Friday, October 29, 2010

You Gotta Fight For The Wright.

A couple of weeks back I went off to see the latest film from this man:

That's English director Edgar Wright, experiencing the soothing touch of Michael Cera. It occurred to me on seeing his new flick that he's someone who's made me laugh a lot in the last ten or so years. Apart from that, he's got a wonderful way with a camera. Perfect whip pans, zooms & close-ups, intense colours, strong composition - this is plainly a man who enjoys his work. Reminds me of Sam Raimi or Robert Rodriguez on their best days. His sound design & musical choices are very distinctive too - just listening to his film & television work is great fun.  Given all that, I figured I should do a quick Yay Him, just in case he'd escaped the eagle eyes of any Arsegravy readers out there.

For a good long while Mr Wright has worked with these people:

As my dear Dad would say, that is holding the man. And the man is Simon Pegg. The one with the handfull is Nick Frost. These days Pegg is a busy lad, with TV shows, movies, books & a huge round of promotional appearances on the go, all of which is fair enough really, given that he does seem to be a very funny & talented chapotle.

He's always on the job, as you can see. But there was a time when Wright, Pegg & Frost were just starting out. Actually the thing I'm about to mention isn't quite where they all started out, but it certainly got them a lot of attention & besides I'm really just doing the edited highlights, so without detailing the short-films, tv shows & stand-up.. lets skip to the sort-of beginning, with this:

The sharehouse sitcom like no other sharehouse sitcom, Spaced was a TV series directed by Wright, produced by Nira Park & written by Jessica Stevenson & Simon Pegg that aired as two seasons in 1999 & 2001. It was honest, sweary, stylish & wonderfully free of the hellspawn of canned laughter. It also felt like it had been written by people who'd grown up with exactly the same TV shows, books, movies, comics, video games, food & music that I had. For me, the second series is the one where they really hit their stride perfectly - but that could just be because it's the one I saw first. I know plenty who go for season 1. Either way, its short, sweet run of 14 episodes is well worth a look.

Spaced also featured the work of artists Jim Murray and Jason Brashill. These two provided the comic book art that Tim's character makes in the show plus a series of caricatures used in promotions, like the one above the above. (If anyone can tell me which of them produced this particular cartoon please do drop me a line as I'd love to figure out the division of labour & give proper credit.)

The success of Spaced got them into trouble. Zombie trouble.

I won't go on & on. If you've seen it you already know, if you haven't I don't want to spoil it. But I will say a quick word about zombie films - and I'm only including yer actual undead here, not the voodoo variety.. I have to admit that even though I have a soft spot for Romero's Night & Dawn, (and also against popular opinion enjoy the Spierig brother's Undead) there are really only three zombie flicks I've seen to date that I love & can go back to over & over. One is the fabulously loopy Delamorte Delamore by Michele Soavi with Rupert Everett, the next is Danny Boyle's Triffids rewrite, 28 Days Later, and the last is Shaun.

With it's well drawn characters, follow through on the dramatic aspects of the story that give the serious side some weight, beautiful photography & editing and absolutely cracking gags, it's hard not to be a fan. Also it knows it's genre inside out & clearly loves it, which means it never feels half-hearted or condescending. A tasty undead morsel.

And then the cops arrived.

Like The Bill remade as a Hammer horror or The Wicker Man with a sense of humour & way more ammunition, Hot Fuzz is a film that, like Shaun, densely quotes it's sources while affectionately pointing out their failings, capitalizing on the well-trodden genre-territory by piling on ever-more inventive twists. Plus it has the biggest baddest cop show theme never used in an actual cop show by Bond composer & John Barry devotee David Arnold & the small matter of Edward Woodward, Billie Whitelaw, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, The Daltonator and that bloke who played Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark! HOW CAN IT LOSE? It just can't. It's science. Oh, and it doesn't completely shy away from the careful-what-you-wish-for implications of its enforcement-utopia conclusion. Perhaps that hag was right. Perhaps he is just another fascist. To be able to imply that without endorsing it and get a cheer from the crowd is a particularly neat trick.

Maybe it's the friendships of the people behind the camera, maybe it's their affection for the material, but all 3 of their projects I've mentioned here have a sense of genuine fun that comes across strongly on screen. It's also work that has the noticeable quality of something made with actual care.

Like I said at the start, what brought this lot to mind in the first place was Wright's newest film:

Sounds like it's had a rough trot both at the box office & from a fair chunk of the critics. And maybe it's not quite as personal as Wright's work with Frost & Pegg - but if you grew up through the Atari or even the Playstation years & love music & comic books.. and particularly if you ever went out with someone who had a very dodgy dating history, then Scott Pilgrim is for you. It's a surreal, hyperactive, romantic smack-down. Also it has a tiny little bit just for the kids who saw the Flash Gordon movie one time too many. Bonus points.

I must admit, it does feel a little strange to want to go to bat for someone in the privileged position of making relatively high-budget crowd-pleasers like these last few. But none of the films I've mentioned here seem remotely like the soulless, plastic multiplex spam that usually fills that category to bursting. So far Wright and the gang have had idiosyncratic ideas and expressed them with beautiful craftsmanship. The more crowds pleased this way the better.

The catch to all of this is, comedy isn't very predictable. Humour is so personal. I think Anchorman is funny. My older sister hates it. The French think Jerry Lewis is a riot. I think he's a git. That's the rub. So if my recommendations end up giving you about as many big belly laughs as 100 Years of Solitude, my apologies. You really just never can tell.

Oh, one last thing - any illustrators n such looking for image resources related to these guys should probably check out the Blood & Ice Cream blog . It's gold. Many thanks to them!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eureka. It's Greek For Knob Gag.

Today at Arsegravy Headquarters I've been rummaging through the carefully arranged piles of newspapers, bills, sketches, junk mail & biscuits and from out of the dusty clouds two old cartoons of mine shook loose.

I think the first one is from about 8 years back, & while it was never used I do at least remember having a lot of fun making it - any time hideous rubbery faces & deformed human organs are required is a good time, right? This was also a project done before my current thin grasp of search engines & the interwebs had been established, so it involved lots of library visits checking out medical books, magazines & movies to see what surgeons & patients should look like. Also to see how minimal I could be with drawing surgical equipment while still making it obvious that the guy in the picture was in hospital & not just being tortured.. The extracted organ ended up combining tongue, intestine, heart, stomach lining, scrotum & some blistery disease I forget the name of. Good times.

In the past I'd been happy to do cartoon inks using just a couple of different gauge ball-point pens - the way you can vary the line thickness through more or less pressure on the tip always appealed - but this time I swapped over to the UniPin series. They've got a good range of nib sizes plus water & fade proof ink, don't cost a fortune & they seem to be available everywhere. Unfortunately the scan I've managed of the inked version is a tad lacking in fidelity, but the original is holding up well. The colour was added using the cheap student acrylic Chromacryl - great colour range & so non-toxic you could probably eat it. Having said that - kids, don't eat it.

The other picture was a quick one done for the Mechanics Institute, marking the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. Their request for a cartoon on this subject was not immediately inspiring. I just didn't see a bloody revolt by goldfield miners over taxation without representation translating into a laugh riot. I remember talking to my friend Nick K about this & as usual he had good advice. He basically reminded me that being overly respectful of those caught up in an historical event wouldn't help make the point, or the joke - be honest & be blunt about it.  Then I thought about all those pictures of guys panning for gold. Bent at the waist.

Yeah. When in doubt, knob gag wins every time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This Lady Reanimates Parts The Others Can't.

I love a good bit of exploitation. Or is that a contradiction? Good exploitation? Regardless, it's a love that's led to the presentation of Arsegravy's first Beautiful Trash entry - 1971's Spaghetti-Horror exploitation classic, Lady Frankenstein. The director of this film, Mel Welles, was a New York clinical psychologist, fluent in five languages, who traded the couch for the camera while also finding time to be a radio DJ, writer, producer & actor. You might recognise Mr Welles' face from Roger Corman's original 1960 Little Shop Of Horrors, in which he appeared as Mushnik, the undertalented but edible florist.
Welles' association with Corman proved to be a lucky one in the making of Lady Frankenstein. Just as production was about to begin in Italy, one of his financiers wrote a dodgy cheque - leaving him short $90 000. With actors & crew already hired & sets built, he made a last minute appeal to Corman, who was happy to make up the shortfall on a film that already looked like one of his own.  Mixing the faded star of Joseph Cotten with the undisputed talents of game Eurohotty Rosalba Neri, as well as some truly appalling monster makeup & an entirely overdubbed cast of backing players..well, it's obvious this is one for the ages.
But none of that would matter if it weren't for the poster. The poster is what thrusts this film's mismatched head & shoulders above the Beautiful Trash competition. Looking at the handmade movie art of this period through the photoshop-montage dulled eyes of today is a wonderful and tragic thing for an old school illustrator. Maybe it's a side-effect of the corporatisation of production - fun or invention in design are often minimised as too risky. (A similar effect can be seen in trailers - the early 90's saw studios make it a standard contractual agreement that directors would have no say in cutting the trailers for their own films, so the marketing department & nervous execs took over, resulting in the substitution of enticement with synopsis.) Sorry, digressing..  Poster.  In a nutshell, it's work made on a shoestring budget with a crazy deadline to hustle punters for cheap thrills, yet with a style & vibrancy that really grabs you & stays in the memory.  Also it's hilarious. Talk about selling the sizzle. That creature is seriously packing.
I'm not saying it's high art. It's pulp. But in its own trashy way, I think it's beautiful. 

Did I mention how much I admire the art of old Detective magazines & 70's comic books? This's surely a close relative.
And you've gotta love a movie that doesn't even spell the director's name right on the poster.