I spent most of this week in my PJs, or at least cinematically wrapped in spandex. Man of Steel marks Warner Brothers desperate attempt to capture that Marvel magic. The company has been raking in Bat-Dollars, but they have yet to establish a superhero cinematic universe. Stinkers like Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, and Catwoman portray a studio with its thumb stuck up its collective asses; a boardroom of nimrod headscratchers utterly baffled by the success of Disney's Avengers Assemblage. Enter Zack Snyder, fresh off his disastrous snoozefest Sucker Punch, and just as equal to prove himself as the suits dropping him at the helm. At its very least, Man of Steel throws a punch and delivers a level of action not yet seen cinematically from our boy blue.
Last year with the release of the blu ray box set, I revisited the Richard Donner Superman films, and I was saddened to discover that my nostalgia was not strong enough to battle the goof of Gene Hackman or the WTF of Supes's random, do-whats-needed Kryptonian powers. Once I believed a man could fly, now I'm just simply charmed by the joyous energy of Christopher Reeve. His back & forth performance nearly reaches the height of Frank Quietly's presto-changeo transformative design. He achieves with a voice and a head tilt what no other actor ever bothered with before or since (oh, Brandon Routh...you tried...that's admirable...). At the very least, what I pull from the Donner films is the loss of Christopher Reeve's talent. He found stardom in a cape, nearly reached the stars agin with Deathtrap, but never could quite escape the shadow of the icon. Reeve will always be Kal-El. And Routh will always be his shadow. Can Henry Cavil makes a career from the Man of Steel? Maybe. But I have my doubts. He's certainly no Reeve, but is the world more willing to let actors shed their characters? I'm still waiting for Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Evans (that's a lot of Chrises!) to grow beyond their franchises.
Action Comics Volume 2 - Bulletproof: This is not All-Star Superman. And that's its greatest fault. Not fair to judge a writer's current work to his absolute best, but All-Star's shadow is large and it cast a dark shade over everything found in Grant Morrison's New 52 work. There are some solid moments to be found - "The Boy Who Stole Superman's Cape" and the elseworld adventures of President Superman - however, this second volume of Action Comics is just too disjointed to get on board. And when halfway through the hardcover Grant Morrison disappears and we're tortured with mediocre backup stories. Not cool DC. Volume 1 was a meh. Volume 2 is an easy pass.
Superman - The Movie: How many times have I watched this film? 50? 100? It certainly didn't define my childhood the way Star Wars or even Arnold Schwarzenegger did, but I can't remember a time when I was unaware of Christopher Reeve's Superman. I remember my recorded VHS copy littered with filthy commercials eventually snapping under the strain of rewind. I remember loving Superman's final subway assault on Lex Luthor's underground bunker. I remember blushing at the bounce of Miss Teschmacher's cleavage. Yowza. As stated above, last year's blu ray rewatch tainted the childhood memory a bit. I just can't handle Gene Hackman & Ned Beaty's goofy duo routine. They feel false. Superman falling for the lead box scheme is certainly lame. And Margot Kidder's Lois Lane grates the nerves as cinema's whiniest damsel in distress...and her flygirl inner monologue? Just gross. A year later, revisiting the film with Man of Steel barreling down upon us, I still feel the pang of Hackman & Kidder. They just don't work for me. Christopher Reeve on the other hand? The guy is just golden as Clark. His midwest act is hilarious, and you realize what a perfect disguise it is for these big city Metropolis bozos - especially when Lois can't bare to pull her eyes from the typewriter. And then he turns into the upright Superman. He's all deep voice and barrel chest. It's a great performance, and it's the reason the film has lasted in the memories of fanboys&girls. It's also the reason Superman continues in the public consciousness even when the comic book has sucked the life out of the character for decades. Wal-Mart sells shirts cuz of this guy.
Marc Maron @ Sixth and I: "Jews Are Special!" On Tuesday night, The Wife & I ventured into Washington DC's Chinatown to see stand-up & podcaster extraordinaire Marc Maron read from his new essay collection, Attempting Normal. I have never before seen anyone at the Sixth & I's historic synagogue, and it turns out to be a fantastic venue for something of this nature. Sure, it's a little odd when Maron is ranting about how you don't need god to get sober when the Star of David hangs above his head, but the irony was not lost on him and he seemed to revel in it. Maron shared the joys & horrors of the road, got personal about his father, and reminded the audience of the importance of Thanksgiving. Marc Maron's talent rests in his ability to pull the crowd into the act. This was not a simple dry reading like the dozens of Bestseller bouts I've experienced in the past. He would read a little, ask a question to the crowd, offer a little commentary, and continue on with the essay. Basically a Special Edition DVD experience of his book. Very cool.
The X-Files - Season One: This was probably the first television show that I ever obsessed over, but I had not revisited it since the final episode aired...well, with the exception of that horrid cinematic sequel - yikes! I quickly discovered that I couldn't binge watch The X-Files in the same manner as BSG, or Lost, or even Magnum P.I. This show is wonky. The chemistry between David Duchovny & Gillian Anderson is there from the pilot episode, but Chris Carter's antics are not nearly as thrilling as I once thought. And there is a whole hell of a lot of filler in these 24 episodes. I could not possibly care less about mysteries-of-the-week like "The Jersey Devil," "Ghost in the Machine," or "Fire." So many of these concepts have been explored before in literature and film and often The X-Files can't even scratch the surface of what made the original material interesting. That's not to say there's not good stuff here cuz there most certainly is - "Squeeze," "EVE," "Beyond the Sea," & "Darkness Falls" all offer up some pretty decent scares mixed with solid character work. But I remember this show better. And I'm hoping the next season shines brighter than this dull beginning.
Black Rock: Wow. Just wow. I'm not sure what's worse - the utterly boring execution of a totally unoriginal screenplay, or the heinous scream acting of its three leads. Whichever offense wins, the audience most certainly looses. Kate Bosworth tricks her two bickering friends (Kate Aselton & Lake Bell) into a camping excursion on a remote island off the Maine coast. There they encounter high school chums turned combat vets turned rapists. Last House on the Left shenanigans occur from there - rocks in faces, sexual deviance at gunpoint, blah, blah, blah. Black Rock is just the very worst of Final Girl exploitation, and just confused enough to believe itself empowering. Wrong.
Superman Unbound: Loosely based on Geoff Johns' Brainiac storyarc from Action Comics, this latest direct-to-dvder from DC Studios is simply fairly forgettable fluff. The evil Kryptonian computer comes to Earth in an effort to dissect & bottle humanity; Superman gets all self-righteous before doing his whole smashing bit. It's hard to believe that this studio can put out something as innovating & stunning as The Dark Knight Returns and The New Frontier, but still stoop to such a sophomoric snooze. And I gotta wonder why Superman Beyond is sooooo free with the blood? Brainiac is punching tentacles through skulls, gore splashing across the screen. The story is too kiddy or simple to support the violence, and Lois Lane flipping Brainiac the bird is just silly. This film feels very 90s; it belongs polybagged and wrapped in a chromium cover, read once, and put away for good.
Superman Unchained #1: Speaking of the 90s....Scott Snyder & Jim Lee team up to revolutionize the Man of Steel just in time for his new movie. Well, it's not terrible. Someone or something is hurtling satellites towards Earth. Supes goes up to space to smash. But what does it all have to do with the nuclear destruction of Nagasaki? Has the U.S. Government been secreting away it's own super human project for the past 75 years? Well, of course it has! I can't really hate on this issue, but it certainly failed to excite me. Hopefully Snyder has some tricks up his sleeve because as nice as it is too gaze upon Jim Lee's art, that is certainly not enough to keep my interest.
Batman #21: Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo's year long origin story starts here, and similar to Superman Uncahined, it's a wait and see situation. I've said it before and I'm afraid I gotta say it again, Scott Snyder has pretty much lost me since the conclusion of The Court of Owls, and I'm afraid a Frank Miller Year One rehash is not enough to impassion my Bat-Nostalgia. If Zero Year delves deeper into the mysterious dread of Gotham City's past than that might be a fun way to develop what was started with The Court, however, I'm worried this is just going to be another evil mastermind scheme. The big bad revealed on the last pages here is not the shocker or the draw to boost my confidence in Snyder's dwindling run. We will see...
This Is The End: "Fuck Your House Franco!!!" It sorta puzzles my noggin, but the pothead stoner comedy of Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg seriously pulverizes my funny bone. They did it before with Pineapple Express & Your Highness, and they do it again with this happily hateful satirization of Hollywood. During James Franco's batshit-out-of-control housewarming party Revelation strikes and the narcissistic celebrities are left behind to face the Apocalypse. We're talking sinkholes, burning Hollywood Hills, Old Scratch & his seven heads. It's all in the title. Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel struggle with friendship as James Franco protects his hipster art from Danny McBride's uncontrollable masturbation. Craig Robinson stands guard with his Teddy Bear flashlight Terrance Peterson, but Jonah Hill uses faith as a weapon only to pay the ultimate price - Rosemary's Baby style! This Is The End is a gross, painful, stupid, and gleefully offensive religious assault. Simply the most fun I've had at the movies this year.
All-Star Superman: "You have given them an ideal to aspire to, embodied their highest aspirations. They will race, and stumble, and fall and crawl and curse...and finally...they will join you in the sun, Kal-El." Spoken by his father Jor-El, the above passage comes late in the graphic novel, but gets right to the heart of the character in a way that no other writer has ever come close to scratching. As Matt stated in his review, Superman is not better than us, but he represents the potential of the human race. He may have had good Kryptonion breeding, but it's his midwestern Apple Pie youth that shapes him into the concrete slab of morality we all admire. With All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely plunge the depths of the 75 year old character and reach a final mission statement by exploring the end of Superman. Along the way they celebrate the crazy of classic comics (Lois Lane - Super Woman! Atlas & Samson vs the Ultra Sphinx! Doomsday Jimmy! Zibarro the Bizarro Poet!) that will either alienate new readers or draw them in to the massive but joyful decades of continuity. I've read All-Star Superman a half dozen time now, and it's safe to say that it ranks at the very top of my All Time Favorite Comics. It is a classic, and the ultimate Superman experience.
Superman Returns: "I'm always around." I think it's pretty obvious that Bryan Singer's relaunch is too in love with Richard Donner's original film. As fun as it is to hear John Williams's score or Marlon Brando's Jor-El, Superman Returns can never break free from the memory of a better movie. And yes, Donner's Superman is far superior to this retread. Obviously, a big problem is that Supes never throws a punch. He lifts some stuff. He bounces some bullets off his chest. He flies real fast. But that's about it. Mostly he spends the film being super oogie creepy as he peeps in on Lois Lane & family. Brandon Routh sure cuts a strong Christopher Reeve profile, but he's given very little to perform. Kevin Spacey channels too much of the Hackman's Luthor, hamming his way through yet another real estate scheme. There really is only one moment to cherish, and that's Eve Marie Saint helplessly attempting to be near her son Clark as he lies poisoned in a hospital bed. That's the closest this film comes to plucking a heartstring.
All Star Superman: "It's time to get serious about killing Superman." Stripping away a lot of the crazy side stories, and struggling to maintain the philosophy of Grant Morrison's original novel, the All-Star Superman animated film succeeds more often than if flounders. Lex Luthor boobytraps a mission to explore the sun, and successful poisons Superman's cellular structure. Supes has one year to live, and he must attempt to leave the planet Earth in strong standing as well as say goodbye to the one woman he's ever loved. There is still plenty of heart and morality in the film, but there's no fooling that this is first and foremost an action cartoon. The Parasite prison breakout is certainly the hightlight, but I'm also stunned at how well they were able to pull off the climactic world eater battle. Not quite the genius of the comic book, but All-Star Superman still feels like the most solid adaptation of the character.
Watchmen: I am an Alan Moore fan. I read comics, so I have to be. However, I've never been than much of a Watchmen freak. Frankly, I'll take From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong, Promethea, and Swamp Thing any day over Watchmen. Blashpemy you say...oh well. That is until I saw Zack Snyder's film. Yes, I did not appreciate the story until I saw it on the big screen. There is a coldness to the performances as well as Snyder's fetishizing camera, but it all pretty much fits the tone of Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' post-modern sendup. Jackie Earl Haley's Rorschach is probably the easiest performance to love, his guttural "Hurms" of contempt almost as pleasurable as the dead delivery in which he dispatches justice. With each new Silver Screen Superhero we see, Watchmen becomes more and more relevant. Double Bill this with Joss Whedon's The Avengers and you've gotta a helluva night. It's still a hate letter directed at Thatcher/Reagan politics, but it's nice (or utterly depressing) to see that these issues are still ripe for ribbing to this day. And I don't miss the Squid. Fanboys go on raving, but Snyder's ending feels sound with the setting he erected. After Watchmen, Snyder could have made ten more Sucker Punches, and I would have been perfectly happy with his career.
Superman vs. The Elite: This short film attempts to address the godhood of Superman, and the consequence of his heroics. A punk rock super being known as Manchester Black is tired of giving bad guys second chances. How many times can Lex Luthor break out of jail and kill dozens of people before Superman drops him in a volcano. Black is disgusted by Kal-El's snooty ethics, and with the aide of his mutant goonsquad, he's gonna right Big Blue's wrongs. There is an interesting idea here, and I would be curious to read the source material. However, the film itself is far too banal. The animation boring. The voice work tepid. About the only aspect of this movie that I liked was the opening credits seen below. Silly punk rock.
Man of Steel: "This Man Is Not Our Enemy." There is a lot to enjoy about this Christopher Nolan Production of a Zack Snyder Film. The opening twenty minutes are a sci-fi feast of Krypton. This is not the Ice Castle set of the Donner film or the CG mystery of television's Smallville. David Goyer's script establishes an alien landscape with its own government, status structure, and wildlife. Russell Crowe's Jor-El is a desperate scientist beating upon the arrogant certitude of his people. The Birth of Kal-El is as important to the Krypton people as it will most obviously be for the citizens of Earth. These are ideas explored previously in the comics, but will most likely come as huge surprises for modern movie going audiences. Jor-El's final moments with his wife & son before the rocket launches into space are heartthumping, and I was moved to tears before the prologue could even finish.
Screenwriter Goyer pretty much mimics the structure he used so well in Batman Begins, hopping from Clark Kent's present day hoboing to his childhood farmland memories. If it ain't broke don't fix it, and I appreciated the loose storytelling as opposed to the A to B origin building. However, my problems start to arise with The Kents. Kevin Costner's Pa is another strong father figure and he mirrors well with Crowe's space daddy, but I found his fear - or distrust - of man to be unsettling. Pa Kent is The American Way. His staunch ethics and middle American nature should instill a faith in humanity not dread. And his inevitable end handled in the film robs Clark of the lesson of human frailty. It's a Marvel Comics moment, an Uncle Ben, and not the big universe idea of DC Comics.
Whereas the last cinematic adventure was afraid to throw a punch, Man of Steel is almost all action. From the moment Michael Shannon's Zod arrives on Earth, Superman is caught in one fiery explosion or another. Smallville, IHOP, and Metropolis have never seen so much devastation...in fact, has an American city ever been as punished as much as Metropolis is here in Man of Steel's final moments? A lot has been made of the destruction, but honestly, other than it droning on for a bit too long, I really enjoyed seeing two super beings bash the living hell out of one another. If two creatures of this godlike strength ever came into contact with each other, our cities would certainly crumble. It's a politically correct post-9/11 world, but at the end of the day, this is just a movie and Comic Book flicks demand Comic Book Destruction. But maybe Superman, you could hold off your Lois Lane smooches until you step out of the crater made from human ash.
300: "Tell Xerxes that he faces free men here!" I was so taken aback by Zack Snyder's Paul Greengrass turnaround in Man of Steel that I wanted to return to the film that made him the mockery of hipster haters everywhere. I so love Frank Miller's 300. It's jingoistic, absurdly exploitative, historically embarrassing, and utterly entertaining. And Snyder shoots it warts and all. Gerard Butler is the proud King Leonidas, ruler of the Spartan people, defier of false gods, and champion messenger punter. Everyone involved refuses to bat an eye. 300 succeeds because it's earnest almost up to the point of hilarity, and it's one of the few films to use cgi as an artistic choice rather than an escape route.
JAWS 3D: "You're talking about some damn shark mother?!?!" Steven Speilberg's JAWS is one of my all time favorite films (number 5 to be precise), and it's the blockbuster turning point that paved the way for Transformers & Battleships. But before we could get to the current summer climate, we all had to suffer through the bastardization known as the Jaws sequels. Seriously, is there a worst film franchise out there? I dare you to pit The Texas Chainsaw Massacres against Jaws - The Revenge or this beautifully wretched 3D excursion. Of course, that being said, I had an absolute blast at The Alamo Draft House last week. Chomping down on Fish & Chips while basking in the Sea World glory of the Spanish Galleon was a real hoot. Dennis Quaid is a rather impotent leading man struggling to steal the frame from a pair of dolphins (don't worry, he does better in Dreamscape & Inner Space), and Louis Gossett Jr holds a cut like his life depends on it...which it most certainly does! The very notion that this is the fishy runoff of the perfect popcorn confection that launched America's most beloved filmmaker is completely baffling.
Flex Mentallo - Man of Muscle Mystery: "Acid, all day, every day...." I think to fully appreciate this graphic novel you need to also read Grant Morrison's comic book history lesson, Supergods. I certainly didn't understand this drug fueled nightmare of funny pages insanity until I experienced Morrison's peyote awakening in the outskirts of Nepal. Flex Mentallo is a fictionalized icon of the four color form who sometimes breaks into our reality when his suicidal creator slips into coma rants. Yeah, I don't know what that means either. Flex is our "Hero of the Beach," an Atlas strongman investigating the reappearance of an old chum simply known as The Fact. Along the way he senses the hand of his creator, discovers the pleasures of spandex sex bars, and contemplates complex issues of gender & sexuality after being exposed to Pink Mentallium...Yeah, this ain't your daddy's comics.
Your Highness: Danny McBride's pothead appreciation for shitty 80s fantasy films a la Barbarian Queen, The Warrior & The Sorceress, Death Stalker, and Death Stalker 2. And I love it. Which seems to be the minority opinion, but all you haters out there obviously don't understand the subtleties of horrendous ADR ("Jumping!") or "Punch & Twist" puppets. James Franco has never been more dense or adorable as McBride's much beloved brother Prince Fabious, and I'll take this dimwitted nimrod any day over Blockbuster paychecks like Oz The Great & Powerful or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Not sure what Natalie Portman is doing in this movie, but she does add to the overall absurdity to the film, and her theatrical delivery of potty mouth insults makes schoolboys giggle. And let's not forget the confidence of a good butt shot, putting many an ass in seat. Like their other collaborations, Your Highness is joyfully dumb and gleefully violent. But it's a special brand of base fanboy humor that I certainly endorse. So, grab your Blade of Unicorn & swing for the Minotaur's johnson!
Shoot First, Die Later: Fernando De Leo enjoys the pain and absurdity of violence. He's Italian. They know how to do death. Shoot First, Die Later is the story of good cop turned vigilante after the mob attempts to hook him into their payrole. That old tune. It succeeds in its perverse enjoyment of violence, and manages to up the ante with each gonzo set piece. None of these actors are taking home the SAG award, but Luc Merenda has mastered the stern face and when he sets his sights on his gangster prey you believe his passion for strangleholds. This film is getting a lot of love on the internet these days, but I don't think it's as punishing or as delightful as De Leo's Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man, which was released earlier last year.