Comics

Animated Part 1: The PopMatters Exclusive with Full Clip's Schwarz Brothers

Drawn Together: In their creation of the psychologically riveting Damaged brothers Michael and John Schwarz rely as much on their interpersonal dynamic as on their shared love of popculture.

The real story of the Schwarz brothers isn't their improbable and meteoric rise from being marginalized by the Australian film industry to Hollywood. But the generational shift they bring to traditionalist thinking in the media of both comics and film.

You know when you write this part up," says John Schwarz, "you should write it up like a classic L.A. crime noir novel." There's an exuberance in John's voice. Like he's talking to me across the chasm of a great and improbable triumph. Like if right now we'd fade to black, this would be the ending the audience deserves. But this sensation is only the briefest of flashes. At the mention of "crime noir" and "LA", Michael immediately jumps in. "Of all the offices in all the world, why'd she have to walk into mine…." And a split-second later, John completes the frame. "We don't actually tell people this, but Mike's last name is Hammer." There's a deep, resounding chuckle from all round, breaking through the Los Angeles morning.

It had started when Michael began talking about settling into L.A. over the last 10 months or so and how Full Clip Productions, a partnership between brothers Michael and John Schwarz, and a third partner had made the seemingly impossible jump from marginal status within the Australian film industry, to setting up in Hollywood. It was early afternoon and Michael left the exterior door to his office open.

This was the door that opened onto a courtyard. "It's really great sharing office space with Radical," Michael had began. He goes on to talk about the stunning array of A-listers that frequently appear at Radical. Some of them often mistake his office (his exterior being opened more often than not) for the reception area of Radical itself. "So it's happened more than once," Michael continues, "Getting the people you're used to seeing on a movie screen walk through my office like it's the most normal thing in the world. Recently it happened with Rosario Dawson. She just walked across the courtyard and into my office."

It's hard not to imagine this scene playing out in a cinematic metaphor like John Woo's 'bullet-time'. Everything slows down to super-slow-mo, and moments take up minutes of screen time. Michael continues, "She was really polite, and asked if this was Radical Studios' offices. I was dumbstruck, then I realized I had to direct her to where she needed to go." There's a brief chuckle, then John interjects with a suggestion. "You know when you write this part up," John Schwarz says…

If anything this animated reciprocity, this throwing back-and-forth of ideas, each round building on what the other brother had just said, lies at the heart of the Schwarz brothers interaction. And it's this that allows for the vibrancy in Full Clip's first foray into comics, the brothers acting as creators on the Radical-published book Damaged. It's a thing to behold, even at the distance of a phone call. Michael or John would have an idea, but not a complete idea. Rather it would be the germ of an idea, the seed, and in a matter of moments there'd be a first teasing out by the other brother, and then a second expansion when the idea's originating brother gets the idea again.

Talking with the brothers you get a sense, in the immediacy of what Japanese culture labels The Now, of exactly what a steep psychic price can be paid for creativity. It's being lost in a forest. There's no immediate peril, but all danger lurks all around. And fortunately for you, the Schwarz brothers are acting as guides. Their banter is of the kind that allows you to immediately, instinctually trust them.

The dynamic of their relationship is most likely at the core of what makes Damaged so psychologically gripping. The story of two brothers on opposite sides of the concept of justice (one a police officer, the other a vigilante), is animated by the Schwarz brothers' own interpersonal dynamic. It's hard to offer up a clear comparison of what Damaged is, because the book is almost peerless within comics. You'd have to reach beyond the mass-market appeal of the 90% that fills the market. But you do get rare glimpses of the territory Damaged is mapping out. David Lapham's (who scripts the actual issues of Damaged) Stray Bullets, for example. Rick Remender's Last Days of American Crime, Ed Brubaker's first collection of the original Criminal, a storyline called 'Coward'. Don Rosa's psychology of success so often portrayed in his Uncle Scrooge stories.

The truth about Damaged as that at its heart, it's best compared with something Shakespearean. There's more than enough of Othello or Romeo and Juliet or Henry V, where interpersonal relations set the tone for a much broader social unraveling. But there's an equal amount of Hamlet or, especially, King Lear, where there's a brooding, a meditativeness and the world seems on pause.

As our conversation continues, I ask about the particular comparison to King Lear. Damaged's fictive brothers, Henry the vigilante and Frank the cop, are after all on the cusp of seeking their own proteges. With Frank's already having made an appearance in the form of Detective Jack Cassidy. How do the brothers deal with the psychological intensity of writing characters at the ends of their career? Caught in that King Lear moment of needing to appoint successors.

The answer, which comes after a pause, is anything but the easy, simple resolution that you might mistakenly expect from the creators of such riveting true crime fiction. "That is the real crux of the story," Michael begins to answer, "That is really what Damaged all boils down to; what are your ideologies, what are your codes? And how do you pass that on? And when you do pass that on, it truly is tested, truly is questioned. It's then that you find out whether you're right. Whether your life's work has been the right thing."

But it's more than just that. John offers his point of view. "The real drama comes from whether or not a code can be passed on without being radically changed. You'll pretty quickly discover that Damaged is about generational change. It's about the arrogance of youthfulness." And back to Michael, "In the first issue already you can sense that there's a desperation with Frank. He's being forced out into retirement by his superiors. And this young jackrabbit is taking over his work. So in Cassidy, Frank can see the chance to create someone in his own image. Someone who can stand for the same morals he does, and keep the work going."

Both Michael and John are just at the beginning of their careers and not the end. So is there any cognitive dissonance at writing this kind of story at the start of a career? There's the most polite of sighs. As if the question has really struck home. And then Michael begins to answer.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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