What I’ve Watched: August 2014

1. Pacific Rim (2013) - Liked it even more on second viewing. Terrific world building, epic action scenes, beautiful colors and imagery, and smartly realized, archetypal characters that are very easy to root for and care about. One of the best genre movies in years and years, especially impressive considering it’s a new, original property and not a remake, adaptation or spin-off.

2. Sabotage (2014) - A surprisingly grindhouse-y genre bending thriller from David Ayer, who’s seemingly written and/or directed every corrupt cop movie in the last decade. This one is a mix of heist movie, mystery, noir, revenge thriller, western, and even slasher horror, with Arnie leading a gang of paranoid narcs on the take. It’s crass and gory and there really isn’t a likable character in the bunch, but I found myself really enjoying it, if only for the bizarre, unpredictable weirdness of it all. It’s not often I watch a movie where I seriously have no idea what might happen next. It’s also another movie that makes great use of an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m enjoying his comeback even if no one else seems to be.

3. Lucy (2014) - This movie has a dumb premise, but Scarlett Johansson is super watchable and brings some gravity to her role as a normal girl who accidentally achieves godhood. It’s energetic, has a cheeky sense of humor and wraps up tidily in 90 minutes. An enjoyable time waster.

4. The Purge: Anarchy (2014) - I had zero expectations for this one but really loved it. Super tense and politically ballsy action/horror that seems very ‘of the moment’ and relevant. It totally mocks America’s infatuation with guns and general disregard for the poor. A lean, mean, and gritty apocalyptic vision, but not totally without hope. Despite all the carnage, a new family is formed through acts of compassion and mercy.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - Wes Anderson is the antidote to all the samey, sitcom-y American comedies pumped out year after year. This is an aesthetically gorgeous caper film packed with tons of subtle jokes and quirky performances. The cast is like an Expendables of cinematic weirdos and they’re all terrific. Easily one of my favorite films of the year. 

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) - I wouldn’t have chosen to see this one if it hadn’t been playing in front of Guardians, and I would have been right to avoid it. I don’t think they did a good job making the Turtles likable at all. In fact, Michelangelo is pretty much straight-up creepy, Leonardo has no defining traits whatsoever, and Raphael is a dickhead. Oh, and Donatello wears glasses. The fact that they’re now physically invincible robs the action of any real tension and this version of the origin story is super convoluted and unwieldy. Barely tolerable on the whole.

7. Guardians of Galaxy (2014) - It was worth sitting through TMNT to get to this one. I’m a lifelong comic book reader but I had little experience with these characters on the printed page. James Gunn and company quickly set up this gang of misfits and get us invested in their world. The movie is expertly cast and the actors have terrific chemistry. There is some great action and spectacle, but the humor and heart drive the picture. A very strong contender for best Marvel movie.

8. Review Season 1 - Comedy Bang Bang! MVP Andy Daly excels as Forrest MacNeil, a ‘life reviewer’ who will try out any experience and review it on his low rent TV program. Even the most benign subjects are fodder for dark humor but the show really shines when Forest learns what it’s like to become a drug addict or go through a divorce. Frequently, disturbingly funny but Daly’s insanely likable performance keeps things from ever getting too bleak. Glad to hear this was renewed for a second season.

9. Olympus Has Fallen (2013) -  Intense and ultraviolent old school shoot ‘em up with little depth or humor. I found the movie gripping at the time but didn’t necessarily feel good about it afterwards. There is a weird misogynist streak running throughout, including a lengthy scene in which a middle aged woman is beat up by a terrorist. Plus, the North Korean villains are too thinly drawn. This is real jingoist stuff for paranoid xenophobes. Republisploitation, if you will.

10. 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) - There is some cool imagery here on occasion and Eva Green is fearless as a sexy Persian admiral, but the rest of the characters are cardboard and the constant, terrible CGI blood and herky jerky action techniques get old after a while. Also, most of the battles are entirely lacking in tension, with the Greeks easily mowing down the Persians in wave after wave. I think more practical effects and stunts, and more deliberately paced battle sequences would have given the movie an earthier, more visceral feel. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s ultimately rather cartoonish and ephemeral.

From Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979)

More stills and a review here.

A poster and stills from The Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian isn’t perhaps as constantly amusing and strange as The Holy Grail, but it’s still damn funny throughout and has more to say, commenting on the hypocrisy of religion and the disorganization and pettiness of protest groups. It’s got a wonderful central performance from Graham Chapman as the naive, exasperated messiah. Michael Palin gets most of the rest of the funny parts, standing out as an ex-leper, a lisping Pilate, and a very polite crucifixion official.

More stills here.

Covers and pages from:

1st Issue Special #1: Atlas by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry

1st Issue Special #5: Manhunter by Kirby and Berry

1st Issue Special #6: Dingbats of Danger Street by Kirby and Mike Royer

Kirby’s contributions to DC’s ‘throw it to the wall and see what sticks’ series are a mixed bag. Atlas is very much the King’s take on a Conan-esque sword and sorcery character. It actually bares some weird similarities to the  film Conan the Barbarian which came out 7 years later. The inking leaves something to be desired, with Berry taking a bit of the snap and power out of Kirby’s line, but Atlas is nevertheless the most intriguing offering of the three and the only one that seems like a real missed opportunity.

Manhunter features great imagery early on and there are some good little idea nuggets sprinkled around, but it’s also convoluted and rushed. The weakest of these books.

Dingbats of Danger Street is the only one of these to offer a complete story, and while the subject matter isn’t especially interesting to me, I’ll admit there’s a certain charm to Kirby’s bizarre gang of gold-hearted street kids. I liked the kooky villains too - The Gasser and Jumping Jack!

The cover from Multiversity #1 by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Nei Ruffino.

I thought I would do some notes on Multiversity #1. I’m sure I’m like the 1,000th person to do this so do forgive me if I cover familiar territory.

- I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was first announced years back, and it did not disappoint at all. It’s jam packed with wild ideas and colorful characters wonderfully rendered by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, who are doing some of their best work here. Easily one of my favorite single issues of the year so far.

- It strikes me that this book is more ‘of the moment’ than it would have been if it came out in 2005 or whenever. With the advent of the nu52, DC has fully embraced the multiversal structure already, publishing several ongoing books set in alternate realities, dark futures, and parallel earths. Also, with the crazy mainstream popularity of superhero stuff, more people than ever before are turned on to the idea that these characters can exist in multiple forms at the same time.

- Never made the connection between the Monitors/Watchers and the readers before, until it was made explicit here. I really need to revisit Final Crisis to refresh myself about Nix Uotan. I’m curious to see hw much of his current situation was set up in that series and what’s all new in Multiversity. I certainly don’t remember the zoloft and the chimp from FC.

- Has the ‘cursed comic’ idea ever been done before? I know we’ve seen a number of horror movies dealing with a cursed film or videotape.
- I love the gang of villains called The Pitiless Ones. Lord Broken looks like a sentient, mobile haunted house, which is a wonderful concept. These characters would have been right at home in Morrison’s Doom Patrol run.

- I’m glad they say that there are 52 ‘known’ universes. There should be an infinite number, right? The 52 thing seems so arbitrary and it would be stupid and limiting to say that that’s all there is.

- On the House of Heroes - How cool a name is Valla-hal? That might be another Final Crisis, holdover, I’m not sure. I’m digging the assemblage of characters here. I was happy to see Dan Jurgens’ Bloodwynd, who I always thought had a striking design. The inclusion of Harbinger and Lady Quark are nice callbacks to Crisis on Infinite Earths. I’m guessing the Swamp Thing-esque guy is meant to be Spore from Earth-41. I’m disappointed he’s not more Spawn-like since Dino-cop is such an obvious Savage Dragon tribute. I think it’s great that they’re nodding to Erik Larsen’s creation here. Larsen doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping that book going for so long and doing every issue himself. The Dragon really embodies the Image ethos so it’s fitting to see a version of him get in on the multiversal action. I wasn’t sure who the white haired guy with the yellow energy powers was at first, but I think that may be the rather obscure Wildstorm character called Union. Morrison must have been hitting the back issues hard to dig that guy up.

- I really like the central heroic trio of President Superman, Captain Carrot, and The Thunderer. I know versions of at least two of them have appeared before, but they’re basically like new characters and Morrison and company quickly imbue them with the mythic courage, kindness and curiosity of DC heroes at their best.

- I appreciated the disarmingly heartfelt moment between the two Justice 9 members. You don’t usually see that sort of genuine affection in mainstream superhero comics from some reason.

- Regarding Earth-8, longtime DC readers will be familiar with Lord Havok and Wundajin from stuff like ‘The Extremist Vector.’ They’re two of DC’s go-to Marvel analogues. The other Retaliators aren’t especially well designed, really. Maybe they didn’t want to do Marvel any favors. The Justice League analogues that recently appeared in New Avengers were much neater looking than these alternate Avengers.

- I’m not sure just how the adventures of these guys are going to tie in to the explorations of alternate Earths but I’m psyched to find out. The central team here is such an intriguing mix of characters, I’d love to see more of them in a group dynamic.

A cover and several pages from Marvel Boy #1-6 by Grant Morrison, JG Jones, Sean Parsons, Avalon Studios and Matt Milla, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott, Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Nancy Dakesian, and Stuart Moore.

I’ve been wanting to re-visit this comic lately since the cast has come to prominence again in books like Young Avengers and Original Sin. It seems like a natural progression from Morrison’s work on JLA with Howard Porter - widescreen superheroic action, but hyper compressed with tons of ideas crammed into every issue. Among the highlights are some darkly clever combinations of familiar Marvel icons, a very Morrisonian sentient corporation, tons of tantalizing throwaway details about alternate realities, and an interesting characterization of the Kree as a ‘zen fascist’ society.

The big bad in the story, Doctor Midas, is an intriguing villain, He’s basically a cosmic collector in a Iron Man suit who eventually gains the powers of the Fantastic Four. He’s a sort of perverted version of the ideal 1960s ‘man of science’ hero, using technology and information in a greedy predatory way, turning the iconography of classic Marvel comics against  a new generation of super kids.

Despite all that, Midas does still seem a bit one dimensional and EVIL. It’s made quite clear  that he has incestual feelings for his daughter Oubliette, and Marvel Boy actually uses these feelings to goad Midas. This aspect of the book is honestly pretty crass and too Mark Millar-y for my tastes, but I suppose it all helps to posit Marvel Boy as a new sort of punk rock anti-hero.

It was fun to re-read this now after reading Gillen and McKelvie’s more mature, likable version of the character in Young Avengers. I don’t think I’d count Marvel Boy among my favorite Morrison comics but it’s still quite enjoyable on the whole - dense and exciting with weird ideas on every page.

Screenshots from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). More images and a review here.

What can you say about Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)? I think I watched this movie once a week during the summer when I first discovered Python. It’s still laugh out loud funny, and like all of their best stuff, it perfectly blends the asinine and the brilliant, with tons of clever, self-mocking meta jokes laced throughout. From the coconut laden swallows to the knights who say ‘Ni,’ the movie is filled with one memorable, quotable scenario after another. I think my favorite bit is the entire Sir Lancelot segment, from the guards who can’t follow simple directions to Cleese’s Lancelot murdering his way through an entire wedding party, 30 years before GRRM!

Probably my all time favorite comedy.

More screenshots here.

Stills from Franju’s Nuits Rouges (aka Shadowman, 1974). More shots and a review here.

Nuits Rouges (aka Shadowman, 1974) was the last film of director Georges Franju, and like his previous efforts Judex and Eyes Without a Face, it demonstrates his love of the fantastic and the pulp aesthetic.

The story is a bit of fluff about a red masked super villain at odds with a trio of do-gooders over the location of the treasure of the Knights Templar.  There are some slow talky stretches but the awesomely kooky imagery makes it well worth a watch. The movie often looks like a living comic book, in the best way possible. I love the robot killers that resemble a cross between the Autons from Dr. Who and Michael Myers. Other cool visuals include zombified killers, a sexy henchwoman in a tight black cat burglar outfit, Templar cultists in white robes and Batman ‘66-style spandex hero suits, and a mannequin driving a car. Plus, Goldfinger himself, Gert Frobe is along as the heroic police detective.

Nuits Rouges is certainly not Franju’s best film, but it has a nice, shadowy atmosphere and lots of groovy, pulpy eye candy. Check it out if you dig stuff like the Santo films, Danger: Diabolik, Kriminal/Killink and so on. It’s currently available on youtube.

More screenshots here.

Phantom Wahgi shields

In Papua New Guinea, the Wahgi people have used images of the Phantom on their ceremonial war shields, or “kumbe reipe”; art historian N.F. Karlins posits that comic books featuring the Phantom may have been brought to Papua New Guinea by American troops as early as the 1940s. The Phantom’s popularity amongst the Wahgi has been attributed to his being a “man who cannot die”, and who vanquishes his enemies by using his “strength, intelligence, and fearsome reputation”; Karlins has suggested that — as Wahgi warriors wear masks — the Phantom’s own mask may have also been a contributing factor. Similarly, anthropologist Susan Cochrane has described the Wahgi interpretation of the Phantom as being a “modern spirit”.

(via sarkos)

love-and-radiation:

Brian Bolland’s Doom Patrol.

I wish comic companies would sell cheap pamphlets consisting of variants and collected edition covers that obsessives like me could file next to the original issues. As amazing as it is, I don’t want to re-buy all of Doom Patrol, but I want these covers!

(via technochaun)

The cover from Warhammer Monthly #1 by Colin MacNeil

The first issue of this anthology title has rather amateurish production values and the kind of black and white 90s indie artwork that can be difficult to follow but the stories aren’t half bad. I was especially intrigued by Gordon Rennie and Colin Macneil’s ‘Bloodquest’, which is about a disgraced group of space marines on a mission to recover their captured battle standard. I could read some more of that.

Covers and pages from Nexus #1 - #3 by Mike Baron, Steve Rude, Richard Bruning, George Freeman, Les Dorscheid, Mary Pulliam, Karen Preus, and Stephen Welch.

Nexus is one of those characters that’s always been sort of omnipresent at the fringes of comics but I’ve never known much about him. The book is an intriguing blend of superheroics and sci-fi with pretty decent world building. Mike Baron does a good job setting up some compelling mysteries regarding Nexus’ powers and purpose but the real treat is Steve Rude’s art. He excels at fights and action, but even the dialogue scenes are filled with interesting angles and details. I also really like Les Dorscheid’s coloring in #2 and #3.

This is my only exposure to Nexus so far but it seems like a unique concept and I’m curious to see where it goes next. I’ll keep my eye out for more next time I go dollar bin diving.