Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Marvel is making a big push to force the world (ie the internet) into full blown Guardians of the Galaxy mania. I sure hope it works. We've proven the worth of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to the public, but it's going to be a little tricky convincing them that Rocket is one badass genetic experiment and not just a cute little furball. Not to mention the walking trees, the reality bending gauntlets, and various other cosmic oddities. Last week the trailer hit, and the fanboys out there seemed properly teased.
Ooga Chakka Ooga Ooga Ooga Chakka! Ice Pirates is alive and well and living in director James Gunn's heart. Sure, that's pretty much 90% of what we saw at Comic Con last year with a few extra glimpses of Benicio Del Toro's Collector & Kieron Gillen's Nebula. Still no Lee Pace Ronan, Rocket Raccoon Cooper voice, Vin Diesel Grooting, or real any real sense of the plot. Just enough to get giddy. And I am giddy. Looks like I'm not alone. Went to the comic shop two days after the trailer blasted the net, and they were all out of Guardians comics (with the exception of the recent Brian Michael Bendis trades, but let's be honest - they are lame). What I'm really interested in are the two Annihilation maxi-series that Dan Abnett concocted a few years ago. Cosmic Marvel never really interested me much as a kid, but thanks to Jonathan Hickman's recent work on Infinity, I'm quickly turning into a Thanos junkie.
Well you might have to shell out a Ben Franklin or two for the Annihilation Hardbacks (for now), but in July you'll get a chance to read that author's brand new Guardians of the Galaxy prose novel, Rocket Raccoon & Groot Steal The Galaxy. In an interview with Newsarama, Abnett describes the book as "John Woo's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I think he's attempting a tone of kickassery plus goofy space adventure - you know, Rocket Raccoon folks, big guns to match those big doe eyes. I'm down. Marvel has been cranking out the Mega Event novel adaptations like Civil War and Breakout for a while, but it's nice to see them attempting something original with their licenses. And hopefully this Guardians of the Galaxy media onslaught will result in a hit film. I want the movie to be good, but I want even more for it to be successful. If Guardians makes a buck we won't have to settle for Thor 3, Cap 4, Iron Man 5, Avengers 14, over and over and over again. Let's see some of our favorite Wannabes - bring on Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Namor, The Peanut Butter Barbarian. Let's get weird. Let's show the world that Geek truly is the new Jock. Let's vote for Rocket Raccoon in 2014. If Marvel doesn't expand beyond spandex then the bubble will surly burst, and this golden age will crumble back into a sea of sports talk. No one wants that, right?
Speaking of remakes...
I am seriously loving these Godzilla trailers being concocted by the good folks over at Legendary Pictures. Focusing on the real world devastation, as well as Gareth Edwards's Christopher Nolan styled approach to Kaiju Horror rather than the beast itself. We get glimpses of Godzilla (plus other big bad monsters), but just enough to tease without spoiling the effect. I'm done with the marketing from this point forward. I want to go into this Monster Epic with as little knowledge of the creatures as possible. Time to start closing eyes in theaters. I'm committed (in more ways than one). OH! And I am sooooo happy that they've kept the H-Bomb horror. Dare to dream folks, this Godzilla might be the real deal.
Comic Book Superstar & ITMOD Favorite, Francesco Francavilla vented some remake fatigue this morning through his twitter feed. Point Break 2015 starring Gerard Butler & Luke Bracey, and directed by Ericson Core (the guy responsible for the look of Daredevil, The Fast and The Furious, & Payback). Does anybody want that? Not me. But I'm always rooting for Gerard Butler. Rocknrolla, Law Abiding Citizen, Gamer. I love those whacky flicks. Olympus Has Fallen...well, the man tries real hard. And I've stated on ITMOD before, and I'll state over & over again - remakes are as old as cinema itself. Some of your favorite films are remakes - The Wizard of Oz, The Maltese Falcon, A Fistful of Dollars, The Thing, The Fly, Sleepless in Seattle, The Bourne Identity, and The Ladykillers. So this small handful of films justifies Total Recall, Evil Dead, Carrie, Oldboy, Robocop, Point Break?? Probably not. I'm just not ready to jump on the hate wagon anymore just cuz the general consensus says REMAKES ARE DUMB. I'm a film freak with hope in his heart. Godzilla!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Monday, February 24, 2014
Slow week. No real reason. Just taking it easy. Gotta recharge my batteries every now and again. The Academy Awards are right around the corner - I've seen more nominations this year than any other, but there are still a few crucial films I need to hit up before March 2nd (I'm looking at you Frozen). So far I've avoided the documentary shorts & a couple of foreign films. Gotta correct that...next week. Honestly though, the stuff I'm most excited about these days are comic books. Not satisfied with the completion of Grant Morrison's Supergods (look, it's beautiful madness, but I want more history less peyote), I blitzed through the audiobook of Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story.
Just days before I turned the last page, Marvel unleashed the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer...90% of which we saw at last year's Comic Con, but it was still enough to get be jazzed about all things Cosmic and Raccoon. I ran to my local comic shop, but they were already sold out of the source material. All my coworkers are gaga for Groot, and I'm starting to hope that the world is ready for the murderous furball. Doctor Strange is right around the corner, then...Black Panther? And yet DC is still floundering with their properties. Marvel is spanking Warner Brothers. I love it.
The Darjeeling Limited: A month out from Wes Anderson's new film, The Wife & I are still chugging along his filmography. When originally released, The Darjeeling Limited was met with lackluster enthusiasm from fans and a tepid critical reception. Looking back at my own Top Ten Lists of the last several years, I was pleased to see that Darjeeling ranked as my favorite film of 2007. My opinion has not changed. As an only child myself, I've always been fascinated with sibling relationships, and even if I don't quite understand the battle for paternal love, I am charmed by how this brotherly war passive aggressively erupts in every one of their actions. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman may not at all resemble each other physically, but they expertly inhabit one another's mannerisms. It really is a thrilling performance trilogy, and as they reach their destination and lives are lost and narrative gaps are filled, I find myself emotionally strained in a way that no other Anderson film has managed. Is it my favorite Wes Anderson? No. I gotta go Life Aquatic, Tenenbaums, or Fox, but Darjeeling is close behind.
Marked Woman: Bette Davis is a carefree mobster's moll who catches the attention of Humphrey Bogart's District Attorney after her sister is stolen of the streets. Despite the formation of the Hays Code in 1930, an uncredited Michael Curtiz (Casablanca!!!) still manages to deliver plenty of scandalous behavior from this sordid ripped-from-the-headlines tale. These goons are some real beasts, and Bette Davis takes a helluva scary beating behind closed doors. Bogart is a bit dry, but that's okay because this is Davis's show and she rocks the woman wronged role. Maybe not as iconic as some similar films of this era, Marked Woman is a hidden Hollywood gem.
Saga of the Swamp Thing Volume 2 by Alan Moore: After months and months of pestering, I finally caved to Matt's demands and dove into this classic series. The first trade took some time getting off it's feet, but by the end I was hooked to the plight of The Green. In volume 2, Swamp Thing continues to explore what it means to be a Plant with delusions of Manhood, and Moore takes his saga deeper down the rabbit hole of comic book legacy. My favorite moment from this entry, is when the original Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson stories are used as a gateway into a biblical origin of the House of Mystery. As Mystery & Secrets collide, I was hooting & hollering to myself. This is weird, wild stuff. Is this genius? Nope. At least not yet. But I'm starting to get that tingle that I am certainly reading something special - the hype is earned. The goal is to crank out a volume a week. Alan Moore is too dang dense to blitz through. Besides, I want to savor this gothic dread.
Game of Thrones - Season 3: I am not the world's biggest Game of Thrones fan. I've never read the books, and I'm not planning to either. However, every time one of these DVD sets comes out, I stop whatever I'm doing and concentrate on nothing else until the discs have been devoured. It's TV crack. Smoke it up! I don't love every bitty plot point. I am not too keen on the Jon Snow story - in fact, I find his whiney fumblings around the lust of a wildling to be utterly annoying. The Mother of Dragons is spending too much damn time wandering the desert. It's time to get into the action lady! But then you have the sad, honorable, and patriarchally tortured Tyrion Lannister. The hell that is Kings Landing owns this show. If you have a good bone in your body, George RR Martin will crush you. The good die young here folks, and only villains reap reward. Last year, all I heard was "Red Wedding, Red Wedding, Red Wedding" from every coworker, friend, and Entertainment Weekly spoiler headline. So I thought I knew what I was getting into with the third season climax. But damn...I was not at all prepared for the depths of viciousness Martin had in store. The Red Wedding might be one of the single most wonderfully hateful acts of fiction I've ever experienced. Just wow. Who to root for? Hard to answer that question in this blood soaked world.
Marvel Comics - The Untold Story by Sean Howe: "The heroic journeys are forever denied an end." In this golden age of comic book to silver screen adaptation everyone seems to love the Cameomeister Stan Lee. Sean Howe's tell-all style approach to the rise, fall, & rise again of Marvel Comics certainly sets its sights on Smiling Stan. Yep, it's disheartening to read interviews & radio excerpts in which Lee dismisses the medium of comics as a lesser art form to novels and movies. The book paints a picture of a man who settled into comics because that's what would have him. Is Stan Lee the godfather of spandex? Or is he simply the benefactor of opportune nepotism, sneaking his way into cousin Martin Goodman's magazine distributor? The debate surrounding creator rights is nothing new, and I only have so much sympathy when we're talking royalties in Work-For-Hire art. You signed a contract, Marvel owns your ass. But lets give credit where credit is due. And it is genuinely upsetting to discover that Stan Lee sued Marvel for 10 million dollars after decades of dismissing similar claims from Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko. This is nothing new for comicbook fanboys; the bitter contempt from his co-creator contemporaries tarnished Stan Lee's shine long ago. The man is his greatest creation. Sean Howe spends plenty of time (maybe too much) taking the icon down a peg or two. My favorite bits are the ones exploring the financial reasoning behind some of our favorite Event Storylines, and the cashgrab desperation driving Marvel to LA LA Land. A not so inevitable success when you look at blockbuster flops like Howard the Duck or limp direct-to-video releases like Dolph Lundgren's Punisher. Marvel once touted itself as the four-color Disney, and it's a trip to see Walt's Kingdom gobble them up, but how long will the mass audience be appeased by Robert Downey Jr's Avengers? Bubbles always burst. At the very least, Marvel Comics The Untold Story, got me aching for both my own back issues and those not acquired yet. I seriously need Steve Gerber's rage fueled Destroyer Duck - so much deliciously not-so-hidden Marvel Hate!
Avengers - Earth's Mightiest Heroes Season 1: The first season takes its time assembling Earth's Mightiest Heroes, using 11 half hour episodes to fully form the roster. Once gathered, this Saturday Morning Cartoon goes completely bonkers for comic book continuity, borrowing everything from Brian Michael Bendis' New Avengers run to classic arcs like The Kang Dynasty. The Avengers battle Hydra, Ultron, Enchantress, Klaw, and The Purple Man....yes, THE PURPLE MAN!! Nerd nirvana here. Sure, some of the voice cast is cloying with Tony Stark in particular grating the nerves with his Robert Downey Jr impersonation, but the show hits more than it misses. And with a second season promising even longer story arcs in the form of the Skrulls Secret Invasion and Galactus, Devour of Worlds - I am hooked. No more picking away at this series, all must be consumed.
The Price of Gold: I don't care much about the Olympics these days. I haven't watched a single one in well over a decade. But in 1994 our family household was overwhelmed with the competition...I'm guessing every family home was that way back then. Thanks to the bizarre figure skating rivalry story between poor white trash Tonya Harding and ice princess Nancy Kerrigan...and a kneecap hit that spun the media into True Crime bliss. Part of ESPN's 30 for 30, The Price of Gold attempts to dissect the fervor around the events, but never quite elevates itself beyond a talking heads documentary. It's certainly interesting to hear what Tonya has to say, and I appreciate Nancy Kerrigan's refusal to participate, but The Price of Gold is little more than a "Remember When." A footnote for those families that fell victim to the circus, but I don't think a modern audience would find this hour plus doc terribly satisfying. If anything, this just reaffirms my belief in the utter failure of contemporary TMZ journalism. Anchorman 2 got it right.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
This ended up being something of a week of rest for me. Following last week’s crap-ton of awesome crazy, I started this week with a very busy Sunday, preparing and then running my first major tabletop roleplaying session in a long, long time. I’m always a ball of nerves when it comes to running games, and this was no exception. In fact, that morning, I was sporting a raging headache and cloudy thinking that made me worry I was going to have to cancel. Thankfully, it cleared up by around 2PM and the rest of the day and that evening went pretty well. The next few days, I didn’t do much but zone out and try to sleep. Reading, sure. Though I’ve been having a hard time for a while (a few months, I think) with concentrating, thus I haven’t been reading as much as I should. However, I did knock out a couple Lovecraft-ish tales. His ‘revisions’ of Elizabeth Berkeley’s The Crawling Chaos and The Green Meadow. Both stories remind me of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories, as well as some of the more flowery and weird writing of C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and others. And I read Hazel Heald’s Winged Death (also with revision from Lovecraft), which was OK. It had some cool ideas, but it felt a little too much like a wannabe Poe story. It also features some blatant racism, though from a character we know from the start is an evil bastard. That was about all I could muster until Thursday morning (the start of a 4 day weekend), when I watched my first movie of the week.
I was also surprised to find out this week that the HBO show True Detective is apparently dropping a lot of references to one of Lovecraft's inspirations, Robert W. Chambers and his King in Yellow. This is pretty crazy to me, but pretty awesome. It's especially weird, because one of the plots in the RPG I'm running (which the party hasn't stumbled upon yet), deals with the King. Don't know if it will play out, and I don't think anyone in the group is watching the show yet, so it shouldn't be an issue. It makes me want to watch the show even more, though.
Heroes Two: Though a pretty good story, this film never reaches ‘classic’ level. Much of the problem is in the fighting, which though copious, isn’t especially well choreographed. It looks like they needed to do a few more run-throughs before filming. That said, I do like the ending, and the weird MURDER VISION that kicks in whenever rebels get whacked in that last fight. A fine, middle of the road, Shaw Bros. kung fu flick.
The Jazz Singer: Elephant in the room, first. Yeah, Al Jolson does blackface in this movie, and yeah, that’s really f’ed up. I knew it would happen, but it was still horrifying when it finally did, and really sours the whole movie. Now, it’s not done with the contemptuous maliciousness of Birth of a Nation, but that doesn’t make it OK. It also comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. Why is it even in the movie? The only explanation I’ve got for that is it’s what Jolson was known for, so they worked it into the film. There’s no plot reason it needs to be there. And I can imagine someone who isn’t familiar with blackface being very confused by why he suddenly slathers on make-up to sing two songs, nobody seems to notice or comment on it, and there are no contextual clues for why it happens. OK. All that aside, I was mostly interested in the film because I knew it was a pioneering effort in the addition of sound to motion picture. It isn’t a full fledged ‘talkie,’ though. The musical numbers are synched, and occasionally also have synched dialog accompanying them. However, the rest of the film is a standard silent film, with title cards. The story, about a Jewish kid growing up in New York City, who dreams of being a jazz performer, is sweet and somewhat emotional. Honestly, I was shocked at how openly Jewish the story was, too, as I’m a little more used to heavy Christian dominance in pre-60s films. And in spite of the skin-crawling that accompanied the blackface scenes, the finale where he has to deal with his career or his parents had a lot of heart. It is sad that, like Birth of a Nation, this momentous occasion in the history of film has to be tainted with some rather egregious racism, but unlike that Ku Klux Klan love letter, the Jazz Singer may be flawed, but does not feel like it comes from an evil place, only a misguided one.
Thursday night, Ben and I went over to Cinema Arts to check out a special screening of Knights of Badassdom, a low budget comedy about live action role players. I’d seen the trailer quite a while back, and according to the woman hosting the screening, it had been held up for a couple years due to some legal issues. The showing was weird, because the audience was full of LARP people, which I did not expect. I guess it was like seeing the premier of a comic movie at a comic convention. I don’t think anyone was in costume, though some of the people look like their normal wardrobe is costume. Still, other than a few people unable to keep their boisterous nerdiness in check, it was a pretty good crowd. They laughed a lot more than I did, and I guess there must have been a lot of in-jokes I didn’t get. As a long time tabletop gamer, I’ve been aware of live action gaming from pretty early on. It’s a weird combination of D&D (ugh!) and Historic Reenacting. What I was exposed to most was the Vampire LARP people, who tended to be representative of a lot of things I hated about the 90s, and so soured me on the hobby. Is that unfair? Perhaps. But it’s what happened.
|I wish I was born in the 17th Century!|
Knights of Badassdom: LARPing (live action role playing) has always been the fringe of the already fringe hobby of tabletop roleplaying games. Though on more than one occasion, I’ve been sorely tempted to give it a try, I think my short lived career in Lazer Tag was as close as I’ll get. This movie embraces the hobby, and manages to laugh with it at least as much as laugh at it. There are some pretty funny bits, but I found the whole to be uneven, too scattered. It felt a bit like the scrapped remains of several different scripts that somehow came together, but never quite meshed. Seemingly destined for cult status, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to sweep the nation. I’d recommend it to gamers, particularly LARPers, but otherwise…Well, if it hits NetFlix instant, check it out. There are some funny gags. And surprising levels of gore.
Death on the Nile: There’s something grandly cinematic about this movie. I think the location shooting and the music have a lot to do with it. Like the classic Bond film in the overall vibe. The story? She's not so good. Agatha Christie’s work has always had more of a made-for-TV vibe, in my mind. It works in the small doses of episodic television. The cast, too, feels made for TV. Older actors who weren’t getting parts in big films (Bette Davis), up and comers (Olivia Hussey), and those actors who achieved fame for one reason or another but were never especially good (Mia Farrow). All led by an the usually awesome Peter Ustinov, who seems unusually disengaged in the role of Hercule Poirot. I liked the film, but didn’t love it. It certainly played on my nostalgia for films of that era (1978), though it didn’t do an especially good job of transporting me to the era it was set in (1920s?). The film is very uneven. There are aspects and scenes I like a lot, however the movie as a whole is just OK. It’s also one of those 70s PG movies that would shock and appall today. There are some rather gruesome killings in it, including a nasty shot to the face. Actually, everybody seems to get shot in the head, except for one, who gets his/her throat cut.
On Saturday morning, I finally got back into Boardwalk Empire after a prolonged break as I was distracted by shiny things. I’m now about half way through the second season, and it’s so good. I don’t even feel the irritation toward Michael Pitt I normally do. What’s that about? I’ve got the next disk up close to the top of my queue, so I should be able to get through the season fairly soon. Thanks to running some Call of Cthulhu, I’m really into the 20s stuff right now, and this is a fine show for that.
Evil Under the Sun: Ustinov is back and the obnoxious Belgian, Hercule Poirot, in this noticeably lower rent sequel to Death on the Nile. Oddly, a few members of that film’s cast have returned, but playing different roles. And this time around, it really feels like a TV episode. Location shooting or not, it doesn’t look or sound in any way ‘cinematic.’ James Mason only is awake in one of his scenes, though for that scene he’s quite good. Otherwise he looks bored, sleepy, and confused. Diana Rigg looks like she thought it was going to be a different film and is now killing time 'til her boat leaves. Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov are better used in this movie than the first, but still not given much to work with. And the whole Agatha Christie, “let’s all go have drinks in the lounge, while I reveal all the clues the viewer wasn’t given, and tell you who did it” thing is especially insufferable. It’s less uneven than Death on the Nile. Unfortunately, that’s because it never hits any particular high notes, preferring to languish in mediocrity.
And that’s it. Like I said, a week of rest. I was hoping to force myself to get more reading done, but this fidgety lack of concentration thing is hampering things. I’m doing some more prep-work for the next game session, which sadly looks like it’s going to be a month away. Blasted people and their busy schedules. Stupid retail makes social lives difficult.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Part Twenty Three
Cue long, exaggerated sigh, followed by a nostalgic musing while I stare off into the distance. Yes. It is done. Or, to use a phrase I think should never be used in another film in the history of ever, “It has begun.” After all the talk, all the wishful thinking, all the day dreaming, and yes, all the many false starts, the first night of actual roleplaying has been accomplished. The first full session I’ve run in more than six years (other than that one on one thing with Brad a couple years ago when I was first trying to get serious about this). I think that’s the longest continuous gap in gaming I’ve had since I started with the hobby as a young lad (pretty sure Reagan was still in office). It feels good to slay that dragon. Starting a game is always difficult. Starting a game with people new to the hobby is a challenge (a very worthy one). But starting a game after six years was very, very hard to do. I’m using mental muscles that have atrophied, digging into parts of my brain that haven’t seen the light of day for far too long. But, it all worked out pretty well. All the stress and apprehension melted away fairly quickly, and I began to feel the old rhythms.
Call of Cthulhu always has always felt a bit like coming home. It uses the Basic Roleplaying system, the game mechanic I got started on. And it didn’t take me long to fall for it’s 1920s/1930s setting. After all, Indiana Jones was my hero. Over the years, it’s meant a lot of different things to me. I’ve played in several very different games, and I’ve run a bunch myself. It’s always challenging, but usually rewarding. This time around, I’m trying something a little more ambitious than normal. In the past, I’ve almost always done one of three things. Early on, my games were always set in very cinematic versions of exotic countries. Then I graduated to The Thing style of relatable, but hopelessly remote locations, with characters from different walks of life thrust together through circumstance (survivors of a plane crash, for example). Later, in an attempt to get things more grounded and relatable, my games were set in and around Bangor, Maine, my home town and a place I had a good deal of practical knowledge of. Not this time. This time the game is set in Arkham, the city is wide open, and I’m juggling more than one story. In the past, I’ve tended to take just one idea, one creature, one item, and build a story around it. When that story was over, perhaps I’d do a follow-up, likely connected to the first in some way. This time, I wanted to do something new. So, I’ve got a whole bunch of storylines, some fully developed, some only briefly sketched out, all waiting to be uncovered by the group. And I’m going to let them explore those stories in whatever way they see fit. Sure, I’ll be dropping hints and hooks, but already they’ve gone off in unexpected directions, and it’s great. Of course, not ever story will pan out. Not every clue will lead to something important. And these story threads aren’t all linked. They’re not all about the same thing, and they’re not all building to something, like I’d normally do. Though they may be laced together by the characters (that’s already started to happen), I’m letting the chips fall where they may.
Going way back, I always knew that Call of Cthulhu shouldn’t be Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t just mean the system and all its nonsense. I mean, it shouldn’t be about walking around fighting monsters all the time. It shouldn’t be opening doors and finding random creatures and artifacts. It shouldn’t be a video game. I think that might be part of why I always focused stories on only one core idea or creature. If the story was about Ghouls, then dang it, Ghouls would be what you got. Maybe, just maybe, they’d have something extra special and nasty working with them, but 99% of what the game would be about Ghouls and Ghouls only. This time around I wanted to do things differently, so I conceived two major and unrelated stories, and multiple lesser stories. I still don’t want this to degrade into some 20s themed dungeon crawl, with rooms full of Deep Ones or legions of Nightgaunts flapping around. But it’s going to be more monster/thing heavy than I’d normally do. In fact, in the very first session, a monster was spotted (briefly), an artifact was found, and a bunch of other crazy stuff happened. Normally, I’d take a lot longer to reveal that much. And of course, like in all Call of Cthulhu games I run, I need to make sure that the possibility of the complete ending of the world is always an option. I feel like any given session of the game should be able to result in an apocalypse of some form, be it a plague, open war with the Deep Ones, causing Yog-Sothoth to open the Gates, a visit from Ghroth, whatever.
So, now that I’ve got my head around the game, now that the first session has happened, I feel more focused, and more like I know what I’m doing again. Now, I need to target each player and his/her character with some particular excitement and horror, as well as provide opportunities for each to be a valued member of a team.
I don’t imagine this game will go on for more than 3 or 4 sessions, especially as I’m trying to keep things moving quickly, and will probably be throwing a lot more, and more deadly things at the characters than normal. So, I’m still thinking about what other games might be good for the group. I would certainly like to do something more long form, something open ended, where character development can get more play, where stories can take their time to build, and where actions have far reaching consequences. One especially nice thing about games like Call of Cthulhu is that, assuming characters reach a good ending point still sane and alive, there’s always the option of picking things up again later, even if there are new players in the group. If folks enjoy this roleplaying thing and want to do more, we’ll talk about options again then. I hope I can keep this ball rolling. It’s tough, with everyone having kids and jobs and social lives. But I think we can do it.
|I still love Cyberpunk 2020.|
Thanks to the blog Existential Ennui, I just found out that Ben Wheatley, the guy behind A Field in England, one of my favorite films of last year, is attached to direct an adaptation of a book I've been wanting to read for nearly thirty years. J.G. Ballard's High Rise. When I was a young lad, I found a book about various ways the concept of the City of the Future has been explored in art and literature. And one of the books mentioned was High Rise. But, gasp, I could not find a copy to save my life. Heck, I could barely even find any other evidence the book ever existed.
However, it was finally reprinted (first US printing?) in 2012, and I now own a copy. Which went right into my 'to read' pile and has been sitting there for two years. OK, so I just moved it closer to the top. I've got a lot of books to read. Don't pressure me, man.
I can't wait to see what Wheatley does with this very cool concept. And somehow his voice mixing with Ballard's feels right. Of course, right now, he's only 'attached' to the project. It's not a sure thing that this film will get made, or that by the time it is, Wheatley will be at the helm. Still, I find it exciting news to wake up to, and hope all goes well. And I have time to read the book so I'm not a total poser-chump.
Oh, yeah, and fangirl favorite Tom Hiddleston is currently attached as the star. That's cool by me. If you can't get Michael Fassbender, there's Hiddleston.
-Matthew J. Constantine
Monday, February 17, 2014
This week started with something of a mini-vacation, and it was kind of awesome. On Sunday, I saw Monuments Men with Ben and West Side Story with Brad and a group of friends. Great. On Monday, though, Brad and I went nuts. We headed in to DC to visit Lee Marvin and Dashiell Hammett’s graves at Arlington, then walked over to the World War I monument, then the Martin Luther King monument, then on to the Air & Space museum to see the original model of the Enterprise from Star Trek. The MLK monument was very cool. And, I'm guessing because of its proximity, they've cleared the area around the WWI monument, so you can actually find it now. That's a welcome change from the serious effort it took to uncover the right hidden path you used to have to take to find it. From there, we headed over to Mad Hatter, the bar/restaurant on Connecticut for a delicious meal. Then it was back to Brad’s for a movie (China Gate), and then off to the AFI Silver to see Point Blank on the big screen. Awesome. Feeling pretty darned devastated after such a busy day, I crashed hard and had a good sleep, only to get up Tuesday morning and head over the Cinema Arts to watch all the Oscar Nominated shorts. Busy, busy couple of days. My last few vacations have been a touch lackluster, but this one was darned fine right from the start.
The Monuments Men: To me, the argument that saving art while war is raging was somehow unworthy is a lot like the argument that spending money on space science while people are starving is unworthy; short sighted and missing the point. Art, literature, architecture; these are the ways in which we as a species achieve culture. Culture is the only thing that separates us from wild animals, and I think it’s worth remembering, protecting, and sacrificing for. It doesn’t lessen the cost of war. It doesn’t cheapen life. It gives life its meaning and a people their immortality. We know the Egyptians through the works they left, we understand the struggles of the Renaissance through the art and literature those people left behind. We have the United States Constitution because men thought to write it down. All that is just to get out of my head some of my frustration about the ignorant and petty complaints about the movie’s very concept. Besides that, these weren’t men being taken from the front line; they were guys who would otherwise not have taken an active role in the war, who ended up helping to defeat not just Hitler and the Nazis, but their very idea. The movie itself feels like something of a throwback to the war/caper films of the 1950s. I could easily see Gregory Peck, Lee Marvin, Anthony Quayle, Robert Shaw and others of that time stepping into the various roles. As such, it’s a bit slower paced than many modern films, and perhaps a bit sentimental. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This is a movie that I’d watch as a companion to a viewing of Band of Brothers, The English Patient, Downfall, and Black Book.
West Side Story: This is my favorite version of Romeo and Juliet…including the original. The songs are good, colors are vibrant, and the actors are charming, if not always that great. I like how it’s a grand, epic musical version of all those 50s ‘youth gone wild’ movies. ‘Hell cats in hot pants,’ and all that. Plus, there’s a lot of stuff about life as an immigrant, trying to blend into the established American tapestry, itself already a hodgepodge of various other ethnicities. One of the better musicals, and one that I find myself enjoying more with each viewing. Seeing it this time around on the big screen was a special treat.
China Gate: That’s a whole lot of ugly. Awful people root around in the bombed out ruins of pre-US involvement Vietnam, while the Chinese funnel weapons from Moscow. The French Foreign Legion troops who feature in the film are all nasty customers, but the lead is the worst. A horrible racist and a general scumbag. And he’s ostensibly the film’s hero. Though in truth, ‘half-cast’ Lucky Legs (Angie Dickinson) is the real hero. Nasty business, brutal twists, horrible cruelty, and one heck of a climax, followed by one ugly action scene. Nat King Cole also makes an appearance, and is really good.
Point Blank: One of my favorite Tough Guy movies, this John Boorman experiment in crazy is so tough, so rough, so relentlessly nasty, I’m sure most viewers couldn’t handle it. Lee Marvin plays Walker (a name switch for Richard Stark’s venerable badass Parker), a man who wants his money. And he’s going to take down or out whoever he needs to in order to get his cut. Filled with wild sequences, weird sound work, visual flourishes, and awesome character actors, it’s a movie you can’t unsee. It’s not that they don’t make movies like this anymore. They never made movies like this.
2014 Academy Award Nominated Animated Short Films: The animated shorts for 2013 were a nice mix of style and content. Disney’s retro-inspired Get a Horse is cute, but at the end of the day feels like something Warner Bros. would have done a decade back when trying to recapture old glory. Room on the Broom took a bit to build, but won me over after I was initially put off by the animation style. Feral was the most visually impressive and interesting, but I’ll admit, I kind of tuned out near the end. I wanted to like it more than I did, and I’m not sure just how I’d have done it differently. Mr. Hublot is cute, and the CGI Steampunk universe sure looks pretty. It has some fun and clever gags and was a pleasant viewing. I don’t think it will stay with me in the long run. Possessions is tough for me. On the one hand, I found technical aspects of the animation to be very irritating (what appeared to be a lot of separate, CG rendered 3D elements, moving stiffly, like a slightly more advanced version of old flash animations…or like models of people made out of folded card-stock, then stop motioned…only in CG). But I liked the weird little Japanese mythology based story. Actually, I liked the story a lot. There were a couple honorable mentions shown along with the five nominees, and among those I found my favorite. The Missing Scarf, narrated by George Takei, left me kind of thunderstruck. It’s so funny, so uplifting and depressing, so simple, yet do darned complex. It was a highlight of my short film filled day. Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella felt more like a coffee commercial or something. It looks good, sure. But as far as stories go, it’s pretty dull and obvious. If I just watched it, with no idea that it was a short film, I would assume at some point a product would be put in front of me, and I’d be told that I should buy it, be it the afore mentioned coffee, or a car, or a dating website. And finally, they played A la Francaise, about a bunch of chickens at Versailles. It had a couple funny gags, but was mostly just a head scratcher.
2014 Academy Award Nominated Live Action Short Films: I can’t say I’m surprised, but these films seemed primarily in the vain of ‘we’re gonna make you feel really bad about life’/meaningful films. One about a kid with a terminal illness, one about child soldiers, one about an abused woman. In fact, only one of them was at all enjoyable to watch. Now, I get that some people want to use art to make a point, to make people aware of ills in the world. And I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them that. Film is a great medium to discuss things like that. OK. But come on. My favorite of the bunch was Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?, if for no other reason than it was uplifting and didn’t make me think about slitting my wrists. In fact, it was the only one of the films (despite clear attempts to manipulate my emotions in others) that brought tears to my eyes. They were tears of laughter, but tears none the less. I also liked The Voorman Problem, which was very well put together and put me in mind of old Outer Limits episodes or Ray Bradbury stories. Helium feels somewhat cloying, like a Hallmark Channel movie. Aquel No Era Yo was brutally depressing and goes to exactly the places you expect it to go. Avant Que De Tout Perdre is very well put together and very tense, and I guess ultimately emotionally satisfying. But it’s kind of lost among the depression.
Tuesday night, I finished reading the second volume of Thor: God of Thunder. Excellent series. I’m very interested in seeing where they take it in the future. Love the art, love the story.
Sweetwater: Not at all the goofy, silly film I expected, this Western isn’t great, but it’s not bad. A villainous, half-mad preacher is trying to set up his own kingdom, and he’s willing to crush anyone who doesn’t jump in line. A crotchety old law man and a revenge fueled young wife have something to say about it, though. I can’t get too excited about the film, but it’s not bad. And if you’re in the mood for a different Western, it’s worth giving a watch. January Jones doesn’t suck, too. That’s kind of a shock. Ed Harris is doing Jeff Bridges doing Rooster Cogburn. OK.
The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box: I enjoyed this little slice of Victorian (?) fantasy adventure, but it’s not particularly good. The acting is fine. The production looks fine. The whole thing is fine. But it doesn’t pop; it doesn’t capture the imagination. Passable, but not noteworthy.
How I Live Now: I had a hard time getting into this movie, in part because the lead character is such a snot, and I’m not fully satisfied with the ending. However, excepting the very beginning and the very ending, it’s an excellent, beautifully shot film about surviving during a war. It’s steeped in the all consuming, depressing fear of nuclear war that I grew up with, reminding me of stories and films, and imaginings of that era. The countryside is beautiful, and it sets the horrors in that much more of a stark contrast. It’s hard to say you enjoy a movie like this, because it’s pretty dark and depressing. But this is a good take on the subject. Not especially original, but well told.
On Wednesday, the expected last day of my vacation, Brad and I headed out to visit Big Planet comics, and generally goof about. At some point, it was decided that I would join him and mutual friend Darren at the Alamo for the new Robocop, a film I’ll admit, I wasn’t too interested in. Still, a movie’s a movie. And since the whole region was flipping out over an approaching snow storm, it was a nice place to get away from the raving panic.
Robocop (2014): This doesn’t suck. And that right there isn’t something I expected to be able to say. Was it great? No. Did we need a Robocop remake? No. Should it have at least been rated R? Of course. But it wasn’t awful. There were enough new elements to make it not completely pointless, but there wasn’t anything especially ground breaking. I liked the soundtrack.
The snow storm hit, and even this jaded Northerner had to admit, it was a lot of snow in a short time. But, it was also really cold, so if you shoveled it early, it was easy as pie. Later, it began to rain, and the melting process began. Whatever the case, I ended up with an unexpected day of vacation, but was pretty groggy, and spent much of my day zoned out on the couch.
The Sentinel: A horror movie very much of its time, with all the requisite parts. Morally bankrupt men, an emotionally devastated female lead, uncomfortable sexuality, jarring music, Satan, a-hole cops, and so much more. If you’re into 70s horror and don’t feel like watching The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, The Omen, The Devil’s Rain, Susperia, or Rosemary’s Baby, well then, there’s this. Lead Christina Raines is half way between Brooke Adams and Kate Jackson. Not a bad actress, and very cute in that fresh-faced 70s starlet kind of way. The movie? It's OK, I guess.
The Haunting: I’m not much of a haunted house fan, but this is one of the better entries in that particular horror staple. The actors are good, the characters interestingly broken, and the lavish sets impressive. I like the overall sense of Gothic dread, though it has few actual scares. I don’t mean jumps, I mean scares. Any movie can be jumpy, few get to the root of fear, and this one doesn’t. Still, it’s a pretty good movie.
The Old Fairy Tale: When the Sun Was God (aka: Army of Valhalla): This is a three part story; I’m assuming it was originally for TV. It’s a mostly realistic Medieval epic about a corrupt prince stealing the throne, and the struggle of his people to set things right again. There is a fantasy element, with some magic and occasional acts of gods, but overall, it’s fairly grounded. The final episode suffers a lot from budgetary constraints. The finale involves a building being on fire and some other stuff going on, which looks pretty bad and did kind of take me out of things, especially since it had looked pretty good up until then. I liked the cast and a lot of the story, and think that for a ten year old television production from Poland, it looks pretty good. Some technical issues and iffy use of music aside, it’s worth tracking down if you’re in the mood something set in pre-Christian Poland.
Flying Down to Rio: While nowhere near as good as say, Singin’ in the Rain, this movie is a heck of a lot of fun. And, being made in that magical pre-Code era, it’s delightfully naughty. The sexual innuendo…if you can even call it innuendo, is wonderful. Racy talk about fast living and having fun. None of the prudishness of the 40s and 50s, the so called ‘good old days’ of separate beds, moms in the kitchens, and dads smoking their pipe while the kids watch TV. These were dashing dandys and brassy dames, dancing, drinking, and getting into all kinds of…well, whatever it was, it was hotsy-totsy.
Ender’s Game: This was a heck of a lot better than the trailer made out. But it still wasn’t amazing. It’s the kind of science fiction film I’d like to see a lot more of, but with more punch and less retread. I know it’s based off a novel, but that novel was covering some old sci-fi ground when it came out (owing more than a little to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, among others). The cast does a pretty good job, again, better than the trailer led me to believe. And it does deal with some interesting ideas. One major problem I’ve got with it is that it feels like the pilot episode of a series that I know didn’t get picked up. It ends at the point I started to really engage. I know there are the novels, but I’m not an Orson Scott Card fan, so I’m not likely to read them. And the movie seems to have tanked, so we're not likely to see more. Still, maybe this movie will pick up a certain cult following among younger viewers. It’s got the potential. Who can say?
Rain: The cold, determined villainy of the religious fanatic, the hypocritical hollowness of the bellowing preacher, and the ill-fated desire to impose spiritual purity on others. Dang. This movie, is as relevant today as it was in 1932. What the prudes would do with the imposition of the Hayes codes, what the prudes had recently done with Prohibition, what the prudes will normally get up to if they’re not fought at every turn. Ruining joy and happiness for everyone who has it. Joan Crawford is a fun loving party girl. Yeah, she’s got troubles. Her life wasn’t so good. But now she’s finding pleasure and joy where she can. She even meets a guy who’s A-OK with her, just as she is. Well, wild-eyed preacher Alfred Davidson and his sycophantic lady friends can’t let that stand. He’ll work every angle to break down this free spirit, destroy her life, and ruin her happiness. I really liked this movie. Love Joan Crawford and her story arc. Love the message the movie sends and the middle finger it boldly flips at people who feel they have the right to impose their morality on others. Also, Guy Kibbee is an especial treat as the bartender/innkeeper Joe Horn. I’m sure I’ve seen this guy around, but he was so good in the role I’m gonna have to track down more of his work.
And that’s about it. But ‘it’ was pretty awesome. Haven’t had that much fun packed into a week in a while. I always like a trip in to DC. Frankly, any trip makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, but walking around DC, even in the frigid cold, is very cool. None of the claustrophobia I used to get in Boston (not to mention, it’s a hell of a lot cleaner). Every time I go there, part of me wants to find a way to live there. But I don’t see that happening any time soon. Or while I’m single. So, you know. Ever.