Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wait just a tick...

Stop.  Collaborate.  Listen...

Brad and I have been extremely busy the last few weeks (and I've injured my hand).  But rest assured, we have not forgotten you, our loyal readers.  We'll be back soon with more timely and world changing bits of Dork Life.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (9/28/14-10/4/14)

    In spite of a couple gaps in the Dork Life, this was a fine week, made all the better by HestFest 2014, the annual celebration of Charlton Heston.  Along with a couple visits to The Alamo for some classic cinema, it made for a solid week.

Robocop:  “Guns, guns, guns!”  Awesome Cyberpunk, ultra 80s, super-violent, subversive as heck, and just a heck of a lot of fun.  The script is tight, the performances are tip-top.  Kurtwood Smith is especially good as the gang leader in the pocket of an evil exec.  He’s clearly having all kinds of fun, reveling in sneering line-reading.  A must see.

    I tried out the recent (turns out, already canceled) Crossbones.  It wasn’t good enough to care, or bad enough to entertain.  I won’t be bothering to watch on, and not even because I know it ends prematurely.

Johnny Guitar:  “Down there I sell whiskey and cards.  All you can buy up these stairs is a bullet in the head.”  Not at all the Western you think you’re gonna get.  A lot of the usual elements are all introduced, but where things go is less than usual.  With Noir styled, ‘hard boiled’ dialog, unexpected turns, and all kinds of hate poring out of the screen, it’s one to seek out.

    On Friday night, Ben came over for the beginning, the preamble if you will, of HestFest.  It was a more low-key evening and a good start to the weekend.

Two-Minute Warning:  Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes have to stop a sniper at the Super Bowl.  It’s paced and written like a typical disaster film from the time, with several random characters coming together while something bad looms.  While not a classic, it’s good.

Planet of the Apes:  One of the greats.  My eighth favorite, in fact.  This movie has so much going on, it takes multiple viewings to pick up on a lot of it.  Of course some of it is pretty obvious, but some not as much.  One of these days I’ll do a more scholarly (ha!), extended review.  But if you haven’t seen it, it’s a classic for a reason.  Planet of the Apes transcends genre, and like the best fiction, it tells some serious truth.

    Saturday morning, I started up my annual journey into madness,  the real deal, HestFest.  I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve been doing this.  It’s been a long time.  I think it started back in or around 1999, so I’m starting to think of it as the 15th anniversary.  But it might have been earlier.  Over the years, it’s varied in success, but it’s always been fun.  More recently, since briefly rooming with co-Dork Brad a few years ago, it’s become a more ‘serious’ endeavor.  No longer just a couple friends, a bag of chips, and a bottle of soda while we sit down to two or three Heston favorites.  No, now it’s a day long (plus) party with themed foods, gifts, a raffle, etc.  A madhouse.  A MAD HOUSE!

Charlton Heston Presents Genesis:  This was much better than I anticipated.  Heston talks generally about the Bible, then reads various excerpts of the Book of Genesis.  He wanders around the Holy Land, walking the area in which the book is set.  The film serves as a reminder that only a short time ago, civil discussion about religion didn’t seem so alien.

The Greatest Story Ever Told:  If this movie was half as long, and had 90% less sanctimonious mic dropping from Jesus, this would be a pretty cool fantasy film.  That they used the American West as a backdrop lends a sort of surreal vibe to the familiar story.  And Charlton Heston’s caveman preacher, John the Baptist is wildly wonderful.  There are some great scenes, to be sure.  But the film is well over three hours long, and by the time Heston exits, it starts to feel like the post-chariot race Ben Hur.  And the fact of the matter is, in this film, Jesus is absolutely insufferable.  I love Max Van Sydow, but he makes you want to kick his teeth in with his cloying, condescending self-righteousness.

Skyjacked:  Totally bonkers, this movie is a heck of a lot of fun.  All the silly tropes come rolling out and get an almost exploitation treatment.  James Brolin is wonderfully over the top.  It’s all goofy, but very watchable.

    Brad and I were in for the long haul and Rebecca joined us at about the point Jesus was getting done in, but around the end of Skyjacked, people started coming in.  I played an old live TV thing called A Bolt of Lightning as we got food and said hello. 

Earthquake:  One of my favorite, if not my favorite, disaster films, Earthquake is a sprawling movie with subplots to spare.  George Kennedy is especially awesome as the bitter, but eventually heroic cop.  There’s family melodrama, a kid in a coma, a creepy rapist with a gun, and a whole lot of shakin’ going on.

Airport 1975:  “The stewardess is flying the plane!”  I wish this movie was less dull.  There are some good bits and some fun moments.  But I could have used a bit more sleaze, a bit more silly.  It takes itself so danged serious.  Still, a fun group watch.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes:  While plenty of complaints about technical issues might be valid, and one could be bothered by the introduction of weirder elements, I enjoy the heck out of this follow-up to the classic.  I like that they don’t simply repeat the original’s story, and make the attempt to do something even more ambitious.  It doesn’t always work, but it’s an interesting attempt.  And that ending.  Nuts.  That’s rough.  The end of the first movie is a brain breaker.  The end of the second is a soul crusher.

    And that was it.  Good food.  Good company.  Good (mostly) movies.  What more could a Dork want?


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (9/21/14-9/27/14)

    I get right up in sports’ business, hit the theater, and talk the Victorian weirdness of Alan Moore.  This Dork had a heck of a week.

The Losers:  OK, this movie isn’t very good.  Everyone’s always uttering silly one-liners and walking in slow motion.  None of the characters are especially interesting and the action is only so-so.  Still, I find myself enjoying it in spite of its faults.  If you’re in the mood for a lighter, more PG-13 Expendables, this is a good choice.  Everything about it, the violence, the language, and especially the sex is very, very PG-13.

Kim:  I like this little kid adventure yarn set in the twisting political world of British ruled India.  A smart and resourceful boy gets involved in the deadly Great Game of empire.  Learning from various men different ways of living, he becomes a sort of super spy, taking messages and collecting intel.  I’m sure there are dozens of ways the film is racist, or supports currently unpopular views, and I’m sure the same could be said of the book it’s based on.  But taken at face value, it’s a fun watch with plenty of excitement and plot twists.  Plus, Erroll Flynn is devilishly charming as the Red Bearded Horse Trader.

Snow White and the Huntsman:  When this film focuses on Charliz Theron, it’s pretty good.  Her performance is wonderfully campy and crazy and she’s captivating.  Unfortunately, the movie focuses too much on a dead-eyed Snow White and a faux-Irish Huntsman.  Ugh.  The fantasy elements are cool, too.  They had all the pieces in place, but the casting of the two leads brings down the whole.

    Monday night, Brad and I headed up to the AFI Silver.  Man, I wish I could get up there more often.  I love that place, and it’s a wonderful resource for the film buff.  The fact that it’s not packed every showing makes me sad.  I assume there are enough film fans in the area, but they just don’t take advantage of what they’ve got.

The Zero Theorem:  Terry Gilliam has been one of my favorite directors since I understood what that meant.  The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, Brazil, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys.  Even newer films like Tideland and the mainstream studio effort Brothers Grimm.  While The Zero Theorem might rank among the lesser works of the director, I think that still puts it above the average film.  It’s awfully weird, and it has some very funny bits.  I enjoy the heck out of Christoph Waltz.  And the weird computer hacker kid, while not a very good actor, has something that makes him amusing where he could easily be extremely annoying.  There’s a lot to like.  And I can’t even say what didn’t work necessarily.  But I didn’t love it.  Gilliam fans should certainly check it out, and folks who like weird movies.

    Tuesday night, Rebecca took me to my first Major League baseball game.  You may be shocked to learn this, but I am not a follower of sporting events.  I’m aware that some ladies and gentlemen enjoy running about on fields and the like, attempting to move one type of ball or another to other parts of said field.  With the brief exception of an Olympic games back in the 80s, where I thought for a brief time that I would follow soccer, I have avoided sports of all kinds.  My lady, however, is quite the fan of various strenuous team activities.  So, I sat down to watch the Nats do battle with the Mets upon the diamond shaped field.  As various champions faced off against each other, the team we had gone to support and cheer rose to the occasion.  The Nats defeated their foes and there was much rejoicing from the gathered throngs.  I found various elements of the whole enjoyable.  There was an electricity to the crowd not dissimilar to that of a comic convention.  There were hot dogs being peddled for a dollar a piece.  In spite of my monumental ignorance of the game and its rules, etc., I had a good deal of fun.  Am I now a baseball fan?  Well, no.  But I look forward to enjoying a bit of sport in the future.

The Signal:  Not a perfect film, by any means.  But this was much better than I was expecting.  I ended up liking the three main cast members, which was something of a shock.  While some of the eventual resolution wasn’t as cool or exciting as it might have been, I found it satisfying.  And there are some very cool sequences.  Definitely one of the better low budget science fiction films I’ve seen recently, and more creative and interesting than many big budget films.

Prix de Beaute:  A time capsule with a few interesting moments, this is a mostly forgettable film with little to recommend.  If you’re in the mood for an early film with a mix of comedy and drama and some darker twists, it’s OK.  But don’t go out of your way.

    Saturday night brought the latest gathering of the graphic novel club.  This month, one of my favorite comics, one that helped convince me to give comics a try, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  It was a rather spirited group, with lots of opinions.  Some, I’ll admit, I found baffling.  But that’s the wonder of groups like this.  Whatever the case, revisiting the book was an excellent experience.  I find Allan Moore extremely hit & miss, but have to count this one as a palpable hit.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Comic Review: Beasts of Burden

    Hellboy and Scooby-Doo mixed with Lassie?  OK.  A bunch of neighborhood dogs (and one stray cat) become a supernatural investigation and combative force.  This collection of short stories has a dash of the old Tales from the Crypt type anthology comics.

    Eight stories of varying lengths introduce us to the various dogs and their stray cat friend, as well as a building sense of something very, very big coming.  The stories are a mixed bag.  The art is excellent thoughout, but a couple of the stories (The Unfamiliar and Grave Happenings) aren’t all that good.  In fact, by Grave Happenings, I couldn’t help but wonder, was all this build-up ever going to built to something?  I love the things hinted at, the greater world of dogs fighting evil, weird forces building, etc.  But it’s not the kind of thing that can just build and build without coming to some kind of a head.

    The best stories are Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, A Dog and His Boy, and Lost.  But each story builds the mythology.  I know there have been some more stories published since these were collected.  Here’s hoping they too will be put into one volume.  Here’s hoping that like Hellboy, it eventually rises above aimless build-up stories and moves the concept forward.  Whatever the case, fans of horror comics and old style anthologies should check this one out.  A Dog and His Boy, man.  That one is rough.

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites
Author: Evan Dorkin
Artist: Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-513-1


Book Review: Secret of the Lost Race

    Andre Norton (aka Alice Mary Norton) is among the great Golden Age Science Fiction writers (I consider the 50s as part of the Golden Age, though some say it ended in the late 40s).  Though her later career moved into a sort of Cat Fancy/Fantasy thread, her early work was core, essential stuff.  This tale is of a young seeming man with a shrouded past, working in a gambling hall.  When things go wrong, he ends up shanghaied and forced into labor on an ice planet.  From there, conflict, adventure, political intrigue, and galactic revelations.

    Going back and reading books from this era (used to be my bread and butter, but I don’t read nearly as much anymore), I’m always a bit taken aback by how modern they feel.  In large part, I think this is because movies, which I watch more frequently, are always so far behind books.  Settings and styles of books written in the 40s and 50s would not see depiction in film until the 80s, or even 2010s.

    I enjoyed the heck out of the book, but it feels like part of a larger whole.  Often, while reading books of this time, the worlds feel so fleshed out that when the book is done, I wish to read more stories.  Yet, most of the time there are no more.  It’s a testament to the skills of the writers, but it’s frustrating, none the less.   For fans of science fiction, Andre Norton is a must and this would be a good introduction.

Secret of the Lost Race
Author: Andre Norton
Publisher: Bean
ISBN: (I read this as part of a double volume called Secret of the Stars) 978-1-4767-3674-7


Matt’s Week in Dork! (9/14/14-9/20/14)

    Not much in the way of Dork living this week.  Just watched a few movies and zoned out a lot.

The Smiling Ghost:  A goofy comic caper in the style that would go on to influence Scooby-Doo, this bit of fluff is enjoyable, with some fun performances.  But it also features some of that old timey racism that is so bloody awkward.

Borgman:  There’s about 75% of an awesomely weird movie here.  The missing 25% is the kicker, though.  While I’m all for films that don’t explain themselves, I still need enough to work out an explanation for myself.  Things are left so vague, there are simply too many ways to look at the events for my taste.  Sadly, the one that seems most popular (that Borgman is the devil) is the lamest.  Perhaps he is an alp, a sort of nightmare faerie.  This could have been so good.  But like the recent film Thale, it doesn’t have enough to build its mystery upon.

Destroy All Monsters:  Aliens and stock footage attack the world in this mid-level Godzilla film.  It’s more fun to watch than its almost clip-show reliance on previously filmed material would suggest.  The human characters and the aliens are fun.

Hector and the Search for Happiness:  “Whoever said money can’t buy you happiness? …Fuck you!”  When the movie started off, I was enjoying it.  I liked the cast and I don’t have a problem with obvious, uplifting plots.  Heck, I enjoyed the heck out of the Pollyannaish film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  But somewhere in the middle of this movie (right around the kidnapping in Africa), it all goes wrong.  From that point on, the message becomes not just obvious, but condescending and wrong-headed.  In a way, it reminded me of Life of Pi, which you may remember I was not the biggest fan (it was my worst film of 2012).  The last twenty minutes of the film are kind of insufferable, in spite of a wacky Christopher Plummer performance.

Castle of Blood:  Barbara Steele bug-eyes her way through another black and while horror film with delusions of Hammer.  The look of the film is good, but the story kind of dull.  And the resolution doesn’t hold interest especially well.  I guess it wouldn’t be uncharacteristically crass of me to say, the film continues to promise lots of skin, and never delivers (apparently there is a version that does feature nudity...this wasn't it), which doesn’t help.

    On Friday night, I finished up Andre Norton’s Secret of the Lost Race, a fun Golden Age science fiction novel.  I love her early work, full as it is of that 50s/60s wide open universe storytelling.  Not hampered so much by the later 60s/70s doom and gloom.

The Juniper Tree:  The Brothers Grimm get the indie film treatment in this black and white Bjork vehicle.  The accented English was a surprise.  I figured the film would be subtitled.  It looks pretty good, but feels too long.  As a thirty or forty minute short in a lager Grimm anthology film, it might have worked better.  Not bad, but not especially captivating.

Blonde Venus:  Marlene Dietrich heads an excellent cast in this film about a woman who tries to help her sick husband, only to succumb to the charms of other men.  Following the story arc is crazy.  But it’s a pretty good story, giving Dietrich plenty of material to sink her teeth into.  And very, very young Cary Grant is devilishly charming as the film’s almost villain.

    On Saturday, I caught two of the three silent comedies on my resolutions list.  I’m hoping to get The General in by the end of this next week.

The Gold Rush:  One more of my cinematic resolutions down.  When my resolution list was made, I had never seen a Charlie Chaplin film.  Since making the list, I’ve seen two; this is my third.  Unfortunately, it’s also the weakest.  There are some very good bits and gags.  But the overall story is only meh, and the very good bits are few and far between.  Still, the actors are charming and some of the comedy bits are impressive.

Safety Last!:  Famous for its stunts, this comedy is pretty typical of the 20s, with a poor kid going off to the big city to make his bucks, only to fail and try to make people think he didn’t.  Expected comic hijinks ensue.  The stunts are impressive and Harold Lloyd is good.  But the star of the film is obviously the big building climb and all the associated stunts and gags.

    And that’s about it.  Like I said, not much Dork living.  I know I’ve got a couple things coming right up though.  And I sure as heck have a bunch of reading to do.  Oh, and Lisa came up with the idea of doing a 30 Day Sketch Challenge.  I’ve been having fun defacing things with illustrations.