Sunday, after watching a movie, Brad, Ben, and I hit up a pretty cool little music shop, CD Cellar, and the only really good used book store I’ve found since moving to Virginia, Hole in the Wall Books. Scored a few cool books and disks (found some Carl Nielsen, for crying out loud!).
The Last Stand: You know I’m glad Arnold is back to doing movies. Sadly, this one never hits its stride, or figures out a tone. It tries to be funny, but isn’t that funny. It isn’t really much of an action film, as there’s only a couple bits of action. It’s not shot well. The villain is exceptionally lame. And Arnold seems out of practice. Still, there are moments. A few. And I hope this is just one quick stumble on the path to Old Arnold being a silver screen staple from now on. And hey, it’s still better than Collateral Damage or End of Days. Sadly, I think something gets lost when Korean or Hong Kong directors try to make movies in the States. I’m not the biggest fan of Korean film anyway (It’s called pacing! Look in to it!), but The Good The Bad The Weird was really good. So I had a bit more hope for this one. However, it completely lacks that certain energy of Asian films, while also lacking the pacing or script of good American movie.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: “But you have heard of me.” Honestly, I was never much for pirate movies. With the exception of Yellowbeard, I don’t think there was a one I really liked. The time period had a lot to do with it. They’re from that in-between time, from around the dawn of the Renaissance to the late 1800s that is a sort of historical dead zone in my interest. But I’m also not really in to nautical films in general (I hate submarine stories, for example). So, when this movie came along, and based on a ride at Disneyland no less, I had understandably low expectations. Imagine my surprise when this turned out to be a shockingly fun adventure movie with enough humor and horrific fantasy to keep it spicy. Good action, solid cast, nice music and a pretty good tale. It prompted me to go back and watch more of the old classic pirate movies. Unfortunately, I didn’t like them. Still, this one is good.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: “Look! An undead monkey. Top that.” Oh, Jack, that wobbling, crackpot jackanape. He’s up to his old tricks, and it’s trouble for friend and foe alike. Fancy Will Turner gets roped into a quest to screw over Captain Jack so he can save his lady love. It’s pretty much just more of the same, though because they were filming back to back, the filmmakers were able to set more up with the knowledge that a third film would tie things up. And of course, it allows for a cliffhanger ending. Filled with new and disgusting underwater nasties (seriously disgusting henchmen), daring-do, drunken stumbling, and adventure. The cast does a fine job. The movie looks good. The Music is nice. The Black Spot. And of course, the Kraken. It reminds me of my youth, picking over old reports of sea monsters throughout the ages. Giant squids that would suck down sailing ships. I used to eat that stuff up.
Pina: “You just have to get crazier.” Look, I’m the first one to admit I don’t get interpretive dance. I know there’s some kind of meaning in what I’m seeing, but that meaning remains mostly obscure to me. So much of it seems like random bits of other dance, like some kind of physical jazz. But, divorcing it from meaning, I understand fit bodies displaying physical agility. And this movie has plenty of that. I’m not a fan of groups of people doing the same dance movies in unison. I think I’ve been affected by too many pop music videos, where that became the standard like a guitar solo in an 80s rock tune, crammed in even when it doesn’t belong. Visually, though, this film is really something. I wish I’d gotten the chance to see it in 3D (and I don’t say that very often). The format is odd, with performances broken up with dancers talking about Pina Bausch, except they’re not talking. It’s all in voice over while they sit there looking all artistic. What’s up with French Tobin Bell and hand dancing David Bowie? And the factory veal dance? I don’t know. It is interesting to see this group of dancers, some who were with Pina for decades, reminisce and do some of their numbers. Like so many artists (dancers and singers especially), these people seem deeply emotionally damaged, and that weird mix of narcissistic exhibitionist and shy introvert. Like interpretive dance, I don’t think I really got this movie. I started tuning out after the first 45 minutes or so. Also, I know this is kind of a little thing, especially in the era of the internet, but the credits are pretty much unreadable, which is something I always find annoying. The commentary by Wim Wenders is actually far more informative, if that’s the word. I only listened to about 5 or 10 minutes, but I kind of regret not having it on during my first viewing. Who knew?
Red Sonja: “Only women may touch it.” There was a time when Richard Fleischer made really cool movies. But somewhere along the way he lost it, and then he made Conan the Destroyer. Not content with destroying all that had been done in Conan the Barbarian, by turning it into a comic book style joke, he then made this steaming turd. As so often happens, the very essence of Howard is gutted in the opening scene, making our hero a product of fate and magic, not self made, as Howard’s heroes are. Especially annoying is that the production design looks pretty good and the music isn’t bad. And they have a much more appropriate actress for Sonja in the film. Sandahl Bergman can’t act to save her life, but she’s no worse than Brigitte Nielsen, and at least she looks the part. Actually, the actress who played Sonja’s sister would have been better. They had a lot of the technical stuff they needed. Just not a script or any concept of Robert E. Howard’s writing or philosophy. Seriously, the script is awful. If it weren’t for the obvious money that went into the crafting of the film and the appearance of Cona…I mean Kalidor, it wouldn’t even rank up there with the Deathstalker films. Oh man, and then there’s the little kid king and his goofus slave. Ugh.
|"Let us slay English together!"|
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning: What does ‘graphic nudity’ mean in an MPAA rating? To me, there’s nudity and not nudity. Graphic nudity seems to mean something else, but I can’t imagine what that is. Anyway, the second in this new batch of Universal Soldier movies, following up the shockingly good Universal Soldier: The Regeneration is pretty good. These films do kind of what I’d like to do with Hellraiser; go back to the original concept, rework it, and make it a solid, fairly well thought out, serious take on a cool idea. This one feels like they have a bigger budget, as it is filmed in North America, not Eastern Europe. Although, all the girls still seem Eastern European. The Plummer, who appears to be played by Gerard Butler’s hideous twin brother is kind of awesome. Dolph Lungren is becoming beautifully old, and Van Damme is terrifying. The film’s cult of super soldiers storyline is cool, and it features some crazy super-brawls.
The Night Caller (aka Night Caller from Outer Space, aka Blood Beast from Outer Space): There’s something just a little different about the way the Brits were making horror/science fiction back in the 50s and 60s. Much the same stories, the same shoddy costumes and effects as their American counterparts. But while the destination was the same, the journey was so different. From odd narrative progression, where fifteen minutes in, the two leads disappear for a half hour, replaced by totally different characters, to the strange and probably unnecessary bits of off topic character interplay, a lot of these movies have a specific charm that is pretty much unique to the UK. (For a slightly more modern example of what I’m talking about, look at Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce). This feels a lot like a story from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who (but with better pacing). The creature is pretty lame, but the movie is well worth checking out for the colorful cast and good dialog. The interplay between the pornographer and the cop alone is worth the effort.
Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla VS Monster Zero): “We’re glad we found friends on Planet X.” When a couple of dudes take a rocket ship to a mysterious planet, they find much more than they expect. Those crazy cats from Planet X are ready to get all up in Earth’s business with a giant, gold, three headed beast that spits lightning. Bah-BAM! And then they kidnap and control Rodan and Godzilla. Dude. Who does that? Obviously, you have to watch out for the sexy femme fatale. Especially when she’s not alone. Nick Adams and Akira Takarada are really fun leads, and play well together. And I’m always, always glad to see King Ghidorah. He’s still probably my single favorite giant monster.
Zombie Lake: “No one knows how I feel, and neither do you.” Jean Rollin does his thing… this time, with zombies. Using Jess Franko’s dude-muse (like Tim Burton’s Johnny Depp) Howard Vernon who looks like he’s about to give up the ghost himself. The zombies look terrible, and unfortunately the camera lingers long enough that you can’t help but notice. You can see a lot of Rollin’s usual flourishes, but they don’t feel right. The pacing doesn’t work with the subject, and the dubbing is downright awful, which doesn’t help things at all. Not just that the voice acting is bad, which it is. But the English script doesn’t make any danged sense. When the VW bus full of girls shows up at the lake, though, you’re really reminded that Rollin was an artist, man. An artist. Zombie movie fans will almost certainly be disappointed with its focus on a weird love story and a myth shrouded lake (it’s really more of a ghost story), and Rollin fans will likely miss the dreamlike feel of his usual work that only very occasionally peaks its head out here. I do have to ask, if the child was born during the second World War, how come she’s only like 12 in 1980? The lesson this movie reminds us of is, like gremlins, don’t ever get Nazis wet. If anyone wants to know what to get me for Christmas, the mayor’s castle would be A-OK in my book.
|Seriously, this is from the movie.|
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: “No cause is lost, if there is but one fool left to fight for it.” This third installment in the swashbuckling fantasy adventure series is full of the expected danger, daring do, grim characters, and exotic locations. As the series has progressed, it has become less and less accurately titled, as they’ve sailed quite a distance from the Caribbean. Of course, the big twists at the end of the second film changes the course of events. With one hero dead and one villain risen from the grave, all bets are off. A journey to the nastiest looking Asian port ever put on film is a clear necessity. All the crazy pirate lore they build in these films is pretty cool. Nine pieces of eight, the Pirate’s Code, the Flying Dutchman, the black spot, Shipwreck Cove, sea turtles, Calypso, and all kinds of wild snippets of crazy old Pirate tales. Grand. The climactic whirlpool battle is overblown and overlong. But otherwise, it’s a fine finish to a trilogy (of course, there would be more to come).
The Devil Came from Akasava: “Just go to hell, please.” It’s Jess Franco! Luckily, this was early enough in his career that Franco hadn’t devolved completely into the turd maestro he would soon become. There were still some hints of possible talent allowed to slip into his movies. The man works his zooms like a Terry Crews works his delts. I was waiting for the zoom that went microscopic, but sadly, like a good script, that was beyond Franco. Typical of this type of film, especially when Franco is involved, it feels like key scenes are missing. A guy walks into a room, suddenly it’s several days later and there’s a whole story about that guy having been killed in his jeep in the jungle. What? When did that happen? Shouldn’t we have seen something about that? Also, as a side note, posing like you’re in a photo-shoot is not dancing. If I went to see a dancer and she did that, I’d be less than thrilled. No matter how cute she was. Whatever the case, somewhere around the 45 minute mark, I started to tune out. Considering how little seems to actually be going on, it’s way too long.
|Taking no guff.|
I finally tried getting back into reading some monthly comics. Brad hooked me up with a pile, but the pile kept getting bigger and I wasn’t even making a dent. So, I finished off The Creep, with its fourth issue. That’s a big ‘meh.’ It started out seemingly like it might be a really interesting weird mystery, but it ended up being pretty bland, with a reveal that wasn’t all that shocking or surprising. The main character feels like he should be in a totally different story. This just came off as an episode of Law & Order.
After that, I had much more fun reading issues 2 and 3 of the new Fantastic Four. This is the kind of thing the first family of Marvel should be doing. Every time Reed exists on Earth for more than six months and the East Coast hasn’t become a technological utopia, the comic doesn’t ring true. So, here we have him and his band rocketing through space having crazy adventures. The Fantastic Four are really a ‘cosmic’ group, and like similar comics (Silver Surfer, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the like), they should be in space (and/or time), fighting robots and aliens and all kinds of crazy stuff.
In spite of a lot of mistreatment, deep down inside, I’m still a Star Wars fan. Or at least, I want to be. And for the most part, Dark Horse has been the one ray of light for this fan for like 20 years. Not all the comics are good, but until the Clone Wars CGI series, the only good Star Wars in decades were in comic form. And I’m kind of itching to do a Star Wars RPG, which would almost certainly be set in or around the original film’s time. So, I figured I’d try out Agent of the Empire: Hard Targets. The look of the cover, the subject, and the character design was all very 70s, so I was kind of hoping it would tap into that Han Solo/Lando adventure novel vibe. It does not. There’s potential for some cool stuff here, but right off the bat, I don’t like Agent Cross. The time period (a couple years before Yavin) is perfect for expanding the universe. But this feels like too many Star Wars stories, too attached to the original movies, going to the same places, meeting the same characters, dealing with the same issues. With all the universe to explore, we just keep going over the same territory. The art is OK. As usual with Star Wars comics, it doesn’t wow, but it looks good enough to do the job.
Issue 1 of the new Dark Horse ongoing Star Wars comic holds more promise. Though again, we’re dealing with characters we already know, the writing works a bit better and the vibe of the first couple movies is more present. It looks like this will be a bridge story between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, which of course, has already been done. Still, a fairly good read and I’ll be curious to see where it goes.
One of the best series out there right now is Godzilla: The Half Century War. The penultimate issue drops Space Godzilla and Mechagodzilla into a three way battle with our old friend. And long suffering giant-monster hunter Ota is there for the action. And this time he gets to strike a blow for the Earth, in an unlikely way. And man, that last panel. I can’t wait for the final issue, though I don’t want it to end.
“Our compass is curiosity. Our destination is the infinite.” So, I read FF (Future Foundation), issue 1 & 2, and they were oddly charming. The art is kind of awful, but with this crazy 60s vibe that fits well with the series. And Matt Fraction seems to have embraced that same 60s crazy that make The Fantastic Four popular all those decades ago. It even feels like he’s got some kind of handle on the idea that these people are actively building the future, not just a bunch of weirdoes living in NYC. There’s almost a Marvel equivalent of Batman: Brave and the Bold to it, as they drag out some weird, weird characters. Lockjaw, man. Lockjaw.
DC’s The Phantom Stranger is an odd, and potentially really interesting series. It’s connections to the more mystical characters like Captain Marvel (or, I guess they’re calling him Shazam now), could make for some good Creepy/Eerie type tales. And it feels natural that it might mix up with Swamp Thing and Animal Man, but who knows. And the art work also reflects that old horror comic style. I’d almost rather see it in black & white.
I also finally finished Infidel, which I’d started quite a while back, but put up for a bit while I was busy with other things. Good book. And I read Christa Faust’s Double-D Double Cross, which was a fun, quick read.