This was an intense and extremely enjoyable Week in Dork. Easily my favorite of the year so far. It kicked off with a bang, Martin Scorsese's Kennedy Center appearance. I mentioned a few weeks ago how I was craving the nutrients of cinema and his Jefferson Lecture was a perfect reminder to get hot with the Black & White movies. Then, on Thursday, Roger Ebert died. Um, that's certainly not an event to celebrate, but I was rather surprised at how much his death affected me. I didn't break down in tears or anything, but as I read the various remembrances posted about him online, I began to mull over what an impact his work has had on me over the years. Like most folks, Siskel & Ebert were the first critics I routinely read or watched on television. At The Movies was a weekly ritual during those informative pre-teen years. Adolescence & eventual adulthood turned me into a bit of a crab and I often found myself frustrated with Ebert's opinion, but I never stopped reading. Thyroid cancer may have robbed him of his voice, but he quickly discovered the power of the internet. He was one of the first tweeters I followed as @MoutDork and his website has remained a constant favorite on my computer. In remembrance of the man, I picked up his book The Great Movies and I've begun the large task of working my way through its table of contents. This week saw two films completed. Hundreds more await.
This week also saw the satisfying conclusion to FX's Justified (whatever will I do with my Tuesday nights!?!?) as well as the much hyped release of The Evil Dead remake. Here's a slight spoiler review of the film - THUMBS DOWN! Read a batch of comics, but I've chosen only to highlight the books that truly interested me. Godzilla - Half Century War is certainly the Pick of the Week and it seems like only Matt & I truly understand the genius of that book as all my comic friends refuse to try it out. Seriously, quit being snobs, this is the Godzilla movie we all want to see get made. SKREEEEE!
The American Astronaut: I'm not sure where to even begin with this flick. How 'bout you click HERE. After you watch the Dance Contest if you still think like The American Astronaut is right up your ally than you're probably right. If you witness this spastic love song barrage and go running for the hills then it's safe to say The American Astronaut is not for you. Where do I fall? Well, I certainly didn't hate the film. Kinda plays like Eraserhead directed by The Coen Brothers. The Women of Venus have lost their stud. The Blueberry Pirate approaches an interplanetary trader with the job of procuring The Women of Venus a new mate. The Boy Who Actually Saw A Woman's Breast ("It was round and soft, now get back to work") is selected and the trader transports him to Venus while the dastardly Professor Hess chases behind. Space Western Musical. Punkrock, man.
Kiss Me Deadly: "Kiss me. The Liar's Kiss..." Ralph Meeker is Mike Hammer, a mean brick of a P.I. When a hitchhiker he picks up on the side of the road quickly turns into a corpse, Mike's lawless investigation leads from L.A. crimelords to the lips of various femme fatales, and eventually to atomic catastrophe. Meeker is a beast. A real son of a bitch that doesn't care about you or your problems. Give him lip and he'll smack you with the back of his hand. Come at him and he'll knock you out with one punch. Attempt blackmail and you'll find your fingers crushed inside the drawer of your desk. He's scum. And a bit of a dolt. And by story's climax, impotent. Kiss Me Deadly is the great film noir. The genre does not get better. Robert Aldrich took Mickey Spillane's short punchy sentences and injected the plot with terrifying cold war paranoia, and the film's final five minutes result in cinema's finest climax. Seriously, I dare you to find a conclusion more shocking or downright angry as Kiss Me Deadly's glowing payoff. A perfect film. A masterpiece.
Martin Scorsese's Jefferson Lecture - "The Persistence of Vision": Thanks to our friend Emily, The Wife & I found ourselves Monday Night at the Kennedy Center in the same auditorium as Martin Scorsese. Damn. It was a trip. Sitting up there in the third tier, squinting down on the man my high school self considered the greatest living director (my contemporary self still holds Scorsese in high esteem, but I've found my brain infected by the wicked wit of The Coen Brothers), and straining to capture all that thought & passion spilling forth from the 71 year old filmmaker.
He opened his lecture with a clip from 1951's The Magic Box, a film I have never seen but one that has immediately shot to the top of my Must See list (unfortunately, after a little ebay research, that might prove rather difficult). The film stars Robert Donat as British inventor William Friese-Greene, the man who cobbled together the world's first movie camera. The scene Mr. Scorsese elected to share with us was one in which Friese-Greene nabs a Bobby off the streets of London (a disturbingly stunned Laurence Olivier) and forces him to witness his first reel. It's a clever bit that derives a lot of humor from Friese-Greene's obsession and Olivier's shock & wonderment. If you weren't expecting it already, it was obvious from the start that Martin Scorsese's Lecture would focus on the importance of the cinematic language and the preservation of a physically deteriorating art. The man is still living in that Hugo headspace.
He spoke of the classical age of cinema - the era of Citizen Kane & Vertigo. He didn't hate on the MTV blitzkrieg of contemporary editing, but he did express concerns for how film is being consumed by the mass audience - what films were selling to its watchers vs. educating, or enriching via storytelling. And in what I considered the Lecture's biggest takeaway, Scorsese stressed that the language of cinema should be taught in schools in the same vein that teachers laud over Moby Dick & Shakespeare. I think a compare & contrast of a lingering Hitchcock shot to say - hmmmmm, who's a flashy McMoviemaker everyone loves to hate? - Michael Bay's 3 second frame assault is an incredibly powerful exercise in a topic that most folk are totally oblivious to, but one that needs to be practiced in an age where children are sold knowledge through media bites and subliminal advertisement. The language of film exists. And it should be taught. Hell, we're already teaching most of the great works of literature through cinematic adaptations anyway, so we might as well skip the written word all together (I KID!).
Anyway, Scorsese's "Persistence of Vision" is obviously one of the great geek highlights of my life. I rank it right up there with meeting William Shatner last year at the Philadelphia Comic Con and listening to Stephen King read passages from the forthcoming Doctor Sleep. Even seated in the nosebleeds of the third tier, I found his words to be incredibly inspirational and they just happened to fit perfectly into my current classic(al) film headspace. Combined with the passing of Roger Ebert, Scorsese's Jefferson Lecture has inspired me to reach backward in time each week. As much fun as it is to stay current and to live in the wheelhouse of my own lifetime, there are soooooooooo many great stories that I've missed out on. Time to fill those gaps. I need more black & white in my Week In Dorks. I need more foreign film. From this point forward you're going to see a wide variety of time represented in these weekly ramblings.
As a Jefferson Lecturer, Martin Scorsese now joins the ranks of Tom Wolfe (2006), Arthur Miller (2001), Toni Morrison (1996), Barbara Tuchman (1980), and Saul Bellow (1977). It's worth noting that he is the first film director granted the honor by the National Endowment for the Humanities. And you can watch the whole event HERE.
The Big Heat: Glenn Ford may not be the mean bastard Ralph Meeker is allowed to strut in Kiss Me Deadly, but when he discovers the resulting misery of his own morality it sends him on a hate-binge worthy of the darkest James Ellroy tragedies. And when Lee Marvin quakes at the sight of his towering rage than you know Glenn Ford is one tough mutha. The Big Heat is one of those seminal films in my cinematic lifespan; the first black & white I saw to prove as mean spirited & hurtful as my favorite crime novels, and that's probably why I chose it for my Jefferson Lecture follow-up. Produced in 1953 and directed by Fritz Lang, The Big Heat holds within its runtime one of that era's greatest midpoint shocks, which is quickly followed by one of the most violent acts ever committed upon a hapless dame. The pairing of Glenn Ford and Gloria Graham is magnificent. There is a sizzling chemistry there, but it's kept cold thanks to their equal desire for white hot revenge. As the right hand goon, Lee Marvin is rarely as deplorable or as reptilian as he's allowed to function here. His Vince Stone might be small potatoes within the crime syndicate, but the plot allows his routine cruelty to rise to the narrative climax and the big boss becomes less important to this rat's demise. Wonderfully atypical, and burning with the proper fury implied by its title.
Justified - Season 4 "Ghosts": "If I say I'm going to kill your family, I'm going to kill your family!" The final episode of the fourth season focuses on the Detroit Mafia's hatred of Raylan Givens...or at least Nicky Augustine's hatred for the marshall. Over the season as Nicky got closer and closer to nabbing Drew Thompson there was always the good Marshall standing in his way, and often times Raylan didn't need the aid of a firearm or a High Noon showdown to do it. That's gotta burn a henchman's ego. The greatest aspect of this final episode though was that Augustine's plan for manipulating Raylan is resolved in the opening scene and what could have been a very drawn out Ocean's 11-like heist episode is quickly diverted with a couple of bullets. The rest of the episode is Raylan tiptoeing around his agency to put an end to the Detroit hit, playing bad guys against bad guys, and cleverly bending cop show morality. "Ghosts" is not the action "Slaughterhouse" of the last season. There's less bubbling rage and more simmering sadness. The final shot of the show left me with a lump in my throat and a Bravo! in my heart. Justified is withoutadoubt the best show currently on television (sorry Game of Thrones), and you're a crime-hating fool if you're missing out on this excellent dip into the Elmore Leonard universe.
Abe Sapien - Dark and Terrible #1: I am so thankful that Abe Sapien is finally out of that coma, and the star of his own ongoing comic series. The first issue centers around his escape from the BPRD Colorado Headquarters, and his hobo train ride to freedom. It's a nice device that allows the passenger bums to recap the Hell On Earth plague for new readers while showcasing the beautiful monstrosities of artist Sebastian Fiumara. "Dark and Terrible" was originally going to be the second Hellboy tradepaperback, but when Sapien's origin story proved to extensive for a six issue arc Mike Mignola shelved the title. Not sure how much of this book is similar to the original concept, but I'm excited to see everyone's favorite fishman strike out on his own - especially now that Hellboy is stumbling around Hell and the BPRD is so centered on preventing armageddon. Abe Sapien can now fulfill HB's role of wandering man-monster.
Godzilla - Half Century War #5: License books are not supposed to be this good. Seriously, when was the last time you read a Star Trek or GI Joe comic that kicked this much ass? How about never (yeah, yeah, don't talk to me about Dark Horse Star Wars books). The final issue of Half Century War finds our hero Ota Murakami an old man. He's been battling Godzilla and other devastating Kaiju for fifty years, but this Ahab has never come face-to-face with the white whale. Thanks to a simple hijacking of the Mecha Godzilla, Ota can finally meet his obsession on a level playing field and rid the planet of Godzilla, Gigan, and King Ghidorah. Does that make any sense to you? If you're a Godzilla fan than you'll freak reading this book, but even if you don't know your Gameras from your Rodans you'll still bask in the beauty of James Stokoe's beastly splash pages. I might have to spend the rest of my life saving up the dough, but one day I will own one of these two-page spreads. If I had one complaint it's that Half Century War had to end. Matt is right (gulp, did I just write that), this book could have easily spread into ten issues and I really wish IDW would publish it in a grand deluxe hardcover rather than a thin tradepaperback. Oh well. It's still magnificent. Hollywood, pay attention to this book. Put it on the big screen pronto.
Thanos Rising #1: Ok. Part of me feels that delving into the origins of Thanos, Marvel's space Hitler, is a thankless and completely unnecessary idea. The other part of me knows that Jason Aaron has been killing it on Thor - God of Thunder and Simon Bianchi's art was meant for space born tales. The first issue shows what it was like to be the only purple child on Titan. And it reveals the importance of kiddie eating lizards to the birth of the universe's most feared dictator. I'm certainly curious to see where this book goes but I hope it doesn't reveal Thanos to be just another bullied brat. And let's just skip the teen years.
Detective Comics #19: First, a rant...DC Comics! You cannot have it both ways. You are either The New 52 and this is issue 19 of your new spanking fresh universe, or this is issue #900 of a bogged continuum. Don't charge us $7.99 for a puffed up book to what's supposed to be a new series. It's lame.....or I'm lame for being the sucker who bought into it anyway. Dammit nerd. There's a half dozen stories contained in the Giant Sized issue, but the only one you really need to concern yourself with is the first Man-Batriffic opening story. Emperor Penguin steals the Man-Bat serum from Talia Al-Ghul (how? I've got no idea, mixing this story with Grant Morrison's Batman Inc run is confusing and muddy) and tasks nutjob Zsasz with infecting an entire city block. On one level, Detective 19 is a lot of fun. Batman punching bat creatures through the windows of Gotham City. Jason Fabok's art is certainly pretty enough for these beasties. But on another level I can't help but feel the rest of the DC Universe forcing itself upon John Layman's narrative. Detective Comics has been plagued with forced tie-ins to Death of the Family, Requiem, Batman Inc, and now Batwoman. I'm really enjoying the Emperor Penguin takeover, but I feel like Layman is trying too hard to be Jeph Loeb with force feeding us the rogue gallery. Just be your own book, man.
Evil Dead: The above poster doomed this film in my eyes. "The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience." I'm 33 years old. I've seen nearly every horror film since 1980. I'm desensitized to all your buckets of blood and your piles of severed limbs. But that poster is not meant for me or my kind. Nope. It's meant for the cadre of teenagers that flock to the theater every weekend. The rubes who thought Hostel the watermark of terror. And for them, it's obvious that this Evil Dead remake was over-the-top insanity. I saw it midnight on Thursday. I sat in the third row, middle seat. The theater was packed and they screamed, hollered, and applauded throughout the film. I did my best not to roll my eyes like an old man. And I really wanted to love this film. I'm not one of those remake haters, and I'm certain there was a way you could have taken the simplicity of the original film and transformed it into a Thing-like masterpiece. Despite venturing off page with a nifty opening act, the script holds far too much reverence to the original film and just like the previous beat-for-beat remake A Nightmare on Elm Street, this new Evil Dead feels it necessary to screengrab iconic moments like the tree rape and the bad hand. The best redos are the films that go off book or discover their own tone. The Maltese Falcon and The Thing returned to their source material. David Cronenberg's The Fly went inward, exploring the horror of genetic manipulation. Evil Dead certainly attempts to free itself from camp and go full gore horror (and I appreciate its reliance on practical effects), but gore kill after gore kill no longer holds a film together for me. Especially one with the balls to claim itself the most terrifying film ever. Should I blame the film or the marketing campaign? How 'bout both. At the end of the day if I had cared about any of these twits on screen I probably would have dug the film a bit more.
2001 - A Space Odyssey: "Will you stop, Dave?" The first film listed in Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. What more can I say that Ebert or Matt haven't already eloquently blathered on about? The first time I saw this film was in high school and I found it to be a snooze. My second viewing was in college at the Uptown big screen and that changed everything. This was only my fourth or fifth experience, but I gotta say that Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece has risen into the ranks of my all time favorite films. It hasn't quite cracked the Top 10, but it's getting close. Ebert makes a big deal about how the film acts as a Silent Film - relying on image and emotion more than narrative and character. That's certainly true. The narrative is simply (ha ha) the evolution of man. We're given three stages in the process. The Dawn of Man in which an alien Monolith appears and sprinkles thoughts of technology into our primitive brains. Man's quest for Discovery, in which we go seeking the creators and struggle with our own flawed creation (F You, Prometheus!). And finally an ascendence into godhood...maybe. Dave Bowman, the Star Child, the Ultimate Trip. I've finally caught on with the rest of movie fandom. 2001 - A Space Odyssey is indeed a great movie, and is now one of my new favorites. I look forward to another viewing in the near future.
Gorgo: "Atomic Weapons are out of the question...tanks? Of course!" Gorgo is England's answer to Godzilla and it is a terrible imitation. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this rubber suited cheesefest. When a couple of treasure hunters discover a baby dinosaur in Irish waters, a grand Ninth Wonder of the World money-making scheme is set into motion. Unfortunately, Gorgo's got one angry mother trailing behind and Great Britain will finally understand Tokyo's fear. Part of me would love to speculate how Gorgo is an atonement for the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs, but its brain is too small to concern itself with such issues. Godzilla was an international hit, so why not attempt an English language version. Nice try, fellas.
The 400 Blows: The second entry in Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. This was not my first dip into the French New Wave, but The 400 Blows is my first encounter with Francois Truffaut (that is if you don't include Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Antoine Doniel is a misunderstood youth struggling to find his place in a city that appears to have no use for him. Granted, the kid's a definite brat and for the first half of the film I was siding with his teachers. But as the story progressed and more and more of his home life was inferred, the hell raiser transformed into a punk I could root for. I'm not going to pretend that I loved this film, but I certainly saw its role in the birth of contemporary cinema. There's a lot of American Graffiti here. A lot of The Godfather. It's a real bummer of a tale, an anticlimactic beast that will certainly spark a furor against Claire Maurier as the boy's contemptuous mother. Her juvie hall speech actually reminded me a lot of Nicole Kidman in this year's Stoker. I'm certainly ready for more Truffaut.