Blink and you'll miss it. That's what this week felt like. 2014 has barely started and I can already feel it slipping away. I spent a good chunk of it compiling this year's Cinematic Resolutions, but I'm not quite ready to tackle any of them yet - which is certainly foolish if I have any hope in hades of devouring those Godzilla flicks before the latest reboot hits the big screen. Gotta get hot. I did manage to finish off Sweet Tooth & begin Grant Morrison's Animal Man. Feels good to be tackling comics outside of the weeklies, and I hope it's a trend that lasts. I'm tired of looking at all those unread trades piling up next to the bookshelf - Gotham Central, Doom Patrol, Infinite Kung Fu, Rasl, Swamp Thing, Loveless, and our next entry in the Graphic Novel Book Club, Sailor Twain. New Year, and I want to refocus some of my dork energy into the other pop mediums. Let's not forget I'm only halfway through Richard Stark's Parker series, and Darwyn Cooke is already adapting novels beyond my knowledge. That ain't cool.
"What A World!" & "I'm Melting...I'm Melting!" by Jason Edmiston
I'm not bitching and moaning about the week, it just feels like it lacked focus. I want to buckle down, but I guess I'm still decompressing from the massive 2013 movie dump I did in December. This week started with a Late Show Drafthouse screening of Walter Hill's The Warriors. My buddy Herms was in town from Texas, and it was a blast subjecting his fresh eyes to the Gang War crazy of late 70s New York City. Yep. This is the way it was folks. Fact. Matt & I also finally got ourselves around to witnessing the atrocity of the latest 47 Ronin. Oh man. What a waste. So...yeah...the real highlight of the week was easily the Alamo 100 Raiders of the Lost Ark screening. I've seen that film well over a hundred times now (at least 4 on the Big Screen), and it just never gets old. Me & Indiana Jones? It's true love.
The Warriors: "I don't like the way you live." Ok. I don't love The Warriors. It's one of those seminal films of my youth that I just never bothered with. The first time I saw the movie, I was 18/19 and well on my way to being a snooty film freak. My initial thought back then was that Walter Hill perfected this sort of whacko gang land in his rock opera Streets of Fire. Still, this film is a bit of a wonder, and I absolutely love its earnestness. Here's a New York City in which Mimes rove the streets looking for trouble, where Baseball Furies terrify in warpaint, and where hillbillies in roller skates are the toughest dudes on the block. You can't help but chuckle at the sight of skinhead goons marauding about in a Road Warrior wagon. It's all about honor, friendship, and gash....uh...yeah, there are some awkward moments. The Warriors themselves always seem like a bad date away from running a train on their female companion - I know this, cuz our hero Swan says exactly that. James Remar is the angry tough guy that gets taken off the stage when he fails to rape an undercover police woman. So yeah, The Warriors, it's not too PC. It's an icky fantasyland birthed from the same community fear that brought us Bernie Goetz and his cinematic Death Wish. It's nearly two hours of confused, but somewhat intoxicating outlaw philosophy. After all, as The Director's Cut clumsily establishes at the start, The Warriors is a story of courage similar to that of the 300 Spartans......uh....wha?
Sweet Tooth Vol 6 - Wild Game: Gosh darn. I just could not get past how damn sad this series got. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Brian K Vaughn's Y The Last Man. A Post-apocalyptic landscape. An on-the-road quest to discovery the origin of a plague. Bonds of friendship. Bonds of love. Maybe it's Lemire's somber, sometimes morose art-style, but I could never really connect to any other emotion than sorrow. Sweet Tooth & Company finally reach their Alaskan destination, but the answers there are typically more ponderous than narratively satisfying. Lemire writes a helluva page-turner; once I got back into this series, I was racing to the climax. I love the sequential tinkering he puts his story through, and he's obviously having fun with the medium. It's painfully refreshing to witness an artist utterly aware of his medium's visual importance. This is not Brian Michael Bendis with neverending captions and word balloons. Sweet Tooth is art. But gloomy as hell, and I can already feel the story leaving my cranium.
Deceptive Practice: The first time I encountered slight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay was as the narrator of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. That voice. Once heard it will live in your head. The next time I saw Ricky Jay was in David Mamet's Heist. That lead to an obsession with Mamet's films & plays which in turn lead to obsessions with Joe Mantegna, William H Macy, and Ricky Jay. Now for the first time, director Molly Bernstein takes us inside the tricks of Ricky Jay's trade. No, this is not a How-To on his artistry, but a sort of origin tale - a documentary that will drop your jaw in astonishment while also digging a bit into the history of stage magic. I'm a sucker for this type of thing. Penn & Teller. The Amazing Jonathan. Fun stuff. But Ricky Jay is an artist, a genius, and it feels like a privilege to get a peak inside.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: "You want to talk to god? Let's go see him together." You know the deal. On the verge of another World War, the American Government responds to rumblings of Hitler's Occult shenanigans by recruiting world renowned archeologist/adventurer, Dr. Indiana Jones. It's an absurd premise born from the whacky pulp adventures of various movie serials, and succeeds thanks to Harrison Ford's uncanny badass charm. This is one of those exceptional fits of character & actor. Yes, you can imagine a world in which Tom Selleck traded idol for whip, but that's an offcentered Fringe universe where RC Cola reigns supreme. No thank you. The Big Bang Theory recently postulated that the good professor's presence in the narrative achieves absolutely nothing in the plot, but I actually think the futility of the Nazi's scheme adds an extra layer of apocalyptic gloom. It's not a matter of Indy saving the day, but Indy bearing witness to God's Wrath. Can't shake it. Raiders of the Lost Ark is still the all time greatest adventure story.
47 Ronin: If you're looking for an Asian Adventure with heavy doses of CGI then let me recommend Stephen Chow's Journey To The West. If you're looking for a few against the many samurai slaughterfest then let me suggest Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins or the obvious Seven Samurai. But if you're looking for the 47 Ronin saga told exceptionally then you better go with any other dozen retellings such as Kenji Mizoguchi's double feature or even Mike Richardson & Stan Sakai's recent Dark Horse Comic. Cuz you're not going to want to bother with this one. This film is nearly as lifeless as Keanu Reeves' performance. It's a dull flop destined for banishment in the Wal-Mart five dollar bin or the black hole of streaming services. Maybe some ignorant child will discover a curiosity for the genre after stumbling across it, but that's the best possible future this 47 Ronin can hope for.
21 Jump Street: "They don't serve vegan in jail, bitch!" I lost money on this one. No way did I think a cinematic reboot of a crappy teen beat cop show from the 80s was going to work - especially one fronted by GI Joe's Duke Meathead. Directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller obviously enjoy a challenge; coming off a hilarious weirdo adaption of the unadaptable children's classic Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, they go foul mouthed, meta absurdist, and weirdly violent for the buddy cop genre. 21 Jump Street is too damn odd to be this generations Beverly Hills Cop, but I appreciate the life & death stakes filtered through a gross-out, silly Superbad sensibility. And Channing Tatum shines with his role. He's an adorable idiot wandering the world of nerdom and discovering humanity while Jonah Hill descends into assholehood via the cool crowd. It's a dumb ass movie with brief hints of legit high school commentary. Something the original show could never claim.
The Other Guys: Playing with the same Buddy Cop nostalgia as 21 Jump Street, Will Ferrell & Mark Wahlberg are the station house dolts that never walk away from explosions while the world champions the heroics of Sam Jackson & The Rock's Lethal Weapons. But when aiming of the bushes results in a Wile E Coyote-styled roadkill splat, Ferrell & Wahlberg rise to the challenge of gunkata gymnastics. Although seemingly impossible, The Other Guys is far stupider than 21 Jump Street, but that's the universe of Will Ferrell, and it's impressive how well Mark Wahlberg inhabits the stupid - "I'm a peacock!!!" The Bernie Madoff social commentary is welcome even when the actual mechanics of the plot get murky. You're really just hear to watch Wahlberg torture himself over Ferrell's sexual ownership of Eva Mendes. "Gator don't take no shit."
Cellular: Based on a story by Larry Cohen (Hell Up in Harlem), written by Chris Morgan (Fast Five), and directed by David E. Ellis (Snakes on a Plane). Cellular is actually an extremely entertaining thriller that fully commits to its gimmick. Chris Evans is dragged all over Los Angeles after he answers an unknown caller, and a weak cell signal keeps him at an arm's distance from William H Macy's savior cop. It all has something to do with corruption, video tape, and Jason Statham's sneering 5 o'clock shadow. Sure, Cellular is disposable, but it's the perfect film to catch on TNT.
MST3K - Warrior of the Lost World: "This isn't Mad Max, it's Sad Max." The Italians know how to pilfer American Cinema better than most modern day Hollywood Suits, but for every Fistful of Dollars or Django, you get two dozen Warrior of the Lost Worlds. Doing his best Blofeld, Donald Pleasence rules over a post-apocalyptic wasteland with the doomsday threat of Mega Weapon. Robert Ginty mumbles his way into the heart of Persis Khambatta, and races through the ashes of exploded henchmen while Fred Williamson's reigns fire from above. I really can't imagine surviving this movie without the Robot Roll Call, and MST3K feasts upon this horrid buffet with great gusto. Lots of cheap shots, well played.
Tropa De Elite: "Put your bad face on." We're just a month away from Jose Padilha's Robocop remake, and as a means of battling my own anxiety, and thanks to my buddy Darren slapping an import blu-ray in my hand, I finally decided to see if all the fuss about Elite Squad is genuine. Turns out, this is not the balls-to-the-wall shoot-em-up I had been lead to believe. Elite Squad is an oppressive cautionary tale destined to keep me the hell out of Rio De Janeiro. After years of battling unstoppable drug trafficking and corruption, Wagner Moura must find a replacement before his baby is born. His options are a couple of kids facing their own hurdles in a vile system, and whatever the outcome the resolution seems utterly pointless. Every Drug War story concludes in futility, but few have achieved such heartbreaking pessimism as Elite Squad. There is plenty of action here, but I left the film more impressed with Padhila's societal assassination than his shaky-cam. Hopefully he can retain that awareness for the Robocop.
Animal Man Vol 1 by Grant Morrison & Chas Truog: I've owned these trade paperbacks for three years. Only now am I tackling them. Why did it take so long? I have no idea. I guess I was just waiting for Morrison to finish up his Batman run before tackling these supposedly iconic stories. I think I was also nervous that they couldn't possibly live up to their hype. Well, I'm happy to report, that the first volume of Animal Man is absolutely, utterly, stupendously fantastic. And weird as hell. Just the way I like my Morrison. In the first four issues, stuntman Buddy Baker finally decides that its time to come out of retirement and embrace his mind-bendingly strange animal powers. He can suck the life essence from any creature in his presence - meaning a bird above can give him flight or an earthworm below can help him regenerate a severed limb. When he's hired by S.T.A.R. Labs to investigate a giant puddle of monkey meat, Buddy Baker comes face-to-face with an even grosser lost hero of the DC Universe - B'Wana Beast!!!!! It's an epic clash of the "Oh Dear God" and it's a sobering warning to any reader not ready for Grant Morrison. This is the deep end kiddies, time to get nuts. The next issue is a one-shot look into God's Lonely Man, Wile E. Coyote. Yep, you read that right. No Looney Tunes character is safe. You also get the apocalyptic art of Hawkworld, a super villain satirizing of Edgar Allen Poe, and a home invasion from Mirror Master. Those looking for Superman should take a hike. I've had a few things spoiled for me, but my understanding is that Morrison's Animal Man only gets better and more bizarre in the next volume. Can't wait.