Sunday, April 13, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (4/6/14-4/12/14)






    Mostly just movies this week, but good times, none the less.  I love living in the greater DC area.  The options for seeing movies, movies you just don’t get to see on the big screen elsewhere…It’s the berries.



The Raid 2: Berandal:  The Raid was a pretty intense, violent, and action packed little movie.  It has, essentially, the same story as Dredd, but set in Indonesia instead of MegaCity 1 (pick your urban hellscape).  With the sequel, the world is greatly expanded, with several factions of organized crime, corrupt cops, various heavies, and all kinds of horrible places to die.  As far as the plot goes, there’s nothing to write home about.  It’s the usual "cop goes undercover to infiltrate organized crime, using the headstrong, screw-up scion of a major crime family" story you’ve seen dozens of times.  But the cast and the action are what make the film stand on its own.  This is, straight up, one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen, and almost certainly the most violent film I’ve seen that somehow managed to get an R rating from the MPAA.  Of course, we know, you can show almost all the violence you want, so long as you don’t talk realistically about sex (or show a penis).  But even so, I’m shocked this was able to get an R.  If anything I’ve seen warrants and NC-17, it’s this film.  The action and violence are extremely well done, and in spite of a lot of handheld work, I never got frustrated and annoyed by it like I do in most of our modern ‘shaky-cam’ action scenes.  The meat-hook brutality of the combat is at times grueling.  But for action/martial arts fans, this one is well worth seeing.  So.  Dang.  Violent.  Probably the biggest surprise is that the extremely cliché character of the head-strong son of the mob boss isn’t horribly annoying.  I actually like him and his Asian Bruce Campbell cool.


12 Years a Slave:  “I don’t want to survive.  I want to live.”  I know the basics of the history.  I know how economic and religious ideas came together (with a dash of scientific quackery) in a horrible partnership that created the national shame that was the enslavement of large numbers of Africans in the early Americas through the 1800s (let’s skip the post Civil War awfulness for the sake of this discussion).  I’ve read the books and I’ve seen the movies.  But I don’t get it.  I don’t understand how it could be so widely practiced and accepted.  I know that it was.  And I know that similar things go on today, be it genital mutilation and enshrouding of women or colossal oppression of a people by their government, or whatever.  I know that it happens.  I see it.  But I don’t get it.  How did it take so long to stop what was so obviously a horrible and disgusting practice?  I don’t know.  That’s what I kept thinking through watching this movie.  How did so many people let it happen, keep it going, revel in it?  The movie itself is beautifully immersive, capturing the beauty of the land, while not shying away from the horrors visited brother against brother, sister against sister.  The story is compelling and the acting fantastic.  There’s good reason this was up for all the awards.  But it is a brutal viewing, no doubt about it.  If I have one critique of the film, it’s that I never got the sense of passing time.  I feel like part of the horror of Solomon Northup’s journey was how much of his life was lost.  But the movie felt like it took place over a matter of weeks or months.  Still, it’s a heck of a powerful movie.  Thinking about it over the course of the week, what made this movie more effective for me than some others on the same subject may be that Solomon Northup started the film as a free man, minding his own business, who gets kidnapped and taken to a hostile land.  I can relate to that more than the usual story of a person who grew up under the boot heal of slavery.  It makes things less abstract.


Particle Fever:  This movie made me want to go out and do Science! for a living.  I know that’s not in the cards.  I’m too old, and I suck at math.  But for an hour and a half, I felt like I could be part of all this wonder and the expansion of Human understanding.  Through the eyes of a handful of interesting physicists, we see the final stages of the construction and early tests of the Large Hadron Collider, a machine designed to smash particles together and see what comes out.  Some of these people had theories that were decades old, with no ability to test them until this massive machine was built.  The movie does an excellent job of showing what life on the inside of this particular fishbowl was like, while showing the passions of the people involved.  I also like that it prominently and positively featured women in science without being about women in science.  Typically with a movie like this, if they were going to have one of the key protagonists be a woman, they’d spend 10 or 15 minutes talking about the challenge of being a woman in a male dominated field.  Something that would almost certainly be off-putting for young women looking to get into that field.  Instead, we see women working right alongside men in the office, in the classrooms, and in the construction of the machine, and running the overall project, just as it should be.  No, it’s not like it was a 50/50 split.  But the mix is a heck of a lot better than a couple decades ago.  And if we stop scaring our daughters off of male dominated fields by driving home how challenging they’ll be, maybe that split will decrease more in the coming years.  A movie like this is going to be a heck of a lot more inspirational than one that focuses on the negative.  And inspirational is how I’d describe it.  I’ll admit, there were several times, when the music swelled, the camera moved  over the machine, or we watched one of these scientists’ dawning awareness of new revelations, that I got a bit misty.  Watching the work of so many people come together.  Watching the power of the Human mind to unlock the secrets of the universe, even if only in a small way.  And of course, knowing that science transcends culture and border, becoming the collective effort of our whole species to better know the nature of reality, without the weight of our hatreds and fears.  Is uplifting.


Alexandria The Greatest City:  Over the last decade or so, I’ve become quite the fan of Bettany Hughes and her passion for history.  This exploration of Alexandria is cursory, but interesting.  It makes a good deal of use of clips from the Alexandria set film Agora.  There’s not a lot to this one, but Hughes always makes it interesting, and makes me want to read more.


Lizzie Borden Took an Ax:  No, no, no.  I didn’t think this was going to be what we might traditionally think of as ‘good.’  But as soon as it started, I had that Quantum Leap ‘Oh, boy’ moment.  It’s shot like crappy TV.  It’s written like crappy TV.  It’s crappy TV.  Everyone in this should know better.  I don’t know what the idea was in using modern Black Keys wannabe music for the soundtrack.  But it was bad.  A bad idea.  On a purely shallow note, Christina Ricci did look extremely cute in the period costumes.  I wish she could have stepped out of this movie and into a good Western or whatever.


Battle of the Darned:  Dolph Lundgren teams up with killer robots to fight zombies?  Sold!  Actually, this movie is better than I expected, but that might be to its detriment.  If it was worse, it might have been more fun.  It’s not good enough to recommend.  It’s OK.  The kind of thing that if you find playing while you’re flipping channels, you could do much worse.  The camera shakes way to much (it is an action movie made after the Bourne franchise) and the CG on the robots is wonky in places.  But it’s OK.  I liked the scenes with Dolph and the robots back to back.  I’d have liked more of that.


Engineering Ancient Egypt:  Another documentary presented by Bettany Hughes, this time on two of Egypt’s most successful pharaohs, Khufu and Ramses II.  By examining the whys and wherefores of building the pyramids first, and the temple at Abu Simbel, she gets into the belief systems and key historic events that shaped the two men and their times.  As often happens, taking the time to look into history produces information that doesn’t jive with generally held beliefs.  One of the primary things I grew up with, that has been rather soundly trounced is the idea that slaves (generally thought to have been Hebrew slaves) built the pyramids.  Hughes’s documentaries are always entertaining and informative, though frequently only introductory.  They’re good starts for further research.


    On Thursday night Brad and I, and a couple others from our graphic novel group, all headed out to the Alamo to watch a VHS projection of that classic, 3 Dev Adam, one of the best Captain America films ever made.  Awesome.


3 Dev Adam (aka Turkish Captain America):  What can one say about this film?  The plot is totally unintelligible, and I don’t know if that’s because of the subtitles or the editing.  The villains have a plan, I guess.  The heroes have a plan, too.  Or something.  They fight sometimes.  In the middle of fight scenes, they often cut to people walking.  Throughout most of the film, it sounds like there are nervous horses on cobblestones, which I think is supposed to be the sounds of footsteps.  I’ve got no idea.  But it was all awesome.  A film to share with friends, for sure.  Plus, who doesn’t love an awkward puppet moment during sexual coupling?


A Touch of Sin:  I went into this film knowing nothing about it at all, beyond the poster image of the guy sitting on his motorcycle in front of a crashed fruit truck.  I recommend going into it the same way.  I won’t give away story or character.  But I’ll say this about the film; it’s beautifully shot and well acted.  It has a slow pace, but isn’t ever dull.  There are some gorgeous images of China, even when they’re of various ugly things or environments you’d never want to live in or possibly even go to.  The film feels extremely contemporary, and not just because it features a lot of people staring at their cell phones.  And if I was left with any message, it’s ‘don’t go to China.’  Very worth seeking out, though.  Know in advance that there is some rather graphic violence.


The Raid:  Having watched The Raid 2 a few days back, I decided to revisit the first one.  It’s a heck of a violent movie.  Not much in the way of plot, but that would have gotten in the way of the horrible, bone-cracking action.  Anyone into brutal action movies needs to see this one.  Good camera work, nasty violence, and excellent gun and hand to hand choreography.


Nova: The Vikings:  This documentary from 2000 does a pretty good job of reintroducing the Vikings, putting the sword to some commonly held misconceptions.  I’m always fascinated by our evolving understanding of those who came before.  This is a very cursory examination of the subject, but still managed to have some interesting bits for me to look into, especially with the Vikings in Russia.


Ninotchka:  When three bumbling Soviets in Paris screw up a deal for the Reds back home, Moscow sends along a hard-line agent to kick things into shape, in the shapely Greta Garbo.  French playboy Melvyn Douglas sets his sights on melting her heart, unleashing the charming woman hiding beneath the utilitarian comrade.  Ernst Lubitsch crafts another supremely funny, cheeky, and surprisingly sexy comedy.  It’s funny how timeless the issues of the film, then quite topical, remain.


Orca: The Killer Whale:  Obviously made to capitalize on the huge success of Jaws, this Ahab Vs. Killer Whale film looks pretty good, but is mostly just silly.  I love the cast and Michael Anderson knows how to make a good looking film.  But it’s so hackneyed.

I just wanna watch the world burn!

    I’ve been doing a bunch of reading, but from a bunch of different books, none of which I’m all that close to finishing.  Dang, Lord of Light is a dense read.



-Matt

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/30/14-4/5/14)



    Another good week for this dork.  Too many sleepless nights, though.  I can’t believe the insanity of the times we live in.  For dorks like me, this is a wonderful and weird time.  Marvel Comics are hitting the big screen to critical and financial success.  Science fiction movies are starting to be taken somewhat seriously, and there are even occasional good ones.  It’s wild.  But it brings with it some negative elements, too.  I recently went back and watched some classic Doctor Who, just to remind myself why I love that show.  Like late-coming comic fans who claim their favorite superhero is Hawkeye (NOBODY’s favorite hero is Hawkeye!), the new Who has produced a good deal of new fans who make older fans like me feel kind of awkward and uncomfortable.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad the new show is a success, and I love that it’s bringing in new generations of fans.  I am.  I just can’t relate to them.  What they love about the show is not at all what I love about the show.  In fact, more often than not, what they love about the show seems to be the stuff that’s making me less and less of a fan of the new series.  Still, young nerds are our future.  I should remember that.  Anyway, on with the week.

Put the screwdriver away and use your brain!

    Sunday morning, I read the first two volumes of Abe Sapien.  It’s OK.  At best.  For part of the Mignola universe, it’s pretty disappointing.


Grand Hotel:  This pioneering ‘all star cast’ film is full of wit and charm and fun characters.  It’s gorgeously produced and keeps a good pace.  There isn’t a plot, so much as a bunch of characters going through various arcs of their life over a couple of days stay.  From residential folks to temporary guests, the quirks and concerns of people give way to humor and drama.  Everyone is so good, but my personal favorite is John Barrymore, who is so charming and so sad as the down on his luck baron in desperate need of some quick cash.  A must see film.


Doctor Who: Paradise Towers:  Ultra 80s with a strong dose of J.G. Ballard, this is one of the few good stories of the last few years of classic who.  There are gangs, oppressive guards, robots, cannibals, and a cowardly action hero.  I like the look and general vibe, which I’ve said before, reminds me of 2000AD comics.  The late years of Doctor Who make me kind of sad, but this is one of the few bright spots, and so earns some marks.  It’s what Who could have been in the late 80s, as opposed to the lackluster stories that were much more common.


Mulholland Drive:  “It’s been that kind of a day.”  In many ways this film is Lost Highway Redux.  It covers some of the same themes, similar storytelling techniques, and general mood.  The major difference is the lesbian angle, which seems to be what made critics who hated Lost Highway love Mulholland Drive.  It is some wonderful David Lynch madness, and it’s got some great performances and great scenes.  But it doesn’t feel as smooth, or as (I can’t believe I’m going to use this word) coherent.  This is a nightmare turned into a film, and as such, it’s kind of beautiful, but also very frightening in a way horror films rarely are.


Noah:  This never gets as bugnuts crazy as the source material, but it is high myth-fantasy, and as such isn’t bad.  The first two thirds of the film is the best.  Honestly, once the Flood happens (sorry…spoilers) the film drops several gears and I found myself just waiting for the eventual end.  But up to that point, it was entertaining.  I wish the Watchers and that armored dog thing weren’t the only creatures, though.  Jewish myth and a lot of early proto-Christian mysticism has so much crazy I’d have loved to see them attempt.  Where were the Nephilim?  Where were the ‘wheels within wheels and covered in eyes?’  Still, flame-burst swords, drug-trip conversations with the divine, and Rock-Ents.  Oh, yeah.  Drunken Russell Crowe.  Awesome.  Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins play exactly the same character they play in all these historic/fantasy films.  Not great, but not bad.  And easily the best thing Aronofsky has done since The Fountain.

Drink blazing hot redemption, sinners!

The Legacy:  Typical, boring 1970s horror movie, The Legacy features the conspicuous credulity of protagonists that was common in the time.  Everyone seems perfectly willing to simply accept that there’s a witch cult, that they’re doing black magic, and that everyone’s in on it.  No question, no ‘this can’t be happening,’ nothing.  The leads are super dull, and Sam Elliot does NOT work as a romantic interest.  It’s competently shot, but ultimately dull.


Captain America: The First Avenger:  I still wish this movie was a more solid Captain America film, and less of an opening chapter for The Avengers.  I wanted the whole thing to be set during World War II, and for those couple of montages to be spread out into the meat of the film, the battle against Red Skull.  That said, watching it again, and looking at the film as part of a greater whole that Marvel/Disney is building, the film works much better.  That’s something I’m finding interesting about all this crazy business.  They’re making movies that are individually OK, that when taken as a whole are kind of amazing.  All the connections, all the world building, all the ground work being put in place for an ever expanding series of films.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  This is a sort of nerd nirvana that is still blowing my mind.  The story in this is OK.  It’s a pale shadow of Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier comic, but it’s not bad.  Characters get more time, we see Cap deal with some of the effects of his dislocation in time, and we get many nods to various comic characters and ideas that I need a guide to figure out.  I really enjoyed the addition of Falcon, and I liked him and Cap as a team.  I’m still not really sold on Black Widow in the films.  I don’t know if it’s the actress or the writing, but whatever the case, she’s typically the most iffy part for me.  There’s much more of her in this film, and while not bad, it wasn’t holding my interest.  Which is too bad, since I’d liked her so much in the Captain America comics I read.


Black Plague (aka Anazapata):  “Don’t look at us! There’s none of us can write.”  A kind of run of the mill Medieval mystery/drama.  It’s well made, I suppose, and fairly well produced.  But it’s simply not all that interesting.  And as the movie goes on, you start to realize it’s another one of those movies where all men are monsters and all women their perpetual victims.  And the film isn’t even French.


Moby Dick: “From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”  Obsession and madness drive men to their graves in this adaptation of the nautical classic.  Like Joseph Conrad, I’ve never been able to get into reading Melville, but also like Conrad, I find elements of story and theme that resonate, even if the writing doesn’t.  The finale of the film is pretty awesome, and I love the look of the whale and its violence.  However, it felt like the movie was overall, a bit too stodgy, a bit too traditional.  It’s a story that begs for a more Gothic or even Noir style.  I wanted the extremes of the men to be echoed in extremes of design and cinematography.  Instead, the somewhat utilitarian filming seems tone deaf.  That is, except for Orson Welles’s opening sermon and the film’s climax, which are pretty wild.


Dredd:  This is the hardcore, ultra-violent cyberpunk movie I’ve been hungering for since Robocop.  They finally get Dredd right, get his world right, and make a heck of an entertaining movie.  The cast is good, the effects are kind of beautiful, and the violence is crazy…and also beautiful, it its way.  Grim, bloody, and tough as hell.  I love it.  It’s developed quite the cult following since hitting DVD.  Here’s hoping that gets enough attention to get a sequel.  But I doubt it.  Still, we got a proper Judge Anderson, finally.  Even if it is as a rookie.


Forbidden Planet:  I was kickin’ around when this popped up on TCM, and I had to watch it.  Great movie.  I’ve seen it many times before, and I love it every time.


    I had Forbidden Planet on while I was working on my list of hoped for Marvel movies of the future.  And after working on it, and thinking about Captain America 2, I had to put on my copy of Trouble Man.

What if Marvel Madness happened in the 70s?!

Trouble Man:  “T is the last man in this world I want looking for me.”  Mr. T is one seriously bad dude.  He’s got the world on a string, but somebody is looking to start some trouble.  As he unravels the conspiracy, he chews through the underworld.  Robert Hooks is super cool.  This one is right up there, near the top of the list when it comes to great Blaxploitation films.  I don’t know why it isn’t talked about as much as some of the others.  It should be.  See it.


    And that’s it.  This ended up being a bit of a weird week, where plans fell through a couple times, and a lot of stuff ended up playing out differently than I’d expected.  But it all worked out.  And I did finally, finally get a little sleep.  I’m still trying to get more reading done.  After that surge of comic reading last week, I’ve been somewhat lax.  And I really, really need to finish Lord of Light, which I started a dogs age ago.  But it’s tough.  You need to be focused, and I’m not.  Anyway, next week is already shaping up to be a good one.  So, ‘til next time.



-Matt



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Trouble Man

If you haven't seen Robert Hooks in Trouble Man, you're missing out.  This guy is like a proto-Statham, so cool and so tough, nothing is going to stop him when he's looking to do some damage.  The film features several excellent character actors and an absolutely fantastic Marvin Gaye score.  Go out and get it.


-Matt

Another Fistful of Marvel Wannabes! (Matt’s Picks)


    So, it’s been another year and Marvel/Disney keeps amping things up.  The second Captain America just came out.  Guardians of the Galaxy appears to be a real thing that is happening.  I’ve seen the trailer.  I don’t think it’s a hoax.  They keep saying Ant-Man is really happening.  And now I’m hearing a lot of rumor around Dr. Strange (come on, Mads Mikkelsen!) and a Black Widow spin-off.  Madness.  There’s also talk of a post WWII series about Agent Carter, which I think could be great (along with several NetFlix series that are supposed to build up to The Defenders…crazy).  A year on, and I wanted to return to my hopes for Marvel films of the future.  Especially with talk of their cinematic universe being mapped out to 2028 or some such.  Here are some more of the Marvel characters I want to see them get serious about.  If they can do Guardians of the Galaxy, they can do anything.  And yes, I would absolutely pay money to see a Squirrel Girl movie.


5.  Misty Knight & Colleen Wing, The Daughters of the Dragon:  This pair of martial arts wielding detectives could be a great deal of fun to watch.  My inclination would be to set this in the 1970s, but realistically I’m sure it would have to play more contemporary.  Perhaps this could link in to the proposed NetFlix series centered around the Defenders.  It seems more ‘ground level,’ less over the top super-power action.


4.  Nova:  It looks like the Nova Corps is going to be showing up in Guardians of the Galaxy, which I’m cool with.  They’re basically like the Green Lantern Corps, except that DC/WB managed to screw that up royally like they do with everything other than Batman.  So, here’s hoping Guardians gets a cosmic spin-off.  This is the side of the Marvel Universe I most want to see explored.  Let’s see Asgardians and Kree fighting, Nova Corps keeping the peace, and a Herald of Galactus (how about Nova?).  See also; The Space Knights.


3.  MODOK:  Not just because he was born in my home town, I think MODOK needs a movie.  This is in part because I like A.I.M., and think they should show up in the films, and because the Marvel movies need a couple big, long term villains.  Hydra might be settling in to be one, but they need more recurring villains, and MODOK could be a really good fit.


2.  Captain Marvel (either Monica Rambeau or Carol Danvers):  A running theme in discussion of comic book movies is DC’s inability to pull its head out of its own butt.  And one of the primary sources of this anatomical difficulty is their handling of women generally, and Wonder Woman specifically.  There have been several people to take the title of Captain Marvel, but Rambeau and Danvers seem the most likely choices.  I personally lean toward Rambeau.  Captain Marvel could be the Wonder Woman movie DC can't figure out how to make.


1.  Beta Ray Bill:  A monster of science, designed to save a civilization, Beta Ray Bill and Thor butt heads, only to become brothers in arms.  Beta Ray even models his costume on the Asgardian, and at one point proved himself worthy of wielding Thor’s Hammer.


    There are, of course, countless other characters I’d love to see, story arcs that could be adapted.  How about a variation of Marvels?  Film right issues would mean several of that time spanning story’s events would have to be altered, but it could make for a powerful film if done right.  What do they have planned?  I don’t know.  But the future of Marvel movies is bright.  Very bright.

Don't get a waif to play She-Hulk.


--Matt

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brad's Week In Dork! (3/23/14-3/29/14)


This may have been my Favorite Week of the Year so far.  I'm fully entrenched in Ed Brubaker's Captain America run, and I'm seriously enjoying this mash of espionage & spandex.  It certainly has it's ups and downs, but I can't think of a better example in mainstream comics that expertly balances nostalgia for the Silver Age with proper forward momentum of character (hmmmmm...maybe a case could be made for Grant Morrison's Batman).  It's just a miracle of comics that Brubaker could take a tired concept of Back From The Dead & transform it into gut-wrenching super hero drama.  And then just when you're getting used to the idea of Bucky Barnes - Winter Soldier, they go ahead and kill Steve Rogers!  Yet another eye rolling Dead's Not Dead cliche written to exception.  The arc is not without its irritants, but having now read 2/3rds of Brubaker's Cap, I can safely say that it's my favorite run in all the Marvel Universe.


The Wife has been a busy lady with work & play rehearsals, so I found myself with a lot of time on my hand this week.  We only managed to spend one evening together, and knocked out one film in our Marvel Studios Marathon - The Avengers.  Ah, but what a movie.  Love nearly every second of it.  It brings great giddy gobs of joy to this stunted youth, and it fills my heart with fuzzy warmth since The Wife also squees squishy enthusiasm for Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  She's a real sucker for Team Whedon.  Can't blame her, right?


When I wasn't reading comics or feverishly anticipating next week's The Winter Soldier, I was doing what I do best - watching movies.  Made only two trips to the theater this week, and both to The Alamo.  On Thursday I caught The Grand Budapest Hotel again since the Draft House was giving away Crossed Keys pins.  I'm never one to pass up swag.  And on Friday I caught Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest, Sabotage.  Yeash.  What a pile of steaming...shit.  Can't hide it.  That movie was terrible.  Easily the worst film I've seen in 2014.  Time for Arnie to hang up his boots, retire into the realm of character actor.  Sad to type, but true.  It's certainly time for me to give up on David Ayer.  That guy is simply an atrocious filmmaker.  And speaking of atrocious filmmakers, I saw Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac (in the safety of my own home thanks to VOD).  I just don't get this guy.  Shockmeister?  Art fiend?  Provocateur?  Boring, I say.


As much as I want to claim this week for Captain America, probably the biggest event was Wednesday's Godzilla-A-Thon.  Thanks to Co-Dork Matt & Kevin from Big Planet Comics, I was able to knock out a good chunk from my Cinematic Resolutions.  I've still got a few Godzillas to go before the remake hits on May 16th, but I'm feeling more confident that I'll get there now.  Outside of Shat Attacks & Hest Fests, this is the first full day Marathon we've done in years.  Dork Thug Life.  Anyway, enough with this rambling, on to the rest of the mini reviews...


Wattstax:  In 1972, seven years after the Watts Riots, Stax Records held a concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a means of tragic commemoration and cultural celebration.  Often cited as the African American answer to Woodstock, I'll always choose to spend my time with Rufus Thomas or The Staple Singers over the hippie smoke of The Grateful Dead.  Has there ever been a label as consistent as Stax?  Doubtful.  But this is not simply a concert film.  Director Mel Stuart intercuts the funk with interviews from various Watts citizens, and their words offer a sizzle to the nation's political temperature.  What has been will always be, and as one man says "Somethings are better, somethings are worse, somethings never change."  You can watch the entirety of the film via YouTube, and whether you're craving the cool of The Bar Kays or the wisdom of Richard Pryor, you owe it to yourself to give Wattstax a spin.  At the very least, this film has sent me down a rabbit hole of funk this week.  I've been blasting my car stereo with Johnnie Taylor, Booker T, and James Brown.  Nothing makes you feel cooler at a stoplight than Stax Records.


The Punisher:  "There is a limit to revenge."  I'll always remember the day I forced my parents to swing by Video Library after school to snatch me a VHS copy of Dolph Punisher.  It was the first Direct-To-Video I was ever aware of, and it was my first lesson in harsh cinematic disappointment.  A good bit of training to prepare me for The Phantom Menace.  Doesn't matter how much you love a character, he can let you down.  Dolph Lundgren's Punisher is not really the man you found in the Marvel Comic.  But as I sit here, a 34 year old fanboy, I have to admit that this film gets more right than Thomas Jane's later incarnation.  Dolph Punisher feels like a genuine broken mind.  He's covered in sweat, dirt, and he lives a drunk hobo's lifestyle down in the sewer.  And this is not the clean, eat pizza off the floor kinda sewer often seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  No, this is the type of lair where you spit hate at God while you sit naked in your own excrement.  That's pretty much how I want my Punisher.  A psycho.  A killer.  A big F.U. to the government.  Sure, the Yakuza plot is stupid, dumb, and often dull.  But Dolph Punisher is ugly.  I'll take it.


Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 & 2:  "I don't understand this self hatred."  Four hours.  Ugh.  Stellan Skarsgard discovers a beaten-to-a-pulp Charlotte Gainsbourg on his way home from the groceries, and offers her solace in his barren apartment.  There she recounts her life story as a sex addict, a self-loathing but proud Nymphomaniac.  The film really just feels like an excuse for director Lars Von Trier to explore his jollies.  Sadomasochism.  Gang bangs.  Pedophilia.  Udo Kier.  Every kind of sexual degradation. It's all here.  There are moments of humor that had me chuckling.  There are moments of absurdity that had me chuckling.  Mostly though, I was bored.  I keep going back to Von Trier because critics drop his films on Top Tens, and I feel the need to be a part of the conversation.  But outside of some interesting visual trickery, the guy is just not my kind of filmmaker.  Still, I didn't hate this in the same way I did Melancholia.  I just won't ever watch it again.


The Punisher:  Cribbing a few details from Garth Ennis & Steve Dillons's comic, the 2004 version of Marvel's Death Wisher offers a few rays of light, but stumbles into idiocy thanks to some shoddy direction and abysmal acting.  Thomas Jane sure looks the part, but this too-long origin story gives too much sympathy to the character, and attempts to drape a cape over a vigilante rather than portraying a real mental monster.  I understand the temptation.  Marvel Comics = super heroes right?  Not always.  There should be nothing heroic about Frank Castle.  He's a murderer.  He just kills "bad guys."  It's a fine line the comics haven't always understood, but it's weird to me that they chose to snatch from Ennis who so obviously understood Castle's demented desires.  And John Travolta???  Dear god no.  That pipe.  That hair.  That smile.  Chew, chew, chew sir - ya suck.  I do love the brawl with The Russian.  Too bad director Jonathan Hensleigh intercuts it with apartment baffoonery.  Head shake, this Punisher is best left forgotten.


Punisher - War Zone:  "Sometimes I'd like to get my hands on God."  This third try up to bat embraces the exploitation roots of the character, and delivers a violent Lionsgate Horror Show that erupts into a kill crazy crowd pleaser.  Former stuntwoman turned director Lexi Alexander cares little for plot or character development, and simply revels in the violence of Frank Castle's lifestyle.  This is probably the best version of the character we're ever going to get on the silver screen.  Ray Stevenson is a brute.  A man with a hole in his heart, impossible to fill with vengeance, but he'll kill & probably die trying.  Dominic West is LAAAARGER THAN LIFE as mob goon turned super villain Jigsaw, but Doug Hutchinson's little brother is even more fun as he chews through scenery and corpses alike.  Gore Guts Galore.  Heads are chopped, throats are slit, parkour wannabes go BOOM!  Certainly not for everybody, but that's always going to be The Punisher's problem.


Mothra:  "There's no need to fight on a scientific expedition."  A few years after Gojira stomped his way through Tokyo, a scientific expedition crashes on a Lost World and discovers a tribe of giant moth worshipping savages...as well as a couple of teeny tiny sing songy ladies.  A riff on King Kong, Mothra is a perfectly weird trip into Kaiju Kraaazy.  How do you even conceive of this stuff?  A couple of Lilliputians get tired of the showbiz lifestyle and use the power of music to call down a giant moth to typhoon destruction until a smug businessman cries uncle.  WTF Goofy.  I love it.


Mothra vs Godzilla:  When a giant egg washes ashore, and after an evil businessman (those guys again!) lays claim on this obvious moneymaker, those teeny tiny sing songy ladies show up to warn our world of Mothra's rage.  Meanwhile, everyone's favorite mutant dinosaur (is that what he is? I'm still not sure, Godzilla is just Godzilla, right?) emerges from underneath the beach to wreak havoc. The good scientists & reporters of Japan work together to convince the sing songy ladies to pit Mothra against Godzilla and save the world another Kaiju headache.  Their plan more or less works out.  A fun entry in the Godzilla saga, but not nearly as werid as the original Mothra or as fun as some of the other Godzillas we watched Wednesday.


Invasion of Astro-Monster:  Until this movie, I had no idea that the Godzilla series even dealt with outer space, or at least alien civilizations.  Fuji & Glen, a couple of friendly astronauts travel to Planet X and discover a race of man living in fear of the three headed monster, Ghidorah.  A plan is hatched between the two worlds to transport Earth's troubles, aka Godzilla & Rodan, to Planet X where the three monsters will undoubtably fight it out to the death.  Ah, but you should never trust a Planet with an X.  So far, with the exception of the original, this is probably my favorite of the Godzillas I've experienced. I love the introduction of bonkers 60s sci-fi with all those silver space suits and zappy ray guns.


Godzilla vs Megalon:  "If you're so damn clever, why steal our robot?"  If Astro-Monster is my favorite, than Megalon is certainly the most ridiculously cheery.  I had caught bits and pieces of this before from its MST3K ribbing, but frankly, this film does not need commentary to add to its wonderful comic absurdity.  The Undersea Kingdom of Seatopia is fed up with those dwelling above them, and they decide invasion is the only path to happiness.  Seatopia unleashes Megalon onto the poor folks of Japan.  Thankfully a couple of scientists and their kid sidekick have concocted a badass robot called Jet Jaguar, and this Ultraman knockoff is ready for a showdown.  And of course, Godzilla is now living peacefully on Monster Island and is always ready to help out the good people.  And then Gigan shows up to the party.  There is a whole lot of mondo plot going on in this film, and I could barely keep up with all the whacky and hilarious destruction.  Godzilla vs Megalon is simply a joy to watch.  Just what you expect and want from a Kaiju film.


Terror of Mechagodzilla:  "Even if you're a cyborg, I love you!"  Apparently this picks up immediately after Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, but since that film seems impossible to find at the moment, I just had to go with it...not too hard really...while attempting to salvage the wreckage of Mechagodzilla, a Japanese submarine is assaulted by a Kaiju called Titanasaurus.  This beasty is apparently controlled by an evil scientist named Shinzo Mafune.  The mad doc is determined to destroy man with the help of not just his robot daughter, but the alien simians responsible for the construction of Mechagodzilla.  Thankfully man has the OG on his side, Godzilla comes to the rescue handing both baddies their rubber asses.  Fun, but maybe not as much as Megalon or as weird as Astro-Monster.


The Grand Budapest Hotel:  I keep looking at my Top Ten List from last year.  If The Grand Budapest Hotel had come out a few months earlier, would it have taken down Only God Forgives as my favorite? Hmmmm...hard to say.  I could just be riding high off this very fresh feeling of Movie Joy.  Ralph Fiennes is certainly the star of the show, and 90% of my Budapest love is due to his obscene gentlemen, but the emotional beats are won from F Murray Abraham's brief screentime.  His eyes.  They pierce, but in a very soft way.  Willem Dafoe's werewolf monster killer - jesus - Wes Anderson proves he can be scary as much as whimsical.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is all over the map, but in a very, very, very good way.  I see myself hitting the theater at least one more time for another rewatch.


Sabotage:  To quote Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated this movie.  Was The Last Stand more uninspired?  Sure.  Was Escape Plan more dull?  Absolutely.  But Arnold Schwarznegger's Sabotage is just straight up terrible storytelling.  Is Mr Universe to blame?  No.  I actually appreciate the attempt at something different here.  This is the kind of dark role Arnie should be doing.  But writer/director David Ayer must be stopped.  His constant abuse of law enforcement is more than just tiring, it's gross and hateful.  His obvious reliance on improvised tough guy acting is laughable.  Hey Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos - SHUT UP!  You guys are not badasses.  You're lame wannabes, and your performances are as about as strong as hide & seek during recess.  The film does not get interesting until the last five minutes, when Arnold ventures down into Mexico for some cowboy revenge.  Ditch the tough act, start the film there, and maybe, just maybe you'd have a fun movie.  Probably not though, as Ayer attempts to squeeze blood from an orange - fails every time.


Red Sonja:  Wow.  This movie is bad.  As a kid I watched it a lot.  When I was tired of Conan The Barbarian, and I couldn't suffer Conan The Destroyer, I watched Red Sonja.  I can't do it anymore.  This film is just too, too bad.  Not even in that fun, enjoyably crappy kinda way.  After the shite of Sabotage, I was craving an Arnie from a better era, and since Red Sonja is technically the second big screen Marvel Comics adaptation (she first appeared in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #23) it seemed like the appropriate pick.  I was wrong.  It did nothing for me.  A head shake here, an eye roll there.  Brigitte Nielsen may have the sexiest she-mullet around, but her acting chops are about as strong as wood - AND! that's saying something since she's standing next to Arnold's lackluster Conan thievery.  Nostalgia lost this round.


Captain America Lives! by Ed Brubaker & Various:  After Steve Rogers is assassinated on the courthouse steps (thanks to the event's of Mark Millar's Civil War), James Barnes, Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, Tony Stark, and Sam Wilson race to catch the man responsible...of course, it all leads back to The Red Skull.  Brubaker weaves a complicated perfectly comic booky plot involving time travel, mind control, and cold war secrecy.  In the absence of Steve Rogers, Fury & Stark manipulate Barnes to take up the shield and I'm still thinking that Bucky Cap might simply be my favorite star-spangled asskicker.  His adventures with the Shield not only pit him against Rogers's greatest enemies, but also the dark mirror of the crazed 1950s Captain America Clone.  All very silly stuff on four color paper, but Brubaker makes it all work.  There's as much character development as plot, and when the inevitable road to Reborn starts, you're actually dreading the retcon.  When I first read the Reborn event in singles, I pretty much hated it, but on this readthrough, I found myself incredibly engaged with the literal Man Out Of (or Stuck In) Time story.  Bryan Hitch's art is obviously glorious with its widescreen action, and sock-knocking splash pages.  Dr Faustus, Arnim Zola, Crossbones, and Sin - Daughter of Red Skull.  These are some pretty silly shenanigans, but Captain America is never more badass when he's in the hands of Ed Brubaker.  Absolutely Essential Comic Book Reading.


The Avengers:  To quote myself, I love, love, love this movie.  From the "I'm Always Angry" to Cap's reflection of Iron Man's repulsors, to "There's Only One God And He Doesn't Dress Like That," and Thanos's courting of death.  Joss Whedon and Team Marvel get everything right about their Justice League.  And I'm sure all you out there are tired of us fanboys praising the miracle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I'm sorry to all you non-believers, but we're just over-the-moon in love with The Avengers.  We've suffered decades of Made for TVs, Direct-to-Videos, and bonehead adaptations.  Now is our time.  We're gonna be jerks about it.  Phase One is complete.  Seems like the world is Marvel's Oyster, but have they fully utilized it with Iron Man 3 & Thor 2?  I'll be rewatching those very soon, and I dig em, I really do, but Guardians of the Galaxy seems like it's going to be the real test for fanboy love.  Will everyone show up for the talking raccoon?  Are they ready for Ant-Man?  Time will tell.  I'm loving what they've accomplished so far, and I have faith.


--Brad