Tag Archives: Film

Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington in ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Do you find yourself flooded by Trumpworld only to wish you could zone it all out? That frenzied state of distraction is exactly what the Donald is aiming for. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, aims to give us clarity and put things in perspective.

Topher Grace in BlacKkKlansman

Anyone familiar with Spike Lee’s work appreciates its integrity. 1989’s Do The Right Thing deftly confronts American race relations. That is a powerful movie. Lee brings that same energy and intelligence to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. As a cartoonist, I often wonder about how the comics medium, in all its varied forms, can best address the current Trump crisis. I think Jim Carrey’s cartoony paintings, with their raw quality, have a much greater impact than perhaps most professional editorial cartoons. As for anything remotely falling under the “graphic novel” category, I’d have to give a lot of credit to John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book. That said, whatever the art form, it is the measured response that ultimately wins the heart and soul of the viewer.

White nationalists clashing with counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., last year. With an anniversary rally planned in Washington on Sunday (8/12/2018), the authorities have planned for weeks to avoid a repeat of last year’s clashes.CreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

Spike Lee has certainly given careful consideration. Based upon a true story, Lee’s main character is a young and idealistic African American man conflicted by serving his local police force and serving his community at an activist level. The narrative masterfully weaves in the 400-year-old American racial experience: past, present (1972), and future (2018). There are those moments when everything comes to such fine point, especially after the newly-minted undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has gotten settled into his job. One fellow officer talks with him about how white supremacists are steadily going mainstream and it will eventually lead to the White House. Ron shakes his head in great disbelief.

BlacKkKlansman

It is Ron’s job, which he carved out for himself, to infiltrate the local chapter of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. He is obviously in need of help since his phone conversations quickly lead to an invitation to meet in person. That’s where a second Ron Stallworth (Adam Driver), in the flesh and Jewish no less, comes in. And the KKK connection just keeps getting complicated, not to mention dangerous. Soon, the original Ron Stallworth is on the phone establishing quite a friendly relationship with the young KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee continues to thoughtfully and gracefully connect the dots, as painful as they are–without a heavy hand. And it is that cumulative effect that adds up to the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. The final moments bring us to our present with a fiery defiance and a remembrance of Heather Heyer, may she “Rest in Power.”

Spike Lee delivers a good dose of reality that can stir the soul. We don’t do this much anymore (maybe for Star Wars and superhero movies) but this film will have you in the mood to clap at the end. This movie got me good and I was clapping. I even yelled out that folks can applaud. I did it in that communal spirit that many of us in Seattle respond to. Well, not only in Seattle. And, like a chain reaction, people did applaud. It didn’t last very long since, as I say, we really don’t applaud movies anymore. But it did happen all the same, even if momentarily. We Americans need to respond to the current American crisis every chance we get. BlacKkKlansman responds to that very real need. It’s a start and it will, no doubt, inspire others to do much more, like voting.

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Filed under African American, Charlottesville, Donald Trump, Spike Lee, Trump

Book Review: REFOCUSING CHAPLIN

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Aristotle speaks of the mimesis of the first order and the mimesis of the second order. When creating art, the goal is to distance oneself from the source. Mimesis of the first order is simply art imitating nature. Mimesis of the second order is art perfecting nature and turning it into something transcendent. That rule is certainly at play in the work of Charlie Chaplin. As Marco Grosoli points out in his essay on Chaplin, this was an artist keenly aware of his myth and in a unique position to go on to make great art from that myth. Marco Grosoli’s fascinating essay is part of a collection of essays from various writers on one of the masters of cinema, “Refocusing Chaplin,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

There may never be another artist quite like Charlie Chaplin. However, his influence and relevance continues to evolve. And so that gives this collection of essays a great sense of urgency. In the same way that an artist of the first rank like Ray Bradbury could have anticipated social media some fifty years ago, so too did Charlie Chaplin foresee the power of a meme in a career that began over one hundred years ago. To say that Charlie Chaplin was beyond famous is an understatement. He reached the level of myth. It is not short of phenomenal that he continued to grow as an artist through a career that spanned the evolution of cinema.

Chaplin in 1941's "The Great Dictator"

Chaplin in 1940’s “The Great Dictator”

In Marco Grosoli’s essay, he examines the friction between two formidable myths in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” from 1940. By then, Chaplin was more than ready to leverage some of his celebrity for the sake of his art. The timing could not have been more perfect. The difference between the myth of Hitler and Chaplin could not have been more extreme. As Grosoli indicates, Chaplin was not merely imitating Hitler. Chaplin was channeling the myth of Hitler. In that respect, Chaplin was getting at a greater truth. In a work that deeply explores the power of meme, Chaplin plays both the role of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who looks identical to Hynkel. Dictator and barber are, in a sense, interchangeable. In the proper costume and context, everyone accepts whatever the Jewish barber has to say, dressed as Hynkel, even if it is the total opposite of what Hynkel would say. Push two extremes together, Grosoli suggests, and they strangely equate each other, form a perfect nothingness.

"Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses"

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses”

Essays in this collection feature a wide spectrum of themes including Marxism, feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism, performance studies, and cultural criticism. This critical study covers a wide reach of films including The Circus (1928), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). This collection proves to be a valuable resource on one of the leading masters of cinema.

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon through Critical Lenses” is a 250-page hardcover, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Art, Book Reviews, Books, Charlie Chaplin, Critical Studies, film, Hollywood, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Sci-Fi Focus: THE SHAMAN to Show at Hollyshorts, Portland Film Festival, and Dragon Con

Shaman-Marco-Kalantari

If you’re looking for new talent on the rise that offers the next wave of sci-fi action movie adventure, then look to director Marco Kalantari’s short film, “The Shaman.” It is a pleasure to have at Comics Grinder an interview with Mr. Kalantari, which you can listen to here. And Comics Grinder has an exclusive manga adaptation to his short work as well as a review, which you can view here. This is a short film with promises of bigger things to come. It is definitely a look at what a visionary director can offer.

The-Shaman-film-2015

THE SHAMAN premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. And that resulted in Kalantari being signed by UTA. The film will be playing in the upcoming Hollyshorts Film Festival in LA as well as at the Dragon Con Independent Film Festival in Atlanta and in the Portland Film Festival.

The-Shaman-movie

If you’re in the area, go see THE SHAMAN:

Hollyshorts Film Festival in Los Angeles runs from August 13-22

Portland Film Festival runs September 1-7

Dragon Con Independent Film Festival in Atlanta runs September 4-7

Here is a synopsis of THE SHAMAN:

The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war.

The face of conflict has changed. People kill people but they now rely on giant, intelligent battle machines to fight. Meanwhile, mankind has re-discovered the arts of magic and Shamanism and the Generals on both sides use well-trained spiritual warriors to face the threat of machines. Shamans have special senses; they are experts in all aspects of the “unseen” and the “beyond”. They believe that every person, animal, plant and object has a soul. When crossing the border to the Netherworld, the Shaman can find this soul and interact with it. That is what makes him such a deadly, highly effective weapon. They track and convert the souls of their enemies’ giant battle machines in a psychological soul-to-soul confrontation. But Shamans are not invulnerable. They are just people and can be killed like anyone else.

Shaman Joshua Van Kern and his squire Lene embark on a mission to convert a giant battle colossus and succeed where troops have failed.

And you can always visit the director’s website right here.

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Filed under Film Festivals, Filmmaking, Marco Kalantari, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Farewell to Seattle’s Cinema Books

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

Cinema Books, 4753 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle

We say farewell to a true Seattle landmark, the shop that’s catered to a movie lover’s needs since 1977, Cinema Books. It used to be that a sizable part of a fun date in the U-District could take place all on one block. On the corner of Roosevelt and 50th, housed within a structure that looks like it was an old Victorian house at one time, you would have dinner at Ristorante Doria, see a cool indie movie at Seven Gables, and lose yourself amid the stacks of movie memorabilia at Cinema Books.

Cinema Books is shutting its doors. This is its last weekend of sales. The final day is July 15th. I’ve been a Seattle native since 1993 and I would stop by now and then and browse the shelves. I was never a regular visitor but I valued every occasion. I found the owner, Stephanie Ogle, to be quite gracious. And, I suppose, I just took it for granted that the place would always be around. Well, of course, the fate of independent bookstores has become decidedly precarious.

There is simply no other place like Cinema Books in Seattle and nothing on the horizon to fill the void. The amount of material on view is quite staggering. Lately, my schedule has allowed me to stop by and check in on Cinema Books in its last days. It sort of pained me as I watched collectors and enthusiasts pile in and take advantage of the marked-down prices. Here were all these people who had never set foot in the store before and now, like culture vultures, they were leaving with armfuls of books. I could see an uptick in activity with each new visit. Quite frankly, I found myself buying one item and then another and another.

Gwili Andre, "America's Most Beautiful Model," 1932

Gwili Andre, “America’s Most Beautiful Model,” 1932

One curious gem led to another. How about a postcard of Gwili Andre? She was known as “America’s Most Beautiful Model” when David O. Selznick brought her to Hollywood in 1932. Alas, after ten films, RKO was unable to turn her into a star. Who Knew? Who will know? Yes, it’s all supposed to be on the internet but you still need to know where to look.

"Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film" by Gabriel Miller

“Screening the Novel: Rediscovered American Fiction in Film” by Gabriel Miller

It is only in such a place as Cinema Books that each new visit is rewarded in unexpected ways. It saddens me that we’re losing this little haven. A haven that offers something precious. Hard-to-find and rare items are simply what they are. There are only so many out-of-print books. And they’re not all on Amazon. For instance, you won’t readily find a book I just bought from Cinema Books. How many places do we still have where you can stumble upon a treat in real time, hold it, examine it, maybe even discuss it a bit with real people in real time? Less and less.

How must Ms. Ogle feel about all of this? I’m sure she was experiencing a sense of loss that she was still processing. And yet, as far as I could tell, she was taking it all in stride.

Judy Garland, "The Wizard of Oz," 1939

Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939

Observing Ms. Ogle with her patrons, it looked like it was business as usual in that moment. For these remaining moments, the show must go on. Judy Garland. Mae West. Marlene Dietrich. German Expressionism. Steven Spielberg. The Bowery Boys. Fatty Arbuckle. Hedda Hopper. Hitchcock. Tarantino. All of Hollywood, all of filmmaking, was still in play in that little store, that little magic shop. You’re looking for an anthology of Hollywood crime stories? Yes, we’ve got it. How about the definitive guide to film from 1946? Yes, it’s still here. All the memories. All the ghosts. Everything still swirling about, still dancing, for the moment.

"Charly," directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

“Charly,” directed by Ralph Nelson, 1968

One of my purchases was an original movie poster for the 1968 film, “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom. I gravitated to the iconic image. I had taken it down from where it was pinned and was about to roll it up when Ms. Ogle quickly said, “No!” I waited for her next move. “You want to fold it up at the creases. That’s how the studios used to send posters to the theaters. It will keep best that way. Once you’re ready to hang it up, then you can smooth out the creases.” I gratefully followed her advice. Another treasure safely made its way out the door.

Perhaps the sense of loss was outweighed by a sense of freedom. All those items, all that clutter, would soon be gone. It brings to mind the recent collective sigh from the media at the sight of the entire set to “Late Show with David Letterman” in a dumpster. Heck, where was it supposed to go? Well, in the heat of the moment, no one had planned for that. Things change. Things need to go. Decisions need to be made. Either someone walks away with it or it needs to be demolished. We move on.

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Filed under Cinema Books, film, Hollywood, movies, Seattle

Logan’s Run: Vintage Movie Classics (A Vintage Movie Classic) Release Date – July 7, 2015

Logans-Run-Vintage-Books-2015

The new print and ebook edition of the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, is now out, published by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Check out the new line of Vintage Movie Classics right here. This is the bestselling dystopian novel that inspired the 1970s science-fiction classic starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan. For many of you out there, enough said. It will instantly bring to mind crystal palm flowers flickering red. If that means nothing to you, then you’re in for a treat. Perhaps knowing that such works as “The Hunger Games” and the Divergent trilogy owe much to this novel with pique your interest.

It is a beautiful new edition for longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the longest time, this title was essentially out of print, as far as a mass market printing was concerned. The original novel was a huge hit in its day, only to be magnified by its tie-in with the major motion picture. The novel was never forgotten and, in fact, its legend grew. Special edition print runs came out over the years and you could always find an old copy of the many editions that exist. For collectors, there are many iconic paperback editions to choose from. But the fact remained that the time had come for a new readily available edition and now we have it. I’ve been a big supporter of bringing out a new edition. You can read my review of the original novel and my call for a new edition right here.

The forward is by Daniel H. Wilson, author of several books on possible dystopian futures, including Where’s My Jetpack?, Robogenesis, and the forthcoming, Quarantine Zone. Wilson provides just the right balance of looking back to his own childhood experience with Logan’s Run and observations on the novel’s enduring relevance. Wilson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and adds a contemporary boost to a timeless classic.

The novel, first published in 1967, paints a very compelling, and alarming, picture of a society overly dependent upon technology for all aspects of life. Youth has been conditioned to seek out distraction and pleasure over all else, including quality of life. That said, for anyone familiar with the movie, this is also one very entertaining story. The movie echoes the novel as it veers off into its own high level of kitsch. But no harm done. The movie remains a cult classic and an excellent gateway to the original novel.

I have always held a fascination with how movies adapt novels so I am thrilled to discover Logan’s Run is part of a new line of books from Vintage Books. Vintage Movie Classics includes a wide variety titles like “Night of the Hunter,” the bestselling National Book Award-finalist that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters. Other available titles: The Bad Seed, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Back Street, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This is truly astounding for the broad range and the opportunity to rediscover lost gems.

You can find Logan’s Run over at Vintage Books right here and over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Books, George Clayton Johnson, Logan's Run, Novels, pop culture, science fiction, William F. Nolan

Interview: Jason V Brock and the World of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Jason V. Brock

Jason V Brock

Jason V Brock is an author, artist, and filmmaker who finds himself in a very interesting place in pop culture. For starters, he has created two well-regarded documentaries that focus on two very different men, both great contributors to science fiction, horror, movies, television, and the arts in general. One is Charles Beaumont. The other is Forrest J Ackerman. We chat about them and the creative process. How do you create art? One rule of thumb: Do it yourself! We begin with a look back at Brock’s childhood and how he, a child of the ’80s, grew up with the DIY ethos. In Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Brock cut his teeth on comics, retro cinema, vintage LPs, pulp fiction, and Playboy. Brock began working at his local comic book shop at the age of 13. His dad was a writer and graphic designer. It sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, right out of a Ray Bradbury story.

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Speaking of stories,there are so many stories to cover just in Brock’s documentary on Beaumont. Take the case of the short story, “The Crooked Man,” by Charles Beaumont. It is a classic today that was highly controversial for the time, circa 1955. It imagined a society where homosexuality was predominant while hetrosexuality was outlawed. The story was bought by Esquire but subsequently was not published. It turned out to also be too hot for the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But when Playboy published it in 1955, then that same story became okay, more than okay. Charles Beaumont sold his first science fiction story, “The Devil You Say,” to Amazing Stories in 1950. By 1954, he had written the first work of fiction, the landmark work, “Dark Country,” to appear in Playboy in 1954. This kicked off over a decade of Beaumont stories in Playboy. Writing for movies and televison soon followed including some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” All this, and so much more, before his life was cut short at 38 by a mysterious illness.

And, that gives you some sense of what to expect in Brock’s “Charles Beaumont: Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man.” You can find that documentary as well as Brock’s documentary on Famous Monsters of Filmland’s former editor, Forrest J Ackerman (Uncle Forry), “The AckerMonster Chronicles!” right here.

We also chat about Brock’s work in editing and writing his own stories. This led us to discussing a unique pairing of talents. In the course of working on the Beaumont documentary, Brock got to know one of the members of the Southern California Writer’s Group, William F. Nolan. They struck up a solid friendship. When Nolan was at a turning point on where he wanted to live next, it was a reasonable choice for him to move a bit further north from Bend, Oregon to Brock’s neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. It turned out to be a natural fit and Brock and his wife, Sunni, could not be happier to share meals but not only that. Bill Nolan became family and you look out for family.

A-Darke-Phantastique

Among Brock’s impressive editorial work, there’s the recent anthology, from 2014, “A Darke Phantastique.” This is a 730-page lushly illustrated collection of some of the best dark horror fiction around with more than fifty stories, poems, and one teleplay. This includes Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt”; Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster”; William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch”; Nathaniel Lee’s “The Wisest Stone and the Zoo”; Derek Künsken’s “The Buddha Circus”; E.E. King’s “Three Fables”; Jason Maurer’s “In Your Dark: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration Through Monster Academies” and S.T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time.” “A Darke Phantastique” is published by Cicatrix Press and you can find it here.

Disorders-of-Magnitude-Jason-V-Brock

And another recent anthology, out this year, is “Disorders of Magnitude.” This is a 336-page overview of the genres of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. It will prove useful to anyone who wants a better understanding of the roots of one of today’s dominant forms of entertainment and art. Included in this collection are essays, reviews, and interviews. Brock studies such dynamic figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Forrest J Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and William F. Nolan. This collection also includes filmmakers Roger Corman, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon, and such fantasy artists as H. R. Giger. “Disorders of Magnitude” is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. You can find it as Amazon right here.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking the link below. For anyone interested in writing, filmmaking, and creativity in general, there’s something here for you. Enjoy.

And be sure to visit Jason and Sunni Brock at JaSunni Productions to find out more about their products and services right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Documentaries, Forrest J Ackerman, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, Rod Serling, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan

Interview: Antonin Baudry and ‘Weapons of Mass Diplomacy’

Arthur-Vlaminck-Abel-Lanzac-Antonin-Baudry

Antonin Baudry is the French government’s Cultural Counselor, based out of New York City. He is the author (pseudonym of Abel Lanzac), with cartoonist Christophe Blain, of the graphic novel, “Weapons of Mass Diplomacy.” This is a work of fiction that provides an insightful look at how, amid what can appear as utter chaos, great things can be accomplished. Baudry was part of the staff of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and helped in crafting speeches including the French position to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As a work of fiction, this book provides a unique window in a similar spirit to “The West Wing” and goes it one better with its distinctive vision, timeless quality, and wry sense of humor.

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Filed under Antonin Baudry, Christophe Blain, Comics, European Comics, France, French Comics, graphic novels, Interviews, movies

Movie Review: The French Minister

The-French-Minister-Abel-Lanzac

If you are interested in an intriguing movie based on a work in comics besides “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” you will want to see “The French Minister.” This comedy could be your window to offbeat political satire and French comics all rolled into one.

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Filed under Comics, France, French Comics, Movie Reviews, movies, Paris, politics

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE? Gloria Swanson and a Talk About How We Got Here From There

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.

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Filed under Commentary, Creative Living, Culture, Essays, Facebook, Henry Chamberlain, Heroes, Hollywood, Internet, Media, movies, Silent Movies, Social Media, Superheroes, writing

Interview: MATTHEW JOHNSON Director of THE DIRTIES

The-Dirties-Matt-Johnson-Kevin-Smith-2013

Matthew Johnson is the director, co-writer, and starring actor in a film not without its controversy, “The Dirties.” It is a film about a school shooting which makes it vulnerable from the start. However, it navigates its subject with a level of self-awareness that gives it a sense of honesty. In other words, this is not a movie out to make a fast buck. What keeps it real is Matthew Johnson.

It is Columbine that springs to mind when Johnson is asked about what compelled the making of this movie. It is the issue that he had to confront when he was in high school. How do you address that horror, and all the others before and since, and avoid preaching in favor of making of art? What this movie does is use the dynamic of a documentary for all its worth.

Instead of the old traditional Hollywood route, and its hyperreality, “The Dirties” uses the found footage genre to tell a simple and direct story about bullying and school violence. A balance is struck between incorporating actual high school students and schools with the actors. The result is understated, down-to-earth, and very believable.

Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are two misfits struggling to survive high school. Maybe they will find satisfying revenge from their bullies through their film project. Early on, we peg Matt as the overzealous one and Owen as the passive follower. We already know that this will not end well and that it is most likely going to focus on Matt. What will be Matt’s breaking point? As Johnson points out, “The Dirties” begins where most stories like this end. We actually get to learn something about the Matt character.

The following interview took place October 11, 2013. Matthew talks about the complex issue of bullies, the sweet pursuit of obscure references, Lena Dunham, mumblecore, Quentin Tarantino, Sacha Baron Cohen, and a glimpse of what lies ahead. As for what lies ahead, that seems a quite proper place for a young talent in search of the truth.

Click below for the podcast interview:

Phase 4 and the Kevin Smith Movie Club are proud to present THE DIRTIES. Winner of the 2013 Slamdance Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film.

Visit THE DIRTIES website here.

Synopsis: When two best friends team up to film a comedy about getting revenge on bullies, the exercise takes a devastating turn when one of them begins to think of it as more than a joke.

Director: Matt Johnson
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams
Screenplay: Matt Johnson, Evan Morgan

Available In Theaters and On Demand as of October 4, 2013

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Filed under Independent Film, Indie, Interviews, mumblecore