The Curator of Schlock #371: Audition

The Curator of Schlock #371 by Jeff Shuster

Audition

There’s nothing more terrifying than a pretty woman. 

Edwige and I barely made it of Mooseville, a small town in Saskatchewan. I was commissioned by a trucker named Big Tom to drop off equipment for a Salmon Salad canning factory, but that was back in late March and I got sidetracked on my journey.  Taking five months to get there was too little, too late. Deadlines weren’t met, the factory went under, and all hope was lost. The town of Mooseville needed someone to blame and I did not receive the hero’s welcome I was expectingMore news on that next week.

Tonight’s Arrow Home video release is 1999’s Audition from director Takashi Miike. I’ve been avoiding this one for quite some time now, mainly because of its reputation. I knew this flick would make me squirm, but no one ever said being a Curator of Schlock didn’t take courage. This is a creepy one, folks. I haven’t been this terrified since Gone Girl.

The movie begins with a man named Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) losing his wife to cancer, leaving him to raise their young son, Shigehiko, on his own. Sad as that was, Aoyama manages to raise Shigehiko into a well-adjusted young adult. Still, everyone keeps telling Aoyama that he should marry again. And after being told this enough times, Aoyama starts to warm to the idea of marrying again.

Aoyama’s friend, Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura), comes up with the idea for a new movie where one lucky young woman will get to play the role of Aoyama’s wife. Aoyama was looking for a more mature woman to settle down with, but Yoshikawa insists that this is just for fun and that the young woman who wins the audition won’t really marry him. A casting call is put out for all the young women in Japan to be “tomorrow’s heroine.” One of them can be the next Audrey Hepburn or Penelope Ann Miller.

Aoyama gets the privilege of screening the submissions to get the contestants down to an even thirty. One of these contestants catches his eye, a young woman named Asami (Eihi Shiina) who gave up a career in ballet due to hip injury. Later, Yoshikawa and Aoyama interview the contestants, Yoshikawa asking all kinds of probing questions while Aoyama impatiently waits for Asami’s turn. When Asami does show up, Aoyama is instantly smitten by the shy, young woman. He conflates how she felt about losing her ballet career with how he felt about losing his wife.

Yoshikawa has a bad feeling about Asami. He can’t put his finger on what’s wrong with her, but he tells Aoyama to stay away. Naturally, Aoyama asks Asami if she’d like to meet up sometime. She answers the phone and agrees. I think it’s in this scene that we see a large burlap sack in the background that starts moving as the victim inside struggles. Asami smiles, and I get the feeling Aoyama’s torture will begin soon enough. BBC film critic Mark Kermode once stated that he went into Audition thinking it was going to be some romantic comedy. By the end of the movie, he was hiding behind his theater seat. As for me, Audition might be the best movie I’ve seen all year. It’s terrifying. Good terrifying.


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, and 477) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #141: Last Witch Standing

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #141: Last Witch Standing

Earlier this year, I took a look at a new series from Conor McCreery, V.V. Glass, Natalia Nesterenko, and Jim Campbell: The Last Witch. As the year has wound down, the series ended and the series has now been collected as a trade. But that’s not the whole story. Literally. Although this was solicited as a five-issue miniseries, the story is not yet quite over. And what makes this interesting is that this isn’t the first series I’ve looked at recently that has ended a miniseries on a cliff-hanger with the hopes for more to come later.

Since we had last talked about The Last Witch, Saoirse has discovered her latent witch abilities, is now on a quest with her brother, Brahm, and their Nan to defeat four powerful witch sisters and their leader to prevent them from opening a door to the fae realm and unleashing the world-eating Fairy King. More or less, from playing in the woods to preventing the end of days—the story has escalated its stakes quite a bit. And even by the end of this volume, three of the four witch sisters has been met and dealt with by Saoirse and her ever-increasing magical skill with the ley-lines pointing her where to go for the final sister. But there is also doubt. McCreery, Glass, Nesterenko, and Campbell have set up a background menace to the whole thing—even at the end of this story, we don’t quite know who we’re supposed to be rooting for.

And it is this ending that comes with an implicit promise of more story sometime in the future. Nothing yet, however, has been announced for the series continuation. This collected edition isn’t listed as a volume one or a book one or anything like that, though. But why? This has been the trend for a few other series in the past like Outer Darkness and Chainsaw Man, but it does leave readers unsure of the story’s future. It does make sense from a production standpoint—creators can get a break between these volumes instead of continually worrying about making monthly deadlines and having the story suffer as a result. A series like The Last Witch would benefit from this spacing out greatly as Glass’ artwork is a thing to behold on every page. But we’re all still wondering when we get to see their art and the rest of the story continue.

Comics are in a weird place at the moment. Many of the best-selling series are some of these larger volumes sold in bookstores and away from the direct-market comic shops. But then monthly issues are the lifeblood of every comic shop as that keeps people coming into the store every week. When a series is as good as The Last Witch, waiting doesn’t feel too bad if it was switching to volumes instead of monthly issues. But then I like receiving my stories in those small, quick little floppies every week. We don’t know if this kind of comic serialization is going to continue, so we’ll just have to see if more series stick with this kind of model or not.

Get excited. Get witchy.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

The Perfect Life #24: For Love of Vices

The Perfect Life #24 by Dr. Perfect

For Love of Vices

Dear Dr. Perfect,

My family has been arguing non-stop for 48-hours. Maybe you can help us.

Who is the best Vice President in American history: Dick Cheney or Spiro Agnew?

Sincerely,

A Passionate Historian

————

Dear PH,

I commend your adherence to heated family political debates outside the bold strokes of presidential narratives. For once, someone is making the case for or against Vice Presidents as opposed to tossing them into history’s dustbin. VPs are like the Art Garfunkel of the executive branch, largely relegated to clerical duties during their tenure. Sometimes they even become president after languishing in the shadows for years.

Their names often elude the average American, who can barely muster the will to find the right pair of socks in the morning. Those we do remember only stand out if they’re lucky. Some names just stick. Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, was sworn in after President McKinley’s assassination by a deranged anarchist. Gerald Ford took over after Nixon’s completely unwarranted resignation, and Lyndon Johnson killed his boss for the top spot in 1963. It was a crazy time back then.

Not all VPs ascended to the presidency after assassinations, conspiracies, or scandals. Some just leveraged the popularity of the president they served, thoroughly unable to retain the same magic or prestige. Harry Truman, George Bush Sr., and our current Crypt Keeper-in-Chief are perfect examples of this underwhelming phenomenon. But Truman did drop an atomic bomb on Japan, so that’s saying something.

What irks me the most about your family’s argument is their complete lack of historical perspective. Dick Cheney can’t hold a candle to Martin Van Buren, and Spiro Agnew wasn’t fit to shine Levi P. Morton’s shoes! (His friends called him LP). Don’t settle on those two Republican lightweights, when there are luminaries to choose from. What about Aaron Burr? He was Thomas Jefferson’s VP and most famous for shooting Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

George Clinton (our fourth VP) is noticeably absent from your list too in a glaring oversight. He served under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in addition to starting a Parliament-Funkadelic collective in the seventies. What of Millard Fillmore, who succeeded to the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850?

He was a member of the Whig Party, one of the coolest cliques in American history. And I supposed we can just forget about Andrew Johnson and the enormous task of succeeding Lincoln after the Civil War. The poor bastard.

Your family’s dismissal of Dan Quayle, VP under George Bush Sr., needs to be addressed as well. Quayle served his office with distinction and honor, while being ridiculed as a child and a buffoon by the liberal media. The knives were out the minute he criticized Murphy Brown—the late-1980s sitcom that featured Candice Bergen as the eponymous journalist and news anchor. Her character had a kid out of wedlock, and Quayle made a speech, criticizing the show for its empty values. We could sure use some of that patented “Quayle magic” today.

He may have been the butt of many jokes during his heyday, but the man had magnificent hair, unlike Dick Cheney. He also didn’t shoot his friend with a hunting rifle last time I checked or preside over two endless wars. Under Quayle and Bush Sr. we only had one war, the Gulf War, and it was over in a jiffy. We gave Saddam Hussein the proverbial kick to the keister, and all was well.

Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s shady henchman, may have had thick hair, but he resigned too easily.  Didn’t he know how things are done in Washington? When you’re accused of bribery, extortion, and criminal conspiracy, you double down on your innocence until the next news cycle. Deny everything and let the chips fall where they may. Simply put, he was no Dan Quayle. He wasn’t even an Al Gore. Now, there’s a VP with moxie, and who knows his way around a PowerPoint™ presentation. Time for your family to go back to the drawing board.


Dr. Perfect has slung advice across the globe for the last two decades due to his dedication to the uplift of the human condition.

490: An Unauthorized Commentary on Martin Scorcese’s Casino, with Patrick Jehle!

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Episode 490 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

On this week’s episode, Patrick Jehle and I speculate on the spiritual cinematography, the compelling dialogue, and the tragic stories that comprise the greatness of Martin Scorcese’s Casino.

TEXT DISCUSSED

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

ScribophileTDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.


Episode 490 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #140: Black & Blue & Gold

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #140 by Drew Barth

Black & Blue & Gold

Anthologies are an oddity in comics. They used to be the most popular formats for telling stories—many beloved pre-Code horror series were anthologies—but then they seemed to drop off. Anthologies still exist, to some extent, but they’ve become rarer as the years go on. That’s why it’s been so nice to see DC continue the anthology tradition for the past twenty-five years. Starting with the first volume of Batman: Black and White in 1996 to its recent relaunch in 2020 to the establishment of two new anthologies in Superman: Red and Blue and Wonder Woman: Black and Gold, their commitment to anthologies seems cemented.

But why anthologies? Both major publishers have dozens of series running concurrently with long-running story lines with many beloved characters. But that’s the snag, isn’t it? Many of these longer running series are rather impenetrable to the outside reader—if you haven’t been a fan for the past few years, there’s not a lot of space to jump into unless you want to do some Wiki-diving for a few hours. This is where anthologies come in. As many of them are single stories told over less than ten or so pages, anyone who is new to a character can jump in and find something to enjoy.

And it isn’t just for the benefit of audiences that anthologies exist. Almost every creator out there has a Batman, or Superman, or Wonder Woman story they want to tell in them, but as great as they all would be, even major publishers can’t support thirty issues of a single character each month—even though it does seem like that with Batman most of the time. These anthologies allow many creators to really flex their storytelling abilities as they have such a confined space to work with. You could tell a great Batman vs. Bane story in a hundred issues, but how much better could it be in eight pages? And for many creators, this is a space to not just mine those story ideas they may have been sitting on for years, it’s a place to showcase their talent to readers who may not be familiar with their work. There is so much in each issue of these series that is new and refreshing that it’s hard to think that they’re not on regular pull-lists.

While anthologies seem to go in and out of style depending on the year, having the two major comic publishers keep a commitment to putting out anthologies is quite nice. While many longer series do allow creators to really dig into a story, these anthologies let creators breathe a little more and experiment with what their version of many of these long-running characters can look like. And, of course, seeing these characters in different situations can act as a jumping-off point for creators in the future to go back and dig deep into different aspects of the character. What are comics and anthologies like this if not opportunities for even longer-running collaborative storytelling?

Get excited. Get anthologized.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 489: Aimee Bender!

Episode 489 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

Photo by Mark Miller.

In this week’s show, I talk to fiction writer Aimee Bender about the subterranean connections that literary fiction makes between one and oneself, and between one and others; the difficult epistemology of sanity; the possibility of fiction not driven by interpersonal conflict; and other subjects of interest.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

ScribophileTDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out the dates for this year’s Miami Book Fair.


Episode 489 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

The Curator of Schlock #370: The Gruesome Twosome

The Curator of Schlock #370 by Jeff Shuster

The Gruesome Twosome

They had KFC in the 1960s?

Edwige is on the mend and we should be back on the road soon. Who knew kangaroos had such delicate constitutions? I’ll make it up to her once we get to Saskatchewan. I wonder if they’ll give me a hero’s welcome. Maybe that’s too much to ask, but I will be saving a small town with this factory equipment I’ll be dropping off. Maybe they’ll erect a statue of me in the town square.

This week’s Arrow Home Video release is 1967’s The Gruesome Twosome from director Herschell Gordon Lewis. This is the same guy that gave us Blood Feast so expect this one to be a splatter fest. I don’t know what kind of sick individuals watch these kinds of movies. You should be ashamed if you like The Gruesome Twosome!

What’s the movie about? There’s this old lady named Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) and she owns a wig shop. These are very fine wigs that are the talk of the town. They are made from real human hair. She runs the business with her mentally challenged son, Rodney (Chris Martell). She also has conversations with a stuffed tiger or was it a stuffed leopard? I don’t know. The point is she’s crackers!

So Mrs. Pringle has a room for rent in her business which she rents out to the many young women attending the local university. But she doesn’t really have a room to rent. If some pretty, young coed with lovely hair walks into the shop and wants to check out the room, Mrs. Pringle locks her inside. Turns out the room to rent isn’t really a room to rent, but a workshop room where the wigs are made. And in that room Rodney lies in wait.

We get plenty of scenes of Rodney scalping young women for their hair. And the camera lingers on these scenes so no detail is spared. And even as Rodney holds the scalp in his hand, we get to see jellied bits of blood sliding down. Sometimes Rodney also slits a throat or guts one of the young victims so he can play around with the organs.

In the intro on the Blu-ray, director Herschell Gordon Lewis describes this movie as a splatter comedy. I suppose the comedy comes from the amateur sleuthing of a young student named Kathy Baker (Gretchen Wells). She’s determined to find out who’s murdering her classmates. She follows one mysterious gentleman around the neighborhood who’s carrying a large paper bag. Kathy witnesses him burying large bones in his backyard. She digs them up and freaks out when the mysterious gentleman confronts her. Turns out the bones are a birthday present for his dog. The dog likes to dig up bones. Kathy then gets lectured by a local police officer about disturbing the peace.

Will Kathy discover who the killer is? What do you think? One curious thing about this Blu-ray is the disclaimer that comes on before the movie starts. The statement reads something like “This transfer was made from the best available elements.” That’s fine, but the print is in terrible shape. I don’t know that we’ll ever get a proper restoration of The Gruesome Twosome. Maybe this can be a new pet project of George Lucas. THX this baby!


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, and 477) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #139: A Wide Range of Magic

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #139 by Drew Barth

A Wide Range of Magic

Comics, for the most part, come in a couple forms. There’s the monthly floppies that open up like a pamphlet; the newspaper strips read horizontally every day; and the graphic novels that cozy up next to the rest of the books on your shelf. And, as readers, that’s what we’re used to. It’s what we’ve been used to for a while now with the exception of some special issues and formats. Echolands by J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein is one of those special issues, but this time extended into a full series and bound just a little bit differently.

If there was ever a time to use the phrase “widescreen comics” it would be in the case of Echolands. The comic sits on its side and open horizontally—creating a single image on each page of more than twenty inches across. So, what’s being told across all this real estate? A story of thieves, wizards, and the kind of urban fantasy that takes whole chunks of cities and tropes and smashes them together into a small space. It’s fantasy, but in such a way that we can see bits and pieces of the modern world poking out. Hope is the thief and we first find her running through this fantasy city after having stolen a jewel so precious that the entire city begins to look for her. As clever and connected as she is, she’s found by the daughter of the wizard she stole the jewel from—a strange being made more of magic than anything else. And, for a first issue, that’s all we’re given.

What’s most captivating about the story from the outset is both the formatting of the book and the way its art plays with the space. Williams III and Blackman are known for their work on Batwoman  a few years ago and are taking all of those lessons into Echolands, but have made some adjustments. Due to its shape, the story itself feels constant—it moves as a pace that many other series can’t hope to match with their traditional layouts. Much of this first issue is a chase scene and the length of these pages only adds to that feeling of continual movement as we run by this new world that unfolds before us. It’s an incredible use of this space that I’ve only ever really seen in digital comics like The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughn, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente, and to physically hold the series gives it a completely different dimension.

Right now, Echolandsis a series that wants you to pick it up and thumb through these widescreen pages physically. There’s an impact from seeing the pages unfurl across such a wide space and seeing how Williams III, Blackman, Stewart, and Klein can continually reinvent how our eyes will follow along with such a different kind of page format. While this is only the first issue, it’s going to be interesting to see if this sense of exploration can continue as long as the series does.

Get excited. Get wide.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 488: Mixtape #15 (Sailing an Ocean of Violets in Bloom)!

Episode 488 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

NOTES

This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.

Scribophile

TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.


Episode 488 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

The Curator of Schlock #369: There’s Always Vanilla

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The Curator of Schlock #369 by Jeff Shuster

There’s Always Vanilla

No, there isn’t.

I had to bring Edwige, my kangaroo companion, to the vet. She was foaming at the mouth and acting all out of sorts. The vet asked me if she had eaten into anything strange. I told her I was feeding Edwige smarties, beef jerky, and a bit of Red Ripple to wash it all down. She threatened to call the authorities and I warned her that a small town in Saskatchewan is depending on me for survival. She gave me a diet plan for Edwige and warned me against feeding Edwige beef jerky and alcohol. I guess that means Smarties are still okay.

This week’s Arrow Home Video release is 1971’s There’s Always Vanilla from director George Romero. That’s right. This is the Night of the Living Dead guy. Anyway, he didn’t just make horror movies and There’s Always Vanilla is a little slice-of-life movie.

It’s not good.

Romero himself thought the finished movie was a disaster. I don’t like to rag on Romero. The dude directed Creepshow. Full stop.

There’s Always Vanilla is a movie about the wayward youth of the baby boomer generation. The movie begins with crowds commenting on a bizarre sculpture of a giant machine with wheels and widgets. The machine doesn’t actually do anything. Some onlookers think it’s fantastic and a great commentary on the modern world. Other onlookers think it’s a travesty and a sad commentary on the modern world.

The machine is a creation of a Vietnam vet named Chris Bradley (Raymond Laine), a directionless youth  who smokes pot and pontificates on the absurdity of life. He goes to go-go bars, tries to get his dad laid at a go-go bar, smokes more pot, and crashes at the apartment of a woman named Sam who may or may not be the mother of his child. Also, Chris’s dad can still “cut the mustard.” I don’t know what that means.

Oh, and there’s a young model named Lynn (Judith Streiner) that stars in beer commercials and gets ogled by sleazy producers. She bumps into Chris at a train station and love is in the air. Chris tells Lynn that her butt is too big for TV and before you know it, the two of them are sleeping together. Lynn takes the relationship very seriously, but Chris takes nothing seriously. She wants him to go to college or get a job or something. This might have something to do with the fact that she’s pregnant.

Chris tells Lynn that he probably has a kid with some other woman. This causes Lynn to seek a back alley abortion with a seedy doctor, but she gets scared and can’t go through with the procedure. She moves out of her apartment and disappears on Chris. He visits with his dad and gets some fatherly advice. He tells him about all the ice cream flavors that are seemingly available at a Howard Johnson’s, but when all is said and done, there’s always vanilla. Huh?

Excuse me. I need to watch something that has zombies ripping the entrails out of a screaming biker gang member.


Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, and 477) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.