International Film Review: Don’t Kill Me (dir by Andrea De Sica)

Don’t Kill Me, an Italian film that is currently available on Netflix, opens with two teenagers in a car.  Robin (Rocca Fasano) is driving.  His girlfriend, Mirta (Alice Pagani), is in the passenger’s seat.  Robin is driving fast and erratically.  In fact, he nearly crashes the car more than a few times.  This is because Robin is driving with his eyes closed, forcing Mirta to shout directions at him.  It’s almost as if Robin wants Mirta to come to a violent end.

Eventually, they end up in a quarry.  Having taken a break from attempting to crash the car, Robin wants Mirta to take a drug with him.  Mirta’s never tried the drug before.  She’s nervous, even though Robin assures her that it will be a wonderful experience.  Mirta finally agrees but requests, “Please don’t kill me.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

Of course, Mirta dies.  Mirta’s body is sealed up in her family’s vault.  A few hours after the funeral, a very confused and angry Mirta smashs her way out of the vault.  Dazed, she wanders back to her old house.  She’s definitely not alive but she’s not completely dead either.  Instead, she is one of what the film calls “the Overdead.”  She’s nearly immortal.  At one point, she gets shot several times and, while it’s not a pleasant experience, it also doesn’t come anywhere close to killing her.  She still has her memories of what life was like before she died and, to judge from the other members of the Overdead who she meets, it appears that she won’t ever age.  Unfortunately, being one of the Overdead also means that if she doesn’t regularly drink the blood of the living, she’ll start to decay.  Starvation is the only way to destroy a member of the Overdead.  There’s a secret group of men who have spent centuries tracking down and starving the Overdead.  Those men are soon chasing after Mirta.

Don’t Kill Me is at its strongest during its first half, when the film skips through time and the emphasis is on atmosphere and ennui.  The scene where Mirta breaks through the crypt carries hints of Jean Rollin’s Living Dead Girl and, much like Rollin’s best films, the first half of Don’t Kill Me often focuses on both the importance and the mystery of how we recall things.  Meanwhile, the scenes of Mirta wandering through the countryside and prowling the clubs for food are reminiscent of Jess Franco’s Female Vampire.  The first half of the film feels like a tribute to the wonderful Eurohorror of the past.  Unfortunately, the film starts to lose its way once Mirta is captured by the secret society that’s trying to destroy her.  In its second half, it just becomes another film about escaping from a military base.  Don’t Kill Me is based on a YA novel and it’s obviously meant to be the first in a series of films about Mirta’s life as one of the Overdead.  As a result, the film’s ending is a bit unsatisfactory.  For all the build-up, it sputters to a “to be continued” style conclusion.

That said, there was enough that worked about Don’t Kill Me that I’m willing to forgive what didn’t work.  I may be alone in that as most of the online reactions that I’ve seen towards this film have been overwhelmingly negative.  Well, so be it.  There was enough atmosphere to keep me interested.  Alice Pagani gave a pretty good and sympathetic performance as the conflicted Mirta and Fabrizio Ferracane, as the man determined to capture and starve her, was enjoyably villainous.  Don’t Kill Me may not be for everyone but it worked for me.

How ‘Bout Them “Apples”?

Desmond Reed is a New England cartoonist whose work I’d been borderline fascinated with since first coming across his self-published debut, Those Dark New Hampshire Woods, some years ago, but it was his later ‘zine The Funnies that pushed that fascination over the border — in fact, it’s fair to say the short-form adventures of his eminently-flexible coterie of lovable goofballs positively hooked me, and so I was gratified to see their return in his latest (also self-published) mini, Apples, which builds on the strengths of its predecessor without in any way appreciably upsetting the — errrrmmmm — apple cart. Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking with formula and tradition, but when you’ve got a good thing going, seriously — what’s the point? And so our fictitious friends Wallace T.J., Mona Gertrude, Ralph Jonathan, Gil Christopher, and Henrietta Susan are back, and doing what they do best, which is to say, serving as lovable comedic ciphers to the shit we all went through at one point in our lives — or may still be going through, if you’re fortunate enough to be a couple of decades younger than your curmudgeonly critic here.

Nominal personal growth appears to have occurred among our cast since their last go-’round, but it’s kinda hard to tell, and not especially relevant either way — which sounds like a “diss” (or whatever) but isn’t, given that it’s their relatable reactions to exaggerated situations and/or exaggerated reactions to relatable situations that give this comic its charm aplenty, so “character arcs” of any sort are rather surplus to requirements here. Quick-fire vignettes about popular themes like drug use, depression, co-habitation, shit jobs, and everyday life’s little highs and lows are the order of the day, then, and while that may not sound terribly ambitious, few do them better than does Reed, so seriously — check your coolness at the door and just relax and have fun.

Ah, yes — that dread word. Some time back certain quarters of the comics community (those who take it upon themselves to police the medium’s general trajectory for reasons known only to themselves) decided that “fun” was an outmoded concept and that cartoonists should be aiming their sights “higher,” but I’ve never gotten on board with myself that since fun is, ya know, fun. I’m pleased to report Reed appears to have ignored this unspoken dictate as well, and has instead honed his comedic chops and gently acerbic sense of timing to its full potential and is now ready to stand as one of the more unique funnybook-makers in the contemporary scene. The self-appointed “intelligentsia” may consider that to be a truly trivial pursuit, but who the hell cares? Around these parts, we ain’t ashamed to admit that good times are a good thing.

Which isn’t to say this comic doesn’t skirt around the edges of “heavier” material, but it does so in a way that’s still designed, ultimately, to be more reflective of the struggles of its readership (and perhaps even its creator) than it is downright exploratory, to offer sympathy and reassurance via commonality of experience rather than to take deep dives into deep issues and deep problems. This is a comic that knows who you are, or were, and is here to meet you on the home turf you share with it. There’s a time and place for taxing and challenging work, absolutely, but when you need a break from all that but still don’t care to be condescended to? You can’t do a whole lot better than this.

It’s no exaggeration to say I’m flat-out enamored with Reed’s squiggly world and hope to have a chance to visit again soon — until then, though, I’m content to re-read this comic whenever I could use a pick-me-up. Even knowing all the gags, punchlines, and twists of fate, a visit with old friends is still, and always will be, well worth a person’s time.


Apples is available for $5.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at

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TV Review: Pam & Tommy 1.6 “Pamela in Wonderland” (dir by Hannah Fidell)

Yes, I’m still reviewing this.

If the earlier episodes of Pam & Tommy seemed to owe a huge debt to the aesthetic of Ryan Murphy, the latest episode feels more indebted to the style of Aaron Sorkin.  The entire episode centered around Pam testifying at a deposition.  While being asked increasingly intrusive and sexist questions about her career as a model and how she and Tommy came to make the infamous the sex tape, Pam flashed back to her past.  We saw how she was discovered at a Canadian Football game and how she eventually ended up up posing for Playboy.  Hugh Hefner (played by Mike Seely) showed up, wearing his stupid red robe, and puffing away on his pipe.  In typical Sorkin rip-off fashion, the episode featured the attorneys asking a lot of questions and the only person of color to be seen was the unnamed court stenographer whose only line of dialogue was to briefly give Pam some encouragement.

Compared to the other episodes of Pam & Tommy, Pam In Wonderland actually worked fairly well.  It helped that it largely focused on Lily James, whose performance as Pam is probably the strongest thing that this show has going for it.  This is the second episode in a row not to feature the character of Reed Gauthier and the show was definitely better off without his presence and the attempts to somehow convince us that there’s any reason to portray him as being a sympathetic character.  With no Reed and Tommy reduced to appearing in flashbacks, this was the first episode that was fully told from Pam’s point of view and, when the attorneys suggested that Pam was somehow to blame for what had happened because of her past as a model or just the fact that she allowed herself to be filmed in the first place, every woman watching could relate to what Pam was going through because we’ve all heard the same condescending tone and we’ve all been told that somehow, the bad things that happen to us are actually our fault.  Lily James did a wonderful job of portraying Pam’s struggle to keep smiling and just get through the worst day of her life.  I knew what she was going through.  Again, Lily James is the best thing that this show has going for it.

And yet, I have to be honest that I still found myself wondering just what exactly the overall point of the show is.  For all of the episode’s strong points, it’s still hard to see why this story needs to be told as an 8-hour miniseries as opposed to a 90-minute film on FX.  The first three episodes did a good job of fitting this story into the early days of the Internet and the culture of the late 90s.  But the subsequent episodes haven’t added much to that initial impression.  It’s also worth noting that Pam herself has repeatedly distanced herself from the program and said, even before the show started shooting, that she didn’t want anything to do with it.  One could argue that, as a show, Pam & Tommy is as intrusive and exploitive as the attorneys at the disposition.  With each new episode, it become difficult to deny that this is a show that seeks to exploit the very same thing that it claims to be condemning.

One final thought on this episode and culture in general: how did people not realize that Hugh Hefner was creepy as Hell before he died?  Today, of course, A&E is airing an entire TV series dedicated to exploring what an asshole Hugh Hefner actually was.  But, just 11 years ago, Hefner was still being portrayed as some lovable old lothario in a sailor’s cap.  NBC even tried to air a Mad Men-style show about how great life was at The Playboy Club.  Remember that?  Creepy old Hef even provided the narration at the start of the first episode.  Last night’s episode of Pam & Tommy presented Hef as being essentially a benevolent (if manipulative) father figure.  It felt oddly tone deaf, though that may indeed be how Pam herself saw the old man.

Seriously, though …. did no one ever tell him how stupid he looked in those red pajamas?

Music Video of the Day: Stina live by Okean Elzy (2013, dir by Volodymyr Shkliarevskyi and Victor Priduvalov)

This is Okean Elzy.  They may not be a household name here in the States but in Ukraine, there are one of the country’s oldest and most popular rock bands.  Today’s music video of the day is about a lot more than just honoring a band.