Sunday, April 27, 2014
Oh, the perils of a social life. Didn’t get a lot of Dork business done this week. I was out on the town, having a blast.
The Asphalt Jungle: The dingy underbelly of urban life is exposed in this nasty bit of work. Sterling Hayden is but one of the film’s monsters, bent on filling his belly with hate and greed. It features a lot of the usual Noir dialog, plot twists, and ugly characters. And it features a pretty good heist. The characters are a lot of fun, and there are a surprising number of them. Even a young Marilyn Monroe shows up as a sympathetic floozy. John Huston knew how to make a mean movie, tinged with grit and sadness.
Smiles of a Summer Night: I guess I had this realization last year some time. But yup. I’m an Ingmar Bergman fan. I love how fun this film is, how bawdy and funny it is. And I love how sexy it is. Gunnar Bjornstrand is so charming, the ladies are so lovely, and the shenanigans so much fun. Bergman is not the cold, symbolic, unapproachable filmmaker he is often made out to be. While some of his films are dense with symbol and some are certainly challenging, I think he is very much the populist; crafting excellent films for everyone to enjoy. Smiles of a Summer Night is not difficult to understand. It’s about our passions, our lusts, and our loves. It’s about being alive.
Sorcerer: Bring a change of clothes, a cool drink, and some freshly soothed nerves. This movie will put you through the wringer. A brutally slow burn, this film builds and builds and builds, until what is, in a sense, the main action of the film begins, probably an hour in. It’s wonderfully shot, and absolutely revels in the awful, hot, poverty stricken, disgustingly wet world of South America. And when the action does happen, it’s gripping and nasty. Sorcerer is an excellent, thrilling, adventurous piece of mean spirited 70s cinema. Desperate and awful people, hiding out on the fringe of civilization, taking on a job only a sucker would do. Man, it’s good.
Burnt Offerings: The 70s produced a lot of cool films, but it also produced a very particular type of horror film that seems unique to its time. Burt Offerings is a perfect example of what I’m talking about (see also: The Sentinel, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and Don’t Look Now) . The characters are all totally insane, and not at all relatable. The plot doesn’t make much sense. The atmosphere is monstrously thick. But sadly, so is the writing. Frequently, very little happens, but there’s almost always a flippin’ crazy ending that doesn’t make much sense. I enjoyed watching this film. The actors are all good (even Karen Black isn’t bad), and it’s creepy and weird. But it’s also, like so many others of its time, ultimately disappointing. The big reveal at the end was a huge let down. If Oliver Reed had opened that door and found some kind of great spider demon or something, I’d have lost my s%#& and this might be one of the coolest films ever. Alas, what was behind the door was kind of boring. If you’re looking to watch more movies of that particular 70s vibe, this was better than some, like The Other or the afore mentioned Don’t Look Now (I’ll never get why people like that one).
On Thursday night, I read Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths. It was OK. Felt like a comic version of a lesser film in the classic (Showa) era. Readable, with a few good bits, but nothing special.
The Apartment: You can feel the yoke of the Hayes Codes slipping in this 1960 comedy about a wide-eyed pencil pusher striving for the American Dream. As bosses keep using his apartment for their extramarital affairs, he starts to fall for the dame in the elevator. Things get really out of hand when the big boss calls him in and demands the use of his place (but offers a sweet promotion). Jack Lemmon balances sweet charm with wannabe corporate shark quite well. Shirley MacLaine is kind of adorable as the broken girl with dashed hopes. And Fred MacMurray is an absolute monster as the boorish, heartless, blowhard boss. Lots of great character performances, a great style, and a clever script all make for a fine film. I love Lemmon’s apartment, too, which seems like a realistic, lived in place, without seeming either too fancy/swinging or too rundown/slumy.
After The Apartment, in keeping with the 60s theme, Mad Men hit the screen. It’s been a long time since I watched season 1, but it didn’t take long for me to slide back in to the smooth, casually evil world of smoking, drinking, and rampant misogyny. Awesome.
Saturday, I headed in to DC to meet with a friend who was visiting from Europe. It was an amazing day, gorgeously sunny without being too hot, and darn it, but I do love DC. It’s so pretty, and so walker friendly. Love it. The only problem we had was with the crowded streets of Georgetown, but it wasn’t unexpected, and once you leave the main drag, it’s not bad at all. Very pretty community. I really love living in this area. I don’t take advantage of living next to DC nearly as much as I should, but then, that makes these trips all the more special.
While in the city, we hit up the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I still don’t think it’s as good as the Udvar Hazy location, and sometimes the displays can seem a bit dull (maybe rudimentary is a better word?). But this time around there were a few especially good exhibits. The Spirit & Opportunity exhibit was breathtaking. Gorgeous images of Mars taken by our robot explorer brothers. Any one of those would make amazing art to hang on a wall. Really wonderful. And yeah, if I hadn’t been on top of it, I’d probably have shed a tear. Quite impressive.
Turns out, a lot of stuff is closed in DC on Saturday, which I was a bit surprised by. So, it took a bit to find a place to eat. But finally, we found Wicked Waffles, one of those obscure theme restaurants you find in bigger cities. They make waffles, and they put things on ’em, like open faced sandwiches. OK. Why not. It was pretty good (not amazing), and unusually inexpensive for food in the city.
So, on the Dorkside, there wasn’t all that much to this week. But on the personal side, it’s one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Spring is finally in the air and I feel great.
Monday, April 21, 2014
This afternoon Time Magazine unveiled another set of portraits from Mike Mitchell's Mondo Gallery Show (opening this Friday in Austin - the lucky bastards!), and they are absolutely & utterly perfect. The Hulk is the tops for sure; Mitchell expertly captures that cromag forehead accentuating the green meanie's dim bulb rage. But I also love Loki's contemptuous glazed expression, Doc Ock's maniacal grin, and Bullseye's psycho eyes. Luke Cage? He's all confidence & sideburns. I really hope prints of these Avengers are available soon so that I can fight the internet into frustrated bliss as I click, click, click, click to no avail. Seems like the only luck I'm having at scoring Mondo prints these days is on the secondary market. An old story, but still it rankles.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Good times this week. I’m so happy that this year has already produced several movies that I’d be happy to put on the top ten of my 2014 Dorkies. Particle Fever, Monuments Men (yeah, I liked it a lot…bite me), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grand Budapest Hotel, Tim’s Vermeer, and now Under the Skin. Six movies I wouldn’t be upset to find on a top ten list (though I’m hoping to see enough more that several of these won’t be). This has already been a better year than the past two. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Under the Skin: I like science fiction. I like quiet films that don’t muddy things with too much dialog. I like weird stuff that puts the viewer on edge. I like films that don’t shy away from nudity. And I like visually interesting movies that hold shots for a long time. Under the Skin fulfills all of that. I don’t know that I loved the movie, but it certainly tickles my various fancies. It’s reminiscent of late 60s, early 70s science fiction, the most obvious (though not only) example being The Man Who Fell to Earth. You’ve got to get your Scottish ears on, as the movie features a lot of Scottish people talking, with full on, nearly unintelligible accents. And if you’re uncomfortable with nudity, you should probably stay away (or try growing up and not being such a prude). On a related note, it was nice seeing a woman with a normal body, not some stick figure with plastic bits. There’s lots of beautiful imagery, including some natural settings, some urban settings, and some very good motorcycle driving footage. It’s very interesting to see a movie in which none of the dialog is about the plot. There’s literally zero exposition. It is presented before you for you to figure out. Keen. My one complaint is the ending. What happens in the woods that leads to the actual final moments of the film seemed weird and somewhat out of place. Off key from the rest of the film. Excepting that, I thought it was excellent.
Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol: It’s stories like this that make me so sad the last several years of classic Doctor Who weren’t very good. I enjoy the heck out of this strange story and weird production design. If other stories from late Colin Baker through its cancellation under Sylvester McCoy had been half as good, the show might have had legs to stand on.
The Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox: I don’t really get The Flash. He’s one of those DC champions I never really enjoyed. But I do like a good alternate world story, and this one is pretty cool. Something done by the Flash’s old enemy…Professor Zoom…has changed the world to one where heroes and villains took very different courses. It’s a crazy story, but it’s cool seeing some of the powerful heroes doing what they’d most likely do if not checked by other elements. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are carving up the world while Batman and Superman have very different lives. And man, is there anything scarier than the potential of sad, angry, tortured Superman?
I sat down and fought my way through Uber. Boy, that’s a disappointing book. Some very cool ideas, but such terrible execution.
Tuesday night found Brad and I at the Alamo again, this time to see Purple Rain as a ‘sing-along.’ Now, this was Brad and my first time seeing the film, and it turned out it was a lot of others’ as well. I don’t know how much singing was going on. But we were provided glow sticks and tambourines, so no complaints.
Purple Rain: In a sense, every movie has two ratings/grades. There’s an objective (sort of) rating. How ‘good’ is the film? The acting, the script, the cinematography; were there any boom mics visible; was the editing smooth; etc.? And then there’s the question of how much you, the viewer, enjoyed watching the movie. It’s final grade is some synthesis of that, which is why I have movies I know are technically awful listed among my favorites (Cyborg, for example). Purple Rain is such a crapterpiece. The script, the acting, and the music were terrible (sorry, the music is bloody awful), but I had an absolute blast watching it all. Prince, our would be hero, is a terrible person who does one slightly nice thing and all is forgiven. His parents are totally insane. His girlfriend is a self-made emotional and physical punching bag. His friends all stay loyal to him, even though he doesn’t show one single ounce of friendship or loyalty to them. And by the end of the film, he hasn’t really learned anything or grown as a human being. He’s still a piece of crap, and it’s pretty clear he’s going to remain one. And Prince is soooooooooo awful. I can’t say he’s wooden, because at least a piece of wood has a chance to have some character. He’s so stiff, so awkward…It’s impressive. Also, through the whole movie (including her disgusting song Sex Shooter), it seemed like Apollonia was written to be a man, but the studio wasn’t willing to make a gay romance movie. It would have made a lot more sense, as at no point did I suspect Prince had any interest in women. And not just because he treats Apollonia like a frat-boy treats a nerd. Then there’s the moment when he hauls off and decks her, because she said something he didn’t like. At that point, the point where a character who was horrible to begin with now adds ‘woman puncher’ to his list of traits, I wanted to watch him utterly fail. Of course, it was the 80s, people unfathomably loved Prince, and he was supposed to be the film’s hero, so he wins. But he shouldn’t have. The movie should have ended with him actually hanging himself, like in his vision. Roll credits. Still, though technically and morally awful, watching this madness was a heck of a lot of fun.
I also managed to watch a few episodes of the BBC series Atlantis. It's not very good. And it should be called Minos, as that's really where it takes place, thought they keep calling it Atlantis. I like that they're going for it with the mythology; I just wish the show was good.
Frozen: This film’s heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, its head isn’t. The praise it’s received for having proactive female leads is deserved. However, the story is bland, the music is more bland, and the animation is dull. And then the snowman shows up. Ugh. And the singing. The singing. It doesn’t stop, and it’s not good. So, while putting the focus on the female characters, and not making the men the eventual rescuers, gets a tip of the hat, next time, cut the pop songs, cut the awful comic relief, and cut the crap. Just tell a good story, and we’ll watch it. Brave, and now this. It’s like Disney is really trying, but they just can’t get it right.
Sparks: I respect what this film was reaching for, but at the end of the day, it’s just not that good. It feels like an attempt to capture some of the spirit of Watchmen and some of the spirit of Kick-Ass, with some of the tools of (the film versions of) Sin City and The Spirit. The story is one of those onion-types where each layer is a revelation that some previously established or believed fact is actually wrong. With each layer, you find that heroes are villains, friends are enemies, up is down, jelly is better than syrup, mass hysteria. Several of the twists were actually pretty obvious. Still, it has its charm and low budget can-do sensibilities. And it’s kind of neat to see that we’ve reached the point where they’re making (for all intents and purposes) straight to video superhero films. I’d sooner watch a dozen films like this than another found footage/Haunting in X New England Town films, that’s for sure.
I watched a bunch of Ultraman episodes. The show is a lot of fun, and has occasional dashes of the stuff I love in Kaiju films. But it is pretty darned cheesy. Part of the show’s problem is that when there is a really cool idea, they’ve only got twenty-five minutes to explore it, which isn’t enough.
On Friday night and Saturday, I found myself in need of some social hibernation. I’ve been very busy for a while, and I’ve been going out a lot. It’s been a lot of fun, but I started to realize I wasn’t getting the usual down time I need as an introvert. Even walking to the post office on Saturday found me listening to music, hunching my shoulders, and keeping my eyes on the ground. It was weird. But I’m feeling better now. But because of it, I ended up not making it to the graphic novel club meeting. This month’s selection was volume 1 & 2 of Sweet Tooth, which I thought was kind of a half-assed Y: The Last Man.
Laura: The film begins in the aftermath of the murder of a beautiful young woman. A cop begins to piece together the life of the dead woman, feeling out various suspects. The characters are all interesting and strange, letting the various actors really bite into the parts, cranking up the eccentricities. Interestingly, though I saw this movie some time ago, and I’m about as taken with Gene Tierney as all the men in this film, this wasn’t the movie that captured me. That was Leave Her to Heaven. Still, seeing it again, I understand why this was the movie for so many. She’s gorgeous, obviously, but she’s got that elusive something that makes her more than her pretty face. Dana Andrews is a bit drab in the film, but that seems to accentuate the uniqueness of the others, to let them all stand out against his gray. Good twists and turns. This is a must watch, for sure.
As Laura wrapped up, I realized TCM was showing three Gene Tierney & Dana Andrews films, so I hung around and stayed up past my old-man bed time to watch them. I had seen Where the Sidewalk Ends many years ago, and never even heard of The Iron Curtain.
Where the Sidewalk Ends: “Where the devil am I? I keep coming and going.” Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney again, in an Otto Preminger film. Andrews has a lot more to do in this film than in Laura. Tierney’s role is fairly thankless, but she’s perfectly good in her part. It’s more on the hard boiled side of Noir, with a brutal cop getting into some trouble with some crooks, and creating a lot of his own problems by not coming clean when he’s got the chance. Honesty is the best policy. Of course, things get way, way out of hand. A lot of good character actor performances in this one.
The Iron Curtain: Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews team up in another film, this time portraying Soviets assigned to Canada during the frigid seasons of the Cold War. This is one of those semi-documentary type films that were oddly popular for a while. Frequently, the narrator jumps in to recite facts and keep the narrative moving. I really enjoy Dana Andrews in this. The ending is a bit unsatisfactory, and I think, due to that ‘documentary’ voiceover, it doesn’t age well. Still, a good time capsule of the early days of the Cold War.
I’ve got to get more serious about reading. I’m into too many books right now, and have too many more I’m hungry to read. One of these days, I’ll have to sit down and do another graphic novel reading day, maybe crank through the B.P.R.D. 1940s books Brad loaned me.
It's all been building to this. Every couple of months I fall into obsession - well, let's be real, I'm in a constant state of obsession but that Large Obsession develops into multiple mini-obsessions throughout the year. When we first started ITMOD Matt & I were obsessing over Hobos With Shotguns, and since then you've seen me ga-ga for Star Trek, Shatner, Heston, Dirty Harry, Batman, Jim Brown, Avengers, Avengers, Avengers, and Avengers. The hype building up to Captain America - The Winter Soldier has been typically intense across the internet. Not quite to the level of when The Avengers super movie hit, or even when Pacific Rim flopped all over last year's Summer, but as April 4th got close and closer I found myself all a tingle with anticipation. Of course, it didn't help that I was rereading Ed Brubaker's monumental run on the Marvel Comic - yeash, I barely got through it all in time for the movie. When all is said and done, Brubaker's Winter Soldier & Death of Captain America arcs are TOPS while the rest is compiled with schizophrenic peaks & valleys.
But I've managed to squeak in some non Cap stuff as well. AFI Silver screened David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Darren Aronofsky dropped his wacky Old Testament saga, Cheap Thrills hit VOD, Angelika had the kill crazy rampage of The Raid 2, and Ben Wheatly's magnificent mondo horror A Field in England just hit glorious blu ray. And yeah, Captain America lead me into a mini-blaxploitation marathon which is proof positive that Winter Soldier is simply too cool for fools, folks. Here's the breakdown -
Mulholland Drive: "Maybe it's not me." I'm almost fairly certain this was not the first David Lynch film I ever experienced (surely, I saw Blue Velvet some time during high school), but it was most certainly the first one I saw on the Big Screen. And it is the film that propelled me through the rest of his catalogue in which I would eventually discover Lost Highway and Twin Peaks and forever question the realities we establish around us. Mulholland Drive begins like a typical L.A. Noir. A limousine crashes alongside a twisting road, a woman stumbles from the wreckage with no memory of who she was before, and a wannabe starlit plays detective. A Nancy Drew styled investigation begins with sinister side characters popping up to send shivers down spines. Who is the cowboy? What horror lurks behind the diner? What. Is. In. The. Box? Those seeking answers or simple, tidy resolution should not bother. You could probably crack some plot out of the script, but it's best to approach Mulholland Drive as an experiment in tone, style, symbolism. There might be answers, but they're not going to be nearly as interesting as the act of Lynch's Hollywood deconstruction. This is hard boiled poetry.
Captain America - Two Americas, No Escape, & The Trial of Captain America by Ed Brubaker: After resurrecting Bucky Barnes and killing Steve Rogers, it felt like Ed Brubaker pretty much said all he had to say about Captain America. With The First Avenger debuting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside Robert Downey Jr and the billion dollar promise of Joss Whedon's Blockbuster, Rogers had to be put back under the cowl in the comics. I hated, hated, hated that cold hard fact at the time, but upon rereading the series I found myself really enjoying the comic book silly of Reborn. And that's probably where Brubaker should have left. Every story he crafted after that was a bit of a letdown. Two Americas has its moments as Bucky Cap battles the Captain America of the 1950s while Steve Rogers goes off to have spin-off Super Soldier adventures. It's decent. 50s Cap is a sadsack tidbit in comic book history worth exploring. No Escape pits Baron Zemo Jr against Bucky Cap and the climax is emotionally confusing and utterly blah. And after removing Bucky Barnes from the equation offscreen in Matt Fraction's abysmal Fear Itself event, The Trial of Captain America concludes The Winter Soldier storyline in a boring, run-of-the-mill prison escape. The murky world of Cold War paranoia handled so exceptionally by Ed Brubaker and Steve Eptiing concludes with some half-assed/half-hearted storytelling. It's rather depressing.
Iron Man Three: "Take me to church!" This film will always suffer in the eyes of fanboys as the followup to The Avengers. I hate hearing the complaint, "Why doesn't Stark just call up the Super Friends?" It's a question you'll never hear from comic book geeks. I'm sure we could spend hours/days/months/years concocting a reason why Captain America doesn't appear to kick The Mandarin's ass, but the simple fact is that every movie cannot be The Avengers. Cap was busy. Deal. I think that Iron Man 3 is an exceptional emotional sequel to Joss Whedon's extravaganza. Director Shane Black brings in as much of his personality as he can, and delivers a banter heavy buddy film in which Tony Stark battles his inner demons (PTSD here instead of that classic Demon in a Bottle) while navigating the shadowy world of domestic/corporate terrorism. And I'll never understand the hate for Ben Kinglsey's Mandarin. You wanted Yellow Peril? You thought Fu Man Chu was a badass comic book villain? No you didn't. No one liked The Mandarin five years ago, and don't pretend this twist on the character is not genius and the only way the MCU could have gone. For my money, Iron Man 3 is easily the best of the trilogy, and leaves Tony Stark in a fascinating predicament for Avengers - Age of Ultron.
Thor - The Dark World: I really enjoyed the first film's romcom approach to super heroes, and it remains my favorite of the Phase One Marvel Movies. With Jane Foster now coming to Asgard, I was hoping for some more of that fish-out-of-water comedy, but it doesn't seem like Marvel was interested in staying small and character centric after The Battle of New York. Not as successful in moving forward as Iron Man 3, The Dark World still succeeds more than it fails thanks to the neverending charm of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. When Thor & Loki are on screen the audience is having a good time. When Dark Elves and Aethers are filling exposition the audience is yawning. Not a bad movie, and certainly not the worst film in the MCU cannon (cough, cough, Iron Man 2), The Dark World certainly doesn't thrill as much on repeat viewings. Alan Taylor managers to craft a fun world hopping action sequence for the climax, and Mjolnir has never worked better then it does here playing catchup, but ultimately I feel that Thor 2 is simply a stopgap on our way to the next adventure.
Ultimate Spider-Man #200: I don't really talk much about single issues on the blog anymore. Frankly, as I struggle to keep these Weeks in Dork flowing on time, I just don't have the energy to ramble on about every floppy that gets my attention. That being said, I just need to take a moment and gush about Brian Michael Bendis' latest bit of Ultimate Spider-Man goodness. Peter Parker is dead. I hope he stays that way. I'd like to say that in the Ultimate Universe dead is dead, but that Carnage Gwen Stacy monstrosity is walking around and there's a retcon that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should - gross, gross, gross. But hopefully Ultimate Petey remains in the ground...at least as long as Bendis is writing the book. Writer leaves, I leave. The 200th issue (I guess if you count all the relaunches and the Cataclysm event that makes sense) revolves around a memorial for Peter Parker. Aunty May is there. Gwen Stacy (again, Carnage, again, gross) is there. Mary Jane. Kitty Pryde. Miles Morales. Ganke. Kong. The whole supporting cast. Each one is given the chance to imagine what the world would be like if Parker hadn't died. Their splash pages are wonderful. Kitty's page is heartrbeaking. This is the type of melodrama that Spider-Man comics do so well, and Bendis reinvigorated my love for the character. Just keep 'em coming.
Noah: I enjoyed it. More than I thought I would. But I really haven't thought about the movie since I left the theater. Russell Crowe's Noah is one tough hombre. He's burdened by visions of God's watery wrath, and decides to construct an ark to hold the innocents of Earth - aka the animals, no room for man here. I really enjoyed the first half of the film with Crowe partnering up with rocky fallen angels and defending his earthship from Ray Winstone's marauding sinners. However, once the rains come and the family psychodrama takes over, I checked out. The Genesis flashback is pretty cool, and when the film gets nuts, it really gets nut, but I never connected with Noah's pain. This is more the kind of film I want from Aronofsky, but it's still nowhere near as engaging as his earlier films.
Captain America Volume 6 Issues 1-17 by Ed Brubaker & Cullen Bunn: What a whimper. As stated above, the best Captain America comics occur under the direction of Ed Brubaker, but his final run on the series is a tremendous letdown. For the first five issues, Brubaker is joined by Super Star Artist Steve McNiven and he kills it...until he disappears from the series and the Operation Bravo storyline is rushed by the pedestrian work of Giuseppe Camuncoli. Ugh. And Operation Bravo??? Way back when in WWII, Cap & Bucky lose a military operative in a child's imagination where he partners with Hydra lackeys and..............snooooooze! Bravo sticks around for the rest of these issues where Cullen Bunn finishes Brubaker's plot involving a floating Hydra base and Jack Kirby's Mad Bomb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Along the way D-Man gets a 90s makeover and Diamondback gets catty with Agent 13. It's hard to believe this is the same guy responsible for The Winter Soldier. Brubaker was on his way out from Marvel and it's painfully obvious during his final moments. A real comic book tragedy.
Captain America - The First Avenger: It's hard not to focus on the missed opportunities when discussing Cap's first appearance in the MCU. Raiders of the Lost Ark + Marvel (should) = The Greatest World War II Nazi Smashing Adventure Film Ever Made!!!! Sadly, the film looses itself (& WWII) through a series of limp montages as it propels Steve Rogers into the future where he'll contribute to the Damn Yankees of Comic Book movies, aka The Avengers. Pretty much ignoring Hitler and his SS Goons in exchange for the toy friendly Hydra, The First Avenger screws itself when it comes to the villain threat. The Red Skull is the most terrifying villain in the Marvel Universe, and he's tidied out of the plot with a couple of punches and an inexplicable (although extremely opportune) touch of Asgardian teleportation. I'm still crossing my fingers that The Skull will redeem his villainy in Captain America III, and if enough money/sandwiches are thrown Hugo Weaving's way I'm sure he'll supply his Herzogian razzle dazzle. What the film does get right is Steve Rogers. The First Avenger is easily the most successful of the cinematic origin stories, and there is more heart in Chris Evans's performance than in all of his Super Friends combined. His final moments with Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine reduce me to tears every single time - that index finger to the heart...gosh...heart in throat. Movie Audiences can be a cynical bunch of eye-rollers these days, and it's truly impressive that a golly-gee "Truth Justice & The American Way" kinda super hero can snatch their attention. I only wish Warner Brothers had that amount of trust in their audience when it came to their gritty, modern Man of Steel. So, for that first hour alone, Captain America The First Avenger ranks as one of my very favorites in Phase One of the MCU.
Captain America - The Winter Soldier: Ten minutes in, the film had me. No other studio on the planet would open their giant franchise blockbuster with a character beat. Steve Rogers, the Man out of Time, runs laps around the Washington Mall and has a chance encounter with modern day soldier Sam Wilson. The two bond through their Military Experience and Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man soundtrack. Captain America, The Falcon, & Mr. T! Does it get any better than that!?!?!?!? Oh my goodness, YES! From their we get a S.H.I.E.L.D. Assault on a hijacked ocean liner, a wannabe Bourne ass kicking of Batroc The Leaper, a Downtown DC Nick Fury beatdown at the hands of the not-so-mysterious Winter Soldier, a cold war bunker full of War Games, and a climactic trilogy of action straight out of Return of the Jedi. Did I enjoy The Winter Soldier as much as The Avengers? No, I don't think so. There will always be something special about The Avengers - it was the first to put Cap, Thor, & Iron Man on the same screen. It's hard to top. Is The Winter Soldier a better movie than The Avengers? Maybe. It certainly contains the best action sequences we've seen in the MCU so far. Cap's shield has never been more comic book perfect. The film absolutely understands the sadness behind the Man Out Of Time concept, as well as the hopefulness of The Greatest Generation Warrior. If I had one complaint about the film is that since the Bucky Barnes character was horribly underused in the first movie then those in the crowd without a built-in investment for their friendship might not fully grasp the tragedy of The Winter Soldier device. Of course, despite the subtitle, Cap 2 is less about the brainwashed villain and more about the Cold War Conspiracy infecting the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Who is Captain America when America is no longer America? Old Fashioned Values vs. Post 9/11 Freedom Isn't Free Morality. It's a juxtaposition of ideals that writer Mark Millar plunged exceptionally in both his Ultimates run and the Civil War saga, and it's exactly where Captain America belongs on the big screen. The Winter Soldier leaves Steve Rogers with a friend to rescue, and his own humanity to uncover. This Cap fan couldn't ask for anything more.
Trouble Man: Shaft, Foxy Brown, and Black Belt Jones might get more attention, but for my money there is no better example of the blaxploitation genre than Ivan Dixon's Trouble Man. Robert Hooks is Mr. T, a pool hall fixer hired by Paul Winfield to prevent a ring of thieves from knocking over his clandestine poker games. Of course, things are not what the seem, and T is framed for a killing he did not commit....and proceeds to commit plenty of other killings to get to the bottom of the inner city mystery. Robert Hooks is the coolest cat on the planet. Every line of dialogue is delivered with icy confidence. Men want to be him, and women want to be with him - I'm sure men would take a shot too if T swung that way. Ernest as all hell, Trouble Man has no room for your irony. Criminally underrated, if you want to understand the appeal of blaxploitation look no further than Trouble Man. And as The Falcon already knows, the Marvin Gaye soundtrack is stellar.
Cheap Thrills: Brutal. Ugly. Gross. Funny? Not really. If you've seen the trailer then you've pretty much already seen the movie. Pat Healy is a down-on-his-luck husband & father. He's just days away from eviction, and recently unemployed. He stumbles into a bar instead of facing the crying baby at home. There he encounters a former high school friend and a peculiar couple flashing wads of hundred dollar bills for any poor sap to take notice. Drinks are bought, coke is snorted, and a vile game of Truth or Dare (mostly Dare) ensues. What starts off as Slap That Waitress for $200 escalates into Chop Off Your Pinky for $15000. There's not much to it. Blood. More blood. Death. More death. You get the idea. The story feels a little bit like a modern day Roald Dahl short story without the Twilight Zone whimsy. Not a bad movie, but it left me empty.
Rodan: Pretty much the same story as Godzilla or Mothra, but instead of a giant lizard or a giant moth you get a giant pterodactyl. When he appears later in the series, I love, love, love Rodan. He's a giant hunk of rubber that loves to flap his wings and tear down buildings. Sometimes he even does it for good! But for his first outing, I just couldn't find enough unique properties to separate him from his progenitors. The film starts off with some nifty giant insects, but their terror disappears once the big bad shows up. This film could have really used some Kaiju on Kaiju action.
Three Days of the Condor: After listening to the Russo Brothers discuss their influences for The Winter Soldier on the Empire Podcast, I felt like it was high time that I saw this seminal example of espionage cinema. Robert Redford is a low level CIA analyst who steps out for lunch one day only to return to an office full of corpses. After contacting the higher ups, Redford flees from Max Von Sydow's trenchcoated assassin and into the arms of Faye Dunaway's passerby. The thriller aspects of the plot are exceptional, and Von Sydow is as chilling as he is inconspicuous. However, I have no idea why Dunaway is in this movie. Is it simply a Hollywood requirement that all films must have a love interest? She's utterly superfluous, and every moment she's onscreen subtracts from the film's tension. Other than that, solid flick.
The Raid 2: This was quite simply the most violent, horrible, disgusting, violent, insane, grotesque, mean-spirited, violent, deplorable, violent, gratuitous, violent, over-long, badass, and violent thing I've ever seen. Yowza! Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the first film, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Instead of an hour and forty minutes of asskicking and bloodshed, there would be two hours and forty minutes of asskicking and bloodshed. Yeah, that's kinda accurate. But "bloodshed" doesn't do the film justice. What spawned from a siege assault action picture bloats into a Godfather/Serpico wannabe in which Iko Uwais's Rama infiltrates the Indonesian underworld by selling his soul to the morally bankrupt police department. What once took an hour to fight his way out, now takes years. The film has the slimmest of plot, just an excuse to pause fifteen minutes between bone shattering action set pieces. And I Loved Every Second Of It. I cannot believe the film squeaked by with an R rating, and it certainly won't be for the masses, but if you're a fan of blood, guts, and limbs flying action than The Raid 2 is absolutely an essential film watching experience. You'll be out of breath by the time the credits roll.
3 Dev Adam (aka Turkish Captain America): "Adios Mafia!" Here's one that simply needs to be seen to be believed. A thief dressed in a thrift store Spider-Man costume pillages the rich of Istanbul to sell antiquities to the richer of North America. This catches the attention of both the American & Mexican government who hire Captain America & Santo to take down the Turkish villain. At least that's what I think is going on. It's nearly impossible to discern the plot thanks to incoherent subtitles, and seemingly random plot developments. What is certain is that 3 Dev Adam is an absolute blast to behold. Whether it's The Spider's endless deaths, or his terrifying puppet orgasms - this Turkish Captain America has to be one of the best unintentionally funny films I've seen. Projected from a shoddy VHS, the Alamo Drafthouse delivered the goods for this latest Video Vortex selection, and guaranteed my butt in the seat for whatever the dare to screen next. Bravo.
Scarface, and Fred Williamson is never cooler than when he's looking for a little payback. And it's a sweet, weird ass revenge. You've got Pimps vs Ninjas, A Long Island Scuba Assaults, Mammies With Machine Guns, and what might be the longest distance fist fight ever - yeah, it's takes a whole continent for The Hammer to satisfy a beatdown. But then Williamson quickly finds the show being stolen away from him by Julius Harris as his father gone wrong. Big Poppa! He goes from disapproving patriarch to tommy gunning flesh trader. The transition of character makes absolutely no sense, but it's a whole heap of entertaining. Hell Up In Harlem comes close to being my favorite blaxploitation film, and it's certainly one of my all time favorite sequels.
Truck Turner: "She's a middle class broad...and you're one gross son of a bitch." This is a bizarre movie. Not the typical black hero vs. white devil, Truck Turner is a vile, cat-piss wearing bounty hunter targeted by a ring of pimps & prostitutes lead by Nichelle Nichols & Yaphet Koto. Isaac Hayes seems to relish his big chance to spout heinous profanity and commit savage acts of violence. Truck Turner embraces its exploitation in ways that its contemporaries seem to only scratch the surface. Sometimes that makes for some uncomfortable bits of awkwardness, but for the willing audience member, that political incorrectness is also Truck Turner's charm. Where does it stand next to the greats? Not sure. Every time I watch this film I forget how gross & weird it is, but I'm now thinking that it's time to put it into a yearly rotation. It's a trip.
Slaughter: Trouble Man is numero uno. Slaughter is a close second. After his parents are murdered by the mob, Jim Brown's badass cop leaves the badge behind and descends into the hell of Mexico to take down the demons responsible. Part Dirty Harry, part Death Wish, all Jim Brown - Slaughter is an exceptional example of tough cop cinema. But every hero needs a great villain, and Slaughter fills that order grotesquely with Rip Torn's rat-faced hitman. Even when he knows better, he cannot help but spit venom and hate. Torn would rather die in a wreckage of gasoline & flames then say one last nice word - "Yeah, I did that." The rest of the film is peppered with a perfect supporting cast: Stella Stevens's mafioso playmate, Don Gordon's sideburned sidekick, Norman Alfe's confusingly afroed kingpin. An exceptional cast of oddballs, and a leading man of total cool & confidence separate Slaughter from the rest of the pack.
Captain America & Bucky by Ed Brubaker, James Asmus, & Francesco Francavilla: When a comic book creator is popular that inevitably leads to Spin-Offs! Spin-Offs! Spin Offs! Ed Brubaker's Captain America & Bucky series originally started out as another way to explore their WWII past, but quickly transformed into just another Cap book. I didn't stick around for long. But since I'm loosing my mind with the star-spangled super hero this month, I thought I would give the series another shot. At least the trades illustrated by pulp maestro Francesco Francavilla. Old Wounds revolves around a series of terminator androids leftover from Cap's Invader days. Robots & Human Torches? Just perfect for Francavilla's pulp noir style. The story is so-so, but Francavilla sells it. Not the highest recommendation, but it's a fun stop on your way to the real gem...
Captain America & Black Widow by Cullen Bunn & Francesco Francavilla: When Bucky left the Marvel Universe for the second time, this series became a revolving door of Captain America team-ups. Brubaker is gone, but The Sixth Gun's Cullen Bunn steps in to fill those mighty big clown shoes. Cap & Black Widow are warped into the wacky concept of multi-universes, and have a series of run-ins with steampunk tripods, Lizard/Doctor Octopus Hybrids, and diabolical doppelgangers. High art? No. But this is exceptionally comic booky! And it's a shame that Francavilla only had these two tiny arcs to play in the Captain America sandbox.
A Field In England: "I am my own master." Three viewings now, and after each one I love this film just a little bit more. If I was redoing my Top Ten List from last year, A Field In England might even squeak ahead of The World's End, The Act of Killing, & Only God Forgives at this point. That seems crazy to me in some ways, but this latest Blu Ray addition simply floored me at the end of the week. I find myself less entranced by the oddity of the film - that Monty Python cast wondering into the madness of HP Lovecraft. Yeah, that still fits, but with each rewatch I become more and more enamored with Reece Shearsmith's bumbling alchemist and his transformation into a real-deal Solomon Kane. Ben Wheatley made a couple of solid flicks in Kill List & Sightseers, but I'm starting to see a masterpiece in A Field In England. I may even rank it up their with Zodiac & The Proposition as one of my very favorite films of the last fifteen years. There certainly is nothing out there quite like it.