Monday, February 27, 2006

More Fun

So, there's a comic book convention in New York now. I guess I didn't read the advertisements very closely, because based on the involvement of Publisher's Weekly I thought it was going to be one of those pros-and-publishers only business conventions, like the yearly Toyfair. Obviously it didn't hurt attendance either way. Or maybe I should read the advertisements better? Not that I was even slightly interested in going, in any event.

It is something of a frequent sensation with me, whenever I get around to seeing so-called "classic" movies in the horror genre which I somehow never saw before, to be massively disappointed. I am reminded of Carnival of Souls, which I saw a few months ago on one of those giant multiple public-domain film packages you find at Best Buy - it's a comically bad film, so inept and unscary that when I read, after the fact, of its supposed status as a "classic", I had to wonder if the writer in question was pulling my leg.

I had a similar moment this past weekend when I finally got around to watching The Wicker Man. Oh, I hear you bristling - how can you fault The Wicker Man, "still one of the best genre films ever made" (to quote the wags at Well, simple: it wasn't scary at all. Sure, it was creepy in a couple places (but not even very creepy at that), and unlike Carnival of Souls, it was well-paced such that I didn't feel myself falling asleep at the ostensibly "scary" parts, but it was in no way scary, or even thrilling. In fact, I daresay my pulse didn't register above its usual "tepid" throughout the whole film.

For one thing, it's extremely difficult to film a horror / suspense movie in broad daylight, and the vast majority of The Wicker Man takes place in the sunny daytime. For another, I'm rather sick of movies wherein law enforcement is assumed to be incompetent as a matter of course. So while, yes, the movie wasn't bad in terms of any Ed Wood-esque silliness, it simply falls apart on closer examination. Why isn't there a telephone on the entire island? I have a hard time believing there was any corner of the British isles untouched by telephonic communication by the early 70s. There should have at least been a scene where the cop discovered the lines had been cut or were down - simply as a matter of the filmmakers touching all the bases. And it's all well and good if you manage to trick one rather buffoonish copper, but what happens when his fellows come looking for him? Sure, you can sink the plane out in the ocean so there's no trace of him having been there, but there's still the matter of the initial missing persons case that will still be investigated. What will the police do when they find out the case was filed fraudulently? Are we supposed to believe that the investigative officers who pick up the scent after the end of the movie are going to be Bennie Hill-ish buffoons? Or that the widowed fiancee will never inquire? I have a hard time believing that the folks on that island weren't eventually caught and put on trial; and sure, getting burned to death in a giant wicker bonfire is a bad way to go, but from the perspective of a moviegoer it takes the sting out of it to know that the crooks who did it are going to inevitably meet their just rewards after the credits roll. Stupid crooks just aren't very scary movie villains, and the townspeople in The Wicker Man - Pagan sex-rites and all - definitely qualify as stupid crooks.

I have to say thaat throughout the movie my mind kept flashing forward to the much more interesting movie they oculd have made if a more interesting investigator had found his way to the island . . . like, say, John Shaft. That would be a movie worth watching.

But alas, it was not meant to be. At least I didn't find myself laughing uproariously throughout, as I did during Crash. I have to wonder what the academy was smoking when that piece of garbage got nominated for an Oscar - not that I expect the Oscars to be any objective arbiter of good, but Crash is simply horrible. It's part of a genre of films I like to refer to as "movies made with the express purpose of making white people feel good about themselves". Oh my, you can here them saying, let's make a movie about racism, it will be so brave for us rich Hollywood types to tackle "man's inhumanity towards man", or something like that. And we'll have all these great character actors pissing their talent away by playing stereotypical characters who do stupid things for two hours without gaining a shred of insight or interest above the level of a bad Aaron Spelling TV movie. And - oh my! The racist, sex pervert cop will redeem himself by saving a black person's life! And the good, non-racist cop will shoot a defenseless black man! And the white people get to feel so good about themselves because they can see that black people are racist too, and Persians are hot-blooded and violent, and Asians participate in the slave trade, and the white people get to feel good again because Sandra Bullock hugs her minimum-wage Hispanic maid and cries when she realizes that she is a vapid cunt with no real friends! And we'll just sort of steal the multiple-storylines-set-in-a-single-day-in-Los Angeles gimmick from many other, better films such as Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon, Robert Altman's Short Cuts, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, and hope nobody over the age of sixteen sees this one, because then they might be tempted to call us on the carpet for this lazy, inflammatory, cheap and altogether dishonest piece of junior-high-caliber shit. Hey, we may even pick up an Oscar or two, because people are stupid!

So, yeah, I didn't like Crash. I am tempted to say that there should be a drinking game for the movie, where you take a drink every time someone starts yelling at another person for no appreciable reason, but then I think you'd probably get alcohol poisoning about a third of the way through. The only remotely good thing about this movie is the blink-and-you-miss it Mirina Sirtis cameo - and that's only good if you get off on the Where's Waldo-like joys of seeing Star Trek characters shoehorned into bit parts of regular movies. What can I say? It's a loooong two hours.

You know, the fact that there will probably be an Essential Spider-Ham long before we see a Showcase Present Sugar & Spike is kind of sad, in a way. I am pretty sure at this point that everyone at DC has signed a blood pact to never reprint any Sugar & Spike stories until the year 2628, when hyper-intelligent dinosaur robots rule the Earth.

But if you think about it, Spider-Ham is just a weird idea. I mean, perhaps the idea of a "funny animal" version of Spider-Man makes sense for a couple minutes, but if you really think about it, who's the market here? Ideally, Spider-Man would have to have some cache in order to be recognizable as a spoof character, but if a kid recognizes Spider-Man enough to want to read about his furry version, wouldn't he just want to buy a real Spider-Man comic? It's conventional wisdom that kids don't like to be talked down to: kids comics sell, but not if they are packaged as deliberate attempts to "dumb down" the content of the regular books - that is more than anything likely to get the kids to rebel and go for the "hard stuff". So: the audience for Spider-Ham is, ultimately, 20- and 30-something collectors who know enough about Spider-Man to write an encyclopedia, and who get a kick out of seeing funny-animal versions of their favorite web-slinger and his foes. All of which points to the fact that there is a surprising ground-swell of support for the character, and Marvel could most certainly stand to bring his adventures back into print.

The only conceivable reason I can think of for not doing so is the fact that so far Marvel has not really delved into their 80s and 90s stock for the Essential volumes. There have been a few, such as the Moon Knight volume and the X-Men and Wolverine books, but for the most part Marvel seems to have stuck with a roughly chronological focus, bringing all the sixties stuff into print, and then moving on to the seventies, and we're just now starting to see a concentration on eighties stuff like Moon Knight and X-Factor. I imagine we'll see a Power Pack volume in a bit, and probably another Punisher book. If they managed to pull the licensing strings with Toho for a Godzilla book, why not a ROM book? I know there would be a market for it (especially if they made sure to include all the Dire Wraith material from Avengers and X-Men. So, yeah, if we saw an Essential Ant-Man (we did, and it's probably my single favorite comic book of all time), Spider-Ham is only a matter of time. It would probably sell a lot better than the Essential Werewolf by Night (what were they thinking? Oh yeah, they were thinking that the Essential Tomb of Dracula flew off the shelves - but the difference is that Dracula was good whereas Werewolf by Night was teh suckzord.)

All I gots to say is that there better be another Essential Luke Cage coming down the pike before too long. I've been savoring the first one like a fine wine, but even rationing myself to only a single Cage adventure a day, pretty soon I'm going to be at the end. At which point I will be unhappy.

Finally, a bit of art I scanned while selling an old (1930) copy of Boccaccio's Decameron I came across in a yard sale, illustrated by a man named Jean de Bosschére:

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