Binding My Justice League Comics

Ever since I got the first 20 issues of Peter David’s Aquaman and the non-collected issues of HERO bound, I’ve been hooked on the idea. As I said in a previous post, I am far more likely to go back and read my comics if they’re in a handy book instead of in single issues. Even if you get past keeping all your issues in bags and boards, it’s just more of a hassle and they’re harder to store as floppies. The two things keeping me from getting everything bound sooner are cost and not actually having full access to my collection (most of my boxes are back home in Toledo). But, I do have my entire post-Crisis Justice League collection in one box and decided to bind some of them. Since DC is already collecting the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International stuff, I figured I’d be safe if I went for the first two post- “Breakdowns” waves. So, I read through them again to make sure I still wanted them and got ready for binding.

The first step was figuring out exactly what to collect in my custom hardcovers. It worked out well that Dan Jurgens’ run on Justice League America ran a fairly concise 17 issues (#61-77), so that just made sense. Meanwhile, Justice League Europe only went up to issue #50 after “Breakdowns” before turning into Justice League International, so that also made sense. So, I put together Justice League Europe #37-50 and Annual #3 to make a nice book. I also happened to have two copies of the Justice League Spectacular one-shot that lead into both runs, so one of each went into the beginning of each volume. With the issues decided, I then figured out I’d go through the Houchen Bindery. The place I used previously actually shut down and Houchen gives you the opportunity to create your own cover, so I was sold. Plus, their pricing is pretty good at $17.50 per book when you do 2-4 volumes plus shipping. I then got to work making the covers based on a template and some notes I downloaded from Houchen’s site. This actually took quite a while because I’m not very well-versed in Photoshop, but I think they turned out great. I tried to get good team shots from actual issues and scanned those covers. I then used some cloning tools to get rid of things like the company logo and creative team lists. After that, I got an interesting image for the back, did some silhouetting, created the spine text, chose the colors and was good to go. The part I had the most difficulty with was the spines because I originally wanted to use the actual logo, but I couldn’t find one online that was big enough and I couldn’t get one clean enough with Photoshop. I discovered that Impact Bold font is actually pretty close to the Justice League logo of the day, so that worked out quite well. That last element is what I was most worried about in the finished version, but wound up looking pretty good. I packed up the issues and put a PDF of each cover on a cheap memory stick (which they returned) and sent them off. The whole thing took about a full month, maybe five weeks, but I think that’s because I sent the books out around Christmas and things got backed up. I got the invoice and paid and all that was fine, but waiting for them to actually get here was the hardest part. Every day last week, I hoped they might come, but didn’t. I was bummed. And then, last night, after dark, the doorbell rang and the UPS man was there with a box from Houchen. I was giddy. The books turned out great, if I do say so myself. I was worried the typed stuff would look really crummy or my cloning would look glaringly obvious, but both turned out well. I was also a little worried about gutter loss, but the only thing I noticed was that you can’t read some of the issue numbers on the covers. But that’s it and you can see them in the indicia if you need to figure out which issue is which.  What I like most about getting comics bound is how customizable the process is. If you wanted to include the four issue Elongated Man miniseries that lead into Justice League Spectacular, you could. If you want to do one huge book with all of the DC One Million issues in there, go for it. That’s one of the reasons I want access to all of my collection before really getting into binding some books because I organized my collection alphabetically, so if there’s a Green Lantern crossover with someone and the other book is in another box, I can’t put things together just yet. Like I’ve said before, I don’t feel the need to get everything bound. There’s a fuzzy line in my head between comics I have an emotional attachment to that I want to keep even if in a slightly altered form. Newer books, I’m cool with just getting trades.

My only complaint about the whole process is how much they charge for shipping which was $17.85 for the two books combined. I appreciate that they want to ship via UPS, but when I did my books from the other place, we did media mail and it was much cheaper. I gotta say, being charged essentially what it would cost to get a-whole-nother stack of comics bound is a deterrent. As much as I liked Houchen’s work, I am still always looking for a local bindery that might be interested in doing the same kind of work but closer so I can save on shipping back and forth. Anyone know of one in the Orange County New York area?

Steve Rogers Trade Post: Secret Avengers Volume 1 & Fallen Son

Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission To Mars (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark & Stefano Gaudiano
Collects Secret Avengers #1-5

After getting a good deal on the second volume of Secret Avengers from Thwipster, I was pretty excited to check out the first volume. So, right after finishing, I went on Sequential Swap and set up a trade for the book. When it came in the mail on Saturday, I read it pretty much immediately. This is basically the perfect team book for Ed Brubaker to write because it’s perfectly set in his wheelhouse. Not only does it star Steve Rogers, the character he revolutionized over in the excellent Captain America, but it’s all about the black ops side of the Marvel Universe and includes characters that fit in that world either obviously like Moon Knight, Sharon Jones, Black Widow and Ant-Man (the most recent one) in ways that make a lot of sense even if you didn’t think about it like Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie and Nova. The idea is for the team to be more pro-active, a buzz concept in comics that always sounds good on paper, but doesn’t always deliver because, how do you stop crime before it happens?

So, with that team and that idea in mind, Brubaker kicks the first adventure off with a trip to Mars! It’s the kind of story that might not seem he’s suited for, but it still deals with evil corporations, brainwashed henchmen, a secret organization and heroes fighting other brainwashed heroes. Here’s the actual story: Roxxon has a mining operation on Mars, but all the workers disappeared and Rogers thinks something’s up. He sends his space guy–Nova–to check it out and he finds a crown very similar to the Serpent Crown that instantly takes over Nova and results in the rest of the team–minus Sharon Jones who is back on earth getting ambushed–heading into space. It turns out that Roxxon made a deal with a Hydra-like organization called The Shadow Council to mine there, but they accidentally stumbled upon a prophecy or something that will lead to the end of the universe. So, it’s up to Commander Rogers (don’t think I’ll ever get used to that, not that I need to), Moon Knight, Valkyrie, Ant-Man, War Machine and Beast–all in pretty awesome looking space suits, by the way–to stop Nova and save the universe, which includes seeing Steve put on Nova’s helmet and get a Nova-based costume, which I dug. It sounds like a straight forward superhero story and it is, but it’s also got a lot of those awesome espionage flavored moments that signify a great Bru comic. That really gets focused on in the fifth issue that explains who the Nick Fury lookalike that’s working for the Shadow Council is. Really fun stuff.

I talked about Deodato’s art in the last post and I feel the same way with this earlier volume. I think he’s a great choice for this book if you want to get away from the Steve Epting style set up in Captain America, or the Michael Lark/David Aja look that is actually used in the fifth issue. He’s doing great on the big superhero stuff, but also–and this might be thanks to the inking or coloring–things look shadowy, which fits the theme of the book perfectly. At first it was a little distracting, but once I started thinking that way, I was in it all the way. It’s not noir by any means, but shadows are impotant for a black ops team.

Fallen Son: The Dead Of Captain America (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, drawn by John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr. & Leinil Francis Yu
Collects Fallen Son: Wolverine, Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man & Iron Man

I am a very big fan of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. If you’re into espionage super hero comics, I don’t think you can find a better one than that. I was disappointed when Steve Rogers got killed off a few years back, but, I mean, it’s comics, so you know he’s going to come back, it’s just a matter of when and how. Plus, Bru did an excellent job making me care about Bucky Barnes just as much, so I was okay. But, when I heard that someone else was going to be writing a series of one-shots showing what Cap’s death meant to a variety of heroes in the Marvel U, I wasn’t super excited. I think I read the issues when they came out and I was working at Wizard, but didn’t remember much about them, so I was curious to see how they played out a few years later and with Steve Rogers back in the land of the living.

I gotta say, it’s a pretty melodramatic thing to read which feels somewhat unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Steve Rogers is back. I get the idea behind it, putting together one of the best selling writers in comics with a series of big time artists on the subject of the death of a popular characters. And, as a story, it’s interesting how the issues tie into one another (something I didn’t remember from the first read), and there are some cool moments and ideas like Hawkeye thinking about becoming the new Cap at Iron Man’s request and Spider-Man remembering how Cap helped him out, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem to carry any weight now. It also features at least one character issue actually saying “The death of Captain America,” out loud which just never sounds right.

However, if you are an art fan, this is a pretty fantastic book. I love Leinil Francis Yu, David Finch and Ed McGuinness and seeing them tackle a wide variety of characters is a lot of fun, especially since they’re one-shots and you don’t have to worry about them missing a future issue. I’m not the biggest John Romita Jr. or John Cassaday fan, but they turn it on full blast too.

KEEP OR DUMP? So, the big question every time I read a trade is: will I keep this book and I’m split on these two. I will definitely save both Secret Avengers trades because I think they’re great continuations of Brubaker’s run on Cap with a lot of fun other elements thrown in. On the other hand, cool art just isn’t enough to keep a book in my collection, with very few exceptions.

The Chronological Spielberg: Duel (1971)

Around the new year, I was seeing a lot of Steven Spielberg in interviews and on TV. Considering he had two movies coming out–Adventures Of TinTin and War Horse–it makes sense. But, it got me thinking about how many of his movies I’d scene. Of course there are the obvious ones like Jaws, ET and Raiders of the Lost Ark that I know I’ve seen. After checking out his IMDb page, though, I realized I had seen about 50% of his movies. That didn’t seem right considering he’s not only one of the best, but most prolific and diverse directors around. I decided then that I would start at the beginning and watch all of his movies from Duel on to War Horse (when it comes out on DVD). I’ve got some of them in my private collection, a few are on Netflix Instant, but everything else is on regular Netflix, so I’ll be good to go.

On paper, Duel should be a ridiculously slow and boring movie. It’s about a tanker truck that torments a man because he passed him. Their cat and mouse game leads them across some desert territory and one of them triumphs. Those are the basics I knew going into the movie (as well as a fairly good idea about the ending which I saw on one of those “Scariest Movies Ever” TV specials back in college). I mean, how scary can a truck be, right?

Pretty friggin’ scary, you guys. There are two very simple elements that make this a movie that doesn’t only not drag but also sucks you in like nothing else I’ve seen and that’s the script by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend the novel and several Twilight Zone episodes including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”) and the nascent genius of Spielberg who had directed a few hours of television up to this point as well as some shorts and student films, but nothing this long (it was originally a TV movie that had some scenes added and was theatrically released across the pond).

So, while much of the tension was already ingrained in the script by one of the best writers around, Spielberg made a number of choices that really added to it. There’s a featurette on the DVD where he talks about a lot of the things he did, some of which I noticed while watching and some I didn’t. First off, the truck is legitimately scary looking. It’s big and huge and dirty and gross and dangerous looking. He chose that particular truck because it’s cab stuck out like a face instead of being flat. He also had the crew apply dirty and grease every day to make it look worse and even put dead bugs in the grill. He also did some amazing things with cameras, getting angles that really put you into the movie. Some are mounted on the corners of the car while others seem like their right there next to the wheel. In the featurette he explained that he mapped out the entire movie so he’d always know where he was–the whole thing was shot in 12 or 13 days, he couldn’t remember) and that he would use multiple cameras, a car designed specifically for chase/auto scenes and all kinds of lenses to make things look faster and more dangerous than they are. I had heard that he was a kind of a geek when it comes to the tech side of filmmaking, but hearing him talk about it, he really knows his stuff and more impressively, knew it back then when he was 25 years old!

But, it should also be added that Dennis Weaver who plays the main character–David Mann–absolutely kills it. The movie is about a man being pushed to the edge by ridiculously dangerous circumstances and SPOILER overcoming them. Weaver does an excellent job of keeping his character in check and unleashing the rage and fear that comes from this kind of situation, especially towards the end.

You might notice that I labeled this as not only a horror movie, but also gave it the Slasher and Monster tags. While I don’t think anyone could argue against the idea that Duel is a psychological horror film, I think the arguments for the others could be equally made. The truck (or the driver who we never see) is like a slasher in that it is always exactly where it needs to be to give Mann trouble. It stalks him like a slasher–or a monster–at all turns, attacking when it needs to, even going so far as to make it’s evil presence known to other people. At the same time, it’s a big, hulking, ugly monster that wants nothing more than to kill Mann. Why? Because he passed the truck. Or maybe it’s a random selection along the lines of The Strangers (Why us? Because you were home. Why me? Because you were on the road.). Spielberg says in one of the featurettes that the license plates that adorn the front bumper of the truck represent previous victims, something I hadn’t noticed or thought about. In my head, this dude just snapped today, but I like that just well.

In a lot of ways, Duel is, as other people have described it before me, Jaws with automobiles. That’s true to an extent, but it also feels limited to me. This movie is very Hitchcockian, something that Spielberg say in the short story itself, but also something reflected in the score–which is more noise than music. There are definitely times where it sounds like the shrill violins from Psycho make an appearance, though they seem even more primal. In addition to Hitchcock references, there are also ones that Spielberg would go back to. I didn’t catch these, but he mentioned them. The old woman who runs the gas station/snake farm plays a gas station attendant in 1941 (which I haven’t seen) while the old folks who stop and don’t give Mann much help towards the end are on the helicopter in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. But that’s not all, he also used the same exact dinosaur sound that he used as the SPOILER truck exploded at the end when the shark gets blown up in Jaws. He explained that he’s both sentimental and grateful, like these little nods are way to say thank you to Duel for spawning his career. Which it did. This movie got him Sugarland Express which lead right into Jaws.

I have to say, I was shocked at how much I liked this movie. If you’re a Spielberg fan, you want it to be awesome, but like I said above, you don’t know about a movie that features a truck as a bad guy. I figured it might be like going back and getting the first indie record of that band you really like and realizing it’s alright, hints at greatness, but doesn’t really life up to the classic ones. In this case, though, he started his feature career at the top of his game. To be able to make such a taught, absorbing TV movie that still holds up 41 years later, is nothing short of amazing. If you haven’t seen it, absolutely, positively go out and get a copy of Duel. I’d also recommend checking out the extras that include a few interviews with Spielberg as well as one with Matheson. Awesome stuff.

Friday Fisticuffs: The Transporter (2002)

My posts about the Jason Statham’s Transporter series are kind of like Memento. I started with the third, then wrote about the second and here I am finally getting around to the first. A few weeks back on a trip to New Hampshire, I made my way to the Big Lots where I picked this DVD up for like three bucks and it was just calling to be watched for today’s FF.

I gotta say, I’m kind of surprised I’m as high on this movie as I am because there at least three tropes in it that bug me in other movies. First off, you’ve got the basic “action guy protecting a girl he wants nothing to do with…for now” thing. That one’s so broad that it’s not as bad, especially when you take into the fact that he’s not constantly needing to protect her. The second trope that got on my nerves is how Frank–Statham–keeps saying his rules for being a transporter (literally a guy that drives things from one place to another) out loud at random times. I like how they tweaked this for the second movie and he has rules for how the little kid should treat a man’s car, but it’s a little forced at times here. And thirdly, I am getting sick of seeing action scenes set on shipping yards with those giant metal containers all around. Maybe this is because I just watched Batman Begins again and there was a scene like that in there or because of the overuse of that place in LA with all the cranes (which was in Red, The Losers and another movie I can’t think of).

So, why do I still like the flick? Because the end is bonkers awesome. With a few exceptions, the fight scenes in the first half are pretty standard with Statham looking a little slower than you come to expect after seeing a ton of his movies. But, the second half is awesome. The aforementioned dock scenes leads into a fight on a parked bus which is immediately followed by the best fight in the movie which involves him (shirtless and shoeless) pouring motor oil on himself and fighting a bunch of dudes. This is the kind of fight scene I’ve come to expect from the movie. The end involves him jumping out of an airplane with a parachute and landing directly on the car of an enemy which, of course, leads into an awesome car chase. So cool.

While this movie maybe doesn’t live up to the coolness of the sequels, there are definite hints at the kind of stunts that make it work and showcase Statham’s radness. It’s shot beautifully between the combined efforts of directors Corey Yuen (The Enforcer) and Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Incredible Hulk). With Luc Besson (District B-13, Taken) co-writing the movie, it’s no surprise how enjoyable this turned out to be. I’m glad things got turned up to 11 for later installments, but this is a pretty good start.

Not-So-Quick Movie Review: True Adolescents (2009)

I realize I’ve been talking a lot lately about why I’m watching a movie. I think it’s interesting the ways we get to the entertainment choices we make. I’ve got a lot more time than most people I know to watch things, so I don’t consider my movie-watching time as valuable which means I’m more likely to try different things than I would otherwise. Take True Adolescents for instance. I became a big fan of Mark Duplass after seeing him in The League, which lead me to check out one of the movies he made with his brother Jay The Puffy Chair. I was then lead to True Adolescents by Netflix based on the previous movies I’ve watched. I’m glad they did because I’m not sure if I would have even heard of this movie otherwise.

Much like Puffy Chair, this one stars Duplass as a an immature adult, Sam, who wants to hang on to his adolescent dreams. He doesn’t have a job-job, his girlfriend just broke up with him and he’s in a band that plays for a handful of people at a bar. The first third or fourth of the movie just shows his life and soon gets him to his aunt’s house. Said aunt is played by the amazing Melissa Leo and also has a teenage son Oliver who’s kind of a jerk. We’re introduced to him as he throws a squid meant for dissection at a girl in his class. Turns out that Oliver’s estranged father was supposed to take him and his pal Jake on a camping trip, but flaked out, so Sam eventually agrees to take them.

The trip to camping and the actual experience in the woods/on the beach (they’re in Washington, so I guess that’s a thing that makes sense) makes up the real meat of the story as the boys not only explore their relationship with girls and each other and Sam gets a taste at some real responsibility in watching over a pair of teenagers. In a relatively short period of time–the movie has an 88 minute run time–writer and director Craig Johnson does an excellent job going through the characters’ stories without being super obvious and “movie” about everything.

Here’s an example that gets into some spoiler territory, so if you want to go into the movie completely clear, skip this paragraph. There are hints during their travels to the camping area that Jake might be gay or at least questioning his sexuality including a somewhat confusing scene where he stops making out with a girl in a pool to swim over and start wrestling with Oliver who was also making out with a girl in said pool. There’s a quick moments where Sam opens the boys’ tent and they’re kissing. This event spurs on the rest of the movie from that point, but I was really impressed with how it was handled. In a clunkier movie you would have seen a whole scene between the boys leading up to this, but none of that is necessary.

In a way, the movie reminded me of Cold Weather which I didn’t like. They both have main characters who could be considered averse to responsibility, but Duplass pulls off this kind of role with a confident brashness that makes me like him instead of annoyed with him. Both films also take advantage of the beautiful scenery in the shooting area, but while Cold Weather simply shows you these scenes, True uses the environnents for the purpose of the scene and builds the story around them (or at least the second half). That way, you get both the beauty and actual story instead of stopping the latter for the former.

So, to put it simply and state the obvious, I really dug True Adolescents. It showcased it’s players really well and also showed an economy of story that fit very well with the tone of the film. Plus, kind of like the Duplass Brothers films, I got the idea that Johnson made it on a pretty low budget. I could be wrong about that and haven’t done any research, but as always, that “I’m gonna make a movie” spirit is one that I can appreciate and feel the need to foster in myself. Maybe this year!

Jeff Parker Trade Post: Agents Of Atlas Turf War & Mysterius The Unfathomable

Agents Of Atlas: Turf Wars (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian & Paul Rivoche
Collects Agents Of Atlas #6-11

In an age filled with comics that mine past characters and stories like blood diamonds, Jeff Parker’s Agents Of Atlas is one of the best. Maybe it helps that I don’t have an incredibly deep knowledge of characters like Jimmy Woo, Venus, Gorilla Man, The Uranian (formerly Marvel Boy), Namora or M-11, but it almost doesn’t matter because Parker is a master of giving these characters amazing personalities and back stories that I am completely absorbed by.

I’ve written about the volume before this one already, but not the original on the blog. I actually first wrote about it for Wizard as a Book of the Month and it was a pleasure. One thing that I’ve thought from the very beginning, though, is that this should have been presented as a series of minis like B.P.R.D. instead of this strange stopping and starting that happens because, unfortunately-but-not-surprisingly, the comic book market can (or will) not support a quirky fun book like this that offers tons of entertainment, but doesn’t necessarily drive the overall story of the Marvel Universe, though it does play well within the bounds of things like Dark Reign.

Anyway, the story itself revolves around the continued adventures of the Agents as they support Woo in his efforts to change the evil Atlas organization into one that does good. This involves their continued ruse to Norman Osborn that they’re still bad guys as well as some scenes between Namorita and Namor in an attempt to have their two kingdoms join forces, but the real meat of this volume comes in the form of a war between Atlas and another similar organization that’s headed up by Jimmy’s ex girlfriend. Here’s another thing that Parker excels at: mixing legitimate character beats and overarching plots with the kinds of things that are awesome but can easily be handled poorly, like M-11’s upgrade or the dragon fight (or lack thereof). In the hands of a clumsy writer these could have been groan-worthy, but I was so invested in these issues and characters that I was full-boat in. BLOW EM UP, M-11!

On the art side of things, this collection definitely has a solid group of pencilers like Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian and Paul Rivoche. They each have a fun, dynamic style that fit their individual issues, but I have a pair of minor complaints. First, I wish there was a list of which artists drew which issues somewhere in the collection. I also, as much as I like the individual artists, prefer for series’ like this to keep a consistent look throughout. Really, any one of them could have done it, but I get a little thrown when I’m constantly noticing the differences from issue to issue and I can’t easily look and see who did what. Again, that’s not a huge complaint and it didn’t bother me a ton, but it’s something I noticed that took me out of the story just a bit. Otherwise, though, I think Agents of Atlas is one of the best damn superhero comics around and should be read by everyone, superhero fans and not, alike. I need to get the rest of these collections.

Mysterius The Unfathomable (Wildstorm/DC Comics)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Tom Fowler
Collects Mysterius The Unfathomable #1-6

Mysterius is the first non-Marvel comic of Parker’s I’ve ever read. I was a little worried because sometimes writers work really well within the world of the Big Two but don’t when allowed to write whatever they want. Thankfully, that is not the case here and Parker produced a fantastical action drama starring Mysterius, an immoral magician/conjurer and his brand new assistant Ella who goes by the alias Delfi at Mysterius’ behest as they encounter a demonic version of Dr. Seuss, a man trying to become a god at Burning Man and even more craziness all woven together into not only a great example of episodic fiction, but also overarching storytelling.

Before getting into more of the story details, I have to take a moment to sing the praises of Tom Fowler. Bangarang, this is a nice looking book that wavers between pretty and ugly in all the right ways. I’m sure I’ve seen Fowler’s art before, but this was the first time I really found myself drooling over his pages. There’s a cartoony style to this comic, that works so well, balancing the dark real world moments in the first few pages to the completely bonkers world and demons found in the Dr. Seuss-type guy’s dimension. I was blown away by those pages and stared at them longer than a lot of pages I’ve looked at recently. So awesome, you guys. A lot of times, art in comics feel less important than the story–much like the visuals in some movies–but in this case, it’s equally if not more important. They seem to lift each other up, it’s great.

Storywise, Parker pulls a bit of a trick on the readers by getting us to think the book is initially going to be a series of vignettes, but winds up connecting all the different elements to create a satisfying combination of–and I’m starting to sound like a broken record here–the episodic and the long range ways of telling a story. Plus, the very idea of a Dr. Seuss-like writer putting demonic incantations into his books is ingenious. There’s a lot more going on, but that is easily my favorite part of the book.

I actually tweeted to Parker how much I enjoyed the book and asked if there are plans for more stories to which he replied that he and Fowler “badly want to make more.” You can add me to the list of folks on that list as well. We need more Mysterius in our lives.

The Challenge Battles Of The Exes Episode 1 “Love Is A Battlefield”

I know I stalled out towards the end of the previous season of Real World, but that had zero effect on my enthusiasm for the latest season of The Challenge (which, since Mark is back, should go back to the old name: Real World/Road Rules Challenge). If anything, I was even more excited, as you might have seen when I talked about the trailer for this season a few weeks back. As I mentioned in that previous post, the deal is pretty simple this time around: the couples this time around were romantically linked in previous seasons both on and off camera. What we didn’t know back then and learned very early in the episode from returning host TJ Lavin is that the loser of every basic challenge will automatically be going into The Dome. Who will go against them? Glad you asked. The couple that wins the challenge is dubbed the Power Couple and they get to choose who goes in against the losers. Interesting. I’ll get to why I like this set up at the very end. Let’s get into the episode itself. Hit the jump if you’re interested. Continue reading The Challenge Battles Of The Exes Episode 1 “Love Is A Battlefield”

Halloween Scene: Best Worst Movie (2009)

Wow, you guys. I’ve been hearing about Best Worst Movie for a while now. It’s a documentary that catches up with the cast and crew behind Troll 2, which I have seen and, while it is bad and nonsensical, is not the worst movie I have ever seen. Anyway, I’ve heard things here and there about this doc, about how it catches up with everyone and shows them the huge fan following this movie has accrued over the years. With that little bit of knowledge, I kind of assumed it would be a kind of uplifting thing, along the lines of “Hey, we made this thing that seems bad but people have really embraced.” And that’s part of it, but there’s even more. Very honestly, this movie is an emotional roller coaster in the same vein as the amazing King Of Kong.

So, the description I had in mind is pretty correct for maybe half of the movie. Then it gets into the realness of the situation. As a fan of bad movies, I understand that mentality. We like laughing earnestly made things that turned out pretty crappy. It’s the same thing as my current favorite podcast How Did This Get Made? But, there’s a dark side to that, of course. Most directors, actors and crew members don’t go into a movie saying “Let’s make something laughably silly.” They go in wanting to make something good or to create something that will be a stepping stone to something bigger and better. Being in a movie like Troll 2 might get you a line at a Horror Hound convention in Cincinnati, but it’s the kiss of death if you’re looking to move on to something bigger and better (unless of course you’re George Clooney or Jennifer Aniston).

That other side of the coin gets its own spotlight in the doc and it honestly made my stomach hurt. And I’m not even referring to the people who still hang on to the possibility of acting (the mom) or the ones looking back at their careers thinking they could have done more (Grandpa Seth), though their scenes made me sad for another reason I’ll get to in a minute. The director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso has zero sense of humor when it comes to his work. This man talks very deeply about the sharing of human emotion and, at the end of the movie, very awkwardly interrupts a screening where the actors are joking around about not being able to understand him and not understanding the script. This man was clearly passionate about the project and (maybe) liked the finished project. He does not have a sense of humor about any of this. I feel bad for him.

Back to the mom and Grandpa Seth, oh man, I felt so bad for them too. Grandpa Seth sits on his easy chair surrounded by Hoarders-level stacks of books or magazines or something and explains that he would have liked to act more, but didn’t want to move to LA. He then goes on about how he wished his career had been different, but it’s all topped by the very end of the movie where they’re catching everyone up on these folks and all it says is that he’s retired and likes Family Guy. What? Really?! That’s a life? Ugh. Meanwhile the mom from the movie has one scene where she talks about getting back into acting, presumably after her elderly mother passes away (it’s not directly said, but that’s how I took it) and saying that she just wants to run away to a completely different places with different neighbors who don’t make the kind of high pitches sounds that would make Lloyd and Harry would get annoyed at. These two got to me because they either are still holding on to or held on too long to the dream of being an actor. These are the kinds of things that get to me, being a wannabe writer of fiction. How long do you hold on to lofty dreams? When is it time to just say “Nope, not gonna happen, I don’t have it in me” or “The cards are not being dealt in my favor”? Oh man, too close to home as I’m nearing my 29th birthday.

But, thankfully, there are less sad parts and people in this movie. The young boy from the movie is the one spearheading the documentary. He embraces the whole thing in the same way fans of bad movies do, but it’s because he has already processed the feelings of embarrassment and career-dread unlike some of the others. He makes a great touchstone, but the real star of the film is the dad, George Hardy. George is a dentist and one of the nicest guys around. He’s cool with the film’s legacy, for the most part. But, even he has a a few dark moments in the film, both of which revolve around conventions. The first has almost no people coming to a screening of Troll 2 and the second is a big horror show that leaves him with the impression that the attendees are weird, some of his fellow attendees are desperate losers and director Neil Marshall is kind of a jerk. Now, all of those things may be true (I have no idea, I’ve never been to a horror convention), but seeing the main “I’m okay with my life” person in the movie go down that path is a bummer. That’s life though, we all have our bad moments. I got the impression that George was very excited to embrace this underground fandom at first, but got bored with it very quickly. He saw the movie 20 times and doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would like movies ironically and he even says he doesn’t like horror flicks, so what’s the appeal for him? I’m guessing that “I want to be famous” spark that still lies inside him from his days of wanting to be an actor.

What makes this movie so interesting, aside from the various perspectives that one film can create in its audience and crew, is how it showcases so many different aspects of humanity and the desire for fame. Some people in Troll 2 went on to make their own movies while others gave up and went into other fields. There really is a lot to unpack in this film, far more than the “It’s so bad it’s good” fans might want, actually. This isn’t an obsessed fan’s love letter to the film, more like a document of how one film has changed the lives of many. I liked it a lot, but I’m not sure if I’ll watch it again. Sometimes things just get too real.

Prefered Podcasts: How Did This Get Made?

After enjoying Paul Scheer on The League and finally getting around to listening to his WTF episode, I started following him on Twitter. That was fortuitous because he sent out a link last week about the latest episode of a podcast he does with Jason Mantzoukas (also on The League) and June Diane Raphael (who guested on Party Down) called How Did This Get Made? The concept is pretty simple, the three hosts and a special guest–usually a comedian, actor or writer as well as a few directors–get together and talk about a movie of questionable origins. For the most part, the titular question is asked in more of a “How did this piece of garbage get made?” but occasionally it’s along the lines of “How did something this awesome get made?”

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog on a regular basis knows that I’m a fan of goofy, bad movies as well as awesome ones, so this podcast could not be more in my wheelhouse. Add in the fact that some of my favorite comedians like Patton Oswalt, Nick Kroll, Ken Marino, Casey Wilson, Matt Walsh, Adam Scott and Rob Huebel among plenty of others, an appearance by Lost’s Damon Lindelof talking about Superman III and directors Lexi Alexander and Brian Taylor talking about Punisher War Zone and the Crank movies respectively and I honestly can’t stop listening to these episodes.

I was initially drawn to the podcast because of the interview with Taylor about Crank. Those are two of my favorite movies of the past ten years so it was interesting to hear people as much in love with it as I was geeking out with the director. Then I started going through the episodes of movies I had seen like Catwoman and Burlesque, but I realized even with movies I haven’t seen like Old Dogs and Jingle All The Way, the manner in which these folks talk about the movies brings you right in. In fact, I think it’s almost better not having seen the movies. The episode with Doug Benson and the gang talking about the second to last Twilight movie was particularly hilarious.

I know the internet is already filled with people complaining about movies, but that’s not really what this podcast is about. At least not in a complete bitching kind of way. For the most part–and I’ve listened to a half or third of the episodes so far–the hosts really do appreciate bad, goofy movies and enjoy pointing out how crazy some of them are (All About Steve sounds INSANE) though, of course, there are some that they just flat out hate. But, because those movies are in the minority, the overall experience is fun, like sitting in a room with a few cases of beers, some pizza and some pals laughing at some of the weirder movies ever made. I’m actually kind of bummed that I will be caught up in the next day or two (I think I listened to a dozen or so episodes yesterday) because then I’ll have to wait like everyone else for new episodes. But, that’s part of the fun of podcasts: finding some that’s been around, downloading like crazy, putting that in your ear holes and then punching on the new episodes as they come in.

Halloween Scene: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies of all time. I’ll go one further and say it’s one of my favorite movies period. There’s so much greatness in there from drama to horror and really everything in between. It’s a great film. I don’t feel the same way about Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake, but I still like it. I get why fellow fans of the original would dislike this movie which just takes the basic concept of the original–people take shelter in a mall during a zombie apocalypse–and dumped most other things aside from a few other basics (pregnancy, cops in the mall) and made a whole new movie. But, if you just came out with a mall zombie movie, the outcries about it being a Dawn remake would have been deafening. So, I’m okay with it. The basic idea is cool enough that I would be okay with a new remake every few years as long as whoever worked on it moved enough pieces around to make it interesting.

And that’s why I like this remake, the basics might be the same, but the specifics are so different that I get drawn in. Both flicks have female entry points, but the difference between the two movies and characters is pretty huge. Unlike the original we start off in the woman’s house and really get personal with her, even seeing her last love making session with her husband. Then BANG zombie apocalypse is full on. She’s on the run and winds up catching up with other survivors. I like that Snyder kept the idea of a woman getting pregnant in all this mess, but I’m also glad that he transferred that to another character in order to give Sarah Polley’s Ana the opportunity to do lots of other things in the movie like fall for a fellow survivor and really get into the action. Speaking of which, the whole pregnancy thing gets insane in such an amazing and creepy way that I’m still surprised it’s in a pretty big budget studio horror movie. I just shook a bit thinking about it again. Bleh. But in a good way.

Another change I liked about the film is how it opens up a bit. The wide open claustrophobia of the first film is pretty amazing and complex, but there’s also something to be said about these people being proactive and looking to get the heck out of there. The building up of the trucks might be just a little goofy, but it made enough sense and seemed likely, so I was in. And the chainsaw thing is a GREAT idea, though not for a couple of the characters. Snyder seemed to have a good handle on mixing the “have fun with it” mentality with the “this is serious business” one in a way that really hits for me.

So, yeah, I like this movie and I’m glad I picked it up for a buck at a used book store in New Hampshire a month or so back. It’s cool to have different takes on both the zombie genre and a specific story idea like that of the original Dawn Of The Dead. I will say that I’m surprised exactly how much of this movie was borrowed or straight-up swiped for Dead Rising and its sequel–two video games I wished I loved but really wound up disliking. It might seem strange calling this out for a remake of another movie, but it felt at times like whole scenes from the movie were digitized and dropped into those games. Speaking of video games, I actually played Left 4 Dead 2 with my dad on Xbox Live, and I think the intense feeling of that game has helped put me into zombie movies a little bit better. There are scenes that felt exactly like the game with zombies coming on, the character blasting away and trying to push them away without dying. It’s kind of an interesting way that one medium can alter the way you experience another one. Fun stuff.