Will Pfeifer's Blog

July 15, 2014


That's right, TEEN TITANS #1, with script by yours truly, jaw-dropping art by Kenneth Rocafort, colors by Dan Brown and letters by John J. Hill, hits the stores tomorrow. I promise you it includes plenty of action and adventure (there's a busload of terrorists and schoolgirls speeding through the streets of New York), some humor and more than a few surprises.

While you're at it, why not pick up three copies of the issue?  Kenneth, Cliff Chiang (my CRISIS AFTERMATH: THE SPECTRE collaborator and Joe Quinones each did a cover, and they're all beauties.

And if you want a preview of what's inside, click here.
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Published on July 15, 2014 18:55 • 2 views

July 11, 2014


When I was a freshman at Kent State, way back in the fall of 1985, cult film director John Waters visited our campus as part of the Filmworks program. One night, they showed "Pink Flamingos" (and if you've never seen "Pink Flamingos," take it from me -- freshman year is the perfect time to experience that particular cinematic endurance test), then the next night, Waters himself introduced "Polyester," answered some questions and signed autographs. I got my "Polyester" Odorama scratch-and-sniff card signed (it still hangs above my desk almost 30 years later), but after hearing Waters' hilarious tales of filmmaking and fringe culture, what I really wanted him to do was write a book collecting all those stories. Imagine my surprise when a girl in line in front of me handed him a copy of "Shock Value" to sign.

The next day, I was at the campus bookstore, ordering a copy of my very own. (No Amazon.com back in those days, kids.) I devoured the book as soon as it arrived a week or so later, and was happy to discover it was just as funny as hearing him in person. I've always been a fan of Waters' films (especially "Female Trouble," his funnier follow up to "Pink Flamingos), but I honestly think his best work is his writing. "Shock Value," which is his first book, acts as both a hilarious autobiography and revealing look at the offbeat pleasures of cult films. Besides the chapters on his childhood, his love of Baltimore and the making of his movies, Waters also devotes pages to his cinematic heroes, Russ Meyer and Herschell Gordon Lewis. I'm pretty sure it was "Shock Value" that introduced me to Meyer's ode to violence, "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!," and for that alone, it has my eternal gratitude.

Between reading Waters' book, Michael Weldon's "Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film" and Danny Peary's "Cult Movies," my film horizons expanded greatly during my first year of college. "Shock Value" is, for obvious reasons, the most narrowly focused of those books, but it's also (for more obvious reasons) the funniest and the most personal. Waters' movies are frequently horrifying and often disturbing (especially his early ones), but if you read "Shock Value," you come to realize that, transgressive or not, he's really a pretty nice guy.
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Published on July 11, 2014 20:48 • 1 view

July 4, 2014


Great title, so so movie. George Sanders plays a smooth-talking (of course), duplicitous (of course) double agent who's plotting destruction of this great land of ours during World War II -- or is he? Ward Bond co-stars, because he's in every movie of this era. Sanders is great, as he is in all of his movies, from "All About Eve" to "The Jungle Book," but this one never reaches the thrilling heights of anti-Nazi mania of something like "Confessions of a Nazi Spy." And, like "Tear Gas Squad" from last month's roundup, the poster depicts a scene roughly a thousand times more exciting than anything actually in the movie.

It still holds up. What's more, it looks positively low-key and stately in the modern movie era, which is something I probably said the last time I wrote this movie up, but don't have the time nor energy to check right now. I will say this: The scene where  Jones and Marcus explain the Ark of the Covenant to the two government guys (one of them played by Lt. Porkins from "Star Wars") is a model of concise, compelling exposition. It tells us what we need to know to understand (and enjoy) the rest of the movie (hell, it practically lays out the entire structure of the film) but it also builds up an ominous sense of suspense, suggesting that we're about to see something really amazing -- and possibly terrifying. All the elements -- the setting, the props (that giant, ancient book), the dialogue, the performances and especially John Williams' score -- all come together to prepare us for a real adventure.


Though it skirts the edge of twee-ness, this romance about a man and his operating system is the sort of smart, thoughtful film you hope you'll see when the name "Spike Jonze" is in the credits. Dialing the intensity waaaaaay back from his stunning performance in "The Master," Joaquin Phoenix brings a low-key likability to his role, and if you're going to cast a voice that's going to convince a guy to start a relationship with this computer, Scarlett Johansson is a pretty tough choice to top. Best of all, "Her" has one of the most convincing and well thought-out depictions of a near future I've ever seen, with just a few small touches -- what's with those high-waisted pants? -- to let you know you're not in the present. Plus, the damn thing just looks spectacular. High pants or not, I want to work in that office building.

Different sort of science fiction film, but in its own way it's just as smart as "Her" with a male-female relationship at its center that's just as intriguing. Tom Cruise plays a fast-talking P.R. guy whose big mouth and obvious cowardice lands him a spot on the front row of a D-Day-like last stand against alien invaders. When he dies in battle right after landing, he wakes up back before the battle, and finds himself reliving the same deadly day over and over and over...  Yes, it's "Groundhog Day," but even more to the point, "Edge of Tomorrow" is a real video game movie, one that takes the essential structure (fight, die, reset, fight, get a little further, die, reset, repeat, repeat, repeat) and grafts it onto a compelling story. It's full of surprises, the best being the character played by Emily Blunt, a war hero nicknamed alternately "The Angel of Verdun" and "Full Metal Bitch." She's held up by military p.r. (in other words, Cruise) as someone who learned how to use her high-tech combat suit in a single day and fought the aliens to a standstill, but midway through the movie you realize she had the same experience as Cruise and, like him, she spent a long time living that day over and over, getting better and better each time. This one is, for some reason, having trouble at the box office, probably because your average movie-going moron prefers dreck like "Transformers" and "Tammy." If it's playing in your town, check out "Edge of Tomorrow." You'll be glad you did.

Pretty solid crime drama (I saw it on TCM under the title "The Mob") about a detective (Broderick Crawford) who fakes suspension from the force to go undercover and infiltrate the waterfront syndicate. Broderick's good, obnoxiously throwing his weight around as usual, and watch for brief appearances by Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson. There's also an amusing bit near the end when the cops attach a tank of luminescent paint that drips behind the badguys' car, and they act like it's the pinnacle of high technology. Ah, 1951.

Keanu Reeves hosts this easy-going documentary showcasing the rise of digital filmmaking and the (possible) death of actual celluloid. Being a big star (and, to give him credit, a solid host), Reeves is able to get some big names to talk about the issue, including Scorsese, Lynch, Cameron, Soderbergh, Fincher and others. Most of them have accepted digital filmmaking and tout its benefits, with just about the only guy remaining devoted to actual film being Christopher Nolan. Beyond the film/digital debate, "Side By Side" also offers a brief history of various film formats and, on the whole, is a pretty thoughtful look at how movies are made and why they're made that way. Christopher Kenneally, by the way, is the man who wrote and directed this movie. I figured with all the attention being paid to Keanu, I should mention that somewhere. 

Once again, it always amazes me what sort of movie Turner Classics will show late at night. This 1971 oddity features, among other things, Rock Hudson as a football coach/teacher who both sleeps with most of the (female) student body while simultaneously encouraging substitute teacher Angie Dickinson to take the virginity of his nerdish equipment manager (John David Carson, playing a student named, believe it or not "Ponce de Leon Harper). As if that weren't strange enough, when the dead bodies of those girls start turning up, Telly Savalas shows up to investigate, playing a very Kojak-like cop about two years before "Kojak" went on the air. He's assisted by James "Scotty" Doohan, which makes sense when you realize that "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry is the guy who wrote this sexed-up serial killer comedy, and Roger Vadim directs the whole thing with an endlessly leering eye to all the young high school girls. I can honestly say I've never seen anything quite like it. Oh, and spoiler alert, the killer gets away with it in the end, and the most down-to-earth character in the movie seems all set to follow in his footsteps. Enjoy!


Scattershot documentary tracing the rise of horror movie culture through (mostly) the pages of the legendary magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland," with frequent side trips to Ray Harryhausen getting a star on the Walk of Fame or John Landis (always entertaining) talking about exploitation films. It's a lot of fun, and if you're not familiar with this subculture (I, ahem, obviously am), you'll learn a lot about how a magazine for little boys shaped a lot of the pop culture you ingest today.

Filling in the gaps on my "David Cronenberg Movies I've Seen" list, I watched this 1979 chiller late one night, after everyone else had gone to bed -- which seems like the perfect time to watch "The Brood." Though it's definitely a movie I wish I hadn't read about before seeing (I knew the basic plot and the big shock scene at the end), it still packs a punch, offering up the usual Cronenberg combination of a smart screenplay, some genuinely intriguing concepts, a chilly atmosphere and, of course, gut-wrenching gore. I won't spoil anything here for you (RAGE BABIES!) but here's something to know going in: When he was making "The Brood," which is a movie about a couple fighting a bitter custody battle while the wife is separated from the rest of the family in a cultish group, Cronenberg was apparently fighting a bitter custody battle while his wife was separated from the rest of the family in a cultish group. Once you do watch "The Brood," you'll see how that bit of real-life background makes everything even more disturbing. In other words, highly recommended.


Allie's been into Greek myths lately, so we decided to show her this 1981 smorgasbord of legends and lore, featuring a slew of distinguished actors and some stellar effects work by the aforementioned Ray Harryhausen. I saw this in the theater way back when and liked it so much a friend got me the Alan Dean Foster novelization for my birthday. I'm happy to say it still holds up nicely. Sure, some of the stop-motion effects look a little bit dated, but they're wonderfully, beautifully dated, still showing off the painstaking craft that went into them decades later. (Compare that to dated CGI, which just looks awful.) And, when we get to the thrilling climax where Perseus (Harry Hamlin) has to fight the (stop-motion) Medusa, all the elements come together to deliver a scene that still looks spectacular and generates a real sense of menace and dread. Plus, like many movies of the early 1980s aimed at young teen boys, there are two scenes of obviously needless nudity included just to add a bit of prurient interest. My 13-year-old self says thank you!

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Published on July 04, 2014 06:17 • 2 views

June 22, 2014


Orson Welles and Superman team up to use an unconscious Martian as a ventriloquist dummy to convince Mars not to attack Earth. Really.
"Black Magic on Mars," Superman #62, Jan/Feb 1950, script uncredited, pencils by Wayne Boring, inks by Stan Kaye. Reprinted in the book "Superman from the Thirties to the Seventies," which is where I saw it (back during the actual 1970s) for the first time. I was only a grade schooler, so while I'd heard of Superman, I think this was the first time I ever heard of Orson Welles -- and I probably thought he was a fictional character. The story ties into the 1949 Welles' movie "Black Magic," which explains the title and Welles' costume. You can read all about the story and see plenty of art here.
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Published on June 22, 2014 13:09 • 1 view

June 19, 2014


Batman's girlfriend, Silver St. Cloud, stops by the Kent State Airport to charter a plane.

"Sign of the Joker," Detective Comics #476, March/April 1978. Script by Steve Englehart, pencils by Marshall Rogers, inks by Terry Austin, colors by Glynis Wein, letters by Milton Snappin, editing by Julius Schwartz

By the way, Kent State University, my alma mater, does in fact have an airport -- mostly because of the school's flight program. Here's the official website, in case you're looking to charter a flight to Gotham.
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Published on June 19, 2014 18:25 • 1 view

June 18, 2014


Like many film geeks of my generation (which, to clarify, is probably a generation or so earlier than yours), I discovered legendary filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. not on the internet (didn't exist), the Tim Burton movie (ditto) or videotapes (ditto again), but in the pages of the 1980 book "The Golden Turkey Awards" by Harry and Michael Medved. It proclaimed Wood "the Worst Director of All Time" and inadvertantly led to the surprisingly respectful and affectionate cult of Ed Wood that exists today.

But that's not the book I'm talking about here. Instead, I'm talking about a book that realizes though his movies may have been a little rougher around the edges than those coming out of the big studios, Ed Wood was a fascinating figure making fascinating films. Author Rudolph Grey spent nearly a decade researching and writing his 1992 book, "Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.," and all that effort paid off. It's a great book, sort of a sideways history of Hollywood, tracing Wood's life from his birth in the late 19th century to his death in 1978, after sad decades fueled by liquor, pornography, liquor and more liquor. (That's the part of the story Tim Burton's otherwise excellent movie left out.) Rudolph tells the tale in an oral history format, with friends, actors, ex-wives and other people connected to Wood sharing their always fascinating, sometimes hilarious stories.

Because he started working on the book in the early 1980s, just a few years after Wood died, Grey was able to interview many people who are now deceased, which makes his book -- besides being endlessly entertaining -- a valuable piece of cinema history. There are also scores of illustrations from all phases of Wood's life, including childhood pictures, movie stills, candid snapshots and one amazing Christmas card where Ed dresses up as the Lord Jesus himself. (I included it in a Christmas blog post here.)

"Nightmare of Ecstasy" is one of my all-time favorite movie books, mostly because it tells a story unlike every other movie book on my shelf. It's about a guy who, more than anything, wanted to make films and who, against all odds, directed some very memorable ones. "Worst of All Time"? Hardly. Wood's movies are genuine American folk art, lacking the slickness of the Hollywood studios but revealing much more about the times in which they were made and the man who made them. And thankfully, in this age of box office totals and endless sequels, the simple cinema of Edward D. Wood Jr. still gets some love. This week, The Dissolve has chosen "Plan 9 from Outer Space," Ed's magnum opus, as its Movie of the Week. Go here to read all about it, then go to Joe Blevin's blog, Dead 2 Rights, and read his insanely detailed, surprisingly thoughtful series, "Ed Wood Wednesdays."

Then read this book. If you love movies -- good, bad or unbelievable -- I don't think you'll be able to put it down.
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Published on June 18, 2014 18:43

June 12, 2014

I've always liked Michael Keaton. Ever since he made his first big splash on the big screen in "Night Shift," he's been the best thing about the movies he's been in, whether they were good ("Beetlejuice"), bad ("Gung Ho") or great ("Toy Story 3," in which he provided the voice of Ken). Even in a movie like Tim Burton's "Batman," where, back in 1989, it seemed like the best things were the spooky set design, Jack Nicholson as the Joker and the overall dark mood, it becomes clear decades later that Keaton's slightly off-kilter portrayal is just about the only thing worth watching in that movie.

Since those big star days, Keaton has had small parts in movies like "The Other Guys" or (ugh) "Herbie Fully Loaded" (which, for reasons I can't remember,
Something, say, like this?



It's got a great cast (Edward Norton! Naomi Watts! Emma Stone!) It's got what looks to be a big budget, what with those special effects and location shooting in Times Square. It's got some weird plot about an actor who once played a superhero making one last stab at glory (hmmmm). It's got the guy who directed "Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel" -- not exactly dumb, by-the-numbers comedies. It has Keaton fighting Edward Norton in his underwear. (It's Batman versus the Hulk!) And it's even got Keaton doing a later-in-life version of either his Batman voice, Christian Bale's Batman voice or some weird combination of the two.

In other words, this could be exactly what I've been waiting for, Mr. Keaton. Thanks!
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Published on June 12, 2014 15:55 • 2 views

June 6, 2014


Listen, I like Oliver Stone movies (most of 'em, anyway) and I love "JFK." As history, I think it's a bunch of nonsense, but as a piece of cinema, I think it's nothing short of amazing. What I like about the movie (and this is what I like most about Oliver Stone in general) is that it uses any technique -- flashbacks, flash-forwards, different film stocks, fantasy sequences, several levels of narration, sound effects, speeches, you name it -- to tell its story. Yes, that story might be crazy, but for its entire three-hour-plus running time, I find it nothing short of mesmerizing.  Obviously, your mileage may vary.

"JFK: The Book of the Film" is the same sort of beast, captured on paper instead of celluloid. In nearly 600 pages, it collects the entire screenplay of "JFK," and that's the uncut screenplay (of course), not the edited version that played in theaters. But that's only the tip of the magic bullet, friends. That screenplay is heavily annotated with notes of all kinds, backing up Stone's research and confirming (well, sort of) all the assumptions made in the movie. Plus, the book includes more than 300 (!) pages of what appears to be every article, review, screed and op-ed piece written about or in response to Stone's film. And as if that weren't enough, the book adds dozens of pages of historical documents for good measure.

You might not agree with the conclusions that Stone arrives at (I don't), but you have to admire how hard he worked to make his argument.
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Published on June 06, 2014 20:41 • 2 views

June 3, 2014


It's not a good movie, exactly, but if you're fascinated by the early days of New York punk (like I am), you'll probably find something to enjoy, whether it's the sitcom-level portrayals of vintage punksters the Ramones or the Dead Boys, the inclusion of Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom, the guys behind Punk Magazine or, in the oddest bit of casting in a good long time, the vision of George Costanza's mom playing Hans Gruber's mom (in other words, Estelle Harris as the mother of Alan Rickman, who stars in the film as CBGB founder Hilly Kristal). Good music, though. Obviously.

Strange little gangster picture with an undeniably memorable title. Released in 1936, three years after Prohibition (and two years after the pre-Code era), it lacks the rat-tat-tat energy of the great Warner Bros. films but finds entertainment in an offbeat plot involving a couple of rival newspapermen and a woman desperate to get a job in the newsroom. Sexist to an almost surreal degree (as most movies from this era are), it still manages to throw a few twists and turns into what, by 1936, was already a pretty worn-out formula.

As if I need to point it out, Matthew McConaughey has been having a hell of a year, what with "True Detective," The Wolf of Wall St." and this movie, which won him the Best Actor Oscar. He's very good in "Dallas Buyers Club," bringing a sense of desperation and eventual determination to what could be a role that, in lesser hands, would be little more than obvious Oscar bait. The rest of the movie's not too bad, either.

Here's an obscure documentary, one that, as far as I know, has never been (legally) released on home video in the country it depicts. In its sick little heart, it's really little more than a sleazy mondo film, collecting all sorts of awful footage of violence, death and human misery and wrapping it up in the guise of a call to arms with deadly serious narration and a scolding, cynical attitude. That being said, it's undeniably fascinating, with the familiar stories of Manson, Jim Jones and various assassinations mixed with more obscure (but just as disturbing) segments devoted to various psychopaths, mass murderers and, in the most memorable segment, a guy who wired a rifle to a loan officer's neck and marched him around town for three whole days.

If you never hated nuns before, you'll hate them after watching this movie -- even though the final message of the film is how they should be forgiven for causing misery in the lives of countless young women. Judi Dench is typically strong in the title role, and the usually comic Steve Coogan (who also wrote the screenplay) manages to add a few needed bits of levity to what's otherwise a very serious story. It's better -- and much more uplifting -- than I expected, given the subject matter, but I still hated those damned nuns when the credits rolled.

Directed by the Mayles brothers, who also brought us the brilliant Rolling Stones concert movie/snuff film "Gimme Shelter," this is a less violent but just-as-compelling movie about a group of Bible salesmen desperately trying to unload their (surprisingly expensive) wares on poor folks who really can't afford them. The Mayleses do an impressive job of capturing the back-and-forth arguments between salesmen and prospects, showing the frustration, desperation and exhaustion on both sides. After a while, it becomes nothing less than mesmerizing -- I can't recommend this one highly enough.

I loved the Coen Brothers' portrayal of a struggling folk musician, but my wife hated it. She thought all of the characters were unlikeable to varying degrees, and though I have a hard time arguing that point, I've never cared much about how likeable a character is as long as he or she is interesting. I liked it because I found Llewyn and company to be a fascinating bunch. Amy also wasn't wild about the rambling, generally plotless form of the film, but I thought it fit the loose mood of the times and the disjointed mind of the lead character. Plus, though I'm not a huge fan of folk, the music was excellent and beautifully performed, and the settings -- from Greenwich Village to the midwest to a hilariously claustrophobic hallway -- were worth the price of admission. If only "CBGB" had been a tenth as good as this movie...

Another gangster filmed released just after the glorious, free-for-all pre-Code era ended, this 1935 thriller was a lot wilder -- and a lot more fun -- than the previously mentioned "Women Are Trouble." It starts off as a prison picture, with Chester Morris playing a seemingly unbalanced convict who (spoilers for a 79-year-old movie) turns out to be an undercover agent trying to get close to the leader of the dreaded Purple Gang. From the violent escape to various close scrapes and plot reversals, "Public Hero Number 1" is consistently entertaining, with solid supporting work from Jean Arthur, Lewis Stone and, best of all, top-billed Lionel Barrymore (aka Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life") as a constantly drunken mob doctor. Check this one out the next time it inevitably airs late at night on Turner Classic Movies.

When you hear a movie is titled "Tear Gas Squad," you assume there will be plenty of tear gas action, probably delivered by some sort of squad. Well, you know what happens when you assume something. This movie, rather than featuring any of that sweet, sweet tear gas action, instead spends almost its entire running time showing how singer Dennis Morgan joins the police force to woo Gloria Dickson away from her cop boyfriend (John Payne, the male lead of "Miracle on 34th St.") and winds up singing in the police force glee club rather than fighting crime. There is a bit of that much-anticipated tear gas action in the final few minutes when Morgan sneaks into a building to rescue Payne, but even then, it's just a few capsules fired by a few random cops. Very disappointing. In fact, see that poster above this paragraph? It's roughly 100 times more exciting than the movie itself.

The month ended with the most bizarre offering of them all, this 1979 Italian-produced sci-fi mind-bender with a cast that includes John Huston, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen and, believe it or not, Sam Peckinpah. Ripped off in equal parts from "The Exorcist," "The Omen," "Close Encounters," Rosemary's Baby" and "The Birds," it's never not entertaining and frequently astonishing. Not to be missed. I have much more to say about it in my "It Came from the Cultosphere" column, which will run this weekend at diffuser.fm. Didn't know I was writing a cult movie column for Diffuser? I am! Check them out at this link.
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Published on June 03, 2014 19:14 • 1 view

May 26, 2014


Ever since I received a pair of review DVDs of his early films years ago, Guy Maddin has been one of my favorite directors. Hailing from Winnipeg and creating an ersatz version of the movies that were released at the dawn of the sound era, he's like no one else I've ever seen. His films manage to be deeply personal, deeply strange and deeply funny, all at the same time. If you want a sample of his magic, I highly recommend checking out his short film, "The Heart of the World," at this link.

"Kino Delirium" was released back in 2000, so it doesn't include some of Maddin's more recent work, like "My Winnipeg," "Brand Upon the Brain!," "The Saddest Music in the World" (possibly his most mainstream film, which is saying something) and my personal favorite, "Cowards Bend the Knee." But that doesn't stop it from being a fascinating look at his early years, when he was crafting strange pieces of cinema like "Tales from the Gimli Hospital," "Careful" and "Archangel" -- each a bizarre feature that, if you didn't know better, you'd think was a semi-preserved artifact of a long-forgotten past.

Best of all, "Kino Delirium" is a solid showcase for Maddin's offbeat, deadpan sense of humor. He talks about which movies he'd like to steal from the resume of famous dead directors (being careful not to take anything that would be missed), and he shares a "four-point manifesto for better movies" with such bits of wisdom as "Head bumps have been long ignored by the industry" and "the sleeping actor is the best actor."
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Published on May 26, 2014 16:07 • 4 views

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