Please Help Me, I Am A Fanboy

Well, I think we all knew that, but I don’t think we ever knew exactly how deep that river ran.

We know about me and movies – though there are bigger movie fans out there. I haven’t mentioned comic books much since that one comment about preferring that I talk about movies (I’m quite the sensitive soul, I assure you), but then again, I just don’t read them as much as I used to. The constant mega-events and reboots just wore me down, and I’ve largely turned my back on them.

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

And then the local comics shop that I visited perhaps once every three months opened up a shop much closer (the bastards) and now I’m an every-three-weeks-or-so guy. I don’t leave with many books. The titles I have hung onto are because of the writers more than anything. It’s the usual suspects – Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and – especially – Warren Ellis. Well, there’s also The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but that’s mainly because for years nobody believed me there actually was such a character.

If we’re going to drill down into the fanboy thing, the author we have to concentrate on is Ellis, whose work I was turned onto in that selfsame comic shop so many years ago. If you’re a comics fan, you’re familiar with his work: Stormfront, The Authority and multiple Marvel titles (including the amazing NEXTwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.) in the superhero genre, and more wide-ranging genre work like Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency and Planetary. He branched out into prose novels and TV projects, but keeps returning to comics. The weekly Web serial FreakAngels has wrapped, but his current series, still being published in floppy form, are Trees, Injection (which is my current obsession) and a new James Bond series aiming to take the character back to his Ian Fleming roots.

injection3The thing about serialized storytelling (which is the state of modern comics – the one-off single issue stories have seemed to all but vanish, though Global Frequency showed Ellis can also work very well at that form) is that each chapter has to find a way to stand on its own, while still serving the greater story. FreakAngels was good at that, publishing its tale in six-page gouts. Lately, Ellis really has gotten this down to a science, as each issue – I almost called them episodes – leads up to a final image that is almost always satisfying, but still causes the reader to say “Nooooooo! I want more!” I once snottily said that every issue of Injection was too short, but each issue is so densely packed with imagery that it takes time to unpack. Ellis (and his artistic collaborators, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) give us tiny glimpses at a vast tapestry of a story, and like FreakAngels before it, Injection is going to provide an even better experience when it is all of a piece.

(A few years ago I went back and re-read Neil Gaimin’s Sandman from stem to stern, and was delighted at the many pieces I had not picked up on a monthly basis, but now revealed themselves when considered as a whole.)

Ellis is a writer intensely interested in futurism, and he lived his life pretty openly in the digital realm, back in the days when most of us were piddling around with an AOL account. Mailing lists, Twitter, Instagram, he was there, finding the possibilities, experiencing and recording a vast new world. He’s slowed down on that as responsibilities multiply (especially to his own health – take care of yourself, dammit! We need you!), but he still has a weekly newsletter I look forward to each Sunday.

Squad Goals

Squad Goals

Now if all that wasn’t fanboy enough for you, Ellis also updates us about his work habits, what he takes with him on his travels for work purposes. And every now and then he will sing the praises of something that works really well for him and suddenly I have to have that thing because Warren Ellis uses it and thinks it’s cool.

20160218_113154Before I go any further, let me introduce you to this =>

I am the guy pushing 60 who’s still wearing cargo pants. The reason why is the right thigh pocket always has this kit in it. It’s an idea I saw on a Boing Boing post once, about a designer who always carried a pouch like this that had everything he might need on a typical day. Markers, measuring tape, small flashlight, the like. I thought, that is absolutely something I should do. Immediately went over to Amazon and bought the very same zipper pouch, the Maxpedition Micro Pocket Organizer. What you see poking out of the mesh pocket is one of Ellis’ gewgaws, the Nightcore Tube flashlight, which is rechargeable and insanely bright. The only drawback is also its strength: it is small, and once I lent it to my son, who immediately lost it. I lost no time in ordering its replacement, it is so handy. There’s also a lens cleaning cloth and a Swiss-Tech flat multi-tool, which is fairly useless but it was a gift from my flashlight-losing son. It’s meant to be carried in a wallet, but I already have too much crap in my wallet.

And in case you were wondering, this is the interior:

2016-02-18 12.56.25From left-to-right: 4-in-1 screwdriver, pencil, Leatherman 831207 multi-tool, 4-inch adjustable wrench, marker, Streamlight LED flashlight, and a clasp knife from my collection (which means at any given time I’m carrying three knives. Come at me, bro.) In the back pockets are yet another lens cloth and some braided paracord. I do like being prepared. The wrench and paracord are the only items I’ve never had cause to use. Yet.

Big deal, you’re thinking, you’ve found a kit that works for you, and it has a thing one of your favorite writers once said was cool. Yeah, you’re some fanboy.

We haven’t gotten to the Pebble yet.

SteelI was one of those people who wasn’t interested in the idea of a smartwatch. They seemed like expensive toys, way out of the reach of my pocketbook, like a sports car or a curved TV set. I had stopped even wearing a watch, because I had a smartphone and I’m almost always in the presence of one computer or another with a clock in the corner.

Then Ellis waxes rhapsodical about his Pebble Steel. Not once, but twice. And suddenly, ridiculously, I feverishly desired a Pebble. My life would simply be hellishly incomplete without one.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you approach the story – the original version of the Pebble, only slightly removed from a successful Kickstarter campaign – is pretty affordable, especially if you buy it used. I thought $35 was a fair price to find out if it was actually as good as Ellis said, and I could actually afford that.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

The screen is not very bright – it’s a grayscale LCD e-paper display. It has an accelerometer so if you flick your wrist, a backlight comes on for a few seconds, so it’s usable in dark environments. It has various downloadable apps and watchfaces. It vibrates whenever you get a call, text message, or alert from any number of smartphone apps you choose.

Ellis likes it because it allows him to judge if he should engage immediately with an alert or if it is something he can deal with later without physically checking his phone. He claims it’s improved his phone’s battery life by one-half or more. And the Pebble itself, with that e-paper display, can go five days without a charge. It’s also waterproof, which starts getting into the realm of James Bond shit, unless you also have to wash dishes and it’s kind of refreshing to not have to take the expensive gizmo off when you do so. I even wore it into the shower once, just to prove I could. But that felt so freaky I never did it again.

After just a couple of days, I was sold on the damned thing. It turns out that pulling out your phone and turning it on just to see the time is actually a lot of wasted motion. It also appealed to me that I could see the weather and temperature outside if I chose the right watchface (that sort of functionality quickly supplanted the geeky novelty of the one that duplicated the Star Trek LCARS display). Yeah, yeah, I could just look outside but the Day Job is inside a server farm and I might as well be in Hitler’s bunker for all the windows I have access to.

Well, crap.

Well, crap.

The one fly in the ointment was that the e-paper display could get famously buggy, and I’d have to switch back and forth between watchface and an app to clear it out, sometimes several times. Well, I thought, that’s what you get for buying a used one. So I saved up my birthday and Christmas gift cards and ordered a new version of the one my hero wore, the Pebble Steel. The original Pebble felt and kind of looked like that first digital watch I bought back in the late 70s, all black plastic and rubberized watchband.

Here’s the thing, though: like I said, the e-paper display was notorious for its instability. The first Steel I got wouldn’t even charge (and the charger is a different configuration between various generations of the device, so I couldn’t even determine if it was the cable or the Steel itself). The replacement charged up, but the display was even worse than my original Pebble. After trying various remedies found on Pebble’s forums, I finally went straight to them, and they very kindly sent me a new Pebble Time, which was their current iteration. They also offered to send me another Steel if I preferred, but when you’re offered a First Class Upgrade, you take it.

The Time has a color e-paper display, and though the body is still plastic, it looks classier. There’s yet another charger, but this time the port is positioned to also accept something called smartstraps, which I think is putting me back in the expensive toy category. The Time already does everything I want it to, and more.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

A major major advantage is that I mute my phone whenever I am shooting video, or performing in a show. I don’t always remember to turn it back on. I might have missed calls from my wife or my mother if it weren’t for the Time alerting me (I also take unseemly delight in looking at a phone number on the watch and pressing a button to sent it straight to Voice Mail). Sometimes I can’t respond to my phone’s reminder for me to take my evening meds, and I wound up forgetting to take them entirely. The Time allows me to set another alarm for every day to remind me to take my damned old man pills. The accelerometer tracks my steps in a day, so I can try to take more. I’m never going to worry about leaving my phone somewhere again because the Time buzzes whenever I pass out of Bluetooth range. It has a countdown timer and a stopwatch, both things I used to haul out my phone to access.

So yes, Warren Ellis was right about that one, too. It’s a terrific tool. I just hope the next time he finds something wonderful and useful, it’s back in the ten buck range again.

injection-3---review-142716We now return you to your regularly scheduled incoherent ramblings about cinema.

POSTSCRIPT: Judging from his Twitter feed, Richard Kadrey is now wearing a Pebble. I was doomed to this course of action in any case.


The Human Monster (1939)

Hey, that’s how you get back to doing single movie reviews – become outlandishly busy in all other aspects of your life!

220px-The_Human_MonsterNormal movie-watching and writing time has gotten usurped by the Numerous Jobs and the utterly bizarre circumstance of having a son who is preparing to go to college (pause for look of shocked incomprehension). This has meant, oddly enough, forsaking my usual practice of delaying income tax preparation until the last possible day so I can do it all in a rush while shooting the finger at the government (“I hope they can see this because I’m doing it really hard“). This is because the paperwork is needed for financial aid. While I can’t say doing it without the ongoing reek of desperation and looming deadline was exactly pleasant, it wasn’t all that horrible. It was made much more tolerable by the gift of new music by pal Tim Lehnerer, in fact.

Taking two days to do it rather than one ugly bloc was good, too. But that was two days gone.

Anyway, after finishing them, I wanted something  as freaking far away from 2015 and taxes as was possible, and something reasonably short, as it was late in the evening, and the shorter work week after President’s Day (the Day Job is at a state college, after all) means longer hours than usual.

...or not.

…or not.

So, hello to Dark Eyes of London, which I guess is far too fanciful and poetic for us Yanks, so we call it The Human Monster.

Inspector Holt (Hugh Williams) of Scotland Yard is dealing with a spate of apparently accidental drownings in the river Thames. Meantime, the philanthropic Doctor Orloff (Bela Lugosi) is lending money to Stuart, a down-on-his luck inventor, until his new invention is picked up by the government. Orloff sings the praises of philanthropy, especially his work with the Home for the Blind run by the Reverend Dearborn, who is himself blind.

It should be noted that Orloff’s philanthropy extends to paying for Stuart’s life insurance policy, as security for the loan. After Stuart promises to visit Dearborn’s Home to do some philanthropy of his own, Orloff does other odd things, like type out a message in braille to throw at the blind violinist playing outside his office.

JakeAt Dearborn’s center, one of the blind men is a brutish fellow named Jake, and if we’ve learned anything from the movies, it’s that doctors named Orloff with brutish blind henchmen cannot be trusted. Orloff is, in fact, insuring men and luring them into the Home for the Blind, where Jake drowns them in a iron tub and then throws them out a window into the Thames.

humanmonster6Holt is going to slowly grow wise to this scheme, even if he is saddled with O’Reilly, a wise-cracking cop from Chicago (Edmon Ryan), who escorted comedy-relief forger Grogan (Alexander Field) back into custody. As there is only one evil scheme afoot in England at any one time, Grogan is naturally involved in Orloff’s, forging dead men’s signatures. Balancing out O’Reilly’s involvement is Stuart’s daughter Diana (Gloria Gynt), a plucky lass who goes undercover as Dearborn’s secretary to aid Holt in his investigation.

This is based on popular novelist Edgar Wallace’s The Dark Eyes of London, and it is, at its heart, a cracking good pulp story. Wallace was one of the first crime novelists to use policemen as protagonists instead of amateur sleuths, and watching Holt piece clues together (aided by the proficient specialists of the Yard) is great fun. The comic relief is actually pretty amusing, and the crimes suitably horrific.

8x10_human_monster_keybook_JC03207_L_2In 1939, Lugosi’s star was beginning to wane, but he was still capable of powerful performances. Orloff should be ranked among his best, a character equally as cold-blooded as Murder Legendre, but also convincing in his portrayal as a concerned champion of the downtrodden. Lugosi is really chilling as he goes about his murderous business – that title is well fulfilled by the movie’s end.

I guessed the big twist of the mystery only about a minute before the reveal, but I have to admit that the story relied so much on my understanding of Lugosi and his career that I have to admire the trickery here. I don’t mind playing the sap when I’m played so well.

Man, the publicity photos really liked Gloria Gynt in that straitjacket.

Man, the publicity photos really liked Gloria Gynt in that straitjacket.

The Human Monster was a nice distraction after a weekend of pain, both physical and emotional. I went in expecting old school claptrap and was actually rewarded with a nice little thriller that is a bit repetitious, but also pretty chilling. It’s the first movie that Britain released with the “H” rating – for “Horror” – and it actually earned that. Not just in ’39, but here in the  more brutal 21st century, it still has moments with the power to make you shiver.

Buy The Human Monster on Amazon

Gangsters, Masks and Trogylodytes

I can say that I’m going to stop doing multiple movies in each post, and I will have to admit that I am lying. To accomplish this I would have to A) Write more often; or B) Watch fewer movies. Neither is likely. My berserk schedule does not allow that much flexibility, and February has turned into a month of burdensome obligations. But never mind that:

Once Upon A Time in America (1984)

once_upon_a_time_in_americaFor instance: I’m not sure how long the average post takes me to write; six to eight hours sounds about right, unless I’m talking about my favorite movie, and then it takes more like two weeks. Now consider that in the time it took to watch Once Upon a Time in America, I could have written two-thirds of this column. Of course, watching the movie is what this is all about, so that’s a specious comparison, but I am here to say that at four hours and eleven minutes, this is not a short movie.

Nor should long movies frighten us; in the right hands, they yield amazing dividends. The only slightly shorter Andrei Rublev is an incredible experience, but it also has the allure of the exotic going for it, being set in medieval Russia, whereas Once Upon a Time rests in somewhat more familiar territory, with the early 20th century providing a taste of antiquity, but only a taste. It’s the story of four Jewish kids growing up in New York and working their way into the Underworld, eventually becoming big time bootleggers during Prohibition. By that time the kids have grown up into Robert DeNiro, James Woods, William Forsythe and James Hayden. Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld, Larry Rapp and Darlanne Fluegel round out the core cast.

Once Upon a Time in America 10The movie starts with DeNiro’s character, Noodles, on the run for snitching on Woods’ character Max (and its consequent bloodbath), and finding that a million dollars he had stashed away is mysteriously missing. The movie is going to flash forward to 1968 and then back to the 1900s, throughout Noodles’ life as he attempts to put together exactly what happened, and taking the audience along with him. Somebody tracked him down in his new life and is leaving clues for him to pick up. If the biographical parts don’t interest you – and they will – the central mystery will certainly keep you hooked as the movie progresses.

There are a lot of people that are going to argue that Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is his crowning achievement, and I would have held out for Once Upon a Time in the West, but that was before I saw Once Upon a Time in America. It’s quite possible that anyone who lobbies actively for the first two had only seen the truncated theatrical cut, slashed down to two hours and twenty minutes – almost half its running time! – a cut that Treat Williams (playing an idealistic Union boss who turns to the dark side) claimed couldn’t possibly make any sense. The version I saw had footage spliced in that was obviously from the cutting room floor, lacking the shine and gloss of finished product, and at least one lengthy scene has such an essential plot point that I was amazed it was cut. A filmgoer who had paid attention up to that point could have filled in the details later… but I’m finding more and more that filmgoers that pay attention are rare animals.

abixwBht_zps96e04c74.png~originalLeone had reportedly been offered The Godfather and turned it down, to his regret. There is a lot of the epic flashback stuff in Godfather 2 that is an obvious influence here, but Leone’s recreations of early 20th century New York are breathtaking. This is a four hour movie that only felt like three hours. It’s the longest movie on this year’s List, and I glad it’s out of the way, but I’m also very, very glad I saw it.

Buy Once Upon a Time in America on Amazon

Little Caesar (1931)

220px-LittleCaesarPYeah, it was with a little sarcasm that I followed up with Little Caesar, going so much in the opposite direction that it was absurd. The movie gives us the rise and fall of a crime kingpin in a slim 80 minutes. It may go by faster, but it also seems much slighter, certainly far less dense.

Edward G. Robinson delivers a star-making performance as Rico, who starts out the movie sticking up a gas station, but deciding to head to the Big City because he’s made for bigger stuff, see? Going along with him is his partner, Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) who sees the City as his big chance to become a dancer. Rico signs onto a mob easy enough, even though the boss (Stanley Fields) is a little concerned about Rico’s willingness to use his gun.

105659-004-3271C8DCJoe does get a job as a dancer at a night club (it was a different time, I tells ya), and slowly removes himself from Rico’s sphere. Rico does stage a hold-up at the nightclub, and winds up shooting a local Commissioner. After that, his rise to the top of the Underworld begins, and it is as meteoric as his fall, precipitated when he tries to force Joe back into his gang, and Joe’s lover convinces him to turn state’s evidence against Rico. His loyalty to Rico is, shall we say, bruised when Rico tries to kill him, but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.

Rico will end up hiding out in a flophouse, but is roused to action by the head cop who’s been dogging him all movie long starts insulting him in the papers, leading up to a shootout and those famous words, “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

vlcsnap-2016-01-31-01h13m17s081It all feels very 1931, if you catch my drift. Stilted and somewhat mannered, even given the subject matter. Sources are conflicted as to whether or not Rico is based on Al Capone or Salvatore “Sam” Cardinella, another violent Chicago mobster, but that doesn’t really matter. From this comes The Public Enemy, Scarface and any number of other gangster movies – but the real reason to watch is Edward G. Robinson. Robinson was a serious student of drama, and watching him act is always an unalloyed pleasure. He’s probably one of the finest character actors of the 20th century, and that he’s unrealized as such, and is instead relegated to the ranks of cartoon characters, ending every sentence with a “nyah!” is the true crime here.

Buy Little Caesar on Amazon

The Mask (1961)

CR3Ynk2VAAAzh77In the spirit of due diligence, I should reveal that I entered in a contest in December, sponsored by Classic Movie Hub and Kino-Lorber. I won the first week, and the prize was my choice of eight Kino-Lorber blu-ray titles. They were all tempting (and more than a few I have purchased in the meantime) but the only one I had never seen was The Mask, though it had haunted most of my adult life when it was the cover for RESearch magazine’s Incredibly Strange Films issue.

The Mask is notable for several reasons. First, a somewhat novel use of 3-D, especially considering that cinematic craze was over by 1955 and The Revenge of the Creature. It is also the second film by Julian Roffman, who almost single-handedly jump-started the Canadian feature film industry. It was felt that a horror movie like The Mask would be more successful commercially than his first effort, a crime film called The Bloody Brood, starring Peter Falk.

Psychiatrist Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) has a particularly distraught patient in Michael Radin (Martin Lavut), a young archaeologist who’s been having nightmares and blackouts. Radin feels it is somehow the fault of a strange South American ritual mask he discovered recently; he claims it is exerting an unholy, murderous power over him.

The Mask 2Barnes dismisses Radin’s fears, because unlike us, he did not watch the beginning of the movie where Radin pursued and strangled a young lady. Even more distraught, Radin leaves the office, mails the mask to Barnes, and blows his brains out.

So Barnes finds himself in possession of what his deceased patient claimed had taken over and ruined his life, and like any curious person in the same room with the Necronomicon, he just has to have a look. The ominous voice in the soundtrack intoning “Put the mask on… NOW!!!” probably wasn’t helping, either.

post-269895-0-10112400-1446578737This is the point at which theater-goers were supposed to put on their own mask, ie., the red/green glasses that made 3D work in those days. Barnes finds out that wearing the mask immediately results in a bad LSD trip, full of horrifying and bizarre imagery. He also feels himself compelled to wear the mask over and over, as he slowly succumbs to the same paranoia and murderous delusions as his patient.

Now the first thing one is going to ask (particularly if “one” is me) is – so how are the bad acid trip images? And the answer is pretty darn good, actually. Roffman had gone so far as to consult avant-garde artists in the design of these sequences (ironically, he abandoned their concepts as too unrealistic, especially on his budget) and employ groundbreaking electronic music. These parts are refreshingly forward-thinking. The images are strange and actually unnerving, aided immeasurably by the fact that Roffman uses his 3D very constructively, even when things aren’t flying out or reaching toward you from the screen. Objects in the foreground and the background provide nice parallax scrolling, for instance. The Kino-Lorber blu-ray, in association with the 3-D Film Archive, is sharp and flawless and produced for people with 3-D players and TVs, neither of which apply to me. The trip sequences are supplied in red/blue anaglyph as an extra, but, alas, not as a part of the 2-D presentation. The anaglyph presentation is really strong, as well – but you’ll need to provide your own glasses.


Sad as this is, it does force the poorer viewers among us (like me) to judge The Mask on its own merits. It has a reputation as being slow-moving, but hey, welcome to low-budget genre films in the 50s and 60s. Most people watching The Mask came to see the 3D sequences, and under those circumstances, anything not mask-related is doing to be greeted with impatience. Bereft of that gimmick, we can see The Mask as it really is: sightly clunky, repetitious and padded, but no less so than a lot of its contemporaries. And those mask sequences, appearing at roughly a half hour, 45 minutes, and then ten minutes before the end – are really something. I’m unsure of the disc authoring voodoo necessary to make such things happen, but I really wish they could have used the branching capabilities of the technology to make a 2-D/anaglyph viewing of the movie possible, just like in the theaters.

Buy The Mask on Amazon

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

BtomahawkThis was getting quite a bit of buzz at the end of the year, and the premise is pretty unique, so I knew I was going to have to watch it, even if just for the cast. And man, what a cast; I am going to single out casting director Matthew Maisto right here for some lavish praise.

Because right at the beginning, we meet two cut-throat western bandits (literally – the very first image of the movie is a man getting his throat cut) played by Sid Haig and David Arquette. And dammit, any movie that starts out with Sid Haig is okay in my book. Not that these guys are going to last long – while vamoosing because they hear horses approaching, they blunder through what is obviously an Indian burial ground of some sort, and before you know it, Sid is festooned with arrows.

BONE TOMAHAWKBut having had our nerves jangled, let’s go over to the little frontier town of Bright Hope several days later, where cattle boss Arthur (Patrick Wilson!) is recovering from a broken leg. His wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is the backup for the local drunken doctor (luckily for Arthur) and she is called to the jail one night to tend a drifter who got into an altercation with Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell!), and got shot in the leg. That drifter is David Arquette, so we’re pretty sure something bad is in the offing.

The next morning a local stable boy is dead and disemboweled, the horses he was tending are missing, and so is the drifter, the Deputy, and Samantha. The local educated Indian, the Professor (Zahn McClarnon) identifies the unique bone-tipped arrow left behind as belonging to “The Trogylodytes”, a tribe the other tribes leave strictly alone because they don’t want to die. He points the way to a series of canyons where the Trogs make their home, and a sadly small party of Hunt, Arthur, a dandified Indian fighter named Brooder (Matthew Fox!) and the “backup deputy” Chicory (Richard Jenkins!) set out to rescue their townsfolk.

bone_7This core ensemble works so incredibly well together that I yearned for more adventures with them. Matthew Fox’s appropriately-named Brooder is a fun departure for him, but the real revelation is Richard Jenkins as Bone Tomahawk‘s Walter Brennan character. Unrecognizable in the role, Jenkins very easily steals the show from the other three, and that is no small accomplishment. It wasn’t until almost halfway through the movie I realized who he was!

bonetomaPatrick Wilson’s Arthur has been given an interesting obstacle for his character to overcome: that broken leg. No devil from hell is going to stop him from rescuing his wife, but the constant re-injuring and threat of gangrene puts a particular edge to his struggle.

Oh, and the Trogylodytes, it turns out, are cannibals, so in the last half-hour it turns into an Ruggero Deodato movie. There’s a reason I can’t expect to see more movies with those four characters.

(To return to the cast once more, I should mention that among the citizens of Bright Hope can be seen – briefly – James Tolkan, Sean Young and Michael Parê. Good work, Mr. Maisto!)

bone-tomahawkThis is S. Craig Zahler’s first movie as a director (and his second as screenwriter) and it does nothing but make you hungry for the next one. The dialogue is so damned good, the characters so well-delineated, that the movie was a genuine pleasure to discover.

Also, if the Universe could continue to cough up two new westerns a year starring Kurt Russell (and maybe Sid Haig, too), I would be very appreciative.

Buy Bone Tomahawk on Amazon

Zéro de conduite (1933)

Zero_de_conduiteSo why not finish up with another story of savages? Or more appropriately, I started with the longest movie on the list, I might as well finish up with the shortest, at only 44 minutes.

Zero for Conduct is about four boys in a repressive boarding school, their lives little better than that of prisoners, who cook up an act of rebellion during the school’s annual celebration of its very existence. This is Jean Vigo’s third film – he only made four – and it was thought so scandalous and subversive that the French censor banned it until 1947. Vigo himself was quite the anarchist, and it shows in his movies to this point, a mixture of irreverence and surrealism. The new schoolteacher, Hugeut (Jean Dasté), little more than a boy himself, draws a caricature of a fellow teacher that animates itself; the dominating headmaster is a bearded midget (Delphin), and in the annual celebration, the grandstand full of dignitaries is quite obviously a bunch of literal dummies.

Zero_de_conduiteZero is tagged as influential, with many descendants like The 400 Blows quoting it. There is at least one sequence of thrilling, otherworldly beauty; possibly the first “shit” ever uttered in a French film (twice), and, sadly, the feeling that this might be a longer project trimmed down due to time and money. In any case, certainly worth a watch, definitely since I’ll soon be watching Vigo’s final film, L’Atalante.

Buy The Complete Jean Vigo on Amazon