Friday, April 28, 2017

"Loose Ends" delivers on Southern noir thrills



The tanned, voluptuous body of Cheri Sanchez is a thing to behold.  With her super-tight, Daisy Duke-type shorts and her thick, long black hair, the woman is a definition of temptation inducing curviness.  It's no wonder then that when Sonny Gibson shows up at the place where his roots lie, he's once again smitten by this Latina beauty, their romance a quick blast from a much more hopeful past (it's no wonder that whenever they touch, sparks fly - literally).  Now, having to flee together from a scene of an "accidental" crime, chased by both the law and some very shady characters, Sonny and Cheri are the modern South (Eastern) version of Bonnie and Clyde, their plight perhaps not quite as tragic, but their trail sprinkled with blood and corpses nonetheless.

Writer Jason Latour (Southern Bastards) returns to the steamy American South once again, and this time his storytelling is illustrated by the talents of Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi.  Their four-issue story arc, Loose Ends, is a work that's been long in progress, and it is evident just how passionate both the writer and the artists have been in bringing this noir saga to life.  The murky artwork supports the story's shadowy tone, a world in which everyone either drinks or smokes or holds a gun in every single frame.  A product of Latour's imagination, it could very well occupy the same universe as his much acclaimed Southern Bastards series.

Loose Ends is ultimately a steamy noir drama, deeply rooted in a specific time and place, and occupied by personalities both amiable and atrocious.  It is also - and perhaps more than anything else - a tragic romance between two people whose poor choices in life have led them down a lousy path that could only culminate in a fatal dead-end.  Now, long after I've turned the last page, the only uplifting image my mind can hold on to is Cheri and her curvaceous legs.  I imagine that was Sonny's farewell thought as well.
B+


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Amamra shines in the bold "Divines"



Like a tough-as-nails French version of Michele Rodriguez, Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) glides through Houda Benyamina's raw and unapologetic Divines in a style reminiscent of a middleweight fighter who's been knocked down way too many times by the tribulations of everyday life, yet she keeps getting up anyway.  Dropping out of school in order to become a dealer for the local small time drug lord, she eventually meets an enigmatic and beautiful dancer, Djigui (Kevin Mischel), who challenges her physically and spiritually in ways she didn't think possible.  Is there more to this thuggish life she's resigned herself to after all?

By the time the movie reaches its devastating final act, you'll likely to have a lump in your throat, all the while marveling at the raw talents of its young starlet.  Divines may not have a happy ending, nor does it portray the world in a bright light, but there's no denying its tour de force power.  As the great Roger Ebert used to say: "No good movie is too depressing; all bad movies are."
A-

Monday, April 24, 2017

Laborious "White King" drags the crown



What do you get when you cross The Hunger Games with a touch of Orwellian themed 1984-esque utopia? Well, if you were to add poor acting, a very limited budget (especially for a movie that's classified as sci-fi), and a complete absence of tension or drama, apparently your result would be The White King.  Based on György Dragomán's 2005 novel of the same name, the movie focuses on a young boy, Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch), growing up fatherless in dystopian region referred to simply as Homeland, and his tribulations of growing up in such an autocratic place.  As the youngster deals with his psychotic grandparents (Jonathan Pryce and Fiona Shaw) who pressure him into shooting an innocent cat, a mentally fragile mother who's been ostracized from society due to her husband's traitorous stigma, and overgrown twin bullies who steal his soccer ball, his struggles are mirrored only by the audience who has to sit through this amateurishly designed and poorly realized movie.

Having never read the novel that it's based on, I can only comment on the cinematic material, and alas, it is just... bad.  I've witnessed better acting - and writing - on an average daytime soap opera.  Co-directors Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel never find the right tone or a narrative worth following (scene in a forest featuring a scarred Grizzly Adams type man goes absolutely nowhere), and their effort pretty much results in a student film stretched out to feature length.  Pryce is the only actor who displays any acting talent whatsoever; even the newcomer Allchurch spews his lines as if he was a robot desperately attempting to convey a human emotion.  The final scene is a total failure of unfulfilled melodrama, its intended emotional impact turning into an unintentionally laughable climax.  The White King is that rare cinematic feat, celluloid excrement masquerading as profound art.
D-


Friday, April 21, 2017

White trash vampires resurface in "Redneck"



Like a Southern Gothic tale sprinkled with blood and double dipped in freshly opened guts, new Redneck comic series (Image) opens on a desolate porch of an isolated farm where an old man - sporting long, old fashioned Walrus-like mustache - is having his thoughts heard by his young niece.  As he drinks a bottle of cow's blood, his self-reflection and solitude are broken up by the girl's inquisitiveness, who warns him, "Don't go into town. You're too drunk."

Thus begins writer Donny Cates and artists Lisandro Estherren and Dee Cunniffe's darkly comical tale about old school vampires living in a modern world in a rural Texas setting that hasn't perhaps progressed as much as it should have.  The aforementioned old man, who goes by the name of Bartlett Bowman, is a skinny, loose shirt-wearing old timer who resembles Mark Twain on crack, and when his nephews get into a deadly feud with the rivaling Landry family, lives will be lost, bodies lynched, and old hatred reawakened.

The illustrations are not as sharp and clear as the recently released Plastic series, but that perhaps is the style that Estherren and Cunniffe are going after.  Their close-ups of sharp, fang-like teeth and spooky, open country nights illuminated by haunting moonlight certainly leave an impression on the reader's psyche.  Cates' characters, those white trash vampires of movies and TV shows of old, come across as hybrids of Near Dark-meets-True Blood archetypes.  The only difference is that his protagonists are older and perhaps not as chic as what we're used to seeing in this genre.

Redneck #1 is a worthy intro into a vampire saga that, although somewhat familiar around the edges, still presents us with combatants who possess unique traits not entirely seen before.  If Bartlett's plight in the closing pages is any indication of the dilemma that Bowmans are about to face, this series is about to get a whole lot bloodier.
B

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Plastic" offers a twisted view of depravity



"Virginia... oh-oh... oh my Goodness... 
Sweetie, slow down... I'm gonna..."


So says Edwyn Stoffgruppen to his girlfriend as they make love in the opening scene of Plastic, their car windows collecting steam from the inside as a result of their rather lustful and perverted passion for one another.   They soon finish, and Edwyn suggests they get some donuts at the nearby gas station, his face a weirdly disturbing image of a mind not entirely sound.  He talks to Virginia as if speaking to a life-long partner, and even suggests they take a trip to Rome at some point.  The thing is, Virginia is a glorified blow-up sex doll.

The debut issue of writer Doug Wagner, artist Daniel Hillyard and colorist Laura Martin (alternate cover is by Andrew Robinson) is one strangely perverse and oddly pleasing comic, and is not for the faint of heart. Edwyn is soon revealed to be not only a deviant of the oddest kind, but also an ultra violent person whose temper has the shortest fuse when his "girlfriend" is disrespected by chauvinistic punks at the local gas station.  He breaks the leg of one of them at the knee as if it was a toothpick, and soon nearly suffocates another using a plastic bag and a toilet brush.  Yup, this guy has issues, but at least he's very faithful and loyal to his one-and-only. 

Plastic comes across as a fully realized and magnificently illustrated comic about a man whose homicidal past comes back to haunt him when a rich, powerful gangster (Thaddeus Belliveau) forces him to kill again; if Edwyn refuses, Virginia will suffer as a result.  The world that Wagner has created has no kind people in it, and therein lies its fortitude.  At long last a serial (albeit limited, but still...) about sickos, murderers and sociopaths all sharing the same stage where the only "sane" one is an adult size plaything for men possessing a fetish for the synthetic.  How odd that I am - and continue to be - drawn to its blatant wickedness.
B+

Friday, April 14, 2017

Image's new "Rose" is a visual marvel



Rose is a red haired beauty whom her father gives - what else - a rose for her eighteenth birthday.  As she lays in a pond shortly afterwards, attempting to communicate with nature, the "cleansing" that took place in her neck of the woods years earlier suddenly reappears, and this time, her mother's fatality is the price.  Such is the fate of a rare enchantress who possesses no thorns of her own.

In the premiere issue of Image's new serial Rose, writer Meredith Finch and artist Ig Guara (variant cover is by David Finch) have created a medieval world of fantasy, bloodshed and political injustice reminiscent of Game of Thrones.  Finch's narration and dialogue are on par with the best that this genre has to offer (this includes Rat Queens, Green Valley and Seven to Eternity; I dare say that Rose debut tops all aforementioned ones).  Guara's artwork is sharp, clean and gorgeous to look at; something tells me that even Saga's own Fiona Staples may be envious of it.  Would anyone really blame her if she was?

The clash at the center of Rose involves a powerful queen Drucilla, who rules the city of Venta Belgarum, and with with several young men and women chained like dogs in her immediate vicinity, she orders the execution of anyone in her dominion who is using magic.  Drucilla is a post-modern vixen monarch, as ruthless as she is sexy, and her blood-thirsty persona recalls the evil queen from Snow White, with Rose mirroring the plight of that enviable maiden.  This series may not have the humorous charm of the seven dwarves engraved in it, but as a magical fantasy featuring the conflict between two very different - albeit both alluring - women, it captivates the reader like that most enchanting flower in existence.
A


Thursday, April 13, 2017

"My Life as a Courgette" is mature insight into childhood



The best part about My Life as a Courgette (also known as My Life as a Zucchini), a new (fairly) low budget, stop-motion animation movie about a boy who is placed into an orphanage after his mother's untimely death, is how appealing it will appear to both the young and the old.  As the young, titular character is briefed about his fate by the kind Officer Raymond, Courgette indeed resembles a known vegetable, his blue hair and olive-like eyes only a small part of his shy and withdrawn personality.

At the orphanage, he meets other children whose parents, he will discover, are of far worse ilk than his have ever been.  He will also fall in love with the charming newcomer, an all-too-wise for her age girl, Camille (whose aunt can even make Cinderella's own stepmother look meek by comparison).  Courgette is that rare animated movie that will dazzle the developing wisdom and sheer wonder of children, all the while impressing the adults about its insight into the plight of abandoned children.  It's as ingenious as it is charming - and worthy proof that movies don't have to be overly long in order to be effective.
A