Sunday, July 27, 2008

Three Crime Movies

Thanks to a confluence of things (Cubs playing late on the west coast, very few shows I care about on TV, the boys going to bed early), I've actually had some time to clear out the movies that Netflix has so kindly rented to me for the last several weeks. The last three in a row were all crime movies of various vintage, so I decided I'd write some short reviews of them all:

In Bruges was a small movie that came and went pretty quickly last spring starring Brenden Gleeson and Colin Farrell as two British gangsters cooling their heels in Bruges, Belgium while awaiting orders fromt ehir boss (Ralph Fiennes) after Farrell spectacularly messed up a hit-job back home.

Though this movie was sold as a more mad-cap crime romp, it's actually a very melancholy flick about the price of being a gangster can exact on your soul. Farrell plays a guy new to being a gangster, who realizes that it's obviously not what it was cracked up to be. Both Gleeson and Fiennes are very good as hard men who have been in the game long enough to understand that sometimes you just have to play the role of being a hard man, despite the fact that you just don't want to be one anymore.

Overall, it's a good movie, but it's pretty darn depressing. However, you do get a drug-addled, racist dwarf.

Next there was Blast of Silence, a small movie made in the late 50's about a hit man back in NYC to do a job. Truth be told, I was originally led to pick this one up due to the very nice DVD cover illustrated by Sean Phillips (Sleeper, Criminal) and later by an essay in the back-matter of an issue of Criminal. It's an interesting move, not so much because of the story, but of the film-making. The striking thing was the use of location, real New York City locations, which you really don't see a lot of in this era of movie-making, especially for low-budget crime movies. It's just a side of America you didn't see, and it adds to the realism. The other thing about the movie is its narration, which comes off almost sounding as a motivational tape for hit men with low self-esteem. The narrator actually speaks to the "hero", Frankie, guiding him through tough moments, trying to keep up his courage. I'll be honest, it's not a great movie, it's novel for its period and well worth a viewing though.

Finally, there's Charley Varrick, an early 70's heist movie starring Walter Matthau. Charley Varrick is a small-time bank thief, who, with his crew, knocks over a small time bank to find it chock-full of mob money. The rest of the movie is spent watching Charley trying to get the money back to the mob before their man, Mr. Molly (played by an intense Joe Don Baker), tracks him down and does very bad things to him. This is a very good movie, the only problem being that it has influenced so many movies and comics that have come out since, you've practically seen it all before. Matt Fraction's Last of the Independents is a big example of this since the entire plot of the book (along with the title) is taken whole hog. In fact, I'm amazed they were able to sell it as a movie pitch (it was optioned late last week) since you could argue it's more of an adaptation than an original story. Mind you, I'm not claiming any shenanigans on Fraction's (or the artist, Kierion Dwyer) part, since he lays out his influences plainly in the acknowledgements to his book.

Another thing that stuck out for me is that the phrase, "they'll ... go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blow-torch." originated in this film. This further goes to prove to me that Quentin Tarantino doesn't write screenplays so much as he cuts and pastes them from other movies.

ANYWAY, Chraley Varick is a good little heist movie and it takes you back to the 70's, when you could make your hero a unrepentant thief and murderer and still have him be incredibly sympathetic.

So that's what I got for today, now: on to Shark Week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Movie Review: X-Files: I Want to Believe

Y'know, back in the 90's I was a hu-uge X-Files fan, even went to a convention (with this guy). The convention proved to me one thing, no matter how nerdy I get, I'll never be that nerdy. Anyway, I was a fan, and so were a lot of other people, but then, starting with the release of the first movie, things went downhill. The mythology of the series just got too complicated and too unending to reliably tell stories that people would care about. Then David Duchovney chose to leave the series and, stupidly, Fox decided to run the whole fucking thing into the ground. I pretty much stopped caring long before they finally took it out back and quietly smothered it with a pillow (though Fox told me The X-Files was living on a farm in the "country" and really liked it there).

ANYWAY, thanks to Chris Carter having a script ready to go, and Fox not having much else to put out this summer due to the writers' strike, we all get a new X-Files movie, and surprise of all surprises, it's darn good. Fortunately, Chris Carter (and Frank Spotnitz) chose to jettison all of the mythology crap of the show in order to tell a good old science gone awry tale.

The set-up is that the FBI is faced with a kidnapped Agent and a disgraced Priest who says that he's seen visions that can help them track the abductors. The FBI, no longer used to dealing with psychic mumbo-jumbo, tracks down Scully and through her Mulder, and offer sweep their history under the rug. They really waste no time getting Mulder back into the fold, which is very good, since that shit could've dragged on for a while. From there on, the games begin.

The real key to the movie is the interaction between Mulder and Scully. They're presented a a couple who have dealt with so much mental trauma through their relationship, they're really the only two people who can relate to one another. The flip side of that, is that they can push each other's buttons really, really well. Essentially, they're an old married couple turned up to eleven.

The other key to the movie is that they avoid too many shout-outs to the series. There are very few references and none of the old familiar faces show up (well, one, maybe two, depending upon your level of fandom). This allows the plot to breathe and no one has to worry if there's anything they're missing because it happened in a random episode from season four.

The movie sticks to it guns of being a tight little thriller, avoiding big action set-pieces and steers clear of two much in the way of supernatural shenanigans. Plus, Mulder has a fight with a dog that almost puts Batman's to shame.

Anyhoo, I could go on for a while, but suffice to say, I liked the movie and I would highly recommend it, especially to fans of the show. From what I've seen of the box office returns, it looks like this will probably be the final ride of the X-Files on any screen for quite some time, so get on down to the multiplex and enjoy it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weekly Singles: 7.23.08

Good googly-moogly, can someone make this fucking weekend. Oh well, at least Wednesday came, and with it, a whole gang o' comics!

Uncanny X-Men #500 - Y'know, I hemmed and hawed over getting this issue. Sure, it was written by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker, probably my favorite two writers right now, plus they're just coming off of a fantastic run on Iron Fist. But, there was the Greg Land problem. I just can't wrap my head around his traced, ultra-rigid artwork. His art just lacks all sense of movement and it completely throws me off. Anyway, after a quick flip-through and seeing that Land was alternating with the Dodson's on are, I decided to give it a whirl. I must say it's pretty good, not the usual blow-out that an anniversary issue is, but since this is more of a set-up issue, rather than a story-line capper that most big anniversary issues are, it works pretty well. I'll be honest, I've wanted to like an X-Men on-going for a while (Astonishing didn't count), so I may have to give this one a try for a while.

Ambush Bug: Year None #1 - Bullet points for this one:
  • It's funny
  • I'm really happy to see Giffen drawing in his old "new" style again
  • It's so steeped in DC continuity, I feel they should release a special archives collection just to help with all of the references
  • For that reason, it's pretty impenetrable to anyone who didn't read A LOT of DC in the 80's
  • I'm in.
Brave And The Bold #15 - A good conclusion to last month's story. Not much more to say about this, too busy of a week for me to get too excited about it.

The Immortal Iron Fist #17 - Swierczynski & Foreman's first issue measures up to what's come previously, so I'm very happy with it. Hopefully the rest of the storyline will continue with this level of quality.

She-Hulk #31 - Bought this due to the cross-over w/ X-Factor from last week. Meh.


Dan Dare #7 - This is a book I really haven't talked about a lot. Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine have created a darn fine boy's adventure space opera here and it has been a really fun read. The y bring their first storyline to a close here (it promises a new "saga" in September) and we begin, as all good adventure stories do, with our hero in dire circumstances and the entire planet in peril. The whole thing reads like one of Ennis's excellent WWII tales, but in space. Adding to it all, it's just so very British, you almost feel like you should stop to have a cup of tea midway through. Though definitely familiar with the name, Dan Dare, I've never been exposed to any of the previous material, but I'm looking forward to hinting some down now.

So that's what I got, I'm hoping to get a robust assessment of the first two months of Trinity up sometime the weekend, plus maybe I'll throw some other random stuff up as well. Looking forward to checking out The X-Files this weekend, plus another showing of Dark Knight.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Secret Theme of Secret Wars II

Now, I've mentioned before that Marvel's original Secret Wars mini-series was a critical moment in my comic book geekiness. After years spent wandering in the comic wilderness only reading comics about toys, I was shown how truly awesome superhero books could be.

A few years later, Marvel let loose a sequel that also taught me an important lesson. They showed me how truly fucking awful bad superhero comics could be. However, over at Poptown, Phil Looney decided to take a trip down memory lane, reexamining the first four issues of this truly mind-numbing series. After reading what he had to say (and then spending several hours over at DazzlerFan, the internet's #4 Dazzler-Fan-Site!), I decided to take a look at the next few issues, and yes, it still sucks. But under it all, I found something, under the terrible artwork, under the ham-handed dialogue, I found what the true theme of Secret Wars II was:

Man, Cap was quite the Republican in the 80's.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More Dark Knight Thoughts


So I've been chewing this over in my mind since I saw the movie last night, they really drove the point home that Batman is alone at the end of the movie. Of the people who know Bruce is Batman, Rachel is dead, Lucius' status is questionable (he resigned, but did he take it back when Bruce let him blow up the listening equipment?) and Alfred, well Alfred's still cool, but he still needs a little more. On top of that he has to deal with the fact that Harvey Dent has turned evil and Gordon has to, at least publicly, come after him. I guess the point is, did they do this to set up the possible introduction of a partner in the next movie?

Obviously, we're talking about Robin here, and I realize that the conventional wisdom is that Robin=FAIL, and Christian Bale's already discussed that Robin's inclusion pretty much guarantees his exit from the series, but it just felt odd to me that they would hit the isolation theme so hard at the end without having a plan to bring it full circle. Given Nolan, Goyer, etal's track record so far on the series, you almost have to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if they tried and it didn't work, it would still probably go down as a noble failure. I mean, I'm pretty positive at least there will be no more nipples featured on the bat-suits.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unfiltered Dark Knight Thoughts

So yeah, I just literally walked in the door from seeing the movie and cannot possible give a "review" of the movie (and really, why bother, better people have done it elsewhere), so here are my patented, lazy, bullet-pointed thoughts:

  • It was great, I think they really nailed the idea of what a Batman would have to be to exist in the real world.
  • I knew I was in from a ride because, as I was waiting in line for the sold-out, 7:00 on a Sunday showing, everyone leaving the theater from the previous showing had one of two looks on their faces: stunned shock or really pissed-off. NOTE: the pissed off faces were reserved to mothers who were escorting out their now-mentally-scarred five-year-old children. Read the fucking ratings people.
  • Bravo for skipping an origin for the Joker. They played him as exactly as he should be, an irresistible, unexplainable force of chaos.
  • Ledger was very good, you actually found yourself laughing at his "jokes" despite yourself. Truth-be-told, I don't know if it was oscar-worthy, but it was pretty definitive.
  • Obviously, Heath Ledger's death was a tragedy, but it's also a shame that his death will push his performance over Aaron Eckhardt's excellent work as Harvey Dent. I really think his role had more "meat" to it. Think about it, while the Joker was simply the Joker through the whole thing, Eckhardt had to show us Dent's whole evolution, that took a lot of work to be done right.
  • Speaking of performances, I will admit to apologizing for Katie Holmes' work in Batman Begins, thinking that she really didn't have much of a role to work with. But.....after seeing Maggie Gyllenhall, y'know, actually "act" in the role, I'm reversing my opinion that Katie Holmes really sucked in Batman Begins.
  • Hey, look, Anthony Michael Hall!
  • As much as I love my city, it was really distracting for me to see all of the Chicago locations, I kept thinking to myself, "It's Lower Wacker, not Lower 5th!" My damage, I know. Then again, I always thought Gotham should be Chicago to Metropolis's New York, trying to pass them both off as pseudo-NY's never made much sense to me.
  • Why the fuck does the Mayor of Gotham-Fucking-City wear eye-liner?
  • Since The Dark Knight made just amount the same in its opening weekend as both Iron Man & The Incredible Hulk combined, can we just stop with the whole, "DC can't make movies out of their characters" BS? Please?
  • Speaking of, Warner Bros.? Cut the check to Bale and Nolan this freaking week for number three. I think you can get one more movie out of this cast and crew and I want to see it. TOMORROW.
  • Hey look, Harvey Dent just shot a cop at The Twin Anchors!
  • Glad to see they tied up a plot point left open from Begins first thing in the movie, really helped with the continuity.
  • ***SPOILERS***I just realized, the Bat Cave did not make an appearance in the movie at all. Nice to see the 70's-era penthouse get some air-time.
  • Overall, it's the best movie I've seen all summer (yes, better than Speed Racer), but I'm gonna have to give it some time to see where it settles all-time. I imagine I'll be seeing it again next weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Weekly Singles - 7.16.08

Here we go, here we go, here we go....

X-Factor #33 - I really can't explain it, but despite complaining that I was ready to drop this title last month, it manages to draw me back in. Maybe it's because this title really only seems to have momentum when it's in the midst of a big cross-over, it seems like it's been 2 years since the book has actually had a story arch of their own. I guess the big draw for this issue (other than the SI tie-in) is that Peter David has reunited with Larry Stroman, the artist from his "classic" X-Factor run, but it's no big deal for me. In fact, I loved those old books more in spite of Stroman than because of him. His art is a weird mix of "90's Extreme" and "cartoony" that doesn't work for me. Anyway they've got me through this crossover, and if it keeps up, I'll be back on-board for the long(er) haul.

Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #1 - Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins' run on The Flash was the first run I had really followed of that character and I really liked what they did, but it didn't seem to last long enough. This is a pretty darn good continuation of their past stuff, so I'll be happy to hop on and see where it goes.

Captain America #40 - So yeah, still not much to say. This is a really amazing series, forty issues into this latest relaunch they're still playing off of plot threads set up in the first issue. Normally that would be a prescription for pissing readers off, but just the level of sophistication in the story-telling by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (and Mike Perkins and others as well) is just fantastic. I love this book, and while I'm excited for the finish of this long-ass story arc, I'm just as excited to enjoy the ride.

Trinity #7 - I know, I know, I said that I'd go with one-a-month on this series, but this issue finally seems to be getting somewhere. The threat seems to finally gain some weight and we get a good scene of Batman ordering everyone around, showing just how deep his hooks into superhero-dom of the DCU go. Good stuff, a more robust opinion will come along next week.

Marvel Adventures: Avengers #28 - Pretty much what Kevin said.

Oh yeah, and apparently:
Hulk hates the Robot

So that's what I got, no real clear winner on "Best of the Week", but I guess I'd give it to Trinity for finally going somewhere. See y'all soon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Brief Sports Post

So, I totally didn't see the Harden trade coming, but it makes me very happy. Of course, Buster Olney has to immediately harsh my buzz by referring to him as a "Mark Prior redux", meaning that the dude has spent his fair share of time on the DL during his six-year career. Hopefully he's not a total d-bag as well to complete the comparison. But anyway, after two days of convincing myself that I wasn't worried about the Sabathia trade,I feel even more relaxed about the whole thing. Especially since Sheets is due for his annual month's vacation on the DL. Enjoy those towel-drills Ben!

The one thing is, doesn't St. Louis have to do something now? I mean, Carpenter isn't coming back this year and the rest of rotation is starting to show a little rust, so now they gotta go out and get someone just to keep up with the Joneses. Hmmmm.... I know they were tossing around bringing in Barry Bonds during the off-season, maybe they'll decide to bring back the other steroid-ridden asshole that no major league team wants to touch. Hey Calvin, howsabout Roget Clemens in a Cards uniform?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

You know, I was OK with turning 34, until I realized:

I am now older than Iron Fist.

Damn, that hurts. And I don't even get the Luke Cage in a party hat at my party.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

Somewhere in my basement I have this figure buried, along with all my other, semi-destroyed megos. Anyway, hope all of you have a happy fourth, and that you manage not to blow off any extremities.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Weekly Singles - 7.2.08

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #1 - So a new Hellboy hits the stands just in time for the movie, and judging from the first issue, it's quite good. Mike Mignola does the writing and he's joined by the legendary Richard Corben on the art ( he also did art on Hellboy: Makoma). This is a flashback story to Hellboy dealing with witches in Appalachia in the late 50's. It's nicer to see a "smaller" Hellboy story, I love the giant, Lovecraft-ian monsters and the world-endangering threats that he deals with most of the time, just as much as the next guy, but the "smaller" stories seem to be the ones that possess the most character. Good stuff.

Batman # 678 - Part 3 of Batman: R.I.P. is good, but obviously, Morrison is still bringing us all into the bigger picture. I'm confused, but enjoying it quite a bit. I'll probably throw up a story-line wide review up once it's over.

Manhunter #32 - Damn Andreyko, that's just cold. I realize we're dealing with the Joker here, but man. Anyway, the relaunch of this very good series continues on it's way, tip-toeing through US-Mexican border politics very nimbly. Gosh, I hope this series sticks this time.

Blue Beetle #28 - Will Pfeifer steps in for another fill-in before new writer Matt Sturges takes over next month with a nice little story about Blue Beetle dealing with a "legacy-villain" from the Dan Garret BB days. It's a good little story and that's about it.

Trinity #5 - The fight with Konvikt ends....finally. Switching to reviewing this book once-a-month, so see you at #8.

Jonah Hex #33 - So, Darwyn Cooke draws Jonah Hex, then I will buy Jonah Hex. This is a very good, if heart-breaking tale of Hex dealing with some not so do-right mounties in the Canadian wilderness, as seen through the eyes of a little boy who he saves, mostly through no fault of his own. Truth-be-told, I'd buy freaking Millie the Model if Cooke was on art, but his work is very good here, and it's obvious the story was tailored to him. Highly recommended, plus always remember:
Icicles can be dangerous.


Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #1 - Mike Kunkel (author of Herobear & the Kid) takes up where Jeff Smith's fantastic Shazam and the Monster Society of Evil left off and has launched a new all-ages series featuring the Big Red Cheese and it maintains the original series' excellence. As much as I loved this book, there's not much to say about it, it's smart, hilarious and fickin' adorable.