On Sunday morning I read Alan Moore’s Skizz. It was an OK bit of fluff. Then I read three graphic novels by Jason. Dang, that guy’s a genius…of some kind. Between Jason books, I read Animal Man volumes 1 and 2. Not genius. And on Wednesday night, I finished Christa Faust’s first Fringe tie-in novel. Good stuff. Later in the week I read the Poul Anderson short story The Problem of Pain. Interesting look at an alien religion through the eyes of a religious human, and how concepts of God and ethics vary.
Surveillance: “You know how people get out here, Captain.” Some dark, dark things are going down in Middle America. At a rural police station, some cops, some witnesses, and a couple F.B.I. agents come together to piece together the facts of a series of brutal murders. Everyone’s got a secret. Tensions are high. And as the stories come together the madness ramps up. Broken and twisted people. Monsters hiding behind human faces. Director Jennifer Lynch came back after a long absence with this gleefully bizarre descent into human horror. Who would have thought someone could make French Stewart terrifying (‘I’m all about safety. That’s how I do it.’)? And he ain’t the half of it. Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, and a whole cast of excellent second or third stringers help pull this absolutely awful business through hell and beyond. Actions these horrendous shouldn’t be this much fun to watch.
The Talented Mr. Ripley: “I always thought it’d be better to be a fake somebody, than a real nobody.” Can you ever trust someone? Where does friendship end and dangerous obsession begin? The dark side of friendship comes to light with this thriller about young, pretty Americans living the ex-pat life in Italy. A young man who tells lies like breathing goes to Europe to bring a wealthy scion back home. Things get pretty intense as Tom Ripley drowns himself in the life of Dickie Greenleaf. But nothing lasts forever. Tom is a caterpillar approaching his moment, when he will become a butterfly, birthed in the blood of a man. Patricia Highsmith’s devilishly charming archvillain Tom Ripley begins his career of mischief and mayhem in this beautifully stylish film. It recreates an era of post-War Europe where the wealthy could live lives of beauty and frivolity that casts its spell to this day. This is the life that would give rise to the Bond films, to all those romantic capers, to the advertising campaigns of Mad Men. Light a cigarette, slick back your hair, put on a nice jacket, and get ready for some swinging jazz…and murder. I’m profoundly impressed by how the film somehow makes you empathize with a murdering nutcase.
The Slams: Jim Brown crosses the mob for a ton of dough. He goes to prison, but it’s OK. He can do his time ‘til it’s time. But everybody wants to get a piece of him, or a piece of his action. He befriends the African Tom Jones while getting in trouble with James Coburn’s giant twin. Every character actor they could find has been crammed into 91 minutes. It has some good moments, and I love Jim Brown. But I don’t like prison movies and this one didn’t win me over.
Calendar Girls: “Flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire.” This extremely cute and heartfelt comedy centers around a group of older women who wish to honor a friend in a way that raises more than a few eyebrows. An excellent cast and a light but touching script takes the viewer through numerous awkward encounters and cheeky misunderstandings. But it’s all very recognizable. These are people we know. They’re the people we’ll soon become. Mortality, aging, abandonment, grief, and the simple joys of love, friends, and family. If you’re in the mood for a nice, adult comedy that isn’t just about fart jokes, check this one out.
The ABCs of Death: Anthologies are tricky. Any anthology. Anthology films are really tricky. This features 26 short films, each based off a word from a letter of the alphabet (D is for Dogfight, W is for WTF?, U is for Unearthed, etc.). Some are really neat. Some are really lame. A bunch are in the middle. There is absolutely no consistency in tone, style, or strength of content. Some look professional, others like amateur hour. Some have some very strong gore or extremely wrong behavior. Others are just good clean fun. If you’re a horror fan, you should find at least a few to enjoy, and none of them are so long that you can’t sit through ‘em.
Star Trek: “I like this ship!” In 2009, something fairly surprising happened. A movie came out that was at once a sequel, and a re-launch of a venerable TV and film franchise, that was fun and entertaining while being true to much of the spirit of the original, that brought in new fans on an unprecedented level, yet managed to mostly please a legendarily picky and unhappy fanbase. By creating an ‘alternate timeline’ the writers were able to go back and revisit the most popular characters of the Trek universe, without being hamstrung by decades of established history that was more bloated, contradictory, and minutia-weighted than the Bible. Star Trek is an exciting film that manages to balance action, emotion, and humor without letting one get in the way of the other. And when it ended, the universe was wide open for a really thrilling and new story to be crafted…Of course, after having watched Into Darkness, it turns out the universe was wide open for shoddy rehash. Sad. Still, this movie is a blast for all but the most cynical.
They Live: “I believe in America.” The Alamo Drafthouse recently opened a location here in Northern Virginia, and I was glad to get out this week to see one of my favorite 80s movies, and one of John Carpenter’s greats, They Live. It’s filled with amazing quotes, ultra-heavy-handed moralizing, kickass Carpenter scoring, and so much Keith David. And it has one of the all time great fistfights, which must be seen to be believed. Just when you think it’s over…it’s just begun!
Furious 6: It deeply saddens me to say that this movie is not nearly as amazing as Fast 5. It’s fine, I guess. But there’s a magic missing; and that magic is the sweaty, Jesus-loving sexual tension that permeated every scene between Vin and The Rock. Yeah, they had their various dames, but their hearts belonged to each other. That much was obvious. This time around, it’s just not there. Also, the middle gets pretty danged dull. Where Fast 5 kept the adrenaline and idiocy pumping from moment one, right through to the tag, this one flounders a couple of times. Still, for extremely dumb, meathead action and gratuitousness, this one should have enough to enjoy. Some cast members are missing, some come back (from the dead). And a few get shorted on action and screentime. But it still has plenty of good bits. Man, Vin gets uglier and uglier as time goes on. Kiefer Sutherland and Brad Pitt aged into their weird faces. Vin has become more and more monstrous, like some terrible Clayface. It’s awesome. Look, these movies are hysterical, but part of what makes them so awesome is how serious everyone involved takes themselves. This is heartfelt, sincere stuff, and it’s terrible…But wonderful. I don’t give a hoot about street racing or cars in general. But the stupid caper and car battles make for tasty cheese.
Exorcism: Jess Franco is like Orson Welles with this turn as actor and director. Except he sucks. The story is stupid, the dubbing childish, the gore lame. Some of the women are pretty and there is wall to wall nudity. For a Franco film, it‘s not too filled with technical flaws. The music sucks. The frustration I run into now is that Franco worked on so many movies under so many assumed names, I keep seeing his films, even though I’m trying not to. Ugh.
|Actress yawns her way through a scene.|
Grand Hotel: “Nothing ever happens.” An all star ensemble cast (a groundbreaking idea at the time) comes together in this 1932 classic. Great performances abound, as does the cracking dialog. It’s funny and sad, with some great romantic moments and some very melancholic bits. Garbo is beautiful, but I was surprised by how pretty young Joan Crawford was. I think I’m just used to older, crazier Crawford. And the Barrymore brothers are fantastic. Good stuff all around and a must for fans of the classics, and of good movies in general. I can certainly see why it won Best Picture.
John Carter: “John Carter of Mars; sounds much better.” After a hundred years, with many starts and stops, a film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian adventures has finally hit the screen and it’s…well, OK. The story takes bits and pieces of several Mars novels and reworks them into a kind of bland and typical sci-fi adventure. Now, there are obviously going to be things that seem familiar to anyone not living under a rock, because nearly every science fiction, superhero, or fantasy film made owes a little something to Burroughs and John Carter. But it did have something unique, and that magic does not make it into the movie. Or, very little of it does. Sadly, the awkward and wooden Taylor Kitsch was cast in the title role, which he doesn’t botch, but doesn’t succeed in capturing. But the saddest thing of all is how Disney itself became this film’s worst enemy. After putting up a good deal of money, with the director of one of the best recent science fiction films (Wall-E) at the helm, they spent at every ounce of energy at hand to abandon, flee, and burry the film, obscuring its content and driving away everyone who might want to see it. I read an article that talked about how Disney assumed a huge audience as a matter of course, and spent its advertising budget not on making people want to see it, but on trying to hide any and every aspect that might make someone not want to see it (even changing the name from John Carter of Mars to the completely lifeless John Carter, in case someone thought Mars might scare someone off), which backfired, making nobody at all give two craps about the film. That sounds about right. This is a film I’ve been wanting to see for almost 30 years, and by the time it came out, Disney had nearly convinced me not to bother. Getting back to the movie itself, while it hits several of the right beats, it feels entirely too restrained, never fully daring to go as crazy as the source material demands. The growth of Tars Tarkas from closet doubter of his people’s cold and brutal ways to openly sympathetic is a great arc in the book, but here is skipped entirely. Sad. Time and again the movie goes a little crazy, but time after time it didn’t go anywhere near crazy enough. I just wish it had done well enough to warrant a sequel, where they might be able to get more on the right track. Unfortunately, even though its actual box office take was pretty good, it was considered a bomb for whatever reasons movie studios consider movies bombs.
Fast Five: “You know I like my dessert first.” After watching the slightly disappointing Furious 6, I figured I had to go back and recharge the love. This muscle and steel charged heist movie is as dumb as it is sincere. And believe me, it’s one danged sincere flick Plus, you add Dwayne Johnson and you know I’m on board. Silly stunts, a good villain, lots of muscles and sex-faces. A frickin’ awesomely terrible and fun movie. While not as homoerotic as pro-wrestling, it’s certainly got more guy-guy chemistry than Brokeback Mountain, as the touching romance between Vin and The Rock unfolds (“I will find you.”). Sure, Vin has a hot Brazilian girlfriend, but you know he and his family have enough love to go around. And the way they work in the obligatory street-racing scene…oh, man. Though the one in Furious 6 is even more entertainingly stupid. So much hoochie. And the action sequences are better done, especially the totally ridiculous finale.
Rabid: “I decided to try a little experiment.” I love this movie. I love its tone, its look, and its shattered dreams. Plastic surgeons have developed a new experimental technique (basically stem-cells) to repair catastrophic damage. When a pretty young woman is horribly injured in a motorcycle crash, she gets the treatment. It’s a Cronenberg film, so you know things aren’t going to go well. It doesn’t take long for an armpit vagina to shoot out a spiked penis that infects people with a super-strain of rabies, and she goes completely feral. That old story. I especially love the opening. That rotating shot of Marilyn Chambers is gorgeously moody. And motorcycle riding sequence that follows is nice, reminding me a bit of the driving footage in Mad Max (not in content but cinematography, I guess). And that gorgeous, cold Canadian desolation is like a bare tree covered desert. Every time I see this it makes me a little sad that Chambers wasn’t able to make the transition to mainstream film. She isn’t an amazing actress, but she has a quality, a sort of open sweetness with just a dash of danger that I think could have been cultivated. Frank Moore who plays her boyfriend is like the Canadian Christopher Walken…only really bad. His crying phone meltdown is some epic Shatner level stuff. The rest of the cast is all over the place, from good to bad. And there are elements of the final act that could have been better with a bigger budget. But a good, uncomfortable film.
And that was pretty much it. Finally, on Saturday, the sun really came out, though the temperature also dropped back into unseasonably cool. That’s been the last 6 plus months here in the greater DC area. Autumn turned cool very early, Winter dragged on too long, and Spring stayed cool until it got super-hot. And rain all the time. Starting to feel like I’m back in Maine. With all the rain, I’ve spent a lot of time indoors, watching movies and reading books. Now, I like those things. But I also enjoy riding my bike, taking walks, and going places in the sun. Hopefully the Summer gets better. I don’t want to have to look into moving out west. That does not appeal to me, but if it doesn’t stop raining, I’m going to have to do something.