Monday, September 2, 2013

Brad's Week in Dork! (8/25/13-8/31/12)


I caught my last film of the summer this week (You're Next) and I'm thankful that this latest horror gem made its way onto my Fistful of Summer 2013.  But the real big screen treat was catching Razorback at the AFI Silver.  Yeah, you read that right.  The Australian Giant Pig movie played this week at The American Film Institute.  What next?!?!?  Dead End Drive-In!?!?!  Uh...that's next week.  Ha!  We certainly do live in a Brave New World.  I've never been happier as a film fan living in the Washington DC area; this may not be L.A. or New York, but we're on our way.


The rest of the week was filled with blu rays and VOD.  Rewatched a couple of 2013 releases, and both Pain & Gain and Trance have shot to the top of my favorite films of this year.  The Rock and Rosario Dawson certainly deliver fun genre bending turns with their respective roles.  Very different, but bother are equally as demented.  The less said about Nicolas Cage in Frozen Ground the better.  How the mighty have fallen (I know, old news, right?).  Matthew McConaughey is certainly making a play for this year's Actor of the Year...too bad none of his movies are quite as good as his performances.  On two separate nights I fell asleep watching Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop 1 & 2 - it's what Netflix was born to do.  And the absolute best movie I watched was A Boy And His Dog.  Holy cow!  It had been a while since my last viewing, and that little beast of a flick floored me.  Truly one of the best blu ray releases of the year.


Razorback:  "Somethin' about blowin' the shit out of a razorback brightens up my day!" This is not simply a Jaws knockoff - it's the ultimate Jaws knockoff! Forget Piranha, forget Orca. They might have the marine life, but Razorback takes the Man vs. Evil Nature plot and uses it to propel its narrative down a music video dreamscape so smokey & cacophonous Tony Scott & Terry Gilliam wake from terror sweats contemplating their failure to capture it's insanity. Bill Kerr is Jake Cullen, a Kangaroo hunter who trades one killing spree for another after a boar the size of a rhino carries off his infant grandson. Partnering with Canadian blank slate Gregory Harrison and wildlife tracker Arkie Whiteley, Kerr navigates an endless display of foreground skulls to rid the outback of the great beast. But is Razorback the real threat, or does the true face of pockmarked evil belong to Dicko Baker and his piggy pleasure squeals?  A lost 80s classic well worth your attention.


You're Next:  This was a deceptive little movie. After years of the internet hype machine, and a batch of mediocre-to-terrible trailers from Lionsgate, I was ready to dismiss You're Next as just another slasher flick in an already redundant genre. And for the first twenty or so minutes, I did not give a good god damn about anything happening on screen. Disgruntled family bickering, killers attack, yawn. But then Sharni Vinson (so bendy and proud in Step Up 3D) reveals herself as one tough cookie, her John Carpenter theme starts thumping, and suddenly I'm cheering for a Final Girl in a way I haven't since Ellen Ripley. You're Next is not a dour, dumb teen slasher. It's a crowd pleaser. A violent, root 'em toot 'em siege film that's got more in common with Assault on Precinct 13 than The Strangers. It's fun! And that's the message that's getting lost in the marketing.


The Frozen Ground:  A couple years back I was really championing the mega acting talents of modern day Nicolas Cage. The man was devastating the silver screen with mountaintop performances in The Bad Lieutenant, Kick Ass, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Drive Angry. The internet had turned against Cage, but I was right there with him as he sank into Season of the Witch and Ghost Rider 2. Just fun goofy movies elevated by his commitment to absurdity. But then came Trespass. And Seeking Justice. And Stolen. Yeash. Just absolutely boring direct-to-dvd dreck. Sadly, that trend is not broken with The Frozen Ground. It's a far too serious and dull serial killer pursuit picture; it plays like an A&E attempt at The Silence of the Lambs. And haven't we had enough of those already. Cage is mundane and checked out. I'm sure John Cussack is having a ball playing Next Door Evil, but it's a character we've seen a dozen times before and often better. The Frozen Ground is going to be one of those movies I forget fifteen minutes after I write this sentence. Oh yeah, Vanessa Hudgens is a stripper/prostitute damsel. So what? She's abysmal.


Beverly Hills Cop:  The 80s Action Comedy was born with this Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production, and Eddie Murphy has never been better than he was here as the wisecracking fish-outta-water Axel Foley. His black man assault on rich white society is infectious.  Axel Foley is the cross hair on Reagan Era consumption, but Beverly Hills Cop is too damn funny to be a genuine cultural critique. Great music, great one-liners, great violence, great Bronson Pinchot. Anything beyond that is just the cherry on top.


Sweet Tooth Volume 1 - Out of the Deep Woods:  Here's a strange one I've been hearing good things about for quite some time now.  Given the fact that I've recently enjoyed Lemire's Underwater Welder, Trillium, and - *gulp* - Green Arrow, I thought it was high time that I tackled his weirdo post-apocalypse book.  The funny thing is, it's not that weird.  Sure, the world has gone to pot.  Children are born these days with antlers, hooves, and snouts, but so far Sweet Tooth displays some fairly typical world-gone-by tropes.   After his pop slips into the nether, our hybrid hero Gus attempts to break free from his religious fear with the help of sharpshooter woodsman, Mr. Jepperd.  But do friends exist in the Apocalypse?  Volume 1 certainly doesn't leave Gus in a better place than where we met him, and by all accounts life is going to get a whole helluva lot rougher before this series reaches its end.  The rest of the Sweet Tooth volumes are at the top of my shopping list for this year's Baltimore Comic Con.


Pain and Gain:  "When it started, America was just a handful of scrawny colonies. Now it's the most buffed, pumped up country on the planet. That's pretty rad." I've never cared for the Mark Wahlberg tough guy routine. I just don't buy it. At the same time, I'm not sure there are too many other actors out there that can achieve the comic heights of his self deprecation. Boogie Nights, The Other Guys, Pain & Gain. When he's playing dolts with delusions of grandeur, Wahlberg is your guy, and his Daniel Lugo just might be his greatest bonehead creation yet. Too bad he gets completely overshadowed by Dwayne Johnson's coke fiend Jesus freak, El Dad. His weak-link convict earns more laughs out of the depravity displayed on screen than any other Bayified scumbag. And speaking of Michael Bay, Pain & Gain is his crowning achievement as well. Where we've all chastised the fratboy for his homophobic, sophomoric, and misogynistic sight gags in the past, his pretty picture fart joke sensibilities are essential to Pain & Gain's success.  Based on True Events?  Yeah.  Crime for laughs?  Yeah.  Awkward?  Yeah.  But it's damn entertaining.


Mud:  The Matthew McConaughey renaissance continues with this Southern Gothic coming-of-age story. Two boys dealing with their own family melodrama discover McConaughey's cross healed hobo living in a boat in the forest. Jeff Nichols, the director of Shotgun Stories & Take Shelter, certainly knows how to pull great performances from his players, but I've found his screenplays lacking in the climax department. The narrative twists are telegraphed a mile out, and I'm more than a little full of the innocence-lost plots.  McConaughey makes it work, but the story is too rote to be memorable.


Beverly Hills Cop II:  "You can never have too much firepower."  After their successful collaboration on Top Gun, Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson, and Tony Scott reteam for this hit-the-beats sequel.  Eddie Murphy is dragged back into Beverly Hills after Rony Cox's Captain Bogomil is gunned down by a member of the Alphabet Gang.  Again we get the Axel Foley ogling of swimming pools and strip clubs, but the one-liner attacks seem less important than the sunsets and explosions.  The comedy comes from the back & forth banter between Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, & Murhpy but this sequel is an action film first solidifying the Bruckheimer/Simpson formula that would go on to bust blocks with Bad Boys, The Rock, and even Pirates of the Caribbean.   It's a slick flick, and a lot of fun, but it's certainly not as refreshingly humorous as the original.


Scott Pilgrim vs The World:  Edgar Wright's bombastic celebration of all things geek - video games!  comics!  anime!  music!  movies!  manga!  hair dye! - is also our generation's answer to The Graduate.  Michael Cera is another lovelorn misanthrope struggling with his apathy when Mary Elizabeth Winstead's roller blading Amazon literally steps out of his dreams to wreak emotional as well as physical havoc.  If Scott Pilgrim wants to get with this beauty he must battle & defeat her League of Seven Evil Exes.  This brilliant structure centered around Street Fighter kombat allows for one hilarious gonzo encounter after the next; the highlights being Chris Evans's skater stunt team and Brandon Routh's telekinetic, vegan douche bag.  You probably have to be of a certain age to appreciate the surreal landscape, but for those folks in the know, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is a biting mockery of our pop culture obsessed lives.  Love & Self Respect may be the answer, but can you achieve such goals while swamped in the imagination of others?  At the very least, Scott Pilgrim proves that Edgar Wright is more than just a Cornetto man, and he's probably the most visually enticing director to land under the umbrella of Marvel Studios.  Forget Avengers 2 and Batman vs Superman, Edgar Wright's Ant-Man is certainly the most fascinating superhero film of 2015.


Trance:  "Bring it to me."  A second viewing of Danny Boyle's latest sealed my appreciation for this neo-noir.  Trance begins as one of those long-con mindbender movies, but as the screenplay works its way to the end, the film reveals itself not as an M Night Shyamalan twister concerned with plot-flipping but a villainous deconstruction of character, proud in the onion its peeled.  The film has heists, gangsters, amnesia, violence, and quite possibly the most interesting Femme Fatale I've experienced (neo or otherwise).  And the fact that this Femme Fatale is played by Rosario Dawson, an actress I've adored for years but who never seems to get the right part, is a real treat unto itself.  This is not Kiss Me Deadly or Chinatown.  Trance is very much a Danny Boyle film, shot with vibrant digital photography and crafting a style decades removed from Sam Spade.  Boyle may have gotten more acolades for his last couple of Oscar baiters, but for my money Trance is the most exciting film he's made since 28 Days Later.


Welcome To The Punch:  I was hoping to follow one dashing James McAvoy scumbag with another, but unfortunately, this Cops & Robbers saga is nothing more than a long snooze.  Mark Strong is a gangland daddy drawn out of the underworld when his son catches a bullet.  It's McAvoy's job to bring him in, but when the boys in blue reveal themselves to be the true villains, the two rivals must team-up John Woo style.  'Course Eran Creevy is no 90s era John Woo, and the action is nothing more than quick cutting and smokescreen i.e. boring.


A Boy and His Dog:  You know how critics (and know-it-all bloggers like myself) will say, "They don't make movies like that anymore?"  And often times you can just simply dismiss that as the bullshit it truly is.  However, with A Boy and His Dog, that annoying sentiment is most certainly the case.  In fact, the real answer is that there is only one A Boy and His Dog.  In the year 2024, World War IV granted the Earth the Nuclear Wasteland it always feared.  It lasted four days and by the end of it all, the only occupations in existence were marauder and rapist.  Unless you're a telepathic dog, then you also have the option of being a female hunter.  That's right, A Boy and His Dog is the story of Don Johnson's rapist and the dog who helps him get his prey.  It's an ugly, mean, angry film.  A movie that could have only come from the mind of science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, and its a miracle that character actor LQ Jones managed to bring it to the silver screen.  Jones had directed only one other film before this, and would only direct an episode of The Incredible Hulk after this.  It is a masterpiece of the genre.  Yes, yes, yes A Boy and His Dog is the precursor to Mad Max and a half dozen other Apocalypse stories.  But this is not anti-hero cinema.  Don Johnson is an evil little shit.  But he's the product of our ignorance, our need for war.  Sure, it's all very hippy dippy, but you gotta respect the rage behind the pen and behind the camera.  Watching the special features on the Shout Factory bluray, you get an understanding of the massive quest it took to get the film adapted, and I am so excited for all the new fanboys this disc will certainly create.


--Brad

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