This was a great Week in Dork for me. Yes, I watched the typically gargantuan amount of movies and I was super excited to get Blu Rays for The Legend of The Fist, True Grit, Rubber, and the Superman Anthology. However, my absolute favorite Dork activity was Metroing into DC on Thursday for Capitol Hill Books. My wife and I had a wonderful time trolling through the stacks upon stacks of books. I dropped sixty bucks on the venture but found a lot of gems.
The Find of the Day was definitely the 1925 edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Bandit of Hell's Bend. It's beat to all heck, but it only cost ten bucks and even though I've long loved the John Carter of Mars books and Tarzan I have never read, or had even heard of this Western. I've already cracked it open and it's got a solid start. I also picked up Alec Guinness' My Name Escapes Me, In Search Of My Father by Stephen Humphrey Bogart, Crackpot by John Waters, and W.C. Fields By Himself. I could have spent hours there, but only was given one. But I will be back.
MOVIES OF THE WEEK!
Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zen: Doesn't hit DVD & Blu Ray till next week, but I managed to snag a copy from an oblivious retailer. Yay me! Kung Fu superhero Chen Zen has been portrayed by both Bruce Lee (Fist of Fury) and Jet Li (Fist of Legend), but I think Donnie Yen's furious warrior will go down as being the best of the bunch in this epic, comic book rendition of the myth. Legend of the Fist opens with a rousing bit of WWI Kung Fu action, but quickly returns to gangster riddled Shanghai where Yen's Chen Zen dons a Kato mask and goes to war with Japanese dojo thugs. It's all building to the expected climactic 50+ Versus battle that certainly does not disappoint. Fans of the character and the genre will not want to miss The Return of Chen Zen.
X-Men: The X-Men (well, X-Factor to be exact) was my favorite comic book from the ages of 11 to 14 and at 21 in the year 2000 I was ecstatic to see Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Charles Xavier on the big screen. Watching it now...yeah, this film is wonky at best. Hugh Jackman definitely delivers a star-turning performance as Wolverine, but the Mutation Machine plotting, the awkward Toad lightning dialog, the iffy wire-fu, and the horrible character interpretations irritate more than exhilarate.
X2 X-Men United: A definite step up from the first film, X2 (gosh, I hate that title) still fumbles around with the Think Real Hard Prof X Killing Machine plot and the horribly awkward & fanboy frustrating mutant characterizations. I do dig the Magneto midpoint team-up and Alan Cumming is a welcome addition as Nightcrawler, but will Halle Berry just crawl away into her hole already? Plus, please, Cyclops quit being such a putz.
Sherlock Holmes and The Scarlet Claw: Although I still say Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite of the Rathbone/Bruce era, The Scarlet Claw nips closely at its heels as my favorite Sherlock Holmes picture. While visiting Canada, Holmes & Watson investigate a series of marsh murders in which the victims have had their throats clawed out, but elementary logic dictates it's the work of a human hand and not that of monstrous superstitions. Visually arresting, and even though it's not based on any particular Conan Doyle story it's got the mixture right.
Hereafter: The film feels like it has a lot of hokum at play, and even though the three leads deliver some fine performances the story takes all the expected turns and drops the audience off at the spot I expected from the first trailer. Clint Eastwood continues his steady, quiet hand with direction and even though he delivers at least one riveting CGI disaster at the start of the film I'd like to see him take a few more chances with his next picture. The soft blows of Invictus and Hereafter have me frothing for some blood work.
Sherlock Holmes in The Pearl of Death: A solid entry in the franchise, Holmes and Watson must battle the wits of a Moriarty-lite mastermind, but also the hulking menace of Rondo Hatton's gargantuan back-breaker, The Creeper! The Beastly Serial Killer is definitely the most interesting element of what is essentially just a heist mystery, but Rathbone's eventual confrontation with the monster is well worth the wait.
X-Men The Last Stand: Not as terrible as I remember, but still pretty darn horrible especially when you take into account the philosophy and ethics behind Professor X's school for the gifted and talented. It's nice to see Famke Janssen step a bit further into the limelight even if they are trodding all over Jean Grey's character to do so, and Ian McKellen manages to find some decent moments buried in the script. Too much time spent on mutant angst and "I'm The Juggernaut Bitch" still stings as much today as it did in 2006. Kelsey Grammer, though, turns out to be inspired casting. Probably my favorite performance from Frasier.
Sherlock Holmes and The House of Fear: Definitely one of the better entries in the Rathbone/Bruce era, The House of Fear is based on Conan Doyle's The Five Orange Pips in which a group of elderly eccentrics (i.e. Mason-like cultists) start bumping off this mortal coil. As usual, Holmes uses his snooty logic to root out the baddies and Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson bumbles and mumbles his way through the proceedings. No flashy mastermind villains here or Rondo Hatton monsters, the investigation is the most fun aspect of the film.
Green Lantern Emerald Knights: The Green Lantern Corps lends itself well to the anthology format and even though it's great to hear geek god Nathan Fillion voice the classic Hal Jordan, but the real joys of Emerald Knights comes from Kilowog's (Henry Rollins) first scrap, Abin Sur & Sinestro's Atrocitus beatdown, and planet sized Mogo showing he doesn't socialize. That sounds like a bunch of nonsense to non-fans, but for GLC fanatics you'll probably have more fun here than with DC's first animated outing or even the upcoming Ryan Reynold's vehicle.
Sherlock Holmes and The Woman in Green: Arms folded, Scotland Yard turns once again to the wits of Holmes and Watson to solve a series of Jack The Ripper-like mutilation murders; along the way Hillary Brooke pops up as an evil hypnotist and Henry Daniell (who appeared previously as different individuals in The Voice of Terror and Sherlock Holmes in Washington) as the villainous Professor Moriarty. The crime in The Woman in Green jumps all over the place, but I found it to be the most grisly and creepy of this franchise so far. And there is one particularly fiendish old man and his suitcase that is just fantastically sick, sick, sick.
Eat My Dust: A surprisingly, shockingly enjoyable car chase picture starring everybody's favorite Happy Dayser Ron Howard as a reckless teenager fleeing his Sheriff father in a stolen stock car, and all in the name of love...mmm, lust. It's goofy and silly, but it all works. Howard is loads of fun and so is his uncontrollably rageful Papa Sheriff Warren Kemmerling. Maybe not your favorite Roger Corman production, but it's a good time at the movies.
X Men Origins Wolverine: For a film titled X-Men Origins, this film is a total missed opportunity in which they just re-mined the Weapon X program of Bryan Singer's second feature and blah, blah, blah. Why not explore those early childhood years or The Civil War, The Great War, World War II, Vietnam, or Cold War bits that were just glanced over during the credits sequence? Origins is bogged down in lame mutants. Don't care about Gambit. Don't care about Deadpool. Don't care about Cyclops. This is Wolverine's movie dammit! There could have been a good film here but this ain't it.
True Grit: Forget the original, the Coen Brothers have delivered an instant Western classic in their adaptation of the Charlie Portis novel. Jeff Bridges is a nasty, disgusting beast of a marshal and if his lack of sobriety gives young, vengeful Mattie Ross any pause his wicked trigger finger sates her bloodlust. Matt Damon is a real surprise as cock-of-the-walk Texas Ranger LaBoeuf and his teethy bickerings with Bridges' Rooster Cogburn provide many of the films quotable guffaws. Rounding out the cast are a plethora of ugly brutes, most notably troglodyte Josh Brolin and the spitty Barry Pepper. And let's not forget the gorgeous cinematography from Roger Deakins, the man was truly robbed of Oscar. True Grit goes right to the top of the Coen's masterful CV.
Super 8: JJ Abrams certainly captures that late 70s/early 80s kids adventure film, but Super 8 doesn't just ape from Spielnberg's E.T. but also from wish fulfillment classics like Joe Dante's Explorers and Richard Donner's The Goonies. It's definitely style over substance, but the nostalgic entertainment works thanks to a stellar kid cast and and plenty of "That Guy!" supporters (like Ron Eldard and Noah Emmerich) that keeps you glued to the world.
Superman: The curtain parts, newsreel footage, a child opens the first issue of Action Comics, John Williams score builds--SUPERMAN! The opening minutes of Richard Donner's Superman is utterly amazing. The rest of the film? Depending on my mood and frame of mind, I either love this version of the character or I feel lukewarm towards it. Right now, I'm kinda lukewarm. Reeve's Supes is great. His Clark Kent, kinda annoying. Gene Hackman's Lex is not my Lex anymore. And the world spinning climax of the film just doesn't work for me. And it's bloody long. I just want to get to Zod.
Rubber: "No Reason." A film that has a psycho kinetic killer tire that's not at all about a psycho kinetic killer tire...Rubber is the great headtrip of 2011, a college cinephille's pretentious student film that somehow manages to be more-than-just-flat-out-damn-funny, but also just a great theater going experience for those twisted spectators watching behind their binoculars. Plus, great weird performances from Wings Hauser, Jack Plotnick, and Stephen Spinella.
Charade: Fun, silly Euro Thriller. The film has all the expected too-clever dialog and the back & forth plotting is joyous in its contrivance. Sure, it took a little while for me to warm up to the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn relationship but by the final scene I had totally bought in to their charm. In non-smiley James Coburn, hook-handed George Kennedy, and sneezy Ned Glass you have a great trilogy of villains. Plus, there's that wonderful Walter Matthau and his disgusting little 'stache.
VIDEO GAME OF THE WEEK!
I finally made my way through L.A. Noire and it definitely gets my seal of approval. Not as great as Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption, a little too anti-climactic, and it aped too much from James Ellroy's world and not enough from the the endlessness of the Film Noir genre...but, damn it was fun to interrogate those perps and shoot down some hoods when the game gave me the opportunity. And now that the story is complete I'm curious to roam the world a little more freely. It will continue to be a fun daykiller.