Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Movie Review: 2010

    The release of 2001 was a watershed moment, generally for film and specifically for Science Fiction.  So, 15 years later, when 2010 was released, it had HUGE shoes to fill, and in many ways was destined for failure.  Nobody could help but compare it to the first film, though I think the comparisons are often unfair.  It is a different monster.  2001 was made at the same time author Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel (based on his short story The Sentinel), and when he wrote the follow-up book, he based it primarily on the film, not his book (using Jupiter instead of Saturn, for example).  This movie, while connecting to the first film, is more adaptation of the book 2010 than it is sequel to the film 2001.  If that makes sense.  The design of Discovery remains the same.  Kier Dullea returns.  Otherwise, in look, tone, style, etc. it is its own film.  The cynicism of the 70s and the Cold War tensions of the 80s have tempered the hopeful exuberance of the first movie.

   The set design, lighting, costumes, and even effects feel more in tune with Alien, Aliens, and Outland (also directed by Peter Hyams) than with the sleek ultra-modern 60s look of 2001.  This makes it feel a bit more realistic, in a sense.  More lived in.  Less pristine.  And I think it makes the overall feel of the film more timeless.  Though all the Cold War posturing anchors it fairly solidly.  Though, like a lot of other visions of the future, a lot of the technology (especially computers and computer interfaces) look downright primitive.  Like in 2001, there are some serious attempts to achieve a degree of scientific accuracy.  The use of atmosphere to break the speed of the ship, the spinning section of the ship to give some gravity, etc.  Sadly, there is sound in space.  A lot of it is muffled, but I would have much preferred a totally silent vacuum.

    As far as the story goes, it’s a pretty good concept.  Years after the failure of the Discovery mission, the loss of the crew, and the disappearance of Dave, a combined Russian-American mission heads out to investigate the incident, as well as new anomalous readings.  In the book, the US and USSR had achieved a degree of peace, with the Chinese serving as a kind of rival expedition (setting up one of my favorite scenes in the book, when the Chinese discover something green and nasty).  In the film, we’re still stuck in a never-ending conflict with the Soviets, and the mission is a tension filled exercise in strange bedfellows.  I remember seeing this for the first time as a boy, while the Cold War still seemed like something that would go on forever, or until we blew each other off the face of the Earth.  This film’s hopeful message of cooperation was heartening to a young boy.

    One of my favorite aspects of this film is the exploration of Hal and in a sense, his redemption.  Hal was a villain of circumstance, not malice.  The stuff with Dave is also interesting.  Part of me wanted to go on with the novels, but I’ve never heard a good word of the books after 2010.  The potential of Hal and Dave and where they could help take humanity is fascinating.

    If you try to compare this movie with the artistic and critical triumph that was 2001, it will not live up.  If you watch this simply as a science fiction film, it’s actually quite good.  It has a good cast with lots of good character moments.  There are a few questions of morality and ethics.  It has excellent special effects and production design.  It is, by most standards, a very good movie.  Perfect?  No.  But very good.  I think its treatment by fans has been less than kind and less than fair.  And I would recommend giving it another go to anyone who hasn’t seen it in a while.


Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/17/13-3/23/13)

    On Sunday, I got all the fixin’s to really run my new fireplace.  Then there were some technical difficulties.  That took up a chunk of the day, really.  Otherwise, I mostly worked on some writing projects.  The rest of the week was mostly filled with trying to get some sleep and recover from work.  With limited success.

In a Lonely Place:  Possibly my favorite Humphrey Bogart performance, I’ve said it before, but to me, this film strikes closest to home.  He’s playing a somewhat more extreme version of me, or at least, how I feel.  When I watched it the first time, it felt kind of gut-punching.  On top of that, his relationship with Gloria Grahame is somehow charming and ugly at the same time.  Part of me would kill for a woman like her, able to get past the turbulence and still have my back, but part of me…Part of me feels differently about it.  It features plenty of the cracking dialog and implied meaning you expect from the time period (including what I think was a masturbation joke, but I’m not 100%).  And doesn’t play out the way a movie like this makes you expect.  Good stuff, all around.  And Grahame in this movie.  I can see myself falling for a dame like her, and getting into some real trouble.

2001:  You kind of have to go into this movie in the right headspace.  There’s no dialog in the first 20 minutes of the movie.  There’s no dialog for last 20 minutes of the movie.  There are long segments without dialog in between.  The final 20 minutes will likely make no sense to a first time viewer.  One might think it is simply a colorful series of random images and light patterns.  But there is a meaning behind it.  Whatever the case, I think the technical achievement is impressive on its own.  Even if you just look at the film as an extended music video, you should find plenty to enjoy.  And I do find that reading the book gave me a much deeper understanding of the film, although I’d come to enjoy the film on its own legs before I read it.  The story of Humanity’s rise from primate to extraterrestrial explorers to…something else, all with a guiding hand from…something…in the form of black monoliths.

Super 8: “I could get back into disco.”  An 80s kid adventure movie for a new generation.  In the tradition of Explorers, The Goonies, Critters, and more, not to mention E.T., Close Encounters, and more, it’s a fun look back.  I like the vibe, which reminds me somewhat of my childhood, and a lot of the movie I watched during it.  I just really enjoy the movie.  It’s pleasant and makes me feel nostalgic.

White Feather:  Robert Wagner and original Enterprise Captain, Jeffery Hunter, along with smokin’ hottie Debra Paget in…redface?  This is another of those movies about Native Americans where there seem to be no Native Americans on screen.  Just white people in red-brown face paint, speaking in halting English, with very false graveness.  Wagner is fine, and Jeffery Hunter is…well, he’s not as bad as he could be…I mean, he’s fine, I guess.  If you can get over the whole playing an Indian thing.  If this movie is any indication, apparently Native Americans had nothing to do but spend all day killing white people and raising all kinds of school-yard level Cain among their own.  It’s pranks and stunts broken up by occasional murder.  And am I nuts, or does Chief Broken Hand look like Carl Sagan?  Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure kicking the door open to my room and finding a beautiful woman naked but for a fur blanket would make my top 10 best moments in life.  Gotta see about making that happen.  But what’s up with the shop-keep’s daughter?  She gets slighted in the most brutal ways, and the movie never seems to notice, as her heart gets ripped out time and again.  Dang, that’s some cold business.

Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen:  “I’ve seen many things fall out of the sky, but nothing which could be described as weird.”  I don’t know, man.  I just don’t know.  By this point, Doctor Who seems to have simply gone off its rocker.  It’s all very 80s, very 2000AD (the comicbook) wacky.  I just don’t think it’s all that good.  A space bus full of alien tourists (and Mel…and another alien trying to save her people stowing away…and an alien bounty hunter) on its way back to 1950s Disneyland runs into a satellite.  And they all crash in Wales, which is British for North Dakota.  Rock & Roll, dancing, puppy-love, crystals for star-drives, giant green Army Men, bounty hunters, the Welsh… This is like that cockroach episode of The X-Files or something from season 3 of Lexx…only really weird.  It feels like this story set the stage for the bugnuttery of the new series.  Sometimes it works, this time it doesn’t.  Whatever else one can say about this episode, the woman playing Delta is a stunner, and the Welsh lass helping the Doctor is cute as heck.  And I still can’t stand Mel.

Rust and Bone:  The movie is well made.  It’s well acted, I guess.  The effects/acting combo of the lead actress’s missing legs is believable and technically well done.  I can’t say I didn’t like the movie.  Or at least, I didn’t dislike it.  But it wanders so much, and doesn’t follow any kind of rational progression.  I never connected with anyone in the movie, as they all seem emotionally dead (you’d think I’d connect right away).  I’ll give ‘em an A for effort when it comes to original and unexpected stories.  A shifty street fighter with a kid and few prospects meets an orca trainer at a nightclub.  After an accident takes the trainer’s legs, the pair begin a friendship (they seem to think it’s a romance, but it’s just about the most pathetic romance two humans could have) that defies convention…and logic.  His emotionally unavailable standoffishness and incessant tail chasing are irresistible to her mopiness and equal emotional standoffishness.  There are moments between them where you want to say, ‘hey, that’s swell.’  But then he hooks up with some blonde tart right in front of our lead lady, and bails on the night to go bone the bimbo.  That ain’t right, no matter how you deal the deck.  And when our double amputee begins working as Punchy’s fight agent, there is an image that made me desperate for the film to depart into exploitation territory with her becoming Legs, Queen of the Underworld.  Alas, nothing ever seems to come of anything…at all.  It’s different.  And it’s a quality piece of work on the technical side.  But I can’t recommend watching it.

Doctor Who: Dragonfire:  “I think you’ll find most educated people regard mythical convictions as fundamentally animistic.”  And now we’re back to something more reasonable.  This era is all over the place.  Paradise Towers and Dragonfire are focused, weird and 80s, but focused; while Time & the Rani and Delta & the Bannermen are sloppy messes.  McCoy seems like he’s got a different take on the Doctor each time out.  This time ‘round he’s more like he was in Paradise Towers, a bit of wacky Patrick Troughton but with enough grounding to buy in, unlike his pratfall prone antics in Time & the Rani, but also unlike his knowing madman in Delta.  The story of a crazy Dr. Freeze type trying to build an army and everyone looking for some dragon in the depths.  Little Orphan Ace blasts herself into the Who universe with homemade explosives and streetwise pluck.  And who would have thought Sabalom Glitz would become a recurring character?  That’s weird.  The dragon is crazy, man.  Crazy.  And I’ve noticed that this season features Lexx level of off the cuff murder and massacre.

    One bit of good/fun news.  I got back into Magnum P.I.  I’d been missing the ‘stache.  It’s amazing how much joy such a simple thing can bring.  I don’t know how much the addition of the Asian Colombo (Tanaka) helped things.  And I’ve noticed a strange feature in late 70s and 80s TV shows that feature aging actors playing aging actors.  I wonder why that was.  I wonder if there were a bunch of Tarantino-types working in TV who wanted to give all their old favorites one more go.

    I finished the first At War With the Empire omnibus of Star Wars comics.  A mixed bag, but enjoyable enough light entertainment.  Star Wars is a setting with so much potential for development, I wish they’d branch out a bit more in comics than they tend to.

    On Saturday I went to a house warming for a gaming buddy from my days working at The Wizard’s Den.  He and his family recently moved to the area.  It was my first time in Southern Maryland, which wasn’t bad.  He charged up a smoker, and we had a heck of a barbeque.  His wife and mother-in-law also provided some awesome food.  There’s magic in sitting on a deck in the sun, roasting meat and sharing food with people.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Brad's Week in Dork! (3/10/13-3/16/13)

After the saccharine disappointment of Sam Raimi's Oz , I felt a strong desire to return to the classics of his youth.  It had been nearly three years since I watched The Evil Dead trilogy.  The break was good for me.  For nearly all of high school & college, one of those films was playing on my tv every weekend.  I'm not alone here.  I think every Deadite fan believes they were the one to discover as well as champion the series, but as time marches on it's obvious that no dorm room was complete without an Army of Darkness poster.  The funny thing though is that in watching some of his earlier films I've now come to appreciate his pulp hero creation over the others.  Darkman is a brilliant film.  And Liam Neeson is my favorite batshit crazy super hero.  I look around my apartment now and I realize that it needs an upgrade.  Darkman belongs on my walls.  A Darkman toy belongs on my desk.    He's a kook and a sadsack.  Mean as hell.  He'll rip your throat out, but maybe feel sorry that he had to do it in front of his woman.

I also felt the need to delve into some classics.  I've been maintaining a fairly contemporary flavor so far this year, and I feel like I've been skipping my vegetables.  That's not to say Criterions are swampy piles of mushy broccoli, I just mean I'm lacking some nutrients.  The Wizard of Oz seemed like a good entry point, but Theif of Bagdad and Ministry of Fear were the real winners this week.  Just gorgeous, weird productions.  And yeah, I saw The Rock's new flick.  It certainly was a movie.

The Wizard of Oz:  Such a delightfully simple story.  Dorothy flees the homestead to save Toto from lethal injection, runs afoul of a beastly Kansas tornado, and is swept into the technicolor wonderland called Oz.  Her arrival means the demise of one nasty witch and garners the attention of another.  Better get your ass home, girl.  She follows the yellow brick road, gains a few creatures-in-crime, meets the huckster behind the curtain, and clicks her heels three times.  The music is solid, but not mind melting.  This ain't West Side Story or Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Judy Garland certainly sells the weird awe that Franco seemed incapable of in the prequel (speaking of which, you should check out Greg Proops' latest Smartest Man In The World podcast in which he rips apart Raimi's intention - it's all about suffragettes, man).  The Wizard of Oz is not the classic dare not remade or prequelized.  It's fun.  It's iconic.  But it's also not genius.  L Frank Baum's world is worthy of exploration.  If you're not already familiar with it, I highly recommend Disney's Return to Oz.  That's a flick that captures the scary with the weird, and probably the best adaptation of Baum's Oz so far.  Gnome King.  Gross.

The Thief of Bagdad:  "You shall add joy to the wedding festival by being boiled in oil."  This silent starts off slow.  Douglas Fairbanks is a real scalawag, skulking the streets of Bagdad, picking the pockets of the hapless saps unlucky enough to stumble his way.  But, halfway through the film, after he wins the heart of the princess from the Mongol Madman, the film quickly enters a grande world of fantasy.  Dragons must be slayed.  Carpets must be flown.  And diabolical magicians must get knocked on their butts.  Fairbanks is all charm and smiles.  Watching him Harrison Ford his way through the mystically massive silent film sets is true spectacle.  Not as magnificent as Fritz Lang's Metropolis or as joyous as Chaplin's Modern Times, but Thief of Bagdad now ranks as my third favorite silent.

All New X-Men #8:  Yes.  This series certainly suffers from Brian Michael Bendis' typical decompression style, but - like the best of Ultimate Spider-Man - you don't really mind when the characters are having this much fun exploring their new future surroundings.  Well, "fun" is not the right word.  The young Warren is certainly disturbed by his future self.  Metal Wings.  Angelic delusions.  And lots and lots of side stepping dialog.  Captain America shows up to play Mr. Bossy Pants.  And then Jean Grey starts to exhibit the true magnitude of her power and that properly scares the hell outta the rest of the cast.  I'm not ready to be finished with the high concept time travel terror, and I hope Bendis gives these guys plenty of time to freak out before they adjust to their surroundings.

Daredevil - End of Days #6:  "I wanted a trophy."  Probably my favorite issue from this sad, sad, sad series so far.  Ben Urich gets a little closer to the Mapone mystery, and his confrontation with Kingpin wannabe The Owl gets rather scary.  However, the best bits of this issue involve The Purple Man and The Punisher.  And one whispering panel.  Each issue of this book tends to leave you hanging, but I have a strong feeling like End of Days is gonna be one hell of a great trade to end Bendis' run on Daredevil.

Avengers #7:  Jonathan Hickman's Big Picture comes a little into focus as "The White Event" unveils the return of a long lost New Universe creation, The Starbrand.  Captain America & company still seem like blank slates in their own book but I'm hoping Hickman's plot is worth the character skimping.  Time will tell, but I'm on board.  The last page actually raised a smile, something this reader of issue #3 would be surprised to hear.  But man, I wish this series (and a lot of other Marvel Now series) had a consistent artist.  Avengers jumping all over the place is not helped by the artist swaps.

Detective Comics #18:  The first Batman book since the death of Damian Wayne, Detective Comics might get slapped with the "Requiem" banner but the grieving process is little more than a page, a solitary tear.  After seemingly forced to acknowledge Scott Snyder's Death of the Family arc, writer John Layman is finally been given the space to write his Emperor Penguin plot.  And it's solid stuff.  Oswald Cobblepot's world is falling apart; his henchman Ignatius Oglivy has successful barred him from his bank accounts and underbelly goons - and then he makes it personal.  Don't mess with Mom, man.  I almost wish The Dark Knight wasn't involved.  I know soon enough he's going to have to make this family squabble a priority but I kinda like this civil war sizzling independently from the Bat family.

Helheim #1:  Sixth Gun writer Cullen Bunn trades gunfighters for vikings, but there's still plenty of spooky sorcery at play.  As far as first issues go it's decent enough.  A lot of characters are thrown our way with little to differentiate one from the other.  A hunting party flees a horde of skeleton ghosts, some men die, and witchcraft seems to bring one back to life.  Frankenstein Viking?  Maybe.  I can't say I'm in love with this concept, but I'm interested enough and I really do love The Sixth Gun, so I'll keep plugging away.

Snitch:  There is almost nothing original or even interesting about this movie.  It's plot is as dull as the thinnest of tv movies.  The son of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson accepts the wrong package from the wrong pothead and quickly discovers the big dick hammer of American Justice.  Susan Sarandon is ready to set him to the wolves, but he proves better bait when The Rock offers up some serious drug kingpins via his trucking business.  Michael Williams (The Wire) is unfortunately pedestrian as the ghetto gangster, but through his crack house gateway we find Benjamin Bratt's El Topo - and boy! he has some fun playing the cartel monster.  Bratt has seconds on the screen, but he slathers the scenery and might have been the film's highlight if not for Barry Pepper's grotesque undercover man.  With the combo of Snitch & True Grit, Pepper has perfected the goatee bark.  He snips and snarls and deserves a film all his own.  It's time to forgive the sins of Battlefield Earth.  Sure, The Rock is solid.  Roger Ebert, in his review, believes Snitch to house his best performance.  Maybe.  I can see it.  But the film is too average to leave notice.  I'm gonna keep Faster as The Rock's finest effort.  Snitch will be forgotten in two months time.  After all, we've got GI Joe 2 & Furious 6 right around the corner.

Justified - Season 4 "Get Drew":  Drew Thompson has been discovered, and he's on the run from both Raylan & Boyd.  Good luck to that poor bastard.  We've only got three episodes left and the proverbial shit hits the fan in the last few seconds of this ep.  Theo Tonin's helicopters are descending, war is here...and then out steps Limehouse, covered in pig's blood and waving around a great big gory knife.  I was shocked at how much glee I got from the return of the slaughterhouse master.  Justified proves that Elmore Leonard's universe is just as well kept and cherished as anything within Marvel or DC comics.  Very cool.  Still, I know the next episode is going to be the real beast of the season.  Harlan County is gonna be covered in bullets and bodies.

Darkman:  "I'm learning to live with a lot of things."  When Sam Raimi couldn't get the rights to The Shadow he went ahead and did it anyway.  Before he got Taken or wolfpunched his way into Action Hero stardom, Liam Neeson was the pissed-off skin doctor Peyton Westlake aka Darkman.  A monster of the shadows created through bubbling vats of acid and the murderous grin of Larry Drake.  But the beauty of Darkman is not the black trench coat or the dirty brown bandages.  Nope, the giddy glee of the character stems from his inability to feel pain after the "accident"; with the loss of pain comes a loss of humanity as well as Super Powered Rage.  Yes.  Rage Is Darkman's Weapon.  But Rage makes for a sad Frankenstein-like creature.  Neeson is heartbreaking.  The infamous pink elephant sequence is good for a youtube laugh, but his inability to temper his rage around his wife is also deeply unsettling and painfully awkward.  Darkman is a mad hero, no more marbles - he's lost it.  He has an idea of love, but anger and vengeance are his only motivators.  You can see his continuing adventures in a pair of direct-to-video duds, as well as a laughable Marvel Comics series and a so-so Dynamite reboot.  But nothing touches the original beast.

Army of Darkness:  "Yo she-bitch.  Let's go."  These days we've got a lot of folks up in arms about the impending Evil Dead remake.  Some cry "Sacrilege!"  But ya know what, both Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness are semi-remakes of the original film and both sequels take on their own unique tones.  I certainly prefer the first two flicks, but Army of Darkness is a goofball riot - Three Stooges strained through Famous Monsters of Filmland.  Bruce Campbell is at his cornball coolest here.  Ash, caught in time, butting heads with primitive screwheads and getting groovy with his Mirror Universe self.  At the very least, Army of Darkness blasts a barrage of epic one-liners and prides itself on its old man humor.  Sure, "Hail To The King" & "This is my Boomstick" will dawn nerd shirts till the end of time.

Drag Me To Hell:  Is this Sam Raimi's atonement for the Spider-Man trilogy?   Maybe not.  But it certainly feels like Raimi trying to get back to his roots.  Get small.  Rediscover his ram-o-cam heart.  And in some ways he succeeds.  But in other ways its just a sad reminder of a simpler, sweeter time.  Allison Lohman is a power hungry bank manager scrambling to free herself from her fat hick past.  When she steamrolls over a milky eyed gypsy as a means of impressing her boss she inherits a curse so spectacularly gross that a drag to hell almost feels like a relief.  Seriously, Lohman is spit upon, puked on, slathered in mud, blood, and guts.  Raimi is a demented child splashing as much goo as the KNB effects crew can fill in their buckets.  I certainly had to turn away from the screen during a few gagging bits.  Green Goblins certainly don't got nothing on demon possessed goats.  So, yeah, Drag Me To Hell has a certain charm.  But it's a pretender at its core.

Sledge-Hammer 44 #1:  "Robots!!  Robots are fighting this damn war!!"  Another piece of The Mignolaverse revealed.  Spinning from Lobster Johnson's The Iron Prometheus, Sledge Hammer 44 is a bit of robot on robot violence set at the tail end of WWII.  A bomb is dropped on a Nazi occupied French village.  But there is no explosion.  Instead, Mike Mignola's idea of an Iron Man steps forth and it lunges into battle against a giant mechanical monstrosity.  Crash Boom Bang.  Simple.  Crazy.  Very much a BPRD book.  All too brief.  The story concludes in the very next issue and I'm not sure how important this book is going to be to the rest of the world, but it's fun nonetheless.

Wolverine #1:  Um, I don't know what the hell is going on in this first issue, nor do I understand the need for yet another Wolverine book.  However, Alan Davis art is badass and I certainly love watching laser blasts tear Logan's flesh from his bones.  There's something about a psycho kid and his psycho dad, and I'm certain a larger conspiracy will be revealed.  I don't think this is essential Marvel now reading, but it's worth it for the art.  If you agree with that sort of cash spending than go ahead and pick up the book.  If words are your thing then you might want to hold out.

Batman & Robin #18:  Not sure why I bought this book.  I'm not reading it on a monthly basis and I have no intention of starting.  I guess Grant Morrison's Batman Inc #8 really got to me.  I need to see the fallout immediately, and even though these "Requiem" titles feel like they exist in a continuity completely seperate from Grant's work, it's nice to get a little closure on Damian.  Writer Peter Tomasi goes wordless for his contribution.  Batman takes to the night and savagely beats as many Gotham City punks as he can; he returns home and finds a sorta "Farewell" letter from his son.  It reads, "Mother may have given me life, but you taught me how to live."  Dammit.  That got to me.  I'm still not going to believe that any of these books are the real deal; I want to see how Grant's going to delve out the repercussions in Batman Inc.  But these Requiem titles offer some condolence.

Thor - God of Thunder #6:  The Origin of The God Butcher is revealed...and it's lame.  Which, of course, is a real bummer as I've been loving pretty much every issue of Jason Aaron's series so far.  But this is pretty typical stuff.  Life was hard on Gorr.  Wife died.  Kid died.  Gods are Bastards.  And when Gorr stumbles upon some crazy alien tech he goes psycho on the gods of the universe.  This issue shouldn't exist.  It's not important why Gorr is The God Butcher, only that he is The God Butcher.  And now knowing his sadsack story, he's a little bit weaker.

Batman #18:  The kernel of this story is the same one at the core of Batman & Robin #18.  Batman deals with the death of Robin by pummeling the brutes of Gotham.  Unfortunately, Snyder also uses it as an opportunity to seemingly push his creation Harper Row into the boots of the boy wonder.  I really loved both The Black Mirror & The Court of Owls, but Scott Snyder is not the savior of the bat family some fanboys once thought.  Especially when you compare this single issue against Tomasi's single issue.  So wordy.  So unnecessary.  Hopefully he can get things back on track with Zero Year - more history mystery, less same-old rogue beatings.

Evil Dead 2:  How do you write about a film that lives in your bones?  I've been obsessed with The Evil Dead franchise for so long that I don't remember a time I didn't love this film.  Bruce Campbell.  His smile.  His chin.  His voice.  "Work shed."  Evil Dead 2 is a wild ride of splatstick.  And as alluded above it has very little in common with the original film.  This is not low budget horror movie know-how.  This is a descent into madness.  But as lamps laugh and deer shriek, the laughter can be as scary as the penetrating branches of a tree.  The rocking chair nightmare is really unnerving.  And Campbell sells every howl of fear.  You can beer guzzle this film with your friends and a have a serious blast, but you can also have a singular trip into insanity if you choose.  Evil Dead 2 is Sam Raimi's masterpiece.  No doubt.

Dark Horse Books Presents - Blacksad:  "I was damned too."  Picked for our tenth meeting of The Ultimate Justice League of Extraordinary Book Club, this hardcover collection containing Juan Diaz Canales & Guarnido badass cat detective was easily our most successful venture yet.  Not one person in the group disliked it.  Of course, I can't say that I'm surprised.  Similar to Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Blacksad envelops everything you love about the P.I. subgenre and presents it in a fresh, gripping manner.  Yes.  All the players are mammals & amphibians (fish are too dumb for personalities), but this isn't some creepy furry.  Here we get three typical plots.  The Dead Starlet, The Race Killing, & The Commie Conspiracy.  John Blacksad hits each case with gumshoe dread.  He's been around the block and knows that most narratives are tragedies.  He beats the street.  He deals out his stamp of morality.  He moves on.  These are solid stories, but the real elevation occurs in Guarnido's art.  The man doesn't just excel with the trench coats and painted backdrops - no one can match his faces.  A lot of the art we see on American comic stands is churned through a monthly timeline; one nice aspect about Euro books is that they're given the time they need for completion.  The result is genuine art. I don't want to sound snooty against Spider-Man - cuz I love him too!  But you've got to recognize the freedom behind Guarnido's beauty.  There's patience behind his strokes, and the emotion is absolutely recognizable.  For more ranting excitement, read Matt's full review HERE.

Ministry of Fear:  "He has a collection of maniacs that he's psycho analyzing!"  A seriously bent WWII mystery dripped from the pen of Graham Greene and lensed by the madman Fritz Lang.  Just moments after his release from a mental asylum, Ray Milland wanders into a small town fair just outside of London.  The Blitz might be raging, but there's always time for a palm reading!  Given odd knowledge by the fortune teller, Milland wins a fresh baked cake from a grey haired contest.  He whisks his award from a grimacing Dan Duryea and steps onto a train where blind sharpshooters and Nazi bombs crave his demise.  Such a bonkers setup.  Perfectly Hitchcock.  Ministry of Fear certainly excels with the strange.  The best bits involve murderous seances and sheer wielding agents of the SS.  Not to mention Milland's loose hold on his sanity.  Maybe not as visually compelling as Lang's silents, the film is still one of the more unusual macguffin spy pictures of the era.  If only the plot didn't waver on the supernatural, we might have had a mondo classic.

The Evil Dead:  Growing up The Evil Dead was an object of cherished showmanship.  Similar to what Roger Corman proved throughout the 60s & 70s, Sam Raimi unveiled to the fanboy that all you needed to craft a classic were some friends and a camera.  Of course, a few hundred buckets of karo syrup are always helpful.  There is nothing to the story.  Five friends in a cabin.  A tape recorder in the basement.  Magic words on the air.  Deadite horror siege!  It's the behind the camera stuff that puts the film on the map.  The ram-o-cam.  Just a camera on a plank of wood.  But nothing like it had been seen before.   Bruce Campbell shows some serious charisma as our third act hero, but he's also not the bonafide cult icon he'd inhabit in the next film.  He's sweet here.  Loving.  And scared outta his mind.  It's easy to see why so many cherish it today even if youngins might not grasp its craft.  The Evil Dead is hope for the wannabe.  It's cheap.  Small.  But vast in ambition and righteously successful in its ingenuity.  The perfect example of independent spirit so often lauded on Miramax millionaires.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Comic Review: Blacksad

This handsome hardcover volume collects three stories about the toughest, hard boiled cat detective out there, John Blacksad.  It’s the post War world of police corruption, Hollywood glamour, building racial tensions, Communists, and the Bomb.  And these stories are grimy with the human filth of Hammett, Chandler, and Spillane.  Written with pulpy flair by Juan Diaz Canales and rendered in gorgeous color by Juanjo Guarnido, it’s like someone blended the anthropomorphic world of Disney (Guarnido used to work for Disney in France) with the gritty world of Film Noir.  It keeps reminding me of the flashbacks to young Don Cornelius’ early days in America from The Godfather II.  Like a painting of a nostalgic memory, tainted with violence and betrayal.

Somewhere Within the Shadows introduces Blacksad.  His ex, a famous actress, has been murdered and he must deal with his feelings for her, while tracking down those responsible.  Something about this story reminds me of the movie Devil in a Blue Dress.  Not the story, but it has a kind of Easy Rollins vibe to it.  And they do such a good job of casting characters by way of animal choice.  Need a dirty rat?  Well, draw him as a rat.  A big boxer?  Gorilla.  That gross bartender?  A sweaty pig in a tank-top.

Arctic Nation deals with racism and the disillusionment beginning to grow in the aftermath of the post WWII economic and cultural boom.  Failed neighborhoods, white supremacists, the hypocrisies and abuses of power.  There’s a Chinatown element to this, but again, a dose of Easy Rollins.  Arctic Nation is probably the most sad or melancholy of the stories.  I think because it’s about so much failure.  Sure, it’s about racist skumbags, but it’s also about shattered dreams, haunting mistakes, and lives lost in the shuffle of progress.  The art throughout the volume is beautiful, but I find the snow shrouded suburbs especially effecting.

Red Soul is about Communism, fervent anti-Communism, fear of the Bomb, and the attempt to overcome past sins.  Blacksad has eyes for a pretty young intellectual, but with all that murder going around, he’d best be careful.  And nobody wants to be called a Red.  The Beats, protesters, spies, and bomb shelters.  There’s a lot going on in this story, and I’ll admit, I was a bit lost, a couple times and had to go back over a couple pages to keep everyone straight.  Probably my least favorite story of the three, it’s still quite enjoyable.

If you’re a pulp fan, or a film noir fan, this is one of the coolest graphic novels out there.  It’s well written and beautifully illustrated.  And it has a very different look than you might be used to.  European comics have their own thing going, and I like it quite a bit.  I’m constantly amazed by how much emotion Guarnido is able to get out of cartoon animal faces.  Top notch work all ‘round.

Author: Diaz Canales
Artist: Juanjo Guarnido
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-393-9


Movie Review: 2001 A Space Odyssey

    I’m quite sure there are numerous scholarly reviews, interpretations, and explorations of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal science fiction film, 2001.  Well, that’s never stopped me before.  I saw this movie when I was about 11 or 12, I’m not sure.  I rented it and the sequel 2010 and watched them back to back.  I remember watching 2001 blankly, not really understanding everything after the confrontation with Hal.  But 2010 gave me enough of an explanation that I thought I pretty much understood the movie…sort of.  It took me a long time to come back to it, by which point I’d developed more of an interest in the music and in special effects.  Over multiple viewings I started to develop some kind of sense of the film, but it was only when I read the book that I felt fully comfortable with it; especially the ending, which makes much more sense in the book.

    It opens on a bunch of primitive, pre-humans living their short, brutal lives.  Exposed to the elements and predation, they live at the whim of nature.  But, with the dramatic arrival of a giant, impassive black monolith, the spark of invention is kindled, and tool use follows.  With the tool (in this case, a club) these pre-humans are able to take some control of their lives.  From there, we jump forward to the future (1969’s future) of the year 2001 and find Dr. Haywood Floyd on his way first to a space station, then on to the Moon.  The special effects and designs are very impressive here.  Top notch model work that holds up extremely well today.  Remember that this movie was made at a time when we still had the will and wherewithal to embrace science and technology, and most honestly believed that living in space wasn’t just a possibility, but an inevitability.  It was a given.  And we were on our way to making that dream a reality, before we lost our collective nerve.  What Kubrick presents is a fairly realistic view of what life in space might have looked like (and still might).  There was a great deal of effort put into making the tech as realistic as possible.  Floyd is on his way to the Moon to deal with a recent discovery; a large black monolith buried for four million years in lunar surface.  From there, we hop forward several months to a deep space mission on its way to Jupiter.  Here astronauts Dave and Frank, and ships computer Hal deal with the stresses and anticipation of the mission.  After some differences of opinion Dave continues on to something far beyond anyone’s expectations.

    2001 postulates alien intervention in the assent of Man, but a mostly hands-off policy.  They lit a spark and let it take whatever course it might, leaving a marker or sentinel on the Moon.  When/if someone could find it, it would lead the way to the next step.  Dave takes that next step into new ground, becoming something more than Human, the Star Child.  That’s all there really is to the story.  It’s very simple.  But it reveals itself in small bites, forcing you to build the story around the framework presented.  I wonder if this is some of what makes the film feel so profound.  We create a lot of the content to fill in the blank spaces.

    Classical music used during many of the space sequences is a cool touch, bringing our history along with us into the future, bringing the beauty we’ve created with us to the stars.  And the haunting and strange music that accompanies the monolith is unsettling in the extreme.  Music is very important to the film, especially because Kubrick did that thing so few have, and kept space silent.  The sound design is especially effective.  Like the scene where Dave is going out to repair part of the ship, and all you hear for several minutes is his breathing, a lonely sound from a man suspended in the emptiness of eternity.  In a movie where there is very little dialog, sound effects and music become a key element in the storytelling.

    There are so many aspects of this film that were ground breaking and inspirational for generations of filmmakers.  Obviously, the effects pushed the boundaries of the time, setting the stage for Star Wars and Aliens, which themselves would become the foundation of science fiction films to come.  But I think one thing in the film has had an especially profound, and unfortunate, lasting legacy.  Hal came to embody our cultural fear of progress, machines, computers, and the future.  That sinister red eye and mellow menacing voice.  The simple calculations and logic of murder.  The perfect machine, given near total control, driven mad by doubt.  If we make a machine as smart or smarter than us, will it have our weaknesses of character?  Will it hate or fear?  Will it hate or fear us?  While I think these are important and valid concerns and questions, I am bothered by how quickly and completely they were embraced by the public and by movie makers.  From Hal on, there are precious few benevolent computers, so few stories about the birth of A.I. that don’t involve a clash or war with Humanity.  From Dark Star to The Terminator to The Matrix, almost every time a computer gets a little power in a science fiction movie, it turns mad or murderous.  One of the reasons I liked Moon so much is that even though they set up a situation where the A.I. could easily turn out to be the villain, it didn’t.  Now, Hal has something of a redemption in 2010, but that movie barely registered with the collective zeitgeist, and so Hal remains the archetype of murderous artificial intelligence.

    2001 stands as a watershed moment in science fiction film.  There is what came before, and what came after.  It changed the game, redefined how the genre would be put on the silver screen, and upped the ante by an unprecedented amount.  And seeing movies like Solaris, The Fountain, or Moon lets you know that its presence is still very real in the hearts and minds of movie makers.  It was sort of a summation of the hopes and dreams of an era, and can still inspire new generations, in spite of the high marks it set that we failed to achieve.  And if nothing else, it’s an audio-visual journey like no other.  A unique film that deserves its classic status, and should appeal to much more than just genre fans.