Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

Introduction: Comic Book History You Don’t Care About But Need to Know in Order to Understand What the Hell’s Going On (with apologies to Linkara).

Shazam...! Oh, no...wait...Batson doesn't show up until The Dark Knight Strikes Again. My bad.
Shazam…! Oh, no…wait…Batson doesn’t show up until The Dark Knight Strikes Again. My bad.

Yes, friends, it’s time once again to examine the hilariously over-praised work of comic book writer Frank Miller, whose slow slide into insanity, inanity and irrelevance has provided amusement to comic book fans for the last fifteen years. Before that, though – and still to this day in some corners of Bat-fandom – Miller is/was considered a godhead, the wellspring from which all modern conceptions of Batman flow.

This is patent bullshit, ignoring at least fifteen years of hard work by other creatives. My favorite Batman editor, Dennis O’Neil, started out as a front-line writer in 1969, and made the conscious choice to move Bats away from the campiness of his by-then-canceled TV show. Together with writer/artist Neil Adams, inker Dick Giordano and editor Julius Schwartz, O’Neil returned The Bat to his roots in the pulpy Crime Dramas of the 30s and early 40s. The SF elements common in American comic’s Silver Age either shuffled off to the background…or were not-so-subtly twisted to reflect the changing (or “evolving”…and I’d dare say “improving”) tastes of the 70s. This culminated in Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers 1977 run on Detective Comics, now sold under the title Batman: Strange Apparitions.

For my cash, that marks the first appearance of a truly “modern” Batman, complete with all the baggage and angst that define him still today. O’Neil sent the First Robin, Dick Grayson, off the college, leaving Bats and Alfred alone in their mansion, just the way filmmakers (apparently) like it. Englehart and Rogers introduced the first of many Bruce Wayne love interests, inevitably moving him to question his crusade and its end game…before just as inevitably departing his life, leaving him with even more to brood about. Put those elements together, shake ’em up, add villains to taste, and you’ve got every (good) live action Bat-film to date…and through Batman’s influence, most of the Superhero sub-genre.

Continue reading Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (2012)

The Living Daylights (1987)

I might as well subtitle this "The Many Faces of Timothy Dalton."
I might as well subtitle this “The Many Faces of Timothy Dalton.”

Introduction: Why Novels Are Better Than Films (Bond)

Enter Timothy Dalton, to the collective dismissal of a generation. Not my generation, mind  – I was four at the time and at least a year away from achieving what I’d call “consciousness.” I speak of the previous generation of Bond fans Roger Moore created with his twelve year stint in the tux…and the generation before that, who grew to see Moore’s films as a fundamental betrayal of  Ian Fleming’s creation and his suave, snarky, seemingly-detached counterpart Sean Connery and Richard Maibaum created.

Neither group seems particularly concerned with the fact Bond-the-character-in-these-films is an empty suit. As with most literary characters, translating Bond into film removes the one thing that made him bearable in prose: third-person-limited narration. Fleming’s novels are built out of it, their prose colored by Bond’s oft-irredeemable opinions on life, the universe, and everything. He’s exactly the type of “stiff-assed Brit” you’d expect to meet in the better clubs of mid-50s London: defiantly prim and proper; fussy and cynical and racist. Always making snap judgments on the most superficial of things*. But also experiencing the full range of human emotion in a way none of his actors can. They don’t have the time – most of their movies are already too long and none of the Connery or Moore films dared pause to show Bond agonize over a decision, or ruminate on a long life of forcing himself to do horrible things to worse people.

[*My favorite of these comes in the novel Moonraker – which had little to do with the movie Moonraker apart from the villain, Hugo Drax. Bond decides Drax is The Villain, not only because the man cheats at bridge, but because he sweats while he does it.] Continue reading The Living Daylights (1987)

The Traumatic Cinematic Podcast vs. Peter Jackson (Part The First)

Yeah, he's one of us...
Yeah, he’s one of us…gooble-gobble…

I’ll tell you, a part of me twitched and spasmed with joy when I found out I’d be discussing Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive (that’s Brain Dead if you live in a civilized country) with my fellow devotees of early Jacksonian cinema MuGumBo and Mike “@GreyMatterSplat/Rondo Hatton” Wickliff. Not that the Takeshi Miike and Raid episodes weren’t awesome…but for me, any opportunity to discuss Early Jackson is another order of awesome entirely. I figure we could spin at least two more podcasts out of his pre-Fellowship work alone. You could do worse than give us…oh, say…five hundred million or so dollars so we can go make that happen. Or you could rate and review the show on your podcast network of choice and force it upon all your friends. Bodily, if necessary.

Download the episode here (right click, “save target/link as”)

Meet the Feebles (1989)

Hi. Pleased to meet you.
Hi. Pleased to meet you.

Not everyone has the balls to send their $250,000 alien invasion gross-out comedy to the Cannes Film Festival. Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste didn’t win any special jury prizes, but it did win the number one item on any filmmaker’s Wish List: international distribution. With that, Jackson secured himself and his friends (now collectively known as Wingnut Films) careers in show business…such as it was in the late-80s.

Not that you’d know it from Wignut Films output, which reverted back to short subjects in the wake of their first feature’s minor (but slowly growing, eventually cult-ish) success. The Japanese, for example, loved Bad Taste, and their country’s lack of public morality crusaders hypocritically draped in crosses and flags meant they got to see the whole damn film years before some of us. After some phone tag, Jackson and Co. secured funding for a short, satirical parody of Jim Henson’s Muppet Show from a Japanese TV network eager to sell something “from the director of Bad Taste.” This became the seed that sprouted Meet the Feebles. Continue reading Meet the Feebles (1989)

Revenge of The Traumatic Cinematic Podcast

Strike a pose!
Strike a pose!

In this, the thirty-second episode of Traumatic Cinematic, I re-join hosts MuGumbo and Mike (@Greymattersplat) Wickliff to discuss the especially traumatizing, but surprisingly varied, career of Takeshi Miike, director of (among many other things) Audition, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins. As before, we used this as our excuse to discuss many other wonderful things, such as: remakes that don’t suck, the Great Late-90s Wave of Asian Horror that Audition and Miike rode to glory, and the state of modern international cinema in general. All this and more can nestle safely inside your brain, either through the player above or your favorite mobile device, once you’ve downloaded the episode through the link below.

Download the episode here (right click, “save target/link as”)

The Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Prelude: Revenge of the Colons

by Chad Denton

It’s come to my attention that certain people have called into question the scientific rigor of this blog, and in fact the entire field of “trash culture studies,” so to deal with the ever persistent issue of genre elitism I’ve turned away from comics and video games toward the world of literature.  Thus on today’s docket we have…

Castlevania: Worlds of PowerExcept for “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, I can’t think of any trash culture reading materials that were more ubiquitous among my generation.  The “Worlds of Power” books were designed by Seth “F.X. Nine” Godin and his shadowy legion of ghostwriters for one reason:  to make money, obviously, but also I think they were a sincere attempt to get young gamers into reading.  Honestly, at the time, it wasn’t a bad idea.  Nowadays, no matter what the snobs say, video games have for the most part come into their own as a storytelling medium.  It’s arguably futile to translate something like Final Fantasy VII or Silent Hill 3 into literature, since games like those are able to convey narratives on their own and those narratives are intertwined with, say, the dread that comes from exploring the “Otherworld” or the sense of determination the player might feel in facing Sephiroth after hours of seeing Cloud tortured in nearly every possible sense by the villain. Continue reading The Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Prelude: Revenge of the Colons

13 Assassins (2010)

Now that's what you call a "Big Damn Hero Shot."
Now that’s what you call a “Big Damn Hero Shot.”

Remakes don’t have to suck. Admittedly, a lot of them do, but there’s a critical concept you might’ve heard of called Sturgeon’s Law, most commonly articulated as “ninety[-insert number here] percent of everything is crap.” If I may paraphrase the writer of more short stories than you or I will ever write and the original Star Trek episode “Amok Time,” remakes simply conform to the same trends of quality as all other art forms. It’s not pretty, but we live in a beautiful, ugly world, as the director of tonight’s film well knows. A world where genuinely good filmmakers with interesting, original visions have to churn out remakes before major studios risk financing anything original.

So 13 Assassins is a remake of a 1963 film of the same name, distributed by the house Godzilla built, Toho. It’s made by people who got famous riding the international wave of love Japanese horror movies surfed into the New Millennium. It’s screenwriter, Daisuke Tengan, wrote The Eel, which is a fucked-up movie, and Audition, a movie scientifically designed to fuck you up. Director Takeshii Miike went on from Audtion to Ichi The Killer, the Dead or Alive trilogy. Neither one of them would be my first choice for a period piece samurai drama. Never mind a remake of one that already exists.

Yet that’s just what they made and, not only does it not suck, it’s actually one of the better remakes of 2010. Much was made of the Cohen’s True Grit, but did Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross ever once mow down a street full of samurai in their quest to bring Tom Chaney to justice? No. No they did not. Point goes to 13 Assassins. Continue reading 13 Assassins (2010)

Return of The Traumatic Cinematic Podcast

Having had so much fun with the Dark Knight Rises episode, we triumphantly returned to The Traumatic Cinematic Show to discuss the two hours of glorious pain that is The Raid: Redemption (plus whatever else we come up with to distract ourselves). Join the incomparable Lewis “McGumbo” Cougill, the excellent Mike “GreyMatterSplat” Wickliff, and me, Your Humble Narrator, as our ramblings bless your heathen ears. Listen through the player above or download the episode through the link below.

Download the episode here (right click, “save target/link as”)