Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lots of drama: CARLOS (2010), HARRY BROWN (2009), ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

I'm not a stickler for intense dramatic features, but I love them when they're good (like FROZEN RIVER from a few years back...) and I really enjoy biopics and historical/period movies when they're well done...stuff like TALK TO ME and MILK come to mind.

One of the best I've seen in a long time (and admittedly, I'm only almost done watching it -- it's 5 1/2 hours long and I've been splitting it up over a few nights) is CARLOS, about the assassin Carlos the Jackal who terrorized Europe in the 1970s. This movie, originally a French miniseries, is very well-made, well-directed, well-paced and well-cast, with Edgar Ramirez in a breakout performance. He's perfect in this role and he's a strong actor...(By coincidence, he's profiled in this month's freebie Malibu magazine).
If you saw Steven Spielberg's MUNICH as I did and wondered why that well-cast movie looked great but was such a dud, the answer is in CARLOS. The director of this film should have been the guy behind MUNICH, it would've been a fast-paced thriller (as it should've been) instead of a politically correct polemic.
CARLOS is fearlessly done. It's one of those movies that puts you in an awkward place, making you accept an immoral character as your protagonist, but it's a fascinating thriller based loosely on the escapades of the infamous assassin I didn't know too much about before watching this movie. Anyway, a tour de force by all involved that I'm enjoying very much. I hope they keep giving Edgar Ramirez good roles, he's a terrific, charismatic actor.

I also recently saw HARRY BROWN, which is kind of like Michael Caine's TAKEN movie. It's harsh and the representations of the young English thugs here are repugnant and make the CLOCKWORK ORANGE fellas look like kiddie party clowns. Caine is usually a solid, likable actor and this is a fun twist on the vigilante genre. "DIRTY" HARRY BROWN is more like it...

As for the Australian independent film ANIMAL KINGDOM, I had heard a recommendation for this one. One guy said it was the best film to come out in 2010 and it should've won the Oscar. While I'm not sure it's on that level, I do think it's a very good and interesting film (which is rare these days), especially given the lack of compelling features last year. It's definitely a movie that's not jockeying for an Academy Award, it's just a good movie with something to say. I'd definitely vote for this one over TOY STORY 3! (Apples and oranges, of course).

In an age of remakes, reboots, requels, rehashes and redundancies, it's nice to discover some good, original movies every once in a while.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Unwitting Alex Gibney Completist: "Eliot Spitzer," "Casino Jack," "Hunter S. Thompson"

Maybe because he's bald like Greenblatt the Great!....maybe because Netflix's documentary section is awash in his DVDs.....last week I unwittingly became an Alex Gibney completist, seeing three of his most recent films in a row.

All three docs were solid and interesting documentaries produced by his Jigsaw Productions (could he be a fan of the SAW villain? Or does he side with The Punisher's arch-nemesis?) although the one common thread (which tipped me off to investigate if these were all directed by the same person) was there's something a bit slick, cocky and formulaic about his directing style...a bit too smirky in places....just call him "Glib" Gibney! Luckily, it doesn't get in the way of some interesting detective work....

First, I saw Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010), his most recent work. Despite his lapses in ethics, I overall enjoy Spitzer and his CNN political commentary show. Spitzer's a smart guy, if a bit too overzealous and self-righteous in his opinions. He was an effective state attorney general before becoming the New York governor taken down by a hooker scandal after he had been so dogmatic about cleaning up Wall Street pre-economic meltdown. What makes this documentary interesting and somewhat of a mea culpa opportunity is the fact that (maybe out of narcissism?) Spitzer cooperates with the filmmaker, telling his story in detail on camera and admitting to his foibles. It's an ultimately sad portrait, as the brilliant Spitzer could've run for higher office but is now disgraced. Guess he's lucky to have the CNN gig!

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010) was the next one, another rise and fall story, this time about the failed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Equally compelling and as incriminating of a multitude of politicians and the Washington culture as it is of Abramoff himself.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008) was the last of the three I watched, about the bat shit crazy guy who liberated journalism and then inadvertently enslaved it by inspiring thousands of journalists to insert themselves into their stories. Thompson was a journalist who somehow lived like a rock star. He's kind of like the Gary Busey of writers. At one point, he comically ran for sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, and created an uproar that led the town's conservatives to drag the sick and the near-dead into the poling centers to vote against him (it worked). He has lucked out, winning over Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, who bankrolled his crazy escapades. More recently, after a fallow period of years, Thompson killed himself after giving those around him plenty of caveats. He supposedly wanted to leave the planet while he was still on top (debatable). Ultimately, living in isolated, rural Colorado + depression + gun fetish + lots of hard drugs - emotional stability = an elixir for disaster. Hunter's son and exes are interviewed, along with political allies and enemies alike (even Pat Buchanan). Even Johnny Depp appears in this film. Much like Hunter Thompson in his articles, Depp has inserted himself into this documentary on Thompson...if he had not played him in a movie, his appearance here would be pretty dubious. My favorite revelation from this doc: Thompson effin' hated "Doonsebury" and despised his Uncle Duke doppelganger in the strip! Brilliant! That's all I wanted to know!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Enter U-God: The Wu-Tang Clan's Secret Weapon

I'm a longtime fan of IRON FLAG, a Wu-Tang album from 2001, originally released just after the events of 9/11 (and a blistering threat to the bastards who perpetrated it!). That IRON FLAG album is superb (if you cut off the last track, which is a hokey retread of a Christmas song).
In a group where all nine members are super-talented geniuses, my go-to favorite has always been Method Man....He cracks me up...
But as IRON FLAG proves, U-God is the Wu's secret weapon. He's got soul power galore. He opens the song "Uzi (Pinky Ring)" in high-octane fashion and owns it: he does not let up with the great lyrics and machine-gun delivery. Listen to these lyrics:

Yo.. yeah
Don't erase none of that good shit in the beginnin
Yo.. spill drinks on ya, get stank on ya
Yo.. yo.. pinky ring shit, yo
That pinky ring shit yo

It's that pinky ring shit, the legend of masked kid
Shoot out the speakers when my guns get jurassic
Superbad, who am I? Dolemite classic
The vandal's back, hands on Angela Bassett
I handle my plastic, gunplay I mastered
No coke, dope mixed down with acid on record
Broken down and crafted in seconds
Lady's choice, the golden voice still peppered
Better, respect it, bitch believe
I pull rabbits out the hat, tricks up my sleeves
I air out the showroom, the shit can breathe
Fix your weave, behold my expertise

Ditto his verse in the song right before it, "Soul Power," a nostalgic-yet-cool song highlighted by, among other moments, a conversation between Mef and special guest star Flavor Flav (the album's ersatz ODB) discussing their old neighborhoods.

U-God goes at rapid-fire speed:

Yo, yo...
Line Cadillacs to blocks, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx
Jukebox records, flatfooted cops
Get automatic systematic jumpin in your socks
Mama's apple pie in the park hopscotch
Reunited on the radio, Wu-Tang superb
In the sprinklers girls double-dutchin on the curb
Sinatra, the pop the Jackson 5 recordings
Uptown Saturday, "Cotton Came to Harlem"
Ringmaster circus was, Bailey and Barnum
Crack a Coca-Cola, summer heat was my boredom
Dr. J before Jordan, Al Green on the organ
When Rerun did the dance, the whole world saw him
The blackout fears, Foxxy Brown, Pam Grier
Ford motor gear, your life and times queer
"Smokey the Bear", Burt Reynolds gray hair
Throw 'em some gems, throw up your fists and say yeah, it's Soul Power!

Man, IRON FLAG is out of control. I can't say enough superlatives about songs such as the intro track, "The Rules," "Radioactive."
I'm currently listening to the Wu-Tang's most recent LP, 8 DIAGRAMS, from 2007, and while it may not be as top-tier to me as IRON FLAG, it's up there, man. 8 DIAGRAMS has got moxie galore, with beautifully asymmetrical tunes like "Unpredictable" and "Running With Elephants," and my favorite track, "Wolves," which hits fast and hard, is a showcase for....guess who? U-God!

Once again on 8 DIAGRAMS, Method Man and U-God run things. The RZA has infused this album with jazzy flourishes and, despite its cheesiness, how can you not embrace a song built around George Harrison's contagious psychedelic lullaby "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"?
The Wu are masters of performance and the art of storytelling. Giants who walk among us....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Beastie Boys album covers: compare and contrast!

Well, it appears that the new Beasties album art coulda used a few more hues...

Nah. That's enough colors....

Above is the cover of their new album, which comes out May 3. I like this jazz album approach, better than the insipidly lazy and cheesy cover art they threatened to put out with the unreleased Part I (which is actually Part II with a slightly different's Beastie humor, folks...):

I've reluctantly come to accept that they're a long journey away from the band that recorded the classic LICENSED TO ILL and the masterpiece PAUL'S BOUTIQUE. In fact, in subsequent interviews, they've become apologists for those albums, which I not only feel are a career peak they will never achieve again but two of the greatest albums I've ever heard. I put them up there with the best work by the Beatles, the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Run-DMC and Public Enemy.

If you've heard the leaked tracks from HOT SAUCE, they're kind of automatic-pilot Beasties and most of them sound like tracks left off of TO THE 5 BOROUGHS from 2004. Of the four tracks, I guess I like POP YOUR BALLOON best. I understand that artists can't stay in the same place and must evolve, explore and change. But we can debate whether they've become a better or worse group as a result of the experimentation. My opinion? Like I said, nothing beats LICENSED TO ILL and PAUL'S BOUTIQUE...

It's been kind of annoying. Ever since CHECK YOUR HEAD, they've become this weird hybrid group that's hit or miss and often preachy. Of the hit and miss albums, I probably dig ILL COMMUNICATION and TO THE 5 BOROUGHS as overall albums over CHECK YOUR HEAD and HELLO NASTY....Even though HELLO NASTY has two of their most ass-kicking tracks ever, INTERGALACTIC and BODY MOVIN'...Look, it's complicated....

That said, I always get the new Beasties album because they're still better than most of the stuff out there on any given year. So May 3rd, I plan to buy the jazz album.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer!

Hey, Wolf "Situation Room" Blitzer....Happy birthday! Good luck with your big summer film, too!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Big Score: COWBOY MAURICE by Kamagurka and Herr Seele

Not since Parker broke into the bank and the racetrack in NOBODY RUNS FOREVER and ASK THE PARROT has a bigger score been acquired on short order.

Thanks to a Facebook buddy, I was tipped off to a rare COWBOY HENK book on sale in France. I used my European hook-up to snag a copy of the book, which is a Henk collection from 1986 (inexplicably, the COWBOY HENK comics have been alternately called COWBOY JEAN in France and, I guess, COWBOY MAURICE).

Last night, I hung out with my Cartoon Flophouse/Crying Macho Man compadre Jose Cabrera at, seriously, the only Italian restaurant in the Pacific Palisades/Malibu area worth eating at, the sublime Casa Nostra on Palisades Drive, enjoying some cappuccinos and dessert, and we took these victory shots.

(Casa Nostra, by the way, was wall-to-wall packed last night with more robust business than I've ever seen...not an empty seat in the house...It was quiet a lively scene...large groups of people, red wine and delicious Tuscan cuisine everywhere....Casa Nostra is recommended to all! Tell Giovanni Michael sentcha!)

I've just started reading the COWBOY MAURICE book, and it's interesting in that it's not a series of one-pagers (the usual Cowboy Henk gag cartoons) but a long-form send-up of a pair of Tintin albums: TINTIN IN AMERICA and, if memory serves me, CIGARS OF THE PHARAOH (the one with the cult dressed like purple Klansmen). (Behind this main story are two short ones.)

Thanks to all involved for helping me get this treasured copy of COWBOY MAURICE. The Cowboy Henk/Maurice/Jean strips are among my biggest inspirations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

For the Love of Velvel....He's on Facebook!

A decade ago, at the old job, I was knee-deep in Velvel fever. Rickie Layne and Velvel were relics from another era of entertainment, and I had a lot of fun covering what turned out to be the end of the comedy duo's career (Layne passed away in 2006 and Velvel died a few years later).

Now it's 2011, and Velvel has his own Facebook page. The crazy has come full circle...kind of like a bialy!

Here's Layne and Velvel backstage at one of their many appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

World's Strangest Ape Concept: Grape Ape

Apes have long been a favorite trope of comic book companies (DC Comics would throw a gorilla on a cover often because it boosted circulation) and movie studios (witness everything from "Planet of the Apes" to "Going Ape" and "Every Which Way But Loose") and TV networks (the CBS Sat. morning show "Ghostbusters" and "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp").

The strangest concept though, when you think about it, was GRAPE APE, this weird Hanna-Barbara cartoon that ran from '75-78 on ABC about a Kong-sized ape that rode around on top of a van driven by a beagle with a hat. Who the hell pitched this one and how did they get the green light on it? What drove the network to run this cartoon? How does something this slack come to be and then go as far as to undergo months of hard work by animators to completion without anyone second guessing whether it was all worth it?

It ran for three years, which is not the shortest run for a cartoon, so maybe I'm wrong thinking the whole thing was crazy. And's definitely odd...

So many questions...not enough answers...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The LAist Discusses My Article on BATTLE: LOS ANGELES

There's probably no movie as superfluous right now as BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, which, in reality, should've been titled BATTLE: SANTA MONICA.

Picture STARSHIP TROOPERS without the sarcasm or a hyperlocal INDEPENDENCE DAY and that kind of sums up this movie, which is enjoying the dubious distinction of coming out the day of the Japan tsunami/earthquake. (Not helping much is that the very first line in the movie talks about Tokyo being destroyed...) That said, excluding a few token Santa Monica locales, BATTLE: LA doesn't show much actual Santa Monica because it was reportedly filmed in the wrong LA (as in, Louisiana).

If anyone else out there has seen the film, I welcome your thoughts on the movie, pro or con.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Coming Very Soon from CARTOON FLOPHOUSE: "Those Unstoppable Rogues Party Hard!"

This is the manual you'll need to buy to survive current world events! Only from Cartoon Flophouse humor comics!

Current Reading: DIANA PRINCE AS DIANA RIGG! Sekowsky's New WONDER WOMAN (from 1968) and Charles Portis's TRUE GRIT

Wouldja believe....Diana Prince once emulated Diana Rigg?

Let's face it....I was never much of a DC fan growing up (let alone a book such as WONDER WOMAN) but these days, between some of my favorite books (UNKNOWN SOLDIER, PHANTOM STRANGER, the DC horror anthologies) and my never-ending quest for Frank Robbins and Gerry Talaoc material, I've grown to really appreciate Silver and Bronze Age DC Comics that I slept on during my formative years. It's been fun re-discovering DC Comics of yore, an acquired taste for me compared to the very accessible, "grounded in reality" (by comparison) Marvel Comics that Stan Lee brilliantly sold readers on.

Before I was born, the mighty Mike Sekowsky drew a run of late 1960s WONDER WOMAN comics (written by Denny O'Neil) that I'm currently reading and they're a lot of fun, mainly because how blantantly the adventures of Diana Prince and blind Chinese mentor I. Ching are riffing off of the Diana Rigg/Emma Peel THE AVENGERS. They've comically dispensed with Wonder Woman's corny costume for some Mod Carnaby Street haute couture and espionage antics. It's not really a Wonder Woman book (and I understand this entire take was an embarrassment and a poor seller at the time) but I'm diggin' it, daddy-o!

Side by side, I'm more than halfway through TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis, the book that inspired both the John Wayne and the Coen Bros. adaptations (neither movie I have seen). It's a pretty interesting Western, written in the voice of a 14-year-old female protagonist....and while I keep hearing the TRUE GRIT movie by the Coen Bros. is borderline interesting/borderline boring, I will rent it when it comes to DVD. When all is said and done, I found it hilarious that TRUE GRIT, with (I think) five Academy Awards nominations, did not win one award...but THE WOLF-MAN won an Oscar! Cosmic jokes never go out of style!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another nifty painted cover....

If only the interiors of today's mainstream comics were as good as their painted covers....Another doosy from the upcoming FEAR ITSELF: BOOK OF THE SKULL. Why can't the insides be this exciting anymore?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Komark's Remarkable Kovers for DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM

One of the best features of the Jim Shooter reboot of DOCTOR SOLAR over at Dark Horse are the Michael Komark painted covers. They get better and better with each issue. Here's the one for the current issue, #5. Beautifully done.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THE CULT OF HENK CONTINUES....Cowboy Henk goes Stonehedge iconic...

One of my all-time favorite comics character is hands-down the loopy, surreal COWBOY HENK by Kamagurka and Seele (a.k.a. COWBOY JEAN, COWBOY MAURICE, etc.) from Belgium. Well, as it turns out, I'm not the lone fan on the planet of this long-running outrageous strip (myself and the editors of RAW notwithstanding....) Here are some global tributes to the character, who is literally getting bigger and bigger every day...

Ride on, Cowboy Henk! Ride on!