Bryan Lee O’Malley Trade Post: Lost At Sea & Seconds

lost at sea Lost at Sea (Oni Press)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Two weekends back I decided to re-read my copies of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books. Since I’ve already reviewed them back in 2010 after watching and loving the movie when it came out, I won’t be reviewing them again. I will say that, I really enjoyed myself this time around, probably more than I have any other time I’ve read those books. The “ums” and “whatevers” still drove me nuts, but since I was already familiar with the aspects that I didn’t quite like previously, I was already in. I also noticed more elements and details this time around making this a series that works more and more for me with each reading.

After having such a good time, I went to my library’s website and put O’Malley’s first and most recent graphic novels on hold. I knew the older of the two, Lost At Sea, had come in when we went to the library over the weekend, but was surprised to also find Seconds waiting for me because it just came out in the past few weeks. So, for the second weekend in a row, I spent a good chunk of my reading time with words and pictures by O’Malley.

Lost At Sea, finds an 18 year old named Raleigh on a trip from California to Canada with some classmates who thinks a cat might have swiped her soul. Why else would she feel soulless? While on the trip, Raleigh warms up to Dave, Ian and Steph and eventually comes to terms with a few of the things she’s processing.

She’s dealing with huge questions like why is she here, what is a soul, does she have one, what is her relationship with her mom, what is she going to do about this new love that lead her to Cali and that everlasting classic, what’s she going to do with her life? There are other questions that come up that I’d love to know the answer to like, did she really have sisters, was that picture really of her and why did she spend so much time talking about a best friend who doesn’t really have anything to do with the book?

Some of those questions might have actually been answered, but Raleigh is one of those characters who talks in a wildly noncommittal fashion. Whole statements will be followed by “or whatever.” Is that supposed to be the truth or is it whatever? I think this is just the way a certain portion of the population talk(ed) that I have difficulty tapping into because it’s like a snake eating its own tale. Also, if you barely care what you’re saying, why should I?

While I thought this book was generally really well done and a fine first outing for a cartoonist, it wasn’t really for me. I can remember those wildly complicated says when I was 18 wondering what I was going to do, but to a 31 year old guy with two kids, so much of that seems juvenile to me now. Reading Lost At Sea was like watching a really well done, emotional indie movie, but one I just wasn’t plugging into on that important emotional level. I see and understand how good it is and how intensely personal it must have been, but I just wasn’t as emotionally invested, partially because the characters don’t seem connected to much of anything, including each other.

secondsSeconds (Ballantine Books)
Written & drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I was far more on-board when it came to Seconds, which I think is O’Malley’s best offering to date. This is a 323 page graphic novel (his first work after finishing up Scott Pilgrim in 2010) with additional art by Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin and brilliant colors by Nathan Fairbairn. I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing, which was kind of a nice treat.

But, if you want some information, Seconds is about an almost-30 chef named Katie who helped open a restaurant that the story takes its title from. But, since she didn’t have any money to invest the first time around, she’s looking forward to the opening of the one she does own with her business partner, but the process is slow going. One night while hanging out in her apartment, which is above Seconds, she finds a book and a mushroom in her dresser drawer with basic instructions: write down a mistake, eat the mushroom, go to sleep and “wake anew.”

So those are the basics, I’ll label this paragraph SPOILER TERRITORY because it’ll get into a few more details. Katie starts using the magic mushrooms and talking to one of her employees named Hazel who introduces her to the idea of house spirits which play a huge part in the book. The one living in Seconds is called Lis and she’s not a big fan of how Katie winds up abusing the mushroom power, mixing things up and tampering with reality.

Alright, no more spoilers. I got a Neil Gaiman vibe while reading Seconds because it does that thing he does so well where very modern characters and put them up against very old supernatural elements and seeing what happens. Fantasy’s pretty far from my realm of expertise outside of comics and Gaiman’s books, but Seconds seems like a solid modern fantasy project that didn’t feel like a rehash of previously existing fairy tales, but instead something new inspired by a classic idea (though a classic I’m not familiar with, which puts it into Hellboy territory). I also appreciate that this graphic novel felt more researched instead of plucked from the author’s life. I’ve got nothing against pouring your soul onto the page with a variety of your longitme influences, but the clear research into restaurant life and food is also impressive.

I also really enjoyed the look of this book along with the feel. O’Malley and Fischer work so well together that you can’t tell that the former’s using a drawing assistant. The drawings of food in this book are actually mouthwatering. I wanted to eat these pages, but didn’t think the library would appreciate that very much. I was also blown away by Fairbairn’s colors. Lately, people have been doing a lot of talking about the credit colorists deserve on covers and whatnot. I’ll be honest and say it’s not the kind of thing I’ve thought of throughout much of my comic-reading career, but Fairbairn really brought it. He also did the colored Scott Pilgrim books, which makes me want to go back and pick up those versions! Hell, this also made me wonder if I could try my hand at coloring. I think I’ll look into that.

Anyway, after reading O’Malley’s full body of graphic novels in two weeks, I found myself picking up a few interesting themes throughout. Most of the main characters feel clueless and empty in some way. They also have a really hard time letting go of a finished relationship (though I’m not sure where Raleigh’s relationship really was). Numbers are also pretty important. Though Lost At Sea didn’t have one I noticed, Scott Pilgrim is set around seven evil exes and Seconds features 12 magic mushrooms. Oh, cats also feature prominently, though less so in Seconds.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Iron Man & X-Men

This week’s TCT is a fun little double whammy thanks to YouTuber CraigLeeThomas. As you can see it starts off with an Iron Man spot followed by an X-Men one. I found this particular video because I couldn’t remember if there were actual X-Men toy commercials back in the 90s. I figured there must have been more than that first one I wrote about a while back, especially considering the cartoon was so popular and that Toy Biz line seemed like it was around forever, but couldn’t remember any specifics.

So, we kick off with that Iron Man commercial and, while I don’t remember seeing it, I definitely had all of those toys. Those were the glorious days you could get four figures for a $20, so I added a lot to my collection especially while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I loved the snap on armors with all the different accessories, but also how the bad guys in this line each had a cool action feature. Oh, plus, MODOK toy, right?

Then you’ve got the X-Men commercial which featured that huge, rad Sentinel toy. I didn’t have him, but I’m sure I wanted it if and when I saw it. Gotta love all those destruction points for a variety of play options. As far as the action figures go, that was definitely my first Wolverine toy and I might have gotten Rogue later on down the line, but I gravitated towards other versions of Gambit, Beast and Cyclops.

Finally, while I find the commercial’s conceit that Rogue would be so easily captured and need saving is problematic, it’s kind of adorable hearing that boy do a Southern accent.

Halloween Scene: Night Of The Creeps (1986)

night of the creeps tom atkins

The fist time I saw Night Of The Creeps was at a Manly Movie Mamajama with the Wizard gang several years back. As it happens, that’s also how I saw another Fred Dekker film, Monster Squad, for the first time. The other two films in that particular triple feature were Night Of the Comet and Nightbreed (still the only time I’ve ever seen that one). As it turns out, I remembered the least about Creeps because, as I watched this movie on Netflix in the past few weeks (it took me several viewings to finish because I take care of two very active children all day), most of the film was a surprise. Let’s blame that more on the length of time between viewings and not the presumed gallons of beer I probably drank that night.

night of the creeps poster 1The movie kicks off with some strange looking aliens fighting over a canister that gets knocked out the ship and heads towards Earth back in 1959. The canister lands in front of an escaped mental patient, infects him with its worminess and leads to him hacking up some kids with an axe. Flashforward to the 80s and we’re introduced to college students Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall), the young stars of the film. Chris wants to get with a girl named Cynthia (Jill Whitlow) who’s dating the head of the D-bag fraternity, so they rush. They’re then tasked with finding a dead body, so they sneak into a nearby morgue (overseen by David Paymer!) where they find the body from the beginning of the movie in suspended animation. They get him out of there and wind up unleashing the worm-like aliens on their college campus. Enter wise cracking, jaded detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) who was the cop who found the maniac in the first place back in the 50s.

night of the creeps poster 2

I mentioned above how this film took me several watches to get through. Most of that is because of the kids, but there was also a bit of a barrier for me as I tried to get into this film. I think that boils down to the film’s tone, specifically in regards to Atkins’ character. I’ve become a huge fan of that guy’s work, thanks mostly to Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch, but I just couldn’t get into his catch-phrase spouting wannabe hardboiled detective in this movie. He says “Thrill me,” so many times and it never once sounds like the kind of thing this guy would actually say.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed Lively and Marshall as the two geeky college students. They have a very realistic relationship that reminded me of the kind of thing seen more in the raunchy 80s comedies that you all know I’m a fan of. These young actors are very believable and I like the ways they got to express their characters as the story progressed. And, how can you not love a film that ends on the night of a fraternity formal with a boy in a tux and a girl in a fancy dress wielding shotguns and flamethrowers?

At the end of the day, I really want to like this movie because it mixes that great 80s comedy set-up with some pretty high quality horror special effects. It’s really too bad that Dekker — who also wrote the screenplay — decided to turn Atkins, who can handle a ton of levels even in fairly odd movies like this, into such a corny, one-note character. Just imagine if he was able to play this a little closer to Daniel Challis from Season.

It’s kind of interesting timing that I watched this Dekker film not only after he was announced as the helmer of the new Predator movie writte by Shane Black. These guys wrote Monster Squad together which is a real classic, so I’m excited to see what they can do all these years later.

The Music Box: Nada Surf’s Let Go (2002) & The Drams’ Jubilee Drive (2006)

nada surf let go Picking discs out of a box and giving them an uninformed listen!

After a long pause between Music Box posts (the last one was in February), I’m back with not one, but two random listens to records I actually really enjoyed. This morning, I wasn’t feeling podcasts and wanted something to match the cool, cloudy day we’ve got going on here in New York. So, I plunged my hand into the box of CDs my buddy Jesse has sent me and pulled out Nada Surf’s 2002 album Let Go. Like many people in their 30s, I was familiar with the band from their 90s hit “Popular,” but that’s as far as my experience went, so listening to Let Go was basically like listening to a new band.

As it turned out, it was basically the perfect record for this mellow morning. While never getting morose or melodramatic, lead singer and guitarist Matthew Caws took me through a variety of songs that matched this morning’s mood perfectly. Check out the “Inside Of Love” video to see what I mean. Most songs feature his melodic voice over nicely strummed guitars, but things do get a little more rocking on tracks like “Hi-Speed Soul” and “The Way You Wear Your Head” which I appreciate. Those tracks kind of wake you up a little bit and make you pay attention to the record, which can very easily slip into background noise.

That might not sound like a big compliment, but it’s a huge one from me. Some days you just need a cool record to feel while you’re doing other things. I’ve listened to Let Go twice now while doing my morning writing and taking care of the kids. It never become obtrusive, but was always there keeping things calm. Sometimes when it comes to records like this, they can be easily forgotten because they don’t necessarily smack you in the face, but I think I’ll be utilizing Nada Surf’s Let Go plenty and will probably get even more listens out of it when I move it to my car. Yup, I still rock the CD wallet-visor thingy.

the drams jubilee dive Listening to and enjoying Let Go reminded me that I actually pulled out a record a week or so ago by a band called The Drams called Jubilee Drive that I also liked. Unlike Nada Surf, though, I’d never heard of these guys in my life. So, as I do, I just popped the disc in my computer and gave it a listen. According to Wikipedia, The Drams actually started out as another band I’d heard of but am not very familiar with called Slobberbone. As of now, Jubilee Drive is their one and only record.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who lead singer Brent Best sounded like and decided to give up the quest because he’s got a little Stephen Kellogg in him along with a variety of other elements. At the end of the day, though, he has his own unique thing going on and I like the sound of it. In other words, the record feels like a mix of post-Replacement, non-grunge 90s music with a few hints of 70s southern rock. Some of the more modern southern rock bands I’ve listened to get a little too droney and boring for me, but The Drams keep the tempos going at just the right speed for my taste.

All of which is a clumsy way of saying I probably haven’t heard a record quite like this before and I’m really glad I gave it a shot. While not nearly as mellow as Nada Surf’s record, this one will make for a great tooling around CD to keep in my car which will give me even more opportunities to absorb it. The driving beats and noodling on songs like “Unhinged” will always be the kind of thing I want to listen to over and over again.

Adventures In Freelancing: Building A Story

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years since I wrote an Adventures In Freelancing post! I don’t have a particularly good or bad reason for that, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I write these days and figured my strategy might work for some of you too.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts, I’ll preface by saying that most of my professional writing is for Comic Book Resources, Spinoff Online and Marvel.com. With CBR, I have a specific beat covering BOOM! Studios and Image Comics before that, plus I do a variety of collectible-related stories. My Spinoff work mostly involves rewriting news stories with our audience in mind and for Marvel.com, I do the occasional creator interview written up in a prose format. Much of my work involves communicating with a creator about their upcoming comic and turning that interview into either a prose piece or a question and answer (Q&A) style piece. I do a lot more of the latter, so let’s start there.

With a Q&A, much of the heavy lifting gets done by the interview itself. Whether you’ve done it by way of email or phone, once you have the answers written down, that’s most of your work right there. Of course, you have to edit these sections, make sure they fit your site’s style guide and also check to see if they make sense. Sometimes that involves moving quotes around and rewording your questions to better reflect the answer.

But, there’s still the matter of the introduction. For CBR, that’s usually three to four paragraphs that hit all the important facts like what the project is, who’s working on it, where it’s coming from, when it’s coming out, background information and a bit of a tease about what’s in the interview itself. Basically, I think of this section as a really good movie trailer. It needs to get the reader excited about what’s coming without giving too much away.

This week, a story I wrote about Mondo’s upcoming toy offerings went up on CBR. I did my best to get right into the story — something my Spinoff editor encourages on the regular — and explain the news right away. I usually try to start with a clever opener, something that will grab the reader’s attention, but this time the news itself was the big attention grabber, so that made sense to start with. From there it was a matter of explaining the products, talking a bit about the company and setting up the conversation. Sometimes, you’ve got to explain things in greater detail, but in the case of Mondo, I figured the poster sellers were well known enough to the CBR audience. It’s easy to get bogged down in over-explaining things you think the audience might not be familiar with, so it can be difficult striking the right balance.

When it comes to Spinoff posts, the process is somewhat similar, but I go about it a different way. Since there’s no interview to build off of, I tend to start with the background and basic information first. The other day, I wrote this story about the Daredevil showrunner talking about the feel of the series. I read through the original piece, copied and pasted that money quote about the grittiness, laid down some of the show’s basics and then went back and wrote the opener, which was edited to the much better one seen in the final post. I’ve found that knowing what’s involved in the body of the story makes writing that opener much, much easier. In other words, sometimes it’s better not to start at the beginning.

For Spinoff posts, I’m actually writing them in the system and saving them for the editor to read, so I’m not just writing, but also making sure the links are there, coming up with tags and finding a photo that works for the piece. Sometimes that last part can take longer to get than the actual writing. Then again, my roots are in image-finding, so I try to find the best pic for the post.

The Marvel.com stories tend to be a hybrid of the previous experiences. Most of the time, I’m interviewing a creator and using that in the body of the article, but they prefer to go with more of a prose style. This means you’re laying out the quotes, but connecting them with your own text.

Last week, this story I wrote about the new Winter Soldier comic went up. For this one, I got the quotes in via email, gave them a read through and then copied and pasted them into a new document in an order that made the most sense to me. I think of this like sedimentary rocks, which are basically larger rocks made up of pieces of smaller rocks and something keeping them all together. In this case, the quotes are the rocks and what I write acts as the connecting material. In this format, there’s still the matter of the opener which I also tackle last.

So that’s how I write these kinds of things. There are plenty of days where I look at an assignment — even a seemingly simple thing like a Spinoff post — and just can not figure out a way into it. I’ve written a lot of pieces over the years and I do my best not to fall into too many ticks or ruts, but I still find the best way to get the wheels spinning is to move past the intro — the hardest part for me — and get into the details. I might not know how I’m going to get you to read the story right off the bat, but I do know that I can lay out who’s involved, when it comes out and a few story details. I also know I can work with my quotes and figure out the best placement. Once I’m further down the road, it’s easier for me to look back and figure out a good way for everyone else to start down the same path.

Books Of Justice: New 52 Volume 1 & 2

justice league origins Justice League Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee with Carlos D’Anda
Collects Justice League #1-6

After years of the Justice League not exactly taking center stage in the grand scheme of things in the DC Universe, the company put them right in the forefront when they launched the reality-altering New 52. Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee not only boasted one of the biggest creative teams around, but also marked the new continuity’s birth as the very first New 52 comic.

Set five years in the past, Origin puts the team together as they all face the incoming threat of Darkseid and his Parademons. It’s basically a “putting the band” together story that doesn’t feel contrived or boring, like some of the ones in the old continuity. In other words, there are no meeting scenes where the big three look at photos or ones where a bunch of scrub characters talk about how they’re going to carry on the team’s legacy. We start with Batman meeting Green Lantern. They then meet and fight Superman which leads to GL calling his pal Flash in. Later Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up. Oh and Cyborg goes from football star to, well, Cyborg as the story progresses.

After all the introductions and set-ups, our heroes finally face off against Darkseid in a battle that is clearly another set-up, but also feels satisfying because they earn their victory. Clearly, the dark New God will return, but that’s a story for another time.

What I liked most about this book is the tone and interactions between the members. It sets up their characters pretty well — even if those personalities might not reflect across the line — and gives an interesting dynamic between them that could be fun to read about. I will say that I’m not a fan of the overall dark and mean tone of this new DCU, but I guess that’s just part of the deal these days.  I haven’t heard great things about the huge crossovers that spun out of Justice League, but enjoying this book definitely piqued my interest in the second volume which I quickly requested from the library. I also got a big kick of of Flash’s line at the end where he calls their group The Super Seven.

Plus, can we just talk about how fun it is to look at a Jim Lee Justice League book? Even if it includes these weird, overly piped and paneled costumes, he’s just so good at drawing those big, iconic characters doing all kinds of crazy things. I’m down for at least looking at anything he does.

I actually picked this book up on a Comixology sale not long ago, but after my Kindle broke, I figured I’d check the library and see if I could get a hard copy. I will say that, while I like the convenience of digital comics, I still prefer actually holding the book.

justice league vol 2 the villain's journeyJustice League Vol 2: The Villain’s Journey (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee, Carlos D’Anda, Gene Ha, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & David Finch
Collects Justice League #7-12

It took me longer than expected to get my hands on this second volume called The Villain’s Journey. I guess someone else in the library system was equally excited about giving it a read. This second book is set in the current time frame of the DCU where the Justice Leagues have become a pretty big sensation that seems to defeat anything the universe can throw at it. But, there’s still some mistrust from the government and a mysterious villain first seen in the previous book who proves to be a bigger threat than anyone could have imagined.

And yet, there was something that just felt off about these issues. A LOT of time is spent on Steve Trevor and how sad he is because he loves Wonder Woman and she doesn’t love him back. That’s exactly what you want from your Big Seven Superhero comic, right? I only complain about that because it felt like the team itself doesn’t get nearly as much time as they should. As much as I love seeing the League fight against impossible odds, I also like to see a little bit more of them hanging out together and interacting.

I still like the interactions between Batman and Green Lantern and how GL and Flash are pals, but those relationships get leaned on a bit too heavily. Sure we find out that Superman hasn’t revealed his identity to his teammate in those five years, but what the heck does Cyborg do all day? As the one character in this comic without his own solo book, it seemed natural to focus more on him, but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of characters who get a lot of page-time, but aren’t on the team, Green Arrow gets a lot of time too as the US government tries to get him on the team. Arrow trying to get on the team is something of a Justice League tradition, but in an odd turn, he doesn’t make the squad. Instead, this is all a set-up for Justice League Of America, a book I haven’t read yet.

Back to the villain for a paragraph, I just didn’t care and I’m not sure why. SPOILERS follow. This guy Graves and his family were saved by the League in their first mission back in the first trade. Something about the incident wound up killing his wife and kids, but also turned him into a weird monster that looked an awful lot like a White Martian. None of this is very well explained and all felt like a really long way to get around to Graves being locked up in Belle Reve where Amanda Waller asks him to write down how to destroy the League. I don’t think I would mind all of this if it was a one or two parter instead of spread out over all these issues.

This book also features Green Lantern’s exit from the group, a big fight between the members, a big kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman and a lot of teases about what’s coming up after this volume. All in all, I would say that this book didn’t do much for me. I really enjoyed how the first one just got right into it, but this one felt more plodding. I felt like I could see the plot points more clearly, like there was a checklist being checked off in a slightly disjointed manner. Part of the disjointed feeling came from the various artist drawing these issues. I’me a big fan of all these artists, but their styles are so vastly different that you’re constantly made aware that you’re on to the next part instead of being absorbed by the story.

It also felt like something of a misstep to focus on a brand new villain while also mentioning all of these established League villains who don’t do much of anything this time around. I’m sure this all leads to the next big thing in the DCU, but as a one-off volume meant to be read in and of itself, it’s not very satisfying.

The Chronological Carpenter: Dark Star (1974)


dark star poster

It’s probably not the best idea jumping into a new project like The Chronological Carpenter especially considering that I have trouble getting a full movie in each week and it’s been nearly three years and I’ve only gotten through a handful of Spielberg’s films while trying to do something very similar. And yet, here we are.

I just can’t stay away from John Carpenter’s films. Halloween is one of my all-time favorites — not just horror, but in all of film — and the guy has just made some of the most interesting, fun and imaginative movies out there. Plus, I’m at a place where I’ve seen about half of his filmography at least once, so it seems like a good time to go back to the beginning and scope everything out in order. It also helps that I’ve reviewed surprisingly few of these movies here on the blog like Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China. Heck, I’ve owned Starman for six years or so and never watched it (there’s a fun little story there, but all in due time).

dark star b&w posterWith that in mind I went back to where it all began for Carpenter and that’s Dark Star. The script and first draft of the film were penned by USC film students Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (Alien). They filmed the script with O’Bannon starring in the picture and started showing it around at festivals. Eventually a producer got involved, 10 more minutes were shot and theater-goers got the longer version seen on DVD these days. The plot of the film finds a quartet of astronauts hanging out on a ship called Dark Star. Their mission is to destroy unstable planets. While doing all that they wind up going through a series of calamitous events that includes a run-in with a beach ball-shaped alien, a trip down an elevator shaft and trouble with a missile.

The movie’s incredibly slow at times — the elevator scene itself was a bit excruciating — but the ideas behind the film and the ingenuity put into actually getting it made are admirable. This is basically a student film and a comedy, but the model work still looks pretty great and I give them a lot of credit for coming up with creative ways to make aliens and elevators look, not real, but filmworthy.

The main problem with the film, aside from the fact that it looks like a student film from the early 70s, is the tone. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but doesn’t come off as one much of the time. It’s hard to tell if the joke is “people take goofy things and make them monsters, isn’t that funny?” or “we’re working with what we’ve got, isn’t that hilarious?” There are certainly some on-point moments of satire, especially with the destruction-obsessed astronaut, but overall it felt a little off balance. All of which makes Carpenter’s next two films, Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween all the more impressive when you think about it. Those are some huge steps to make in just four years. All in all, it’s also a little boring.

dark star posterConsidering I’m focusing on Carpenter here, t’s kind of funny that Dark Star actually shows off a lot more of Dan O’Bannon’s sensibilities than Carpenter’s in this film. The whole alien plot was basically lifted whole-hog for Alien. However, you can definitely feel some of Carpenter’s biting social commentary, especially in that opening scene about not sending radiation shielding. This would come to the forefront in They Live 14 years later (and maybe sooner, I guess I’ll find out). Anyway, while Dark Star is obviously an important film in Carpenter’s journey to become one of the greatest directors around, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to watch if you’re looking to convince someone how great he is. In other words, this one’s for the more hardcore fans.

From here I get to jump into the wonders of Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween before deciding on whether I should check out his two TV movies from that time, Elvis (his first movie with Kurt Russell) and Someone’s Watching Me (his first with Adrienne Barbeau). After that I’m looking forward to checking out The Fog, but only if I can get my hands on the recent Scream Factory release. Anyone want to let me borrow it?

We Want Action: Death Wish 3 (1985) & Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

death wish 3 french poster As I mentioned when reviewing the 1990 Night Of The Living Dead remake, I did my best to watch as many of the movies leaving my Netflix Instant cue on July 1. There were 20 and I only got through three and a half (I gotta get my hands on Robinson Crusoe On Mars so I can finish that fun 60s sci-fi flick), two of which were these Death Wish sequels.

I’ve talked a lot about how my dad introduced me to a lot of 70s and 80s comedies featuring SNL cast members, but he was also into the vigilante movies of the 70s, specifically Dirty Harry and its sequels. Along the way, I’m sure we talked about Death Wish, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on what those movies actually were until I watched them in the last few years.

Basically, the first two movies are raw revenge-fests featuring a man pushed to the edge by the murder and sexual assault of, first, his wife and second, his daughter. I tried watching Death Wish II in the past year and couldn’t get through it because it’s just so intense and bleak. A lot of that comes from the plots that never really let up, but also from Bronson’s grief-stricken performance. There’s got to be something to earn such mass amounts of vengeance, right?

And then you have Death Wish 3 which is insanely bonkers. In this one, Bronson’s Paul Kersey returns to New York (the location of the first film) to visit an old buddy who winds up getting, you guessed it, murdered by street punks. Turns out, these kids are total psychopaths living on the streets and running their own little kingdom of terror and crime, so Kersey decides to stick around and do his best to clean things up. How does he go about that? By helping his elderly neighbors set up eviscerating booby traps and laying into gang members with the gigantic gun seen in the poster.

The tone of this movie is all over the place. On one hand, there’s the very real and scary nature of being an elderly person trapped in a place that seems to have gone completely wild. The kids playing the gang members — including Bill & Ted‘s Alex Winter — all go over the top, but it fits if you buy into the world being set up, it’s just that we’re being shown an insane world. I’ve got to give huge kudos to Gavan O’Herlihy as gang leader Fraker who is just so darn creepy and charismatic that he reminds me of  Dirty Harry‘s excellent villain turn by actor Andrew Robinson.

And then there’s Bronson. I think my love of him as an actor is pretty well documented in my reviews of The Mechanic, Mr. Majestyk and 10 To Midnight, but there’s just something off in this one. He seems almost deranged at times as he cracks jokes about murdering teenagers, evil as they may be. I guess it would make sense given how much the character has gone through, but it’s a very difficult attitude to relate to.

There were a few other things that made me shake my head. For one, the soundtrack is by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, one of the greatest guitarists of all times and it’s…just the weirdest. I think his score actually lends a lot to the film’s odd tone because it just doesn’t fit some of the time. There’s also a lot of strange gunplay going on that doesn’t make much sense. Kersey shoots that machine gun into huge crowds with most of the people running away. Other gunfights take place about five feet from each other and no one gets hit, but the worst is when cops roll in, hop out of their cars and stand IN FRONT OF THEM where they can be more easily murdered. Still, compared to the previous two Death Wish films, this is the kind of over-the-top, crazy movie that can actually be enjoyed instead of survived. death wish 4 german poster

That trend continues into the next film Death Wish 4: The Crackdown which is, not surprisingly, about crack and cocaine. In this one, Kersey’s back in LA dating a new woman whose daughter overdoses, sending our hero vigilante on his crusade. This time though, things get more complicated when, after successfully killing the drug dealers, Kersey gets offered the opportunity to take out the larger operation and two gangs in the process thanks to a mysterious benefactor.

This one feels more grounded, but also features a good deal of twists and turns that kept me interested. There are some weird things with the editing. In one scene, Kersey’s infiltrating a factory that doubles as a drug den. One of the thugs sees him snooping around, but doesn’t get to him until AFTER he opens the secret door, shoots a bunch of guys, throws a bomb inside and then runs away. There’s also an added chuckle factor when you see some of the 80s-tastic interiors.

I don’t have as much to say about this one because it’s a lot more straightforward, but I did get to thinking about Kersey’s psyche. On one hand, we see him have a seeming break from reality in 3. He’s getting a lot of enjoyment teaching old people how to maim and even more from killing (well, as much joy as Bronson lets through his stoney face). But then in 4 he’s back in a seemingly solid relationship and having a nice time with the woman and her daughter. With that in mind, he’s basically the most optimistic guy in the world, right? “My first wife may have been murdered and my daughter may have been murdered and my best friend may have been murdered, but I can still find people to love and care about.” Aside from all the murder, he’s actually kind of a great role model that way.

Digital Trade Post: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Change Is Constant

TMNT_Vol1_Change is Constant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1: Change is Constant (IDW)
Written by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, drawn by Dan Duncan
Collects Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-4

Much like Marvel Masterworks Thor from a few weeks back, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Change Is Constant Volume 1 found its way my way thanks to a sale on Comixology. I knew nothing about this new-ish TMNT book from IDW aside from that fact that my buddy Rickey liked it and that Kevin Eastman, one of the franchise’s creators, was on board.

I actually tried reading this one several months back and couldn’t get into it because I was confused by the opening. See, it starts with Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello facing off against a mutated cat called Old Hob. I thought this was supposed to be a continuation of the traditional TMNT story and it clearly wasn’t. It just wasn’t what I expected so I moved on to something else.

Later I returned to the story with more of an idea that I was dealing with a reboot instead of a continuation which opened my mind up to all the cool differences this volume explores. In this new world, April works for a company developing biological-based defense tech that ninjas want to steal. In the process, the turtles and Splinter wind up with the ooze in the sewer along with the cat who would become Old Hob. Raphael gets separated from the pack and eventually goes on to meet Casey Jones. The thrust of this particular volume revolves around Splinter and the three turtles trying to find Raph and setting up the new mythology which is actually pretty cool.

Change Is Constant does a solid job of setting the stage for this new world of Turtle comics, introducing the characters to new and old fans alike while also establishing a tone that fits these characters. That tone is somewhere between the satirical nature of the original TMNT comics and the current cartoon series on Nickelodeon. I was a huge fan of the Turtles as a kid, accumulating as many of the toys and Archie comics as I could, but didn’t do much with it beyond that. So, once I got used to the idea of this new take, I was on board and will be looking for more Comixology sales to see if I can get the next volume!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Avengers

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to a bunch of Avengers toys I was sent years ago as a way of hyping the toy tie-in line from Hasbro. Everything came in a super cool, locker-like box but the toys inside proved to be a lot more interesting three years later. My daughter’s just at the right age to actually play with the smaller scale figures and get a kick out of things like a Hulk mask and Iron Man repulsor ray. We’ve also got that shield-slinging Cap which is fun, but the real highlights are the 3 3/4 inch figures which have made their way with us on various outings.

Personal story aside, I forgot how crazy the rap was in these Avengers toy commercials. Wowzers.