After the saccharine disappointment of Sam Raimi's Oz , I felt a strong desire to return to the classics of his youth. It had been nearly three years since I watched The Evil Dead trilogy. The break was good for me. For nearly all of high school & college, one of those films was playing on my tv every weekend. I'm not alone here. I think every Deadite fan believes they were the one to discover as well as champion the series, but as time marches on it's obvious that no dorm room was complete without an Army of Darkness poster. The funny thing though is that in watching some of his earlier films I've now come to appreciate his pulp hero creation over the others. Darkman is a brilliant film. And Liam Neeson is my favorite batshit crazy super hero. I look around my apartment now and I realize that it needs an upgrade. Darkman belongs on my walls. A Darkman toy belongs on my desk. He's a kook and a sadsack. Mean as hell. He'll rip your throat out, but maybe feel sorry that he had to do it in front of his woman.
I also felt the need to delve into some classics. I've been maintaining a fairly contemporary flavor so far this year, and I feel like I've been skipping my vegetables. That's not to say Criterions are swampy piles of mushy broccoli, I just mean I'm lacking some nutrients. The Wizard of Oz seemed like a good entry point, but Theif of Bagdad and Ministry of Fear were the real winners this week. Just gorgeous, weird productions. And yeah, I saw The Rock's new flick. It certainly was a movie.
The Wizard of Oz: Such a delightfully simple story. Dorothy flees the homestead to save Toto from lethal injection, runs afoul of a beastly Kansas tornado, and is swept into the technicolor wonderland called Oz. Her arrival means the demise of one nasty witch and garners the attention of another. Better get your ass home, girl. She follows the yellow brick road, gains a few creatures-in-crime, meets the huckster behind the curtain, and clicks her heels three times. The music is solid, but not mind melting. This ain't West Side Story or Yankee Doodle Dandy. Judy Garland certainly sells the weird awe that Franco seemed incapable of in the prequel (speaking of which, you should check out Greg Proops' latest Smartest Man In The World podcast in which he rips apart Raimi's intention - it's all about suffragettes, man). The Wizard of Oz is not the classic dare not remade or prequelized. It's fun. It's iconic. But it's also not genius. L Frank Baum's world is worthy of exploration. If you're not already familiar with it, I highly recommend Disney's Return to Oz. That's a flick that captures the scary with the weird, and probably the best adaptation of Baum's Oz so far. Gnome King. Gross.
The Thief of Bagdad: "You shall add joy to the wedding festival by being boiled in oil." This silent starts off slow. Douglas Fairbanks is a real scalawag, skulking the streets of Bagdad, picking the pockets of the hapless saps unlucky enough to stumble his way. But, halfway through the film, after he wins the heart of the princess from the Mongol Madman, the film quickly enters a grande world of fantasy. Dragons must be slayed. Carpets must be flown. And diabolical magicians must get knocked on their butts. Fairbanks is all charm and smiles. Watching him Harrison Ford his way through the mystically massive silent film sets is true spectacle. Not as magnificent as Fritz Lang's Metropolis or as joyous as Chaplin's Modern Times, but Thief of Bagdad now ranks as my third favorite silent.
All New X-Men #8: Yes. This series certainly suffers from Brian Michael Bendis' typical decompression style, but - like the best of Ultimate Spider-Man - you don't really mind when the characters are having this much fun exploring their new future surroundings. Well, "fun" is not the right word. The young Warren is certainly disturbed by his future self. Metal Wings. Angelic delusions. And lots and lots of side stepping dialog. Captain America shows up to play Mr. Bossy Pants. And then Jean Grey starts to exhibit the true magnitude of her power and that properly scares the hell outta the rest of the cast. I'm not ready to be finished with the high concept time travel terror, and I hope Bendis gives these guys plenty of time to freak out before they adjust to their surroundings.
Daredevil - End of Days #6: "I wanted a trophy." Probably my favorite issue from this sad, sad, sad series so far. Ben Urich gets a little closer to the Mapone mystery, and his confrontation with Kingpin wannabe The Owl gets rather scary. However, the best bits of this issue involve The Purple Man and The Punisher. And one whispering panel. Each issue of this book tends to leave you hanging, but I have a strong feeling like End of Days is gonna be one hell of a great trade to end Bendis' run on Daredevil.
Avengers #7: Jonathan Hickman's Big Picture comes a little into focus as "The White Event" unveils the return of a long lost New Universe creation, The Starbrand. Captain America & company still seem like blank slates in their own book but I'm hoping Hickman's plot is worth the character skimping. Time will tell, but I'm on board. The last page actually raised a smile, something this reader of issue #3 would be surprised to hear. But man, I wish this series (and a lot of other Marvel Now series) had a consistent artist. Avengers jumping all over the place is not helped by the artist swaps.
Detective Comics #18: The first Batman book since the death of Damian Wayne, Detective Comics might get slapped with the "Requiem" banner but the grieving process is little more than a page, a solitary tear. After seemingly forced to acknowledge Scott Snyder's Death of the Family arc, writer John Layman is finally been given the space to write his Emperor Penguin plot. And it's solid stuff. Oswald Cobblepot's world is falling apart; his henchman Ignatius Oglivy has successful barred him from his bank accounts and underbelly goons - and then he makes it personal. Don't mess with Mom, man. I almost wish The Dark Knight wasn't involved. I know soon enough he's going to have to make this family squabble a priority but I kinda like this civil war sizzling independently from the Bat family.
Helheim #1: Sixth Gun writer Cullen Bunn trades gunfighters for vikings, but there's still plenty of spooky sorcery at play. As far as first issues go it's decent enough. A lot of characters are thrown our way with little to differentiate one from the other. A hunting party flees a horde of skeleton ghosts, some men die, and witchcraft seems to bring one back to life. Frankenstein Viking? Maybe. I can't say I'm in love with this concept, but I'm interested enough and I really do love The Sixth Gun, so I'll keep plugging away.
Snitch: There is almost nothing original or even interesting about this movie. It's plot is as dull as the thinnest of tv movies. The son of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson accepts the wrong package from the wrong pothead and quickly discovers the big dick hammer of American Justice. Susan Sarandon is ready to set him to the wolves, but he proves better bait when The Rock offers up some serious drug kingpins via his trucking business. Michael Williams (The Wire) is unfortunately pedestrian as the ghetto gangster, but through his crack house gateway we find Benjamin Bratt's El Topo - and boy! he has some fun playing the cartel monster. Bratt has seconds on the screen, but he slathers the scenery and might have been the film's highlight if not for Barry Pepper's grotesque undercover man. With the combo of Snitch & True Grit, Pepper has perfected the goatee bark. He snips and snarls and deserves a film all his own. It's time to forgive the sins of Battlefield Earth. Sure, The Rock is solid. Roger Ebert, in his review, believes Snitch to house his best performance. Maybe. I can see it. But the film is too average to leave notice. I'm gonna keep Faster as The Rock's finest effort. Snitch will be forgotten in two months time. After all, we've got GI Joe 2 & Furious 6 right around the corner.
Justified - Season 4 "Get Drew": Drew Thompson has been discovered, and he's on the run from both Raylan & Boyd. Good luck to that poor bastard. We've only got three episodes left and the proverbial shit hits the fan in the last few seconds of this ep. Theo Tonin's helicopters are descending, war is here...and then out steps Limehouse, covered in pig's blood and waving around a great big gory knife. I was shocked at how much glee I got from the return of the slaughterhouse master. Justified proves that Elmore Leonard's universe is just as well kept and cherished as anything within Marvel or DC comics. Very cool. Still, I know the next episode is going to be the real beast of the season. Harlan County is gonna be covered in bullets and bodies.
Darkman: "I'm learning to live with a lot of things." When Sam Raimi couldn't get the rights to The Shadow he went ahead and did it anyway. Before he got Taken or wolfpunched his way into Action Hero stardom, Liam Neeson was the pissed-off skin doctor Peyton Westlake aka Darkman. A monster of the shadows created through bubbling vats of acid and the murderous grin of Larry Drake. But the beauty of Darkman is not the black trench coat or the dirty brown bandages. Nope, the giddy glee of the character stems from his inability to feel pain after the "accident"; with the loss of pain comes a loss of humanity as well as Super Powered Rage. Yes. Rage Is Darkman's Weapon. But Rage makes for a sad Frankenstein-like creature. Neeson is heartbreaking. The infamous pink elephant sequence is good for a youtube laugh, but his inability to temper his rage around his wife is also deeply unsettling and painfully awkward. Darkman is a mad hero, no more marbles - he's lost it. He has an idea of love, but anger and vengeance are his only motivators. You can see his continuing adventures in a pair of direct-to-video duds, as well as a laughable Marvel Comics series and a so-so Dynamite reboot. But nothing touches the original beast.
Army of Darkness: "Yo she-bitch. Let's go." These days we've got a lot of folks up in arms about the impending Evil Dead remake. Some cry "Sacrilege!" But ya know what, both Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness are semi-remakes of the original film and both sequels take on their own unique tones. I certainly prefer the first two flicks, but Army of Darkness is a goofball riot - Three Stooges strained through Famous Monsters of Filmland. Bruce Campbell is at his cornball coolest here. Ash, caught in time, butting heads with primitive screwheads and getting groovy with his Mirror Universe self. At the very least, Army of Darkness blasts a barrage of epic one-liners and prides itself on its old man humor. Sure, "Hail To The King" & "This is my Boomstick" will dawn nerd shirts till the end of time.
Drag Me To Hell: Is this Sam Raimi's atonement for the Spider-Man trilogy? Maybe not. But it certainly feels like Raimi trying to get back to his roots. Get small. Rediscover his ram-o-cam heart. And in some ways he succeeds. But in other ways its just a sad reminder of a simpler, sweeter time. Allison Lohman is a power hungry bank manager scrambling to free herself from her fat hick past. When she steamrolls over a milky eyed gypsy as a means of impressing her boss she inherits a curse so spectacularly gross that a drag to hell almost feels like a relief. Seriously, Lohman is spit upon, puked on, slathered in mud, blood, and guts. Raimi is a demented child splashing as much goo as the KNB effects crew can fill in their buckets. I certainly had to turn away from the screen during a few gagging bits. Green Goblins certainly don't got nothing on demon possessed goats. So, yeah, Drag Me To Hell has a certain charm. But it's a pretender at its core.
Sledge-Hammer 44 #1: "Robots!! Robots are fighting this damn war!!" Another piece of The Mignolaverse revealed. Spinning from Lobster Johnson's The Iron Prometheus, Sledge Hammer 44 is a bit of robot on robot violence set at the tail end of WWII. A bomb is dropped on a Nazi occupied French village. But there is no explosion. Instead, Mike Mignola's idea of an Iron Man steps forth and it lunges into battle against a giant mechanical monstrosity. Crash Boom Bang. Simple. Crazy. Very much a BPRD book. All too brief. The story concludes in the very next issue and I'm not sure how important this book is going to be to the rest of the world, but it's fun nonetheless.
Wolverine #1: Um, I don't know what the hell is going on in this first issue, nor do I understand the need for yet another Wolverine book. However, Alan Davis art is badass and I certainly love watching laser blasts tear Logan's flesh from his bones. There's something about a psycho kid and his psycho dad, and I'm certain a larger conspiracy will be revealed. I don't think this is essential Marvel now reading, but it's worth it for the art. If you agree with that sort of cash spending than go ahead and pick up the book. If words are your thing then you might want to hold out.
Batman & Robin #18: Not sure why I bought this book. I'm not reading it on a monthly basis and I have no intention of starting. I guess Grant Morrison's Batman Inc #8 really got to me. I need to see the fallout immediately, and even though these "Requiem" titles feel like they exist in a continuity completely seperate from Grant's work, it's nice to get a little closure on Damian. Writer Peter Tomasi goes wordless for his contribution. Batman takes to the night and savagely beats as many Gotham City punks as he can; he returns home and finds a sorta "Farewell" letter from his son. It reads, "Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live." Dammit. That got to me. I'm still not going to believe that any of these books are the real deal; I want to see how Grant's going to delve out the repercussions in Batman Inc. But these Requiem titles offer some condolence.
Thor - God of Thunder #6: The Origin of The God Butcher is revealed...and it's lame. Which, of course, is a real bummer as I've been loving pretty much every issue of Jason Aaron's series so far. But this is pretty typical stuff. Life was hard on Gorr. Wife died. Kid died. Gods are Bastards. And when Gorr stumbles upon some crazy alien tech he goes psycho on the gods of the universe. This issue shouldn't exist. It's not important why Gorr is The God Butcher, only that he is The God Butcher. And now knowing his sadsack story, he's a little bit weaker.
Batman #18: The kernel of this story is the same one at the core of Batman & Robin #18. Batman deals with the death of Robin by pummeling the brutes of Gotham. Unfortunately, Snyder also uses it as an opportunity to seemingly push his creation Harper Row into the boots of the boy wonder. I really loved both The Black Mirror & The Court of Owls, but Scott Snyder is not the savior of the bat family some fanboys once thought. Especially when you compare this single issue against Tomasi's single issue. So wordy. So unnecessary. Hopefully he can get things back on track with Zero Year - more history mystery, less same-old rogue beatings.
Evil Dead 2: How do you write about a film that lives in your bones? I've been obsessed with The Evil Dead franchise for so long that I don't remember a time I didn't love this film. Bruce Campbell. His smile. His chin. His voice. "Work shed." Evil Dead 2 is a wild ride of splatstick. And as alluded above it has very little in common with the original film. This is not low budget horror movie know-how. This is a descent into madness. But as lamps laugh and deer shriek, the laughter can be as scary as the penetrating branches of a tree. The rocking chair nightmare is really unnerving. And Campbell sells every howl of fear. You can beer guzzle this film with your friends and a have a serious blast, but you can also have a singular trip into insanity if you choose. Evil Dead 2 is Sam Raimi's masterpiece. No doubt.
Dark Horse Books Presents - Blacksad: "I was damned too." Picked for our tenth meeting of The Ultimate Justice League of Extraordinary Book Club, this hardcover collection containing Juan Diaz Canales & Guarnido badass cat detective was easily our most successful venture yet. Not one person in the group disliked it. Of course, I can't say that I'm surprised. Similar to Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Blacksad envelops everything you love about the P.I. subgenre and presents it in a fresh, gripping manner. Yes. All the players are mammals & amphibians (fish are too dumb for personalities), but this isn't some creepy furry. Here we get three typical plots. The Dead Starlet, The Race Killing, & The Commie Conspiracy. John Blacksad hits each case with gumshoe dread. He's been around the block and knows that most narratives are tragedies. He beats the street. He deals out his stamp of morality. He moves on. These are solid stories, but the real elevation occurs in Guarnido's art. The man doesn't just excel with the trench coats and painted backdrops - no one can match his faces. A lot of the art we see on American comic stands is churned through a monthly timeline; one nice aspect about Euro books is that they're given the time they need for completion. The result is genuine art. I don't want to sound snooty against Spider-Man - cuz I love him too! But you've got to recognize the freedom behind Guarnido's beauty. There's patience behind his strokes, and the emotion is absolutely recognizable. For more ranting excitement, read Matt's full review HERE.
Ministry of Fear: "He has a collection of maniacs that he's psycho analyzing!" A seriously bent WWII mystery dripped from the pen of Graham Greene and lensed by the madman Fritz Lang. Just moments after his release from a mental asylum, Ray Milland wanders into a small town fair just outside of London. The Blitz might be raging, but there's always time for a palm reading! Given odd knowledge by the fortune teller, Milland wins a fresh baked cake from a grey haired contest. He whisks his award from a grimacing Dan Duryea and steps onto a train where blind sharpshooters and Nazi bombs crave his demise. Such a bonkers setup. Perfectly Hitchcock. Ministry of Fear certainly excels with the strange. The best bits involve murderous seances and sheer wielding agents of the SS. Not to mention Milland's loose hold on his sanity. Maybe not as visually compelling as Lang's silents, the film is still one of the more unusual macguffin spy pictures of the era. If only the plot didn't waver on the supernatural, we might have had a mondo classic.
The Evil Dead: Growing up The Evil Dead was an object of cherished showmanship. Similar to what Roger Corman proved throughout the 60s & 70s, Sam Raimi unveiled to the fanboy that all you needed to craft a classic were some friends and a camera. Of course, a few hundred buckets of karo syrup are always helpful. There is nothing to the story. Five friends in a cabin. A tape recorder in the basement. Magic words on the air. Deadite horror siege! It's the behind the camera stuff that puts the film on the map. The ram-o-cam. Just a camera on a plank of wood. But nothing like it had been seen before. Bruce Campbell shows some serious charisma as our third act hero, but he's also not the bonafide cult icon he'd inhabit in the next film. He's sweet here. Loving. And scared outta his mind. It's easy to see why so many cherish it today even if youngins might not grasp its craft. The Evil Dead is hope for the wannabe. It's cheap. Small. But vast in ambition and righteously successful in its ingenuity. The perfect example of independent spirit so often lauded on Miramax millionaires.