Monday, August 27, 2007

Academy of the Underrated: Tideland

I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam, and so it’s to my shame that I missed out on seeing TIDELAND when it was in theaters. Sure, the reviews were not kind, but when dealing with someone like Gilliam it’s best not to listen to the critics. Except now, I mean. Except me. I’m not really a professional critic anyway. Come back! Please. Okay.

TIDELAND manages the rare distinction of being one of Gilliam’s stranger films, to the extent that the DVD contains an introduction in which he briefly explains what we’re about to see, while accepting that many of us will still hate it. Despite grim subject matter and some genuinely ugly sights, the movie, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, has a serene and innocent quality to it, showing us a child’s ability to adapt to the most unpleasant of situations, and bending concepts of family to their breaking point. Imagine if William Faulkner wrote PAN’S LABYRINTH and you just might have some idea what to expect. Or not.

Jodelle Ferdland plays Jeliza-Rose, a young girl living with her failed rock star father Noah (Jeff Bridges) and mostly bedridden mother (Jennifer Tilly.) Both her parents abuse drugs heavily, and when the mother dies from an overdose, Noah takes Jeliza out to the country, where a relative of his purportedly owns a farmhouse. Whoever owns it, it’s an abandoned dump, and dad does very little to improve its condition before finally collapsing on an easy chair and not getting up again, or moving, or speaking. Jeliza, meanwhile, is lost in her own dream world, playing with imaginary friends represented by doll heads, and hunting down a squirrel who lives in the ceiling. She meets a real friend, a lobotomized retarded epileptic named DIckens (Brendan Fletcher), who lives at a nearby house with his sister Dell, played by Janet McTeer. Jeliza becomes friends with Dickens, who has a rich fantasy life of his own, thinking he’s captain of a submarine in the vast seas of grain and prairie grass, at war with the monster shark that rolls down the train tracks. The three, plus the “sleeping” father, become an odd surrogate family.

There does not, on the face of it, appear to be any kind of overriding central conflict to the picture. It’s a more disjointed, episodic affair, relying more on a general disquiet that comes from the fact that nothing happening on screen is really right for a child. There’s nothing heartwarming about the gothic family Jeliza settles in with, or rather, if there is, it’s dispelled when Dell decides to perform some preservation on Noah and then have him sit at the family table. Even Jeliza’s friendship with Dickens becomes disturbing when she starts treating him as her boyfriend (him not having sufficient intelligence to discourage her)- nothing truly untoward happens, but it always seems like it might. There is a sense that it’s all somehow going to go horribly wrong, and we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Virtually all of this is shown from Jeliza’s point of view. I can think of only a couple of scenes where she is not present, and the dialogue between her and her doll-head friends acts as a running commentary. She, of course, is not hugely concerned about the fact that her father has been sleeping for several days on end or that she’s been living on peanut butter for much of the time- far more pressing is the loss and therefore effective death of her best “friend” Mustique. The evocation of a child’s world, with little differentiation between play and reality, is near-perfect; her dreams are enchanting without being saccharine, she rushes to conclusions, and she argues with her imaginary friends constantly. Ferdland’s performance is astonishing, and carries much of the weight of the film, while her visions are cunningly realized through scattered, well-placed special effects, in moments reminiscent of Gilliam’s more overtly fantastic pictures.

The film cannot help but seem aimless at times, and the relentless focus on Jeliza’s limited experience sometimes prevents us from fully understanding what’s going on ourselves. The ending is particularly inconclusive. But this is all part of what the film is trying to be, and it’s hard to really criticize it on that basis as a result, though it does have the effect of making the end product seem rather slight.

The grade I’m giving this film right now is sort of tentative; though I’m unabashedly positive about it, it’s hard to say what I think beyond that. Gilliam has had even more trouble than usual getting films made the past few years, and reception has been unkind, but TIDELAND shows a filmmaker fully in control of his skills, creating bizarre images woven into a chaotic storyline while very subtly using all this chaos to create a distinct and unified vision. Whatever the Hell it is, it’s finely crafted, and I recommend it to the brave.

From the novel by Mitch Cullin
Screenplay by Tony Grisoni and Terry Gilliam
Directed by Terry Gilliam

Grade: A-

Saturday, August 25, 2007

In Theaters: Transformers (2007)

Image Courtesy
I went into TRANSFORMERS with just a little trepidiation. As I mentioned in my review of the animated movie, I am not the world’s biggest Michael Bay fan, and I wondered whether his personal stylistic excesses (3-second shots, solemn macho posturing, vague yet pervasive anti-intellectualism, etc.) would overwhelm the innate coolness of giant transforming robots. I stand humbled. TRANSFORMERS is a solid, fun piece of entertainment, and Bay reigns himself in to do justice to the concept in all its goofiness. It’s the best work I’ve seen from him, and a good two-plus hours of dumb fun that you probably should catch on a big screen if you haven’t already.

The film starts with an attack on a U.S. military base in Qatar. The attacker is a helicopter which quickly turns into a giant robot and starts hacking into the military’s system. Another one of the sinister machines hacks into Air Force One’s computers looking for information on something called “Project Iceman”, something that leads them to geeky teen Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Sam’s the grandson of a famous arctic explorer and the proud owner of a beat-up yellow camaro that has a mind of its own, and, when Sam and his new girlfriend Mikaela (the astonishingly good looking Megan Fox) are threatened by an evil police car, drives to his rescue. Turns out the yellow car is Bumblebee, one of a race of cybernetic creatures called Autobots, who long waged a war with the evil Decepticons over the allspark, the cosmic cube which gave them life. The allspark is somewhere on Earth, and the Decepticon leader Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving) crashed in the Arctic looking for it. Now it’s up to Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen, as in the series and animated movie) and his loyal allies to defend Earth from the Decepticons, who plan to find the allspark and use it to turn all of Earth’s machines into an aggressive army.

This is a picture that develops slowly for the first act; unlike the cartoon and animated film, it’s basically told from the humans’ perspective, and the robots do try and stay in disguise for much longer than they ever have before. Which is fair, and even though the early business is slow it’s still reasonably entertaining. The human characters are actually interesting, in that two-dimensional sort of way. Everyone’s a type, but played well. LaBeouf is particularly good playing what may be the first awkward protagonist in a Michael Bay film, Anthony Anderson shows up as a nervous hacker, and in what had to be the best surprise of the entire movie, John Tuturro appears as the feisty head of a secret government organization that has an interest in these new arrivals to Earth.

But we’re watching this for the robots, and when they arrive in force the picture really gets going. The special effects are excellent, and the Autobots are given plenty of screen time to manifest distinct, albeit highly cartoonish personalities (Ironhide, the team’s weapons expert, levels his guns at the slightest disturbance.) At heart, the Transformers, like so many 80s cartoon concepts, manage to be both absurd and cool at the same time, and the film doesn’t take the boring route of trying to remove the very silliness that makes them interesting. Optimus Prime still gives speeches about sacrifice and freedom, Bumblebee scans a sharper looking auto to improve his paint job, and a sense of good humor pervades the whole project. We’re not meant to take it entirely seriously, just enough to be thrilled.

I was mostly worried about Bay’s propensity for quick cuts- his editing style sometimes renders action sequences hard to follow, and can make quieter scenes a real headache. The action in this film is still pretty jumpy, but mostly comprehensible; I still would’ve appreciated a master shot or two, but Bay seems to let the camera stay still just long enough for us to follow the story of each sequence. There’s a particularly good scene in the desert just outside a small town in Qatar where the survivors of the military base attack confront a giant scorpion-esque Decepticon, and they just keep pouring every kind of ordnance the military has into the robotic beast until they finally find something that damages it. This is definitely a movie for people who like cars and guns and the many, many permutations and combinations thereof; it’s really quite impressive in its excess. Only the final battle gets a little too messy for its own sake; I would’ve liked more emphasis on the climactic duel between Optimus Prime and Megatron (like you didn’t know he’d get revived), and a little less side business (blink and you’ll miss the death of a prominent supporting character), but even that turns entertaining.

The filmmakers are obviously very heavily aware that there is a large and devoted Transformers fanbase, and make several nods to them, including familiar quotes and a few visual references (to hear it, in early drafts the robots didn’t even speak.) But the best fan-service decision has to be hiring back Cullen as Prime. You have to understand, to a number of people who were kids in the mid-80s, Optimus Prime was both role model and father figure. He was brave, wise, compassionate, and vaguely comforting, and Cullen’s voice does a lot to convey these qualities. It’s possibly the best performance ever by a man playing a giant shape-changing robot, and its inclusion adds just the right touch of childlike awe and belief in the absurd to the whole production.

TRANSFORMERS is about as good as you could hope for a movie of its kind to be; kinda dumb, kinda huge, very colorful and very fun. Whether it was Steven Spielberg’s supervision or an innate love of the concept that convinced Bay to curb his excesses just a tad, while letting the franchise’s own excesses manifest themselves, he turns out to have been the right man for the job after all. I doff my cap to him.

Story by John Rogers, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Michael Bay

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In Theaters: Ratatouille

Ratatouille poster courtesy Impawards
It took several weeks, a 5-mile bus ride, and the willingness to be a 26-year-old man sitting alone in a theatre full of children and families (I just know I’m on a watch list somewhere) for me to see RATATOUILLE, and I would gladly have gone through a lot more. As should you, if you haven’t made it yet; the animation is so gorgeous that it deserves to be seen on a large screen, and anything Brad Bird does needs to be caught in first anyway. It’s an unlikely triumph for Disney and Pixar, combining the low-key story of a rat aspiring to be a chef (the sort of thing you’d expect from an old-school animated short), an unwieldy title, and unexpected intellectual depth to create what has to be the studios’ most offbeat offering to date.

The star of the film is Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt), a rat with unusually well-developed senses of taste and smell. This makes him useful as a poison checker for the pack, but he dislikes eating garbage and treating food as fuel; he enjoys combining tastes and finding fresh things, and at the humble country house they infest, Remy watches cooking shows and reads a cookbook by the late French master Chef Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), whose controversial motto is “Anyone Can Cook.” When the pack is discovered and has to flee down the river (in an adorable miniature flotilla), Remy is separated from his family and ends up in the sewers beneath Paris. He scampers up to Gusteau’s restaurant, once a five star legend but now down to three following a scathing review by harsh critic Anton Ego (voice of Peter O’Toole) and Gusteau’s death. Remy happens to be watching as aspiring chef Linguini (Lou Romano), stuck doing the cleaning, accidentally spills a pot of soup and tries to salvage it. Remy sees some obvious mistakes on his part and rushes to correct them- the soup he ends up salvaging earns high praise and gets Linguini hired on as a full chef, under the tutelage of the lovely-and-short-tempered Colette (Janeane Garofalo). Linguini is in over his head, but when Remy is discovered, the two strike up a secret partnership. Controlling Linguini by pulling his hair, Remy helps the young chef rise to minor stardom. Meanwhile the head chef Skinner (Ian Holm), who has been exploiting Gusteau’s image for years to sell frozen foods, and is set to fully inherit the restaurant if no heir to the master is found, is saddened to discover that Linguini is, in fact, Gusteau’s illegitimate son. He tries to keep this a secret and up the pressure on Linguini, who has been striking up a relationship with Colette, and who of course is dependent entirely on the rat in his hair. The renewed success of Gusteau’s draws the renewed attention of Ego, who thought he’d had the last word. And then Remy’s family shows up.

Brad Bird’s last film, THE INCREDIBLES, was about talent and ability, and was criticized in some quarters as being elitist for showing superpowered humans oppressed by people who wanted everyone to be equal. Here Bird refines his point; not everyone can be a great chef, but a great chef can come from anywhere- it takes natural talent (Remy’s heightened senses), willingness to learn (the lessons he takes from the book and the kitchen), and fearlessness. Remy is transgressing the rules of two societies by forgoing stealing food and working secretly in a human kitchen, and there’s some surprisingly interesting material on human/rat relations. People do kill rats, after all, and at one point Remy’s father Django (Brian Dennehy) shows him a store which proudly hangs dead rats in its window. But Remy is determined to press forward; progress and the passing of torches is emphasized, with Linguini the literal heir being guided by the true spiritual heir. But in this, the past is not forgotten. Like THE INCREDIBLES, there’s a heavy generational aspect. Most movies would be happy to just make a good statement about the nature of art like this one does, but there are other things at play in the fringes.

The film is consistently funny, hinging on equal parts banter and physical comedy. The cast is in fine form, with even the more famous voices buried in their characters. And the animation is simply beautiful, with lifelike textures and a dazzling use of color. Everything is soft-edged and gently lit like an old Technicolor movie. The food is so gorgeous you want to grab it off the screen. And the rats are decidedly adorable,

RATATOUILLE is one of the best films of the year; it is fun, thoughtful, layered, agreeable, and easygoing. It is a salute to good taste, and to the daring exploration of art, and the power of creativity to bridge generations and bring people together. Brad Bird is now three for three, and Pixar’s record remains unblemished as well.

Something’s gotta trip up these guys eventually. I just know it.

Story by Brad Bird, Jim Capobianco, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, and Jan Pinkava

Written and directed by Brad Bird

Grade: A

Friday, August 10, 2007

In Theaters: Sunshine

Danny Boyle’s SUNSHINE is a hugely ambitious film, in a way aspiring to be the next 2001; sadly, it fails to compare favorably to 2010. A dour, albeit very pretty affair, the movie heaps importance and symbolism on a plot that doesn’t earn it, and fails to overcome the central challenge of coming up with natural and organic complications for a fairly straightforward storyline. It’s a real disappointment; some very talented people obviously put in a lot of work to make a gorgeous epic on a relatively low budget, but bad decisions were made at the basic story level and the picture just can’t overcome them. (And it’s not like I can’t enjoy films wherein style prevails over substance.)

The film centers on a mission to revive a mysteriously fading sun; the Earth is rapidly becoming a frozen waste, and so the Icarus II is speeding towards our nearest star to deliver a bomb which will hopefully restart the whole internal fusion process. The multinational crew speeds along to the center of the solar system, a giant golden heat shield preventing them from being fried to a crisp, and shortly after they lose contact with Earth they make contact with the Icarus I, the first ship sent to do this, and eventually the crew votes that they should try and dock with the lost vessel to see what they can use and what precisely happened. An accident during a trajectory change kills the captain and destroys the ship’s oxygen-generating greenhouse, ironically forcing the crew to dock since they have no other choice. On board the Icarus I, things get weird. Er.

In many ways this is the classic space voyage model, the one where the crew are constantly menaced by the sheer lethality of outer space and the fragility of most spacecraft. And it has its charms, to be sure. But while the disasters are well-executed in themselves, a certain predictable pattern sets in. Simply put, this is a movie with a very high body count, and basically every major crisis, no matter how clever the crew are in trying to work through it, must inevitably be solved by the heroic sacrifice of a crewmember. It becomes clear early on that actual intelligence and problem-solving don’t really affect the outcome of the story- the crew just have to keep whittling themselves down until they reach the point where the bomb is to be delivered. It makes you wonder how NASA gets anything done.

At some point, it is revealed that the mission has a saboteur. This element had a lot of potential to break the rhythm of “disaster, sacrifice, disaster, sacrifice” because there’s an actual antagonist of sorts, but instead this somehow turns the proceedings into a slasher film, with the murderer given both a shallow motivation and a Freddy Krueger-like appearance, hidden behind constant camera distortion which manages to kill all suspense by making it impossible to see what’s going on.

What really kills the film for me is the tone. Yes, reigniting the sun to save humanity from extinction is serious business. But neither the story nor the characters have enough depth to merit the ponderous, humorless gravity with which the film is executed. Thematically, the movie seems to be about persistence in the face of disaster and raging against the dying of the light, etc., and there’s some parallel to global warming, but none of this gets developed enough to make us buy into the sheer importance of everything. At heart you’ve basically got the kind of plot that would make a great old-school science fiction novel, a fast and sharp and intellectual affair wherein very smart people work together to master the perils of outer space, and all the symbolism does is slow things down.

I actually don’t want to seem too negative, since this isn’t a terrible movie. It has many, many good points, which just happen to be outweighed by the bad ones. The film is a visual delight, with production design reminiscent of ALIEN and lots of very well-composed shots. There’s considerable skill evinced throughout, from subliminal flashes as the crew explores the deserted Icarus I to a nice visual clue when a character opens a drawer. The performances are consistently believable, the highlights being Cillian Murphy in the lead, as the physicist responsible for making sure the “payload” does its job, and Michelle Yeoh as the scientist in charge of the ship’s oxygen farm. This is very much a film made with considerable skill and effort by everyone involved. And let’s face it, for certain segments of the audience (myself included), the spaceship porn alone will be enough to make this worth seeing at least once.

It’s just so damn monotonous. I mean that in the literal sense of the word- the tone of the thing just keeps getting more melodramatic and desperate; instead of ups and downs, we just have down and further down and “how did these people even manage to get into space?” down. Even the plot seems specifically contrived to make things more complicated than they should be- the entire “saboteur” subplot depends entirely on the Icarus having the security system of a college dorm, a crucial change of trajectory is done with only one person on the bridge, and nobody seems to think what effect letting unshielded communications towers melt in the sun’s heat will have on the rest of the ship. It’s not quite an Idiot Plot, but it’s a People Using Less Intelligence Than They Should Have On a Critical Space Mission Plot- watching this film, I got the distinct impression that the crew of the Apollo 13 wouldn’t have had half the difficulty of this group.

At this point I may be getting unnecessarily nitpicky. But the film’s failure to grab me on a more basic level drives me to see all the little flaws. Like a lot of modern science fiction, the film suffers from a weighty pessimism tempered only slightly by the hope of redemption; it’s a film about the future made by people who aren’t sure there’s going to be one. Of course, I considered CHILDREN OF MEN, with a similar tone and similar themes of man’s persistence in the face of extinction, to be the best film of last year, but it was a keenly crafted thriller which didn’t wallow in its darkness and took pains to remind us of the joy of living even as people were doing horrible things to each other. With the exception of a lovely scene set in a holographic simulator, where Murphy watches waves crashing against a barrier as women with umbrellas and wet weather gear laugh and scream in exhilaration, the film is too distant and composed to really remind us of what’s being done. Which just leaves us with the grimness of it all, leaving little wonder why the mainstream has been flocking to the fantasy genre over the past few years. SUNSHINE has noble aspirations, but some basic issues of tone and structure make it too hard to relate to. It will be worth seeing for some, but I can’t give it a passing grade.

Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Danny Boyle

Grade: C+

Thursday, August 09, 2007

In Theaters: The Simpsons Movie

I’m finally near a cinema again, and hope to catch up on a lot of films I missed in last month’s hullabaloo. Call it a July in August. I’m actually starting with one of the more recent releases because, well, it fit my schedule. Hopefully this won’t burn me out too quickly.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE has been in the works in some form or another for many years. In that time, popular opinion of the series has waxed and waned slightly, and it has attained the eternal status of “not as good as it used to be”, meaning there was skepticism about how good the film would be. Personally I think the show’s been on a minor uptick this past season, and more to the point, THE SIMPSONS is always at its best when it’s most cinematic, so I looked forward to a proper theatrical version. In the end, it’s not a disappointment; not as epic as one might hope for, mind you, nor a major shift from what we see on our screens every Sunday, but consistently entertaining and colorful and fun.

The filmmakers and 20th Century Fox did a surprisingly good job keeping the film’s story from the public until release, which is interesting considering how unimportant the story actually is. Granpa Simpson flips out in church on day, babbling about impending disaster, and Marge looks over his prophecy and decides it may be coming true. There’s pollution in Lake Springfield, and it starts to get so bad that the head of the EPA (voiced by A. Brooks, “A” no doubt standing for Albert) convinces President Arnold Schwarzenegger to place the entire town under a giant glass dome. Cut off from food, water, and other supplies, the city starts to degenerate into anarchy. The Simpson family, whose fault this is for roundabout reasons, is forced to flee to Alaska, just as Lisa has found her first love. Homer, meanwhile, adopts a pig. This is important.

A lot of people have said that the film resembles an extended episode, and this is pretty much true. It starts out in the same roundabout manner, the plot taking a while to actually manifest itself as a result of a string of vaguely connected scenes. Which is all well and good; one of the things that distinguished the show early on was its use of the freedom of animation to tell stories on a bigger scale than what live action permitted for most sitcoms; the best episodes are often like little movies in themselves, and the film couldn’t do much to make the Simpsons more movie-like (barring SOUTH PARK’s approach of turning itself into a musical, which is the sort of thing that only works the first time.) To be sure, the film does suffer a problem common to animated features- it’s not quite long enough, and so doesn’t really seem to explore all the comic potential of what it sets up.

Of course, there’s only so far you can take this line of criticism before you end up reviewing the film you wish had been made rather than the one that was. On its own terms, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is still a hoot. It’s briskly paced (partly by necessity) and thanks to its meandering storyline is able to incorporate lots of disparate gags. Placing the entire town of Springfield in jeopardy (something not new for the series) also allows a lot of room for vignettes featuring the show’s vast supporting cast, which is good; the alchemy of the show depends on the central family for the most part, but they in turn rest on the latticework of the vast and colorful horde of Springfieldians who lend an eerie sense of reality to the show’s yellow-hued world. (Surprisingly, despite the apocalypse looming, C. Montgomery Burns is barely involved. Maybe they’re saving him for the sequel.)

The construction of the film will definitely feel familiar to SIMPSONS fans, but there’s a lot here that’s new. The pig is far and away the best element of the movie, providing some great visual gags and the immortal “Spider-Pig” song; you get the feeling the writers found this whole bit very funny for no good reason, and it’s equally inexplicably hilarious on screen. It’s disappointing when he disappears for the third act of the film, though one hopes he’ll show up in the series. Similarly, Lisa’s new love, an Irish social activist named Colin (who swears to God he is not related to Bono in any way), has potential as a new supporting cast member. There’s some nice development of the core characters, too- though Homer and Marge’s marriage has been tested many, MANY times before, good direction and some excellent voice work by Julie Kavner make us feel that it might just really be in trouble this time.

It was a long time coming and it’s all over too soon, but THE SIMPSONS MOVIE lives up to the show’s long and proud comic tradition. If it doesn’t aspire to be much more than an extended episode of the show, that at least allows it to be as good an extended episode as it can be. The film doesn’t feel burdened by the expectations that must inevitably be attached to a project of this scale; everyone involved just seems to have done what they always do, which is amuse themselves and hopefully anyone watching. It’s a crowd pleaser, with gags ranging from the vulgar to the sublime to the sublimely vulgar, with a few monk’s rewards in the credits and lots of in-jokes, but you get the feeling that the filmmakers aren’t pandering but rather letting us in on the joke. It’s a nice bit of summer silliness in a year that’s been surprisingly good for comedy.

Written by Too Many Damn People To List
Directed by David Silverman

Grade: A-

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Comics Page #15: The Legend of Joe Moon / Henry and Butcher

It’s been some time. I have moved to Kansas City from Columbia, and have just this Friday gotten hooked back to the internet. Still settling in.

Anyway, a short time before the move, I was asked to review a couple of comics by a new small publisher, and sent comp copies on PDF. I am just now getting around to it. Anyway, they’re both promising entries- individual comic issues can be hard to review (which hasn’t stopped me from trying before), but they’re slick and solid, rooted in pulp genre traditions but not overdosing on cliché or camp. Both are mature readers titles, so be warned.

THE LEGEND OF JOE MOON #0 is written by Gonzalo Ventura with art by Manuel and Leonardo Silva; it’s a kind of horror western, about a cowboy vigilante who is also a werewolf. That should be enough for some people to make a decision, but for anyone reading who is not Chris Sims, I guess I need to go into more detail. This first- well, zeroth- issue has Joe going after a thousand dollar bounty on the Harrison brothers, two minor bandits who have just knocked over a saloon and made off with a local girl. We learn just a little about Joe in the thirteen-page story; he was apparently abused as a child, and can apparently transform at will (at the very least he’s not bound to the lunar cycle), but he loses a bit of control when the wolf takes over, and drinks to take away the pain. Some of the dialogue is stilted, and there’s some action missing which makes the end kind of jarring, but it’s atmospheric and engaging overall. The series may need to develop some more, but it’ll be worth taking a look at.

HENRY & BUTCHER #1, also written by Ventura with art by Martin Blanco (who also did letters), is a significant step up. The story centers around Henry White, a boxer with a good career and a wife and child. He takes a few bad blows in the ring and can’t fight anymore, so a local gangster hires him as an enforcer. Doing dirty work depresses Henry, and so he starts to drink more. One night he drives home, and there’s another family living there- he beats the father to a bloody mess and runs back to his local haunt, which has also disappeared. Henry’s dog, Butcher, shows up, and starts talking to him. According to Butcher, there may be a way out of this. Now, the obvious reading of this is that Henry is going insane, but the comic refuses to confirm things either way, and it just may be that something very strange is going on. We have yet to find out by issue’s end just what might explain any of this, but I was left definitely wanting to know more. The noir atmosphere of this is perfectly pitched, just vivid enough to be creepy but not going into full-on Frank Miller territory. It’s less of a pastiche than JOE MOON and more a genuinely original story, so far executed with quite a bit of care. I’ll absolutely be on the lookout for this.

None of Pit Bros.’ titles have yet been put on shelves in America, but Spanish-language versions are apparently already popping up in Argentina, where the company is actually based. (I noticed a couple of translation issues in JOE MOON, but not as many as one would think. It holds up well compared to, say, an average issue of HEAVY METAL.) I certainly hope the titles get good distribution here in the States- the art has a few bugs, as it were, but I’ve seen much worse on shelves. Keep an eye out for these titles, and check out the Pit Bros. Productions website here; some very cool stuff could come from these guys.


The Legend of Joe Moon: B
Henry & Butcher: A-