Kung Fury Unleashed!

I could just summarize this short film in the following manner: what would happen if 1980s action cinema imploded on itself and became a quantum singularity?

What you’d probably get is something like Laser Unicorns’ action comedy movie Kung Fury. 

As it is, what we have here is an excellent example of some Eightiesploitation — a time frame of media made into a genre — that is in and of itself a parody, a nostalgic love letter, and a cinematic crack-fic of pure and mad fun. And you have it all here: ravening packs of punks on the lawless streets of Miami, arcade cabinets, ridiculous one-liner puns, blocky clunky elder cellphones, a ton of martial arts in gritty industrial settings, quintessential 80s synthesized music, cheesy neon 8-bit computer effects, and — of course — the Nintendo Power-Glove. Hell, you even have a blatant commercial parody of another product placement in the film itself and a clever use of periodic static at the edges of the film: to imitate what it would like if it really were a dated VHS tape from the eighties. Even the cartoon segment of the film resembles a faded eighties era example of animation.

As for the rest of it, what you see is pretty much what you get. As eighties action films go, the premise is simple and thin to allow for maximum gratuitous kick-ass. Kung Fury, a policeman, goes back in time to defeat his ultimate opponent: Adolf Hitler. How he gets his martial arts abilities is pretty much irrelevant and through some ridiculously awesome choreography (and once he gets to the right timeline) he gets to slaughter some major Nazi ass with the help of Viking women, dinosaurs … and Thor.

And yet it’s even more strange. In its own weird way, Kung Fury‘s thinly veiled plot to release a lot of nostalgic kick-ass does have its own logic and it manages to tie itself together, somehow at the end, and leave the film open for a sequel with the potential for even more fucked up glory.

Laser Unicorns’ Kickstarted film delivers on its ridiculous violence and fun: parodying the time period of cinema its derived from, and loving it as hard as its own explosions.  This would definitely be an excellent film to see at the Toronto After Dark and it was an absolute pleasure to watch it burn.

Why Don’t You Just Make One? My So-Called Secret Identity

“Well, if you don’t like how women are portrayed in comics, why don’t you make your own comic?”

You can substitute the subject of this knee-jerk reaction in the form of a question to other media such as film, television, or video games, but the gist of it is pretty much the same. Usually this question is “asked” in an attempt to silence critics, or to reduce their observations about pop culture into “nitpicking” or something completely non-constructive. Most critics ignore this loaded question because creative works — at least in the area of fiction — are not their focus or area of expertise.

However Dr. Will Brooker, popular culture expert and Batman scholar, decided that in addition to criticism he was going to actually answer this question: in the form of My So-Called Secret Identity.

Brooker and his fellow artistic collaborators the illustrator Suze Shore and PhD in superhero art Dr. Sarah Zaidan, realized that while it wasn’t nearly enough to criticize the portrayal of women in mainstream comics,  it would definitely be a step forward to create a comic that could represent them as three-dimensional human beings. They, along with an extensive and predominantly female creative team, are managing to accomplish this and more.

So what is My So-Called Secret Identity about? It is a comic about Cat: a student of philosophy and literature and daughter of a policeman. She is a young woman who sees and understands the links between different subjects and is sick and tired of pretending to lack the intelligence that she truly possesses: that many have underestimated or believe that she fakes.

My So-Called Secret Identity

Cat, also known as Catherine Abigail Daniels, loves her home of Gloria City and wants to do her part to save it from the terrorism of the supervillains that also dwell within it. Unfortunately, her other obstacles seem to be the self-styled “superheroes” of Gloria City: posturing and brittle celebrities not unlike those you might see in Garth Ennis’ The Boys that, along with their villainous counterparts, use the City and its citizens as “a theatre” (complete with “a backstage” metaphor reminiscent of Neil Gaiman) and props respectively in their “morality war.”

What I really like about Cat as a character are three elements. First, she is a woman that knows what and sometimes even who she wants and will pursue them with assertiveness instead of over-exaggerated aggression. Second, she will call people out on their actions and words but also be reasonable enough to forgive and recognize that same person as a human being. She is a person that cares about people and it shows. But lastly, I am very intrigued by how Brooker and his team handle her genius. Without spoiling too much of the comic, Cat seems to have a very Humanities or interdisciplinary approach to how she attempts to solve crime: linking ideas, geography, culture, history, and facts all together in the form of a “mind-map”: in a style of collage reminiscent of Dave McKean, Eddie Campbell, or even Daniel Vallely.

My So-Called Secret Identity Mind Map

It’s very psychogeographical. God, I love that word.

In a sense, Cat’s method of learning is actually through creating art: synthesizing different elements and their connections together as opposed to analyzing and taking details apart. It is, in my opinion, simply beautiful. Unfortunately, you can also see why other people — especially her teachers and bosses throughout her life — underestimate her or simply do not recognize her genius for what it is. It is frustrating to watch and understand that this stigma against her is not merely because of her unorthodox thinking: but there are unspoken gender expectations she keeps breaking because she is smart and female.

My So-Called Secret Identity Cat's Life

But Cat doesn’t let the expectations of others stop her. At this stage in her life she is determined to live her life and keep Gloria City safe: even if it means becoming an actor in the theatre of villains and heroes and especially, I suspect, when she ignores, subverts, and outright discards their rules by her very nature. I myself suspect that Cat’s story isn’t about the chic of “a secret identity” or playing the hero, but rather doing the right thing and being accepted for who she is and what she can do. Cat is not a secret. She just is, and she should be.

According to its Facebook Page, not only will My So-Called Secret Identity have a June 16th Kickstarter Campaign, the fourth issue of My So-Called Secret Identity Volume One will be coming out Sunday June 8, 2014. You can also buy hard-copies of the issues so far or read them online. So please, Like this comic on Facebook and read it. I look forward to seeing where Cat, and Gloria City’s story, goes.

Zing! Pow! The Batman and Green Hornet ’60s Crossover

Sometimes classic superhero comics are all about dynamic duos and, in this case, we have three pairs of them. Film-maker and writer Kevin Smith and comedian Ralph Garman along with the artists Ty Templeton and Alex Ross will be creating a Batman and Green Hornet ’60s crossover comic. Moreover, this Batman and Hornet ’60s crossover, entitled Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet, is going to be treated “like a missing ‘lost’ sequel to the 1967 Batman two-parter” that brought the two heroic duos together in the first place.

Even though both the 1960s Batman starring Adam West and The Green Hornet were shows that started well before I was born, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ place watching both of them: and particularly Batman. In fact, when I look back I can say I’m fairly certain that Adam West’s Batman was the first serialized exposure I had to the character before Tim Burton’s 1989 film and I was always fascinated by the strange campy assortment of villains and how I wanted to know who they all were in the comics: even though some of them were made for the show itself. I took it seriously when I was younger, but as I got older I became “serious” about it and thought the show had become irrelevant to more contemporary times. Really, Adam West’s Batman in particular is a lighthearted comedic parody of itself that isn’t afraid to make fun of itself while paying homage to its sources. And it has a powerful zany effect: so much so that sometimes I find myself saying something along the lines of a Boy Wonder-worthy “Gee Willikers Batman!”

I also only saw a few Green Hornet episodes but from what I have seen, particularly with regards to the Green Hornet and Kato climbing scenes, it made sense that they and Batman existed in the same universe. And though it has been a while, I might have even seen the crossover happen as well.

And let’s look at dynamic duos again. The thing about heroic duos is, in fact, the dynamics that play between them. Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman are the collaborating writers of this twelve issue comics series. Smith himself has written many Batman stories and inundated his films with thoughtful and zany geekery, and Ralph Garman is the host of The Joe Schmo Show, a voice actor on Family Guy and Smith’s co-host on the Hollywood Babble-On podcast.  And then there are the artists to consider as well. Alex Ross is well known for his high mythic art in Kingdom Come and he will be designing the covers for the Crossover series while the Canadian artist Ty Templeton, the creator of Stig’s Inferno and Bigg Time as well as The Batman Adventures, will be the comic’s central illustrator. I actually met Ty Templeton before in a seminar about writing and drawing comics back at the old Paradise Comicon. He and his wife Keiren Smith run the Comic Book Boot Camp in Toronto, while also helping to organize events such as the 12 and 24 Hour Comics Marathons.

So not only do I get the positive feel of visiting imaginary space from my own childhood and know of most of the players involved in its creation, but in writing this article I get to promote someone who is well known and loved in the local geek community of Toronto. There is just so much … fun in this collaboration and if Kevin Smith’s hopes come true, who knows: perhaps it will be adapted into a straight-to-DVD animated feature with Adam West taking a role as a voice actor. In doing so, it would almost be like a spiritual sequel or “second televised episode” of Batman meeting the Green Hornet. Knowing that this comes from a place where the creators finally get to play in the creative sandbox that shaped their youth is just plain full-circle and heartwarming.

You can read further on Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet on Brian Truitt’s USA Today article Batman, Green Hornet team for a ’60s crossover. Until then, see ya later. So long! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

La-Mulana 2 Still Has More Stories to Tell

When last I wrote about La-Mulana 2, its Kickstarter Campaign met nearly half of its stated $200,000 minimum goal. Well, not only has it reached it’s goal, it has started to meet its stretch goals.

It has been an interesting experience watching this particular Kickstarter development, while also being involved in at least some of that growth. I got to watch as NIGORO and Playism Games added their own unique animated sprites and adjusted their stretch goal tiers accordingly with input from their fans. Even as they took the time to give their page its own unique pixilated aesthetics, I’ve seen them re-organize their campaign page’s information and the order of their Updates. But I think what really struck me is the tremendous sense of community that I gleaned from, and to some extent even experienced, from being involved in this particular Kickstarter.

I mean, just look at both of these Fan Art Updates. This is one other very unique element of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter: the fact that the creators and their supporters actually encourage and utilize a Fan Art Update to promote their world and the game that they want to create. NIGORO and Playism have also encouraged fans to make their own memes and advertisements for the game. And when there were some concerns expressed by fans in the comments section of with regards to the appropriateness of  some of Lumisa Kosugi’s unlockable and otherwise stunning costumes on the grounds of potential gender and cultural stereotyping, the creators responded and seemed more than willing to look into the matter. Basically, it seems to be the fans that get to determine many of the directions in which La-Mulana 2 will go: as is, and should be the case with crowdfunded projects. It also shouldn’t be too surprising.

After all, NIGORO itself began as GR3 Project which, in turn was and still is, an indie or independent video game development team. The very first La-Mulana, before its remake on Windows, WiiWare and Steam, was an 8-bit freeware game dedicated to the spirit of hard but rewarding vintage era games: especially those made for the MSX. The team has always wanted to see how far they can push the boundaries of the 2D game-scrolling medium. As such, it has always relied on a strong fan-base of even stronger-minded and enthusiastic fans to bring it to the point where it is now. In fact, one point that the Kickstarter itself has made in one of its updates is that while they could easily get sponsorship from other companies to meet their Kickstarter goals, gaining money directly from their fans will allow for NIGORO to maintain the degree of creative control over its work that it so desires.

One thing that has always struck me about La-Mulana is how rich its world truly is and how many stories can be told in it. So the good news is that they have met their baseline goal in what has proven to be their experiment and learning experience with Kickstarter and getting us fans involved. The bad news is that, with Kickstarter, they only have three days to fund the rest of their stretch goals. And what are some of these stretch goals?

If they receive $230,000, they will include a game mode called “Father’s Diary” in which further story is added to the game: to a point where the events between La-Mulana 1 and 2 are filled.  And if they receive $350,000 they will add “Character Stories”: in which every time you complete the game you will get to start over again with a new character, interact with a whole new story and even switch between characters. And while these are definitely my favourite stretch goals, there are many more if you check out the Kickstarter.

Yet while the bad news is that it seems very unlikely that they will meet all of their stretch goals with Kickstarter, especially in three days, the good news is that they are already opening up a Pledge Through PayPal option in order to keep reaching for those heights of game development.  So please, if you haven’t already, please check out this Kickstarter and follow the adventures of Lumisa Kosugi as she treks her own path through the ancient, terrifying and wondrous world of La-Mulana.

In fact, you can do more that simply look through a Kickstarter or even pass it along to others. As the following new Big Update has revealed, you can watch a video of the La-Mulana 2 game demo above and even download and play it for free. How cool is that?

A Film Festival Double-Billing: We Are What We Are and Bounty Killer

So I am going to be doing something different. Not only am I going to make an early Blog post, but it is going to be a movie review: or more specifically two reviews back-to-back courtesy of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I literally got an RSVP after applying for a Press Pass that allowed me to attend the opening gala of the Festival with one other guest–in this case my brother–for free. In exchange, however, I am to review both of the  films that we saw.

This has been a very busy but exciting time with regards to my writing, so let me get this underway: after an obligatory Spoilers Warning. The first film we saw was Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. However, I would like to state that the film short–which the Toronto After Dark likes to include before every film–also bears some consideration.

It is an abstract film fittingly enough named Kin: which essentially is about a boy child who is on a quest to help a group of dancing shamans with strange masks summon a giant crow or raven. There is also a knight that was travelling by horse to the hilltop where the boy stands with his own wooden sword and shield. In addition, there is a small waif of a girl with pale blonde hair and a gossamer white gown who seems to have been waiting for the boy: only for him move past her, summon the creature, open his arms, and let the gigantic mythological blackbird either devour him or embrace him. The knight gets there just in time as everything ends and he and the girl just watch the sky where the boy had once been.

For me, it was an excellent segue into We Are What We Are because what we see is a child that, at first, seems to be challenging an ancient tradition or ritual while the adult–who seems to have power–almost helplessly follows him just in time for it to be too late. In fact, every time the boy stumbled, the knight seemed to stumble as well: which makes me wonder if the two of them are linked. Is the knight is an archetype that the boy pictures in his own mind before circumstances make him discard him: or pass him onto the girl? But in any case, and in the end, the boy–faced with the sheer power of mythology hovering in front of him–lets it overcome him on his own terms: leaving the idea of the knight behind to perhaps be born from the girl one day in order to continue a new tradition. This is what I got out of it anyway.

But in any case, Kin was an appropriate title when you consider what We Are What We Are entails. Just as it was outside the Scotiabank Theatre, so too was it raining at the beginning of this film. I will admit–much to my own eternal frustration–that there was a quote at the very beginning of the film that I can’t remember and it was even repeated verbally at the funeral scene. The reason I didn’t write it down at the time was because I thought it was a literary quote when, in actually, it came from a book that exists only in the film and I have not been able to find it since. I will get to that soon.

Essentially, We Are What We Are is a film about the Parkers: a family of cannibals that live in relative poverty close to a small town near the Catskill Mountains that eat human meat for religious purposes. In addition to this, the town doctor is still searching for his long-lost daughter amid a lot of flooding: flooding that carries strange objects with it in currents of water like flotsam and … old bones, for instance.

This seems pretty straightforward and not very original. However, there is more. The mother of the family drowns at the beginning of the movie: leaving her husband, two daughters, and young son in tremendous grief. And here we see something very interesting. The family patriarch Frank Parker–who is traditionally in charge of procuring their source of meat–could easily be portrayed as a complete and totally cold-hearted and  abusive monster. But he isn’t. He genuinely grieves for his wife’s death. It makes him completely fall apart to the point where his daughters–who love him–take care of him. If anything, it is the disconnect between what this family eats and how they still act as human beings that makes this film even more disturbing because you end up having sympathy for, well, the monsters.

It is no coincidence, when the middle child Rose Parker is reading to young brother Rory Parker about a “happy monster” that he says–after accidentally seeing the “animal” they were keeping in their basement–that the “monster is actually sad.” And the monster–the secret of the family–is sad. We find out that the Parkers’ holiday of Lamb’s Day began in the 1800s when their early settler ancestors ran out of food and nearly died in the wintertime. We find this out as Iris and Rose Parker are reading the book that has been passed down throughout all the generations of their family: detailing how the first patriarch’s two daughters found their father in front of the body of a woman and partook with him of her flesh. This was the beginning of the family spiritual epiphany: of that transgression to live and then ascendance beyond the taboo of eating human meat to find new meaning. This was the beginning of their Lamb’s Day: a man making a decision to undertake it and two girls deciding to carry on the tradition through their line. And, after all, don’t most religions begin with trauma?

There are, however, obvious consequences for eating human flesh: such as the lovely addition of Prion Disease: which includes tremors and tremendous brain damage. At the beginning, when their mother is trembling and essentially dies from the illness at the general store, a man says that the storm outside will “only get worse before it gets better.” And unfortunately for the matriarch of the Parker family, it only just got worse until it finally ended.

Yet the ending … The thing to understand is that the older daughters were thinking of abandoning Lamb’s Day and trying to become normal: hoping to find some way to get past their overbearing religious father. Unfortunately, this did not end well. The father begins to notice that the old bones of their previous feasts are drifting down the river and he begins to understand–even in his Prion-riddled brain–exactly how screwed they truly are. He also kills Iris’ boyfriend as they are about to have sex: as he is right on top of her. And then to add insult to injury, he puts arsenic in their Lamb’s Day stew–yes, that kind of stew–when he realizes they will all be discovered. So not only does Frank hurt his daughters–and you notice he never lays a hand on them, though he is so imposing he doesn’t even have to–but he betrays his oath to protect the family and the tradition.

What happens next is nothing short of watching a terrifying transgressive religious reformation of sorts unfold as his daughters, both dressed like Gothic Lolitas–fulfill their Electra complexes and consume their own father while he is still alive. Meanwhile, the Doctor–who figured out that Frank killed and ate his daughter–watches this all happen and, assuming they spared his life, I’m thinking at if I were him at this point of seeing this Bacchanalian horror unfolding in front of me I would really reconsider that long overdue retirement to Florida: provided a Dr. Lecter wasn’t staying nearby.

The ending was just beautiful to me in all of its gory horror. Iris and Rose manage to consummate their love and hatred for their father: defeating that monster that he is through even greater depravity. I mean, think about it: he and the family over many years at least prepared and cooked their food. These girls are eating him raw: while he is in agony. There is something more honest about this “back to basics” religious approach and also a rebirth. Because if they didn’t eat the Doctor at the end of the film or even kill him, while they are driving away with their baby brother and the ancestral book in hand what we might be seeing is the creation of a whole new kind of familial cult: of the women–who carried out the line–taking it away from the false civilized nature of the patriarchy and making it something new.

What is even more hilarious is this: at the end of the film, we got to ask the film-makers questions and one of the things that came up was that they not only planned a prequel to the film: in which we find out how Frank meets his wife, gets inducted into the Parker family and takes on the role of matriarch–of actually killing and preparing their human food–but there is going to be a sequel as well which takes place, of all places, in Mexico.

Now, let me make something else clear.

We Are What We Are is a revision, not a remake, of Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican film Somos lo que hay which has all of the gender-roles reversed and a whole different ending. The idea was transplanted from Mexican social commentary into American religious criticism: and now is being transplanted in a weird sort of creative hybrid way back: to the point where the endings almost meet. I can only imagine Iris, Rose, and Rory Parker making a new family tradition: of only killing and eating criminals and otherwise bad people instead of the “shit where you eat” mentality and hypocrisy of their father who made them eat their town doctor’s young daughter. A shameful secret becomes a religious mystery once again and two girls come of age in blood and sacrifice. Perhaps now, when they finish reading their brother his story for the night they can now safely end it with, “And the monster was happy.”

So, after going twenty minutes later over schedule and a bathroom break my brother and I went to see the next film: which was Henry Saine’s Bounty Killer.

I don’t know how much I have to say about this one, but again the short L’Étranger was a nice and fun lead-in: an action sequence with a cowboy who, after killing and maiming everyone in a bar, was simply there to deliver a package on time. It was amusing.

As was this trailer for the following film.

Bounty Killer is a post-apocalyptic comedy action film that was originally taken from a Kick Start Productions comic book which Jason Dodson and Henry Saine also created–the latter of which seems to only be available in the iBooks Store–along with an idea for a 1997 animated series that never happened. So essentially what we are looking at is a film created from action, almost superheroic animation that didn’t completely happen, and a comic that in addition to its own self was made to help storyboard its very existence.

It is a tongue-and-cheek movie that takes place in a world that has suffered from the Corporate Wars: in which corporations eroded the world governments and caused mass chaos and suffering. In the wake of this, there is a Council of Nine formed in the Wastelands that creates the Bounty Killers: celebrity assassins that hunt down the white collar corporate individuals and their Yellow Tie minions as war criminals … though Darth Vader’s age-old admonition of “No disintegrations” seems to apply at least with regards to their heads.

As you can imagine, the violence is exaggerated not only in a stylized way–ala Matrix-level slow motion scenes cut with fast pacing–but it is literally parodied with some snappy one-liners and moments of pure, fun ridiculousness.

What is also really interesting is the way they set up two of the main characters. Mary Death is the former protégé and on again, off again lover of the first Bounty Killer Drifter: who is literally stylized violent sex. Drifter is not so much this, but he is an extremely pragmatic and clever man who used to be the head of a corporation before his company betrayed him by making weapons and he hunted most of his business partners down. As he put it, he was “sick of being behind a desk.”

In a sense, training Mary Death was one of his best decisions: as she unknowingly distracted everyone else from really looking at his celebrity status and into his past as a former Corporate. In fact, as I think about it now, Drifter most likely purposefully botched his kills–such as, well, disintegrating him–so that people wouldn’t pay too much attention to him compared to Mary Death and start hunting him.

Of course, this all changes as a bounty is seemingly placed on him by the Council of Nine: under his true identity.

Mary Death herself is a former member of a raider and infiltration group known as the Gypsies of all things. She approached Drifter ages ago to be trained by him in the arts of Bounty Killing: though how she actually knew what his real skills were like is unknown. She is a dangerous woman. Aside from my previous description of her, it is the best way to sum her up: although she does like to give autographs. She and Drifter a strange relationship in which she exercises independence and love by stabbing him non-fatally in the spleen and leaving him to chase her: at which on two occasions he has said, “She cut me … deep.”

What is really interesting is that Mary Death is set up in a way that makes her look like the protagonist of the film–even the film’s advertising has her as the central aesthetic figure–but the focus isn’t always on her. The film’s perspective alternates between Mary and Drifter: ending with Mary in an iconic sort of way. This film is also inter-dispersed with Heavy Metal-like animation and illustrations: making it not unlike, as others have pointed out, Kill Bill meets Mad Max.

Really, the film is crazy: just plain crazy. But it is crazy in a fun “what the fuck” way. It is also fascinating to consider how the “white collars” and Bounty Killers evolved as their own cultures in this post-apocalyptic future and how when you strip away that veneer of civilization a lot of this 1% to 99% we keep hearing about would become tribes of a different kind and the film definitely reflects the current cultural reaction against the former.

That said, there is one regret that I share with Henry Saine: namely, the exclusion of one aspect of Mary Death’s origin. He told us in the Question and Answer period that originally Mary Death was supposed to have been a child on an airplane during the Corporate Wars and that when the plane was being attacked; she was actually by what was essentially a bad-ass stewardess. Even though Mary Death was taken by the Gypsies after this, she never forgot that woman who defended her to the death–even though she had once worked for a corporation–and modelled her new uniform in her memory.

I did like this movie, but I have to admit that I was put off by the moral of love and independence being a knife in the spleen. But hey, if you are into that sort of thing who am I to judge?

And, after that film based after the Corporate Wars was over, we appropriately stopped off at the After Dark’s event at The Office Pub.

So this has been an ad hoc review of the Toronto After Dark’s opening salvo. I hope you enjoyed this and please, when you get the chance, watch these films. As for me, after seeing the last one I now definitely need to somehow watch Saine’s The Last Lovecraft: which was shown at an After Dark opening gala a few years back.

And I definitely need to do this sometime again.