were all destined to be slowly and silently crushed by the weight of silent but ever-present cosmic forces beyond our very comprehension, much less our control, and while later, post-Eightball graphic novels/novellas such as WilsonMister Wonderful, and the recently-published Patience don’t necessarily contradict that premise, they do each offer something of a suggestion that there’s a way to at least peacefully give in to, perhaps even co-exist with, this awareness of the inevitable. If you think about the fact that every day brings us one step nearer to the grave and that we’re each of us prisoners of our own foibles and shortcomings, sure, it would be enough to drive you nuts — but if you quit fighting against all that and instead call some sort of truce with with it, who knows? Maybe you’ll find some sort of contentment, perhaps even a semblance of happiness. It’s worth a try, at any rate.

The first two cinematic adaptations of Clowes’ work, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, offered reasonable-enough approximations of the core ideas explored by each on the comics page, and certainly director Terry Zwigoff seemed sympathetic to the idea of maintaining their integrity, but either a lot was lost in translation (Ghost World) or too much was added to it (Art School Confidential), resulting in a couple of films that were, at least in my view, rather up-and-down affairs. I certainly recommend seeing both, but I can’t pretend that they’re altogether successful. In certain respects they’re wildly so, but in others, they try hard but still miss the mark.

Which brings us up to the now. Working once again from a screenplay by the cartoonist himself, director Craig Johnson went off and made his own film (in my hometown of Minneapolis, no less — great to see my parents’ building on the screen as well as an appearance from Joe Minjares, owner of local Mexican restaurant institution Pepito’s, as a cab driver) without the same level of day-to-day involvement that Zwigoff afforded/extended to his collaborator. Surprisingly, the end result is probably the most faithful, in terms of both tone and content, of any of the “Clowes flicks,” and also the best of the bunch. Don’t ask me how that came to pass, but I’m downright ecstatic that it did.

The idea that the titular one-named character of Wilson is a stand-in for his creator is certainly accentuated by the uncanny physical resemblance achieved by star Woody Harrelson, but in many ways he’s more the sort of “unconventional everyman” we all know : the middle-aged guy who never “got his shit together” (there’s no mention of him having a job, for instance) and seems as lost at 50 as he was at 30 — heck, at 20. A lot of that is down to his own immaturity, to be sure, but he’s so ultimately harmless (to others, that is) that he’s definitely plenty lovable despite not being particularly likable. Still, even for a person this stuck in their ways, things happen that subtly shift their perspective, and for Wilson, the death of his largely-estranged father kicks off a bout of fear of his own mortality that sends him on a low-key odyssey to get back in touch with his fallen-on-hard-times ex-wife, Pippi (played by the always-exceptional Laura Dern), only to learn he has a now-teenage daughter named Claire (Isabella Amara) that he never knew about and who was given up for adoption. When the now-reunited “lovers” decide to interject themselves into their offspring’s life you know it’s going to go south, but watching it happen is both strangely heartwarming and massively entertaining. Wilson is an off-kilter personality, to be sure, but even at his weirdest he doesn’t do anything you couldn’t see someone vaguely like him doing, and Harrelson is never less than more or less perfect in what feels like a role he was born to play. When things do go off the rails for him thanks to a confrontation between Pippi and her neurotic, hyper-competitive, malicious sister, Polly (Cheryl Hines), they really go off the rails, but the absurdity of ensuing events is more than mitigated — heck, it’s made doubly believable — by the relentlessly low-key, “we’ll get through this” tone adopted by Johnson and channeled through his terrific cast. Clowes’ graphic novel employed the inventive conceit of telling its story by means of a series of one-page strips illustrated in a rotation of easily-recognizable “Sunday Funnies” styles, and while that would be impossible to faithfully translate visually to film without being jarring, the easy-going flow Johnson establishes at the outset and sticks to throughout cleaves to the temperament inherent in the book without being slavishly beholden to its exact technique. It works marvelously, in case you hadn’t already figured that much out, and if you’re not utterly engrossed by this film’s easy-going humor, lovingly-illustrated losers, and deep (without being overbearing) implicit understanding of the human condition, shit — I don’t know what it takes to make you happy.

And for much of the film, Wilson doesn’t seem to know what it will really take to make himself happy, either — he’s grasping for a “happily ever after” that never feels entirely out of reach, but his ill-considered actions ensure that he’s never more than a false move or two away from fucking it all up, either. The late-game arrival of his long-suffering dog-sitter, Shelly (Judy Greer), in a more prominent role in his life offers a last chance to get things right, but, as with all things, that could go either way, too. You can’t help but root for Wilson (heck, for everyone) until right up to the end, but unless and until he learns to find a measure of appreciation for what he has and how to let go of the way he wishes things could be, the ever-present, if largely unremarked-upon, tension that has underpinned his entire adult life will continue unabated. Watching how this all plays out is yet another of the film’s central joys, and even though Wilson’s utter cluelessness can be infuriating, it’s somehow never annoying. That takes deft scripting, direction, and acting to pull off, and damn if all parts of that trifecta aren’t present and accounted for here.

Everyday life is a deeply complex and multi-faceted affair even at its most purportedly “easy” times, and even if we don’t see it as such while it’s happening. Wilson is an unassumingly honest and humane reminder that even at its lowest ebb, there is something very much akin to magic to be found in it — if only we can allow ourselves to be our own best friend rather than our own worst enemy.

I’ll be the first to admit it : to the extent that I’ve racked up any “cool points” with my readers over the years, they’re pretty much all out the window by me admitting that I’ve even seen — much less bothered to review — director Bill Condon’s new live-action iteration of Disney’s animated classic Beauty And The Beast. The only pathetically tepid thing I can offer in my “defense” is that, judging by its mammoth performance at the box office, the entire rest of the fucking world has seen it, too, but still — it’s my job to be cynical to the point of obstinacy about this sort of production just as a matter of course, and to the extent that I’ve let any of you down by plopping down my hard-earned money on this blatantly saccharine offering, knowing full well what I was getting into from the outset, let me just apologize right off the bat and get it out of the way.

Oh, sure, I could reach and say the fact that the Christians are upset about this flick because it has the nerve to state the obvious fact that LeFou is gay (“just a little change — small to say the least”) and has a mad man-crush on Gaston was equal parts amusing and pathetic enough to sufficiently rouse my curiosity, but there’s really no saving face here. I was gonna end up seeing this thing come what may, and if you think I’m lame for that, then you’re gonna think I’m even more lame when I come right out and say that I actually liked it quite a bit, as well.  Bail out on this review right now, then, if you must — I certainly won’t hold it against you.

With all that out of the way, then, let’s get back to the question posed in my headline — how, exactly, do you successfully update a story that everyone knows already? In this case, Condon hit on exactly the right answer : apart from some minor tinkering around the edges, you pretty much don’t. The CGI advances of recent decades made a nominally “un-animated” (although a good 75% of this film was probably shot in front of a green screen) version of Beauty And The Beast more or less a no-brainer, but beyond the format shift, and necessary casting changes, there’s really no need to do anything different, and so what we have here at the end of the day isn’t so much a “remake” as it is a literal translation from cartoon to — well, shit, computerized cartoon with some actors along for the ride. Granted, some of the original’s shaky (to put it mildly) moral and ethical premises haven’t aged well (meet the girl of your dreams by taking her prisoner? Come on), but the musical numbers that are the real beating heart of the movie are bigger, bolder, and flawlessly executed here, the (slight) wrinkles peppered into the proceedings throughout deepen the tale’s mythology without contradicting anything, and by and large the casting choices are pitch-perfect : Emma Watson is Belle, plain and simple, Dan Stevens likewise nails is as The Beast, Luke Evans is pure arrogant sleaze as Gaston, Josh Gad’s take on LeFou is equal parts endearing and nauseating, Ewan McGregor is clearly having a blast as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is the only person you’d want to voice/later portray Cogsworth and delivers with aplomb, Stanley Tucci is an inspired choice as Cadenza, and Emma Thompson, well — she’s probably got the biggest shoes to fill as Mrs. Potts, but I think even Angela Lansbury herself would say “job well done” without hesitation for her work here. The only performer who seems to be a bit listless and/or lost is Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, who (surprsingly) never really seems to have a handle on the character and ends up mailing things in about halfway through. Everybody else? Shoot, they shine.

All that being said, “what’s the point?” is a more than reasonable question to ask here — the original isn’t going anywhere, and this more or less note-for-note re-vamp doesn’t do anything to dispel the notion that it’s a naked cash grab that in no way needs to exist, but given that it was going to happen regardless, maybe the better query to be posing is “why not?” If you can put a cast this good together, get ’em (almost) all to knock it out of the park, and there’s a billion dollars or more waiting for you on the other side of the metaphorical rainbow, if you were Disney, why wouldn’t you do it? You’ve gotta be more than happy to meet this film on its own terms, sure — to suspend your understandable disdain for the company behind it, to overlook its previously-mentioned dubious subtexts, and to allow your desire for either glowingly-constructed nostalgia or simple “feel-good” entertainment to overrule your common sense — but if you’re willing to let it serve you up a heaping slice of good, old-fashioned “movie magic,” guess what? It’ll give you precisely that and then some.

There’s no shame, especially in this day and age, in wanting to simply escape for a couple of hours — after all, the president and half (or more) of his sleazy cronies appear to be working for a hostile foreign government, the congressional “authorities” charged with getting to the bottom of this treason appear to be playing defense for the administration, the open corruption and conflicts of interest oozing from many members of the cabinet is being buried under a deluge of even worse news, and our nuclear arsenal is now under the control of a bona fide mentally unstable nutcase. Either Trump is on borrowed time or our democracy is, and right now it’s hard to say which will end up surviving. We’re all under ridiculous amounts of psychological stress and the future — as in, whether or not we’re even gonna have one — has never appeared more uncertain. Who couldn’t stand to be transported away from this madness for a little while?

So go on — put your pride, and perhaps even your ethical standards, on the shelf for a bit. Turn off that pesky brain and just go with the flow that Condon and his skilled cohorts seamlessly pull you into within moments of this film starting. Don’t worry about it. Don’t feel guilty. You deserve this mindlessly delicious confection — certain as the sun rising in the east.

The name Gerald Jablonski is one that few people know, but everyone should — not that he probably cares either way. Jablonski’s comics career began in 1976 with a single strip in the pages of Bill Griffith and Art Spiegelman’s Arcade #6, and then — nothing. He was literally the perennial “one-hit wonder” until 1990, when he suddenly decided to give the whole “comics career” thing another go, first with a strip in Snarf, then with further material appearing in anthology titles like Tantalizing Stories and Buzzard before Fantagraphics finally gave him a one-off book of his own, Empty Skull Comics, in 1996. And then things got kinda quiet again for the most part.

Fast-forward to 2001 when, thanks to a Xeric Grant (remember those?), he was able to self-publish the first issue of Cryptic Wit, a (very) semi-regular solo title that saw further installments unleashed on an undeserving public in 2008 and 2012. Obviously, then, “prolific” is something the esteemed Mr. Jablonski is not, but what he lacks in quantity he more than makes up for in quality. There’s just one problem with all of the publications his work has seen print in — they’ve never been big enough. And I do mean that in a strictly dimensional sense, rather than in terms of their length. Jablonski’s strips are so intricately-detailed and tightly-packed that the standard comics page — heck, even the magazine-sized pages of Buzzard — could never do them justice. Thankfully for us all, that problem has finally been solved thanks to Gary Groth’s “Fantagraphics Underground” sub-imprint, which has recently released the first, comprehensive, full-color collection of Jablonski’s work, entitled Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn, in a glorious 9 1/2″ x 13 1/2″ format, so at last we can see 100 pages of what this enigmatic talent has to offer without having to strain our eyes. Thank you!

To the extent that Jablonski’s comics are “known” for anything, it’s for their signature looping, twisting, spiraling word balloon tails. Seriously, they’re a veritable maze trailing from the mouths of their speakers, but as singularly bizarre as they are, they pale in comparison to the mind-bogglingly surreal contents of his (always one-page) strips themselves, which generally fall into three distinct groups :

  • The “Farmer Ned” stories begin with their eponymous narrator either lamenting the state of the world today, completely over-hyping the significance of the yarn he’s about to relate, or both, before cutting to a scene of a smart-assed young calf giving its mother a hard time and then following the travails of a disruptive newcomer to the farm (usually, though not always, a horse) who proceeds to work the nerves of every other animal around until the story not so much ends as simply stops;
  • The “Two Kids” stories delineate the wordless psychedelic violent confrontations between a youthful Ronald Reagan doppleganger and a youthful Gerald Ford doppleganger in a manner that can only be described as “Spy Vs. Spy on bad acid”;
  • And, finally, the “Howdy And Dee Dee” stories follow the exploits of a midlife, bear-faced “man” and his yellow-skinned, dog-eared nephew, who’s always playing his favorite band, Poopy, so loud that his uncle can’t hear his favorite radio serial, which inevitably leads to a series of vaudevillian insult trade-offs, followed by the nephew complaining about his teacher, who is an ant, and the arrival of a third figure, a friend of Dee Dee’s who looks vaguely like Tony Randall and never says a word. He does, however, wear a pink apron and look pained and/or constipated at all times. Again, these strips don’t really conclude, they just come to a stop, and their titles seldom, if ever, have anything to do with what’s happening on the page.

I’ll be the first to admit that the term “acquired taste” would be more than appropriate to drop into the proceedings as a descriptive at this point, but seriously — if you can’t get with this shit, it’s your loss. Jablonski’s comics are not only gut-bustingly hilarious, they’re also visually arresting on a level that’s almost impossible to conceive of until you see ’em for yourself. In his introduction to this volume, Jim Woodring reverently describes Jablonski as a true “lunatic,” and it’s no hyperbole — his vision is so well and truly singular that it could only come from a mind with no concern beyond emptying its contents onto the page in as authentic a manner as possible. The visual language they speak is so completely unlike anything else that it offers no evidence whatsoever its author has ever even seen another comic strip by another artist at any point in his life, much less bothered to develop an understanding of what his chosen medium “can” or “can’t,” “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Jablonski creates art for that rarest and most honest of all reasons — because he can and probably even must. The idea of an “end user” in the form of an audience doesn’t seem to enter into his thinking at all — you can take this shit or leave it, but it is what it is, and what it is certainly is nothing like anything else.

I’d say that I “love” this book, but honestly that seems too small a word with too narrow a set of emotions and reactions attached to it. In truth, I’m in awe of it, I’m perplexed by it, I’m amused (to no end) by it, I’m flabbergasted by it, I’m confounded by it, I’m fucking envious of the intellect it came from, and I’m amazed by the fact that I can be as constantly taken aback as I am by strips that play out in more or less exactly the same fashion every time. And maybe the best part of all is that Gerald Jablonski could care less what I think and he’s just gonna keep making the comics he wants to make in the way that he wants to make them, reaction to his work be damned. That’s integrity of a sort that’s almost impossible to come by in this day and age, and to which all I can say in response is — I don’t care how or when I die, just make sure I’m buried with a copy of Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn in my hands.

It’s probably not a great sign when a film sits on the shelf for six years, unreleased and undistributed, but such is the case with The Haunting Of Ellie Rose, a modest little low-budget number out of the UK from first-time director Tristan Versluis (who also co-wrote the script with Tim Major and Andy Thompson), a guy who’s apparently has made a name for himself as one of the top makeup artists in the British film and television industry — and has subsequently returned to that line of work. Again, probably not a great sign.

So, anyway,  yeah — this flick was actually filmed back in 2009, but hung around collecting dust until 2015, when it was finally released on DVD as well as onto various home viewing platforms, including Amazon Prime, which is how I caught it. I certainly wasn’t expecting much given what little I knew of the production’s backstory, it’s true, but hey — I’ve found celluloid diamonds in considerably rougher spots than this in the past. Would this then prove to be another pleasant, unexpected surprise?

The short answer to that, I’m sorry to say,  is “no,” but it’s not for lack of trying on Versluis’ part. His script here is paper-thin, to be sure — beaten down (emotionally, mentally, physically) by an abusive marriage, our protagonist (played by Eastenders star Lucy Benjamin), whose name you already know, splits from asshole husband Frank (Bill Ward) and returns to her disused family cabin, ostensibly on the US east coast, where flashbacks to her troubled childhood soon threaten to overtake her waking life and go some way toward amping up the apprehension she feels toward either splitting the scene, or staying where she is and awaiting the arrival of — someone. Honestly, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what is coming, if anything, but that’s a secondary concern for Versluis, since he spends most of his time piecing together where his central character has been.

In fact,in a very real sense, the present-day scenes in this film are just stage-setters for the flashbacks — Ellie stares out to sea a lot and pours herself one drink after another, and we do learn that an impending reunion with her younger sister, Chloe (Alexandra Moen), is what’s she’s so stressed about, but the real “action,” to the extent that it even exists, happens in the past, where we meet younger versions of Ellie and Chloe, as well as their emotionally distant mother, Rose (Kika Mirylees), whose supposed “transformation” from warm and loving parent to ice queen is still having reverberations in her daughters’ lives to this day. Although, ya know, stumbling across her dead body probably traumatized them a lot more —

I give Versluis credit for eschewing typical horror movie visual tropes in favor of a more “art house” look to his proceedings, but his disjointed time-jumps and rapid-fire editing do start to grate before too long. And by the fourth time we’re treated to a black-and-white flashback of the girls discovering their mother’s mutilated corpse, you’re more than ready to say “enough is enough.” The scenes look uniformly good, I’ll grant you that, but damn — they also looked good the first time, and once was plenty. Padding out a film is a necessary fact of life sometimes, sure, but when you go over the same ground over and over again and still only end up with an 80-minute feature,well, you’re in Nick Millard territory at that point.

The cast does a pretty decent job across the board here, particularly Benjamin (although all of them struggle with their American accents from time to time), but it’s not so much the quality of the material they’re given that holds them back as its sheer paucity. At the end of the day, The Haunting Of Ellie Rose feels like nothing so much as a 20-minute short extended far beyond its carrying capacity, and hoping desperately that some well-executed atmospherics can establish a pleasing enough “vibe” to distract you from the fact that there’s just not much happening here. It comes far short of pulling off that hustle, no question, but in strange way I do sort of admire Versluis and company for the earnestness with which they try to convince you that the appetizer they’re serving is actually a full meal.

 

 

This has been a rough week indeed for comics fans. Already reeling from the too-soon departures of underground legends Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, just hours ago news broke of the death of Bernie Wrightson, whose lavishly creepy illustrations haunted the imaginations — and found their way into the nightmares — of generations of readers. Arguably (hell, maybe even inarguably) the premier horror artist of our times, the esteemed Mr. Wrightson was a pre-eminent innovator and consummate craftsman whose painstaking attention to even the smallest of details made all the difference in the world and elevated his work from being “merely” great to being both great and memorable. But don’t just take my word for it, feast your eyes on some of his grimly lush renderings and decide for yourself :

As you can clearly see, Wrightson (who for many years omitted the “e” at the end of his first name and signed his work “Berni”) was a master of all mediums, from the brush to gray markers to pen-and-ink to washes to duotone paper to painting — you name it, he tried it, and always with resounding success. He really was just that good.

Wrightson began his professional career in 1966 working as an illustrator for his hometown Baltimore Sun newspaper, but after meeting legendary comics and fantasy artist Frank Frazetta at a convention he felt sufficiently inspired to give comics a try, and in 1968 was hired on by DC, where his work began appearing regularly in the House Of Mystery and House Of Secrets horror anthology series. Similar work for Marvel followed on “of-a-piece” titles such as Chamber Of Darkness and Tower Of Shadows, but his “big break” came in 1971 when he and writer Len Wein created the most famous “muck monster” character of them all, Swamp Thing, for a one-off Victorian-era story in House Of Secrets #92.  The strip proved to be so popular that Swampy was given his own series, complete with a revamped, then-modern origin, and Wrightson illustrated the first ten issues of Swamp Thing before signing on with Warren Publishing in 1974, where he put his then-positively-exploding talents to use on both original stories and adapted works (most notably of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft) for legendary black-and-white mags such as Creepy and Eerie.

The mid-’70s ushered in a new chapter, with Wrightson and studio-mates Jeff Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Michael W. Kaluta expanding their reach beyond comics and into commercial art, but he never left the funnybooks behind completely, and his 1983 graphic novel adaptation of George A. Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow led to a sustained and productive working relationship with King that saw him produce original illustrations for the books Cycle Of The WerewolfWolves Of Calla, and the restored edition of the classic The Stand. 1983 also saw the publication, via Dodd, Mead, and Company, of a deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein complete with nearly 50 pen-and-ink illustrations that Wrightson had spent seven years producing and that many consider to be the pinnacle of his masterful use of line and shadow. Here’s just a sample :

In 1985, Wrightson and writer Jim Starlin oversaw Marvel’s Heroes For Hope, an all-star “jam” benefit comic for African famine relief, and in 1986 they did the same for DC with Heroes Against Hunger, beginning a long and fruitful collaborative partnership that saw them team up on the highly-regarded mini-series The Weird and Batman : The Cult for DC and The Punisher : P.O.V. for Marvel in ensuing years. A wide range of card game, film design, and commercial work followed on from there, as well and continued comics work for publishers such as Heavy Metal (the character of Captain Sternn in the Heavy Metal film was a Wrightson creation), Dark Horse, IDW, and Bongo until his retirement this past January due to health issues following brain surgery.

Bernie Wrightson — incomparable talent, winner of too many industry awards to mention, and delineator of gorgeous grotesqueries for  a half-century — lost his long battle with brain cancer on March 18, 2017, aged 68. He is preceded in death by his first wife, undergound comix cartoonist and “Big Two” colorist Michele Wrightson, and is survived by wife Liz, sons John and Jeffrey, and stepson Thomas. He cast a long and darkly beautiful shadow over the lives of comics and horror fans around the globe, and his untimely passing casts the longest one of all. Thank you, good sir — may you rest in peace as surely as your work will continue to cause sleepless nights for years to come.

Sometimes, friends, I just don’t even know where to begin.

I like to consider myself a fairly seasoned veteran when it comes to all things cinematically bad (I don’t call myself “Trash Film Guru” for nothing), but once in awhile something comes along that defies even my ground-down-over-time ability to adequately process. I’ve seen plenty of films that make no sense whatsoever — some good, some decidedly less so — but one thing even the most inexplicably bizarre servings of celluloid sewage have in common is that they were all trying to do something. Maybe it wasn’t something worth trying. Maybe it was something they flat-out shouldn’t have tried. But right or wrong, they all see it through to the end and sink or swim based on whatever fucking idea or premise they started out with.

Such is not the case with director John Hijiri’s 2009 zero-budget mega-turkey Jaws In Japan, which I caught earlier today streaming on Amazon Prime under its alternate international DVD (and whatever you do, I wouldn’t recommend sinking your hard-earned money into that) release title, Psycho Shark. This flick is like nothing I’ve ever seen simply because it seems to change its mind not once, but twice, about why it even exists. And as its thankfully brief 70-minute runtime drew to a close, all I could think is that it probably shouldn’t even exist at all.

Initially, Hijiri and screenwriter Yasutoshi Murakawa seem to be happy to simply dish out yet another Japanese bikini-romp, which makes sense given that its supposed “stars,” Nonami Takizawa and Airi Nakajima (as fun-loving college girls Miki and Mai, respectively) are what’s known as “gravure idols,” and neither of them can act worth a damn. Pretty early on, though, the decision is made that watching two admittedly quite pretty young ladies run around half-naked isn’t enough in and of itself to keep viewers interested if they’re not gonna get completely naked at some point, and so, while the “wear a swimsuit at all times” trope doesn’t go away, by any means, it’s simply steered into service of something that has the makings of an ostensible plot. Cue abrupt change number one.

This is the point at which our nubile co-eds find themselves completely lost on the island paradise they’re vacationing at and end up meeting a skeevy local who guides them to a hotel owned by a creep with blood under his fingernails who’s probably killing off tourists but, like an idiot, leaves their camcorders around for people like Miki and Mai to find. So, yeah, what we’re apparently looking at now is some sort of “found footage” serial killer flick.  And a damn boring one at that.

Unless, of course, roughly 45 mish-mashed minutes of watching shit “shaky-cam” footage, watching girls watching shit shaky-cam footage, and watching those same girls sleep, go to the beach, and take bikini-clad showers sounds gripping to you. There’s honestly more attention paid to — and more dialogue focused on — those ever-present bikinis than there is to the “killer on the loose” storyline, which is fair enough given that bikinis are more interesting than said storyline, but seriously — why not just make a “gravure” feature and leave it at that?

Evidently, Hijiri and Murakawa decided their “mockumentary”-style movie-within-a-movie wasn’t working out too well, either, so with approximately ten minutes to go, they abandon that conceit in favor of abrupt change number two : a giant CGI shark. Earlier scenes in this film borrowed obviously (and ineptly) from both Psycho and The Ring, but seriously, even though the film’s title gives it away, the sudden and hard pull into Jaws territory makes no sense whatsoever and feels very much like the last-second addition that it is (which makes me wonder what they were gonna call it before tacking this shit on at the end, but whatever). If you’ve got whiplash at this point, rest assured, you’re not alone.

Or maybe you are, because chances are that nobody else is awake at this point. Seriously, unlike other rankly amateur cut-rate CGI abominations like Birdemic, there’s just nothing weird or interesting going on here to maintain your interest until that shark shows up at the end, and by then it’s all far too little, far too late. It seems really strange that a film with pretty young women running around in next to nothing capped at the end with a laughably absurd CG monster could be boring, but that’s exactly what Jaws in Japan is. In fact, it’s downright interminably dull. And while I can certainly forgive (heck, more often than not I love) ultra-low budgets, cheesy FX, and absurd stories, one thing I can’t forgive is dullness. And no matter how many times Hijiri tries for a “do-over” with this thing, he never figures out how to turn it into anything you’re going to give a shit about.