Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Brad's Week in Dork! (8/24/14-8/30/14)


I spent a lot of time in doors this week.  Wisdom Teeth.  I'm 35 years old, still got em...until some intense pains sent me running to the dentist this week.  I'm a lucky guy, where most folks have four wisdom teeth, I've got six.  More wise?  Or just a mutant?  My special power is pain.  Anyway, the doc took one problem tooth out towards the end of the week, and I have to look forward to getting another one extracted later this year.  Gross.  What that meant for me was that when I wasn't at working I was rolling around on the couch in pain.  After the surgery I was back on the couch, a couple of sick days, rolling around in pain.  How was this beneficial?  Well, I watched a crap ton of movie this week.


But before all this misery went down, I took a little trip down memory lane to this year's Comic Con - specifically, Quentin Tarantino & Matt Wagner's Zorro/Django team-up panel.  This was certainly one of my favorite events from this year's Con, and as bizarrely wondrous as it was to hear Tarantino narrate the adventures of Old Zorro & Django vs The Baron of Arizona, the stuff that really got the fanboy to tingle was QT's teasing of his Invasion of Body Snatcher styled science-fiction parable.  The man has always talked about having a limited amount of film in him, and if he's going to keep to that sad thought, it's possible we'll see this future odyssey sooner rather than later.  Fascinating, to say the least.  While I was at the comic shop last week, I picked up Wagner & Francavilla's Zorro trade paperback as a primer to the Dynamite team-up; I haven't quite finished it yet, but it necessitated another watch of QT's Southern.


Django Unchained:  "I know how he feel."  We've lived with this film for a couple of years now.  I've watched it nearly a dozen times, and as thrilling as it is to witness Django unleash a couple hundred years of racial anger upon his attackers, the film's most rousing concept is the hero's quest relaid around the campfire by King Schultz to Django's burgeoning knight.  It's the arc of a broken man, Yoda'd to badass gunslinger in an effort to rescue True Love from Calvin Candie's rotten dragon - a Heroic Romance in the heart of American Hell.  It's bloody, grotesque, often uncomfortable, and absolutely exhilarating.  Django Unchained remains one of my very favorite films of the last decade...maybe simply one of my Favorite Films.


The Dog:  "Based on a True Story"...it's one of those descriptors that always manages to rankle when I see it plastered at the start of a movie.  Films Based on Truth are bullshit, the moment a writer is hired Truth becomes Fiction.  Besides, True Stories need a little fiction to make them interesting, right?  ...maybe not.  Dog Day Afternoon is one of the great Al Pacino flicks, the bizarre saga of a divorcee who robs a bank to pay for his lover's sex change operation.  Well, it turns out, the fiction simply masked the absurdity of the Real Event.  John Wojtowicz is the real life "Dog."  He did indeed attempt to rob a bank to pay for his lover's sex change...it went horribly, a day long hostage crisis ensued, people died, and John went to jail.  Years later he's out & about, living off the fame of that day for as long as his health will allow him.  It's a damn weird story.  Hear it from not only his mouth, but his mother's, his wife, that infamous lover, and the few others he's had since then.  Very weird.  Truth stranger than fiction?  Guess so.


Dinosaur 13:  In 1990 a group of paleontologists stumbled upon the largest T-Rex fossil find in recorded US History.  They nicknamed the Tyrannosaur "Sue" after the student who initially spotted the protruding bones, and began the long process of preparing the creature for study & eventual display.  Then the FBI stormed the premises and snatched Sue away.  What follows is one of the most absurd legal battles I've encountered, and it exposes an injustice as infuriating as they come.


Southern Comfort:  A group of bumbling weekend warriors venture into the Louisiana swamp as a pathetic attempt to whip shop clerks into soldiers.  Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, & Peter Coyote are the only men in the platoon with a lick of sense, but that won't matter when their idiotic cohorts ignite the rage of the locals with some careless thievery & a barrage of phony gunfire.  Imagine Deliverance but with less likability and a whole lot more firepower - director Walter Hill does not do subtlety.  It's an ugly little movie with (maybe) a little Vietnam commentary, but mostly a desire to outdo Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch slow-mos.  Powers Boothe is a beast.  More of him, please.


Black Panther #1-7 by Jack Kirby:  Thursday would have marked the 97th birthday of comic book maestro, Jack "King" Kirby.  I spent most of that morning blitzing through the Twitter streams of modern artists like Francesco Franvacilla, Phil Hester, and Tom Scioli.  Without Kirby we would have no concept of Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and most of the weirdest whackjobs in both the Marvel & DC Universes - Devil Dinosaur!!  Everyone these days knows Stan Lee, but Mr. Excelsior would be nothing without King Kirby, and The Avengers are as much (if not more so) Kirby's creation as Lee's.  Anyway, rant paused...the Kirby lovefest Thursday morning sent me running to the bookshelves.  I went with Black Panther - the King of the Dead, Prince of Wakanda.  The first seven issues of Kirby's run partners T'Challa up with Mr. Little, a dwarf collector of mystical antiquary, as they battle a nefarious princess as well as "The Six Million Year Old Man!!"  This is not the noble Warrior King that busies himself with the New Avengers these days.  Kirby's Black Panther is a thrill seeking adventurer, game for anything, and ready to match fists with mutant future men or immortal samurai.  Everything is Over-The-Top, big, big, big.  And gorgeous.  If Marvel ever bothers itself with bringing T'Challa to the big screen, I hope they bring Kirby's sense of wonder with them, and I really hope they don't simply bog the character down with the burden of the crown.


To Be Takei:  For Star Trek fans, the last seven years (ever since the Comedy Central Roast) have been plagued by the rivalry between William Shatner & George Takei.  It's a dispute that irritates, and often leaves this Trekkie feeling sad/uncomfortable: "Can't We All Just Get Along?"  But it's a battle that's been carefully crafted by both parties, and it's certainly used as the springboard to launch the first documentary dedicated to the Enterprise helmsman.  Thankfully, the film leaves the dispute early on, after a few snipes from Captain Kirk himself, and Takei deflects with a laugh from across scenes.  The best bits of To Be Takei focuses on the actor's activism, the battle for equality as well as detailing his experiences in a US Internment Camp during WWII.  The actor has built a powerful social media empire around his personality, and it's fascinating to see where he succeeds at the game, and where Shatner sometimes fails.


Jack Reacher:  There is absolutely nothing special about the plot, or how it develops over the course of its 130 minutes.  Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Way of the Gun) takes a routine episode of NCIS and injects it with savage dialogue, spit forth from Tom Cruise's venomous investigator.  The character of Jack Reacher is The Ultimate Badass, and his charm comes from knowing exactly what hot shit he truly is.  The best scene in the movie occurs halfway through when a barroom floozie attempts to provoke a fight from Reacher.  Cruise desperately attempts to diffuse the situation with hateful wordplay, and the vilest of condescending stares - of course, it doesn't work!  Enter a group of college bros to duke it out in the street, just a collection of limbs ready for Cruise to pulverize.  What does this has to do with the rest of the plot?  Who cares!?!  It's awesome, and vicious, and the finest bit of Too Cool acting we've had from Cruise in some time.  It's B.S.  But it's the kind of beautiful B.S. that cats like Schwarzenegger & Stallone owned during the 80s, and it's the vibe I so desperately wanted from The Expendables franchise.  Bullshit Bravado, that's a genre.




Friday morning, I had that tooth ripped forth from my head.  After I gathered my wits about me, and after my father drove me back to my apartment, I fell upon the living room couch in the living room, and waited for The Wife to come home.  I found myself breezing through those Comic Con photos again, the ones I snapped on Hall H Saturday.  Besides the epic sleepover, and the Andy Serkis encounter, the greatest moment of that day was simply being there in the presence of The Avengers.  Watching RDJ play Tony Stark to the crowd, Mark Ruffalo & Chris Hemsworth compare biceps, and hearing James Spader do his Ultron.  I'd be hard pressed to find another movie I'm more excited to see next year.  That brief bit of footage they showed certainly gave the impression that Joss Whedon has struck geeky gold again.  When The Wife finally walked through the door, all I wanted to do was relax & watch movies - you know, the usual.  I spent the next two days glued to the TV.  Naturally, I started the healing process with Marvel's Phase 2.


Iron Man Three:  Knowing what we know now about The Age of Ultron, the climax of Shane Black's Iron Man 3 reveals itself to be an essential puzzle piece to the next Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  (SPOILERS here if you still care)  The Mandarin is revealed to be just another Anti-Tony Asshole, and Stark has to unleash The Iron Legion upon the Extremis Army to save President Ellis as well as constant damsel Pepper Potts.  Looks like this bored tinkering will soon result in the creation of evil A.I. Ultron, and that "I Am Iron Man" ego will spell doom for Earth's Mightiest Heroes (as well as the inevitable innocent lives lost).  This idea certainly positions The Avengers sequel as an Empire Strikes Back doom & gloom entertainment.  That plays with what I saw in San Diego.  I'm down.


Thor - The Dark World:  I enjoy all the Marvel Studios movies.  Some are better than others, certainly, but I can't hate on a single one (yep, I even dig Iron Man 2).  But The Dark World contains a lot of frustrations.  First, it looks like shiny ass.  They fly thousands of people out to Iceland to film galactic scrapes with Dark Elf armies, & they manage to make majestic scenery look like cheap green screen shrubbery.  Second, Christopher Eccleston is a dreadfully bland villain.  Yep, even in a series of weak bad guys, Eccleston limps to the back of the line.  The Megatron computer voice does not help.  Third, what's going on with this Aether?  It's a liquid stone?  An infinity gem?  It makes bad guys badder.  Ok.  Whatever.  However, there are still plenty of bits to enjoy.  When Thor returns to Midgard & the fish outta water stuff continues, the comedy remains charming.  Thor's relationship with Jane is adorable, no denying.  And I really appreciate the geography of mjolnir's battle plight during the climax.  A short film about a boy and his hammer.  Cute.


Captain America - The Winter Soldier:  As much as I enjoyed this Summer's Blockbuster Mayhem, not a one of those tentpole pictures came close to matching my enthusiasm for the Captain America sequel. The Winter Soldier is another little Marvel miracle, and if you twist my arm, I might even admit to preferring it to Joss Whedon's crowd-pleaser.  Much has been made of its 70s-esque Spy Thriller vibe - it is certainly working on a tone slightly askew to what we've seen in the MCU before, however, the bits that truly astonish this fanboy are the character beats.  The image of The Man Out of Time wandering the Smithsonian, or connecting with a dementia plagued Peggy Carter, or Steve Rogers establishing a new friendship with Sam Wilson's soldier.  I love the action, the shield play, Black Widow's gymnastics, and Nick Fury's Downtown vehicular assault.  But Steve Rogers taking a beating from brainwashed Bucky Barnes because he dare not raise a hand against his pal?  It just doesn't get better than that - not if you love these guys the way I've loved them for decades.  If I had one complaint about the film it's that because the first movie didn't do it's proper job of articulating the Steve/Bucky friendship, The Winter Soldier tragedy maybe doesn't hit as brutally hard as it should.  And I think a certain crimson chrome could have reared its head.


Turtle Power:  Shellheads need not apply.  The best thing about this documentary is that it stays focused on Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.  If you have no idea who they are then don't even bother with Turtle Power, stick to the cartoons.  What is it like to dream up a Daredevil parody comic book, and just three years later watch your creation transform into a pop culture phenomenon?  The film follows that trip - from a Black & White basement comic to Cartoon to Toys to Rock n Roll Shows to Cereal to Movies to even Bigger Movies.  The friendship and partnership of Eastman & Laird did not last, and I appreciate how the film addresses that separation.  Most of the world probably won't care about Turtle Power, but if you have even the slightest interest in TMNT then you'll enjoy this doc.


Pee Wee's Big Adventure:  "You don't want to get mixed up with a guy like me.  I'm a loner, a rebel!"  On Saturday afternoon, as I healed and rolled about on the couch, I finally convinced The Wife that it was time she experienced the childlike wonder of Pee Wee Herman...and as I told her, Tim Burton's purest movie watching experience.  She was skeptical.  Pee Wee always creeped her out as a child.  "Too much yelling," she said.  We watched.  Her eventual review, "It was fine." Sigh.  I tried.  For me, Pee Wee's Big Adventure represents everything it's like to be a child Dreaming Big.  Your life is not ordinary, it's Extraordinary!  Don't settle for a regular adventure, you gotta Dream Big Adventure.  Tim Burton's touch is all over this film.  The designs, the odd ducks, the superb melodramatic acting.  As much as it is a road trip through the wonder of a child's mind, it's also a trip through the movies themselves - a love letter to dreaming, to creation.  The lies you tell yourself can be the legends of others.  Does that make sense?  I dig that.


Life of Crime:  I was really excited to see this movie.  It's based on Elmore Leonard's The Switch, not his best work, but notable as the prequel to Rum Punch - aka Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.  In roles once played by Robert De Niro & Samuel L Jackson, John Hawkes & Mos Def are Louis Gara & Ordell Robbie.  They're a couple of lowrent crooks who get the bright idea to kidnap Jennifer Aniston's trophy wife to bargain a million dollars from Tim Robbins' rich asshole.  Filling the runtime you have Will Forte & Isla Fischer as a couple of nitwits, but they're barely present or worth noting.  Hawkes' Gara is not the beaten down loser we saw in Jackie Brown.  He's friendly, a little more cunning.  Mos Def's Robbie is nowhere near the monster Sam Jackson was, and that's a real pity.  He's barely more than a mumbling antagonist.  Jennifer Aniston is solid.  She plays the fear, the anger, the malice well.  But like the book, Life of Crime never quite pulls itself into an original caper.  Derivative, but watchable.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  This is where my Turtle Love originated.  I did not come to the comics until much later, and as much as I enjoyed the cartoons as a kid, it was the 1990 movie that whipped me into a frenzy.  It's a bleak little flick, and looking back you can certainly see that Frank Miller influence, but I've always appreciated that darkness in kiddie fare.  It's important to give real threat, so that when these brothers finally take down the Shredder's Foot they can appreciate the family.  Worked for Hansel & Gretel, works for Leo & Raph.  This is the New York City of Death Wish, and the Turtles are as responsible for its cleanup as Rudy Giuliani.  Cowabunga.


Plunder Road:  "Fellas like that hardly have a chance nowadays, with radio and all that science against 'em."  Certainly not the most popular of Film Noirs, Plunder Road is a swift, perfectly doomed film about a group of thieves who rob a train of its gold shipment, and attempt to traffic it across 900 miles of highway.  Gene Raymond pretty much looks sternly for the whole film, barely emotes, and lets his dialog do its job.  Good fit.  Elisha Cook Jr is one of the crooks.  That guy's swell in everything.  But Plunder Road won't win you over till the climax.  Squish.


--Brad

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