The March to Summer has begun. Can't you taste the buttered blockbuster blitzkrieg? With the Friday release of Sam Raimi's CG Candyland, the 2013 spectacle movie is upon us and I'm rather appalled by these early offerings. Don't get me wrong. I can't wait for Summer. Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim. These are popcorn films I'm seriously craving. But first we have to wade through the wannabes like Oz and Jack The Giant Slayer? No. It's bad enough I had to suffer through the Icon disappointments of The Last Stand, Bullet To The Head, & A Good Day To Die Hard. Not to mention the castoff dreck like Texas Chainsaw 3D & Gangster Squad. I get it. We need time to digest the year end Best Of films. Sure. January. Suck it up Hollywood. But once February rolls around and March hits, I want to be seeing good quality filmmaking. Or at least one or two solid entries. Now, I know what you're saying (and what Matt is happy to echo), "Brad, you don't have to suffer through all this subpar cinema." Well, yer right. I don't have to. But I love to anyway. The movie house is my church. I want to be nowhere else. And now that I'm the happy owner of a Movie Pass, I've got my ankles in it and I'm chowing down on the New Year muck.
So....saw four flicks theatrically this week. That's the most I've done since the New Year began. Dead Man Down, Jack The Giant Slayer, and Oz all disappointed. None quite terrible, but sometimes the middle-of-the-road pictures are the most painful. The happy news is that the first film I saw on the big screen this week also turned out to be my favorite film of 2013 so far. It didn't quite hit me like The Grey did early in 2012, but it was thrilling enough and when facing Lovecraftian blackness, a sliver of light can feel like the sun. Steven Soderbergh might be claiming retirement from the movie making business, but I sure hope he realizes the error of his ways sooner rather than later. His last three films (Magic Mike, Contagion, & Haywire) were heaps of funky HD joy and his latest, Side Effects, is even better. It's slick, twisty, and well acted. Plus, another cool score from Thomas Newman.
So if 2013 isn't going to bother giving us the proper fresh entertainment we all deserve on the big screen than I guess we gotta look to the small. Took the plunge into the Neflix timesuck known as House of Cards, whipped through the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones, and rediscovered some serious enthusiasm for a John Carpenter classic. Managed a few comics, but outside forces kept getting in the way of a proper sit down with the funny books. I have a feeling that the four color form is going to rule next week - so many good books to get through and I haven't even started this month book group selection yet.
House of Cards: Not sure this show is right for me. Politicians behaving like assholes and committing diabolical acts of scumbaggery? What's so new about that? Granted, Kevin Spacey is devilishly fantastic as Congressman Underwood, especially when he's plotting to camera and Michael Kelly as his right hand goon is properly menacing. However, I really hate the female characters. Kate Mara's descent into journalistic prostitution was wasn't just disappointing it was downright predictable and boring. Robin Wright Penn's narrative collapse is little more than hateful window dressing and Constance Zimmer's bitchy coworker turned bitchy partner in crime is just icing on this gender garbage dump. I enjoy watching villainous protagonists as much as the next person, but I'm not seeing anything new or original in House of Cards. Still, look at Spacey's glare to camera. There is a little joy in his monologuing.
Thunderbolts #5: Ok. First off. I really hate that cover above. What the hell is The Leader doing? Is he about to 8 Mile his way outta the Thunderbolts posse? It just looks ridiculous. That being said, I'm still loving the silly heck outta this book. Daniel Way is having a lot of fun with these morally corrupt loners. Sure, I don't really buy how Red Hulk got them all together in the first place but now that they're here and we've got The Punisher & Elektra making out in the blood splattered woods of Kata Jaya - I am happy. And I'm seriously loving the Preacher stares Steve Dillon is putting on Frank Castle's face. Some of you out there in Internetland don't seem to appreciate him on this book, but I'll be sad to see him go after this first arc. The man can put hate on a brow like nobody else in this business. I hope he finds more weird work over at Marvel.
Uncanny Avengers #4: A bit better than last issue. Rick Remender's caption writing still needs some readjusting, but I dig the plotting. Opening the issue on the infamous Summers plane crash gives an extra bit of oomph to Havoc as Avengers leader, and the Days of Future Past-like flash forwards are perfectly comic booky. The Red Skull logos on the Sentinels' faces brought a great grin to this long time comic book fanboy. And the final 90s throwback splash page? Damn. That's goofy. Cool. And I want it on a poster. This issue also marks the end of John Cassaday's run. It's a real shame. I was hoping for a massive hardcover volume of his work here, but now I'm going to have to settle for a puny four issues. The loss of him on art takes a good chunk of the books epicness, and I'm curious to see if replacement killer Daniel Acuna can deliver the goods. Uncanny Avengers started out as the flagship book of Marvel Now and has slowly become little more than a blip on the landscape.
The Walking Dead - Season 3 "Clear": From the beginning, this show has suffered from serious acts of narrative decompression. Padding. We're nearly at the end of the third season. Rick's crew should be gearing up, if not already embroiled, in a full on WAR with The Governor and the rest of Woodbury's henchman. Instead the audience is given yet another distraction from the overall story. Granted, this was a pretty good distraction. Rick, Carl, & Michone return home in search of weapons. There they encounter Morgan, whom we haven't seen since the first episode of the first season. His son is dead. He's lost his mind. He's a mirror for Rick's possible future. The man is batshit crazy. You know, like Rick is on occasion. He craves death. Of course, Rick & his moral high ground can't grant him his death wish. Meanwhile, Michone & Carl go hunting for memories of a world before walkers. It's solid stuff. Something I might have enjoyed 3 or 4 episodes into the season and not 12. Let's get on with The Governor dammit! Time to kill Andrea already! But I'm tired of bitching & moaning about The Walking Dead. I'm going to keep on watching (at least until the third season is finished), but I'm no longer going to unleash my complaints on this blog. I'm sick of it. I sound like an asshole when writing about this show. It just frustrates me too damn much. So no more episode reviews. The next time I write about this show it will be a Season 3 recap, and hopefully I loved it.
They Live: You know the drill - Rowdy Roddy Piper has come here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. By this point in my life, I must have seen this flick thirty times. The first time I watched it, I liked it okay - nowhere near as good as The Thing or Big Trouble in Little China, but infinitely superior to later Carpenter flicks like Ghosts of Mars and Vampires. Over the years it's become a background kinda movie. As I do dishes, laundry, or clean the apartment. And that's how I started my week. They Live in the background. But once Piper got the glasses and the bubble gum chewing started, and the epic Keith David bum fight erupted, They Live just couldn't continue in the background - it had my full attention. It's a lark. A goof. But it has painful truth too. And it will probably hold truth forever - these problems are not going away. Get your own pair of sunglasses and choose kicking ass over chewing bubblegum.
The Sweeney: "We're The Sweeney shit, and you've been knicked." The film has a little bit of the original show's cockney charm, but as much as I love Ray Winstone (especially, savage, fat, beastly Ray Winstone), this theatrical remake lacks any kind of originality and bears closer resemblance to Training Day than its source material. I want to see The Sweeney cracking the heads of hoods and not fending their freedom from Internal Affairs. I want doors bashed down. Bare knuckle brawls. And sweet 70s suits. This is just another cop program in a field of cop programs. Basically, a waste.
Justified - Season 4 "The Hatchet Tour": Possibly the best episode of the season so far. Raylan finagles his way into the car transporting Hunter to the pen. After a little detour to Wynn Duffy's trailer and a team-up with Sheriff Shelby, the three find themselves speeding to the residence of Lee Paxton where Patton Oswalt's Deputy Bob commences to siege the house with the contents of his go-bag and a hefty machine gun. Plenty of comedy peppers an episode that is otherwise steeped in painful family history. With his father now dead, a couple of old timers offer the son a new light on Papa Arlo's past acts of violence. Wars aren't necessarily ignited over dogshit. But will Raylan ever be able to see Arlo as anything other than a criminal? Doubtful. And oh yeah, the mystery of Drew Thompson is revealed! So happy to see it not held back until the final episode. Now this season is going to barrel towards its climax, and it might not be as bloody as last season's "Slaughterhouse" but I bet you it's going to be ten times more soul crushing.
Side Effects: Best not talk too much about this one. It's one of those flicks where the less you know the better. The film opens on streaks of blood smeared across an apartment floor, red foot tracks passing near beautifully wrapped presents - up front you know it's not going to end well. Now what leads these characters to this bloody mess is a Hitchcockian thriller filtered through a Law & Order procedural. Rooney Mara will get all the press from this flick, and she is excellent as the mentally cracked bride, but I was ecstatic to see Jude Law blasting his way through his character's downfall. Law might have drifted out of favor post-Sky Captain, but he's an actor worthy of an epic return to the big screen. And Stephen Soderbergh need not retire. As stated earlier, his last round of entertainments have been exceptionally small bits of character work, and I dig his digital eye. The man just shoots classy.
Hellboy in Hell #4: Mike Mignola's first mini-arc in this epic ongoing series comes to a close and like the previous three issues, it is exceptional. So glad to type those words. After the insane revelations of The Storm & The Fury, I had some serious doubts as to whether Mignola had anything left in his trick bag. Plus, sending Hellboy to Hell felt a little gimicky. Curse my eyes for ever having any doubts. Hellboy is still reeling after his encounter with his brothers and his possible attack on Lucifer, but most of this issue revolves around ex-Witchfinder, Sir Edward Grey explaining big red's current role in the royal hierarchy. Yes, Mike Mignola found a way to complete the Beast of the Apocalypse narrative. The Right Hand of Doom melancholy has been with this comic since the beginning; the idea that it could all be over seems somewhat preposterous. And I'm pretty darn sure someone is going to come looking for Hellboy's hand sooner or later. Sir Grey pretty much alludes to such, so yeah, this really isn't a conclusion to The Beast as much as it is a pause in programming. And if all that wonderful bizarro denouement wasn't enough, Hellboy in Hell #4 also offers some pretty badass revelations involving the Witchfinder. Here we see Edward Grey's final moments on Earth and his passage into the underworld. Damn cool. I say this all the time, but if you are not reading Hellboy than what the hell is wrong with you?
Game of Thrones Season 2: So I didn't love this season as much as the first. Why? Well, no Sean Bean. Obviously, the House of Stark is just not going to be as interesting with these kids spread out all over the five kingdoms. I'm not saying their stories suck - they're just not as complicated as Papa Stark's struggling foothold on the North. His son Rob is barely around in this season. He's got some boring dopey Florence Nightingale love story for his arc. The legless kid is mostly scrambling in the dark. Sansa Stark definitely has the most tortured plot with her horrifying engagement to the epically evil King Joffery (and seriously, Jack Gleeson is an amazing monster - he just has to say three words and I want to cave his skull in). I'm guessing Arya Stark is eventually going to transform into the show's badass, but she's mostly wandering this season. And don't even get me started on bastard John Snow, he's a drab bore. Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen, is off in the desert getting chapped for the majority of the drama. She deserves better. So, Season 2 really lives & dies with Peter Dinklage. As the hand of the king, Tyrion Lannister excels in this backstabbing political thunderdome, but there is no way it can last. Rise, Fall, sword to the face. I also appreciated the little bit of magic we got this season. This is a Fantasy after all. Dragons. Witchcraft. White Walkers. Smoke monsters. More of that in Season 3 please.
Age of Ultron #1: 2013's first big Marvel event is here. Brian Michael Bendis has bee teasing Ultron's great triumph for years, and now it's finally a chromium foiled reality. And I don't know what the hell is going on. The first issue drops you into another crazy ass post-apocalyptic world - this one involving Ultron's sweeping takeover of planet Earth. The heroes have fallen. Of course, not all of them. The first issue sees Hawkeye popping arrows into the throats and sockets of Hammerhead goons, crashing into a Super Villain safe house and rescuing a tortured Spider-Man. But is this the Peter Parker Spidey, or the Superior Doc Ock Spidey? Since Bryan Hitch had to start drawing this book eons ago, who the hell knows, but that question just reminds me how much I detest Dan Slott's current run on Spider-Man. It's too early to tell if this book is going to kick ass or disappoint (like nearly every Big Event of the last five years), but I can certainly tell you that Hitch's art is amazing and I could look at his devastation splash pages all day long. And I love Ultron. He's a mad doctor robot bent on world domination. What's not to love? So I'm in for this badboy. Till the artist switch halfway through anyway.
Jack The Giant Slayer: Can't say I hated it. Can't say I liked it. This is just one of those films that exists. Maybe some five year old will see this one day and loose their tiny excitable mind, but I doubt any kid past the age of reason will give two shits about Bryan Singer's remake. And it got me thinking. Other than The Usual Suspects, has Singer ever directed a film that truly engages my emotions? There are moments in Superman Returns that bring a lump in my throat. His two X-Men films have a glimmer of pure comic book joy. And I kinda dig Tom Cruise's historic snooze, Valkyrie but it's rather dull in its a-b-c narrative. I think Singer is nothing more than a journeyman - not the type of artist to illicit passions. But whatever his intentions were for Jack The Giant Slayer the resulting movie is a lumbering mass of misguided adventure. Nicholas Holt is struggles as its hero. Ewan McGregor is cashing a paycheck. Ian McShane pops up as a reminder of the Deadwood myth. If there ever was an audience for this movie it was decades ago, and if there was a way to harken back to those Ray Harryhausen glory days, this bloated but feeble fairy tale most certainly is not it.
Dead Man Down: I kinda love the Hitchcock set-up. Noomi Rapace witnesses neighbor Colin Farrell choking the life outta an angry bald man. She records the murder. Blackmails him into committing another murder. Strangers on a Train from the hateful morality behind the original Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. Unfortunately, Dead Man Down is all bark no bite. Nearly every moment in which the threat of violence occurs is quickly stalled by lamebrain character interference. Noomi's scarred beautician is more mope than femme fatale, and Colin Farrell's vengeance seeker never quite reaches the proper rage levels, and his final assault on Terrance Howard is missing the sick killing glee the plot deserves. Dead Man Down should be a rough watch, but in actuality it's a tame puppy.
Oz - The Great & Powerful: Sam Raimi. Twenty years ago, the man could do no wrong in my eyes. Evil Dead. Evil Dead 2. Army of Darkness. Darkman. Those four films have earned him permanent residence in my heart. But since then, it's all peaks and valleys; his Hollywood grab films have never quite connected with me. The Quick & The Dead. A Simple Plan. The Gift. Drag Me To Hell. Those films have their moments. But the Spider-Man trilogy. That's a cartoon world I have little enthusiasm for anymore. His ram-o-cam theatrics seem hamfisted in the blockbuster, and even if its cute to see POV fenceposts and deadite witches barreling through this Disney behemoth, the man just doesn't seem like the right fit for these cinematic gobstoppers. And James Franco...your wrinkly smiles are emotionless and distracting. Where is your wonder. You're in OZ dammit. I want awe from you. Instead, Franco delivers vacant pothead gawks. Michelle Williams at least seems to be at home in the flashback performance, and Rachel Weisz knows how to ham. But at the end of the day, Oz The Great and Powerful is a pre-summer dud.