Friday, November 17, 2017

THE JOHN BRUNI MUSEUM OF MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SHIT #26: REVIEW OF HELLBLAZER HARD TIME






[This is another one where I come off as a raging asshole. I have changed my mind about everything I said here (except the part about the logo, as I still prefer the original). Richard Corbin, as I believe I’ve mentioned here before, really is a horror master. I was just stupid and inexperienced with the comic book world back then. Also, I have since learned to love Azzarello’s run. The prison stuff was a bit iffy, but all my doubts were met by the end of that storyline. It laid the groundwork for John Constantine’s journey to the heart of the American dream. Looking back, I fucking love it now. Also, at the time I was unaware of why Warren Ellis was kicked off the book. It was for a one-shot story involving a shooting at a public school. Unfortunately, this happened just after Columbine. Vertigo thought publishing it would be in bad taste. Ellis walked out on the rest of his run. Vertigo eventually published that story. It was pretty good. Anyway, this was in the Elmhurst College Leader on April 24, 2000.]


Okay, this has got to stop. Hellblazer has had its ups and downs (thankfully, there have been more ups), but the latest story arc, Hard Time, is quite possibly the lowest Vertigo’s longest-running title (not counting the newly resurrected Swamp Thing) has ever sunk.


First of all, give credit where credit is due. Writer Brian Azzarello has one of the greatest ears for dialogue in comic books. He took a pretty dull comic from the ‘Sixties called Jonny Double and gave it a hard-edged cynical look for the ‘Nineties that was simply beautiful and gruesome at the same time. He writes another ongoing series called 100 Bullets, a formulaic concept that he somehow manages to write wonderfully every month. There is no doubt as to his abilities as a writer.


Tim Bradstreet, the cover artist, has published some amazing pieces of artwork in the past, from his haunting Unknown Soldier covers to his earlier Hellblazer covers, all very spooky stuff.


As for artist Richard Corbin, well, he just sucks. His drawings look like a child’s dolls. He’s supposedly a horror master, but if he is, then Ronald McDonald is God. Sean Phillips, with his use of shadows (perfected by skipping pencils and going directly to inks) and rough drawings is a horror master, but not Corben and his doll-like drawings.


Corben excepted, Azzarello and Bradstreet have proven themselves in the past as worthwhile. However, with the Hard Time storyline, their talent has gone to hell. Bradstreet seems to have lost his eerie edge (which is also evident in his Punisher covers)—he’s grown sloppy with his shadowing technique, and it looks like he’s trying to imitate Corben.


As for Azzarello, he broke one of the rules that has made Hellblazer such a strong comic book for so long: whenever a new writer takes up the reins, the writer always wanders into protagonist John Constantine’s mind and world. Instead, Azzarello plucks Constantine out of his scummy, disease-ridden angst-ridden London and throws him into an American prison. What’s he there for? Azzarello still hasn’t answered that. Constantine has engaged in ample badness in the past, but he’s an ace at avoiding the authorities.


What it comes down to is yet another story about how bad prison life is. Just what the world needs . . . There are times when Hellblazer wants to go back to its more terrifying self, like the bloody shower scene in #146, but for the most part, the horror Azzarello is emphasizing is the horror of prison. You know, sodomy, cigarette debts, skinheads, the occasional body cavity search form a gloved screw, the usual stuff. Again, the dialogue is great, but whatever happened to the old Constantine? The one that tricked the Satan into curing his lung cancer? The one that couldn’t keep his friends alive?


Azzarello, in a recent interview, said that he wanted to emphasize the con man side of Constantine, but the thing is, that’s not all he ever did. Besides, he usually had a reason to screw people over. Here, there’s no reason—he’s just in prison screwing a lot of people over and up.


Azzarello isn’t the right writer for the job. Whatever happened to Warren Ellis’s run? Granted, his one-shot issues weren’t that great, but his Haunted story arc was the last great Hellblazer story. Bad artists are common in Hellblazer, but there has never been a bad writer. Again, Azzarello isn’t a bad writer, but he’s just not right for this comic book.


Oh yeah, and the new trademark sucks, too. Forget the high-tech crap and go back to the old trademark—it was much better.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE JOHN BRUNI MUSEUM OF MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SHIT #25: CHEESEBURGER REVIEWS






[I love cheeseburgers. Always have, always will. I have had many cheeseburgers in many places in this country and in Ireland. But my findings in this review stand to this day. The Country House still makes thegreatest cheeseburger in the land. Maybe they’re not $7.50 anymore. It’s more like ten bucks, but it is still worth every penny. I’ve been down to Tennessee and Georgia, where oddly enough they can’t cook anything lower than medium well. I thought the south was supposed to have great burgers. Oh yeah, and Ireland had awful burgers everywhere I went. Apparently they have to cook meat to a crisp due to Mad Cow disease. Also, they use shredded cheese instead of sliced cheese. When they present it to you, it looks like a cat puked on hockey puck. Too bad. The Irish will never know what a good burger is supposed to taste like. This appeared in the Elmhurst College Leader on April 24, 2000.]


It’s so hard to find a good cheeseburger these days, especially since restaurants are concerned with being sued by customers who got food poisoning because of unseared meat. Fear not—there are still places that serve a cheeseburger like it was meant to be served (ie. medium rare; bloody burgers are too slimy, and well-done is too dried out).


First of all, Denny’s is not one of these places. Sure, they’re open 24 hours, which is a godsend for those drawn to the night by either desire or necessity. Yes, some of the food is edible, like the mozzarella sticks. However, the burger is dry and crispy. Meat was meant to be tender and juicy. If the cheeseburger crunches in your mouth, it’s a bad sign. Denny’s will not cook the meat to its proper state. Not only that, but they put too many sesame seeds on their bun, which is just wrong. However, the waiters can take a lot of crap, which is a very good quality to exploit. They’ll do anything but have the cook make your cheeseburger medium-rare.


D’s Diggety Dogs Diner, 2121 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook, has a better cheeseburger, but not by much. They don’t cook a burger to the desire of the customer, and the burger itself is wafer thin served on a cold bun. Imagine eating a McDonald’s cheeseburger without the grease, and this is what D’s burgers taste like. Unlike Denny’s, D’s has an excuse. D’s is a hot dog place, not a cheeseburger place. Their hot dogs are great, just stay away from the burgers. Besides, they have fish tanks to keep you entertained, and you can always try to figure out whether or not those marlins on the walls are real.


Ye Olde Town Inn, 18 W. Busse Ave., Mt. Prospect, is much better. Not only is there a live band at night with pool tables in the back, complete with pictures of the Mexican War moments on the walls, the cooks aren’t afraid of medium-rare. Unfortunately, their idea of medium-rare is closer to medium-well. The meat isn’t tender enough, and the bun is too hard. The burger’s good, just not good enough. However, they give you popcorn for free. Maybe it’s not the greatest popcorn in the world, but it’s free, and you’re college students. You don’t need a math professor to help you figure this one out.


Where Ye Old Town Inn fails, the Silverado Grill, 447 Spring Rd., succeeds. On the walls are rifles and spurs and, of course, a picture of the Duke in Rooster Cogburn get-up (what Western oriented place would be complete without the Duke?). They serve their mozzarella sticks with barbeque sauce. Most importantly, they’ve got an extremely rare sense of medium-rare. The animal’s heart stopped beating a few minutes before they brought out the burger on a plate. It was literally bleeding its juices all over the place, saturating everything in sight, including the already grease-softened fries. It’s so messy they serve it with a gourmet bun, so the bread won’t fall apart. The only problem with the burger is that only the inside is tender and juicy. The outside is a bit rough and flaky. Thus, the Silverado has to take second place.


The greatest cheeseburger in the world comes from the Country House, 241 W. 55th St., Clarendon Hills. Biting into the Country House cheeseburger is like taking a bite out of Heaven. Juices fill the mouth, and the meat is tender, all on a bun crisped just right. With the perfect fries on the side, it is a meal fit for the gods. Thankfully, you don’t have to end up getting your liver cut out by an eagle every day to get it—$7.50 for a cheeseburger may seem like a bit much, but it’s worth every penny for the ideal cheeseburger.


What, then, is the ideal cheeseburger? Medium-rare. American cheese. A bun, lightly crisped. Nothing on it but mustard and ketchup. With fries. You might ask, what qualifies John Bruni to give such criteria? I’m on the Leader staff, am I not? You can trust us—we’re professionals. If that isn’t enough, I’ve been all over this great country of ours, and I have had my share of cheeseburgers. Some places in Arizona make great cheeseburgers, but why go to Arizona when the greatest cheeseburger in the world is made in Clarendon Hills at the Country House?


Elmhurst College students, why settle for a burger from a typical fast food place? If money is a problem, stop making obscene phone calls and start stealing cars. This is Elmhurst, land of the expensive car. The land is rife with rich people to steal from. Reach for your piece of Heaven. Eat the Country House cheeseburger.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE JOHN BRUNI MUSEUM OF MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SHIT #24: REVIEW OF THE LIFELINE THEATRE'S PRODUCTION OF THE TWO TOWERS






[Ah yes. Back in the day when you had to note that The Fellowship of the Ring is part one of The Lord of the Rings. I’d been hearing for about four years at that point that Peter Jackson, director of my beloved Dead Alive, was trying his hand at the trilogy. I thought that was ballsy of him, and I hoped it would work out. By the time I wrote this review, I had all but given up on Jackson. I decided that it wasn’t happening. (Whoops!) I love the Lifeline Theatre. I’ve seen a handful of their productions, and they’re always intimate and outlandish. If you live in Chicago, I highly recommend you check them out. This was in the Elmhurst College Leader, April 10, 2000.]


A few years back, the Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, adapted a play that was considered completely unadaptable for the stage. Yet their performance of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in JRR Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, was a surprise success. Now they’re back with part two of the trilogy, The Two Towers, and again, they have succeeded in performing a seemingly unadaptable story.


Unfortunately, this time Lifeline dispensed with the little people who played the hobbits in the first play. The only actor reprising his role from the first play is Dale Inghram, one of the few full-sized people to play a hobbit. Last time he was an excellent Sam Gamgee, but this time, while retaining a lot of the humble, simple-minded hobbit in his calmer moods, has also gained a very hyper style that goes against everything Sam should be.


Another actor returning from the first play is Patrick Blashill. However, this time he plays Frodo Baggins, while last time he was both Bilbo and Gimli. Blashill is successful at capturing the determination and good will of Frodo.


In fact, all the actors are good for their characters (especially Heath Corson’s portrayal of Wormtongue, who was appropriately very slimy and low to the ground), but not all of them actually resemble the characters. As said above, there were no little people, but that’s not the extent of it. Charles Picard, who played Gandalf, did not even have a beard. While he played the role excellently, capturing his will to do good with the underlying anger perfectly, he certainly didn’t look the part. However, he also plays two other characters, which requires quick changes, so while the lack of appropriate appearance is understandable, it’s also kind of a let down.


The only actor who really looks his part is Phil Timberlake, who plays Legolas, the elf. He also plays Gollum perfectly, with quite possibly the best voice for the job since Gail Chugg’s Gollum for the Mind’s Eye radio dramatization. He also captures Gollum’s slithery ways perfectly, lulling the audience into really liking him so that everyone, even the ones who have read the books, feel betrayed by his giving Frodo and Sam to Shelob, the spider.


The Lifeline uses a puppet to deal with the size and presence of Shelob, and they do a pretty good job, considering what they had to work with. The only objection that can be leveled against them for the Shelob scene is the slow-motion fight scene between the spider and Sam. It really just looked too stupid, which was the problem with many of the fights from the first play. There is a plus to the new fight scenes, though—at least this time they use weapons. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the actors just pretended to have swords while fighting in slo-mo.


The best fight was the first fight of the play when Brian Amidei as Boromir fights an army of orcs to protect Merry (Corson) and Pippen (John Ferrick). No slow-motion here—just brutal fighting. They used screens to show silhouettes of orcs (probably cardboard stands) in order to convey the idea that there are a bunch of them surrounding Boromir. They use the effect more than once to show the encampment of orcs and their marching army and other moments, as well as to show the riders of Rohan when they come to battle the orcs.


They also make use of puppets other than Shelob. When Gollum is first introduced, he is a puppet swimming to capture passing fish made of neon foam. The puppet itself looks kind of stupid, and the actors didn’t handle it well. They did better with the puppets of Merry and Pippen when they met Treebeard (played by Amidei, who, with the sound effects on his voice, was perfect for the job). The puppets looked ridiculous, which was mainly why they worked so well. The Lifeline has done better with puppets in the past, though, with their adaption of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the actors were obviously so skilled in puppetry that they made the puppets look like real living beings.


They also use models to describe the battle at Helm’s Deep, showing first a pretty good model of the fortress as well as a Battle Masters-ish layout of the battlefield. While actually seeing the battle is much preferable, they do an excellent job of conveying what actually happened in the battle.


The only other real problem is something they can’t help—their budget. The swords aren’t real swords—they’re metal bars. Clubs are aluminum baseball bats, and while the costuming looks good, it is obvious that the wardrobe was put together from scraps. The solution is simple: throw it all into suspension of disbelief. After all, this is an adaption of The Two Towers, something which requires a lot of suspension of disbelief itself.


All in all, James Sie (who directed the first play) and Karen Tarjan did an excellent job of adapting the play, and Ned Mochel (who played Aragorn in the first play) did a wonderful job of directing The Two Towers. It’s going to play all the way through May 7, so see it. Besides, where else are you going to see an adaption of Tolkien’s greatest work? See it before you lose the chance, for it will never come again.


For more information, call The Lifeline Theatre (773) 761-4477.