Thanks for checking out the first State of the Arts post! In an effort to keep more quality art in my life, I’ve resolved to check out at least one book, one comic series, one film and one album every week, and discuss the best stuff here. Most will be new or new-ish, but some will be older works that I’ve never gotten around to or that I think deserve a revisit. Let me know in the comments if there’s something you think I should look for. Enjoy!
Comics: Deadly Class, Rick Remender, Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge. Published by Image Comics.
Film: Hateful Eight, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Directed by Quentin Tarantino. (SPOILER-FILLED audio review with Phillip and illustrator Bill Hensley)
Book: Get Shorty, Elmore Leonard. Published by Harper Collins.
Music: Lamplighter, jazz album by Kirk Knuffke (cornet). Fresh Sound New Talent Records.
This comic is so good, it kind of pisses me off a little bit.
I was a huge Rick Remender fan before this book. Last Days of American Crime was a brilliant sci-fi high concept crime story, and Uncanny X-Force was one of my favorite X-titles ever (not to mention my favorite depiction of Deadpool ever, a character I don’t otherwise follow). Since then, Remender’s been killing it on Secret Avengers, Black Science, Low and more, establishing himself as one of the best, most versatile voices on the current comics scene.
Wes Craig’s art is just as good, and fits the writing so well it’s as if one person created the whole book. The panel layout is simply the best I have ever seen, bar none. It’s ridiculous how many panels Craig can fit on a single page and never feel cluttered… nine, ten, eleven panels, each drawing the eye exactly where it needs to go with no question of sequence. So dynamic, so stylish, such creative use of gutters and panel-to-panel motion.
If you’re not sure about reading this book, watch me read it. At least once or twice per issue, you’ll see me throw up my hands and keep them there, mumbling comments like “Gaaaaahhh,” “Jesus God Christ just look at that,” “Why am I so stupid and dumb,” “Buuuuhhh I hate you but I love you” or something.
Just look at these pages, man:
A testament to the creative team on this book is its seemingly ordinary, maybe even cliché, premise: An orphaned teenager is inducted into a school for assassins, basically Hogwarts for murderers. In lesser hands, this could have easily been a trite, forgettable book. But executed by Rick Remender, Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge, it’s one of the best ongoing comics on the shelf. The story takes place in the ‘80s, the protagonist has a vendetta against Ronald Reagan, there’s a gentle undercurrent of political commentary throughout, and every character in the diverse cast has a rich backstory. The series deals with high school angst and coming-of-age issues over the coolest backdrop ever, as the characters learn the basics of friendship, dating, school, sex, drugs, close-quarters combat, poison, explosives, and murder.
If I have one gripe, it’s that I’m not a huge fan of the current arc, “Die For Me.” Admittedly, the main reasons I don’t love it are 1) a recent death in the cast and 2) because of how badly the protagonist has screwed up some of his most valued relationships. So, even my complaints are due to how much I’ve come to care about the characters.
Read this comic, in its entirety and from the beginning. The people on the creative team are at the height of their powers. Even if you don’t give a shit about comics, see what a small team of supremely capable creative professionals can do.
I walked into this movie fully expecting to fall in love with it. 70mm, Overture, Intermission, paper programs, great cast, original score by Ennio Morricone… sight unseen, there was already a lot to love. After seeing it, I can say that I very much enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s one of Tarantino’s strongest movies.
I do, however, think this is Tarantino’s darkest movie ever (which I debate with my brother on the SPOILER-FILLED audio podcast here). I don’t know if I would feel the same without Morricone’s masterful and ominous score, but even without it, it has the racism of Django Unchained, the revenge aspect of Kill Bill, and the merciless violence of Reservoir Dogs. The atmosphere of Morricone’s beautiful score makes the darkness that much more oppressive.
The big downside of the movie is the story, which wasn’t nearly as compelling as I expected, especially the back half. Many of the characters were great and extremely well-acted, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character in particular. There was a terrific mystery element, too, which kept me on the edge of my seat… until the mystery unravels, which happens way too soon, leaving us very little to keep us interested to the end except the promise of more violence.
On the plus side, the film’s biggest accomplishment was probably the atmosphere, which was outstanding. The locations, sets and costumes were very convincing, and I like that Tarantino shot the film in 70mm. Knowing that it was shot on the same lenses that shot Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia was pretty incredible. I wish more of the movie had been outdoors to take full advantage, but even inside the house where most of the movie takes place, it was very effective.
Above all, I love how much like Tarantino’s other movies Hateful Eight is. The cast, the dialogue, the effects, the melodrama, the chapter headers, the blending of humor with violence without becoming campy, the tributes to other films and genres… love him or hate him, Tarantino is a true auteur, and every movie he makes has his signature all over it.
Listen to the podcast for a lot more on Hateful Eight! (Watch the movie first! Spoilers!)
I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, but having long ago seen the 1995 movie Get Shorty starring John Travolta, I’ve never gotten around to reading this book until now. For the most part, the movie stays true to the source material of the novel, although the movie relies hard on Leonard’s fun, witty dialogue to set the tone, and downplays the brutality of the villains and the threats they pose. There’s much more room in the book for complexity, of course—things that wouldn’t fit in a 104-minute run time—and the tone of the book is more serious than the film’s. But it’s still a fun read worthy of Elmore Leonard, with colorful characters and top shelf dialogue that helps define them.
This album was an education. It was a reminder that I’ve clung to my favorites for too long, and that I need to listen to more new jazz, stay current on what’s happening. Knuffke’s nothing like the trumpeters or cornetists I know and love, in his approach to improvisation or to composition. Knuffke is accompanied by bass and drums/percussion, no piano or guitar. As a player I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of playing without chordal instruments, but Knuffke takes that freedom way beyond anything I’ve done. Sometimes interacting only with percussion, it can be hard to find anything melodic to cling to, let alone any kind of harmonic structure; often he seems to be exploring sounds more than melody or harmony. I respect Knuffke’s boldness, and love the sound he gets on his instrument, but this isn’t an album I’ll come back to often. Now that I’ve heard him as a leader, I want to find an album that uses him as a sideman before deciding what I think of his work.
Next week in State of the Arts:
Book: Metro 2033, Dmitry Glukhovsky. Published by Amazon Digital Services.
Comics: DMZ (hardcovers 1 and 2), Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli. Published by Vertigo Comics.
Music: Accortet, jazz album by Michael Bisio (bass). Relative Pitch Records.
Film: Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox. Directed by S. Craig Zahler.