Monday, December 31, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (12/23-12/29)

    Gah.  I’m not really a fan of the holidays.  It seems to be an excuse for people to be awful, for stress, and for loosing sleep.  This week kind of sucked.  Still, solace in art, right?  Couple of good movies, a good book, makes it worth the time I guess.

Inglourious Basterds:  “Well, if this is it old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s”  What’s history?  Typical of the director, this movie is steeped in 70s exploitation and general movie fandom.  A group of Jewish American soldiers, a British spy, a young French cinema owner, and a Nazi with a head for hunting are on a collision course.  If you’re looking for a heart wrenching story of love and self discovery, set against the backdrop of world history…well, see The English Patient or something.  If you want Nazis getting scalped, Hitler loosing his shit, The Bear Jew playing a creative game of baseball, and the worst Italian accent you’ve ever heard (gore-lamby), this is your lucky day.

Provocation:  Awful people paw each other and are generally awful to each other, and a creepy kid watches.  This movie feels like the director had a couple women who were willing to take their clothes off on camera, so he tried to cobble together a script that would give them reason.  There’s little rhyme or reason for events, and the plotline is more of a vague squiggle.  They’ve got this beautiful villa to film at, and they shoot it like a soap opera, not only taking no advantage of the scenery, but actually obscuring it with bad angles and editing.  And as frequently happens in Euro films (French and Italian mostly), the ladies are very pretty and the guys look like ogres, making their awkward pawing even more disgusting.

I don't know how mirrors work.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:  Peter Jackson and crew neither reinvent the wheel, nor break it, in this perfectly entertaining first part of what promises to be a sprawling adaptation of The Hobbit.  It takes its time, sure.  But, even in the long sections that, like the book, feature little in the way of action or excitement, they’ve peppered the script with flashbacks to more exciting times.  The cast all does a fine job, with several returning characters making welcome appearances.  I imagine that when it’s done, the resulting six film series will be quite the epic masterpiece.  I’m hoping there will be a bit more of the expanded story, dashes of the Bible-like Silmarillion and the like (though, I gather Jackson and crew do not have the rights to that…sad).  I’d love to see some kind of visualization of the Ages of Trees, or Ages of Lamps.  Whatever the case, if you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you should enjoy this return to the setting, 60 years earlier.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: “Now, do you need me to elaborate?  Or can we just crack on.”  Holmes drags his about to be married best (and only) friend Watson into a dangerous conflict with the super villainous genius Moriarty.  The caper will take them across Europe in an attempt to thwart a world spanning war.  I love the actors’ portrayals of the characters and the bond of friendship they share.  Not only that, but the portrayal of Watson’s wife defies modern film convention at every turn, as she not only doesn’t spend all her time nagging, she actually supports him (even when he sometimes screws things up).  Though the story isn’t quite as interesting as the one in the first film, it’s still quite entertaining.  It reminds me of old time adventure movies, where the heroes are actually having fun, not simply being put upon by overpowering circumstances.  These guys do what they do, at least in part, because they love it.

Django Unchained:  Tarantino is back, once again crafting a cinematic love letter to film.  He’s done crime (a couple times), Blaxploitation, Kung Fu, 70s car chase, and to a degree, Western (Kill Bill Vol. 2 is like half Shaw Brothers, half 70s Western).  Well, now he’s gone full Western, digging up classic 60s and 70s actors to play grizzled and terrible people, populating a Texas filled with baddies.  Christophe Waltz is back, but this time as a good German, working for the Law, taking out the bad guys with a smile and a sunny outlook.  He doesn’t think much of slavery, and when he seeks help from a slave, he finds a friend, a friend with a story right out of myth.  Though occasional blood geyser filled gun battles pepper the film, and the N-bomb gets dropped more than an NWA concert, I was surprised how non-exploitation the film felt.  Though it’s certainly heavily inspired by Spaghetti Westerns, there was a lot more of the classic, pre-cynicism American Western than I anticipated.  Not that this movie shies away from things.  In fact, probably the one thing that will get the movie in the most trouble is its treatment of slavery; about which it is anything but shy.  But guess what, folks, slavery was very real, and it was real f&%$ed up.  And it wasn’t all Denzel Washington in Glory, either.  There were many faces.  Not that the movie is a history lesson, but sometimes exaggeration (or what seems like it…but terrifyingly isn’t extreme enough) is illustrative.  What has been filmed here is a somewhat episodic epic of the mythological American West.  It’s not simply the revenge movie the trailer made it seem.

Fuzz:  The 70s were weird.  Be it Tom Skerritt or the fact that Burt Reynolds was cool, it was a strange time.  Like some other movies of the time (Mash, Mother Jugs and Speed,…Black Samson, etc.) it’s all over the place with tone.  Attempts to be funny are just awkward when put along side moments of horror.  It’s one of those ‘slice of life’ type movies, where we enter a police precinct, then follow various cops dealing with various cases.  Kids setting homeless men on fire, an assassin, a new paint job in the office, Raquel Welch, and other trouble.  Something about the style of this movie makes it feel excruciatingly long, even though it’s only an hour and a half.  I keep wanting to be a Raquel Welch fan (yes, in part because she’s so danged hot), but she’s in so many awful films.  I think I’ve only found like three or four really good ones so far.  This isn’t among them.

The Warrior and the Sorceress:  “I travel alone.”  A Fistful of Tereks?  In a horrible world of sand and thirst, the greatest warrior is a scrawny, middle aged guy in a cape.  A Marine and his rockstar first officer are pitted against a fat guy and his stuffed dragon, with a topless princess and a well in the balance.  Into this stupid setting ambles the lifeless David Carradine to play over-actor against over-actor in an attempt to win the day.  One of the worst film versions of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars being the two best and rightly most well known), I still kind of love it.  And not just because Maria Socas refuses to wear a top (admittedly, that is a big reason…well, two).  Watching Carradine fight reminds me of Steven Segal; the way he’s so clearly not good at it and the staging is so forced.  If you’re in the mood for some Deathstalker or Barbarian Queen type fantasy garbage, this is a good choice.  Seriously, though.  Stuff like this makes me wish I made movies.  I’d like to think my scripts would be better, but this is totally the kind of low budget stuff I’d like to make.

Barbarian Queen:  “I’ll be no man’s slave, and no man’s whore.”  Some women loose their menfolk and their village, but not their hairspray, in this not quite as good as Deathstalker bit of low budget fantasy cheese.  Some truly awful dubbing lends the film that certain something special.  And why does every one of these movies have an orgy room?  For that matter, why does every orgy room have the worst flute music you’ve ever heard?  What about flute music says, ‘orgy?’  The villain, who may or may not be John Gotti in hiding, is kind of silly.  It feels like they were trying to go for a Rip Torn from Beastmaster kind of thing.  But it doesn’t work.  There’s a lot of nudity, a little blood, a lot of bad acting, and not much story.

Martial Club:  “Our lion dance is really good.”  Another Shaw Brothers kung fu classic, this one features the great Gordon Liu and some wild Lion dancing.  Lion dancing, like break dancing, BMX riding, or to a lesser degree, ice skating, is the height of cool and physical prowess, with strict rules, its own lingo, heaping piles of glory, deep rivalries, and an essential hero’s journey into ultimate wisdom.  Rival lion dancing clubs  (one honorable, one dishonorable) want to win some kind of contest.  This movie sure taught me that I don’t want to work at an herbal medicine shop.  At least, not one staffed by an abusive kung fu expert lady (cute or not).  This is one of the rare semi-comic kung fu movies I’ve seen that is actually fairly entertaining, largely because of the two leads’ almost silent movie level of expressive acting and physicality.  Plus, the movie features some epic sideburns.  And the final ally fight is awesome.  Tiger Style!!!

Lust, Caution:  “The diamond itself is of no interest to me.  I just want to see it on your finger.”  After the New Age pap of Life of Pi (not to mention the super-dullsville Brokeback Mountain), I kind of needed a reminder of why I liked Ang Lee, so I decided to finally check out the movie I missed a couple years ago, Lust, Caution.  I generally avoid NC-17 movies, because the rating typically indicates excruciatingly boring films, but I like Tony Leung, and once upon a time, Ang Lee.  I  find it interesting how certain events, certain times leave their mark on a culture’s personality.  Japan is still haunted by the Bomb.  To a lesser degree, we still feel the sting of Pearl Harbor.  England remembers the Blitz.  And China is haunted by the specter of the Japanese occupation.  The movie is a slow burn.  A handful of idealistic student actors decide that inspiring art is not enough, so they hatch a plan to kill some traitors who are working with the Japanese.  They seem like very likable folk, if it wasn’t for the whole murder plot thing.  Things get complicated when the beautiful young woman among their ranks seduces a collaborator.  As one expects from Lee, the movie is beautiful and the performances strong.  It’s one of those very intimate dramas set against massive movements in world history.  The characters are interesting, and one can’t help but wish them well, but dread hangs over it all.  Dang, though.  I would love to have a woman sing for me the way Tang Wei does for Tony Leung.  I suppose the depiction of sex is a touch stronger than typical, but I don’t see any reason for this movie to have a stronger rating than R.

Black Book:  The Dutch resistance gets its due in this surprisingly good Paul Verhoeven movie.  Who would have thought the guy behind Showgirls and Starship Troopers could make this beautifully crafted and interesting tale of a young woman who must infiltrate those danged Nazis to save herself and her country.  The cast does a fine job and the story is pretty good.  It is loosely based on various real people and events, though mixed and matched and altered for the sake of drama.

Atom Age Vampire:  “No let’s both stay home… together… with our records.”  Life is tough for a sexy dancer when her military boyfriend gets fed up with her career choice.  Time to drive like an idiot and get in a weird car accident!  I guess facial scars drive women mad.  I don’t know, they don’t look that bad to me.  But evil science must run its course.  I guess, by movie standards, trying to do almost anything constitutes playing god.  But a Will Farrell as George Bush looking scientist is all about sloppy science and unsafe human experimentation.  A kind of surprisingly good special effect for the time, location, and budget restores her to her former beauty.  Of course, that can’t last.  Eventually, a leprous Tony Curtis look-alike goes on a murder rampage.  You know, that old story.

    I started the week with the first disk of Boardwalk Empire.  I love the music they find for this show.  Everyone is trying to get back into the swing of things after the life shake-ups of the first season.  It’s not going well.  The KKK is up to mischief, Chicago wants to cut out Atlantic City, and all the womenfolk are less than thrilled with their men.  I like that the Commodore is becoming more of a power player in this season, and that Chalky seems to have more to do than get angry all the time.

    I also started season 4 of The Clone Wars.  Even when it’s not at its best, it’s still the best Star Wars out there.  It captures that certain something that made me love Star Wars as a kid, and generally avoids the shoddy writing and poor pacing of the more recent films.  And, as they expand the universe, we’re treated to some pretty cool, grand visuals.  This is the kind of thing I want to start seeing in science fiction films again.  I wonder if, when this show reaches the idiotic turn of events that is Revenge of the Sith, they might continue the story with the rise of the Rebellion.  That might be a more satisfying show, because at least it wouldn’t be saddled with such a lame eventuality.

    Oh, man.  I finished reading Y: The Last Man.  Such a good series, such a painful finale.  I think this could make for a really excellent trilogy of films (maybe one really long one?).  In the right hands, with the right cast.  But great stuff, whatever the case.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Brad's Week in Dork! (12/23/12-12/29/12)

Here it is.  The last "real" week of 2012.  Amidst all the Ho-Ho-Ho and Jingle Bells was the last ditch effort to capture New Movies into my brain; it was a mad dash to consume in an attempt to make my upcoming Dorkies as complete as they possibly can be.  Thanks to On Demand & Netflix Instant, I was able to see a lot of those flicks I missed earlier in the year...none really knocked my socks off though. Frankly, nothing could excite me once I saw Django Unchained.  QT's latest floored me.  And I cannot tell you how happy I am to end the year with one of its very best films.  A much more thrilling experience than last year's so-so War Horse.

I am so happy to have the Holidays behind me - the retail madness has pretty much come to a close.  And The Wife & I had a wonderful Christmas with both our families.  As usual, she won the gift giving battle by supplying me with James Bond's favorite Scotch, a Black & White Darwyn Cooke Batman, and some crazy looking Terminator knock-off legos.  I am so lucky to have found a woman who not only understands my boyhood fantasies, but is my greatest enabler.

Killer Joe:  "Do You Want Me To Wear Your Face?"  Yikes.  Matthew McConaughey channels his Texas Chainsaw Massacre persona and delivers one of this year's most delightfully unsettling performances.  That being said, I didn't really like this movie.  Sure, it's got the greatest use of Fried Chicken you'll ever encounter in cinema and all the other actors do a fine job at portraying their despicable characters, but the narrative never excites since you can pretty much guess where this kidnapping plot unravels...that is until the drumstick emerges.  I want more manic McConaughey in my life.  If Tom Cruise delivers wonderfully unnatural intensity, McConaughey is the master of handsome insanity.  He radiates madness like no other - the aforementioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4, Reign of Fire, Surfer Dude, Frailty.  He's perfectly fine as the good boy scout, but when he's chewing around a psycho killer?  That's entertainment.  I just wish the rest of the film was more interesting than its fishbowl leering on poor white trash.  And Gina Gershon, just keep your pants on.

Die Hard:  If you were to push my face into the ground, twist my arm around my back, and force me to name my All-Time Favorite Straight-Up Action Film I would have to cry Die Hard.  Like the best action films of the 80s, it's wonderfully simple.  A New York Cop trapped in a building with a dozen money hungry terrorists.  There's enough emotion at stake thanks to the cop's troubled marriage, and the death of a few key innocents but for the most part it's just an excuse for Bruce Willis to machine gun his way through various squibby set pieces.  And those squibs?  Have there ever been better bags of popping fake blood?  Don't think so.  Alan Rickman's diabolical Hans Gruber is as dashing as he is scary, and his final drop from the heavens is so completely satisfying.  To top it all off, it's a Christmas Movie!  There is no better film to watch when you decorate your tree on Christmas Eve - that's exactly what The Wife & I did.

Inglourious Basterds:  "We Will Be Cruel To The German!"  One of the most satisfying climaxes in movies.  Watch a film like Schindler's List or Sophie's Choice, get your brain really dark and depressed and then immediately follow it up with The Basterds.  You will hoot and holler with bloody enthusiasm as Brad Pitt and the rest of his Apache Warriors exact their gleeful vengeance on various Nazi scum.  But this is not just a World War Kill Bill.  It's still littered with dazzling film references and that now typical mashup score, but there's no distraction in its execution.  It's another feast of Tarantino dialog; the language here is dangerous and often scariest aspect of the film.  The opening scene between Christophe Waltz's Jew Hunter and the poor French farmer is some of the most suspenseful cinema this side of Hitchcock.  In fact every scene with Waltz is horrifying, no matter how wide his smile or extreme his gesticulating.  But as hard as he tries to steal this film, Inglourious Basterds is really Melanie Laurent's movie.  And as fun as it is to see Brad Pitt's dirty dozen scalp their prey, the real satisfaction comes from Shosana's fiery retribution.  I genuinely find Basterds to be a cathartic movie watching experience; having been force fed the horrors of history all my life, it feels incredibly good to give myself to Quentin Tarantino's rulebook.

Django Unchained:  Want to get nuts?  Lets get nuts.  Django Unchained may very well be my favorite Quentin Tarantino film.  That seems extreme, I know.  I'm not totally sure I believe it just yet.  I know I have a predisposition towards Westerns (or Southerns as the case may be here), but I don't think this is another case of being blinded by Appaloosa.  This is genuine love.  Fanboyish, sure.  My reaction to Jamie Foxx's final moments in this film were rather similar to The Hulk's declaration of "I'm Always Angry" - pure, unadulterated joy.  Django Unchained feels like an emotional sequel to Inglourious Bastereds.  But where as the cathartic vengeance release in Basterds relies mostly on your predetermined hatred for Nazis, Django Unchained explicitly depicts the horrors of slavery.  There are moments in this film that are tough to watch - some of them release awkward reactionary laughter, some honest Blazing Saddles comedy.  But that's what QT specializes in, he runs the gamut of emotions and couches them in genre.  This is exploitation at its very best.  Jaime Foxx's Django lives in the nightmare landscape of Sergio Corbucci, but the script offers him a fairy tale hero's quest and in rescuing his bride from the clutches of Leonardo Dicaprio's plantation monster Foxx succeeds where Kunta Kinte failed.  There is no high road here.  We want the low road.  We want Django to whip these hateful beasts to death.  We want the horrors of slavery to be vanquished through blood.  It's a fantasy.  And in my fantasies I want violent triumph.  If you've cheered with Jim Brown's Slaughter than you know exactly what I mean.  If you haven't, if you want the history lesson...stick with Roots.  But Inglourious Basterds & Django Unchained are a blast of operatic rage against racism and they both offer a pleasure not often experienced in contemporary cinema.  It's a base need, maybe you don't need it or want it, but I most certainly do.  And the fact that you can also play QT's Where's Waldo game of Spaghetti Western references and Hong Kong snap zooms, that's just icing on the cake.

John Dies At The End:  "That dog just saved the universe."  I really, really, really wanted to enjoy this movie.  Don Coscarelli's Phantasm films are staples of Halloween, and his adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep is much better than I ever thought possible.  The trailers for John Dies At The End promise all sorts of weirdo monsters and violent hijinks, but as I found myself drifting away from the movie I couldn't help but think of this science fiction as a wannabe teenage version of Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.  It seems to be trying really hard, but from nearly the very first shot we're never given a moments rest from the main character's insanity...or whatever.  It's a whole lot of kooky, but kooky a movie does not make.

Universal Soldier - Day of Reckoning:  "That's the spirit soldier!"  I probably enjoyed this much more than I should have, but I couldn't help but fall victim to its bloody beatdown charms.  I would love to tell you that this is Jean Claude & Dolph Lundgren's movie, but like the previous Universal Soldier flicks this franchise now belongs to Scott Adkins.  But ya know what?  He's seriously badass in this film.  He has a showcase fight sequence set in a sporting shop that rivals Gina Carano's Fassbender whoopin found earlier this year in Haywire - the man knows how to crack a skull with a baseball bat.  And when it's time to go Versus against JCVD & Lundgren, the man holds his own against these aging monsters of action.  Their final showdown easily excites more than any phony baloney CG shoot 'em up found in either of the Expendable films.  Machetes and blood.  That's what this action audience wants.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  It's this year's indie darling, and it totally won me over.  Set in this surreal, post-apocalyptic(Katrina?) island called The Bathtub, a young girl and her father fight to survive the challenges of their environment.  As the wild child Hushpuppy, Quevenzhane Wallis is a natural force of childlike wonder; she offers the type of performance impossible to find beyond the age of reason.  But as much as I was captivated by her astonishing abilities, I was equally enraptured by Dwight Henry's Wink.  He's the proud papa - not so much of his child (although that's there too...eventually), but of the world he inhabits and the four alarm fire he once bedded.  There is a fiery heart to be found in his contempt for the world outside The Bathtub; he doesn't understand that world and he doesn't want it to understand him.  This is not so much a coming-of-age story as a passing-the-torch story.  Wink lays out the spread, the buffet of the universe for young Hushpuppy to feast upon.  It's up to her to crack into the crab and Beast It!

FDR - American Badass:  Oh boy, oh boy.  This movie is just wrong.  But wonderfully so.  Unlike the tepid comedy failure of Iron Sky (see last WEEK IN DORK), FDR succeeds in never shaking from its horrendous buffoonery and outright assault on historical - no, scratch that - human decency.  As you watch Barry Bostwick scream his Presidential victory howls while dousing a gallon of milk upon his chest you'll be awestruck by the producer's ability to snag these actors for this beautiful cinematic atrocity.  Ray Wise, Bruce McGill, Kevin Sorbo, Lin Shaye, William Mapother?  I know you guys will work for a sandwich, but how'd you get here?  But ya know what?  They all go for it!  They've bought in to this ridiculous charade, and they scream their lines with pure trash movie conviction!  JELLYBEANS!!!!!!!!!!

Cosmopolis:  David Cronenberg meet Robert Pattinson...wait, what?  That was my initial reaction upon hearing the news of this oddball partnership.  The Twilight Kid riding around in a Cronenberg limousine driven by novelist Don Delillo?  After a few minutes thought that sounded like a wonderfully mad idea worth backing - and those early trailers made Cosmopolis out to be his new Naked Lunch.  But, unfortunately, the film is much more pedestrian than desired.  Another asshole protagonist raping the world around him.  Sigh.  But I think I just have to let go of the old David Cronenberg.  If I'm looking for new incarnations of The Brood than I should just watch Beyond The Black Rainbow again, cuz the Canadian Cinefiend is firmly established in the run-of-the-mill human monsters these days.  Cosmopolis is a nasty little hit at Capitalism, a touch obvious, but the bumps in the road are watchable.  But I can't get freakout crazy for this flick.

Deadfall:  A somewhat solid wannabe Elmore Leonard crime tale.  Siblings Eric Bana & Olivia Wilde are on the run from the law in the winter wasteland of the Canadian border.  There's a bundle of stolen cash, a dead police officer, and a potentially incestuous relationship.  In stumbles Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, a convict boxer looking to fall in love through a pair of Olivia Wilde's panties.  There might have been an interesting relationship between the three leads if not distracted by wasted B plots involving Kate Mara's policedaddy issues and Kris Kristofferson disapproving Thanksgiving dinner.  More treachery & violence and less furrowed brow melodrama.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Brad's Week In Dork! (12/16/12-12/22/12)

Like my co-dork, this time of year my life is pretty much consumed by work.  That being said, I still managed to watch a crap ton of movies and read nearly an equal amount of comic books.  And boy, I really needed the downtime that these delicious confections had to offer.  And if there was one through line of the week, it would have to be The Great One - Tom Cruise.  As I get older and Tom Cruise seems to receive more and more hate from the masses, I find myself gravitating more and more to his special brand of insanity and undeniable charm.  You look at a film like Knight & Day and you gotta imagine that he's in on the joke.  But then you watch a film like Collateral and you realize he can deliver a cold, brutal performance.  And then you've got Jack Reacher...well, you'll just have to wait till you reach the end of the week for my feelings on Lee Child's creation.

Trek Nation:  This one took me by surprise.  Randomly saw it on Netflix Instant and pulled the trigger late Sunday night.  Eugene Rodenbery Jr examines the impact that his father's creation has had on pop culture via various interviews with Trekkies, including Hollywood luminaries like George Lucas, JJ Abrams, and Rob Zombie (yeah that's right, he's a luminary).  Thanks to an inquisitive and sometimes confused familial connection, this doc succeeds where others like Trekkies & William Shatner's Get A Life don't - sure, it's still a touch too exaggerated on Star Trek's "Importance" but there is genuine heart in young Rodenberry's quest and he does not shy from the darker aspects to Gene the Man.  And talking heads will only give you so much; Trek Nation is just another commercial for one of my favorite franchises but it brought more warmth to the tale than I was certainly expecting.

Miami Connection:  So.  Yeah.  They're right about this one.  Written, Directed, and Starring Master Y.K. Kim, Miami Connection is one of those fabled So-Bad-It's-Great lost 80s classics.  I'm not sure how I never saw it growing up.  Never grabbed the VHS box or saw it Up All Night on the USA Network (apparently it was rejected from every distribution house in the country and only played in & around Orlando, Florida).  Bummer, cuz I think my child mind would have been blown by this goofball ninjafest.  When a clan of biker ninjas roll into town it's up to the Tae Kwon Do mastery of the multicultural synth band, Dragon Sound to karate chop their ass.  The band concocted exclusively with orphans struggles with love, music, college life, and evil bastards named Jeff.  This might not be the best Bad Movie I've ever seen, but it's definitely up there.

Bernie:  A charmingly sad film.  Jack Black is a little too unreal with his least in the portrayal of the real life murderer - or least it feels that way, I have no real idea of who this Bernie Tiede is in real life and maybe he is just a lark of a killer but, I just sense a 1 dimensional character interpretation.  That being said, it's a fun enough journey to prison.  Shirley MacLaine is a heisnous witch and when Bernie pulls the trigger you're more than happy to see her drop face first in the cement. Matthew McConaughey is a goof of a Texan and he's sorely underused in the narrative...and that's not just my rampant McConaughey love least I don't think.

Collateral:  Watched this in prep for both Jack Reacher and Django Unchained, and I definitely believe this to be not only Tom Cruise and Jaime Foxx's best film to date, but also Michael Mann's greatest achievement in crime cinema (obviously, his greatest achievement is The Keep).  The Los Angeles high def photography is stunning, that dirty concrete city has never looked this beautiful.  Tom Cruise is a sociopathic murder machine, and his typically steely stare has never worked better on the big (or small screen).  But it's Jamie Foxx's daydreaming cabbie that steals the show.  Released the same year as Ray, I believe his simmering rage performance here is ten times better than anything found in that mimicry biopic.  Granted, I would probably prefer for the film to play out a little differently in the last ten minutes or so but as is, Collateral is one of my favorite films of the last fifteen years.  And it is the flick that started to turn me back into a fan of The Great One.

All New X-Men 4:  This is the issue I was waiting for.  Cyclops on Cyclops violence.  It's a little talkier than I would like (but it's Bendis, so that's to be expected) and the Scott Summers of yesteryear doesn't kill this new asshole dictator version of himself, but there's still hope that the new Scott gets taken out by the old.  But 4 issues into this bizarro idea and we're starteing to see where this book is heading - I see a lot of anger and violence ahead.

Avengers #2:  I really do love Jerome Opena's art, but I'm not feeling Jonathan Hickman's story yet.  The Great Big Avengers team continues to Assemble to fight the threat on Mars, and we get a little more detail on what the big bad Ex Nihlo's plan entails.  But this still sorta feels like a retread on what Bendis did a few years ago for his New Avengers Breakout arc...only with less character detail.  I don't care about Manifold or Hyperion.  Why should I be excited that there joining the team?

Avengers Arena #2:  No Darkhawk this issue.  Sigh.  I'm only reading this book for its Darkhawk content.  Give me that punchy 90s hero or I'm gonna walk cuz this Battle Royale wannabe is not at all appealing.  Granted, it's not the complete crap that I thought it was going to be but I also don't see why my comic book guys are going gaga over this book.

Captain America #2:  This just might be my least favorite relaunch from Marvel Now.  One of my all time favorite characters ripped from his comfort zone, and thrusted in the ultra lame Dune wannabe Dimension Z.  I've enjoyed Rick Remender's writing and John Romita Jr's art in the past, but this is just abysmal storytelling.  With every turn of the page I become more and more disconcerted.  I really hope this Zolaland nonsense lasts for six issues because I don't think I could take a whole year of this, and the moment they start flashing back to that year gap between issues 1 and 2 - I'm out.

Hawkeye #6:  And as much as I don't like Captain America right now, I LOVE HAWKEYE!  Seriously, I know this is my same old song but I cannot believe how damn good this book is - it might very well be the best book Marvel's publishing right now.  Crazy bold words, but it's fact.  Issue 6 sees the return of the Bro army as Clint tries to understand the joys of Christmas AV Electronic set up.  The story bounces in and around his Holiday week, and we see just how hard it is to be an Avenger and not have your favorite TV show (Dog Cops!) ruined by those asshole heroes you work with (Spoilers Spider-Man!!!!  Geez).

Indestructible Hulk #2:  Not a bad second issue, but its nowhere near as fun as Mark Waid's other books this year.  I do appreciate how the Marvel Now relaunch seems to be following the relationship between Tony Stark & Bruce Banner found within in Joss Whedon's movie universe.  And I can't tell you how relieved I am that Banner is starting to have control of The Hulk again.  The whole Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing has been more than a little tired for the last 30 years.

Thor - God of Thunder #3:  Another great issue.  Focusing mostly on present day Thor, I dig the regret he has for his brash failure back in the cave of issue 2.  And is it me or are The God Butcher's hounds ten times scarier than The God Butcher himself?  Thor attempts to gain some knowledge from the libraries of Omnipotence City, but the guy is not much of a reader - he's going to get his education done on the battlefield.  This might not be my favorite book of Marvel Now, but it's a close second.

Thunderbolts #2:  Did not enjoy this as much as the first issue, but I enjoyed it enough to keep going.  I'm just one of those guys that really likes seeing Steve Dillon draw these B List heroes.  This book mostly focuses on a Thunderbolts assault on the horrible dictatorship island all Marvelites know as Madripoor.  Imagine that crappy little island from Commando and add a Red Hulk and you pretty much get the idea.  I do wish this was a Max title cuz I want to see The Punisher off the chain, tearing through guerilla scum.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18:  Finally, the United We Stand arc is over.  Not the finest moment from Bendis Spider-Man run.  Not saying it's garbage, but I never really got excited by any of this Hydra terrorist nonsense.  Especially how it plays with Miles Morales...although I did enjoy his encounter with that Giant Woman's breasts.  Giggle.  But the best stuff from this issue surrounds Spider-Woman's almost revelation to Miles - I'm really looking forward to Jessica Drew unleashing her origin on the new Spider-Man cuz it's gonna blow his mind.  Now, let's get on to the Venom War.

BPRD 1948 #3:  Another month, another kickass 1948 issue.  And there is a moment in this book with little Hellboy that might be the cutest moment in the characters history - yeah, that's right, cuter than PANCAKES!  But the weight of this book settles in Professor Bruttenholm's telling of the dimensional birth of Hellboy, and our young lady scientist is more than a little horrified by the Prof's casual adoption of the beast.  Not exactly sure what's really going on in this book yet, but I eagerly await it's conclusion.

BPRD - The Return of the Master #5:  Don't get me wrong.  I really enjoyed this latest chapter in BPRD misery.  But...this book leaves you seriously hanging.  For a series titled The Return of the Master I was expecting something a little more conclusive but this book reminds me a lot of The Warning.  There's a lot of set-up here and I guess the payoff is not going to come until later.  The Hell on Earth saga continues to torture mankind and I gotta laugh at how devastated our world becomes with the conclusion of each mini.  Just when you think it can't get any worse, it most certainly does.  Mignola & Arcudi are having to much fun with pain.  Very curious to see how this plays in trade.

Happy! #3:  Well, we finally get the answer as to why Sax can see Happy The Horse and even though it shouldn't come as a huge surprise I found myself taken aback.  This is not Grant Morrsion's finest hour by any means, but I'm enjoying Derick Robertson's underworld horror show.  And Happy is delightful.  But I find myself thinking about the last issue coming up next month - can it possibly satisfy the story?  Four issues is not a lot of room for a masterpiece.

Saga #8:  The Internet is madly in love with this book.  I'm enjoying it just ok.  I want to be gaga.  Y The Last Man & Ex Machina are two of my all time favorite series, but Saga is a little too fanciful for my tastes.  I'm not a full on hater like Matt, but I find myself deeply disappointed by my lack of love for Saga.  And after the grotesque introduction of the giant Fard, it was a little bit disconcerting to see him dispatched so easily in this issue.

The Sixth Gun #27:  I'm starting to think that this book should just be read in trades.  Issue 27 sees Drake take down the Wendigo, but blink and the book is over.  Good stuff, but after I put it down I'm done.  My brain hasn't drifted back to this book since.  But I could just be obsessed with super hero comics right now.  I'm so jazzed on Marvel Now there's little energy left for the independents.  Wow.  That's a horrible thing to write.

XO Manowar #8:  The Ninjak story comes to a close and that's ok.  Solid.  But not amazing.  It pretty much let Archer & Armstorng and Bloodshot take the lead in Valiant Comics away from my favorite XO character.  Oh well.  Looking forward to the Planet Death stuff next month.  I need Aric to go psycho on Earth.  I need him to tear up this modern world, bring a little classic barbarism back to the masses...or at least the masses of government.

Death Proof:  My least favorite of Tarantino's films.  That's not to say that it doesn't have some fairly badass stuff in it, but after each viewing I find myself disappointed.  The funny thing is that The Wife freaking loves this movie.  I guess it has something to do with girl power kickassery and Zoe Bell's cat-like reflexes.  For me though, I just cannot stand the first half of the film.  I love Stuntman Mike and his nacho gnashing.  Rose McGowan is shockingly good as the sadsack Pam.  But Sydney Poitier and her group of big shit friends annoy the hell outta me and the only pleasure I get from the first 45 minutes is watching them crash all over that road.  And that two act structure devastates the flow for me every time.  I'd gladly watch the second half over and over again, but I don't see myself going back to this film on a regular basis.  Still, those stunt car sequences are some of the best road rashes ever filmed.  Gotta give QT that.  And Kurt Russell is quite a character.  His crying screams are beautiful.

Beyond the Black Rainbow:  "Oh Barry, you startled me."  Whoa.  I was not ready for Beyond the Black Rainbow.  There's a little John Carpenter in its synth score, but there's a whole helluva lot of David Cronenberg pumped throughout this monster of a movie.  And I'm talking The Brood, Rabid, and Videodrome Cronenberg - there's no Dangerous Method to be found here.  But what's it all about? Not really sure.  It's a headtrip of a flick that will definitely bare repeat viewings.  There's something to do with a secret laboratory, a girl with psychic abilities, and a trip down Stanley Kubrick's A Space Odyssey.  I've seen a lot of ineffectual horror films this year, and even though I would not necessarily place Black Rainbow in that genre, no other film has disturbed me quite as deeply as it has this year.  When the plot starts to go off the rails in the last fifteen minutes, I was practically pulling the hair out of my head with great waves of anxiety.  All I can say is, Bravo.  Need to get this sucker on blu ray - there are some serious reds that will destroy my HDTV.

Knight and Day:  "I'm The Guy!"  Tom Cruise is so scarily, and creepingly charming in this movie.  And I adore how Cameron Diaz swoons for his Secret Agent nutjob.  Their flirtations feel genuine to me.  Scary and weird.  But genuine.  As Tom Cruise kills his way to Cameron Diaz's heart, I feel myself being won over by the madman's intoxicating mastery over his 007 craft.  Killing squadrons of goons in the aisle of a 747.  Jumping from a flying policeman's motorcycle and onto the hood of a speeding car - he's a regular TJ Hooker.  It's a goofy movie, not to be taken seriously and director James Mangold doesn't quite have a hold on some of the action sequences, but that's okay - the leads carry the film.  When surrounded by a herd of CGI bulls, you're more focused on the smiley faces of Cruise & Diaz to be distracted by the uncanny valley.  Knight and Day is a lark if you let it be.

Solomon Kane:  I've been anticipating this film for nearly four years.  A wait like that will surely not bare delicious fruit.  But it's not rotten either.  Similar to last year's Season of the Witch (have I lost you already?) I admire Solomon Kane's "Just Do It" attitude.  This is a Fantasy film.  It's not a medieval tale with hints of the supernatural.  F that.  We've got full on demons, witches, magic, and disfigured cultist goons.  And in the middle of all that Robert E Howardness, you've got James Purefoy looking damn good under that buckle hat.  Maybe not the grande adaptation all us Conan aficionados want, but it's a helluva lot better a Solomon Kane flick than I thought we would ever see.

Iron Sky:  Invasion of the Moon Nazis!  It's a premise this exploitation nut should absolutely adore, but ultimately, this film is far too bland to be entertaining.  There are a couple of fun sequences involving a whole lot of awkward racial humor and our heroic astronaut, but for the most part the jokes are far too broad - and the Sarah Palin stuff really needed to go, just not funny.

Ted:  How do I write about this film without spoiling the single greatest cameo in cinematic history?  I just can't rob you of that joy.  What I will say, is that when this person finally revealed himself and Mark Wahlberg got to fulfill his boyhood dreams, I nearly wept with giddy glee.  Ted is a damn funny movie.  Seth McFarlane's talking teddy is a vulgar riot made for snuggles, and the way both Wahlberg & Mila Kunis interact with this creature is fascinatingly authentic - he's this decade's Roger Rabbit.  That's an achievement unto itself, and some night I really do feel like I could use my very own Thunder Buddy.  Still - my love of this film all comes down to that all too brief, but absolutely perfect cameo.

Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader:  One of the few disappointments of this year's Comic Con was missing the screening of Roger Corman's latest.  Thanks to Netflix Instant, I've finally seen this cheesefest.  I know this might come as a shock, but Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader is not very good.  But it's cheeky enough.  Lots of innuendo that climaxes on a giant topless cat fight.  If that sounds like your kind of thing (and how could it not) than look no further.  I do wish I'd caught this in 3D on the big screen though.

Jack Reacher:  I've been eagerly anticipating this one.  And not just cuz it's the latest flick from The Great One.  But it's Christopher McQuarrie's directorial follow up to The Way of the Gun, a twisty crime film that does not get the attention it truly deserves.  So, how does he do with Lee Child's baby?  Not bad.  Tom Cruise is pretty much playing the same character as he was in Knight and Day, but without the joyous bombardment of smiles.  He is earnest.  He is stretching all his badass muscles and for the most part he succeeds.  Of course, McQuarrie's screenplay really helps on giving him the best snarky one-liners and whip-smart retorts.  The best scene in the film is when he intellectually devastates a couple of barhopping bros before physically crippling them.  Sock to the balls!  And Werner Herzog's milky eyed big bad is worth the price of admission alone.  The moments in the movie where he rears his seriously ugly head are delightfully intense, and his final confrontation with Cruise is extremely satisfying.  I don't think we're gonna get a whole series of Jack Reacher movies, but I would be down for a few more.