I’ve had a lot of good luck when it comes to entertainment choices lately and wanted to talk about them all in one place! First, let’s talk about comics. In addition to reading a ton of Guardians of the Galaxy and monster comics for Marvel.com I’ve also been going back through the 90s Aquaman series (which will get a post of its own soon) and also the first two volumes of Paper Girls from Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Image Comics. Continue reading My New Favorite Things: Paper Girls, Greydon Clark & Box 13
I was looking at the calendar last week and realized that there wouldn’t be another Friday the 13th until November. I celebrated last month’s by watching Funhouse and The Shortcut, but wanted to go all out for this one. So, here are a review I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks along with a few new ones! Continue reading A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!
Do you ever read a book or group of books and fall hard in love with them, but aren’t sure if you can quite put into words why? That’s what I’m feeling after reading the three Pistolwhip books by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall. I picked all three up during one of Top Shelf’s fantastic sales after discovering Kindt’s work by way of the excellent Super Spy. I knew nothing about them but figured I’d give them a shot. I actually read Mephisto And The Empty Box not too long ago, but had to give it another read after diving so deep into Pistolwhip and Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace.
Pistolwhip stars a bellhop-turned-PI of the same name who gets embroiled in a complicated and complex whodunit that starts with a shooting and then goes on to explain how each character involved got there and where they went afterwards. Each chapter of the book is told from the same perspective of a different character who was in the room, which nearly all of them interacting with secondary or tertiary characters from the other story. What winds up happening is that you really feel like you’re steeped in this world set in a big city in the 30s or 40s.
I had to flip back through this book to remind myself what happened, but I don’t mean that as a check in the negative column. On the contrary, this book does so much in its 120 pages that I felt like I was put on the tracks and rocketed forward in this roller coaster of a mystery-thriller. As such, I grabbed on to whatever I could, but kept moving forward to find out what was going on. It’s similar to something like The Usual Suspects or Reservoir Dogs — two of my favorite movies — in that sense. And, like those movies, I want to return to Pistolwhip again and again to see what else I can absorb.
The only downside to that style of storytelling (or more accurately, my reading of it, because I choose the speed of a comic) added to the loose, cartoony style of the artwork, is that I was definitely confused in the beginning of the story about who I was following and when. I got it eventually, but that’s not something you have to deal with in a film, usually.
Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace (Top Shelf)
By Matt Kindt & Jason Hall
The follow-up book Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace crafts a similarly complex story, but does it in a different way with a whole different thrust. This time around, someone’s committing crimes under the name of the Yellow Menace, the villain on a very popular radio program a a la The Shadow. At the same time the show’s hero Jack Peril has also decided to become a real person and is trying to take down his nemesis. The story becomes a double sided mystery, on one hand Pistolwhip is trying to figure out who the Yellow Menace is and also who Jack Peril really is.
What really impressed me most about Yellow Menace is not only that it keeps the same high quality as the previous volume, but also weaves a similar tale with a completely different end result. I also want to mention Mephisto once again. That is a completely self-contained tale that can be read on its own and also does not need to be read to enjoy either of these books. However, the box does appear at one point in one of the books, so there’s a definitely connection. Even though I’d read that smaller volume not too long before, I still immediately dug it out and gave it another read so I could absorb the full Pistolwhip world. I recommend doing exactly that if you’re going to read these books: catch ’em all Pokemon style, then read them as quickly as you can. You’ll need to go back and catch up a bit, but you’ll also really take in all the small interconnected details (at least that’s how I work).
I also want to take a paragraph and talk a bit about something I tend to overlook and that’s book design. As you can see from the image, the front cover of the first volume is actually a great high-res image of an old timey radio. Parts and schematics can be found inside. Heck, even the back cover looks like an old radio complete with stickers, stamps and notes that aren’t just thoughtful re-creations. The second volume goes a different direction but still offers a really great set of covers that I spent a good deal of time checking out.
I had zero expectations for The Green Hornet. I was intrigued by Seth Rogen’s attempt to be an action star as well as Michel Gondry’s involvement, but it wasn’t the kind of course material that I’m either familiar with or nostalgic about. I questioned what the point of bringing back a character that hasn’t been in the spotlight for 40 years and assuming he’d have any kind of cache with audiences. But hey, that’s what Hollywood does.
We’ve actually had this DVD sitting around from Netflix for longer than I care to admit (or can remember, but it’s been awhile). Originally the missus and I were going to watch it, but with more and more passing weeks and our recent downgrade from two discs at a time to one, I wanted to get some new blood in my player.
Oh man, did I have fun with this flick. For some reason, I had assumed that Rogen’s Britt Reid was actually some kind of legacy, that he was picking up the Green Hornet mantle from his father who had passed away, but that’s not the case. Reid’s dad does die, but he wasn’t GH. After a day of hanging out with his father’s mechanic/genius/martial arts expert Kato, Britt and him wind up doing something stupid that leads to them becoming heroes. From there it’s a matter of Reid’s fortune supplying Kato with what he needs to build their supercar the Black Beauty and come up with the Hornet’s gas gun.
I know there have been several movies lately about what it would be like for a real person to become a hero, but I haven’t seen them. I refuse to watch Kick Ass and just haven’t gotten around to seeing the others. I know from reviews and source material that they focus on the potential hero getting the ever loving shit kicked out of them before they get to be worthwhile protectors of peace and justice. I’m glad they skipped over most of that stuff with this movie. Kato’s got the Green Hornet’s back, so you don’t really have to worry about him for the most part. There’s a few close calls, but overall Reid handles himself alright. There are real life like events, like a few killings, that reflect the seriousness of the situation, but overall, Rogen’s quips keep things light and had me laughing a lot. It did seem like a lot of them were ADRed in which got to be a little distracting and reminded me of Patton Oswalt’s routine about writing jokes for movies that had already been written.
But that’s a minor problem and one that you only really notice if you watch too many movies like me. The real question from a Friday Fisticuffs perspective is: how were the fights? Pretty cool. I know there was some hesitation online about Gondry’s way of showing how fast Kato moves and thinks (it was called something, but I can’t remember what), but I thought it came off pretty cool looking if not very video gamey. He essentially scans the entire area, notes weapons and sometimes targets in red and then does a series of moves to take them all out. There’s also a kind of stretching effect here and there that reminds me of some of the effects used in Flash comics. Had it been overused, the effect would have quickly become annoying, but Gondry used it sparingly, so it was fun to watch. Plus, Jay Chou’s got pretty good moves for a pop star.
There weren’t that many hand to hand fights, but the ones that were, using Gondry’s method were a lot of fun to watch. You don’t often see people thinking of new ways to actually show fights and it’s a heck of a lot better than that quick-cutting, hand held camera work that has become so popular. The other action scenes were pretty great, especially the huge epic fight that lead into a chase and then into yet another fight at the very end.
Overall, I’d recommend The Green Hornet to pretty much anyone. There’s enough comedy in there to keep non-action fans entertained as well as something of a love story. The movie also did something that I didn’t think was possible: made me more interested in the Green Hornet. I kinda want to check out the original old time radio show as well as the TV series (though Bruce Lee’s involvement as always intrigued me) and even the Kevin Smith comic based on the screenplay he wrote a while back. So, I guess the movie did it’s job. Well, it could have done better at the box office, but it did it’s artistic job by being entertaining, fun, innovative and intriguing.
I’ve talked about my love of Old Time Radio before, but I figure I’ll repeat myself. When I was younger, I had trouble falling asleep. It’s something I still have trouble with on the rare occasion I need to go to bed earlier than normal (between 1 and 2AM nowadays). I don’t exactly remember how the OTR tapes made their way into my family’s life, though I do remember my dad copying some that my grandma had, so maybe that’s where it all started. I was exposed to a wide variety of comedy shows from the 30s and 40s from Burns & Allen, Abbott & Costello, Duffy’s Tavern, Baby Snooks, The Bickersons and most importantly The Jack Benny Program. I’m not exactly sure what made Jack Benny my favorite, but I’m sure it had something to do with the mixture of spot on comedy with fanciful elements like Jack’s pet polar bear or his ginormous underground bank vault, but whatever the reason, I almost wore the Benny tapes out.
Essentially, The Jack Benny Program was a back-stage type show. The character of Jack Benny–who was played by Jack Benny–was a miserly skinflint who starred on his own radio show. Sometimes, they’d put on plays on said show and sometimes it would go “behind the scenes” to Jack’s home and experiences with other celebrities. Every episode was sponsored by a big company like Jello-O or Lucky Strike cigarettes, featured a group of other characters/actors, an orchestra lead by Phil Harris and a song sung by a tenor (Dennis Day or Kenny Baker, depending on when you listened). I remember doing some research about Benny on the internet back in the day and even buying some MP3 DVDs of his shows (that no longer work for some reason) in college, but that was about it. Until a few months back when, on a trip to New Hampshire, I stumbled up Sunday Nights At Seven, the 1990 double autobiography written by Jack Benny and his daughter Joan. It’s a book I had read about in my early internet research and always been curious about but since it was published in 1990 and Benny’s been dead since 1974 it’s not the easiest book to find nor the most popular.
When I bought the book, I assumed that it would have been co-written by the pair around the same time, but what really happened was that Joan–Benny’s only daughter–found a draft of her dad’s autobio when she was cleaning out a house. She then added her own words to help frame things, but also give her perspective on what was going on. This format was interesting because of the different perspectives. Jack was remembering things one way while his daughter was remembering them as a kid. Though it might have been interested, I definitely found myself getting a little bored when Joan took over. I mean, she’s a good writer and had some interesting stories, but I wanted more Jack. It’s kind of like paying to see Walk The Line, but having half the movie focus on Roseanne Cash. Again, there’s some interesting tidbits in there and would have made it’s own interesting story, but in the first few pages she talks about Jack writing a 400 page book and then takes over for pages and pages.
One of the worrisome things when reading a book about a celebrity you really like is finding out about their unlikeable qualities. Thankfully, it turned out that the real Jack Benny was a nice, solid guy who was generous with his time and money, but also spent a lot of time thinking about comedy. He goes into detail about how sound effects were used to great effect back in the golden age of radio. He told great stories about his co-stars and the people who worked on the show, including Mel Blanc. Everyone comes out pretty clean. Except Mary Livingston, Jack’s wife and a character on the show (they weren’t married on the show). Jack doesn’t have a bad thing to say about the woman with the wonderful giggle and great, natural timing, but Joan does. It turns out that Mary was very worried about her place in society and was very cold to Joan growing up, not quite Mommy Dearest territory, but it didn’t sound like a great house to grow up in.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed reading about a world that doesn’t exist anymore. Several actually as the book covers vaudeville, radio, early television and the golden age of Hollywood. I’m a sucker for that stuff and love reading about a person I like being likable. My problem is that I’m told about a 400 page Jack Benny autobiography and I don’t get it. It also seemed like Jack didn’t really get into detail on things. I don’t know if those were pages left on the cutting room floor or if he just didn’t dive in, but things like his feud with Fred Allen are merely mentioned and not really delved into. It was also strange that early tenor Kenny Baker wasn’t mentioned once in the book. The tapes I had as a kid almost all featured Baker singing the songs. I know that’s a very small section of the much longer run of the show, so my perspective is skewed, but it seemed strange that he wasn’t mentioned at all.
Overall it’s an interesting look at a life through two sets of eyes, but doesn’t really get into as much detail as I would have liked. I’m glad I read it and will be keeping it on my shelf, but I would still like to see that unedited autobiography that Jack Benny wrote. Maybe someday.
I want to paint you a bit of a picture of my childhood. My room, throughout most of my growing up period, used to be the dormer of our house which means it had these sloping walls. The middle of the room, from door to wall (which also held a window) was regular height, but on both sides from there, the walls angled down to about three feet tall. Being short that aspect of the room rarely gave me trouble. In fact, the sloping walls were perfect for sky lights, which is exactly what my parents installed in the conversion process from dormer to bedroom and my bed was often directly under one of them.
When I was a kid, I had trouble falling asleep and at some point in my youthful days, my dad introduced me to old time radio. He had a set of tapes which I had access to and then, after a while, I wound up having my own tapes. I had classics like Abbott & Costello, Burns & Allen and Amos & Andy, but my favorite became The Jack Benny Program. For those of you who might not know, before TV came around, folks got their entertainment through the radio. Some soap operas that are still on now got their start in radio as did a few news shows, I believe. Like TV now, there were all kinds of shows from comedy and mystery to romance and science fiction. Shows were aimed and kids (like Ralphie listening to Little Orphan Annie in A Christmas Story) and adults and both, but I found myself drawn mostly to the comedies. I would up with a whole brief case-looking case of tapes that were all old time radio. I have very distinct Christmas memories of lying in my bed, with one strand of Christmas lights thrown around the window to my right along with one of those plastic light-up Santas and a ceramic Christmas tree with lights that my grandma made and listening to Jack Benny as I fell asleep. I rarely made my way through an entire half hour episode, so I became kind of an expert in the first 15-20 minutes of those episodes. In college I found a website that sold DVDs of the old time radio with tons and tons of shows on them. Most of those discs don’t work on my computer now, but I was able to salvage two of the shows that happened to be on those tapes I used to have. Every now and then I’ll put on the story of how Jack Benny dealt with getting a polar bear named Carmichael and even though it might sound ridiculous, I’m transported right back to those days in my old room with the only light coming from Christmas decorations and the stars above me. I can still recite the shows verbatim, but only up to a certain point because, even now, I have a tendency to fall asleep before the show’s end. Listening to those two episodes while driving around in the craziness that is pre-Christmas traffic not only brought a huge smile to my face, but also made some of the awful driving of my fellow New Yorkers not so bad. I had a good time writing about this and think I might dig out some of those tapes when I’m home and write more about old time radio and my interactions with it.