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I Luvz Me Some Heinrich Kley

27/10/2014

Heinrich Kley (1863 – 1945 or 1952; your guess is as good as anybody’s) was a German artist / cartoonist for such avant-garde magazines as Jugend and Simplicissimus.  Now virtually forgotten by the public, he’s best remembered for being ripped off by the inspiration for Disney’s “Dance Of The Hours” in Fantastia.

Heinrich Kley - steal a little

Heinrich Kley - elehants drinking

Heinrich Kley - hero

Heinrich Kley - hey ho lets go

Heinrich Kley - parlor game

Heinrich Kley - elephants bathing

Heinrich Kley - bacchus

Heinrich Kley - fighting for bread

Heinrich Kley - elephant plays piccolo

Heinrich Kley - red cross

Heinrich Kley - elephants on a train

Heinrich Kley - they party while below

Heinrich Kley - monkey on her back

Heinrich Kley - disarming justice

Heinrich Kley - dancing elephants 3

Heinrich Kley - crucifixion picnic

Heinrich Kley - dancing elephants 1

Heinrich Kley - harpies

Heinrich Kley - dancing elephants 2

Heinrich Kley - guillotine

political agenda?
I have no idea what
you’re talking about…

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I Luvz Me THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL

14/10/2014

The Monster And The Girl is the old familiar story of a gangster who is p.o.ed at other gangsters for turning his sister into a prostitute so they frame him for murder and after he’s executed the local mad scientist transplants his brain into the body of a gorilla (because, hey, science!) after which he escapes and goes on a murderous rampage until he kills everyone who did him & his sister wrong.

monster_and_girl_poster_01

Once you decide to just roll with it, The Monster And The Girl turns into a surprisingly poignant story. Zipping along at a brisk 64 1/2 minute running time, using every low budget trick in the independent film maker’s book (1941 edition), it manages to become far more than it ever dared hoped to be.

This may be Charlie Gemora’s greatest role in any of the dozens of films he made inside a gorilla suit. He uses body language and extremely expressive eyes to covey the anguish the protagonist feels and his still-human reasoning abilities. If they gave out awards for best performance by a guy in a monkey suit, he should have taken home an Oscar.

MonsterGirl

Tho released by Paramount, it seems more like an independent production that they picked up for distribution. They don’t make movies like this anymore but I’m glad that when they were making them, they did.

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I Luvz Me Some CARGO

20/08/2014

Truth be told, while I enjoyed zombie movies in the past, once George Romero encapsulated the modern version with 1978′s Dawn Of The Dead, he pretty much said everything there was to say in & about the genre (with the possible exception of Lucio Fulci’s 3-way topless scuba diver vs. zombie vs. shark fight in 1979′s Zombi 2 a.k.a. Zombie Flesh Eaters a.k.a. Island Of The Living Dead).

cargo_xlg

So it was no small surprise to me to stumble upon Cargo, a short Australian film from 2013 directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke from a script by Ramke.  It’s got everything you want in a zombie movie without ever going to excess, and best of all at a speedy seven minutes it’s short & sweet.  Check out the video here.

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I Luvz Me Some SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK

6/08/2014

Fast gliding along, a gloomy bark
Her sails are full, though the wind is still,
And there blows not a breath her sails to fill
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . – Thomas Moore

CH arcadia of my youth ship

There’s mainstream, and then there’s stuff for the connoisseurs.  No matter how good the mainstream[1] stuff is, there’s always something a little stronger, a little purer, a little rarer, a little more off the beaten path.

Some might argue one can acquire a connoisseur’s taste, but I’d say it’s more that one discovers the connoisseur lurking inside.  Sometimes, briefly, the connoisseur’s and the mainstream’s tastes can travel together, but in the end the connoisseur’s taste leads off in its own direction, and while the mainstream may be forever flavored by the connoisseur’s delight, it never really knows how to appreciate it and in the end satisfies itself with watered down versions of the real thing.

Allow me to introduce you to Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock.

CH captain_harlock_by_halflingsera_wallpaper-other

There’s a lot of arguing over who did what first and how that affected everything that came afterwards, but the facts are this:  In 1977 space opera was in the air, and in the US a young director named George Lucas was about to redefine the genre for moviegoers while in Japan a young mangaka was doing the same thing for manga readers.

CH pchbanner2

It’s hard at this point to separate who influenced whom.  Both creators drew from different but similar streams, both creators did innovative things that reflected the work of the other but seemingly without any direct link.

Lucas acknowledges the influence of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa[2] on his work, and while Kurosawa was also an influence for Matsumoto, the Japanese artist was also influenced by traditional European sources.[3]

No matter: 
As if to further muddy the waters, the publishing / broadcast / release history of Captain Harlock’s adventures deliberately defies any and all attempts to link them in a single, logical continuity.  Unlike Star Wars or Star Trek or the various American superhero universes that link each and every single issue / story / character into a rigid timeline, Harlock’s appearances are capricious, contradictory, and confusing.[4]

CH orig manga arcadia

original manga version of Harlock’s ship, The Arcadia

It’s almost as if we are not seeing the adventures of one single character, but rather all the multitudes of Harlock that exist in the quantum multiverses.[5]

So don’t think of Harlock & co. as a character; think of him as an icon.  He is the hero of a thousand faces in reverse; a single battle scarred, eye patch covered face with a thousand different heroes hiding behind it.

There’re a lot of variations of Captain Harlock out there,
including but not limited to his appearances in –

In addition to the above, about a half a dozen or so spin-off projects including TV episodes extended into featurettes, series set in the same universe but not featuring a direct appearance by Harlock or other characters, and just purely random cameos for the hell of it in other Matsumoto stories.

CH gun frontier manga sketch

Harlock is a hero of Wagnerian proportions, specifically Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken, the Flying Dutchman.  There is a deep, dark melancholy dwelling in his restless heart, one that pushes him and compels him to action even at great cost to himself and for often Quixotic purposes.  He manages to be both a Romantic and an existentialist hero at the same time, and that precarious contradiction is a big part of what makes him so compelling as a character.

How much of Harlock may be directly derived from European legend, and how much is various aspects of bushido culture interpreted in new form, and how much is second or third hand osmosis is anybody’s guess.  Matsumoto is certainly not unaware of Wagner (Harlock Saga is essentially his retelling of Das Rheingold set in space) but seems to have taken only the tragic / heroic soul of the legend and none of the details.

CH harlock saga

No matter: 
Whatever iteration of Harlock, it’s always thunderously good space opera.

And the “opera” portion of that description is quite apt.  As has been observed elsewhere, good opera doesn’t have to make logical sense, only emotional sense.  And there’s something about the captain and his damned / doomed ship that resonates very, very deeply.

The best of the most recent versions of the story is Space Pirate Captain Harlock, now available for streaming on Netflix.  CGI animation is good to excellent; character design could have been better[6], the subtitles are only adequate[7], but the whiz-bang is very whizzy and very bangy, and visually it is a pure delight.[8]  The big plot reveal can be seen marching down the boulevard from the first reel, but the film makers seem to recognize this and just go all out with the ending and the theme that while the captain may be eternal, the man behind the eye patch isn’t.

CH Space-Pirate-Captain-Harlock-2013-Movie-Poster

Highly recommended, especially to manga / anime fans and classic pulp space opera buffs.  Mainstream audiences will probably enjoy all the pretty eye candy but just not get what it is that Matsumoto et al are trying to achieve.

That’s okay.  As Joel Hodgson once observed: 
“It’s not important that everybody gets the joke,
just that the right people get the joke.”

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[1]  By definition, anything with an audience in the tens of millions is mainstream so just deal with it.

[2]  Kurosawa was far from culturally pure in his influences in film making, frequently drawing upon both Russian classics and American pop culture for his sources and inspirations.

[3]  Genius that I am, it only took me 40+ years to realize that quaint middle European backwater cultures is what looks exotic to a Japanese artist.

[4]  He is far from the first or only Japanese manga / anime character to be handled this way.  The producers of the dark, starkly tragic Neongenesis Evangelion series felt so bad about what they put the characters through that they brought them back for a more light hearted teen comedy.  The various Tenchi Muyo series typically reboot from the ground up with every new variant, shifting characters around in different roles in the stories.  The only American equivalent I can find to this are the various versions of Rio Bravo / El Dorado / Rio Lobo with the same basic story and stock characters in each one, but John Wayne playing a different role in every film.

[5]  And doubtlessly some fan somewhere is attempting to do exactly that…

[6]  Though I’ll give the benefit of a doubt to a character that is revealed to be a computer simulation; maybe she was supposed to look that way deliberately.

[7]  The synopsis makes a lot more logical sense.  I get the feeling that the subtitles were done almost on the fly since they often contradict themselves and what we’re seeing on screen.

[8]  If anybody is going to adapt Doc Smith to the screen again, it should be this team.  Yowza!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Muddled Morality Of Sergio Leone

6/07/2014

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo

TGTB&TU soundtrack a

Better known to American audiences as The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, this iconic Italian Western frequently scores high on “best of” lists: Sergio Leone’s best film[1], the best of the Dollar a.k.a. “Man With No Name”[2] series, the best spaghetti Western, and (more rarely) the best Western ever.

It is a grand, entertaining epic, a significant notch up in scale from the previous films in the series[3]. It is almost a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story, set in a landscape of bleak lifeless deserts and abandoned blasted and burned out cities destroyed by war.

The restored version is currently streaming on Netflix, returning about 14 minutes of previously deleted footage[4] but only serving to make an already meandering story even more meandering. No new or vital story points are revealed, though Eli Wallach’s Tuco character certainly benefits the most from the fleshing out.

And that’s what makes The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly so fascinating…and muddled.[5]

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I Luvz Me Some NOAH

28/03/2014

Noah_poster946While not a great movie, Noah is certainly a good one, and it is certainly the hands down front runner for the title of weirdest Biblical picture ever made.[1]  You can’t drag the Nephilim into your story and hope to stay within the bounds of normalcy.

Kudos to director Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel for moral complexity, unexpected plot twists, good restrained acting, and top notch production values.  It follows the Biblical story closer than either the 1928 version or the 1966 version but it does add stuff that is not specifically excluded in the Bible story (such as how they kept all the animals quiet on the ark) and ends with a positive statement that we are most like God when we show mercy and love.

The middle portion is much stronger than the beginning and end, Anthony Hopkins steals the show as Methuselah, and the fallen angels vs. human army slugfest has gotta be the wildest scene ever filmed for a Biblical movie.

So why do so many people hate it, sight unseen?

A great many people objecting to it are doing so mostly because it says rapacious greed and treating humans like commodities are evil (there are hints of cannibalism in the film as Tubal-Cain’s army prepares to assault the ark).  As servants of Mammon and not God, these critics are appalled at the mirror-like reflection Noah shows of contemporary culture, and as such they feel duty bound to condemn it.

Noah gets more into the why & wherefore of the flood than previous versions of the story, and in doing so casts it in a light that doesn’t make God seem to be a petty spoiled child who kicks over the sand castle when things don’t go His way but rather a just and loving creator who realizes that humanity is far from perfect but if there is to be any hope of saving us from ourselves it is to save those who desire to serve Him and His creation (including other humans) rather than those willing to consume the planet with their own greed, gluttony, and lust for power.  That is what is driving the prejudice against this film.

God (referred to thru out as The Creator) is depicted as just and righteous, yet loving and merciful.  The destruction of the world is a human process, the flood is a cleansing one from God.

Noah is willing to serve God, but in the process makes an erroneous but not wholly illogical assumption; he does not act on that assumption but shows love and mercy instead.  This leads to his famous post-flood drinking binge because he feels he has failed God.  In the end of the film Noah and his family realize the flood was not to punish the wicked but to save the just from the unjust, and that we are closest to the image of God when we show mercy and love.

So far all the objections I’ve seen have either been from false-flag extremists or nit-pickers who regard any deviation from what they believe to be true and factual as blasphemy.

Does Noah take liberties with details in the Genesis story?
Yes, but without undermining the moral & theological core of that story.

Does the film state there is a Creator God who has the moral right to judge humanity?
Sure does.

Does the film state mercy and love are the most God-like traits humans can hope to aspire to?
Once again, affirmative.

Does the film have the Nephilim in it (referred to as The Watchers in the movie)?
Yes, and I think a lot of people are bugged that somebody dared to depict them other than the way they had personally imagined them.[2]

Has any movie ever followed the true Biblical account?
Movies are works of fiction using actors performing off scripts that are written and edited to form a dramatic whole; that’s why even with historical films we see events and characters dropped or melded together so that the underlying truth of the story can come through even if the actual facts can’t be emulated.

There have been hundreds of films based on various stories in the Bible.  This is one of three big budget Hollywood productions based in whole or in part on the story of Noah.[3]

What this movie does state clearly again and again is:

  • There is a Creator responsible for everything
  • This Creator has the moral right to judge His creation
  • Even those who believe the Creator has abandoned them believe He exists
  • A just God is more interested in saving the just (i.e., those willing to serve Him and His creation including the humans He has created) than in punishing the wicked
  • We are never more God-like than when we shown mercy and love

Sounds like Biblical truth to me…

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[1a]  Some would argue Godspell deserves that title and I would not oppose anyone who chose to argue that point.  But ultimately Godspell is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Gospel of Matthew set in Manhattan with a troupe of circus performers adding song and dance to the otherwise intact text; it’s odd in appearance, not content.  Noah is like the James Tissot of Biblical movies.

[1b]  The question also arises as to just what is a Biblical movie?  Godspell, despite its odd style, is clearly meant to be the actual story found in Matthew; Jesus Of Montreal, despite being one of the finest religious allegories ever made, is not the gospel story per se but a story about the gospel story; a fine distinction but a real one.  And The Sign Of The Cross, the only religious based movie to give Noah a serious run for the title IMO, is technically not a Biblical movie even though it occurs during Paul’s time in Rome.

[2]  That’s one of the things that makes this movie so weird for a Biblical film: It actually shows stuff that no other Biblical movie has shown before.  I think the style of the presentation is what is bothering some folks, not the actual content.

[3]  It’s certainly closer to the text than the 1925 version (which was forgiven its egregious departures because it was presented in a pious manner)or 1966 version (which was just an all around bad movie, no matter how sincere the film makers were).  We shall not speak of the Disney adaptation with Donald Duck as Noah (admittedly a more even keeled Hollywood personality than Russell Crowe).

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I Luvz Me Some NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

4/02/2014

NLF nothing-lasts-forever-1

For a movie that I didn’t even know existed until about 2pm yesterday afternoon, Nothing Lasts Forever has quickly won a place in my heart.  The only feature film to date by Tom Schiller, an Emmy-award winning writer who made numerous short comic films for Saturday Night Live and documentaries on a variety of subjects, Nothing Lasts Forever is one strange / quirky little movie that manages to pull off one of the most difficult challenges for a film maker:  Shoot a contemporary film that looks like a classic Hollywood production.[1]

I’m not saying Nothing Lasts Forever is a perfect film; far from it.  But when it works it works oh-so-well and its loopy story of a musical fraud turned wannabe artist who gets recruited by an empire of hobos who secretly run New York City to fly to the moon on a bus and bring love to the lunar colony dominated by colonialist consumers just ain’t the kinda thing you see every day at the mega-plex.[2]

NLF Nothing-Lasts-Forever-ears

The film near seamlessly mixes contemporary footage with stock shots from classic Hollywood films[3] .  The story never quite jells, shifting gears abruptly and jumping from premise to premise, but Zach Galligan and an astonishing supporting cast — includes Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Imogene Coca, and Calvert DeForest (Larry “Bud” Melman on David Letterman’s old show) among others — keep the story rolling with fresh, funny characterizations.

NLF worst-nothing-lasts-forever-1984-

Add to that a never ending stream of often subtle sight gags and Nothing Lasts Forever should easily keep any old and / or oddball film lover interested.

NLF nothing-lasts-forever-3

And just where can you see this jem?

As the Vick’s people would say:
Aye, there’s the rub…

For reasons not entirely clear, the original distributor never made much of an effort to show the film in the US:  Apparently just a handful of test screenings then the film was yanked and seemingly forgotten.

It has fared better in Europe, but even there is is considered a cult item.

Part of the problem may be legal (entanglements with various rights holder re stock footage in the film) but more likely it’s just that this film is so far afield of anything done by mainstream Hollywood that one can’t feign surprise to learn no major distributor in the US wants to handle it.

Luckily, however, there is YouTube, and if you hie thyself over there,
you can catch Nothing Lasts Forever in all its delirious black + white glory.

How long it’ll stay up, I dunno.  But currently it’s your only chance to see one of the quirkiest film made in the last 30 years.

(Big tip of the bloggin’ editor’s eyeshade to The Austin Chronicle, Musing Of A Cinematic Obsessive, Midnight Only, and Popblerd for supply back into & screen caps of the film.)

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[1]  Among the very, very few that have pulled it off have been Man Of The Century and The Artist, both highly recommended.

[2]  Oh, that old story…

[3]  Since most of the exteriors were shot in Manhattan, and since much of Manhattan hasn’t changed in the last century, the melding is quite good.

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Howzabout Some Vintage Nazi Spaceship Pr0n?

10/01/2014

I get all sloppy sentimental (but not about Nazis!)
after the jump so I’m front loading the link & pictures
then will bore you to tears on the other side.
You have been warned.

VSF Weltraumschiff_I__1 flipped

VSF polaris2

VSF vlcsnap-1669869

VSF vlcsnap-1670124

 

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The Funniest Comic Strip Dailies Of 2013

31/12/2013

My picks for the 10 funniest comic strips published/put on the Web in 2013.

Criteria:

#1 – Must be funny. (There were a lot of touching/poignant/inspiring/awesome strips this year but only the funny ones made the cut.)

#2 – Must be fresh. (Otherwise this list would consist of Peanuts re-runs.)

#3 – Must be family friendly. (Anything over the edge got cut even if it made me laugh.)

#4 – Must be fathomable. (i.e., punchlines that were the pay off of lengthy continuities, long-running gags, or required esoteric knowledge of the strip in question also got cut.)

10 Least I Could Do 20130513

Honorable Mention: Least I Could Do

Ryan Sohmer and Lar deSouza’s Least I Can Do is a sharply written, flawlessly drawn, often hilarious webcomic about Rayne Summers, one of the most charming sociopaths on record.  As it is a living embodiment of the term “NSFW” (though incredibly without using explicit images or obscenities), it’s also pretty much permanently excluded from competition (though the Sunday strips focus on Rayne in his childhood and as such are family friendly in a raucous Calvin And Hobbes sorta way).  Sohmer and deSouza occasionally interrupt their main story with brief so-called true-life accounts of their (mis)adventures at various comic cons.  One such strip finally gets them into the finalists’ circle.  Welcome, boys.

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09 poc130110

Honorable Mention: Pooch Cafe

Pooch Café vacillates between competently amusing and wickedly brilliant.  Here Paul Gilligan takes a risk with a wordy set-up and gets his well-earned laugh.

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08 13 07 30 Willy n Ethel

Honorable Mention: Willy ‘n’ Ethel

Joe Martin always lands somewhere in the top ten, frequently with each of his strips making an appearance.

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07 13 01 15 Zits

Honorable Mention: Zits

Jeff Scott and Jerry Borgman never fail to perfectly capture the tension between modern teens and their parents.  You never see Archie and Jughead doing this!

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06 pb130101

Runner Up: Pearls Before Swine

Well, that got weird in a hurry.

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05 20130621cscwh-a-p

Runner Up: Cats With Hands

…and that…

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04 13 04 22 One Big Happy

Runner Up:  One Big Happy

…and that.

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03 hev130613

Third Place: Heavenly Nostrils

Dana Simpson is methodically and hilariously engaging in complex magical world building with Heavenly Nostrils, but does so in such a perfectly understated way that the average reader isn’t aware of it.  Here is one such perfectly executed understatement.

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02 Gil 20130804

Second Place: Gil

One of the most common complaints leveled against modern (i.e., post-Peanuts) comic strips is their purported lack of draftsmanship.  Norm Feuti shows he can stand up to the best of the old grandmasters with this well drawn, utterly charming, and ultimately character driven summer time Sunday strip.

01 13 10 08 Boffo

Grand Prize Winner: Mr. Boffo

Anybody can parody Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks; Joe Martin goes for a meta-gag on the painting itself.

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Benito Cereno Explains The Krampus

23/12/2013

SantaSuperman248

The Krampus is a wild, unpredictable figure who works to preserve justice and peace by means of intimidating the superstitious.

He’s not the Lex Luthor to Santa’s Christmas Superman.

He’s the Batman.

– Benito Cereno

 

santa-claus-batman-chrismas-xmas

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