The Punisher #10, Kitchen Irish, Part 4 (of 6)

The Punisher #10

Well, the Fernandez art problems escalated quickly. Reading this issue, I had this foreboding feeling, like it was going to be bad… only it’s perfectly well-written, beautifully organized, only the art is always off. Fernandez is still rushing and relying on the colors. And Dean White’s colors don’t match Fernandez’s lines. Though there’s really nothing to do with the now poor composition of these panels. Bad composition, bad detail, then weird colors.

Then again maybe the panel composition was Ennis’s idea, which certainly makes sense for the talking heads portions of the issue, when Fernandez can’t get an expression out of the characters (reading the issue I just kept thinking, oh, yeah, it’s one of those Ennis issues without someone who knows how to do that thing he does with talking heads). So the close-ups are ineffective. Some of the long shots are just bad. Like the angles. And in those panels you can tell it’s not White’s fault, it’s Fernandez.

There’s still some great character stuff on the River Rat leader, Polly, and a little bit more on Brenda. The difference between Polly and Brenda is Polly’s not as awful of a person and Ennis is able to use Brenda for some shock value. Then there’s some more on Maginty. The issue opens with the Punisher—notice I’m in the third paragraph and haven’t mentioned Frank yet? It’s because Fernandez avoids showing him in panels, which works in the last scene because it opens with Frank’s narration. In the rest of the comic it makes him third or fourth tier in his own book. It’s very weird.

And not entirely on Fernandez. Ennis clearly wants to do Frank a particular way and Fernandez isn’t on the same page. The script and art never exactly seem out of sync either, which is almost to the issue’s detriment. The art’s just a bad take on the events it portrays.

The opening scene is Frank and his sidekicks (but he’s actually just their sidekick) interrogating their prisoner. He goes into a big exposition dump about the old neighborhood and all the gangs searching for a ten million payday.

The flashback doesn’t work. The old Irish mobster who died looks like a wizard, which—again—could be Ennis’s fault too. But they only don’t work because Fernandez hasn’t laid the groundwork for it to be effective. This issue’s exposition dump ought to be amazing. Instead it’s… poorly composed talking heads exposition dump.

The writing this issue is great. So good it lets Ennis get away with a cheesy cliffhanger.

The Punisher #9, Kitchen Irish, Part 3 (of 6)

Pm9

Fernandez’s art is so underwhelming the entire issue feels like it’s incomplete. Like it’s storyboards for the actual comic. After the opening shoot out, which Fernandez entirely flubs, it’s a talking heads issue and instead of expressions, Fernandez uses a lot of shadows. Static faces and shadows. Sometimes the faces look so static you think they’re just copied and pasted from another panel. Even stranger is when colorist Dean White tries to pick up the slack for the lack of dimension, doing it in the coloring (particularly on faces), only then his shadows don’t match Fernandez’s shadows.

Other than the art problems, it’s a solid issue. Lots of exposition (from everyone but Frank) and the introduction of Brenda Toner, wife of Tommy, who is being cut up by Napper French for Magnify. Brenda proves to be a lot tougher than her husband’s goons, which is nice. She’s a loathsome character, but not as cruel as Finn or Maginty. And not as dumb as the bro in charge of the River Rats. So she’s at least interesting. Unfortunately she’s only it in for a few, poorly illustrated pages.

After the opening shootout involving Frank, the Brits, Finn, and the River Rats, Ennis splits the issue between Frank and the Brits interrogating Finn’s nephew, Finn and his pal regrouping, the River Rats recovering, Maginty getting Napper to cut up Tommy Toner, Brenda Toner getting pieces of her husband. In the interrogation scenes, Frank barely talks. It’s mostly monologuing from head Brit, Yorkie, which is fine… Ennis writes it well. Fernandez doesn’t render it well, but the dialogue’s good. It is redundant because Ennis is going through information the reader already has about what’s going on. It’s like the reader is getting a refresh, only it was just last issue the reader got the information (maybe some of it in the first issue) but it’s more than they need. If the art were better, it probably would just pass, but with the particularly wonky talking heads art? It drags. The most boring stuff in the Punisher comic is the Punisher, because mostly he’s just standing around and letting some other guy do the talking.

There’s some good character work for the younger Brit, the one seeking revenge. Ennis is almost too serious this issue. It’s like he doesn’t know how to balance macabre absurd with the non-absurd. It’s not a misstep, it’s just… incomplete. Maybe better art would’ve fixed it all. Someone really needed to talk to Fernandez about his thumbnails, if he made them, because it’s not just the detail he’s not doing, he’s also not hitting the right action emphases.

And to keep a bridging, talking heads exposition dump of a comic going? Got to have all the right art emphases.

Weekly links

I’m going to be doing some weekly link things. Sort of a reading list, though the subjects will be very different.

The Punisher #8, Kitchen Irish, Part 2 (of 6)

P8

This issue introduces two more groups involved in Kitchen Irish, starting with the British guys. One of them is a Vietnam vet who knows Frank from the war, the other is the son of the last British foot soldier killed in Northern Ireland. The older guy, Yorkie, is bringing the younger guy, Andy, along because the guy who killed his dad is villain Finn Cooley’s nephew. They meet up with Frank and Yorkie goes over Finn’s history with the IRA, fleshing out some backstory for that character (Finn). It’s a nice talking heads scene—spread throughout the issue—particularly because it forces Frank to be sociable. Or his version of sociable. There’s no Frank narration this issue.

Then there are the River Rats, a gang of modern-day pirates who target yachts headed for the Hamptons to rob. Lots of action with them, then lots of character setup after the job’s finished and they’re on their way to the bar. The yacht robbery feels like an entirely different comic book but it works out fine; Fernandez’s action art on it is strong, Ennis keeps it moving. The characters are kind of bland though, at least compared to the rest of the bad guys. Ennis throws out a bunch of character names, which seem disposable at this point, and it’s just texture.

Speaking of the other bad guys, there’s more of Maginty getting the old guy to cut up a rival gang leader while the grandson is handcuffed to a radiator in the other room. There’s not a lot of violence in the issue, most of it’s implied, but the psychological aspect is there. The grandson clearly shouldn’t be involved in what’s going on in the comic, but then should anyone else.

Ennis still hasn’t revealed what all the bad guys are talking about—money but no context for it—and the issue ends with Frank getting ready to take on Finn, who makes the mistake of going out in public after the bombing last issue. Not sure how Frank finds him. Maybe the British intelligence guy knows something?

It’s a concise issue, even when it feels like Ennis and Fernandez are taking their time on action. It’s perfectly paced, perfectly balanced between the various factions. Very thoughtfully executed; very nice Fernandez is able to keep up here too.

The Punisher #7, Kitchen Irish, Part 1 (of 6)

Ennis does three things with the first issue of Kitchen Irish, he sets up Frank’s involvement, introduces two bad guys. The bad guy introductions are separate because only one set of bad guys—led by a disfigured, former IRA bomber—have anything to do with the issue’s inciting incident (an explosion). The other bad guy has his own separate, kind of horrifying thing going. Frank does introduce a third set of bad guys—while everyone talks about four total sets—but the emphasis is on Frank’s narration, which is a history lesson.

Kitchen refers to Hell’s Kitchen, which is going through gentrification and only hoods and the Punisher are longing for the old days. It’s never really clear what Frank’s doing before the explosion changes the course of his day. It also doesn’t matter. Ennis uses Frank’s narration to set up his mindset and perspective, then it’s for exposition on the ground situation with the hoods, but the comic quickly becomes all about the villains. And some of the action, though Leandro Fernandez concentrates on the composition a lot more than the detail of the action. More on Fernandez in a bit.

The issue’s two villain introductions are strong. Finn, the IRA bomber, and his somewhat dopey, blusterous Irish-American sidekicks, and Maginty, an apparently vicious Black Irish hood (Finn and company are at least weary, if not scared, of him). Finn and company get a far less dramatic reveal than Maginty, who gets the last scene in the comic, where he kidnaps a kid. Maginty’s trying to get the grandfather to cut up a body for him; not out of the blue, the grandfather used to cut up bodies for the Irish mob. Frank running around rooftops to watch some guy through his sniper rifle doesn’t start to compare.

Partially because of Fernandez, partially becomes Ennis’s intentionally focused on the villain introductions. Frank’s already gotten a great sequence as he recovers from the explosions and finds himself in shock, physical and mental. But Fernandez… the more he does, the less well he does it. The art is occasionally lazy (Finn’s sidekicks have the same face in a few panels, just different hair, only then their haircuts change too) while the writing is disciplined and thorough. It’s hard not to imagine how the comic might read with a more effective artist. Even when Fernandez doesn’t do anything wrong, he also never does it right enough.

If only snobbery rhymed with quality

I can’t take Apple seriously with movie sales or rentals. I’m having a hard time imagining I’ll take Apple TV+ seriously either. All of Apple’s web material for movies stinks. You’re supposed to go into iTunes to rent it, not look at it on the website. But iTunes is absolutely terrible for browsing. It’s terrible for browsing your content, it’s terrible for browsing their content. If people are out there sitting and spending a couple hours in iTunes looking around, window-shopping, whatever… they’re really, really, really quiet about it. There aren’t “Why You’re Wrong About iTunes” posts out there. At least, not popular ones.

So now Apple’s making Baby Bells out of iTunes but is their approach to their web-based catalog going to change? No. Because no one’s out there attacking the web-based catalog. People—not tech-savvy people but people know they can stream to a device finally—don’t search iTunes or Movies. They Google. And when you Google, you get the web catalog and the web catalog is bad.

Apple does a lot to keep up with the Joneses of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and, what, Wal-Mart (Vudu)? But they’re decidedly not invested in their position as a digital Best Buy. At least with the music it seemed like Apple cared. Less now, of course. The walled garden approach to music doesn’t work. You see social media links to Apple Music about as often as you see… well, not often.

Apple really needs to do better with the web catalogs. Even if they don’t care about competing in that space, they could at least pretend for their customers’ sake. Why does Apple mean snobbery and quality everywhere but on their website.

6/6 capsules

F–K (2010, R.E. Rodgers)
Recommended
All-star commercial for New York’s Labyrinth Theater Company is intense, weird, hostile, and often wonderful. Lots of awesome performances, particularly from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Meloni.
Streaming.
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Crystal Lake (2016, Jennifer Reeder)
Recommended
Beautifully made short about teenager Marcela Okeke going to live with cousins. The dialogue is off and the brief subplot inserts don’t work, but Reeder’s direction is outstanding, the cast is appealing, and the plot is good.
Streaming.
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Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971, Banno Yoshimitsu)
★★½
Fun, odd-ball Godzilla movie has the monster defending Japan from a giant radioactive sludge monster. Director Banno uses the film to make an impassioned environmental statement and, against the odds (and despite a terrible suit for the sludge monster, Hedorah), he succeeds. Great special effects otherwise. Banno goes all in on his Godzilla as Japan’s hero, Hedorah as its waste metaphor, delivering it packaged in a superior giant monster movie. English dubbed version released as GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER. Followed by GODZILLA VS. GIGAN.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986, Jeannot Szwarc)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Trying TV movie adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story stars George C. Scott as famous detective Auguste Dupin. Bad teleplay, lifeless direction, and a lifeless, grumpy old man performance from Scott do it in. Val Kilmer and Rebecca De Mornay are at least earnest support but they’re still not any good. Ian McShane is the only one who manages to get any life into their performance. At least no one attempts a French accent. So it could be worse.
DVD.
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Missing (2008, Tsui Hark)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Tedious and self-indulgent mystical-ish ghost story about psychologist Angelica Lee taking a hypnosis drug and seeing, you know, ghosts. Lots of underwear stuff because her dude (Guo Xiaodong) is an underwater photographer. (Writer-director Hark can’t shut up about the water in the bad narration). Okay time killer until the third act, when it all falls apart thanks to a litany of false endings. Lee’s a mediocre lead thanks to Hark’s script too.
DVD (R3), Blu-ray.
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6/4 Capsules

Picnic (1956, Joshua Logan)
★½
Way too chaste to be effective “potboiler” (maybe a Kansas potboiler?) about ne’er-do-well William Holden (playing somewhat younger than his 37 years) coming to a small town to beg a job off college pal Cliff Robertson, only to get in between Robertson and his best gal, local restless beauty queen Kim Novak. Excellent supporting performances from Rosalind Russell, Arthur O’Connell, and Susan Strasberg. But Logan’s direction is painfully flat.
DVD, Streaming.
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The Woman in White (1948, Peter Godfrey)
★★★
Half a great Gothic about drawing instructor Gig Young starting work at an English manor instructing Eleanor Parker. He soon finds himself in embroiled in a mystery involving sinister (and phenomenal) Sydney Greenstreet, an escape mental patient, as well as a love triangle between Parker and her best friend, played by Alexis Smith. Extremely well-made and acted; too roughly changes protagonist from Young to Smith, with Young really suffering.
DVD.
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Functional Exhaustion

I posted a bunch yesterday—and wrote a bunch of capsules—so I felt rather well-blogged by the end of the day. Better blogged than I’ve felt in a while, at least as far as Visual Reflux’s more relaxed style goes. The capsules are written—or meant to be written—in that relaxed style. But it also means the only VR topic I’ve got in the queue is the exhaustion one.

I realized the other night I’ve only tried to be energized a few times this year. Meaning going to bed at a decent hour, which is about an hour more than I need because there’s no telling if or how the cats are going to wake me up so I need some padding. But I usually just… accept exhaustion. Welcome it. Use coffee to make it tolerable. I mean, I’ve gotten better. Since we cut out added sugars and going out to eat, it’s extremely rare I’ll need to power nap during a lunch break. And it’s not exercise because I’ve dropped that for other reasons—last year when I was power napping almost my entire lunch, I was training for a marathon so I should’ve had enough endorphins kicking around but nope. I feel like I’ve got this under control.

Functioning while exhausted. Doesn’t seem to be a thing I ought to be doing though. Especially since I have so little pressing on me. Or, at least, I don’t deal with anything pressing on me. My anti-depressant, anti-anxiety cocktail seems to be doing just right, letting me compartmentalize stresses with the best of them. But I also know there is going to be some kind of crash. I got hints of it last week, which was a busy week and all, but not so much I should’ve started cracking the way I did. Unfortunately, there’s only so much I can do—I don’t like busting out the mindfulness exercises I find helpful unless I really need them. They’re to be used when they’ll do the most help, not when they’ll take my mind off something. Anxiety is, of course, much like a virus; it gets vaccine immune the more you vaccinate; which is not to be anti-vax, just to point out you need to stay ahead of the viruses as much as you can and having them break you down is no good.

Vaccinate your kids, you idiots. You might deserve trusting Jenny McCarthy’s medical advice to bring about your destruction but other people don’t.

Anyway.

I’m more aware—now—I’m not just running on fumes but doing whatever I can to keep the fumes going. I’m always putting things on my to do list, liking blocking out time for writing, blocking out time for post research; one of these days I’ll put rest on there.

But not any time soon.

But some day.

6/3 Capsules

Predator 2 (1990, Stephen Hopkins)

Quite stupid sequel with an all-new cast (except PREDATOR performer Kevin Peter Hall) has almost nothing going for it except some gorgeous direction from Hopkins. He’s got a great sense for what’s going to at least look good in the film. Good performance from Danny Glover in the lead, but bad performances from almost everyone else (except Morton Downey Jr., which is definitely an ominous sign). It’s bad but beautifully directed.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989, Christian I. Nyby II)
ⓏⒺⓇⓄ
Bungling direction from Nyby does in this PERRY MASON outing, which is unfortunate since many of the guest stars–except main guest star Pernell Roberts–at least try to give a good performance. Even without Nyby’s bungling, the movie would have some major problems thanks to writer Robert Hamilton’s exceptionally problematic, sexist writing of third lead Alexandra Paul.
DVD.
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Between the Lines (1977, Joan Micklin Silver)
★★
Meandering comedy about the lives and times of the staff of a Boston alternative newspaper. Director Micklin Silver gets a lot of raw, “real” moments but it usually feels like a “very special [and serious] episode” sitcom episode. Some good performances from the recognizable cast help–Jill Eikenberry’s great, Jeff Goldblum’s funny, and how can you not like Bruno Kirby. Lopsided plotting (and Stephen Collins getting his own subplot) hurt lots.
DVD, Blu-ray.
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Black Moon (1934, Roy William Neill)
★½
Phenomenally well-made but exceptionally racist thriller about a Caribbean voodoo cult brainwashing Dorothy Burgess into a sleeper agent. Jack Holt’s her unknowing husband, Cora Sue Collins is their daughter. Second-billed Fay Wray is the good White lady versus suspected race traitor Burgess. Like I said, racist; really, willfully racist. Holt’s great, so’s Collins. Great finale too. Just wish it wasn’t so super racist (even for the 1930s).
DVD.
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Showdown (1942, Izzy Sparber)
Not Recommended
SUPERMAN cartoon about a burglar dressing up as Superman when he robs places. Pretty soon he runs into the real Superman, who viciously scares him off a roof for fun. Boring action, holey plot; it’s pretty tepid stuff. Followed by ELEVENTH HOUR.
DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming.
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The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977, Alan J. Levi)

Second INCREDIBLE HULK pilot movie has lonely man Bill Bixby and his monster Lou Ferrigno getting involved with an orange grove heiress (Laurie Prange), her evil stepmother (Dorothy Tristan), and evil doctor (William Daniels). Not bad for a TV pilot aimed at seven-year old boys–the Hulk vs. bear is awesome and it’s efficient–but it’s all unimaginatively executed and rather underacted. Bixby’s likability carries the movie between Ferrigno’s Hulk outs. Aired in syndication as a two-parter with title, DEATH IN THE FAMILY.
DVD.
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