(Shudder/VOD) A post-apocalyptic vision from Academy Award winning visual effects expert Phil Tippett that was thirty years in the making. You can see that effort on the screen, in every absolutely filthy, disgusting stop-motion frame. Think: the Brothers Quay, but with far more bodily fluids.
MAD GOD harkens back to the days of the illustrated magazine and cult film HEAVY METAL. It’s wall-to-wall visual phantasmagoria, but the type that — while disturbing — also often inspires.
It’s utterly indescribable, often not-quite coherent; a complete marvel. It is not for everyone — especially for those who are squeamish or prefer their horror to not feel like an exquisite corpse experiment — but you will never see anything like it.
(HBO MAX) Despite being a pretty hardcore comic book nerd as a youth — I still have the long boxes to prove it — I never quite embraced comic book movies or TV. Apart from the occasional oddity like MYSTERY MEN or BIRDS OF PREY or THE SUICIDE SQUAD or LOKI or that one trauma-laden flashback episode of WANDAVISION, they’re rarely as weird or imaginative enough to keep my interest.
I’ve previously stated that I stayed away from comics for years because I thought they were just endless stories of people punching each other and, while I eventually found comics that consisted of something more that endless fight scenes — or at least used the fight sequences to communicate something larger — most of the MCU and DCU works consist solely of sexless, soulless, dull rope-a-dope tropes that exist solely to prop up future films; all sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Sorry, Will.)
This lead me to initially punt on the animated DC TV show HARLEY QUINN. Sure, BIRDS OF PREY was a sparky lark, and I ate up BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES when it aired waaaay back in the day, but I assumed HARLEY QUINN would be just as defanged as most of its film brethren.
How wrong I was.
I don’t know how the fuck this show got made, but it’s such a filthy delight. The pilot itself is a marvel of a mission statement: it scrutinizes the toxic relationship between Harley and The Joker, sees her free herself from him (kind of) and discovers a new found family of D-list villains, including who I know to be her one-true-love, Poison Ivy.
It’s kinetic, it’s weird, it runs a mile a minute, it’s extraordinarily punk, and it’s unapologetically smutty but it’s always in service of the story. It’s an encapsulation of being liberated from live-action. It fully leans into all of the potential of animation, which given that most comic book movies nowadays are essentially an array of CGI sequences, you think there’d be more experimentation, but nope!
It also, just like LOKI, acknowledges that the characters are smart but completely askew. It literally features the following exchange from Harley to herself:
“Ooooh. You’re smart.”
“I know. I’m you.”
It ticks all of my boxes, and I haven’t even finished watching the first season yet. (So far, there are three seasons. I would not be surprised if HBO MAX shelved it, which is why I finally pulled the pin on watching it.)
Now, a few choice quotes:
JOKER: “You know she has HPV?”
BANE: “Most sexually active adults do.”
POISON IVY: “That potion makes people fall in love with me, and then kills them.”
POISON IVY: “YES! What did you think, you kite-fucking-freak? My name is Poison… Ivy!”
KITEMAN: “This is why I stick with the kites. So simple.”
“I hate you, dad.”
“I hate you, too, son.”
HARLEY: “This is so fucked up, but weirdly moving.”
HARLEY to IVY: “I can’t listen to ya when you’re dressed like a 40s housewife who is fucking her husband’s boss.”
“You are truly the Shakespeare of the sea!”
AQUAMAN: “I prefer to think of myself as the Dickens of the deep!”
HARLEY: “Oh, I did it! Although no one said I could run a crew!”
IVY: “What? Hello? Hi. I said you could run a crew.”
HARLEY: “Yeah, but you’re my friend, I mean, come on, it’s like when your mom says you’re the prettiest girl in school.”
KING SHARK: “That’s what my mom said!”
HARLEY: “I just tried to touch myself! That is a stripper rule!”
To cap it all off, it has a banger of an intro/outro, one that I always have to fucking keep HBO MAX from skipping over because you can’t fucking prevent auto-play with HBO MAX.
I haven’t even touched on the amazing voice acting! Lake fucking Bell! Ron Funches! Kaley Cuoco! Alan Tudyk! Christopher Meloni! J.B. Smoove! Jim Rash! Tony Hale! Jason Alexander! It is an embarrassment of riches!
This show brings me so much joy at a time in my life when I’ve desperately needed it — although it is worth nothing that S01E05 deals with trauma-centric disassociation that is not fun if you’ve lived through it, but is still excellently well-played. And if you have lived through it, well, you’ll feel seen.
MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON, a stop-motion animated film from Dean Fleischer-Camp about a sentient shell that wears shoes could be yet another epic film in the Pixar vein, of an outsider thrust into the unknown to find their own community and the adventures they encounter while doing so.
Instead, it has more in common with smaller scale documentaries, such as the idiosyncratic GREY GARDENS, which shines a light on an off-beat mother and daughter inhabiting their dilapidated ruin of a home and how they eke out their existence.
MARCEL builds on the shorts that made the character internet-famous in the early 2010s — essentially, that of documenting the life of Marcel the shell (voiced by Jenni Slate) living in a house with his nana Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini). The house they find themselves in is far larger than they need but it’s what they have, so they make the most of it while waiting for the next episode of 60 MINUTES to air so they can see fearless Lesley Stahl report on the latest notable of the prior week. Said house is an AirBnB, and apparently no one ever really takes note of them until the lonesome Dean rents out the space.
Dean ‘discovers’ Marcel and Marcel’s nana, and proceeds to film how Marcel manages to exist in this space that is not built around their needs, and he also details the circumstances that put Marcel and his nana into this place, namely:
A couple inhabited the place for a while, and they frequently argued. Whenever these outbursts would occur, whenever Marcel’s family would hear strife, they’d collectively meet in a drawer. This one last time though, one half of the couple went to collect their things, which also meant collecting all but Marcel and Nana, and they rushed out the door with Marcel’s family.
A more mainstream film would have turned this tale into Dean embarking on a cross-country trip to re-unite Marcel with each and every family member. Instead, Dean drives to the highest point in L.A., all while Marcel repeatedly gets roadsick, neither learning much of anything during the afternoon jaunt.
Despite being told in miniature, Marcel and MARCEL have high aspirations, but both are small voices, and both are better for it. This is a quiet film, both in tone and in scope, but it confidently speaks volumes. It’s a work about ennui and minor victories and emotional stumbles while also being about longing for an accepting crowd. It’s a melancholy, complicated film told simply, one that’s destined for cult status, simply because it defies tonal categorization or, perhaps, because it’s so cute, so initially innocuous, while ultimately being a measured existential tale, one so immaculately put together in a way that will almost certainly have you smiling through tears.
(Blu-Ray/Roku/tubi) As one might suspect, I was a gigantic nerd in my youth, enough of one that I was part of a group in high-school that would pool our lunch money to order LaserDiscs of late 80s anime and we’d then, err, find ways to ‘happen upon’ ways to duplicate copies for all involved. Let me tell you: bootlegging works were far more difficult, but far more enthralling, back then.
Apart from the soundtrack occasionally popping up in my playlists over the years, I’d mostly forgotten about PROJECT A-KO (despite still having a proper VHS copy of it)! At least, until this post popped up in my feeds.
The immediate flashback this post induced was: “oh, now that I think about it, this anime wasn’t just fan-service, it was super gay.” And, yup:
“The basic plot of PROJECT A-KO is: one dumbass lesbian fighting another dumbass lesbian to win the heart of the dumbest lesbian in the lands.”
I forgot how funny, how comic, PROJECT A-KO was, even though I know I didn’t get the bulk of the in-jokes and parodies and references back-in-the-day, and probably still don’t. However, it features a ton of hilariously universal kinetic physical comedic moments, while still often feeling grounded despite, you know, someone using numerous missiles as stepping stones during combat. Additionally, while the characters do a lot of punching, there’s not much in the way of punching down. Everyone here is flawed and messy and definitely either queer or over-protective found family, and you’re meant to identify with their flaws, rather than scorn them.
I rarely recommend any YouTube film-centric commentary video that runs for over an hour because I often don’t have the patience for watching them, but I highly recommend the one linked in the MeFi post above. I learned a lot, and it brought back a lot of memories.
Lastly, the OST is well-worth your time. Spaceship in the Dark is still a banger with all of its orchestral hits.
(VOD/DVD) THE MAXX was a short-lived animated adaptation of Sam Keith’s comic book featured in MTV’s similarly short-lived ODDITIES block and, to this day, remains one of the most faithful — and most intriguing — comic book adaptations ever.
THE MAXX is about a spandex-clad vagrant (The Maxx) who believes himself to be the protector of Julie Winters, a complicated social worker who is being tormented by a man known as Mr. Gone. The Maxx sometimes slips into another realm known as The Outback, where he’s a noble warrior instead of a homeless man in a purple suit. If it sounds slightly ridiculous, well, -comics-, but it’s essentially a hard-boiled vehicle to explore repression and trauma.
While the narrative and characters would be interesting enough on its own, what really makes the series stand out is how it adapted Keith’s extremely stylized artwork and layouts to TV: they essentially ripped the panels from his comic, and -then- animated them. Occasionally they throw in some CGI or live action video footage, but the majority of it is exactly what you would have seen and read in the first twelve issues of the comics. Amazingly, instead of feeling like a hollow recreation, it feels vibrant and thrilling and often even funny.
If Keith’s comic were a lesser work, it might not have translated so well to bizarro late-night 15-minute programming, but instead it feels fresh and audacious, even today. There’s never been anything that looks or feels like THE MAXX, and it’s unlikely there ever will be.
You can watch all 13 episodes in around three hours. It used to be stream via MTV.com (albeit as a very poor transfer) but it’s now it’s only available to purchase via DVD or the usual VOD outlets. However, resourceful folks can find episodes through Vimeo (but you didn’t hear that from me).
(kanopy/VOD) FEELS GOOD MAN is a deep dive into the re-appropriation of artist Matt Furie’s Pepe the Frog, and the steps Furie takes to try to get the character back.
Most of the doc focuses on Furie recounting his history and struggles with the laidback frog, but director Arthur Jones and producer Giorgio Angelini bring in artists (including BOJACK HORSEMAN’s Lisa Hanawalt) and comedians/writers (such as BARRY’s Emily Heller) and academics to flesh out the online world of trolls and memes. Even if you believe you know the story of Pepe — and I certainly thought I did — you’ll still find new and surprising bits.
If FEELS GOOD MAN was just a collection of talking head interviews, it’d still be worth a watch, but Arthur Jones leans on his animation background to liven up the doc with vivid, kinetic animated sequences depicting Pepe and his friends as they react to the events as they unfold. It’s a welcome respite from the traditional motion graphics interstitials that pepper most modern documentaries, and is so expertly done that I was left wishing that a BOYS CLUB animated show existed.
(DVD) ‘Improvised animation’ from Tom Snyder (no, not THE LATE LATE SHOW’s Tom Snyder — a completely unrelated Tom Snyder) featuring Jonathan Katz as a therapist to a litany of stand-up comedians, and father to man-child H. Jon Benjamin. While I think DR. KATZ is probably best known for the controversial SQUIGGLEVISION animation process (I’ve personally never had any issue with SQUIGGLEVISION) it still lasted seven years, and even had a syndicated cartoon strip, which was oddly antithetical to the premise of the show. I remember upon first moving to Chicago, I cracked open my first copy of the Sun-Times and was shocked to see it in print.
While the show’s built around extraordinarily deadpan jokes from some of the best era’s best stand-ups (Ray Romano, Joan Rivers, Steven Wright, Emo Philips, Andy Kindler, Mitch Hedberg, to name just a few), the animators always managed to insert more than a few amusing visual flourishes and gags, a stylistic tic that’s worked its way to future Snyder and Snyder-inspired shows, such as HOME MOVIES and BOB’S BURGERS. Additionally, while most of the characters — guests and otherwise — are stunted in many ways, there’s a warmth and acceptance that underlies the show.
The show’s endlessly re-watchable and perfect fodder to work or fold laundry to, especially if you love word play and stand-up.
No trailer, obviously, but in the spirit of the season, here’s their Thanksgiving ep: