Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brad's Week in Dork! (3/16/14-3/22/14)

Most of this week has been spent in a fidgety state of anticipation.  Marvel Studios (THOSE BASTARDS) decided it was just peachy to screen Captain America - The Winter Soldier to the online critic community a month out from the public release, and my Twitter Feed has been abuzzing with copious spurts of geekgasms.  If you believe the hype then Captain America 2 is not only better than The Avengers (a feat I personally would find astronomically astounding), but the single greatest comic book movie ever made.  That certainly cannot be true, and I'm immediately attempting to temper expectations on the homefront.  But that is oh so hard for us dorks, right?

In an effort to distract myself from the social media blitzkrieg, I've made it my mission to complete Ed Brubaker's Epic Run on Captain America that began in 2007 with The Winter Soldier, and completed in 2012 with the oh-so-lackluster Hydra Island business with co-writer Cullen Bunn.  That's a crap ton of comics, and I've only completed the first 25 issues, but I think it's a goal this dork should have no problem accomplishing.  And I'm not the only one in this apartment excited to see Chris Evans crush some (Red) Skulls.  As we did with Wes Anderson (more on that later), The Wife & I are making our way through the entire Marvel Studios canon.  We've already brushed through the Iron Mans & The Incredible Hulk, and this week saw Marvel go all-in with the comic book crazy in the first Thor film.  Taken on their own these movies range from "ok" to "pretty good," but when you look at the Universe Building getting done as well as the climactic whiz bang wow of Joss Whedon's The Avengers, I cannot help but love each and every building block in the series.  Here's hoping they can keep this spandex ball rolling.

But enough of that super hero silliness!  The rest of the week saw another totally badass screening at The Alamo with Dirty Harry, Veronica Mars crawled her way back into our Marshmallow hearts, Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neal unleashed their latest fanboy apocalypse with The Roses of Berlin, and yes, Wes Anderson delivered what is possibly my favorite film in his dollhouse universe.  I really am stunned at the degree in which I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I hate to leave a theater spouting the superiority of the latest work above all previous past efforts, but it's an enthusiastic urge I find difficult to stifle here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:  Having recently watched every single film from Wes Anderson in chronological order, I can safely say that I've enjoyed all of his movies to one degree or another.  Picking a favorite is tough (The Life Aquatic & Fantastic Mr. Fox will probably be locked in a death struggle for some time), and even my least favorite movie (Moonrise Kingdom) found its way into my Top Ten Films of 2012.  Haters accuse the director of arrested development - the Father/Son theme drummed to death, the stagnation of style, the twee aesthetic.  However, as we left the theater Sunday evening, The Wife compared his films to the Baroque era.  Anderson is variations on a theme; his career so far has been an attempt to work/rework and perfect his technique, and I am hypnotized by his craft.  The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly dabbles with the Father/Son issue once again, but what I found myself gravitating towards was what the film's framing device says about the importance of storytelling to the human experience.  A young woman sits down at a grave to read a author struggles with his old man tells his story.  Ralph Fiennes gives a career best as the profane Gustave H, a concierge who stuffs his basest urges to sleep his way into prosperity.  Never mind the World War grinding its wheels all around him.  Anderson has dabbled with violence and tragedy in the past (Machetes in Aquatic, severed tails in Mr. Fox), but he brings real darkness to his pristine workshop and it clobbered my emotions.  The Grand Budapest Hotel demands a rewatch real soon, I'm guessing next week, but if it is not at the very top of my Top Ten Films of 2014 I will be very, very, very surprised.  And probably utterly elated since that will mean this year will go down as one of cinema's finest.

Dirty Harry:  Kicking off that vigilante spirit that eventually climaxed in a dozen crappy 80s wannabe Death Wishers, Don Siegel's Dirty Harry is a beastly statement on the public's frustration with perceived runaway crime.  Clint Eastwood is Judge Dredd, a San Francisco police detective who rips free from political red tape to blast his way through the scum of the city.  Loosely based on the unsolved Zodiac killings, Andrew Robinson's Scorpio sniper holds the city hostage from the rooftops while Harry beats the streets below.  Killer vs Killer.  Eastwood is super cool TNT with his elbow patches, sunglasses, and .44 Magnum.  As much as I love The Man With No Name, it's' really in Harry Callahan where the mancrush solidified.  Who doesn't love righteousness?  Law & Order?  F-That.  He's the badguy.  Shoot the badguy.  Clean up the streets.  Black & White Justice, that's the dream.  Or a deeply troubling fantasy for good ol' U-S-of-A.

The Dead Pool:  When I got home from The Alamo on Tuesday night, I was not done with Harry.  Jumping over the first three sequels, I chose The Dead Pool for my followup because it was the first film I ever saw starring Clint Eastwood, and therefore it holds a very special place in my heart.  It's not a good movie.  And it's a terrible Dirty Harry sequel.  But it is fun as all hell.  When Jim Carry's Guns & Roses lipsinker cokes out in his movie trailer, Harry Callahan is called to solve the case of Celebrity Threes.  Gorehound Director Liam Neeson is prime suspect number one, but does he have the know-how to construct an army of remote control car bombs???  Yeah, what the hell is going on in this movie?  Dumb, dumb, dumb, and the Dirty Harry schtick is wearing thin.  "You know what that means?  You're shit out of luck."  Not quite "Feelin' Lucky Punk" is it?  But dang it, The Dead Pool still makes me smile and I would certainly shill out some cash for another senior citizen Harry flick.  Come on Eastwood, you gotta another Harry in you for sure.

Thor:  Here is the film that made The Avengers possible.  The God of Thunder.  How do you make that work in the world of Iron Man?  You avoid the God issue by transforming Asgardians into immortal aliens.  You snatch this space age Shakespeare play and drop them into Middle America for a lighthearted romcom with explosions and hammer fights.  Job well done.  The stakes may be low, the scope may be tiny, and the budget is certainly lacking.  But Chris Hemsworth embodies The Mighty Thor in the same way that Christopher Reeve WAS Superman.  Tom Hiddleston is a breakout star as the trickster Loki, and Natalie Portman acts the hell out of Golly Gee WonderLUST.  Marvel Studios sells us on one of their whackiest creations, and not only does it pave the way to The Avengers, but also The Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and The Inevitable Crusade of D-Man...ok, that last one might not happen, but here's hoping.

Captain America (1990):  Oh, hey you, Marvel Movie Haters...HOW DARE YOU CRAP OVER JOSS WHEDON'S THE AVENGERS!!!  "It's not as good as the comics!" Blah, blah, blah - SHUT UP!  You don't know how great you've got it.  You weren't there in the trenches of Direct-To-Video Hell like us oldtimers.  You don't remember Nick Fury - Agent of SHIELD, The Punisher, or this miracle of crap.  But now thanks to the wonders of blu ray and the good folks over at Shout Factory, you too can experience this "film" from master craftsman Albert Pyun.  However, if you squint your eyes and if you're in a MST3K kinda mood, then this very shoddy Captain America is actually a good deal of fun thanks to its puttied Red Skull straight off the set of Star Trek Voyager, and The Captain's baffling rubber ears.  Ronny Cox guest stars as The President of the United States, and Ned Beatty is his four-eyed cub reporter hungry for a good story.  So you know...squeal like a pig and enjoy!

Veronica Mars:  It's been what, seven years since the final season of Veronica Mars aired on television?  I really enjoyed that first season, the second season was ok, and I could never finish the date rapey college years.  As much as the people of the internet screamed for more, I was good.  But then came kickstarter, three million fanboy/girl dollars, and a mad marketing campaign.  The Veronica Mars movie is solid.  It's like an extra long episode of the tv show.  Veronica ditches Piz and her high paying job to head back to Neptune for a high school reunion and yet another murder case involving bad boy Logan.  I can't get too excited about it, but I can't crap over it either.  It's fine.  I'd watch another.  That's bout it.

Captain America - The Winter Soldier Omnibus by Ed Brubaker:  Sooooooooooooooo gooooooooooood.  Robert Kirkman's Invincible is my all time favorite Super Hero Comic Series.  But Ed Brubaker's Captain America run is my all time favorite Marvel Super Hero Comic Series.  And I initially refused to read it back in 2007.  Bucky Barnes, back from the dead?  Hell no.  You don't resurrect Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, Bruce Wayne's Parents, or Bucky Barnes.  That's law.  And yet...Brubaker breaks it with so much damn class that fanboy history be damned.  Retcon away sir!  Brubaker's run on Cap is a noirish spy thriller involving a demonic leftover from The Cold War, and heaps of sinister espionage.  The first half of this book is damn near perfect.  It opens with the apparent assassination of The Red Skull by a shadowy agent from Soviet Russia called The Winter Soldier, who has now fallen under the control of villainous businessman Alexander Lukin.  Where The Skull is involved so is Steve Rodgers. Captain America's investigation leads him through various A.I.M. laboratories, hand-to-hand combat with Nazi goon Crossbones, and another horror of domestic terrorism.  And it climaxes with a face to face assault from long ago sidekick James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes.  The back half struggles a little as Brubaker tries to integrate Marvel's Civil War Event.  I've seen such tie-ins handled much worse, but it certainly feels like you're missing some serious plot if you don't read Civil War in accordance with the back half of the Omnibus.  The Death of Captain America cliffhanger though...that will certainly send you into the next chapter quickly.  If all you know about Cap are the movies then you seriously owe yourself to at least read the two-part Winter Soldier storyline.

American Hustle:  I was reading some review or some tweet or some something that said that the best thing to ever happen to American Hustle was not winning The Academy Award.  Now the film is free to just be a film and not worry about that Oscar baggage.  It's a little pompous, but I get it.  It's certainly Scorsese-lite, but I think time will distance it from those comparisons, and eventually you'll just be able to watch it as the fun time at the movies that it is.  It's a fantastic bit of performance - been too long since I've seen this Christian Bale.  He takes a character that should be an utter scumbag, and makes him a sympathetic little sadsack of a conman.  Bradley Cooper is hilarious as the FBI tool desperate for recognition, and Amy Adams is - god damn - a freaking monster of manipulation.  Last year I gave Cate Blanchett my Best Leading Female Performance, but this second watch has me seriously questioning that decision.  That scene between her & Cooper in the Disco Bathroom Stall is scary, scary, scary.  And it makes this movie a must watch for me.

Nemo - The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore & Kevin J O'Neal:  Spinning out of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and a direct sequel to Nemo - Heart of Ice, this latest dip into the pantheon of literary & cinematic history revels in the worlds of Fritz Lang's Metropolis while peppered with the evil of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.  If that doesn't get you jazzed, nothing will.  It's 1944.  The Daughter of Captain Nemo & Broad Arrow Jack has been taken hostage by Hynkel's forces, and it's up to the crew of the Nautilus to storm Berlin and rescue the child.  It reads quickly if you want to, but I'm already desiring a second trip with the aid of Jess Nevin's essential annotations.  LXG proves time and again that being an English Major and film fanatic is super cool.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon:  I closed out the week with the 22nd meeting of The Ultimate Justice League of Extraordinary Graphic Novel Book Club.  Wow.  I can't believe we've been doing this for almost two years.  Crazy.  I love it.  In those nearly two years we've only read one author more than twice and that's Brian K Vaughan (Y The Last Man, Saga, & Pride).  Each one of those books grabbed a positive vibe from the majority of the crowd.  Everyone seemed to dig Pride, and I cannot disagree.  It's a solid fable based on the "True Story" of a group of lions that escaped the Baghdad zoo during the second Iraq conflict.  It's a brutal little tale with an obvious message.  War is hell.  People suck.  Why do we do this to each other?  Brian K Vaughan is preaching to the choir.  Personally, I would have liked a little more story, a little more character.  As is, decent book with some freaking gorgeous art from Niko Henrichon.  I want more of this guy.  I need to track down every bit of art he's done and consume it.


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