The second momentous release of the week was Robert Kirkman's Invincible #100. Last year I blitzed through 97 issues in just over a week and I came to the realization that Mark Grayson is the greatest Super Hero character in comicdom. Issues 98-100, titled "The Death of Everyone," certainly put the young Grayson through the wringer as he went mano y mano with the hulk smashing mad genius of the environmental overlord Dinosaurus........but, I also have to admit that I was not overjoyed by the seminal event. Solid. But not the painful, consequence porn that Invincible usually proves time and time again. But, similar to Parker, maybe the anticipation for the event was too great for genuine adoration.
The real joys of this week came during the back half. After some solid Oscar Nomination viewing, on Friday, Matt & I returned to the beautiful AFI Silver for Count Gore De Vol's 40 Anniversary of Creature Feature. I moved to the DC area a little too late to be considered a proper follower of the Count, but he's always been a staple of the horror convention circuit and I dig his brand of late-night, pre-dawn TV goofery. And for February I've decided to crank out another Blaxploitation Movie Marathon - this is a theme I did a few years ago and I remember having as much fun with Shaft & the Gang as I generally do for my annual October Horror-A-Thons. I've been meandering about with films of late, and I'm craving a theme. Richard Roundtree certainly delivers on the promise of the genre.
Parker: "He was an angel from heaven sent to test us." Cut to black. "In Memory of Donald Westlake" You hear that sound? That spinning, screaming wail? That's Donald Westlake (aka The Dark Half, Richard Stark) infuriatingly spinning in his grave. AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN!!! GAAAAAWWWWW!!!! That's the very last line of the movie. It's done for a laugh, but it also gets to the very essence of what is so bloody horrible about this most heinous adaptation. Parker is not a good guy. He's a criminal. A murderer. He's a professional thief with a set of rules that keeps him well employed and out of prison. He won't hurt you unless he has to...but he will hurt you. I'm not sure who director Taylor Hackford & screenwriter John McLaughlin had in mind when crafting this pap, but it most certainly was not Westlake's creation - my guess is that they were trying for Lee Marvin's Point Blank, but even then they failed miserably. Jason Statham might not be the right choice, but he's also not a terrible one. The opening heist has a little bit of that Stark flavor, and I couldn't help but enjoy it's Prime Cut midwest freakshow. Statham also has a fairly kick ass hotel brawl with knives pushed through hands and toilet bowls cracked over skulls. But the needless and seemingly endless flashbacks, the shoddy CGI bloodwork, and Jennifer Lopez's "What Am I Doing Here!?!?" performance send this flick directly into the black bowels of Wal-Mart's 5 dollar bin. Not the most boring Parker adaptation (that would be Jim Brown's The Split), but since this is the first one to actually have the privilege of the Parker name, it is easily the most offensive.
Rome - Season One: Here's another HBO series they weren't wrong about. Finally succumbing to the pressures of friends & neighbors, I devoured the first season of Rome in just two days. The main arc details the the slow fall of Julius Caesar (the exceptionally cast Cirian Hinds) at the hands of the treacherous Roman senate. But as much fun as the diabolical politics can be, the real hook of this series lies with Lucius Vorenus & Titus Pullo, two bickering Centurions fated to sway the history of the iconic city. As Pullo, Ray Stevenson is a Tyrannosaurus of rage and brutality. He goes from faceless soldier to gladiatorial celebrity and his friendship with Kevin McKidd's Lucius represents one of the best fictional bromances. Too bad (for them, not us) their historymaking is tied to a flood of blood. I'm not sure where this show can go once its hit The Ides of March, but I can't wait to find out. It certainly isn't going to be sunshine and flowers.
X-O Manowar #9: I am so glad Ninjak is outta this book. And I don't want him to get his own title. That cat is just too silly. The Vine invasion force is knocking on Earth's atmosphere, but Aric's XO armor has found a way to patch into their hoodoo communication seminars. Taunt him all you want, but the man has the heart of Conan The Barbarian and the technology of Iron Man - you do not want to mess with him. Next issue, marks the beginning of the Planet Death storyline and I feel like mankind is pretty much screwed since Aric seems not to give one cuss for this modern society. Someone better hurry up and appeal to his savage ways before he lets it all go tits up.
Uncanny Avengers #3: I really loved the first issue. And I thought the second issue was decent. But this...? I like the general concept of this Red Skull clone mucking about with Charles Xavier's brain, but Rick Remender's narrative rambling is getting in the way of the kooky crazy plot. Lots of eye rolling from this reader. And despite the delay, John Cassaday's art looks rushed and simple in places - the man is one of my favorite artists but I can see why he's leaving this book. Marvel Now's rushed production schedule is not doing anyone favors.
Stumptown #5: Hey! I thought this book ended with last issue, but it just keeps on going! Well, apparently this is the conclusion but my thoughts on the series are still the same. A bit of a bore. Drugs. Neo Nazis. Rock & Roll fanboys. Another yawn. Greg Rucka never grabbed me with this lukewarm mystery and P.I. Dex is like any dozen other wannabe hardboiled detectives, only with lady parts. If you're a fan of this book let me know, cuz I want to understand the appeal.
Deadpool #4: I need to drop this book. Four issues into this Zombie President one trick pony and I find the humor to be utterly tiresome. We get it! Taft's Fat! Kennedy Loves Ladies! No One Cares About Zachary Taylor! Hilarious? No. It's sophomoric at best, and Deadpool himself remains a lamebrain attempt at meta storytelling - you want to know how to break the Fourth Wall in style then watch Boston Legal. My infatuation with Marvel Now is fading, and I'd be surprised (and a little disgusted) if I continued on with this series.
Winter Soldier #14: Ed Brubaker's Captain America/Winter Soldier run comes to an end, and it's less than a whimper - it's a full on fart of disappointment. Bucky finally gets face to face with his Commie Mirror Self and frees Natasha from his evil mental clutches. 'Course she doesn't escape unharmed and her relationship with Bucky is left in ruin. Black Widow Hunt has been the most yawning of middle-of-the-road plot lines and it's rather depressing to think that Brubaker's final statement on his (re)creation ends with such a thud.
Avengers #3: Jonathan Hickman seems to be building something big with this Avengers book, but I'm not sure I really want to hang on for the ride. Jerome Opena's art is stunning, but he's already off the book so enjoy the pretty pictures while they last. Frankly, I just can't get a hold on these characters. Iron Man, Cap, Thor, Spider-Woman, Cannonball, Manifold...you can traipse out the entire Marvel Universe but it don't mean a damn if you don't give them enough time to interact with each other let alone the reader. It's all vague universal catastrophe jargon slapped atop smackdown artwork. And then suddenly it's over. Cap basically chastises the Martian troublemakers and everyone goes home happy. Whatever.
FF #3: Look! A comic book that I actually enjoyed this week! Wee! A one-eyed, white haired John Storm pops out of the time tunnel with tales of a mad future in which Kang The Conqueror, Doctor Doom, and Annihilus have transformed into one giant puddle of super villainy. This dark future is just the excuse that revenge seeker Scott Lang has been waiting for, and he charges the FF with a mission to bring down Doom. FF is easily one of my favorite books to come out of Marvel Now, and its a joy to read...something rare in these straining days of dark edgy storytelling.
Superfuzz: Sometimes you can take great pleasure in a bad movie (see Enter The Ninja), and sometimes no joy can be had. Super Fuzz most definitely falls into the unjoyous category. As much as I love Sergio Corbucci & his vast grim landscape of Spaghetti Westerns, I was appalled by this grossly dumb cop comedy - it really does make the Police Academy films seem like the highest form of comic entertainment. But this is not the first time I've experienced the pain of Italian Comedy. There's just something that doesn't connect between our two continents. Slide Whistles are not actually funny - in fact, let's just avoid goofy sound effects all together. Sped Up Frame Rate is also not comic gold. And Ernest Borgnine dancing on a balloon is not funny...ok, that might have been genius.
The Master: Similar to There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is a powerhouse performance piece photographed with the eye of a painter as well as a craftsman. But also similar to There Will Be Blood, I never quite connected with the emotional turmoil of its three leads. Joaquin Phoenix is a shaking tyrant of psychosis who stumbles into the equally mental clutches of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's L Ron Hubbard substitute. But The Master is not an all out assault on Scientology. Whatever your opinions on the pseudo-ideology (can you guess my viewpoint?) The Master will not change your mind. It will pick your scabs, but there is fun in that emotional mutilation. The film is a battle for the soul of Phoenix whether it's worth saving or not, and the two lead actors give spine-twistingly painful performances, bending & breaking under the weight of their psychological warfare. Witnessing The Master is a lot like an ant accepting his place under the magnifying glass; what looked like a pleasant spot to sunbathe transformed into an excruciating glimpse at life's end.
Justified - Season 4 "The Bird Has Flown": Ah, poor Raylan. His bartender bedroom partner turned out to be quite the devious minx. With a little help from his Marshal friends, he tracks her & her doofy looking beau across various Kentucky Backyard Brawls and finally retrieves the contents of his looted sock drawer. But does a van full of chickens stand in the way of true happiness? Or is it just a sign that Raylan doesn't deserve it?
The Sessions: You pretty much get everything from this film that you get from reading the logline or watching the trailer. John Hawkes is a poet trapped inside his body that's in turn trapped inside an iron lung. He's a virgin looking for love he deems impossible to grasp. After consulting the most cinematic of Catholic priests (the ever charming William H Macy), he seeks the consult of Helen Hunt's sexual surrogate. Solid performances. Hearts will be warmed. Sex will be had. But it is very much that quirky indie film that excelled so well at Sundance twenty years back, and it's an era of cinema that holds little interest for me these days.
The Impossible: This movie destroyed me. And I mean that as the highest of compliments. Ewan McGregor & Naomi Watts are Mom & Dad. They take their three boys to Thailand for a relaxing beachside vacation. Ten minutes into the movie the 2004 Tsunami hits and the world around them is engulfed in horror. The family is cast apart - Mom and eldest son, flesh ripped from branches & trash, drag their ravaged bodies across the swampy wasteland while Dad & the two youngest drift from hospital to hospital in search & rescue. This is a survival saga. It's not a downer. It's thrilling. But exhausting. I pretty much cried through the entire runtime. Is it emotional torture porn? Maybe. And it does irk me that the real life Spanish family is painted over with white actors. That being said, McGregor & Watts are phenomenal actors. And Tom Holland as the eldest son is even better. They sell the pain, but they also sell the love and the joy. Grab your hankies and mentally prepare yourself, but when you're ready The Impossible is a powerful celebration of life.
Hansel & Gretel - Witch Hunters: There is a fun shitty movie to be had here. But the filmmakers can't seem to find the sculpture in this block of fecal stone. Gemma Arterton & Jeremy Renner are lifeless as the infamous hag bait children all grown up. Famke Janssen is even more wooden as the lead Witch plotting to free her sisters from the pain of fire. And the only thing more inanimate than the players is the script. I couldn't help but think of Terry Gilliam's unfairly maligned & far superior Brothers Grimm while this dud played out. I scratch my head - for a film featuring gattling gun massacres & speed racer broom chases there is not an ounce of fun to be had in this plodding B Movie.
The ABCs of Death: I love anthology films. But they're never perfect. Their mostly fair to midland by nature. The ABCs of Death is no different. 26 Directors are given a letter of the alphabet and three minutes to tell a story of destruction. You've got guys like Jason Eisner (Hobo With A Shotgun), Lee Hardcastle (Pingu), Angela Bettis (Roman), Ti West (House of the Devil), and Ben Wheatley (Kill List) with titles like "B is for Bigfoot" & "T is for Toilet". Some stories are fun. Some are gross. Some surreal. And some are downright terrible. But it's a great experiment and I was glued to the screen as each letter turned to the next. My favorite letter had to be "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion" featuring a World War II bulldog ace and a feline Nazi stripper cat. Absolutely bonkers.
The House of Frankenstein: Here you've got all your favorite Universal Monsters clambering to win your attention for a brief 80 minutes John Carradine makes the briefest of appearances as the dimmest of Draculas and the film really doesn't become enjoyable until his carriage crashes through the sunny skyline. Boris Karloff kicks ass as the Mad Doctor determined to resurrect Frankenstein's Monster but when does Karloff not kick ass? Lon Chaney maintains his mopey moon man problems while J Carrol Naish's Hunchback rages over his good looks. This is not a classic. But it's of a time & place that's essential for genre lovers.
Shaft: Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song might have been the birth of the Blaxploitation era, but it was MGM's Shaft that cemented the pseudo-genre as a gateway to bucket loads of cash. It's a decent crime story. Nowhere near as good as its inevitable legacy, but Richard Roundtree (along with Issac Hayes' brilliant theme song) is why this private dick will forever be remembered as an icon of cool. He's got the smile, the wit, the bravado, the mustache, and the jacket. It's basically Yojimbo all over again as Shaft navigates between Harlem hoods & the Italian Mob. There's a kidnapping plot and a shattering pistol whipped window that brings a great smile to my face. But for me it's the sequels where Shaft really scores.
Invincible #100: After so much build up, I'm pretty sure the final confrontation between Mark Grayson and Dinosaurus was bound to be a disappointment. And Kirkman's decision to play the most dramatic element of their battle off panel is a clever, if somewhat frustrating manner to supersede our expectations. The final punch of issue 100 lands like a reset button with Invincible finding himself back in the safe arms of the government. This is epic stuff...but The Death of Everyone???? This definitely did not live up to the solicitation expectation. Of course, how much brutality can one book take? I say, MORE!
Batman Incorporated #7: Grant Morrison's run in The New 52 has been peeks & valleys. It certainly doesn't feel like it belongs with the rest of the continuity, but I really don't care if it jives with Justice League or not. He's still writing Damien Wayne better than anybody else, and the young Robin's return to spandex shown here is sooooo freaking badass. And his love of animals? One panel depicting a snuggling pile of Bat Cow, Ace the Bat Hound, and Alfred the Butler Cat? That's just two tons of comic book fun. Go save your Dad, Robin. And bash some teeth in while you're at it.
Shaft's Big Score: When the brother of the woman he's currently banging explodes all over the neighborhood, P.I. John Shaft continues his Yojimbo war between Harlem's top goon Bumpy & the white faced Mob. A lot more gunplay than the original film, Shaft's Big Score is the violent crime drama you're looking for with tumbling car chases and shotgun helicopter battles. Richard Roundtree supplies even better one-liners, and even bigger badass swagger. This is the king of cool.