Holy No-Life, Batman! With The Wife vacationing in the Outer Banks with the family and me stuck back in the daily routine of The Job, I spent every free moment watching movies and reading comics. This time, when The Wife was away, I focused on that other Expendable action star Sylvester Stallone. Of course, I knocked out my two favorite Rambos and my four favorite Rockys but I also consumed a few other favorites. I didn't bother hunting down the few Sly flicks I have yet to see (F.I.S.T., Paradise Alley, D-Tox) or the films I really cannot stand (Driven, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot). Instead I filled in the remaining gaps with a couple of other films I've been meaning to devour...and, of course! Another hit of The Dark Knight Rises.
MOVIES OF THE WEEK!
Batman - Under The Red Hood: With The Joker's Robin beatdown, this flick earns its PG-13 rating right from the getgo. Bones crunch, blood splatters, a boy dies. And then you have the rest of the story. It's an action picture. There's very little dialogue for the first half as the new Red Hood makes his play on Gotham's gangs. However, the appearances of distracting DC Universe characters like Amazo and even Ra's Al Ghul feels awkward in this noirish Gotham. It's a solid Bat-tale, but the real treat of the disc is the Joe Lansdale penned, Thomas Jane voiced, Jonah Hex short not-so-hidden as a special feature. In fifteen minutes it crushes and humiliates DC Animated's recent film adaptation.
Lockout: "My old man was a big John Wayne fan." Guy Pearce puts on his best Snake Plisken voice for this John Carpenter wannabe, and despite a rather lackluster presentation, Lockout manages to entertain for those easily forgiving or desperate for try-hard 80s sci-fi action. We don't get a lot of movies like this these days, and even if we crave for Outlands and Escape From New Yorks sometimes we just have to settle for a Lockout. And Guy Pearce is fun. After LA Confidential, there was a time when he could have been a true blue action lead. Definitely knows how to take and deliver punches.
Get The Gringo: Ah, Mel Gibson. I wish you were not so damn crazy. Cuz as you get older and your craggily face gets more Lee Marvinized, there is a serious potential for you to take the Badass Mean Bastard roles that once belonged to Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Warren Oates. Get The Gringo never quite gets good, but there are hints of greatness when Gibson gets mean, shooting thugs in the back and tossing grenades indiscriminately. Hopefully his coming role in Machete Kills will take full advantage of this horrific nature.
First Blood: "God Didn't Make Rambo..." Before it devolved into the action franchise explosionfest we came to know and love, First Blood was a brooding and sad saga of a Vietnam Vet drifting through the fringes of society. Wandering America in search of someone to share his trauma, John Rambo's unstoppable force meets Brian Dennehy's immovable object. All on account of a haircut, the small town, know-it-all sheriff pushes the disturbed soldier into a corner, unleashing years of kept rage. For all his Green Beret Medal of Honor kickassery, John Rambo yanks at the heartstrings during the fiery climax, and his final hate-filled scream speech puts a lump in the throat every time. First Blood remains one of my all time favorite films, and for those that think that Rambo is all crossbow & machine gun fire than they're not looking hard enough.
Cobra: "Crime is a disease. Meet the cure." Sylvester Stallone is Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, head shooter for LA Law's zombie squad. And when a cult of axe wielding biker goons start hacking and slashing the beautiful ladies Los Angeles it's up to The Italian Stallion to shoot first and ask questions later. Cobra is a perfect 80s action picture. Style over substance, blood over reason. Director George P. Cosmatos, a man responsible for several of my favorite genre classics (Of Unknown Origin, Leviathan, First Blood Part II, Tombstone), drenches the film in blood red 80s grime and delivers a badass and terrifying movie. Brian Thompson's Night Slasher still gives chills as he's sweating and sneering and spitting viscous venomous dialog--he's a monster! Too bad this never transformed into Sly's third franchise.
Rocky III: Look. For me, the Rocky franchise doesn't even begin until the third film. Sure. Rocky 1 is some pretty good Oscar Bait, but Rocky 2 is a fairly boring rehash lacking any real kind of narrative direction despite the wannabe cameo acting of Joe Spinell. Rocky III, on the other hand, is where the glorious and insane decade that was the 1980s kicks off the Super Hero Blockbuster absurdity of rich boy Italian Stallion vs. the vile beast man, Clubber Lang aka Mr. "Pity The Fool!" T. When Rocky looses the title and mentor to the monster, he must turn to his drunk brother-in-law Paulie and his mortal enemy Apollo Creed to find the Eye of the Tiger and win back the heart of America. This is pure goofy joy entertainment and it's just a preview of the High Art that is Rocky IV. To Be Continued...
District 9: Neill Blomkamp takes an updated Alien Nation plot and delivers one of the best bits of sci-fi body horror allegory (you know, that tired old genre) ever produced. Sharlto Copley's Wikus Van De Merwe is a despicable, racist horror show that somehow transforms into an understandably tragic character. The CGI Prawns, especially proud papa Christopher Johnson, are easily my favorite aliens of the modern era. Not for the timid, as the climax races to its gory conclusion, bodies are exploding and popping all across Johannesburg as corporate soldiers of fortune go up against lightning guns and mech suits.
The Dark Knight Rises: Went back for another round, but this time in pure glorious IMAX. And yeah, I highly recommend following suit in this format revolution. The six stories of massive James Bond action that opens the film is truly stunning; as the plane cracks open and Bane drops down the fuselage, I could not keep my jaw clamped. I only wish that every scene was shot in IMAX as the ratio switching was a little distracting. But what do you think of the film, Brad? I definitely liked it more this time around. Again, it's hard to discuss without going into massive spoilers but I really dig the anti-Batman wrecking machine that is Tom Hardy's Bane and their physical battles are brutally and painfully epic in a very comic book kinda way. And there are at least three moments in the film that choke my geek heart with emotion. Yes, it's my least favorite of the three films but I do think it makes The Dark Knight an even better film and perfectly completes a Whole Batman story. And calling it The Return of the Jedi of the series seems a little unfair.
The 39 Steps: A humorous but often grim spy thriller from pre-Hollywood Alfred HItchcock, The 39 Steps is a classic wrong place, wrong time narrative in which Robert Donat's dashing Canadian flees England for Scotland after a female spy drops dead in his apartment. Chance encounters lead to deadly pursuits through fog soaked moors and the film is so dang charming with oddball bits of comedy peppered throughout the murderous shenanigans.
Rocky IV: "If he dies, he dies." The most Epic entry in the franchise, Rocky IV pits the Italian Stallion against the towering Commie monster, Ivan Drago after his one-time nemesis Apollo Creed falls from Drago's iron fists. The film is busting at the seems with cartoonish 80s flourishes like Paulie's sweetheart robot and the earnest rock n roll montages but the tragic Las Vegas bout at the center of the film gives Rocky IV a genuine core of thrilling emotion. And the climactic East meets West battle is easily the most punishing and thrilling bout of the series. You cannot think 1980s action without thinking of Rocky IV. A classic.
Demolition Man: "What's Your Boggle!" Sylvester Stallone's loose cannon cop (is there any other kind?) is wrongfully convicted of the manslaughter of a dozen hostages after Wesley Snipes's demented psychopath (is there any other kind?) drops a building on their heads. Sentenced to a cryo-prison, the two leads awaken in the very "Be Well" year of 2032 to discover a future of Taco Bells, mini-tunes, and seashells. Demolition Man is a goofy but fun, barely sci-fi action flick in which both Sly & Snipes deliver high octane performances with great heaps of scream acting. Sandra Bullock tags along as the yesteryear obsessed rookie cop, and it is kinda adorable how she squeals at Sly's brutish profanity and need for toilet paper. Demolition Man is pretty much the last hurrah of Sly's 80s action status, and Snipes seems more comfortable as the villain (and blonde) than he's ever been as a hero...not counting Blade 2 or Passenger 57.
Cliffhanger: There really is nothing special about Renny Harlin's Cliffhanger other than the fact that it struggles to hold onto the the long gone hard R action esthetic of the 80s. But sometimes that's just enough for me to appreciate a time killer flick. Stallone is given plenty of opportunities to dispatch villainy using nameless terrorists as human sleds and bench press practice--watch out for those stalactites! Michael Rooker makes for a good sidekick, but he doesn't get the kills he deserves. John Lithgow reaches into his bag of Big Bad accents for a ridiculous turn as the sneering Eric Qualen, and his final helicopter boxing match with Stallone is cheery nonsense. Cliffhanger is fun but ultimately forgettable.
Rocky Balboa: The Rocky franchise is Sylvester Stallone. He's directed four of the films and written all six. He's poured his soul into the character; he could never let the champ go even when he lacked narrative drive. But he sends ol' Rock out on a glorious emotional high note. Parts III & IV are rip-roaring adventures in 80s iconography but the final Rocky Balboa returns to the pain and the heart experienced by the struggling athlete of the original. His true love has passed, all that Rocky has is his depressed boozer brother-in-law and his fame embarrassed son. He spends his days telling war stories to the diners at his restaurant and dreaming of his Once Upon A Time glory. When a CNN stunt expose draws him back into the ring, Rocky rediscovers his purpose as well as his family. Rocky Balboa is a shockingly emotional end to a sports saga I hold dear to my heart, which frankly, is amazing to discover for this wimpy film nerd.
Rambo: The last fifteen minutes of the fourth Rambo installment is a kill crazy rampage of shocking brutality and copious gouts of gore that still managed to stun this audience member well onto his sixth viewing. And I love that it took Sylvester Stallone as director to bring the franchise to these epic levels of violence. It's easily the most simplistic entry in the saga; Rambo must venture into the dark heart of Burma to rescue some naive missionaries. That's it. Bing. Bang. WHA-BOOM! Stallone doesn't quite pluck the heartstrings in the same fashion as he did with his return to Rocky, but he does bring the character to a satisfying end. Sure, I want to see a fifth film where Rambo's rampaging through the U.S. or Mexico but if I'm left with Rambo butchering an army of genocidal maniacs? I'm happy. First Blood is a masterpiece, Rambo (IV) is just brilliant Grand Guigonol.
COMICS OF THE WEEK!
Richard Stark's Parker - The Score: "Parker Had No Weapons On Him But His Hands..." After the brilliance of his Hunter & Outfit adaptations, I was not quite sure how Darwyn Cooke's take on The Score would pan out. The first two stories are mean, angry bits of brutality fueled by Parker's personal grudge against The Organization. The Score on the other hand is motivated by Parker's boredom and introduces a variety of crooks into the narrative, including the semi-humorous thief with a heart of gold, Grofield. But Cooke keeps the focus on the Copper Canyon heist, and his adaptation breezes by as a sweet score turns explosive. The Score is probably my least favorite of the three Parker adaptations but it's quick & punchy and our favorite professional shines in the business of the crime. The back of the book promises another story in 2013 and I cannot wait to see Cooke take Parker through The Handle.
Ragemoor #4: The saga of the living castle concludes! The origin of Ragemoor is explored thanks to some mad Bodrick ramblings, and Master Herbert refuses to hear the horror as he chases his revenge against the Poacher turned Bug Man, Tristano. Jan Strnad & Richard Corben deliver a beautifully gross love letter to Lovecraft & William Hope Hodgson and I’m sad to see it end. 4 issues was just not enough to fuel my thirst for skull headed baboons and human-bug birthing chambers.
BPRD Hell on Earth – Exorcism: Dang, I really dug this quick two-parter. Much more than The Devil's Engine mini. Agent Strode & the old man Ota go toe to toe with the demon and it’s a riveting battle that reaches from inner space to outer goat. Mignola & Stewart have established a strong character in Strode and I’m excited by the letter page promise of her return in further BPRD adventures.
The Sixth Gun Volume 3 - Bound: The third volume in Cullen Bunn's weird Western is mostly setup, and it's a disappointing revelation when you reach the last page and there's a dozen new unanswered questions. But that's also a kinda fantastic problem to have. The Agents of General Hume attempt to rob Becky & Drake from their ancient weapons as Gord tries another act of revenge against those responsible for his family's murder. And it all has something to do with the mummy Asher Cobb and the badass priests known as The Sword of Abraham. But don't worry, the golem Billjohn is waiting in the wings to wreak a muddy punishment. The Sixth Gun remains one of the most fun books on the stands and I can no longer wait for trades to hit the bookshelves, time to dive into the singles.
Saga #1-5: Brian K Vaughan's Y The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways are some of my very favorite modern comics. So the promise of another epic but one rooted firmly in the sci-fi genre is quite exciting. But the seemingly Romeo & Juliet conflict between the Wreaths & the Landfalls and the rather boring title kept me from diving in despite all my comic book buddies screaming at me to READ THIS BOOK. Well, they were right. It took the first two issues, but by the third I was hooked. Vaughan seems to relish in profanity, nudity, and gore but once you and he get used to the flavor of the title, the fringe details like The Will assassin, his ex-lover The Stalk, and the TV Headed Prince will keep you flipping pages. Vaughan has dabbled in some of these ideas before, but it's exciting to think where he will take this epic and when the climax of issue five pulls a very Robert Kirkmanesque character dispatch there's a promise of more shocking future discoveries.