Monday, January 21, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (1/13-1/19)

    I got some reading done.  And as usual, several movies.  But the Dork highlight was Brad’s Macaroni Western night.

Gangster Squad:  Pretty much an L.A. based Untouchables, this bit of post-War tomfoolery is a fun watch if you’re in the mood for some action packed cops and robbers.  The cast of misfits fighting against a Dick Tracy villain while trying to avoid the cesspit of Burbank is a perfectly enjoyable, if by the numbers bit of fluff.  My one major complaint is the end, not only because it features a totally silly and out of place fist-fight, but because the digital cameras make the action look like TV sports.  Where Michael Mann and David Fincher can make digital look like art, this looks like live footage, which doesn’t work for me at all.  Whatever the case, while it’s no Chinatown, it’s leaps and bounds above more boring L.A. period pieces like Mulholland Falls or The Black Dahlia.

Drive:  I really dig this movie’s crazy slow build, driving early 80s style retro soundtrack, and sudden explosions of intense, graphic, extreme violence.  Driver is like some kind of sociopath, quietly minding his own business, but with a deep river of brutal animal violence just waiting to crest.  Bad luck, bad timing, and bad people make his life all complicated, and he needs to get things simply, fast and hard.  Stompin’ heads, hammerin’ hands, and kissin’ dames.

Spinout:  Elvis loves cars, singing, and skirts.  Those are the ingredients for whole cake full of trouble.  When all the birds want a piece of his hip-swinging, car driving, rocker, he’s got to do his darnedest to keep himself and his band (a lady drummer, no less!) out of the slop.  Holy smokes, his band is bananas, and they keep it classy with midnight picnic feasts (glad the drummer can make the coffee).  That poor drummer just wants some lovin’ but Elvis ain’t biting, so maybe that local cop will give her the business.  But what about that aggressive author?  Or the rich dude’s daughter (the rich dude is played by a clone of Darren McGavin, I think)?  Swinging pads, groovy gals, funky music, and love in the air.  But E knows the score.  There are a log of very sexy go-go dancing honies in this bit of 60s musical fun.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days:  “Why are you hugging me when mom isn’t around to see it?”  This poor kid isn’t aging well.  Still, this series remains charming and funny, focusing on all the horror and awkwardness of being a kid.  I didn’t have the same problems this kid has.  But I had all the embarrassment and dread.  Thankfully my summers really were an oasis freedom.  Still, I’m sure many people are stuck with parents who won’t let them be kids.  His exceptionally awkward best friend is fuel for many painful childhood flashbacks.  Greg and his dad’s hatred of Li’l Cutie is awesome.  It reminded me of reading Family Circus (“It’s not even a joke”).  And his brother’s band rocks that stuffy party hard.

Doctor Who: The Mysterious Planet: “I always like to do the unexpected.  Takes people by surprise.”  This story starts off the Trial of a0 Time Lord arc from the Colin Baker era.  Like The Master, I find myself much less engaged in Gallifrey centered episodes than I was when I was a kid.  And I find the court case set-up off-putting.  Still, the model work on the space station at the beginning is dared cool.  And the subway tunnel ruins are Beneath the Planet of the Apes awesome.  The giant black robot is super-cool, too.  And I’m glad they’re back to the 25 minute episodes.  45 minutes was an interesting experiment, and I think could have worked if it had been better handled.  But they never seemed to get the rhythm quite right.  Speaking of not getting the rhythm right, the them music has been substantially changed for this story, and…well, I’m just not into it.  Apparently, Doctor Who had actually been cancelled (nobody seemed to know exactly why), and this was its return to the air.  So the season long story arc was conceived as an attempt to shake things up and give it some new life.  The relationship between the Doctor and Peri is much more fun to watch, too.  And the guest characters in this story are a blast, especially the two oddly charming thugs.

Charro! “…Taco.”  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this non-musical Elvis Western.  Not at all what I was expecting.  It’s actually pretty grim, and E does a pretty good job as the reformed crook who can’t get away from his old gang leader.  The gang is pretty dastardly, and the ladies are comely, for sure.  It doesn’t cover any new ground, sitting as a pretty standard classic Hollywood Western.  But as such, it’s quite enjoyable.

Birth of a Nation:  Gah.  What an awful thing this is.  That this was a technical and narrative shift in movies, ushering in the feature film makes it of historic significance for film historians and geeks.  There, that’s the good thing I can say about this appalling work of despicable sociopaths.  The obvious and easy label to give it is ‘racist.’  But I don’t think that really captures it.  This isn’t the subtle, misguided, or even good intentioned racism of Lovecraft, Conrad, or other authors of the time.  This is outright, hostile, and ugly.  And the actors in ‘blackface’ crank that ugly hostility up several notches.  Bah.  I need a shower.

    So, Friday night we all descended on Brad & Lisa’s place to watch some Spaghetti Westerns (while eating macaroni).  There were like eight of us, but I don’t think a lot of us were into it.  But hey, that’s what these nights are about, getting people to watch things what they wouldn’t otherwise see.

The Mercenary (aka Revenge of the Gunfighter): “I will demonstrate how a small jealous idiot can be punished.”  Franco Nero is beautiful, and he does his business for money.  While selling his services to Paco and fighting Curley, our gun fighting hero has all the swagger of a grand leading man.  A wink and a smile, a match lit on a woman’s chest, lessons taught to a man covered in pig poo.  Glorious.

    Lisa made some amazing food (as always).  And Sarah & Paul brought more.  Plus, we had some Bullet Rye, which was…Paaahhh! Smooth.

The Great Silence:  “You can arrest or execute anyone you want.”  This grim Western features lots and lots of snow, a whole bunch of ugly people, and Klaus Kinski.  It’s nasty.  And what an ending.  Not the best Spaghetti Western I’ve seen, but it’s solid, and has an interesting vibe.  And again, what an ending.

Django:  Franco Nero is the man, and when he travels to the nastiest, most rundown, muddy city on Earth, he shows everyone what the man does.  He doesn’t take kindly to anyone messing with the local prostitutes or the barkeep, be they Mexican banditos or soldiers.  One of the coolest, ugliest Spaghetti Westerns out there.  It’s no wonder it became an international hit, even if it never made much impact in the States.

    That was as far as I could go.  Brad popped on another one, but I checked out.  Old man blues, but at midnight this princess turns into a scullery made and goes to bed.

The Shaolin Drunken Monk:  Gordon Liu and his amazing hair (it changes length from scene to scene) star in this pretty cool low budget flick about a kid on a revenge quest who grows into a master of Drunken Boxing.  Liu is so crazy precise and rigid in his style that he makes an interesting counter to Jackie Chan’s more famous use of the style.  As usual with these movies, there is an impressive and wacky training sequence.  I agree with Rick Meyers when he says American movies could use these sorts of sequences, where we see how Arnold or someone trains to become the badass they are in the film.  There are some really excellent fight sequences.  Far better than the film probably should have.

Magic City Season 1:  “I will crush you with a legal s#!% hammer.”  I want this show to be better than it is.  It improved over the course of the season, but it still needs work.  Lacking the writing of Mad Men or the intensity of Boardwalk Empire, it is sadly saddled with a bit too much of Stars’ sensationalism.  I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Olga Kurylenko a lot, and I want to like Danny Houston more than 90% of his film appearances allow me to do (stop playing brutish villains for a while, man).  And while Miami doesn’t interest me at all, the time period (1959) does.  The shadow of Cuba’s fall hangs over the town, the mob flexes its muscle, and a self-made man tries to remain true to himself, his family, and his ideals in a dirty town and a dirty business.

Immortals:  “Titans…Unleashed.”  Definitely Tarsem’s best film to date, it finally marries a decent script with his usual visual flair.  This is grand, fun myth shaking adventure, like a modern day Harryhausen film.  It’s absolutely the sort of thing I would have loved as a boy.  Heck, it’s the sort of thing I love as a man.  One day, they’ve really got to focus this kind of attention on the other pantheons (obviously, Egyptian would make me happiest).  Man, would I love to see a really good Odyssey.  It is rated R for good reason.  The violence is at times extreme and bloody.  When the gods get to fighting, well, human bodies don’t put up much resistance to divine weapons.  They mostly just explode in bloody bits.

    Watched a few more episodes of The Clone Wars.  Pretty good show, though season 4 isn’t as good as some previous.  It is so sad that these cartoon episodes are so much more creative in story and design than the most recent batch of films.  I can’t help but think whatever Disney does with Star Wars, it’ll almost certainly be better than anything the silver screen has seen from the franchise in a couple decades.

    “On the contrary.  I’m afraid he’s a bit dead.”  I also watched some more Sapphire & Steel.  Really an interesting show once it gets going.  Like so many UK sci-fi shows, the creators had some pretty crazy ideas, even if it doesn’t always live up.  This story, Assignment V: Dr. McDee Must Die sets up a very strange tale.  A bunch of old people, a break in the time stream, broken memories.  This one was written by a different person than the rest of the series, and you can tell.  But it’s devilishly twisting.  Inspired by those Agatha Christi mysteries so popular on UK TV at that time, but with an almost Ray Bradbury type of haunting and surreal science fiction, this one keeps you scratching your head for all six episodes.

    In preparation for the next graphic novel club meeting, I read through the first two trades of The Walking Dead.  It’s a good series, but I have to admit, I’m just not in the headspace to get into it right now.  Too many years of over fishing the zombie waters have left this old fisherman coming up empty.  I’m just not feeling the love anymore.


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