The new Drifting Classroom was also very good, if truly exhausting what with all the running and yelling.

*I loved how the evil lunchman seemed to be a self-portrait of writer/artist Kazuo Umezu. Also, his double-page splashes are better than anyone's I can think of.

*Hmmm, I think I will link to this nice Hope Larson interview by Chris Randle that’s up at the Comics Reporter. Yes, that is what I will do.

*Recent Cinema Dept: There’s really no good reason for The Departed to have been close to two and a half hours long, and I can’t remember the last time Martin Scorsese got this cheesy with the symbolism (there’s this one bit where Leonardo DiCaprio sees his reflection in wind chimes and it fragments because *gasp* he doesn’t know who he really is, and then it reforms into the reflection of Matt Damon, who’s essentially his thematic ‘double’ in the movie, and around then I had to slap myself to keep my eyes from rolling all the way over), but I’m not gonna lie - this is exactly the sort of goofy, over-the-top crime movie horseplay I’ll happily sit through every time without substantial complaint, especially when it’s as nicely crafted as this. Lots of vivid, larger-than-life performances (Mark Wahlberg’s cartoonishly mean undercover police chessmaster was my favorite, and quite a crowd-pleaser too), gory violence (there’s so many headshots in this thing it rises to the level of recurring motif), and crazy, crazy plot twists and double-crosses, over and over. More comedy than expected too, which is great - these things need a sense of humor as far as I‘m concerned.

It also helps that the environment of the picture instantly appealed to me: hard-scrabble tensions between Irish and Italian-descended Catholics in a half-thriving, half-depressed area. Boston ain’t the only place like that, let me tell you. I enjoyed the construction of several volleys of scenes (often its more like vignettes) around anchoring framing scenes - I’m pretty sure DiCaprio’s conversation in the shrink’s office wind up spiraling out into a whole bunch of tangents and mini-scenes, many of which throughout the film emphasize the doubling aspect of the characters, not to mention the mirror environments of crime and law enforcement, how both feature their own little gangs and troubles and overachievers. Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen even provide contrasting father figures for both protagonists, and, typically, the ‘good’ one’s hands aren’t totally clean and the ‘bad’ one has a certain special take on how to operate within the law. Very well designed from almost any angle (the pacing, as I’ve mentioned gets screwy), and it does have a really great final scene; the cheesiest of all symbolism pops up there, but by that point it’s silly enough to work in the film’s gregarious universe. Maybe some of it came from Infernal Affairs, which I've not seen. Still, if you like this sort of thing, you'll like this.

*Also of note in the theater: a new 300 trailer, and since it was on the big screen I had the chance to spot an interesting detail - Lynn Varley is credited as co-author of the 300 graphic novel. Very interesting, and much-deserved.

Golgo 13 Vol. 5 (of 13): Wiseguy

Only in the pages of Golgo 13 could you possibly run into anything like what’s in this volume’s File 13 bonus section: a short essay by Horibe Masashi, “founder of the Hakukotsu School of Japanese Martial Arts,” devoted entirely to the physiology of being kicked in the nuts. Seriously; you’ll learn the science behind what exactly happens in the body during an assault on the family jewels, some fun facts about testicles in Japanese folklore, and even the secrets behind a legendary lost karate skill of temporary bollocks retraction. But don’t get the impression that sensei isn’t a devoted reader as well:

I personally would like to see a scene where Golgo 13 gets attacked in the testicles, and squirms in anguish, or is attacked but is shown to have some sort of protection against it, allowing him to get through the biggest pinch of his life.”

Oh Golgo 13, you have the best letters column ever! The same temperament extends to the entirety of this particular File 13, which is devoted exclusively to torture and the title character’s godlike endurance thereof. As usual, there’s a billion citations to Duke Togo adventures past, enough so that it sort of adopts the feeling of one of those fake vintage comics supplements that Alan Moore or Geof Darrow or someone might draft, chock-full of increasingly outlandish titles and references to zany adventures that we the readers will never get to see. We’ll probably never get to see many of these Golgo 13 adventures either, but they derive a certain added effect from actually existing. You can practically hear the unnamed File 13 compiler cackling with glee while typing out lines like “NOTES: The day after the torture, Golgo was released into the desert, and forced to fight a giant eagle bare-handed.” And you can read that with pride, knowing that, at some point in time (actually in 1981, Story #171, since they all have cites), Duke Togo actually did battle a gigantic fucking eagle with his bare hands in the desert, and that you could really find that comic and read it if you tried extra hard. No other comic on the stands today can give you that feeling.

It’s too bad there’s no giant eagle fighting in this particular volume’s stories; VIZ’s current release of Golgo 13 is based on The Golgo 13 Gaku, a collection of creator Takao Saito’s 13 favorite stories, and an additional 13 favorites selected by readers via polling. We’re going to be into Saito’s favorites until mid-way through Volume 7, and it’s understandable that the old gekiga hand might favor the especially studied episodes, those that fit tightly into real-world concerns. I’ve heard that the readers’ choices tend to gravitate more toward giant eagle material, and I find myself waiting more and more for that to kick in.

I mean, it’s nice to see a story about Duke lurking around the fall of the Berlin Wall (Germany is One, Story #288, August, 1990), and there’s certainly some interesting flourishes at work -- the bit with representatives of the EU sitting around to play a tabletop RPG as a means of blowing off steam and sussing out one another’s diplomatic inclinations is funny, and quite inspired -- but in the end there’s not an awful lot to set it apart from other G13 epics save for the particularized setting. There’s none of the cockeyed pulp emotion of Power to the People (Vol. 3, Tiananmen Square Massacre) or the damn-the-torpedoes engaging with controversy of England’s Rose (Vol. 4, death of Lady Di); I liked the characters, and the studious examination of then-current political tensions is as well-presented as ever, but it’s starting to feel a bit dry after this many consecutive run-ins with history.

The book’s other story, Way of the Wiseguy (Story #301, October 1991), is more successful in that Saito and company (as usual, there are no credited writers or artists on Golgo 13 - all is accomplished by Saito and his rotating teams of specialists at Saito Production) basically produce a political chamber drama involving an aged mob leader, his loyal, ambitious son, a hot-blooded friend of the family, and a sinister Senator with one toe still dipped in his own father’s rival crime syndicate. Duke pops in for a cameo shooting (an especially berserk one) that wraps up the plot, but really it’s an opportunity for Saito and pals to wring some character drama out of a concept that allows for the lead character to stand around off-page if need be. If he’s not fighting massive birds, maybe sometimes it’s better he doesn’t do much of anything, lest the weight of history start to numb us poor fans.