Thursday, December 12, 2013
Sometimes, I just don’t get other people. Look, taste is taste. I get that I like things that others don’t like. I get that others like things I don’t like. But sometimes the disconnect, especially when it comes to people with whom I share similar views, is rather profound. Many science fiction fans, for example, put Terminator 2 on their list of best sci-fi films. Huh? Getting past it being a shallow remake of the first film, it also manages to do all the things everyone hates about the Star Wars prequels, nearly a decade earlier (read: make everyone and everything cool into someone or something stupid and lame). This struck me again when I picked up the first trade of Saga. Here was a comic being hailed as one of the best new series, as a great science fiction epic, etc. Well, everyone who said those things is wrong. Not saying they can’t like the book, but they’re wrong to claim it as a) good or b) good science fiction. And as I read the second volume (for a graphic novel club), my bafflement at the love and my general distaste for Saga crystallized. What Saga is, is not a grand science fiction epic. It’s a bland retelling of Romeo & Juliet, filtered through years of wink-wink snarky Joss Whedon dialog. This feels like something a teenager would scribble on the back of her English Lit notebook after discovering Piers Anthony. It’s like Jewel poetry turned into a comic. And this from the guy who wrote one of my all time favorite comics, Y: The Last Man. I don’t get it.
In skimming the first volume again, as I prepared to read the second, I was struck anew by how uninteresting most of the characters are. The introduction of The Will and The Stalk made me wish the story would immediately change directions, dropping the sappy love story and turn instead into some science fiction adventure tale. Alas, by the end of the first volume, one of the only interesting characters to come along was dead. In volume 2, the other interesting character quickly gets tied up in a creepy anime-vibe storyline I’d rather not dwell on.
As my comment about the 16 year old girl might indicate, I found this whole thing to be quite childish. There’s even a lot of ‘shocking’ stuff, that feels like it was thrown in by an adolescent in the hopes of getting a reaction (see: the film career of Lars Von Trier for an example of this on a larger scale). I was not shocked, but mildly annoyed by obvious stunt writing. And the narration. The narration. Ugh!
I’ve read worse comics. Astonishing X-Men, Young Avengers, etc. These are worse. But I’ve read few things that make me more angry. So much wasted talent on such a juvenile and hackneyed series. And people are eating it up?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. It’s like when I tried to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and I felt like I was being punked. Certainly it is not one of the most popular shows on TV, right? Someone is was having a go. Alas, it is popular. And Saga is, unaccountably well received by people who otherwise seem to have a functioning sense of taste and quality. I don’t get it.
(edit: After the group discussion, I understand more of the reasons why other people like the comic. From its exploration of parenthood to the 'fun' things it does. I can't join in on the love; and I am glad I don't have to read any more of it; and I still don't think it's one of the best comics out there.)
Saga Volume Two
Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Sunday, December 8, 2013
My Criterion insanity started to wrap up this week. Not that I’m done. But I’m done with focusing on them as much. And I saw two more movies that are making this year’s Dorkies look less depressing. I might be able to craft a top ten that I feel good about now. And a month ago, that wasn’t the case. Also this week, I finally took the plunge and put out an official inquiry to some folks about starting up a regular roleplaying game. Come the new year, I’m going to stop just talking about it, and try to do something about it.
Bottle Rocket: You can see a lot of hints of the weird artificiality Wes Anderson would become known for in his later films. I think budget probably had a lot to do with it not being more odd. It’s the tale of a bunch of idiots who want to be big time robbers. There’s a cute romance, lots of awkward, and interesting music choices. Again, you can see the Wes Anderson we all know forming in this early effort. I’d been led to believe that this one wasn’t very good, but I found it charming and fun.
Little Miss Sunshine: “You don’t speak because of Friedrich Nietzsche?…Far out.” Extremely unhappy people come together in the ways that families do. Then they all pile into a VW van for a road trip…’cause that’s a good idea. The movie is full of awkwardly funny moments, but there are just too many, relentlessly bad things that happen to these people. By about two thirds in, credulity had been expended. It kind of has a turnaround near the end with a big F-You people with sticks in their ass.
The X From Outer Space: With the success of Toho’s Godzilla and similar giant monster sci-fi films, several other studios attempted to get in on the racket. Though the fun science fiction vibe of movies like Atragon and Battle in Outer Space is still there, the quality of monster effects is nowhere near as good as Toho films. It’s weird watching a kaiju movie where it probably would have been better without the kaiju. The story of the space explorers was more interesting than the rampaging bast.
Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell: Were the Japanese pioneers of modern horror? Was it in 1960s Japan that the idea of making a cast of awful people do the stupidest things possible in order to force the plot along was birthed? This movie is evidence. There’s some cool stuff, but everyone is so danged dumb that it’s hard to feel for anyone. I kind of want them to get bone-snatched. I like the end, and some of the nasty effects. However, at the end of the day, the whole thing is kind of meh. One particular complaint I have though, is the use of war photos. I find the use of any stock footage or photos depicting real tragedy/death to be in poor taste, and this movie does do it.
The Scarlet Empress: A crazy fantasy version of the rise of Catherine the Great, this movie is kind of dull when it comes to plot, but fascinating when it comes to performance and production design. To say the sets and props are over the top would be a disservice to Sylvester Stallone. They’re straight-up nutty. I knew I was watching something different when it cut to the queen sitting on her throne, and it looked like something Ming the Merciless would have found a bit much.
Heaven Can Wait: A funny, witty comedy that starts with a life-long lady’s man walking through the gates of Hell, to get his just deserts from probably the sweetest Satan in cinema history. Satan is charmed by the old scamp, and decides to hear his life’s story. From growing up a spoiled young man with an eye for pretty faces, our hero becomes something of a lothario. He does try very hard to settle down with the amazingly beautiful Gene Tierney. There’s plenty of fun, witty, wacky adventures at hand, and the film manages to talk about a lot of stuff, without talking about it. The Hayes Codes were fully in effect by this point, after all. It’s all quite charming. The only nitpick I have is with the costume design on aged Tierney. They put her in what may be the single ugliest wig/hairstyle I’ve ever seen. It was distractingly stupid looking. It looked like something a pseudo-Goth neo-pin-up wannabe would think twice about.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: Brooding runway models battle crappy CG in this teen-fic crap fest. No cliché is left un-mined. Typical 16 year old girl pseudo-Goth hooker crap. I work with books for a living, and the last 15 years or so have seen a huge increase in so called ‘teen’ fiction, which for the most part seems to actually be traditional romance novels, mixed with supernatural elements, and written by the equivalent of fan-fic writers you might stumble across in a Star Trek slash fiction fan page. Rarely having the decency to put a new spin on an old story, they simply regurgitate the same boring plots with the same boring characters. Change the term ‘shadow hunter’ to vampire or worse, highlander, and you’ve got any of a number of other insipid teen tales. To top it off, CGI has somehow allowed terrible looking effects to get a free pass now. Everything in this film looks like crap, but the werewolves are just pathetic. We’re talking An American Werewolf in Paris awful. The film is also over two hours long and the second half feels much, much longer.
|Ew, ew, ew!!!|
On Thursday morning, I finished the second volume of Saga. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. Everyone seems to love this comic. I don’t get it. It feels like it was written by a 16 year old girl who can’t stop watching Joss Whedon shows. I’ll have to see what the group thinks of it at the next meeting of the graphic novel club. Am I going to be the only negative voice?
Before heading in to DC on Thursday night, Brad had me try an Irish scotch called Laphroaig. It tasted like licking a hospital, and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you soaked an ace bandage in anti-bacterial, then siphoned some rubbing alcohol through it, you might approach the taste.
The Great Beauty: I am not a Federico Fellini fan. Not at all. But there are things in his work that I like. With The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino has made a clearly Fellini inspired movie that captures those things I like, without getting too much of what I don’t. It’s funny; it’s charming; it’s sad. And surreal, quirky, ugly, and uncomfortable moments abound. But it’s also nostalgic and beautiful. Lead actor Toni Servillo is devilishly charming. And the orgies of decaying flesh he surrounds himself with are lavishly unsettling.
Shogun: This mini-series made quite a splash when it hit the airwaves back in 1980. I was too young to be watching something like that, but I still managed to see a bit of it, and the bit I saw always stuck with me. Seeing it in full all these years later, I can see why people were so into it. But at the same time, it is way too long. Richard Chamberlain is super-dashing as the sailor who gets stranded in Japan, and must learn the ways of this strange land in order to survive. An amazingly Japanese cast (yes, even in 1980, it was unusual to get Japanese actors in Japanese roles…Oh, wait, it still is) does a fine job. It looks good for a TV production. There’s simply not ten hours of interesting material. There’s a reason things are ‘lost’ when books are adapted. A movie should take the essence of a book and tell a story; this film felt like they tried to get all of the plot-points in, while missing the essence.
Thor: The Dark World: On a second viewing, this movie is still quite fun, but not nearly as tight as the first outing for the Norse god of thunder. It’s still amusing, but lacks the light comic touch of the first. The action is pretty good, the story is OK, but it doesn’t seem to build the universe a great deal. Still, I’d come back every couple of years to watch another Thor adventure. It’s still the best of the Avengers solo films.
A Field in England: To use a cliché, this film is not for everyone. The plot is rather simple. Some men, deserting the battle field, find themselves in a field, meeting up with a ogre of an Irishman. Mayhem ensues. But the devil is in the details. There’s lots of ugly, gritty, wallowing in the mud humor, along with some grim violence. There are kaleidoscopic sequences of drug fueled madness, and moments of serine beauty. If you like films like Valhalla Rising, Beyond the Black Rainbow, or Marketa Lazarova, you may find something in this. If you like your movies straight forward and easy to watch, move along.
I guess that’s it. This next week looks like more madness. As we’re getting closer to the end of the year, there are finally some good movies coming out. My next couple of weeks are going to be madness. Plus, there’s the meeting of the graphic novel club. Yikes.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Thanksgiving and Black Friday got in the way of some serious movie watching this week. Can't really complain about that though, can I? Life is good. Family is sweet. And Business is a boomin'. Started the week with Matt at The Angelika for Alexander Payne's Nebraska. It's certainly not going to make my Top Ten List this year, but Bruce Dern is a serious contender for the Oscar race. On Wednesday The Wife and I made it over to The Alamo for Hunger Games 2. Better than the first film, but the best part about the night was still the Drafthouse pre-show. SNL skit was actually pretty funny. And we came home from the movie craving real entertainment, so we had ourselves a double feature with the This Is The End & The Word's End blu rays. Before my Black Friday got on the way, I caught both Philomena & Oldboy on the big screen while my Brother-In-Law tagged along for the adventure. Probably couldn't pair two films as different as those. However, the best film I watched this week was Plunder of the Sun. Glenn Ford doing that mean bastard routine. I love it.
While at work on Saturday, I got word that Paul Walker had died. I'm happy to say that I have always been a Walker fan. The man appeared in a lot of crappy cinema (the first two Fast & Furious flicks, Into The Blue, Bobby Z), but he's also rather amazing in Running Scared. I've sung that films praises numerous times on this blog, and I'll take the opportunity again to send you running to your TV set. It is simply an amazing bit of gonzo cinema. A Grimm's Fairy Tale remake of Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog featuring possibly the greatest tribute to John Wayne this side of Garth Ennis's Preacher comic book series. Not to mention those terrifying Nosferatu Pedophiles!!!! If you haven't seen Running Scared than I demand you drop what you're doing right now and check it out. If you're looking for other great Walker flicks to tribute and you've already exhausted Fast Five, then I also suggest Joy Ride (see below) and the more recent Pawn Shop Chronicles in which Walker plays a buggin' out meth head. The man knew how to have fun on screen. I'm gonna miss ya.
Nebraska: I've been listening to a lot of conversation surrounding Alexander Payne's latest flick. From one podcast to the next - Slashfilm, Operation Kino, Battleship Pretension - one critic blasts it as a mean-spirited mockery of the midwest, and another calls it a searing character study. One thing is certain - Bruce Dern delivers a quiet, painful performance as the senile father determined to collect his million dollar sweepstakes. And as a city slicker kid who occasionally spent his summers in Taylor, North Dakota population 148, I felt a lot of kinship for Will Forte's interloper. Is it mockery? At times. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. I was always told by my teachers that it was cruel to laugh at others, and Nebraska certainly gains a lot of its comedy from pointing the finger. So maybe I'm an asshole. I enjoyed Nebraska. Not the kind of film I'll watch over & over again, and I absolutely prefer Payne's The Descendants, Sideways, About Schmidt, & Election, but I'll root for Dern come Oscar time.
Plunder of the Sun: "How hard can you beg?" Now here is a beastly little diddy that does not get the praise it so rightfully deserves. Glenn Ford, very much in the spirit of Gilda's Johnny Farrall, is an insurance investigator ensnared in an archeological heist when Patricia Medina bats her eyes across the barroom. Ford is an amazing bastard in this movie, delightfully selfish, and cool as ice in the face of danger. I absolutely love how no jackbooted thug can take this man down, and how heartlessly mean he can be to a beautiful woman when she attempts to play villain. Imagine Indiana Jones mixed with In The Mouth of Madness's John Trent and a little of Prime Cut's Lee Marvin and you get Glenn Ford's beastly idol robber.. In 2013, having recently discovered or rediscovered flicks like The Big Heat, 310 To Yuma, Gilda, and Plunder of the Sun, Glenn Ford has climbed himself to the top of my favorite "classic" actors list. He lives proudly next to Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, and Lee Marvin. Now it's time to devour the rest of his back catalogue.
Medium Cool: "I understand that you have some problems." Robert Forester is a TV cameraman attempting to navigate the civil unrest of the late 1960s. The story itself is pretty much what you expect, but Haskel Wexler's in-the-trenches documentary direction perfectly mirrors the era's primetime media assault. Remember when journalism could make a difference? Sigh.
Catching Fire: I really just don't understand the appeal of these movies. I've seen dozens of dystopian sci-fi hellholes. Some I idolize - A Boy And His Dog, Logan's Run, Soylent Green, District 9. Some I hate - No Escape, In Time, Johnny Mnemonic. But The Hunger Games and this redo sequel are just soooooo booooooring. Doesn't help that I'm not the biggest fan of Jennifer Lawrence's steely-eyed acting (minus Silver Linings Playbook, which is awesome, and her constant red carpet shit-talking). Seriously, let's see some real deal emotion lady! You just butchered a dome full of kids and all you can muster is some scream dreaming? I dig the gender reversal of asskicker Katniss & Josh Hutcherson's damsel-in-distress, but why rehash the structure of the first film? How 'bout doing something of note with these old ass tributes? Geoffrey Wright is in your movie! Use him! Phillip Seymour Hoffman is in your movie! Use him! How can a film be nearly three hours long and have so little plot? But since this flick just made a butt load of cash at the box office, I must be missing something.
This Is The End: "Call me your Prince of Persia..." This is not sophisticated satire, it's a ferociously obscene assault on celebrity culture as seen from within. I've always been a sucker for Seth Rogen's pothead comedy (Pineapple Express & Your Highness), but I don't think it's ever been funnier than it is in the moment when he & Jay Baruchel return from an L.A. Revelation to find all their Hollywood friends Left Behind at James Franco's house party. One by one, they are either swallowed up by the Earth, impaled on sharp instruments, possessed by Satan, or welcomed into the Donner Party. Their only option for salvation is to learn & live The Golden Rule. It does not go well.
The World's End: "Back to the dark ages." Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg tackle the apocalypse from a much different, far classier, smarter, and typically British perspective. I've watched the film three times now, and with each viewing I love it more and more. I am very comfortable in calling The World's End one of the year's very best films, and even if I rank it at the bottom of the Cornetto Trilogy, it's still one of the finest emotionally wrenching comedies. It also helps that it so easily Out-Star Trek's this year's abysmal Into Darkness atrocity with Simon Pegg expertly Kirking The Computer. The World's End also offers the strongest performances yet from both Simon Pegg & Nick Frost. Pegg's drunkard turned savior, Gary King never quite learns his lesson, but he comes close enough. The apocalypse is not the awful part, it's how the apocalypse warrants his stagnancy. The Loser Reigns! Just what all isolated fanboys dream! But my favorite delight is watching Frost's sober suit transform into the Pink Hulk of robotic destruction. We've all seen the slobby brute, but I don't think we've ever been blessed with a prim & proper Frost. Hard to take at first, but it's all worth it for when the shots hit the table.
The Killers: Using Ernest Hemingway's short story for the opening scene, the rest of the film traces the actions of Burt Lancaster's punched-out boxer that lead to his inevitable assassination. This is solid noir. The flashback structure prevents it from fully capturing my passion, but it's also what gives the overall story its sense of dread. There's no happy ending here. Burt Lancaster dies in the first ten minutes and there's no resurrection. The film has all the genre hallmarks, and Ava Gardner's Femme Fatale is exceptionally venomous with her dialogue. "You touch me and you won't live till morning." Don't mess with this lady folks. She'll drive you to suicide.
Philomena: Who doesn't love Judi Dench? Who doesn't love Steve Coogan? Only the soulless. Dench plays a woman determined to find the son she was forced to abandon when she was barely a child herself. Coogan is the failed journalist plunging the trenches of the human interest story to regain some hold on his career. Philomena manages to be a searing look at the hypocrisy of religion while still managing to not make a mockery of faith. Everybody wins. It's the cliche "You'll laugh, you'll cry" kind of dramedy. Well done, Mr Frears.
Oldboy: A serviceable remake. There are a few changes to the Korean original, but a lot of the horror of that film is surprisingly maintained in this Spike Lee joint. Josh Brolin is pretty damn great as the American businessman kidnapped off the streets and mysteriously imprisoned for ten years. Suddenly released, Brolin beats, bashes, and hammers his way through a variety of thugs until he finds the man responsible for his torture. Along the way he meets Elisabeth Olsen's attractive social worker and does things he shouldn't. Besides being totally unnecessary, I have a few other complaints in regards to Newboy - Sharlto Copley is far too James Bond Villainy as the billionaire beast, the film rushes too quickly towards its climax, and never properly establishes the "love" between Brolin & Olsen. And could we please stop with the CG bloodwork!?!? I hate it sooo much. Still, it could have gone down a lot worse.
We Steal Secrets - The Story of Wikileaks: "I like crushing bastards." I'd love to tell you I was a socially conscious person. But I'm a pop culture freak. I can drone on and on about the merits of Roger Corman, but can barely string a sentence when it comes to the politics of the day. I'm trying to be a better American. I probably should venture out further into the real world than the handful of documentaries I watch a year. I knew very little about Wikileaks before watching We Steal Secrets. Similar to The Act of Killing, I found it to be a rather disturbing viewing experience. What is the truth of the Red, White, & Blue? What can we as Americans accept as collateral damage? Wikileaks is incredible. Too bad Julian Assange is such a hypocritical asshole himself.
Joyride: I love Joy Ride. Co-written by JJ Abrams and directed by John Dahl, the film is the closest this century has come to crafting the classic noir screenplay. It's Detour populated with sexy young things. While on a cross country roadtrip, two brothers punk a trucker using sex as temptation, and unleash a nightmarish Duel on the freeways. Paul Walker & Steve Zahn are so much fun to hang out with that you forgive their idiotic prank and cheer them on to victory. Too bad the film doesn't have the grit to adhere to its noir heart, and falters with a too-neat climax. And Leelee Sobieski should totally Femme Fatale these bozos, but is simply relegated to the damsel-in-distress.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
This was simply one of the best weeks I've experienced this year. Matt & I spent a good chunk of it staring up at The Big Screen, and I would rather be nowhere else than in a darkened theater. Sure, we missed a good bit of the Fantastic Fest Tour last week, but Matt & I managed to spend an entire day with The Alamo Drafthouse on Sunday. I am happy to report that two of the films we watched there will land on my Top 10 List by year's end - Journey to the West & Why Don't You Play In Hell? are a couple of mindbendingly entertaining films from the East. Hopefully the Fest will return next year, and I'll make damn sure to get the whole weekend off. Midweek we took a peak at Matthew McConaughey's Oscar grabber Dallas Buyers Club, and we finished it all off with an AFI Silver screening of Kiss Me Deadly. Ralph Meeker...monster...just an unbelievably good movie.
The Prowler: "You're a real cop now, aren't you? You want everything free." During the special features, author James Ellroy nails it on the head when he labels this whackjob flick as a "Perv Noir." Van Heflyn's beat cop responds to Evelyn Keyes' distress call, and immediately slithers his way into her life. This woman just can't say no; ten minutes inside her home, Heflyn's smoking the husband's cigarettes, drinking his booze, and plotting his murder. Keyes is nearly unbearable in her ignorance, but Van Heflyn's badged monster owns this unlawful entry. When you compare the bulging glares of his sleazoid cop with the dopey sadsack hero of 3:10 To Yuma, you'll finish the credits a Van Heflyn fan for life. The Prowler's third act goes off the rails a bit with a ghost town pregnancy, but the surreal law & order showdown certainly delivers on the weirdo vibe. It's certainly a must for fans of the genre.
Confession of Murder: Unlike Van Heflyn's deputized pervert, Jae-yeong Jeong's Detective Choi is the type of badass Dirty Harry you love to root for as he bashes, gouges, and spits against the absolute worst of humanity. Unfortunately, Confession of Murder's structure wanders on too long as it manufactures its inevitable twists. There are certainly moments in this movie that I enjoyed. When fists or bullets start to fly, I really appreciated the sloppiness of the action. Whatever happens to be lying around the set is tossed into the violence; no bucket or frozen fish is safe. Again, Jae-yeong Jeong is great. He simmers rage and hate, but the film never really delivers on those emotions, opting for obvious narrative trickery instead. May I recommend I Saw The Devil, if you are looking for some real-deal Korean serial killer cinema to fuel your nightmares.
Journey to the West - Conquering the Demons: This one surprised me. I don't know why since I'm a tremendous fan of Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, and I should frickin' know better, but the early trailers for this yet-another-adaptation of the classic Chinese fable never captured my interest. Dumb ass. Journey to the West is the best fantasy adventure of 2013 - F YOU UPCOMING HOBBIT! The story of a young demon hunter struggling to obtain enlightenment as he struggles equally to sack catfish and pig monsters. And if fumbling about with cg folklore wasn't tough enough, the fool is constantly being shown up by Shu Qi's warrior princess. The film is incredibly silly and weird, but as one demon hunter fends off the affections of another, and the epic quest marches towards the mischievous Monkey King, I found myself being incredibly moved by the climactic spiritual awakening. As he had already proven with Shaolin Soccer & Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow drags genuine warmth out of cartoon hijinks. Journey to the West does all the cliche things you want from the movies - you'll laugh, you'll cry, etc. High praise.
Red 2: I dug the first flick. I kinda hated this one. John Malkovich & Helen Mirren are fun enough, but Bruce Willis is painfully checked out from this old foggie spy adventure. I've seen Moonrise Kingdom. I've seen Looper. I know the guy can still deliver a solid performance when he bothers to give a damn. But if he keeps cranking out the Red 2s, the Good Day To Die Hards, and the GI Joe Retaliations then I am going to leave him smirking across an empty theater. Of course, I could just be bitter that Red 2 left Karl Urban standing at the alter. If he had been there instead of Byung-hun Lee, then maybe I could have focused on the shockingly entertaining character work being done by Anthony Hopkins, and not the slackjawed yawn belching from its lead performer.
Dallas Buyers Club: I am so glad that the rest of the world has finally caught up to my Matthew McConaughey love...or has the Surfer, Dude simply given up the aspirations of Tom Cruisehood and plunged into the splendid world of character actor? Dallas Buyers Club is just what you think it is, a message movie circling themes of intolerance on both the personal and societal level (resulting in countless unnecessary deaths) and an opportunity for its star to horrifyingly transform himself. The cynical might dismiss it as Oscar bait, but I appreciated the narrow focus of the Buyers Club money grab. This is not just the story of a man inflicted with HIV only to magically discover that Life Is Beautiful. Sure, he gets there. But McConaughey's sex fiend dope head recognizes an opportunity to make a buck, and through his own greed witnesses the even more catastrophic avarice of Big Pharma. If you really want to get your dander up then I recommend How To Survive A Plague for further viewing.
The Set-Up: "Everybody makes book on something." Here it is. The granddaddy of all boxing stories. Pulp Fiction, Snake Eyes, Raging Bull - they all wanna piece of The Set-Up. Robert Ryan is Stoker, a mid 30s wannabe champion without a chance in hell of scoring the belt. When his manager & coach make arrangements with his opponent they forget to tell Stoker to throw in the towel. They've seriously under estimated the dying dog's determination. The Set-Up is one of the most painful of noirs thanks to the impenetrable cloud of doom circling the hero. Ryan is the very definition of "poor bastard," from nearly the first frame you know he's screwed.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman: Who doesn't want to see Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger beat the stuffing out of Shia Labeouf? That's what I call a good time out at the movies. And the kid really does get the snot kicked out of him, but these poundings stem from a series of predictable setups. Labeouf travels to Romania after his mother's ghost instructs him to strike out on an adventure, a man dies next to him on the plane, and he feels it necessary to deliver a spectral message to his daughter. It's all very cute. It's Eastern Europe so of course there are strippers and the mobsters. Meh. Not the worst thing I've seen this year, but I certainly won't remember a thing about it come Top Ten time.
The Black Power Mixtape: From 1967 to 1975, a Swedish television crew shot hours upon hours of footage surrounding the Black Power movement in the United States. Decades later it's assembled by director Goran Olsson into this masterful documentary. The film touches upon the battling philosophies of Martin Luthor King, Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X, and Louis Farrakhan. You've probably encountered much of this content in the past, but the Swedish perspective offers a fascinating angle that's not as condemning of us dumb Americans as you might think...although, it's appropriately harsh on the assholes of history.
Raw Deal: "What do I care if you're dead?" Edmund O'Keefe escapes from prison and plunges himself and two love struck dames into a vengeance quest against gangster Raymond Burr. Like the best noirs, Raw Deal concerns itself with white hot hate, and revels in the resulting emotional torture. I love how helpless O'Keefe is under the affections of both Claire Trevor & Marsha Hunt. He just wants his dough, but these girls keep getting in the way! Raymond Burr also gets an exceptional moment to showcase his villainy as he dumps scalding hot flambe upon a hapless dancing couple. I can see where Lee Marvin gets his temper from in The Big Heat.
Leave Her To Heaven: "Sometimes the truth is wicked." Cornel Wilde stumbles into a diabolical Elektra complex when he locks eyes with Gene Tierney's gorgeous socialite. The film chronicles a deeply disturbing love affair in which Wilde appears helpless against Tierney's fatherly obsession. Once again...dames. No one is safe from Tierney's perverted lust. Not Wilde, his crippled kid brother, the family ranch hand, or any beast that dare grow in her belly can escape this monster. Is Leave Her To Heaven the first color Film Noir as some have claimed? Not sure that such a thing exists, but you can't doubt Gene Tierney's talent as a Femme Fatale. She's stunningly gorgeous and filled with hate; to look upon her is to look upon the medusa. Yer done son.
Fascination: If you've been reading Matt's Week In Dorks then you've seen him slip into Jean Rollin madness. He's been pestering me to jump on board this train for some time, and I finally broke down with this whackjob flick. What's it all about? I really don't know. Some thief flees into a castle where two mysterious women keep dropping their clothes and ravaging his body. Lots & lots of surreal imagery - a bloody butcher barn exchange opens the film, and it only gets more nonsensical from there. Of course I enjoyed it. Am I ready to go all in like Matt? Hmmmmm...not yet. I'll give another Rollin flick a try, but apparently, I need more in my films than dreamscape boobs.
Someone Behind The Door: Two weeks ago I had never heard of this film, but then I encountered a random Best Of List online (which I currently can't track down) that put Someone Behind The Door at the very top of Charles Bronson's canon. Better than Death Wish? Mr. Majestyk? Once Upon A Time In The West? Certainly not better than Death Wish 3!?!?!?!? This random troll thought so, and I had to find out. Well, I wouldn't rank it at the top of my list, but Someone Behind The Door is pretty damn good. Bronson plays a drifter who stumbles into Anthony Perkins's hospital with some scratches on his arm and absolutely no recollection of who he is. Amnesia...yeah, it's one of those. Bronson is solid as this broken man hunting for identity, but it's really Anthony Perkins's show. The kindly doctor is not so kind; he uses Bronson's blank slate as a means of punishing his adulterous wife, but how far will this revenge go - murder? The man is Psycho after all. Someone Behind The Door is certainly worth a look, and you might as well snag the DVD for a couple bucks online.
Just Like Being There: A simple talking heads documentary detailing the resurgence of illustration in regards to concert and movie posters. The stuff of internet dreams & nightmares. I was definitely bit by the Mondo bug a few years back, and I had a streak there in which I desperately haunted ebay and other back channels for the must-have screenprints (Tyler Stout's Wrath of Khan & Assault on Precinct 13 being my favorite gets). Now it's nearly impossible to score a Mondo on the release date, and I've lost the thrill of the hunt. Of course, there are other companies out there doing work of equal value, even if it doesn't make Entertainment Weekly's radar. Anyway, there isn't much to this doc. It's cool to get some interviews from folks like Daniel Danger, Justin Ishmael, and Drew Struzan, but there is nothing new to be gained here unless you have only the slimmest of surface knowledge.
Kiss Me Deadly: "You don't taste like anyone I know." I've seen this flick a half dozen times now (twice this year now), and it has quickly risen to the top of my all time favorites. Ralph Meeker's private dick picks up a crazy dame on the side of the road, and his life is propelled down a Kafkan spiral to Armageddon. Full on Film Noir Horror, and Meeker is the blunt instrument of our ultimate doom. Men don't get much tougher or downright stupid evil than Meeker's Mike Hammer. Not sure if this is what Mickey Spillane had in mind, but it's the final statement on a genre of deadly stubborn, thick-headed misogynists. And it's totally badass. I have no idea why every random lady falls into Meeker's arms, or why he can't seem to give a damn about them in his quest for the Great Whatsit, but it is painfully funny to watch him bounce off these ladies until that final Fatale strikes. What's in the box? Something much worse than Gwyneth Paltrow's pretty little head. Kiss Me Deadly is the strangest chunk of noir, and it climaxes in what is probably cinema's greatest grim climax.
Detour: "For that kind of dough, I'd cut my leg off." Film Noir is a genre of sadsacks, but the saddest sack of all is Tom Neal's lovelorn hitch-hiker. While on the road to reclaim his starstruck lover, Neal thumbs his way into the wrong car. As they often do, a corpse materializes. Neal thinks the easiest option is to snatch it's identity and glide into the Golden State. Naturally a woman appears to ruin his life. Claudia Drake might not be the finest of actresses, but she nails the shrill vocal venom and that accompanying hateful stare. Two pieces of scum made for each other, and the entertainment is watching them bring about their own ruin. Not my favorite Noir, but whenever someone mentions the genre Detour is the first film that pops into mind.
City Lights: The Wife & I watched this Saturday afternoon, and we had a blast laughing at The Tramp's romantic plight. Chaplin falls hard for a blind flower girl, and when he becomes chummy with a drunk millionaire, he finds the monetary means to win her heart. Unfortunately, the millionaire has no recollection of our man when he's sober. Miscommunication and slapstick hijinks ensue. As usual, Criterion does a bang-up job with this Chaplin release, and City Lights stands out even amongst other silent classics like Modern Times & The Gold Rush. Those thinking that the silent era is best left to the historians are missing out on some serious comic gold. I'd pit Chaplin against any number of generic Vince Vaughn duds. Do yourself a favor and give The Tramp a try.