As the region recovered from the apocalyptic storm, I sat down to a bunch of comics and a bunch of movies. So, I guess, same as always.
Point Blank: Lee Marvin plays Walker (Parker from the Richard Stark novels) in this brutal tale of betrayal, revenge, and exactly what’s owed. Stylized direction from mad genius John Boorman, a crackerjack script with lots of colorful characters make for entertaining, if sometimes uncomfortable viewing. Walker isn’t a man. He’s a force of nature. You get out of his way if you don’t want him to walk over or through you. The nightclub fistfight is one of cinema’s best. Saturated with 40s pulp menace and 60s jet-set cool it’s a must see, frequently forgotten classic.
Repo Men: Dystopian science fiction with a very 80s cyberpunk vibe, this flick features some nasty violence and some Cronenberg-type body horror. If you can’t handle really nasty surgical type business, move along. A solid cast and a really, really awesome soundtrack (not to mention a subtle but solid score), go a long way. I’m not in love with the ending, but I really dig this film, none the less.
Navajo Joe: The usual Spaghetti Western elements. Spanish countryside and Italian actors subbing for the American “Wild” West. But this one does feature young Burt Reynolds as the title characters. The half Native chick he semi-hooks up with is flippin’ gorgeous (and Italian). It’s a lot of typical bits tossed into a pot and cooked for an hour and a half. For the most part, it comes out good.
Three The Hard Way: Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson come together to fight the forces of evil in this crazy Blaxploitation entry. Topless S&M allies help root out the truth of a conspiracy of white supremacists. There are lots of exploding cars, some cool location shooting in several major cities, and lots of awkward Jim Kelly fighting (and noises). Not the best of the subgenre, but very watchable.
Black Dynamite: At once a parody and homage, this flick is so much fun. Michael Jai White channels Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly into one powerhouse performance. Jokes both subtle and blatant are fast and furious. And the whole thing looks like it might have been filmed in 1975. Great music, great performances, and great fun. If you enjoy Blaxploitation at all, you need to see this.
Bad Ass: Bus fight!!! If you like to see bearded Danny Trejo revel in being a kindly old man, who just happens to beat up a bunch of punk asses, this is the movie for you. Trejo is oddly adorable and the rest of the cast backs him up well. It’s not an amazing movie, or ground breaking, or even especially good. But it’s very watchable and for a pretty violent film, it’s strangely light hearted.
The Howl: I don’t get it. I guess this is some surrealist mumbo-jumbo, but it just seems like a feverish dream capturing all the usual sexual anxiety of Italian (and French) film. Sex and death. Bodily functions. Confusion. Emotional dissonance. Reactions that don’t make a lot of sense. Characters that with no discernable personalities. Maybe you have to be European? I think it’s supposed to be funny. But it’s not. I also think they were trying to make ART, and as pretty much always happens in such circumstances, they make pretentious crap.
Key Largo: I think I was 10 years old when I watched Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Key Largo for the first time. That’s when I realized Humphrey Bogart is one of the coolest dudes ever. In the decades since, Casablanca has been an enduring favorite (it’s now my go-to ‘favorite film’), The Maltese Falcon an occasional enjoyable watch, and Key Largo…well, for some reason I just never really watched it again. Revisiting it now after so many years, I’m struck by so many things. Edward G. Robinson’s old-time gangster, his seedy henchmen, the hurricane, the stand-up (if he could) hotel owner, and Lauren Bacall. Oh, man. Lauren Bacall. She’s got this animal hunger in her eyes in this movie that…well, let’s just say, I like it. Robinson’s total freak-out is awesome to watch. He’s great at playing someone who knows he’s in over his head, but can’t let himself really believe it.
The Public Enemy: “Remember this boys. You gotta have friends.” Tough guy director William Wellman helped create the archetypal gangster, here played by James Cagney. Between Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, you pretty much find the road map for mobsters than I think are still with us. I still don’t think much of Jean Harlow. She kind of reminds me of Mae West, who I think was largely popular based on the “implied” premise that she actually enjoyed sex. This tale of a hoodlum’s rise to power is filled with great bit players, dirty turns, dastardly violence, and some cold cynicism. Great finale.
Cindy and Donna: “Hey bogart, give me the joint.” Four minutes in and I was convinced I’d accidentally popped in a porno. The dialog, the acting, two totally out of nowhere panty shots, and the crappiest music this side of a public domain library (in just four minutes!). But no, it’s just low budget, low talent, low down 70s T&A. Holy nuts, the drunken mother is bloody awful (Is she from New York? England? What the crap is that accent? It’s shrill, that’s for sure.). The movie feels a bit like we’re watching the director’s attempt to explore his fetishes, and it’s awkward. The sex scenes in this film go on for uncomfortably long periods of time, and in the weirdest and generally unsexy of ways. Seriously, by the end of this movie, you’d swear it was a porn flick where someone decided at the last minute to make it R rated instead. What Donna won’t do for weed. Man. And seriously, what the is up with the ending?
Malibu High: An ugly, stupid girl is unhappy her jerk boyfriend has taken up with a less ugly, stupid girl. So, it’s time for smoking lots of pot, drinking lots of booze, and maybe thinking about being a prostitute. When she goes to class dressed sexy…(?) she starts causing trouble. Now that she’s sexy, what with dressing like a mom out for a shopping trip at the local Wal-Mart, all the guys want a taste of her…uh…sexy…(?) pie. This kind of felt like watching Fatal Attraction, where Glenn Close was supposed to be sexy enough to lure Michael Douglass away from Anne Archer, but the whole time I kept thinking “it’s a MAN, baby!” Tony the squinty, drug dealing pimp in the ripped up tank-top, is by far the least unappealing person in the movie. Of course, one thing leads to another and CONTRACT KILLING!!! This movie is crazy. Not good. Not good at all. But crazy.
The River: Network TV strikes again. A potentially cool idea can never quite rise above sanitized mire of episodic TV. It never pushes far enough. Never goes deep enough. Takes too long to get places. Wraps up plots too quickly. If it were on HBO or even AMC, it could probably could have been really good. Instead, it’s OK, but frustrating. Plus, the fact that it was canceled without having anything like a resolution doesn’t help. Part of me wants to imagine it takes place in the same universe as Lord of Illusions. But it’s not nearly as good.
Brave: I guess it says something about the quality of Pixar’s previous films that Brave left me a bit disappointed. It’s a really good movie, funny when it needs to be, exciting, gorgeously crafted and with some good characters. I like the story and I like that the main character drives the story and is not driven by it. It’s very nice to see a female character who does not spend all her time reacting. If I had a daughter, this is the kind of thing I’d want her to watch. That aside, the film didn’t wow me. It’s good. It’s a solid film. But I guess I’ve grown used to Pixar wowing me, and this one didn’t.
I’m starting to gear up for the next graphic novel group meeting with another pile of single issues. I figure I’ll read through a bunch, then put together some more goodie bags for the attendees. Hopefully folks will read them and maybe see something they like; maybe take up a series or two.
First up was the second issue of Aquaman. I hear good things, and so far, it’s not bad. Geoff Johns certainly seems to be one to revitalize a comic line. He did great stuff with making Green Lantern interesting and relevant again. And Aquaman seems like it could be a cool line. He’s facing off against …humanoids from the deep in this issue, so that’s cool.
Up next was All Star Western’s second issue. The continuing Jonah Hex story could be interesting, seeing the rise of Gotham’s criminal empire. But I’m really curious about the El Diablo story that started in the second half. It feels like a more traditional Western comic and I like the retro art style. Neither story really wows me, but both are perfectly enjoyable. I hope there’s a good reason for having Hex in Gotham, like that this story is connected to what’s going on in the modern era Batman comics, like the Court of Owls business. Time will tell.
I think I read Nightwing’s first issue back when this whole business started, and I don’t think I was too impressed. Giving it a quick re-read, I see why (unless I didn’t read it…but I think I did). Anyway, Nightwing is just one of those characters (like Green Arrow), I can’t imagine ever giving two shakes about. I don’t even like Robin, and he has the decency to share the stage with Batman. I really don’t care about an ex-Robin with a super 90s looking costume (seriously, he looks like Kyle Rayner, but in black). Anyway, I won’t be reading on.
The second issue of Justice League seems like more of the same DC stuff. Flash and Green Lantern (Kyle Reyner, I think) are buddies. Batman and Superman are at odds because of methods and essential world views. Then lots of stuff blows up, tons of aliens attack, and there’s a brief preview of Wonder Woman’s arrival on the scene. Meh.
Issue 2 of X-O Manowar is interesting. By the end of this issue, it feels like the introduction is over, and the story is ready to begin. Cary Nord’s art looks great, and the writing isn’t bad. I’m very curious to see where this series goes. Never having read the original run, I have no idea what the deal with X-O is, but a Roman era barbarian soldier stuck inside a sacred alien tech-suit somewhere out in the larger universe has a lot of potential.
Up next was the first in a five issue series, Six Guns. I don’t know what connection to this has to the greater Marvel universe, though it does seem to have some. It’s basically a pretty typical modern Western/biker gang story. There’s some chick who I guess is some kind of superhero or something. A Texas Ranger (oh, boy), and a biker gang leader (the cover implies one more, though they haven’t been introduced yet). Not a lot happens in the first issue, and it’s hard to believe whatever story is being told can be wrapped up in only four more issues. But I like the subgenre enough to be interested, I guess.
Thanks to Brad, I got to read another SPX treat. Several people had commented that The Gremlins Movie Incident by Cara Bean was one of their favorite comics from last year’s SPX, but I didn’t get a copy. Now, I’ve read it, and it’s extremely cute. There’s a high school news paper quality to the art that is quite charming, and the story is one I totally connect with. Just a simple tale (a recollection, really) of going to see Gremlins as a child, and how flippin’ terrifying (but awesome) that movie was. It seems like Gremlins did to this woman what Something Wicked This Way Comes did to me (read: haunted/scarred me for years). Again, very cute.
I know it’s receiving lots of negative press (didn’t see that coming), but I’ve been curious about this whole ‘Before Watchmen’ thing since I heard about it. How are they going to make a go of doing a prequel series to one of the most beloved graphic novels, held in perhaps too high esteem, but a classic for certain? Obviously, the people they want to read this are the very people who will never like it…even if they actually do like it. So, I read the first issue of Minutemen, and you know what? I enjoyed it. I like Darwyn Cooke’s retro-style art and his writing is fine. Nothing especially amazing, but perfectly fun to read. I like the original Night Owl, and I’m curious what they’re planning to do with the original super team. Was I blown away? No. Did it suck? No. Will Watchmen fans ever accept it? No. Will Watchmen fans secretly buy, read, and at least somewhat enjoy it? Of course.
All right, so I’m always a bit curious about cross-over stories, and alternate universe stories. And I do love me some Star Trek. So, IDW’s Star Trek crossing over with DC’s Legion of Superheroes? Sure; why not? Well, read it and you’ll have an answer. I didn’t know anything about the Legion of Superheroes before I read this, and all I know now is that they’re lame. There’s really not enough story to be even a bit intriguing. The issue also has an 11 page preview of a comic called Memorial, which feels like an early 90s urban fantasy story. Meh.
I liked the movie Kick-Ass, but honestly, never felt the need to read the comic it was based on. Nor its sequel…or anything. But I was handed a copy of Hit-Girl Issue 1 and I gave it a go. It’s OK. The art is pretty good. There’s a lot of swearing and some violence. I guess it takes place pretty close on the heels of the first story (not sure when Kick-Ass 2 takes place). There’s nothing wrong with it, I guess, but I don’t feel any need to read on.
I finished listening to The Strain (read my review here).
Anthologies have always fascinated me. By their nature, they’re uneven and inconsistent, but you can usually find some gold. Strange Adventures is an anthology comic from Vertigo that seems to focus on science fiction, including a preview story for Spaceman. Post Modern Prometheus feels like something Bernie Wrightson might have done. It’s sort of a cross between Heavy Metal and Eerie. And while it’s not all good, overall, I enjoyed reading it.
Not too much going on this week, though I did get some movie watching in near the end.
Prince of Persia: I love the exotic and strange worlds conjured in the Arabian Nights as I do those of the Brothers Grimm, and I loved Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad films. So, as a young man, I had fun playing the side-scrolling video game Prince of Persia that was inspired by them. I never would have guessed then that a big budget special effects extravaganza would be made based on it. For such, this is actually pretty good. It’s fun, action packed, beautifully designed, and perfectly enjoyable.
Knight and Day: “Excellent driving. Over a dead guy no less.” A goofy, light hearted spy adventure that gives the two leads plenty of time to be silly but also to get into some over the top action sequences. Look, you can’t enjoy yourself watching a movie like this if you’re going in with the wrong expectations. This isn’t Citizen Kane. This is the essence of popcorn entertainment. But it’s well written enough to rise above garbage like the Transformers films. It’s also nice to see an action movie where both actors are over 40 (Diez is over 40, right?…well, she’s not 20, anyway).
Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen: I really like what little I’ve been able to see from Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the good Doctor. But sadly, it’s spotty and disjointed thanks to so many stories being missing or incomplete. I like his companions and many of his stories. And his portrayal of the Doctor is certainly a lot more fun. This one is pretty good, and there are plenty of twists and turns.
Sherlock Holmes: Darn it, but I like this movie. It’s such a fun adaptation of the classic tales. Much more lively and exciting than a lot of versions, which is, I think, more in keeping with the stories. The relationship between Holmes and Watson is excellent. Gone is the genius Holmes/buffoon Watson shtick of the Rathbone era, replaced with one of the best onscreen friendships I’ve ever seen. A great score, fun style, a tight script. Good stuff. Maybe the so called purists should go back and read the stories again.
Beyond Tomorrow: A documentary about The Tomorrow People, this isn’t especially interesting, though it’s kind of fun to see the actors as adults. Fairly typical interviews. Remnants of old friendships, rivalries, pleasantries, and regrets. A few anecdotes and glimpses behind the scenes.
Punch: A crazy girl with a weirdass relationship with her dad goes all kinds of spaz in this awkward, creepy danged movie. This flick has the weirdest vibe. Like it’s trying to be a touching Lifetime flick about a troubled family, but it’s also about topless boxing. There are some oddly effective scenes. Frankly, I don’t know what to think about this movie. No shock it’s Canadian.
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows: The follow-up to the surprise hit, this film is just as much fun, moving the action to the Continent with explosive consequences. The actors are all back, and the style remains. I could come back for another one of these every couple of years for sure. The intellectual fight scenes, the twisting chess game between super-geniuses, the fantastic friendship between Holmes and Watson, and one of the better wife characters to grace the screen in a while (she’s great in the first film, too).
Kiss Me Deadly: I darned well love this slice of brutal 50s. Horrible people get into some dangerous situations, and treat each other pretty poorly. Right off the bat there’s a genuinely disturbing (though not graphic) murder, and things just keep getting tougher. Great location shooting and fantastic stylized set work. The actors are all top notch and the script is heartlessly intense. This movie goes dark. Then it goes frickin’ CRAZY. The finale, man. Wow.
Southland Tales: It’s funny watching this right after Kiss Me Deadly. I didn’t realize it had several references to that film. More than most odd films, I have to say this one is really not for everyone. A sprawling epic in surreal alternate reality, it takes several viewings to really start piecing it all together. There’s a massive cast of unreal characters played by against type actors. Not a lot of explanation, so you’ve got to pay attention and use your noggin.
The Getaway: I’ll say it again. Forget Bullitt. The Getaway is Steve McQueen’s badass movie to beat. All kinds of brutal people come together in a bad situation that spirals out of control. McQueen plays an oddly restrained thug. The look of the movie is lush, the action occasional but intense, and the characters colorful. Lots of great moments.
Stephen Fry- 50 Not Out: Celebrating Fry’s 50th year, this roughly hour long special assembles an amazing group of celebrities of all types (even Prince Charles!?) to say lots of good things. Getting behind the expected gladhanding, it’s an interesting look at a fascinating and fun Renaissance man. An actor, comedian, writer, and public intellectual. We need more people like him.
The Killing: Crime doesn’t pay, man. Stanley Kubrick’s violent odyssey of thievery and betrayal is tough as they come and shows early signs of the director panache. The music is jarringly grandiose and the ‘You Are There!’ narration gives it an almost documentary feel. But the lighting, nasty characters, and building tension are all soundly Noir. And man, Kubrick sure loves his wild and weird endings.
Killer’s Kiss: A hard luck boxer gets mixed up with a dame and things don’t go too well. Typical Noir stuff. Story wise, there’s not too much going on here. But the look and feel, and the amazing glimpse into New York City make it a heck of an entertaining watch.
I started watching Outcasts, a UK science fiction series. It’s well made. Looks like they styled the production design after Battlestar Galactica. In fact, it almost feels like that season where the crew is stuck on New Caprica.
On Sunday, I finished reading Christopher Hitchens’ biography of Thomas Jefferson. It took me a dog’s age to read it, but not because it wasn’t good. I just kept getting distracted or grabbing graphic novels. I’ve been bussing less, so reading less of the stuff I normally take with me on the bus (history books). More graphic novels and comics these days. Anyway, read my review of it here.
While Brad and Lisa were out of town, I ended up staying several nights at their place, while my place swelters without AC (should be fixed in a couple days!). Didn’t get too much reading done.