Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Brad's Week In Dork! (3/23/14-3/29/14)
This may have been my Favorite Week of the Year so far. I'm fully entrenched in Ed Brubaker's Captain America run, and I'm seriously enjoying this mash of espionage & spandex. It certainly has it's ups and downs, but I can't think of a better example in mainstream comics that expertly balances nostalgia for the Silver Age with proper forward momentum of character (hmmmmm...maybe a case could be made for Grant Morrison's Batman). It's just a miracle of comics that Brubaker could take a tired concept of Back From The Dead & transform it into gut-wrenching super hero drama. And then just when you're getting used to the idea of Bucky Barnes - Winter Soldier, they go ahead and kill Steve Rogers! Yet another eye rolling Dead's Not Dead cliche written to exception. The arc is not without its irritants, but having now read 2/3rds of Brubaker's Cap, I can safely say that it's my favorite run in all the Marvel Universe.
The Wife has been a busy lady with work & play rehearsals, so I found myself with a lot of time on my hand this week. We only managed to spend one evening together, and knocked out one film in our Marvel Studios Marathon - The Avengers. Ah, but what a movie. Love nearly every second of it. It brings great giddy gobs of joy to this stunted youth, and it fills my heart with fuzzy warmth since The Wife also squees squishy enthusiasm for Earth's Mightiest Heroes. She's a real sucker for Team Whedon. Can't blame her, right?
When I wasn't reading comics or feverishly anticipating next week's The Winter Soldier, I was doing what I do best - watching movies. Made only two trips to the theater this week, and both to The Alamo. On Thursday I caught The Grand Budapest Hotel again since the Draft House was giving away Crossed Keys pins. I'm never one to pass up swag. And on Friday I caught Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest, Sabotage. Yeash. What a pile of steaming...shit. Can't hide it. That movie was terrible. Easily the worst film I've seen in 2014. Time for Arnie to hang up his boots, retire into the realm of character actor. Sad to type, but true. It's certainly time for me to give up on David Ayer. That guy is simply an atrocious filmmaker. And speaking of atrocious filmmakers, I saw Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac (in the safety of my own home thanks to VOD). I just don't get this guy. Shockmeister? Art fiend? Provocateur? Boring, I say.
As much as I want to claim this week for Captain America, probably the biggest event was Wednesday's Godzilla-A-Thon. Thanks to Co-Dork Matt & Kevin from Big Planet Comics, I was able to knock out a good chunk from my Cinematic Resolutions. I've still got a few Godzillas to go before the remake hits on May 16th, but I'm feeling more confident that I'll get there now. Outside of Shat Attacks & Hest Fests, this is the first full day Marathon we've done in years. Dork Thug Life. Anyway, enough with this rambling, on to the rest of the mini reviews...
Wattstax: In 1972, seven years after the Watts Riots, Stax Records held a concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a means of tragic commemoration and cultural celebration. Often cited as the African American answer to Woodstock, I'll always choose to spend my time with Rufus Thomas or The Staple Singers over the hippie smoke of The Grateful Dead. Has there ever been a label as consistent as Stax? Doubtful. But this is not simply a concert film. Director Mel Stuart intercuts the funk with interviews from various Watts citizens, and their words offer a sizzle to the nation's political temperature. What has been will always be, and as one man says "Somethings are better, somethings are worse, somethings never change." You can watch the entirety of the film via YouTube, and whether you're craving the cool of The Bar Kays or the wisdom of Richard Pryor, you owe it to yourself to give Wattstax a spin. At the very least, this film has sent me down a rabbit hole of funk this week. I've been blasting my car stereo with Johnnie Taylor, Booker T, and James Brown. Nothing makes you feel cooler at a stoplight than Stax Records.
The Punisher: "There is a limit to revenge." I'll always remember the day I forced my parents to swing by Video Library after school to snatch me a VHS copy of Dolph Punisher. It was the first Direct-To-Video I was ever aware of, and it was my first lesson in harsh cinematic disappointment. A good bit of training to prepare me for The Phantom Menace. Doesn't matter how much you love a character, he can let you down. Dolph Lundgren's Punisher is not really the man you found in the Marvel Comic. But as I sit here, a 34 year old fanboy, I have to admit that this film gets more right than Thomas Jane's later incarnation. Dolph Punisher feels like a genuine broken mind. He's covered in sweat, dirt, and he lives a drunk hobo's lifestyle down in the sewer. And this is not the clean, eat pizza off the floor kinda sewer often seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No, this is the type of lair where you spit hate at God while you sit naked in your own excrement. That's pretty much how I want my Punisher. A psycho. A killer. A big F.U. to the government. Sure, the Yakuza plot is stupid, dumb, and often dull. But Dolph Punisher is ugly. I'll take it.
Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 & 2: "I don't understand this self hatred." Four hours. Ugh. Stellan Skarsgard discovers a beaten-to-a-pulp Charlotte Gainsbourg on his way home from the groceries, and offers her solace in his barren apartment. There she recounts her life story as a sex addict, a self-loathing but proud Nymphomaniac. The film really just feels like an excuse for director Lars Von Trier to explore his jollies. Sadomasochism. Gang bangs. Pedophilia. Udo Kier. Every kind of sexual degradation. It's all here. There are moments of humor that had me chuckling. There are moments of absurdity that had me chuckling. Mostly though, I was bored. I keep going back to Von Trier because critics drop his films on Top Tens, and I feel the need to be a part of the conversation. But outside of some interesting visual trickery, the guy is just not my kind of filmmaker. Still, I didn't hate this in the same way I did Melancholia. I just won't ever watch it again.
The Punisher: Cribbing a few details from Garth Ennis & Steve Dillons's comic, the 2004 version of Marvel's Death Wisher offers a few rays of light, but stumbles into idiocy thanks to some shoddy direction and abysmal acting. Thomas Jane sure looks the part, but this too-long origin story gives too much sympathy to the character, and attempts to drape a cape over a vigilante rather than portraying a real mental monster. I understand the temptation. Marvel Comics = super heroes right? Not always. There should be nothing heroic about Frank Castle. He's a murderer. He just kills "bad guys." It's a fine line the comics haven't always understood, but it's weird to me that they chose to snatch from Ennis who so obviously understood Castle's demented desires. And John Travolta??? Dear god no. That pipe. That hair. That smile. Chew, chew, chew sir - ya suck. I do love the brawl with The Russian. Too bad director Jonathan Hensleigh intercuts it with apartment baffoonery. Head shake, this Punisher is best left forgotten.
Punisher - War Zone: "Sometimes I'd like to get my hands on God." This third try up to bat embraces the exploitation roots of the character, and delivers a violent Lionsgate Horror Show that erupts into a kill crazy crowd pleaser. Former stuntwoman turned director Lexi Alexander cares little for plot or character development, and simply revels in the violence of Frank Castle's lifestyle. This is probably the best version of the character we're ever going to get on the silver screen. Ray Stevenson is a brute. A man with a hole in his heart, impossible to fill with vengeance, but he'll kill & probably die trying. Dominic West is LAAAARGER THAN LIFE as mob goon turned super villain Jigsaw, but Doug Hutchinson's little brother is even more fun as he chews through scenery and corpses alike. Gore Guts Galore. Heads are chopped, throats are slit, parkour wannabes go BOOM! Certainly not for everybody, but that's always going to be The Punisher's problem.
Mothra: "There's no need to fight on a scientific expedition." A few years after Gojira stomped his way through Tokyo, a scientific expedition crashes on a Lost World and discovers a tribe of giant moth worshipping savages...as well as a couple of teeny tiny sing songy ladies. A riff on King Kong, Mothra is a perfectly weird trip into Kaiju Kraaazy. How do you even conceive of this stuff? A couple of Lilliputians get tired of the showbiz lifestyle and use the power of music to call down a giant moth to typhoon destruction until a smug businessman cries uncle. WTF Goofy. I love it.
Mothra vs Godzilla: When a giant egg washes ashore, and after an evil businessman (those guys again!) lays claim on this obvious moneymaker, those teeny tiny sing songy ladies show up to warn our world of Mothra's rage. Meanwhile, everyone's favorite mutant dinosaur (is that what he is? I'm still not sure, Godzilla is just Godzilla, right?) emerges from underneath the beach to wreak havoc. The good scientists & reporters of Japan work together to convince the sing songy ladies to pit Mothra against Godzilla and save the world another Kaiju headache. Their plan more or less works out. A fun entry in the Godzilla saga, but not nearly as werid as the original Mothra or as fun as some of the other Godzillas we watched Wednesday.
Invasion of Astro-Monster: Until this movie, I had no idea that the Godzilla series even dealt with outer space, or at least alien civilizations. Fuji & Glen, a couple of friendly astronauts travel to Planet X and discover a race of man living in fear of the three headed monster, Ghidorah. A plan is hatched between the two worlds to transport Earth's troubles, aka Godzilla & Rodan, to Planet X where the three monsters will undoubtably fight it out to the death. Ah, but you should never trust a Planet with an X. So far, with the exception of the original, this is probably my favorite of the Godzillas I've experienced. I love the introduction of bonkers 60s sci-fi with all those silver space suits and zappy ray guns.
Godzilla vs Megalon: "If you're so damn clever, why steal our robot?" If Astro-Monster is my favorite, than Megalon is certainly the most ridiculously cheery. I had caught bits and pieces of this before from its MST3K ribbing, but frankly, this film does not need commentary to add to its wonderful comic absurdity. The Undersea Kingdom of Seatopia is fed up with those dwelling above them, and they decide invasion is the only path to happiness. Seatopia unleashes Megalon onto the poor folks of Japan. Thankfully a couple of scientists and their kid sidekick have concocted a badass robot called Jet Jaguar, and this Ultraman knockoff is ready for a showdown. And of course, Godzilla is now living peacefully on Monster Island and is always ready to help out the good people. And then Gigan shows up to the party. There is a whole lot of mondo plot going on in this film, and I could barely keep up with all the whacky and hilarious destruction. Godzilla vs Megalon is simply a joy to watch. Just what you expect and want from a Kaiju film.
Terror of Mechagodzilla: "Even if you're a cyborg, I love you!" Apparently this picks up immediately after Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, but since that film seems impossible to find at the moment, I just had to go with it...not too hard really...while attempting to salvage the wreckage of Mechagodzilla, a Japanese submarine is assaulted by a Kaiju called Titanasaurus. This beasty is apparently controlled by an evil scientist named Shinzo Mafune. The mad doc is determined to destroy man with the help of not just his robot daughter, but the alien simians responsible for the construction of Mechagodzilla. Thankfully man has the OG on his side, Godzilla comes to the rescue handing both baddies their rubber asses. Fun, but maybe not as much as Megalon or as weird as Astro-Monster.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: I keep looking at my Top Ten List from last year. If The Grand Budapest Hotel had come out a few months earlier, would it have taken down Only God Forgives as my favorite? Hmmmm...hard to say. I could just be riding high off this very fresh feeling of Movie Joy. Ralph Fiennes is certainly the star of the show, and 90% of my Budapest love is due to his obscene gentlemen, but the emotional beats are won from F Murray Abraham's brief screentime. His eyes. They pierce, but in a very soft way. Willem Dafoe's werewolf monster killer - jesus - Wes Anderson proves he can be scary as much as whimsical. The Grand Budapest Hotel is all over the map, but in a very, very, very good way. I see myself hitting the theater at least one more time for another rewatch.
Sabotage: To quote Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated this movie. Was The Last Stand more uninspired? Sure. Was Escape Plan more dull? Absolutely. But Arnold Schwarznegger's Sabotage is just straight up terrible storytelling. Is Mr Universe to blame? No. I actually appreciate the attempt at something different here. This is the kind of dark role Arnie should be doing. But writer/director David Ayer must be stopped. His constant abuse of law enforcement is more than just tiring, it's gross and hateful. His obvious reliance on improvised tough guy acting is laughable. Hey Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos - SHUT UP! You guys are not badasses. You're lame wannabes, and your performances are as about as strong as hide & seek during recess. The film does not get interesting until the last five minutes, when Arnold ventures down into Mexico for some cowboy revenge. Ditch the tough act, start the film there, and maybe, just maybe you'd have a fun movie. Probably not though, as Ayer attempts to squeeze blood from an orange - fails every time.
Red Sonja: Wow. This movie is bad. As a kid I watched it a lot. When I was tired of Conan The Barbarian, and I couldn't suffer Conan The Destroyer, I watched Red Sonja. I can't do it anymore. This film is just too, too bad. Not even in that fun, enjoyably crappy kinda way. After the shite of Sabotage, I was craving an Arnie from a better era, and since Red Sonja is technically the second big screen Marvel Comics adaptation (she first appeared in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #23) it seemed like the appropriate pick. I was wrong. It did nothing for me. A head shake here, an eye roll there. Brigitte Nielsen may have the sexiest she-mullet around, but her acting chops are about as strong as wood - AND! that's saying something since she's standing next to Arnold's lackluster Conan thievery. Nostalgia lost this round.
Captain America Lives! by Ed Brubaker & Various: After Steve Rogers is assassinated on the courthouse steps (thanks to the event's of Mark Millar's Civil War), James Barnes, Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, Tony Stark, and Sam Wilson race to catch the man responsible...of course, it all leads back to The Red Skull. Brubaker weaves a complicated perfectly comic booky plot involving time travel, mind control, and cold war secrecy. In the absence of Steve Rogers, Fury & Stark manipulate Barnes to take up the shield and I'm still thinking that Bucky Cap might simply be my favorite star-spangled asskicker. His adventures with the Shield not only pit him against Rogers's greatest enemies, but also the dark mirror of the crazed 1950s Captain America Clone. All very silly stuff on four color paper, but Brubaker makes it all work. There's as much character development as plot, and when the inevitable road to Reborn starts, you're actually dreading the retcon. When I first read the Reborn event in singles, I pretty much hated it, but on this readthrough, I found myself incredibly engaged with the literal Man Out Of (or Stuck In) Time story. Bryan Hitch's art is obviously glorious with its widescreen action, and sock-knocking splash pages. Dr Faustus, Arnim Zola, Crossbones, and Sin - Daughter of Red Skull. These are some pretty silly shenanigans, but Captain America is never more badass when he's in the hands of Ed Brubaker. Absolutely Essential Comic Book Reading.
The Avengers: To quote myself, I love, love, love this movie. From the "I'm Always Angry" to Cap's reflection of Iron Man's repulsors, to "There's Only One God And He Doesn't Dress Like That," and Thanos's courting of death. Joss Whedon and Team Marvel get everything right about their Justice League. And I'm sure all you out there are tired of us fanboys praising the miracle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I'm sorry to all you non-believers, but we're just over-the-moon in love with The Avengers. We've suffered decades of Made for TVs, Direct-to-Videos, and bonehead adaptations. Now is our time. We're gonna be jerks about it. Phase One is complete. Seems like the world is Marvel's Oyster, but have they fully utilized it with Iron Man 3 & Thor 2? I'll be rewatching those very soon, and I dig em, I really do, but Guardians of the Galaxy seems like it's going to be the real test for fanboy love. Will everyone show up for the talking raccoon? Are they ready for Ant-Man? Time will tell. I'm loving what they've accomplished so far, and I have faith.