Thursday, May 29, 2008

reVIEW (47)

Paris, 2054.
Young and extremely brilliant researcher Ilona Tasuiev is abducted, and her employer, the Avalon Corporation (“Your friend. For life.”) is desperate to recover her. Enter Lt. Barthélémy Karas, a cop only too willing to bend—or break—the rules to get the job done, and you have the basic set-up for Christian Volckman’s neo-noir animated film, Renaissance.
Executed via motion capture, in the stark contrast of chiaroscuro, this is one of those gorgeously-realized sci-fi futurescapes that pulls you into its environs with startling ease. The downside of that, of course, is that the narrative has to work doubly hard to be worthy of the production’s awesome visual palette.
To be fair, there is a story here, complete with cautionary underpinnings; I’ve long believed the best sci-fi stories are the cautionary ones.
Where Renaissance fumbles a tad though is the pacing of its narrative, which is slightly uneven, making its 105-minute running time feel vaguely longish. Still, if you’re patient with your cinema, Renaissance has a nice—if not sunshiny-happy—pay-off.
Renaissance is also guilty of servicing some of the genre tropes a little too slavishly; Karas getting involved with Ilona’s sister Bislane is both painfully predictable and achieved with an off-handed and almost insulting convenience. (Though the neat reversals pulled off by that aforementioned pay-off may arguably be more than enough to balance out the script’s more clichéd moments.)

And there is the matter of Renaissance’s voice cast.
Almost always, when it comes to a foreign animated film, I will insist on watching the English-subtitled version. (With a foreign live-action film, always.)
The English dubbing on Renaissance though, is exceptional, not at all displaying the overly theatrical—and in some cases, childish—flourishes you usually find in dubbed animation.
And there are notable names here, mind: Daniel Craig, Ian Holm, Jonathan Pryce, Catherine McCormack. The talent at the other end of the mic is top-notch, certainly worthy of Renaissance’s eye-widening visuals.

Ultimately, Renaissance may be slightly flawed, but it’s nonetheless an exceptional piece of animated sci-fi that furthered the cause of stylized storytelling in modern cinema, a wave that began with Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and barreled on with the mainstream success of such entries as Sin City and 300.* (Closer to Renaissance’s animated home of course, are Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.)
Renaissance also won the Feature Film Award at Annecy 2006 and the European Fantasy Film Grand Prize at Fantasporto 2007, so that should count for something, yes?

* Fans of the digitally-created artificial environs of this brand of storytelling are advised to check out the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer (review in Archive), and can also look forward to Frank Miller’s upcoming take on Will Eisner’s The Spirit, opening on Christmas Day 2008.

(Renaissance OS courtesy of

Part II: “Bela Lugosi’s (Un)Dead”

Now, before discussing the Count’s screen presence any further, I should first say something about Dracula, the play, since most of the films, beginning with 1931’s Dracula, used the stage adaptation as the basis for their scripts; which is why most of the Dracula films are seemingly so far off the mark—they are, after all, adaptations of an adaptation.

Florence Stoker agrees to the purchase of the dramatic rights of the property by actor/manager Hamilton Deane. According to David J. Skal, it is to Deane’s credit that the “modern” image of Dracula—that of the charismatic and seductive nobleman, as opposed to the ancient and repulsive Count of the novel—must go.
In order to scale down the novel so as to make it viable as a stage play, Deane had to reinterpret the character, drawing inspiration from the literary image of the vampire from over a century before, notably, the dashing, very sociable, and aristocratic figure, as portrayed in such stories as John Polidori’s The Vampyre. (Lord Ruthven, the titular bloodsucker, bears an uncanny resemblance to Polidori’s one-time friend, Lord Byron; the story itself was based on Byron’s unfinished “Fragment of a Novel.”)
Other liberties were also taken for the play, among them, the bizarre transformation of the Quincey P. Morris character, who is instead, a woman (!) in this version.

Opening in Derby in June 1924, and touring for three years before landing in London’s Little Theatre on Valentine’s Day, Dracula left the critics cold, but stirred the blood of the English theatre-going public to frenzied heights.
So popular was the play that publisher/producer Horace Liveright bought the American stage rights and had the script completely re-written, presumably to better suit an American audience.
Even more alterations were made for its debut across the pond: Lucy and Mina collapse into one character, Lucy Seward, who is the daughter of Dr. John Seward! Meanwhile, the novel’s other suitors, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey P. Morris, disappear altogether.
Initially offering the lead to the most popular of the English stage Draculas, Raymond Huntley, Liveright was turned down by the 22-year-old actor.

Thus was the quirk of casting fate that brought Hungarian expatriate Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko, better known to us as Bela Lugosi, into the spotlight, giving him his big break and catching him in the gilded cage that would forever hold him in its not-so-tender trap. (I wonder how the actor would have felt though, had he known that he would be immortalized not only in photos and celluloid, but in song as well, in Bauhaus’ classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.”)
Though Lugosi spoke only a smattering of English, he learned his lines phonetically, thus adding to the bizarre inflections he would subsequently become famous for. Repeat after me: “I vant to dreenk your blahd!”
After initial stagings in Hartford and New Haven, the American production of Dracula opened at the Fulton Theater in New York on October 5, 1927, going on to be a major hit for Liveright and company.

In Part III of “The Cinematic (Un)Life of Count Dracula” (to be found elsewhere in the Archive), we take a look at Universal’s two film adaptations from 1931.
The article above is a slightly altered portion of the second part of the previously published
Blood, Love and Rhetoric series of articles written in 1997, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

(Bela Lugosi image courtesy of; “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” 12” single sleeve art courtesy of

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Season 1 Episode 12
“Chuck Versus the Undercover Lover”
Written by Phil Klemmer
Directed by Fred Toye

While a significant portion of the past 11 episodes has been dedicated to Chuck’s suddenly complicated love life, this installment shifts the focus to the love lives of Casey (yes, he actually has one of those), and, in the episode’s subplot, Ellie and Awesome.

The episode opens in Chechnya, 2004, and Casey is sleeping with AP photojournalist Ilsa Trinchina (Felicity‘s Sensa, Ivana Milicevic). But Ilsa apparently dies in a bomb blast, breaking Casey’s heart.
We then return to the present, where Chuck flashes on a whole list of Russian baddies in the registry of the swanky Grand Seville. And, no big surprise, he also sees Ilsa’s name there. Mentioning this to Casey only gets him throttled though. (Calling Casey “Sugar Bear,” Ilsa’s endearment for him, probably wasn’t the smartest idea.)
Chuck and Sarah are instructed to check out the Seville to try and determine why a—as Chuck so eloquently puts it—“douchebag convention” is going on there.

At the Seville, not only is Casey reunited with Ilsa (who claims to have been injured by the bomb and also initially lost her memory, a likely story), but Chuck also flashes on Victor Federov (Deadwood‘s Pasha Lychnikoff), apparently the top man in this Soviet baddie totem pole.
And wouldn’t you know it, but Ilsa’s about to get married to him…
Chuck is convinced Casey has been crushed by this turn of events and, dogged and determined, is eventually successful in getting Casey to talk to him. He also manages to convince Casey that he should fight for Ilsa, that maybe Ilsa doesn’t know that her fiancée is an evil sumb!tch (just as she apparently thought that Casey was an “energy consultant” during their Chechnya liaison).

Casey and Chuck end up crashing Sarah’s stake-out, and while Chuck gets Casey to talk to Ilsa (who’s by herself at the hotel bar), Chuck ends up having to plant a bug in the honeymoon suite. While there, he snoops around and sees a file on Ilsa, and apparently she isn’t really a photojournalist. (At this point though, I need to ask, why is she lugging around her own file?)
Chuck gets trapped under the bed though when Casey and Ilsa show up and start to get freaky, where else, but naturally, on the bed. Chuck’s discovered though, when his ringtone blasts out. Even as Chuck is warning Casey that Ilsa is a very bad girl, she pulls out a gun.
Apparently, Ilsa’s French secret service, but before she can explain anything to Casey, Victor arrives and both Casey and Chuck end up under the bed. Victor’s just about to get freaky with Ilsa, when the Soviet schmuck falls asleep.
She shoos both Chuck and Casey out before Victor wakes up.

The following day, Ilsa visits Sugar Bear at the Buy More, and explains that she’s undercover, trying to take down Federov‘s operation. She also returns a necklace Casey once gave her all those years ago.
Just hours before the wedding, Casey’s getting good and drunk when Chuck checks up on him. When Casey drops the necklace though, a bug pops free. Someone’s been spying on Ilsa, and whoever it is, they know she’s a spy (since they heard her conversations with Casey). So since Casey’s just a wee bit smashed, Chuck drives him to the hotel.
Barging into the honeymoon suite, they’re caught by Victor and his crew, and tied up. It’s Victor’s plan to kill Ilsa, Casey, and Chuck, but after the wedding though; he doesn’t want to disappoint all his Russian friends who’ve come here for the celebration.
Victor leaves, and Casey and Chuck get into a fight with the two goons, a fight that leads to both—still tied to each other—going over the hotel room balcony and into the swimming pool, and the middle of the wedding, which is being held poolside.
Sarah’s there, and with the help of Ilsa, they bust the whole wedding party.

All’s well that ends well, as Ilsa and Casey spend the night together, but part the next day, Ilsa now off to adopt another identity.
To try and cheer Casey up, Chuck tells him, “Well, I’ll always be here,” which is an ironic thing to say, considering what Casey has been tasked to do to Chuck once that new Intersect is up and running…

Meanwhile, in this episode’s subplot, it’s Ellie and Awesome’s anniversary, and they’ve decided to get one big expensive gift, instead of two small ones. They head on down to the Buy More, where it turns out that Ellie has her eye on a big-a$$ TV (so they can spend time together snuggling on the couch), while Awesome has his eye on a washer and dryer (so they can spend time at home washing their clothes, instead of going off to the Laundromat).
Morgan plays retail therapist, but before they can get to the root of the matter, Ellie’s called off to the hospital, so she tells Awesome to go ahead and choose what to buy, and surprise her. He does, by of course, buying the washer and dryer, which pisses Ellie off and they get into a tiff.
While the doghoused Awesome tries a poker game at the Buy More, Ellie ends up drunk and miserable, and tries to open up to Sarah. Ellie’s afraid that Awesome’s scared to truly commit, and really wishes she could confide in Sarah, but Sarah’s called away (to bust up the wedding at the Seville). Morgan shows up to check on Ellie and winds up taking care of her.
Nothing happens, if you’re wondering.
The next morning, Awesome apologizes and buys Ellie the TV. All’s well that ends well here too.

So this is a nice break from the whole Chuck-Sarah thing, and getting to see that personal side to Casey was a pleasant surprise. It’s also a plus that the subplot ties in well to the main one, and also affords Ryan McPartlin a chance to flesh out Awesome’s character a little bit. That’s good since as I mentioned before, the character sometimes tends to be a little too sitcom-y for my tastes.
So it’s great that both Casey and Awesome can be people too, and hopefully, we see more of that for both characters in subsequent episodes.

(Image courtesy of


Sydney Pollack
July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008

(Image courtesy of WireImage and; photo by David Lodge)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Season 4 Episode 8
“Meet Kevin Johnson”
Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Brian K. Vaughan
Directed by Stephen Williams

So aside from a few Island and Boat bits, this episode (as indicated by the title) is pretty much a protracted flashback precipitated by Sayid’s questioning of Michael, which relates to us (and Sayid and Des, of course), how Michael went from escaping the Island with Walt, to swabbing the freighter’s deck as Ben’s spy…

Apparently, after their escape, Michael was so burdened by his guilt over killing both Libby and Ana-Lucia, that he confessed to Walt what he’d done to purchase their freedom.
Justifiably horrified by what was done to get him back, Walt turns on Michael, and ends up living with Michael’s mother, not wanting to have anything to do with his murdering father.
Thus, Michael is despondent and suicidal, and tries to off himself by crashing his car, but he makes it out of the wreck alive. At the hospital, he has a nightmare where Libby, with some blankets, is the nurse checking up on him.
Michael tries to see Walt, but the kid won’t even come down from his room, looking down from his window at his murdering father.
So Michael hocks the watch that Jin gave him as a gift, and gets a gun and some bullets. He’s about to shoot himself in an alley when who should show up but Mr. Friendly! (And for just a moment, I think, Oh, wonderful. Michael’s seeing dead people too. Then it occurs to me that this flashback is probably occurring before MF is shot by Sawyer back on the Island.)
There’s some fisticuffs before MF reveals to Michael that he can’t die, that the Island won’t let him! MF then leaves Michael, telling him where he can be found (the penthouse of some hotel or other).

In his ratty apartment, Michael tries to shoot himself, but the gun just doesn’t want to fire, despite being fully loaded… (He also sees the news item about the “discovery” of Oceanic 815.)
So Michael heads to MF’s penthouse, where we see the confirmation that MF is indeed not straight, thus his declaration that Kate wasn’t “his type” way back at the start of Season 3.
We also discover the more vital information that—according to Ben—Da Widmore is responsible for the fake Oceanic 815 wreckage. This is so that people would stop looking for the plane, since Da W. wants to keep the whereabouts of the Island to himself.
Michael is also told that there’s a freighter that’s about to head for the Island, which, when it gets there, will be responsible for the deaths of everyone on the Island, including the other 815ers.
So the carrot dangling on the stick here is, this is Michael’s last chance to redeem himself; to save his fellow 815ers, by killing yet more people…

So Michael gets on board the freighter, meeting Minkowski, Naomi, and Miles (who tells Michael, I know “Kevin Johnson” isn’t your real name, but it’s okay, 80% of the people on this boat have secrets of their own). Michael also finds a crate for him, which contains what appears to be a bomb.
When Michael tries to activate it though, two things happen: one, Michael again sees Libby, who tells Michael not to do it; and two, when Michael does set it off, and the countdown reaches 0, a little Joker note springs out, which reads, NOT YET.
Later still, Michael gets a call from the mainland, from “Walt,” who turns out to be Ben, of course.
Ben instructs Michael to draw up a list of everyone on board, and then, after Ben calls him again, that he relay that list to Ben, then smash the comm equipment, then sabotage the engines (which of course we know he did).

Getting back to the freighter in this episode’s “present,” Michael’s story just serves to piss Sayid off. Accusingly (and ironically, since we’ve already seen his Crying Freeman flashforward), Sayid says, So you’re working for Ben.
And when Michael agrees, Sayid rats Michael out to Capt. Gault.

Back at the Barracks, Locke calls a town meeting, and explains to everyone exactly what Miles and the Boat people are here for: capture Benjamin Linus, then kill everyone else on the Island. (Miles doesn’t dispute this allegation, which thus makes me wonder, were Daniel and the others actually aware of this “kill everyone else” plan, ‘cause I honestly don’t see Daniel signing up for something like that. Or was Miles secretly privy to this bit because of his whole angry ghost whisperer thing?)

After the meeting, Ben sees Karl and Alex have a little PDA. He then speaks to Alex, giving her a map, telling her to go to “the Temple,” where the other Others are, apparently. Ben says, Go there, because if these people know you’re my daughter, they’ll use you to get to me.
Ben says, Go there, where you’ll be safe. He then adds, Your mother will protect you.
Alex asks, Are these people more dangerous than you?
And when Ben admits to that, Alex, Rousseau, and Karl, take the map and head for the Temple.
On the trek there though, first Karl, and then Rousseau, are shot by unseen snipers. Alex then surrenders, calling out, I’m Ben’s daughter!

Okay, first off, in the wake of the strike, the initial plan had been that the break would take place after episode 7 (“Ji Yeon”), and this episode—which had been completed pre-stirke—would kick off the batch of post-strike-produced episodes leading up to the season finale. If that plan had gone into effect, the cliffhanger would have been that kick-a$$ closer on “Ji Yeon,” which, honestly, feels like a more effective cliffhanger than this one.
But somewhere along the way, someone decided to show all the pre-strike episodes as a block, then take the six-week break, before airing the post-strike episodes, thus leaving us with this episode…
And yes, I am honest enough to cop to the possibility that I think “Ji Yeon” was a better episode than “Meet Kevin Johnson” because I’ve never really liked Michael’s character. At all. Since Day One.
If I could have Walt (kid with creepy, unnerving powers) without Michael (just a plain annoying yutz), that would be totally sweet. Unfortunately, right now we’re being given Michael without Walt. Sigh.

Somehow though, even if I put aside my dislike for Michael, I do still think “Ji Yeon” was a far better installment.
For one thing, there just seemed to be less artistry displayed in this one, with its straight-forward flashback. Within the context of the narrative, I can understand the reason for that choice—since Michael is apparently relating the story to Sayid and Des, it wouldn’t do to jump back and forth in time.
However, the “flashback-all-in-one-go” method seemed to make more sense in “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” Here, it just plays out as lazy and uninspired.

As for the cliffhanger we’re left with for the next six weeks though, I honestly can’t say for certain that those snipers were Boat People.
I mean, I wouldn’t put it past Ben to orchestrate this whole ambush so he could eliminate the other important people in Alex’s life, so he could again have his adoptive daughter all to himself. (And if it does turn out to be a legitimate ambush, I apologize in advance to Ben. Don’t blame me, dude, but trusting shifty li’l you is a pretty tall order.)
Oh, and I did say I missed Libby, but I sincerely hope we’ll see more of her than as just Michael’s guilt-inducing phantasm. The character deserves better than that…
Ah, and the whole “you can’t die, the Island won’t let you” bit…. Is that why Jack’s suicide attempt at the bridge was interrupted by a fortuitous accident?


(Image courtesy of ABC and

Saturday, May 24, 2008


First off, thanx so much to all the good people who descended upon Kolektib to see the wild menagerie that was us, all the strange and colourful folk the stellar Nida G.R. has gathered under the VPE umbrella.
Also, I should again apologize profusely to Pogz, for the non-meeting.
To one and all, whether you were at Kolektib yesterday or not, I’d be remiss in my pimping duties if I didn’t repeat: the Penumbra horror/dark fantasy novellas Takod, Parman, and Craving, written by yours truly, are available in book stores (as are all the other wondrous tomes put out by Visual Print Enterprises).
Pelicula, meanwhile, is online here. It’s up to Reel Five, Chapter 34, where an important discussion is conducted in a basketball court in Tondo.

And since I’m already here, I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge a number of individuals, for stuff above and beyond…
To the following, whose patronage and help have kept the Iguana well-fed and stocked with reviews: Jeb, Carla and Ed, Bianca, Beau, and Reg.
To Nida, for getting Penumbra out there.
To Budj, Carl, and Karen, for all the support (moral and otherwise), over the long years.
To all of you beautiful people, many, many, many thanx.

And to all of you who’ve dropped by to keep the Iguana company, thanx to you as well! She appreciates your visits…

(Takod cover design by Wawi Navarroza; Parman cover art by Oliver Pulumbarit; Craving cover art and jacket design and Pelicula logo by Carl Vergara; Habagat design and pin-up by Ian Sta. Maria.)

Monday, May 19, 2008


“Jason always wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. But for his senior class project, he decided to try to make a horror film. That’s what he was shooting on that first night. The night when… everything changed.”
-- Debra

There were a number of recent horror movies (most from 2007) that chose to utilize the shakycam aesthetic popularized by The Blair Witch Project. Some of these, in turn, seemed to have drawn inspiration from the same spot in the collective unconscious, using the DIY doc approach to address some of the issues and anxieties we, as a media-driven society, face in this age of cell phone cameras and YouTube.
One of those films was George Romero’s fifth cinematic journey to the zombie-ridden world he created four decades ago, Diary of the Dead.

Diary chronicles the first days and nights of this new age where the dead are no longer content to stay still once they’ve stopped breathing. We view this radical and very sudden change through the eyes (and lenses) of a group of students from “the Pitt,” the University of Pittsburgh, who are in the woods shooting a horror movie entitled The Death of Death.
When the fit hits the shan though, the horror movie becomes all too real.

Now, first off, despite its low budget, I do think Diary is a far more ambitious entry in Romero’s Dead series than his previous Land of the Dead. It’s also arguably more of a horror movie for the YouTube generation than another recent shakycam horror film, Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield.
However, that’s only because Diary is far less subtle in its approach.
That, for me, is one of the biggest problems of Diary: the social commentary is so heavy-handed, these kids make Michael Moore look like the Sultan of Subtle. Of course, to be fair, what we’re supposed to be seeing in Diary is a senior film student’s project, The Death of Death, so maybe the clumsy, elephantine manner in which the points are made is part of Romero’s overall scheme.
But the truth is, this isn’t actually Jason Creed’s The Death of Death that we’re watching, is it? It’s George Romero’s Diary of the Dead.

Now, when I look back at Night of the Living Dead, the social commentary is present, but it isn’t shoved down your throat. There are gut punches, certainly, particularly in the film’s final moments, but these moments aren’t accompanied by a voice-over and stock footage that belabour the point till it feels like Romero is bludgeoning me with his thoughts on why the human race may not deserve to be saved from its own largely self-propelled destruction.
And I haven’t seen either Romero’s Dawn nor Day in a yonk’s age, but I don’t recall them being as blatant and bullish as this.

There’s also the matter of Romero’s swipes at some of the other zombie-come-latelies. Yes, I do realize it is his party, but when he repeatedly makes reference to the speed at which dead things are supposed to move, and whether any dead person will come back to re-animated life or only those that have been bitten beforehand, I just have the distinct urge to yell, Yes, we get it! Now get on with the movie!
There are also the not entirely successful post-modern, self-referential touches, such as when Tony (Land of the Dead’s Shawn Roberts) refers to The Death of Death as a “Stupid f*cking mummy movie,” while their professor, Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth, from TV’s Kung Fu: The Legend Continues), quickly adds, “With an underlying thread of social satire.”
Romero is, of course, referring to his own zombie movies, and though I imagine it was meant to be self-deprecating, it doesn’t quite play like Romero taking the piss out of himself. Instead, it comes off as an arm-waving tactic, drawing attention to this very film, which, if you hadn’t yet figured out, isn’t meant to be just another stupid f*cking zombie movie.

My biggest problem though, the one I feel is the key to why I quickly felt a certain distance from the actions on-screen, is the less than satisfactory performances from the cast.
Sadly, the most obvious culprits in this case are Josh Close (who plays Jason Creed, and is the main documenter of the action) and Michelle Morgan (who plays Jason’s girlfriend, Debra Moynihan). Not only are they the most prominent characters in the group, but since Jason is the driving force behind The Death of Death, he is basically the eye through which we are viewing the film.
And, to put it bluntly, Jason is a d!ck.
Jason’s character is so singularly off-putting and irritatingly fixated, that even when I get his point, I end up not giving a rat’s a$$ because he’s so distinctly unlikeable. And Close—who appeared in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the straight-to-DVD feature The Plague—does nothing whatsoever to make the character seem sympathetic. (You can’t really admire a guy who holds his self-appointed responsibility as a “shooter” to be more important than actually lending a helping hand to a friend who’s being accosted by a flesh-hungry zombie. This happens more than once, people.)

I get the climactic debate, about chronicling and disseminating the truth, against self-preservation, but Close’s Jason doesn’t seem at all convincing in this pivotal moment (just one of several that he flubs), his words hollow and without any genuine conviction.
Morgan doesn’t help much either, her Debra never really coming across as an actual person. Debra’s occasional professions of love for Jason may just as well be Morgan reading off items on a grocery list.
Or lines from a script.
And tragically, that’s what most of the cast sound like, as if they’re spouting lines that aren’t really theirs to begin with.
I’m honestly not sure how closely Romero stuck to his script, or, if like Cloverfield, there was a fair amount of improv that went on in Diary. Because if there was, then I guess it boils down to the acting talent of the cast.
None of them seem natural, which of course, just draws attention to the fact that this is a fiction, and not a document of an actual occurrence, thus compromising the film’s basic integrity. I mean, if Cloverfield succeeded in making me buy the notion of a giant monster ravaging New York City, then I’d like to think convincing me of a zombie epidemic would be easier, right?
As it is, I can at the very least, look back at Land of the Dead and say, Hey, at least Romero had actors in it.

I wanted to like this, truly I did, and I take no pleasure in the negative vibe this review is oozing. To be honest, I don’t hate Diary; that would be for far less ambitious and lazy films (like, say, Steve Miner’s Day of the Dead redux).
Diary, like all the other Romero Dead films, is saying something. Something important.
I just wish he’d said it in a softer, and more convincing tone.

Parting shot: Reviews of Romero’s Land of the Dead and Miner’s Day of the Dead, can be found in the Archive, along with other recent zombie cinema entries, 28 Weeks Later, Plane Dead, and Boy Eats Girl.
The article “Revelations (Getting at the Truths of Apocalypse Cinema)”—which discusses Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead remake and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later—can also be found in the Archive.

(Diary of the Dead OS courtesy of; images courtesy of


The following is an excerpt from the Penumbra horror/dark fantasy novella, Craving, written by yours truly, and published by Visual Print Enterprises.

The sun was just beginning to set, and Anne was on her way back to the house from her daily walk along the beach. Every other day of the week, Lester accompanied her, but today was Thursday, and Thursday was Clean-Up Day, so she went solo on Thursdays, careful to pack her cell phone in her canvas tote bag, in case of…
Well… just in case.

Anne sighed. She was so grateful for Lester, for his patience, his understanding. As difficult as this and the past two pregnancies had been for her, Anne knew it was doubly hard for her husband, who had no choice but to simply be there, by her side, unable to carry the whole burden on his shoulders.
Which she knew he would, without a doubt, without a moment’s hesitation, if he only could. But this was her burden, by virtue of gender and biology, this was hers, and she felt blessed to have Lester there, always, strengthening her resolve by his mere presence.

Anne smiled, a small, tender smile, as she walked along the dirt road leading up to the Doctora’s house, walked in the Daisy Duckzilla walk, as Lester had dubbed it. Anne had perfected a shuffling, shambling lope that was slow and awkward, but got her to where she wanted to go, safe, and in one piece.
“And that’s what it’s all about these days, huh, Junior?” she cooed, rubbing her stomach through the thin summer blouse she wore.
Dimly, she heard something.
She stopped, frowning.

There, off in the depths of the waist-high talahib to the side of the dirt road.
What sounded like a cat… yowling…
No. Not a cat. Not yowling.
Wailing. Crying.
“Oh, my God,” Anne whispered.
It’s a baby, she thought. It’s a baby that’s been abandoned, and it’s hungry and thirsty and how am I supposed to reach it? There could be snakes in there, and, oh! Snakes! And that poor baby! Lester!

And she began to dig through her bag, frantically. Then she noticed the crying getting louder, closer to her.
Frozen, she watched as the stalks of grass bent, and now, there was the sound of brittle snapping, and something (something?) crawled through the talahib, towards her, the crying definitely louder now, more insistent.
Anne backed away, slowly, her eyes transfixed, watching the swaying, the bending and snapping, marking the path, the trajectory.

And then the crying stopped. No winding down, no softening. Just a clean, dead stop.
But the grass was still being disturbed, upset by the movement, the resolute crawl of whatever it was.
Anne resumed the Daisy Duckzilla walk, a little faster now, pulling the cell out of her tote bag, the sound of crunching, snapping blades of grass deafening to her.

As she flipped her cell phone open, the giggling began, a high-pitched, lunatic sound.
She didn’t look back, didn’t wish or want to, she just kept walking, walking, her eye on the mango tree, which was yelling distance from the house, whispering the “Hail Mary” beneath her breath.
And though the giggling continued, an awful, manic noise, the sound of movement through the grass stopped, and Anne imagined blades of grass being pulled apart, eyes watching her, boring into her back.

But she still didn’t look back. She just walked, tote bag in one hand, cell phone in the other (in a skeletal, white-knuckled grip), leaving the giggling behind her, the “Hail Mary” still on her lips.
“… and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus…”
And the giggling just went on, and on, and on…

If the above tidbit has suitably intrigued you, Craving is available in bookstores. (And if you don’t see it on the shelves, ask for it, please.)
Or, if you’re so inclined, you can drop by Kolektib (Shop 33 in the Cubao Expo) this Saturday, May 24, 2008, and attend “9 in 1: Kolektib Intelidyens,” where I will be among the menagerie of wild writers and artists the good people of Visual Print Enterprises will gather for your awe and amusement.
Craving (and lots of other goodies) will be available there.
It’s from 3pm to 6pm, this Saturday; see Afterthoughts (67) for more details.
Hope to see all you fine folk there!

(Craving art and jacket design by Carl Vergara.)


The following is an edited excerpt from the Penumbra horror/dark fantasy novella, Parman, written by yours truly, and published by Visual Print Enterprises.

The two friends stare at the figure some ten feet away, man-shaped, to be certain, but powerful, made out of (or perhaps, wrapped in) some white, chitinous substance, all emphasized, stylized musculature, and bony ridges and barbs, features obscured in a helmet or mask of some sort, which displays only the vaguest contours of a face, its eyes glowing an unearthly blue.
The figure stands, menace and intent in his muscled stance, his stillness an implication of strength, of power.

The friends straighten their shoulders, their backs, as if shrugging off their drunkenness.
Suddenly, the ivory figure leaps into the air and strikes, a foot catching one on the chin, sending him to the street. The other foot is blocked though, with a solid forearm; blocked, then grabbed by the ankle.
The man swings the armored attacker down, slamming him, hard, against the pavement. Instantly, the man lunges for the white figure, but he is blindingly quick, and already rolling, and on his feet, ready to face his enemy.

The man pauses, just long enough to flash a cold, guillotine smile, before he steps forward and attacks. What follows is a blur of motion, of attack and counter-attack, strike and block, fist against forearm, foot against shin. And though the man is slashing his fists and flesh to bloody shreds on the thick barbs on his enemy’s forearms, he evinces no pain, intent only on the duel.
Finally, the rhythm is broken, the flat of a palm catching the white-clad figure under the chin, sending him staggering back a few paces. Quickly, the man lashes out with his foot, catching the ivory figure square in the stomach, in the stylized abdominal muscles on his armor.

The blow is hard, knocking the wind out of him, doubling him over. Before he can recover, hands are grabbing his arms, pulling them back, while a knee, forcefully, painfully, digs against the small of his back.
Caught in the brutal hold, trying to recoup his strength, the armored figure looks at the man who stands in front of him, in a fashionable, two-sizes-too-small polo of some shimmering fabric, gloating.
“Hey, Uno,” the man says, flashing that grin.

A fist rams into the armored man’s abdomen, and though the angry, sharp pain makes him want to double over again, he can’t, because of the agony of the hold he’s in.
The man leans in. “We’ll be sure to bring Mangilala your head.”
This is all he’s been waiting for.

His knee slams into the man’s groin, and, just as the man folds up in agony, his helmeted head butts savagely against the top of the man’s head, sending the man sprawling to the street.
Then, in a supreme effort of will and muscular strength, the one called Uno does double over, quickly, pulling the man who holds him off his feet, and up, and over, dropping him heavily on his companion.

Standing over the stunned pair, Uno’s hands flare, a blinding corona of white light outlining them. Even as the companions try to get to their feet, Uno grabs them by their foreheads, and they scream, shrill, high-pitched keenings, the light spreading, blanketing them.
Their skin begins to char then, to peel back in glowing, blistering shreds of ash.
Moments later, their skeletons are visible; their bones, and what lies within.

As Uno releases both skeletons, what look like grey water balloons spill out from their rib cages, falling on the street with liquid plops.
Uno looks down dispassionately (and though his features are obscured, one can tell this by his stance, his body language, and the way the eyes of his mask—if mask is indeed what it is, and not his true face—simmer a cold, sky-distant blue), at the two foot-long grey worms that writhe on the asphalt.

Uno places a booted foot on one of them, and it jerks, its needle teeth trying to snap at Uno, its all-too human face twisted in a malignant grimace, its eyes burning with malice.
“You will fall, warrior,” it says, its voice, the screeching of fingernails across a chalkboard. “You will fall, and we saitans shall feed on your innards.”
Uno applies pressure, and the worm bursts in a noisome flurry of blood and sewage.
He turns to the other one, which seems dazed, in shock, its eyes glazed over in an idiot stare.
Uno’s foot comes down, hard.

If the above tidbit has suitably intrigued you, Parman is available in bookstores. (And if you don’t see it on the shelves, ask for it, please.)
Or, if you’re so inclined, you can drop by Kolektib (Shop 33 in the Cubao Expo) this Saturday, May 24, 2008, and attend “9 in 1: Kolektib Intelidyens,” where I will be among the menagerie of wild writers and artists the good people of Visual Print Enterprises will gather for your awe and amusement.
Parman (and lots of other goodies) will be available there.
It’s from 3pm to 6pm, this Saturday; see Afterthoughts (67) for more details.
Hope to see all you fine folk there!

(Parman cover image by Oliver Pulumbarit.)


The following is an excerpt from the Penumbra horror/dark fantasy novella, Takod, written by yours truly, and published by Visual Print Enterprises.

She lies awake in bed, sweating, the house looming around her, like a crouching beast, oppressive. Summer has come early this year, the warmth like a herald for Semana Santa, an angel beating its wings, waves of heat radiating outwards from its divine being.

This is the time of death, and resurrection, though for the little girl, it is only the former she understands.
Death is when your father leaves one early morn, before the sun has even risen, leaves to make a living from the sea, a sea which betrays him, swallowing him whole, taking him into its cold, blue, bottomless throat.

Death, the little girl understands.
Resurrection, she cannot comprehend, a concept she cannot grasp, a word she cannot pronounce.

Outside, skeleton fingers scratch against the thin capis of her room’s window, as if the tree which towers over their home wishes entry. She stares at the window, at the vague shadows outside, not understanding why the tree is moving when she can hear no wind, when it seems too hot for any wind to even exist.
Or perhaps it is the wind from the angel’s wings.
(Her mother would disapprove of this fancy, so she pushes it from her mind.)

Then, as if summoned by her stray thought, a figure appears at her door.
Shadowed, silent, it is her mother.
She wishes her brother were awake, but he is not. He lies next to her, asleep, snoring softly. He looks exactly like her (for they are, after all, twins), and for an instant, she imagines it is she who is asleep, while her brother lies awake in the warm, humid dark.

Barefoot, her mother walks to their bedside.
She towers above them, her children; one asleep, the other, not. The little girl cannot see her mother’s face, cannot pierce the dark shadows which cloak it, like strands of long, ebony hair.
She watches as her mother leans down to plant a kiss on her brother’s smooth cheek. She remembers the Bible story of Judas, and again, pushes the thought away, mindful of her mother.

Then, strangely, impossibly, she watches as her mother, still on the opposite side of the bed, leans, and stretches towards her, somehow keeping her balance with both arms at her sides, as she moves to kiss her (and surely she can’t reach her, not with the bed so wide, not without having to lean over her brother).
She watches, frozen, her mother’s shadowed face moving towards her, dark hair like water, like spider’s silk, framing features she cannot see (and somehow, she knows, she would not want to see, even if she could).

And finally, finally, when her mother’s face is right next to hers, and she can feel the warm, fetid breath on her cheek, feel the feather touch of those dark strands of hair on her neck, she closes her eyes.
Then the wetness is on her mouth, and something slick finds its way past her lips, sliding along her tongue, something spherical and soft, tasting of mold and rot.
It slides down her tongue, her throat, and at last, she opens her eyes, to look upon the cold, blank face of darkness.

If the above tidbit has suitably intrigued you, Takod is available in bookstores. (And if you don’t see it on the shelves, ask for it, please.)
Or, if you’re so inclined, you can drop by Kolektib (Shop 33 in the Cubao Expo) this Saturday, May 24, 2008, and attend “9 in 1: Kolektib Intelidyens,” where I will be among the menagerie of wild writers and artists the good people of Visual Print Enterprises will gather for your awe and amusement.
Takod (and lots of other goodies) will be available there.
It’s from 3pm to 6pm, this Saturday; see Afterthoughts (67) for more details.
Hope to see all you fine folk there!

(Takod cover image and design by Wawi Navarroza.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008


The Search For Superman Committee has made its choice, and the official Man of Steel for Metropolis, Illinois’ 2008 Superman Celebration is…
Josh Boultinghouse!
Congratulations, Josh! (You can find out more about Josh here.)
Josh officially debuts as the 2008 Metropolis Superman at the ribbon cutting ceremony which opens this year’s Superman Celebration, on June 12. (For other details, go to the Metropolis Tourism website.)

(All images: Josh Boultinghouse)
Dexter Morgan

Season 2 Episode 12
‘The British Invasion’
Teleplay by Daniel Cerone; story by Melissa Rosenberg & Daniel Cerone
Directed by Steve Shill

So Erik King makes it to the season finale, only to get blown into teeny pieces by the arsonist titty vampire.
Lila breaks into the cabin to find Doakes, and when she asks who he is and why he’s locked up, she understands just exactly what that hunger and darkness is that she senses in Dex.
And since she believes she’s his soulmate, she does what she can to protect Dex: set the cabin on fire, flick open the propane tank, and leave.
Doakes manages to smash his way out of the cage, but just as he’s about to try and put out the fire (mouthing “Motherf*ck—“), the tank explodes, taking him and the cabin with it.

Meanwhile, Deb and hordes of Miami’s Finest are closing in on the area where the cabin is located, so Dex hurries to get there first, only to find the flaming wreck already crawling with cops.
In a gruesome bit, they find the partial remains of Doakes, and once positive ID’s been made, the case is officially closed.

There’s a great scene in LaGuerta’s office, as Lundy breaks the news to Maria, and she then goes through the rest of the episode being faithful to the memory of her former partner (and probably, lover).
Lauren Velez also has a fantastic scene with Jennifer Carpenter, when Deb makes the effort to reach out to LaGuerta; after all, they’re now in the same boat, two women who aren’t sure they can ever trust another man—and themselves—again, given that someone they thought they knew turned out to be a killer. (Of course, in LaGuerta’s case, that isn’t the truth at all, but let’s not tell her that…)

And while Angel is cleared by I.A. over the whole rape thing, there’s a nice little play on the show’s opening credits sequence, as it dawns on Dex that with Doakes framed and dead, he’s a free man. That whole time, I fully expected Lila to be lying in wait as Dex opens his door, but the b!tch had other plans.
After an early morning booty call with Rita, Dex’s jubilation comes to a screeching halt when Masuka tells him that the cabin’s explosion wasn’t accidental (Masuka seems to think Doakes committed suicide this way, rather than be caught by the police).
When Dex finds the SUV’s GPS thingie in the debris, he realizes Lila’s behind the miracle save, so he meets her at the aquarium. There, Dex makes her believe he still wants her, and convinces her that he’s leaving Miami and that he wants to take her with him.

But when he shows up at Lila’s place (with his bag of kill tools), Deb’s there too. And when Lila arrives to find the Morgans there, and with Deb being her usual vitriolic self, Lila twigs onto the fact that something’s not kosher. So she makes like Dex’s kill bag is hers and prances on outta there.
Dex calls her on her cell, making all the appropriate “Sorry” noises, but Lila doesn’t reply.
Instead, she goes on over to Rita’s and abducts the kids.
Dex realizes Lila’s game a little too late, and when he finds the kids missing, he tells Rita to call Deb.
Of course, Rita’s call finds Deb just about to hop into a cab to meet Lundy at the airport (Lundy’s off on another serial killer case), Deb intent on leaving everything in Miami behind for love of the Lundy. But the call from Rita puts Deb in a spot, and in the end, she ditches FBI lover boy to help Rita out.

Dex arrives at Lila’s to find the kids watching TV. Lila then says, “You could have had it all,” and sets the place on fire, as she locks Dex and the kids in.
Dex gets the kids out through a window, which he can’t fit through, and it looks like it’s over for Dex, but he smashes through the burning wall, and Deb arrives just in time to help him.
Dex is singed, but okay; the kids are fine; Rita’s understanding.

Then, it what seems to be an epilogue, we see Lila in Paris, and I’m thinking, Oh, no, what evil has Dexter Morgan wrought? Is Lila now some loony copycat killer?
I also thought, This is rather messy of Dex, leaving that loose end.
But my faith in my favourite blood spatter expert/serial killer is renewed as he pays Lila a visit and takes care of her. (It’s curious though and perhaps a tad hypocritical when Dex accuses Lila of murdering an innocent man; I mean, he was selling Doakes up the river, after all. How different would it have been if the cops had wound up capping Doakes’ a$$? Or if he’d wound up with a death sentence?)

The finale winds up with a montage as we see Deb and Angel getting commendations from the force, and Dex running with Rita and the kids in slow mo (we just lacked the friendly family dog, really).
During the voice over, Dex says that his relationships are no longer part of the mask; they’re something he needs now, and if that makes him vulnerable, so be it. Harry would disapprove, but as Dex claims, he’s no longer Harry’s disciple. He’s his own master now.
And as he places a new (and thus far empty) slide box in his secret AC hiding place, Dex says stuff about finding new rituals in his perpetual lot in life.
He ends by asking, “Am I evil? Am I good? I’m done asking those questions. I don’t have the answers.”
Then, as he shuts the AC while looking straight at us, his riveted audience, he asks, “Does anyone?”

Parting shot: My thoughts on the finale and Season 2 in a future installment of In-Between Seasons.

(Image courtesy of

If you happen to be in the area this coming Saturday, May 24, 2008, you may want to drop by Kolektib (Shop 33 in the Cubao Expo), where Visual Print Enterprises is throwing “9 in 1: Kolektib Intelidyens,” a to-do featuring myself and a whole bunch of other writers whose work has been published under their auspices.
I’ll be there pimping the Penumbra novellas (Takod, Craving, and Parman), Carl Vergara will be there pimping ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, and Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo will be there pimping the Trese compilations. (Check the image above for the full line-up.)
If you like any or all of these curiosities, come on by!
That’s Kolektib at the Cubao Expo, May 24, from 3pm to 6pm. (You can find more details here.)
Hope to see all you fine people there!

(Top image courtesy of Visual Print Enterprises; bottom image features art by Carl Vergara, Oliver Pulumbarit, and Wawi Navarroza.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008


"I've been accused of 'raping' the audience in my films, and I admit to that freely—all movies assault the viewer in one way or another. What's different about my films is this: I'm trying to rape the viewer into independence."
-- Michael Haneke

Well, consider me frakked.

In Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot English-language remake of his 1997 Funny Games, George and Ann Farber (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) are a couple of rich, white folk vacationing at their lakeside home for a couple of weeks. They’ve brought their son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart), and their dog, Lucky.
Naturally, in a film like this, when there’s a dog named “Lucky,” you can bet your bottom dollar that the mutt will be anything but.
You see, a pair of insanely courteous young lunatics (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) clad in immaculate white, are about to make a house call, all set to torture, not just the unlucky family, but the film’s audience as well.

With the cold, clinical precision that is his cinematic stock-in-trade, Haneke basically hijacks his audience and unleashes a confrontational and provocative indictment of what passes off as “entertainment” in today’s culture.
Funny Games U.S. (and its original Austrian progenitor) challenges its audience: so you like movies where people get tortured and terrorized? Well, see if you enjoy this.
With its largely static camerawork, its lack of a traditional musical score, and painfully frank performances, Funny Games U.S. presents the horrible scenario in a seemingly very real manner, while simultaneously tearing down the fourth wall on a number of occasions, reminding us that, A) this is a fiction, and B) we, the audience, are complicit in what we are witnessing.
Because this is, after all, unfolding for our entertainment.
Given that this is a decidedly non-Hollywood approach to the idea, and given that this is clearly Heneke’s agenda, it becomes obvious that Funny Games U.S. isn’t meant to be “entertainment.”
From all of what I’ve said above, it’s plainly evident that Funny Games U.S. is meant to be “art.”
And that’s I believe the sticking point of this entire quandary.

Let me use Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible as an example.
Irreversible is the sort of grueling cinematic experience that I really wouldn’t want to repeat. Viewing it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
But I do appreciate what Noe seems to be saying in it, the manner in which the narrative unfolds (begin at the end of the story in a very chaotic, nauseating manner, and work our way towards the beginning, with the camerawork gradually becoming calm and steady), part and parcel of his message.
Clearly, Irreversible is not entertainment. But I do believe that it is art.
So what’s to stop someone who makes a film that’s non-stop degradation and torture without any apparent message from claiming that there is, after all, a message (those who don’t “get it” merely ill-equipped to understand), and that his film is “art”?
And aren’t the lines that separate art and entertainment ultimately subjective?
Let’s face it: I may think Irreversible is art, but someone else will probably denounce it as filth and look at me like some sort of unhinged deviant for even considering Irreversible as a piece of art.
By the same token, I’m sure there are films out there others consider “art” that I, personally, just don’t get. (Apparently, I too, can be ill-equipped.)
Then there are those films that are ostensibly entertainment, and yet manage to say something substantial and potent about the human condition, that manage to bridge the gap and present some sort of hybrid.
Are they entertainment? Art? Or both?

Now, any Iguana regulars reading this will know that horror with significant subtext is pretty much my speed. As such, Haneke’s preaching to the choir here. (See, Herr Haneke, “No” really does mean “No.”)
But the reality is, I also happen to love films like the first Saw and Eli Roth’s Hostel films (particularly the second), because in them, I feel there is subtext, there are messages amidst the gore and the grue.
Now, whether or not Haneke will agree with me, I’ll never know. And for that matter, where is Haneke’s line, his personal demarcation between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” violence?
Shouldn’t all violence be unacceptable? But in a frank discussion of violence (the kind art can engage in), isn’t the depiction of it a necessity?
And with any depiction of violence, don’t we return to the question of acceptability? How much can we show so as to make our point?
So many questions…

In asking what Herr Haneke’s personal demarcation is though, I believe I’m missing the real point, which is, What is my personal demarcation? Where do I draw the line?
And where do you?

Parting shot: Reviews of Saw and Hostel II can be found in the Archive.

Parting shot 2: Incidentally, both Haneke and Noe were included by in a list of 17 “Notorious Living, Working Cinematic Provocateurs,” which uses Haneke’s New York Times quote in its title.
Others on the list include Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike, Oliver Stone, Lars von Trier, and Michael Moore.

(Funny Games U.S. OS [design by Crew Creative Advertising] and UK quad courtesy of; Funny Games DVD cover art courtesy of; Funny Games U.S. images courtesy of

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


And the five final candidates for Metropolis, Illinois’ new Man of Steel are Josh Boultinghouse, Damian Beurer, Jamie Aaron Kelley, Danny Kelley, and John Helfrich. Congratulations to all you fine gentle(Super)men.
From here on out, it’s all in the hands of the Superman Celebration Committee, who will deliberate on the final choice to take on the red cape and boots of the Last Son of Krypton.
Their choice will be announced on May 16, and will be seen in person at this year’s Superman Celebration, to be held on June 12-15. (For other details, go to the Metropolis Tourism website.)

(Images: Josh Boultinghouse; Damian Beurer; Jamie Aaron Kelley; Danny Kelley; John Helfrich)

Sunday, May 11, 2008


For the purposes of placing this review in a larger context…

My Cinematic History with the Wachowskis:
When Bound was released, I found it to be an agreeable, if not necessarily mind-blowing piece of entertainment. Beyond the lesbian twist, it didn’t really leave me with anything particularly fresh and rave-worthy.
So when news first surfaced of their next project, some sci-fi vehicle with Keanu in it, I was curious in that I wanted to see whether the brothers could handle science fiction, given that Bound wasn’t anywhere near that sort of territory.
It was in that neutral air of close-to-zero expectation that The Matrix blasted against my retinas and imprinted itself on my completely flabbergasted cortex.
It wasn’t perfect, but this was clearly something vital and new, blowing wide the gates of the film medium, even as the third millennium rapidly approached.
Fittingly enough, The Matrix proved to be a harbinger for post-millennial cinema, single-handedly establishing the new action film paradigm (ironically enough, by co-opting and sprucing up wire fu, which had already been going on for decades while the mainstream pointedly looked elsewhere).
As impressed as I was with The Matrix though, the Wachowskis were still on my probation list. I wanted them to kick my a$$ with a film that was removed from The Matrix, something low-key maybe.
Of course, they opted to return with the Matrix sequels, films I felt weren’t particularly needed. The Matrix was one of those very singular films that should have been left standing alone.
And when 2003 came around and Reloaded and Revolutions hit the screens within six months of each other, the whole bullet train completely derailed. (I am extremely grateful we had The Animatrix that same year, which thankfully more than negated the very bad taste the sequels left in me…)
Not only did the sequels suffer under the terrible weight of expectation, but the Wachowskis seemed to have approached the entire enterprise from the wrong angle. Sick to death of The Matrix’s bullet-time having been appropriated and parodied by all and sundry, they conceived of effects sequences so complex, no one could copy them.
That just seemed arrogant and presumptious. And the philobabble just got a bit much…
So I was back to waiting. Waiting for the Wachowskis to kick my a$$ all over again.

And they’ve done it.

With Speed Racer.

The titular hero (played with an earnest sense of idealistic confidence by Emile Hirsch) is a young man who lives for the rush, who can’t really slow down. There, behind the wheel, careening down the race track at improbable velocities, is one of the few places Speed feels at home.
He knows, deep in his heart, in the very fibre of his being, that this is not just the only thing he knows how to do, but also, the principal thing he was meant to do.
And though he has an amazing support system in his extended family (which includes his girlfriend Trixie, played by Christina Ricci), Speed also has some ghosts he must come to terms with, in particular, the disgrace and apparent subsequent death of his older brother Rex (Friday Night Lights’ Scott Porter).
Rex is the brother he idolized, the brother who taught him everything, who taught him to listen, to understand and acknowledge that a car isn’t just metal and oil, but rather, a living, breathing organism.
And here, in the coming-of-age adventure that we see play out in Speed Racer, young Speed is about to discover why Rex came to that tragic end, and the terrible darkness that lies at the heart of the World Racing League, and the sport he so dearly loves.

Beyond the kaleidoscopic, day-glo aesthetic of this hyper-real, hyper-kinetic world, what most strikes me about Speed Racer is the fact that there is some genuine emotion that underpins the astounding visual flourishes.
From the strong filial bonds on display (helped along tremendously by the performances of senior cast members, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, as Mom and Pops Racer); the obvious hero worship Speed still holds for his brother; the brooding, tragic, and tangibly physical presence of Racer X (a terrific and terribly effective Matthew Fox); and the struggle young Speed experiences in trying to keep his idealism intact in the crushing, cruel face of high-stakes business, Speed Racer certainly has a heart that beats with a genuine rhythm, a humanizing counterpoint to the adrenalized, pedal-to-the-metal action.
For every neon-laced, anime-inspired set piece, there’s a small character moment that balances it out, and somehow, the Wachowskis manage to pace all of the film’s bits in such a way that a 2 hour 15 minute running time feels far less. (There were honestly only a couple of sections where a minute, perhaps even half, could have been shaved off each, to make the goofy goings-on a tad less strained. Unlike last year’s Transformers or Spider-Man 3, where the kiddy bits were simultaneously condescending, atrocious, and horribly frivolous padding.)
It zips by, this one. But not without leaving its marks. Much like the squiggly trails of coloured light scrawled on the air by the whizzing racing cars during the Maltese Ice Caves sequence, Speed Racer leaves after-images in its wake, both visual and emotional.

As clearly bowled over as I am with it though, I will admit, this isn’t for everyone.
Some will see the frenetic racing sequences and quickly switch off, under the mistaken belief that all Speed Racer is is high velocity eye candy devoid of any genuine human warmth.
Speed Racer also isn’t really built for extremely young kids. (Thus, the PG rating, as some of the young 'uns may need older family members to patiently explain odd bits here and there.) The first protracted racing sequence alone, which shifts the narrative back and forth from the present, to different sections of the past (much as a speeding car rapidly shifts its gears), may lose some of the less-attentive of the kiddie brigade in its non-linear, top-heavy exposition.
I, for one, loved this sequence, enthralled by the poignant idea of “race track as continuum,” capped off by Speed racing the phantom of Rex to the finish line. But then again, that’s just me.
The final moments of the climactic race are also executed via a device that is so tried-and-tested, it’s cliché. Somehow though, the Wachowskis pull it off, orchestrating the emotions the film’s narrative engine runs on to a tee.
And to leave us with the thought that anything—no matter how seemingly trivial—can be an art; that money does not have to—and more importantly, should not—be at the heart of everything; that a cohesive family unit is key; and that it isn’t really about what you can do, but how you can do good while doing what you do, that matters…
Certainly all that must count for something.

At this point, I’d like to underscore the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of Tatsuo Yoshida’s original animated Mach Go Go Go (Speed Racer in its American incarnation). I’ve seen snippets of some episodes of course, just enough to know that the tone of the series wasn’t really for me.
Despite never having gotten into it though, I was aware of the characters—Chim-Chim, Racer X, Trixie, et al—and their basic relationships with each other; I was aware of the visual signatures; I was aware of the song.*
So I really had no vested interest in whether the film would be any good, beyond the fact that I was hoping it could redeem the Wachowskis in my eyes.
I’m so glad it did. I’m thrilled that the Wachowskis could give a non-fan like myself a grand, rousing time at the cinema.
I’m glad that they could give me a film that has decidedly more humanity than The Matrix, that has a readily apparent soul that informs the technical and visual virtuosity that they are so clearly wizards of.
And I’m glad they proved they hadn’t completely lost their game.

Set in a world that is arguably more visually vibrant and stimulating than the Matrix, Speed Racer is a cinematic experience that fires on all of its cylinders, more than making up for the Matrix sequels.
It may not end up as seismic a pop culture event as The Matrix was, and it may not be the low-key piece I was looking for, but it certainly showcases the Wachowskis’ visual strengths in a package infused with humour, warmth, and emotion.
And granted, it isn’t for everyone, but for those of you who dig stylized storytelling, who can appreciate the paradox of obvious artifice and earnest emotion playing off each other and fusing under the elusive alchemy of skilled filmmaking, I think Speed Racer’s just the ride for you.

* Dang, the film version of the theme song (by Ali Dee and the Deekompressors) is a particularly dangerous—and terribly fun—meme…

(Speed Racer OS’s courtesy of [design by Concept Arts]; images courtesy of

Thursday, May 8, 2008


For the past three decades, Metropolis, Illinois, has celebrated the Man of Steel in its Annual Superman Celebration, four days of celebrities, events, concerts, plays, and rides.
This year, after eight consecutive years of being Metropolis’ official Superman, Scott Cranford is handing over the cape and tights to a worthy successor, and you can narrow down the field.
If you’re a fan of Big Blue, go here, and vote for your favourite Superman. Voting is open till May 10.
The 5 candidates with the most votes will be announced on May 12, and the Superman Celebration Committee will choose Metropolis’ new Superman from the group.
Cranford’s successor will be announced on May 16, and the chosen candidate receives “… $1,000, round-trip travel, a Superman of Metropolis Award, a six-night stay in Metropolis, and a personal assistant during the celebration.”
Among the candidates, 6’2”, 225-pound Josh Boultinghouse, model Travis Kraft, and Damian Beurer, who stands a frakkin’ 6’6”! (Incidentally, Josh’s height and weight pretty much line up with DC’s statistics for the Man of Steel. He also won the Superhero Costume Contest at the 2004 Superman Celebration, where he was dressed as Superman, of course.)

Celebrity guests at this year’s Superman Celebration (being held on June 12-15), include Ned Beatty (Otis from Superman: The Movie), Allison Mack (Chloe from Smallville), and Lois Lane of Superman Past, Noel Neill (who also showed up in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns as Gertrude Vanderworth, the old rich lady Lex had to... umm... pleasure so he could get that ginormous boat).
Among the events already announced, is this year’s Superhero Costume Contest, to be held on Sunday, June 15. (For other details, go to the Metropolis Tourism website.)

Not only is it the 30th anniversary of the Superman Celebration, it’s also the 70th anniversary of Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1, so it’ll be a huge celebration.

(Images: Scott Cranford; Josh Boultinghouse; Travis Kraft; Damian Beurer)


64.1 CRUISING TRIBECA 2008 (2)
From a field of 120 films in competition, Tomas Alfredson’s vampire film, Lat den ratte komma in (Let the Right One In) took home the feature prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, while Thomas Turgoose and Piotr Jagiello (both from Shane Meadows’ Somers Town) shared the acting trophy.

Among the festival jurors this year were Doug Liman, Josh Schwartz, Oliver Platt, Peter Dinklage, Callie Khouri, and Whoopi Goldberg.

A rundown of the other winners this year can be found here.

And, in further Lat den ratte komma in news, in a bidding war for the film’s remake rights—in which Warner Bros., Paramount, and Overture figured in the wheeling and dealing—Hammer Films and Spitfire Pictures emerged victorious.
A writer for the English-language Let the Right One In redux will be chosen shortly.

Iguana regulars will know I love me my Cronenberg and Shore, so I’d just like to do my part and make note of the fact that the two-act opera of The Fly—directed by David Cronenberg and composed by Howard Shore—is almost upon us.
It’ll be conducted by Los Angeles Opera general director, Plácido Domingo, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang (whose M. Butterfly was taken to the big screen by Cronenberg), and set design by Dante Ferretti (who took home the Oscar this year for his work on Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street).
Scoot on over to for info on tickets.

Joachim Trier’s Reprise will get its U.S. theatrical release on May 16, and will then subsequently be available as a Netflix rental.

Parting shot: Reviews of Shane Meadows’ This Is England (which also stars Thomas Turgoose), a number of David Cronenberg’s films, and Joachim Trier’s Reprise can be found in the Archive.

(Let the Right One In OS courtesy of; The Fly opera image courtesy of; Reprise UK quad courtesy of

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


And the French have done it again…

Xavier Gens’ Frontiere(s)—which brought him to the attention of Hollywood and got him the Hitman gig—follows a group of youths on the run from the police, who decide to stop at a hostel in the French countryside, with disastrous results.
Riffing freely off Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Gens’ splatterfest is a gruesome and sordid affair that puts Yasmine (Karina Testa) through the wringer in the worst way. If you thought Marilyn Burns had it rough in Chain Saw, think again.
Seriously. That was a cake walk.

Now, for those of you who’ve been to the Iguana before, you’ll know that I love me my horror with subtext.
Sadly (for me, at least), Frontiere(s) is more survival horror than anything else, one of those cinematic endurance tests for its prospective audience. The thing is, unlike Alexandre Aja’s Haute Tension, which seemed to focus more on the thrill and the tension of the hunt, Frontiere(s) seems more preoccupied with revulsion and degradation than anything else.
On the level of a balls-to-the-wall piece of extreme horror, it certainly delivers, no question about it. It delivers in buckets of blood and gobbets of flesh. I just wish it had been about more than just a French variation of the “pretty young things in peril” scenario.
And to be fair, though the protagonists’ personalities are rather negligible here, the snatches of filial relationships within the family of crazies which we do get to see are fascinating, though those remain pretty much in the background.

Ultimately, Frontiere(s) is a nasty piece of work, and if you strap yourself in for that sort of ride, you’ll have a hell of a time with this one.
This is so much more effective than the recent slew of 70’s horror remakes from Hollywood, and just the latest reason why I will never, ever set foot in France, where the crazies really seem to be over-the-top wacko…

Parting shot: Frontiere(s) gets a limited U.S. release on May 9, 2008, and hits DVD shelves four days later on the 13th.

Parting shot 2: A review of Gens’ Hitman can be found in the Archive, as well as one of another gem of French disturbo-horror, Kim Chapiron's Sheitan.

(Frontier(s)—as per its international title—quad courtesy of; OS courtesy of; images courtesy of