Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things You Should Know About: Blood & Tacos (@bloodandtacos)

If you are like me (and because I am a narcissist I will assume you are) you enjoy a good adventure story, but what you enjoy more is a tongue-in-cheek version of such a story. Blood & Tacos is a series of collected stories that follow the classic Men's Adventure style of story by various writers who purport to be the discoverers of a piece of lost/forgotten fiction.

True to the genre, the stories can be offensive and archaic, and feel poorly written, but it is typically plain that the authors are aping the inspiration material. I'm sure Men's Adventure magazines had a Raymond Chandler or two... well, a Mickey Spillane or two, let's be honest... but they also had a ton of guys who could crank out lot of semi-cohesive stories that pushed all the right buttons; sex, violence, and intolerance being the "Konami Code" of writing, to stick with the button analogy. The stories I have read so far do a wonderful job of recreating that; sometimes specifically parodying their inspiration in an Airplane! fashion, sometimes more of an Our Man Flint type satire.

I am late to this, but there have been some wonderfully done podcast cum audio books of Blood & Tacos stories, which you can find on iTunes, or through the website. The first installment was a hilarious story, "Chingón: the World's Most Dangerous Mexican", which is happily not a Macheté parody, per se, more like I would imagine La Ley del Revolver is, or one of the many other Mexican comics I cannot read. (thanks to ¡Historietas Perversas! for opening that NSFW world to me)

Blood & Tacos #4 features a story by long time friend of the blog, Thomas Pluck. At 99¢ on Kindle, you can't go wrong. Check out the podcast. If you don't love "Chingón: the World's Most Dangerous Mexican" in free audio format, then I will owe you a beer at the bar of my choosing. It's win-win, right?

Friday, February 7, 2014

NGoN #155: Cynthia Leake

Part of the problem with this feature is that you often find people interesting enough to do a feature on, for one reason or another, and then discover you can find almost nothing out about them. That is the cross we bear when we take the fringe entertainment path.

Some of you may know our honoree, Cynthia Leake, from Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi's 1983 film Fire & Ice. "But Darius," I hear you say, "Fire & Ice was animated. So, she's a voice actress?" Actually, Teegra's voice work was done by Maggie Roswell, who voiced Maude Flanders on The Simpsons, beside other voice work. Fire & Ice was a rotoscope animated film. A much maligned (wrongfully, in my book) technique that involves filming/photographing live action and animating from those images. Cynthia Leake portrays "Princess Teegra" as the animators' template. Certainly there was some embellishment on the animators' part, but to be fair it is hard to stack up to a Frazetta image.

Ms Leake also did quite a bit of television, including an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, Dynasty, Dallas, CHiPs, and others. About the only thing I could find from any show was from the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode, "Space Rockers". See her IMDb entry here.

Sadly, that is about all I've got. Enjoy a few images.

Cynthia Leake, Ralph Bakshi and Randy Norton, behind the scenes of Fire & Ice

And for reference, Princess Teegra, animated

Cynthia Leake and Jeff Harlan in "Space Rockers" from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Casablanca vs. Barb Wire

One of my all-time favorite films is the1942 Best Picture winner Casablanca. I have watched it several times over the years, and last time I said to myself, "hey, this is exactly like Barb Wire." I had not seen Barb Wire in years, so decided to watch it, plus Tenebrous Kate wanted my thesis on the similarities, so here goes.

Barb Wire (1996, David Hogan)
The year is 2017 and we are in the midst of the Second American Civil War. The only free city is "Steel Harbor", which lies on the gateway to a freer world. Bar owner, and participant in illicit activities, Barb Wire, runs the most popular bar in town; "The Hammerhead". There is a plague, and a resistance fighter, Dr. Cora Dee, has the antidote in her DNA. Her protector has a set of retina contacts that will let her pass through security, if the pair can stay away from the fascist State police following them. Barb is good to her staff, but generally unsympathetic to the near-do-wells of Steel Harbor. To make ends meet, Barb works as a bounty hunter and mercenary, collecting people and information.

Casablanca (1947, Michael Curtiz)
It is World War II, and Casablanca is the jewel of unoccupied France. Bar owner, and participant in illicit activities, Rick Blaine, runs the most popular bar in town; "Rick's Café Americain". A resistance fighter, Victor Lazlo, needs to get out of Casablanca and on to the United States. To do so he needs some unquestionable travel documents that have found their way to Casablanca and into Rick's pocket. Rick is no stranger to shady dealing, running an illegal gambling house. He is a former gun-runner and mercenary. He has little sympathy for the refugees in Casablanca, and famously never drinks with his customers.

Sound similar?

Well, it continues. Both Rick and Barb are rather broken people who once fought on the side of good, but have been jaded by love lost. They are both "friends" with a corrupt chief of police, and under the scrutiny of the ruling fascists. Soon, the freedom fighter comes to town and we find that they are married to the people who broke our heroes' hearts. This creates a lot of tension earlier on which turns into a desire to return to the good fight.

Certainly there are big, big differences here. Most noticeably is the lack of Humphrey Bogart stripping (praise Mothra), but also in the amount of action. Casablanca is very plot driven. Barb Wire is full of gun-play and explosions. Where Rick must turn against his desires and let the love of his life go off with another man, Barb has to fight her way through to get hers to safety. Not all of the characters are identical. Rick, primarily, has Sam and Carl (Dooley Wilson and S. Z. Sakall, respectively) and Barb has Charlie and Curly (Jack Noseworthy and Udo Kier, respectively). The role Peter Lorre plays in Casablanca, "Ugarte" is in many ways filled by Clint Howard as "Schmitz". Casablanca's rival bar owner "Signor Ferrari" (Sydney Greenstreet) is very much covered by Andre Rosey Brown as "Big Fatso" in Barb Wire.

If you have never seen either of these, definitely check out Casablanca. Obviously it is the superior of the two, though Barb Wire has its charms. If you have only seen one, take this as an opportunity to see the other. What Barb Wire lacks in cinematic excellence it makes up for in fun.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Royal Affair (Nicolaj Arcel, 2012)

Lastly, we have A Royal Affair,a period piece about the court of Christian VII, King of Denmark, his British Queen, and his personal physician.

This is the story of Caroline Mathilde (the beautiful Alicia Vikander), a british noble married off to the King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Christian is a man-child, unsuited to be king. He allows his council to control the country, and despises Caroline for her charisma, and the limits marriage has placed on his carousing. Once Caroline gives birth to a son, she decides her duty as queen is done, and she chooses to limit contact with Christian as much as possible. He is more than happy to stay away. The council decides that the king needs a personal physician to deal with the king's supposed mental problems. Two courtiers who have fallen out of favor push a German town doctor for the position, Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). He ingratiates himself to the king and gains the position, despite his lack of court clout and a history of political heresy as a free-thinker.

I think we all know where this is headed. Struensee and Caroline fall in love. What we don't expect is that they both push the king to enact reforms, which irritate the the council, but draws attention from such notables as Voltaire, who praises Christian as "the light of the north". In the end, everything falls apart, of course.

I am not a huge fan of period dramas, but do enjoy a historical dramatization at times. This one kept me watching, despite its rather hefty 137 minute run time. It is very compelling and beautiful to watch. Despite a lot of political wrangling, the story is solid, and does not drift too much toward the love triangle or political power plots. It is in Danish, and subtitled, but worth the effort if you enjoy this sort of thing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flammen & Citronen (Ole Christian Madsen, 2008)

Second in our viewing list was Flammen & Citronen, the story of two Danish partisans during the late days of World War II. This one is in Danish, but is worth the subtitles.

The general story is pretty simple, "Flame" (Thure Lindhardt) and "Citron" (Mads Mikkelsen) are a pair of Danish partisans in Nazi occupied Denmark in 1944. They are part of an organization that eliminates Danish Nazi collaborators; primarily people working as informants or those who spread enemy propaganda. Their role begins to change, as they are assigned to eliminate German officers. Things start getting messy for them as they begin to realize the politics involved in their assignments. Sometimes their organization is taking orders from Stockholm, sometimes Great Britain, sometimes the United States. As the organization begins to unravel, in their eyes, they take matters in their own hands, with disastrous results.

There are a number of reasons I really enjoyed this film, but most importantly (at times) is in how it relates to a very popular film with a similar theme; Boondock Saints. Both films portray a pair of men with an enemy to eliminate, and ultimately, at a basic level, they are all murderers. The difference is that in Boondock Saints they pair are portrayed as heroes. There seems little remorse, nor questioning of motives. Maybe the source material (a video game, I assume) depicts more of this, but it does not make it to the film. In Flammen & Citronen we have two men who clearly have problems with what they do and struggle with the appropriateness of their actions versus the general need for what they do. While the pair in Boondock Saints profit from their revenge, and use it to fund further exploits, Flame and Citron forgo any normal life or family, constantly hunted by their prey.

Enough of that comparison.

Flammen & Citronen is a beautifully shot film, acted brilliantly by Lindhart and Mikkelsen, as well as much of the major supporting cast; particularly Stine Stengade as the mysterious agent "Ketty Selmer". The plot flows nicely despite its twists. I did not notice many holes in the general plot, though one character motivation gets a little lost. Maybe I am just thick? The film has a very noir feel to it, and despite its rather beautiful color palate, could have been shot in the style of Casablanca or more recently Schindler's List. The colors and choice of lighting set a wonderful mood and separate scenes nicely. There are a few instances, particularly toward the end, where there is some odd zooming that smacks of television police thrillers. These were a bit jarring, but 99% of the film is shot uniformly and makes it a film you want to look at.

An interesting part of the film also involves the portrayal of violence. It does get rather brutal. They do not pull punches with the ugliness of killing, but they do exclude much of the bloodiness of the action on screen, which actually adds to the trauma. There is no spray of blood to distract you. When a character is executed, you have to look at that; you see the person, not just a flashy special effect.You do not lose the humanity of the person killed, and regardless of the "justice" done or "culpability" of the victim you have to deal with them as a human being.

This one is on Netflix, at least as I type this, and is well worth your time. It is a great film that really sucks you in emotionally. Regardless of your genre preference you should enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)

I decided to watch Valhalla Rising because it was on Netflix, and the length of time fit the wife's many web-based responsibilities (what is it like to have friends?). I was not sure what to expect...

This was not the best Mikkelsen vehicle we watched, but it was enjoyable. It is brutal and exciting, while remaining smart and creepy. Mikkelsen plays a slave-warrior, who frees himself after years of captivity. He escapes with a young boy who was with the captors. Eventually he meets up with some Danish Christians who are headed to the Crusades. They allow the pair to go with them, despite some initial fears of this man, of whom at least on of the Christians has heard. Pushing off in their boat, they are quickly stranded in a mist. The sea is calm and without wind to sail by. Eventually, they find themselves in North America, and everything goes to hell. Figuratively, or perhaps literally.

Early on the film smacks of a classic Conan story. Man ("One Eye", Mikkelsen) forced to work as a slave and eventually as a gladiator (of sorts). Finally his skill becomes so great that he can no longer be held. It is more of a spiritual journey than a warrior's journey. There is a fair amount of battle, and it gets seriously grizzly. When the supernatural aspect starts to kick in it wavers between trippy and plot driven. The Christian vikings start infighting between bouts of blaming One Eye and his boy companion for their troubles. They are divided between their desire to escape the New World and their desire to conquer it. One Eye seems to know what is going on, but never speaks. The boy who follows him can only guess what his motives are, but trusts him more than their companions.

This is beautiful film that makes great use of the scenery,which the IMDb lists as Scotland, though the scenes in the New World look remarkably like the mountains of the Eastern United States and Canada. The visual effects are used sparingly, and to strong effect. There is very little dialogue, and with a few changes this could have been a silent film. If you can take the more grizzly scenes, and do not need definitive conclusions to stories, this is a great one to watch. The ending does leave some questions unanswered, so be warned of that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fan-Boy Icon #70: Mads Mikkelsen

The way I first came in contact with Mads Mikkelsen was through his role as Hannibal Lechter in the television show Hannibal. I was never a big Lechter fan, and to be honest i don't really care for the films surrounding the character. The wife, however, loves the show and I started watching it on her suggestion. I became hooked pretty quickly. Mikkelsen's portrayal of Lechter does not smack of the Anthony Hopkins version, and is quite refreshing for someone not interested in a pastiche of past glories.

As Tumblr is rife with Mikkelsen fandom, I quickly found that Friday last was Mikkelsen's birthday, and as we planned to have a movie watching night anyway, we made it a Mads Mikkelsen weekend. We watched three of his films, which will be reviewed as the week goes on; Valhalla Rising, Flame & Citron, and A Royal Affair. All were very good, and show Mikkelsen's breadth as an actor. He can also be seen as the villain "Le Chiffre" in Casino Royale, and Draco in Clash of the Titans. Check out his other credits on the IMDb.