Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hellblazer - the Ennis years (issues 41-83)

What has two thumbs, hates organised religion, loves pub culture, and has the permanent outlook of a 15 year old boy? Garth Ennis. With two thumbs. That might make four thumbs all up, then, given that he probably already has the two on his hands. It'd help with the typing.

So yeah, Hellblazer. You know the one: John Constantine, Liverpudlian working-class mage and adrenaline junkie, battles demons using his wits and the lives of his friends, angsts about the state of the world and the state of his soul, yadda yadda. The book's been going for over 20 years now, and it's the Vertigo imprint's longest lasting ongoing title. So, even though it's not their highest selling title, or their most acclaimed title, Hellblazer's reached a sort of implacable, unstoppable status - for now, at least. It's also about the only ongoing I actually bother collecting.

Garth Ennis, well known and acclaimed writer on such titles as Punisher Max and Preacher, as well as a bunch of lesser known WW2 based titles, took over the writing job for the book in the early 90's, taking the baton from the initial writer Jamie Delano. Like Jaime, Garth was young, British and angry, but his take on the title had a lot more of a working-class slant than Delano, who's run had an extremely New Age Hippy feel to a lot of the stories. In addition, Garth took what was designed to be a horror book and really ramped up the horror and gore. When I first read the title a few years ago, only Brian Azzarello's run instilled the same feelings of disgust in me (though that was mostly for entirely different reasons). As a Horror book, Garth Ennis' Hellblazer keeps things pretty down-to-earth and urban, but that's okay, because as it turns out, there's plenty of horrible, disgusting things happening to people every day. And it's that cynical world view that really permeates the entire run - the world's a joke, everyone in power's a bastard, everyone under their thumb is too stupid or scared to care. Truth be told, this is clearly the work of a very young man - indeed, Hellblazer was one of Garth's first big titles. It certainly feels like a young man's work - the world view it presents is one you'll find echoed in the statements of many a frustrated adolescent. So while it certainly struck a chord with a teen audience at the time, it's hard to take a lot of it as seriously nowadays. That doesn't stop the title from being enjoyable however.

To be honest, what really makes Ennis' run kick for me is the dialogue. A lot of the storylines involve little more than characters down at the pub, drinking, gambling and gossiping like old women. There are several issues where nothing supernatural occurs at all, and the book focuses simply on human drama. And this is where the book really takes off. John's break up with the love of his life, Kit, feels heartbreakingly painful - not simply because it occurred, but it ends for mundanely natural reasons, and neither John nor Kit could really hold their heads up high after the fact. Comics portraying flawed, realistic characters have become reasonably commonplace in the market since, but it was Ennis' Hellblazer that really created a bridge for regular comic readers to perhaps be drawn into something a little deeper than blood, guts and foul language.

Now, I'm not going to pretend Ennis' stuff is particularly poignant or intelligent. He hits a few good beats, but a whole lot of his schlock is purely there for shock value. And you know what? For a horror title, that's okay, that's what we're here for. What really shines through are his characters, and his dialogue. Sure, the issues address by the book are dated, now. Sure, the art (mainly down by regulars Will Simpson and Ennis' long time partner in crime Steve Dillon) is more than a bit rough. Sure, much of the story seems trite, and the ideas they present often seem more than a little childish. But Ennis' time on the book was probably one of the best runs the title ever had.

Picks of the bunch? Dangerous Habits, the opening storyline, where John's dying of lung cancer is a classic tale, that really puts all the pieces in place for the stories Garth wants to tell. Pretty much everything in the Fear and Loathing trade is solid gold, as John faces down racists, arch angels, and the bleak hopelessness of his greatest personal crisis. The Royal Blood arc is an entertainingly silly story featuring demon possession and the Royal family, the two-part King of the Vampires story featuring John as a homeless derelict, and the grand finale Rake at the Gates of Hell, where all John's deeds, good or bad, catch up to him. There are some real clunkers, too, especially the Mortal Clay two part, possibly the dullest story the title ever put out, but over all, this run represents a time when Hellblazer was at least somewhere close to the cutting edge of mainstream comics, which has allowed the title to continue on for as long as it has. It's not my favourite run - I think that Mike Carey's authorship edged it out, despite it's over-focus on big picture, epic-length arcs, but the Ennis' run is probably the most important run on the title, and certainly worth a look for anyone who wants a good piece of early 90's horror.

Is it entertaining? Yes, yes it is. Mostly because Ennis is quite funny when he wants to be.

Is it worth reading? I would say so. Definitely a must for Hellblazer and Ennis fans, and probably worth at least a cursory glace for everyone else.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Danny Glover battles an intergalatic tribal redneck, a college initiation turns into an incomprehensible scream-fest, and The Blob.... blobs...

Movies were rented. Thoughts were had. HERE THEY ARE.

Predator 2
Featuring Danny "I'm too old for this shit" Glover, Bill "Game over man!" Paxton, and Gary 'Holy fucking hell I'm awesome!" Busey.

If you could somehow distil the essence of an 80's action/cop film into 40 minute interval, then the opening half an hour of Predator 2 would pretty much fit the bill. Over-the-top shoot outs with the sleaziest of gangsters, constant foul language, Bill Paxton playing a giant douche, tough-as-nails Latina cop, protagonist constantly in trouble with his superiors, Feds and Government agents getting in the way of the investigation, more blood than is probably contained in the entire population of Malaysia, and a thick layer of grease, sweat and hair-gel over every single character. This makes for a fun, if familiar, ride, but things shift when the film is gatecrashed by everyone's favourite space-rasta, the Predator. And he quickly does exactly what he needs to do: fuck shit up in awesome, gruesome ways.

Seriously, the Predator really needs to be the protagonist of a Cops-style show, where we just follow him around while he tears up the foulest dens of completely ethnic street gangs. And it's hard not to agree any given domestic dispute is going to end pretty quickly once the dead-beat husband gets his head blown off and the feral kids are nailed to the walls with spear guns. Just sayin'.

With Ahrnuld absent this time around, the target of the Predator's near-erotic fixation is Danny Glover, who's main shtick in this film is to affix sights onto every firearm imaginable, get frightened of birds and heights, kill Colombians and actually manage to pull off several feats of bad-assery to the end, especially in the three-part extended climactic battle that runs from the interior of a frozen meat-works (where Garey Busey mugs for every inch of screen-time he can, God bless him, before getting bisected by the world's coolest Frisbee), across the rooftops of New York (where we learn that neither loss-of-limb, nor broom-armed-biddy's can stop a sufficiently angry Predator), to the interior of the Predator's ship (where we learn that xenomorphs do, in fact, have skulls). The last half hour or so of this is awesome enough to overshadow the cop-stylings of the opening act.

The film is even more action focused than it's predecessor, jettisoning the suspense elements for out and out action, which to be honest, is probably a wise move given that the audience is well aware as to what a Predator is. It doesn't have the same sort of impact and tension that the first carried, and the one-liner's aren't as good, but over-all Predator 2 is a fun action sci-fi romp, as well as a veritable 80's time capsule.

Is it entertaining?
Yep, in an over the top, actiony sort of way.

Is it worth watching? Well, it depends if you're a fan of 80's action or not, I suppose. If you are, it's a complete riot. If you're not than... I dunno. Become one. You'll be a better person for it. You'll have nuns giving you gift baskets, and pretty girls will drop their knickers without the slightest hesitation. Believe it.

Death Tunnel

Featuring a bunch of chicks I think I might have seen in a porn film at some point, two dudes that die, one dude that doesn't, and a guy who looks like Bill Nighy with a face-lift.

Sometimes the road less-travelled is not a place of excitement and wonder that makes you love the world a little more, as it's filled with snakes, bear traps, and carnivorous unicorns. Sometimes, the ramshackle old house needs to be fire-bombed, lest during your renovation attempts it collapses upon you. Sometimes, you really should leave that lonely puppy at the pound, as it turns out it's possessed by Mammon and will devour your face when you are looking. And sometimes, the little low-budget horror film really should be left on the shelf, as it'll make you weep with embarrassment for ever having considered giving it a go in the first place. Death Tunnel, then, is one of these films - though it would have been amusing to subvert my excessive build up. Well, I might have found it amusing. Maybe.

Anyway, what we have here is Session 9 for dummies. I think there was plenty of potential to make a half-decent horror film, here, and that mainly comes from filming on-site at the Waverly Hills Sanatorium, seeing as it's an old, abandoned place where many people died. So, given that it looks the part, and also given the weight of the trauma and the urban legends surrounding it, it should be child's play to take advantage of such a setting to create a mood that drips with tension and tragedy, right?

Or instead you could, you know, throw in a bunch of chick in their nighties and edit the fuck out of every single shot whether it needs it or not.

I know this is horror, and some conventions must be follow, but Jesus fucking Christ. Bad-acting, terrible script, nonsensical storyline... these are givens. You really have to go the extra mile to make your movie stand feet and ankles below the rest. This one managed it because the developers never knew when to leave the fucking film alone. Just about every shot has layered effects added to it, and the camera is constantly cutting away to flash backs and shots of incidental background details, just to remind us that HEY GUYS THERE WERE BAD THINGS THAT HAPPENED HERE THAT'S SCARY RIGHT GUYS HEY. It utterly ruins every single shot, making it look horrendously cheap. And really, with the film trying so very hard to tell you that it's scary, it almost makes me feel bad to trash it. I mean, it's like a mentally handicapped chimpanzee trying desperately to compose a symphony. You know that any criticism you might have would be completely wasted, as the poor creature demonstrates repeatedly that it doesn't have - and never will have - the ability to comprehend what it's doing wrong.

Is it entertaining? ...I suppose there's a certain level of fascination inherent when viewing something this bad, but it can't really be called entertaining in any traditional sense.

Is it worth watching? I can't think of any circumstance where this film would be recommended viewing, except maybe as an example of how not to shoot a horror movie.

The Blob (1988 remake)

Featuring Half Life 2's Eli Vance in an early appearance, that chick from Becker, and an evil tub of yoghurt.

Now THIS was a pleasant surprise. After the terrifying descent into craptitude that was Death Tunnel, this was a veritable breath of fresh, gelatinous air. Having never seen the original, I had no particular preconceptions about the film, so how happy was I when the Blob Blobbed the decoy protagonist in the first 30 minutes? Very happy, that's how happy. Happy as a Blob in more Blob. This is a fun, silly, gory horror flick, that's not scary in the least, but IS horrifically grotesque and absolutely ruthless - characters are dispatched with little to no fanfare, and though they aren't the most well-drawn characters you could think of, it's still a shock to see some of them bite the bullet if your looking for genre conventions, particularly when the death involved is an unusually gruesome one.

Make no mistake, the effects in this film crap all over just about any use of cgi in a horror film I can think if, and they look truly horrific. People are dissolved and absorbed into the gelatinous mass in nasty ways, but despite the gore the film never stops being fun. It's not a serious affair by any means, though it's certainly no parody. It's simply a fun, light hearted romp through a town being slowly eaten by a big blobby monster, which blobs its way through most of the named cast and many extras until you don't know who shall be blobbed and who shall remained happily unblobbed. Suffice to say, blobbing really is the focus of the movie, and the main reason to watch. That and the bit where the Blob tentacles the guy with the flame-thrower. That was totally sweet.

Is it entertaining?
Boy howdy yes. Best fun I've had with a film in ages.

Is is worth watching? Most def. This would be a great film to have a few brews and watch with mates. Gore-hounds, and people with an interest in old school special effects should definitely take a look, too. Blobs should get some enjoyment. Blob blob blob. Blooooooooob.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Taking it all, asking for seconds, giving nothing back.

Get ready, people. Get ready for idle thoughts. Get ready for scraps of story ideas. Get ready for amateur culture commentary. Get ready for ill-informed emotionally charged vitriol. Get ready, folks... for the blog that packs 100 per cent MORE DETAIL about my life, thoughts and opinions THAN OTHER OTHER BLOG ON THE MARKET!!!! This is YOUR CHANCE to get in on the ground floor of a SOON-TO-BE-UNIVERSALLY APPRECIATED PIECE OF NETSPACE. Where were you when you first read this blog? Spain? Sudan? Moon? Were there raptors? Did you access it upon your PC, or wifi phone apparatus, or some sort of neural uplink? Wherever, whenever, WHOever you are, you'd better have your gut muscles clenched harder than Jason Statham's steely gaze, as it's about to get a FIST FULL OF AWESOME right where it counts. In the gut. 'Cause it's a gut punch.

Whilst it'll take some time for this blog to take proper shape, as a I shake out the details and work out what I'm going to devote it to, the most common connection will be, of course, that I'm writing it. Though like an other mammal (and also many reptiles reptiles), I am but a product of my environment, so a quick shout out to every person, event and idea that's ever shaped me and my perceptions. You guys rule. But as for content, you can mainly expect me to talk about movies, books, video games, comics, anime and manga, websites, and general media stuff. I might also pop up with the odd ethical, politcal or social diatribe, but those are much more unlikely. It'll be pretty casual, and I'll certainly welcome (and attempt to engage with) any users who wish to comment, but this will mostly be about what I think of this or that. Which is what, I believe, blogging is all about. I'll probably start out by going through stuff from my own collection of entertainment media, as in my current financial situation it'll be hard to keep up with contemporary stuff, so my main aim will be to provide a coherent and entertaining commentary, as opposed to keeping my visitors abreast of new developments. Will that be enough to engage my users? Time will tell.

Alright, that's all I've got to say for my opening barrage. Let's get this party started.