Cartoonists And Readers Both Can Learn A Lot From Alex Nall’s “Teaching Comics : Volume One”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

When no less an authority than legendary indie cartoonist John Porcellino says that a particular book is “as good as comics get,” then said book is clearly worth paying attention to — but also has some very big praise to live up to. Whether that means such a glowing endorsement is actually something of a double-edged I guess I’ll leave to you to determine — shit, if it was my book, I’d take it — but any way you slice it, “as good as comics get” is far more than simple, or even effusive, praise. Indeed, it’s positively glowing.

But, then, so is the book we’re talking about here, Chicago-based cartoonist Alex Nall’s self-published collection Teaching Comics : Volume One. Autobio strips that capture life’s quietly beautiful and poignant moments are nowhere near as “sexy” or “arresting” as autobio confessional stuff, it’s true, but for my money they…

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The First Trailer For Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald Reveals Hogwarts In The 1920s!

Earlier today, the first trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald dropped.  The trailer features sights that will warm the heart of any Harry Potter fan, including Hogwarts in the 1920s and Jude Law inspiring the younger wizards.

This is the 2nd film in the 5-part Fantastic Beasts series so there will undoubtedly be many more years to come of magic, mystery, and nonstop Dumbledore controversy.

Rockin’ in the Film World #15: THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS (Apple Corps/Imagine Entertainment 2016)

cracked rear viewer

Beatle fans will have a blast watching THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS, director Ron Howard’s 2016 rock doc covering the Fab Four’s career from their earliest club days through the height of Beatlemania, until they stopped touring for good in 1966. The film features rare and classic footage of The Beatles live in concert around the globe, juxtaposing their rise with news events of the day and interviews with all four members.

Howard conducted brand-new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, and included archival interviews with the late John Lennon and George Harrison. Through these and behind the scenes clips and press conferences, we get a sense of what it was like to be at the center of all the Beatlemania  madness. Ringo says it best: “We just wanted to play… playing was the only thing” far as these talented musicians were concerned, but…

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Spring Break Scenes That I Love: The Del-Aires Perform The Zombie Stomp in Horror Of Party Beach!

This is from the 1964 film, Horror on Party Beach!  

Can you believe that some people think that they didn’t know how to have fun in the early 60s?

Of course, you did have to look out for the monsters.  I guess that was the only drawback…

(I should admit that I’m not really sure if this movie was supposed to be occurring during spring break but who cares?  It’s got the zombie stomp!  Add to that, I’d be worried about anyone who voluntarily spent their spring break on such a depressing-looking beach.  Not when you can just go down to Galveston.)

Embracing the Melodrama Part III #3: More (dir by Barbet Schroeder)

More is such a film of the 60s that you can almost get a contact high from watching it.

It’s not just that the film was released in 1969.  After all, there were a lot of films released in 1969 that don’t, in any way, feel like they belong in the 60s.  (Just consider two of 1969’s Best Picture nominees, Anne of the Thousand Days and Hello, Dolly.)  However, More is a film that seems to include every single thing that we think of when we think about the late 60s.

Drugs?  Check.

Hitchhiking?  Check.

Petty crime?  Check.

Ennui?  Check.

Weirdly out-of-place political bullshit?  Check.

A fatalistic ending that suggests that nothing really matters?  Check and double check.

More tells the story of a young German named Stefan (Klaus Grunberg).  Stefan has just wrapped up his mathematics studies and now, he’s intent on exploring Europe and experiencing life!  The first time we see Stefan, he’s hitchhiking and not having much luck.  No one really wants to pick up Stefan and I really can’t blame them.  Stefan is an incredibly boring character and Grunberg gives a remarkably dull performance in the lead role.  Unfortunately, Stefan also narrates his story.  I usually don’t like narrators in general but they especially get on my nerves whenever they appear in a movie that was made between 1966 and 1970.

Anyway, Stefan finally finds himself in Paris.  He befriends Charlie (Michel Chanderil), who is a petty thief and who takes the naive Stefan under his wing.  The movie picks up a bit whenever Charlie is on screen, largely because Chanderil has more screen presence than Grunberg.  As I watched Charlie teach Stefan how to steal, I found myself wishing that the whole film could have been about Charlie.

But no.  We’re stuck with boring old Stefan.  Stefan eventually meets an American girl named Estelle (Mismy Farmer).  Now, if Stefan was a fan of Godard, he would undoubtedly have seen Breathless and he would know better than to run off with an American girl.  But, because Stefan is a dullard, he instead decides that he loves Estelle.  When Estelle heads off for Ibiza, Stefan follows.

In Ibiza, Estelle is living with an enigmatic German named Dr. Wolf (Heinz Engelmann).  Dr. Wolf is a former (and, it’s implied, current) Nazi.  Stefan wins her away from Dr. Wolf.  Stefan thinks that he’s rescuing her but Estelle really doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.  Estelle introduces Stefan to the world of drugs and Stefan is soon hooked on heroin.

And it just goes on from there.

More probably could have probably been a really good film if Stefan wasn’t such a dull protagonist or if Grunberg had been in the least bit compelling in the lead role.  From the minute I first saw him hitchhiking, my reaction was, “I do not care about this person” and that was pretty much the way I felt throughout the entire film.

The film does have its good points.  The cinematographer was Nestor Almendros so Ibiza looks amazing and Pink Floyd provides an appropriately moody score.  Mimsy Farmer, an American actress who later appeared in some of the best gialli to come out of Italy, is perfectly cast as the self-centered and casually destructive Estelle.  But all the good points can’t make up for the film’s slow pace and Grunberg’s charisma-free performance.

More is probably best viewed as a cultural artifact.  I’m a history nerd and I’m always fascinated by films like More that, regardless of their overall quality, are such obvious works of their time.  More may reek of stale weed but watching it is definitely a chance to experience the 60s.

Film Review: Enemy Gold (dir by Christian Drew Sidaris)

The 1993 film, Enemy Gold, actually gets off to a promising start, with a series of scenes that take place during the Civil War.  Men in gray uniforms wander through the woods, looking for a place to hide their gold.

Now, you’ll notice that I said that it was a promising start.  I didn’t necessarily say it was a good start.  To be honest, when I first saw the soldiers, I thought they were supposed to be Civil War reenactors.  The haircuts, the facial hair, even the relatively cleanliness of the uniforms; nothing that we see really suggests that we’ve been transported back to the 1860s.

That said, I’m a history nerd and I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil War.  Even if it’s a totally unconvincing recreation, I’m always interested in seeing a movie about the period.  I was even more interested when I discovered that the film’s Confederates were supposed to be members of Quantrill’s Raiders.  William Quantrill was one of the more infamous sociopaths to come out of the Civil War and many of the famous outlaws of the Old West served with Quantrill.  There’s always been rumors that, before he was killed by Union forces, Quantrill hid his gold in Texas.  That rumors rests at the heart of Enemy Gold.

Of course, it takes a while to get around the gold.  After the Civil War-set prologue, Enemy Gold jumps to the 1990s.  A group of secret agents are preparing to attack a bunch of drug smugglers.  One of the agents is played by an actor named Bruce Penhall, who previously played special agent Bruce Christian in the last few Andy Sidaris films.  Despite the fact that Enemy Gold was directed by Sidaris’s son, Christian Drew Sidaris, it’s quickly established that Bruce Penhall is not playing Bruce Christian in this film.  Instead, he’s playing Chris Cannon, a character who is exactly the same as Bruce Christian except that Cannon’s jokes are even worse than Christian’s.  His two colleagues are named Mark Austin (Mark Barriere) and Suzi Midnite (Suzi Simpson).

(I was once tempted to change my name to Lisa Marie Midnite.  I might still do it if I ever have to flee the country.)

Anyway, Chris, Mark, and Suzi manage to take down the drug smugglers.  Great job, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that their boss, Dickson (Alan Abew), doesn’t appreciate them or their extreme methods.  Dickson tells them that they’re suspended!

The three agents aren’t that upset about being suspended, though.  It just means more time to hang out and maybe even go into the woods and search for Quantrill’s gold!

However, it turns out that they’re not the only ones who want the gold.  An evil drug dealer, Santiago (Rodrigo Obregon), wants the gold and he’s hired a deadly assassin named Jewel Panther (Julie Strain) to help him get it.  In case you were wondering why Dickson is such a jerk, it probably has something to do with the fact that he’s secretly working for Santiago!

Soon, everyone is in the woods, getting naked, and blowing stuff up.  It’s a typical Sidaris film, right down to the reoccurring cast members and the terrible jokes.  Actually, I take that back.  The jokes in Enemy Gold are even worse than the typical Sidaris jokes.

A typical exchange from Enemy Gold:

“What’s up?”

“I am.”

I probably would have enjoyed Enemy Gold is the action had remained in the 19th century.  The Civil War scenes may not have been convincing but at least they were dealing with an interesting period of time.  Instead, the action jumped to the early 90s and the film got bogged down with drug smugglers and stuff like that.

Along with just being a generally dumb movie, Enemy Gold lacks the self-awareness that made films like Hard Ticket To Hawaii and Malibu Express somewhat enjoyable.  The two best things about the film are Rodrigo Obregon and Julie Strain, who go totally overboard as the villains and provide the type of performances that a film like this needs.  (At times, Obregon reminded me of Tommy Wiseau.)  By contrast, our three heroes are remarkably dull.

If you’re a fan of stuff blowing up and Civil War trivia, Enemy Gold might occasionally hold your interest. Roberto Obregon,  Otherwise, this is a film that you won’t regret missing.


Book Review: The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

First published in 1962, The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the most controversial of all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels.

The Spy Who Loved Me was not the first of the Bond novels to keep James Bond off-stage for the majority of the story.  From Russia With Love, one of the best of Fleming’s novels, keeps 007 offstage until about halfway through the book.  The difference is that, even before he makes his first appearance, everyone else in From Russia With Love is obsessed with Bond.  As well, From Russia With Love dealt with a world that Fleming knew well, the world of international intelligence operations.

The Spy Who Loved Me, on the other hand, is mostly about a young Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel who spends most of the novel discussing her background until, eventually, she finds herself being held prisoner by two cartoonish American gangsters named — I kid you not — Sluggsy and Horror.  Fortunately, James Bond eventually shows up and rescues her.  Vivienne not only narrates the novel but Ian Fleming even gave her co-writing credit on the title page.

In the book’s prologue, Fleming explains:

I found what follows lying on my desk one morning. As you will see, it appears to be the first person story of a young woman, evidently beautiful and not unskilled in the arts of love. According to her story, she appears to have been involved, both perilously and romantically, with the same James Bond whose secret service exploits I myself have written from time to time. With the manuscript was a note signed ‘Vivienne Michel’ assuring me that what she had written was ‘purest truth and from the depths of her heart’. I was interested in this view of James Bond, through the wrong end of the telescope so to speak, and after obtaining clearance for certain minor infringements of the Official Secrets Act I have much pleasure in sponsoring its publication.

So, The Spy Who Loved Me is a bit of an experiment.  That Fleming often grew tired of Bond as a character is well-documented.  Not only did Fleming have to come up with a new adventure every year but Bond himself couldn’t change from being who he had been since the early 50s, a serious-minded civil servant who occasionally saved the world.  With this book, Fleming largely used Bond as a plot device, a deus ex machina.

Instead, the novel is dominated by Vivienne.  Oddly, for someone who wants to tell us all about James Bond, Vivienne spends a good deal of time focusing on her life before she ended up at that hotel.  We find out about her first boyfriend, an insincere British boy named Derek and also about her second boyfriend, an autocratic German named Karl.  The scenes with Derek and Karl almost feel like a parody of the coming-of-age genre.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t compelling scenes to be found in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Fleming was too good of a storyteller for anything that he wrote not to have some sort of value.  But, at the same time, it’s still obvious that the story is being written by a British man in his 50s who is trying really, really hard to sound like a Canadian woman in her 20s.

And then — oh my God!  Sluggsy and Horror show up!  I’m sorry but there’s no way that you can take anyone named either Sluggsy or Horror seriously.  They are, without a doubt, the weakest villains since Diamonds are Forever gave us the Spang Brothers.

On the plus side, Horror did apparently inspire Jaws, the henchman played by Richard Kiel in the film versions of both this book and Moonraker.  And, even if the experiment didn’t quite work, it’s still interesting to see Bond through someone else’s eyes.

Fleming was so dissatisfied with this novel that, when he sold the film rights, he specifically required that the film not use any material from the book.  While The Spy Who Loved Me may not be Fleming’s strongest work, he would follow it up with the last great Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

We’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Music Video Of The Day: Upside Down (and I Fall) by Jakalope (2006, dir by Lisa Mann)

For today’s music video of the day, how about another video from my favorite Canadian group, Jakalope?

This video was directed by Lisa Mann, who also directed Jakalope’s previous videos, Go Away, Feel It, and Pretty Life.