4×5 – Morton & Hayes, Episode Five – OnesiesEmily and Andrew reach the penultimate "M&H" with some hard truths about Christopher Guest's direction, Rob Reiner's sense of humor, shows poorly executing trope standards, and surprise good (and bad) acting.
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The Gil Kane, Tom Palmer, and probably John Romita cover sells this issue as Wolfman Jack versus vampires on the moon. But the interior art isn’t Kane, Palmer, or Romita; it’s Don Perlin and Vince Colletta. Wolfman Jack versus the vampires is actually on a movie set, tying into a Dracula Lives story about a hacky Dracula actor going on a murder spree before the real Dracula kills him. Writer Mike Friedrich’s a real trooper, doing a sequel to another series’s story, one he didn’t write (Marv Wolfman wrote the first one).
I think Perlin might be trying with the composition, but it doesn’t work out. He’s got no rhythm to the fight scene, which isn’t a surprise, but he’s enthusiastic, which is both a surprise and unfortunate. Between Friedrich and Perlin, Jack in his human form is doing acrobatics, and as the werewolf, he’s… it’s hard to say. At least an unlikely jump kick makes visual sense; the werewolf versus vampire fight, not so much. Not with the Perlin.
The Colletta inks are dreadful, as one would expect. Every once in a while, there’s a very detailed panel, and it’s clear someone tried, Perlin or Colletta, and got there. But it’s a handful of panels; every other panel’s terrible. Some middling competence can’t overcome it.
Friedrich spends half the issue checking in on all the subplots. There’s kidnapped sister Lissa, who Jack’s having a relatively easy time tracking (he finds torn clothing on a fence at one point), there’s next-door neighbor Raymond Coker, who’s got a big secret of his own, there’s meddling copper Lou Hackett, who doesn’t appear thank goodness, and there’s Jack’s nymphomaniac apartment groupies, who try to seduce him or something. It’s so weird. Though also, it’d be fascinating if it were thoughtful.
Coker and Jack have a showdown, with Coker explaining he’s worked his way over from Jamaica, leading Jack to acknowledge the difficulty of that situation. Far cry from when Wolfman had Jack be a (seemingly unintentional) shitty racist to Coker.
But then one of the girls has an emergency at the studio, which relates back to the lawyer for the big game hunter’s movie producer brother, who tried to kill Jack and kidnap Lissa a long time ago. It leads to the vampire fight, then an overly dramatic cliffhanger.
Friedrich’s got a rocky start; he likes framing in flashbacks too much, and Jack’s always way too surprised when there’s a full moon; it improves as it goes along. Coker and Jack may be the second relationship we’ve seen develop on page in Werewolf, so it stands out. Especially with the cliffhanger.
Of course, the issue’d be incomprehensible for a new reader. Story for the content, art for the “do people really read a book with Don Perlin drawing werewolf fights?”
Yes, yes, we do. No questions, please.
“Liza with a Z” closes with a Cabaret medley, including Liza Minnelli playing the Emcee for a couple songs. She starts in the audience, a la the “Cabaret” Broadway revival (only twenty-six years before), and quickly works her way onto the stage, joined by dancers, and does a whirlwind ten-minute set. The opening titles tell us “Z” is a “concert for television,” and it’s fascinating to watch how Fosse presents that concert.
“Z” is a spotlight for Minnelli as a singer, dancer, actor, and personality. The special’s title comes from Say Liza (Liza with a “Z”), a half colloquial memoir song where Minnelli describes her frustration at people calling her “Lisa.” It’s a hilarious, personable number and showcases Minnelli’s ability to toggle between tones. She can go from soulful to goofy to sweet to sexy (pretty sure she, Fosse, and her costume designer created go go sultry in “Z”) in less than a breath.
The medley is the first time the special directly references Cabaret, though “Z” is very much an offshoot from the film and its success. Some costumes occasionally feel a little Cabaret, but the special doesn’t open with it. Minnelli never addresses the audience as an audience, never telling them eight cameras are filming this evening’s production. At the beginning of “Z,” Fosse and cinematographer Owen Roizman shoot Minnelli as subject. It’s not about the audience; they just happen to be there for Minnelli’s performance.
For a couple numbers, Minnelli looks up towards the balcony (but also the cameras), not out at the audience below her. Fosse looks back down at her. But then, very deftly, the camera starts watching Minnelli looking up to the overhead cameras; we watch Minnelli sing from the wrong camera, only to quickly discover there’s no wrong camera. Every different shot’s going to reveal something else about Minnelli’s performance.
Once the stage fills with dancers, Minnelli starts directly addressing the audience, sometimes to set up the next song, sometimes to take a bow; there’s a spectacular Son of a Preacher Man number, ending with Fosse doing some incredible sleight of hand with the dancers. “Z” might be a filmed live performance, but Fosse and Minnelli are packaging it for the television audience. Or, frankly, theatrical. Fosse and Roizman shoot Minnelli as the only visible figure surrounded by darkness a few times, and it’d be devastating on the big screen.
There are some bumps, of course. Preacher Man is the last great number until the medley; after its commercial break, there’s a cute song about New Yawkers in love, including Minnelli and the dancers acting out a bunch of it. But it’s not a showstopper; it’s just more examples of Minnelli’s remarkable abilities.
The real problems are the last two songs before the medley sprint.
First is You’ve Let Yourself Go, which could be the anthem for the “Are the Straights Okay?” meme about a wife sick of her husband getting bald and chubby. Then comes My Mammy, a song Minnelli would regularly perform as a standard, all about how your slave mammy always loves you. I guess it’d be worse if it were a white dude singing it (as they often did), but yikes. Thank goodness Fosse and Minnelli weren’t pitching a musical Gone With the Wind… someone might’ve said yes.
Fosse tries with Let Yourself Go, using some of the spotlighting techniques he’d already iterated, but Mammy’s just a simple “it’s a variety special” number. Thank goodness. Hopefully, the blandness will make it forgettable.
The medley saves the day; the commercial, cross-promotional medley to remind people they really liked the super-depressing pre-Holocaust movie (or to encourage people with peppy dance numbers to see said film) is one hell of a way to save the day. But it works because it’s Fosse and Minnelli.
Like its star, director, cast, and crew, “Liza with a Z” is phenomenal.
I was going to say all writer Ed Brubaker needed to do to completely tie together all the San Francisco crime eras was a grandfather in a wheelchair in a greenhouse, but Big Sleep’s L.A. Scene of the Crime is all San Francisco, all the time; Brubaker knows what he’s doing too. This issue introduces lead Jack’s old buddy Steve, who’s also a P.I. Steve once gave Jack a tour of Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco; when Jack became a P.I., Steve followed suit and looped him. Steve gives Jack information from his fancy international detective agency.
It’s a trope going back to Hammett, if not earlier. But it’s a knowing one and well-executed. Michael Lark’s pencils (now with Sean Phillips inks, which I’d forgotten) take their meeting out of time, like private dicks who lose their pretty blonde clients to violence and get big sads about it are eternal. Great colors from James Sinclair too. Phillips’s inks add a moodiness to the issue, although some of the dreariness is due to the circumstances.
The issue opens with Jack going to a murder scene, the motel he’d just left, with his crime scene photographer uncle in tow. The uncle can get Jack information about the case, whereas Jack just pisses off the cops. At least until the detective shows up and Jack tells him all; Jack telling all is going to be a recurring theme in this issue; he doesn’t have any secrets at this point. Other than the actual client being his cop buddy’s mistress.
Or not really his buddy; his relation. Jack goes to question him, goes to question his client, her mother, the hippies from last issue. Only the hippies have left, the mistress is indisposed, her mother’s not interested in Jack’s help, and the cop buddy doesn’t know anything. Brubaker’s got the formula down—visit the various characters, find answers to questions no one’s asked, and then try to piece together how it all fits together. Classic detective novel, just set in nineties San Francisco.
Though there aren’t any computers around so it could be anytime San Francisco, though the city’s hippie history is about to play a significant part in motives and so on.
There is a super icky moment where Jack whines he can’t be a cop because he’s incapable of shooting anyone, but he means it as a bad thing; the copaganda’s strong, so it’ll be interesting to see if Brubaker does any dirty cop tropes.
The first issue was mostly engaging, occasionally too forgiving with the first person narration—Brubaker’s better this issue, with Jack plunging headfirst off the wagon—and a neat variation on a theme. This issue shows Brubaker’s got more up his sleeve than smart homage, and Lark, Phillips, and Sinclair are keeping pace. Scene of the Crime just got really good.
No mention of Dracula Lives!’s forthcoming cancellation in the letters page, nor any explanation for the Bram Stoker’s Dracula adaptation skipping a month. Instead, the issue seems committed to origin stories; how Bram Stoker’s Dracula became the Marvel Universe’s Dracula. Or, in the case of Doug Moench’s three-part feature, how Marvel’s Dracula became Bram Stoker’s Dracula became Marvel’s Dracula.
Moench’s story is set in 1597, which is only important compared to Gerry Conway’s set in 1465. Moench’s Dracula is a sad, solitary sort. He hangs out in the castle, writing in his diary, whining about how he can’t find any good human blood these days. The villagers have gotten wise to Dracula being a bloodsucking vampire, though it turns out there’s plenty about vampires they don’t know yet.
While Dracula mopes, a stranger comes to town and offers to ride the village of Dracula for a thousand gold coins. He’s going to wait until Dracula comes to the village to feed, then head up to the castle and try to find some way to kill him. Except on this particular night, Dracula’s really, really pissed the humans are staying inside instead of coming out to be fed on—don’t they know he can’t enter a domicile without an invitation!
They do not, of course, because they don’t even know Dracula’s afraid of the sunlight yet. Or his aversion to crosses. Drac’s got a few surprises up his sleeves for the villagers, not just near the castle but also in a second village where he goes to feed the next night. But the stranger is somehow one step ahead, preparing those villagers for the attack; dejected, Dracula commits to his new role as lord of the undead and gets busy raising an army.
There’s a different artist for each chapter. Sonny Trinidad does the first; he and Moench have done some nice Lives stories. Trinidad’s work is quite nice this issue as well. Yong Montaño does the second part, which features Dracula and the new villagers, but also the first villagers getting too cocky. Montaño’s decent enough, but more on the people than the vampire. He’s got a comedic sensibility, and it doesn’t work here.
The third artist is Steve Gan, and it’s full Gothic horror. Beautiful stuff. However, his Dracula’s not as good as Trinidad’s. You’d think they’d have just ordered everyone to ape Gene Colan at some point.
Moench’s very intentional about Dracula’s character development. At the story’s start, Dracula’s a withdrawn, self-loathing monster. By the end of the story… well, he’s in a different spot. It’s an excellent feature and Moench’s best writing on the series. Does it make up for the missing Dracula adaptation chapter? Sure, fifty years later; at the time, I think I’d have been concerned.
Moench also contributes a text piece about Christopher Lee. It’s long, detailed, and enthusiastic because Moench’s a fan. It’s unclear why, however, since he seems to agree Hammer movies stink and Lee mostly made Hammer movies. The article’s disconcertingly spread throughout the magazine, presumably to make room for more advertisements.
The second story is the Conway one. Set six years after Dracula’s transformation to vampire and over a hundred years before Moench’s, this Dracula still has vampire orgies. He decides to go on a culinary trip and messes with the wrong German, who vows to avenge his sister’s death at Dracula’s hand.
So Hans goes to kill Dracula in Transylvania, but times it wrong for vampire-killing success. Still, it’s warm and sunny, and Hans falls for a fetching local girl. Will Hans’s thirst for vengeance ruin their romantic bliss? Will it somehow tie into Tomb of Dracula? Will Conway bull in a china shop his way through the subtleties? Will it even matter?
Just to answer the last—no, it won’t matter, none of it will matter. Tom Sutton does the art, and it’s terrible. The story’s ten pages, and he manages to get worse every page. It’s indescribably bad art and a lousy way to finish an otherwise outstanding issue.
Given how much writer, director, and special guest star Welles cares about performances—not only does he dub over one of the other actors, he steals a juicy monologue from Michael Lonsdale—one would think he’d have seen the problem with star Anthony Perkins. Because everyone’s looping their dialogue in The Trial, Perkins gave this performance at least twice. But probably more. And it never works.
There are contexts where Perkins’s performance could work. Had Welles turned the film into a Fox melodrama, a la Peyton Place, with aw-shucks Perkins discovering the realities of the American legal system, it might’ve worked. Not sure how all the ladies throwing themselves at Perkins would work then, though. It might’ve just been easier to get a different lead.
Perkins plays the part like he’s Jimmy Stewart gone to Washington; only Welles’s adaptation of the source novel doesn’t let time progress or characters develop. I had to check and see if the end’s the same as in the novel (it’s not, Welles made a very, very bad choice), and it also turns out the novel takes place exactly over a year. The movie takes place over a… week? Two? There’s some suggestion of time passing late in the second act. Still, since Perkins is an erratic, obnoxious American in some vaguely Eastern European city, he could also just be an entitled, impatient asshole.
Welles breaks out the film as a series of vignettes, which is nice because it helps compartmentalize the more and less successful scenes. Even with Perkins Mayberrying his way through the film, Welles is fully committed to the adaptation and busts ass. In addition to Perkins, Welles also has to contend with wanting cinematography from Edmond Richard. Richard’s lighting is so universally flat and bland, so ignorant of shadow, it gives the impression there wasn’t time or money for anything better. They’ve got the nifty sets—Jean Mandaroux doing the art direction—and Welles has all sorts of neat shots, but there’s no personality.
It’s so flat it’d be better in color. At least there’d be some insight into what the characters are experiencing in their nightmare world. We see them, but we never see how they see one another. It might also explain why every woman in the movie throws herself at Anthony Perkins, ranging from his widowed landlady (Madeleine Robinson) to a couple dozen tweenage girls. In between, he romances Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider the most seriously.
Actually, wait, there’s also Elsa Martinelli. I lost count.
Perkins isn’t surprised at being irresistible, either. It’s apparently the norm for him, which suggests a far more lurid prequel, which Welles might’ve enjoyed directing. He tries his damndest to make Perkins and Schneider’s romantic interlude play like an exaggeratedly overt Hollywood melodrama. It’s never sexy because the women all have ulterior motives, and Perkins knows it and plans on bedding and abandoning them.
While Perkins disappoints, the rest of the cast is mostly excellent. Moreau, Schneider, and Akim Tamiroff are the standouts. Welles’s extended cameo is just okay. He under-directs himself.
The Trial’s fascinating. It’s long, it’s repetitive, it’s confounding, but it is fascinating as well. The use of music is outstanding; Jean Ledrut composed. The editing’s okay—better than the cinematography—but the cutting sometimes overcompensates for Welles not being able to do something because of budget.
Then there’s the ending. Of course, Welles had his reasons for changing the novel’s ending, but if he was going to do something so silly, why didn’t he end it at Stonehenge (where the demons dwell)?
But then, thanks to Welles being Welles, the film pulls up just a bit through the end credits—narrated by Welles—for a better landing. He just needed to remind everyone he’s Orson Welles, and he made this picture.
X Isle ends worse than expected. The screenplay or treatment adaptation got to the point where the original writer was hoping the director would love to do an Aliens but robots sequence. Instead, in the comic medium, it goes from discovering the evil robots with tentacles who are actually just doing their job (zookeeping) to the alien nav computer revealing all the secrets and someone saying the robots are getting closer. It’s awful comics, which is too bad since this issue’s got the first time artist Greg Greg Scott gets to do an actual comic page and not (at best) a movie adaptation.
When the robots wake up and start collecting the loose animals (including invading humans), one has a cute but cruel scene. But with word balloons and motion implied between panels and reaction shots. Oh, Scott does reaction shots other places this issue, but they’re between two indistinguishable white men. Tim Allen and someone dramatic or Ashton Kutcher and someone dramatic, playing against type, maybe. Ashton is whining on about how coming to save Tim Allen’s daughter got Sam Jackson killed last issue, and now it’s going to get Ashton killed this issue. Tim Allen tells him to man up or something so they can rescue the obnoxious daughter, who’s fighting little monsters who want to eat her and talking about how she needs to live to lose her virginity.
Every line of dialogue is terrible in this issue. Maybe co-writer Michael A. Nelson just gave up. Hopefully, he just gave up, and this dialogue isn’t supposed to be good work. The art’s not bad overall, but it’s not impressive. Besides that robot sequence, those two pages were better art than the rest of the book combined. For a moment, I thought it was going to get good. It reminded me of the Lost in Space movie, and I was thinking, you know, it’d be better than whatever they’re going to do.
What’s so strange about X Isle is it’s a lousy spec script. It’s a bad treatment. But it’s targeting a Roland Emmerich-type who wants to cash in on “Lost” being a hit on TV. But not Roland Emmerich because it’s relatively low budget. It’s like a Sci-Fi movie spec script, actually.
Maybe I’d have watched it with Bruce Campbell in the lead? As Tim Allen?
It’s pretty bad. X Isle’s pretty, pretty bad.
This episode down-shifts the action a little, leveraging returning guest star Benedict Wong—who star Tatiana Maslany frequently breaks the fourth wall to comment on appearing—without moving any of the subplots forward. Other than Mark Linn-Baker’s too understated sitcom dad in the real world bit. He shows up for a scene to Wrecking Crew-proof Maslany’s apartment after the attempted assault last episode. No straight-to-the-heart and twist zingers for the incel bros this episode, but Maslany does get in a fun “what’s Twitter complaining about?” comment in.
Is that Earth-616 Twitter, Earth-199999 Twitter, or our Earth Twitter? I really want to know the rules behind references in the MCU; I hope we find out all the twists, turns, and hurdles someday.
A bad (as in, bad at his job) stage magician named Donny Blaze (unclear if he’s Johnny’s brother) has been using actual magic to add some oomph to his shows. He starts teleporting random audience members, usually women in short skirts, into other dimensions. One, played by Patty Guggenheim, fights her way through a demon dimension while making bargains and having adventures, escaping to Wong’s living room just in time to spoil “Sopranos” for him.
Rhys Coiro (director Kat Coiro’s husband) plays Blaze. He’s a complete dipshit, which is one of those strange casting choices. Leon Lamar plays his enabling sidekick. They’re both fine but somewhat lackluster compared to Wong and Guggenheim. Guggenheim’s hilarious as a party girl with a heart of gold; she ought to get a spin-off. They should at least do a special about her fighting her way through Hell, Vormir, or wherever.
Wong does a lot with a little; he’s mostly reacting to Guggenheim being fabulous and Rhys Coiro being scummy.
The subplot has Maslany reluctantly starting to date in her big green persona, which proves to attract a different caliber of Tinder match. Michel Curiel plays her dreamiest match. They have a wild night out.
“She-Hulk” is on entirely solid ground now, but—even more than “Ms. Marvel”—it feels like they’re making a TV show here, meaning a second season should be in order, especially if the MCU movie guest stars are going to do two-episode arcs. At the same time, the guest stars—even the tangential ones—are distracting from the regular law firm cast. Ginger Gonzaga’s the only one to show up here, again entirely support for Maslany, with no one else making the cut.
It’d just be such a perfect way to comment on the overall MCU (Wong makes a good Spider-Man: No Way Home reference at one point).
Since “My Life is Murder” started as a relatively straight Melbourne-based mystery procedural, I don’t know if they would’ve done a horseback riding episode first season. I don’t think they did one last season. But they have so much fun with it this time; I imagine it has to be because star and executive producer Lucy Lawless wanted to ride horses against a beautiful New Zealand backdrop. This episode’s mystery involves a stud farm—of the equestrian variety—which provides lots of opportunities for breathtaking scenery and beautiful horses.
The show’s either an advertisement for New Zealand to the point they ought to suggest B&Bs, or it’s all a humble brag about how much better things are there than everywhere else. Except for the murdering, of course. There’s lots of murdering about.
Lawless’s regular sidekick, Ebony Vagulans, is still pretending to be in Paris this episode, so Lawless again has new sidekick Tatum Warren-Ngata. Not sure how they’re going to handle having both of them around (the teaser spoils Vagulans’s return). Lawless and Warren-Ngata continue to make a good team. Lawless has a fine foil in most of the episode with old curmudgeon Roy Billing, leading to Warren-Ngata getting into trouble. Warren-Ngata’s on leave from the Navy; I guess she can come in and out as needed.
Billing sort of runs the stud farm because new owner Te Kobe Tuhaka is a sharp dresser but not a horse studder. Tuhaka’s dad started the business, and Billing worked for him. The dad also semi-adopted Steel Strang, whose murder kicks off the episode. It looks like a horse done it, but Ramiri Jobe found some contradictory evidence. It’s contradictory enough that it’s unclear why he’s having Lawless do the case off the books since it’s like, you know, evidence.
There are several suspects—the horse, obviously, Billing, Tuhaka, Tuhaka’s estranged sister, Miriam McDowell, stud farm human stud Jono Kenyon (who immediately cozies up to Lawless), and studding scientist Jessica Grace Smith. The solution will involve almost all of them; very intricate plotting; Stacy Gregg gets the writer credit.
Overall, it’s another solid episode. Lawless and Billing have a great time together (so do Lawless and Kenyon). There are a couple character reveals for Lawless; one secret she’s keeping from Warren-Ngata (and the audience), then another secret she’s keeping from everyone (but the audience).