Saturday, January 18, 2003

Whilst looking at the ol' Sitetracker this morning, I saw where someone had done a Google search for Johnny Bacardi! My fame is spreading far and wide. I'm really a little nonplussed by makes me proud in a weird sort of way. Welcome, O Google searcher. Hope you found what you were looking for, and hope you found enough to want to return!

One of the things I like to do, when I can, is surf around on the pay cable channels late at night in hope of catching some obscure gem of a movie that blows me away. In the past, films like Freeway, Hijacking Hollywood, Orgazmo, and several others have made my late nights a bit more enjoyable. Last night, I started out watching A Beautiful Mind, but then noticed where a movie named Comic Book Villians was coming on about an hour later. Mind comes on a few more times this month, so I decided to check out CBV. How could I resist with a title like that? It seems like I remember hearing about it before, but I had forgotten about it by last night...

The basic storyline is about two competing comics shops, one a dingy dump operated by a greasy, stereotypical Comic Book Guy named Raymond and another, across town, that's clean and nice and operated by a husband-and-wife team that knows nothing about comics. They even sell, in their shop, horror of horrors...stickers and Magic cards. The "fun" begins when this fellow who shops at both stores comes in and tells them both about a old lady in town whose son just died...and left behind a mother lode of a comics collection from the Golden Age to today. The husband and wife team see this as a way that they could make a fortune, afford to have a baby, buy a new house, and all that, while Raymond wants it for the glory owning it would bring (not to mention the cash from a few good books he'd sell). Problem is, the lady doesn't want to sell them under any circumstances. Their attempts to coerce her to give up the book make up the bulk of the movie, until things turn ugly at the end. Kinda reminded me of a particularly nasty episode of the Eltingville Club, it did.

Villians is quite a schizo movie. Not so much about comics as it is about dysfunctional people, it begins as a lightweight, humorous film populated by the requisite number of freaks and geeks that comes to mind when thinking about comics and comic collectors. Then about three-quarters of the way through it goes all Heathers on us and becomes a violent black comedy before it's done. The shift in tones is jarring, and while I did chuckle in places, I wish that it hadn't gone that way. There is a satisfying subplot going on about a young, nerdy fellow who is loyal to Raymond but is having second thoughts about continuing in the collecting lifestyle. He eventually befriends the old woman, and without giving too much away, gets a great reward at the end for doing the right thing.

After all is said and done, I enjoyed CBV, but I had a lot of reservations about it.It's well acted, and has a quirky cast that includes Donal Logue as Raymond (you may remember him as MTV's Jimmy the Cab Driver), American Pie's Natasha Lyonne, and Cary Elwes, in a role that's unusual for him. It goes without saying that it perpetuates most of the stereotypes about comic collectors. I don't know, these may be true. I don't shop at comics stores in large cities; I can't afford to travel to the major conventions. In my insular collecting experience, most of the people I have known that collect are pretty much well adjusted human beings (as well adjusted as one can be these days), with "real" jobs, mortgages, wives, girlfriends, families and so on. This certainly applies to me. I know it's easy visual shorthand to visualize comic book collectors as skinny/fat, sweaty, nerdy misfits, living in their Mother's basement, but it still bugs me to see this presented as the norm. In the film CBV, only two characters escape the stereotype; one's a bit of a snake in the grass and the other is a homicidal maniac. So, like the watchable but disappointing Unbreakable, don't expect to see the comics world portrayed in a real positive light. But unlike Unbreakable, it actually goes to the trouble to use real comics in its shops and real comic panels in its opening credits. It doesn't try to pass off some unknown hack for real comic art.

One reason for its authenticity, I suppose is that the whole thing was written and directed by James Robinson, most notably writer of the remarkable DC book Starman. Of course, the movie's dialogue doesn't sound like Robinson's often odd comic book dialogue, and that's a little surprising, but then again, who knows how many hands it went through before filming. Still, it's a not bad directorial debut for the guy, and I hope he gets to make more eventually. Just with a more consistent tone, fer Chrissakes.

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