• Hopefully
    I’m changing up my posting schedules. Cutting back on Visual Reflux basically. VR is actually the most work because of the screenshots. My workflow on prepping them is a pain. Then Comics Fondle, because even though there are the header images on Stop Button, comic book panel grabs are tough. Because I don’t read everything digital. In fact, I’m moving away from it so then it’s taking an actual picture of the page and processing it. I’m going to a daily post thing, with Stop Button alternating, then Comics Fondle or Visual Reflux on the off days. Unless I’m doing a read through on CF, then it’s just CF alongside Stop Button. Visual Reflux is technically the second most popular blog, but only because people keep reading the “Hot Zone” post. Comics Fondle has actual readers. And then I’m trying these text dumps on Summing Up. A hundred and fifty words this one. The length is going to be based on when it looks acceptable on the theme. One hundred words yesterday was too slim. This one’s hopefully better.
  • Night Hunter (2018, David Raymond)
    The first act of Night Hunter, which is just as stupid as the film’s original title, Nomis, but has nothing to do with the movie itself—unless Night Hunter refers to “lead” Henry Cavill, who at one point tells his daughter, played by Emma Tremblay, how he was a great SWAT cop until she was born. Now, Cavill’s thirty-five or so and Tremblay’s like fourteen so he and ex-wife Minka Kelly had her pretty young. And Cavill was already a SWAT bad ass when he was twenty. He’s also British and living in Minneapolis-St. Paul because that sort of thing makes sense in Night Hunter—I mean, also British Ben Kingsley was… a local judge. If Night Hunter had just had the stones to embrace it’s Canadian heritage instead of pretending it takes place in the Twin Cities, which are a really dangerous place but also have the highest tech police department in the world—wait. I was talking about the first act. Sorry. The movie’s stupid in some amusing ways. Lots of potential tangents. But the first act. The first act is fairly… engaging? I mean, it’s about tortured super cop Cavill who works homicide and seems really smart. Cavill doesn’t give a good performance—he doesn’t give a terrible one, we’ll get to the terrible ones in a bit—but he’s really good at acting smart. It might also be because he’s British. It might also be because he’s British and makes the dumb dialogue sound authoritative and all the other people, save Kingsley, are not British and speaking stupid dialogue and, therefore, do not sound authoritative. There’s a lot going wrong at once in Night Hunter. Makes for interesting fails; fails because nothing writer, director, and co-producer Raymond does succeeds. The one big plot twist isn’t as dumb as the alternative he’d been hinting at for a while. I suppose that statement is complementary. Let me back up. The movie starts with a woman killing herself instead of being recaptured by the guy chasing her. Cavill’s the homicide cop. Meanwhile, Kingsley and Eliana Jones are vigilantes who castrate sexual predators. Kingsley’s a former judge who’s gone dark after his family got killed. Jones is a sexual abuse survivor. She’s bait. It’s a good setup and, frankly, a lot of fun to watch. Kingsley’s a good heavy. And Jones gives the best performance in the film. She gives a bit wider of a performance than Kingsley or Stanley Tucci, but her part’s better and Jones tries harder. Eventually, Cavill crosses paths with Kingsley and Jones and soon they’ve teamed up to find the killer. And they catch him right away. Brendan Fletcher is the killer. Only once they lock him up and Cavill’s ex-girlfriend turned believer-in-multiple-personalities profiler Alexandra Daddario interviews Fletcher. Fletcher’s the intellectually, mildly physically disabled super-killer who took out however many women before they finally caught him, from his bad guy mansion out in the woods. Daddario’s convinced it’s multiple personalities, Cavill thinks Fletcher’s faking it, Kingsley and Jones are out of the movie for a while, and Stanley Tucci comes in to yell. It’s a terribly written part for Tucci but he weathers it. But Fletcher and Daddario are godawful. Night Hunter has got no chance after they start sparring, these two actors unable to breathe life into a crappy script. The film finds its ceiling and for most of the second act, Daddario is slamming her head against it as she tries to unlock Fletcher’s secrets. Very, very stupidly. Because it’s a stupid script. The third act has its surprise, but it doesn’t get any smarter. It’s also not like Cavill turns out to be much of a Sherlock Holmes; maybe the implications in the first act really were just because of the accent. He catches on to everything after the audience. It’s almost like Raymond promises he’s going to be really, really stupid and then when he’s just really stupid instead, he treats it like a victory lap. The end’s bad. Good special effects but still a bad ending. Raymond doesn’t appear to direct his actors. Most of them don’t actually need it, but the most important ones definitely do—Fletcher, Daddario, Cavill (though Cavill’s more just absurdly miscast). The supporting cast is mostly solid. Nathan Fillion’s one of the other cops because he owed someone a favor or just really likes Winnipeg; he’s fine. Daniela Lavender’s the CSI. She’s more good than fine. She makes her expository scenes rather believable, even lending credibility to Cavill. But it doesn’t really matter because once the second act hits… it’s just Fletcher and Daddario and the occasional incredible set piece. See, Fletcher’s such a mastermind, he’s killing cops while he’s locked up with explosives and poison gas and whatever else. Still, Night Hunter’s far from unwatchable. Michael Barrett’s photography is good, even when Raymond’s composition is bad. It’s not incompletely produced or anything, it’s just not well-directed or well-written or well-acted. But it’s not… embarrassing for some of the people involved. Jones’s quite good. Tremblay’s far better than the film desires. Kingsley’s decent. It’s unexceptionally bad. ⓏⒺⓇⓄ CREDITS Written and directed by David Raymond; director of photography, Michael Barrett; music by Alex Lu and Benjamin Wallfisch; produced by Robert Ogden Barnum, Jeff Beesley, Rick Dugdale, Chris Pettit, and Raymond; released by Sabin Films. Starring Henry Cavill (Marshall), Alexandra Daddario (Rachel), Ben Kingsley (Cooper), Eliana Jones (Lara), Brendan Fletcher (Simon), Stanley Tucci (Commissioner Harper), Emma Tremblay (Faye), Minka Kelly (Angie), Daniela Lavender (Dickerman), Mpho Koaho (Glasgow), and Nathan Fillion (Quinn). RELATED Other 2018 releases RECENTLY Waitress (2007, Adrienne Shelly)Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018, Christopher McQuarrie)Stardust (2007, Matthew Vaughn)Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)
  • So many feelings
    I’m in a foul mood today. Like, fuck Columbus Day. It was a long day—with some highlights, got to see people, had positive social interactions and whatnot—but the day had already been a little shitty by that time and I was intentionally compartmentalizing my post-traffic rage—wow, post-traffic rage; I had feelings about the day today. Maybe it wasn’t enough sleep, maybe it was too much. Maybe I really do need at least half a second cup of coffee before heading in. Or maybe just fuck Columbus Day. It’s a very bad day in 2019. I’m sure lots of good things happened out there, but reality still sucks and still having to think about fucking Columbus Day just aggravates it. So many feelings. I need to go to bed.
  • The Shadow of the Tower s01e08 – The Princely Gift
    I can’t say if this episode, The Princely Gift, is better than the previous episode, which was the comedy. Gift is about a Venetian navigator, played by Londoner Derek Smith with an accent you’d think was a little strong even in 1972. He’s working with these three businessmen from Bristol who want to do an exploration themselves, not for science and knowledge, but for profit. Smith is along for the ride, because he doesn’t have the experience to get support in Venice. He’s a novice navigator. So maybe a third of the episode is Smith’s life in England, with his wife (Katharine Blake) and sons in tow. Blake wants to go back to Venice, especially if it means Smith doesn’t get to go on his voyage. She worries about him. Blake and Smith’s marriage chemistry is so good it gets past him being British and her being South African. In 1972. Ew. But they’re both amazing. Blake’s performance is (unfortunately since we’re on episode eight) easily the female performance on the show so far and maybe even the best performance overall. She’s really, really good. Another third involves the Bristol businessmen, which is done for humor. They’re bumbling Brits. Blake mocks them openly. It’s funny. That comedy feel again, with an entirely different subject, cast, director, and writers. “Shadow of the Tower,” in two episodes, has completely refined its potential. This episode also involves light. Fake light, sure, but light. Light gives the show a rather inviting feel. Very good direction from Keith Williams. Particularly excellent use of music too, possibly by Herbert Chappell (who’s the only credited composer and for the title music). The last third (and basically the last third of the episode too) involves King James Maxwell and Derek once the petition for a voyage gets all the way up the ladder. You’ve got this earthy, passionate Venetian and this British monarch who might be in tights and definitely has a stick up his ass, but they’re both excited about the world and about knowledge. It’s awesome. If history was actually two percent as cool as the scene, it’d be a good historical moment. “Shadow of the Tower” really has gotten extraordinarily good all of a sudden. Because it’s still expository—it’s still basically just a history lesson—just an elegantly, artfully executed one.
  • Becker s01e10 – P.C. World
    There are some weird optics to P.C. World. You’ve got Ted Danson, who just six years earlier burned out due to a really bad public blackface incident and is coming back with this “Becker” show, reformed. Now, Danson’s gone on to be one of the least problematic Hollywood liberals and a damn fine actor, but in 1999… Danson getting to aha an East Coast liberal type (Robert Joy) on the radio? It was optics. See, Joy was at Danson’s breakfast place and heard Danson yelling about how he hates rap music, making fun of Alex Désert’s blindness and possibly through in a Black jab (related to the rap music?), and saying “you people” to the Asian American guy (Phil Nee) who has just hit Danson’s bar. Now, we all know it’s okay because Danson’s not racist, he’s just an exceptional asshole. It would probably would better if writer Michael Markowitz’s rants were better or Jeff Melman’s direction was better. Markowitz also appears as the radio show host interviewing Danson and Joy. He’s more fun as an actor. Then there’s this whole subplot about Hattie Winston being okay with Shawnee Smith selling cosmetics from the doctor’s office because Smith’s got the skin care secrets now. I’d think there’d be some kind of ethical violation, patients rights or something, especially since Smith’s doing it in one of those direct selling pyramid schemes. The subplot gives Smith one of her biggest focuses in the series so far, but it’s not a good subplot. It’s not a good focus. She’s fine, but she’s just being silly—as she becomes the make-up “dealer”—not funny or even good. It’s a waste of a subplot. Versus the waste of a main plot. “Becker” had shown some major improvements the previous couple of episodes, but this episode learned none of their positive lessons. The misanthropy vs. bigotry thing ends up being a cop out, which is weird since the best scene in the episode is when Black man Earl Billings stops going to doctor Danson because of Danson’s bravado. It’s like someone said, hey, maybe let’s take this seriously. And then someone else said, no, let’s have Danson stick it to the performative liberal. Zing.
  • Parasite (2019, Bong Joon-ho)
    Metaphor is a luxury item in Parasite. First act lead Choi Woo-sik excitedly talks about the metaphorical when things are still going well. Choi, a floundering, unemployed early twenty-something from an unemployed floundering family, lucks into the perfect gig—tutoring a rich teenager with her English. Choi’s great at his English, he just doesn’t apply himself. Or he’s really bad at math (he didn’t go to college, despite acing his English language tests over and over). Even better, the mom (Jo Yeo-jeong) is a bit of a bimbo. A very well-spoken, well-informed one, but not someone who, you know, reads. She knows how to talk about reading though. It’s a very interesting part; Jo’s great. Probably giving the film’s best performance, which isn’t an easy task, but the script never turns her into a caricature. It’s weird watching her at first, because you’re waiting for director Bong and co-writer Han Jin-woo to go for some easy bit and they never do. The film’s got a very particular narrative distance with wealthy Jo and her husband, Lee Sun-kyun. See, Choi and his family come to see Jo and Lee as the caricatures, while…. And I’m ahead of myself. On his first tutoring lesson, Jo tells Choi about how her other kid—Choi’s tutoring the teenage girl, played by Jung Ji-so—but Jo’s other kid, the younger boy (Jung Hyun-jun) he’s actually an artistic genius. Well, Jo’s convinced herself he’s an artistic genius, anyway. And Choi sees the chance to get his artistically talented sister—so good she faked his college transcript for the job interview—a gig tutoring the clearly not a next level genius son. Park So-dam is Choi’s sister. Once she gets into the house and is able to manipulate Jo better than Choi can (or thought to), it’s time to get dad Song Kang-ho and mom Jang Hye-jin gigs too. They just need to get rid of the other servants to make vacancies. Because Park and Choi have a whole plan worked out, complete with role-playing lessons to get Song and Jang ready for their parts. Choi’s lucked the whole family’s way into full employment. Something Bong and Han carefully foreshadow. They’re similarly careful about how they juxtapose the two families. Because, obviously, they don’t let on they’re related. Becausee they’re being very safe about how they’re conning and exploiting Jo and Lee and with some empathy—to protect them from getting exploited by someone else. Song’s gone positively soft for the family and what he thinks is their naiveté, Choi’s got a crush on his inappropriately young tutee; they’re all in on the con, with Choi and Park starting to work out plans for the future. Only Choi and Park are inexperienced kids and even though Song and Jang are ready and willing with the con, they’re not any more experienced in this world either. Jo and Lee live in this distinct, gigantic literal architect’s dream home. Bong has these great shots of how much area Choi and his family have to walk to get around. They live in a basement apartment where drunks piss on their windows. There’s not room in that apartment for a long shot, there’s not enough room for Bong to pan the shot to follow them. Everyone’s got their own kind of naiveté in Parasite; the audience can’t necessarily see into the characters’ blindspots either. Bong and Han don’t exactly have any mysteries, but they’ve got some Brobdingnagian surprises. Sometimes those surprises impact the epical narrative, sometimes they impact the subtext. Parasite says a lot, looks at a lot. Bong never forces it, some of he and Han’s moves so subtle you don’t catch on to when they started laying the groundwork until they’re ahead a couple more reveals. Kind of like the aforementioned metaphor as a luxury item. They’re already two or three metaphors in between they reveal they’re metaphors. It’s so good. Sometimes watching Bong pull it off, thanks also to Hong Kyung-pyo’s photography and Yang Jin-mo’s editing—sometimes it gets distracting, how well this scene or that scene works. How ably Bong is accomplishing with the film. And it doesn’t take until the the third act for that feeling, it hits in the early second. Parasite’s great from really, really early on. The acting helps with that early success. Everyone’s excellent. They’re different kinds of excellent, because no one’s got the exact same kind of function in the script—mom Jang’s got a great long sequence where she’s never the focus of a scene but how she’s moving through the background is the actually important thing going on. Meanwhile, Song’s got a very different kind of part; his part changes the most throughout, and not just because he and Jang start the film more in supporting roles. It takes a while. Bong and Han never hurry it either. There’s not a wasted moment in the film. The best performances are Jo, Sang, and probably Lee Jeong-eun (the kindly housekeeper who could foil Sang and family’s plans). Jo and Sang have a handful of scenes together and they’re always so great because Jo and Sang are giving such nuanced, guarded performances. The script demands it, more than for anyone else, and seeing them acting together is something special. Because they’re doing separate things, which are then informing the scene in how they spark off one another. It’s fantastic to watch. Park and Jang are both really good. Park’s got the hardest part in the first act—she’s got to be the most different between home and work—and she’s great. She gets less later on, but when it’s all on her, Park nails it. Lee—the rich husband—he’s good. Choi’s really good. Parasite’s just really good in general; also specific to its many parts. Bong sets up the film as an experience, something for the audience to go through. It’s not an inaccessible experience. In fact, what makes it so impressive is how often Bong and Han just go for their big symbolism and such. Bong’s fearless. Parasite’s outstanding. ★★★★ CREDITS Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong and Han Jin-won; director of photography, Hong Kyung-pyo; edited by Yang Jin-mo; music by Jung Jae-il; production designer, Ha-jun Lee; produced by Bong, Jang Young-Hwan, Moon Yang-kwon, and Kwak Sin-ae; released by CJ Entertainment. Starring Song Kang-ho (Kim Ki-taek), Choi Woo-sik (Kim Ki-woo), Park So-dam (Kim Ki-jung), Jang Hye-jin (Kim Chung-sook), Jo Yeo-jeong (Park Yeon-kyo), Lee Sun-kyun (Park Dong-ik), Jung Ji-so (Park Da-hye), Jung Hyun-jun (Park Da-song), and Jeong-eun Lee (Moon-gwang). RELATED Other films directed byBong Joon-ho Other 2019 releases Other South Korean films RECENTLY The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008, Kim Ji-woon)The Host (2006, Bong Joon-ho)Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)The Foul King (2000, Kim Ji-woon)Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)
  • The Shadow of the Tower s01e07 – A Fly in the Ointment
    “In the Shadow of the Tower” has been getting really good, but it hasn’t done anything like A Fly in the Ointment in the ointment before. When I grokked the format—different directors, different writers, maybe not everything from King James Maxwell’s perspective (though tellingly zilch so far from Queen Norma West’s perspective), I was kind of hopeful, kind of apprehensive. The show’s from 1972; it’s had almost fifty years to get discovered and rediscovered and I’d never heard of it. Because Ointment delivers on all the potential of the concept, more than I’d ever imagined; Ointment is a comedy episode. It makes fun of British people, it makes fun of them being pompous and ignorant, it makes fun of them so stuck-up compared to Europeans, it makes fun of them being lazy rich. It’s freaking awesome. And it’s got the Major from “Fawlty Towers” (Ballard Berkeley) playing… a fifteenth century version of the Major. It’s awesome. And it’s a lot more open than the show’s ever been before. They’re not in dreary England, the episode takes place in Rome and other sunny places. Moira Armstrong’s direction is fantastic. Julian Mitchell’s script is just the right amount sarcastic humor, right amount straight humor, right amount exposition. And because of the now anthology style of the show, you could potentially watch it separate from everything else. Maxwell shows up, but basically for a cameo. It’s all about the guest stars. There’s John Welsh as this English nobleman who’s plotting against Maxwell, forced to collaborate with Eastern Mediterranean types with their loose morals and sexy art. He’s a rich idiot, who everyone entertains because he’s a rich idiot. In his entourage (of conspirators), there’s also Christopher Sandford as his randy lovestuck dandy nephew who’s hanging around for the old man’s money and drinking and whoring while he waits, Donald Eccles is an archdeacon who’s also an idiot and in the group, and finally there’s Peter Bowles, who starts real quiet and ends up giving the second best performance in an episode of outstanding performances. Thanks to Ointment, no matter what else “Tower” does, it’s under-regarded. It’s amazing.
  • The Shadow of the Tower s01e06 – The White Hart
    The episode starts with guys conspiring to overthrow Henry VII (Robert Maxwell) with the help of foreign money and a pretender king… in other words, “In the Shadow of the Tower” feels like itself again. If itself again means it feels more like the first three episodes than the two before this episode. It’s actually not a return to that original form, even if some of the same pieces are in play. For example, Queen Norma West returns, just with zilch to do. She’s scenery in Marigold Sharman’s scenes, something for Sharman to talk off. The main story—and where the episode gets very different from anything coming before, especially the episodes with the same type of stakes—is about Sir William Stanley, who’s almost definitely a traitor of some sort. A conspiring one. Maxwell’s on to him, slowly but surely because Maxwell’s too trusting—the scene where Maxwell tears Stanley (John Franklyn-Robbins) down is fantastic. It’s just a shame Franklyn-Robbins isn’t any good. He’s very close to actively bad, hurting the many scenes he’s in this episode. So Franklyn-Robbins is Sharman’s brother-in-law and Sharman is Maxwell’s mother and the King’s mother doesn’t want her in-law executed or even threatened with execution for treason. Maxwell doesn’t agree with her assessment of the situation, which doesn’t lead to a rift, just an oft-repeated exposition dump about Maxwell’s responsibilities as king. It should be a great episode. If Franklyn-Robbins were any good, it’d be a great episode. Instead it’s just pretty good, with John Elliot’s script sometimes a little slow but a really good performance from Maxwell this time out. Even though the scripts aren’t giving Maxwell explicit character development, his character is developing through the performance as the series progresses. There’s definitely a “don’t question the Tudor king” attitude about the show, which is kind of weird but then the English have bought into the idea of not questioning their history just like the rest of Western civilization so maybe it’s not.
  • Adam’s Rib (1949, George Cukor)
    Adam’s Rib has a great script (by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin), but outside director Cukor not being as energetic as he could be—he might’ve been able to compensate—the script is the biggest problem with the film. There are the really obvious problems, like when Spencer Tracy gets reduced to a supporting role in the third act but instead of giving that extra time to Katharine Hepburn, which would make sense because she’s the other star, it spreads the time out way into the weeds. Not the courtroom resolve, of course, but every other scene is just contrived to not get too close in on the lead characters. And there are some communication issues—like were we supposed to get Tracy’s bigger philosophical objection to Hepburn taking her case, which is his case too. Let me back up. The movie opens with this great exterior sequence in New York City, following Judy Holliday as she stalks some guy (Tom Ewell). Turns out he’s her husband and he’s cheating on her so she’s got a gun and she’s going to do something about it. He doesn’t die; she’s arrested and charged with attempted murder. Hepburn wants to defend her—the jilted husband gets a pass on shooting at cheating wives and their lovers, why not women too. Tracy’s the assistant district attorney. He doesn’t agree with Hepburn’s opinion, then really doesn’t agree with her becoming Holliday’s defense attorney. Most of the movie is them fighting it out in the courtroom, then catching up with them in the evenings, seeing how the professional competition is taking a toll on their marriage. But a comedy. A comedy with what turn out to be a lot of big ideas, which it would’ve been nice if they’d talked about during the movie instead of doing a big subplot around Tracy and Hepburn’s neighbor, David Wayne, who’s a popular musician; he’s also got the hots for Hepburn and sees his chance as the case starts to destabilize the usually wonderful marriage. That usually wonderful marriage is what makes Adam’s Rib so much fun. Tracy and Hepburn are phenomenal together. Their married banter, thanks both to the actors and their script, is peerless. And they’ve got a great relationship. The script does a great job in the first act establishing their wedded bliss separate from their careers, which then collide and spill over, but not in a way the first act’s handling would predict. The script’s much tighter in the first act as far as establishing the ground situation but it doesn’t do anything to set up the character development. Again, great script, but a big problem one too. Also in the first act the film seems like it might take Holliday’s murder trial seriously. Like as a procedural. Because the film tries not to utilize screwball humor. It can’t resist, which is a problem as the film’s set up to not be screwball so the screwball scenes don’t play. That lower energy Cukor direction; he respects and enables the actors but nothing else. He doesn’t even showcase them as much as their ability to execute the routine. Good, but not as good as it should be. Anyway, Holliday—who’s sort of the protagonist of the whole thing, or ought to be—disappears into background. She’s great, but she gets almost nothing to do. There’s potential for some kind of relationship, though not friendship, between Holliday and Hepburn—even a client and attorney one—but the film doesn’t do anything with it. And Tracy never gets shown presenting his case. Or working on his case. So not a good procedural, which is a bummer since—once the finale reveals Tracy’s motivations—it could’ve been a great courtroom drama. Instead, it’s a wonderfully charming and almost always entertaining Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn picture. The production values are strong, Cukor’s more than adequate, the script’s great, Holliday’s excellent, Wayne doesn’t get too tiresome even though it seems like he might, George J. Folsey’s photography is nice, George Boemler’s editing not so much, but… it works. It all works. It just doesn’t try hard enough. Maybe some of it is Production Code related. But the way the script compensates really doesn’t work, leaving Tracy and Hepburn with good roles in a fun comedy instead of great parts in a better film. ★★½ CREDITS Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin; director of photography, George J. Folsey; edited by George Boemler; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Spencer Tracy (Adam Bonner), Katharine Hepburn (Amanda Bonner), Judy Holliday (Doris Attinger), Tom Ewell (Warren Attinger), David Wayne (Kip Lurie), Jean Hagen (Beryl Caighn), Hope Emerson (Olympia La Pere), Eve March (Grace), and Clarence Kolb (Judge Reiser). This post is part of the Second Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Micheala of Love Letters to Old Hollywood. RELATED Other films directed byGeorge Cukor Other 1949 releases RECENTLY Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)Two-Faced Woman (1941, George Cukor)Desk Set (1957, Walter Lang)Captains Courageous (1937, Victor Fleming)Undercurrent (1946, Vincente Minnelli)
  • The Shadow of the Tower s01e05 – The Serpent and the Comforter
    This episode is peculiar. It has a new writer, new director, same production design, same King (James Maxwell), but in this episode, Maxwell’s end credit is just as “The King,” not “King Henry VII.” Because it doesn’t matter who he is. He doesn’t need to be the king. He could just as easily be Pontius Pilate. If there is a Jesus homage, it’s more functional than anything else, like writer Hugh Whitemore wanted the framework but not too many of the details. So I guess Maxwell couldn’t just as easily be Pontius Pilate. David Bowie is Pontius Pilate. And Maxwell is no David Bowie. And David Bowie is no James Maxwell. Anyway. The episode’s about Maxwell getting interested in this condemned heretic, played by Peter Jeffrey. Unbeknownst to Maxwell, one of the soldiers guarding Jeffrey also gets interested. David Ashton plays the young soldier. Ashton doesn’t understand what heresy means while Maxwell is just looking for a debate. He’s a privileged, bored White man with a wife and baby at home; of course he wants to debate some guy who’s condemned to death. It’s been very interesting to see how Catholic the English are in the “Tower” era. Hearing Maxwell harp on about the greatness of the Catholic Church is strange, almost disconcerting. Though that reaction’s probably a combination of history major and BBC-watcher, your mileage may vary. So Maxwell, defender of the Catholic faith, debates Jeffrey, who just wants to go back to Jesus’s teachings from the Bible and knock it off with all the corrupt Church stuff. Maxwell “wins” the debate by dismissing Jeffrey’s reliance on empirical evidence; of course it doesn’t make senes if you see it, God made it that way not to make sense so you wouldn’t try to figure it out. But the real emotion comes with Jeffrey and Ashton. See, Ashton’s got an impressionable young mind and a good heart and he bonds with Jeffrey, which does Jeffrey some good, but also not. There’s an unfortunate voice over sequence but it’s the early seventies so it can be forgiven. Nothing really matters since Jeffrey can act through anything. He’s phenomenal, spell-binding, whatever. You hang on every word. It’s a heck of a downer but a damned good one.
  • Peter’s To-Do List (2019, Jon Watts)
    Peter's To-Do List is some next level lazy. It’s an “all-new” short film included on the Spider-Man: Far From Home home video releases. It’s actually just a montage mostly cut from the movie; better yet, the footage also appears in the deleted scenes section of the disc. There are no opening titles, no end credits, nothing new. But it’s a good montage. It’s not like it’s at all bad, it’s well-made, It’s funny, it moves well. It’s just not “all-new.” And it’s not particularly essential. Or even inessential. The important stuff from List do appear in the movie proper, so it’s just like… why. Well, I get why—Sony has a long history of aggrandizing deleted scenes to create special features (including extended versions of the movie made without filmmaker involvement, just reinserting deleted scenes). Where To-Do List is… potentially interesting is in its positioning and promotion. “All-New Short Film” is a claim and a promise. To-Do List fails the claim but maybe not the promise. It’s Tom Holland being adorable as he goes around trying to get ready for the Far From Home part of the movie. He’s got a list of errands to run, culminating in taking down a bunch of gangsters. That sequence is rather good—and it’s impressive to see how, even in under four minutes, Holland and the filmmakers are able to maintain this consistent tone between Holland’s mundane tasks and his technologically accelerated fisticuffs with bad guys. Tack on some titles, some credits (which would be difficult, I imagine, because then they might owe residuals), To-Do List would almost be “all-new.” With the right titles and credits anyway. It’s even lazier than the old “Marvel One-Shots,” which was a series of short home video exclusives mostly made out of cut scenes and Clark Gregg shooting inserts. That series eventually got better. But I don’t think even the laziest one was as lazy as To-Do List. I mean, technically it’s Recommended but only because it’s an incomplete. Hell, throw on a teaser for the rest of the movie and it’s basically a concept trailer. Instead, it’s a short mid-quel (defined by Petrana Radulovic as “side adventures taking place during the events of the original film”), just made out of cut footage…. So lazy. But an amusing three and a half minutes. Recommended CREDITS Directed by Jon Watts; screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Matthew J. Lloyd; edited by Dan Lebental and Leigh Folsom Boyd; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Claude Paré; produced by Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige; released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Starring Tom Holland (Peter Parker), Jacob Batalon (Ned), and Hemky Madera (Delmar). RELATED Other Spider-Man films Other films directed byJon Watts Other 2019 releases RECENTLY Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, Jon Watts)The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988, Nicholas Corea)The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)Let Me In (2010, Matt Reeves)
  • The Flash s06e01 – Into the Void
    After a brief revision to last season’s finale, this episode skips ahead four months, missing the summer where everyone recovered or reacted to last season’s upheaval. So instead of seeing Barry (Grant Gustin) moping all summer, instead he’s just faking enthusiasm to mask the mope. He and Iris (Candice Patton) are still mourning the loss of adult daughter from the future Nora, who got wiped out when she changed the timeline. Only they’re not talking to anyone about it so it’s festering. It’s the only subplot in the episode with any… maturity. Even though it’s very soapy, it’s big, serious, and potentially searching… but “Flash” isn’t a show to do too serious or potentially searching. Especially not this “Flash.” The episode plays like a “Star Trek: TOS” Season 3 episode where everyone is playing caricatures of themselves. Joe (Jesse L. Martin, who’s very active, which is good) blathering about how it’s his city too as he confronts a black hole appearing over the city. Carlos Valdes is a lot more fun as Cisco without the superpowers. Danielle Panabaker meets the season’s potential big bad (the handsome and charming Sendhil Ramamurthy) and finds out he’s a creep before dating him the whole season, so at least she’s not getting that plot again. For the third or fourth time. Gustin’s aging nicely, giving him a weathered, tired look for the character, though everyone’s chemistry is at an all-time low. Other than Hartley Sawyer, who’s got enthusiasm and bad jokes. And, for whatever reason, it’s nice to have Danielle Nicolet hanging around the team. They need a mom. That chemistry thing is a problem with Gustin and Patton, who—once again—seem like strangers. The show’s always done a bad job dealing with their transition from step-siblings only he had a crush on her for years to dating and then married only it’s preordained in the future—they’re way too chaste and at this point, it’s yet another liability. The big problem, if it’s a problem, is the show plays like a live action Saturday morning cartoon of the early eighties Cary Bates comics. Only without much emphasis on the special effects spectacular. There is one really cool, albeit absurd, song accompaniment, but the action sequence itself is lackluster. Maybe it’s Gregory Smith’s direction. Maybe it’s just the show running out of steam. It’s like the show wants to avoid anything actually difficult—like Gustin taking over leading the team, especially with the team all out of juice. The ending tease of the upcoming Crisis crossover is a fail. If LaMonica Garrett was the best audition for the role of the Monitor, doomsayer of the multiverse, I’m curious to see who didn’t get the part. Though at least “Legends” last season had the tiniest bit of fun with him. Otherwise there’s no fun. It’s going to be a long slog to the crossover.
  • PTSD (2019)
    The best thing about PTSD is creator Guillaume Singlein’s action. He paces it beautifully. The book, when it doesn’t have dialogue but just people doing things… it looks its best. So it makes sense Singlein’s going to be good at the action too. Of course, whether or not PTSD should have action is a whole other thing. The comic takes place in a post-racial Asian metropolis. There are Asian people, White people, Black people. No difference between them. It's almost post-gender too—the many women living on the street in the comic don’t seem to be under threat of rape, for instance—but when the protagonist flashbacks to her war days, her comrades definitely treat her as a little sister more than an equal. Even though she’s the only one who can shoot. Singelin’s male-gaze-free manga style also plays into the postish-genderness. So the protagonist. She lost an eye in the war; the flashbacks lead up to that event, after focusing on when she learns certain things pertinent to the present action (her medic skills). In the present she’s a loner on the streets, addicted to painkillers (government provided to vets, which Singlein doesn’t explore and is, I suppose, one of the biggest logic holes in his ground situation), not above robbing the occasional fellow junkie or even inept drug dealer. Her path to redemption comes in the form of a kindly old vet—the war has been going on forever (and is presumably still going on but that one’s not clear either)—who loans her a dog. The dog then gives our hero the will to live. So she goings to war, Punisher-style, with the drug dealer gang. Hence the awesome, albeit narratively questionable action. She’s especially dangerous with the dog, who goes along even on rooftops, and her lost eye doesn’t do anything to impair depth perception, which is good. Besides the dog and the old man, the only people who like the hero are a single mom diner owner and her son. Only our hero doesn’t care about the single mom’s attempts at altruism—Singelin has a really, really hard time writing the dialogue for the single mom and why she’s all of a sudden caring about the starving people on the streets—but he does manage to queer code the hell out of the relationship. And, spoiler, it’s all a red herring. Because when our hero does find herself, it’s got nothing to do with the mom, the kid, the old man, or the dog. Singlein got to the end of the avenging vet angel arc and then realized it was actually classist, apparently, and so our hero has to move forward in a different way. Other than just having all the drugs. The only thing unpredictable about the end is when Singlein does a pointless six month time jump forward. Good movement, even if manga’s not your thing, but it gets real bumpy during the dialogue. Really, really, really bad dialogue. Not sure if it’s Singelin or the translator. But the simplistic motivations and anorexic character depth suggests no translator was going to fix the existing problems. I mean, hey, if you’ve got the shakes from PTSD… try doing charity work. Works better than highly addictive drugs. Nice art can only compensate for so much.
  • The Shadow of the Tower s01e04 – The Crowning of Apes
    This episode has a different director, Prudence Fitzgerald, and a different writer, Brian Rawlinson, than the first three episodes, which explains a lot of the stylistic differences. Rawlinson being a guy might also explain why Henry (James Maxwell) is cruel in a very different way than he ever has been before. It’s like Rawlinson can’t bring himself to make Henry appear kind to children twice in one episode; speaking of being kind to children, we’ve never seen Henry’s son. Not to mention the Queen not getting an appearance in this episode either. Though it’s not a very ladylike episode; it’s all about the traitor James Laurenson going over and teaming up with—well, some other people. They’re in Ireland, they hate the Tudors. It’s War of the Roses stuff, Whites, and Reds. Like I said, I didn’t do this era of English history; I glazed over with it during “Game of Thrones” too. So Laurenson’s got this pretender king, an annoying tween, and he’s drummed up enough money for German mercenaries and the Irish are with him and they’re going to invade and take out Henry and company. Here’s the thing. “The Shadow of the Tower”’s first episode is all about how Henry invaded and spanked Laurenson and company real bad and Henry became king. So these conspirators think they’re all of a sudden going to out medieval battle the guy who spanked them so severely a few years before. They’re idiots. History: entitled, mediocre White men have always been a problem. I mean, I’ve got four blogs, just look at me. Anyway, once you realize—about a third of the way into the episode—how these guys are basically just dopes, it’s hard to get interested in their stupid plotting. Cobra Commander had better plans. Meanwhile, Henry and his guys are just freaking out about getting enough troops together because they’re broke. There’s some good stuff with Hugh Sullivan wanting to get to lead a company or whatever it’s called in the actual battle instead of hanging out in safety. It goes to informing Maxwell’s Henry rather well. A lot of the episode gives Maxwell solid work, actually, just not that last moment. There’s a good last section, after the battle, when Henry brings in all the traitors and assigns fates. Then it gets deep, then it gets bad. A kind of goofy, cruel bad, which doesn’t really invalidate anything but it does jar. But, overall, a good episode. Definitely better than the previous one.
  • The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever (2013, Mark Robertson)
    The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever is about a New Jersey amusement park called Action Park, which opened in the late seventies and ran for twenty dangerous years—there were apparently six deaths and countless injuries (enabled by the owner running some kind of insurance scheme). The video has a mix of original commercials, interviews, and some recreations. Not sure where the recreations were shot (the park reopened under a different name, with most of the original rides gone, and an emphasis on not maiming customers). Is it interesting? Not really, no. The filmmakers seemingly picked most of their interviewees for availability, not having any actual salient information about the park. For instance, not a single person interviewed seems to have ever been injured in the park, which is great for them and all, but they've got a particular kind of bias. They braved the park and survived. Unlike the people who died. It's unclear if they count the drownings in the six deaths, because when they're interviewing the current owner (and son of original owner), he makes it sound like there were a lot of drownings. Concerning since he was a lifeguard at the time at the park. Though apparently the park was just a good place for teenagers to get drunk and bully each other without any adults caring. Because teenagers ran all the rides, even though they weren't old enough. Because cool. It made men out of all of them. Men who don't think there's anything wrong with rules and laws in place to prevent people from dying at amusement parks. Even skipping all the toxic masculinity stuff and even the fact it turns out to be a bad promotional video for the reopened park… there's also the incurious nature of the filmmakers. They got a former park manager on the phone; he and a law professor provide the more negative side of the park, but everyone else is a cheerleader for it. Yet, again, none of these people had any tragedies. So why not find someone who actually had a negative experience. Since those involved broken limbs and, you know, death. Instead, there's the owner saying people need to get over themselves and embrace the nostalgia for getting drunk and spitting on people at the park. It's a weird, limited, and draggy short. Not Recommended CREDITS Edited and directed by Mark Robertson; written by Seth Porges; produced by Robertson and Porges; released by Dailymotion. RELATED Other 2013 releases RECENTLY
  • Batwoman s01e01 – Pilot
    “Batwoman,” at least for the pilot, gets a “Sure, you can maybe get away with this.” It’d be nicer if someone was excited about it. No one on “Batwoman” seems very excited. Except Rachel Skarsten as the villain, Alice (like in Wonderland). Skarsten’s awesome. So good you don’t even understand how it’s happening because there’s nothing to suggest anyone was actually going to be really good in the show. The fight choreography is promising, but the direction this episode—by Marcos Siega—is terrible. And they don’t have the effects shots down. Like the matte shots. What ought to be really simple stuff. Because right now “Batwoman” feels like the most expensive shot in Canada nineties action show ever. Somehow they’re filming some exteriors in Chicago, but it only makes the show feel more Canadian. In that nineties period. It’s not a great vibe. And it’s a really peculiar one, given its supposed to be the new flagship CW Arrowverse show. And it feels like… first season “Arrow.” Only mixed with trailer moments from Nicholas Sparks adaptations when it comes to lead Ruby Rose’s flashbacks. She’s got all sorts of heartache—in childhood, her mom and sister died after Batman didn’t hang around to make sure his batarangs held, then in military academy she got busted out because she’s gay. Worse thing—because she’s also really rich so getting busted out doesn’t matter, but it’s really bad because girlfriend Meagan Tandy stayed (renouncing or denouncing the behavior). In the show’s timeline it’d be Gulf War II era, which it never feels like. The flashbacks just have a lot of filtered lighting, no real personality. It’s kind of a big miss. Like, they didn’t take this seriously enough and then hired someone really good to cut Rachel Maddow doing a radio talk show host talking about Batman’s return over footage of the city inhabitants rejoicing. It’s a lot better done than anything else in the pilot, which fails Rose, mostly because it sets her up for all sorts of dramatic developments and instead just reveals she never knows what’s really going on and she’s (so far) always wrong about it. Weird place to put the hero. Only, given the way the show’s structured and the importance of dad and man who forever won’t be James Howlett Dougray Scott, Rose doesn’t feel like the protagonist. And why’s she training to be an elite private army stormtrooper up in the Arctic with what seems to be a old Native American wise man stereotype from the 1940s. It’s really weird. And starts the show on an odd foot. And the pilot doesn’t set up the show. It’s a bad pilot. Nicole Kang is really good as Rose’s stepsister. Elizabeth Anweis is not really good as Rose’s stepmom. She’s kind of bad. But Kang’s good. The show’s taking itself too seriously and, rather annoyingly, never in the right places. It’s that lack of enthusiasm. It all feels perfunctory, not creative. Not even in a craven way.
  • Becker s01e09 – Choose Me
    It hadn’t occurred to me some of “Becker”’s problem so far might have been direction. I rarely think about sitcom (the three-camera style) direction. They’re just going through the same kinds of shots over and over. But then again, maybe some of the directors are infinitely better with the format and the actors. Case in point, Choose Me is immediately divine, both in direction (Andy Ackerman) and writing (Marsha Myers). It’s funny from the start, without going in too hard on any of the characters (or even supporting cast). The show’s immediately got a better sense of itself. I wonder if Myers and Ackerman team up again; fingers crossed. This episode’s about Terry Farrell getting hockey tickets and deciding to torture Becker (Ted Danson) and Jake (Alex Désert) over who gets to go with her. She’s finally got personality, gumption, a sense of humor. It’s a really nice, really immediate turn for the positive. So that’s the A plot, then Danson’s got a B plot involving a disease he can’t crack no matter what he tries (including turning his hookup with fellow doc Colleen Quinn—who’s really good for someone almost no credits—into a cram session), while Farrell and Désert are contending with the return of Bob (Saverio Guerra). Guerra’s phenomenal. His absurdity brings the show a very nice sense of balance. When Danson mocks someone, it’s usually just a regular guy. Guerra’s a caricature of a caricature of a jackass. So when he’s a target, it’s just works better. Yes, it does suggest some of the key to “Becker” is finding the right person to mob and bully, but… it’s a sitcom and Guerra’s an intentional creep (though not too much of a creeper). Hattie Winston and Shawnee Smith are mostly just occasional support for Danson, but Winston’s got an amazing flight attendant bit. She’s always about to laugh too, but pulls it in. I wonder if Winston did it in the first take or if she lost it. It’s a great scene. She’s awesome. And Smith has a really good scene at the end. Myers and Ackerman make all the difference.
  • The Bells of Cockaigne (1953, James Sheldon)
    The Bells at Cockaigne plays it very safe. It’s an inspirational “play for television” about lovable old Irishman in the U.S. Gene Lockhart daydreaming about winning an apparently still legal in 1953 numbers racket the newspapers run. Lockhart’s going to use the money to go home to Ireland and his little village one last time. Lockhart sounds like he’s doing an ad read for a leprechaun. He really goes crazy with the accent. It’s not good, but it’s also not offensively bad. It’s a tolerable bad accent. Now, Lockhart’s top-billed but the Bells is actually all about young kid (kid meaning late teens, maybe early twenties) James Dean who’s got a sick baby daughter and no money. He and wife Donalee Marans need a miracle but they’re not getting any so Dean’s going to play poker with his coworkers after they get paid. Oh, right, it’s payday. Vaughn Taylor’s the paymaster. He talks to Lockhart a lot. It’s all very predictable and very positive. There’s nothing to it. Except Dean. Dean’s performance has these transcendent moments, where for a minute it’s not obviously a nonsense bit of positivity to play to a Christian nation in 1953. Where it’s actually Dean playing this part. Young, naive, out of his depth. Bells finds some honesty, thanks to Dean, when it’s not even looking for it. Lockhart’s fine. Taylor’s not as good as Lockhart but only bad a couple times. Marans isn’t good. You really don’t watch this one and think the director did very much to help his actors with their performances. For Marans, it matters. Probably for Taylor too. Not Lockhart. Definitely not Dean. Watching Dean at the poker game, where he’s got the nervous active style going opposite all the comparatively motionless stiffs… it’s something. The Bells of Cockaigne succeeds, despite having no ambitions at such a thing, and it’s all thanks to Dean. And it not being particularly bad in any way. Recommended CREDITS Directed by James Sheldon; written by George Lowther; “Armstrong Circle Theatre” sponsored by Armstrong World Industries; music by Harold Levey; produced by Hudson Faucett; aired by the National Broadcasting Company. Starring Gene Lockhart (Pat), Vaughn Taylor (Jonesy), James Dean (Joey Frasier), Donalee Marans (Margie Frasier), John Dennis (Rivnock), and Karl Lukas (Kreuger). RELATED Other films starringJames Dean Other films directed byJames Sheldon Other 1953 releases RECENTLY Giant (1956, George Stevens)Harvest (1953, James Sheldon)A Long Time Till Dawn (1953, Richard Dunlap)Sentence of Death (1953, Matt Harlib)The Dark, Dark Hours (1954, Don Medford)
  • Becker s01e08 – Physician, Heal Thyself
    It’s distressing how little writer Ian Gurvitz handles Alex Désert’s Jake character. Last credited episode he didn’t do anything with except make blind jokes. This time Désert gets more to do, but barely—we see his apartment, partially, for the first time—and it’s not funny. And I think there’s an opening blind joke because when I saw Gurvitz’s name I made a groan and had it almost immediately validated by something in the script. But then something happens—the show starts getting really, really funny. Becker (Ted Danson) has a hurt back and he doesn’t want to go to the doctor, because of course he doesn’t. It gives the show a chance to literally knock Danson over and laugh at him. And it’s really good at laughing at him. Even more, Danson’s really good at being laughed at. He’s really good playing the obnoxious stooge. He keeps throwing his back out and needing help from the rest of the cast—I suppose, technically, they’re on their way to being “friends” but… Weird thing, he doesn’t call Shawnee Smith, which is too bad. When he throws out his back the worst, he tries Désert (for his one shot subplot), Hattie Winston (who’s got a strange, problematic subplot about her workplace flirting with fellow married John Cothran, which ends up giving Smith funny moments but not Winston), and, finally, Terry Farrell. Farrell, who drags Becker to an acupuncturist for the big punchline scene. The show’s definitely improving. So is Farrell. She’s still having trouble with her comic delivery, but her timing is a lot better. She’s a lot more likable, which also might be because she’s not stuck behind the literal counter this episode. And who knew Danson would be so good a sitcom slapstick. He’s fantastic this episode.
  • Mondays in the Sun (2002, Fernando León de Aranoa)
    At some point, around the halfway point but maybe a little earlier, Mondays in the Sun becomes an endurance spectacle—can director de Aranoa (who co-wrote with Ignacio del Moral) actually keep the film lyrical. There are softly epical arcs in the film, but they get resolved gradually (or not at all) in the final third. There’s no potential for the epical arc because it’s about people in stasis; the film is about these three ship-builders who got protested their fellows getting laid off and ended up getting laid off themselves. Four years later, there’s no progress. They’re past desperation at this point, halfheartedly clinging to various hopes, while (proverbially) clinging to their beers with double fists. Proverbial because no one actually double-fists their drinks. Actually, they’re patient, pensive drinkers. The film opens with footage of the cops attacking the protesting workers, set to this really calm, really gentle music (by Lucio Godoy). Like everything with Mondays, it’s patient, deliberate. It’s just the militarized cops doing worse and worse things to the protesters. Then it’s over; fade out. de Aranoa and editor Nacho Ruiz Capillas have excellent fade outs in the film. Sometimes they’re for humor, sometimes they’re for tragedy, most times they’re for a combination of both. There’s an immediate tone change in the subsequent scene, which introduces the primary cast and one of the most frequented locations—José Ángel Egido is taking the ferry to a job interview, Javier Bardem and Luis Tosar are going along too. Tosar’s going along because he too is ostensibly still looking for work. Bardem’s along because he’s got nothing else to do. They raze Egido for being too old for this job he’s trying to get. There’s no exposition setting up the context of the opening protest, we don’t find out it’s four years later until the last half of the movie, there are just single lines of dialogue—friends needling each other—to set up the characters’ ground situations. It helps Bardem’s a talker. He’s able to fill out a lot. And he’s a master needler, so the exposition comes through in some of the responses to his pokes. Mondays has a phenomenal script. de Aranoa’s direction is excellent, sure, but it’s the script. The script and the actors. Bardem’s a ladies man—he spends his days screwing and daydreaming, avoiding paying a fine for a broken streetlight in the protest. It’s not an expensive fine, it’s the principle. All Bardem has at this point, the film explores, is that adherence to his principles, which aren’t so much tested as tempted; Bardem’s got his lines and he doesn’t cross them, but it takes a while make them all out. Tosar’s the married one. Well, both he and Egido and supporting pal Celso Bugallo are all married but Tosar’s the one whose wife (Nieve de Medina) gets the film’s attention. She works at the tuna factory, standing twelve-hour shifts, no longer able to feel her legs. Tosar’s at home, “job hunting” with the boys, or at the bar. Of everyone, he’s got the most epical arc in the film, at least the implication of it. Because as the runtime progresses, Tosar’s drinking comes home with him. He adores de Medina, but given their situation—they only ever see each other in passing—it becomes a nuisance to her. Because it’s been four years. Then there’s Egido, who’s trying to competent with men twenty years younger for office jobs he’s not really qualified for. He’s got a somewhat epical arc—he’s adapting to the job interviews, he’s trying to learn new things—but told in the most lyrical way of anything in the film. Like I said, the script is amazing. Egido’s got a wife and family at home, so he’s in a much different situation. There’s also the implication he didn’t blow through his severance like Bardem definitely did and Tosar seems to have done. He’s the responsible one. And it’s breaking him. Mondays is an exploration of dignity, resolve, and stubbornness. When they’re confused, when they’re called for, when they’re not. It doesn’t just explore through Egido, Tosar, and Bardem; their pals are just as important. There’s Bugallo, who becomes a day drinker with his wife away taking care of family. There’s Joaquín Climent, who owns the bar where they all drink. He took his severance and set up a place where everyone else could give him theirs (but no, he actually comps his alcoholic pals). He’s also got teenage daughter Aida Folch, who probably shouldn’t be growing up in this environment. Especially not given Bardem’s such an oaf of a man-slut. Then there’s Enrique Villén, who’s a security guard (so a cop), and Serge Riaboukine, who came to Spain when the Soviet Union collapsed. Cosmonaut to ship-builder to handbill passer. And because the acting and the script are so damn good, Mondays is able to get away with such an obvious statement about the world grinding up its workers. Performance-wise, Bardem’s best. Then Egido. Then de Medina, then Tosar. She’s better because of the material. Suffering wife beats out passive inflicter of said suffering. The supporting cast is all excellent too. Very nice cinematography from Archie Mayo. That Godoy score is great—gentle, yet aware of the grit. Capillas’s editing is fantastic. Julio Esteban’s production design. The technical side is all strong. Mondays in the Sun is an outstanding film. ★★★★ CREDITS Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa; written by de Aranoa and Ignacio del Moral; director of photography, Alfredo Mayo; edited by Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music by Lucio Godoy; production designer, Julio Esteban; produced by Elías Querejeta and Jaume Roures; released by Sogepaq. Starring Javier Bardem (Santa), José Ángel Egido (Lino), Luis Tosar (Jose), Nieve de Medina (Ana), Joaquín Climent (Rico), Aida Folch (Nata), Enrique Villén (Reina), Serge Riaboukine (Serguei), and Celso Bugallo (Amador). This post is part of The Unemployment Blogathon hosted by Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog II: The Sequel. RELATED Other 2002 releases Other Spanish films RECENTLY Voodoo Black Exorcist (1974, Manuel Caño)Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008, Woody Allen)No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel and Ethan Coen)
  • Batman Versus Predator (1991)
    Batman Versus Predator, in case the title doesn’t give it away, is bad. It’s real bad. It could be worse, sure, but it’s real bad. It doesn’t open terribly—sure, the Kubert Brothers art is pretty bland from go, but the subject matter is at least sort of interesting (compared to where it goes later). And writer Dave Gibbons (who doesn’t just overwrite the comic, he badly overwrites it) has some style for the opening. He juxtaposes the Predator attacking some old guy and his dog with the Gotham City championship boxing match. The former isn't important (other than it's a little weird the Predator is attacking a junkyard watchman), but the latter turns out to be the whole comic. See, the Predator isn’t initially interested in hunting Batman or even (armed) criminals or (armed) cops. It’s out to take out the championship boxers. Because they’re champions. Says so on the news. The Predator watches a lot of news in Batman Versus Predator and repeats sound bytes to make dialogue. Because Gibbons is incapable of writing an action sequence without a bunch of stupid recycled sound bytes the Predator has picked up somewhere. At one point, it seems like the comic would be at least somewhat better without their constant addition. But then, once the Kuberts never get any better—they can’t make the Predator versus the criminals interesting, they can’t even make Batman versus the Predator interesting, though it’d probably be hard to do given the big showdown is in the woods surrounding Wayne Manor. But there are times when it doesn’t seem like Batman Versus Predator isn’t going to be a complete waste of time. Sadly, all of them are in the first issue (of three). And by the end of the first issue, it seems kind of unlikely the book is ever going to turn around. Most of the comic, overall, is about the crooked businessmen and gangsters who run Gotham (and the boxers) getting wiped out by the Predator. It kills them because… it knows they’re swinging dick criminals and it came to town to hunt some white collar looking criminals. Then it takes on Batman and puts him down for the count—there’s this terribly ineffective device where Gibbons and the Kuberts have a single panel showing Batman getting home all cut up at the bottom of pages while above the main action with the cops or crooks or whatever plays out. Because Jim Gordon’s got a big part. Not sure why he doesn’t try to take out the Predator himself as the Kuberts draw him just as buff as Batman, which is considerable because they’re Batman is super buff. So big and buff it’s like, obviously you need some meaty muscle guy like Ben Affleck for that part. But you wouldn’t want to see Batman Versus Predator: The Movie with Batfleck or anyone else, because the only thing the comic succeeds at showing is how bad it would be. Even though it’s about two “characters”—Batman arguably has less personality than the sound byte spouting Predator here—who are known for their wonderful toys, there’s not much competition. You’d think after fighting aliens since the fifties or whenever they first showed up in a Batman comic, Bats would have some better ideas than he comes up with here. Nope. There are a couple times in action scenes where it’s like… why did that work? The Predator is scared of cars? The big action finale has Batman in special armor, which looks like the suit from the end of Batman Forever, though I don’t think the Kuberts got a thank you, and then he has a sword at some point. Because armor and swords and whatever. Batman Versus Predator is pretty dumb, even for a comic called Batman Versus Predator. I’ll bet if you bought this comic back in 1990 thinking it would resemble Watchmen in some way because of Gibbons, you were pissed as all hell. Though, as someone who bought it back in the day—at age twelve—I recall being shameless about it. I shouldn’t have been shameless. I should’ve acutely felt the shame.
  • I Died a Thousand Times (1955, Stuart Heisler)
    Going into the third act of I Died a Thousand Times, the film is in great shape. It’s got a strange pace but it’s all working out, mostly thanks to lead Jack Palance’s peculiar and strong performance, and it doesn’t seem like it could do anything wrong enough to screw things up. Unfortunately, the resolution is one giant choke. One where Palance is basically a bit player (or less) and the script fully embraces the casual misogyny it’s been flirting with the entire time. It seemed like it had gotten over it–Thousand’s casual misogyny has highs and lows, what with slut-shaming female lead Shelley Winters and then damsel in distress Lori Nelson’s arc from sweet young girl to callous, shallow tease (the film’s also got issues with the young people and their fast music, eventually—and perfectly—personified in an uncredited Dennis Hopper, who Palance sadly doesn’t beat to a pulp). But for the finish, when the film’s drained everything positive like sap, it brings back that casual misogyny. It’s not just disappointing and beneath W.R. Burnett’s script, it’s also annoying. The film opens with Palance driving through the desert, headed west. We get the ground situation in pieces. He’s an ex-con bank robber, paroled after eight years. He’s not hostile so much as guarded. But he lets his guard down right away with kindly old couple Ralph Moody and Olive Carey. And not only because of their fetching, though club-footed and shy granddaughter Lori Nelson. Palance and Moody have a good rapport, which may or may not get some context in the script later on. Writer Burnett’s got some really big first act dialogue problems—when Palance and Winters first meet and shoot really bad slang at each other–but the script’s got a really delicate arc for Palance. It makes some leaps and bounds, particularly with the relationship with Palance and Winters, but it doesn’t ever seem rushed, just truncated. Lots of the credit goes to Palance, whose performance is initially as much about presence as delivery. We meet Winters after we get the setup—courtesy cop turned crook James Millican (it also doesn’t help the film’s take on law enforcement takes a 180 for the third act)—crime boss Lon Chaney Jr. (who’s delightful) pays to get Palance pardoned so Palance can knock-off the jewelry stored at a swanky mountain resort. Even in 1955 dollars, I imagine it must have cost Chaney a lot to get Palance pardoned—despite being in for life—from a federal penitentiary. Probably more than the heist is worth. And if it was so expensive, why not have good backup for Palance? Instead, Chaney’s hired young punks Earl Holliman and Lee Marvin. Not only do they like fast music, they also bring along a dame—Winters. Ostensibly she’s there with Marvin, but she’s also keeping Holliman on a low boil. It’s because she’s manipulating the young sociopaths Palance lets her stay. See, Palance is actually a big softy. We know it with Moody, then we really know it once he friends the puppy at the tourist cabins where they’re all staying. He never entertains Winters, but he doesn’t disrespect her. He trusts her to handle the boys. It’s a very interesting relationship between them, because every time Palance seems like he’s warming up, he pulls back immediately, no warning. It’s a really nice performance. Winters has her hands full, in the first act, with Marvin and Holliman (despite not having many scenes with them). Died has that weird structure I mentioned earlier. The first and second acts almost overlap because two such distinct things are going on. There’s Marvin, Holliman, Winters, and inside man at the resort Perry Lopez goofing off at the cabins, then there’s Los Angeles with Chaney and Millican, but also kindly old folks Moody and Carey (not to mention Nelson). When they’re finally gearing up to pull the heist, there’s a shock because there’s been no expectation of seeing Holliman or Marvin actually having to participate. They seem way too passive, not just in their behavior, but also in how the film positions them. Though, actually, they’re in the background of the heist, just like they’re in the background of Palance and Winters. So it seems Heisler and Burnett agree. Or just didn’t want them in the way during the heist, which is fine. Marvin and Holliman are fine, but they’re not interesting to watch. Palance, Winters, even someone with a lesser performance like Nelson or Millican… they’re interesting to watch. A lot of Died takes place outside, often on location, and the film just feels more natural outdoors—another irony given the ending. Heisler rarely has ambitious shots outside the location shooting, but he and cinematographer Ted D. McCord succeed with that location shooting so credit there—but he’s more interested in the cute puppy than the relationship between aging career criminal Palance and girl with a past Winters, though Heisler does perk up a little once they’re making face. Because Winters falls hard for Palance. He’s a big tough guy who occasionally poetically describes the human condition and likes puppies and is kind to old people. Winters doesn’t get the best part. Like, her exposition feels like it’s been given a G rating when it needs to be an NC-17. Because 1955. But Winters gets it across. The strongest thing, which the film doesn’t pursue, is how Winters interacts with Palance after she’s realized he’s a sweetie. The end fails the hell out of her too. It’s a real bummer. I Died a Thousand Times—which actually makes no sense as a title since Chaney at one point talks about how you can “only die once”—really needs a better third act. It’s not even as competent, technically speaking, as it ought to be. Because it’s foreshadowed from the first or second scene, only in a really obvious way where they shouldn’t have really gone for it. Especially not since there’s another bookending device sitting there available, apparently just a passive addition to serve the plot but with a lot more possibility than the actual ending. Is it worth seeing? Yeah. If it had a solid ending, it would’ve given Palance an amazing lead performance and possibly a great supporting one for Winters. It’s just… a real bummer. ★½ CREDITS Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by W.R. Burnett; director of photography, Ted D. McCord; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by David Buttolph; produced by Willis Goldbeck; released by Warner Bros. Starring Jack Palance (Roy Earle), Shelley Winters (Marie Garson), Lon Chaney Jr. (Big Mac), Earl Holliman (Red), Lee Marvin (Babe Kossuck), Ralph Moody (Pa Goodhue), Olive Carey (Ma Goodhue), Lori Nelson (Velma), Perry Lopez (Louis Mendoza), Howard St. John (Doc Banton), James Millican (Jack Kranmer), and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (Chico). This post is part of the Shelley Winters Blogathon hosted by Gill Of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Erica of Poppity Talks Classic Film. RELATED Other films directed byStuart Heisler Other 1955 releases RECENTLY The Big Red One (1980, Samuel Fuller)High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann)Young Guns (1988, Christopher Cain)House of Dracula (1945, Erle C. Kenton)House of Frankenstein (1944, Erle C. Kenton)
  • The Punisher #30, The Slavers, Part 6 (of 6)
    Ennis keeps it tight for the last issue of The Slavers. Frank’s perspective, lady cop Miller’s perspective, no one else. Other characters get significant moments—the other cop, Parker, gets some material, the dirty cop gets a big part in a scene, the old man has his showdown with Frank, Jen Cooke plays off Miller, and Viorica is back for a check in. The issue starts with Ennis establishing all the characters are their places; everyone’s waiting for Frank to act, but Frank’s being methodical in his planning. The result of the planning is a straightforward action sequence, then the immediate and long-term fallout. There’s a devastating epilogue, where Ennis writes the hell out of Frank’s narration—he doesn’t push it as much here as he’s done in previous issues, but there’s a lot to read between the lines on. But it’s not Frank’s story to tell and he knows it. He’s not the hero because there can’t be any heroes in the story, not even for people like Cooke and Miller, who both wish there could be. For the wrap-up, little stuff Ennis has done in previous issues comes through; Miller, for instance, gets an entirely different arc than expected, something foreshadowed in the last issue. Instead of showcasing the action sequence, which does have a fantastic hook, Ennis is more interested in the character development. There’s also Frank’s bandaid solution to the problem of trafficking, which is more about shocking than actually being effective. It’s Frank, the good guys, Ennis, the readers, punching against the impossible brick wall of the human trafficking reality. Ennis also delves, through Cooke and Miller mostly, into the morality of The Punisher and the positives and negatives of a moral vacuum. The positives and negatives of even considering such a thing under these circumstances. It’s probably Fernandez’s best art in the arc? There are no glaring bad panels. I’m sure there are some iffy ones with Frank, but when Fernandez has to do the epilogue summary panels, he nails them well enough to forgive them. The comic’s so damn good you can’t even remember the iffy panels. You can barely remember the action, as everything else is so much more important. Because Frank doing his thing isn’t the story. It’s not even the gravy. It’s immaterial to the problem at hand. Because not even a superhero can fix this world. By the end of the issue, when the futility and tragedy of everyone involved gets the eyes tearing up, it’s hard to determine exactly what’s contributing to which profound feeling of sadness. It’s outstanding writing from Ennis, effective visual storytelling from Fernandez, and one hell of a comic. The Slavers, more than any other arc so far in Punisher MAX, comes through as a full narrative gesture. It’s devastating, obviously, and brutal, but it’s also brilliantly done. Ennis’s writing is truly awesome here. Especially (but also not especially) Frank’s narration.
  • Free Solo (2018, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin)
    Free Solo is ostensibly about rock climber Alex Honnold’s obsession to free solo (climbing alone without ropes, maybe falling to a gruesome death) Yosemite’s El Capitan mountain. You know, from Star Trek V. Does Honnold beat Captain Kirk’s time? You could watch and find out. Or Google. Only it’s not about Honnold’s obsession because the film takes a year off from the story. So is it about making a movie about Honnold’s preparation to climb El Cap? No. So is it a movie about Honnold? No, not at all. At some point the movie seems to realize Honnold’s not sympathetic at all, even when he’s doing good works (which don’t really figure into his psyche, which would be far more of an interesting subject—how did this affectless person get the idea to start a charity). That discovery of the lack of sympathetic nature comes before Honnold’s girlfriend shows up—but after Honnold says he doesn’t want a serious relationship because it might screw up his climbing—and Free Solo does try to investigate some of his lack of affect. Is it because his amygdala doesn’t register danger? Don’t know, he gets medically questionable MRI and then it’s over. Is it because his mom only spoke French to him as a child? Don’t know, Mom disappears real quick after she shows up (she only speaks English in the movie so Honnold telling the French anecdotes sound specious). Because Honnold’s not a reliable narrator. He’s always lying to his girlfriend, whose interview segments initially seem like they’d be good training for a couples’ counselor but once they buy a house together it becomes the girlfriend’s craven middle class ambitions and Honnold’s utter disinterest. Presumably he’s fixating on his El Cap obsession but we never find out because the film doesn’t get deep with its subject. Its subject who apparently set up the film project himself for himself. But there’s no ego. Honnold treats the film as an inconvenience, which makes sense. There are a number of rather inauthentic devices directors Vasarhelyi (who’s never in the film) and Chin (who’s in it a bunch) use. In theory, Free Solo could just be about using amazing camera technology to film this guy free climbing El Capitan for the first time in history but… it’s not. The film’s very shady about how they actually shoot the climb. After eighty minutes of the camera crew being omnipresent, they disappear for the climb itself, even though the cameras are obviously there (and Chin talked to his camera crew all about their placement). But there are lots of cameras. And some really good microphones. At least, there had better have been really good microphones because if they added the sound of Honnold grunting through his climb into the movie? It’d be bigger bullshit than the scenes with the camera crew fretting over possibly recording Honnold fall to his death. They’re not just camera guys, they’re rock climbers and they’re Honnold’s friends. At least as close as he seems to get to friends. They’re going to be really sad if he dies and they’re filming it for this movie. So the movie ends up being about the camera guys worrying Honnold’s going to fall and die. It’s not about his girlfriend worrying, it’s not about his challenge and achievement, it’s the camera guys feeling like if he dies, they’re partially responsible for turning it into a movie. But Vasarhelyi and Chin already know if Honnold falls to his death. They know before the movie starts. They present the last third, featuring the footage of his climb, like an exploitative thriller, even hiding where they’ve got cameras and cameramen in the resolution. Wouldn’t it make more sense to showcase Honnold’s ability? He’s the only guy who’s ever done this climb. This climb, captured on “film,” has never happened before. And they treat it like a chance to terrify instead of champion. And given Honnold’s really questionable take on reality—he blathers about being a warrior and is a possibly obnoxious vegetarian (but not vegan, so it’s like, what are you bragging about). He’s also an emotionally absent boyfriend, but, hey, his girlfriend likes him… for reasons. Is there a great movie in Free Solo? With better editors, a more earnest, more authentic narrative distance, not to mention better music… probably. But the filmmakers sit on some amazing climbing footage, which they tease out, set to iffy music by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts and lackluster cutting from Bob Eisenhardt. It’s a bummer. Especially since Honnold’s probably best observed through a telephoto lens. ★½ CREDITS Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin; directors of photography, Chin, Clair Popkin, and Mikey Schaefer; edited by Bob Eisenhardt; music by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts; produced by Chin, Vasarhelyi, Shannon Dill, and Evan Hayes; released by National Geographic Documentary Films. RELATED Other 2018 releases RECENTLY The Wolverine (2013, James Mangold), the extended editionThe Wolverine (2013, James Mangold)Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)
  • The Punisher #29, The Slavers, Part 5 (of 6)
    This issue has an Ennis Punisher “wow” moment. It ends with it. Two of them actually. One in Frank’s handling of Vera, the woman who handles… the Human Resources department for the trafficking ring. One in Frank’s narration. The moments leave you with a feeling of emptiness and profound sadness. Because while they’re not surprises—and the perfectly inform everything around them—they bring an exceptional level of humanity to Frank. Even with the omnipresent narration this arc, there’s still a significant narrative distance. Not so in this issue’s conclusion. Punisher MAX is, after all, basically all about Ennis finding Frank Castle’s expansive, beautiful, tragic soul. Anyway. Had to cover that part while still teary. Heart-wrenching stuff. It’s a fairly quick issue again. Ennis opens after Frank has finished with the son, finding himself in a firefight with the old man, who’s trying to kill his son for the botched hit. Shootouts at big houses on lakes in upstate New York are not Fernandez’s strong suit, but it works. Ennis’s writing on Frank’s narration is great. It’s comfortable, assured, willing to show some personality. After that scene it’s all about the B and C plots tying together—it’s the penultimate issue in the arc, after all—so the cops team up with Jen Cooke who brings them to Frank, giving Frank a chance to make one really good joke while finding out what’s going on with the NYPD being all up in his business lately. It’s a lengthy talking heads scene with mostly repeat information—the characters are just finding out what the readers have known for issues—but it’s excellent. The personalities of all four characters (Frank, Cooke, the two cops) come through very nicely. Ennis has done a great job establishing the characters. There’s some more with the bad cop and the old man confronting Vera about the hit before the end. It’s an excellent issue, outside the often wanting artwork. Ennis’s careful construction of it all is paying off. That ending though… it’s something special. Ennis peppers extra personality for Frank this issue—when he’s got to interact with people instead of just shoot them or torture them; it’s where Ennis has to excel beyond expectation just to get it to work (another basic description of Punisher MAX, it’s able to work because Ennis’s writing is exceptional on the title, past the exceptional it’d need to be just to get it to function). So good.
  • The Punisher #28, The Slavers, Part 4 (of 6)
    This issue moves real fast. Most of the expository scenes take place in a page, sometimes two, sometimes packed pages, sometimes just splash pages. There’s action for both the evil old man and Frank. Evil old man is contending with the assassins his son has sent after him, Frank is deal with the son and his security. Otherwise it’s Frank preparing for his attack, the son preparing for his father’s reaction to the attempt, and the B plot with the cops mixing into the A plot through social worker Jen Cooke (who’s become Frank’s reluctant sidekick). But, really, it’s all about what Frank’s going to to do the son. We get a hint from the cover and the first page (one of those splash pages). Ennis isn’t racing to it, but he knows it’s the biggest question hanging over the issue, since it’s clear from five pages in what’s going on with everything else—the old man is too tough for the son to take out, the cops aren’t happy about getting beat up by their fellow officers and they want to at least figure out what’s really happening—but what are Frank’s plans for taking out this trafficking outfit? Inquiring minds want to know—well, the readers’ minds, none of the characters have the stomach for it. Is the big reveal on the last page worth it? Oh, yeah. Abjectly terrible art on the page from Fernandez and Koblish, even on the parts of the page where Fernandez doesn’t usually choke, but it doesn’t matter. Ennis paces it beautifully in the script and Fernandez is at least good at breaking out the panels. He’s crap at realizing them once he’s got them plotted, but the visual pacing does work. So, it’s a mix between an action issue and a bridging issue; even more of a bridging issue than last time, because Ennis is now setting up the pieces for immediate resolution. The scenes end in hard cliffhangers (though the old man is off-page once his big scene is done). The cops and Jen Cooke have a hard cliffhanger. Frank’s got the hard cliffhanger. Well, more, the son has a hard cliffhanger. It’s not up to Frank how they’re going to resolve their interrogation, after all. He gives the guy a big choice. Great narration from Ennis. A couple of the expected past tense narration stumbles, but nothing serious, just some awkward sentences. The pulp approach is working. Even if Fernandez is choking on lots of important panels.
  • The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019, Lee Won-tae)
    According to the opening titles, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is based on a true story, which is—I assume—why it takes place in 2005. The story, about a cop (Kim Mu-yeol) and his least favorite gangster (Ma Dong-seok) teaming up to take down a serial killer, comes off like a seventies update of M. But not for any good reasons. I mean, Park Se-seung’s cinematography is fine but the piss yellow lighting on the night scenes (and the film’s got a lot of them) would look better if it were set in the seventies. Along with Jo Yeong-wook’s score, which is so generic it sounds like they bought a bunch of royalty-free music tracks. Though maybe if the direction was better it wouldn’t matter. A lot of the time during the film, you wonder what it would be like if the direction were just a little bit better. As a director, Lee is a low mediocre. There are a few times, especially with car shots for some reason, he dips below mediocre and you can’t tell if the shot’s his fault or if it’s Park’s fault. Doesn’t really matter, because as a writer Lee is a low mediocre too. Devil runs a somewhat lengthy 109 minutes. There are long unpleasant stretches; not when Lee’s establishing a high level of violence in the first act (which he then never matches or even approaches again), but when there’s a lot of exposition with the cops. See, Kim is a super cop but only because he’s not on the take like his boss (Yoo Seung-mok, who does better work than the role deserves). It’s not like he’s smart. He only figure out there’s a serial killer because everyone else is stupid and lazy and besides maybe he wants to impress CSI Kim Gyu-ri, who’s in the movie to give it a single female character. There’s so little chemistry between the two they could be siblings (I came up with that joke before I realized they had the same surname). Actually, outside their credited character names, there’s nothing in the film to disallow that relationship—Lee’s a really, really low mediocre writer. 109 minutes and there’s not an ounce of character development in the script. Bit players with funny lines have more depth than the main cast. But it doesn’t matter because it’s got a good hook—the killer, played by a really effective Kim Sung-kyu, is scary and dangerous. See, he rear ends cars and then kills the drivers. Cop Kim figures it out because CSI Kim isn’t good enough at her job to notice the scuff marks on the back of the car. It’s okay because neither are any of the male cops. Only Kim is good enough. Because he’s better looking than everyone else and he’s not on the take. And he’s likable. He’s not charming, not with Lee’s writing and direction, but he’s likable. Kim can handle the trifling super cop bravado stuff. He just doesn’t have a character. Pretty soon after the serial killer gets started and Kim’s ideas get shot down, gangster Ma gets attacked. By the serial killer. Only Ma is a kickass fighter, built like a tank, and able to throw people around. Now, during the attack sequence, it should have been clearer but Devil’s secret power is editors Heo Sun-mi and Han Young-kyu. It isn’t clear because Ma’s such a badass you think you’re just watching this great action scene but then, later on in other action scenes, it becomes clear Heo and Han are doing a beautiful job cutting it. And somehow Lee, who’s got some super bland Panavision composition during the exposition (it shouldn’t have been shot so wide but it’s now the norm since it no longer takes work or talent to shoot so wide), knows what shots to get during the action scenes to allow Heo and Han to make it pretty. Very strange. But good, because it pays off in the third act, which goes on way too long. And in the second act, when there’s a great fight scene with Kim and Ma teaming up. Really good fight scene. The film’s super power—not it’s secret power, but it’s obvious power—is Ma. He’s great. Even with a razor thin part and a questionably competent director, Ma turns in a phenomenal performance. Sometimes you just sit and wonder what it would be like to see Ma directed with ability. He knows what he needs to do in a scene, even if Lee seems to have no idea. Still, while Ma’s great, it’s not a great part. Devil shortchanges him. Ma’s a super star without a super star part. So there are some significant caveats, and it goes on forever because Lee’s narrative storytelling chops are rough… but Devil’s fine. It’s engaging thanks to its cast and the plot hooks. And that editing. That gorgeous, gorgeous editing. ★★ CREDITS Written and directed by Lee Won-tae; director of photography, Park Se-Seung; edited by Heo Sun-mi and Han Young-kyu; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Jang Won-seok and Seo Kang-Ho; released by Acemaker Movieworks. Starring Ma Dong-seok (Jang Dong-soo), Kim Mu-Yeol (Jung Tae-seok), Kim Sung-kyu (Hong Gil-dong), Choi Min-cheol (Kwon Oh-sung), Yoo Seung-mok (Captain An), and Kim Gyu-ri (Cha Seo-jin). RELATED Other 2019 releases Other South Korean films RECENTLY The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (2015, Park Hoon-jung)Tell Me Something (1999, Chang Yoon-hyun)Some (2004, Chang Yoon-hyun)Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook)The Classic (2003, Kwak Jae-young)
  • The Punisher #27, The Slavers, Part 3 (of 6)
    It’s a bridging issue but in the best possible way. Since Ennis is now writing so much narration from Frank, the functional bridging feels a lot more organic. Frank’s got a problem—his leads have run dry because of the cluster last issue—and he needs to figure out a way to move forward. Literal bridging. And yet, completely effective chapter in the arc. While Frank’s trying to turn up new leads (the issue opens with him interrogating a pimp at knifepoint), Ennis is also working the B and C plots, though at this point they both seem on the same level. In the B plot, the two cops—Miller (the White lady) and Parker (the Black guy)—who Frank messed up in the first issue go talk to the guy he messed up last issue so they can compare notes about how the department has used them to further this new anti-Punisher thing the NYPD’s got going on. Of course, it’s all twisted and corrupt so Miller and Parker end up getting beat down by their brothers in blue because… well, White lady and Black guy cops aren’t really really part of the club. The C plot has the trafficking son deciding his dad has gone too far—he wants to go after Frank, not listening to reason; it’s time for some patricide. The issue also introduces social worker Jen Cooke, who helped Viorica with her escape and got the baby killed. Frank goes to talk to her after a lecture, giving Ennis two more spots for completely natural exposition. Ennis is very thorough in how he lays out the trafficking information and presents the problem. No one has any solutions, not Frank, not Cooke (who Ennis sets up as a “shallow liberal” only to give her enough depth to hold up opposite Frank)—Frank doesn’t even know how to approach the problem. Terrorizing street pimps for information doesn’t work and, once he’s got the information he needs, he’s left trying to figure out how he’s going to get an amoral, apathetic Eastern European killing machine to talk. It’s new territory for him, more of Ennis’s subtle character development; thank goodness the writing’s there, in the narration, in the talking heads sequences, because once again Fernandez and Koblish render a very wanting Frank Castle. So many shadows too. Like, guys, putting Frank in the shadows for effect is just showcasing you not being able to draw him well. Ennis ends the comic on a combination of soft cliffhanger and threat. Something’s coming. No one—except maybe Frank—has any inkling, but the future’s there, taunting everyone.
  • The Punisher #26, The Slavers, Part 2 (of 6)
    The comic opens with Viorica telling Frank what happened to her back in Moldova. Enslaved sex work. Escape. Family (father) rejecting her. Recapture. Ennis splits it into two doses, both for the reader and the characters. In between he introduces the father. Last issue he introduced the son, along with the son’s female sidekick. This issue we meet the father as he’s executing some rival gang. Ennis also uses it to start up the C plot about the son plotting against the father. Then it’s back to Frank hearing the rest of the story: Ransomed baby, escape with baby, discovery, dead baby. Occasional panels for the flashback but mostly just talking heads. Fernandez does really well with the pacing of it. Not particularly great with the art, but not bad. Not until the end, when he’s got to do enraged Frank. There’s just something reductive about how Fernandez and Koblish visualize Frank here. He’s not imposing enough. But it’s a hell of a start to the issue. And the father is terrifying—Fernandez does better on that scene than anything else in the issue. Once Frank’s got the story we’re caught up with the end of the previous issue—Ennis doesn’t reference the narration being a year into the future until the end of the comic, but he’s still utilizing the device. Successfully. No more hiccups in the past tense narration. Then it’s time for the B plot, involving the dirty cop forcing the good cops (the Black gay guy and the White woman) to fake injuries from their run-in with the Punisher so they can spin it as Frank being out of control. The stuff with the cops is really, really good. There’s gravitas to it but also a whole bunch of humor, including a great laugh. It’s clearly the release valve for the comic—obviously, no one’s talking about the human trafficking and endless rape. The B plot figures in again later when Frank’s trying to get into the bad guys’ house of operations without killing any of the girls. The bloodthirsty cops get in his way, screwing up his plan. But it’s okay, because he’s got another one up his sleeve—maybe Ennis’s editor told him to end issues with a little cushioning or something because it’s back again here, Ennis making sure the reader is primed for the next issue if not fully prepared. Fernandez’s art gets a little wonky, of course. His quality is inconsistent. At least his panel layouts are good for most of it, making the comic effective at least. How the guy’s been drawing Frank for so long without ever figuring out a consistent look, however… not effective. But the comic succeeds on the writing alone. Ennis is bringing it.
  • The Punisher #25, The Slavers, Part 1 (of 6)
    From the first page, The Slavers is different. And not just because penciller Leandro Fernandez, inker Scott Koblish, and colorist Dan Brown turn in a splash page out of Sin City. No Frank, but a woman with a gun in the rain, screaming as she fires. Frank’s narration—which is going to be near omnipresent in the issue, so everything is very pulpy—accompanies her. She’s shooting at Frank’s target, a drug guy. The narration is past tense, set a year in the future. Again, all very pulpy (down to when writer Garth Ennis stumbles in a first person, past tense pitfall). The narration mixes exposition about the target and Frank’s arsenal. We’re getting the thought process as he goes down from his rooftop perch to save the woman, surprised to find himself sympathetic to her. All it takes is her mentioning a dead baby for Frank to decide to play “white knight,” which he later remarks on. There are story ties between Ennis’s Punisher MAX arcs—we find out from another character this arc takes place about a month after the previous one, depending on how long after death birds go for eyes—but Ennis doesn’t talk about the character development or how he’s changing up the narrative distance. This Frank is a lot more… human than he was in the first arc of the series. So it’s a shame Fernandez and Koblish manage to draw everyone fine except Frank. No more fifty-something Frank, just generic unwashed hair, steely-eyed Frank. It’s unclear if Fernandez doesn’t understand the way to draw the comic or if he just can’t do it. Because Koblish’s inks help with a lot. They help with the entire supporting cast here. Even on the woman Frank saves—there are these pages where the art’s fine in half the panel, but then there’s the weird, shadowy handling of Frank. It’s too bad, but thank goodness Ennis is upping the narration to distract from the art. It’s not all Frank and the woman, Viorica, though. Ennis introduces a fairly big supporting cast (six characters). There are the two bickering (but about serious things) beat cops who happen across Frank’s impromptu rescue; he disarms them, which leads to a dirty cop (beholden to two of the villains we also meet this issue) scheming with the beat cops’ captain to use the incident to declare war on the Punisher. Frank, meanwhile, is just finding out Viorica’s story. Ennis hints at it on the last page, in Frank’s narration—playing with the one year lead time and the past tense rather effectively—and ends the page on one hell of a dark, affecting mood. Because if it’s enough to affect Frank… it’s got to be something real bad. Especially if it’s bad enough Frank’s going to narrate about it. It’s a very strong issue. Even with Fernandez screwing it up. One page almost looks like Paul Gulacy came in to do the heads—no M. Hands credit though—and you wish he had done all of it….
  • The Seeker (2019)
    The Seeker is somewhere between somewhat disturbing and very disturbing. Creator Liz Valasco gets somewhere quite profound by the end, then dials it down a notch for the last story beat. It’s too bad, but sort of not surprising. It’s hard to say where Valasco could take for the finish to satisfy. Almost anything would be too heavy in a very different way than the rest of the comic has been heavy. The comic takes place on Halloween in a “normal” town. It looks like Peanuts, actually; visually, Seeker reminds of Edward Gorey and Peanuts. Valasco’s art is often… pleasant, only for the story developments to make those visuals terrifying. The first part of the comic—the seventy-ish page book is split into five chapters—has “The Seeker” as the protagonist. She’s a tween, too old for Halloween but still loves the holiday. Her dad has abandoned her and her mom; her mom isn’t around in the comic. Everyone ditches the kid. So she’s trying some magic to make a friend of her own. It works, rather matter-of-factly, and by the end of the first part, the kid’s got herself a talking jack-o’-lantern, brought to life with a cat skull, magic, and cockroaches. But the kid isn’t the protagonist for the rest of the comic. In the other four parts, the protagonist is Rob. Rob’s a teenager, also apparently in a house without a dad, and he’s going out on Halloween to drink beers and maybe get to flirt with a girl he likes. His buddy is there, along with a girl for the buddy. Pretty soon they run into the kid and the teenage girls take her under their wing, which is cool until the kid gives the jack-o’-lantern the last ingredient it needs for whatever its got planned and it reanimates a skeleton. The teenagers can’t handle the skeleton. Especially not when it seems to have evil intentions. The best stuff in The Seeker is the teenage girls. Valasco gets a whole different kind of energy when writing their scenes and characters. The buddy’s girlfriend is about six times more interesting than Rob and only because she tries to burb louder. Rob’s just a bit of a teenage jerk—he tries to be better, which is cool and full of potential, but it goes nowhere. The girl Rob likes is a great character. The Seeker kid is a great character, she just doesn’t get anything to do because she’s more functional to the plot than anything else. There are a couple times Valasco almost takes the comic somewhere special in regards to the kid, then doesn’t. In theory, the ending ought to be all about her too, but Valasco veers way away from that conclusion. Unfortunately. The comic’s got a lot of uncanny vibes, but ends up just being a tad disquieting. Who knows what ending would work better, but it’s definitely not the one the comic’s got. Valasco has a pleasant style, albeit with thinner lines than seem right for the comic—it’s too Gorey, not Schulz-y enough. Though Valasco does fabulous with the scary forest. More detail, especially on the faces, wouldn’t hurt. The Seeker’s in that uncomfortable spot where it’s not detailed enough to be one thing but too detailed to be another. But even with the less than steady art, Valasco’s got some great narrative instincts. And once the teenage girls show up, the dialogue problems go away; the conversations between Rob and his mom are real iffy. Rob’s just a dull protagonist. There’s a lot of strong stuff in The Seeker. It’s not altogether successful, but it’s pretty darn good.
  • So Much
    I’m taking weekends off from Comics Fondle and Visual Reflux. VR is a little more graphics intensive than anything else I do and CF is going to get about as much as it, though in different ways… awesome new phone camera(s) means being able to do nicer images for posts. One of the reasons I never started doing pictures in posts was not being able to ensure the quality of those images. It’s a lot easier now—you can just screenshot a digital comic, right? But you can get it done; back when I started the blogs, flip phone cameras… nope. But maybe a Summing Up post on weekends. One, maybe two. At least one. Maybe. We’ll see how it goes next weekend, though I’ve also got a much higher word count target on Summing Up posts than anything else—besides Stop Button, which has a variable target. I’m writing this post instead of doing anything else on my to do list, which isn’t anything pressing but there are some productive items. I really want to go play a video game, so instead I’m being productive with something besides the productive items on my to do list. It’s like differing procrastination. I’m also now wondering if I might be able to make the VR graphics intensive stuff more like the coming Comics Fondle graphics intensive stuff, which would mean I could defer an item off today’s list. Innovate to avoid. And the more innovating, the more avoiding, the more waiting down the clock until there’s no longer enough time to do anything on the to do list and instead I’ll just have to put some of them off until later tonight. It’s very difficult to get excited about having to force down your electrolyte supplements. At some point, nothing’s going to taste worse than elephant’s ball sweat so why even try to figure out the spectrum. With all other blogging, I have an ambition. With Summing Up, the only way I can rely on myself to actually post to the blog is to have no ambitions. No schedules, no plans… I can’t even remember what the theme looks like right now. I think it looks all right. Or it’s just Baskerville 2. I’m liking Baskerville 2, even if the header image area is lousy and the title font is a tad much. Clearly I’m not too worried about it because I still haven’t done anything with the Visual Reflux header, though I did just get a relatively fast and easy idea I’ll probably try to get done after this post but before I run out of screwing off time. I’m getting pretty good at maximizing all those times. Something about the word count targets. It gins up the enthusiasm just right, leading to a huge wink paragraph for Logan’s Run today and a little wink for Rambo V tomorrow. Given I’m going through the first couple years of Stop Button right now and rather impressed with how little I tried back in those early days… it’s nice to be thoughtful. I’m kind of curious when the change occurs. Because there’s a period, before the 250-word constraint but after I started submitting to MRQE where I got my verbosity on. Haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m also putting off doing the day’s catalog capsule post for Stop Button. I’ve got to do cat litter soon, like… there’s only so much you can do.
  • Duh, Ha-Ha (2019)
    Duh Ha-Ha is quick and lyrical. The nameless narrator sets up the ground situation in a page; she’s a listless early twenty-something who works in restaurant of some kind, probably not a chain. Her boss gives her a ride home and she thinks about what would happen if she his old bones. Would his gratitude outweigh his anger? Not a lot of time for the narrator to think about it because when they get to their destination, a staff party the boss is paying for (hence why I can’t believe it’s a chain), the younger guy next to her starts chatting her up. And old boss man doesn’t like it, which convinces the now drunk narrator to come on strong to stranger guy, leading to a moderately big reveal—except creator Carolyn Nowak doesn’t want to tell the story of how that moderately big reveal affects anything. Instead, she moves on to the narrator just talking about her relationship with the guy, who becomes a (decent) boyfriend, which adds to the lyrical quality. Nowak’s art is good, her sense of visual pacing is superb—the way she’s able to get past the expectation of a reveal exploration comes with a white text on black panel jump ahead, but also on the effectiveness of the postscript, where Ha-Ha becomes more about the narrator in the relationship than anything earlier had been about the narrator. Nowak’s also a master of the abrupt ending. When the comic stops, you expect there to be more, but when there isn’t… the stop point makes all the more sense. It’s not groundbreaking, but for a twelve-page indie comic, there’s not much more you could ask for than Duh Ha-Ha.
  • The Punisher #24, Up is Down and Black is White, Part 6 (of 6)
    So in the last arc, Ennis found the pulp in Punisher MAX in a non-pulp setting. This arc ends in a pulp setting but without pulp storytelling. Instead, it’s this pensive, depressing look at people trapped by their lives. O’Brien realizes she’s trapped in this dark, violent, ugly world and only ever gets glimpses of the world outside it. Frank’s world. The real world. And in the real world the six issue story arc, which features gunfights, explosions, desecration, torture, and Frank Castle post-coital, it ends on anonymous street, in front of an anonymous building, with anonymous hostages, because everything is anonymous to Frank (and O’Brien). Everything but the mission. Everything but the purpose. Ennis doing character development on Frank in Punisher MAX is always uphill. The series is set in the present, Frank’s been punishing since the mid-to-late seventies, we don’t get any information about those years. Other than he used to be more troubled by what was going on in his life. Nicky Cavella brings it back in this arc, which lets Ennis do that character development, but he’s always careful to pace it out. Frank’s big revelation came—we learn later—in the previous issue; he shares it at the end. The peace he’s able to find as it relates to his mission, his purpose. Even with the art, which is probably the best in arc—and still not very good—the end is very effective. You can feel the weight and calm in Frank, which is the whole point of Punisher MAX. Not to make Frank sympathetic, but to make him… rational. The issue’s kind of strange as an arc finale; most of it is wrap-up. There’s a big action opener, but it doesn’t relate to anything before or after, not for Frank or O’Brien. Then Ennis hurries through Frank, O’Brien, and Roth’s blackmail scheme with Rawlins in order to get to the next action sequence, when Frank finally confronts Nicky Cavella after five issues of escalating animosity. It’s a “hero” moment for Frank (Punisher MAX doesn’t address the idea of Punisher as hero, but it definitely explores how he fits that expectation) but there’s no time to celebrate. Turns out there aren’t hero moments for Frank or O’Brien. With better art, Up is Down and Black is White could be the best arc in the series so far. Instead, it’s the second best. Ennis has figured out how to work it; how to do the character development, how to handle the extremes, how to handle the narrative expectation. It goes all over the place, is always focused, is always expansive. The ending, which has this wonderful detail about Nicky’s experience of it versus Frank’s, is lovely. Frank’s world is ugly, tragic, and hopeless, but there’s a definite, primal beauty about it.
  • The Case of the Missing Plastic-Tipped Tongs
    When I started 2019, I had this idea I’d consolidate all my blogging. Actually, wait, no, when I started 2019 I was going to start a TV blog (A Televisual Feast, natch) and do a lot of TV blogging, starting with a watch-through of “Penny Dreadful” because I’d gotten it for real cheap on Blu-ray in the late fall. Maybe on Black Friday. But then we wrapped up “Comics Fondle: The Podcast” and decided to do a relaunch, “Visual Reflux,” and if I was setting up a whole new site for the new podcast, why wouldn’t I just do some blogging there… I was getting excited about self-hosting again. Old time blogging. Bringing the geekery back into it. So, funny thing… Comics Fondle: The Blog turns ten in a couple months. When I started Comics Fondle back in the day, it was too late to be starting a new comics blog. I already had a “brand” as far as it mattered in 2009 blogging, but it wasn’t CF, it was Stop Button, of course. And, because I clearly wanted to give myself an out, Stop Button was never part of the Visual Reflux: The Blog concept. I should’ve known launching a secondary blog in 2019, even if it consolidated, was a bad idea. Especially for the amount of work I really wanted to put into it. I had a lot of TV to watch, potentially, and I think I’d already decided on the Punisher MAX read-through. I swear I should have a little style guide with all these various boldings and dashes. Anyway. It’s now September. 2019 is almost over. I’ve managed to read two books this year, as opposed to a book a week—Modern HERstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History, by Blair Imani, and Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets, by Feminista Jones. Both are great. HERstory would basically be a great older kids book, like fourth grade, but also to old age because it’s a who’s who. Imani’s got some great chapter introduction essays too. And Reclaiming Our Space is an amazing history of social media in the last ten or so years. And Jones is an excellent writer. So good books. But only two. And many, many, many months apart. But I have successfully completed—almost, one more to go—an intentionally scheduled Punisher MAX deep dive, which had always been a problem before; not finding or making the time, but getting to the write place with the writing. Because if blogging is just going to be my writing, the posts have to be about the writing, not the subject. Figuring out how to talk about the subject while still being about the writing… it takes time. Basically, it turns out I was doing constraints wrong. In the many years Comics Fondle and Stop Button had strict per-post word counts, I learned how to write concise, which is great, but it turns out general word count targets work a lot better for how I write now. I shoot for 650 words on something, or 450 on a shitty movie, or 1,000 on a great one, and there’s no ticker—the writing app, Ulysses has turned out to be a great investment—just knowing if I hit it and where I am in the writing impulse… it works out. My writing practice—my blogging practice—has changed. Some of it, which I don’t really want to address right now, has to do with recognizing the difference between blogging as writing and blogging as work. I don’t do the latter, I do the former. One of The Stop Button’s earliest subtitles was “An Appreciation of Amusements” (in 2019, I don’t even want to think about how much The New York Times influenced the blog’s style, but, suffice to say, Oxford commas are now a thing) and I’ve now come to think of the posts more as the amusements themselves, separate from the discussed media. Then today I decided… why not bring back Summing Up, since I never got around to archiving its posts and it’d probably be easy to clean up and it’s not like micro.blog is working out for longer form colloquial blogging. So instead of having two primary blogs, one The Stop Button, the second comprised of one secondary (Comics Fondle) and two tertiary (Televisual Feast, which never launched with new posts, and Summing Up, which has been in a very strange place for a long time), let’s just do all four. I’ve got the domains anyhow. And MarsEdit. So it’s very easy. Also… self-hosting a blog in 2019. Icky bad.
  • The Punisher #23, Up is Down and Black is White, Part 5 (of 6)
    Lots happens this issue. Lots. Also not lots. It’s a very particular kind of comic, where the heroes find out what the villains have been plotting. A revelation issue… but for the characters. There’s probably a term for it. Sort of a diegetic revelation issue. Anyway, it also has Frank getting his head straight—courtesy a shotgun blast to his chest (and vest)—which means he’s an active character not a passive player for Ennis to move through the events. It’s nice to have him back. You got worried about him last issue, as did O’Brien; this issue has a wonderful conversation between O’Brien and Frank. She does most of the talking. Fernandez and Hanna do the talking heads well, all things considered, though it’s hard not to notice the only time Fernandez can pace out a conversation is when the people are naked. This issue has—probably for the first time, but who knows—Frank making the beast with two backs. It’s a great moment. Ennis has really got Frank down at this point. He’s comfortable writing him, not restricting the kinds of scenes Frank gets to be in. I guess if you’re writing Frank Castle playing kindly grandpa, it’s not too difficult to roll him in the hay. Speaking of rolling in the hay, Nicky—who survives the showdown (all of the main cast does, there’s another issue after all)—gets the wrong roll in the hay offer, which ties directly into the issue’s cliffhanger. The plotting is shootout and resolution, escape, Nicky following, Frank and company interrogating a captured bad guy (Frank getting results thanks to it being a MAX comic), some shagging, then the cliffhanger. It might be the best art in the arc so far, just because Fernandez doesn’t screw anything up majorly enough to notice it. It’s real impressive how Ennis has plotted this arc; he’s got all these threads he can wrap up in the fifth issue and prime the arc for a great finale. Especially when you consider Frank’s been on autopilot for most of the arc so far. He wasn’t even in the Nicky issue. The Frank narration, sparing as always, jars the comic’s narrative focus back onto him. Great character development on O’Brien too. Up is Down and Black is White isn’t pulpy; it’s a straight Punisher MAX comic, much more in common with the first and second arcs than the third, but Ennis has definitely learned from doing the pulpy, long present action arc; it informs this one. So good.
  • The Punisher #22, Up is Down and Black is White, Part 4 (of 6)
    The issue opens with one of those good Ennis ideas not explored; two guys breaking into a closed jewelry shop and terrified by the thought The Punisher, who’s (apparently) never cared about the non-violent street criminals, now does cares about them. Since he’s gone spree. Spree-er. But it’s just the one-page opener, nothing Ennis wants to explore. Next up is Frank living in his dream, a dead world, everyone killed by him, and finding there’s still no peace for him. Presumably. Frank doesn’t analyze his dream, just regrets closing his eyes. Ennis then takes some time to catch up with Frank’s perspective on everything. Frank might not analyze his dreams, but he does analyze his feelings. Or at least he acknowledges he has feelings he could be analyzing if he weren’t trying to kill enough people to get a specific action from the city. Speaking of the city, Ennis has what would be a great talking heads scene with the city brass yelling at each other about what to do with the Punisher. There’s a couple more tidbits of information—the cops don’t just go after Frank because, while he doesn’t do collateral damage, they would, and then how the city just looks the other way when Frank keeps the weekly kill count at a dozen. They just want a politically acceptable way to give Frank what he wants, because once Frank has what he wants (they think), he’s just going to go after Nicky. And they’re right. They give Frank what he wants and after Nicky he goes. Right into a trap. Knowingly. Reflecting on it as he does, this one final act, so driven by a different kind of rage than normal he can’t stop himself. Even though Frank doesn’t think about it so Ennis doesn’t write about it (and there’s no one for Frank to confide in, thank goodness), there’s this “man’s gotta do” subtext to the whole thing. The Punisher undone by ingrained toxic masculinity. Meanwhile, O’Brien and Roth have started staking out her ex-husband, CIA killer Rawlins, finding him not just conspiring with mobster Nicky, but also cavorting with him. Given the second issue of the arc… there’s a definite statement to Nicky being a passive, enthusiastic bottom in the sack…. Anyway, Rawlins isn’t just there for the hanky-panky, they’re teaming up to take out Frank. Good thing O’Brien’s got horribly valid reasons to get the drop on Rawlins. But will she be in time? And would she help Frank if she were? None of the art is good. Some of it is better than the rest of it, but it’s rather disappointing Ennis turns in this great script—building action versus last issue’s bridging action—only for Fernandez to fumble through it. Hanna’s inks… probably help. But who knows. The scenery’s good? The scenery’s important. It’s good. Sadly the people aren’t and they’re the most important thing.
  • The Punisher #21, Up is Down and Black is White, Part 3 (of 6)
    Every once and a while I wonder if I’m too liberal in my use of the term “bridging issue” to quickly describe how a writer uses an issue to set up the second half or next part of an arc. Then I’ll read a comic like Punisher MAX #21 and it’s exactly what I’m talking about. There have been a couple other bridging issues in Punisher MAX, but this one is the first where it feels like Ennis is writing for the trade. Makes sense as it’s the fourth arc and they’d have seen floppies versus trade sales. Stuff sort of happens this issue, but all of it is anticipatory. Ex-CIA agent O’Brien breaks out of the pokey and heads to former colleague and fellow ex-CIA agent Roth’s apartment for help. Frank goes on a killing spree to force the NYPD to resolve outstanding issues with Nicky Cavella’s “prank” at the Castle family grave site. Meanwhile, Rawlins—who it turns out was married to O’Brien at one point because it’s still a Marvel comic and Marvel comics love nothing more than backstory coincidences—also happens to know Cavella and goes to meet with him. The issue ends with Frank killing a bunch of people and musing about a recurring dream, the one where he finally loses it and turns the guns on the civilians. It’s a shame Ennis uses that Frank narration just to make the ending… more effective than it would be if it were just Frank killing a bunch of disposable, generic bad guys. The dream’s disturbing to be sure, but it’s also the Punisher reflecting on his chosen vocation and how he understands it. He’s not seeking vengeance, he’s not seeking redemption, so why does he do what he does. Ennis has been, slowly, starting to unpack that question since the start of the series. Just when he’s got the opportunity to do it here, he ends the issue. Because Frank’s killing spree is different than his usual thing—he’s slaughtering the bad guys in full view of civilians, hitting a night club, for example. He’s bringing his reality to a lot of people who don’t usually see it. And then there’s the art. Penciller Fernandez and inker Hanna choke on the talking heads. Miserably. O’Brien and Roth’s conversation has really bad “acting.” Terrible, actually. Their expressions are terrible. It’s by no means a bad issue but it sure reads better in the trade versus the floppy. Especially for three bucks.
  • The Punisher #20, Up is Down and Black is White, Part 2 (of 6)
    It’s the Nicky Cavella origin story, complete with his original crew (from the first Punisher MAX arc) appearing again in fun little cameos. Well, as fun as a Punisher MAX cameo is going to get. Because Nicky Cavella has a very rough origin story. He’s the psychopath born to the family of sociopaths who don’t understand why he doesn’t have any compunctions about killing (anyone) while the family pretends there should be compunctions. It’s disturbing (mostly because Ennis doesn’t do any comedy relief with it, save the pragmatic violence of Cavella’s sidekick in the present) and it’s a lot, over a lot of pages. The history also suggests what Nicky did to the Castle Family’s grave site is nothing compared to what he’d do if they weren’t thirty years decomposed. The issue starts when Nicky is eight, though the first panel could be anyone in a Punisher MAX series—to the point it’s not even clear if Ennis is playing with expectations or everyone in the series is just so disturbed it’s the way the series goes. There’s an intro to his family life, including his manipulative, fellow psychopath aunt who wants to train Nicky for a brighter future than his father or uncle. They’re too soft. She wants to toughen him up. It comes at a cost, though it’s pretty clear there never was a happy ending for Nicky. At least not one where he doesn’t end up hurting a lot of people. The present day stuff is Nicky and sidekick Tessie waiting for the other mobsters to decide whether or not to make Nicky boss. Other than the frame, which does account for a decent amount of pages and has the aforementioned closest thing to comic relief, it’s just the flashbacks. Ennis referred to Nicky’s ominous backstory in the first arc, now’s the pay-off. And it’s adequate pay-off. Ennis keeps his villain quirky, horrifically so. Once again, Ferandez’s artwork disappoints. Once again, Hanna’s inks have to pick up way too much slack. Though it’s better art than the previous issue and far fewer of the bland but busy close-ups from the previous issue. I’m not still 100% on Nicky as a master villain (or if a master villain belongs in Punisher MAX, but Ennis does the work to establish him as one hell of a bad guy.
  • September will be great
    So TV is starting in September. Not sure what the first series I’m going to do a deep-dive on, but it’ll be… something finite. Cable or streaming or British. We’ll see how it goes. Schedule-wise, for TV, I’m thinking one TV post a week to start. Then more once I get a feel for it. Or maybe not more if it doesn’t feel right. We’ll see. At the same time, there will be more regular Comics Fondle posts. I’m not waiting until September for the next Punisher arc, but there will be a Punisher arc next month with the new schedule. It’s currently looking like–Stop Button, VR or CF, Stop Button, whatever wasn’t the previous, Stop Button, and so on. Visual Reflux posts will either be a TV post or just some blathering like this post. Stop Button gets the most posts because it gets the most readers. I think it’d be even more accurate to say it gets readers. VR and CF are read. They do not have much in the way of regular readership, however. The whole idea of creating a centralized posting site instead of changing The Stop Button into that centralized posting site was a mistake. But I’m not running to change up Stop Button. My self-hosted WordPress experiment was miserable. I got nothing out of it except Google Analytics telling me no one was coming to the site. It would’ve been a fine idea for 2007 or 2008. But not even 2009, as CF was one relaunch too many of comics blogging after I split the comics from the movies on Stop Button because I couldn’t get it to work right on WordPress. And doing both side-by-side crashed Sandvox a lot. Punisher will start either at the end of this week or the beginning of next. I’ve got a couple comics to read before I get to it and I’m also reading Feminista Jones’s Reclaiming Our Space and not putting it on a shelf this time. I was doing a lot better on reading in January 2019 than any other time this year. Meanwhile there’s a lot of Stop Button posts this month—I know because I’ve got three in the queue and I never have many in the queue anymore. Six blogathon posts in August, then five more the first week of September. The new Stop Button scheduling officially takes over after those September posts. So eight more movies between now and September 8. Not a lot of time for comics or TV, unfortunately. At least not TV I’m then going to write at length about. I didn’t end up writing about “The Boys” after the first couple episodes. I don’t have an “Elementary” post I don’t think. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I see the last episode. But there was also the plan for how I was going to do the “focused” posts for TV: watching the season through (hence shorter seasons), then go through episode-by-episode to post. I’m not sure if it’ll work. Maybe the better thing would be brief posts and build up once I get used to writing about TV. I’m sure I’ll figure it out by September. “Mindhunter” starts in a couple days. Maybe I should try to work with that.
  • Social-less Micro.blog
    I’m not sure if I’ve written at length about micro.blog; I might have over at Summing Up before. But I don’t have any tags or categories for the majority of the older posts and… I’m not doing a deep dive to find it. Basically, I was waiting for micro.blog to launch (knowing about it because of the excellent Core Intuition podcast) and got tired of waiting so I launched Summing Up. I stopped doing Summing Up because 2016 election basically. It took a while to kill my blogging (inauguration put the real nail in it) and, even though I had a micro.blog I didn’t use it). A year after deciding micro.blog wasn’t for me, I’ve decided to start using it as a Twitter posting client for ramblings. Because it turns out I don’t fit in at micro.blog, social network-speaking, which is fine. Core Intuition doesn’t do a Patreon so a fiver a month plus using MarsEdit via SetApp in addition to owning MarsEdit because it’s awesome gets to be my support. What’s interesting is how much response I get on Twitter to my micro.blog posts. More than when I just tweet. Maybe it’s something about how I conceive of tweets vs. micro.blog posts. Though micro.blog doesn’t have posting photos into the post yet, which is one of my favorite web ux things. I can’t help but note I still haven’t gotten around to any TV content for Visual Reflux. It’s going to happen. It’s imminent. Once I read the second Punks Not Dead arc, TV (well, streaming) is happening. This post is because I just noticed yesterday how I got zero interaction on micro.blog but a bunch for the same posts on Twitter. I have a solid Twitter. A cultivated Twitter. Especially mutuals. Even if many folks have left because it’s a shitshow. I’m hesitant to give myself a TV schedule for VR just because it’s all new. But maybe I will. When I get closer to it making sense. I’ve got to do things like sign up for Hulu and install the app and so on. Headphones. Need to find my headphones. TV watching on lunch breaks makes sense but I’ve got zero experience with it these days. It’s been almost fifteen years since I first did it, with “Battlestar.” It’s possible I blogged about “Battlestar” back then. Who knows.
  • Dreck’s not an adjective
    It’s been a week since my last Visual Reflux post. Soft renovating the garage to make it a cat paradise takes up a lot of time, even if it doesn’t take up a lot of mental space. I also sort of forgot where I was going with VR after my last post; I went from a post about all the blogathons I’ve been participating in the last couple years to finishing the blogathon index on The Stop Button, which has no deadline. Whatever was I going to do on VR and why hadn’t I given myself a deadline. It’s entirely possible I’ll have a “triage journaling” post one of these… weeks, but it’s a little less likely than a post about the new Bastille album, which at one point seemed certain. Just like at one point doing a watch-through of “Penny Dreadful” was going to happen. And now a watch-through, in some fashion, of “Mr. Rogers” seems more likely. I’m not really big on sticking to my plans for my blogs. They don’t pay anything. And they’re a hobby, not an interest. I’m not sure how many times I’ve made that “hobby, not an interest” Carlin reference since I started blogging—fifteen years ago—but I’d guess at least six. It’s how I think of blogging. It costs money. It doesn’t make money. But I’ve got it cost-effective at least. Especially now Visual Reflux has moved off self-hosted because why in 2019. Anyway, if I’m sticking to the schedule I set up… this post is actually going to be Stop Button’s new programming. See, when I started Stop Button I was still trying to watch something like a movie a day. At least one every two days. Something extreme and difficult. For a long while I was doing at least three features a week; shorts came in to supplement. But it was a lot. It’s not a lot anymore. When I watch a movie on a work night, it’s a lot to keep rattling around my head. I’d almost prefer bad movies. Of course the trick of hits on a bad movie post is the bad movie has to be popular enough someone once saw it and almost liked it or used to like it and then came to reason. Because why else write about bad movies if not for the hits. Bad movies of course being different than terrible movies. Or godawful ones. Hang on. Let me find a good adjective. Dreck. But dreck’s not an adjective. I don’t discuss movies in relation to one another in posts if I can help it. It’s kind of… the goal, actually. The purpose. Other than occasionally making witty quips or finding a good sentence to shit on a terrible movie like Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The point is it’s hard to come up with a watch list. It’s hard to program. Life doesn’t lend itself to marathoning Jerome Bonnell because life sucks. So starting in September, I’m starting to think of Stop Button in programming “seasons.” Because everything is fucking seasonal now—I was on the bleeding edge of comics having seasons, for distribution, I have witnesses—so why not my movie blog. It’ll be two probably unrelated features a month, plus whatever else incidentals (features, shorts, whatever)—I’m going to be loose with that scheduling at the start—then two probably unrelated features the next month, then a return to the most popular (either with me or with hits) categories the third month. Because if I don’t systemize this shit… I’m never going to get around to watching Desert of the Tartars again and I’ve wanted to watch that movie again since I finished watching it the first time. Azumi 1 too. I really want to return to that post-undergrad pre-MFA era. But I also want to really get to some Catherine Corsini. Or Moonlight. Or Beale Street. There are almost 2,000 movies on my watch list and I’ve only been working on it for three and a half weeks. I’ve got to get moving on this shit. And I’ll also be posting the short capsule reviews en masse here once a month. A Visual Reflux special. Speaking of VR specials—I’m going to assemble all my latest Punisher MAX posts over here in the next couple days; just not sure how. And there, another post. Easy-peasy.
  • Actual Newsletter Reading
    I started using the new NetNewsWire this week. I knew about it being back, but I hadn’t investigated it because… Feedly. Also in the post-Google Reader world, my RSS reading has failed. But I got curious about NNW again. It’s got Feedbin support and I love Feedbin. Feedly I don’t love, but find it useful. Feedbin I love but always found limited. Probably should’ve tried making folders in Feedbin, but whatever. It took NNW until I discovered them. While I was playing on Feedbin’s web interface, I discovered you can send your newsletters to your Feedbin. I like newsletters. I even tried doing a special newsletter thing in addition to blogging a few years ago. That didn’t work out. I was subscribed to a few TinyLetter accounts back when it flashed in the pan, even if they were just blog posts. And thanks to Feedbin, they could even have a blog post UI. At least an RSS-y blog post UI. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters because Gmail and endless storage. I’m really bad at my personal email inbox maintenance (currently at 577). And going through and changing the mailing address on all the newsletters seems like a pain. Then I realized Gmail and filters so now I’m just marking the email read, archiving it, forwarding it to Feedbin. It’s going to take a while to get all of them over there no doubt, but they’ve started showing up there and not the inbox so it works. Maybe it’ll lead to more actual newsletter reading, which is behind even the blog reading.
  • If only snobbery rhymed with quality
    I can’t take Apple seriously with movie sales or rentals. I’m having a hard time imagining I’ll take Apple TV+ seriously either. All of Apple’s web material for movies stinks. You’re supposed to go into iTunes to rent it, not look at it on the website. But iTunes is absolutely terrible for browsing. It’s terrible for browsing your content, it’s terrible for browsing their content. If people are out there sitting and spending a couple hours in iTunes looking around, window-shopping, whatever… they’re really, really, really quiet about it. There aren’t “Why You’re Wrong About iTunes” posts out there. At least, not popular ones. So now Apple’s making Baby Bells out of iTunes but is their approach to their web-based catalog going to change? No. Because no one’s out there attacking the web-based catalog. People—not tech-savvy people but people know they can stream to a device finally—don’t search iTunes or Movies. They Google. And when you Google, you get the web catalog and the web catalog is bad. Apple does a lot to keep up with the Joneses of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and, what, Wal-Mart (Vudu)? But they’re decidedly not invested in their position as a digital Best Buy. At least with the music it seemed like Apple cared. Less now, of course. The walled garden approach to music doesn’t work. You see social media links to Apple Music about as often as you see… well, not often. Apple really needs to do better with the web catalogs. Even if they don’t care about competing in that space, they could at least pretend for their customers’ sake. Why does Apple mean snobbery and quality everywhere but on their website.
  • Functional Exhaustion
    I posted a bunch yesterday—and wrote a bunch of capsules—so I felt rather well-blogged by the end of the day. Better blogged than I’ve felt in a while, at least as far as Visual Reflux’s more relaxed style goes. The capsules are written—or meant to be written—in that relaxed style. But it also means the only VR topic I’ve got in the queue is the exhaustion one. I realized the other night I’ve only tried to be energized a few times this year. Meaning going to bed at a decent hour, which is about an hour more than I need because there’s no telling if or how the cats are going to wake me up so I need some padding. But I usually just… accept exhaustion. Welcome it. Use coffee to make it tolerable. I mean, I’ve gotten better. Since we cut out added sugars and going out to eat, it’s extremely rare I’ll need to power nap during a lunch break. And it’s not exercise because I’ve dropped that for other reasons—last year when I was power napping almost my entire lunch, I was training for a marathon so I should’ve had enough endorphins kicking around but nope. I feel like I’ve got this under control. Functioning while exhausted. Doesn’t seem to be a thing I ought to be doing though. Especially since I have so little pressing on me. Or, at least, I don’t deal with anything pressing on me. My anti-depressant, anti-anxiety cocktail seems to be doing just right, letting me compartmentalize stresses with the best of them. But I also know there is going to be some kind of crash. I got hints of it last week, which was a busy week and all, but not so much I should’ve started cracking the way I did. Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can do—I don’t like busting out the mindfulness exercises I find helpful unless I really need them. They’re to be used when they’ll do the most help, not when they’ll take my mind off something. Anxiety is, of course, much like a virus; it gets vaccine immune the more you vaccinate; which is not to be anti-vax, just to point out you need to stay ahead of the viruses as much as you can and having them break you down is no good. Vaccinate your kids, you idiots. You might deserve trusting Jenny McCarthy’s medical advice to bring about your destruction but other people don’t. Anyway. I’m more aware—now—I’m not just running on fumes but doing whatever I can to keep the fumes going. I’m always putting things on my to do list, liking blocking out time for writing, blocking out time for post research; one of these days I’ll put rest on there. But not any time soon. But some day.