I spent the first half of this week watching nothing but Homicide - Life on the Street. That show is just too damn good. Not Wire amazing, but shockingly close. And Andre Braugher has to be my go to Super Cop. Forget Serpico. Forget Dirty Harry. Frank Pembleton is the real deal. He's an angry asshole, but he's right more often than he's wrong, and he'll drop you with words rather than bullets. As I type this it's nearly 2AM and I'm blitzing through the 4th season. I'll be done with this series much quicker than I had originally anticipated. Heartbreaking and utterly compelling television.
The rest of the week was pretty much a continuation of last week's Roger Ebert/Martin Scorsese theme. I finally managed to track down my copy of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and Matt & I had a total blast rockin' out to that insane bit of pop culture. "This Is My Happening And It Freaks Me Out!!!!" I also started Scorsese by Ebert. It's a cool little book that collects past & present reviews of Scorsese's films; the plan is to pick at it as I make my way through the filmmaker's career. The book is an obvious love letter, maybe even a blind courtship. Ebert was deeply affected by Scorsese's first film Who's That Knocking At My Door (originally titled I Call First), and the rose colored glasses got planted early, allowing a shockingly glowing review of the exploitation oddity, Boxcar Bertha. But, of course, Ebert loves the filth as much as the beautiful - I mean, the man did script Beyond the Valley of the Dolls! Pervert!
Jurassic Park 3D: "I was overwhelmed by the power of this place!" Steven Spielberg's last great hurrah in adventure cinema; more recent attempts like Tintin & Crystal Skull just utterly fail to capture the awe & astonishment found in Jurassic Park. Partnered with the wonderfully high performances from Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern, these two sell the hell outta the cgi/animatronic beasties. Objects may appear closer in the mirror? Yer damn right when Ian Malcom's spraying himself with fear. Sam Neil, however, remains my favorite player. The manner in which he bonds with the two children after experiencing his own rebirth of wonder is classic Spielbergian heartstrings. Dean Cundey proves that he may be the greatest photographer of monsters, not enough credit is given to the lighting & staging of the lens to sell the dino splices (the man also shot John Carpenter's The Thing if you dare have any doubts on his title). Jurassic Park might lack the heartbreak of King Kong, but it is most certainly the modern version of Skull Island. As for the 3D conversion? It's certainly weird to experience lens flares flying at you - more distraction than emersion. Still, whatever gets this beast back on the big screen.
Badlands: "I'll Kiss Your Ass If He Don't Look Like James Dean." Badlands works best when it explores the power and attraction of celebrity criminals. The screenplay springs out of the infamous Charles Starkweather spree killings, but leaves the gritty details behind in an attempt to understand the mystifying relationship between the two Bonnie & Clyders. And I'm not sure it quite succeeds. The last five minutes are absolutely fantastic. Martin Sheen in chains, tossing collectibles from his pockets - a comb, a lighter, a pen - the policemen gawking up at this shackled superstar. The film is absolutely beautiful, the midwest has never looked so good. And Malick captures the isolation and farmland mentality perfectly. Warren Oates for his short screentime feels like he stepped right out of my own family's North Dakota homestead. Martin Sheen's soft headed pyscho has that desperation for attention, to break free from the prison of the middle-of-nowhere. But it's Sissy Spacek's tagalong killer that mystifies me. Despite the wall-to-wall narration she supplies, I never quite understand the why of what she's doing.
Age of Ultron #5: Bryan Hitch concludes his run on this Marvel Event and I'll be sad to see him go- no one captures the punishment of a super hero melee quite like Hitch. But on the story front, Brian Michael Bendis continues to stretch the script. We get an unnecessary flashback to the salad days of Mr. Fantastic & Tony Stark, science-talking over the corpse of The Vision. Ultron's tech sure is weird, right? Duh. There's a trek through the Savage Land and a bit of blather with the white Nick Fury. But no Ultron. We're halfway through this mini series and I still don't have a grasp on the particulars of the apocalypse. And now we're introduced to time travel and the annoyingly inevitable reset. As much props that were given to the Jump-Into-The-Action beginning, it was also clear from the start that this Age was never going to last, but now I'm starting to wonder what real effects this series is going to have on the Marvel Universe. Other than introducing some lame ass McFarlane Toys character or possibly Marvel Man himself. At the end of the day, Age of Ultron just hasn't nabbed real thrills.
Batman #19: The book opens with an absurd hostage situation, Bruce Wayne steps out of the Gotham National Bank with a pile of corpses left in his wake. Commissioner Gordon takes a shotgun blast to the chest & a blank faced Wayne drives a motorcycle over the collapsed Commish. If Gordon's walking around next issue, I'll cry "Bullshit!" The rest of the issue develops into an obvious mystery reveal, but I'm perfectly happy due to the use of one of my favorite Rogues. I'm still waiting for the Scott Snyder of Black Mirror/Court of Owls fame, but this two issue mini will hopefully lead to an epic Bat-deconstruction with the upcoming Zero Year mega arc.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: "Rock n Roll is not my kind of poison!" It's Josie & The Pussycats go to Playboy hippie hell - a real demonic nightmare brought to you by the beautiful bizarre combo of Russ Meyer & Roger Ebert. Bosom blaster Dolly Read leads her girl band into the swinging, pot fog world of Los Angeles where they meet the sexual tyrannosaurus Z Man and his Nazi barman. Michael Blodgett is Lance Rocke, the date rape faced king of swing that steals her heart, springboarding Dolly's boyfriend headfirst into a lifetime of disability...until, a magical Clue-like dinner party cures all via the powers of bat shit crazy. Tagged as a Musical Horror Comedy, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is obviously Roger Ebert cramming the kitchen sink into one mad, gonzo genre picture and I gotta say...it's a crap ton of fun!!! You've got insane Reefer Madness morality, the violent sex crazed fear of The Explosive Generation, and the wannabe hippie thrills of a million groovy pictures. Sure, it's a mess, but it's also a real gas. As we all know, you have to give your body to the ritual cuz it's "Delicious."
Who's That Knocking At My Door: Martin Scorsese was 25 years old when he cobbled together his first film, and it's kinda brilliant in how perfectly it captures the themes that plague the rest of his work. Harvey Keitel is a young hood struggling to discover manhood on the mean streets of New York, playing heavy while the Top 40 scores his small time antics. Life gets tricky when he can't discern his girl from a broad or a bride. His brain's melted from the combo poison of too much religion and too many movies. Keitel is charismatic as all hell. His smile could charm the pants off of any imaginary prostitute. Scorsese might hit the nail hard on the head, but Who's That Knocking is undeniably the arrival of a great American auteur.
Fantastic Four #6: Easily my favorite issue of Fraction & Bagley's run so far. The Fantastic Family time travels back to The Big Bang, a school field trip to witness the creation of Everything. Unknown to the coolest home schoolers ever, a trial from the far flung future has sentenced their greatest criminal to death by means of Big Bang. I dare not reveal the baddie's name here, but it's perfectly classic and Bagley renders him with Jack Kirby justice. Also, a little more of that genetic breakdown plot reveals itself as Ben Grimm unleashes some fiery Clobberin' Time. Still not as fun as its sister title FF, but I'm starting to develop hope.
Saga #12: The book opens with a horrifying battle scene. Prince Robot, wounded, and spurting green blood from the neck. A cute little mouse medic comes to the rescue, but cute little anythings don't last long in the world of Saga. Prince Robot awakens in orbit of the home planet to novelist extraordinaire, D. Oswald Heist, the man responsible for the romantic pulp that inspired Alana into the arms of Marko. Robot thinks a little interrogation will lead him to his targets and he's not wrong. This concluding chapter to the second arc is filled with anger & dread, and it's a strong indicator that this series is evolving into a devastating epic worthy of its title.
Batman and Red Robin #19: This gatefold WTF cover is the most offensive yet. I'm deeply disappointed in DC for dragging Frank Miller's Carrie Kelley into the New 52, but only as a costume party stunt. The real driving force behind this issue is Bruce Wayne's grieving process. He travels to Frankenstein's castle in an effort to identify the secrets behind resurrection - there he must suffer the blasphemy babel of the monster and ward off Red Robin's insults. It's a goofy comic book experience, and a sad attempt in light of Grant Morrison's previous Batman Inc #9. It's gotta be rough on writer Peter Tomasi, he has to move on with this series without the partner on the other side of the ampersand. Frankly, they should have cancelled this book rather than play this ridiculous round robin exercise (pun intended), and I really hope Carrie Kelley stays outta the 52.
Uncanny Avengers #6: Rick Remender dips into Jason Aaron's God of Thunder book to tell the tale of an early confrontation between Thor & Apocalypse. And yes, it involves more time travel. Seriously, what is going on with Marvel Now and time travel!?!? HG Wells is bored in his grave. That being said, this was easily the best issue of the series so far despite the lack of John Cassaday and the time travel malarky. Onslaught is still out there, but Remender has moved on to a couple other Marvel Universe heavy hitters. And what's it all got to do with Wolverine medieval past? Goofy. Kinda stupid. But a lot of fun. Ready for the next issue.
Thor - God of Thunder #7: After the origin filler of last issue, Esad Ribic returns to illustrate The God Butcher's final solution. And what does the God of Pancakes & Tamborines have to do with all this heavenly destruction? Modern Day Thor & Future Thor strategize and get fat on ale, and a great big chuckle can be found in the spin-off possibilities of Thor - Cosmic God Cop! I'm making this arc sound goofier than it is - the mix of Jason Aaron & Esad Ribic is proving to be beastly heroic poem, the Beowulf of the Marvel Universe...plus, time travel of course.
Sledgehammer 44 #2: This short little mini comes to a conclusion and the result is simple origin story of a potentially fascinating character. But how does it fit into the rest of the Mignolaverse? Only time will tell, but I think this WWII creature deserves a longer story. As is, it's cute, interesting, uh-huh. But not the wowza I was hoping for given this rich time period in BPRD lore.
The Place Beyond The Pines: The first 40 minutes had me. In a pathetic attempt to bring home the bacon, Ryan Gosling's tattooed daredevil makes an insane dash into criminality. Eva Mendes, as the braless mother of his affection, delivers one of her finest turns as she struggles to reject her adolescent lust for him and accept the family ideal in the form of Mahershala Ali. As the wannabe-partner-in-crime, Ben Mendelsohn doesn't come close to scraping the bottom of filth as he did in Killing Them Softly, but he still proves himself to be the scuzziest hostile character actor in contemporary cinema. He owns every frame he occupies. But when Bradley Cooper appears and the film switches into the corrupt cop sub-genre, I dropped out. His story is obvious, routine, and worst of all - a bore. Then the third chapter begins and I nearly went blind with eye roll. The Place Beyond The Pines is desperate for you to feel its "real" independent spirit, but for all the flash acting on display the narrative is too ordinary to support it.
Boxcar Bertha: Martin Scorsese's first "conventional" film came from the exploitation school of Roger Corman. It provides all the nipples, squibs, and atrocities required of his teacher, but is impossibly injected with the bright young thing's thematic desires and visual hopes. Barbara Hershey gets the job done with her dim bulb ambition, and the sexual conquests of the even dimmer bulbs around her. David Carradine's Big Bill Shelley is certainly the figure of a Hoffaesque rabble rouser. He's slick, cool, and full of bravado. Bernie Casey is the brilliantly loyal goon with a flair for harmonica when his hand doesn't clutch a shotgun. But the characters are less interesting than their director's flourishes. The climactic railroad dick showdown is surreally kinetic, with characters nearly levitating, Evil Deadlike as they accept the blasts from Casey's boomstick. I don't think a shootout had ever been attempted in such a dreamlike fashion, all the while, a poor hero slips off into the distance, crucified to a moving train. A solid film with an apocalyptic finale.