Archive for February, 2009

Box Office Gold

Posted in Movies on February 26, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness


Sometimes, not often but sometimes, the box office exposes an ugly truth.  Such is the case with the wretched remake of FRIDAY THE 13TH. On its opening weekend, it made over 40 million dollars, breaking records for that weekend and being the highest opening gross ever for a horror remake.  On Monday, the producers began to talk about a part 2 and even a part 3. I wanted to shoot myself.

And guess what? The following weekend, it broke another box office record.  Unbelievable right? Guess how much it made, go ahead take a stab at it.  What are you thinking? Another 40? 35? Nope, you’d be wrong.

It made 7 million dollars in it’s second weekend.  That’s almost an eighty percent drop in sales! Over just one week!  And it didn’t even make the top five for that weekend.  It finished in sixth and it got its ass kicked by a black man wearing a dress!!  I’m sure there will still be a sequel, but the hope for a franchise is probably gone.



In Defense Of Saws

Posted in Movies on February 26, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness


May God forgive me, I am becoming fond of the SAW franchise.  Not because it has improved with each film, oh no, Lord no.  But because as the sequels get dumber and dumber, cheaper and cheaper, confused and more confused, they have (If only by accident) become absurdly entertaining.

Let me be clear: I hate the original SAW.  A lot.  It’s a manipulative piece of trash that thinks it’s frightening and edgy to make people saw their own legs off.  It’s gory for the sake of being gory.  And it’s not cheesy fun gore like RE-ANIMATOR or most recently MY BLOODY VALENTINE; it’s gore that is meant to disturb the viewer and that’s not scary, it’s just depraved.  SAW is primarily responsible for the ridiculous term ‘torture-porn’.   Besides its sequels, it’s spawned a whole series of rip-offs like CAPTIVITY and BROKEN.  ‘Torture-porn’ has become such an annoying debate among  horror fans and even some self-righteous politicians that it is a topic for another blog post.  But the whole debate began with SAW.  Everybody tries to blame HOSTEL, but SAW came first mother-fuckers.  

Also, it’s such a stupid, inane, unbelievable fucking premise. A bitter cancer patient who calls himself Jigsaw (how witty)  exacts his revenge by setting up elaborate death traps for people who he deems ungrateful or unworthy to be alive.  The traps are so complex and intricate that my first thought on seeing the film was that this old man must be getting some kind of government grant to pay for them and an assembly line of workers to set them up for him.  I know, I know, you shouldn’t think about logical things like that while watching a horror film, but when a horror film is as poorly acted, written, and directed as SAW, one’s mind begins to wander.

I wasn’t at all surprised when they made a sequel.  A little disheartened, but not surprised.  And it was marginally better than the original.  It wasn’t nearly as self important, the gore was less realistic and much cheesier and there was a hell of a lot more going on.  In the original, the endless babble between Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel (also the film’s writer and he should neither continue to act nor write) drove me fucking mad. I mean, how many different ways can two men argue about sawing off their limbs? Their entire conversation was just variations of one of them saying, ‘We need to chop off our feet!’ and the other saying ‘No’.  For a fucking hour and a half.   In the sequel, at least there were multiple characters and the ones you couldn’t stand listening to died pretty quickly.



I actually consider SAW III to be the best film in the series.  It’s still not good, but it’s the closest the series will ever come to having an actual, legitimately decent film.  Jigsaw’s game was more interesting this time around because I liked the idea of the hero having to choose whether to save his enemies or to just let them die.  I was amazed that the filmmakers were able to actually use their dumb as shit premise to pose a fairly interesting moral question.  That being said, it was still convoluted and far too self-important. And Jigsaw suddenly became a noble savior of mankind. Fuck that.  I hate when movies try to turn serial killers into heroes.  That’s just lazy writing and it only happens because of the psychotic fans who talk about how Jigsaw is ‘badass’. 

Then came SAW IV, which even hardcore fans didn’t seem particularly interested in. By this point, the series firmly established itself as the new horror franchise to beat.  Piss and moan all you want, but the SAW series is the successor to FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. If only for that, I began to appreciate SAW a little bit more.  Just because I miss stupid franchises like that and it’s nice to have one again.  Granted I would have preferred if it happened to a better series like HOSTEL, but SAW will just have to do.

SAW IV and V are terrible films.  Particularly IV.  They are so concerned with connecting themselves to the other films in the series that each one contains multiple flashbacks that tells you something that you thought happened earlier but really didn’t.  Or a least not in the way you think it did.  Example: In SAW II, it’s established that Jigsaw does have an assistant, a girl played by Shawnee Smith.  In IV, it’s revealed that he had yet another assistant, a detective played by Costas Mandylor.  I would have loved to have been in the room when the writers had to figure out how to rewrite the history of the series to explain how Jigsaw had two assistants helping him, neither of whom were aware of the others existence.  The rewriting of the plot is so ridiculous that the most jaded soap opera writers have to be scratching their heads as to how the filmmakers came up with this nonsense.


However, In IV all the things that I really hated about the series (excessive gore, a need to provide a ‘message’, characters who talk way too much) were gone.  The film was solely concerned with setting up absolutely preposterous death traps and finding ludicrous ways to re-write series history.  That’s it.  Any attempt at character development or a halfway coherent plot was gone.  And you know what? It made the film a lot of fun to watch.

Why? Because the death traps are, despite being so unbelievable, fun to look at.  And this late in the game, it’s a blast to see what they come up with.  You gotta give the writers credit for that at least.  Five films in and their still not running out of ideas.  The pit and the pendulum bit in V was particularly awesome.  They must have the complete book of Rube Goldberg devices on stand-by.  Also, the series has become completely harmless.  The gore isn’t even close to realistic anymore and hardly anyone brings the films up when discussing ‘torture-porn’ these days.  The critics ignore the new ones completely and the films are barely being advertised.  However, that doesn’t stop them from making a shitload of money every October.

It’s stunning to me that the series has caught on so well and looks like it will continue to do so for years to come.  Watching the films now is a lot like going to McDonalds: It’s not very good for you, but you know exactly what you’re going to get and you’ll feel very full after finishing.  You might regret it later, but it sure tastes good at the time.

Also, the series loves to bring in actors from TV shows and kill them in horrible ways and that’s kind of a hoot.  Where else can you see Luke from GILMORE GIRLS get crushed between two walls? Rita from DEXTER have to slice her hand open on a table saw? Chloe’s boyfriend from 24 get blown up by a nail bomb? The bitchy sister from SEVENTH HEAVEN suffocate to death on poison gas? And where else can the kindly deputy from PICKET FENCES be a deranged cop turned serial killer? I hope they bring Dr. House into the series and I hope he gets tortured by having a cane shoved up his ass.


So folks, I understand completely that these movies are not good and that they will never win any Oscars (But it’d be fun if they did, wouldn’t it?).  But still, they have become a fucking hell of a lot of fun to sit through.  I await SAW VI anxiously.  I hope they reveal that Jigsaw is back from the dead (Which has technically already happened; he died at the end of II but III conveniently forgot that plot point) and is now running for President.  I hope they reveal that he had about eighty more assistants helping him, none of whom knew each other.  I hope that he wins the election and makes the entire country go through a massive death trap that he had built in outer space.  SAW VII: THE FINAL FRONTIER  can be him conquering other planets.  Hey, believe me, loonier things have happened in this series.

Something to think about…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness


…How much do you think one of these babies goes for on the black market, considering the value of gold these days?

…Could it help with your mortgage?  Rent?  Car payment?  …Could it buy some diapers?

Now ask yourself:  did you stop to think about this before this post?  OR were you too busy fretting about how the Dark Knight got snubbed and how Slumdog Millionaire better not sweep the oscars?

…Your rent’s late, deadbeat.

Post-Apocalyptic Amazing

Posted in Comics, Videogames on February 14, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness

First let me preface this review of two absolutely amazing things by saying that I hate “the man.”  I will not be watching the Oscars this weekend.  I think Greenday’s new album will be absolute garbage and their transformation into the next U2 is nearly complete.  I have never watched a single episode of House.  I fucking hate nearly 99% of the things that other people like.

That being said, here are two things that cost me a total of 5 dollars and have brought me no end of enjoyment.

The first is Weapon Brown, brought to my attention at Comicon by the noticably-absent-from-this-blog Mr. Jordan Hue.  Here is Weapon Brown:


Yep.  Tha’td be Charlie Brown, with a robotic arm, shooting the fuck out of Lucy’s Therapy Stand.  This comic, by genius and all-around nice guy Jason Yungbluth, collects the chapters of his Nuclear Holocaust vision of the Peanuts characters into one niftly little comic.  Everybody’s present, from Pigpen’s desperate offers of a blowjob for crack, to Linus’ worship of the great pumpkin, to Snoopy gnawing on the lifeless body of Woodstock.  And all for five dollars.  God bless you indie comics.

And now for something similar, and even less than 5 dollars.  This pretty baby cost me nothing but a quick download on my computer, and its already impressed me even more than Jason Yungbluth’s masterpiece.



Yep.  You play Charles Barkley.  The last known baller.  Originator of the “Chaos Dunk,” which killed thousands, leading to the goverments ban of the sport of Basketball which gave birth to the great B-Ball purge.  Barkley’s living his life out in shame, just trying to quietly raise his son, Hoopz.  His friends are all either dead, or have given up their baller lifestyles (Larry Bird is a minister, Michael Jordan works for the government, tracking down suspicions of balling activity). 

On a pure storytelling level, this is amazing.  It even ties in Charles Barkley’s adventurs in Space Jam, and Barkley’s serious bemoaning over the “destruction of slams and jams,” is enough to make even this reviewer, who has gotten most of his information about the sport of baksetball from the film Space Jam, passionate about balling.

As a game, however…this fucking thing is still fantastic.  It’s a straight RPG, with numerous references to other RPG’s, particularly those made by Square-Enix.  It adds in several action scenes with timed-button pressing, ala God of War, and the battles are always engaging, and it’s fun to level up and see what new Slams and Jams you can add to your destructive repertoire.  Currently I have the great grandson of Lebron James and a Cyborg version of Vince Carter in my party.  I love it.

Indie things make me happy.  I will be having a much better time playing “CHEF BOYARDEE’S BARKLEY, SHUT UP AND JAM, GAIDEN,” and re-reading “WEAPON BROWN,” then I would ever have watching the Oscars.



100 Bullets: A Reflection

Posted in Comics on February 12, 2009 by kickingupthedarkness


On March 18th 2009, 100 BULLETS will conclude its nearly decade long run off of DC’s Vertigo imprint.  The series itself will have run for exactly 100 issues.  I thought that I would take some time to reflect on the sheer brilliance of this series.  If all comics were as funny, violent, depraved, touching, mysterious, and riveting as 100 BULLETS, I would probably have no time to do much of anything else except sit in my room and read them.  Alas, this is not to be, because BULLETS has been so above everything else ever since it began that it will truly leave a gaping void of creativity in the comic book world.

So, first things first, let’s go over some of the things that have made this series such a joy to read from beginning to end, starting with the basic premise to the landmark issues of the series.  A note to fans: I’ll only be focusing on the series up to issue 88 for now.  I’ll review the final arc, consisting of 11 issues, when it concludes in March.  This is not merely because the final arc is yet to complete, but mainly because the final arc has been so dense that I could write a novel about it.


The series began in 1999 with a seemingly simple, yet startlingly original premise.  What if you had been wronged by somebody in life, be it an enemy, co-worker, friend, or even a lover, and somebody gave you the chance to get even? And not just to get even, but to suffer no consequences from your actions.  Specifically, what if you were given 100 rounds of untraceable ammunition and told that no law enforcement agency could touch you?  Would you forget about whatever moral code you may have and even the score?

It is with this question that writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso begin their masterpiece.  In issue 1, we are introduced to Dizzy, a tough as nails girl from a Chicago ghetto, as she is being released from prison.  Her husband and young son were killed while she was inside, presumably by a rival gang.  Riding the train home, Dizzy feels nothing; her world has crumbled and she has no place in it anymore.  Then she meets a man who calls himself Agent Graves.  Graves provides her with an attache case that tells her who really murdered her family and provides her with the oppurtunity for some payback.  Graves also tells her that it is entirely up to her what she does with this information.  He is only there to present her with an opportunity. 


This is a hell of a way to start a series.  Who does not think about revenge on a daily basis? Even for slight offenses, such as wanting to blow the guy away who cut you off on the highway.  As a matter of fact, that’s just how Azzarello came up with the idea for the series.  Someone cut him off on the road and he began to wonder what he would do to the person if he could get away with it.  What elevates the material beyond a fascinating moral question is that Azzarello and Risso never make it easy for their characters to decide how to act.  And when they do act, they generally make the wrong decision.  The law might not be able to catch up with them, but there’s always something else lurking around the corner.

For a good long while, the series follows several different characters and how they react to being given Agent Grave’s attache case.  We meet a gambler, a lowly bartender, an ice cream man, a reporter, and a waitress, among others.  It may sound trite, but Azzarello makes each story unique and there is always the question of why and how this man Graves is able to give them this oppurtunity.  Some cryptic answers are provided by an even more mysterious character than Graves: Mr. Sheperd.  Sheperd thrives on living in the shadows, and as one character remarks, ‘He likes things cloudy.’  With his brown trenchcoat and a cigarette always in his mouth, Mr. Sheperd is right out of a classic film noir.  Sheperd spends a good portion of the series talking to the recipients of the attache and nudging them in the right direction.  Or not.


At first glance, the series may seem like nothing more than variations on a theme.  But Azzarello lays down clue after clue that he is playing at something much larger here.  For example, several of the recipients seem to know Graves and uncover lost memories as they carry out his dirty work.  Upon hearing a strange word (CROATOA), these characters start to remember who they really are and refer to themselves as ‘Minutemen’.  There are hints at a global conspiracy, but Azzarello does not let us in on the full story until issue 50. 

Azzarello and Risso are a sensational team.  Easily the best pairing between artist and writer in years, perhaps ever.  Azzarello has an ear for dialogue that is unparalleled.  Whether its a character from the street or from the business world, everything they say rings true.  Risso’s artwork may seem a bit cartoony at first, but he is a master of shadows and often maninpulates you into looking at the wrong thing, even when it’s right in front of your eyes.  Action is constantly happening in the background and if you don’t read carefully, you’ll miss it.   Also, no other artist is better at telling a story without any words.  Risso is as confident as they come and he can break your heart with a few simple panels.


The series is heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY and, of course, Film Noir.  However, 100 BULLETS is infinitely better than SIN CITY for several reasons.  First: Azzarello is a much better storyteller and writer than Frank Miller.  Miller only writes about himself.  Alright, all writers do that, but Miller never tries to hide it.  Azzarello writes original characters that are as diverse as can be. Also, in SIN CITY, Miller isn’t doing anything new.  He is paying homage to Raymond Chandler and all the private eye films he’s seen in his life.  He wears his influences on his sleeve, which may be noble, but he adds nothing new to what has come before. 

Second: Azzarello is not merely paying homage to noir comics and films.  He is writing about the world we live in and placing it in a film noir context.  He is advancing noir; continuing the tradition and making it feel new.  For all you folks who ask what happened to true film noir, look no further than the pages of 100 BULLETS.  True noir was always about the little people that society forgot, be they private eyes, two bit criminals, or foolish gamblers.  Azzarello asks who these people are today.  He searches in the darkest corners of our world and tells the stories of the naive gang members, the junkies, the gas station attendants, and the private eyes.  This is what noir has become. 

Now, lets take a look at the standout issues and story arcs of the series shall we? If you want many of the series questions to remain unanswered until you get off your ass and pick up the trade paperbacks, you might want to stop reading now.



This was the first issue that showed us Graves doing something else besides giving people the opportunityto get away with murder.  It also introduced us to the series chief villain, a hulking Hawaiian monster named Lono.  We watch Graves and Lono having a quiet lunch, while they discuss business and answer a few of our questions, while raising even more.  Right off the bat, Lono comes off as the exact opposite of Graves.  Calm, cool, and efficient, Graves is annoyed with Lono for botching a job.  Loud, obnoxious, and arrogant, Lono defends himself and remarks to Graves that he wants revenge on Mr. Sheperd for being responsible for the demise of the Minuteman.  We are able to conclude that the Minutemen work for Graves, that Lono is one of them, and that Graves works for a very powerful organization known as The Trust.  The motivations of The Trust and of Graves remain unclear, though Lono refers to his giving out the attache as a stupid  ‘Game’.  Grave’s response: ‘It’s never a game Lono.  Never.’  This issue is a beautiful example of Azzarello and Risso’s ability to reveal secrets without coming right out and smacking you in the face with them.  Graves and Lono do not simply announce who they are and who they work for; we have to deduce the information for ourselves from their skillfully written conversation. 



Arguably, the series’ saddest issue.  We are introduced to a a middle-aged waitress named Sally and her husband Phil.  Sally goes to work and is unfortunate enough to find Agent Graves as one of her customers.  He tells her the story of her daughter, who has been missing for three years.  As she cries her poor little heart out, Graves is relentless in telling her how her daughter got into drugs, was forced into prostitution and ultimately died of AIDS in an all night porno theater.  She is beside herself and asks what she can do.  That’s when Graves pulls out the attache.  She opens it and Risso does not let us see what she is looking at, but we see the rage on her face.  We follow her home as she serves her husband dinner.   Without warning, she pulls the gun from the case and blows him to hell, emptying the weapon into him like a maniac.  Azzarello then reveals that good old Phil had been raping their daughter for years before she ran away.  The final image of the issue is of Graves standing outside the house listening to the gunfire.  This image defined Graves more than any previous issue.  Stoic, silent, but somehow pleased with the violence that he is responsible for. We can imagine how many times he’s stood outside houses just like that.  Also, this is the only occasion where the violence that Graves creates is truly, absolutely, 100 percent deserved.



After picking Dizzy up upon the completion of her ‘mission’, Mr. Sheperd sends her to France.  There she meets the chubby reporter, Mr. Branch.  Like her, Branch was given an attache by Graves and encouragement by Sheperd.  Branch never tells us what was in his briefcase, but he does provide a lot of information.  We learn that he found people across the country who had been given attaches and when he got too close to the truth, Lono paid him a not-so-friendly visit.  He tells Dizzy about The Trust, a secret organization that has been around for centuries and is more powerful than anything else in the world.  He also tells Dizzy that neither Graves, nor Sheperd are men who can be trusted.  Amidst all this information is a wonderful view of France, quite refreshing considering every fucking moronic thing that has been said about the country in recent years.   And Branch is a delightful character.  The scruffy reporter is a fat oaf, petrified of his own shadow and yet he exhibits a wit and intelligence reminescent of Falstaff .  The French romp culminates in a  visit from Minuteman Cole Burns (another recipient of the attache) who frightens the hell out of Branch and warns them both that Graves and the Trust are now at war.  And Graves needs new recruits.  No extra points for guessing who he has in mind.



This issue reveals that Graves has been playing his ‘Game’ since the early 60’s and is also a wickedly funny piece of revisionist history.  Graves runs into an old man in a hospital who remembers him from another time.  The two begin to talk and it’s discovered that this old man is none other than Joe DiMaggio.  Flashbacks tell of how Graves met him after Marilyn Monroe’s death and provided him with an attache that told him the real story of his loved one’s demise.  JFK was the man responsible for her murder and DiMaggio took a shot at the bastard on a grassy knoll in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  A great read, capitalizing on two of the most controversial conspiracy theories of our time.



The best complete story arc of the entire series.  This tale follows Milo Garret, a private eye who was wounded in a car crash and now has to walk around with bandages all over his face.  Graves gives him an attache and we watch as he finds himself caught in a classic noir mystery, complete with femme fatales, crooked cops, and monstrous villains.  Garret is one of Azzarello’s finest characters.  He recalls every private eye from every movie, from Humphrey Bogart in THE MALTESE FALCON to Jack Nicholson in CHINATOWN.  The bandages are a terrific device as well; we keep waiting to see what’s underneath.  When Risso finally does show us, it’s a hell of a surprise. The bandages change Garret into a stranger, an unkowable entity in a world where knowledge is power.  We learn that Garret was one of Graves’ Minutemen, but he makes a choice in the final issue that puts him permanently out of a job.  The best thing about this arc is that it tells a very classic story in a modern world and never feels like it’s merely paying homage. Take a cue from this Miller.



The issue that finally told us the complete backstory of The Trust and of Graves and his Minutemen.  We meet three thieves hiding out in a bar and one of them has a story to tell.  He talks about when America was first discovered and of 13 fiendish European families who wanted to take control of the land as a whole.  They were a crew of theives who made a deal or ‘Trust’ with each other in order to achieve this goal. Honor Among Thieves.  They made an offer to the Queen of England, but she refused.  The original Trust responded by sending seven Minutemen to the small community on Roanoke Island.  The Minutemen butchered everyone there and left a message: CROATOA.  Translation: This Belongs To Us.  And there you have it, The Trust has been in control of America since before it began and the Minutemen are their enforcers, but are mainly there to make sure no one member of the Trust becomes too powerful. Checks and Balances folks.  This revelation doesn’t come as a complete surpirse (Azzarello drops hints all the time) but it allows Azzarello to start telling much wider stories.  By mixing historic mysteries with conspiracy theories, he is able to create a world that is a twisted mirror image of our own: where revenge can be free and everything is up for grabs.  The tale is told by my personal favorite character, Minuteman Victor Ray, who makes his first appearance here.  And BTW, he tells most of the story while in the midst of a fucking mad as hell gunfight.  When Risso does action, its better than the movies.



 After being fatally wounded, the enigmatic Mr. Sheperd makes a frantic drive to tie up loose ends.  By this point in the series, it has been revealed that Sheperd is the warlord for The Trust, acting as their advisor in all things having to do with violence and death.  He surprises the hell out of the reader by making the psychotic Lono his replacement.  This makes us wonder about Sheperd’s motivations all along and if he has been working for Graves, the Trust, or just himself.  His last line before succumbing to his wounds is absolutely heartbreaking.   Azzarello made him so mysterious, but so likable and human at the same time.  Risso’s final image of Sheperd’s body being torn apart by wild dogs will haunt your dreams and  drives the point home that Azzarello is not at all interested in happy endings.



The last issue of the series that shows Graves playing his ‘Game’.  Throughout the series, he’s used his attaches as a way to amuse himself, to recruit people and simply to see just what the hell people will do with a little bit of power.  Here, he gives the attache to a poor waiter who sits on a park bench, wondering just what the hell he should do.  In comes Lono, wearing a familiar brown trenchcoat and smoking a cigar, to provide some encouragement.  Seeing Lono act as a deranged Mr. Sheperd is a hoot and Azzarello makes this a very thoughtful goodbye to the convention that has served him so well throughout much of the series.



Victor Ray’s moment to shine.  The steady Minuteman completes a job for Graves, but lingers in the area for longer than expected because of something he heard on the news.  He learns of a couple who killed a pregnant woman, ripped the baby from her stomach, and took it for their own.  They also took her five year old son in the process.  Victor Ray tracks them down and buries an ax in the man’s head and drowns the woman in a toilet.  Graves picks him up, dissapointed by his behavior.  Victor simply says, “Fuck you. And Fuck Your Attache.” Sometimes bad people just deserve to be killed.  And sometimes you don’t need a personal reason or 100 untraceable bullets to do it.  You just need an ax and a toilet and one righteously badass Minuteman. 

Honestly folks, I could go over every single issue in this series and talk about them for hours.  The ones above are simply my absolute favorites, but there are so many more dark alleys, femme fatales, impossible choices,  corrupt cities, and morally ambiguous characters in the world of 100 BULLETS for you to discover if you haven’t so already.  I’ve barely scratched the surface.  Get off the computer now, buy the paperbacks and see for yourself.