Still reading comics, though my rate declined considerably this week. Not a lot of movies. A couple more Jean Rollin films, to remind me why I think being a filmmaker in the 70s in France may have been one of history’s best jobs.
The Moon-Spinners: A couple of snooty Brits show up unexpected and unwanted to a village on Crete to sample some of the local color. But there’s some funny business going on, and Eli Wallach is at the center of it. It’s a pretty good caper film, with a nice exotic location.
Hot Tub Time Machine: “Well that makes sense.” In the 80s, our movies kept looking back to the 50s. Now, in the 2010s, we seem to enjoy looking back to the 80s. This movie, featuring a…yes, a Hot Tub Time Machine, is a shockingly funny, often crass but oddly sensitive look back to that crazy time of T&A movies and hard partying, when rocking hard enough, skiing, and wacky fashion were the name of the game. I feel like I enjoy this movie far more than I should. But it is a good look at friendship, even when it involves friends who are a-holes.
The Venture Brothers Season 3: “I gotta go where the blacktion is.” I love that this is basically a show about failure. Professional and personal failure. Romantic and physical failure. And the overall failure to achieve dreams both grand and intimate. As perverse and offensive as it is on the surface, there’s a deep bitterness that rings true. And season three has a lot more animated penis than you might expect.
The Iron Rose: OK, let me get out my Jean Rollin checklist. Pretty young woman? Check. A graveyard? Check. Lots of beautiful shots of various random locations? Check. Choppy editing? Check. Not a lot of ‘plot’ type business going on? Check. The only thing missing is Rollin’s signature wall to wall nudity. There’s shockingly little actually, when he gives himself plenty of opportunity to put in more. Like most of his films, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s an oddly captivating bit of fluff. I guess his work is more like a painting that is nice to look at, but doesn’t seem to say much.
Alien: Resurrection: My love of this film has diminished over the years. I think in part, I had Star Trek VI Syndrome (aka: Revenge of the Sith Syndrome). You know, when the previous movie is so bloody awful that even though the next one sucks, it seems pretty good, because it’s SO much better than the previous. Anyway, the movie has some great stuff. Some really cool scenes and sets and costumes. There are some great ideas. But the script is wonky and some of the performances are not good. Winona Ryder especially is really awful but she’s not alone. The CGI ranges from good to crap, though it’s generally better than Alien 3’s. It’s probably the most overtly sexual of the films. In fact, probably the only one to expand on the first film’s hints.
Doctor Who: The Five Doctors: These episodes really don’t work, but they’re kind of fun because you get to see all the old actors back, not just Doctor incarnations, but a few of his companions, too; all the way back to Susan for crying out loud. Sadly, they also drag out The Master…yet again. The Death Zone, huh. The actor playing the first Doctor does a fair job, but it’s still a bit distracting having someone other than Hartnell in the role. John Pertwee looks amazingly good. Patrick Troughton is starting to show his age, but is pretty spry. Tom Baker is only a few years retried for the role. Seriously, they drag out so many companions. There’s a fairly interesting mystery/revelation. Not much plot, really. Just ‘here they are’…‘there they go’…‘yup, that was them.’ But considering how many long lost actors and characters they needed to work into the story, it’s pretty well done. And remember to always reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.
Spy Game: As Brad Pitt was starting his transition from young shaved chimp to older actor (Oceans 11 being the turning point), he made this Tony Scott actioner. Head games, twists, turns, betrayals, and all kinds of spy business are committed to tinted, quick-cut, and generally Scotted film. He hadn’t reached the levels of Man on Fire or the extreme levels of Domino by this point, keeping things much more in the style of Enemy of the State. In fact, this would probably be a good companion film for that. Redford is less insufferable than usual, which is nice. A solid 90s spy/Mid-East conflict film along the lines of The Siege or The Peacemaker.
Requiem For a Vampire: How many clown shoot-outs did the last movie you saw have? If the answer is zero, then you’re missing out. Two young women dressed as clowns (who are likely Doors fans), wander around the French country side in that way women do in Jean Rollin films. I’d love to be the dialog editor on a film like this. Girl 1: “…” Girl 2: “…” Girl 1: “…” Classic. Obviously, there’s a graveyard (it is a Jean Rollin film). And there are beautiful girls and beautiful scenery. Not a lot of plot or talking. It has that vague logic-free feel of dreams, which I think might be the thing that keeps bringing me back to his movies. Its not that they’re good. They’re not. Yet, they’re oddly compelling in a way that transcends their schlocky Euro-trash T&A horror movie status.
Dragnet: As a boy, I thought this movie was the bee’s knees. It’s so 80s goofy. Back when Tom Hanks was the clown prince (well before his Oscar days). I absolutely loved the jokes, which are, to say the very least, corny. I loved the performances, especially Christopher Plummer. Today?…Well, it’s OK. There are some very funny bits, and Christopher Plummer is still awesome. But let’s be honest. It’s a dumb movie that pretty much spits in the face of the original show.
Prometheus: Well, it’s never pleasant when a highly anticipated film doesn’t live up. I try, and generally succeed, not to build up films too much before seeing them. Oh, sure, I want certain ones to blow me away, but generally, I’m just happy if it doesn’t suck and extra happy if it’s awesome. However, when a movie like this comes along, having SO much good going for it, yet doesn’t end up being all that great, I get pretty bummed. As so often happens, the biggest failure is in the writing. There’s a potentially cool story, but the end is crap. There is only one interesting character, and he isn’t explored very much at all. And if anything, this movie has too many connections to Alien, considering it really isn’t a prequel (seriously, think about it; it’s not; though yes, it’s in the same universe). I’ve never liked Ridley Scott’s idea that the alien was some kind of bio-weapon. I think it diminishes them as a species, taking away the glory of their evolutionary struggle. So, in a way, I was never going to be completely happy with this film. But, getting beyond that, after enjoying a lot of the first two thirds, the movie started to loose me when they introduced a new character, then totally lost me when they introduced…well, someone else (I’m not telling). And the finale was no good at all. The film looks flippin’ amazing, and there are some truly gorgeous images, both natural and very unnatural. The tech design is nice and the sets impressive. But it certainly doesn’t have the memorable and loveable characters that Alien had, which would have gone a LONG way toward making this a good film. Leaving the theater, I felt much like I did upon finishing Hellboy 2, empty. I want to grab the film by its shoulders and scream, ‘Why aren’t you better!?’
A thought I had after watching Prometheus is that a lot of folks making science fiction, especially in the realm of film (and TV) don’t really seem to get or like science. There is a lot of backward, superstitious thinking and fear, of technology, of the unknown, of truth. I think in part, it goes back to the fear that Lovecraft tapped into, the fear of understanding. I think for a lot of people, understanding that they are not important; that the universe will not register them or their lives in any grand-scale way; that they are, like everyone else, the product of millions of years of undirected, unplanned natural processes; makes them feel some kind of soul shaking terror. This fear creeps in to a lot of sci-fi movies, and it’s in Prometheus. There’s a difference between rational fear, that of a real danger and the fear of understanding. Rational fear makes you do things like properly prepare and attempt to avoid unnecessarily dangerous situations. Fear of understanding makes you stop looking, stop going forward. It makes you turn to musty old books of fairy stories, written by bronze age savages. It makes you hate well educated people (calling them elitist, as though knowledge is dirty). It makes you hold on to fetishes to ward off evil. It makes you ascribe will to natural phenomena. And give meaning to things that have none. I wish that movies, science fiction especially, featured a lot less magical thinking, and a lot more genuine thinking. Less fear of the unknown (which is really fear learning) and more love of the question.
|I'm gonna do science on you so hard!|
Now, Prometheus isn’t as science hating as movies like The Happening, Knowing, or 99% of science fiction made in the 70s. But the scientists act more like priests and failed seekers than men and women of science. The only one who seems to actually know what’s up is the one character in the film I genuinely cared about, the android. He seemed to be the only one to be curious and respectful of what he found. So, of course, he’s kind of a villain. Apparently to be a hero in a modern science fiction film, you’ve got to ‘let go’ and ‘just believe’ in some clap-trap. You certainly can’t use logic, ask questions, test a hypothesis, weigh results, or formulate a theory. No wonder we haven’t been to the moon in 40 years and 60% of the population thinks The Flinstones was a documentary.
As I said, I didn’t get as much comic reading done this week as I did last. But I read some fun stuff. Brad said he had some more comics to pass off to me, so those will be coming up.
Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America was one of the first of Marvel’s ‘mainstream’ comics I think I read. I liked all the Cold War and World War II themes and deep history. The art was sure nice. And generally, I liked the story and writing. But, as I tend to do with long running comics, I got distracted and don’t think I ever finished the second story arc, Red Menace. I’ve kept up in the most passing of ways with the progress of Captain America since, through his death, the Civil War, replacement with Bucky, rebirth, etc. But I didn’t read any of the actual comics for any of that. So last week, Brad gave passed me the first five issues of the Bucky centered comic series Winter Soldier. Issue one gets right into it, with the Winter Soldier (Bucky) and Black Widow infiltrating and spy-smashing. Right off, there are lots of connections to both of their pasts with the Russians during the Cold War. Sleeper agents, mad science, and nefarious deeds. And a heck of an end. This is generally more my cup of tea than say the X-Men or the Avengers. I prefer the semi-realistic/semi-pulp vibe of Cap and Bucky and the spies and soldiers to the mutant powers. The art in this is strange. It looks at times like degraded photographs.
“I’m not losing my mind here…That gorilla just used a jetpack, right?” Issue 2 of Winter Soldier has the mystery getting deeper and the duo in hot pursuit of all kinds of shadowy figures. A brief appearance from Nick Fury doing some serious butt kicking is a nice aside.
The third issue of Winter Soldier features more investigation and weird tech, and lots of references to the larger Marvel universe and its recent history. As someone who doesn’t read much Marvel, it’s sometimes interesting to hear characters talk about events like the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Reed Richards and such. And what’s up with Dr. Doom? I guess we’ll find out.
The plans within plans begin to unravel and be revealed, as the stakes are raised. Dr. Doom is a bit too Saturday morning cartoonish, and doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the comic. I guess they’ve got to keep him in line with how he’s normally portrayed, but it’s weird. I like all the spy stuff, and the assassination business. Even the crazy cyborg chick who wants to start a war is pretty cool. But I don’t know. Doom is kind of goofy.
The Longest Winter storyline of Winter Soldier wraps up in issue 5. The finale is pretty much one long action scene, with lots of jumping, machine gunning, and the like. The post climax revenge bit is pretty cool though. Overall, the five issue story is pretty good, though again, Doom is pretty silly. He seems like a character that could be pretty cool; a super-genius ruler of his own nation, in a kickass armored suit. But I think he’s just always been written like an old time movie serial villain, missing only a mustache to twirl.
What do you get when you put Garth Ennis on a Marvel MAX line? Well, lots and lots and lots of expletives, mostly. And some violence on occasion. Fury: My War Gone By could be a pretty cool comic. Issue one goes back to the 50s during the buildup to the Vietnam war. We find Nick Fury exiled because of an act of heroism that didn’t go unpunished. As various forces play chess in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Fury watches, trying to make the best of his lot. The look and feel is very retro, with a gritty, ugly look at life for soldiers during a tenuous peace. No superheroes or what have you. Just men and a woman in the sweltering heat as all hell rolls toward them. That all said, the constant use of expletives starts to feel almost like a parody at times. And what is it with comics that you can show all kinds of violence, but you can barely even talk about sex, and certainly not show it? I guess it’s the same on TV, though. There’s a weird phenomena in the Marvel universe, where a lot of their characters have been alive and relatively fit and young for a very, very long time. I’d kind of like to see them deal with that a bit more. Fury is a very, very old man. The Black Widow, though still looking quite young, has been active since what, the 50s? Many of the X-Men, Reed Richards, and others have been going fairly strong since the 60s. Shouldn’t that do something to people?
I guess the powers that be at Marvel felt they had to restart Captain America around the time of the recent film. I’m not sure why, as it’s still Ed Brubaker writing and follows the ongoing story. Getting past that, I still like Brubaker’s take on the character, with World War II always weighing heavily on his consciousness. I don’t know if Bravo is a new invention for this story. I’ll have to look. I’ll have to see how this series goes.
Keeping with the Captain America theme, I read the 70th Anniversary Issue (#616). It’s a collection of shorts with a kind of retrospective feel. The one really frustrating thing is that the Bucky story, Gulag part 1 doesn’t have a part 2 in this book, nor do I know where it appears. Still, the other stories are all self contained and as with most anthologies, vary in style and quality. My favorite is probably Howard Chaykin’s Opaque Shadows. My least favorite is easily Operation: Tooth Fairy, which is just goofy in look and content.
In preparation for the upcoming first meeting of Lisa’s new graphic novel book club, I read the first Astonishing X-Men (review coming after meeting).
A lot of this week was spent in a sort of anticipation of seeing Prometheus, plus, I’ve been kind of busy on a lot of nights, so I didn’t get to the reading I wanted to. I’m hoping this next week will not only give me a bit more reading time, but also some good weather to hit the road on my bike. I would not lament a week without a near constant threat of rain.