Tag Archives: comic book

The Popcorn King of Nacogdoches by Kent Hill

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Here’s my Joe Lansdale origin story…if you will.

It has often been my custom to seek out and devour everything an author has written….once said author’s work has completely overwhelmed me.

My first brush with the Popcorn King from Nacogdoches came in the form of a chap book in one of those slowly disappearing, (at least in Australia anyway) dust-ridden book exchanges. Where the yellowing pages of the regarded and discarded writers of ages are stowed. The store that I frequented  with my Grandmother – the most voracious reader in the family – we would go to after she was done reading a great pile of books, looking to exchange them for new ones. Gran would always ask the proprietor to save some of the credit from her returns for me, to pick up an armful of comic books. Yay!

It was on a rainy day in February, three summers and a thousand years ago, that I went into that old store by myself, ready with a pile of freshly digested comics…..ready to swap them – for more. As I scanned the racks I saw, at far end of one of the shelves, wedged between two war comics, a thin, slightly discolored book entitled: On the far side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks. That title alone is a grabber – I don’t give a shit what you say. Eagerly I dove in and found myself so entranced, that it took the hand of the proprietor, shaking on my shoulder, to break the spell the story had on me. Turns out I had been standing there for a good forty-five minutes reading. Without hesitation I handed over the comics in my other hand and said I wanted nothing but the thin, little volume. The owner tried to tell me I could take it plus the comics, but I had neither need nor interest in comics that day. I shoved the Dead Folks into my pocket and cycled home as fast and as recklessly as I could. Once there, I read the incredible find over and over, till the weekend faded away.

Some weeks later, and after countless repeated readings of the Cadillac Desert, I found myself beset by another grey and rainy Saturday. I was rushing into the city library via the side entrance. My breath was all but gone as I had been racing, and narrowly escaping, the oncoming downpour. Dripping on the carpet with my hands on my knees I looked up. As my breath returned, at the bottom shelf of the aisle closest to me, I remember clearly staring at the row of books and noticing that they were all by the same author. The same guy who penned my glorious obsession, Dead Folks. I snatched up as many books as my library card would allow me to leave with, and the rest is history. My first encounter had been powerful, but now my love affair with Lansdale was really about to take flight.

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And…at last…we have a cinematic valentine to that literary God among men. All Hail the Popcorn King, directed by Hansi Oppenheimer, is a perfectly balanced, passionate portrait of the man, who by some, is called the greatest writer…you’ve never heard of.

With collaborators like Don Coscarelli, Joe Hill and the man with a chin that could kill, Bruce Campbell, Popcorn King showcases Joe Lansdale the best way a filmmaker can: on his home turf, on his own terms, and in his own wondrous porch raconteur’s tone, that I’ve heard before –  but still, it’s not nearly as cool as talkin’ to the legend his own self.

Enjoy this dynamic one-two punch of literary and cinematic awesomeness, I pray you. Be excellent…

JOE R. LANSDALE

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Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A new Hellboy film opens this week and the reviews are… not great, to put it nicely. I’ll probably end up seeing for myself to give it a shot but honestly my heart is still with Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman’s vision and I still wish we could have seen their trilogy capped off with a third entry instead of being obnoxiously shunted off to another iteration so soon.

After a brilliantly Lovecraftian introduction to this world, Del Toro returned with Hellboy II: The Golden Army and he brought back with him all the fairytale-esque visual grandeur he could muster for a sequel that is decidedly more esoteric but no less awesome than the first. Perlman was born to play the role and you have to champion Guillermo for sticking by his side and not backing down through damn near a decade of negotiations with studios who were tossing around hilarious suggestions like Nic Cage and Vin Diesel (good lord I shudder to think). Perlman *is* Hellboy and rocks every revolver slinging, cigar chewing, monster smashing minute of his screen time. This time he and the gang are contending with angry Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who resents humans for neglecting the fantastical in their modern age and wants to unleash the powerful golden army upon their world, obliterating it for good. As much as that kindddd of makes a bit of sense from his perspective it’s still not a constructive solution to his concerns and therefore his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) takes issue with his extremism and defects to Hellboy’s side. It’s a raucous ride of jaw dropping practical effects, enthralling world building and way more commotion than the eerie first film, but that works too. Doug Jones returns as fish-man Abe Sapien, this time without the strange ADR of David Hyde Pierce overtop his own chords, Selma Blair is lovely once again as spirited firestarter Liz Sherman, Jeffrey Tambor further cultivates droll comic relief as the FBI handler dude, John Hurt briefly reprises his role as paternal Professor Broom and newcomer Seth Mcfarlane is welcome to the fold, playing a German ghost that lives in some kind of early 1900’s scuba diving kit. Del Toro always has a wicked flair for effects, he never just throws CGI at a wall and expects it to stick, there’s always a meticulous process in bringing his creatures alive and this film is full to the brim of wildly imaginative wonders. Goss and Walton are so good as Nuada and Nuala that they almost deserve their own spinoff film, they’re darkly charismatic and soulful in an otherworldly way, their performances accented by beautiful hair & makeup.

I have to say I’m more a fan of the first film than this, but it’s less of an issue of quality and more of aesthetic; I’m in love with the dark, moody, Lovecraft atmosphere punctuated by the rogue nazi element, it seems to have more roots in horror and works for me more as an overall feeling, but really they’re both fantastic films and on the same level. Also the first one has Kroenen, who is possibly the coolest and scariest comic book villain ever put to film.

I’m not one to gloat when something flops or gets bad reviews out of the gate but I can’t help feeling a smidge of bitter glee at the fact that this reboot no one really asked for is now being bitten on the ass, seemingly because it actually does suck. For years and years the fans (myself included) hoped and prayed for a third Del Toro/Perlman Hellboy film to complete this wonderful story, and what do they do? Go out and hire a bunch of new stock, switch up the creative aesthetic completely and expect people to buy it. No sir. That’s not to detract from David Harbour, Neil Marshall, Ian McShane or Milla Jovovich, they’re all brilliant artists who have now just become collateral damage to a production that sounds suspiciously rocky. I’ll definitely check out the film they’ve made and give it a fair shot but I have to say that not one trailer or piece of marketing has me remotely excited, and that’s independent of my love for the first two films. Perhaps one day Ron Perlman will sit in that makeup chair for six hours again and give us that magic we miss so much, with Del Toro at his side. Perhaps this new apparent swing and a miss will make that happen quicker, who knows. Until then we can revisit the first and Golden Army to our hearts delight, they’ve aged gorgeously and are both great films.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

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Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

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The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

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Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

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That Dude in the Audience.

The Return of The Return of Swamp Thing: An Interview with Jim Wynorski by Kent Hill

 

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Jim Wynorski is the man I want to be when I grow up. He is a sharp, prolific, terrific guy that doesn’t suffer fools and makes movies ’cause that’s what he loves – and that’s what he does best.

He has made over one hundred films, directed my beloved Deathstalker 2, and even written a foreword for my tribute/homage DS2 book Sword Dude 2 . He is a top bloke, as we say Down Under, and it had been a while since we last spoke ( for our chat on Deathstalker 2 click here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/11/15/is-that-your-first-name-or-your-last-name-remembering-deathstalker-2-with-jim-wynorski-by-kent-hill/ ), so when I heard about the glorious reissue of Jim’s The Return of Swamp Thing I took a chance and phoned up this perpetually active filmmaker to see if he could spare the time to talk about the release.

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Thanks to my much improved recording setup, this time there is no transcription. This time you get to hear the man himself, and listen in as I touch base and hopefully convince a couple of you to check out the fantastic re-release of the awesomeness that is Wynorski’s  take on the comic that he loves.

The ever candid Jim always has surprises for me when we talk. Sadly some of the cool news he tells me I can’t share – it’s a for-my-ears-only kinda deal – but fear not, he does deliver many a splendid anecdote.

(GET THE DVD https://www.amazon.com/Return-Swamp-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B0791TR1S5 AND THE SOUNDTRACK https://www.amazon.com/Return-Original-Motion-Picture-Soundtrack/dp/B07FHLZZFQ/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1533815456&sr=8-2&keywords=RETURN+OF+SWAMP+THING+SOUNDTRACK&dpID=61ZcXsCkJ1L&preST=_SX342_QL70_&dpSrc=srch)

Long before Marvel and DC dominated the popular consciousness, Jim Wynorski was directing a DC movie. Before we see the proposed, rehashed series spearheaded by Aquaman’s Jamie Wan, take a trip back to the sweaty swamp and see Dick Durockthe original and still the best – rise from the murky depths and fight evil mutants, seduce Heather Locklear and give the thumbs up. The return of The Return of Swamp Thing

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https://www.amazon.com/Sword-Dude-2/dp/B07G4L9J3P

Deadpool 2

Deadpool 2 does what any great sequel should do: blasts the first one out of the water. Well, kind of. In terms of quality and fun, it’s *as* brilliant as the first and manages to capture that scrappy, irreverent charisma once again. Where it excels over the first is what’s built onto that blueprint and improved upon, namely a way better villain than that Jason Statham knockoff they had the first time around. Although not as developed as he could be, Josh Brolin’s Cable is a formidable, aesthetically slick presence that calls to mind Arnie’s T-101 subtly, while giving the actor room to bounce and banter with Wade Wilson. As for the Merc? He’s funnier, sadder and more larger than life in this one, his rampantly raunchy sense of humour made even more so by intense personal tragedy. One of the key assets of this story is an ironic romantic heart amidst the glib antics, and that wisely gets played up here; Wade is a badly hurt guy in more ways than just physical, and as Cable dryly points out, he uses humour to mask inner pain (reminds me of me). That’s the core of what makes him so relatable and engaging, and by now Reynolds is so good at playing this role he should get a fifty picture deal. The plot here is admittedly thin, but in such a ramshackle narrative packed with supporting characters and gags both visual and otherwise, that’s understandable. The best running joke involves Wade & Co. recruiting a short lived mutant team that includes Bill ‘Pennywise’ Skarsgard, Terry Crews and a cameo so quick and hilarious I won’t spoil the fun, but keep your eyes peeled for The Vanisher’s split second closeup. They don’t last long though and not since MacGruber have I witnessed wanton, hysterical negligence and ineptitude in friendly fire casualties. Deadpool stands out because it broke the mold of nearly all superhero films to come before; its R rating allows it t have the kind of unbridled fun that the genre should have sparked from day one. The first film pioneered a very specific brand of mischief and debauchery.. this one takes the concept and runs with it and the results are pure summer movie bliss.

-Nate Hill

A Nice Day for Superman’s Return by Kent Hill (PART 2)

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In the early days of writing for PTS, I did a little piece on Superman Returns (which you’ll find here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/31/a-nice-day-for-supermans-return-by-kent-hill/). It was, if you like, a hymn of praise to a glorious afternoon, when the exaltation of the moment, combined with the wave of nostalgia – and the fact it was my birthday – all blended together on the day of the premiere of the first Superman movie in a really long time.

Of course, as is the case with a lot of films, a second viewing broke the spell. What I was left with was something of a mixed bag of emotions that I still ponder to this day. How did it all go wrong? What happened to the Bryan Singer who had recently made X2 (which was great)? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the whole thing a multi-million dollar rush job? Should they have rolled the dice and made Superman Lives? (Hell, YES!!!)

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Since writing that initial piece I have had the good fortune to have a chat with a couple of the people who were there during filming. Composer/Editor John Ottman (our chat here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/10/28/chopped-and-scored-an-interview-with-john-ottman-by-kent-hill/), produced a beautiful score (one of the last I remember directly leaving the theatre and purchasing), as well as doing a fine job in the cutting room. And Robert Meyer Burnett assembled an excellent and comprehensive set of behind the scenes features, successfully documenting the making of the movie here in Sydney, Tamworth and also early stages of pre-production in the US (our chat here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/08/17/the-making-of-a-conversation-with-robert-meyer-burnett-by-kent-hill/).

Today I was sent another great behind the scenes glimpse from my friend, filmmaker and co-screenwriter Sean Ellis, who edited the footage (see here:https://vimeo.com/262035539/ea3164da85). There is even a moment when you can see Robert going about his stock-in-trade in documenting the making of the picture.

There has been more of Superman on the big screen since then. Admirable attempts, but, far from that iconic and wondrous unification of elements which saw the 1978 film explode onto screens, and into our hearts and minds for evermore. Now, I like Cavill in the role, and with the climax of Justice League there appeared a glimmer of hope. That maybe they buried the moody/brooding Superman, and with his resurrection would also be born a welcome return to form?

Only time will tell whether DC cinematic universe can recapture, in part, its days of honor. Lighting, as I once said, has already struck (circa 1978 with Donner’s film), now all we are left with is the thunder and its echoes. Do I hate Superman Returns? No. It was, in this man’s opinion, a valiant attempt to resurrect the Man of Steel after a long slumber – yet for all its magic, it didn’t cast a spell of significant longevity – though it wasn’t as silly as Superman’s CG shave in his most recent big screen outing.

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I have a dream, as it was once uttered, that one day the grey clouds will part, the blue yonder shall emerge in all its heavenly brilliance and, there in the stillness, a figure traveling faster than a speeding bullet will rip across the vast firmament and we’ll look up in the sky – and maybe, just maybe, another magical retelling of the adventures of the most romantic of the superhero cast will descend –  there we’ll find another great Superman movie?