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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Boy from Hölle

The Boy from Hölle
(A Song of future Yore)

Appeared over the hill one day unexpectedly did he
His mysterious origin perhaps an elusive epiphany
Covered in blood from head to toe as he sauntered 
Down Fatum road, when the rest laid like slaughtered,
Sheriff Engels, in a sheer act of compassionate ignorance
Brought untold evil to Heofon’s daily amicable essence.  

The Boy said not a word, nor did he give an excuse
His entire existence thus far having been an utter misuse
The bewilderment and sheer lack of knowledge
He displayed, a clear product of his careless parentage
Who birthed him only for selfish monetary benefits
in this world that has long since been without merits.   

At The Last Supper it was he left his callous mark
His mighty evil and unequivocal carnage like a white shark
Brought down on those who absurdity to others spread
In an instant, The Boy’s eyes left them without their heads.
Heofon soon a national spotlight among many would become,
its notorious massacre now amounting to more than one.

And so it was, The Boy’s plight suddenly a problem for three
A famous doctor, a discernible convict, a sharp deputy, will flee
From a vicious agent, and a reverend whose new found task
is to spread fabrication, feed off the dunces, but never to ask
“Just who this boy is, and why oh why is he so hell bent,
on leaving a trail of blood and tears, and why so irreverent?”

Far and wide their cat and mouse game played, with hook and bait
All the way past the Canyon of Comets, and The Singular Strait
Where at the end of all Earthly acreage and bodies aquatic
Lay the Alpha & Omega of the curious and the pragmatic
It was here that The Boy’s aspiration will come to cement
His rather strange and alien aroma shall forevermore lament.

And so did he, finally rid of all immediate friendship and kin
All forlorn and wide eyed again upon another quest set to begin
Ran across a girl, a charm and innocence he could not resist
So when she, with her curious naivety a question to him did persist
“My my, where might you be from?  Me hopes you be not a bully.”
Without hesitation, The Boy at long last spoke, "Why, I be from Hölle.”  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"Black Cloud" weaves dreams & reality with impressive artwork

As a girl whose origin differs vastly from yours or mine, Zelda is a rather normal girl, all things considered.  Born in a dreamworld that can be simultaneously fantastical and terrifying, she sells dreamland trips to the rich and the bored, hooking them onto the fix of the surreal like a drug dealer who knows just what kind of excitement these spoiled fiends really want.  Sometimes the fantasy worlds they invade are in color, sometimes in black and white; other times they're both flashy and non-chromatic.

Writers Jason Latour and Ivan Brandon's new series, Black Cloud, is an imaginative combination of the multi-dimensional universe to such an extent that it comes across like a hybrid of Shutter (another Image comic) and Vertigo's Fables.  Their original idea is complimented by Greg Hinkle's (coloring by Matt Wilson) terrific illustrations, an artwork that resembles a memorable grown up cartoon where the line that separates fantasy from reality is thinner than the strands of our heroine's hair.  Zelda eventually gets hired by Mayor Havemeyer, a politician whose ambitions are so grand he's even willing to have his own son sent to the dreamland just so his re-election can proceed without complications or any family scandals.

Black Cloud's premise is surely alluring, and its charming heroine, along with her otherworldly abilities that transcend our own, is Image's new It Girl.  Whether or not her name will live up to the grandiose status associated with it, however, remains to be seen.

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Rock Candy Mountain" is fearsomely, boldly humorous

Kyle Starks' strangely perverse but ultimately entertaining new comic, Rock Candy Mountain, is a feast for the ears more so than it is for the eyes.  It opens with a bizarrely funny scene in which the devil himself takes on a group of hobos, and he doesn't stop until, alas, all of them are dead, much to his own surprise.  "Well, shit", he says to himself. "I really should have kept one of them alive."

The story focuses on a mysterious drifter called Jackson, a loner who rides a Kentucky bound freight train in search of the mythical Rock Candy Mountain, and who encounters various people on his journey.  One of the men he meets, a failed West Coast movie star, who goes by the name of "Hollywood Slim", is the perfect antithesis to the homeless vagabonds that inhabit Starks' goofy and comically stylized illustrations, which are more reminiscent of Sunday cartoons than anything else that Image publishes these days.  His writing style is also witty and sharp, and full of various zingers ("He's got punch diarrhea and their faces are the toilet bowl").

Rock Candy Mountain (colors by Chris Schweizer, design by Dylan Todd) is most certainly a unique new vision on the independent comic book scene.  Its juxtaposition of grotesque caricatures and clever one-liners in Starks' perverse hobo society recall the wit and satire of Mark Twain.  Here's hoping that Jackson reaches his legendary destination, and that he takes thousands of new fans there along with him.