The Abominable Dr. Phibes


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

The Abominable Dr. Phibes: Revenge Old Testament Style

Written by David Carter

It is with a heavy heart that I must admit two of my weaknesses as a film lover and specifically horror lover. My ignorance of British horror movies and the big gaping holes I have in my Vincent Price views. I’m almost completely ignorant of the Hammer Horror films and when it comes to Price you can throw a pebble and easily hit something I haven’t seen. However, what I have seen tells me everything I need to know about the man. He was one of our finest actors and I don’t think anyone has come close to occupying the large operatic space he filled in the film world. He was of a breed of actors I like to call “Spooky Boys.” Horror icons with distinctive physical characteristics, voices and theatrical styles well suited for the macabre. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Agnus Scrimm,  Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff just to name a few Spooky Boys. What made Vincent Price stick out so much was that he had physical characteristics that walked a line between Clark Gable and Snidely Whiplash. He could be a tall dark and handsome hero, or conniving threatening menace. Also, his voice was unique, but not in the same way that other creepy icons’ voices were. It wasn’t deep and sonorous but nasally and slightly effeminate. If you didn’t know what Vincent Price looked like, you sure as hell knew what he sounded like. There have been countless impressions of the man’s cadence and tone and I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone on earth has probably heard him in the song  “Thriller.”

So it only makes sense that one of his most classic films has him mute for a large portion of its runtime.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a romantically baroque slasher flick. One where the slasher is always three or four steps ahead of the detectives trying to bring him to justice. Everything, no matter how implausible or convoluted is planned out to the letter. Why shouldn’t it be? Dr. Phibes himself is essentially the Old Testament God. Wreaking divine and wrathful havoc on the ungrateful mortals who have wronged him, but I’m getting ahead myself.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is about Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price having so much fun), a mysteriously mute doctor, scientist, biblical scholar and I kid you not, one of the world’s greatest organists. A true renaissance man. Along with his mute assistant Vulnavia  (Virginia North in what the movie says is her debut role but according to IMDB it’s her final screen credit), they perform visually and musically lavish routines for an audience of no one in a decked out art deco lair. The first 10 minutes of this movie is just Vulnavia dancing in extravagant costumes while Phibes lays into an organ (with some accompaniment from a Chuck E. Cheese-esque robot band). It’s disorienting but a wholly welcome tone the movie sets out the gate. However, the next thing we see is the murder of a man in his bedroom by way of bats. Another layer added to this hearty multi-layer dip of a movie. The murder is pretty gruesome and played to shock the audience member. This isn’t just a fun campy romp. Except for when it occasionally slips into being a Scooby Doo-like romp. Layers indeed.

We soon learn that Phibes is behind the murder of the man and murders that follow. The connection? All the victims are doctors and a nurse. Phibes’ ill wife Victoria was under the care of these doctors when she passed away. Phibes feels that these people were negligent and incompetent, so he decides to take his revenge on them in the only way he feels suitable: Using the theatricality of the biblical plagues of the Old Testament to murder his victims.  Frogs, locust, beasts, hail and so on are put into full effect, and Phibes has some clever and truly inventive ways of employing these. The Abominable Dr. Phibes has some of the most inventive kills this side of the Friday the 13th franchise. But Inspector Trout (played by Peter Jeffrey, who looks like a computer’s too-perfect rendering of a British man from the 70’s) and the doctor most responsible for Victoria’s care, Dr. Vesalius (another Hollywood legend Joseph Cotton) try to bring Phibes to justice before he reaches the final two plagues: death of the firstborn and darkness.

This is a fool’s errand because while I won’t spoil the film for you, I’ll just tell you that Dr. Phibes cannot be got. The man makes the Jigsaw killer from the Saw movies look like a bush leaguer. Not only that, Phibes is hands-on in his murders. He wants you to know that you’ve been done in by the best. He takes pride (and in one delightful scene, glee) in his work. He puts the same time and passion into a murder as he does any of his luxurious compositions. Every drop of blood is just another leitmotif to Phibes.

Why shouldn’t he put in that amount of craft? He’s a creator after all. Using the plagues of Old Egypt is the perfect modus operandi for a narcissist of Phibes’ magnitude. He’s the all-seeing eye and no one will escape his grasp and wrath. He is so assured of his righteousness and so good at what he does that you as an audience member almost (or in my case definitely) begin to root for him. When it comes to murder the man is truly the God of revenge.

This is a film you should 100% seek out and watch. It’s the type of spooky film that horror hounds will love to add to their collections, while people who aren’t super into horror movies can get onboard with since there’s a fun macabre streak running through the movie and the deaths aren’t as gory by modern standards. There’s a sequel to this film called Dr. Phibes Rides Again also starring Vincent Price which sounds buck-wild when you consider how The Abominable Dr. Phibes ends.

Happy hauntings to all and to all ghoul night.

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Blade Runner 2049


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Blade Runner 2049: K and the Real Girls

Written Review by David Carter

Disclaimer: This is, unfortunately, one of those times that the angle at which I’m tackling a film is only worthwhile if I just flat out spoil the film from top to bottom. But for those just wanting to know my feelings: it’s a great film and one that took an entire week of contemplating to grow. It’s not an easy watch, but I think a rewarding one. It’s movie that wants to have a dialogue with the subtext of Blade Runner but morph it into text, while taking its own even more complicated journey. Please see this film.

As I mentioned in my Blade Runner review last week, the movie’s legacy is so entrenched in its groundbreaking aesthetics, and production design and slightly less in its characters. However, some of those characters have also gone on to influence so much of the film landscape over the course of 30 years. While I talked about Rick Deckard and his deeper complexities in that write up, I only briefly mentioned the true protagonist of Blade Runner, Roy Batty. He’s the Byronic Hero of the story. A character who rebels against the very concept of death even with its inevitability. He’s romantic, charismatic and arrogant. As Tyrell, his maker and god, tells him “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and you have burned so very very brightly.” Roy Batty is the living and breathing embodiment of the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Roy rages against the dying of the light like nobody’s business.

And while that light did burn half as long, it burned an impression on the landscape that all future replicants were able to follow. Blade Runner 2049 has replicants all taking pages from Roy Batty’s playbook, but now their lifespans are no longer artificially shortened. This complicates things and is what the larger narrative tension is about in Blade Runner 2049. An angry and dissatisfied group of people coming together in greater numbers and organization to escape the societal bondage they’re kept in, with a few twists to that narrative thrown in. This, however, is just the text of the film. What was once underlying in Blade Runner is now outright and writ large in Blade Runner 2049. The subtext of the film plays with the journey of a new character. One that’s an amalgam of Rick Deckard’s introspective, self-discovering private eye and Roy Batty’s destiny denying replicant, but someone that’s also dealing with his own issues. Issues that take on a decidedly female form.

Blade Runner 2049’s lead character is a replicant lawman named KD6-3:7 (Ryan Gosling who continues to be one of our most reliable and interesting actors) or simply “K.” Even though he’s more officially on the LAPD’s payroll than Deckard was, he’s still playing the role of a private eye in the form of Blade Runner. Right off the bat things are different with K. He’s quiet but not in a brooding way (at least not outwardly) but more mild-mannered and reserved. The film opens with him going to a protein farm to retire a fellow replicant Sapper Morton (a tinily bespectacled Dave Bautista). K sits patiently waiting for Sapper to come home while a dutch oven full of simmering soup spits and spatters across from him. Sapper arrives knowing what the deal is. He knows he’s not long for this world even if he fights back, so he sows a thought into K’s mind. One about miracles. K’s steely reserve is shattered at the discovery of this new mystery. While a great callback to the opening scene of screenwriters Hampton Fancher’s unused draft of the original Blade Runner, it’s an efficient and subtle way to flesh out K’s character. Underneath the calm demeanor lies a sea of swirling questions and anxieties. It feels like only a matter of time before he’s no longer able to pass his baseline test (a seemingly more intense and efficient Voight-Kampff stand in to see if replicants are mentally stable). You think K’s journey through the film from here will be reckoning with his replicant heritage and the morality of making his livelihood hunting down his brothers and sisters, but it goes so much deep than that. The impetus is when K comes to realize that the larger conspiracy at play is that a child has been born of a replicant (specifically Rachael from the first film. K finds Rachael’s remains buried under a tree on Sapper’s farm) and that he may be that child.

So K goes on a Raymond Chandler-esque journey to separate fact from fiction, all the while dealing with the implication that he may be this Christ-like figure to lead the replicants to the land of milk and honey. However, after the end of the 2nd act of the film, K has a rude awakening: he’s not the child. The child is a woman named Dr. Ana Stelline. A fabricated memory maker with an immune system deficiency, so she works in a glass cage. She puts herself in her work leading K to share memories with her. This revelation of a woman both being the chosen one and the shaper of his memories and life experience is no accident. You see, K’s entire world is seemingly motivated and driven by his female anxieties. You can see it in the power dynamics with all the women he interacts with within the film. K’s boss Joshi (played incredibly by Robin Wright) is the one barking orders at him, and treats him closer to a little boy told to go do his chores and clean up afterward than a detective and killer. K has a relationship with an artificial intelligence named Joi (a wonderful and gentle performance from Ana de Armas) who seems to love K and only wants to be as close to him as possible. Which is exactly why K’s own affection for her is slightly stilted since he’s never quite sure if she feels this way about him or if it’s an algorithm at work fulfilling all his desires. K’s physical antagonist is Luv (played with ice-cold menace by Sylvia Hoeks) who is superior to K in nearly every way, even declaring herself the best replicant ever made at one point. If K is a droopy-eyed bloodhound on a trail for the truth, then Luv is a wolf ready to tear that bloodhounds throat clean out. Replicant prostitute and revolutionary Mariette (Mackenzie Davis, whose screen presence can’t be contained to four corners) pities K, even chastising him for having a virtual girlfriend when he turns down her strategic advances (“Oh, you don’t like real girls” she provokes) but she also sees a potential for change and good.

Even the set dressing of this world is littered with images of male anxieties. There were two visuals in particular that stuck out to me, one being women in cages. Whether it be shots of dancers/prostitutes in cages on display in downtown L.A., Joi being limited to the confines of K’s apartment and then a hologram projecting pen, or Ana Stelline trapped behind glass in a small room doing incredible work (not knowing that she herself is special). It’s a clear illustration of how we treat women now, but amplified and literalized for the future. The other even more striking image is all of the giant women presented throughout. There’s the already striking image of the giant naked Joi advertisement pointing and talking down to K. There are the gates to the Vegas-like city depicting two women, mouths agape for oral pleasure facing each other. Not to mention the half-destroyed statues of women in vulnerable positions wearing heels. There’s even something as seemingly innocent as ballerinas dancing around the city. It all feels very Freudian and Fellini-esque, especially when you consider that K’s entire arch is not one of connecting with his potential father, Rick Deckard, but learning more about his potential mother whose body he discovers. K is a lost child in this movie looking for maternal figures to guide and nurture him. The movie is so explicit about K’s Oedipal nature that Joi gives him the human name “Joe” when he thinks he truly is the child born of a replicant. She does this after saying a mother would want her child to have a real name. Joi is the nurturing presence for K, but also a sensual and sexual one. It’s complicated.

The guidance helps in his journey to become a real boy (there’s a Pinocchio thread in this film as well. Joi is pretty much K’s Jiminy Cricket) but it doesn’t solidify it. K only takes control of his fate when he relinquishes his ego and the idea of him being the savior and instead decides to help with the replicant cause. In Blade Runner 2049, you can read the replicants as so many disenfranchised folks, but with the heavy female cast and imagery, it’s so solidly about women’s current struggle to take control of their lives and bodies. I haven’t even touched on the villain of the film, capitalist and industrialist Niander Wallace (played to aplomb by the insufferable Jared Leto precisely because he fits the character so well), another visionary without vision (Wallace is literally blind and Tyrell wore thick glasses) and the Satan to Tyrell’s misguided God figure. Our introduction to him is watching a naked female replicant be born, all the while monologuing about the implications of replicant procreation. He rubs her stomach while remarking on it’s “barren pastures” and “salted earth” only for the scene to climax with the slicing of her womb and her disposal. It’s not very subtle, to say the least.

While I only briefly touched on Gosling’s performance in this film, there’s a reason he was chosen for this part. What made him such a compelling actor in the early 2010’s was his ability to be simultaneously charming and boyish while also having a stunted emotional capacity. His roles in  Nicolas Winding Refn collaborations make that the defining point of his characters, especially in Only God Forgives (which is also very Oedipal and about masculine vs. female anxieties). He’s the perfect conduit for a movie like this to be snuck into theaters. He’s so handsome and likable that you almost miss that it’s a 3 hour, 150 million dollar cyberpunk film about a lonely boy who has a cyber waifu and must contend with the fact that women, more important and talented than him, are a large part of the world and he must make the choice to be an ally or go back to ignoring the problem. Truly a film for our times.

Blade Runner (The Final Cut)


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Blade Runner (The Final Cut): Rick Deckard, More than Meets the Private Eye

Written Review by David Carter

I think Blade Runner’s biggest strength as a work has always been its place in the canon of great films as a mood piece and a feast of design. If you’ve ever read anything about the film or watched the incredibly in-depth documentary about its inception called Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner then you know that while the film wasn’t destined for immediate critical or financial success, it was destined to influence writers, visual artists, and directors for decades. What you mostly hear those people talk about is how lived in and fleshed out the world is, or you hear about how the lighting and cinematography redefined how you could visualize science fiction. If you’re a part of the fan conversation, the discussion inevitably leads to talks about the different cuts of the film, whether or not Deckard is a replicant, and occasionally about the philosophical themes of consciousness, morality, and faith. Because of Blade Runner’s highly visual impact, people tend to gloss over one of the great things about science fiction and how it relates to this film:

What does this film say about the modern world?

I’ve mentioned this before when I talked about the film Colossal, but in short, what makes science fiction such a unique genre is that you can couch all these big serious ideas (or more aptly, anxieties) about the modern world into the texture of something fantastical and far off. The more entertaining the text and the closer you are in time to the material, the easier it is for the allegory to slip through the cracks. The further away you get in time, the allegory becomes more obvious to everyone. Like I mentioned earlier when it comes to discussion of the deeper themes of Blade Runner people to tend to wax poetic about the implications of the soul of a machine, but there’s a deep vein of discussion to be had about what those machines represent and what is Deckard’s relationship to those machines. And on this most recent viewing, there was one scene that stuck out in particular to me. A scene that even my un-woke (asleep?) teenage self always found uncomfortable and kinda pointless even after subsequent viewings.

The forced consent scene between Deckard and Rachael.

This scene can feel like it comes out of nowhere for Deckard’s character, who up to this point has been kind of a lovable anti-hero. Someone who reluctantly (but adequately) does his job as a blade runner and has a few drinks to take the edge off, but then all of sudden he becomes a brutish sexual predator. It wasn’t until this viewing that I realized that it wasn’t the film taking a hard turn left, the film makes it explicitly clear who Deckard is. I had been taken in by Harrison Ford as a persona and brought my own empathy for the replicants to the table. I was already seeing replicants as people, but Deckard from the very beginning does not. Like almost everyone in Blade Runner Deckard has no qualms about abusing and killing these machines. It’s not an accident that the film implies replicant humans are on the same level as replicant animals. They’re not even second class citizens, why should they be treated as such? The element of having the charismatic Harrison Ford cast as Deckard is genius because you see him as a “knight in tarnished armor” type similar to Philip Marlowe but underneath he’s so much closer to Hank Quinlan. He’s bigoted and brutal but he shrugs it off with a smirk.

So, what is it about the forced consent scene that clarifies the themes of this film and also Deckard’s relationship to the replicants? Well, if replicants are supposed to be these stand-ins for historically disposable and abused people, be it Black people (which is how I read the film on this viewing especially with all the anxieties about how replicants are physically superior to humans), Chinese, Jews or anyone else I’m forgetting (I think there’s also an interesting reading of how veterans are treated in this film) – then Deckard is just another complicit hypocrite. Replicants aren’t anything to him until he needs something. In the case of Rachael, she’s a warm body to relieve his anxiety. He can sweet talk to her up to a point but eventually, he has to put her at a remove. The week he guns down a replicant peacefully trying to make a living, is the same week he goes to bed with a replicant. Deckard is the equivalent of a “Blue Lives Matter” cop having an abusive relationship with a black woman. Yet, I understand that this is all a part of his arc within the film. It’s only after his harrowing and soul-shaking encounter with the antagonist (and in my opinion hero) Roy Batty that something clicks inside him. Yet it’s only the first step in a long and unseen road to Deckard viewing Rachael and all other replicants as conscious beings.

This viewing was the “Final Cut” of the film, but each cut has slightly different levels of ambiguity to Deckard’s own humanity. When you take that into account along with the “prejudice” reading of the film, his humanity can drastically change those relationships. If he’s human then he’s a bigot coming to terms with that bigotry. If he’s a replicant then he’s someone who’s been culturally brainwashed and has to engage with this newfound inner conflict with his heritage. Ambiguity is an interesting wrinkle to fold into allegory but I think it makes the movie that much more fascinating.

Blade Runner is a film that’s been picked over and analyzed countless times. I’m positive that there’s writing out there that picks up and goes much more in depth about what I’ve written here. I just wish things like this were more a part of the discussion of this film. There’s been a small outcry lately that Blade Runner is another case of a film that’s style over substance (and emotion) and has been overpraised, but I think this is a symptom of people focusing on the same things ad infinitum. It’s a film that deserves the same level of thematic discussion as any other sci-fi classic, even if you have to dive into some uncomfortable territory to find it.

It


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

It: An Outsider Among Outsiders

Written Review by David Carter

To be honest up front, I don’t know much about Stephen King. I don’t mean that in a nonchalant or flippant way, I just mean that my familiarity with his work is strictly from a cinematic standpoint. Even then I’ve really only mostly seen the good things based on his works or some of the movies he’s written. I know some basic trivia and I know enough context from pop cultural osmosis to get jokes about Stephen King (overwriting, phoned in premises, cocaine addiction, everything is set in Maine, abuse at the hands of less understanding generation of adults, broad characterizations of blue-collar people and minorities), but to put it simply I have never read one of his books*. So any criticisms I have about It are mainly drawing from two places: The 1990 T.V. mini-series directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the novel of the same name. This is to say that I can really only judge It on its own merits. I don’t know what has been left out or changed from the novel. What I can talk about is what I thought the film was lacking, and I don’t mean in it’s direction or writing (those certainly added to the problem) but with its characterization. Specifically, one character who’s given the shortest shrift of characters given a pretty short shrift.

In the town of Derry, Maine things are dangerously strange. In the late 80’s kids start going missing in droves and the adults in charge seem to turn a blind eye while stacking up missing children fliers on top of each other and making curfews 7:00 pm as a kind of empty gesture for care and safety. One kid, in particular, goes missing. Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott). Younger brother to the stutter afflicted Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher). Georgie goes to play with a paper boat going down the rain-swept streets of Derry when the boat plunges into a gutter. In this gutter lies a clown. Now I can wax poetic about a description of this clown, but I feel like if a clown waiting in a gutter for a child doesn’t chill you to the bone already then please come and protect me on those cold scary nights. The clown (named Pennywise and played by the littlest Skarsgård, Bill) offers Georgie his boat back if he comes to play with him down in the sewers where everyone floats. Georgie is hesitant and just wants the boat his brother made for him back and reaches out to grab it. He’s chomped and pulled into the sewer as an adult looks on in denial or complacency about what she’s seeing through the vale of rain.

Flash forward to a year later and many more kids are missing, it’s now the end of the school year. Bill still believes Georgie is just missing and pours his time into looking at blueprints of the sewer system and piecing together clues. His friends, Eddie the sick kid (relative newcomer Jack Dylan Grazer), Richie the wise-ass motormouth(Stranger Things alum Finn Wolfhard), and Stanley the Jewish kid (Wyatt Oleff, probably best known for his role as young Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy) quietly feel otherwise. They want to support Bill, but their biggest concerns are Bar Mitzvahs, escaping psycho-bully Henry Bowers, and just enjoying the summer. In the same school, just around the corner, are other kids who want to escape into the relative peace of summer as well. Beverly Marsh (standout Sophia Lillis) wants to get away from the slander and drama that comes with being a teenage girl, even though what she’s escaping to at home is a hellscape of sexual abuse. Ben Hanscom (loveable Jeremy Ray-Taylor) is the chubby new kid in school and want’s to be left to a summer of digging through books in the library.

And way out on the outskirts is Mike Hanlon. Played by Chosen Jacobs. The black kid.

Mike is homeschooled. Mike is an orphan due to losing his parents in a fire. Mike is doing the best he can with coping with that loss while helping his grandfather run his butcher’s shop. And unless I missed some extra’s strolling around in the background, Mike is the only black kid in Derry.

I point this out because as the movie progresses all these other outsiders band together against this creepy clown that seems to be behind Georgie and maybe every child abduction in Derry the past year. They’re each fleshed out or at least interesting to watch.

Except for Mike, who’s given nothing to do and is an afterthought.

This isn’t Chosen Jacobs fault either. He’s doing what he can with an underwritten part and you can tell the kid’s got physical presence. No, the problem comes from director Andy Muschietti missing something that was right in front of him: Mike is the biggest loser and outsider of them all simply by being a black kid in an all white town. Mike’s entire character and arch should be the conceit of the entire movie. He’s largely abused by Henry Bowers and his goons simply for being black. Even within the unity of the “Losers Club”, he’s an outsider. Every other character has some sort of significant relationship to each other, be it growing up together or romantic. All of them are connected to something. Mike doesn’t get the opportunity to make these relationships. As a matter of fact, it almost seems like he’s included in the group only because of his connection to the clown.

The movie does Mike dirty by not either leaning into and highlighting that exclusionary atmosphere hanging over him (maybe have an arch about the other kids getting to know Mike as a person and not a color) or going the other direction and giving him something to do while fleshing out his abuse by society as a compliment to the other kids who suffer very real abuse at the hands of adults. It makes no sense to me why Mike isn’t paired off with Ben considering they’re both unknowns to most of the kids anyway and both would have some predilection or experience with self-education (Ben being a bookworm, Mike being homeschooled), and probably seek some sort of companionship. Instead, Mike just to gets to show up in some scenes and occasionally contribute to moving the story along.

The underwriting of one character does not a bad movie make, but that character holds an unused key to deepening the subtext (which in this movie is closer to actual text) and relationships formed between the characters who fundamentally want and need kinship to survive within the dangerous world they live in. Failing to use that key just communicates to me that some perspective was lost to the creatives of this film. The perspective of the black girl or boy sitting in the theater just being told once again that even when you’re surrounded by other outcasts, you’ll still be an afterthought.

*I started reading The Stand shortly before seeing It but, I don’t think the 400 or so pages I’m into the book really qualifies me to speak to any of Stephen King’s strengths, shortcomings, or tendencies.

Death Note


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Death Note: Sour Note

Written Review by David Carter

There seems to be something happening with director Adam Wingard. He’s trying to make the jump to mainstream movie making from his humble beginnings as mumblecore maker of the macabre, but he’s going through some unfortunate growing pains. Wingard and his writing partner Simon Barrett cut their teeth on making lo-fi horror films (A Horrible Way to Die stands out) in the same style that Joe Swanberg, the Duplass brothers, and Lena Dunham were doing in their malaise-y comedies and dramas. The biggest difference being that there was always a more pop and mainstream aesthetic to Wingard and Barrett’s films. It only makes sense that when their budgets got bigger and the audience expanded that they’d lean into those proclivities a little more. You’re Next and The Guest (and to an extent their short segment in the horror anthology V/H/S) play with all of Wingard and Barrett’s fetishes. Late 70’s and early to mid 80’s flavor (and needle drops), dark humor that plays over the entire film not matter how grim the scenes became, and casts that feel like the roles were tailor made to their exact strengths (my favorite being how director Ti West is cast as a vapid dummy in You’re Next because he can’t even blink convincingly on camera).

However, when they made the jump to the actual mainstream, things began to get lost in the shuffle. Blair Witch, while an interesting experiment in expanding the mythology of a film that largely relied on its atmosphere and performances to create its world (Blair Witch plays like an imagined found footage script written by Mark Frost in 2006), it’s ultimately a failure. None of their trademark aesthetics are there, the attempts at humor largely fall flat and the cast is forgettable. So it was exciting to find out that Wingard (sans Barrett) was tackling a project that seemed like an interesting canvas for his particular brand of horror. A movie about a high school loner given unimaginably deadly power seems ripe for Wingard to do something interesting with the material. Unfortunately, Netflix’s Death Note steps into the same mud piles as this year’s Ghost in the Shell adaptation. While also highlighting the worst tendencies of the director, but with a minor caveat that politics here are murkier and our protagonist this time around feels like a proper reflection and embodiment of a type of person that was given power by the advent of a particular type of internet subculture.

Death Note is the long gestating American adaptation of the Japanese manga and anime of the same name. Our protagonist is Seattle native Light Turner (played by YA actor Nat Wolff). A high schooler who doesn’t seem like he really rolls with any particular crowd. He keeps to himself and runs a side-hustle doing other people’s homework and take home exams for them. It’s our indication that Light’s a smarter than your average boy. He’s also a mope. He gets picked on and pushed around, all the while fawning out of the corner of his eye for the dark sided cheerleader Mia Sutton (The Nice Guys alum Margaret Qualley) who smokes (to no one’s objection) during cheer practice. Things change when a book almost literally falls into his lap. It’s called the Death Note and its purpose is simple: If you write a person’s name in the book with their face in your mind, that person dies. It also comes with a magical friend, a Japanese demon named Ryuk (played by two-time Oscar nominee, the Green Goblin) who’s there to seemingly guide Light with the use of the Death Note but is maybe more adversary than an advisor. With the Death Note and the encouragement of Mia (who sees something she likes in Light) Light gives himself the alias Kira and takes it on himself to become Judge Judy and Executioner of all those he sees as blights on the world. Unfortunately for him, this attracts the attention of the world’s greatest detective simply named “L” (Delightful weirdo and incredible actor Lakeith Stanfield who is far and away the best thing about Death Note). What partially ensues is Heat-esque cat and mouse game (complete with a scene of the two foes meeting in a diner and spouting their codes and philosophies) but in reality, the focus is all about Light’s ideals and his relationship with Mia.

Light’s characterization and his relationship to Mia are some of the few saving graces of a film that stumbles in trying to delivering an intense horror/thriller for an American audience. Like Ghost in the Shell, there’s controversy as to the fact that it’s once again white people portraying characters who were in their conception and cultural touchstones, Japanese. At least this time there’s some effort made to make this American. It’s set in Seattle, literally one of the whitest places on Earth. Yes, the leads are white, but “L” is played by a black man whose the foil to what is a walking embodiment of Reddit dot com. But, those alone aren’t enough to give it a pass due to the negligence of not updating some cultural touchstones, like Ryuk being a Shinigami (death gods in Japanese mythology) instead of whatever the American analog would be. Or the fact that “L’s” man servant is still a Japanese man named Watari and that Japan is so focal to the events early on in the movie. The waters are murkier on this one but full commitment would have been better than the sloppy half measures taken.

I want to touch on the aforementioned aspect of Light’s updated characterization. Full disclosure: I have read and watched the entirety of both the manga and anime. There are unfortunate changes made to have a multi-volume story fit into a 101 minute run time. Like the fact that all of the labyrinthine rules of the Death Note being already written inside its pages as opposed to the slow burn of Light testing the limits of the book and figuring out those rules himself. However, the change of Light being this amazingly intelligent sociopath who presents himself as a Golden Boy to the family and peers in the manga and anime to someone who is a mildly intelligent logic bound, personified “actually” is an interesting change. It makes Light more of antagonist within the context of the film instead of the criminal we have some empathy for in cops and crooks movies. It’s a great reflection of the type of person we would fear getting their hands on a weapon that powerful. A teenager, who through their white-male entitlement and above average intelligence might think they have the world figured out. In the real world (especially modern day America) it’s rarely super intelligent people that tell people their outlook is wrong, it’s the trolls who lurk in Youtube comments. It’s why casting “L” black is a great way to bring out that subtext. An insanely competent person who went through hell and high water to earn what they have is constantly overshadowed by a white dude who got lucky. It’s a smart change on Wingard’s part.

For all the good racial and cultural subtext of Death Note, it doesn’t really work as a piece of fiction. So much is told through montage and Wingard leans way too heavily on his style and personal tastes (this and Spider-Man: Homecoming earn the annoying distinction of having high school dances where the kids in 2017 are way into the 80’s pop music the DJ is spinning instead of,  you know, music kids would actually listen to). Hopefully down the line, this property gets a long form adaptation that is faithful to the spirit of the manga but retains the interesting cultural changes that saved this movie from just being another slapped together mess that’s used as a punchline among fans.

Ingrid Goes West

 Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

Ingrid Goes West: The Queen of Social Media

Written Review by David Carter

In 2017 it’s great to see a crop of young fresh filmmakers emerging with ideas that feel not only fully fleshed out, but ideas and scenarios that feel lived-in and universal. One movie in particular that strikes this balance is Ingrid Goes West. The first feature film from director/writer Matt Spicer and writer David Branson Smith have done a great job walking the tightrope of crafting complicated characters who aren’t necessarily likable but you feel an empathy for their struggle. This isn’t a navel gazy or moralist tale about vapid L.A. or social media culture (though it certainly plays a part), but a story about damaged people and their survival instincts in the 21st century. In addition to all of the texture this movie has to offer, it also taps into a vein that Martin Scorsese was mining in the early and mid-80’s. Dark and sometimes comedic odysseys into worlds where all of the people feel real to the environments and how the (sometimes sociopathic) protagonist shifts and morphs into whatever they need to be to get by in that environment.

Ingrid Goes West explores the exterior and more importantly the interior life of someone struggling not only with mental illness but the loss of a loved one. When we meet Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza, who in 2017 has proven to be one of our most indispensable dramatic and comedic talents) she is ostensibly at her lowest point. Sitting in a van outside of a wedding reception, scanning the brides Instagram feed with manic puffy red eyes. You can tell she’s at a breaking point, and like a flimsy tree branch supporting a grown man playing on a tire swing, she snaps. She assaults the bride for not being invited to the wedding. Ingrid is devastated. She’s liked every post and commented like a loyal “stan.” How could she be left in the cold like this? After a stint in a mental rehabilitation facility, Ingrid goes back to Instagram, the only remaining constant in her life and discovers another social media celeb to imprint on. Taylor Sloan (a SoCal soaked Elizabeth Olsen) embodies everything Ingrid wants. On her phone screen she’s a woman living her greatest possible life. High-end eateries, a relationship with an artist, effortlessly beautiful, intelligent, and a lovingly large follower count. Taylor is the modern day American dream, someone who can be whatever she want’s to be in the world of double tapped likes and #nofilter photography. Ingrid wants a slice of that dream, takes the 63,000 dollar inheritance left to her by her mother, throws it in a backpack and heads for the land of opportunity.

The film’s title is an allusion to the West as this wild and untamed place where you could go to become whatever you wanted. If you were poor you could get lucky and strike gold. If you were a criminal out East, you could now become sheriff. For Ingrid, this means a new identity as someone who is simply not a freak or a loser. What doesn’t immediately dawn on her is that the people she idolizes from an iPhone have done the same thing for the same reasons, and the one person she does meet and make a connection with who is genuine (O’Shea Jackson Jr. as the Batman loving Dan Pinto who will charm the pants off of every single person who sees this movie. I’m still looking for my pants. Where are they O’Shea?) she takes them for granted and uses them. She stalks and lies to her targets and hopes for things to come together in her favor. Her modus operandi bears a striking resemblance to the lead character in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy, Rupert Pupkin.

Ruppert isn’t so much trying to reinvent himself or escape anything, but rather seeking the approval and adoration he can only get from his idol Jerry Langford (late great Jerry Lewis in his best role) and the millions who watch Jerry’s show, the same way Ingrid pursues Taylor and those who follow her on Instagram. Ruppert’s a sociopathic two-bit comedian, but that doesn’t matter because in his mind he’s owed his 15 minutes of fame and he’ll stoop to whatever levels to obtain those minutes. Like Ingrid, you don’t view Rupert as a monster, just unscrupulous in their actions. They both clearly need professional help and are struggling with past trauma but for them, notoriety is the only healing they want. Like Ruppert says during his final stand-up routine “Better to be king for a night than a schmuck for a lifetime.” For Ingrid, the quote would probably read “Better to be a queen online than a freak in the real world.” And given her situation, you might find it hard to disagree.

But for all the comparisons there are to make to other films, the movie stands on its own merits. Ingrid as a character feels unique and so of this time. We all have our vices and escapes, but the thrall of following the perceived lives of people we don’t know and will most likely never meet can be a strong one for a generation who’ve pretty much grown up on interacting and connecting with people’s online identities. Spicer and Smith don’t judge the people or the practice but do want to dig into the psychologies of those who embrace the lifestyle. What they dig up aren’t hollow shells but rather people just looking for acceptance. However, those people got lost (or maybe just changed) in the journey for that acceptance. Can the image you present of yourself online and amongst other social climbers be the real one if you chose to believe it with every fiber of your being? The movie doesn’t offer any answers, but it’s definitely a question that’s relevant to the ubiquity of the social media lifestyle. There used to be a distinct separation of online or the real world but we’ve finally reached a place as a culture where those lines aren’t just blurry, they’re being erased. You can’t deny the bad (“fringe” communities that helped get our current president elected) and the good (conversations and positive developments about identity, race, gender and socioeconomic disparity) effects the internet has on the real world. That erasure of the line extends to social media. The way people present themselves online might as well be the real thing for their followers. At least as a follower, you have something to aspire to. Even if the image you aspire may be considered a lie.

David and David at the Movies Volume Two

Hello, everyone! We’re not reviewing a movie this week. Instead you’re getting the cover image for Volume Two and David Carter’s introduction for that volume. We’ll be debuting the book at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland at the Marriott North Bethesda Hotel and Conference Center on September 16th and 17th. We’ll be at tables K12-14A. More info is here: http://www.smallpressexpo.com/. And now, David Carter’s introduction:

Carter Introduction Volume Two

Well, here we are again. Somehow David Yoder and I have managed to keep this whole project going long enough to put out a Volume 2. I think it’s appropriate that Volume 2 be the months where we covered a lot of the summer releases, a huge chunk of which are sequels (one of which is literally subtitled Vol. 2). So hopefully if you pull anything from reading this compilation, it’ll be about the nature of continuing a story in interesting ways. But there was also a great summer for interesting original movies breaking through into the mainstream or striking a chord with a small audience. Like any summer season there were up and downs, but this year, in particular, has been so exciting to experience. We couldn’t cover everything we saw (on average I see at least two new releases a week and we can only cover one) but I hope this book has an eclectic enough selection for you to find and interesting POV on a film or type of film that interest you.

This time around our POV has expanded! We have some great guest artists and writers joining us for the weeks when we were just too busy to see a film or wanted a different outlook on a particular film. They really brought something special to the table and our anxiety and lethargy willing, if there’s a Volume 3, we can have more of these great perspectives and visual styles. Although in this volume, in our Power Rangers review, you do get to see my debut as an artist that the world just wasn’t quite ready for. Pearls before swine. Saltiness aside, thank you for buying,  borrowing, or even just glancing at our book. Without further ado, on with the show!

David Carter