Friday, March 17, 2017
I'm late to the game on Logan (2017), the third stand-alone movie for Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the X-Men's conflicted brawler, Wolverine. Most of you who wanted to see it have seen it, so you won't need me pushing you toward the theater.
While the series began strong and is one of the films responsible for the past twenty years' worth of exploding growth in superhero films, more recent entries have been less than required viewing and - to this viewer - disappointing. Enough so that I never bothered to watch the second Logan/ Wolverine/ James Howlett movie, The Wolverine, and only caught the most recent X-Men movie via a borrowed BluRay.
It's an interesting movie to see on the heels of Kong: Skull Island, both fantasy actioners intended for an audience with pre-awareness of existing tropes. Both borrowed and nodded to existing media outside their genre.
But Logan remembered that a story is about character first, plot second, and - arguably - you can care about everything going on in this movie whether or not you've seen any X-Men movies before. And, really, that's not something just superhero movies struggle with, it's something comics struggle with year in and year out.* And while I'll argue that the Marvel movies, both stand-alone and Avengers group efforts are heavier on character than plot, in exiting the safe confines of a PG-13 rating, Logan is free to explore much about the character that's hinted at but always seems frustratingly, perhaps hypocritically, absent in most portrayals of a man who has lost track of his kill count and whose own body is the weapon which has taken so many lives.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Box office numbers will give me the answer to the question "was anyone really wanting a new King Kong movie, let alone a re-imagined one?" Because I really don't know. Our theater was near sold out, but I had the distinct impression it was full of the kinds of movie goers who think picking what movie they'll see ahead of time is a waste of time - you just buy tickets for whatever is starting next.
King Kong, like Frankenstein, is one of those movie concepts that bled out into the pop culture to such a degree - it's just part of the cultural lexicon. This in spite of the fact very few folks you talk to have actually sat through the original films. But the imagery of both has become so iconic, the concepts both bizarre and yet easy to grasp and the metaphor so accessible... we all get it. Giant apes and flesh golems tend to stick in the mind.
Weirdly, Kong: Skull Island (2017) arguably throws away all of that metaphor, telling a different story. No more Ann Darrow, no John Driscoll, no showboating Carl Denham. No more "'twas Beauty who killed The Beast." This is a 1970's-era landing on Skull Island by a mix of government scientists and soon-to-be-done Army soldiers, rotating out of Vietnam and a whole lotta explosions.
The end result is also something altogether different, and that alone can take some getting used to. You're in for two hours of fast-moving excitement, a razor thin script, name actors without much to do, and a Vietnam known only via high-profile filmic depictions. All in all, Kong: Skull Island (2017) is maybe not what I was expecting, but it is visually stunning, entertaining, contains some pretty amazing FX and action sequences, and if you don't have a bunch of people talking behind you, is going to keep you glued to the screen for the run-time of the movie.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
You'll hear a lot about how 90's comic books were all about Chromium covers, Rob Liefeld and . There's some truth to that. But that's like saying 90's music was all Garth Brooks and Hootie and the Blowfish. The 90's brought us Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and a host of others who came to comics mostly via the guiding hand of Karen Berger and the Vertigo imprint.
Titles like Hellblazer, Kid Eternity and Invisibles kept me in comics when I was hitting that crucial point where I might have moved on. And, totally honestly, had I not stumbled across the "Ramadan" issue of Sandman during the final months of my senior year of high school, I suspect me and comics were headed for a bitter break-up.
Part of that break-up was what was happening in the X-Men titles, which had lost the guiding hand of Chris Claremont, whose writing I was ready to leave behind, I suspect, but who had created multi-dimensional characters in a way that, to this day, I cannot believe comics in general haven't learned from.
FX's new series, Legion, is going to confuse folks who head to the comic shop to find issues of the series, or a nice trade paperback. The character, David Haller, appeared briefly in a few runs of various X-books dating back to the mid-1980's, including his first appearances in the surprisingly weird New Mutants title, giving Chris Claremont's writing and the artistry of Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin, Stray Toasters, numerous other projects) co-creator status.
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Y'all have already seen this one, so no lengthy post here. But that was a really fun movie, and maybe the best intro to the full range of Bat-dorkiness from DC Comics, the movies, the TV shows...
That was just a blast.
And, now I need a lot of white and crystal Lego, because I really want to build a Lego Fortress of Solitude.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I spend some amount of time (read: all of my time) online, and thus was aware, somehow, of the fictional boogeyman, The Slenderman. It was one of those things that I said "what is that?", Googled it, saw it was a meme sort of thing the kids were into, and went about my business.
The Slenderman was created in the world of online fictional storytelling, and as these things sometimes do, it took off and became an idea that flooded outside of the scary-stories site where The Slenderman first appeared. A quick Google search will turn up thousands of hits. He's an otherworldly figure who haunts children once they become aware of him, and will either murder them or befriend the most pitiable (I think).
In 2014 a new story broke out of Waukesha, Wisconsin that two 12 year-old girls had lured their friend into the woods and then attempted to stab her to death in order to impress/ appease "The Slenderman", which... to an adult sounds a bit like committing attempted murder to appease a movie or television character like The Cryptkeeper or something. I don't want to belittle any of this, because two little girls really did have some sort of break and a third was gravely injured and will no doubt suffer longterm effects, but as someone well beyond the age of the girls who made this decision and with a "I existed before the internet" point of view, it's very hard to imagine the world that created this tragedy.
The HBO Documentary Beware the Slenderman (2016) dissects the scenario that led to the incident, looking into the world of the girls, what's online and how they related to it. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a doc that had this sort of access to the parents of perpetrators of an act like this who were clearly involved and participating in the film within a couple of months of the girls' incarceration and into the trial.
Sunday, January 22, 2017
By no stretch of the imagination is Roger Corman's Death Race 2050 a good movie, but it was released this week (streaming on Netflix at the moment), and I needed some campy satire to wrap up this particular moment in American political history. You guys be you, I'll still enjoy some barely concealed hostility hidden beneath a thin veneer of comedy and allegory wrapped up in a decidedly trashy movie.
I still like a good B-movie. Heck, a film-loving co-worker asked me what I recommended that I'd seen lately and my two answers were Tower (not a B-movie) and Starcrash. While I always like the unintentionally hilarious bad movie, Roger Corman has made making lower-tier films an artform and routinely pushed what's possible in movies thanks to an interesting mix of inventiveness, a certainty no one is watching all that closely, and a certain fearless stunt filmmaking. Sure, sometimes the product is bad (well, all the time). The politics can be almost confusing as you grapple with stereotypes of race or class mixed with stereotype breaking and shattering.
But, hey, I couldn't sleep well growing up, and trashy movies were there for me. I may be the only person you know who owns a copy of Reform School Girls.
Monday, January 2, 2017
My last movie of the year I knew about well ahead of time. Way back in September or so, SimonUK and I made a pledge to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) together, and by November realized that it wasn't going to be us hand-in-hand on opening night as SimonUK actually works at the Alamo Drafthouse, and would be taking orders and whatnot during the first week, more or less non-stop. So, we made a date for New Year's Eve Day.
I knew I'd see this movie again in the theater unless it dropped to Episode I depths (the only Star Wars I've only seen through once is Revenge of the Sith).
I've already written this movie up, so I'll keep my comments to what I noticed on the second screening.
Friday, December 23, 2016
I'm not going to write this up, because... well, whatever. It's Christmas. I got stuff I'd rather be doing. But this movie was better than I thought it would be, and has some pretty funny stuff for the adults in a family-friendly/PG way.
I am kind of sick of the paramilitary strike force elf idea which seemed everywhere a few years ago, but if you can grit your teeth through the first part, lots of pay-off.
The fact that La La Land (2016) even exists may be the most stunning thing about it. In a movie that should draw out superlatives about near every aspect of the film, that in an era of pre-awareness and Oscar Bait that usually equates to "who can tell the saddest kinda true story (but we cut so much stuff out)?" filling theaters in December - really, it's astounding to see anyone financing something there's no guarantee anyone will show up to see. While Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are two of the best of their generation, the era of "star power" guaranteeing a hit is long over.
Hollywood still puts out the occasional musical, adapting a Broadway show here or there (example - Chicago or Hairspray), or the forthcoming melding of CG and live action with Beauty and The Beast. Moulin Rouge may be the last original musical, and that was a collection of pop songs sung in period dress.
But this is a new movie, not an adaptation. It's a fantasy of Los Angeles as the epic backdrop large enough for the widescreen adaptation of lives as they play in our heads, saturated in Technicolor, all the other players happy background roles as we cast ourselves as the protagonists in the romantic, astounding story of our lives. And that's more than okay.
Before we even get started, I'm curious what JAL has to say on this film, as I thought of him many times during and afterwards as I've worked on this write-up.
Look, I don't know much about dating. It's been a while - but if you're looking for a movie to see with someone you just started seeing? Hot tip: La La Land.
Monday, December 19, 2016
When those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy thought of what might happen in the long-awaited prequels, I strongly suspect most of us expected something a bit more like Rogue One (2016). We'd only received glimpses of the pre-Luke Skywalker past, embedded in the story we'd heard about the Clone Wars, an Anakin Skywalker who was supposed to be some sort of edgy fighter pilot who becomes a Jedi... I was expecting three movies that took place against the backdrop of The Clone Wars, which always sounded pretty rough, at least in my head.
I'd also observe - Much as the superhero comics we read grew up with us, I think maybe I was expecting a Star Wars that acknowledged the conflict from which Episode IV sprang and maybe cut a little deeper - maybe had a bit of a rough and tumble edge that Ewok-laden finales may have foregone.
So, I think it's true that the content and execution of the three Prequel films surprised a lot of us.
Rogue One, the second of these films directed by the generation that grew up on them, expands upon what we know, creating far less continuity difficulty than Lucas introduced in the Prequels, brings back familiar sights and sounds, while filling in gaps and giving us all new adventures and characters. In this, I think you can say it succeeds with a solid A-, B+ (I spotted an issue or two, and my pal Matt brought one up I thought actually a pretty salient point).
That's not to say Rogue One hits all the right notes or was exactly what I was expecting (it wasn't). It's interesting to see Disney seeking to expand upon the seemingly vast universe Star Wars always promised, but which we could only visit in 150 minute increments. Here, they risk tonal differences, deliver only bits of familiar characters and try something a little uncomfortable, and, for the most part, they succeed.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
In many ways, the entire point of this movie is to show how Charles Xavier lost his hair. I mean, they had to do it sometime, so why not at the two-hour, ten minute mark of a very, very long movie where nothing really works very well?
I got into superhero comics when I was about 11 or 12, right about the time of the Mutant Massacre storyline in X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants. Of the literally 10's of 1000's of comics I've read, the comics I read in that first year or two are pretty well burned into my brain. Just before I got into comics, the villain Apocalypse made his first appearance in X-Factor, and would show up again to exploit the injured Warren Worthington III, aka: Angel, and make him into the 1980's requisite "Wolverine of the group" when he returned to X-Factor. I actually really liked those comics.
The movie is set in it's own version of events, but that isn't so much a bug as a feature. While it's not the worst movie I've ever seen, it's just so weighed down with characters and not-terribly-interesting plot developments and a runtime it doesn't earn, it's hard to get excited about the movie.
Monday, November 28, 2016
This will be an easy movie to write up. (1) I assume most of you who are the target audience (parents of young 'uns) will have seen this movie, and (2) I sort of lost any critical eye I might have had for the movie about five minutes in.
I just straight up liked this movie.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I was glad to get a chance to re-watch Zootopia (2016), which I'd last caught on a plane from Austin to London, and that's never an ideal viewing environment. You can read my write up here. I also think that whatever version I saw on the place was the British version, which was maybe called Zootropolis, because in the version we watched last weekend I'm pretty sure they called the city Zootopia.
Anyway, I still liked the movie just as much. It's not the same instant myth-making as Frozen or Beauty and the Beast (and did y'all see that trailer for the live action version? Pretty keen.), it's too high concept and plot-driven. In it's way, it's dealing with a lot of cultural abstractions that, pretty clearly, a lot of people are not quite internalizing and dealing with in the adult world, which makes the all-ages nature of the film kind of a peculiar fit.
But, yeah, I still like the movie quite a bit.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
No real write-up. We re-watched The Legend of Tarzan (2016), which I wrote up this summer.
It's too bad this film didn't perform better and get more attention, because I quite like where they were going with Tarzan here. It's a leap from the books and various other incarnations, but it was a version I would have gotten me back to the theater for a sequel, and it was at least as fun as Doctor Strange, while also having something of a point to it (which I'm not sure you can say about Marvel's latest entry).
It's also weird to think a movie can make $356 million and be seen as a "meh" performance, but that's today's Hollywood. If a movie isn't part of a system like the Marvel franchise where they can build and build on even a middling performer (see Ant-Man or even the first Captain America movie), it's really tough to get a second go or, weirdly, even to get any attention. I mean, it's kind of funny we'll take Doctor Strange seriously (it's at $350 million after a week! Go, Doc Strange!), but without the Marvel label, we'll shrug off Tarzan.
In short: that Marvel brand is a powerful thing. Being seen as old or legacy is not.
It's not a perfect movie or even a great movie, but it's certainly okay. I wish it did some things it didn't, but it did lots of things that surprised me, and gave me the first Jane Porter outside of the books or comics I've really liked.
Friday, November 11, 2016
If you're looking for some pure, escapist fun to watch with the kids* (and you want to guarantee they'll enjoy the action while you enjoy the jokes), I really can't recommend the newly released Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) enough.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
What an inexplicably timed movie.
I'd gone into Arrival (2016) with very little knowledge other than it was about "first contact" and starred Amy Adams as a linguist, and at this point, I'll more or less pay to see Amy Adams read the phone book. So, throw in some aliens, some hand-wavy hard science fiction and I was in.
This movie is in line with The Day the Earth Stood Still or the themes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Alien vessels arrive, truly alien, and a very good looking linguist must be put to the task to help the military communicate with the visitors. Of course there are eleven more of these ships scattered across the planet, and everyone is trying to speak to the aliens to find out if they mean us harm.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
It's safe to say that Doctor Strange as a Marvel character has never been much in my wheelhouse. As a kid, the comics always held a certain visual appeal, but I felt like the character was all mustache and cape, dealing with, yeah, world-threatening dilemmas, but always in that vague way of magical characters that didn't hold the immediate familiarity of "oh, Joker's going to kill all those people" or "Magneto is up to his old tricks." I was pretty well into college before I embraced the abstraction of world-ending calamities on a metaphysical scale, mostly by way of Jack Kirby's 70's-era work and Grant Morrison's JLA. But I still never drifted back to Doctor Strange over at Marvel. I'd enjoy his guest appearances everywhere from Spider-Man to The Illuminati-type stuff, but didn't think it was something that needed to be in my monthly "buy" pile.
Really, the only Doctor Strange comics I ever purchased were back when the character was double-billing in Strange Tales with Cloak & Dagger, which I was picking up because I dug Cloak and Dagger. Figuring out what the hell was going on with Stephen Strange, MD, wasn't particularly something I was losing sleep over.
But, the Marvel movies are, for me, an ideal way to engage with the Marvel U in a non-invested sort of way with stuff I was vaguely interested in, but didn't care to get too immersed in. Starting with Iron Man and including everything from Thor and The Avengers to the current incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, I prefer how these packages are presented in movie-form.*
Doctor Strange (2016) is - yes - another Marvel origin story. This is both a reality and problem for Marvel as it rolls out it's ever-broadening line of characters in television and film, as the origins of these characters are, in fact, of great importance to establishing the characters and their motivations for films to come. If not for Iron Man and Captain America as origin stories, how interesting would Civil War have been, really? Or, hell, Winter Soldier? DC Entertainment is finding out the hard way via Suicide Squad's terrible story problems that even an ensemble piece needs a bit more fleshing out.
Friday, November 4, 2016
Wednesday night, November 2nd, the Chicago Cubs broke their 108 year streak and won Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. At this point, you have no doubt heard about this win and cannot have missed the jokes and media bits surrounding the long drought for the Cubbies over the past, oh, fifty years or so.
The Cubs' 2016 season was one for the record books, with individual players earning honors and a win record that's going to be discussed for a generation or more. At some point, books and movies will memorialize this team and this season, and those adaptations will end in what will seem to be hokey, melodramatic fashion as the series stretches to seven games, then feature a Game 7 that ties up with an outstanding hit by Davis of the Cleveland Indians, then is delayed from going into the 10th inning by a rainstorm. A speech will be given in a players-only meeting by Jason Heyward, a phenomenal outfielder who had a terrible batting slump, but who never, ever gave up. And, the final play will be a showcase for the same meticulous defense we've seen all season by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
As was being joked about on social media with some friends, it could have only felt more like a Disney movie if they'd needed to sub in a charming 12 year old girl as the closer with her golden retriever behind the plate to catch.
I didn't grow up watching baseball - our family sport was basketball when it was anything. But I've followed the Cubs since middle school, more off than on, thanks to the broadcasts of WGN out of Chicago.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
I don't know how to categorize this. It was a two-hour television "event" on Thursday night, in prime time. It's a sort of "TV movie", but it's in the manner of one of the live musicals the networks have been doing. Only, it wasn't live.
It also wasn't... very good.
Look, no one has remade this movie to date because the original is lightning in a bottle. It was a movie that's still relevant, but a lot of what was taboo or edgy in that film has lost it's subversion as elements have become or are becoming more mainstreamed. Putting a play/ movie about themes that were still considered unmentionable in the 1970's and turning it into fodder for channel flippers on a Thursday night was going to be difficult - but I almost felt like, Laverne Cox aside, most of the cast didn't really know how this was supposed to work. And, frankly, it didn't feel like the director or producers knew how to do this, either.
To maybe throw some context on this: the show/ movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, a name that's not exactly household for me, but he was the brains behind High School Musical. And, boy howdy, does that explain a lot when you're watching the thing.
Really what struck me while watching this was: Hot Topic.
Monday, October 24, 2016
About thirty minutes into Tower (2016), I realized that the soundtrack to the film included the ever-present sound of cicadas, a tree-dwelling insect which emits a steady humming that all Central Texans know as the droning background noise of the hottest days of summer. I'd tuned the sound out the same way we all do, and I began to realize part of why the film felt so immediate - and why the film is so effective. What the film captures is very real, from glimpses of the University of Texas campus to the sound to the casual chatter about campus life, torn apart on August 1, 1966.
I'd wanted to see this film from when the producers first released footage maybe a year ago. Then friends saw it as SXSW and had positive things to say, and I was encouraged that the documentary would do the event whatever justice could be done.