Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
I get all my quarterbacking action in at this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback. Thoughts on Annihilation, Daredevil, Teen Titans, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Anders Nilsen's The End, Ex Machina, and The Walking Dead abound.
I put off posting about it for quite some time, but if you're interested in horror comics, I heartily recommend Monster Parade #1 by writer-artist Ben Catmull. Published by Fantagraphics, this first issue of Catmull's Eightball-style one-man anthology title employs a range of illustrative styles and storytelling tones to explore one subject and one subject only: monsters. In so doing it puts on display one of the most unique comics bestiaries going today. From a wordless "story" featuring gigantic creatures that dominate a storm-tossed landscape like a visual embodiment of Hendrix's "And the Gods Made Love" to a laugh-out-loud extended gag strip that suddenly takes a turn for the uncomfortable and disturbing to a documentary-style look at a small town plagued with more inexplicably bizarre creatures than an island in Clive Barker's Abarat world, it's a wonder to behold. Tom Spurgeon posted a preview of the book and an interview with Catmull back in September; dip your toes in there, because the water's fine.
One quick horror-comics follow-up: My post on The Abandoned creator Ross Campbell's falling out with Tokyopop made its way through the comics blogosphere over the past couple of days; Heidi MacDonald has posted some information dug up from Campbell's personal site (scroll down to March 9th, 2006 for the relevant posts, but beware of some colonoscopy pictures if that's the sort of thing that would bother you) that would appear to indicate that production troubles were the source of the friction that led him to leave the company.
This week's Horror Roundtable centers on a scintillating topic indeed: erotic horror-movie scenes. It takes no great scholar of the genre to point out the bond between eros and thanatos, but still, I was surprised to discover upon considering the topic just how many of the scenes I consider to be really hot stuff come from horror films.
Because it's a virtual wall-to-wall smorgasbord of sensuality, I named "any Patricia Arquette scene from David Lynch's Lost Highway" as my fave...
...which led me to think about Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man (aka Della'morte Dell'amore), a sister film to Lost Highway in several respects, from horror to surrealism to fractured narrative to (in the persons of Rupert Everett and Anna Falchi) intense eroticism...
...but for me, all horror-eroticism roads lead back to the bathtub sequence in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Lia Beldam's matter-of-fact, unabashed nudity struck a chord with my young teenaged self that's still resonating today, I think...
...and I think I'll stop reproducing images from that scene right there, thank you very much, for all our sakes.
A brief thought about Children of Men, which I saw today and thought was a wonderful film
Apparently there were a lot of set pieces filmed in only one shot. I wasn't aware of this going in and didn't notice it as it was happening. I think the former part of that last sentence explains the latter part. Apparently the movie's technical proficiency is supposed to be evidence of its soullessness? Not from where I'm sitting.
On the morning news this A.M. I heard Because I Said So described as "the romantic comedy starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore." This made me realize that if Because I Said So were a comedy about a romance between Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, I'd have been there on opening night.
Why? Because Horror Roundtable participant Joakim Ziegler of Mexploitation reminded me of the sexual splendor that was Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula.
This film came out when I was 14 years old--and I could probably leave the explanation there, couldn't I? But it was almost uncanny just how many of my nascent buttons this film, on retrospect, well and truly pushed.
In 1992, for young men of a certain outcast-type bent, there was no more attractive individual on Earth than Winona Ryder. So try to imagine what it was like to watch a film in which she depicted obsessive sexual abandon. In an English accent, no less.
And then, of course, they paired her Mina up with Sadie Frost's Lucy.
I'm not sure if this film inaugurated pale brunettes and pale redheads as "my types" or simply confirmed them, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter.
And oh, when I said they paired Winona and Sadie up, I meant they really paired them up.
In the rain.
Ah, lipstick lesbianism. What would an adolescent boy do without you? Though to be honest, I think that in this case I preferred Sadie solo.
Or with a vampire werewolf.
Say, did I mention my thing for pale brunettes and redheads?
One of whom was a young Monica Bellucci?
I'm making light of things in an effort to cut the jibberjabber and skip to the pretty pictures, but in all seriousness, I remember Bram Stroker's Dracula as a powerfully, almost disconcertingly erotic film. In part it's because the women involved perfectly lined up with the archetypes that, for whatever reason, I find attractive. But Coppola and his collaborators made much out of the occulted, transgressive sexuality of Stoker's original--embellishing it to the point of camp and losing a good deal of the horror by literalizing it, sure, but that stuff was ripe for the picking. The lesbian kisses, the three-on-one vampire bride orgy, mind control, female-on-male penetration, S&M, semi-bestiality, male terror-arousal at the sight of a woman happily (mindlessly?) lost in sexual pleasure--it's a hornily heady brew, and I lapped it up.
As great a line as that is, it's not even really representative of Seitz and Uhlich's take on the import of digital moviewatching, which is just one of literally dozens of topics tackled in what is by far the most interesting cinematic year-in-review piece you'll come across for the year that was. Go and get lost in it.
The big show returns tonight, and I dunno about you, but I'm all aflutter. In the meantime, you can kill some of the three hours or so left before "previously on Lost" by reading my second interview with co-creator Damon Lindelof over at the day job. Nikki and Paulo are discussed, as are Heroes, X-Men, Super Friends, Buffy, and Private Parts. Enjoy!
Jon Hastings (welcome back, Forager!) liked Children of Men but found its political ideology muddled in terms of the dystopian society it posits. That's a fair criticism, I think. For starters, if the United Kingdom's work force was slowly dying out, never to be replaced, I'm not sure how ruthlessly tracking down and deporting illegal immigrants would help, or even make sense from a gut-level scapegoating perspective. Moreover, the practice of keeping the pre-deportation illegals in cages outside of commuter rail lines for all the world to see runs counter to what we generally know to be true of human rights violations within Western countries--out of sight, out of mind. A lot of the anti-immigrant commercials you see and hear throughout the film take this logical flaw even further by hammering home the notion that illegals are the employees and even the relatives of good hard-working native Britons; those are difficult bonds to break, even in much more elaborate and totalitarian fictional dystopias like 1984, and though that would be an obvious problem faced by a government dedicated to a radical approach toward illegal immigration, I doubt they'd want to bring it up themselves (even to undermine it) if they could avoid it. Finally, if the career trajectories of the Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine characters are to be used as an indicator, the point at which everything started going totally wrong was the Iraq War, which (as you might have guessed) I find to be an enormously shallow and solipsistic view of how the world actually works and has worked for time immemorial.
All that being said, I still found the dystopia convincing and frightening, and I think that at least in part that comes from approaching those elements as horror. I've taken that view of more internally consistent dystopias and post-apocalyptic fictions (again, 1984, but also (say) The Handmaid's Tale and any number of zombie movies) for a long time, because of my personal association of horror with hopelessness (you generally don't get any more hopeless than dystopias). Children of Men fails as a dystopia that one could logically arrive at from its constituent elements, I think, but succeeds despite that because of the way those elements add up as a big frightening collage of Things That Are Horrifying. Domestic terrorism, ecological and economic breakdown, torture, prisoner abuse, large-scale human rights violations by a Western nation, internecine warfare between "freedom fighters," increased video surveillance, assassinations, plausibly deniable action by the government against journalists and dissidents, Abu Ghraib, Vladimir Putin, the drug war, limited nuclear exchanges, pandemics, Islamic fascism, urban warfare, intrusive media and advertising presence, euthanasia, and (I think this is the real emotional key to why the film works and I haven't seen anyone comment on it) the constant presence of animals in great danger, as undiluted an conveyor of helplessness as it gets--put it all together and it works in the same way that, for example, The Shining takes axes and ghosts and corpses and haunted houses and child abuse and rivers of blood and isolation and psychics and puts them all together and that works.
Action Comics Annual, Ultimate Spider-Man, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil, Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two, Detective Comics, Incredible Hulk, Jonah Hex, New Avengers, and X-Men: Phoenix—Warsong--my thoughts on these fine funnybooks may be found at this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback.
A while back I said that the Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes," both the song and the narratively divergent but thematically similar video, were among my favorite science-fiction works of recent memory. They remain so.
(It will take a very specific type of '90s-era music nerd to get that reference.)
Over at the day job, my colleague Paul Florez has an intriguing interview with Battlestar Galactica's Helo, actor Tahmoh Penikett. I've always really liked that character, and apparently I'm not alone: There were no plans for him to show up after the initial miniseries, but viewer reaction (among fellow industry pros, let alone fans) led creator Ronald D. Moore to bring him back. Penikett clearly puts a lot of thought into his role on the show, and you can see that in the interview. Check it out.
Who cares if you're out of it? This constant pressure to keep up, to adopt the latest and most fashionable attitudes toward cinema (or to anything else for that matter) is pretty unpleasant. It doesn't feel all that different from the pressure we get from Big Media to stay on the cutting edge of consumable crap. And there's something a little bullying about their "get on the bus or get run over" language.
That's probably the most succinct rejection of the vogue for the newestyoungesthippestlatest in critical circles I've seen in a long time. The funny thing is that what Jon's responding to, a portion of that dialogue between Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich on the Year in Cinema I linked to a few days ago in which the pair go after critics who turn their noses up at television series or at movies shot on digital video or videotape, isn't something I even object to--of course you shouldn't write off entire swaths of a particular artform on the grounds that they're déclassé. It's really the tone that gets to Jon more than anything else, I think. That's certainly how I feel about the fetishization of "the new"--if nothing else, its proponents tend to be kind of obnoxious, "get out of the way, old man" types, even if what they're advocating is actually positive. The real problem--and I see this more in comics than I do anyplace else--arises when that fetish leads people to lionize demonstrably inferior work simply because its format, its publisher, its mode of construction, or the places where it tends to be bought and sold fall into that newestyoungesthippestlatest category. To put it another way, there are a lot of great manga, webcomics, OEL, all-ages comics, "new mainstream" comics, and comics from big New York publishing houses out there, sure, but there are also a lot of lousy ones, you know?
One thing has become clear over the past year or so, and that's that the Japanese are very, very good at capturing water monsters. First there was the giant squid, then another giant squid, then the frilled shark, and now another rarely sighted, prehistoric deep-sea creature called the goblin shark.
Plesiosaurs of the world, consider this a warning.
A fake Loch Ness Monster is better than no Loch Ness Monster at all
Courtesy of Loren Coleman comes this clip from Incident at Loch Ness, a mockumentary written, directed, and co-starring X-Men 2 and 3 screenwriter Zak Penn. Apparently the conceit is that Penn (co-starring as himself) dupes real-life documentarian Werner Herzog (again, co-starring as himself--!!!) into making a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster that Penn secretly plans to Hollywoodize with everything from a steamy love-story angle to an animatronic Loch Ness Monster in the water; the plan goes out the window when the real Nessie attacks the crew's boat. None of this is particularly relevant to this clip, which pretty much nails the creepy frisson of seeing a large something emerge from the depths. The gravitas and verisimilitude lent to the clip by the presence of Herzog doesn't hurt, either.
In Myanmar -- formerly known as Burma -- a boy who was 11 when he was recruited to the national army, had to watch as older soldiers gunned down mothers and then killed their babies. "They swung them by their legs and smashed them against a rock. I saw it," Kim Muang Than told Human Rights Watch.
"Cascading consequences" is one of those elegant phrases that disaster planners use to refer to very bad stuff happening later on—hypothetical events that only occur as a result of other events and are therefore very difficult to predict and even more difficult to plan for. It's not the initial head-on collision, but the divorce resulting from the affair precipitated by the sense of worthlessness fueled by the lost job clinched by the rude insubordination fed by the frustration from the lateness from the traffic jam caused by the head-on collision.
That's a pretty nice encapsulation of what makes fear of a coming apocalypse so hard to shake, I think--you have no idea if there's anything that can be done to stop it because you have no idea what actually might cause it.
Godzilla, avenge your people, for crying out loud. Japanese researchers have captured yet another deep-sea creature on film for the first time--Tanigia danae a seven-foot squid that uses bioluminescence to hunt and can move at speeds clocked at up to 8 feet per second, a far cry from the "slugs o' the deep" rep our tentacled friends once had. The BBC has the scoop, while Nature has the unbelievably cool-looking footage. (Hat tip: Clive Thompson.)
And while we're on the sea monster tip--octopus vs. shark!
1) "How are its protagonists changed by the end? What have their experiences cost them? I can't think of anything." Well, they're not dead or divorced (yet, in the latter case, to bring up at least one post-credits possibility). But those aren't the only options. To return to the horror framework, we can consider Bill and Alice Harford (but mostly Bill) to be this film's "final girl." Sure, he survived, but I challenge you to listen to the way he sobs "I'll tell you everything," or see the red eyes of his wife after he does so, or listen to that sadder and wiser conversation they have at the toy store in the film's final scene, and say nothing has changed for them. (For an example of a character who truly doesn't change, and is therefore to be considered evil, see Ziegler.)
PS: With regards to their daughter, the absence of any major plot points concerning which was a big sticking point for Eve, I just didn't think she played a particularly relevant part in their erotic and sexual lives. Given what I know to be Eve's political and philosophical bedrock, I can see why this might strike her as a lacuna; given my own sexual outlook, it didn't.
2) Blockquote time:
the strictures of Hollywood stardom (maybe?) required that Kidman never get quite as naked as her female cohorts. So we see them from the front, but she's only naked from the back. That difference reinforces the sense already invited by the movie's ending: There are good girls and bad girls. Good girls shouldn't be cheated on, even in your head, and you should have sex with them and display their nudity tastefully from the back. Bad girls may get killed and raped and even photographed in full-frontal, and your only responsibility is to avoid them. No guilt attaches to you if you leave them to be destroyed.
In all fairness, you do see Nic's boobies, albeit nothing below the waist as far as the front is concerned. So let's call that a draw. Do I think there's supposed to be a distinction being drawn between Alice and the orgy girls in that regard? Yes, now that Eve brings it up, probably. But that fits the demented fairy-tale logic of plot and character witnessed throughout the rest of the film. If Bill is our focalizer here, it stands to reason that if the mere suggestion that his wife once wanted to fuck a sailor is enough to send him off on a long dark night of the soul, we're not going to be seeing her bush anytime soon.
But the dichotomy is one of how Bill views the women in his life, not how we should view them. Again, I definitely don't think we're supposed to feel that Bill had no responsibility to the woman at the orgy (or Leelee Sobieski, for that matter) other than "to avoid them," nor that he was untouched by guilt over what befell them thanks to his unwillingness to do anything about it. In an ideal/real world he'd have called the cops the next day, but in the dream logic of the film, he woke up, and by then it's too late to go back and rescue characters from your nightmare.
My pal Andy Serwin interviews Battlestar Galactica honcho David Eick and gets some intriguing hints about both upcoming storylines and upcoming spinoffs--among other things, he confirms plans for a direct-to-DVD BSG feature film!
And finally, you know what time it is--time to find out what I thought of this week's issues of Stormwatch: Post-Human Division, Justice Society of America, Astonishing X-Men, Batman, Battlestar Galactica: Zarek, The Pirates of Coney Island (technically from a couple weeks ago, but there was a mix-up with the issue), and Tales of the Unexpected in Thursday Morning Quarterback!
Eve Tushnet continues our discussion about Eyes Wide Shut. She and I are pretty much at the "agree to disagree" point regarding whether or not EWS lives up to the "with a great big boner comes great responsibility" issue at the core of her objections, but to me that only makes her criticisms more interesting. I must say that I hate how much I've been centering my response to Eve's on her personal history of sexuality-related activism, because in a way that doesn't seem fair to me, and I don't mean to dismiss her objections at all. But I think in the same way that saying "Sean is a horror fan" can help explain why I love the film so much, those biographical facts can help explain why narrative oversights that don't phase me at all knock Eve right out of the movie.
Maybe I'm just arguing from a place of ignorance, I don't know. Eve's response to my argument that Bill and Alice's daughter doesn't feature in their sexual landscape is essentially "wrong!" As a childless married man, maybe I just don't know what I'm talking about. But in reading Even on sexuality before, I've always thought she oversold the importance of the reproductive/"generative" aspect of sex. But to not do so is a sin, is what I believe she thinks (man, am I out of my depth in this discussion--if I'm mischaracterizing you, Eve, please say so!), so, yeah. Now, while I'm all for guilt, even for shame--both of which I maintain Bill feels in abundance; indeed they drive his confession, and as someone who's made his share of guilt-and-shame-driven sexual confessions I can state without fear of contradiction that I'm on solid ground with that assessment--sin is entirely alien to my conception of how the world works. My guess is that that's the page Kubrick is on, too (not to resort to the intentional fallacy, but hey, if you're gonna do it with any director, Stan's your man).
Anyway, go, click, read, especially (if you're a genre fan) the part where Eve counters the notion that EWS is a dream narrative.
It's high time I linked to Monster Brains, a delightfully deep repository of monster/creature/beast illustrations. Think of Fantagraphics' Beasts book, but online and drawing from centuries of work from all over the world rather than just the current hipster art scene, and you'll have the idea.
Police announced they uncovered a plastic bag stuffed with the skeletal remains of at least six newborns Sunday after searching the grounds of a Christian missionary hospital in the central Indian town of Ratlam.
It would be Clive James's essay on torture, which uses a critique of the Michael Palin character in Terry Gilliam's Brazil as a springboard for challenging the notion that evil is really all that banal at all. Must reading.
You can watch me attempt to make sense of the most recent installments of Civil War, Amazing Spider-Man, 52, Battlestar Galactica, Powers, Sock Monkey: The "Inches" Incident, and Superman at this week's Thursday Morning Quarterback.
Fishermen from New Zealand appear to have caught the largest squid ever--it weighs half a ton and measures 39 feet long. I mean, its species is actually called "colossal squid" (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni).
First, Jenny Peters interviews 300 and Watchmen director Zack Snyder. Snyder, of course, also directed the Great Exception among the current wave of hideous '70s-horror-classic remakes, Dawn of the Dead. Which leads us to...
In an absofuckinglutely fantastic, why-didn't-I-think-of-doing-that post, Stacie Ponder calls out some of The Descent's visual homages and references to other classic horror films, including a couple even I hadn't thought of, with oodles of photographic evidence. PLEASE go and see!