50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 3

In part three we're getting sleazy with 'Gainsbourg' and 'Sin City' and getting sexed-up with 'Fritz the Cat' and 'Danger: Diabolik', plus Edgar Wright introduces forgotten HK gorefest 'Riki-Oh'...

30. Gainsbourg (2010)


Directed by Joann Sfar

The Serge is working
In ‘Gainsbourg', you get to watch as the great chanteur is chased by a grotesque, multi-limbed anti-Semitic cartoon, has his head turned into a cabbage and is frequently accompanied by a long-fingered cartoon character of his own invention who serves as his conscience. Here, the celebrity biopic is given a wild and wicked makeover with the help of director Joann Sfar's source graphic novel, blending real life, comic book and musical. The film is strongest when it launches itself fully into the vibrant, cartoonish world created by Sfar, only weakened by a lengthy second half rooted more firmly in reality. Unrestricted by the parameters of the real world, the graphic novel proves to be the only medium through which to tell the tale of a man who is mad, bad and dangerous. BR
Watch Serge's infamous chatshow appearance opposite Whitney Houston

Read the Time Out review


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29. Fritz the Cat (1972)


Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Pussy galore
It must have been quite a shock for conservative cinemagoers back in 1972 when this anarchic ode to lewd debauchery and sordid copulation hit the screens. At that time, animated films were safe, anodyne Disney creations aimed squarely at the family market. To the older generation still reeling from the preceding decade, Ralph Bakshi's stoner adaptation of Robert Crumb's articulate, subversive comic-book creation must have seemed like the work of Beelzebub. Like Disney's animations, Bakshi's film also anthropomorphised its animal characters. But there's nothing cute about this crew of sex-starved revolutionary miscreants. Racially questionable and socially and sexually deviant on all fronts, the film hasn't travelled well and is perhaps best remembered as just another example of the drug-addled underground. DA
Watch a funky clip from the film

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28. Danger: Diabolik (1968)


Directed by Mario Bava

Hell for leather
Say what you like about Donner's ‘Superman' and Burton's ‘Batman', the film that really took the first steps into the wild world of comic-inspired superheroism (and supervillainy) was this berserk, Italian-funded Technicolour camp explosion. Part James Bond, part Batman and part 'Casanova', 'Diabolik' is a leather-clad master thief who gets into hot water when he tries to rob 20 tonnes of gold from a mysterious, unnamed (but suspiciously Italian-looking) government. Satirical in tone, subversive in outlook and deeply, deeply '60s in execution (notebooks out, retro-hipsters), ‘Danger: Diabolik' deserves its increasing reputation as a modernist, kinky-booted psychedelic freakout to rival ‘The Avengers'. TH

Edgar Wright says:

"Danger: Diabolik" was definitely an influence on "Scott Pilgrim". There's that Italian influence, a sense of completely unbridled imagination. They don't make any attempt to make it look realistic. Mario Bava's composition and staging has a real try-anything attitude. When it turned up on "Mystery Science Theatre" as a turkey to be laughed at, I thought they were missing the point, it's supposed to be fun. It made me really angry! "Danger: Diabolik" is so much fun, so beautiful to look at. I absolutely love it.

'


Watch two people having sex under a pile of banknotes

Read the Time Out review



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27. Kick-Ass (2010)


Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Lean mean green teen
machineKick-Ass' would have been worth the ticket price just to see a 12-year-old girl slice up some bad guys after calmly dropping the c-bomb. It confounds expectations, pushing us deeper than ever into the crazy world of screen violence and moral depravity. The conceit on which the film is based – why has no one ever tried to be a superhero before? – may be old hat (hadn't Vaughn seen 'Mystery Men' or classic reality show 'Who Wants to Be A Superhero'?) but it does allow the main thread of the movie to take place in a world we recognise, in contrast to the high-octane, ass-kicking action sequences, which feel ripped straight from the pages of a comic strip. A killer soundtrack of Elvis, New York Dolls and Primal Scream, pitch-perfect graphics and the ability to draw laughs and gasps in equal measure make ‘Kick-Ass' the best kind of entertainment. BR
Watch Hit Girl in action

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26. Dick Tracy (1990)


Directed by Warren Beatty

Meaty, Beatty, big and boring
Calm yourselves, kiddies! That teen heartthrob Warren Beatty that you're all so mad keen on has only gone and made a rancid DayGlo musical feature of everybody's favourite romantically conflicted, two-fisted, pre-war crimestopper! It's easy to be churlish – and fun too! – but although it was wildly out of step with public tastes, this lavish, inventive, expertly played adaptation of Chester Gould's enduring comic character is a decent chunk of entertainment. Beatty might be a bit wishy-washy as Tracy, but he's propped up by a fine array of supporting talent (Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, um, Dick Van Dyke and, er, Madonna) and every frame drips with four-colour goodness. Ultimately though, it's a case of all fur (rain)coat and no knickers, with all the glitz and glamour failing to completely disguise the scarcity of any real thrills and a plot that is notably similar to the previous year's smash comic-book crossover, ‘Batman'. ALD
Watch the Siskel & Ebert review here
Read the Time Out review

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25. Sin City (2005)


Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller

Black and white and red all over
Adopting the '40s and '50s Hollywood noir B-picture as its stylistic and thematic model, this triple-chaptered visitation to the stylishly squalid streets of the fictional Basin City marked one of director Robert Rodriguez's boldest achievements. With its innovative use of green screen and an ensemble of actors more than willing to ham it to high heaven, perhaps its most notable trait is the fact that Rodriguez successfully managed to bring the compositions and framings of Frank Miller's original source material to life without losing any of their stark, angular beauty. It was Mickey Rourke's Big Comeback before his other Big Comeback in ‘The Wrestler' two years later, where he slinked into the role of a scar-faced hood called Marv on a mission to avenge his murdered dame. Clive Owen also turns up to save an enclave of fetish-wear prostitutes from the corrupt police force in the film's weakest segment. Then Bruce Willis brings things to a close with paedo-pulverising panache as the old police captain out to save a young girl from the mayor's kiddie-murderin', genetically mutated son. Sure, the content is at times a little retrograde, but to truly understand what an achievement this really is, place it next to Miller's similarly calibrated directorial debut, ‘The Spirit', which crashed and burned like nobody's business. DJ
Watch Bruce Willis 'take away the wepons' of his enemy

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24. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)


Directed by Stephen Norrington

Gentlemen, start your difference engines!
In departing from the tone, poise, complexity – and even characters – that made Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's steampunk'd alterno-Victoriana-sploitaion mash-up so persuasive, Norrington's slick, shiny leviathan was always cruising towards a fierce bruising from the comic-book guys. Quite why most everyone else has such a monumental chip on their shoulder about it is less clear. It does, admittedly, swiftly lose the nerve and élan of its spirited early scenes, but the central conceit remains rock solid, Connery is inarguably immense as Allan Quatermain and the majority of the set-pieces (Venice aside) go off like clockwork. Extraordinary? Maybe not, but above average. ALDWatch a Sgt. Pepper inspired 'homage' here

Read the Time Out review


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23. Death Note (2006)


Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

You just made my shitlist
Exemplifying the Japanese manga technique of addressing serious subjects in slightly ridiculous ways, the ‘Death Note' comic-book series took a simple concept – a book in which anyone could write the name of a victim and the manner of their death, and the universe would conspire to make it happen – and played it out over several years and hundreds of chapters. In bringing the story to the screen, director Kaneko chose to focus on the darker aspects of the story, and the result is a strange mixture of brooding, action-packed, almost apocalyptic darkness, small-scale suburban realism and wacked-out demon-based psychedelic absurdity. The idea itself is an increasingly pertinent one, as technology provides us with more and better ways of attacking our enemies – physically, psychologically and verbally – and although the film never quite gets to grips with all the potential ramifications, it still works as a thoughtful alternative to the usual horror-comic fare. A great hero, too, in reclusive sugar-junkie L, whose absentee conflict with corrupted villain Light forms the backbone of the narrative. TH
Click here to see Spongebob go psych

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22. Iron Man (2008)


Directed by Jon ‘Favs' Favreau

Has he lost his mind?
The moment the first trailer kicked in with the opening feedback drone from Black Sabbath's titular headbanger, we knew this was going to be good. No one, even its creators, is making any claims to cinematic greatness here, but ‘Iron Man' is one of those films which does exactly what it sets out to do, with the minimum of fuss. You want huge explosions, bone-crunching violence, witty asides, a bit of romantic intrigue, dudes flying through the air, proper good guys, proper bad guys, a light smattering of politics and a whole heap of industrial-scale destruction? You got it. Robert Downey Jr turns the charm up to 11 as the hero, Gwyneth Paltrow gets a few decent digs in as the assistant with designs on her boss, and Jeff Bridges works his usual insouciant magic as the villain. Job done. Bit of a shame about the sequel, though... TH

Edgar Wright says:

The first "Iron Man" is, for me, the best origin film. It came out the same year as "The Dark Knight", but I kind of preferred "Iron Man", which I know is heresy! To take a character who, outside of the comics world, is not so well known and make a massive blockbuster was just remarkable. All the planets came into alignment. You know, the man in tights thing is getting a bit played out, so this connected because it's a gadget film, its hi-tech, he's not just a man, he's a weapon. Just great.

'



Sod the film, let's watch Black Sabbath live instead

Read the Time Out review



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21. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)


Directed by Ngai Kai Lam

How to get a head in showbusiness
We've seen this notoriously madballs HK gorefest that comes on like an early Peter Jackson version of 'Scum', but we'll step aside and let the film's biggest fan, Edgar Wright, give you the lowdown:

Edgar Wright says:

‘A lot of Eastern films have this "try anything" aspect to them. Think about the films of Stephen Chao, Tsui Hark, even Bollywood. Mixtures of comedy, romance, action and horror. "Riki-Oh" is incredible, it's this futuristic super-violent prison movie. It was made in Hong Kong, but it's a manga comic-book adaptation. Perhaps it's actual quality is debatable, but it's just an awesome film. It's just astonishing, so ridiculously violent. If they made it today maybe they'd be able to pull off some of the visuals a bit better, but I just love it. I showed it to the cast and crew of "Scott Pilgrim", and I've screened it with audiences, and they always go for it. I've gone past the point of thinking it's a so-bad-its-good film, it's just so entertaining in its silliness and goriness. I have this theory that the only bad films are dull films. And "Riki-Oh" is not dull. It's highly, highly eventful! It's not one of the greatest comic-book adaptations, but it's definitely one of the most entertaining.'
Watch a man attempt to choke another man with his exposed lower intestine. Seriously.

See 20 through to 11

Author: Derek Adams, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Bethany Rutter





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