Monday, April 8, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/31/13-4/6/13)

    Things didn’t quite go as planned over the weekend, but that let me finish off Rome’s first season on Sunday.  Good times.  Heck of a show.  It makes me want to watch some more solid historic stuff.  Agora, Centurion, Spartacus (the movie!), that sort of thing.

Rome Season 1:  “Let his heart be filled with sacred rage.”  Getting past the clean, civilized veneer slathered on Ancient Rome by Renaissance painters and Hollywood production designers, Rome reaches into the history to show the underbelly of lived-in antiquity.  Life was cheap, justice was not, and the people were hardly more than savages, for all their creativity and cunning.  I think lewd graffiti gets at the heart of Rome.  Here was a powerful city built by champions, spawning heroes, that delighted in large phalluses and dirty jokes.  A city where the tastes and smells of the known world, stretching from the Atlantic to Asia, from the brutal lands of central Europe to North Africa, where blood sacrifice and public murder were embraced and the lauded political forum could daily explode in bodily violence.  Of course, there’s the shrewd machinations and back stabbings one expects, with powerful and spiteful women working behind the scenes, while daring and charismatic men inspire great public works and grim massacre.  The series also puts a more human face on many of the names out of history, while telling the story of two soldiers (the only two addressed by name in Caesar’s war chronicles).  Pullo, the gregarious lout and Vorenus, the honorable man, forced together by circumstance, forged by conflict into best of friends.  Their struggles with turbulent times, with perfidious and tumultuous women, and with societal expectations of masculinity, along with their seemingly god-favored ability to survive, thrive, and be in the right place at the right time, makes for a compelling narrative.  It’s interesting that we hold Rome up as one of Humanity’s heights of civilization, when the histories seem to show it was rather savage, even for the time.  Alexandria seems to have been a far more civilized city, for example (still a warren of superstitious savagery).  I’m a little bummed they skipped over a great deal of the Cleopatra/Julius Caesar story.   None of her visit to Rome in the days leading up to Caesar’s assassination, for example.  Though I gather she features more in the second season, she seems to be little more than a footnote in the first, which from what I understand shouldn’t be.  Still, they only had twelve episodes, so I guess they couldn’t get into everything.  “I believe I shall go home and stupefy myself with wine…Good day to you all.” -Cicero

Forbidden Planet:  “Sorry Miss.  I was giving myself an oil-job.”  It doesn’t get much better than Forbidden Planet.  Taking inspiration from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it pushed special effects technology to whole new levels, and set the stage for science fiction to come, especially and particularly Star Trek.  This wasn’t, as so many other 50s movies, about a rocket ship to the Moon, or even a first voyage to Mars.  This was set in a future where those things had already long been accomplished.  This was the sort of future history Asimov and Heinlein were writing about, where Humanity was living among the stars, finding all sorts of marvelous things.

French Quarter:  Holy crap, the narration in this film is infuriatingly crappy.  I think it’s supposed to sound like some kind of ‘down home’ wisdom, but it just sounds like a dumb old man jibber-jabbering.  He refers to a person as ‘half child, half girl, all woman.’  What?  TV guest villain of the week Bert is looking for a topless dancer, and a desperate blonde bimbo is all about it.  Then there’s time travel or something.  This movie was obviously put together by someone in love with old timey New Orleans, it’s music and sleaze.  Sadly, it wasn’t put together by someone who could write or direct a film.  Even the ‘sexy’ bits are kind of awkward and weird.  Still, the film has its charm.  Not really, but the girls are cute enough...I guess.

The American Astronaut:  “It was soft and round.  Now get back to work.”  A somewhat surreal science fiction musical, this oddly charming movie is the kind of crazy that goes on in my head when nobody is looking.  Weird moments, crazy dialog, catchy tunes, and a distinct visual style.  If I had two pennies to rub together, this is the kind of thing I’d love to be making.  Not for everyone, but for those few, a treat.

    Hanging with Brad on Monday, I had the profound misfortune of catching the season finale of The Walking Dead.  There’s a show that sucks.  After a fairly promising start, this show quickly did two bad things.  First (though I understand the need) it departed drastically from the comic series.  It might not have been so bad, had they not cut the emotional impact of every major character event that remained.  Second, they seem to have hired writers with absolutely no sense of character or drama.  The only thing I can manage to feel about anyone on the show is rage and contempt.  The women are all shrill monsters and the men all petty dullards.  I’m glad I quit this show.

My smartness done dripped out my eye-hole.

This Gun For Hire:  “And people ask me why I back shows.”  Dang nasty opening.  Another Graham Greene story on the silver screen, this time about a nasty piece of work hitman, foreign agents, a pretty dame, and all kinds of baddies.  Everyone is after something, and looking to screw everyone else over in this Noir type caper.  The actors are awesome, playing their fractured and demented characters.  I love the somewhat charming, delicate fat man, who abhors violence while orchestrating murders.  This is not one of the better genre films I’ve seen, but it’s pretty good and worth a watch.  Some nice bad behavior.

Rome Season 2:  “I recognize your symptoms.  I have the same sickness.”  Vorenus and Pullo are back for more blood and twisted morality.  In the aftermath of Caesar’s death, Rome and its people are in a bad way.  Vorenus descends into some very dark places, and Pullo is there, watching his back.  The friendship of these two unlikely heroes is the heart of the show.  With all the other fascinating and strange characters going about their back stabbing and grand stage horrors, two soldiers take on the world together.  Very cool.  There are some truly vile people, too.  Atia’s crocodile tears are perhaps the most disturbing of all.  A truly vicious and foul human.  But her son, Octavian makes for a compelling historic figure.  A strange and sullen, sometimes sickly boy, more wrapped up in his books (scrolls) than politics, he none the less contained a heart of iron and a will to rival the greats.  The universe mistreats Pullo and Vorenus on a grand scale.  Seeing them battle the forces set against them is harrowing but most satisfactory.  There are some elements I wish had been explored a bit more, including Cleopatra’s role in things.  She’s little more than a footnote in this series, her relationship with Julius Caesar almost non-existent.  Still, with only a combined 22 episodes for the whole series, they didn’t have enough time to go over everything.  There have been a great many portrayals of the Greek/Egyptian queen, each trying to capture some essence of a mysterious but terribly important figure in the history of the age.  Here, she exists as some kind of half-mad hophead, like some manic pixie dream girl of antiquity.

Centurion:  “Her soul is an empty vessel.  Only Roman blood can fill it.” Not finished with Rome when the show was over, I had to pop Centurion in the DVD player.  Based on the myth of the Ninth Legion’s disappearance, it manages to be a darned fun adventure film, with lots of nasty violence, all with just enough historic trappings to satisfy this viewer.  It’s also got one of those great collections of UK character actors these sorts of films always manage to attract.  Sadly, it does rely somewhat on CG blood.  Not as bad as some, but it’s there, none the less.  It’s especially frustrating because there are a lot of well done practical blood.  The movie looks good, moves quick, and is generally good, if not amazing.  One technical problem with the film is subtitles.  They’re so crazy small that they’re hard to read when not on the big screen.  An HD TV would probably be OK.

    I watched another disk of The Clone Wars.  Frustrating show in some ways.  It’s so good, but is so weighed down by how crappy the prequels were.  99% of my problems with the show are directly tied to its connections to the films.  Season 4 isn’t as good as some of the earlier stuff, but it’s still pretty good.

Broken Arrow:  Jimmy Stewart faces off against the Apaches in this fairly typical Cowboys & Indians Western.  This is really the sort of thing that turned me off to Westerns as a kid.  Shockingly there’s a hot Native girl played by a hot non-Native girl who needs to learn about kissing and wearing nice dresses and such.  I guess it took movies like this to help change people’s perception of Native American, but it’s still awkward and weird.  The romance with the young Native girl storyline always plays out pretty much the same.  Lead guy shows up, girl falls head over heels in love with him upon first sight (for no discernable reason), she’s promised to another, they defy cultural expectations, the previously betrothed guy dies, paving the way for a happy ending.  The only variation in this is the final end of the Native girl.  On rare occasions (like ‘very special’ episodes of 80s sitcoms), she dies to give the movie Oscar bate acting at the end.  Usually, they both ride off together, letting you know that all will be perfectly well between the Natives and the White Man.

    “What do you know about gods?!”  I watched two original Star Trek pilots as part of my movie review series.  Yeah, they’re not feature films, but it’s my article, so…bam!  I really dig those first glimpses of Trek.  Had the show only lived up.  I love the original show.  There are some great episodes.  But too few that reach for it the way The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before do.

The Big Heat:  “You’re on a hate binge.”  Glen Ford and Gloria Graham revenge the hell outta everyone dumb enough to cross ‘em in this ugly, ugly Noir classic.  Don’t scald a drunken hottie with coffee, ‘cause she will mess your stuff up.  And if you’re gonna blow up an honest cop, make sure you don’t take out the wrong person, or he will take you down.  Punks, thugs, thieves, and jerks of all kind get theirs and get it good.  It goes in directions that twist your guts around.  Great stuff.  Lee Marvin’s woman slapping hood is an especially loathsome heavy, too.

Space Academy:  Not as good as Jason of Star Command, this is an OK 70s sci-fi kids show.  It’s about on par with Ark II, which means it’s more often disappointing than cool.  The idea of the show isn’t bad, but the cast and the writing aren’t there.  And Jonathan Harris.  That is just an actor I can not get behind.  His acting is so broad, so stilted, I don’t know.  It wasn’t good.  He’s not awful in this show.  Not like his many terrible guest appearances in other sci-fi shows, or his dreadful starring role in Lost in Space.  But gah.

Wozzeck:  “Brandy is my lifeblood.”  War man.  It messes with the head.  Alban Berg’s strange opera gets a super strange 1996 presentation, with spinning CG blocks heralding scene changes, disturbing masked children, little houses, shifting stages, and generally disturbing images.  Franz (Dale Duesing) is a nice guy, but the world keeps crapping on his head.  I do love all the scenes with Dr. Coffin-nail.  By far my favorite character in the opera.  He should get his own opera.

The Mist:  “Stoning people who piss you off is OK.  They do it in the Bible don’t they?  And I got plenty of peas.”  The only way to watch this movie is in black & white.  Frank Darabont tried to release it that way, but was not allowed.  However, on DVD he was able to put it out officially.  There are some movies that just look better this way, or at least look great.  Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Phantom Menace and yes, The Mist.  As far as the movie itself, this is a pretty good old-style monster movie, part siege film, part Lovecraftian nightmare.  I’m not the biggest Stephen King fan (read: not a fan at all), and this movie does feature some of his particular failings, especially when it comes to the Marcia Gay Harden character who is outright infuriating from moment one.  It’s the story of a weird mist that comes down out of the mountains, bringing with it something strange.  A bunch of random folks (played by half the cast of The Walking Dead) end up trapped in a shop in a small Maine town.  The vocabulary is right for Maine (WZON, Portland, etc.), though the appearance is all off (it’s apparently Louisiana).  Unfortunately, as the movie goes on, it relies more an more on characters being as appallingly stupid as humanly possible.  Stop screaming.  Stop going slow.  Stop backing up.  Just go, go, GO!  I wish there was more of the last 5 or so minutes, with the walker in the mist, and all that, than there was of the middle hour, with all the Marcia Gay Harden and the stupid people.  Still, some cool monsters and a great, totally mean spirited ending.  One interesting thing is that two of the most heroic deeds in the film are done by supporting characters.  The supporting cast is quite good, actually.  I just wish the middle of the film and the heavy handed, anti-human stuff were better done, or largely excised.

Bikini Girls from the Lost Planet:  “I do read comic books.”  This may come as a surprise, but in spite of the title, this is not a good movie.  I don’t know why I recently thought, ‘why don’t I rent a Fred Olin Ray movie,’ but it happened, and this is the result.  Of course, the director is listed as Nicholas Medina, so I have even less idea why I got this.  Is that a pseudonym?  I do not know.  A bunch of porn actors make a not-quite-porn movie.  All the bad acting, plastic surgery, and fake boobs; none of the ‘substance.’  Oh, boy.  And I’ll bet you $1. that Frosted Tips’ first choice was not pretending to have sex with a woman.  Was the space ship set left over from another movie?  Because it looks pretty good, and far, far better put together than anything else (including the women) in this film.

Looking at the cover, I don't know how this wasn't great.

    For the next graphic novel club meeting, I read the first trade of the new Hawkeye series.  I guess I won’t talk about it here.  I’ll post the review after the meeting.  But after that, I went on to read the sixth issue, since Brad had passed it on to me a while back.  Again, it’s OK.  Kind of funny.  The whole Russian mob thing is weird.  Is that building to something?  I don’t know.  I still hate the art.

    I also finished volume 3 of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.  Good stuff.  The final story, Strange Fruit, is a bit broad, a bit heavy handed.  Still, the overall volume is good.

    After what seems like a bloody eternity, the final issue of Godzilla: The Half-Century War finally came out.  Nice explosive finish.  The issue is super action-heavy, without a heck of a lot of dialog, so it ended up flying by a bit faster than I’d have liked.  This is one of those comics where part of me wants it to go on longer, while the other part of me worries greater length might have diluted the cool.  Still, I think a ten issue run, instead of five might have been better.  But what we got was a really great ground level view of the world under the shadow of the greatest Kaiju of all time.  It does for Godzilla something of what Marvels did for the Marvel Universe.  A nice storytelling technique for such a venerable franchise.

    I also read the third issue of the new Star Wars ongoing series.  Not bad, though I don’t think the writer has quite captured Han Solo.  Maybe I’m off on that, but something doesn’t seem quite right.  Still, I like the art, the time period it’s set in, and the story seems solid.  This is the kind of Star Wars story I like to see, even if it does focus on the movie characters (I would generally prefer they use the setting, but expand the universe with new characters and story lines unrelated to the films).


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