Right about now, my cousin Vincent Price would be grumbling about a new film called I Am Legend (opening Dec. 14) – reminding anyone within earshot that he had been the first to star in a movie based upon that apocalyptic story and muttering, “You’d think we hadn’t done it right, the first time.”
Price (1911-1993) had said as much about another movie during our last get-together, in 1986 during a college-campus lecture-tour visit to Fort Worth, Texas. David Cronenberg’s Oscar-bait remake of The Fly was about to open, and Price – who had starred in the original Fly of 1958 – was exercising his prerogative, as a grey eminence of Hollywood’s horror-film scene, to cop an indignant stance: “Hmph! You’d think we hadn’t done it right, the first time.” Like I said…
Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend, starring Will Smith in a role corresponding to that which Price had handled, is the third filming of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel about the collapse of civilization under an epidemic of vampirism. Price’s version, issued in 1964 with little fanfare, bears the title The Last Man on Earth. Price might have grumped about a 1971 remake called The Omega Man – if not for the starring presence of his friend Charlton Heston in that one.
In a benevolent side-effect, the heavy promotion of I Am Legend has prompted a classy widescreen-DVD release of The Last Man on Earth – issued last week via a video-label holding-company ghost traveling under the worthy old corporate name of MGM.
Vincent Price: The name conjures images as varied as the roles he tackled (romantic, comical, heroic, tragic) before typecasting kicked in to distinguish him as the baddest of bogeymen. Price was as prominent a champion of gracious living – gourmet chef, cultural scholar, published author, and discerning collector of art – as he was a reliable movie menace..
Naomi Nowak is a cartoonist resident in Sweden, of Hungarian-Polish ancestry, and presumably works in English, since this book doesn’t credit a translator. She is thus more cosmopolitan than most of us ever dream of being. This is her second graphic novel, after Unholy Kinship (which I haven’t seen).
My first impression is that Nowak must be influenced by P. Craig Russell and by manga – there are a lot of flowing layouts following ideas rather than action, and the delicacy of the figures and the flamboyance of some of the drawing is very reminiscent of Russell. But, given that she’s European, those may or may not be trustworthy comparisons. I can’t be sure what Nowak’s real influences are, but — looking at House of Clay — I do see what looks like a lot of manga and Russell in its DNA.
House of Clay has an atmosphere of unreality about it; Nowak’s style keeps the story from ever feeling completely real — it’s more like a fever dream or a retold legend. This is the story of one young woman, but it’s also a more primal story, an archetype, of all young women everywhere.
It feels like just yesterday that the summer blockbuster season was here, but I suppose we’ve already moved on from there and straight into that time of year when thriller/horror movies come out of the woodwork, and usually sink rather than swim. This year we’re subjected treated to another Japanese thriller remake with One Missed Call, another underground-graphic-novel-turned-award-winning-film with 30 Days of Night, and yes: yet another Saw movie – because they cost about $8.50 to make.
We proudly start off this traditional season with Rob Zombie’s faux remake/prequel of John Carpenter’s quintessential slasher flick Halloween. Now not to play into the web-gossip, but there was quite some controversy about this film’s script, involving a leak and a very critical critic from a website which I choose not to mention (I will give a hint though: it rhymes with Paint it Drool Booze). But all of that aside, it was rumored that Zombie went into rewrites only a few short weeks before shooting. Now I felt this was relatively unwise, but as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start as we usually do, in the OCD fashion of a film breakdown.
Starting off with my favorite aspect of the film, the acting; I have almost nothing to complain about here. It’s evident in all of Zombie’s work (a whopping three films) that he is a huge fanboy, and while every fanboy has their niche (Smith has Star Wars, Tarantino has chatty women, and Favreau has Vince Vaughn) Zombie’s niche is easily noticed as B-Movies. This film is a practical who’s who of B-Movie actors, much like his previous two films were. To name a few, we movie geeks get Danny Trejo, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Sid Haig, William Forsythe, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, and of course Tyler Mane as our masked pro/antagonist. With a cast like this, topped off with Zombie’s frightening-yet-gorgeous wife, Sheri Moon, this film was meant for every fanboy in the theater to swoon with joy every time we get another cameo, much like this reviewer did. Though it probably isn’t necessary for me to reveal, each actor pulled off their creepy-yet-impressive roles to a tee.
Moving onto the technical aspect of this film, I was torn. Another one of Zombie’s trademarks is complete filth, and not in the sense of obligatory nudity (of which there was plenty in this film), but in the sense that the film and setting as a whole made me long for a shower once the credits rolled. From the very start, we’re treated to visuals of a completely rundown, white-trash home in which almost everything looks dirty and unpleasant, all the way to the end of the film where just about everything/one is covered in blood. Much like House of 1000 CorpsesandDevil’s Rejects, this film definitely adapted the feeling of grittiness that the horror movies of yesteryear prided themselves on.
One trait that Zombie seemed to pick up in this movie that was thankfully left out of his two previous pieces was the use of unnecessary camera shakiness. I’m not sure if its his way of falling in line with popular films like the Bourne trilogy and the use of shaky camera work, or if it was a cheap way to add tension to a scene that already displayed it, but it was not only unnecessary, but distracting. When a filmmaker prides himself for turning heads with the amount of gore and violence he uses in films, there is no need to strap the camera to a rabid dog every time he feels the need to add more tension to the scene. The close angles and fast cuts during action sequenced made it feel like a bad episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and that’s not good, especially when the substance is far too good for any overuse of style.
Finally we move on to the pièce de résistance: in talking about the script/plot of the film. Going into a straight-up slasher film, my expectations never soar, in fact I usually leave my brain at the door. But when a movie is hyped as giving more substance to a horror movie that I practically grew up on, I wanted there to be substance and closure to a 30 year old story. Instead we get half-assed character development and dialogue that actually had me laughing out loud when it wasn’t exactly necessary. I’m proud of the fact that we took a snippet of Donald Pleasance’s dialogue from the 1978 film and turned it into an hour of film, but this should have been about what makes one of the greatest Monsters of American Cinema tick, rather than just explaining who he is and that he likes to stab things. I call him the pro/antagonist because if the character development was done properly, it would show that Michael Myers killed to protect his family, and hurt those who threatened that. Instead we barely touch on that subject, and spend more time watching Myers kill naked teens while they have drunken unprotected sex.
Overall, looking at this film as another slasher film with a great supporting cast, it exceeds almost all expectations. But this film had to potential of being the Batman Begins of a potentially dead horror franchise, and instead of turning this into a trend in the genre and possibly getting the chance to see Peter Berg’s Friday the 13th, we’ll more than likely be subjected to another ten years of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash vs. Godzilla vs. Kramer.
I reluctantly give the film a 7/10, only because while it may be an American pastime and one of my favorite weekend activities, a movie needs to be more than an hour plus of killing naked drunken teens having unprotected sex.
DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint announced a few new projects at their “Looking Over the Edge” panel in San Diego last week.
First up: next month’s Un-Men, the old Swamp Thing foes and stars of the American Freaks mini-series. The monthly book, written by John Whalen and pencils by Mike Hawthorne, revolves around how the Un-Men are now running a tourist attraction at the nuclear test site reservation that was established at the end of the 1994 mini-series.
Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges will be bringing a monthly House of Mystery revival. It will not be a traditional anthology, but will have ongoing story arcs and one-shot stories within. The series kicks off with Cain arriving home from a visit to Abel and finding the house has been stolen and turned into a pub where patrons have to tell the story to pay their tab, a gambit reminiscent of the Sandman story that featured Cain and Abel. We’ll take this chance to again say the “place has been turned into a bar and tell a story” format sounds awfully familiar, particularly to GrimJack fans.
Out this spring will be a monthly Madame Xanadu title penned by Matt Wagner with art by Amy Hadly. The series will explore her relationship with The Phantom Stranger, revealing why it is they dislike each other so much and how she got the name “Xanadu.”
In October, UK teevee writer Si Spencer (Torchwood) offers up a slice of British sub-culture in the crime-noir Vinyl Underground about a group of four occult detectives in London.
In November Vertigo celebrates the 20th anniversary of the monthly Hellblazer title with Hellblazer: Pandemonium graphic novel. (The cover date of Hellblazer #1 was January 1988) Jamie Delano’s story takes John to Iraq and is a commentary on the current political situation.
November will also see the release of the graphic novel Cairo. A story structured like 1001 Arabian Nights about a genie trapped in a hookah features various occult characters form the Vertigo universe which will all be pulled into one story. Also out: Absolute Sandman Volume Two, which will feature lots of behind the scenes material.
The most quotable things that have been said in public and overheard in private. Onward!
Overheard on the trolley, while looking at the guy to the right: "Is he getting off at the Imperial Transfer station to go to the Con or does he work at the Imperial Transfer Station?"
At the IDW panel, commenting on John Byrne’s art on the upcoming Star Trek: Romulans: "Everybody looks like Namor…"
DC’s new House of Mystery turns the old barn into a bar and restaurant where patrons sit around telling strange stories. Funny, but it seems like we’ve seen that in comics before… Something called Munden’s…
Mike Grell and Mark Ryan (Bumblebee in Transformers) announced a new project called The Pilgrim. Grell starts working on it after he finishes his latest Jon Sable Freelance graphic novel.
Len Wein: "When I first met Hugh Jackman, he said ‘I apologize for being so tall.’ [Jackman is 6’3"; Wolverine, which Len created, is 5’1".] And I said, ‘It’s okay — you play short.’ "
And finally, a special hat tip to Mark Evanier, who mentioned the most heard phrase from Wednesday night.
In honor of Daniel Radcliffe’s roving eyes, today here’s a picture of what Emma Watson looks like on a regular movie screen, and what she looks like in IMAX 3-D. Quite a difference, eh? (And if you want to see the photo I almost used here — which is probably not safe for work, and presumably is from Daniel Radcliffe’s stage work in Equus earlier this year in London — it’s here. The caption would have been something like "Hey! That’s not Hermione!")
NPRinterviews Arthur Levine, J.K. Rowling’s American editor.
The Guardianprofiles Christopher Little, Rowling’s famously tough agent.
My god, even Eddie Campbell has gotten into the act. Must everyone in the whole wide world write about Harry Potter?
The San Jose Mercury News, running a bit behind, files the standard Harry Potter story (interviews with kids, librarians, and booksellers; lots of impressive numbers; thumbnail history) that everyone else was doing last week.
KansasCity.com thinks the Harry Potter readers will be writing their own fantasy novels in six years. (So, agents, if you start getting a flood of boy wizards in 2014, remember that Kansas City called it first.)
Walt Disney Studios has signed an exclusive multi-year deal with Stan Lee and his production company POW! Entertainment Inc. Lee and POW! will be developing and producing "all sorts of entertainment," according to the House of Mouse.
After a nearly unbroken string of successful movies based on characters and/or concepts which Lee helped to develop, this deal’s a natural. It’s also ironic, as his former employer – Marvel – has been patterning itself after Disney of late. Stan is expected to retain his credit as Marvel’s chairnam emeritus.
The question is, is the world ready for the True Believer animatronic?
It’s May which means, out in TV-land, it’s the final sweeps period of the season. Yeah, a few of the final shows have yet to air but I might as well look back on what I liked/disliked over the past season. This may not be what you watched, liked or disliked but, hey, it’s my column.
Battlestar Galactica. I finally succumbed and started looking in on the series. I’d been afraid that it would be too dense at this point, that there was too much backstory, to be accessible to late viewers like myself but I found I was able to pick things up as I went. Yes, it would be better if I knew more of the backstory and I plan on picking up the DVDs but I’ve gotten into the series. I’m not certain why finding Earth is such a good idea for these people or why so much of their culture seems to be very post-1940’s American culture but I’m willing to hang in and find out. Yes, I liked it overall.
Boston Legal. A tip of the hat to ComicMix head inmate Mike Gold for getting me to watch this series. Mary and I started watching late last season and it’s become one of our favorites. I was resistant because I’m not really a big David E. Kelley fan but this show causes me to laugh out loud. It makes brilliant use of some old pros – James Spader, Rene Aubenjois, Candace Bergen, and the simply amazing William Shatner – as it talks about current issues, goes consistently over the top, touches the heart and simply entertains me more than almost any other show in a given week.
Deadwood. Big fan of this show and I can’t tell you how pissed off I am that HBO didn’t let it continue. Yeah, they talked about two movies to finish it up but a) that’s not the same and b) I haven’t heard that those are actually going forward. Creator David Milch had said that the concept was the advance of civilization as seen through the focus of the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, originally a boom camp for the gold found in the hills nearby. Real historical figures intermingled with totally fictional creations much the same way real history was mingled with a lot of inventive writing (and serious profanity). It’s not a technique unknown to me; I did the much the same thing when I wrote my historical graphic novel The Kents. The show boasted some fine performances topped by Ian McShane’s incendiary Al Swearingen.
All that said, I have to confess that Season 3 turned out to be a disappointment to me. The through line was the gradual take-over of the town by George Hearst (given a dynamite performance by Gerald McRaney). Hearst was an actual historical figure, the farther of William Randolph Hearst who, in turn, was a model for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and that was both the attraction and the problem. The actual Hearst himself never visited Deadwood, so far as my researches showed, although he did wind up owning several big mines there.
The problem in Season 3, for me, was that it was headed for an almost apocalyptic showdown between Hearst and his men versus the citizens of the town who, although usually at violent odds with one another, were brought together by a common threat. The season built in tension to what should have been a staggering climax and then – Hearst simply decides to leave town. Go on to his next location. The tension dribbles away.
Writers are people who have to write. They write every day. They don’t talk about it, they do it. People who don’t write every day are not serious writers. All right. Five days a week, minimum. This is about writing comic books, but it applies to all fiction.
You must know your craft, the rules of grammar, how to conjugate a verb. Don’t get nervous. Most of you already know this without the fancy labels. I see, you see, he sees. It is part of your instinctive grasp of English. Everyone needs a little book of rules. For the writer, it is Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This slim volume has been in continuous publication since 1935. It takes an hour to read and is quite droll. Buy a used copy. Do not get the illustrated version. It has been bowdlerized in the name of pc.
All good fiction, whether comics or otherwise, is built around character. We humans are mostly interested in our own kind. The more interesting your protagonist, the better your story. Stories start with people. The TV show House on Fox is a perfect example. Hugh Laurie’s character is so thorny and unpredictable people tune in week after week out of fascination with his personality. Same thing with Batman, since Denny O’Neil straightened him out. Prior to O’Neil, Batman wandered from mood to mood, often “humorous,” seldom entertaining. Denny made Batman a self-righteous obsessive-compulsive. Obsession is always interesting.
While it’s possible to grow a great story out of pure plot, sooner or later it will hinge on the characters of your protagonists. “Character is destiny” holds true in fiction as well as life. Know who your characters are before you start writing. Some writers construct elaborate histories for each character before they begin. It is not a bad idea. Start with people then add the plot. Get a bulletin board. Write each character’s name and salient characteristics on a 3 x 5 card and tack it to the bulletin board. You can do the same with plot points. You can move characters and plot points around to alter your chronology.
What is plot? It’s a dynamic narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s like a good pop song. It has to have a hook. Sometimes that hook is simply the narrator’s voice. Huckleberry Finn succeeds mostly on the strength of Huck’s voice, by which I mean the way he presents words. In other words, it’s not the meat, it’s the motion. It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Huck comes alive through his words, which are fresh and immediate. We feel we know Huck. Same thing with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s that world-weary, cynical with a heart-of-gold voice whispering in your ear. “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” Chandler also said, “A good story cannot be devised, it has to be distilled.” In other words, start with character and let character find the plot.
Comic writers think visually. No matter how bad our chops, we can pretty much describe what we see in words. Some of us can even draw a little bit. I used to write comica by drawing every page out by hand – everything – all the tiny details, facial expressions, warped anatomy, half-assed perspective, all word balloons and captions. Editors and artists loved it. Why? Because they had everything they needed on one page instead of spread across three pages of single-spaced type. Some of the most successful writers in the industry write very densely. Each script is a phone book.