I’m back! And better than ever!
Well, maybe that second part is hyperbole. But I am back, which means that I have a few pop cultural artifacts all shined up and ready for your approval! Movies, music, podcasts, and comics. It’s a bag of treats with a little something for everyone. Especially if “everyone” includes people who like horror comics, melodramas, and experimental electronic music.
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Hellblazer is a comic with a hell of a pedigree (no pun intended). For 300 issues — plus annuals, specials, and miniseries — John Constantine as a character was fertile storytelling ground for a number of well-respected creators, including a number of my favourite writers and artists. I’ve already talked a little in this column about the first volume of Hellblazer, Original Sins, which collects some of my favourite issues on the series ever. However, the third volume Hellblazer: The Fear Machine is a very different beast. The Fear Machine is a nine-part story where John Constantine falls in with a group of pagans and stumbles across a secret society using technology and ley lines to channel fear in an effort to…well, that would be spoiling it. It’s refreshing to see John out of his element with a bunch of communal-living earth-worshiping hippies, as a reminder that he’s not the seasoned veteran he turns into once other writers such as Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins put him through the wringer. In this he’s in over his head, trying to use his wits and charm to keep one step ahead of his adversaries, and not always winning. The art in the first few issues by penciler Richard Piers Rayner and inker Mark Buckingham is a little flat and uninspired which means that Jamie Delano’s plot and dialogue has to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s in issue #18, when Buckingham takes over on pencils and Alfredo Alcala returns to the series to ink him, that the visuals become suitably bleak and horrific and match the story. What was initially a shaky start suddenly explodes with creativity and rockets to the finish. For readers who haven’t really looked that hard at the early Hellblazer stories, The Fear Machine finds John just finding his feet, which adds an interesting wrinkle to a character that’s often written like he’s seen it all.
I spent some of my free hours at the beginning of December catching up on my podcasts, and I was particularly impressed with improv4humans Episode 212: Dan Deacon and The Mighty Mighty Bosses. My favourite episodes of improv4humans involve musical guests, where the improvisors find the subjects for their improv scenes in the songs the musicians provide. I’d never heard of Dan Deacon before this episode and BOY HOWDY is he an interesting act. A combination composer and electronic musician, Deacon makes songs with lyrical stories and amazing soundscapes, and the songs he selected for the episode were fertile ground for the comedians to riff from. The episode was also enough for me to research more about Deacon himself, and discovered videos from the Adult Swim special Off The Air, where nine different animators create videos for his songs. My favourite is “When I was Done Dying” but they’re all worth a watch and a listen.
About a half-hour into Brooklyn, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. On the surface, it’s a little light on story and character, and to a jaded movie watcher like me it could have come across as little more than period melodrama awards bait. After I’d settled into the film, though, I started to warm to it. It’s definitely a melodrama — a genre that I’m traditionally not a fan of — but one that doesn’t take the easy way out of making characters two-dimensional heroes and villains. In Brooklyn, a young Irish woman named Eilis, who moves to Brooklyn in the 1950s as her prospects in her small Irish county are extremely limited. After a difficult transition she starts building a life for herself in New York, but then quickly finds herself torn between her new home and her old. Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis, is just brilliant. She tackles the character with great subtlety and honesty; there wasn’t a single moment in the film that I didn’t believe what she was feeling was real. Ronan carries the majority of the weight of the film, and she never falters. There are takes where the camera lingers on her face, and I found it impossible to look away from her, amazed at how she could express so much with a slight turn of her head or wrinkle of her mouth. It’s also a gorgeous movie, incredibly well-shot and designed, with amazing colour and fashion choices that made both me and my friend gasp with how gorgeous it was. It’s a simple story simply told, and if you can align yourself with the rhythm of the film it’s a real treat.
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That’ll do it for me this week. And probably next week too, as next Friday is Christmas Day and I’m going to be full of mimosas and bread. (It’s a Bruce family tradition.) Until next time, be good to each other, dang it. I’ll see you in an undetermined number of days.