Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Strong Style Jones & The Battle of the Moons is… a thing

I want to preface this blog post by stating I am friends with the entire three man team behind Strong Style Jones. Seeing as how I’m friends with most of the people who follow this blog too, that probably doesn’t have much meaning, but since I am an honorable man who makes Ned Stark look like Blair Waldorf I thought I’d mention it.

ssj

You may have seen some questionable shit on this blog that would fly in the face of accepted good taste. There was the time I wrote positively about Gossip Girl, the time I sort-of defended Twilight, and the time I made damn sure everyone knew COBRA was cooler than DRIVE. Today I come to praise a comic about space wrestling, butts and poops. So if you’re still following this blog after all the aforementioned disasters – pull up a chair and let’s talk about space poop!

Strong Style Jones tells the story of a delusional washed up space wrestler who, after having to throw his final match, wanders the galaxy in a drunken haze looking for fights. In BATTLE OF THE MOONS, Strong Style Jones seemingly bites off more than he can chew as he takes on the multi-eyed and inexplicably German alien wrestler Herr Bill Cosby. I can’t really tell you much more than that, since this is literally the entire plot of the comic, and it would be a crime to spoil any of the outlandish sight gags that make SSJ such a greasy delight to read. The humor varies from downright Cronenbergian farce to deadpan reaction shots followed by often perfect blue-collar bon mots, with a few knowing send-ups of comic traditions along the way. The final page is not only marvelous in its grossness, it’s also a pitch-perfect parody of the lone brooding hero standing victorious over his beaten foe (think characters like Wolverine and Batman). But the universe of SSJ does not allow for glory, merely the good fortune of embarrassing yourself less than the other guy.

I’d be remiss not to point out the clarity of the narrative and panel lay-out structures. In many mainstream comics nowadays, there’s a sense of overproduction where battle scenes are indecipherable messes of lines and motion blur. While SSJ features often chaotic battle, it’s extremely easy to follow even in its heightened state of near-constant adrenaline overdose.

The book’s madcap energy brings to mind the nuttiness of early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics where anything could (and would) happen with little rhyme or reason besides the fact that Eastman and Laird thought it would be cool. I wonder if thirty years from now Strong Style Jones fans on the holonet are going to clamor for a return to the “original, darker” interpretation of SSJ after the sanitized cartoon version became its more popular incarnation. I’m pretty sure its creator would say “naw man its about butts.”

Were I not relatively familiar with the creators, I’d say there was interesting social commentary being made, but that is probably my European view on these things. Wrestling (as in the WWE, WCW, etc. American style wrestling) is an incredible niche thing here. I remember it being on Belgian mainstream television for about a year, maybe two, only to become the butt (haha) of a cultural joke and disappear again after the “outrage” died down. In that respect, it was pretty much like Jerry Springer, a show that also found short-lived infamy on Belgian television. Personally, I find American wrestling very intriguing and amusing, if only for the INSANE pageantry that surrounds it. It’s something that is essentially acknowledged to be fake and caters to the lowest common denominator of the lower classes. It’s 8 year olds putting up mock fights to see whether the Hulk or Superman would win, only the different wrestling leagues (?) make up their own colorful characters for licensing purposes with built-in hype and brand them heroes or villains(/heels) as the masses demand it. SSJ takes this geek aspect of wrestling to its ultimate extreme, by setting it in a sci-fi universe with aliens and robots, literally making the contestants super-powered beings.

Delusional drunkards fighting insane grotesques over meaningless trophies and accolades, sometimes even actively impeding good work to be done (in SSJ #1) – it’s hard not to see a pretty damning critique of the state of geekdom in 2012. But again, I’m pulling some serious “death of the author” shit outta my ass here, cuz, you know, “iss bout butts.”

If you do not fear the scatological, there’s a lot to enjoy here. It is an extremely well-done comic about extremely puerile things. If you got Michael Mann to shoot an episode of Jackass, this might be what you’d get.

Buy Strong Style Jones and Battle of the Moons, if you dare!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

No Retreat, No Sense

Here is some scandalous shit: the DVD cover for 1986’s NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER.

noretreat

While yes, that is a screenshot from the actual movie, it is a gross exaggeration of JCVD’s actual participation in it. He has a five minute scene at the start, and is the “final boss” in the climactic martial arts tournament in the local high school gym. The introductory scene does give us a fresh-faced JC as a slick white-clad mob enforcer, so there’s that.

JCVD and his boss threaten an LA dojo owner to hand over the deed to the school to their nefarious organization. One assumes it’s for money laundering, but this is never explained. The noble dojo man refuses and handily kicks a henchman’s ass. But JCVD, the silent/deadly one, breaks the poor fellow’s leg. The dojo owner’s son Jason hears his father’s cries and rushes in to defend him, only to get his butt whupped by JC just as handily. Cue a mournful move to Seattle, as the disillusioned sensei denounces all violence. His son does not give up, however! He immediately converts the garage to a training area filled with Bruce Lee posters. He’s a big fan! He’s also kind of an asshole cuz he does this while his mom is still moving stuff from the car. Fuck a bed, I need my karate shit in order!

In comes RJ, the movie’s comic relief. Like, he literally comes into the garage as Jason’s setting it up. A friendly black kid, RJ enjoys jive-talkin’ and breakdancin’, both of which he immediately shows off. I’ll leave it up to you whether RJ has a jheri curl*.

Then there’s also Scott, a disgusting fat guy who hates RJ for no reason, so he hates Jason now as well. He’s constantly falling down and stuffing his face. I don’t know why this guy is a bully. But I think he’s rich or something, cuz he’s later seen buying a bunch of jocks and girls hamburgers, stating “stick by me, and you’ll never go hungry!” which gave me a nice little LION KING flashback. RJ happens to walk by the burger joint, so Scott orders his minions to attack that breakdancing nogoodnik for making him do pratfalls during comedy chases and spill all his hot dog toppings on his favorite pastel shirts. But luckily Jason also happens by and starts beating up on the jocks with his karate skills! But unluckily Jason’s dad also happens by and drags him out of it! Oooohhhh Scott’ll get that NEW KID next time!

Now, anyone who’s seen martial arts movies aimed at kids will be familiar with the moral that martial arts are to be used only in defense/helping others, and never for attack. Sensei Dad goes one step further; Jason is NEVER to fight under any circumstances because LOOK WHERE THAT GOT US!! He even goes so far as to wreck Jason’s home dojo and rip the Bruce Lee posters off his wall because of his WILD IDEAS about helping others and protecting himself. Seriously, the kid’s an earnest dope throughout the entire movie, never really getting angry or out of control, and his dad just LOSES HIS SHIT constantly in a total Randy Marsh manner.

Jason wants to enroll in a local karate class owned by champion Ian Reilly. Little does he know that the dreaded Scott also goes there, and tells douchebro sensei Dean he overheard Jason say “LA karate wipes the floor with Seattle karate.” OH YEAH??? We’ll see about that! So he sets the kid up for a demonstration match with his best fighter, causing Jason and RJ to flee the scene under a barrage of scornful laughter.

Owner Ian, meanwhile, gets threatened by the same greasy mobsters that took Sensei Dad’s dojo! Unfortunately, they didn’t bring JCVD with them, opting for the easier-to-stage threat by gun.

Did I mention Ian has a cute sister named Kelly that Jason is dating? No? Well, neither has the movie. It just goes to “Kelly’s birthday” where, in the movie’s money shot, Jason gives her a live baby bunny. Because she wanted it at the pet store. But there was no scene at any pet store. Who is this girl? She’s very popular, as both Jason and Sensei Dean vie for her affections. In an unprecedented move for 80s movies, Kelly never really acknowledges douchebag Dean as a real candidate and constantly rebuffs him. In retaliation, Dean and his goons (among which Scott, yay for coalescing storylines) beat up Jason.

At his lowest point, Jason runs away from home with all his fighting/Bruce Lee stuff in a big box and settles a random abandoned house (!!). Now, here comes the point most people will probably sell this movie as a lulzfest with. As Jason falls asleep, the ghost of Bruce Lee (looking nothing like Bruce Lee) appears and aids him in a training montage. I realize “American kid learns to fight from the ghost of Bruce Lee to defeat JCVD” is a good logline, but there’s just so much more crazy shit going on here I felt bad reducing it to that. But, you know, due mention. The most hilarious thing to me was the fact that Jason doesn’t actually do Jeet Kun Do, Lee’s famous style. He does karate! Which is, you know, Japanese. Also, he keeps on referring to Bruce as Sensei Lee. Normally I’d just write this off as a quick cash-in 80s karatesploitation movie that didn’t do the barest of research, but the fact that it’s directed by Corey Yuen who actually worked with Lee is just baffling.

Oh, and you know that old 80s action standby of the love interest just being there to deflect allegations of homoerotic tension between any male leads? And the fact that “Kelly” is introduced so haphazardly that WHU is the only reaction? Let me add the fact that Jason and RJ never have any conflict, are best buds from the outset, compliment each other on something in every scene (often multiple times) and this:

I wish it were a gif. It’s absolutely delightful. It’s the best blatant 80s Action Stereotype since “Love Interest Dies” in DEATH WISH 3, where the love interest is exploded mere minutes after having sex with Bronson.

Now, Ian’s dojo is under threat from the mob too! Only it turns out that they’re just evil dojo-owners? Who want… the monopoly on dojos? In America? I don’t know! But since they didn’t take JCVD with them that time, Ian couldn’t be scared off, so the evil dojo owners (from NOO YAWK) organize a tournament between JCVD and all their fighters. It’s a rather low-key affair in a school gym, and not at all the clash of nations one poster promised:

Yes, JCVD’s character is nominally Russian, but not only does he not embody communism in any way (in fact, his affiliation with the evil NY dojo owners and their greedy goals makes him more of a capitalist expatriate than anything else), JC doesn’t even put on any accent but his own charming Bruxellois for the ten lines he has. The movie can’t even decide what he’s called, since characters refer to him as Kraschinsky the Russian in the film itself, whereas the credits list him as “Karl Brezdin.”

There’s not really much to defend the movie for, besides adequate fight scenes, though they are far too few in number and may actually be eclipsed by breakdancing scenes. But it’s a good-natured piece of crap that does something retarded every ten minutes to keep you on your toes, like a labrador with Tourettes.

*yes

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fuck Star Wars: Revisiting the Godfather trilogy

Har har, that’s how you bait an internet audience.

Godfather2.203182633_std

THE GODFATHER is one of those movies that’s in many people’s “Best Of All Time” lists. Or at least, the ones who care to have such things. The first two installments of the trilogy are consistently near the top on IMDB’s top 100 movies page, duking it out with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

What’s amazing to me is that it isn’t just a critical darling, it was a huge box office success as well. Adjusted for inflation, the first movie made more money than any single HARRY POTTER or LORD OF THE RINGS. It also deftly beat out both THE AVENGERS and the DARK KNIGHT movies. Notice a disparity there? Now, I love both kinds of movies equally, but it’s a damned shame Hollywood doesn’t push the GODFATHER-kind anymore. It’s a blockbuster that mostly just has people talking, is set in the “real world” without any fantasy elements or big special effects*.

I don’t wanna make this post about THEY DON’T MAKE EM LIKE THEY USED TO ANYMURRR, since I think “nostalgic fondness” is pretty much on par with “guilty pleasure.” If whatever piece of art has the sole redeeming quality of being experienced by you at a young age, then it’s not worth much to begin with. I think early 90s Simpsons episodes are still great; not so much Thundercats.

10 Things I LEARNed upon revisiting the series as an adult:

  1. For all his iconicity, Brando isn’t in the movie all that much. He’s super great in all his scenes, though.
  2. Holy shit, Pacino can do subdued.
  3. Diane Keaton needs bangs.
  4. Michael’s a lying sack of shit.
  5. My parents always described Fredo as “the retarded one.” He came across as more awkward and insecure than anything else this time.
  6. There are little kids everywhere in these movies.
  7. Realism! The (sometimes not so) subtle distaste Italians have for non-Italians conveyed by Mama Corleone’s eye-roll when Connie introduces her new husband at the start of Part II. Also Mama’s “They were made for each other!” comment when new WHITE IN-LAWS Merle and Deanna are introduced to each other. Because, you know, they’re not Italian.
  8. Funniest don is probably a toss-up between Pentangeli and Fanucci.
  9. I always thought GODFATHER III wasn’t as shitty as people said it was. I still think there’s good stuff in there, most notably Pacino doing a remorseful Michael. But yeah, it’s definitely not up to par. And holy shit, Sofia. George Lucas once said he knew technology had gotten to an advanced enough level for him to make his prequels when he saw JURASSIC PARK. I guess he saw Sofia Coppola in GODFATHER III when he realized acting technology had come far enough for the prequels too. DADDDDDD ( –_–)**
  10. I don’t think even Jaime and Cersei Lannister called each other bro and sis constantly during their illicit rendezvous. What were you thinking, Francis????

The (first two) GODFATHER movies represent expertly crafted mainstream entertainment for adults. They’re seen as “good” and “classic” movies, but they are far from stuffy or inaccessible. I don’t think Hollywood will ever return to the model where movies like this are pimped as blockbusters – just check on all the other movies that outrank it on the adjusted all-time list – but consider this post a friendly reminder of how wonderful these movies are, and how easy to get into.

So yes, fuck STAR WARS for making blockbusters all about safe, family-friendly four quadrant Hero’s Journey pictures. I know JAWS is equally to blame for this, but I coudln’t bring myself to write “fuck JAWS.” The GODFATHER films would never lend themselves to such crass moneti—

oh

ohhhhh

never mind ignore everything

 

*Give or take a fake horse-head and a bunch of squibs.

**She’s cool now, though.