Sunday, August 31, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (8/24/14-8/30/10)

    Not much in the way of movie viewing this Week in Dork, but I had a lot of fun and got a lot done.  So there’s that.  It all started with a journey in to DC with Rebecca, where we checked out Andrew Greene and the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra.  Turns out the Kennedy Center does a free show every evening, and Sunday night it was some Ragtime and Charlie Chaplin.

One A.M.:  Charlie Chaplin does his Drunk bit, as a wealthy guy trying to get to bed.  I would say the whole thing goes on a bit too long, even with a run time of 24 minutes.  But some of the stunts and gags are quite impressive, and a few of the laughs come from deep in the belly.  It’s an odd complaint, but this probably should have been about 4 or 5 minutes shorter, and would have been a better piece.  Still fun, though.

Altered States:  I’ve been hearing about this movie (rarely anything positive) for a long time, and nearly seeing in for nearly as long.  So, I finally sat down to watch it, and…I liked it.  It’s part of that 70s post-hippie, utopian idealist, scientific failure subgenre I enjoy so much (see also; Rabid, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Idaho Transfer, the middle seasons of Lost, etc.).  William Hurt shows uncharacteristic amounts of emotion (ironically, playing an emotionally distant character).  Bob Balaban is enjoyable.  The effects are a mixed bag, but they get the job done.  I can’t say that I loved it, but I certainly enjoyed it.

    I know I’ve found a keeper when she says to me, “let’s not go in to DC for dinner and a movie tonight; let’s sit on the couch and watch Channing Tatum films.”  Done and done.

She’s the Man:  Getting past the fact that at no point would anyone with functioning eyes or ears mistake Amanda Bynes for a guy, this is a pretty standard, kinda bland teen comedy with echoes of Shakespeare.  Young Channing Tatum displays some genuine charm with his physical comedy, even if emoting isn’t his strong suit.  Plus, isn’t it like a law (since 1972) that a girl who wants to play on a sports team is allowed to try out?

Step Up:  Typical of low budget teen films, this story of a Channing Tatum from the wrong side of the tracks and a girl from a privileged upbringing is moderately sweet, and lacking in any surprises.  Beat for beat, it follows the path you know it will in all the ways you expect.  But in that, it has its own dumb charm.  The streets and the halls of higher education must come together to save the world of dance!

    On Friday night, Ben and I sat down to another 70s classic.  I’ve been in the mood to crack back into some Blaxploitation lately.  And you can never go wrong (well…) with Fred Williamson.

Hell Up in Harlem:  Low budget, and sometimes ill made, but darned fun.  This sequel to the Godfather retelling Black Caesar is filled with crazy angles, wildly moving camera work, and NO SECOND TAKES.  So much fun, so silly, so low budget and over the top.

    On Saturday, we headed in to the National Book Festival.  This was my first time attending it for my own edification, and it was pretty cool.  Like Baltimore Comic-Con, but for book nerds.  It was held in the Convention Center, which was MUCH better than having it on the Mall.  We saw Sandra Day O’Connor and her brother H. Alan Day.  H. Alan Day has written a book about rescuing wild mustangs, which was cool.  Lynn Sherr talked about her biography of Sally Ride, which was fascinating, and hit me hard in my science organ.  Eric H. Cline talked about his book 1177 B.C., which made me really want to read it.

    I ended up with some time on my hands while in the City on Saturday night.  I was going to do some reading or something, but instead I thought I’d do some prep work for some stories or something.  Ended up actually writing a short story, which was surprising and gratifying.  A good day, and a nice end to a good week.

-Matthew J. Constantine

A Fistful of Summer 2014! (Matt’s Picks)

    This year has, overall, been a huge step up from the past two, and it seemed like every week I was seeing some movie that I enjoyed, or really enjoyed.  Though there have been few ‘amazing’ films, there has been a wide variety of very good movies.  So, looking back on the Summer, I’m gonna give a countdown of my five favorites.  (See how they compare to my Fistful of Summer Anticipation).

5.  Cold in July:  A nasty, ugly crime caper set in the 1980s.  It takes some unexpected turns, to say the very least.  And it gets dark.  Real dark.  Steel wool shower dark.

4.  The Rover:  Australia is the sight of yet another horrible, petering out apocalypse.  Hopeless people do awful violence to each other.  A movie that makes you try to shake the sand from your hair, wipe the sweat from your brow, and keep an eye on the horizon, for danger is always close.

3.  Jodorowsky’s Dune:  One of the great What If? stories from the annals of science fiction and Hollywood.  The Dune that didn’t happen.  The Dune that shaped Alien, Star Wars, and countless films that did happen.  The Dune that still echoes through the mind’s eye of filmmakers and artists decades later.  Would it have been good?  Would it have ever really happened?  Would it have changed the perception of generations?  Who can say?  But it’s a compelling story, none the less, and Jodorowsky is a wonderful mad messiah.

2.  Godzilla:  I’m a Godzilla fan from way back, and while not a perfect film, this new take is firmly rooted in the things that make the original movies magic.  When Godzilla unleashed his atomic breath, I was a kid again, looking at nature in all its fury.

1.  Guardians of the Galaxy:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe finally opens the doors to the realms of my interest, the cosmic.  I’ve always been more of a rocket ships and ray guns kind of guy, as opposed to capes and eye beams.  Taking a page from the original Star Wars, and one from Firefly, this film reminds us that space opera should be fun and exciting, and not always dark and depressing.

    I want to give an honorable mention to Life Itself, a fascinating look at the life of Roger Ebert; The Hundred-Foot Journey, a cute romance with some good food porn; and Chef, a heartwarming father & son adventure…with some good food porn.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Fistful of Summer 2014! (Brad's Picks)

May to August, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to Sin City 2.  Ha! You would not know it from the starting shot or the finish line, but Summer 2014 is going down as one of the better Blockbuster Seasons.  Thank god.  I don't think I could take another drought like last year.  And as you'll see below, this was one of those rare years in which nearly all the films I was anticipating landed in my Top Five.  Financially, fewer butts hit the seats this year, but that didn't stop Guardians of the Galaxy from crossing $500,000,000 worldwide, or that TransFOURmers behemoth from stomping all over Earthly good taste.  Geez.  Rocket Raccoon is a real-deal Hollywood icon!  I can't believe it...can you?  Just a few months ago I was worrying that America wouldn't show up, and we'd be stuck with just Iron Man & Captain America sequels until this whole spandex hype died down.  Looks like that's not going to happen anytime soon.  Bring on Doctor Strange.

However, as great as it is to report the success of the films below, it's a little bit of a bummer to not have a slew of out-of-nowhere surprises.  I enjoyed a batch of mean little dramas amongst the popcorn fare (Locke, The Rover, Snowpiercer), but as fantastic as their lead performances were their narratives lacked a certain punch.  A lot of folks seemed to go nuts for X-Men - Days of Future Past, but as I did with the previous X-Films, I found Bryan Singer's latest to be a mediocre comic book pretender.  Those are just not my X-Men.  Meanwhile, the knives were out for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & The Expendables 3, but I found them both to be disposable fun.  The Rock dropped a deuce with Hercules, yet nothing will kill the charm of that man.  Next summer, say the word - "SHAZAM!" and I'll be all over that film.

And then there were those Summer bookend sequels, Spider-Man & Sin City.  Damn.  They really were the only films this year that I absolutely loathed.  Similar to my X-Men reaction, Marc Webb's Spider-Man just doesn't work for me.  He's now crafted two films in which Peter Parker is defined by death.  Spidey is not Batman.  I'm not asking for a disco strut comedy for ol' Web Head, but Peter Parker lives & breathes through his sense of humor, and it's important to showcase the thrill that his adventures illicit for the woe-is-me nerd.  Sin City's biggest problem is that it is so brutally dull.  Whatever your thoughts on Frank Miller's source material, generally the complaint is not boredom.  As cool as Robert Rodriguez's green screen tapestry was in 2005, the end result here is not nearly as artful as the comic book graphics, and the drag-and-drop performances are absolutely lifeless.

Both Edge of Tomorrow & 22 Jump Street get the Close-But-No-Cigar Award.  I had an absolute blast with each film, but they dragged on a little too long and suffered during their final moments.  It's popular to hate on Tom Cruise these days, but as one-time fans pretend to distance themselves from the Scientologist, I find myself warming up to the Movie Star.  I'm no apologist, and I won't defend crazy, but the man has never phoned in a performance.  From Knight and Day to Rock of Ages, Cruise throws himself into his roles, and as he delves deeper into genre the resulting movies have been rollicking thrill rides.  Edge of Tomorrow is one of his recent best.  22 Jump Street is simply hilarious.  Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill, a buddy cop team equal to Tango & Cash.  And if Tatum's meet-cute had actually traveled its obvious narrative path, then I could have forgiven the overlong runtime.

5.  Life Itself:  I've watched more documentaries this year then any previous.  A lot of them dealt with the arts (Jodorowsky's Dune, The Dog, To Be Takei) and a couple highlighted social injustice (Dinosaur 13, Let The Fire Burn).  On the surface, Life Itself appears to be a simple talking heads tribute to Chicago Sun Times movie critic Roger Ebert.  Sure, it's that.  Although, thanks to Ebert's allowance of Steve James' ever-present camera, the film also captures the universal experience of a life winding down.  What is it to say goodbye to a loved one?  How do you define your existence?  Life Itself is a celebration of the movies, sure, but it's also a celebration of Love itself.  Roger & Chaz.  Heartbreaking, heartwarming.  I imagine the more you appreciate Ebert's work, the more you'll enjoy the film, but I also think Life Itself offers a lot for the uninitiated.

4.  Godzilla:  Unlike Matt, I did not grow up the Godzilla fanatic.  In college, I watched & appreciated the original film, but that's about it.  However, in preparation for this latest monster-mash, I made it my mission to bone-up on the classics.  I succeeded in watching nearly all of my resolutions, and that certainly had an affect on how much I enjoyed this remake.  Obviously, I friggin' loved it.  You might be one of those frustrated folks that felt there wasn't much of the monster, or that the human characters were one-dimensional...I agree with you.  So?  Bryan Cranston & Aaron Taylor Johnson got the job done.  Would I have enjoyed the movie more if they were complex individuals with arcs involving weepy internal struggles?  Maybe.  But I don't need that in Godzilla.  Broad strokes are perfectly apt in Blockbuster magic.  What I need is dread....devastation...and a bastard brawl between beasts.  Gareth Edwards delivers on that.

3.  Cold In July:  Joe R. Lansdale, one of my favorite novelists finally gets a movie adaptation worthy of his twisted stories (I love Bubba Ho-Tep as much as the next blogger, but that's more about Bruce Campbell's charm than a satisfying script).  Michael C Hall is a weak Texas family man who frantically kills an intruder just minutes after the opening credits.  A violent act that ignites a grotesque plunge down a rabbit hole most viewers will not be equipped to handle.  Faint of heart, need not apply.  Cold In July is a mean-spirited flick full of awful surprises, plus a pair of delightfully grizzled turns from Don Johnson & Sam Shephard.

2.  Guardians of the Galaxy:  Fun.  The end.  You probably won't have more of it this year than you will riding around in The Milano with Star-Lord and his gang of intergalactic losers.  It's been 20 years since we've had a space adventure this genuine.  Fanboys love tossing Star Wars around, and they're not wrong, but Guardians feels more like the Star Wars knock-off film folks like Roger Corman were so desperate to recreate in blunders like Battle Beyond The Stars. But, you know, it's actually AMAZING.  Chris Pratt has all the requirements of a Han Solo character - charisma, a bit of a dick - yet he still manages to get upstaged by a raccoon, a tree, and a professional wrestler.  The film is not without its flaws (big bad Ronan The Accuser lacks threat, the hand-to-hand combat is bland, mean green Gamora is disappointingly upstaged by the raccoon, the tree, the pro wrestler, and the Han Solo), but you're having too much damn fun to harp.  Again, I am pleased as punch that Guardians proved to be such a success, and now we're ready for the rest of Marvel's Cosmic Universe.

1.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:  A character centric melodrama disguised as a big expensive Summer Blockbuster.  Similar to Godzilla, I hear your complaints about one-dimensional human characters.  So what?  They're barely in it, and they only serve to punctuate the emotions of the film's real leads - Caesar & Koba, a couple of chimpanzees struggling to lead their families from squaller to civilization.  What the animators, Toby Kebbell, & Andy Serkis have accomplished here is the next stage in performance; the subtlety in their movements packs as much of a wallop as the Apes on Horses machine gun climax.  For this fanboy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes represents the very best of Have-Your-Cake-And-Eat-It-Too filmmaking, and it is the very best of Summer Entertainment.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rumor Control/Panic Attack: Marvel's New 52???

Two years ago Marvel relaunched their line under the branding of Marvel Now!  All-New #1s!  On the surface this was nothing new for comic fans; a simple jump-on point for new readers walking out of movie theaters & into comic shops.  I'm still not sure if that logic is sound, but I really enjoyed the creative roster first.  I certainly appreciated their creative shake up compared to DC's totally batshit reboot of The New 52.  I currently read only 5 DC monthly titles (Batman, Detective Comics, Batman Eternal, Green Arrow, Multiversity) & by next month it could be half that.  They are a stagnated company, and despite owning two of the most popular characters on the planet, they can't seem to tell a fresh story to save their life.  I just suffered a year long, dull, drab Gotham City origin story from the supposed A-Team of Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, and I found the whole bland experience rather depressing.  Fingers crossed on the mad genius of Grant Morrison.

But Marvel's faltered along the way too.  Brian Michael Bendis' All-New X-Men started out as a madcap melodrama centered around the original team's time travel antics, but it's pretty much been dragging its feet for twenty plus issues.  Move the story along please.  Indie Darling Matt Fraction dished out some of the cutest/cleverest comics in FF & Hawkeye, but unknown behind-the-scenes gripes drove the man towards Image Comics.  Jason Aaron's triple threat Thor reinvigorated the God of Thunder for his first two arcs, but recent stories have lacked in the consequence department.  Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers has been nothing but peaks & valleys - it's great! it's dumb! it's great! it's dumb!  His Captain America has never quiet sat right with me - Dimension Zola?  Ugh.  And let's not even discuss Iron Man.  It's dreck.  You can't dismiss Marvel Now like The New 52, but things are getting stale.  So you know what that means?  All-New #1s!!!

Newsarama just published an article speculating a line wide reboot akin to The New 52.   Time to panic?  Well, first, I'm not so sure I agree with their findings.  Second, a reboot is not really a reboot.  The old comics are there.  They still exist.  Also, The New 52 is really no different from the Universe we all grew up on, and I'm sure the same will be said for Marvel if it chooses to Crisis.  Third, this reboot will spawn out of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers/New Avengers "Time Runs Out" storyline.  I may be a little lukewarm on his cohorts, but I have been absolutely mesmerized since Hickman took over Marvel's flagship title.  Hickman has always been about The Big Picture, and each month I am left flabbergasted with how he's taken these tiny bits and weaved a grand, cosmic story.  I once thought he was simply building to last year's Mega Event (Infinity, the best one Marvel's had in over a decade), but now it appears that story was just another building block in Hickman's grander scheme.

For fanboys, it's easy to freak.  Black Captain America!  Lady Thor!  Evil Iron Man!  Comics, man.  They do weird wild stuff.  They have to.  Marvel just had it's 75th Birthday; that's a lot of web-slinging for Spider-Man, and you can only kill the Green Goblin once...or twice...or threefourfivesixsevenbajillion times.  It's hard to keep things interesting.  Some of their clickbait storylines are not going to work.  And some will.  The New 52 might stink now.  Marvel might go down the toilet.  There are only so many Jonathan Hickmans, Ed Brubakers, Robert Kirkmans in this world.  Given the right writer, any storyline or character can be saved.  I might skip on a title this month or this year, but I am always happy to jump back in.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (8/17/14-8/23/14)

    Not a heck of a lot going on in the realm of Dorkness this week.  Just a bunch of movies.

Lo:  Not at all what I was expecting…and not really my kind of thing.  A low budget horror comedy.  Kind of handled/written like a play.  I guess they’re going for a sort of Faust thing (which they reference a bunch).  It’s got some funny bits, but overall, the humor felt a bit too college writing class for my taste.  The acting has that feel, too.

Rango:  A wonderful homage to Spaghetti Westerns, as well as a meditation on the nature of heroes and their quests, Rango is far more than a simple kids film.  Sure, there are lots of clever references for adults to pick up on, but there are also deeper lessons that will help children and adults grow.  This is the best sort of family entertainment.

Scanners:  With a look and feel similar to that of Cronenberg’s Rabid, this look at good intentioned science gone horribly awry is pretty cool.  I like how, similar to British horror/sci-fi films of the 70s, everything is accepted.  Nobody questions the existence of Scanners (a new race of psychic mutants).  It just is.  They are.  Then the movie rolls on.  Psychic warriors, corporate conspiracy, weird science, and yes, the ascension of a new Humanity.

The Expendables 3:  I’ve said it before, and sadly, I’ll probably say it again.  Don’t make violent action films PG-13.  And don’t make sequels to R rated films PG-13.  It didn’t work with Aliens VS Predator.  It sure as hell didn’t work here.  Though not as bad as I was expecting, this sanitized actioner lets you focus more on the dreadful acting and script.  Without all those body parts flying by to distract you, you can almost smell the smoke from the brains of these meatheads when they’re trying to remember their moronic lines.  That gives the movie its own charm, frankly.  Antonio Banderas is far and away the best part of the movie.  He’s awesome.  The rest?  Meh.  And Ronda Rousey?  Wow.  She’s impressively bad.  So uncomfortable in front of the camera, she can’t even act ‘standing around’ right.  Yikes.

The Hundred-Foot Journey:  There’s nothing especially challenging or game changing about this movie.  It’s a very cute, very nice romantic film.  It’s funny and warm, and it’s sweet.  If you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, check it out.  The cast is charming, the locations pretty, and the food looks great.  A good companion to Chocolat, The Big Night, or this year's other big food-porn film Chef.

Cowboys & Aliens:  I like Weird Westerns, and this mash-up of alien invasion film and classic Western makes for a fun viewing.  It looks good, moves at a good pace, and features plenty of nice genre bits.  If you like a little weird mixed in to your Western, check it out.  I feel like this would pair well with Valley of Gwangi or maybe John Carter.

Duck Soup:  Well, now I’ve seen a Marx Brothers movie.  Did I like it?  Well, I liked parts of it.  But the film is a jumble.  The plot is, at the very best, secondary.  It primarily serves as a frame to hang various bits and gags on.  Some of those bits and gags are funny, others are…less so.  Groucho is fun to watch do his fast talking retorts and insults.  Chico has a kind of gutter charm.  Harpo is as annoying as I’d always assumed he’d be.  And Zeppo doesn’t seem to have much to do.  It’s all nonsense, and as such, I suppose it’s fine.  Not my cup of tea, but fine.

I Love Maria:  Pretty good practical effects bolster a too zany comedy script.  The film is goofy, the humor broad, and the English subtitles (only option) are nearly gibberish.  A very, very young Tony Leung makes you wonder how he became such a fine actor.  Director Tsui Hark gives a surprisingly good performance.  But the movie sinks under the weight of its silly parts.  By the end of it, I didn’t care who did what or who made it out alive.  I was just glad the antics wound down.  Not horrible.  But not recommended.

Fa Meg Pa, For Faen:  There are a million reasons I’m glad to be a dude.  Watching this movie about a young woman, living in the sticks, trying to deal with budding sexuality is an awkward, painful reminder.  The movie is cute, but so darned painful to watch.  Alma doesn’t always make good choices, but she makes the kinds of bad choices kids of her age do, with sometimes hilariously stupid results.  This is a realistic comedy, not the wacky antics of the American Pie series, or similar.  Everything here feels like it came from a real place in the filmmakers’ lives.  There are plenty of pitfalls for young men, don’t get me wrong.  And I think this movie even handles a few of those pretty well, if from the outside.  Artur does something powerfully stupid and tries to play it off like it didn’t happen.  Yet, he’s not shown as a one-note jerk.  The performances are good, even though many of the actors are not professional actors.  A good movie for those who like less gross-out in their teen comedy...Not that there aren't some gross things; they're just not handled in as childish a way as one expects from most contemporary comedies.

Only Lovers Left Alive:  The script has far too much ‘oh so clever’ references and nods, delivered with too obvious a wink or elbow jab.  And yeah.  I get it.  Blood means drugs.  It looks nice, and the cast is good.  There’s not much of a story, really.  And while I didn’t dislike watching it, I instantly forgot about it.

    On Saturday night, we got together for our graphic novel club, where this month’s reading was Beasts of Burden.  The book was pretty good, if not great.  But the gathering was spirited and fun.  Everyone seemed to be on, and in good spirits.  It was a good night, sitting around with a wonderfully diverse bunch of brains.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Brad's Week in Dork! (8/17/14-8/23/14)

It's my birthday week!  You know what that means?  Summer is winding down, all the big blockbusters are done, and we've got another Expendables movie to get frustrated over. The real winners came from the B Movie Bin - Charles Bronson's Mr Majestyk & Roger Corman's Sorceress. You're gonna want to add these batshit beauties to your collection pronto.

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.