This Week In Dork was just a big batch of random. And with that random comes a little less passion to my dorkery. Feels like I'm just biding time until I can get crazy with next week's post-Holiday vacation. Started the second week of the year with my first Big Screen movie, Texas Chainsaw 3D. Went with a batch of friends and we enjoyed ripping it a new one in a practically empty theater. Laughably bad and my least favorite entry in the franchise...and that is really saying something. But, ya know, the year generally starts off with a pretty shitty flick. That's part of the joy of January. And after thinking about it for three or four seconds, I have to admit that I enjoyed Texas Chainsaw much more than last year's first film, Underworld: Awakening. There was no fun mockery with that movie, just boring Beckinsale deadvoice.
However, the most exciting news this week was the return of FX's Justified. I know the whole world seemed to be lukewarm on the last season, but I still enjoyed Raylan's showdown with Neal McDonough's Detroit mafioso. And I've missed the charm of Timothy Olyphant's contemporary cowboy. We all need more Elmore Leonard in our lives.
Texas Chainsaw 3D: "Do Your Thing Cuz!!!" The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise has always held my attention, especially when comparing them to horror counterparts like Friday the 13th & A Nightmare on Elm Street. The original film is a genuine American Classic (No matter how much Matt whines). The sequel is a superior bit of gory 80s (head)cheese elevated to the high heavens by the mega acting of Dennis Hopper. Parts 3 & 4 are shockingly fun thanks to various goofy character performances (Viggo Mortensen's squirrelly hitchhiker & Matthew McConaughey's hydraulic barrel moaner). And then you've got the super slick, Bayification remake and its struggling prequel. And now, we get a sequel to the original '74 film that picks up seconds after its truck bed climax. That takes some balls. But does it have the brass tacks to pull it off. Nope! Texas Chainsaw 3D is easily the weakest entry in the franchise. The film plays like a series of excuses just to showcase Alexandra Daddario's pasty white midriff, and only a few bursts of chainsaw butchery remind you that this is not a long lost Shania Twain music video. For the first half of the film she's partnered up with a the usual batch of faceless teen sluts and the frosted tips of Deputy Blue Jeans, and when Leatherface clears the cast list we're given a new group of characterless adults to slaughter. Toss in a few unique faces and you might have had a fun, crappy night out at the movies but as is? Texas Chainsaw 3D is utterly forgettable. Chainsaws popping at ya, and cartoon blood geysers do not make for memorable slasher moments.
Side By Side: Keanu Reeves produces an interesting if not revelatory documentary exploring the pros & cons of Digital Photography vs. Film aka The Real Deal. On one side you've got directors like Martin Scorsese holding firm to the old, true ways and on the other side you've got neo auteurs like David Fincher praising the progressive whiz bang cool of RED cameras. I'm guessing that if you go into this film with one point of view you're not going to leave with a fresh, new perspective. I'm a film guy. I certainly appreciate what digital can offer, especially in the hands of folks like Fincher and Michael Mann, but I don't see the new ways capturing the texture of film quite yet. People talk about "the soul of film," and "the essence of cinema" but I just gotta fall back on the "It Don't Look Right." But progress is progress. We're gonna get on the train whether we like it or not. And filmmakers are only going to get better with HD processing. The conversation is fascinating for sure, but I'm with the old hats. Let's hang on as long as we can. When Quentin Tarantino caves, I'll cave.
Looper: After a mini debate with my mother on what exactly transpires during the climax of the film, I decided to give Looper another glance but with the audio commentary clicked on this time around. Safe to say, my opinion on the narrative is the right one. Sorry mom. Having watched the film three times now, I'm happy to report it as one of my favorite science fiction films of the last five years and a lot of that has to do with how much the sci-fi is actually toned down. The film is not about the future, flying motorbikes, or time travel. They're just background elements used to tell a very human story. I only wish more modern genre stories worried about character and less about the cg wizardry. The commentary itself was all well and good, but neither Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or Emily Blunt reveal anything extraordinary. Seems like the good ol' days of The Thing or Desperado commentaries are long gone. It's a rare treat to experience a supplement of any worth...outside of a Criterion disc that is.
Dredd: Sooooo much fun. Karl Urban's Judge Dredd is perfectly one dimensional. You break the law. He frowns. He kills you. End of story. You want to join the Hall of Justice than you better share his particular point of view. And dammit, this Dredd pulls off the rookie partner story in a surprisingly satisfying manner with Olivia Thirlby's Judge Anderson. They don't try to match toughness - how could you top Urban's unflinching scowl, but they still manage to give Anderson a violent edge with her psychic prowess. The manner in which she reduces thugs to urine puddles is almost as brutal as Dredd's headshots. But you can't back a Dirty Harry without a truly heinous villain, and Lena Headey's scarred Ma-Ma is a truly despicable psycho killer. She's not Darth Vader, all badass in black. She's a drug pushing maniac willing to butcher whole families to maintain her pathetic way of gangster life. Dredd's ruling is shattering and just.
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton, I wash my hands of you. In the last ten years you have made one miserable disappointment after the other. But I keep shelling out the cash. No more. Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie are the end. Seriously. This was a miserably tough challenge to sit through. It's an awkward and mocking look at children. It doesn't celebrate the odd and strange, it just snickers and chortles its way through its oddball supporting cast. It feels like Tim Burton is picking on all the kids who picked on him. The fat kid. The cat girl. The hunchback. These are not lovable celebrations of the weird, it's just finger pointing comedy and I hate that.
End of Watch: Missed this one in the theater cuz I had no interest. Modern cop dramas post-Training Day seem to only want to focus on the Dark Blue - to fight monsters we must become monsters. And dammit, I'm sick to death of watching gray hat justice; give me a white hat, give me a black hat. But when End of Watch started popping up on several critics' Top Ten lists I thought I should give it a VOD whirl. Thankfully this is not another Harsh Times r from director David Ayer. It's more of a ridealong kind of experience; a peek behind the thin blue line. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have tremendous chemistry and there is a sense of genuine friendship as they patrol the dope infested world of East LA. It's obvious from the start that it won't end happy, and the war on drugs is appropriately endless. These guys are just a band aid on a festering wound.
BPRD #103: Taking place before the traumatic events of The Return of the Master, this latest mini arc centers on a couple of minor BPRD players who discover in the ruins of Chicago a secret underground lair of the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra. There Agent Howard lays his hands on a mysterious sword (seen in Hellboy Seed of Destruction as well as Witchfinder - In The Service of Angels) and we get a pretty epic flashback reminiscent of Robert E Howard (as well as recent issues of XO Manowar). It's looking like we're going to get some serious mythology building in these next couple of issues. I'm most certainly for that.
Detective Comics #16: Easily my least favorite issue since John Layman took over as writer. This really feels like he was forced to tie-in with Scott Snyder's Death of the Family arc and nothing terribly new was built into the Joker saga. He does get a few pages to expand on the Emperor Penguin story (which is obviously the narrative Layman is most interested in telling) and Jason Fabok offers a slickness to the dark that reminds me of the very best of early 90s Image artistry - and I don't mean that as a slight, I promise!
Shadowman #3: I really want to love this Voodoo nonsense, but Jack is just not a particularly interesting lead. I love the stuff with him confronting his shadow daddy and who doesn't love a talking monkey in a top hat, but I have no connection with the central character and all the white suited demons in the world can't excite me if I don't give a cuss what happens to the main man.
Avengers Arena #3: And speaking of characters I don't give a crap about...This is the problem with the Marvel Now relaunch - you cannot just simply dive into Avengers Arena without having read Avengers Academy. I don't know who these brats are. I don't care if they fight each other. And I don't care if they die. And by slapping this blatant Hunger Games wink on the cover, all you are doing is drawing attention to what a money grabber of an idea this murder world nonsense is. I guess my 13 year old self is happy to see Darkhawk get some play, but not really. No one cares about Darkhawk or his stupid amulet.
Thor - God of Thunder #4: Jason Aaron has a few surprises for us. This is not simply a story of past, present, and future Thor. There might be some trickery at play in telling The God Butcher storyarc and for once I'm not offended by the twist ending...that is if it's even a twist. There's a lot of talk in this book, and a chunk of that feels a little bit like filler, but I'm extremely curious to see where this saga is going. It feels epic in a way that past Thor tales have never achieved, and there's more mythology to this character than we've ever been given. A real Marvel Now achievement.
Thunderbolts #3: Probably the most fun reading a comic book I had all week. Here we get the joy of having Deadpool and The Punisher on the same team. The way one character sets up the punch line for another. Pure genius. I just hope they don't mess it up with a retcon on the first page of the next issue. And maybe Red Hulk should have his head examined for putting Frank on the team.
The Superior Spider-Man #1: I caved. Bought into the hype. But I will not be purchasing the second issue. I'm all for fun, goofy Silver Agey comic book plots like Doctor Octopus inhabiting the body of Peter Parker, but when the final page of this issue is turned and the return of the status quo is already in sight - that just feels like neutered storytelling. And when my Spider-Man book reminds me of Patrick Swayze & Whoopi Goldberg - that's when I know I'm really out. Ultiamte Spider-Man is truly the only good Spidey worth reading these days. Long Live Miles Morales! Stay Dead To Peter Parker!
Justified Season 4 - Episode 1 "Hole in the Wall": It's good to have Timothy Olyphant back behind the role of Raylan Givens. And the first episode of the fourth season gives him a few too cool for school moments as well as a couple of whoopsies that makes him so darn charming. We're given a mystery surrounding parachuting money, Raylan's murderous father, Patton Oswalt's dopey Constable Bob, and Ron Edlard's triggerfinger war vet. At first glance, it does not appear as flashy as the last season's Double Trouble structure and I'm perfectly happy with that. And I have a feeling that Papa Givens is going to end up as this season's Big Bad. Still my favorite show currently airing on TV (sorry Fringe).
The American Scream: From the documentarians that brought us Best Worst Movie comes this look into the mad world of "home haunters" in the suburban wilds of New England. The film splits its time between three families and I wish it focused on the professional passion of Victor Bariteau and less on the the goofy father/son shenanigans or the lackluster partner-in-crime. But if you excised those other players, do you have a movie here? Probably not. To me this feels like an excellent episode of some spooky themed TLC episode. You admire these people's passion but I'm not sure witnessing their story adds anything to my personal outlook or even my entertainment.
Y - The Last Man Deluxe Hardcover Book One: Friday night was our monthly Graphic Novel Book Club. And it was our largest gatherings yet with friends coming in all the way from Houston, Texas. Most folks really enjoyed the tale of Yorrick Brown, the last man on earth, but a couple of attendees couldn't get past the central concept of the man-pocalypse. What would happen if the world lost half its population in the blink of an eye? Would power go out for months? Would pile ups occur immediately? Would the government fall apart? The debate that came out of those questions confounded me. But if you can't get past the central conceit you're definitely going to have trouble with the rest of this saga. For me, there are some definite problems with the first couple of arcs of this book. Brian K Vaughn writes a lot of these characters with the same voice and sometimes their Whedony banter distracts. Yorrick is a child, and he behaves as such, but that's the point. As the series goes on there is real growth to character. And I love the road narrative and the obvious disappointment that awaits at the destination. I'm not really rushing to reread the rest of the books, but I might. Frankly, I'm more excited to dive into The Walking Dead which is our next book.
How To Survive A Plague: This doc was brutal. If you are not reduced to heaving tears by the end than you most certainly do not have a soul. The film follows two groups of activists (ACT UP & TAG) from 1987 to 1996 as they battle politicians and media types to transform AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable disease. Attacked by bigots and ignorants, both groups should be looked upon as heroes and their is a humanity to this film not often realized in dramatized "message movies." It's also proof that evil acts are perpetrated everyday in this country and you do not have to look to far into the past to witness shameful history. How To Survive A Plague is a reminder that we should open our eyes, look around at the horrors we've accepted in our society, and act.
Magnum P.I. Season 2: Well it took a few months but I finally worked my way through the second season of Magnum PI. So much silly Hawaiian fun. This season we got guest stars from Wings Hauser, Vic Morrow, Jill St John, Darren McGavin, Ian McShane, and Mimi Rogers. I do have to say that my least favorite episodes are the ones dealing with Thomas' Vietnam past - I just don't like it when my Ferrari PI gets so dang mopey. The show works best when the plots are at their most ridiculous and Magnum has to charm his way through a bevy of beautiful ladies just to plant a bullet in the heart of the most righteous crime lord scum. And the angrier Higgins gets the better. Already jumped into season 3.
Saboteur: Saturday saw the start of my 10 day vacation and I had to celebrate by cracking into the Hitchcock blu ray set I got for Christmas (Thanks Mom!). This was my first experience with Saboteur. It's a solid little flick. Production started on the film just two weeks after the attack on Perl Harbor and it's fascinating to watch the fictional paranoia set to a very real sense of World War danger. Robert Cummings plays the classic Wrong Man type as a factory worker framed for setting a fire at an aircraft plant. He flees in pursuit of the man responsible and has a series of odd encounters with blind men, circus freaks, and Priscilla Lane's bickering dame. Really enjoy the first half of the film, but as the conspiracy gets thicker and the pursuit races up the steps of the Statue of Liberty, I lost a little interest. Hitchcock is definitely in full studio mode here and all his tropes are present, but I just don't think Cummings and Lane were right for this flick. And I can't get the trivia of the original cast wanted for Saboteur outta my head: Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck. That would have been something. As is, minor Hitchcock.
Cleanflix: I remember when I first heard of the concept of Clean Flicks. You mail your DVD to them and they cut out the potty words, the boobies, and the blood. I've always found that notion to be completely ridiculous. How can you take a movie like The Matrix and sanitize it to your liking? You're cool with all the kung fu and killing as long as you actually don't see the bodies hit the floor? That's bonkers. But as this documentary proves, there are a lot of bonkers people out there. And if you're a semi-passionate liberal like myself than you'll probably be driven a little mad by this doc. Especially when the juicy hypocrisy rears its wonderfully ugly head in the third reel. Cleanflix is easily preaching to the choir and no real conversation is going to come from this documentary, but it's a nice reminder of the crazy out there.