Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Artist Guillaume Singelin tackles classic 80s Heroes as brought to us by the twisted brains of John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, & James Cameron. There is certainly a lot of manga influence here, but I also see a hefty bit of Dr. Seuss as well. And the coloring feels like a Dan Hipp drawing. Whatever the case, I dig em.
"Our Hearts Are Filled With Bitterness & Regret!" - Jack Black Still Wants A Keg Of Beer in Teen Wolf Sequel, Adult Wolf
Jack Black appeared on Jimmy Kimmel the other night to promote Tenacious D and his upcoming movie, Adult Wolf. Ah if only the world was ready for a Teen Wolf sequel...Teen Wolf Too Too. As much as I love the appearance of John C McGinley, I think the sketch was missing the genius of Jason Bateman.
The first ten or fifteen minutes of the Tron Legacy are designed to quickly get you from where the first film ended, up to speed with where this new film’s story begins. It’s fast paced and packed with a bunch of exposition that isn’t too weighted down with character names or extraneous info. Basically, Kevin Flynn had a kid, his wife died, he got really weird and started talking about lots of crazy stuff, then he disappeared. Years later, his son Sam is something of a trouble making recluse. Kevin’s old partner Alan is only nominally involved in their Microsoft/Apple type tech company, and everyone is living in the shadow of Kevin Flynn. It also features the most wonky bit of CG in the film, which is made worse by the scene not being totally necessary. CG ‘younger Flynn’ looks awful. When you see him again on the Grid, it works because it’s supposed to be a digital representation. But when he’s in the real world and talking to his kid, it just looks creepy and weird. Combined with Sam’s rebel without a cause attitude, the wonky effects made me wary. 30 years of waiting for a sequel was starting to look a bit like Star Wars all over again. But after these problems, things improve dramatically.
“You’ve done enough, already. Sam, you’re really…You’re messing with my Zen thing, man.”
A mysterious message leads Sam to his dad’s old arcade where he gets himself shot onto the Grid. The original film created a fantasy world, this film builds on some concepts and takes it to whole new places. This isn’t the same world we saw in the original film. It’s a new Grid that has been left to its own devices, without outside input for 20 years. Cities, arenas, badlands, and more. It’s gorgeously designed and flawlessly executed. The images remind me of book covers from classic science fiction novels. Dramatic black buildings with intense lines of light, alien landscapes and unusual vehicles. It looks amazing. After a run-in with the authorities in this digital world, Sam is rescued by a Jules Verne loving program, the adorable and knowledge-hungry Quorra. And through her, he finally comes face to face with his father. The distance between the two remains, and each struggles with their past, with the crisis at hand, and with world views.
“Every idea Man has ever had about the universe up for grabs. Bio-digital Jazz, man.”
While the villain of this piece is ostensibly a computer program gone mad, Clu isn’t evil. He’s a reflection of Kevin Flynn’s own quest for perfection in a world of chaos. With the help of Quorra and Sam, Kevin comes to understand that chaos is an essential element, that perfection is a trap. But Clu is incapable of accepting that. There is a tendency in people to compartmentalize. The physical or intellectual. The visceral or the ethereal. Science or art. Good or evil. Emotion or logic. But that’s not what life is; it’s synthesis, not antithesis. One can strive for perfection while embracing imperfection, just as one can be logical and passionate. Too often we’re trapped in a post-Zoroastrian dualism, propagated by the religions of Abraham, that dictates an either/or situation in all things, and this infects the general zeitgeist of our culture. Where I see it most often is in the spiritual person asking how I can feel awe or wonder when my worldview is dominated by science. But for me, there’s more poetry in a sunrise or a nebula than in all the sacred texts of all the religions that have ever been. And I think that’s what this movie is striving for, a vision of a world where order and chaos, light and dark, logic and emotion blend and fuse. Not a conflict between body and mind, but like the moral of Metropolis, both brought together by the heart. Even the final conflict isn’t about crushing an enemy, or destroying a monster, it’s about coming together, blending, and rebirth.
“The Old Man’s gonna knock on the sky. Listen to the sound.”
I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t mention the kickass electronica score by Euro-club favorites Daft Punk. I am curious to hear what they might do with other movies in the future, though I don’t know if that’s something they will pursue. Director Joseph Kosinski certainly has an eye for stunning visuals, and the taste to skip the annoying shaky-cam syndrome that has so affected Hollywood for the last decade or so. Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner return, Boxleitner as a sort of catalytic conscience for young Sam, and Bridges as the Yoda-like digital deity trying to reconnect with his son and save the potential of his creation. And the wide-eyed, wonderstruck Olivia Wilde plays Quorra, the program with a game-changing secret. I especially enjoy Wilde in her role. It’s actually one of the better roles for women I’ve seen in recent films; curious, pro-active, self-sacrificing, and heroic, without being shrill, overly deferential, or faux-tough. Garrett Hedlund is a serviceable pretty-boy lead, not especially interesting or charismatic, but not off-putting, either.
“We’re always on the same team.”
Clearly, I do not have my finger on the pulse of a nation. I frequently enjoy movies that are either hated or ignored by the general viewing public (Cloud Atlas, Robot & Frank, Hanna, Moon, Watchmen, Hulk, etc.). This is no different. It’s not even that people don’t like Tron Legacy, it’s that nobody cared enough to see it. Tron was something of a cult favorite, which hardly lit the box office on fire. But I had high hopes this new film would capture attention. It’s slickly made, a story well told, and very entertaining. However, it hasn’t achieved much success that I’ve seen. And three years later, I think I’m the only one talking about it. Alas. If nobody else out there will get on board, I’m still going to sing its praises. And if you haven’t seen it, I would recommend it. While seeing Tron isn’t a bad idea, you don’t need to in order to enjoy this film.
“We were jamming, man. Building Utopia.”
Planet of the Apes
Many people of my generation hold Star Wars as their ‘holy trilogy.’ I love Star Wars (the originals, obviously). But I lean toward the Indiana Jones series. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a life shaper for this cat. But, if I had to go back over the history of cinema, my favorite series of films isn’t James Bond. It’s not Star Trek. It’s Planet of the Apes. From the first movie, with its lambasting of stodgy religiosity and racism, to the Kung Fu-like TV series. Five films, one season of a live action show and one of an animated series. Love it all. So, when the always interesting but not always good Boom! Studios launched a comic series in my beloved setting, I did take note. But for various reasons, it took me a danged long time to finally sit down and read the first volume.
The story takes place during the age of The Lawgiver, an idealist leader of the Apes who believes that Apes and Men can live together in harmony. His assassination plummets the world into chaos, as cultural tensions, already near the breaking point, explode in violence, fear, and hate. What I find interesting is that the writers have tried very hard to blend the post-Conquest world of Apes and Men living together with the silent human cattle world of the original film. I’ve always figured the events of Escape started an alternate timeline where things might turn out differently than the world seen by Taylor. The art is serviceable and the writing fine. The story seems interesting and has potential. And it certainly doesn’t do a disservice to the films. It’s good enough that I’ll be reading further.
Another H.P. Lovecraft inspired comic from Boom! Studios, The Calling is a pretty good story about cultists, mass murder, dimensional collapse, and advertising. I think the story could probably have used half again the page count, maybe more, to establish the characters a bit more, and explore some of the aspects a bit deeper. It feels rushed. But it also doesn’t take too long or get boring. And it doesn’t wander, as the longer Fall of Cthulhu series did occasionally.
The art isn’t amazing, but it’s adequate. The writing is fine. Mostly, I would have liked more meat to the story, more depth on the cult. It feels like an introductory story, except that there doesn’t seem to be anything more. Maybe there will be a follow-up one of these days. For the gamers out there, there are a couple fun ideas for your CofC game. Nothing Earth shattering. But worth checking out.
Planet of the Apes: The Long War
Writer: Daryl Gregory
Artist: Carlos Magno
Publisher: Boom! Studios
The Calling: Cthulhu Chronicles
Writers: Michael Alan Nelson & Johanna Stokes
Artist: Christopher Possenti
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Monday, June 17, 2013
On Sunday I watched a bit of Charlie’s Angels. Not a great show at all, but fun, and good to have on in the background if you’re doing something physical.
Also on Sunday, I read the not very good Superman and Batman Versus Aliens and Predator. Not near as fun as it should have been. But I followed that up with Invincible Volume 6, which was awesome. Darned fine series. Over the rest of the week, I also read the first volume of Boom! Studio’s Planet of the Apes series, and the first (only?) volume of The Calling, another Boom! Studios Lovecraft inspired series. Both are OK.
Attack Force: “She has a lot of special abilities.” Renaissance man Steven Seagal really goes for the gusto in this film he not only produced and starred in, but also wrote, nay, composed the screenplay for. The dialog is truly inspiring, like Shakespeare had dirty ally sex with Hemmingway. This film brings home the classic advice my grandfather once gave to me. Don’t bring a Goth prostitute you met at a Hungarian titty bar back to your hotel room. Timeless advice. I also respect the filmmakers’ choice to randomly dub Seagal’s voice with someone who doesn’t sound a bit like him. Very artistic. I also love the way very little makes any sense, scenes just happen, then more happen, but none seem to actually lead to the next. A bold vision. And the juxtaposition of student-film style with occasional dashes of professionalism makes such a poetic story that much more meaningful. It is just so, so good. Seagal is iconic. He’s like the Joe Don Baker of my generation. So inspirational.
Into the Sun: “That’s why I brought you in, Big Papa.” Thank goodness, when the chips are down, and you’re stuck in Tokyo with an assassination to investigate, you can find an expert on the Yakuza. Steven Seagal! Even the Japanese police know who really knows about Tokyo, Japanese culture, Japanese sword fighting, and Japanese organized crime. Yes, Steven Seagal. Being a magnanimous man, Seagal teaches the Japanese the right way to be Japanese, showing the young criminals their cultural heritage. It’s heartening to see someone so clearly versed in another culture showing people from that culture how they should live. Almost as heartening as seeing a middle aged fat white guy making out with a 20 year old Japanese girl. Seagal really makes the best films. And yes, he wrote and performed songs on the soundtrack. You’re welcome.
His Girl Friday: “And never mind the European war. We got something a whole lot bigger than that.” Many, many moons ago, I’d watched this film during some kind of classic kick, but I didn’t like it at all. Something about the tone had been off-putting. Ha, ha, ha---Attempted suicide!---Ha, ha, ha. But this time around, it didn’t bother me. It’s not great, but it does have great bits. If anything, it feels a bit too clever for its own good. That said, the gag about how Bruce looks like ‘that guy they put in movies…Ralph Bellamy’ because he’s played by Ralph Bellamy, did get a good laugh out of me. As did Cary Grant’s weird reference to the suicide of Archie Leach (his real name). This is one of those movies that were more common then, where lots of characters staccato dialog at or past each other, making you have to pay darned close attention to everything going on. I’ve seen it done better, but I’ve seen it done worse. I always love Grant, but this still isn’t one of my favorites of his.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: “Once upon a time…near a shitty little town...” I know Terry Gilliam’s Brothers Grimm had it’s problems. But I found the film enjoyable, even if it was obvious he was just doing a forgettable mainstream movie so he could get money for something he cared about (I’m probably the only person who loved Tideland). However, this movie seems to capitalize on all the things about Brothers Grimm that didn’t work. Too much CGI. Too much humor…that isn’t funny. Most scenes featuring witches inexplicably look cheaper and more ‘made for TV’ than the scenes without. I’m even more frustrated that they had all the people and material together to do a modern Hammer Horror type film, but made this craptacular instead.
Black Rock: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! This movie suuuuuuuuuucks so hard. This movie sucks like black holes suck. It’s the gravitational pull of a suck the likes of which even Stephen Hawking has not conceived. The only thing that doesn’t make me swell with righteous rage is that for once, a movie set in Maine was filmed in Maine. So it looks like Maine, not Vancouver. But who cares!? It’s so stupid. The dialog feels adlib, by people who suck at adlib. The characters are all awful, shallow monsters. It felt like a really awful student film that wouldn’t stop.
Superman Unbound: The animation in this film is super crappy, and the script juvenile at best. The voice work is OK, but they’ve got nothing to work with. And weirdly, it’s very violent for such a kiddie film. Whatever the target audience, it‘s a miss. It looks bad, sounds bad, and is bad.
Oz The Great and Powerful: “Oh, my. It’s very tight in here.” Parts of this movie feel like watching someone play a video game. Yes, in part it’s the rampant and not very good CGI, but it’s also the way the camera moves, like an AI following certain parameters, as opposed to an artist making choices. The CG in this film is actually surprisingly bad. I’m used to bad CG being passed off in big budget films, but even so, this was a surprise. It’s the kind of wonky effects, where things don’t look right or mesh well, like you might expect from the early 90s…on TV. But getting past the technical ineptitude of the production, the script and performances are also dreadful. I’m not the biggest fan of 1939’s Wizard of Oz. But it deserved better than this. And that’s not even considering the original books, which I do like. James Franco is embarrassing. Sadly, the rest of the cast seems to be taking their cues from him. Even Rachel Weisz, who is among my favorite currently active actresses, is bad here. What gives?
Snitch: Basically a social commentary film about the dangers and abuse of the ‘mandatory minimum’ laws. It’s a pretty meh story, but Dwayne Johnson is really good in it. Man, I love The Rock. I don’t know how this guy has become one of my favorite actors out there, but he has. He’s so danged charismatic. And he puts in a darned fine performance here. I guess if this movie makes people think about how completely upside down our criminal system is when it comes to drug related sentencing, that’s probably a good thing. But I don’t think anyone out there with more than three brain cells to rub together thinks the current system works. So, probably not an issue. It’s not a great movie, but it’s good enough, and The Rock is really good.
On Friday night, we had our monthly meeting of our graphic novel club, hosted by Lisa and Brad. This month we read All-Star Superman. A few people seemed very taken with the book (myself included), several seemed nonplussed by its weird take on the iconic character. A lot of characters from the big two interest me, but typically I don’t actually like what I read about them. Silver Surfer? Honestly, haven’t read anything I’d call ‘good’ with him in it. Wonder Woman? Same. Black Panther, Doctor Strange, the Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange. The list goes on. In most of those cases, there is some essential idea, some ideal or archetype that attracts me to the possibility, if not the actuality. All Star Superman gets to that essential concept of the character, its mythological center, and explores not just some adventure for a hero to go on, but the very nature of who and what that hero is. It’s a treatment I so wish other characters could receive.
Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis: “What are you? Social workers?” Ace and the Doctor have returned to England in 1988, where Nazis, aliens, and Ren-fair expats are up to no good. There’s a lot of goofy nudge-nudge humor based around Windsor Castle and royalty. Kind of indicative of this late era Doctor, it’s very kitchen sink storytelling, with too many balls in the air, and not enough holding it all together. This was the 25th anniversary story, and it’s interesting to see all the location shooting. But the story is pretty crappy. By this point, the series seems to have lost its way, going off in directions that feel off-key and confused.
Tron Legacy: I think this was my fourth time watching it this year. Perhaps that’s overkill. But I wanted it fresh in my head for my more extensive review. I really do like this film. Audio-visual stimulus of high order, and a philosophical bent I like a lot. It’s always nice to see science fiction that isn’t anti-science. And man, Olivia Wilde is cute.
Jaws 3D: OK, here’s the thing. I saw this movie, in 3D, when I was about 7 years old, in the theater. And as a 7 year old kid, I thought this movie was flippin’ stupid and that the 3D sucked. Seeing it again, all these years later, I was totally right. That said, seeing it with friends and a good crowd at the Alamo Draft House theater, it was an enjoyable experience. I have to give the filmmakers credit for embracing the silliness and gimmicky nature of 3D. So many things are pointed or splashed or thrown at the audience that you constantly want to turn away. And the editing is so egregious, it makes things all the funnier. Shots hold WAY too long time and again. Scenes are clearly over, but two or three beats past where you’re starting to feel uncomfortable, the cut finally happens. There’s one reaction shot that goes on so long, I think the actor was breaking character to get on with whatever had to happen next, but the camera was still going. What gives? The script is laughable, the acting frequently worse. And from the roaring shark, to the fat guy on the bumper boat, it’s filled with giggles and gaffes. And Luis Gossett Jr.’s character feels like a bag of insensitive ethnic stereotypes (made worse when it’s revealed the ONLY other black person in the film is supposed to be his nephew…oh, dear). It’s an absolute garbage film, and in 2D, has nearly nothing to offer. If you enjoy the cheese of the 3D gimmick, it’s worth checking it out. Otherwise, just avoid it like sane people would.
The Wicker Man: “Heathens! Bloody heathens!” A stuffy cop played by Edward Woodward travels to a picturesque island populated by strange folk with a bit of a pagan bent. It’s bad enough when they sing dirty songs about the landlord’s daughter, but things become intolerable when they start having relations in the fields. And when Britt Ekland starts filming an erotic music video in the next room over, it’s time for a full on freak-out. A deeply weird movie, it is an interesting look at a modern battle between Christianity and old world Celtic paganism. Neither is portrayed as especially good. But it’s a surprisingly non-judgmental, non-supernatural take on the Old Religion. Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward are fantastic, the supporting cast, including the extras, were quite good. And the location shooting is very nice. Again, it’s a powerfully strange film, but one you should certainly check out.
Well, dang it. I managed to see two of the worst films released this year over the course of the last week. I would not be at all surprised to fine both Oz the Great and Powerful and Black Rock on my 5 worst films of the year list come January. Black Rock isn’t as bad as Bellflower (see two years ago) but it’s bloody awful. And Oz just proves that Sam Raimi hasn’t evolved as a director in 30 years, but he’s using new technology. A bad combo.
|She read the 'script.'|
"It's a wazy, it's a woozy" - Leonardo Hates OJ, Hugs Monkeys, & Tosses Midgets in The Wolf of Wall Street Trailer
Part of me sees The Wolf Of Wall Street as another Rich Assholes Being Rich Assholes movie. Another part of me sees Leonardo DiCaprio fisting his chest & humming in unison with Matthew McConaughey...and I get a little giddy. Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio have made one Great Film in The Aviator, one solid crime epic in The Departed, a near masterpiece of paranoia in Shutter Island, and a fabulous disaster in Gangs of New York. There looks to be a lot of odd and painful comedy in The Wolf of Wall Street, and I certainly respond well to its side players of McConaughey, Jay Bernthal, Jonah Hill, as well as the unseen Shea Wingham, Jon Favreau, & Spike Jones. Let me sit with this trailer a little longer and it might be one of my most anticipated films of the year.
Friday, June 14, 2013
“The last thing I wanted on your birthday was a reptile invasion from the Earth’s core.”
Superman has been exposed to something and it’s fatal. With a knowledge of his very real and close at hand mortality, he sets about to prepare the world for his absence. Where I expected a slightly more somber tone, this premise gives author Grant Morrison license to plumb the depths of DC’s bizarre gallery of obscure characters, similar to the animated series Batman: Brave and the Bold. It doesn’t apologize for the crazy things in the history of the Superman comic, it grabs hold and sings loud as can be. A super-scientist in a rainbow coat, a vial that grants superpowers for a day, Samson and Atlas, Bizarro Supermen, Doomsday Jimmy, a baboon in a Superman suit, the Superman Squad. Wow.
It somehow manages to run with all the zany and strange, and downright silly stuff, yet lend it all a great deal of emotional weight, tapping into the ‘aw, gee, shucks,’ ‘America!’ vibe that reminds us of who we wish we could be, what world we might make. Some of those utopian dreams of yesteryear. Under the protection of Superman, you can imagine a world of flying cars and floating cities, of super-science and peace. And then, in the midst of all the crazy, still tells the heartfelt tale of one of Superman’s great losses.
“They will race, and stumble, and fall and crawl…and curse…and finally…They will join you in the sun, Kal-El.”
Probably the key thing that makes this book more impressive and interesting is that Superman is given his death sentence early on. He’s going to die. Then the book goes on to explore what Superman is, what he represents, and how he effects the world. There has been some talk, in comics and in movies, that super-villains wouldn’t exist without superheroes. That Batman is the cause of the Joker, Superman the cause of Lex Luthor. That reeks of blaming the victim, or blaming the helping hand. It’s something that happens all too often in the real world, so why not in comics. Anyone who tries to educate, elucidate, or uplift humankind is automatically feared and hated. I’m reminded of the people building the space gun in Things to Come, battling the ravening hoards of backward looking, fear-consumed folk who were overwhelmed by progress. Superman represents that progress. The Nietzschian uber-man, not something to be feared, but something to aspire to. Luthor, to a degree, represents our natural inclination to fear change, to fear the future, to look to the past with those blasted rose-colored glasses. He has all the amazing potential of a Reed Richards, but his fear of something better than Man consumes him. Instead of using his colossal intellect to raise humanity up, he tries to drag Superman down. You see this every day in the real world, as people, smart and caring people, do everything in their power to tear down science and medicine, and cast us back into the dark ages of magic and superstition, afraid as they are, of a better world.
The second volume seems to be about the ways the Superman archetype can go wrong, and how it can go right. There’s the Bizarro-world Supermen, including the one thinking man stranded among fools, longing for intellectual contact while writing poetry. There are the Kryptonian astronauts who lack Superman’s purity of heart and optimism toward Humanity. And there’s Lex, jacked on Super-sauce, who lacks Superman’s vision. Ultimately, the book seems to say that a hero, a bold outsider, a larger than life person raises up those around him or her. Superman makes people better by being a living example of what we can be. He does the right thing. He stands up. He lends a hand. And like my favorite hero of myth, Odysseus, he believes in the possibility of Man. That when Mankind casts of the shackles of the past, of religion, of slavery, it could be great. We can all be Supermen. He holds out his hand to us, but it is up to us to reach for it.
I can’t end this without talking about Frank Quitely’s amazing art. It has a punch that is quite impressive. Somehow it feels both very retro, and very modern. It taps into that European comic look I often talk about, like the stuff you see in 80s issues of Heavy Metal. The clean panel work, crazy images, and intense color (from Jamie Grant) make it a feast for the eyes. And they lend the book as a whole a classier aspect.
“Gods achieve their power by encouraging us to believe in them. Superman achieves his power by believing in us.” -from the introduction
All Star Superman Volume 1
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics
All Star Superman Volume 2
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: DC Comics