The Expendables: When I first heard this film announced, I was thrilled at the notion of seeing all my favorite 80s action stars (+ a couple of newbies) in one big testosterone orgy. Stallone had just directed the single most violent experience in the Rambo franchise, and he put a proper emotional caper on the Rocky films. However, in the wake of subsequent sequels, The Expendables is more than just a hint of a disappointment. The dialogue is stilted, the violence tame, the fight choreography uninspired, and the thrill of seeing Statham, Arnie, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, & Stallone sharing the screen (or runtime as the case turned out to be) is no longer there. The first Expendables is simply a collection of missed opportunities. Sure, Terry Crews still packs in the charm and Dolph is a wondrous neanderthal, but Eric Roberts is a bore, the damsel is laughable, and it is just not BADASS enough. This is not the excessive tribute I want.
The Avengers: Now here is a film that pays off on its iconography. As a response to this year's Winter Solider & Guardians of the Galaxy, there has been the inevitable chatter of what film ranks supreme in the MCU. I really, really, really love the 2014 Marvel offerings, but I seriously doubt there will ever come a film in the franchise to match my enthusiasm for their first battle royale. I enjoyed the Phase One films just fine, but it's in The Avengers where the characters start to gel. Through their interactions with each other (Tony & Bruce, Tony & Steve, Tony & Fury...hmmm...we see who makes the big bucks here) the film solidifies the emotional weight of the narrative. It's not about Cosmic Cubes and Chitauri warriors, it's about "I'm Always Angry," Cap's battle fatigue endurance, and Loki's big brother complex. Joss Whedon strives to give each player a moment, and manages to reveal to the world the appeal of a star-spangled boy scout and a depressed green rage monster. This is something comic book geeks have known for decades, and it's a hoot to see the rest of the world invited to the party.
The Expendables 2: The second outing is where things really get dumb, but also a whole heckuva lot more entertaining. But in that Laugh At kinda way. Jean Claude Van Damme is The Goat - ooooooooooooooo - a nefarious Bond villain with a cache of nukes and a thirst for pretty boy blood (Watch Out Liam Hemsworth!). Stallone gathers the team together to save the world, and demolish Eastern Europe. Con Air's Simon West brings a little life into the direction, but the endless splatter of CGI blood only highlights the bullshit vibe of the whole Expendables concept. You just can't go home again. There is only one Rambo, one Terminator, one Delta Force. Please stop "I'll Be Back"ing the dialogue, it's just awkward - not cool.
Howard the Duck: Guardians of the Galaxy simply necessitated another rewatch. I know this is one of Matt's Favorite Movies, and even though I cannot possibly join him on that particularly crazy point of view, I do think Howard The Duck is not the abomination some might have you believe. In the same fashion as The Goonies or Wall Street, Howard The Duck expertly captures the weirdness of the 1980s. From its earnest punk rock revolution to its broad jabs at consumerism, the film strives to capture the biting satire of Steve Gerber's original comic even when the jokes fall flat, and the performance stretch beyond the stratosphere. It's a boggling movie. But it's weird. And it's fun. Bestiality is hilarious, right?
The Expendables 3: "I Am The Hague!" I will not bother to complain about the downgrade from R to PG-13. Frankly, the first two films were only rated R thanks to waffling computer gore, so that type of bitching is moot. That being said, it's obvious from the third entry that Stallone has no idea what makes the idea of The Expendables worthwhile. After a nifty little jailbreak for Wesley Snipes, the crew is disbanded and Sly stretches the runtime with Kesley Grammar recruiting a new batch of young things. I did not pay $15 to stare into the pink lips of Kellan Lutz. No, I am here to watch Terry Crews chaingun a swath through a faceless sea of henchmen. I want to see Jason Statham decapitate some chump with an epic round house kick. I don't care about the polished teeth of youth. The icons we came to see are barely present. The Expendables 3 only succeeds when the old bastards get their screentime. Antonio Banderas is adorable in his babbling enthusiasm for killing. Mel Gibson is kinda terrifying when gleefully discussing the application of meat suits. Wesley Snipes is WTF Crazy, and he's great for all five seconds he's given to shine. I am your audience here Stallone. I feed off of nostalgia. Give me something to chew. But this horse has been bludgeoned to death. Also, director Patrick Hughes is set to direct The Raid remake??? God No! Someone stop him! The last thing we need is a cheap looking knockoff splattered with cartoon bloodspray and CGI tanks. Laughable.
Mr. Majestyk: Want a glimpse of real manliness? Look no further. Kino Lorber just released a new blu ray of what I consider to be Charles Bronson's finest hour, and it is a gorgeous burst of raw 70s manliness. Yes, as much as I love the Death Wish films, Mr Majestyk is where it's at. Screenplay by Elmore Leonard (who later wrote the novelization that can still be purchased at your local bookshop), is a simple watermelon farmer desperate to clear his crop when he runs afoul of Al Lettieri's mob enforcer. It's one of those films where principle matters over common sense, and thankfully Bronson's Majestyk has the special forces training to back up his righteousness. Great, simple gun battles punctuated by Bronson's well worn intensity. This is the ultimate (Mid)Western, the type of film John Cougar Mellencamp dreams he could replicate in song. Once upon a time, I would watch this flick on loop, and despite having an Elmore Leonard autographed poster in our bedroom, I recently discovered that The Wife has never had the pleasure. So, it looks like I'll be watching Mr. Majestyk again real soon.
The Congress: High Concept movies are a bitch to pull off. Robin Wright plays herself, an aging actor with a sick kid and a limited time left in front of the camera. After some plot demanded internal struggle, she sells not just her image but her whole being to Danny Huston's Hollywood mogul so that he can use her in whatever cinematic tripe he deems worthy of profit. It's one of those films that enjoys potshots at our current pop culture landscape while trying to mine deeper concepts like The Human Soul. I appreciate the attempt, and the first half (where actual actors populate the screen) is certainly engaging. However, when the real world morphs into Cool World, the scenery gets wackier, the reality less defined, and my interest dims. Neat to look at, but ultimately an obvious declaration.
Batman - Assault on Arkham: DC Animation is loosing it, and it's hard not to attribute their artistic slump as a direct result of Bruce Timm's departure. Justice League War, Superman Unbound, The Flashpoint Paradox, Son of Batman, and Assault on Arkham all seem more interested in acquiring their gritty PG-13 rating and reveling in moronic bloodshed & creepy sexual references then actually telling a good story. Which is a serious bummer, as DC used to own the animated arena. Heck, just last year they completed the extraordinary feat of adapting Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns & it was PHENOMENAL! Assault on Arkham is directed by the same guy (Jay Oliva), but it's only victory is that it crams in as many references to the hit video game as it can while promoting the uber-lame Suicide Squad. Owning the DC Animated films used to be a requirement, but now it's looking like even renting them is dangerous. Such a letdown.
The Fade-Out #1: I'm still processing the conclusion of Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips' Fatale, and already they've launched into a brand new series. It appears like they're taking a break from the supernatural to tell a straight up Noir centered in the golden age of Hollywood. I, of course, am totally A-OK with that. It's a typical set-up: black-out drunk screenwriter wakes up in a hotel room with a dead starlet sprawled on the carpet. Who killed the diva? Plenty of suspects. It may seem premature to praise The Fade-Out, but given their track record, you would be an absolute fool not to want to jump into this hardboiled pool. October will see the release of the final Fatale tradepaperback, and as stoked as I am to reread it, I am even more excited that such quality comics are on their way.
Duck Soup: Half the year is over, and I still have plenty of Cinematic Resolutions to check off the list. For whatever reason, I've never been much of a comedy guy, and I certainly have never been one to consume the supposed comedy classics. Only recently have I discovered Charlie Chaplin & Harold Lloyd, and I was kinda hoping that The Marx Brothers would fall into that similar realm of "Damn That's Classic For A Reason." Unfortunately, I can't say that I was won over. I enjoyed what delightful dicks Groucho & Chico could be, but their jokey joke comedy felt too much like Dad humor for me to fully embrace. Duck Soup got me some chuckles, but I left the theater appreciating its place in cinema history more than as an actual entertainment.
Sorceress: Now here is a film of cinematic legend...or at least it should be. Produced by Roger Corman during that wondrous Conan The Barbarian knock-off phase, and directed by Foxy Brown's Jack Hill (until a post-production dispute kicked him off), Sorceress has pretty much anything a 13 year-old boy or stunted adult could possibly want. We're talking twin Kung Fu Playmates, a horny Satyr, a fatherly viking, a vengeful ape-man, a marauding zombie horde, and an actual appearance by that winged lion on the box art. In short, B-Movie gold. Never before available on DVD, Scorpion Releasing makes a name for itself by finally gifting us this gonzo exploitation onto blu ray. A MUST OWN.
Sin City - A Dame To Kill For: Some things are better left unadapted. Frank Miller's Sin City comics are an ultra-masculinized reworking of Film Noir tropes, a genre that already reveled in hedonism and bravado. The plots were never stunning, it was all about the ridiculous hardboiled dialogue and Miller's mastery over negative space. Replicating that onto the big screen, Robert Rodriguez barely manages to capture the bizarre visuals and it's a rare actor who can pull-off the lingo. Josh Brolin gives the good ol' college try. Mickey Rourke is practically a Dick Tracy face pre-latex, so his Marv is a top-notch brute. And there probably has never been an actor more suited to be a Frank Miller puppet than Eva Green. I admire her game. But ultimately, the Sin City films leave me cold and unimpressed. Jessica Alba is wrong, wrong, wrong as stripper Goddess Nancy, and her "original" story of revenge that concludes the film is dull, awkward, and out-of-sync with the timeline. Joseph Gordon Levitt might have made for a good addition if his story had any weight whatsoever. So, this might sound crazy given the current climate, but not every comic needs to be a movie.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil: Saw this on netflix, randomly watched it late one night. It's a film I saw a lot as a kid, and I don't think you're going to find too many people who agree with me on this one, but it is my favorite Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder pairing. It's an ultra silly crime caper in which a blind guy & a deaf guy are on the from the law as well as a couple of killers. Hijinks ensue. Nothing innovative here, but the film wins me over because of the warmth each actor displays for the other. They're a couple of losers wallowing in their disability, but through each other they learn to enjoy life once again. Misanthrope gimmick comedy. Apparently, I'm a sucker for it.
Beasts of Burden - Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson: Saturday night was our 3rd Meeting of our 3rd Year of Graphic Novel Book Club. I know I say this every month, but I can't believe it's still going, and I can't believe how much I love it so. Beasts of Burden marks one of those rare occasions where we all pretty much loved the book (ok, so William was a little lukewarm on it, but I'll take that as a victory). Imagine the X-Files but cast with Cats & Dogs and you pretty much get the gist. A series of one-and-done comics that slowly builds to an overarching story involving a malevolent force calling out from the small town sewers. Creepy, ghoulish, even heartwarming. The only trouble is that the comics have been going since 2003 and it seems like we've only scratched the surface of this world. We're greedy, and we want more, more, more from the gang.