Sunday, December 30, 2012

Derp Blog Into Darkness Overview

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

  1. THE FLINT STREET NATIVITY
  2. BROKEN FLOWERS
  3. THE WEDDING DATE
  4. CLOCKWISE
  5. BRUCE ALMIGHTY
  6. CYRANO DE BERGERAC
  7. THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
  8. GOOD MORNING VIETNAM
  9. HAPPY FEET
  10. HIGH FIDELITY
  11. HIS GIRL FRIDAY
  12. AN IDEAL HUSBAND
  13. IGOR
  14. MURIEL'S WEDDING
  15. The NATIONAL TREASURE movies
  16. DAYWATCH
  17. NEVERWAS
  18. NOTTING HILL
  19. ONE NIGHT AT MCCOOL'S
  20. A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
  21. PRIMARY COLORS
  22. THE PRINCESS DIARIES
  23. ROYAL WEDDING
  24. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS

Derp Blog Into Darkness #2: BROKEN FLOWERS

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

BrokenFlowers

BROKEN FLOWERS is a deeply weird movie. It’s not weird in a David Lynch way where you can’t make heads nor tails of what’s going on on-screen, mind you. The plot is pretty straightforward. Don Johnston (Bill Murray) one day gets a letter from an old flame, saying he has a 19 year old son who is out looking for him. Trouble is, there’s no sender on the letter. Don’s detective story-obsessed neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright) is incredibly intrigued by this, and compiles a folder of addresses, phone numbers and even plane tickets to help Don on his way. Don is not too happy about this, but acquiesces pretty quickly without much force from Winston anyway.

The movie is essentially a series of vignettes as he visits the four still-living exes to find out if they are the mysterious letter-writer. Because you literally know nothing about these women, the movie remains intriguing to watch. There’s always something new on the horizon! It’s all pretty well-acted, keeping your interest throughout, even if none of these women have very interesting stories to tell. They’re not boring, per se, they’re just… well, realistic. There’s no outsized ACTING moments, and all the confrontations are pretty low key affairs. The first, a NASCAR widow played by Sharon Stone, has the most MOVIE-like moments with her aptly named daughter Lolita seemingly trying to seduce Don. Murray plays it suitably awkward in moments where she traipses by naked on the phone, but his character is so lethargic and his movements so minimal that it barely registers as humor.

I’d say that would be my major complaint with the movie. There’s “charmingly low key” and there’s “deathly lethargic”. I can buy that Murray’s character once was a true DON JUAN, but those days are seemingly over as the movie starts. He does nothing but watch TV in track suits all day, with his late-period woe-is-me Bill Murray look on his face. He somehow scored Julie Delpy doing this. She only leaves because he is afraid of commitment, and he “treats [her] like a mistress, even though [he] isn’t even married!” Don looks like he might be falling asleep at any time, and needs to be nudged into action by Winston at all times. Credit to Murray for actually selling that Don is slowly getting more involved in his quest, like he actually wants to connect with someone the way Winston and his family do, again without going for BIG ACTING MOMENTS.

Movies like these make me think I need to branch out more often. I get what the movie was going for, and I admire its low key approach, but perhaps it was just too minimalistic? I am reminded of THE LION IN WINTER, another movie where a playboy examines his past relationships – one cut of a wholly different cloth. NOTHING is understated in that movie, and I enjoyed it immensely. Is it my one-track diet of oversized cinema? What is an action scene but an explosion of emotions, of dramatic intentions violently clashing, to drive the plot onwards and change the status quo from one scene to the next?

I watch movies to be entertained, shocked, titillated, (even) educated. I suppose I inherently expect some form of catharsis, be it from a kick-ass climax, a new set of insights, or a lesson learned. I just felt slightly cheated by Don’s ultimate “Live in the moment” revelation, especially since we were never really privy to the fact of him dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. He just seemed a sadsack for no apparent reason! But the final minutes…

***SPOILERS FOLLOW***

Of course, given that the film strongly hints that his “live in the moment” advice is given to a boy who ISN’T his son, who then runs away all freaked out, it’s not entirely inappropriate to think that Don simply hasn’t learned the right lessons from his experiences, and is left in the same emotional limbo he was in at the start. What is this movie trying to say in that case? Is it a 90 minute thesis presentation on Homer Simpson’s old maxim “Never try”? I AM NOT AS GOOD AT MOVIES AS I THINK

***SPOILERS END***

It may have been Jarmusch’s intent to leave you as uncertain as Don himself by the time the credits roll, but the movie just doesn’t earn such an ambiguous climax. Not much happens! Did something happen by the end? MAYBE???

Random notes:

  • Winston needs Don’s help finding a program on the internet that lets you decypher “every known detective story”. what
  • Fans of the chameleon known as Tilda Swinton: this movie has brunette redneck Tilda (for all of two minutes).

Saturday, December 29, 2012

This blog is about FREEDOM

Well, I gotta make a retraction. PROMETHEUS is no longer the shittiest movie I saw this year. I like plunging headlong into movies I know jack about, so when my good friend Tom suggested I do LAST OUNCE OF COURAGE, I thought “why the heck not!”

The only thing I could glean from its DVD cover:

187149

was that it was a movie about FREEDOM! Also a soldier whose corpse is going to be very hard to identify because he switched out his number thingies with the constitution and Bible verses. I hope your teeth’ll still be in one piece when they find ya, son!

The movie starts out with a long-ass quote about fighting for freedom by Ronald Reagan, THE 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. You gotta keep fighting for it, or it’ll disappear from one day to the next! Okay Gipper!

We meet our main guy, Bob Revere, who tells us in a VO that “he always considered [himself] a patriot.” I dunno, Bob, are you?

bobrevere

Note the cross on top of his flag. Bob doesn’t believe in half-assing things! He’s got a badass biker vest on with buttons such as 666 with a dash through it and also the name of the HELLFIGHTERS motorcycle club. At least I assume they are, he is not shown to be associated with any motorcycle gang throughout the film. Motorcycle gangs such as THE HYENAS do love him though, as they come to his pharmacy to get a guy’s gunshot wound patched up. Don’t worry though, he accidentally shot himself, the little person motorcycle gang boss informs us. The guy with the wound is also a comedically childlike fatty. They all hug Bob once he’s sewn the dude up and OH LOL the boss only gets to hug Bob up to the knee cuz he short. The movie was getting dangerously close to entertaining me at this point because lol fatties and midgets. DON’T WORRY it will show its true colors shortly.

I should actually back up and tell you that Bob isn’t just a happy-go-lucky pharmacist who patches up comedy bikers in between soulful jaunts on his Stars-n-Stripes-n-Cross bearin’ hog. No sirs, Bob is a man who bears DEEP SCARS. You see, his son died in an unspecified war against an unspecified enemy in an unspecified warehouse. Oh, that tearful goodbye as the boy got on that Greyhound bus all by himself, with only his parents, pregnant wife and a strange hobo to wave him goodbye. The filmmakers chose to artfully not show the guy’s death, but I think it was due to the fact that his platoon’s guns only shot little puffs of digital smoke. It must have been a massacre!

After the funeral, Bob’s daughter-in-law took his baby grandson to California for 14 years. At this point I noticed that Weird Long Hair Hobo was at the funeral too! His presence wasn’t acknowledged on either occasion, so either this movie had a serious dearth of extras or God was with this family in a very literal way!

14 YEARS LATER the daughter-in-law comes back for unspecified reasons, and she’s brought her son Chris who is now perhaps the biggest faggot alive! No, this doesn’t turn into a scare-em-straight subplot – the movie simply wants to portray the boy as with-it and cool and SO CALIFORNIA, but they simply manage to turn a scrawny boy into a very effete looking waif:

chrisrevere

When Chris brings his Bible to school, he gets busted for it. We just don’t wanna offend anybody, the weasely principal says. Bob the Broken Man mumbles an apology, until a wise black janitor tells him “ain’t no rules bout it! They just ‘fraida gettin’ sued!” Which leads to a frank family discussion. The meaning of Christmas is lost! It’s all about Santa and presents nowadays! Well gosh durnit, Mt. Columbus is gonna be decorated out the wazoo this year! We won’t stop until all across the country they refer to us as CHRISTMAS CITY! Oh yes btw Bob is also the mayor besides being a biker and a pharmacist.

This isn’t very much to the liking of Warren “THU HAMMUH” Hammerschmidt, a Washington FATCAT whose watchdog organization is all about “Civil Rights” and “equal opportunity” and other such liberal hogwash. The film tries to tug at one’s heartstrings several times, but it only really succeeds in showing tragedy once, in Hammerschmidt’s first scene. He is played by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (hence the character’s nickname you see) in a shocking revelation of the state of Fred Williamson’s finances.

Williamson comes down to make Bob stop this Christmas foolishness once and for all. He doesn’t really bring any arguments as to why Christmas is evil, though. There’s some half-hearted stuff about Bob having to represent all the people, which Bob counters with Christmas being a federal holiday. There’s a showdown at town hall with a bunch of people in attendance, all 100% supporting Bob, as he politely refutes all the heartless arguments put forth by this big city politician. Hilarious: there’s a lot of footage of black people nodding as Bob makes his speech, but in wide shots of the hall, there is a supsicious lack of non-white faces. I think the filmmakers knew how it could come across if they had their Mitt Romney/Jay Leno hybrid putting this evil Christmas hater (who happens to be black) in his place. It’s a tough job, weighing whether or not you should get that one actual celebrity you can afford up against the need for stock footage from Oprah and Maury.

But ho! (ho ho) THU HAMMUH is not content to simply engage in honest debate! He will cut funding to the town’s veteran’s home and shut down the mission (aka where Botox Dottie Revere, played by NotMary Steenburgen feeds and clothes suspiciously well-kept poor people)!! No more charity for you fucking christians if you don’t quit it with that Christmas shit right the fuck now! Man, he even tears down Bob’s big ass Christmas tree in the middle of town square! At least, I think he does. A mysterious man does it who evilly treads on a downed angel ornament while the Reveres and other good christians celebrate their OG Christmas. This is never even referenced in dialogue again.

There’s a subplot where Chris and his buddies Madison and Lindsay try to sabotage the school’s secular WINTERPLAY and put on a REAL Christmas pageant. It sure helps that the school’s mincing drama teacher apparently just did a search+replace on the Nativity story and replaced all the religious shit with aliens and space paraphernalia.  The few bits of it that we see are actually not too bad. It’s a weirdly camp theremin-scored number reminiscent of Ed Wood movies and early Danny Elfman. Of course this shit needs to be STOPPED!

When Bob is IMPEACHED from his position as mayor (do you call it that when it’s a mayor?) for just being too goddamned adamant about Christmas, he can’t take it any more. He goes and drags the big ole JESUS SAVES cross to the now-closed mission and hauls that baby up on the roof where it belongs. There’s epic music and a crowd on the street and everything! Chris breaks from the crowd to go help his grampa. NO DON’T says Dottie IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!!! Ma’am, they’re really just putting up a billboard. If anything, it’s too dangerous for your husband to do it by himself. OOOoooOOOoohhhh Chris and Bob aren’t gonna make it that cross is just TOO DAMNED HEAVY (police and firemen are present but can’t help btw it’s illegal to hang a cross) Who will help our heroes??? THE COMEDY BIKERS, of course!

Once that JESUS SAVES cross is up, Mayor Bob gives an empassioned speech to his adoring constituents about how our ancestors came to these shores to escape religious oppression, and this country was founded on freedom to worship in any way you choose, even if you choose not to! If only modern laws were so understanding: Bob is dragged off to jail for his beliefs! But not before a tearful Chris can have a “…wait!” moment and hang grampa’s MEDAL OF HONOR around his neck before he gets into the squad car.

v( o_o)v v(o_o)v <= two people who live in the real world and are observing this spectacle

Oh man, now Bob can’t go see the WINTERPLAY… but don’t worry! The Weird Hobo is in the cell next to him, and he has a radio on which he can follow Chris, Madison and Lindsay’s plot to restore CHRIST to local junior high Christmas plays. They go above and beyond the call of duty in that, not only locking the fruity drama teacher in a closet (haha get it) with the help of Wise Black Janitor, they even show Chris’ Dad FINAL VIDEO MESSAGE FROM THE WAR which makes the entire gym break into tears and me into gutbusting laughter because lol there is the war warehouse again. I pretty much died when Chris literally started waving a flag and an actual armless veteran stood up to salute it.

FOR REASONS, Mayor Bob is released and is picked up by Dottie, Daughter-In-Law (NotOlivia Wilde) and Chris – Bob was so proud of Chris for what he did at the school play. He heard all about it on the radio! Huh… the play wasn’t broadcast… on the radio?

The masses of Mt. Columbus, seemingly without anything to do now that Christmas was taken from them, show up at the prison to cheer their mayor’s release. Hey, who can Bob see in the back but the Weird Hobo…???!! Weird Hobo gives him an approving smile and walks away, dissolving into pink and gold sparkles as he does so. Christmas is somehow saved!

Random Notes:

  • The Reveres get their Christmas-is-disappearing scares straight from Bill O’Reilly in a hilarious scene where they are all clutching their purses as they watch Fox News.
  • “When my son enlisted… I guess I knew what my father went through when I did…” The most tragic undercurrent of this movie is that “war” is just this fact of life that you endure, apparently. It’s the most holy and amazing thing to die in combat, which is weird for a movie that doesn’t even say “darn”. I can almost understand why the people this movie is for glorify war so much – combat (and maybe sports?) seems to be the only place where they can unleash any base emotions. It’s total STARSHIP TROOPERS stuff!
  • There’s an intentional laugh (I THINK) in there somewhere as the kids plan Operation Christmas, and a girl makes a stupid remark, which she counters with: “I onno, I don’t read the Bible.” to which Madison replies “It’s okay… it’s okay…”
  • Bob recounting a tragic war story to Dottie in a dramatic scene where a bunch of guys get to roll around with AKs in the most Midwest looking Vietnam I have ever seen.
  • Do not call Chuck Norris a badass ever again:

chuck

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Derp Blog Into Darkness #1: FLINT STREET NATIVITY

Welcome to the first installment of DERP BLOG INTO DARKNESS!

Following other grand Wholly On The Level projects, Blog Into Darkness shall chronicle my journeys into random movies I have never seen, with little rhyme or reason to their inclusion beyond their being acquired by my lovely partner at one point in the not-too-distant past.

“Okay fat chance I’m gonna read some guy reviewing his girlfriend’s DVDs I’m outta here bro!” I already hear you say but WAIT don’t get on that T-16 just yet!

The reasoning behind this series is hinted at in the blog post linked just above. Having shed her deeply religious background in 2006, my partner’s way of living changed enormously – which equally impacted her movie watching and buying habits. Her DVD collection grew substantially in the following years, coming to comprise “safety viewing” (most every CGI cartoon released in the latter 00s) and PROFANE R-rated demonic stuff she would never have dared watch even five years before (stuff in the vein of CONSTANTINE and NIGHTWATCH).

When we moved in together, and we were sorting DVDs, I noticed how incredibly eclectic her collection was, reflecting different moods and eras of her life. And to top it off, I hadn’t actually seen quite a few of them! Always curious to seek out new things, I decided to sift through the heap and write a bit about each as I discover them. They might be hidden gems, they might be utter shit – you never know until you watch them. Oh won’t you join me on my first foray… INTO DARKNESS

Flint-Street-Nativity-(Growing-Up-Is-Childsplay)-(DVD)

Based on this cover, I’d have told you FLINT STREET NATIVITY is a wacky British comedy about an exceptionally substandard yet charmingly over-eager troupe of amateur actors trying to put on a Nativity play. This is not entirely off-base, but let me tell you that the first few minutes threw me the FUCK off.

It starts with shots of a jungle (?), with earth-shaking rumbles announcing the imminent arrival of some horrible beast. The camera then slowly pans to reveal a little baby Jesus doll lying in the underbrush. The monster is revealed to be an atomic age B-movie giant lizard, brought to life by sub-Hercules: The Legendary Journey level CGI.

The whole scene is disrupted by another, far more terrifying monster: primary school teacher Mrs. Humphries, towering over a class of terrified kids, demanding to know who threw the baby Jesus into the iguana vivarium. Mrs. Humphries is never actually in the picture, existing in the movie as a disembodied voice from a bird’s eye POV camera.

It took me a few seconds to realize that this classroom was suspiciously free of any actual children – in fact, there were none! FLINT STREET NATIVITY was a… a reverse BUGSY SIEGEL! I was dreading the remainder of the film once this dawned on me, but luckily my fears were unfounded. I mean, I may have been rightfully alarmed if this were a Hollywood movie, but the high-concept idea of adults playing kids in oversized sets soon gets swept away for a surprisingly mean (yet still PG) film about what amounts to office rivalries. But with slapstick and pee and puke! It’s essentially a workplace comedy, with the workplace being a primary school. Especially Dervla Kirwan’s (that name!) character gave me the impression that she pretty much could have come out of a grown-up setting.

The guy in the center of the DVD cover (played by Frank Skinner) was probably the most lulzworthy of all, doing a football-obsessed kid flawlessly, complete with imitations of sportscasters without entirely knowing what those old guys are actually saying. Best gag of the movie comes from him as Herod on stage threatening the wise men while retreating back to his throne. He steps on the Herod-robe but he is DETERMINED to keep hitting his mark knowing full well what’ll happen, so you see the robe getting shorter and shorter with each step, until the hilariously inevitable occurs.

A very pleasant surprise was Mark Addy, probably best known to international audiences as either King Robert Baratheon on Game of Thrones or Heath Ledger’s fat buddy in A KNIGHT’S TALE. He plays the class Ralph Wiggum, spending most of the movie in a cardboard donkey mask like some sort of special ed Nick Bottom. There’s a moment where he goes to talk to a crying kid outside who’s been bullied for having a lisp and called a retard. It’s here where Addy’s character is revealed to be one of the special ed kids and, most refreshingly, there’s no grand revelation or tearful admissions. Addy just says something to the extent of “hey well I’m one of those kids it’s not so bad”, which actually DOESN’T make the bullied kid have a change of heart, nor does his refusal to re-evaluate his situation make Addy cry or anything. It’s very down to earth in a most touching way. That scene actually made me think Addy doesn’t get enough high profile work. I hope his stint on Thrones will help that somewhat.

The movie ends with the parents (played by the corresponding actors in non-oversized sets) chit-chatting over mulled wine about their kids’ performances. I’m of two minds on that ending, since it does sort of hit easy clichés the movie had been avoiding till that point (the insecure Indian girl has a domineering matriarch mother; the princess has a slut mom; the weird psycho booger eater comes from clueless-if-well-meaning white trash) but the thing is… I’ve seen it happen. Anecdotal, yes, but I can’t entirely rule out the screenwriter having actually been to PTA meetings such as these and drawing conclusions.

Some random notes:

1.) Do you want Helena Bonham Carter in your movie but you don’t have the budget for her? Dervla Kirwan will suit your quirky evil needs just as well at a fraction of the price!

2.) For shame, Peter Jackson! Casting Evangeline Lilly as a made-up* elf in THE HOBBIT when Jane Horrocks exists!

My first BLOG INTO DARKNESS was a pleasant excursion into lands I probably would not have quickly ventured to because of a dearth of explosions. Will further journeys yield equally pleasant or MORE HARROWING results? I hope the former for myself, and the latter for you, dear reader!

 

*As opposed to all the mercilessly realistic, grimly documentarian Ken Loach style elves in the other movies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All! (except Robert Zemeckis)

Straight up front: I fucking love Zemeckis’ BEOWULF. I think it’s badass and it’s sad and it’s funny and it’s exciting. I wish it were animated or live-action, but the mo-cap a lot of its detractors hate is counteracted for me by some hilariously hammy performances, a great score, and a neat little twist on the classic story.

Can you guess which movie does not fare so well?

christmas-carol-2009

Did I give it away?

In BEOWULF, writers Neil Gaiman* and Roger Avary came up with a clever way of tying the story’s epic poem meanderings into a three act modern blockbuster structure. With A CHRISTMAS CAROL, no such thing is even attempted! Everybody fucking knows this story, and this is the story you’re going to get. It’s as straight an adaptation as you’re bound to get in this day and age.

“Oh man, that’ll be stodgy and turgid! How boring!” is what I hear you say. Well yes, that is true! To an extent! Because you see, even though the creepy mo-cap men are re-enacting a very literal adaptation of Dickens’ classic, Zemeckis DOES spice things up. How?

WHOOOOOOSHHHHWHOOOOOOOOOOOpokepokepokeWHOOOOOOSHHHHHHsparklesparkleAAAAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEpokepokepoke

Yes, with noise and camera movement and 3D stuff poking at the screen. So in one scene you’ve got creepy flesh monster Scrooge delivering 19th century dialogue barely touched up for the screen, while in the next, Zemeckis is taking you on a rollercoaster ride through Victorian London and OOHHHHHOHOHO that cook just threw a pork pie at us and OOHHHH a noisome facsimile of a dog snatched it up right as it was to hit the camera! Bob, you scamp!

The over-the-top performances that (to me) saved BEOWULF are wholly absent here. Great actors like Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins are basically acting like they would in a very dignified, very down-to-earth version of CAROL, leaving us all in the neverending horror of their fucking faces. Here is Oldman as a creepy meat midget.

Oldman’s Bob Cratchit is, for some reason, envisioned as a fairly short guy. Shorter than the real Oldman. This only heightens the audience’s idea that something is fucking wrong with Gary Oldman in this movie. And he’s played a little person in a live action movie before this!

And Carrey… oh Carrey, Carrey, Carrey… You know, he’s not even BAD as Scrooge. He’s doing a fairly straight and boring interpretation of the archetypal curmudgeon. He never really mugs or does a riff on his own on-screen persona which, I suppose, is commendable. He can be a pretty good actor in the right parts! He gets to go a little more over the top as the Ghost of Christmas Present, but it’s only appropriate given the crazy nature of the character. In fact, he goes SO over the top he dies laughing and turns into a hysterical skeleton in front of our very eyes! But not before revealing two horrible Gollum children under his skirts who also speed-age into an incarcerated knife-wielding madman and a straightjacketed prostitute!

Which makes you wonder: who the fuck was this movie for? Certainly no young children will stay still for the sleep-inducing dialogue scenes; old people will get a headache from the crazy flying camera and constant barrage of 3D in your face; both of them will be horrified by the scary bits (ghostly Marley’s jaw keeps falling off)… who does that leave? Rational adults?

I say thee nay! They will be watching one of the myriad better variations of this (too) oft told tale.

Merry Christm—OH SHIT

*Gaiman’s original idea does not really shine through in the finished film. A version of it can be found in his anthology Fragile Things. It’s very, very Gaiman.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Bond Lost His Groove

James Bond is cool in the sense that he is a cool guy. He sleeps with a bunch of women, kills the bad guys, drinks all the Martinis he wants, and generally seems to have a good time. But how long’s it been since Bond was a trendsetter? Pretty long, it seems.

3702723347_917268172e_o

With the impending release of SKYFALL and 007’s traditional whoring out to various brands, let’s take a look back at the various iterations of the character throughout the decades, and how each impacted the way we looked at him.

1962: DOCTOR NO

The stereotype we have in our heads when we hear the term “Bond movie” would only be fully formed with 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but a lot of elements we’d come to know as classic Bond were already in place in the first movie, 1962’s DR. NO.

The titular doctor is an exotic villain – an iron-handed Chinese/German nuclear scientist – with an island base, guarded by what the foolish natives believe to be a dragon. Bond beds several women, one of whom is a treacherous secret ally of No’s. From the very first frames, the iconic Bond theme is there:

The title sequence simply being scored to the main theme and a random calypso song must look pretty weird to casual Bond viewers.

Flashy pop-art colors! Shakin’ booties! BLACK music! Well, it’s not exactly crunk, but it was pretty racy for 1962. This movie definitely had a touch of the lurid to it for moviegoers of the day. A male fantasy with a coldness ill-befitting a “romantic lead” type (Bond shoots an unarmed man and is fairly promiscuous), it left audiences hungry for more. Which they got in abundance!

1971: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

Nearly ten years after his cinematic debut, Bond had become less of an illicit trip to a racy fantasy land than one of the earliest cases of non-musical cinematic blockbuster comfort food. Let my good friend Phil from Badassdigest.com explain it:

“There's a moment in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever where Sean Connery --41, oily and graying, ear canals full of hair-- strides into a casino in his white dinner jacket and is greeted by a noisy, ugly scene of tourists in sloppy clothes, jerking off slot machines. In that instant, it was as if the world had left suave, supercool James Bond behind, and he's been scrambling to catch up ever since.”

Rather than taking you to Jamaica, Venice, the Bahamas, Japan, the Alps, or some other location you movie-going schmucks probably would never visit, Bond finally came to his audience. Like a washed-up crooner with mob debts, 007 catered to the tourists. He’d show you sleaze, but only safely through the series’ PG filter.

Everything about DIAMONDS was about reassurance: After Connery’s absence for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, his return was touted with maximum fanfare. Note how his name’s about as big as the title and the character on that poster.

DIAMONDS also featured the first time an artist would return to do a Bond song: Dame Shirley Bassey who’d done GOLDFINGER seven years earlier.

The villain? (Spoilers for a 40+ year old movie ahoy) Blofeld again! Bond wasn’t setting trends anymore, he was following them. Throughout the 70s, EON made damn sure their character was on top of what was hot, give or take a few years.

1981: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

007’s first 80s outing features a series first (and last): The Bond song artist actually performing the song over the credits. OBSERVE!

Accidental (?) title sequence nudity was not a series first or last, however.

The 80s hit Bond HORRRRD in other ways as well. Look at this chase scene and decide if it’s from a Bond movie or a higher budgeted A-Team episode, complete with Roger Moore dressed as George Peppard.

The actual chase is still pretty boss, though.

Beige and pastel and wailing guitars and suitcases full of money – if it weren’t for the European location, you’d never know! But I have to admit, I kinda love Bill Conti’s funky score.

1995: GoldenEye

No more bikini buttz on the poster for 1990s Bond! In the era that had swapped Guns ‘N Roses for Nirvana (and commodified their sound in less than a year), Bond was a relic of the Cold War, a sexist dinosaur! At least, according to Bond’s new boss – a *gasp* LADY M! Dame Judi Dench did a wonderful job, of course, and continued to do so until at least 2012, even when the films she appeared in weren’t always up to snuff. Of the two Bond girls, one was a hypersexual cartoon (Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp) and the other a cardigan-wearing computer programmer (Izabela Scorupco’s Natalya Romanova). Both are highly competent in their fields.

You can hear Eric Serra’s non-traditionalist electro-funk score in the opening gunbarrel notes. The main theme was absent from the original cut of the film, only to be added during a tank chase scene.

 

2002: DIE ANOTHER DAY

Bad photoshop? Flames from seemingly nowhere? Floating heads? Yes, you ARE looking at a movie poster from the early 2000s! Hey, at least the women are still capable rather than damsels in distress, right? Oh yes! They are in fact SO capable that one (Halle Berry’s American spy Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson) was considered for a spin-off for about five seconds. Truly there is nothing more comforting and familiar to the 00s than good old franchise buildin’ and license-securin’.

Just as 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE and 1977’s MOONRAKER were shamelessly copying what was popular at the time (black people and space, respectively), Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took a look at youth culture before starting production on DAD and discovered techno, computers and… slow motion? I guess we’re lucky James never had to wear a trenchcoat at any point.

Another Bond first! The title sequence is directly related to the in-movie happenings and tells the story of what happened to Bond from the end of the pre-credit sequence to the start of the film proper. Too bad it’s poop.

Enjoy this low point from the franchise! I do!

HYPE WILLIAMS PRESENTS JAMES BOND ICE COLD STUNNAH

 

2012: SKYFALL

???

Early buzz around the movie seems to be good, and we’ll have to wait to assess how typical it is for this decade till around 2020. Will Bond do his own thing again, like so many decades ago? Will he become a trendsetter, rather than a shameless sell-out follower? Who knows! So let’s be cautiously optimistic and keep our fingers crossed for Diana Rigg showing up post-credits to recruit Craig into The Real Avengers Thank You Very Much.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Strong Style Jones & The Battle of the Moons is… a thing

I want to preface this blog post by stating I am friends with the entire three man team behind Strong Style Jones. Seeing as how I’m friends with most of the people who follow this blog too, that probably doesn’t have much meaning, but since I am an honorable man who makes Ned Stark look like Blair Waldorf I thought I’d mention it.

ssj

You may have seen some questionable shit on this blog that would fly in the face of accepted good taste. There was the time I wrote positively about Gossip Girl, the time I sort-of defended Twilight, and the time I made damn sure everyone knew COBRA was cooler than DRIVE. Today I come to praise a comic about space wrestling, butts and poops. So if you’re still following this blog after all the aforementioned disasters – pull up a chair and let’s talk about space poop!

Strong Style Jones tells the story of a delusional washed up space wrestler who, after having to throw his final match, wanders the galaxy in a drunken haze looking for fights. In BATTLE OF THE MOONS, Strong Style Jones seemingly bites off more than he can chew as he takes on the multi-eyed and inexplicably German alien wrestler Herr Bill Cosby. I can’t really tell you much more than that, since this is literally the entire plot of the comic, and it would be a crime to spoil any of the outlandish sight gags that make SSJ such a greasy delight to read. The humor varies from downright Cronenbergian farce to deadpan reaction shots followed by often perfect blue-collar bon mots, with a few knowing send-ups of comic traditions along the way. The final page is not only marvelous in its grossness, it’s also a pitch-perfect parody of the lone brooding hero standing victorious over his beaten foe (think characters like Wolverine and Batman). But the universe of SSJ does not allow for glory, merely the good fortune of embarrassing yourself less than the other guy.

I’d be remiss not to point out the clarity of the narrative and panel lay-out structures. In many mainstream comics nowadays, there’s a sense of overproduction where battle scenes are indecipherable messes of lines and motion blur. While SSJ features often chaotic battle, it’s extremely easy to follow even in its heightened state of near-constant adrenaline overdose.

The book’s madcap energy brings to mind the nuttiness of early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics where anything could (and would) happen with little rhyme or reason besides the fact that Eastman and Laird thought it would be cool. I wonder if thirty years from now Strong Style Jones fans on the holonet are going to clamor for a return to the “original, darker” interpretation of SSJ after the sanitized cartoon version became its more popular incarnation. I’m pretty sure its creator would say “naw man its about butts.”

Were I not relatively familiar with the creators, I’d say there was interesting social commentary being made, but that is probably my European view on these things. Wrestling (as in the WWE, WCW, etc. American style wrestling) is an incredible niche thing here. I remember it being on Belgian mainstream television for about a year, maybe two, only to become the butt (haha) of a cultural joke and disappear again after the “outrage” died down. In that respect, it was pretty much like Jerry Springer, a show that also found short-lived infamy on Belgian television. Personally, I find American wrestling very intriguing and amusing, if only for the INSANE pageantry that surrounds it. It’s something that is essentially acknowledged to be fake and caters to the lowest common denominator of the lower classes. It’s 8 year olds putting up mock fights to see whether the Hulk or Superman would win, only the different wrestling leagues (?) make up their own colorful characters for licensing purposes with built-in hype and brand them heroes or villains(/heels) as the masses demand it. SSJ takes this geek aspect of wrestling to its ultimate extreme, by setting it in a sci-fi universe with aliens and robots, literally making the contestants super-powered beings.

Delusional drunkards fighting insane grotesques over meaningless trophies and accolades, sometimes even actively impeding good work to be done (in SSJ #1) – it’s hard not to see a pretty damning critique of the state of geekdom in 2012. But again, I’m pulling some serious “death of the author” shit outta my ass here, cuz, you know, “iss bout butts.”

If you do not fear the scatological, there’s a lot to enjoy here. It is an extremely well-done comic about extremely puerile things. If you got Michael Mann to shoot an episode of Jackass, this might be what you’d get.

Buy Strong Style Jones and Battle of the Moons, if you dare!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

No Retreat, No Sense

Here is some scandalous shit: the DVD cover for 1986’s NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER.

noretreat

While yes, that is a screenshot from the actual movie, it is a gross exaggeration of JCVD’s actual participation in it. He has a five minute scene at the start, and is the “final boss” in the climactic martial arts tournament in the local high school gym. The introductory scene does give us a fresh-faced JC as a slick white-clad mob enforcer, so there’s that.

JCVD and his boss threaten an LA dojo owner to hand over the deed to the school to their nefarious organization. One assumes it’s for money laundering, but this is never explained. The noble dojo man refuses and handily kicks a henchman’s ass. But JCVD, the silent/deadly one, breaks the poor fellow’s leg. The dojo owner’s son Jason hears his father’s cries and rushes in to defend him, only to get his butt whupped by JC just as handily. Cue a mournful move to Seattle, as the disillusioned sensei denounces all violence. His son does not give up, however! He immediately converts the garage to a training area filled with Bruce Lee posters. He’s a big fan! He’s also kind of an asshole cuz he does this while his mom is still moving stuff from the car. Fuck a bed, I need my karate shit in order!

In comes RJ, the movie’s comic relief. Like, he literally comes into the garage as Jason’s setting it up. A friendly black kid, RJ enjoys jive-talkin’ and breakdancin’, both of which he immediately shows off. I’ll leave it up to you whether RJ has a jheri curl*.

Then there’s also Scott, a disgusting fat guy who hates RJ for no reason, so he hates Jason now as well. He’s constantly falling down and stuffing his face. I don’t know why this guy is a bully. But I think he’s rich or something, cuz he’s later seen buying a bunch of jocks and girls hamburgers, stating “stick by me, and you’ll never go hungry!” which gave me a nice little LION KING flashback. RJ happens to walk by the burger joint, so Scott orders his minions to attack that breakdancing nogoodnik for making him do pratfalls during comedy chases and spill all his hot dog toppings on his favorite pastel shirts. But luckily Jason also happens by and starts beating up on the jocks with his karate skills! But unluckily Jason’s dad also happens by and drags him out of it! Oooohhhh Scott’ll get that NEW KID next time!

Now, anyone who’s seen martial arts movies aimed at kids will be familiar with the moral that martial arts are to be used only in defense/helping others, and never for attack. Sensei Dad goes one step further; Jason is NEVER to fight under any circumstances because LOOK WHERE THAT GOT US!! He even goes so far as to wreck Jason’s home dojo and rip the Bruce Lee posters off his wall because of his WILD IDEAS about helping others and protecting himself. Seriously, the kid’s an earnest dope throughout the entire movie, never really getting angry or out of control, and his dad just LOSES HIS SHIT constantly in a total Randy Marsh manner.

Jason wants to enroll in a local karate class owned by champion Ian Reilly. Little does he know that the dreaded Scott also goes there, and tells douchebro sensei Dean he overheard Jason say “LA karate wipes the floor with Seattle karate.” OH YEAH??? We’ll see about that! So he sets the kid up for a demonstration match with his best fighter, causing Jason and RJ to flee the scene under a barrage of scornful laughter.

Owner Ian, meanwhile, gets threatened by the same greasy mobsters that took Sensei Dad’s dojo! Unfortunately, they didn’t bring JCVD with them, opting for the easier-to-stage threat by gun.

Did I mention Ian has a cute sister named Kelly that Jason is dating? No? Well, neither has the movie. It just goes to “Kelly’s birthday” where, in the movie’s money shot, Jason gives her a live baby bunny. Because she wanted it at the pet store. But there was no scene at any pet store. Who is this girl? She’s very popular, as both Jason and Sensei Dean vie for her affections. In an unprecedented move for 80s movies, Kelly never really acknowledges douchebag Dean as a real candidate and constantly rebuffs him. In retaliation, Dean and his goons (among which Scott, yay for coalescing storylines) beat up Jason.

At his lowest point, Jason runs away from home with all his fighting/Bruce Lee stuff in a big box and settles a random abandoned house (!!). Now, here comes the point most people will probably sell this movie as a lulzfest with. As Jason falls asleep, the ghost of Bruce Lee (looking nothing like Bruce Lee) appears and aids him in a training montage. I realize “American kid learns to fight from the ghost of Bruce Lee to defeat JCVD” is a good logline, but there’s just so much more crazy shit going on here I felt bad reducing it to that. But, you know, due mention. The most hilarious thing to me was the fact that Jason doesn’t actually do Jeet Kun Do, Lee’s famous style. He does karate! Which is, you know, Japanese. Also, he keeps on referring to Bruce as Sensei Lee. Normally I’d just write this off as a quick cash-in 80s karatesploitation movie that didn’t do the barest of research, but the fact that it’s directed by Corey Yuen who actually worked with Lee is just baffling.

Oh, and you know that old 80s action standby of the love interest just being there to deflect allegations of homoerotic tension between any male leads? And the fact that “Kelly” is introduced so haphazardly that WHU is the only reaction? Let me add the fact that Jason and RJ never have any conflict, are best buds from the outset, compliment each other on something in every scene (often multiple times) and this:

I wish it were a gif. It’s absolutely delightful. It’s the best blatant 80s Action Stereotype since “Love Interest Dies” in DEATH WISH 3, where the love interest is exploded mere minutes after having sex with Bronson.

Now, Ian’s dojo is under threat from the mob too! Only it turns out that they’re just evil dojo-owners? Who want… the monopoly on dojos? In America? I don’t know! But since they didn’t take JCVD with them that time, Ian couldn’t be scared off, so the evil dojo owners (from NOO YAWK) organize a tournament between JCVD and all their fighters. It’s a rather low-key affair in a school gym, and not at all the clash of nations one poster promised:

Yes, JCVD’s character is nominally Russian, but not only does he not embody communism in any way (in fact, his affiliation with the evil NY dojo owners and their greedy goals makes him more of a capitalist expatriate than anything else), JC doesn’t even put on any accent but his own charming Bruxellois for the ten lines he has. The movie can’t even decide what he’s called, since characters refer to him as Kraschinsky the Russian in the film itself, whereas the credits list him as “Karl Brezdin.”

There’s not really much to defend the movie for, besides adequate fight scenes, though they are far too few in number and may actually be eclipsed by breakdancing scenes. But it’s a good-natured piece of crap that does something retarded every ten minutes to keep you on your toes, like a labrador with Tourettes.

*yes

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fuck Star Wars: Revisiting the Godfather trilogy

Har har, that’s how you bait an internet audience.

Godfather2.203182633_std

THE GODFATHER is one of those movies that’s in many people’s “Best Of All Time” lists. Or at least, the ones who care to have such things. The first two installments of the trilogy are consistently near the top on IMDB’s top 100 movies page, duking it out with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.

What’s amazing to me is that it isn’t just a critical darling, it was a huge box office success as well. Adjusted for inflation, the first movie made more money than any single HARRY POTTER or LORD OF THE RINGS. It also deftly beat out both THE AVENGERS and the DARK KNIGHT movies. Notice a disparity there? Now, I love both kinds of movies equally, but it’s a damned shame Hollywood doesn’t push the GODFATHER-kind anymore. It’s a blockbuster that mostly just has people talking, is set in the “real world” without any fantasy elements or big special effects*.

I don’t wanna make this post about THEY DON’T MAKE EM LIKE THEY USED TO ANYMURRR, since I think “nostalgic fondness” is pretty much on par with “guilty pleasure.” If whatever piece of art has the sole redeeming quality of being experienced by you at a young age, then it’s not worth much to begin with. I think early 90s Simpsons episodes are still great; not so much Thundercats.

10 Things I LEARNed upon revisiting the series as an adult:

  1. For all his iconicity, Brando isn’t in the movie all that much. He’s super great in all his scenes, though.
  2. Holy shit, Pacino can do subdued.
  3. Diane Keaton needs bangs.
  4. Michael’s a lying sack of shit.
  5. My parents always described Fredo as “the retarded one.” He came across as more awkward and insecure than anything else this time.
  6. There are little kids everywhere in these movies.
  7. Realism! The (sometimes not so) subtle distaste Italians have for non-Italians conveyed by Mama Corleone’s eye-roll when Connie introduces her new husband at the start of Part II. Also Mama’s “They were made for each other!” comment when new WHITE IN-LAWS Merle and Deanna are introduced to each other. Because, you know, they’re not Italian.
  8. Funniest don is probably a toss-up between Pentangeli and Fanucci.
  9. I always thought GODFATHER III wasn’t as shitty as people said it was. I still think there’s good stuff in there, most notably Pacino doing a remorseful Michael. But yeah, it’s definitely not up to par. And holy shit, Sofia. George Lucas once said he knew technology had gotten to an advanced enough level for him to make his prequels when he saw JURASSIC PARK. I guess he saw Sofia Coppola in GODFATHER III when he realized acting technology had come far enough for the prequels too. DADDDDDD ( –_–)**
  10. I don’t think even Jaime and Cersei Lannister called each other bro and sis constantly during their illicit rendezvous. What were you thinking, Francis????

The (first two) GODFATHER movies represent expertly crafted mainstream entertainment for adults. They’re seen as “good” and “classic” movies, but they are far from stuffy or inaccessible. I don’t think Hollywood will ever return to the model where movies like this are pimped as blockbusters – just check on all the other movies that outrank it on the adjusted all-time list – but consider this post a friendly reminder of how wonderful these movies are, and how easy to get into.

So yes, fuck STAR WARS for making blockbusters all about safe, family-friendly four quadrant Hero’s Journey pictures. I know JAWS is equally to blame for this, but I coudln’t bring myself to write “fuck JAWS.” The GODFATHER films would never lend themselves to such crass moneti—

oh

ohhhhh

never mind ignore everything

 

*Give or take a fake horse-head and a bunch of squibs.

**She’s cool now, though.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I wish PROMETHEUS had never been made.

Guillermo del Toro recently said that, with the release of PROMETHEUS, it was pretty much certain that his H.P. Lovecraft adaptation AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS would never see the light of day.

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While it’s easy to spot the superficial likeness in plot between the two (research team goes to remote location, finds out about horrifying origins of mankind), one thing is for sure. Del Toro would have put a shitload more care in his movie. If you can count on that spicy Latino for one thing, it’s that he makes sure the world of the film makes sense, even if it’s populated by fairies and ghosts and vampires and hellboys. In PROMETHEUS, barely anything makes sense.

Spoilers follow. If you’re hit in the face with facehugger acid blood, you turn into a contortionist Harvey Dent Spider-Man zombie and Stringer Bell will have to burn you, shoot you and run you over. That sounds very awesome and it kinda is, if that were a standalone sequence. But it’s part of a two hour movie with a narrative and everything.

If you have sex with a guy who drank champagne that got spiked with goo that was just lying around a Space Jockey ship, he will skeet a giant ass facehugger into you. Like, man-size. It’s actually kinda comical. Oh, and if the comically oversized novelty facehugger totally envelops an eight foot spacejockey, a midget alien pops out. Seriously, it’s like a little goblin! Spoilers end!

The movie starts with gorgeous location photography. Really stunning stuff, and the 3D is worth the price for this alone. Then it’s revealed there’s an alien ship hovering over the landscape, with a hooded figure approaching it. The figure reveals his face and he is a weird cross between Dr. Manhattan and Voldemort. He drinks a black goo that attacks his very DNA, and tosses himself off a waterfall as he desintegrates. Cut to titles.

What did this dramatic, cryptic prologue mean? I don’t know! Maybe you can tell me? The film simply does not answer that. Was the planet Earth? Was it LV-223, the destination of the Prometheus’ expedition? Who knows!

We’re shown Drs. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, seriously not Tom Hardy, I swear) digging up ancient murals that TOTALLY prove ancient man had contact with aliens. This is a very fresh and original theory, so Weyland Co., eager to keep its title as dumbest corporation in movie history, immediately funds it with a trillion dollars.

For two years, Shaw and Holloway are underway to LV-223, with android David (Fassbender, without question the best part of the movie) keeping shit running while the crew is in cryo. Once there, they’re defrosted and are holo-briefed by a now-deceased Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in SUPER HILARIOUS old man make-up). Charlize Theron and Idris Elba (the second best thing about the movie) are also there. They have sex at one point because the two most attractive people in any setting will naturally gravitate towards each other. Exploration happens, but nobody really finds out anything.

The best parts of the movie are when David is full of wonder about life, the universe and everything. There’s a gorgeous sequence of him finding a Space Jockey starmap that’s filled with beautiful 3D, animation, music and Fassbender finding just the right expressions of controlled/restrained awe. He’s even a joy to watch going about his daily business while the crew’s in cryo.

There’s also two good suspense/action scenes: Noomi performing some emergency surgery on herself, and Idris vs. the contortionist zombie. But that’s pretty much exactly what they are. Good scenes without context. They make very little sense in a larger framework.

There’s your movie in a nutshell pretty much: competently made/shot, poorly thought out.

FINAL BIT O’ SPOILER

Pearce is in a secret cryo pod, to “meet his maker” before he dies. I was expecting this would lead to something. Maybe he’d get rejuvenated by Space Jockey DNA or something, but he’d go nuts and the remainder of the crew’d have to fight him/stop him from reaching Earth. But nope, it didn’t really lead to anything. Why would you even GET Guy Pearce to have him play an old man? Can’t you just hire an old man? When David and Pearce’s nurses/bodyguards get to the ONE LIVING SPACE JOCKEY pod, I was pretty much expecting some answers (not the least of which about the prologue which still didn’t make sense, and we were in the third act by now), but nope! He just starts punching people!

END SPOILERS

Look, don’t see it. Watch ALIEN again. ALIENS, too. Throw in PREDATOR.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Could Crossovers Save Superhero Movies?

So okay, dig it cool cats.

Business-Blog-Avengers-Assemble

For at least thirty years, the superhero comic book industry has been a smelly morass of CROSSOVERS! Every year, Marvel or DC does a big thing that involves all the titles where they have to team up to fight a huge baddie or there’s some international crisis that all the heroes have to sit around a table for. It cheapens the writing of the individual books, by having the writers conform to guidelines set up for them by editorial. Stop punching that bank robber, Spidey! Tony Stark would like you to make some political statements and reveal your identity to the masses!

Now, movies don’t have that problem. There’s no continuity to deal with and screenwriters can generally just do what they like to tell the best possible story involving the characters they’ve been given. Now, this generally lead to maybe not a fault, but certainly a personal niggle in many superhero movies of the past decade. The stories were very contained. Very few cinematic superheroes ever saved the world. It was usually just them and a supervillain duking it out over some real or perceived slight the hero had inflicted upon the villain. And honestly? It was getting kinda stale.

This changed when in 2008 Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige decided the first IRON MAN movie could use a little post-credits sting where Samuel L. Jackson showed up as Nick Fury, asking Tony Stark if he knew about the Avengers Initiative. With a $200mil US opening weekend, it’s safe to say most people know who the Avengers are nowadays. In 2008? Not so much. Who were the Avengers? Why has Shaft lost an eye? Why did you make me sit through the credits? It didn’t even have Nickelback over them!

Nerd Alerts went off all over the world. Suddenly, you could identify the real dorks in movie theaters by the guys who would tell their friends/dates about WHAT THAT REFERENCE REALLY MEANT.

Cross-pollination continued with Robert Downey, Jr. appearing in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Marvel was now steaming full course ahead with making the first ever SUPERHERO TEAM-UP MOVIE. But it was very important that people knew every hero, and knew beforehand that they were all in the same universe. They weren’t entirely sure how to do that, though.

In THOR, this resulted in a complete derail from the main plot when Thor got apprehended by SHIELD agents for a while. Do you remember that acronym and that unremarkable bureaucrat looking guy from IRON MAN?

Well here they are in THOR as we… what? You don’t. God, uh… what are we gonna? Let’s put Hawkeye in there! But we already shot the movie and Chris Hemsworth is doing other shit! God what do we doooo??? We can have him… almost take a shot at Thor? And people will be like… who is that mysterious archer? Why does the government employ an archer? He must be very good indeed if he is hired in an agency where everyone else has guns. This is a plot strand I will certainly remember.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER wasn’t weighed down as badly by needing to remind the audience that HEY HEY HEY this is taking place in a larger universe!!!, but it did end on a less beautiful note than it could have, just to fit Nick Fury’s by-then requisite cameo in.

Cut to: THE AVENGERS (or, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE as it is delightfully called in the UK. Directed by a guy who had mostly done television and one less-than-successful movie, produced by Marvel Studios, an outfit by now renowned for its penny-pinching, and the very first superhero crossover movie in blockbuster history, things were looking unsure.

But they pulled it off! AVENGERS is the best comic book movie since SPIDER-MAN 2 in terms of sheer Silver Age joyfulness. It feels BIG (despite the “localized” final battle) because you have the idea that momentous events are really happening that forces all these disparate players onto the same stage. Everyone has had their own movie(s), so they all come with a certain weight to them, aided by actors who’ve gotten to know their characters over several years. I must add that Mark Ruffalo, first-time Bruce Banner/Hulk, is the best cinematic iteration of the character so far, and it’s also his first outing. Good show! The Hulk is basically a big, angry puppy in this movie; complete with people he likes (Iron Man) and hates (Thor).

(No, seriously, Hulk’s dislike and subsequent treatment of Asgardians in this movie is THE BEST.)

Even the why-are-they-even-there ones (Hawkeye, Black Widow) get great little moments. At one point during the final battle, Iron Man shoots a repulsor ray at Cap’s shield, who deflects it into a Chitauri’s face. In any other superhero movie this would have been the big money shot of the fight. Here, it just happened in a panning shot with a bunch of other cool stuff happening in other places.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that the very concept of team-up movies is going to refresh the genre. Big part of the reason AVENGERS works is cuz of Joss Whedon, a dyed-in-the-wool comic book guy. But what are the best parts of the movie? The big stars and heroes bouncing off of each other, shooting the shit, making jokes, squabbling. One of the things Marvel Studios really has done consistently well over all its movies is casting. Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and now Mark Ruffalo all perfectly embody their characters. By getting the best guys from each movie into one movie and putting them in a team dynamic, you’re getting a whole bunch of fun on screen for free, even if the script wasn’t as good as the AVENGERS’ luckily was.

Movies aren’t comic books. There’s a new one every two years, not every month. And the most Marvel Studios movies we’ve had in a year was two, so they won’t be tripping all over each other like with their printed brethren. Now that the public is VERY MUCH AWARE that all these heroes exist in a shared universe thanks to the Avengers’ amazing success, you can focus on telling the story you wanna tell without advertising movies that are coming down the line.

And you know what you can do now?

Well, not with Spider-Man, cuz the movie rights to Spider-Man are with Sony and not Marvel/Disney, but Team-Ups man! You really think people will come to see a Black Widow/Hawkeye movie? It’ll just be a Bourne rip-off! But put in the Hulk and you’ve got people’s attentions AND a hell of a co-star.

Marvel Studios now has that power. They basically have a stable of celebrities. It’s up to them to realize that they can make superhero Rat Pack movies or just continue to have heroes cleaning up their own messes in climactic fights in nocturnal warehouses.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In which I tune mine Lyre to Kratos

Born of ashes and forged in war, the Spartan Kratos sought to become the greatest warlord the ancient world had ever seen. Savage after savage fell under the steel of the Spartan’s phalanxes. Until one day, the barbarian hordes united and brought destruction to Kratos’ armies.

As the would-be conqueror drew his last breath, time stopped. Ares, the god of war himself, had descended from Olympus with a proposal for Kratos. The Spartan would get demi-godlike powers to vanquish his foes, if he became the agent of Ares in the mortal realm.

Kratos agreed. Not only the barbarian armies, but those of Hellas fell to the resurrected warrior as well. Little did Kratos know what cruel hubris Ares had in store for him.

The fires of Olympus burning within Kratos’ soul, he set upon a city like so many others that had resisted him. Ignoring the warnings of an old crone that his doom lay in this very city, he defeated its forces and sacked it. But as he came out of the warrior’s frenzy after murdering two shadowy figures in a temple, he knew he was damned; for at his feet lay his own wife and daughter.

As the temple burned to the ground, the ashes of their burning bodies seared themselves into Kratos’ skin, making him like unto a man deceased. He became the creature known as the Ghost of Sparta, swearing to destroy Ares, whatever the cost.

In this, he was aided by Athena, who secretly sought to overthrow her out-of-control brother, but was forbidden to do so directly by Zeus, who abhorred Olympian in-fighting.

kratos

And here’s where I’m gonna stop the faux-bro video game style epic-speech. That is, in a nutshell, the basic premise of 2005’s PS2 game God of War. The basic gameplay then consists of you, as Kratos, imaginatively dispatching all manner of mythological beasties until you meet the big cheese himself. Whom you then murder, obviously.

Kratos then wants to toss himself off a cliff, as he has nothing to live for anymore. Unfortunately for him, it was all a big set-up! Athena saves him from crashing against the rocks below, and Zeus sets him up as the new god of war. The credits show imagery of war throughout the centuries, with a downcast Kratos presiding over it all.

Now, Kratos is a bit of a jerk in this story, but nothing out of the ordinary for Greek mythology. He does bad shit, overreaches, and pays for it.

It was while playing 2007’s God of War 2 (also on PS2) that I realized just how fucking hilarious Kratos was. You see, Kratos is a very shitty god of war. He just starts random shit because fuck everyone he’s depressed. When his armies are besieging Rhodes, Zeus himself puts a stop to it.

That’s right, the king of the Greek gods comes down from Olympus to stab you for being such a huge warmongering aggressive prick. Zeus, the guy who turns into a bull to go score with teenage girls. He thinks you are just too much. Let that sink in.

Descending into the Underworld, Kratos is rescued by the titan Gaia, who infuses him with the omg WRATH OF THE TITANS. The Olympians cast them down into this hellhole eons ago, and they’d love to get their vengeance on those smug white-clad sons of bitches and obviously Kratos is just the guy.

Sent back to Earth once more, Kratos’ mission is simple. The plot is perhaps the most pure distillation of “video game story” I’ve seen since the days of Pong and Frogger.

You are at the foot of a mountain. There is a man at the top. Kill him.

Kratos takes to this assignment with… some gusto.

The last guy is Helios, the sun god. After ripping off his head, you can use it as a lantern in dark areas. It screams EVERY TIME you equip it.

So basically throughout 2 and 3, you just violently murder everyone who even puts a little toe between you and Zeus. And why? Because Zeus thought you were TOO SHITTY AND VIOLENT AT YOUR JOB OF WAR GOD.

Anything Kratos does after the first game is essentially just a whiny toddler with super strength getting back at his dad for taking his toys away. He stabs, punches, yells and kicks his way to the top of Olympus to get his vengeance. Everything he does is so incredibly CRANKED UP TO 11 that it’s impossible to take seriously.

Check out the first few minutes for TC Carson lolling his way through voicing Kratos. Bonus: Linda Hunt, Harry Hamlin and Michael Clarke Duncan!

Kratos is essentially the quintessential personification of the entitled, impotent, privileged male. Kratos IS gamers.

Neil Gaiman could probably write a very interesting tale with the premise “Whatever happened to the Greek gods?”, and the answer would probably be fascinating, enchanting, whimsically dark, and ultimately kind of moving.

God of War answers that question with “A crazy guy stabbed them all a million times.”

Monday, April 30, 2012

Game of Thrones: A Primer

A lot of people seem to like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Strangely, a rather large portion of those people seem to also be completely baffled as to what’s going on at any given time. This usually afflicts those who are only starting the show, but it doesn’t entirely go away for most people, since they just keep ladling on new characters that you totally get the feeling you… should know? Maybe?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that showrunners Benioff and Weiss do a bad job at telling the story, it’s just that there’s simply so much of it that it becomes difficult to relay it all without lazy, sweeping fantasy voice overs. So guess what?

I’M GONNA GIVE YOU THOSE FANTASY VOICE OVERS RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW

For centuries, Westeros was ruled by Dragon Kings/Queens. They had come from the East on their dragons and basically were like lol you fucking Westeros peasants we are the kings now. How many kingdoms you got? SEVEN? lololol let’s make that one (but confusingly still call it the seven kingdoms)!

Besides riding dragons, the dragon kings also fucked their siblings. It made them super weird(er). Eventually, the dragons died out, and incest became their only gimmick. Being a regular guy in Westeros under the Targaryens (that is the name of the Dragon Kings) was a real crapshoot! You could either have a Dragon Hitler ruling you, or a Dragon Mother Theresa. SHIT’S CRAY

Okay so here is a thing you need to know about Westeros. Being a “ward” is a thing. It was a thing in our Medieval times too! It basically meant that if a kid became a ward he/she was gonna get adopted without his parents being dead.

Instead, it meant that his biological parents really wanted to make nice with his newly adoptive parents. Maybe bio-parents did some bad shit, and the more powerful adoptive parents wanted to make sure they didn’t pull it again – or maybe it was even HAY U MAH DAWG HAVE ONE OF MY KIDS TO RAISE I GOT LIKE SIX OTHERS DUN WORRY

If you start the show at episode 1 of season 1, two of our main guys lived their youths as wards. Eddard “Ned” Stark (this guy):

And Robert I Baratheon (this guy):

“WHAAAAAA????? But these seem to be pretty big dawgs with a lotta JUICE?? I mean these are guys I recognize from the show and that one guy even from movies!” I might hear you say.

Here is the tale how they went from “hostage” kids (aka wards) to the BIG HBO DAWGS we meet them as.

Ned and Bob were raised by Jon Arryn. Pretty much a nice old but powerful guy so if you got a kid in with him, you had a rich and powerful friend! Here is a picture of  Jon Arryn from the show.

Yup, you see him EXACTLY ONCE – as a googly-eyed corpse on a slab in the pilot. Ned, Bob and Jon (who says fantasy names have to be hard!) kinda lived out their lives in Jon’s castle as well as they could under the reign of Aerys II Targaryen,

a particularly crazy Dragon King. Here is Jon’s castle aka the Eyrie btw! There’s a few scenes in it in season 1!

You may recognize it as the place where they lock up our favorite midget for a while!

King Aerys’ HAND (sorta like a Westerosi prime minister) was Tywin Lannister, like the richest guy in all the land. This is him!

Tywin’s son Jaime Lannister was in Aerys’ Kingsguard aka his SUPAR ELITE bodyguards. On the show, they’re the knights around the king that’s in all white like pimps. Tywin was pissed about that cuz the Kingsguard can’t take wife or land and his other two children were a WOMAN and a MIDGET! Here’s Jaime:

That’s that Prince Charming from SHREK looking motherfucker! Tywin would also have loved it if crown prince Rhaegar Targaryen

married his daughter Cersei.

But King Aerys was like LOL my son is a PRINCE son why the fuck would I marry him to your broke ass daughter???? WE DRAGONS

So Tywin was like come on!!! His only siblings are babies and the oldest one is a boy so how you gonna get heirs dude??? It’s gonna take like a million years!

King Aerys was still all fuck you but ultimately still made Rhaegar marry a non-sibling – but NOT Cersei! Some Southern princess called Elia Martell of Dorne whom he made two babies with.

Tywin, being the stone-cold pro that he is, didn’t say shit but ON THE INSIDE he was like ooohhh you platinum haired motherfucker I’m gonna get you back for this. And he would!

One day, Aerys held a tourney cuz they didn’t have HBO back then. Rhaegar hit it off with Ned’s hot sis Lyanna, and they eloped. Here’s a picture of Lyanna from the show:

That’s right, a statue on her fucking TOMB in Ned’s ancestral crib, Winterfell! On the show, Ned and Bob take a stroll down to the tombs to greet Lyanna’s grave and kinda talk about all this stuff – but since it’s so early on in the season, you barely even know who Ned and Bob are, never mind who this dead lady is!

Ned’s dad and his older brother went to court to complain, but Aerys was all LOLOLOL fuck you guys for acting like my son can’t do wtf he likes! and basically torched Ned’s dad and older brother alive as he giggled.

Bob, who was TOTES into Lyanna, convinced Ned (now Lord of Winterfell by default!) and foster daddy Jon Arryn to not take shit anymore, this was the last straw and those incestuous fucking ex-dragon riders have GOT to GIT GOT

Oh btw Ned also inherited his older brother’s wife, as happened in THOSE DAYS, one Catelyn Tully.

They got along well though and immediately made like a bunch of babies, as the pilot will attest. Once the Baratheon-Stark-Arryn armies started to really gain some ground, clever ass Tywin thought to hitch his daughter to the (probably) new King, Robert. Lyanna had died under mysterious circumstances while she was with Rhaegar, so Bob thought he might as well marry Cersei why not. The deal was made public once Robert smashed Rhaegar’s face in during a battle on Catelyn’s home turf. Catelyn’s daddy, Hoster Tully, thought he might as well hitch his remaining daughter Lyssa to the last unmarried guy in that rising triumvirate: Jon Arryn. The age difference wasn’t really thought about, and you could say that it resulted in LESS THAN OPTIMAL family circumstances. Here’s a picture of Cat’s sis Lyssa from the show (oh you’ll remember) including her creepy ass son Robin:

I try to keep this blog (visually) safe for work but anyone who’s seen the show knows what’s going on under that cloak!

Bob sent Ned to Storm’s End, the Baratheon family castle, pretty much the last bit of leverage the Targaryens held over Bob, to liberate it from their siege. Inside were his younger brothers Stannis

and Renly (a big gay hence the beautiful Photoshop filter).

Ned and his boys got smuggled in via a smuggler named Davos, claiming to be just sailing by carrying onions.

Ned and his men broke the siege, and Stannis made Davos a knight, now SER Davos Seaworth THE ONION KNIGHT. But also he cut off Davos’ fingers on one hand for being a smuggler! One good deed doesn’t wash out the bad! Nobody really likes Stannis. Except Davos, weirdly, who became super loyal after that and even carries his fingers around in a pouch around his neck. Seems like a weird derail, but Davos is a guy we’re gonna be following around!

So Bob and the boys march to the capital, King’s Landing. King Aerys knows he’s pretty much done for and on top of that, Kingsguard Jaime suddenly stabs the old man in the back! Goodbye last Dragon King! Hello KINGSLAYER Jamie Lannister!

An old Kingsguard knight spirits off Aerys’ remaining two babblies to another continent in the chaos. The babbies are named Viserys

and Daenerys (or Dany).

daenerys-game-of-thrones

Tywin who is happy to get some payback on those dragon motherfuckers, lets one of his henchlords and his minions loose on the city – the 7 foot tall horse-decapitatin’ Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. He kills Rhaegar’s widow Elia and her two babies EXTRA hard. And she wasn’t even a Targaryen!

It takes Ned and Bob’s arrival to calm shit down. Bob becomes King Bob, Ned’s seen enough war and just wants to go back home to manage his wintery business, and oldie Jon Arryn becomes Bob’s Hand.

Stannis gets sent to Dragonstone; a shitty, creepy, damp castle off the East coast of Westeros and historically the Targaryen ancestral home. Bob dresses it up as OMG that is SO BADASS and GLORIOUS that you get to own these motherfuckers’ old home, but everyone (including Stannis) knows that Bob just wants his strict no-fun having ass out of the way. The fact that it’s a castle as creepy, remote and unfun as Stannis = gravy! Renly gets a seat on the council.

Lord Tully (Catelyn and Lyssa’s dad) also has a suggestion for Bob’s new council – his young ward who’s always been super good with numbers and money and stuff, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish.

Petyr has a lot of frustrations to work out, seeing as how his lifelong (unrequited) crush Cat is married off to some honorable northman (and even his consolation prize Lyssa – requited but not actually wanted – is gone)!

Another bannerman-suggested guy King Bob employs is Mountain’s brother Sandor “the Hound” Clegane.

This scarred dude doesn’t like his baby-killin’ big bro, nor does he seem to really even like the guy he’s protecting – crown prince Joffrey that piece of shit. Joff often calls him DOG on the show but not in a friendly hip hop way. The Hound is NOT a knight – and he pretty much hates them because he always lived in the shadow of his asshole brother who is a knight but definitely not chivalrous.

Ned comes back to Cat finally, but he’s brought a little bundle of sorrow. A babbly he names Jon!

Awww come on Ned! The kids used to look up to you, what happened?

A few years pass in relative stability. Queen Cersei has three suspiciously blonde kids. But oh no! Trouble!

There’s an island group called the Iron Islands, just west off the coast of Westeros. They’re ruled over by House Greyjoy and are basically just a viking pirate cove. The Iron Islands boss, Balon Greyjoy, decides that without Targaryens, he can be king again like it was before the dragons I guess and just starts fucking up Stark-owned coastal towns.

But I guess he’s really dumb cuz Ned Stark is good buddies with King Bob! His sons all get slaughtered, and he’s forced to give up his youngest boy as a ward to Ned. This is Theon Greyjoy:

A guy who was REALLY GOOD at killing Greyjoys was one of Ned’s boys Jorah Mormont (right, obvs).

Jorah had just recently become Lord of his castle cuz his dad Jeor stepped down (awwww) and went to the Wall to live his last days out in honor. This is Jorah’s daddy – omg Jon Snow’s boss!

But that sweet pirate loot didn’t last forever, and Jorah’s high maintenance wife had expensive tastes. So Jorah sold some poachers into slavery – which Ned found out and exiled him. His wife left him, and he became a bit of a desert mercenary until King Bob’s spymaster Varys

basically sent him a letter going AY would you keep an eye out on those two weird albino dragon kids that might come and bite us in the ass later? Pay ya for it! Kthx!

Then one day Jon Arryn dies under mysterious circumstances, and Bob comes North hoping to rope Ned into being his new hand. He’s surrounded by Lannisters or people paid by Lannisters and he knows he can trust Ned! And that’s basically where the show starts.

I haven’t introduced the Stark kids, or King Bob’s kids, or the concept of the Wall since I think those things are pointed out well enough on the show. The Wall gets enough explanation, and the Stark kids are young enough so as to be “context-free”. They haven’t been married off yet, or gotten up to shit that every character knows about but the viewer doesn’t.

Again, a lot of this stuff is actually SAID on the show, but it’s usually spoken between two characters who pretty much assume most of the above as fact – and therefore aren’t very explanatory in their dealings about it. And with so many characters, viewers are already happy to know just WHO IS TALKING!

Hopefully, this was enlightening for both people new to the show and those who’ve been watching it since last year. Maybe I’ll do updated versions as the show runs and confuses. Until then!

VALAR MORGHULIS

wait am i supposed to know what that m