Thursday, November 9, 2017

Day 2179 - Brian Michael Bendis - My favorite comic book writer

So, early warning - This is my full-blown comic nerd-dom on display.  If you don't know comic books (and maybe if you do), you might be hopelessly lost.  I'm gonna be throwing around names of writers, artists and characters like nobody's business.  But hopefully we all have a good time.

I work part-time at Csarol and John's Comic Shop in Cleveland, Ohio.  I've been there since... well, none of us really know when I started, but I'm guessing around 1996 or 1997.  I've always loved comic books and Spider-Man in particular.  I tell people I started collecting comic books with the release of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck (with additional art by Bob Layton).  Up until that series, I was just reading comic books.  But when that series came out, I made it my mission to get all the issues.  I started with issue #3, because the cover showed Spider-Man fighting the X-Men, and the inside didn't disappoint, as he wiped the floor with them.  The next issue had the bad guys drop a whole mountain top on the good guys, and from that point on, I begged and pleaded with my dad to get me the first two issues.  And we went to the comic shops in Parma, and he paid the exorbitant sum of $5 for issue one (cover price of 75 cents), just to make me happy.  I don't think he realized that would lead me down my current path of thousands and thousands of comics.

I didn't realize that people actually drew comics until I read Amazing Spider-Man #298.  That was the first issue drawn by Todd McFarlane.  I guess I realized the difference between Steve Ditko's Spider-Man and John Romita's, but I never gave it much thought.  McFarlane changed everything for me.  I went back and searched for everything he drew, from Infinity Inc., to The Incredible Hulk, to Coyote, to Detective Comics, and so on.  I have a comic box in my house devoted to just his comics. 

All this is just to say that when Brian Michael Bendis showed up in my life, I was fully immersed in comics and Spider-Man in particular.

For those of you who don't know, Bendis is from Cleveland.  He worked at a comic shop, he produced his own self-published crime comics (AKA Goldfish, Jinx, etc - fine, they were from Caliber, but close enough), and he was always on his bike.  And in the late '90's he started coming into Carol and John's looking for his comic book fix.  At this point he was writing Sam and Twitch (a spin-off of Todd McFarlane's Spawn).  It was a comic that I was personally enamored with because the writing was so dense, the characters so well-defined, and the situations so dark. 

But then came the day when he came in and was able to tell us that he got a new job in which he was going to be able to write a Spider-Man title set in a different universe, telling the story of how he got his powers, and bringing him back to being a teenager.  The original Spider-Man would still exist (and still be married to Mary Jane), but this would be a way for new and younger readers to be able to read Spider-Man without the weight of all that history.  It would be called "Ultimate Spider-Man."  For the past 17 years, throughout all its name changes, this has been my favorite comic book.

The first issue blew out of the shop.  It sold like gangbusters.  A combination of local boy makes good, and a great comic book helped.  Honestly, I couldn't wait for him to come into the shop when I was working during this time.  We shared a lot of the same interests (movies, comics, and creators), and I truly, truly loved his writing.  I would get excited for every new project he would talk about about (Ultimate Marvel Team-Up - great, Daredevil: Ninja - not so much).  And then he started writing Daredevil, too.  If you thought Sam and Twitch was a dense book, Daredevil put that one to shame.  The amount of words in each issue made his whole run feel like a Charles Dickens epic.  But the thing about his writing was that it flowed.  It sounded like real people talking.  In more recent years, he's toned that down a lot, but I miss those early years of just two characters talking to each other.  And talking.  And talking.  In fact, I would use Daredevil as my in-store example to customers as how to have a lot of dialogue correctly.  At the same time, Chris Claremont was writing a comic called Extreme X-Men, with just as much dialogue as Daredevil.  The problem, and I would actually read passages out loud from each book, was that Bendis' dialogue felt real and Claremont's did not.  I sold a lot of Daredevil comics by reading them out loud.

Around the same time as Daredevil, Bendis, with Michael Gaydos, created one of my most favorite characters ever - Jessica Jones.  She was a foul-mouthed private investigator with lower-tier superpowers.  I (still) describe the series by telling people that when the book starts out, she's at the lowest point a person can really be, and by the end of the series, she's made her way up to normal.  Her journey is one of the most compelling stories you'll read.

And during this time, Bendis bid Cleveland a fond farewell, and moved out to Portland where a number of other comic creators reside, and he could ride his bike to his heart's content.  But we would catch up at different conventions over the years.  Whether he knows my name or not off the top if his head is up for debate, but he does recognize me from the Carol and John's.  And through all these years, I've read everything he's written.  His Avengers run is one I can read over and over.  His X-Men is solid entertainment, Guardians of the Galaxy is fine, and Spider-Woman and Moon Knight are good stories that seem like they could have been better had they lasted longer. 

But through all that he's been writing Ultimate Spider-Man.  He had Peter Parker tell Mary Jane he was Spider-Man, he had Spidey and Kitty Pryde date, he killed and brought back Gwen Stacy, and he even killed off Peter Parker in an epic battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin (with an assist from Kraven, Electro, and Sandman).  From there, he introduced Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man.  Miles' first issue was good, but his second issue was great.  (I still contend that Marvel should have just combined issue 1 and 2 into an oversized first issue, and I would haven't had any of those early reservations, but that's long in the past.)  Bendis has been writing the adventures of Miles Morales for about six years now.  I still love it.  In fact, just about every year, I reread the entire series of Ultimate Spider-Man, because I love it just that much.

And now he's leaving Marvel for DC.  My initial reaction when I was told this was one of "Ah, you're playing a joke on me."  No.  No they weren't.  My second reaction was that there would be some sort of special dispensation that would allow him to keep writing books like Jessica Jones while over at DC.  Nope.  A full break.  I'm not going to lie - I'm scared.  These are characters that Bendis has put a very special stamp down on, and I fear for their future.  But it's been a loooong time that he's been writing those characters.  Maybe somebody will write then just as well. (I'm not holding my breath, but let's see who steps up.)  But... now I get to see his take on DC characters.  They're not my favorite (I'm a Marvel Zombie for life), but I do read a lot of DC.  I know he's been itching to write Plastic Man and Batman.  And early speculation is that he might be writing Zatanna.  If any of those happen, I will be happy.  After close to 20 years, you have nothing really to prove to me, sir.  Just keep writing good comics and I'll keep giving you my money.  2018 is going to be a crazy year comics-wise.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll see a sequel to my favorite non-Marvel Bendis story - Fortune and Glory.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Day 2053 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

Joy.  That's what I felt when I left the theater.  Yeah, I really liked this version of Spider-Man.  But here's where I'm coming from... Spider-Man 1 and 2 are great.  The first one got the origin just right, and the second one gave us one of the most perfect comic book villains we've ever seen with Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus.  This one (finally) does away with the origin story ("I got bit by a spider."), and focuses completely on Peter Parker in the days, weeks, and months following his appearance in Captain America: Civil War.  And Peter is itching to do something as epic as that.  Instead, he's spending his time as Spider-Man stopping bicycle thieves, and helping old people who are lost.  But then he stumbles upon a group of bad guys (led by Michael Keaton) who are using leftover alien technology to create weapons.  And Michael Keaton plays the Vulture, completing his avian trilogy of Batman, Birdman, and now the Vulture.

What's interesting about this version of the character, is that there are long stretches without any sort of action.  It's a lot of character and world building business.  We find out who Peter hangs out with, who he has a crush on, and what all the cool toys are that Tony Stark put into Spider-Man's costume.  Because of this, I was more involved in all these characters than most of the other films. 

What's great about the movie, is that it really is a hero's journey.  Peter has a lot of lessons to learn.  They're not insurmountable, but he has choices and decisions that he has to make, and because Spider-Man is arguably one of the best superheroes out there, he constantly makes the right ones.  And that's actually a bold move.  There are no real moral quandaries for Spider-Man.  He just has to do the right thing.  In an age where there's so much gray, it's nice to have a hero who is this true.

And while Tom Holland continues to craft a fantastic Peter Parker, Michael Keaton does an equally excellent job as Adrian Toomes, The Vulture.  He is a bad guy, no doubt.  But unlike, say Spider-Man 3's The Sandman, while he believes he's doing what's right for his family, he also has no illusions about how bad he actually is. 

I could write about all the cool cameos, the twists that had the audience (and me) gasp in the theater, how Spider-Man's spider sense is essentially non-existent, or how the very last post-credits sequence is one of the funniest things ever.  But, instead, I'll just say that I liked the movie a bunch.  It swept me up pretty quickly.  It finally gives me the hero vs. the villain straightforward fight that I have been waiting for.  I just had a good time.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 2015 - Twin Peaks

Ahhh. "Twin Peaks".  Along with "The Simpsons" (at least the first 8 to 10 seasons) it's my favorite television show of all time.  I remember being caught up in the hype when it first aired, and I couldn't get enough of it.  My initial reaction to the first season was that it was funny, scary, surreal, and a gorgeous spoof of prime time soap operas.  Anchored by an absolutely amazing Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper, I was transported to the Pacific Northwest and drawn into the mystery of "Who Killed Laura Palmer." 

Season Two started in the fall of 1990.  That was my first year at Ohio University.  At O.U. we were surrounded by mountains, and unless you had cable (and no dorm room had cable) the only chance you had to watch the show was to find a dorm lobby that was showing it.  I lived in an all-guys dorm, and pretty much the only thing that played on that TV was sports 24/7.  I remember heading over to the girls' dorm and they had it on. 

There were two things I specifically remember about the viewing that night.  The first was that there was a commercial about halfway through advertising the new Coen Brothers' movie, Miller's Crossing.  What was interesting about the trailer was that it was about three minutes long and looked absolutely amazing.  When I finally saw it later that year, it really was.  The second thing I remember is the pace of the episode.  It was slow.  The previous season ended with a cliffhanger, as Cooper went back to his hotel room and was shot.  The premiere episode picked up right where the previous one left off.  However, instead of finding out who did the shooting, we watched as Cooper lay on the floor, bleeding out.  Occasionally, a very deaf and old bellboy (bellman?) would walk into the room and ask if Cooper needed anything oblivious to the fact that there was a dying man on the floor in front of him.  Oh, and Cooper would be visited by a giant. 

I am absolutely convinced this was the turning point in the series for everyone who was watching it up until now.  Within this two hour episode we were given no answers at all.  We still didn't know who killed Laura Palmer, nor did we find out who shot Agent Cooper.  I feel that people were either all in after this episode, or they realized they weren't going to get any answers and they checked out.  I was all in.  I realized that David Lynch and Mark Frost didn't really care about the central conceit of the show ("Who killed Laura Palmer"), but, instead, wanted to explore themes like good vs. evil, mysticism, what secrets does a small town hold, and how do those secrets affect everybody. 

I spent the following weeks bouncing from dorm to dorm watching all the rest of the episodes, until I missed a few.  Luckily I have wonderful parents, and they were recording every episode for for me.  The final episode aired on June 10th, 1991.  I was back at home and watching it upstairs in my bedroom.  The last hour of the series is almost completely set in a dream world called the Red Room where Cooper fights to save both the girl and his soul.  The last scene of the series had me get up out of my chair and scream, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  I knew the series was over.  It wasn't coming back.  I was stunned.  And I immediately knew that I had seen one of the most heartbreaking and amazing things ever.

But there was still hope.  David Lynch announced a follow-up film.  Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me hit the theaters more than a year later.  After a staggering and amazing opening half hour (Chris Isaak as Special Agent Chet Desmond is one of my favorite characters ever), the movie is punctuated by both brilliance and, sadly, tedium.  I knew we really weren't going to get answers to what happened at the end of the series, but I still held out hope.

Fast forward to 2017.  David Lynch and Mark Frost have brought "Twin Peaks" back to the airwaves.  Showtime has given them the money to produce 18 episodes and it takes place 25 years after the series originally ended.  In the years between the original series and this year, Lynch has directed four feature films and a number of short films.  His last feature film was Inland Empire.  It's not a very good movie, but there's no denying that it's a David Lynch film.  Mark Frost has written the two mediocre Fantastic Four movies, adapted his novel, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and done a couple other things.  Honestly, there was no real reason to believe that this new "Twin Peaks" would be any good other than blind optimism.

I've watched the first four episodes.

I have loved the first four episodes.

This is not a series for someone who has never seen the original show.  It is filled with characters that a random viewer will scratch their head at, and wonder, "What the heck?"  Even long-time viewers might have that same reaction.  But I'm also convinced that if you stuck it out through the original series than this is can't miss television.  The first 15 minutes of the new series is pure, undiluted David Lynch.  It contains a mere three scenes, all of which seem to go on forever, and none of them seeming to give any clue as to where the show is going.  It's here where the Inland Empire influence is at its greatest.  But slowly, the layers of the show start to reveal themselves.  Characters from the previous series start to make appearances (Miguel Ferrer's Albert Rosenthal is just shattering in light of his recent passing).  New characters and situations start to come up (is that really Matthew Lillard?).  And it was about the third episode that I came to a realization.  Lynch and Frost really are playing the long game.  They are using these 18 episodes to very slowly and methodically tell the story that they want to tell.  We are just along for the ride.  Whether we want to get on board with them or not is of no consequence.  But there does really seem to be a plan.  And by the end of episode 4, when Cooper is given a cup of coffee, it was one of the most edge of your seat scenes that you can imagine.  And it's just a cup of coffee! 

I was afraid that, because the series is now airing on Showtime, our undiluted David Lynch might be too graphic.  But four episodes in, I have been happily surprised.  Yes, there have been some scenes of shocking violence, but it hasn't yet seemed gratuitous an any way.  What's more interesting is that Lynch seems to be able to let his imagination go wild in this unfettered landscape.  I can't imagine a network channel letting him replace the "Man From Another Place" with a leafless tree that seems to have a doll head and is covered with Christmas lights, yet in this series it doesn't really seem out of place.

Four episodes in, this is the series I have been waiting for.  The fate of Special Agent Dale Cooper has been on my mind for the last 25 (26) years, and while I may end up being frustrated with the destination (always possible), the journey so far has been dazzling.  It's been as surreal as I hoped.  It's been as funny as I hoped (yes, you are supposed to laugh at a lot of this).  It has been as unsettling as I remember the first series being.  It's simply been good.  And if you enjoyed the original series, but gave up on this one after one or two episodes, then I think you're doing yourself a disservice.  It's good to be back in Twin Peaks.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Day 1966 - Your Name

I have a buddy who tells me that I give too many movies a pass.  And what I mean by that, is that he thinks that I'm not critical enough on movies that he thinks are "inferior." Hey, I fully admit that I sometimes just want to be entertained.  And there are plenty of movies that most people would consider "bad" that I can find enjoyment in.  But the other side of that coin is that when I inundate myself with mediocre or just "good" movies, I sometimes worry that I won't be able to recognize a great one when I come across it.  But then I watch a movie like Your Name, and that fear goes away.

Your Name is a Japanese animated film about two teenagers, Taki and Mitsuha.  Taki lives in Tokyo and Mitsuha lives in a small village.  One day they discover that they will randomly wake up in each others body.  There are the obvious jokes to get out of the way as they are both teenagers.  But what happens over the course of the film is that each of them leaves messages for the other in order to make the transformations easier on one another. 

And this is a nifty little set up, with some nice character development, and a way for each character to have an experience that's completely foreign to them be less frightening and more eye-opening.  But that's not what makes this a great film.  No.  What makes this a great film is the larger canvas of life that this picture paints.  The interconnectedness of the universe.  Time travel.  Friends who will do anything for each other at the drop of a hat, and it's no big deal.  Love that grows steadily.  You know - life.

This is a world that's made all the more beautiful because it's animated.  It's very grounded, but some of the larger world situations are enhanced by the film's ability to go places a regular film couldn't.  And the emotions that the film is able to elicit are that much stronger when the characters are that much more expressive.

I'm writing with a lot of hyperbole, and I apologize.  But the movie really was a tremendous surprise.  And I'm being somewhat cagey in terms of plot, because about halfway/two-thirds of the way through something happens that changes where the story goes.  What's interesting about the turn, is that up until that time, we, as the viewer, really have no idea where the film is going.  And then we do.  We really, really do.  And the film pounces on that revelation and hurtles us along with abandon.

It hits all the notes it's supposed to.  It's funny, it's thoughtful, it's suspenseful, and it's touching. It makes me happy that I can still recognize a great film when I see one.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 1947 - My favorite movies from the year I was born until now (Part 2)

Continuing this perfectly selfish indulgence, I'm writing part 2 while my all-time favorite movie plays in the background (Bruce Cabot is my hero).  And I've already had a hiccup with part one.  The James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only came out in 1981, and would probably take over the number one spot over Blow Out and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But that's what makes lists like this fun.  The debate, and the wracking of the brains to figure out where your mind is currently at.  But without further ado...

1998 - The Last Days of Disco (Smart people talking about smart things, even if they aren't doing the smartest things.  Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale absolutely kill it as roommates who are really only friends of convenience.)

1999 - Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut (A Tom Cruise double feature.  I still remember one day when I had the TV on in the morning, and Magnolia was on.  I watched about 20 minutes before I had to go to work, but when I got home that night, I watched the last two and a half hours, because I still couldn't get it out of my head even though I had seen it numerous times before.)
2000 - Requiem For a Dream (The greatest anti-drug movie you'll ever see.  Horrific, terrifying, stunning, and tragic.  An incredibly hard film to watch, but gripping in every way.)
2001 - Mulholland Dr., Ghost World, Amelie (Mulholland Dr. is like a masters thesis in surrealism and Naomi Watts gives the performance of the decade.  Ghost World is one of the very best comic book movies ever made.  And Amelie  is just both a glorious piece of filmmaking and one of the happiest movies ever made.)
2002 - Punch Drunk Love (I honestly wish Adam Sandler made more movies like this.  And the music is just amazing.)
2003 - Elephant, Kill Bill Part 1, The Matrix Reloaded, Mystic River, Love Actually (Five movies!  C'mon, make up your mind!  Elephant is about a day where a school shooting is about to occur.  Super slow, but absolutely deliberate and riveting.  Kill Bill Part1 is like the filmic equivalent of an adrenaline shot to the heart.  The Matrix Reloaded had to be on here.  There is no movie I saw more during the first run in the theater.  In my own mind it makes perfect sense, and has some of the most staggering action scenes ever.  Mystic River is so sad and tragic.  The performances enhance an already stellar story.   And Love Actually... well, I feel there are all sorts of love puns I could use.  Suffice to say, I really do love it.
2004 - The Incredibles
2005 - King Kong, Batman Begins (Peter Jackson's remake of Kong is long, self-indulgent, and has a miscast Jack Black.  But it's probably the closest approximation of the movie I would have made, and I love it because of that.  Batman Begins is my favorite Batman movie.  I never get tired of it, because I think it's perfectly constructed.
2006 - The Departed, Casino Royale, The Prestige (Martin Scorsese has really just been on fire with his last fifteen years worth of movies.  Whenever I need a two and a half hour pick-me-up, Casino Royale is where I turn.  And The Prestige is so wonderfully twisty.)
2007 - There Will be Blood (I drink your milkshake!  I drink it up!)
2008 - Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda (I refuse to justify either one of these two masterpieces.)
2009 - Funny People (Another Adam Sandler flick?  Yeah, this movie balanced comedy and drama perfectly for me.)
2010 - Exit Through the Gift Shop, Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Exit makes me question reality and look at art in ways that challenge me, and I appreciate it all the more for that.  Scott Pilgrim takes everything I love and squishes it into this perfect little movie.)
2011 - Warrior (Even knowing where the movie was going, I was still on the edge of my seat.  Repeat viewings have never diminished my love for this film.)
2012 - Moonrise Kingdom (Not my favorite Wes Anderson movie, but it's still great, and it beat out everything else that year.)
2013 - The Way, Way Back - Sam Rockwell is so good, and Steve Carell is so bad (their characters, anyway).  I really can't recommend this more highly.
2014 - Under the Skin, Whiplash (Under the Skin is the creepy, slow-paced, sci fi flick that has Scarlett Johannson as an alien(?).  Not for all tastes by any means, but I find it fascinating.  And Whiplash's thoughts on motivation and artistic skill still resonate.)
2015 - Ex Machina (Oh, how I love that ending.
2016 - Hell or High Water (Yes, Jeff Bridges does nothing new, but he's still good.  But it's the idea that all the characters' motivations, both right and wrong, are both right and wrong, elevates this for me.

Ahhh.  That was fun.  I want to rewatch a lot of these now.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 1944 - My favorite movies from the year I was born until now. (Part 1)

So there was a little thing going around Facebook where people would start at the year they were born and list their favorite movie in each of those years.  Apparently the rule was one movie per year.  But it also looked like people would break that rule when it suited them (like I'm going to do).  It also appeared that people put down the movies with no explanation, either.  I like doing all that writing, so, when appropriate, I'm going to have little commentaries sprinkled throughout.  I spent a stupid amount of time doing research for this, so I might as well put in the extra effort.

1972 - The Godfather
1973 - Charley Varrick (I've seen it one time only, but this tight, funny, and mean thriller with Walter Matthau has never left my brain.  Still one of the best endings I've ever seen.)
1974 - The Conversation (On almost every list I've seen, The Godfather Part 2 gets put on here.  While I do, indeed, love The Godfather Part 2, Francis Ford Coppola's other movie is one of my all-time favorites.)
1975 - Jaws (duh)
1976 - Taxi Driver
1977 - Close Encounters of the Third Kind/Star Wars (The first tie.  Star Wars is the easy pick for most people, and I really do love it just as much as everyone else.  But Close Encounters is just as magical.  If Spielberg had never made Jaws, this would be my favorite film of his.)
1978 - Halloween ("You can't kill the Boogie Man.")
1979 - Apocalypse Now (not the Redux version, the original.)
1980 - Dressed to Kill/The Empire Strikes Back/The Stunt Man (Three way tie!  Each one of these movies affects me on very deep levels.)
1981 - Blowout/Raiders of the Lost Ark (In any other year, either one would be my top movie.  In 1981 however, they get to be tied.)
1982 - Tootsie (So much funnier and heartfelt than you think it could ever be.
1983 - The Right Stuff
1984 - The Natural/Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom/Sixteen Candles (Another three-way tie.  There's a few of us who recognize that Raiders is the better movie, and we still don't care.  I like Temple of Doom.  The Natural is my favorite baseball movie.  As for Sixteen Candles - casual racism and sexism aside, I really, really like it.  So there.)
1985 -Purple Rose of Cairo/Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Behind Chaplin's City Lights, The Purple Rose of Cairo is the most touching, funny, tragic movie I've ever seen.  And on the other end of the spectrum, Pee Wee's Big Adventure is flat-out one of the funniest movies ever made.)
1986 - F/X  (I make no bones about how much I love this movie.)
1987 - Robocop ("I'd buy that for a dollar!")
1988 - My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece is just a joy to experience.)
1989 - Field of Dreams (The Little Mermaid and The Killer both gave this a run for the money, but it moves me too much to even make it a contest.)
1990 - Dances With Wolves (The First movie I ever saw three times in the theater.  I still love it.)
1991 - Silence of the Lambs/Barton Fink (If we're going to be honest, Silence of the Lambs beats out the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink by a hair, but Barton Fink is in my top 10 favorite movies of all-time a few spots behind Lambs, so that has to count for something, right?)
1992 - Hero/Hard Boiled - Hero affected me more than a lot of other people.  But I love it just the same.  And Hard-Boiled is just an action masterpiece.
1993 - True Romance/The Piano/The Fugitive/Short Cuts (True Romance is cool personified, The Piano blindsided me with how good it was, The Fugitive actually made TV show reboots a good idea, and Short Cuts is just a Robert Altman multi-character, multi-story piece of art.)
1994 - Pulp Fiction/Serial Mom  (Serial Mom?  Really?  Yes, indeed.  At the time it was made, it was about five minutes ahead of it's time.  Now it almost seems quaint.  What should have been a John Waters spoof, ends up being creepily on the nose. 
1995 - Beyond the Clouds (One of Michaelangelo Antonioni's final films, this one just carries me in every time.)
1996 - Beautiful Girls (so great.)
1997 - Titanic (yeah, that's right.)

Part 2 in a day or so.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day 1933 - Kong: Skull Island

So, I find the fact that the day that I'm writing my Kong review- it matches the year the original was in the theaters.  I guess it was supposed to be. 

For those of you who don't know (new friends and the like), the original King Kong is my all-time favorite movie.  There's something about a giant ape that fights monsters,  finds love, gets into show business, and have it all go wrong that hits me in my sweet spot.  And the real trick to all the different King Kong films over the years is its complete disregard for its audience.  Let me clarify - in most monster movies (or giant creature movies), it doesn't take that long for the monsters to show up and start wreaking some havoc.  We live in a time where we want to see these magnificent beasts early and often.  None of the previous Kong films really subscribe to this method of storytelling.  Even the bad ones.And Kong: Skull Island is no different.

The plot - during the waning days of the Vietnam War, a group of soldiers is asked to accompany an expedition to an unchartered island, where they're going to, well, chart it.  Along for the ride is Tom Hiddleston's guide, James Conrad, and Brie Larson's Mason Weaver, an award-winning photo-journalist who knows that something epic is on the horizon.  Their traveling companions are Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson (and he hates big monkeys), and John Goodman as an independent government contractor, who knows (maybe) what's on the island.  And there's a lot of soldiers.  Some of whom you'll remember and like, and others which you'll forget about five minutes after they've been eaten (or squashed).

And for giant simian action, this really is your go-to movie.  But what this misses that previous Kong movies has is a sense of weight and heft.  The previous movies speak about larger truths.  Sometimes it might be a bit much for people, but that's probably why they resonate so much with me.  And Kong: Skull Island doesn't really have that.  Sure there's a touch of, "We really need to leave the big gorilla alone,"  but there's nothing more past that.

But the lack of a greater theme, shall we say, doesn't make the movie any less enjoyable.  Kong is pretty darn impressive.  When he goes on his various rampages, it's a sight to behold.  The lizard-like bag guy creatures are also solid.  I would have probably prefered a creature that was more based off fact, as opposed to one the filmmakers just dreamed of.  Which is why, when the giant spider showed up, it was easily my favorite scene in the film.  Giant monkeys still have the number one spot in my heart, but giant spiders aren't far behind.

I had been waiting for this movie for a while now, and it was solid.  I appreciated Tom Hiddleston's role, because, even though he really didn't have a whole lot to do, he's still charismatic as all get out.  And at essentially two hours long, the movie really did fly by.  But it's simply entertainment.  It never rises above that.  Ah, well.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Day 1915 - Fist Fight

So, rather than get off my proverbial butt and write about what my favorite films of 2016 were, I have decided to write a review of the mediocre film, Fist Fight starring Ice Cube and Charlie Day.  I really know how to play to my audience don't I? 

I suppose I should really write about why I wanted to see this movie in the first place.  I mean, c'mon.  It looks like a pretty stupid movie, right?  But when I saw the trailer a few months ago, it immediately caught my eye because it's essentially the same plot as one of those movies that I have seen many, many times - Three O'Clock High.  The plot of Three O'Clock High is that nebbish Jerry Mitchell is told that he's going to fight monstrous Buddy Revell after school at 3 o'clock, and he does everything he can to get out of it.  Whelp, same story, different characters.  Nebbish Andy Campbell (Charlie Day, in a role that is becoming tailor made for him) is told by seriously imposing Strickland (seriously imposing Ice Cube) that they're going to fight at 3 o'clock.  And then Charlie Day tries to get out of it. 

I love Three O'Clock High.  I think that besides being a little slight on story and plot, it more than makes up for it in direction, cinematography, and attitude.  Fist Fight doesn't have any of that going for it.  What it does have is mildly amusing moments and a really impressive final fight.  Really, the fight at the end is what makes the movie worth watching.  It's incredibly visceral, has more sustained laughs than most of the rest of the film, and actually drives home the point it wants to make.  But, ultimately, the film is tremendously derivative.  I don't think I would have minded as much if there was some sort of acknowledgement of what had come before.  A cameo, a thank you, something.  But instead, we get nothing. 

It was a pleasant enough diversion.  Nothing more.  But if you haven't seen Three O'clock High, I would highly recommend that over this.  It was simply so much more "fun."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 1882 - Have you ever been a movie theater when the film broke?

Ahh, the good old days when the film would break in the movie theater.  It happens way less often now with all the digital projection.  However, I've had some issues with that, too.  But the two stories I have today deal with the film breaking in the theater.

The first one that made an impact was Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls,  You know, the notorious NC-17 flick that is still considered either one of the worst movies ever made or a cult classic (or both).  I went with my buddy Bob to the theater opening weekend at Great Northern.  We knew, going into it, that we were potentially in for a train wreck.  But we weren't fully prepared for the cinematic carnage that awaited us.  It was beyond awful.  Actors that I currently liked made me question my previous thoughts based on their performances in this film.  Even the mere sight of naked boobs could not cheer me up, as Showgirls might be one of the least titillating movies that has ever graced the screen.  And there was no escape.  I never leave the theater once the movie starts, and this would be no exception.

But then, miracle of miracles, the film broke halfway through.  And the group of 30 to 60 people in the theater collectively cheered!  Never has a film-going crowd ever been as happy to see a movie break. There was talk that a monkey might show up later in the movie, but even the thought of a (possible) future monkey wasn't enough to make us want that movie to start again.  We got our free passes for a future movie and left the theater happy in the thought that we just dodged a bullet.  And, no, I still have never watched the rest of the movie.  I don't need to.

The second movie that had a dramatic break in it was the Mel Gibson revenge flick, Payback.  Based off the Richard Stark novel, The Hunter, Mel Gibson plays a thief who is doubled-crossed, shot a bunch of times, and left for dead.  When he recovers, he works his way up the ladder of mob bosses simply looking for the money that was stolen from him.  So much death and destruction could have been avoided had anyone sucked up their pride and just given him the money.  But that never happens.  At one point Gibson's character (Porter) has been captured and is being tortured.  And his torture consists of getting his toes smashed in with a hammer.  It's an incredibly tense scene made even moreso by the fact that the film broke just as the hammer was coming down for the second time.  The entire audience let out a collective gasp.  It was a mixture of both astonishment and relief.  We had just been given a moment to catch our breath as the people in the booth worked to fix the film.  When the film restarted, it took place about a minute after the hammer, so we didn't know how he got out of his predicament, but we were still in.  After the film was over, my buddies and I discussed the break, and we all agreed that if the film had to break, it broke at the exact right time.

Having something go wrong with the film is one of the worst things that can happen at a theater.  But sometimes, just sometimes, it enhances the experience.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Day 1863 - Movie Memories - The Naked Gun:From the Files of Police Squad

It's a new year.  And because I always say that I'm going to write more often, I figure that an easy way for me to do that is to write a little more often about what I know.  And what I know is how movies affect me.  For certain ones, I have full-fledged experiences with them.  So, as a bit of an experiment, every once in a while (or maybe even more than that), I'm going to highlight some of those movies with my stories surrounding them.  Occasionally I may even throw in some TV shows or books, depending on the inspiration.

So, to start off this little segment, I'm going to write about The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad.  The very first time I saw the movie was when my Aunt Genie got the family tickets to see a sneak preview of it.  At the time, she knew somebody who worked at Paramount, and she would sometimes get preview passes to certain movies.  The Naked Gun was one of those movies.  And I was 16 years old when I saw it.  The perfect age.  The absurdist humor from the guys that made Airplane! was right in my wheelhouse.  I remember laughing from beginning to end.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I was in college.  At Ohio University there was never any way to watch regular television unless you watched the main TV down in the lobby or you lived off campus and had cable.  So I had to resort to videotapes if I wanted to watch anything.  I watched a lot of different movies in my four years at college, but I also watched a tape that had The Naked Gun on it more than probably any sane person.  It was my version of video comfort food.  And it wasn't that I watched bits and pieces of it.  Oh, no.  I would watch the whole movie.  And I watched it so much, that when I finally saw a version of it that they played on TV, I was able to pick out all the parts that they added for the network showing (and there were a lot).  And that wasn't the only movie on that tape.  It also had a film called Streets and Heathers on there as well.  They were watched just as often, and Streets will get one of these posts one day.  But what made that tape so watchable, besides all three being great(ish) movies, was that each movie felt different, so I could get a different experience out of each movie when I would watch that tape in full.  Sometimes I miss the days when I could waste a day just watching movies.  It was a time in my life when I could do that and not have to really worry about the world.  Not that I worry much now, but it was just different.  And I'm hard pressed to find anything that I think is as funny now, as The Naked Gun was back then.

And I'm not even going to bring up the OJ Simpson factor.