Posts Tagged ‘western’

 

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Sam talks with Kelly Sue DeConnick about ALL THE THINGS! Specifically Bitch Planet, Pretty Deadly, and Captain Marvel but there’s always plenty of awesome when Kelly Sue is around!

Intro: “The Captain” by Adam WarRock 

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The vampire as metaphor has had a fascinating staying power since Bram Stoker’s Dracula turned Eastern European folklore into a gothic tale of sexual repression and liberation. At times they’re feral beasts of horror or sexy, brooding heroes tortured by169c6f081c49a875dcbff5246a7ab4e7 their own immortality. Or…Twilight. The point is vampires, while we may associate them with certain traits, can be as powerful, vulnerable, and insightful as the narrative allows. Their monstrosity is subjective, giving storytellers ample room to explore the nature of vampires and the world around them. In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour crafts a vampire that is neither virtuous nor villain, but somewhere in between. Though she is what we’d typically classify as a “monster” it becomes clear that Bad City has more than its fair share of demons.

In the Iranian town of Bad City, The Girl (Sheila Vand) stalks the streets at night, preying upon the worst of the worst in a city where death and loneliness thrive. Her curiosity, however, leads her to an unlikely romance with Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man struggling to do what’s “right” when nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. As their lives become more intertwined the truth becomes harder to hide.

Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night exists in a deliberately nebulous space that keeps it open to interpretation. One can view it through a feminist lens as The Girl primarily attacks men who bully and exert their own power on others, mainly coming to the defense of a prostitute, Atti (Mozhan Marnò), who’s connected to both Saeed (Dominic Rains) the local drug dealer and Arash’s addict father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh). There’s also commentary to be gleaned from the frequent shots of oil rigs, the open, almost casual display of dead bodies in a ditch, and the stagnant feel of Bad girl3_3City that appears to be stuck in several time periods as the director’s feelings on Iran and the country’s culture. Amirpour, however, finds the interpretation to be more reflective of the interpreter. As for her own view on the themes in her film, she said:

In this case, it’s really about loneliness. A vampire is the loneliest, most isolated cut-off type of creature. She also has something very bad to hide about who she is and it’s a brilliant disguise. It becomes a way to stay under the radar and underestimated. There are a million ways to read it. It will tell you more about you than it does about me. [Source: LA Times]

In regards to the disguise element, Amirpour is referring to the chador that The Girl wears in the film. A symbol of systemic oppression towards women in the Middle East, the chador and The Girl’s use of it as a means of making herself an unassuming presence have been the focus of many reviews; proof positive that The Girl is subverting the nature of the garment and using it as a tool of empowerment. The chador was apparently what inspired Amirpour to make a movie about a vampire, saying:

In Iran, I have had to wear a hijab [headscarf], and personally I find it completely suffocating. I don’t want to be covered up in all that cloth. But there was something about the chador though. It’s made of a different fabric. It’s soft and silky and it catches the air. When I put it on, I felt supernatural. But I also get to take it off. [Source: LA Times]

There are several scenes in the movie where Amirpour shows the ethereal and supernatural quality of the chador when The Girl is out on the town. One particular moment that comes to mind is The Girl riding a skateboard down an empty street, letting the wind catch the fabric. It’s one of the rare moments where she naturally smiles, experiencing a strange sense of freedom. Framed within the shot, the chador simultaneously resembles bat-like qualities associated with vampires and the silhouette of a superhero’s cape. It’s a beautiful display of the film’s cinematography that also highlights the prevailing theme of concealment. Interestingly enough, when The Girl and Arash meet and speak to each other for the first time, Arash – high as a kite – is wearing a Dracula costume. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition that the two begin to form their romance when both are essentially in disga_girl_photo3uise.

Where A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night really shines is in its style and mood. Filmed in black and white, Amirpour imbues Bad City and the people living there with a sense of style that maintains an air of retro coolness but is also indicative of a culture mired in crime and death. Bad City is stuck somewhere between the old and the modern as are most of its denizens. The opening shot of Arash establishes his greaser/James Dean aesthetic right down to the vintage car he drives. The Girl dances to 80s synth-pop but her short hair, striped shirt, and black leggings give off a mod Audrey Hepburn meets Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction vibe. The influence of Quentin Tarantino is hard to miss, so the look of The Girl was probably intended. Saeed has a very 80s look about him as well, sporting a track suit, gold chains, and living in an apartment that even the Land of Oz would say needs to be toned down. The stylistic choices are another way of commenting on the disparity of wealth in a place like Bad City where there’s a clear contrast between the rich and the poor but even the lower classes prey upon each other. Filmed in Bakersfield and Taft, California as stand-ins for Iran, Amirpour shows the industrial, ruined state of Bad City, telling us with only an establishing shot of the distant oil rigs exactly why everything has gone to shit.

Burrrt it wouldn’t be a vampire movie without an element of horror to it, right? Oh, yeah…Twilight. Anyway, Amirpour keeps the horror to a minimum. Yes, The Girl feeds, but the strength of film lies in the suspense. We don’t meet The Girl until about fifteen minutes into the film. In that time, we’ve met the rest of the cast and we see just how destitute Arash and his father are and how Saeed uses drugs and intimidation to get what he wants. When The Girl finally shows up, she’s at a distance, watching Saeed geting a blowjob from Atti after verbally and physically abusing her. From there on, Amirpour establishes a pattern. The Girl shows up and begins to stalk her prey. She’s unassuming and yet unnerving, constantly staring with wide eyes that are simultaneously curious and cold. Vand plays the part expertly. The Girl is a mostly silent character, which means all of the performance is in Vand’s eyes and movement. As the tension builds in the excruciatingly long shots and pauses between The Girl and her next meal – heightened by the sound of footsteps amped up to keep the audience as nervous as possible – Vand makes us feel and understand what The Girl is going through. The same is true of her scenes with Marandi. Though Arash is the more talkative of the two, there are several long pauses where the two are merely staring at each other, conveying everything with their eyes and making us believe that the two have made a connection. It’s the final ten minutes, however, where the two give us the most nerve-wracking moments of intensified suspense, all without saying a word. All because of a cat.

Currently in limited release, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is well worth your time if you have any interest in the work of upcoming directors like Amirpour or desire something more substantial from your vampire-themed entertainment. If you can’t find a showing nearby, there are two issues of a comic book written by Amirpour available for purchase that give you some background on The Girl. Hopefully that will tide you over until the film comes out on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray.

Oh yeah, I’m gonna spoil some stuff on this one. If any of you are familiar with my reviews, then you know I analyze these books to within an inch of their life and Pretty Deadly is definitely a book that requires deeper analysis. This is the end of the first arc and there’s plenty to unpack, which makes someone like me delightfully giddy to dive into what is, in my opinion, one of the most pretty-deadly-05ambitious and challenging works of literature I’ve read in a while. Which is also my way of saying that I’m smiling like an idiot as I write this because this is fun for me.

Right, you’ve been warned. Spoilers ahead!

In Pretty Deadly #5 Deathface Ginny, Fox, Sissy, Molly Raven, Johnny Coyote, and Sarah confront Big Alice at the entrance to the Underworld. Alice and Ginny have another go at each other before Johnny gets the better of Alice and scatters her butterfly form to the winds. Upon entering the Underworld, the group is confronted by the Shield Maids, the divided guards of Death’s realm who’re the last line of defense between the world of the living and the neglected garden where souls have passed under Death’s care. Ginny is denied passage, but Sissy asks to be let through. She’s the Ascendant, the one who will replace Death, and in accepting her role in the story, she unites the Shield Maids and rejuvenates the Soul of the World, which Death need only destroy in order to stop death from ever happening again. Death and some of his followers confront the group and everything seems lost, even for Ginny, until her mother, the great Beauty desired by Fox and Death, ends her captor’s existence and allows Sissy to assume her place as the new Master of Death’s Domain.

Johnny and AliceLike I said, there’s a lot to unpack here. Though Kelly Sue DeConnick often refers to Pretty Deadly as a “weird little book”, the themes of the story are as old as the genres of fantasy and the western. In the case of this story, those themes of love, obsession, defiance, sacrifice, and redemption are just steeped in a new mythology and symbols.

Death, in the world of Pretty Deadly, is not a single entity that rules for all eternity. In this world Death is a position taken on by someone so that the garden of souls is always maintained. It establishes that death is a part of the natural order of the world, but Death is a finite job, one that has a clear ending before someone else takes over. It’s implied that those who take on the role understand their place, but when Death falls in love with Beauty during her captivity by the Mason/Fox, he begins to warp the natural order. Like Fox, Death’s love turns to obsession and he puts a plan in motion to ensure that no one will ever die, including him, thus ensuring he’ll always be with the woman he loves.

It’s through Fox’s redemption, however, that the world is actually saved. Though his obsessive love ultimately led to Beauty’s death, his inability to keep his end of the bargain with Death to see his love one last time results in Sissy remaining alive, preventing Death from putting his plan into place. Fox is a man who sees the error of his ways and devotes the rest of his life to taking care of Sissy, knowing full well that his life is forfeit to Deathface Ginny when she comes to get her revenge on the man who destroyed her mother in life. But Fox doesn’t fight against his ultimate fate, instead he fights to remain alive so that Sissy can reestablish the natural order. Fox comes to terms with what he’s done and knows that what he did to Beauty was an unjust act, one that denied a woman her freedom all for his own pleasure. Death, however, takes his obsession to an entirely different level, if not a heightened parallel to Fox’s actions. He’s willing to defy nature and end death, all to be with Beauty for eternity, but at the cost of millions of souls who would still experience suffering and pain without the release of death to carry their souls to a final resting point.Death of Bunny

But at the heart of this story are three women: Beauty, Ginny, and Sissy; each with their own role to play. Beauty is, for the most part, a passive character. She was a prisoner to the Mason’s obsession and remains a prisoner to Death because neither could let go of her. It isn’t until the end, when she stabs Death in the back, that she gets her revenge while also acting as a protective mother not just to Ginny but to Sissy. In freeing her own soul she saves the Soul of the World and ushers in a new Master of Death who respects the natural order, someone who has told her story her entire life and learned from it.

Ginny, on the other hand, is a woman dead set on avenging her mother. She’s a Reaper committed to revenge. At first, we believe her goal is to kill Fox, but as the story progresses, there’s more to Ginny’s vengeance than just killing the man who imprisoned her mother while she was alive. In the first issue, the opening sequence showed a young Ginny coming across a bunny and shooting it in the head. While the fear in her eyes is palpable, her actions seem to take on greater meaning within the context of the completed narrative. Yes, it sparks the story within a story between the dead Bunny and Butterfly, but was there more to what Ginny was doing than we Death and Beautyrealize? Is it purely coincidence that Ginny kills a rabbit and her father’s form as Death is the skull of a rabbit? One could interpret the scene as a child exerting their curiosity about death or it could be an angry young girl taking out her aggression on an animal that represents her father who has also imprisoned her mother’s soul.

Sissy is obviously the connecting thread as it’s her role as the Ascendant that ends Death’s reign and saves the Soul of the World. From the moment we meet her we know there’s something different about her. Her different colored eyes and vulture cloak immediately invoke other-worldliness as she bounds around telling the story of Beauty and Deathface Ginny. But she’s still a little girl, one who finds out her place in the world is much bigger than she ever thought. When she finally learns about her origin, she fears that she’s a “monster”, equating herself to the monstrosity that Death has become. It’s a child’s perspective of death as a concept, something to be feared, but by the end of the story Sissy has matured to the point that she understands how crucial her role is and what that means for the rest of the world. When she asks to be let through by the Shield Maids, she still fears becoming a monster, but sees that this commitment will give her purpose and a place to call home. For the first time, she accepts death as a concept and her lot in life.Underworld

Even with all of this analysis, it still feels like I’ve only scratched the surface of Pretty Deadly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s the best thing you could ask for from a work of art. It forces you to think about things over and over again. DeConnick weaves a complex, and as I said before, ambitious story that still leaves us with questions yet to be answered. Ambitious, however, doesn’t begin to describe Emma Rios’ art. More like epic. The two-page spreads are as complex as they are beautiful with Rios flipping the art on certain pages as our heroes enter the Underworld, forcing the reader to either change the angle of the book or accept the altered reality on the page. Rios’ signature frenetic and flowing style seamlessly blends the story together as she defines the reality created by DeConnick. I especially love the way she draws Sissy, but all of the characters have a way of melding with the environment as if emphasizing the connection between them and the world they inhabit.

Rating – 10/10

Final Thoughts: Ginny in the world of the living might aim to misbehave. Can’t wait.

Previously published at Word of the Nerd.

checkmate_coverIt’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here. You may recall some time back that I announced my authoring of a story, “Checkmate”, for the KILLER QUEEN Anthology from Red Stylo Media based on the discography of Queen. The song I chose to base my story on was “White Queen (As it Began)” off of the Queen II album from 1974. Orignally, I’d planned for a Sergio Leone style western, but after a few email exchanges with my editor, Enrica Jang, I made the decision to transfer this tale of revenge to the noir genre and I am so pleased with the result!

Here’s the description for “Checkmate”:

Taylor is a hardened detective with blood on his hands. He tries to be a good cop, but he’s forever haunted by the one case he failed to protect those in most need of his help. When a beautiful killer resurfaces, ready to settle old scores, Taylor is reminded that right and wrong can’t always be black and white!

 

Intrigued? Maybe a preview of the art by Bobby Breed with lettering done by Mark Mullaney is in order as well?

 

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There we go. That should seal the deal! Well, if you feel so inclined, you can purchase the individual story here or you can pre-order the full KILLER QUEEN Anthology when it goes to print in October. Do yourself a favor and bring a little Queen into your life. It’ll do ya good! And if you’re so kind as to purchase my story, any feedback is most appreciated.