Monday, June 30, 2014

The Alphabet Game: Comic Book Edition

Hello, and welcome to The Alphabet Game, where I take a look at 26 different things in one common category. This inaugural edition is all about that wonderful thing once known as the motion picture. Have fun...

A is for Action Comics #1 - Sure, there were comic strips and comic books around well before 1938, but it was in June of that year, that the superhero comic book was born, with the publication of Action Comics #1, and the first appearance of a guy known as Superman. You might have heard of the guy. Anyway, this first appearance of the Man of Steel, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, ushered in the dawn of the superhero. Yeah, Siegel and Shuster had created Dr. Occult, three years earlier, but that guy never caught on. Within the next few years, the world would see the debuts of such characters as Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Captain America, The Human Torch, Captain Marvel, The Sandman (not to be confused with Neil Gaiman's more recent incarnation), The Spectre, Dr Fate, Aquaman, The Whizzer,  Plastic Man, Red Tornado, Green Arrow, Catwoman, The Sub-Mariner, and The Justice Society of America (among many others). So there! A perfect way to begin this edition of The Alphabet Game. Now let's move on.

B is for Brain Tumor Comix - Back in the Fall of 1989 (not nearly as long ago as Action Comics #1), a new comic book appeared. It was called Adventures in Smiley-Face Land. Okay, technically, the comic never actually appeared, so much as was created and had its outline and story scribbled down into the first of many composition books that would collect the complete works of Smiley-Face Land Adventures. These notebooks currently adorn a shelf in my closet. These superheroes (actual smiley-faces, with arms, and no legs) were blatant rip-offs of already established comic book characters. There was Cap'n Smiley-Face, Dr. Oddball, Flash-Fire, Ajax: God of War, Hair-Weave, Mega Man, Superstar Woman, The Porcupine, and The Incredible Behemoth. These, of course, were blatant rip-offs of Captain America, Dr. Strange, The Human Torch, Thor: God of Thunder, Medusa of The Inhumans, Superman, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, and The Incredible Hulk. The Smiley-Face Universe is actually quite deep, and quite all-encompassing. There were even lost issues from the Golden Age. There were great supervillains as well. Characters such as King Trident, Dr. Viktor Von Arkam, Blechh: God of Bad Things, and the Mysterious Shadow. Oh, and what does this have to do with the letter B, and Brain Tumor Comix, you ask? It is because the comic company under which these adventures are "published" is Brain Tumor Comix. My company. Also under this banner, one can find the renowned black and white comic strip, La-La & Lu-Lu. All these strips (also my creation) can be seen by clicking on the appropriate link in the tabs bar at the top of this blog. There are a few other assorted comics, such as Naked Batman and Famous People Attend A Cocktail Party, that have been published through BTC. More on all of these (and especially, Smiley-Face Land Adventures) will be coming to this very blog, very very soon. Keep a look out in the index section of All Things Kevyn. Who knows, they may be there already. But enough self-promotional babbling, let's move onto the next letter already.

C is for Calvin and Hobbes - Okay, technically Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip, and not a comic book, per se, but it is the greatest comic strip ever made (sorry Zippy) and an integral part of the history of sequential art, so on the list it goes. Created by Bill Watterson, the groundbreaking strip ran for 3,150 strips, from 1985 to 1995, before Watterson called it quits, due to his feeling he had gone as far as he could with the strip. But before he left the funny pages, Watterson changed the way comic strips were seen in newspapers. Many papers will edit strips in the Sunday pages, in order to fit more strips in. Doing this at theirs, not the artist's discretion. Needless to say, this pissed off Watterson, so the guy took a stand, and said they publish his comics the way he makes them, or they do not get to publish them at all. Watterson having one of the most critically acclaimed, and one of the most popular strips running at the time, the papers relented, and gave in to his demands. Howzabout that!? Recently, Watterson secretly came back to the funny pages, co-drawing three strips of Pearls Before Swine. And now, according to many sources, the guy is itching to get back in the so-called water. Who knows what will happen next?

D is for Don't Touch the Silver Surfer - One of my favourite places to visit is my LCS (local comic shop, for those not hip to the lingo), a place known as Comix Connection. In the back of said Comix Connection, sits a life size Silver Surfer, complete with shining space board. A sign attached to this Sentinel of the Spaceways reads: "Don't touch the Silver Surfer." Needless to say, I have touched the Silver Surfer. I think most visitors to Comix Connection have touched the ole Norrin Radd. Sneaked a slight diddle, if you will. Hopefully, this tiny indiscretion won't get me banned from my LCS. Perhaps if I mention how I wish to use the title "Don't Touch the Silver Surfer" as the name of a comic book related column, will help the fine folks over at Comix Connection, take it easy on me. Now I am still not sure exactly where I am going to start posting said comics column. Maybe at one of the myriad of places I have pitched the idea. Who knows? Someday (hopefully soon) you wil be reading said column somewhere on the old intrawebs.

E is for EC Comics - The infamous EC Comics label began back in 1944. It was founded by Max Gaines and was a place to publish educational and religious comic books. Gaines had started out in the comics biz a decade earlier with Dell Publishing, creating Famous Funnies, considered by many to be the first true comic book. Anyhoo, cut to 1947 and the sudden death (by boat) of Max Gaines. His son, William inherited the company, and almost immediately turned it into a place for horror and science fiction and pulp fiction kind of stuff. And he was a smash hit. As the 1950's are now known as the golden age of horror comics, it is also known as a time of comic book witch hunts. Just like what had happened in Hollywood, people (including congress) started sticking their collective noses into the comic book world, and started decrying EC's horror comics as evil things that we must keep away from our children. Rabble rouser Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent was published and a backlash against horror, crime, and sci-fi comics was set into motion. The Comics Code was born, and suddenly publishers had to get approval from this censoring organization, in order to publish their comics. One incident, in 1956, had EC Comics coming up against the censors because they "dared" to portray a black man as an astronaut and representative of Earth. EC won, and the comic story appeared unaltered, but this would pretty much spell the end for EC, and would be the last comic book the company ever published. Eventually, Gaines would garner even more success with a little magazine called Mad. Today though, EC is even more popular than ever, and can be found in a myriad of collected editions.

F is for Fraction! - That's right my peeps, it's Fraction Time! It sort of like Hammer Time, but without the parachute pants. Actually, F is for Fraction, Matt Fraction. To those who do not yet know (and shame on you for not yet knowing!), Mat Fraction is the best damn comic book writer working today. Responsible for such great books as Casanova, Last of the Independents, Marvel's Hawkeye, FF, and The Immortal Iron Fist, and Image Comics' Satellite Sam and the phenomenal Sex Criminals (my personal favourite title out right now), Fraction is one of the go to guys in comics today. And he's married to Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of such titles as Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, and Ghost. Together they are THE power couple of the current comic book world. It's Fraction (and Kelly Sue) time!!

G is for The Great Lakes Avengers - We all know The Avengers. Thanks to the movie, even those unacquainted with Marvel Comics, know The Avengers. And we (at least the comic book savvy amongst us) all know The West Coast Avengers as well. Then there are newer teams such as The New Avengers and The Mighty Avengers (both with several incarnations), as well as The Young Avengers and even The Dark Avengers. But there is one Avengers team that may not be all that well known, even to the casual comic book readers. That team is The Great Lakes Avengers. Born in 1989, the team has had members such as Mr. Immortal, Flatman, Big Bertha, Doorman, Monkey Joe, The Grasshopper, and (my favourite, and one of the sexiest superheroes to ever grace the pages of comic books) Squirrel Girl. Even Deadpool was added as a reserve member at one point...but then, Deadpool is everywhere, so it should not come as a surprise. Anyhoo, this team is mainly a big joke in the good ole MU, but a fun joke. Hey, the Nerd Rock duo, Kirby Krackle even recorded a song about these guys. Did I mention how hot Squirrel Girl is? Yeah? Okay, good. Let's move on.

H is for Howard the Duck - That's right kids, Howard the Freakin' Duck. Now let's just forget that 1986 George Lucas produced movie version of our favourite Marvel Universe Fowl from Another Dimension, and talk about the actual comic book upon which said film is based. First appearing in the anthology series, Adventure Into Fear, popping into the swampy home of Man-Thing in issue #19. Howard would get his own series a few years later, written by Steve Gerber (Howard's creator) and drawn (starting with #4) by the late great Gene Colan. Now Howard gets a really bad rap, mostly due to that damnable 1986 motion picture, but in his comic book form, this duck has always been a smartly written satiric motherfucker.

I is for Image Comics - So, I grew up a die hard Marvel kid. X-Men, Avengers, Defenders, Man-Thing, The Amazing & Spectacular Spider-Man, and all that kinda jazz. My only real youthful knowledge of DC came from Super Friends and the Batman TV show. Since then, I have grown to love and respect many a DC title (especially those taking place in Gotham) but I still tend to prefer Marvel over DC. But then you have a little publisher known as Image Comics. A haven for creators who wish to retain the rights to their characters (a thing unable to be done when working for the big two), Image Comics opened for business back in 1992. Founded by a gaggle of eight disgruntled artists (Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Chris Claremont), Image Comics is one of the most creative, most interesting publishers around. Several of my favourite series (Saga, Fatale, Manhattan Projects, Sex Criminals, East of West, Morning Glories, Invincible, Rat Queens, Pretty Deadly, The Walking Dead) come out of Image. Great stuff, indeed!

J is for Joker - There have been one hell of a lot of supervillains throughout the comic book world of the last seventy-five years or so since Action Comics #1 ushered in the superhero age (see A is for Action Comics #1) but none of them can compare to the man known as The Joker. None of them! End of freakin' story! This guy is so batshitcrazy that Batman, a superhero who refuses to kill, should have beaten this mother to death years ago. Yeah, back in the day, Joker was just kind of, joke. But eventually, he became a homicidal maniac. A crazy psycho who shot Batgirl in the spine, and then raped her while her father was forced to watch. Seriously Bats, perhaps it's time to lift that no-kill policy of yours. But then again, if he did that, we would not have the greatest supervillain of all-time. And then there's the J-Man's gal pal, Harley. Ooh la la.

K is for Kirby Krackle - Anyone who knows anything about the comic book world, surely knows the name Jack Kirby. They should also know that King Kirby is indeed one of, if not THE greatest comic book artist of all time. And what makes this cigar chompin' artistic genius just so great? His classic portrayal of action heroes? His co-creation of such iconic characters as the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk? His groundbreaking works like the Eternals and the New Gods (and Devil Dinosaur!)? Well yeah, it's all of these things, but more than anything else, it's his Kirby Krackle. But what the hell is this so-called Kirby Krackle!? It is Jack Kirby's style of drawing the negative space in his comics. You see, he would draw these pseudo-fractal dots around what he was drawing, be it explosions or outer space, and this drawing of the negative space would actually create something great in between all this fractal-izing dots. It's pretty awesome looking, if ya ask me. And hey, Seattle musicians Kyle Stevens and Jim Demonakos even named their nerd rock duo after this, and have released several albums under the name of Kirby Krackle. To tie this in with another part of this alphabetized list, one of their albums (which mostly consist of geek culture stuff) includes a song called Great Lakes Avengers. So there!

L is for Lois Lane #106 - Of all the comic books I would like to make part of my collection (at least of all the ones I could reasonably afford) my most desired one right now is Lois Lane #106. For those who do not already know, Lois Lane, Clark Kent's faithful(esque) gal pal and probably the worst investigative journalist to ever exist (seriously Lois? A pair of glasses is not a disguise!) actually had her own comic back in the 1960's and 1970's. Often times it was actually better than what was passing as Superman comics at the time. Anyway, Lois Lane's most infamous issue was #106 (dated Nov. 1970), titled "I Am Curious (Black)." The storyline is that Lois is transformed into a black woman to see how the so-called other half live. Pretty risky for the time period. I plan on procuring a decent looking copy at the Baltimore Comic Con in September.

M is for The Marvel Method - As I stated earlier, I grew up a die hard Marvel Kid, and having done so, I was a big ole fan of what was called the Marvel Method. Basically it's just the way things were done in the Marvel bullpen back in the day when Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko were running the madhouse. This style of doing things, where a full script is not needed, instead the writer plots the story and the artist draws it up while they come up with dialogue and such, has its good and bad sides, but it seemed to work for Marvel's House of Ideas during their hey day of the 1960's and 1970's. Make mine Marvel!

N is for No-Prize - And speaking of Marvel Comics, there is always the once oh so coveted No-Prize. Basically it is a prize given to a fan who wrote into Marvel (long before the instant gratification of e-mail, messaging, and tweeting 'n' such) and told them of a mistake in their comics and (most importantly) could give a reasonable explanation as to why this mistake really wasn't a mistake at all. Yeah. Basically it was a way to explain away continuity errors. There, of course, was no actual prize at first, hence the term No-Prize. Eventually Stan Lee would begin sending an empty envelope with a "Congratulations! You've won a No-Prize" kind of thing on said envelope. Many idiot fans would write back, stating that their prize must have fallen out in the mail. Yeah.

O is for Orrin C. Evans - Orrin C. Evans was born in Steelton Pa (a few miles from where I currently call my home) back in 1902, and would eventually become the very first black writer to cover general assignments for a mainstream white newspaper in the US. A few years after his paper closed down, Evans would create a comic book called, All-Negro Comics. This comic was written, drawn, inked, edited, and published by African-Americans, and was about all black characters (the only white characters in the first issue were a pair of sneaky villains). The first issue came out in 1947. Sadly, there was never a second issue, and today this is a very very rare comic book, and even rarer to find in good or better condition. Lucky for us, the comic is in public domain, so it can be read online (Comic Book Plus) for free. It is a  well done quality comic and you should really check it out.

P is for Paste Pot Pete - Eventually this silly supervillain would change his name to The Trapster, but he was originally called Past Pot Pete. Essentially he was a guy with a pot of paste attached to a gun, and he would shoot people and things with this paste gun. Seriously, he would hold the pot in one hand and the gun in the other. There had to be a better way to do this. There just had to be! Anyway, Paste Pot Pete, even after switching identities to The Trapster, was nothing more than a big joke...and not just to the readers. Often, when a superhero was battling Paste, I mean Trapster, he or she would make sure to mock the poor hapless schmuck by reminding him that he used to be known as Paste Pot Pete. Poor Paste Pot Pete.

Q is for Planet Q - Here comes some more self-promotion. As was explained back at B is for Brain Tumor Comix, I have created a vast comic book universe known as Smiley-Face Land. One of the many characters in these Smiley-Face Land Adventures, is a being known as Quantum. This space-faring smiley-face superhero was one of the founding members of the Smiley-Face Guardians, and with his cosmic powers, is one of the most powerful beings in all of Smiley-Face Land. Originally, Quantum is from another world - Planet Q. Quantum's home world is a great and powerful world. A technological marvel actually. Everything and everyone on Planet Q has a name that happens to begin with the letter Q. Quantum's evil brother is Quarterflash, while his parents Quesada and Quaa, King and Queen of all of Planet Q. In case you hadn't noticed, King Quesada is named after Joe Quesada, former Editor-in-Chief and current Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment of Marvel Comics. Yeah, I could've put the Charlton/DC Comics character, The Question, in this spot, but I couldn't help talking about my own creations again. I'll try not to do that again. That may be a lie. Anyhoo, let's keep going.

R is for R. Crumb - Any discussion on comics and comic books could not be complete without the inclusion of that mad underground genius know simply as Crumb, or R, Crumb, or Robert Crumb, if you insist. The king (of sorts) of the underground comix movement of the 1950's and 1960's, Crumb is the man responsible for Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, as well as the famed Keep on Truckin' strip of the 1970's. A remarkable and quite intriguing character (you should really check out the Terry Zwigoff documentary about Crumb), the writer/artist is a brilliant cartoonist. Yeah, I may gush a bit about someone like Crumb, but I just can't help it. The guy is fascinating. And it's not just because of his iconic underground work. His later autobiographical comics, along with his unique style of crosshatching and 19th Century influences, and the way he draws women (he did like his women big, didn't he?) all make for one of the finest comic book artists we've ever known. Yeah yeah, I'm still gushing. What's it to ya!?

S is for Superdupont - This satirical French superhero was created back in 1972 as both a parody of Superman and a jab at French Nationalist attitudes. Armed with his rooster and baguette, and donning his red beret and stereo-typically striped belt, Superdupont is the son of the Unknown Soldier, and the protector of everything French. He smokes Gauloises cigarettes and eats only French cheese, and fights the terrorist organization known as Anti-France. As far as I know, there are no plans to make a Superdupont movie, but I would love to see Jean Dujardin play this guy on the big screen Can we make this happen? Anyone?

T is for Timely Comics - Founded in 1939 by publisher Martin Goodman, Timely Comics would make a splash onto the still burgeoning comic book market with a little thing titled Marvel Comics #1. That's right kids, this would be the issue that introduced the Human Torch to the world. No, not that Human Torch. Johnny Storm and his three teammates were still 22 years away. This was the original Human Torch. The android one. The one who would team up with Captain America and the Sub Mariner a few years later, and form The Invaders. Timely Comics would also be the place where we first all saw Ka-Zar, The Whizzer, and of course, the aforementioned Captain America and Sub Mariner. Goodman would also hire a couple of comics creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. They would kind of make it big one day. Eventually Timely would become Marvel Comics, and the rest is, as they say (whomever they are), history. Yup, make mine Marvel.

U is for Unus the Untouchable - To go along with Paste Pot Pete and the Great Lakes Avengers (sans the always wonderful, and always sexy, Squirrel Girl)here is another ridiculous Marvel Comics character. Unus the Untouchable was just that - untouchable. He could project a force field that stopped anyone form touching him. I really have nothing to say about this loser, but I really needed something or someone for the letter U, so there ya go. Now let's move on to the letter V.

V is for V For Vendetta - Alan Moore is one of those comic book writers who are either loved or hated, with not much in between. I happen to be in the love category. Yeah, the guy is batshitcrazy as batshitcrazy comes, but that probably only helps his writing. Being the man responsible for what is possibly THE greatest comic book ever written, Watchmen, as well as other great modern classics such as Promethea, From Hell, Fashion Beast, Saga of the Swamp Thing, Batman: The Killing Joke, the infamous Lost Girls, and the reason we are here at the letter V, V for Vendetta, anyone who sits in the hate category, are just know-nothing ass hats. That's right. Ass hats. Moore, as much of a jackass as he is (and he is a giant jackass, an ass hat even), has written some of the best stories in comic book history. And one of those best stories is V for Vendetta, the story of a post-apocalyptic Dystopian UK world, and a mysterious revolutionary anarchist who hides behind a Guy Fawkes mask. This look is used these days by several different anarchist groups, including the revolutionary Anonymous gang of world changers. Yeah, he may be an ass hat, but damn can he write a good story.

W is for Wolfman, Marv Wolfman - Once upon a time, back in the day when the Comics Code (remember those fuckers?) would not allow certain horror images in comic books, there was a guy named Marv Wolfman. Meanwhile, over at DC Comics, writer Gerry Conway was writing introductory blurbs for an anthology series. One of these stories was written by Marv Wolfman, so Conway wrote that the story was told by a "wondering Wolfman." At this point, those bastards at the Comics Code Authority said no no no. You were not allowed to mention werewolves or wolfmen. When DC explained that Wolfman was actually the writer's last name, they relented but only if the writer was given credit in the comic, in order to "prove" he was a real person. How this proves that I do not know, but hey, that's the story, and we're sticking with it. Anyhoo, with Wolfman getting a writer's credit in a comic book, a place where very very very few creators were given credit at the time, other writers and artists insisted on such, and hence giving credit where credit was due became a thing in the comic book world. And it's all because of a wandering Wolfman, Marv Wolfman.

X is (not) for X-Men - Ya know, I racked my brain to come up with something non X-Men related for this entry. Nothing against the X-Men, They were my first comic book love. The first issue of any comic book I ever bought was X-Men #97. I grew up with these guys, and today, even as over-saturated as they have become, I still love them (though out of the approximately 167 X-titles out each month I read only Uncanny and All-New X-Men). But, as over-exposed as they are, I did not want to add to that by making them my X spot. Likewise for any X-related team such as X-Factor or X-Force or even X-Statix, the great Peter Milligan/Mike Allred series that spawned from the dying pages of X-Force, or even Charles Xavier himself. So, I racked my brain for another comic book X-title. There was X-O Manowar, but I've never read him, and he sounds kinda silly anyway. There's also the Dark Horse character X, but again, I really know nothing about him. Is it even a him? I don't know, and I don't really care enough to find out. So, in my inability to find a suitable replacement for the X-Men (and I am sure some know-it-all reader will tell me of an X-comic I should have known about when they comment in the ole comments section below) this entry is simply a non X-thing. X is not for X-Men. And we are moving on...

Y is for The Yellow Kid - Now this one goes back a ways. All the way back to 1895 actually. The Yellow Kid was a character in the comic strip Hogan's Alley (the first regular Sunday newspaper comic in America) and appeared in both Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The colour of the Yellow Kid's frock, along with the rather shady practices of Pulitzer and Hearst's newspapers, brought about the term Yellow Journalism. Yup, this guy started it all.

Z is for Zippy the Pinhead - The Zipster knows all. The Zipmeister is the quintessential clown prince of the comic strip world. Zippy is the zippiest of all the pinheads. King of the crackpots. This long running underground(esque) comic strip may not be "gotten" by everyone (in fact most people have trouble understanding cartoonist Bill Griffith's surreal and absurdest storylines) but for those who do "get" it, really GET it. As was explained way back in letter B, I do my own comic strip called La-La & Lu-Lu. One of these strips was an homage to Zippy. With that in mind, I e-mailed this one particular strip to one Mr. Bill Griffith, aka Griffy, to see what the creator of the great Pinhead thought about the whole shebang. Honestly, I expected to be totally ignored, or maybe told to stop doing what I was doing. Instead, Bill e-mailed me back and told me how much he enjoyed my homage. Howzabout that!?

So there ya have the latest edition of The Alphabet Game in all its comic book goodness. The third edition of The Alphabet Game will be here in just a few weeks, and it is going to be quite the beastly edition. Stay tuned. For now...That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Lion, the Witch, & the MGM Logo: An Irreverent History

Hello faithful readers and true believers, and welcome to my official contribution to the MGM Blogathon, being hosted by the classic film loving blog, Silver Scenes. Sure, any old blogger can write about one of the myriad of spectacular classic works of cinema that came out of the Dream Factory, or go on and on about one of those studio stars that were more common than the very stars in the heavens. Sure, anyone can contribute things like that to a blogathon such as this, but not me gang. Not me. That's just too damn easy. Instead, my contribution is all about the lion. That's right. The lion. The witch is just added to the title so I could steal from C.S. Lewis, but we may still get to the witch a bit later anyway. We'll see. For now, here she is in the Blogathon banner to your right. Anyway, without further ado, I give you (a somewhat irreverent) look at the history of the roaring MGM logo.

First, a bit of pre-history timeline stuff. Back before there even was an MGM, there was still a roaring lion logo. Well, okay, he wasn't technically roaring, since this would have been the silent era, but there was still a lion dang nab it. And he probably was roaring, at least on the inside (this original lion actually just looked around, never opening his big fat mouth) but since there was no synchronized sound at the time, we just couldn't hear said roar - if he were actually roaring (which he was not). But he was still there, just not making a sound. Oh, and his name wasn't Leo either. At least not yet. Even though, looking back on all things Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Leo is the name given collectively to all the logo lions, the real deal, the famed Leo the Lion was still decades away. Heck, the guy was still decades away from being born. But more on him in a bit. Back in the days of Goldwyn Pictures (before that Mayer guy got into the whole shebang, and retitled the studio) our fearless king of the jungle was a guy by the name of Slats. That's right kids. Slats. Not to be confused with Spats, George Raft's mobster from Some Like It Hot. This pre-Leo Panthera Leo (yeah, I used a Latin term - what's it to ya!?) was a guy named Slats. From 1917 through early 1924, Slats was the lion who adorned the Goldwyn logo. And then came 1924, and the birth of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

In 1924, with the merger of Sam Goldwyn's picture company, Marcus Loew's Metro Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer's company, MGM was born, and with this merger, along came Slats - at least for another four years, until it was time for another lion. Slats would be forced into early retirement in 1928, and after eight years of golfing and combing the beaches with a metal detector and hurrying to get to the early bird special at the local watering hole, or whatever retired lions do (I know they were black knee socks and sandals - that's for sure), Slats passed away in 1936. You can visit his hide at the McPherson Museum in Kansas, where you can also peruse and find the skeleton of the world's biggest sloth. Don't tell PETA. Anyhoo, when Slats hit retirement age, it was time for a new lion. A new pre-Leo, Leo the Lion. That lion's name was Jackie (not a cool a names as Slats, but hey, whatchya gonna do?), and Jackie would be around from 1928, all the way through 1956. But Jackie would not be alone all those years. You see, Jackie would be relegated to just the black and white MGM movies of the era, and even those were the brunt of the cinematic world when Jackie first appeared, by the latter days of his tenure, Technicolor was all the rage over at the Dream Factory. But poor Jackie would never have anything to do with that part of the Metro world. The closest Jackie the Lion would come to the world of colour, was to be the opening cat in the sepia-tinted beginning of The Wizard of Oz (see, I knew I would get that titular witch into this story somehow). Jackie would also be used in all black and white MGM cartoons of the time.

But you shouldn't feel too bad for the mostly black and white Jackie. After all, he was a movie star as well. That's right kids, unlike Jackie's furry brothers-in-arms, this lion had a night job as well. He was a movie star, appearing in over 100 films, including most of Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan films. Jackie was also the proud guy hanging out with a rather apprehensive Greta Garbo in a famous 1926 publicity shot by photographer Don Gillum. Yeah, it's the one just above. No, Garbo doesn't look scared at all. And don't worry Greta, Jackie wouldn't hurt a fly. In fact, he was kind of thought to be a good luck charm of sorts, having survived an earthquake, a studio fire, and not one, but two train wrecks. This all gave him the nickname, Leo the Lucky. Wait, what? Now you see, this only helps to confuse the whole subject of the MGM logo. Why the hell were they calling Jackie, Leo the Lucky!? This is exactly why everyone just assumes all the lions names were Leo. Stupid studio publicity department! But I digress. To get back on track, we should probably talk a little about Jackie's contemporaneous counterparts. You know, his coloured buddies. First off, during MGM's short-lived experiments with two strip colour moviemaking, mostly in the short films and cartoon departments, the studio decided to get a new lion to use in these colour films. I guess Jackie was too busy filming some precode jungle movie at the time. Anyway, this new lion's name was Telly (still nowhere close to the coll sounds of the soundless Slats) and he lasted until 1932, only to be replaced by another new lion named Coffee. And no, he's no relation to Pam Grier's Blaxploitation heroine, Coffey. But alas, poor Coffee, he only lasted two years, until it was time to replace him in MGM's new Colour department. Yeah, poor Terry and Coffee are so thought of as red headed stepchildren, that even Wikipedia takes no mind of them. On the online know-it-all site, all the other lions, from Slats to Jackie to all the others still to be spoken of in this story, have their own special sections. Poor, hapless Terry and Coffee are forced to share one lonely paragraph on the page, and not even one with there names in the heading, just "Two-Strip Technicolor Lions (1927-1934" instead. No respect I tell ya. No respect. But let us move on, shall we?

Though the aforementioned Jackie (aka Leo the Lucky) would still be part of every black and white MGM film up to 1956, the time to bring in a new colour lion was apparently 1934. I guess neither Telly nor Coffee had what it took to cut it in the cutthroat world of studio politics. I mean, Louis B. Mayer was quite the controlling task master. Just ask John Gilbert about that one. Actually, the change was due to the new three strip Technicolor technique beginning use in the mid thirties. But I'm sure Mayer had something to do with it. Anyway, 1934 would bring Tanner to the MGM stable. Tanner would be the colour movie lion for the next 22 years, living side by side with the black and white Jackie. Tanner is probably the best known of the pre-Leo lions. Even though colour movies were rarer than black and white throughout the thirties and forties, Taner seems to be the more recognizable of the two co-existing kings of the jungle. By the by, Tanner is the one in the top pic in this post. Yeah, that's the guy. Sure, he may not have the rich history that Jackie does, nor the movie star looks of his compatriot (Tanner wasn't in over 100 movies, now was he?), but throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, it is Tanner's full mane and rugged roaring charm that is best known. He even did some cartoon work on the side, as you can more than plainly see in the pic just above. Tanner was the Technicolor King of the MGM Jungle. But alas, poor Tanner, and poor Jackie too, for 1956 would be the end of their respective, co-existing careers. In 1956 came George the so-called widescreen lion. This guy, sporting the bushiest mane of any MGM lion (show off) would be the face of MGM for just two years, before he himself was replaced by...yup, finally...Leo the Lion.

Leo's tenure began in 1957, and is still the lion you see today on the MGM logo. So that's 57 years and counting. Of course nowadays, with all the mish-mash of media, and the sad lack of love for cinema, and all the digital hoopla that has killed off actual filmmaking (I do miss the whirrr of the projector as those 35mm prints rush through at 24 frames per second), Leo probably isn't a big a deal as he once was. What with corporate mergers and sponsors and bankruptcy court and all that post-millennial jazz. And the "voice" of a studio is not what it used to be back in the Golden Age. Back then you could easily tell a glamourous MGM picture from a dark and foreboding Warner Brothers production, or a posh Paramount picture from a smart 20th Century Fox film. Nowadays, the studios no longer really matter, and end up blending in with each other. So perhaps Leo is not that big a deal anymore (though he is and always will be to this guy), but what a long, rich history good ole Leo has had. Heck, he did get to put his paws in cement earlier this year. Needless to say, this was a newer Leo than the one originally roaring his way into movie screens in the 1950's and 1960's, but it's still an honour. But let's discuss Leo's early days in show biz. Starting out as a youngster (that is why he has such a small mane in his version of the logo), Leo would become one of the best known company logos in all the world. And guess what? Leo was a star too. Yup, just like Jackie, Leo would star in some of his own films. Perhaps not as many as Jackie, but that is Leo in the Nick Ray religious epic, King of Kings. Looking good pal. Looking good. Leo can also be seen in commercials. Yeah, Leo was kind of a media whore, but so was fellow MGM-er, Joan Crawford, so who are we to talk.

Leo did get a short break in the mid sixties. Well okay, he missed out on three films. A newly designed "stylized" lion was created, and he was used in 1966's Grand Prix, and then in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Subject Was Roses, both from 1968. This logo, which not so incidentally, can be seen at the very end of this post, was dropped from the motion picture side of things after these three films, and has since become the logo for MGM Records, and eventually for MGM Grand Casinos as well. Meanwhile, Leo was still the king. Later on in life (as in just a few years ago) Leo's iconic image would be given the ole 3D treatment, and now this long running lion (the actual real life Leo passed on many decades ago) can live on in three dimensions and his roar in stereophonic sound. A brave new world indeed. But these seven iconic logo makers are not the only beasts to be part of the MGM logo. The Marx Brothers joined Jackie in giving a roar at the beginning of 1935's A Night at the Opera. Well, Groucho and Chico roared. Harpo just honked his horn. Chuck Jones would parody the logo as well, by replacing the usual lion with Tom of Tom and Jerry fame. Monty Python would add a croaking frog in place of Leo. Even Mary Tyler Moore would get in on the fun, as her production company, MTM Enterprises, would parody the MGM log, replacing Leo with Mimsie the adorable freakin' little kitten, who would give the world's cutest little meow at the end of shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show. Bob Newhart would one up that in his 1980's show, simply titled, Newhart. Mimsie would still be there, but it would be Newhart's voice dryly saying meow. The Muppets and Tiny Toon Adventures (and even Roman Polanski) would do parodies of Leo as well. MGM's long time motto (written in the filmstrips surrounding our fearless lion's pride) is Ars Gratia Artis, which is translated as Art for Art's Sake, can be seen as a way to explain the MGM lions as well. There is no real reason why a lion was chosen as the logo (original logo designer, Howard Dietz went to Columbia University, and therefore included his alma mater's mascot) other than it being Art for Art's Sake, or Ars Gratia Artis. And now, without any further ado and/or hubbub, may I present, the one, the only, Leo the Lion. You'll have to imagine the roar.

Well kids, this has been my humble contribution to Silver Scenes' MGM Blogathon. I hope it has been as informative and as fun for you to read, as it was for me to write. While I was researching for this post, I came across many a fun Leo-related photo. Since I wanted to include more pics than the post could handle above, I leave you now with some of my fave finds from the aforementioned research. First up is good ole Alfie Hitchcock having a dinner party with, I believe maybe Tanner, or a slightly older Leo (or probably a completely different lion the studio purchased in order to use as a promotional shill). This is followed by the lovely Miss Anne Francis snuggling with a playful Leo, and being a bit braver than Garbo was in her photo op. After that, we have Leo (or actually a 1980's era Leo doppelganger) playing a bit of peek-a-boo for the cameras. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Here's a promised look at the so-called "stylized" lion logo that we saw in 2001, as well as on records (remember them?) and casinos everywhere. That's really it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Heavenly Body of the Week: Cybertron

"You'll never be rid of me, Optimus Prime! You hear me? Never!!" - Megatron

Check out the Heavenly Body of the Week Space Database.
That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

They Call Them One-Eye: The 10 Baddest Eye Patch Wearin' Mofos

Let's face it kids. Eye patches freakin' rock. Junctivitis aside, eye patches make anyone all that much cooler. They can turn any ordinary Joe Schmo, into one bad motherfucker - and that is just what this top ten list is all about. Simple as that. Bad-ass eye patch wearin' mofos. But before we get to said list, let me explain the title of the list. Well, let me explain it to all those who do not already know - and shame on you for not already knowing. Anyhoo, back in 1973, a trashy revenge movie came out of Sweden. It was called Thriller - A Cruel Picture, but in the states, it was known as They Call Her One Eye (or sometimes Hooker's Revenge). Basically, it was a film about a woman who is forced into drug use and prostitution, and then seeks revenge on the men who did this to her. The film is part of the Rape & Revenge genre. The film was one of the biggest influences on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films. The film's star, Christina Lindberg, who wears an eye patch by the by, did not make the list, but her Kill Bill doppelganger did (and I did name the list after her), so read on. But first, a few runners-up: Danger Mouse, Bazooka Joe, Big Dan Teague from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Callisto of Marvel Morlocks fame, Tom Cruise in Valkyrie, Swoosie Kurtz on Pushing Daisies, Twin Peaks' very own Nadine Hurley, as well as the aforementioned lady they call One Eye. And now, on with the countdown.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

10. James Joyce

The first of two so-called real people on the list (but really, what is real, anyway!?) James Joyce was a real ass. Sure, he may have been a genius and all that, but they guy really was a complete asshole. No matter what you think of books like Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake (many love them, many despise them - I am in the former, my wife amongst the latter) and no matter what you think of Joyce's writing in general , I think anyone who has read anything on the author himself, can agree that the guy was one gigantic jackass. But even so, it doesn't mean the guy couldn't rock an eye patch like almost anyone. Rumor has it that the eye patch was a mere affectation, but that just makes it all the better in my mind.

9. Number Two

He ain't no Dr. Evil, but he's the second best thing - he's Number Two. Besides the oh so obvious bathroom joke of his name, the best thing about Number Two is that eye patch that makes this second-in-command evil henchman, all the more cool. Played by Robert Wagner (and Rob Lowe) in the Austin Powers films, Number Two may be one badass eye patch wearin' mofo, but much like Joyce's affectation, his eye patch is pretty much nothing more than a fashion statement...well, and sophisticated x-ray vision, and such things like that. So now, who does Number Two work for!? Who does Number Two work for!!?

8. Molotov Cocktease

The sexy, sultry batshitcrazy Russian assassin from The Venture Bros., is made even sexier and sultrier by the addition of (what else) an eye patch. And a heart shaped one at that! Sort of Aeon Flux-y in her look and mannerisms, this animated, eye patch wearin' mercenary (and the only woman, tough enough to love and be loved by Venture bodyguard, Brock Samson) is one badass motherfucker - and some would say that she is only a girl. Don't tell her that, though. You wouldn't like her reaction.

7. The Man in the Hathaway Shirt

Okay, most of you probably have no idea what this even is, but I'm here to tell ya just what it is. Decades before Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World came about, there was the Man in the Hathaway Shirt. Yup, he's a badass eye patch wearin mofo in one of the best ad campaigns in ad campaign history. Thought up by ad man pioneer David Ogilvy, the possible real life precursor to Mad Men's Don Draper, and brought to life by Baron Wrangell, this ad campaign was a huge hit, and mostly because Mr. Wrangell is wearing an eye patch - and like several others on this list, a fake eye patch at that.

6. Rooster Cogburn

How can any self-respecting badass mofos list exist without having John Wayne on it somewhere. So here he is. Yeah, yeah, Jeff Bridges starred in the remake (and he is indeed, a better actor than Duke) but there just ain't nuthin' like the original. Okay, actually, I am not all that much of a fan of True Grit (either version) but I am a fan of John Wayne, and  a fan of the ubiquitous eye patch, and a fan of kick ass western anti-heroes, so perhaps I do like the film more than I thought. Well, at least I like the badass eye patch wearin' mofo at the film's center. Now, "Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!" 

5. Fritz Lang

It's one thing to wear an eye patch, it's a whole other thing to wear a freakin' monocle in the other eye. Yup, that's Fritz Lang. Yeah, with films such as Metropolis, M, Big Heat, Ministry of Fear, Scarlet Street, Fury, Clash By Night, The Tiger of Eschnapur, The Indian Tomb, While the City Sleeps, Dr. Mabuse, Rancho Notorious, and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt, Herr Lang also happens to be one of the most creative, one of the most brilliant, and one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and as a die hard cinephile, that ain't just whistlin' Dixie. But damn, the guy wears an eye patch AND a monocle.

4. The Governor

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love love love The Walking Dead. Anyone who has ever been in my so-called mancave (officially called "The Cool Guy Lounge") knows that I have a Walking Dead Governor action figure sitting on a shelf. A gift from one of those aforementioned people who know me oh so well. And the figure has two removable heads, one regular, and one wearing the unfortunate eye patch he was forced to don after Michonne went all batshitcrazy on his ass. Yeah, that's right kids, The Governor is a prime example of an already badass character, made ever badder by the addition of an eye patch. 

3. Elle Driver

Hearkening back to my opening salvo (and post title) this Daryl Hannah-portrayed, Kill Bill character, is a direct cinematic descendant of Christina Lindberg as the revenge driven gal they call One Eye. After all, as Quentin Tarantino himself says, he steals from every movie he's ever seen, so why should this be any different. And through Hannah's stellar take on the character (the second toughest member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) this badass eye patch wearin' mofo, may very well be the sexiest member of this list. Well, at least she's in a tie with The Man in the Hathaway Shirt.  

2. Snake Plissken

Iconic, in that 1980's-lovin' cult favourite kinda way, Snake Plissken, the heroic center of the equally iconic (again, in that culty nostalgic kinda way) Escape From New York (and its sequel, Escape From L.A.) as played by Kurt Russell, is one of the baddest eye patch wearin' mo...well, you know the shtick. Anyhoo, the character was created by director John Carpenter, and writer Nick Castle, and has become something of an iconic fig...oh, yeah, we already covered that. Well then, I suppose the only thing left to say is how kickass Russell looks in his eye patch. I mean, that is why we're here today, isn't it? Yes, it is...and now on to the number one badass eye patch wearin' mofo...

1. Nick Fury

Come on people! How could Colonel Nicholas J. Fury NOT take the top spot on this countdown!? And, I mean any Nicholas J. Fury. The old school Howling Commando AND the nouveau Ultimate and Marvel Studios version, played by Samuel L. Jackson, the baddest motherfucker on the goddamn planet!! First appearing in 1963, Nick Fury has had a very storied career, even by the already always storied career standards of comic book characters. At one point, the guy even changed races. How freakin' awesome is that!? Nick Fury can do anything, baby! Anything - and it's all because of that eye patch. It's just gotta be! 

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Trash Talk: Susan George Ooh La La's Herself Around the Giddy Exploitative Motifs of Pete Walker's Fun Die Screaming, Marianne

Hello there kids. It's time to talk some trash. Some cinematic trash. Some great and thoroughly enjoyable cinematic trash. When a film, after already spending an almost ten minute long prologue fixated on the scantily-garbed protagonist, the titular screaming Marianne, running from the bed she shared with a hapless sailor who, like a post-coitus satisfied puppy, happily goes along with the masters-at-arms when he is arrested for going awol, to the speeding sports car of a stranger, has an opening credit sequence involving star Susan George, now dressed in nothing but an appropriately alluring string bikini, gogo dancing to Kathe Green's haunting song, Marianne, you know you have hit the veritable jackpot of any self-respecting expoitation/grindhouse junky, such as I. In fact, it is the kind of film that, when you look at the newly released blu-ray case (wonderfully done by Kino Lorber's Redemption label, but more on that a bit later), you are surprised to not find the words "Quentin Tarantino Presents" scrawled across the top. Trash cinema, indeed.

Okay, okay, maybe everyone isn't as into this style of filmmaking as QT and I are, but really, even those unfamiliar with such "low brow" art as this, would probably, at the very least, get a kick out of Die Screaming, Marianne. Right? Okay, probably not, but for those horror/thriller fans, those Pete Walker fans, those denizens of the dark cellars of underground cinema, this is truly a great joy to watch. The needless running about of beautiful women, flauntin' what god gave 'em; the cheap language and, let's face it, pretty awful dialogue and acting; the giddy split-screening moments; the swelling music and genre-specific luridness. All of it equates to, not art cinema, not mainstream cinema, but the trash of the film world. But oh darlin', what fun and alluring trash it is. And yes, as I am a shining example of, one can like the so-called higher art of cinema - you know, the canonical stuff that always makes those greatest films list (many of which adorn my own favourites list) - and still get the biggest kick out of what many (myself, oh so obviously included) would call trash cinema. Fun and enjoyable trash cinema, indeed.

Pauline Kael, a critic from whom a generation of acolytic Paulettes, myself included, have been born, said of such things, "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." I don't know if I agree with such a statement, at least not fully, but it does have some merit indeed. Kael also spoke of such trashy ideas, when she wrote, "When you clean them up, when you make movies respectable, you kill them. The wellspring of their art, their greatness, is in not being respectable." Again, not something I would totally stand behind - I like Citizen Kane as much as the next film snob - but one sees where she is going with such talk. The staid academic flavour of an Antonioni or a Tarkovsky, even if they are creating solid pieces of cinema, or the pedestrian manner of all those high-falutin' arthouse pics that try to be something they just are not, the kind of films that the enfants terribles of the Nouvelle Vague were rebelling against, or the achingly middle-of-the-road fodder that spews forth from Hollywood at a ratio of about 100 to 1 against that auspicious creature, that rare mainstream work of art. All of these beasts can make way any day, for what Kael calls trash cinema. Sure, it is great to play the cinematic intellectual - and god knows I can play the film snob with the best of 'em - but it is just as fun to wallow in the so-called trash of the film world, and even though visually, Die Screaming, Marianne is quite the work (can a film this obscure be this influential, or is it just that this film is influenced by  the obvious usual suspects), it surely is pure trash cinema - and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

But enough of this trash talk (see what I did there), let's move on to exactly what all this trash is about, shall we? Die Screaming, Marianne was the third of what would eventually be fifteen films, by English writer/director Pete Walker. Walker specialized in horror and exploitation films throughout his career, and even amongst that crowd, which included such directors as Mario Bava and Jess Franco, he was one of the lesser known quantities. Never getting much respect at all, often derided by contemporary critics, Walker made movies for the sheer fun of it. The filmmaker is credited as having said, "I was the uninvited guest to the British film industry. Nobody wanted to know me. I knew I wanted to make films, but I would see these serious-looking guys going around with scripts under their arm, spending three or four years trying to get their films made. I couldn't be like that - I had to make a living and I wanted to get behind a camera and shout "action". So I would go out and shoot something like School for Sex - God, that was a terrible film - and a few weeks later every cinema in the country would be showing it." Walker would kind of denounce his own self-criticism later by saying, "But recently I had to record commentary for the DVD releases, so I saw the films for the first time since making them, and you know what? They're not as bad as I thought. But searching for hidden meaning . . . they were just films. All I wanted to do was create a bit of mischief." Granted, Die Screaming, Marianne is the first, and so far only, Pete Walker film this critic has seen, but it is more than enough of a whistle-wetting, to make me search out the director's other works.

The basic gist of the film, is this: twenty year old Marianne is first seen running from the hoodlums sent after her by her sadistic ex-judge father. We find out that upon Marianne's mothers disappearance/death, the young girl was given the number to a Swiss bank account that held several hundred thousand dollars, as well as papers that would put her father away for life.  And all this will be hers upon her twenty-first birthday. Of course, her evil dad, and even more evil half sister, want that number, and will do anything to get it. There is a lot more twisting and turning in the film, but this is the basic storyline. Full of sex, violence, torture, and even a hint of incest thrown in for good measure, Die Screaming, Marianne, is a perfect example of the great trash that Kael spoke so fondly of. Influenced, judging from the artistry of Walker's style here, by the Italian Giallo genre, it is far from a great film - one may be able to associate his love of cheap cinema with someone like Ed Wood, but his talent, at least judging from this one film, is far superior - it is however quite a lot of fun, and actually, as I just more than alluded to, quite artistic in its style, camerawork and overall mood, but the thing that makes the film go splash-and-a-half, is the aforementioned screaming mimi in a string bikini, Miss Susan George. 

The film was made and released in 1971, the very pinnacle of George's rather brief rise to the upper echelon of acting. Out around the same time as Sam Peckinpah's subversive yet  influential Straw Dogs, George was the very epitome of raw sexual desire, and directors used that to their best advantage. George would only make a handful of films of any note (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and the oft-overlooked Mandingo among them), and would eventually semi-retire from the movies, doing the occasional British TV show, and raise Arabian horses on her stud farm, but that raw sexuality, even if it was inside someone who really was never the greatest of thespians, is more than enough to get the home town thugs of Straw Dogs all riled up, and it is most certainly enough also to get pretty much everyone, even a father, in a tizzy right here in Die Screaming, Marianne. But truly, the film is a fun creature indeed, and its new release on blu-ray, via Kino Lorber's enigmatic Redemption label (see, I told you I was going to get back to this in a bit) is a godsend for any genre fans out there.  As clean and as crisp as one can expect from such a low budget, and let's face it, mostly ignored, and therefore probably not cared for like a classic film would and should be, the bluray transfer is quite good. It really is a rather intriguing piece of work from Pete Walker, and I cannot wait to check out his other work. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Film Review: Jon Favreau's Chef

Granted, there is nothing groundbreaking in Jon Favreau's Chef. It's not a film that will go in any surprising direction midway through. There are no twists or turns to be had here. There is nothing new or fresh. The film pretty much goes along just the way you would expect it to go along - and ends just the way you would expect as well. That being said, what Favreau's new film is, is a solid dramedy that is thoroughly enjoyable, even while not having anything new to say about the medium. And even though this is certainly nothing that will make the film go down in the annals of film history, it is more than enough to make your two hours worth the time. Okay, this may not exactly be a rave of a critique, and may even mirror a bit, the review given in the film to the lead character by a local food blogger, but it is a solid, if not particularly radical review, for a solid, if not particularly radical film. So there.

As for the film itself, Chef, the writer/director/actor's ninth film in the director's chair (going back to his indie roots, after being the big man on the first two Iron Man blockbusters) is the story of, you guessed it, a chef. Favreau plays one-time wunderkind chef Carl Casper, who finds himself in a creative and emotional rut. With a wild-eyed loyal best bud (John Leguizamo), an ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) who is oh so obviously still in love, and with whom he is oh so obviously still in love, and a ten year old son (newcomer Emjay Anthony) who is expectantly upset at his parents no longer being together, Favreau's Chef must find a new creative outlet in his life, while also trying to figure out a way to re-bond with his son. Like I said, nothing surprising happens here, but the way Favreau creates his character (anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant biz, as has this critic, should find a familiar voice in this film and in this character) the film is thoroughly enjoyable, and is filled with fun moments and lots of laughs.

Other than the strong and solid lead performance by Favreau, and a bright debut by young Master Anthony, the film also showcases fun smaller performances from Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, and Scarlett Johansson, but the stand-out cameo in the film comes from Favreau's old Iron Man pal, Robert Downey, Jr., showing once again why the actor should be in every movie made. But fun cameo appearances aside (and seriously, Downey's few minutes onscreen are a freakin' delight) Chef is held together by the performance of Favreau, and the actor's charming everyman persona onscreen. The film also has one hell of a soundtrack, mostly consisting of latin-themed music, fitting in with the Latin-theme of the film, as well as with cover art by the aforementioned Mr. Downey, Jr. (who's artwork can also be seen on the film's poster). Yeah, so as I stated in my opening salvo, Chef is nothing groundbreaking, nor is it something that will surprise anyone who has ever seen a movie before (well written but definitely on the by-the-bookish side of things), but it is still a refreshing and honest look at the regular side of life - and that's good enough for me. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Friday, June 20, 2014

1967 in Film: My 10 Favourite Films from the Year I Was Born

Yes faithful readers and true believers, your not-so-humble narrator is turning 47 in less than two weeks. I know, I know, I don't look a day over 46. Anyway, born in the so-called Summer of Love (conceived in the Winter of Our Discontent, as the old joke goes) this seems to be as good a time as any to talk about the films of that long ago year, and give my faithful readers my choices for the ten best films of said year. Actually any time is a good time to concoct a movie list, or any list for that matter - the upcoming birthday celebration just gives it a wee bit more legitimacy. But there is more than mere list wish fulfillment going on here. In truth, this blog post is my contribution to the 1967 in Film Blogathon, a fun new blogging event co-hosted by the fine folks over at Rosebud Cinema and Silver Screenings. Glad to be a small part of the fun. Oh, and as is usually the case, Here are a few films that did not make the list but can serve as runners-up. These films are (in no particular order) Glauber Rocha's Terra em Transe; John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye; Melville's Le Samourai; D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back; Richard Brooks' In Cold Blood, Robert Bresson's Mouchette, Luchino Visconti's The Stranger, The Jungle Book, my favourite Disney animated film; the cooler than cool Cool Hand Luke; and Vigot Sjoman's infamous I Am Curious (Yellow). So without further ado, here are my choices for the ten best films of 1967. Let's get to the countdown.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

Special Mention: Michael Snow's Wavelength

Experimental filmmaking icon Michael Snow's Wavelength consists of one shot (basically) that lasts for 45 minutes. As time goes on, the camera edges, ever-so-slowly from one end of what appears to be a mostly empty warehouse to a picture hanging on its far wall. Seriously, that is it. Sure, the colour will fluctuate and every once and a while someone will walk into and out of the shot, but basically that is all it is. I saw this film at MoMa a few years back and was oddly riveted to the screen for the entirety of the aforementioned 45 minutes. I could hear people grumble in the background behind me (I of course was front and center) and several get up and leave in what I must assume is frustration, but my eyes stayed glued to that strangely mesmerizing screen. Granted, this is not a film I will likely revisit on many occasions, which is why it does not make the list, but it is still a fascinating experimental work that needs to be made mention of.

10. The Fearless Vampire Killers

This Roman Polanski comedy-thriller's full title, a la Dr. Strangelove, is The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck - how can one go wrong with that.  Sardonic, with more than a touch of that classic Polanski humour (and featuring the director's wife Sharon Tate in one of her final roles before that brutal night in the summer of 1969), this film is a multi-layered romp of devilish delights. Starring the elfin director himself in one of the title roles (years before any tabloid headlines would creep their way into his world) this may be one of the un-scariest vampire movies ever made, but still it has a comic sense of dread that is palpable throughout its strangely partially-pantomimed two hours.

9. Wait Until Dark

I first saw this film in a film class I took in my senior year of high school. Dissecting the film piece by piece in class (I had never done such a thing before) one could see the many layers that were going on in Terence Young's superb psychological thriller. Still to this day, when I am watching the film and I see the demented Alan Arkin tormenting the seemingly helpless blind damsel-in-distress Audrey Hepburn, I feel a twinge of fear for the poor girl trapped in the dark, I can feel her terror as this brutal and unknown force terrorizes her, even though I know full well she's going to wind up the victor in the end - and Arkin will get his much-deserved comeuppance.

8. Point Blank

Let's face it, Lee Marvin was the epitome of cool in his day and that assessment is no different in John Boorman's gangster exercise in cool cinema, Point Blank (incidentally the first film to be shot on location on Alcatraz after the prison's 1963 closing). Marvin is tough as nails and love interest Angie Dickinson has never looked better. Throw in Keenan Wynn and a wonderful turn from Carroll O'Conner (the man could do more than Archie Bunker ya know) and Point Blank just gets cooler and cooler and tougher and tougher. How tough was Marvin you ask - so tough that when he and John Vernon were practicing a fight scene, Marvin hit Vernon so hard that Vernon fell to the floor crying. 'nuff said.

7. Two for the Road

The best of Stanley Donan's solo directorial work (Singin' in the Rain, co-directed with Gene Kelly, being the best overall) this quite acerbic non-linear tale of a marriage both coming together and falling apart is a revelation of dark comedy blended with giddy tragedy. Shooting back and forth from present to past to future to past again and back (a trait that could be quite disorienting to a casual moviegoer), this way-ahead-of-its-time motion picture stars Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn in what may be both actor's best performance. Hepburn, usually more fairy tale-esque in her acting, opens up a whole new side of her ability here and proves to the world (or at least the handful of people who have seen this woefully forgotten film) that yes Virginia, she can act. I must like her. After all, she stars in 20% of this list.

6. Week-end

This was actually the first Godard I had ever seen (yes, even before Breathless) and I was immediately taken in by the Nouvelle Vague auteur's use of colour as well as his way of using the camera to as full effect as possible - and then taking it further. Many consider this to be the director's final film of his so-called early days (I mean if you are going to call it a New Wave, it has to end sometime lest it become an Old Wave again) and thus it is a dividing point between Godard's early ultra-cinematic pieces and his later more essayaic pieces. It is this more visually cinematic earlier period which I like the best and Week-end was a great introduction to it indeed.  Brash, bold and without reservations, Week-end is Godard at his visual apex.

5. Belle de Jour

Sexy, stunning and scary as hell. These adjectives can be used to describe either star Catherine Deneuve, the film itself or in a strange kinda way, the entire oeuvre of director Luis Bunuel. The story of a young wife who takes up the art of prostitution one day, Belle de Jour is more than meets the eye. Taking on, as Bunuel is apt to do, the morality of society, pitting the bourgeois against the proletariat but never in the way one would expect a semi-surrealist, anarchist auteur to do, the film has been hailed as both a brilliant masterpiece and panned as a pretentious bore. Why can't it be both in a way? Probably a bit beyond my rather naive grasp when I first saw the film (around eighteen but still quite innocent in mind) it has however grown deeply into my psyche.  And then you have Deneuve - ooh la la indeed.

4. Playtime

Ever since seeing M. Hulot's Holiday, Jacques Tati's lovable bumbling M. Hulot has always held a soft spot in my cinematic heart. With each subsequent adventure, Tati places his intrepid hero and alter-ego into an ever-increasing modernist nightmare of dangerous gadgets and disgruntled gadflies.The pinnacle of this almost dystopian comic effect (played out in the most giddy undystopian way of course) is the film Playtime. Hulot, let loose on a modern society way ahead of his own old-fashioned comprehension, is a hoot, as they say, to watch. And the gags - the ones that have come to verily define Tati's hapless alter-ego over the course of half a dozen films - are as sharp-witted as any dialogue anyone would attempt in such a film. And it all comes off as a genius-level screwball comedy of pantomime.

3. The Graduate

A cinematic sign of it's deeply disenfranchised times, Mike Nichols brilliant paean to teenage disillusionment, and the film that made stars out of both Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross (one's stardom has held up a bit better), is a deadpan comedic look at the youth in America not only at the quite turbulent time of the film's setting, but I believe the youth of all geneartions that have come after it. Sort of the granddaddy of the Mumblecore generation of today in a way (but don't hold that against it), The Graduate has passed the so-called test of time, and is still loved by the even more disillusioned (and quite a bit more jaded and cynical, and a lot less innocent) youth of the post-9/11 world we live in today. Plus, how can ya beat that soundtrack!?

2. The Young Girls of Rochefort

Granted, strictly speaking, Jacques Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a more beautiful picture than The Young Girls of Rochefort, but the latter film is definitely a lot more fun. Watching sisters (on screen and off) Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac sing and dance around the quite Demy-esque colourful small provincial town, is the musical highlight of the year. Campy and visually audacious, and filled to the veritable rim with brilliant and beautiful musical numbers, Demy's film is a Musical lover's dream come to bright, brilliant light. Sure, the film is sometimes maligned, when compared to other films of the fringe new wave auteur, calling it immature and somewhat cheesy, but dammit, that's kinda what I love about the damn thing. That and Gene Kelly as the handsome American in town. Oh, and Mlle Deneuve joins Miss Hepburn as the star of 20% of my countdown. But enough of this, let's get to the number one motion picture.

1. Bonnie and Clyde

One of the first films I ever saw (around sixteen, in a high school film class) that made me think perhaps that this thing called cinema had more to it than what one saw on the shiny surface. Brilliant and subversive (and unbeknownst to my still uneducated cinematic mind at the time, one of the most important films that would end up revolutionize American cinema) there was something about this film that got me all quivery inside. Perhaps it was Faye Dunaway and her sexy, brazen comehitherness. Perhaps it was Warren Beatty and his rebellious anti-hero image. Maybe it was the ultra violence like none I had seen before. Whatever the case, the film has haunted me from the beginning of my relationship with it, as much as it does today. Not only the best film of 1967, but one of the greatest films ever made. So there.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.