Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sweet Smell of Success

This is an ugly movie. It's shot beautifully, black-and-white, lovely use of shadows and ambient light from cars and flashing advertisements, but the story is not a kind one. Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent with big dreams, who runs around doing dirty work for one J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in the hopes it'll pay off for him. At the moment in time when the film takes place, Curtis is busy trying to break up Hunsecker's younger sister Susan and a guitarist named Steve Dallas. Because until he does, Hunsecker won't mention one of Curtis' clients in his column, which means no press for that guy, which means Curtis isn't doing his job.

Curtis plays Falco as this conniving little shit. Always scheming, always making a smart remark, but only once he's out of arm's reach. He tries blackmail, and when that fails and he gets verbally dressed down by his potential victim, turns to another person with the same information and uses the exact insults the other guy used on him to describe Hunsecker. He's always walking a step behind Hunsecker when they're together, either waiting patiently for permission to do something (like sit down, or speak), or else he's leaning forward eagerly. The little dog that can hardly wait to do his master's bidding so he gets a treat.

There is one moment where Curtis almost displays integrity, where he draws a line as Hunsecker reveals he has more than a little demagogue in him (and they use that lighting technique where Hunsecker's eyes are framed in a band of light, while the rest of his face is in shadow). But it passes, because Hunsecker does know him, just like he says he does. Knows exactly what to dangle.

Lancaster plays Hunsecker as this controlled presence, staring steadily at people through these glasses. He knows how much power he has, and you can see it in how he talks to them, how they sit patiently waiting for his questions, and how bored he seems by it all. They need him, not the other way around. He never has to raise his voice with his sister, just brings her to heel with simple, calm statements. Hunsecker would definitely be one of those guys on the Internet who would insist he's won the argument if you got angry at any point during it.

It does end better than most noir do, as at least one person gets their comeuppance, and one of the few decent main characters gets free. But watching Falco debase himself for 90+ minutes, constantly sinking lower, and doing so almost gleefully, can be rough.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What I Bought 11/8/2019

I was out of town for work almost all of last week. The first couple days were nice, but it rained all day the third day, and on the fourth, the temperature dropped mid-morning. At least the rain had stopped by then. I was really hoping for pleasant fall weather when I planned that one, too.

Black Cat #6, by Jed MacKay (writer), Mike Dowling (artist), Brian Reber (color artist), Ferran Delgado (letterer) - I didn't know J. Scott Campbell was capable of drawing a woman without drawing her chest and hips. Learn something every day.

It's supposed to be a night for relaxing, so Felicia is out on a date with. . . Batroc?! OK, sure, he seems like he'd be a fun guy. And he's just honorable enough that it's not terrible for Felicia to be spending time with him. It's not like she's on a date with Sabretooth. Eventually dinner gets dull, so they go break into a place and steal some stuff. Batroc grabs a blender because he says Felicia should try smoothies. Just as long as he doesn't start preaching the benefit of kale or Crossfit.

While all that is going on, the Black Fox is fighting for his life against members of the Thieves Guild. He gives it a good go, but he gets caught. So I sure how he shared with Felicia how they were going to use all the stuff she swiped to break into the Guild's vault. Because it's probably going to be repurposed to save his butt. And empty out the vault. Multi-tasking.

The dinner date stuff was fun, although MacKay probably got a lot of fans' hopes up when he had it look like Batroc was saying he has a thing for Captain America. (Gwenpool would no doubt have given her whole-hearted approval). But no, he just likes fighting the good Captain. Good thing he didn't tangle with HYDRA Cap, probably wouldn't have survived that.
The Black Fox stuff is an attempt to keep the plot going, and keep it from being strictly an issue of talking, but I don't know. I don't really care that much about the Guild, and it plays out as an elderly man in a suit fighting some rejects from the Hand, visually. Dowling and Reber go a lot heavier on the shadows and murk in that part of the book than the date half. Even when Felicia and Batroc are in a dim apartment, the shadows don't loom as much. It's just some pleasant atmosphere for their fun. Felicia's face is still visible, just a bit darker. Whereas for the Fox, the shadows swallow up parts of his face, obscure them entirely.

Locke and Key: Dog Days, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (storytellers), Jay Fotos (colorist), Shawn Lee (letterer) - Good luck waiting for the dog to pass that.

There's two stories in this. The second one is mostly silent, and involves the Locke family that the original set of mini-series focused on returning to the site of their home and essentially magicking up a new house. Wow, spellcheck recognizes magicking (but not "whole-hearted"). There's nothing else much to it, other than gauging the reactions of the family. Can't help noticing how Tyler's mother is hugging herself with a frightened look on her face. Honestly, given the amount of shit that went down there, why would you voluntarily restore that house? It's like unlocking Michael Myers cell and just walking away. What could possibly go wrong?

The other, "Dog Days", is about three kids living in the '30s or '40s as they go through a day of fishing, exploring, and talking about stuff. Except one of the kids, Lloyd, is kind of odd in the things that he says, or the perspective he brings. The other two boys are alternately horrified or impressed by him, but they have to put things back how they were eventually.
Whereas "Nailed It" is mostly full-page splashes, "Dog Days" sticks to a set of four panels running down the middle of the page, set against a larger, full-page panel in behind them. That one mostly establishes the setting for the four smaller panels. So a panel of an old radio set, while the boys lay in front of it and discuss what they intend to do when they grow up. Rodriguez' art is a little looser, closer to what you might see in a comic strip than his normal style. Faces are rounder, lines lighter and less defined than in "Nailed It". But it's meant to be a funny story (and it is amusing, if not the kind of thing that makes you laugh out loud), so it fits with the tone.

I wouldn't call it an essential comic if you're into Locke & Key, since I would bet anything that comes out of "Nailed It" will give enough references you'd understand how the house was back, but it's not bad as it's own one-off.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Splash Page #87

"You're Both Right", in Black Cherry, by Doug TenNapel (writer/artist), Jennifer Barker (letterer)

One thing you can say about Doug TenNapel is he always comes up with some interesting premises. In this case, you have a lazy, cheating, broke mob guy named Eddie, who ends up helping his old priest and a stripper Eddie intended to marry before she vanished protect a space alien from a demon to save the Earth from an invasion.

There's a lot more profanity, graphic violence and nudity than is typical for TenNapel's work, but he explained in an introduction he thought it fit with the characters. Which seems fair. It's hard to picture Eddie as a guy who would refrain from cursing. Although if TenNapel had written him as someone who didn't swear, I would have rolled with it, but then there's all the other mob guys, not to mention the demons. The latter really like to talk about putting dicks in asses, and given the TenNapel seems pretty Christian I can't tell if that's some "homosexuality is a sin" thing, or just a "demons are cruel and would speak in terms of raping people" thing.

There are some funny bits with Eddie's smart mouth. Some of the violence is in the funny vein TenNapel normally works in (one guy gets kicked in the groin hard enough his nuts are shown popping out of his mouth). I feel like the 11th hour introduction of Cherry's complete lush of mom is maybe one moving piece too many, but otherwise, the story is written in such a way that a lot of the parts all come together quickly and keep things focused. The very end of the story requires you to believe the aliens haven't paid any attention to all the heinous shit humans have done in the name of God.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Random Back Issue #8 - Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #11

Agreed. Let's all ring in the end of everything by sitting on the couch and eating chips.

This was the penultimate issue of this series, by which point it had moved way beyond where it started. From Cave and his daughter Chloe returning to the subterranean kingdom Cave's deceased wife Mazra hails from, it had turned into a chase across dimensions and alternate realities after some bizarre creature called The Whisperer, which is your standard "destroy or incorporate everything into myself" life-threatening thing.

We find out Cave's cybernetic eye was created in a partnership by another reality's Cave and Doc Magnus, and sent out to find a younger version of Cave who could meet Mazra. All so the eye can observe her and bring its recordings back to be installed in a blank Metal Man body. Sure, makes sense. Magnus insists that they didn't intend for the two to fall in love or conceive a child, but it's 'appreciated'. Very classy, Doc.

On the next page, "our" Cave tells Magnus that if he refers to his marriage or his daughter as an anomaly again, Cave will crush his throat with his bare hands. OK then.

My favorite part of this book was the odd friendship between Chloe and Wild Dog (who is apparently an associate of Cave's and got dragged into all this). The two of them are both a little out of their depth, him more than her, and I think both of them would rather than just blow things up.
 There's a race to reach some crystal that's the key to Metal Mazra beating the Whisperer, there's robot punches, and yes, there's monster snot rockets. Delightful imagery, but Oeming and Filardi's art was what kept me on this book. Stuff could look so weird and vivid, but Oeming could sell the quiet moments when they were called for. There's a nice one in here where Mazra shields them and then smiles at Cave, and he just knows that it's her inside.

[Longbox #3, 16th comic. Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye #11, by Gerard Way and Jonathan Rivera (writers), Michael Avon Oeming (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), Clem Robins (letterer)

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Blindfold

Rock Hudson plays a psychiatrist recruited by a member of the American military to treat a brilliant scientist that he saw at one point a few years earlier. The scientist is convinced he's been abducted, and when he's able to briefly escape and contact his sister (Claudia Cardinale), she tracks down Hudson. The doc has his own doubts, especially once he's approached by a man claiming to work for the CIA, who says the general is in fact a Russian.

Problem being, there's so much security involved he can't get in touch with anyone who either can or will corroborate either person's story. And since he's flown to where the scientist is located and blindfolded for the remainder of the drive, he doesn't have a clue where to look for anyone. In the meantime, he has a burgeoning romance going with Cardinale.

Well, he does and then he doesn't, mostly pending whatever whim the general (or "George" as he tells Hudson to call him) decides. Break it off, keep it going, break it off. The guy is so focused on security even he doesn't know what's going on in his head. Hudson doesn't help matters by being a serial engager, to the point he's known in the society columns as "Bluebeard"? I'm surprised people would care about what a psychiatrist gets up to, but maybe the women he keeps getting involved with are big deals.

It's a little slapstick at times, like the fight scene with the CIA guy's goons in the park. I think those goons' previous employer was a one-off 1960s Batman villain. There's also a mule involved in the big finale, that poor creature. Stuck lugging a bunch of ungrateful morons around through a swamp.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The Wall in the Big House

Back during the original John Ostrander Suicide Squad run, there's a point three years in where everything collapses. Waller's pissed off a lot of people, by only pretending to surrender control of the Squad. She underestimated Lashina and as a result, her niece died on Apokoplis.

The Squad was being shut down, and their was a plot involving cocaine that turns people into zombies that needed stopping, so Waller grabbed the last three Squad members left - Deadshot, Poison Ivy, and Ravan - and went and dealt with. By killing people. Then she let those three escape, and surrendered herself to the authorities. She spends a year in prison until Batman and that doofus Sarge Steel show up needing her help.

Here's what I'm wondering: What did Amanda Waller get up during that year?

I can't picture Waller just sitting around waiting. I'm pretty sure she accepted going to jail because she thought she deserved it for what happened to Flo, and probably also Rick Flag, and the other decent people that had gotten chewed up and spit out by the Squad.

But clearly she's reached some kind of peace with that by the time Steel came around, because she's ready to get out. She has this whole idea of the Squad being autonomous and for hire already mapped out and ready to go. That wouldn't have taken all her time, and I can't picture Amanda Waller being one to just sit around and do nothing.

Did she spend a lot of time reading? Write angry poetry about government bureaucrats and Captain Boomerang? Did she make any friends? I could see Amanda Waller taking an interest in some younger inmate and trying to help them get a degree or something. I think she pushed her kids to try and succeed, she might want to help guide someone younger away from a bad end. Did she make the warden's life hell until he got them better food? (Now I'm picturing Waller as some combination of Andy Dufrense and Hogan from Hogan's Heroes.)

She had to have gotten into at least one fight. Someone would have been dumb enough to look at Waller and think she was easy pickings. Even if the knew who she was, they probably figure she's nothing without a bunch of super-criminals to boss around.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Mouse That Roared - Leonard Wibberly

A tiny duchy on the French border decides to lose a war to the United States as a way to receive enough money to keep their country going. The only problem being, because all their declarations of war are either ignored or misplaced, the United States has no idea they're at war (other than with the Soviets of course). And because the invasion force of 25 people lands during a simulation of an enemy attack, everyone in New York is huddled indoors somewhere. Which makes losing a war a little tricky, but does provide an opportunity to actually win the war. All it takes is finding the right man with the right bomb.

It's all very tongue-in-cheek, while making fun of the completely absurd notion of maintaining world peace by building bombs that can end all life on earth. Hey, a peaceful world doesn't necessarily mean a live one. The small nations deciding they'll be the one to enforce the peace, because they're tired of all these big nations just deciding to do things that can affect everyone without consulting anyone else first.

I've read too many history books because when I got to that part, I thought, "Man there's no way Mao agrees to that. He'd dare them to use the bomb, because he'd be in his underground bunker."

Wibberly uses the notion that Grand Fenwick has mostly remained in the 1400s technologically to good effect. When the Soviets threaten to broadcast fiery speeches to the duchy's proletariat over the radio, they're bluntly told the duchy has no proletariat, and no radios. The fact that people have no idea what to do when confronted by men in suits of armor with arrows, and either think they're hallucinating, or just chalk it up as a curiosity.

'Few in the history of human warfare have been so difficult to convince that they had been taken prisoner by an enemy as was Dr. Kokintz when captured by Tully Bascomb in the name of Grand Fenwick. He had, it is true, good reason for his disbelief. For one, he had been expecting sandwiches, and had got instead, broadswords.'