Sunday, April 20, 2014

Brad's Two Weeks In Cap! (3/30/14-4/12/13)

It's all been building to this.  Every couple of months I fall into obsession - well, let's be real, I'm in a constant state of obsession but that Large Obsession develops into multiple mini-obsessions throughout the year.  When we first started ITMOD Matt & I were obsessing over Hobos With Shotguns, and since then you've seen me ga-ga for Star Trek, Shatner, Heston, Dirty Harry, Batman, Jim Brown, Avengers, Avengers, Avengers, and Avengers.  The hype building up to Captain America - The Winter Soldier has been typically intense across the internet.  Not quite to the level of when The Avengers super movie hit, or even when Pacific Rim flopped all over last year's Summer, but as April 4th got close and closer I found myself all a tingle with anticipation.  Of course, it didn't help that I was rereading Ed Brubaker's monumental run on the Marvel Comic - yeash, I barely got through it all in time for the movie.  When all is said and done, Brubaker's Winter Soldier & Death of Captain America arcs are TOPS while the rest is compiled with schizophrenic peaks & valleys.

But I've managed to squeak in some non Cap stuff as well.  AFI Silver screened David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Darren Aronofsky dropped his wacky Old Testament saga, Cheap Thrills hit VOD, Angelika had the kill crazy rampage of The Raid 2, and Ben Wheatly's magnificent mondo horror A Field in England just hit glorious blu ray.  And yeah, Captain America lead me into a mini-blaxploitation marathon which is proof positive that Winter Soldier is simply too cool for fools, folks.  Here's the breakdown -

Mulholland Drive:  "Maybe it's not me."  I'm almost fairly certain this was not the first David Lynch film I ever experienced (surely, I saw Blue Velvet some time during high school), but it was most certainly the first one I saw on the Big Screen.  And it is the film that propelled me through the rest of his catalogue in which I would eventually discover Lost Highway and Twin Peaks and forever question the realities we establish around us.  Mulholland Drive begins like a typical L.A. Noir.  A limousine crashes alongside a twisting road, a woman stumbles from the wreckage with no memory of who she was before, and a wannabe starlit plays detective.  A Nancy Drew styled investigation begins with sinister side characters popping up to send shivers down spines.  Who is the cowboy?  What horror lurks behind the diner?  What. Is. In. The. Box?  Those seeking answers or simple, tidy resolution should not bother.  You could probably crack some plot out of the script, but it's best to approach Mulholland Drive as an experiment in tone, style, symbolism.  There might be answers, but they're not going to be nearly as interesting as the act of Lynch's Hollywood deconstruction.  This is hard boiled poetry.

Captain America - Two Americas, No Escape, & The Trial of Captain America by Ed Brubaker:  After resurrecting Bucky Barnes and killing Steve Rogers, it felt like Ed Brubaker pretty much said all he had to say about Captain America.  With The First Avenger debuting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside Robert Downey Jr and the billion dollar promise of Joss Whedon's Blockbuster, Rogers had to be put back under the cowl in the comics.  I hated, hated, hated that cold hard fact at the time, but upon rereading the series I found myself really enjoying the comic book silly of Reborn.  And that's probably where Brubaker should have left.  Every story he crafted after that was a bit of a letdown.  Two Americas has its moments as Bucky Cap battles the Captain America of the 1950s while Steve Rogers goes off to have spin-off Super Soldier adventures.  It's decent.  50s Cap is a sadsack tidbit in comic book history worth exploring.  No Escape pits Baron Zemo Jr against Bucky Cap and the climax is emotionally confusing and utterly blah.  And after removing Bucky Barnes from the equation offscreen in Matt Fraction's abysmal Fear Itself event, The Trial of Captain America concludes The Winter Soldier storyline in a boring, run-of-the-mill prison escape.  The murky world of Cold War paranoia handled so exceptionally by Ed Brubaker and Steve Eptiing concludes with some half-assed/half-hearted storytelling.  It's rather depressing.

Iron Man Three:  "Take me to church!"  This film will always suffer in the eyes of fanboys as the followup to The Avengers.  I hate hearing the complaint, "Why doesn't Stark just call up the Super Friends?"  It's a question you'll never hear from comic book geeks.  I'm sure we could spend hours/days/months/years concocting a reason why Captain America doesn't appear to kick The Mandarin's ass, but the simple fact is that every movie cannot be The Avengers.  Cap was busy.  Deal.  I think that Iron Man 3 is an exceptional emotional sequel to Joss Whedon's extravaganza.  Director Shane Black brings in as much of his personality as he can, and delivers a banter heavy buddy film in which Tony Stark battles his inner demons (PTSD here instead of that classic Demon in a Bottle) while navigating the shadowy world of domestic/corporate terrorism.  And I'll never understand the hate for Ben Kinglsey's Mandarin.  You wanted Yellow Peril?  You thought Fu Man Chu was a badass comic book villain?  No you didn't.  No one liked The Mandarin five years ago, and don't pretend this twist on the character is not genius and the only way the MCU could have gone.  For my money, Iron Man 3 is easily the best of the trilogy, and leaves Tony Stark in a fascinating predicament for Avengers - Age of Ultron.

Thor - The Dark World:  I really enjoyed the first film's romcom approach to super heroes, and it remains my favorite of the Phase One Marvel Movies.  With Jane Foster now coming to Asgard, I was hoping for some more of that fish-out-of-water comedy, but it doesn't seem like Marvel was interested in staying small and character centric after The Battle of New York.  Not as successful in moving forward as Iron Man 3, The Dark World still succeeds more than it fails thanks to the neverending charm of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.  When Thor & Loki are on screen the audience is having a good time.  When Dark Elves and Aethers are filling exposition the audience is yawning.  Not a bad movie, and certainly not the worst film in the MCU cannon (cough, cough, Iron Man 2), The Dark World certainly doesn't thrill as much on repeat viewings.  Alan Taylor managers to craft a fun world hopping action sequence for the climax, and Mjolnir has never worked better then it does here playing catchup, but ultimately I feel that Thor 2 is simply a stopgap on our way to the next adventure.

Ultimate Spider-Man #200:  I don't really talk much about single issues on the blog anymore.  Frankly, as I struggle to keep these Weeks in Dork flowing on time, I just don't have the energy to ramble on about every floppy that gets my attention.  That being said, I just need to take a moment and gush about Brian Michael Bendis' latest bit of Ultimate Spider-Man goodness.  Peter Parker is dead.  I hope he stays that way.  I'd like to say that in the Ultimate Universe dead is dead, but that Carnage Gwen Stacy monstrosity is walking around and there's a retcon that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should - gross, gross, gross.  But hopefully Ultimate Petey remains in the least as long as Bendis is writing the book.  Writer leaves, I leave.  The 200th issue (I guess if you count all the relaunches and the Cataclysm event that makes sense) revolves around a memorial for Peter Parker.  Aunty May is there.  Gwen Stacy (again, Carnage, again, gross) is there.  Mary Jane.  Kitty Pryde.  Miles Morales.  Ganke.  Kong.  The whole supporting cast.  Each one is given the chance to imagine what the world would be like if Parker hadn't died.  Their splash pages are wonderful.  Kitty's page is heartrbeaking.  This is the type of melodrama that Spider-Man comics do so well, and Bendis reinvigorated my love for the character.  Just keep 'em coming.

Noah:  I enjoyed it.  More than I thought I would.  But I really haven't thought about the movie since I left the theater.  Russell Crowe's Noah is one tough hombre.  He's burdened by visions of God's watery wrath, and decides to construct an ark to hold the innocents of Earth - aka the animals, no room for man here.  I really enjoyed the first half of the film with Crowe partnering up with rocky fallen angels and defending his earthship from Ray Winstone's marauding sinners.  However, once the rains come and the family psychodrama takes over, I checked out.  The Genesis flashback is pretty cool, and when the film gets nuts, it really gets nut, but I never connected with Noah's pain.  This is more the kind of film I want from Aronofsky, but it's still nowhere near as engaging as his earlier films.

Captain America Volume 6 Issues 1-17 by Ed Brubaker & Cullen Bunn:  What a whimper.  As stated above, the best Captain America comics occur under the direction of Ed Brubaker, but his final run on the series is a tremendous letdown.  For the first five issues, Brubaker is joined by Super Star Artist Steve McNiven and he kills it...until he disappears from the series and the Operation Bravo storyline is rushed by the pedestrian work of Giuseppe Camuncoli.  Ugh.  And Operation Bravo???  Way back when in WWII, Cap & Bucky lose a military operative in a child's imagination where he partners with Hydra lackeys and..............snooooooze!  Bravo sticks around for the rest of these issues where Cullen Bunn finishes Brubaker's plot involving a floating Hydra base and Jack Kirby's Mad Bomb.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Along the way D-Man gets a 90s makeover and Diamondback gets catty with Agent 13.  It's hard to believe this is the same guy responsible for The Winter Soldier.  Brubaker was on his way out from Marvel and it's painfully obvious during his final moments.  A real comic book tragedy.

Captain America - The First Avenger:  It's hard not to focus on the missed opportunities when discussing Cap's first appearance in the MCU.  Raiders of the Lost Ark + Marvel (should) = The Greatest World War II Nazi Smashing Adventure Film Ever Made!!!!  Sadly, the film looses itself (& WWII) through a series of limp montages as it propels Steve Rogers into the future where he'll contribute to the Damn Yankees of Comic Book movies, aka The Avengers.  Pretty much ignoring Hitler and his SS Goons in exchange for the toy friendly Hydra, The First Avenger screws itself when it comes to the villain threat.  The Red Skull is the most terrifying villain in the Marvel Universe, and he's tidied out of the plot with a couple of punches and an inexplicable (although extremely opportune) touch of Asgardian teleportation.  I'm still crossing my fingers that The Skull will redeem his villainy in Captain America III, and if enough money/sandwiches are thrown Hugo Weaving's way I'm sure he'll supply his Herzogian razzle dazzle.  What the film does get right is Steve Rogers.  The First Avenger is easily the most successful of the cinematic origin stories, and there is more heart in Chris Evans's performance than in all of his Super Friends combined.  His final moments with Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine reduce me to tears every single time - that index finger to the heart...gosh...heart in throat. Movie Audiences can be a cynical bunch of eye-rollers these days, and it's truly impressive that a golly-gee "Truth Justice & The American Way" kinda super hero can snatch their attention.  I only wish Warner Brothers had that amount of trust in their audience when it came to their gritty, modern Man of Steel.  So, for that first hour alone, Captain America The First Avenger ranks as one of my very favorites in Phase One of the MCU.

Captain America - The Winter Soldier:  Ten minutes in, the film had me.  No other studio on the planet would open their giant franchise blockbuster with a character beat.  Steve Rogers, the Man out of Time, runs laps around the Washington Mall and has a chance encounter with modern day soldier Sam Wilson.  The two bond through their Military Experience and Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man soundtrack. Captain America, The Falcon, & Mr. T! Does it get any better than that!?!?!?!?  Oh my goodness, YES!  From their we get a S.H.I.E.L.D. Assault on a hijacked ocean liner, a wannabe Bourne ass kicking of Batroc The Leaper, a Downtown DC Nick Fury beatdown at the hands of the not-so-mysterious Winter Soldier, a cold war bunker full of War Games, and a climactic trilogy of action straight out of Return of the Jedi.  Did I enjoy The Winter Soldier as much as The Avengers?  No, I don't think so.  There will always be something special about The Avengers - it was the first to put Cap, Thor, & Iron Man on the same screen.  It's hard to top.  Is The Winter Soldier a better movie than The Avengers?  Maybe.  It certainly contains the best action sequences we've seen in the MCU so far.  Cap's shield has never been more comic book perfect.  The film absolutely understands the sadness behind the Man Out Of Time concept, as well as the hopefulness of The Greatest Generation Warrior.  If I had one complaint about the film is that since the Bucky Barnes character was horribly underused in the first movie then those in the crowd without a built-in investment for their friendship might not fully grasp the tragedy of The Winter Soldier device.  Of course, despite the subtitle, Cap 2 is less about the brainwashed villain and more about the Cold War Conspiracy infecting the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Who is Captain America when America is no longer America?  Old Fashioned Values vs. Post 9/11 Freedom Isn't Free Morality.  It's a juxtaposition of ideals that writer Mark Millar plunged exceptionally in both his Ultimates run and the Civil War saga, and it's exactly where Captain America belongs on the big screen.  The Winter Soldier leaves Steve Rogers with a friend to rescue, and his own humanity to uncover.  This Cap fan couldn't ask for anything more.

Trouble Man:  Shaft, Foxy Brown, and Black Belt Jones might get more attention, but for my money there is no better example of the blaxploitation genre than Ivan Dixon's Trouble Man.  Robert Hooks is Mr. T, a pool hall fixer hired by Paul Winfield to prevent a ring of thieves from knocking over his clandestine poker games.  Of course, things are not what the seem, and T is framed for a killing he did not commit....and proceeds to commit plenty of other killings to get to the bottom of the inner city mystery.  Robert Hooks is the coolest cat on the planet.  Every line of dialogue is delivered with icy confidence.  Men want to be him, and women want to be with him - I'm sure men would take a shot too if T swung that way.  Ernest as all hell, Trouble Man has no room for your irony.  Criminally underrated, if you want to understand the appeal of blaxploitation look no further than Trouble Man.  And as The Falcon already knows, the Marvin Gaye soundtrack is stellar.

Cheap Thrills:  Brutal.  Ugly.  Gross.  Funny?  Not really.  If you've seen the trailer then you've pretty much already seen the movie.  Pat Healy is a down-on-his-luck husband & father.  He's just days away from eviction, and recently unemployed.  He stumbles into a bar instead of facing the crying baby at home.  There he encounters a former high school friend and a peculiar couple flashing wads of hundred dollar bills for any poor sap to take notice.  Drinks are bought, coke is snorted, and a vile game of Truth or Dare (mostly Dare) ensues.  What starts off as Slap That Waitress for $200 escalates into Chop Off Your Pinky for $15000.  There's not much to it.  Blood.  More blood.  Death.  More death.  You get the idea.  The story feels a little bit like a modern day Roald Dahl short story without the Twilight Zone whimsy.  Not a bad movie, but it left me empty.

Rodan:  Pretty much the same story as Godzilla or Mothra, but instead of a giant lizard or a giant moth you get a giant pterodactyl.  When he appears later in the series, I love, love, love Rodan.  He's a giant hunk of rubber that loves to flap his wings and tear down buildings.  Sometimes he even does it for good!  But for his first outing, I just couldn't find enough unique properties to separate him from his progenitors.  The film starts off with some nifty giant insects, but their terror disappears once the big bad shows up.  This film could have really used some Kaiju on Kaiju action.

Three Days of the Condor:  After listening to the Russo Brothers discuss their influences for The Winter Soldier on the Empire Podcast, I felt like it was high time that I saw this seminal example of espionage cinema.  Robert Redford is a low level CIA analyst who steps out for lunch one day only to return to an office full of corpses.  After contacting the higher ups, Redford flees from Max Von Sydow's trenchcoated assassin and into the arms of Faye Dunaway's passerby.  The thriller aspects of the plot are exceptional, and Von Sydow is as chilling as he is inconspicuous.  However, I have no idea why Dunaway is in this movie.  Is it simply a Hollywood requirement that all films must have a love interest?  She's utterly superfluous, and every moment she's onscreen subtracts from the film's tension.  Other than that, solid flick.

The Raid 2:  This was quite simply the most violent, horrible, disgusting, violent, insane, grotesque, mean-spirited, violent, deplorable, violent, gratuitous, violent, over-long, badass, and violent thing I've ever seen.  Yowza!  Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the first film, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into.  Instead of an hour and forty minutes of asskicking and bloodshed, there would be two hours and forty minutes of asskicking and bloodshed.  Yeah, that's kinda accurate.  But "bloodshed" doesn't do the film justice.  What spawned from a siege assault action picture bloats into a Godfather/Serpico wannabe in which Iko Uwais's Rama infiltrates the Indonesian underworld by selling his soul to the morally bankrupt police department.  What once took an hour to fight his way out, now takes years.  The film has the slimmest of plot, just an excuse to pause fifteen minutes between bone shattering action set pieces.  And I Loved Every Second Of It.  I cannot believe the film squeaked by with an R rating, and it certainly won't be for the masses, but if you're a fan of blood, guts, and limbs flying action than The Raid 2 is absolutely an essential film watching experience.  You'll be out of breath by the time the credits roll.

3 Dev Adam (aka Turkish Captain America):  "Adios Mafia!"  Here's one that simply needs to be seen to be believed.  A thief dressed in a thrift store Spider-Man costume pillages the rich of Istanbul to sell antiquities to the richer of North America.  This catches the attention of both the American & Mexican government who hire Captain America & Santo to take down the Turkish villain.  At least that's what I think is going on.  It's nearly impossible to discern the plot thanks to incoherent subtitles, and seemingly random plot developments.  What is certain is that 3 Dev Adam is an absolute blast to behold.  Whether it's The Spider's endless deaths, or his terrifying puppet orgasms - this Turkish Captain America has to be one of the best unintentionally funny films I've seen.  Projected from a shoddy VHS, the Alamo Drafthouse delivered the goods for this latest Video Vortex selection, and guaranteed my butt in the seat for whatever the dare to screen next.  Bravo.

Hell Up In Harlem:  "I've got some funerals to attend."  At the end of Black Cesar, Fred Williamson is gunned down in the street by the murderous agents of Whitey.  Dead is Dead?  Yeah right!  Hell Up In Harlem opens with Williams brushing himself off, stumbling into a hospital, and - All Better.  I'm not really a big fan of the original film; it's a rather rudimentary retelling of The Godfather.  However, this sequel?  Jeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzzuuuus.  Forget Don Corleone, Hell Up In Harlem is all Scarface, and Fred Williamson is never cooler than when he's looking for a little payback.  And it's a sweet, weird ass revenge.  You've got Pimps vs Ninjas, A Long Island Scuba Assaults, Mammies With Machine Guns, and what might be the longest distance fist fight ever - yeah, it's takes a whole continent for The Hammer to satisfy a beatdown.  But then Williamson quickly finds the show being stolen away from him by Julius Harris as his father gone wrong.  Big Poppa!  He goes from disapproving patriarch to tommy gunning flesh trader.  The transition of character makes absolutely no sense, but it's a whole heap of entertaining.  Hell Up In Harlem comes close to being my favorite blaxploitation film, and it's certainly one of my all time favorite sequels.

Truck Turner:  "She's a middle class broad...and you're one gross son of a bitch."  This is a bizarre movie.  Not the typical black hero vs. white devil, Truck Turner is a vile, cat-piss wearing bounty hunter targeted by a ring of pimps & prostitutes lead by Nichelle Nichols & Yaphet Koto.  Isaac Hayes seems to relish his big chance to spout heinous profanity and commit savage acts of violence.  Truck Turner embraces its exploitation in ways that its contemporaries seem to only scratch the surface.  Sometimes that makes for some uncomfortable bits of awkwardness, but for the willing audience member, that political incorrectness is also Truck Turner's charm.  Where does it stand next to the greats?  Not sure.  Every time I watch this film I forget how gross & weird it is, but I'm now thinking that it's time to put it into a yearly rotation.  It's a trip.

Slaughter:  Trouble Man is numero uno.  Slaughter is a close second.  After his parents are murdered by the mob, Jim Brown's badass cop leaves the badge behind and descends into the hell of Mexico to take down the demons responsible.  Part Dirty Harry, part Death Wish, all Jim Brown - Slaughter is an exceptional example of tough cop cinema.  But every hero needs a great villain, and Slaughter fills that order grotesquely with Rip Torn's rat-faced hitman.  Even when he knows better, he cannot help but spit venom and hate.  Torn would rather die in a wreckage of gasoline & flames then say one last nice word - "Yeah, I did that."  The rest of the film is peppered with a perfect supporting cast: Stella Stevens's mafioso playmate, Don Gordon's sideburned sidekick, Norman Alfe's confusingly afroed kingpin.  An exceptional cast of oddballs, and a leading man of total cool & confidence separate Slaughter from the rest of the pack.

Captain America & Bucky by Ed Brubaker, James Asmus, & Francesco Francavilla:  When a comic book creator is popular that inevitably leads to Spin-Offs! Spin-Offs!  Spin Offs!  Ed Brubaker's Captain America & Bucky series originally started out as another way to explore their WWII past, but quickly transformed into just another Cap book.  I didn't stick around for long.  But since I'm loosing my mind with the star-spangled super hero this month, I thought I would give the series another shot.  At least the trades illustrated by pulp maestro Francesco Francavilla.  Old Wounds revolves around a series of terminator androids leftover from Cap's Invader days.  Robots & Human Torches?  Just perfect for Francavilla's pulp noir style.  The story is so-so, but Francavilla sells it.  Not the highest recommendation, but it's a fun stop on your way to the real gem...

Captain America & Black Widow by Cullen Bunn & Francesco Francavilla:  When Bucky left the Marvel Universe for the second time, this series became a revolving door of Captain America team-ups.  Brubaker is gone, but The Sixth Gun's Cullen Bunn steps in to fill those mighty big clown shoes.  Cap & Black Widow are warped into the wacky concept of multi-universes, and have a series of run-ins with steampunk tripods, Lizard/Doctor Octopus Hybrids, and diabolical doppelgangers.  High art?  No.  But this is exceptionally comic booky!  And it's a shame that Francavilla only had these two tiny arcs to play in the Captain America sandbox.

A Field In England:  "I am my own master."  Three viewings now, and after each one I love this film just a little bit more.  If I was redoing my Top Ten List from last year, A Field In England might even squeak ahead of The World's End, The Act of Killing, & Only God Forgives at this point.  That seems crazy to me in some ways, but this latest Blu Ray addition simply floored me at the end of the week.  I find myself less entranced by the oddity of the film - that Monty Python cast wondering into the madness of HP Lovecraft.  Yeah, that still fits, but with each rewatch I become more and more enamored with Reece Shearsmith's bumbling alchemist and his transformation into a real-deal Solomon Kane.  Ben Wheatley made a couple of solid flicks in Kill List & Sightseers, but I'm starting to see a masterpiece in A Field In England.  I may even rank it up their with Zodiac & The Proposition as one of my very favorite films of the last fifteen years.  There certainly is nothing out there quite like it.


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