Happy New Year! Continuing the trend from last week, I kept popping in the DVDs as the year rushed to its conclusion. Had to make sure that my Best Of List was as complete as possible. I watched a couple of new films, but spent most of my time revisiting the flicks that I thought had the most potential of ranking in the Top Ten. Movies like Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, & Moonrise Kingdom. The Wife & I also found our way back to the big screen for another round of Django Unchained. We were happy to drag our friend Ben along and I spent nearly as much time watching his reaction as I did the fastest gun in the south. I cannot stress enough what an enjoyable movie going experience that big beast of a film truly is - thinking on it now, it feels not only like the best film of last year, but one of my favorite films of the last decade. Crazy, but my enthusiasm seems to know no bounds.
The mass consumption of big & little screen entertainment always makes this time of year incredibly enjoyable. The Holidays are over. A bright new future of potentially kick ass flicks lies ahead of us. And I'm counting down the days until my post-Christmas decompression vacation - a time where I'm gonna hit up those Cinematic Resolutions and just relax in the apartment. Ah, I can already feel the tingles of bliss.
Jack Reacher: Started this week with a re-watch. Matt was surprisingly annoyed that I saw Tom Cruise's latest without him (seriously, pre-Knight & Day, Matt couldn't stand The Great One), so we journeyed out early Sunday morning to see Jack Reacher ball punch some bros. What I enjoy the most about this disposable flick is that Tom Cruise is a real A-Hole. And there's a good bit of pleasure in watching him belittle barstool sluts and the boyfriends that use them. Sure, you're sitting in the theater to watch Cruise action star his way through various faceless goons, up the ladder to Werner Herzog's milky eyed sociopath, but the best bits in the film are achieved through Christopher McQuarrie's snarky, talk-back dialog. The moments where Jack Reacher schools David Oyelowo's too-good detective or shirtlessly charms Rosamund Pike's idealist avenger. He's so damn full of himself and part of you has to wonder if that's Reacher talking or Tom Cruise himself. Whatever the answer, it's a treat to watch.
Paul Williams Still Alive: If you already love Paul Williams (and how could you not? The Muppets, Phantom of the Paradise, Battle for the Planet of the Apes = classic childhood cinema) then there's enough in this lovefest documentary for you to enjoy. Stephen Kessler pesters Williams for an hour and twenty minutes. We get a little glimpse into his rise and fall in the dark land of celebrity, and there are a few touching moments of introspection. But for the most part it's awkward squirming and chit chat about the delights of squid consumption. Enjoyable, but slight.
The Queen of Versailles: Not my usual fare, but since this doc appears on several critic's Top Tens I thought I would give the Netflix Instant a try. The film opens with the delusional billionaires Jackie & David Siegel burning their way through millions of dollars to construct a replica of Versailles in the swamplands of Florida. As you might expect, for those not living the Richie Rich highlife, it's rather disconcerting to see such a tragic waste of cash. Then the financial crisis hits, and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has an interesting riches-to-rags...oh give me a break, this is a riches-to-not-quite-as-rich story and since they don't even come close to hitting rock bottom this documentary feels even slighter than the Paul Williams showcase. Despite her discovery of limited funds, Jackie Siegel is still a vacuous creature with very little sympathy and her economic monster of a husband seems to care for little else than the recapturing of his empire. Queen of Versailles is simple naval gazing, sometimes entertaining but nothing revelatory - and certainly not one of the year's best films.
Looper: One of the reasons I love this movie so much is that when we first meet Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hitman, he is such a sociopathic little shit. He kills whatever baghead victim appears before him and spends the reward on fashionable ties and the occasional eyedrop high. And he's infatuated with a stripper who's only using him as a portal to his gangster wallet. The man is a putz. He only becomes a human being when he's confronted by his future self; when he can't bare Bruce Willis' self-hating staredowns. The contempt Willis holds for his younger self at the diner makes the movie. Plus the fact that Old Bruce Willis' actions to protect the love of his life are equally as heinous as the crimes committed in his youth. This is not Good Guy Adventure Cinema. It's morally corrupt sci-fi, something not too common these days.
Sleepwalk With Me: My wife is a big fan of Birbiglia's stand-up, and I've enjoyed his albums through her car stereo on numerous occasions. But this semi-fictional telling of his first serious relationship is much more painful to watch than listen to, and even though I thought the film was crafted extremely well I just could not find the entertainment in the self-destruction. A little too fly-on-the-wall. Everyone is just too darn understanding; sticking to the relationship just cuz they like (not love) each other too much. That feels real; a genuine problem some folks might have, but it's a predicament I find too bland for my entertainment. Still, Birbiglia is incredibly charming and the sleepwalking provides for some inventive storytelling.
The Cabin in the Woods: It's entertaining looking back at some of last year's earlier posts and seeing my unabashed enthusiasm for Cabin in the Woods. It's a film I thought for sure was going to be one of the year's best (even if Matt was a hater from the get-go), but as much as I enjoyed the flick, I really am not as in love with it as the rest of the internet seems to be. The corporate underground story of Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford is darkly comic and extremely compelling. But the Whedon college kids above ground are still just a batch of run-of-the-mill fodder, and the Redneck Zombie attack is not nearly as scary as it should be to sell the comedy of Jenkins & Whitford. But, damn, once the film goes Cube it really turns up the Horror Show crazy and it achieves some pretty rioutous laughter from fanboys.
The Avengers: Are you sick and tired of me ranting and raving about The Avengers? Well, I'm pretty much spent on anything else that I could say. I Love This Movie! It's pure comic joy on the big (or little) screen, and it gets the characters better than any of the previous Marvel movies. It puts a lot of pressure onto Shane Black's Iron Man 3, but I have hopes that the man behind Kiss Kiss Bang Bang knows that you don't have to Go Bigger to Be Better. Besides you really can't get bigger than this beast of a flick...at least not till Thanos comes knocking in 2014. For now I need to give this flick a rest. Gotta keep it special and after nearly ten viewings I can feel the shine dimming.
Moonrise Kingdom: There are two movies at play in Wes Anderson's latest. One half of the film is devoted to the pure romance between two barely pubescent children, and the other half of the film depicts the tragically, grown-up problems adults create around their love affairs. It's easy to gravitate to the sweet-hearted adventure of Sam & Suzy, but with this viewing I found myself aching for the males trapped in the heart of Frances McDormand. Can anyone out sadsack Bill Murray? Hmmmm, looks like Bruce Willis can. Along the way you've also got the good hearted and well nicotined Edward Norton, fighting to keep the troop together and succeeding where Social Services continually fails.
Take This Waltz: Here's another flick that inexplicably found its way onto a lot of critics' Top Ten lists. Solid performances from Michelle Williams & Seth Rogen, but like Sleepwalk With Me, I really just do not enjoy watching a relationship self destruct. Must be the newlywed in me. Take This Waltz seems to be saying that you need to know yourself before you can commit to love or marriage, but it's an obvious revelation labored through disturbing and rather annoying hipster banter. A three way will not save you from Seth Rogen's chicken recipes. Fact of life.
Django Unchained: Only two films got me high last year: The Avengers & Django Unchained. Granted, I have a shameless devotion for both Super Heroes & Westerns and when I see a film that so perfectly captures my idea for those genres I get childishly giddy. And both of these flicks leave you feeling deliriously triumphant as the credits roll; Django Unchained is grande adventure cinema revolving around America's horrific past. Some might not feel that the two should blend together, but I think it's essential for them to do so - this is how you remember horror, and move past it. Jaime Foxx is the perfect Fred Williamson. He crushes his enemies. He gets the girl. He leaves ya with a smile. Christophe Waltz shows us that he's more than just a good part; he takes the gleeful gesticulations of the diabolical Hans Landa and reworks them for the fabled heroism of King Schultz. Leo DiCaprio has the showiest part in Calvin Candie, and it's obvious that he's having whole heaps of fun playing such a despicable human being. But it's Sam Jackson that's Django's true villain. Just when you've watched one too many direct-to-dvd, phoned-in performances from Sam Jackson, he delivers one of his most audacious and unique roles yet. His house slave Stephen is a grotesque. From one angle, the dutiful servant. From another, the murderous puppet master. His final moments are the film's most important.
Drum: That's a helluva poster, right? Looks like a great blaxploitation adventure worthy of a Django Unchained double feature? Nope. Drum is pretty much just a terrible bore. This apparent sequel to Mandingo follows Ken Norton's pit-fighting slave after he's sold to the house of Warren Oates; his attempts to go unnoticed are quickly thwarted when Oates's lustful daughter takes aim, and his pal Yaphet Kotto senses his Uncle Tom leanings. This is not serious drama or fun 70s exploitation. Drum is cheap, and it does not earn its lurid sights. I get the impression that there's an intense Yaphen Kottosploitation flick hidden somewhere within the final revolt, but the rest of the film is too dang dull for further exploration.
Hellboy in Hell #2: I enjoyed the first issue. But it was very much a 1st Issue. Here, however, we get one of the most exciting books in the Hellboy cannon. Taking the Christmas Carol conceit glimpsed in the last issue, Hellboy wanders the empty streets of Hell's chief city Pandemonium with the aid of three spirits - well, demons. Mignola is very much trying to put a cap on Hellboy's Beast of the Apocalypse destiny and I love how it takes a trip to his birthplace to make that happen. In the first storyarc long ago (Seed of Destruction) we saw little Hellboy's arrival in our dimension via Nazi Sorcery, but now, finally! we see Hellboy's actual birth and the placement of his Right Hand of Doom on his tiny, red baby stump. And the satanic promise of the last couple of pages? Oh man, this is the stuff I was craving when I first heard the title: Hellboy in Hell. As a die hard Mignola fanatic, I have some dangerous anticipation for this epic and I'm curious to see how the first four issues of this series will not end up being it's final four issues. Where does this book go when there is no Beast of the Apocalypse?
Invincible #99: Pretty much an all smackdown issue. Invincible smashes into Dinosaurus, trying so dang hard to pummel his snout into pulp but discovering that his might is probably not enough for this big bad devil dinosaur. Most of the conversation that happens between the two while they're beating the snot outta each other has been treaded before, and this comic does feel a little bit like filler until we get to the utter devastation of the next issue. And yeah, I think Mark might be going down for the final count. Heads will pop.
Fatale #11: I was seriously apprehensive about this issue. When I heard that Ed Brubaker had decided to expand this series with a collection of one-offs I was left scratching my head. Josephine flashback issues? Uh...that could be interesting. Well - Oh Hell Yeah! Issue 11 turns out to be one of my favorites from the series. Set in California during the 1930s, Josephine tracks down a pulp novelist who apparently knows a thing or two about her powers of manly persuasion. His supernatural story is the most Lovecraftian chapter yet, and artist Sean Phillips has crafted some images here that are hauntingly beautiful but also very horror-horror. There are definite ties to what we've seen before and I'm now really curious to see what these other standalones will have to offer. Fatale is my favorite ongoing comic right now, and if you're not reading it for whatever lameass reason than you're missing out on some of the best genre blending in any medium.
Butter: Pretty broad political commentary set in the seemingly quirky world of Butter sculpting. Basically, aren't Conservative Republicans hypocritical crazies? They sure do love strippers and telling us what to do! And the jokes are flat, but not as flat as Jennifer Garner's performance. She is ridiculously over-the-top with her screamy self-righteousness and her moments on screen are painful to watch. Hugh Jackman is kinda fun with his cowboy smile but blink and he's gone. Rob Corddry is solid as the good-natured father befuddled by the butter culture and it's nice to see Alicia Silverstone still working. Still, Butter wants to be quirkier than it is and will never be thought of again after the period on this sentence.
New Avengers #1: Not bad. But also not terribly exhilarating. Some crazy planetary shenanigans are happening over in Black Panther's Wakanda kingdom and he's going to have to make nice with the Marvel Universe's heavy hitters. I'm gonna keep reading cuz I trust Hickman and I'm curious to see how this ties into his other Avengers book, but I've never been a fan of Wakanda or Black Panther's royal ego. Steve Epting is a great artist, and I'd really love to see him do a Man Without Fear Black Panther story than this global threat stuff - it all feels very been there/done that. Frankly, I would just nuke Wakanda. It's just too dang goofy.
Mara #1: Brian Wood's Massive is a cool comic book. So gotta give his new book a try. Imagine a world where Volleyball is the ultimate entertainment - yeah, that's a bit of a stretch but this is a dystopian Rollerball society and through the suspension of disbelief readers can make that fantasy acceptable. Mara is the world's most famous Volleyball player and global conflicts seem to rest on her ability to spike a ball. But is she just a simple athlete, or is there something super human to her talent? But I'm not sure I care to know the answer. The book was mildly enjoyable but unless some friends start to spout some serious praise I don't see myself continuing.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #19: Miles Morales is home again. No more Ultimates. No more Giant Woman Hydra battles. Glad to be back in NYC where his biggest problems seem to be the lack of web fluid and how to handle his best bud's Spidey infatuation...oh, and the fact that the Venom symbiote is alive and well and killing Daily Bugle reporters. I am really excited to see how a Peter Parker villain goes up against Miles's Spider-Man. As much as I love this comic, I feel like we've been waiting too long for these two worlds to collide, and the hint of another Gwen Stacey encounter is incredibly appealing.
Godzilla - Half Century War #4: Fatale & Hellboy in Hell might have been my favorite books this week but Godzilla comes in at a close third. Stokoe's comic is an epic celebration of our favorite Tokyo smasher, and this latest issue pits the big beast against not only MechaGodzilla, but SpaceGodzilla as well! Jumping ahead in time to 1987, AMF agent Ota is an old man feeling cast aside by the agency's young hotshots. But can these youngins properly pilot MechaGodzilla? Of course not! Ota's gonna have to get his hands dirty, time for a tag team grudge match against the crystalized monstrosity.
Iron Man #5: Why am I still reading this!?!?!??!? Brad, stop throwing your cash away!!!!! Tony Stark has another standoff with an Extremis terrorist. This time - in Space! Time for another armor and an excuse to send Stark into the realm of the Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm just soooooooo not interested in these various Extremis encounters. Kill 'em all and move on.
Daredevil - End of Days #4: Ben Urich continues his investigation into Daredevil's last days. What he finds is Bullseye's corpse and another mysterious reference to "Mapone." What does that word mean? A person? A place? But this is not Rosebud, it's a gibberish concoction with absolutely no draw to the mystery and the question to its meaning is stretched thin by the fourth issue. Now, the last few pages promise a rather fascinating conversation with a famous convict and I'm really curious to see where the next issue takes the Daily Bugle reporter. Bendis has me till the end.
Batman Incorporated #6: After the explosive conclusion to the last issue we see the grisly results to Talia's super villainy, and the Bat Family takes another hit...of course, only crazy cooks like Grant Morrison might feel the pain of this D-list tragedy. The best bits of this issue happen in the Bat Cave with Alfred presenting young Damien with another house pet. And Bat Cow gets a new friend. I'm still waiting for serious hell to hit, and I'm dying to see Bruce Wayne face-to-face with the mother of his child.
All New X-Men #5: I may not love how and why these X-Men from the past found their way into our present, but now that they're here I'm loving their ghastly reaction to their history. Poor Jean Grey. What an F'd up life you will lead; can you possibly change your future for the better or are you doomed to repeat the Phoenix horror? This is the stuff that's so dang exciting about Bendis' high concept. How will these old characters change with this knowledge. And what tantrum will Angel throw when he learns about ArchAngel? Should be epic.