23 June, 2016

Some Nice Reactionary Nonsense.

The fate of the Western world is scary and weird right now. It used to be kind of simple.

You had your rich people and you had your racists scared of how brown people were going to get over here and somehow fuck us out of everything. That was shitty, but it made sense in a kind of regressive, real politik sort of way. It made sense in the way a caveman would react if you gave him some real shiny rocks. There was a logic to it. Shitty, but rational.

Now, though? Now? Now, it's those same racists and shit heels worrying about foreigners, but instead of looking to do the same old shit like bomb them or whatever, these old fucks are standing on top of their towers begging these people to kill them. It's like, somehow their own lives because so terrible and bereft of meaning that the only way out they see is to demand that these foreign folks FINALLY fulfill their duty and finally wipe them out, which is what they've been telling themselves all these years. Suicide by foreigner.

Let's finally do it. Take out the whole country, the fuck do they care? They don't even have the balls to do it themselves. So they foment division and fear and all the rest of the standard playbook crap that goes back to when we was all in caves. Because the people in charge, however vague of an idea as that is, do not care. The mob wants somebody to finally break it apart and put it out of its misery. You lot seem like a good choice.

They can try to finagle their way into an assisted suicide all they want, but it's the people below them that get crushed and, let's not forget, the people they were afraid of all these years aren't the fiends they thought they were. They won't do that kind of dirty work. Because, you know, they're not all fucking assholes like some people.

I'm bummed out about the UK (more specifically: England). I'm bummed out about America. I'm bummed out about huge chunks of Europe that see their worst fears in the shadows.

Remember, we are not descended from fearful men. But we are. We're scared shitless. Top to bottom. Never forget that. You can love your neighbor as much as you want, but it's a scary world out there. People will try to shake you out of it. They'll try real hard. Because these people want desperately for some big brown fella to crush their head in with a rock. Because that's easier than dealing with reality. Which is fucking hard.

What was I saying? Oh. I don't know. Congrats to the shit heads. Congrats to the fascists. Congrats to the far right. Congrats to the Nazis. Congrats to the poor people about to get fucked by Boris and Farage and their ilk. Congrats to a newly independent Scotland, because I'm sure this was how they wanted this to shake out. Congrats to the expats who now get to think about if they get to move back or not. Congrats to lizard-fuckers like David Cameron. Congrats to the EU and the flaming pile of dog shit that just go mailed overnight to Brussels. Congrats to the Kremlin, which benefits from a divided Europe. Congrats to the shit heads and the people having shit poured on their heads. Don't worry, America is coming to meet you guys there soon.

But what do I know. I'm drinking and "Fairytale of New York" just came on, so who can say, really?

12 June, 2016

A Matter of Life and Death Part 2

PREDATOR: LIFE AND DEATH #1-4
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Brian Albert Thies
Coloring by Rain Beredo

It's fine. Predator: Life and Death is fine. Perfectly fine. There's colonial marines. They fight and they bitch at each other as you would expect Colonial Marines to fight and bitch. Somebody screams “Get some” and unloads a magazine into the jungle. There's a corporate goon. There's a predator-- Predators, even. And it's all fine. It's a Predator story and it's fine.

Predator: Life and Death is another "multifranchise story cycle" from the minds at Dark Horse. Their previous attempt at weaving Predator, Aliens, Aliens Versus Predator, and Prometheus together into one big story involved different writers and different artists for every story. This time around, they just got the one writer.

Dan Abnett is a perfect choice. He's done space warfare with his Gaunt's Ghost series and he's done comic books (with Andy Lanning) in Guardians of the Galaxy (you might know them from the only Guardians of the Galaxy comic story than anyone has ever ready).

Unfortunately, like much of the line art and the coloring, Predator: Life and Death is a merely adequate experience. At best, it hits the beats that it needs to, at worst it just feels slightly off. It's a book that's better than it could have been, but still not as good as it should be.

At least it's not good enough to get me to forget about how the last time this went down, half of these stories were garbage.

There's one thing about these books, one thing that almost always bugs me, which is that the art doesn't feel right. It doesn't have the grit or the feel of the movies (or even my memory of the novel adaptations-- shout out to SD Perry). The work of Brian Albert Thies is no exception. His work feels unfocused, making it look less like an Impressionist's vision of Predator and more like sloppy art. I suppose there's an argument for both of those art styles. It isn't like adhering to the world's previous creators is going to do anyone any favors.

The colors from Rain Beredo don't help either. The page are colorful in a way that a limited edition bag of Skittles are colorful. It's a semi-pastel wash that doesn't seem to match either the art from Thies or the story from Abnett. In some cases the coloring from Beredo seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting (and not very well). The two sides of the art seem to be telling a different story, and neither of those seem to agree with what kind of story they're telling. It isn't bad. There aren't any mistakes that are irredeemable, but they're mistakes that keep the book from being better than a competent licensed comic. That's a bummer, considering the potential that even something as silly as Predator (see: Predator: Fire and Stone).

Then again, I suppose Thies deserves some credit as far as the design of the world goes. He's got some chops as a mechanical draftsman, which sounds like it isn't much, but, seriously, you go out there and try drawing machinery that looks like it actually works. It's really hard. He also manages to embed references to the original 1990 AvP comic which is a nice, if superfluous touch.

But, of course, the most important touch is this:


Thies put the Cracked Tusk Predator from the Kenner AvP action figure line into the comic. There's two reasons for this: 1) He's lazy and used the figure (or the Neca update) as a physical reference or 2) Either him or Abnett did such a deep lore dive that they figured it would be cool for the superfans to see a twenty year old toy in their silly little comic book.

Well, I noticed, and I love it.

It's little things like that that this book needed more of. More weird stuff. More easter eggs. More joie de vivre. As it stands, it's a very nice book, I just see myself having any real future with it.

. . . That was weird. Don't know where that came from. . .

Anyways, like I said, all in all Predator: Life and Death #1-4 is fine. And as fine as it is and as glad as I am that anyone can get comic books made, I can't help but feel that this isn't the best project for Abnett's talents as a military sci-fi writer and that Thies could use a few more years in the oven before he's allowed to handle something as kinetic as this book. And Beredo? He'll be fine. Jordie Bellaire and Dave Stewart can only color so many books, right?

MONSTER OF THE MONTH/MONTHS/WHATEVER: There is none. It's just the predator. Unless you consider Man to be the ultimate monster. Which I don't. Because that sucks. I suppose a straight Predator story, if well executed, doesn't need a gimmick monster to make it worth reading. Predator: Life and Death is not in need of a silly monster. It's fine as it is. It'd just be nice, you know? It would be nice if there was something more to this story than what there currently is.

I give Predator: Life and Death THREE CHESTBURSTERS OUT OF FIVE. It's a likable, well put together action story, if entirely by the numbers.

ONE QUICK NOTE-- This is not the only Dan Abnett story on the shelves right now. Over the past five years or so Dan Abnett and his artist partner INJ Culbard have been quietly making some of the coolest science fiction books out there (The New Deadwardians and Dark Ages) and Wild's End is a continuation of that run.

Wild's End is-- and I want you to stick with me on this until I'm done saying what I've got to say-- is a retelling of War of the Worlds in the world of The Wind and the Willows. It's an alien invasion with anthropomorphic animals.

It's a conceit that allows for Culbard to do some pitch perfect cartooning and for Abnett's handle on the English vernacular to be that much more charming. It's a well written, beautifully illustrated book that I simply adore. I would highly recommend it to anyone. I also feel like after the amount of shit I just talked, I should say something nice about something. Well, there it is. Buy Wild's End.

IN OTHER NEWS: This series doesn't stop here. I will be covering Dark Horse's "Life and Death" story cycle for as long as it's going. That also means that I have an excuse to talk about other Aliens, Predator, and AvP comics because, boy howdy, have I been making some dumb decisions on eBay lately.

If that sounds appealing to you at all, then stand by. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, please send help.

Aliens: Defiance #1 and #2 are out as we speak (and are not part of the "Life and Death" cycle as I had assumed they were) and, just last week Prometheus: Life and Death #1 has come out as well. I'm working on those reviews as we speak.

More on the way, in the meantime, you can check out my previous run of reviews by searching for “James Versus Fire and Stone."

As far as other parts of this series (which includes Archie Versus Predator and Aliens/Vampirella), you can go here.

See you soon.

09 June, 2016

Abandon Hope All Ye Etc Etc Etc

A review of The Wailing (2016)
Directed by Na Hong Jin

The Wailing is a film that, from the outset, purports to be a mysterious film, mystical, even. While there's many questions and concepts the film raises and just as easy moves past, there's one question that bothers me the most. Is The Wailing a dumb film that thinks its smart or a film that's just dumb?

The Wailing: It's like The Exorcist, but shit.
 We might never know. Nor should we. There are some things man isn't meant to know. That might be one of the themes of The Wailing, but you shouldn't spend any amount of time trying to find out if that's true or not. The only thing people should do to The Wailing is to encase it in concrete and drop it into the bottom of a very deep lake.

The main cop is kind of chubby. That's fun.
The Wailing comes from Na Hong Jin, he of The Chaser, one of the more contentious films amongst my friends and I (they love it and I'm right). As troubling as that film is, there was a talent on display. Hearing about The Wailing, I wanted to see what he could do with some more years under his belt, and with a different genre.

This is what I get for being curious.

The Wailing is part ghost story, part possession story, part detective story, and part family drama. It's as much True Detective as it is The Excorcist as it is The Host. And, brother, does it show. In The Wailing's ass-grindingly long seventeen hours (IMBD says “Two hours, thirty six minutes,” but that can't be right), it bounces confidently from one genre to another, from one theme to another. At first it's fun to watch the movie slowly work its way towards the main plot. It's a mystery film and it does a good job of being mysterious. It doesn't show its cards right away and that works right up until you realize that it isn't taking the scenic route, it's just meandering. At no point is either the set up, the execution, or follow through anything less than a waste of time. Exciting sometimes, but, by the end, The Wailing's drama is one massive, ghosty wank.

God, I'm angry at this fucking movie.

Part of this is because the few twists that the film has neither work nor are they actual twists. The film's central premise is wrapped around a mysterious Japanese man that has shown up in this rural mountain village. Ever since he showed up, one of the movie's more gullible charcters says, there's been trouble around town.

The film's main character, like you, knows that this is ridiculous. People don't just show up to town and cause trouble. Especially not foreigners. Plus, it's 2016, you can't just throw a mysterious foreigner into your film and expect us to be afraid of him because it's A) Hackneyed and B) Racist. It would be like a Mexican showing up to an American movies and everyone going “There's something wrong with that greaser up there.”

(Oh, and everyone calls the Japanese man the “Jap,” which, like, I get. These aren't hyper-liberal city folk. Maybe they don't use all the right nomenclature. This isn't tumblr, this is the real world and sometimes that's okay. I'm not so much offended by any of it as I am confused. Am I meant to sympathize with these people despite their xenophobia? Or empathize with it? Am I meant to feel sorry for their ignorance? Is there just a level of Korean mountain patois that I'm missing? If the movie is only two and a half hours long, how come when I look in the mirror, I see the face of a seventy year old man?)

Anyways, if an American movie busted that out, you'd go either “Fuck you, movie” or “Fuck you, guy.” I'm not sure where I'm supposed to stand with The Wailing, which goes back to the degree of stupidity that the movie is guilty of. There are very few sane readings of a plot point like that and I don't think The Wailing accounted for any of them.

As the film unravels, it's supposed to be a revelation that this semi-racist stereotype is, SHOCKER, actually not a bad person. Unless of course. . . HE IS! And then you realiz that you don't care and that none of it makes sense. The film wants to play the premise of demonic possession and ghosts and all that in a straight manner (I must confess, Korean mysticism is not one of the areas of my expertise),

It's like watching a really confident lumberjack run along one of those logs in the water. For a while it's fun to see him play this game, to keep ahead of the log, to keep his balance, then, eventually, the momentum catches up with him and he eats shit and falls into the water. Except he keeps pumping his legs. And he's telling you that this is important, that this is really what lumberjacking is all about. And it takes three hours. And you hate yourself at the end. And lumberjacks. And life.

Fuck lumberjacks.

Fuck The Wailing.

Fuck me.

What movies was this dude in?
Wait, don't tell me, I'll get this.
Like a lot of truly hateable films, The Wailing isn't just plain bad. There's a kind of charm to shabby films. Your indy comedies, your Z-grade monster movies, your exploitation films. Those can be fun. And The Wailing, up until its ludicrous fifth act has some laughs in it, as well. It's also well shot and beautifully set dressed. You won't find a better looking movie that takes place in the Korean countryside this year. Or maybe any year.

Did I mention that I hate this movie?

I guess that zombie attack was cool. I mean, it was nonsense, but. . . No, wait. Why was that even in that fucking movie? 

Alright.

Something nice: The girl that plays Gyo-Jin does an A+ of playing both a percocious daughter that has a dumbass for a dad and a ravenous demon that has a dumbass for a dad. I'd like to see her in a good movie. Also, I can't find her name on IMDB. MY BAD, OKAY?

That script, though. Boy howdy that mother fucking script.

That fucking script.

Jesus Christ, do I hate this mother fucking movie.

Ugh. And the ending. I don't even hate the ending because it's a downer. DOWNERS ARE FINE! The Exorcist is a movie that this film owes and awful lot to and it has a bummer ending and I love that movie. I also love The Host which has a both a bummer ending and an ending that makes very little sense, but I LIKE that movie because it's fun! It does stuff! What does The Wailing do? It makes your a series of promises and then, over the course of the rest of your life, breaks them one by one until you look back on them and have one fatal, terrible realization. It's too late. The Wailing already has you in its grips and it is never letting go.

The Wailing is the Devil.

18 May, 2016

A Matter of Life and Death #0

They don't tell you this when you get into it, but self-flagellation is exhausting work. As cathartic as my run on the Aliens/Predator/Prometheus rat-king clusterfuck that was “Fire and Stone,” it was not something I could revisit. At least not immediately. Or willfully. I said my piece. I prayed for death and it would not come.

My heart would not stop beating and Aliens/Predator comics would not stop coming out. I realize that self-flagellation is not a hobby, but a calling. A vocation, even. The comics call to me and, no matter how far away from them I get, I will come running back.

What I'm saying, is that I have housekeeping to do.

First, I missed the release of an Aliens comic and a Predator comic. Not that I didn't read them. I just didn't review them. I am going to remedy this as best as I can right here and now.

Secondly, my cries of ceasing this madness have once again fallen on deaf ears and Dark Horse has begun releasing another pair of Aliens and Predator comics. They've actually been quite good, so far. One more so than the other. I will get to them in future installments.

Actually, there's three things: Belated happy Aliens Day. Now buy methis vinyl soundtrack.

LET'S ROCK

ALIENS/VAMPIRELLA #1-3

The first two comics that I have to clear out are Aliens/Vampirella (which I thought was named "Aliens Versus Vampirella," which is an infinitely better name than what they ended up with).

Full disclosure: I didn't read the entirety of Aliens/Vampirella. I'd be a liar if I said that I wish I had. I read three issues and even I, in the depths of my self-hatred and nostalgia tinged madness thought "I think I've had enough of this."

This keeps me from outright calling it trash. Maybe it snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. Maybe you'll be the first female king of the Iron Islands. Maybe a dog can play basketball. Who knows. What little I did read did not leave me with much confidence for the rest of the book. Rest assured, though, I plan to thoroughly punish myself in full when this comes out in trade.

So, you know, fuck me.

Aliens/Vampirella is a kind of needless, low-trash/high concept that is what comic books should be. Get weird with it. Get crazy. Make a dumb decision, but do it well. Part of me feels that somebody came up with the title and that was the most work anybody did on this. Or somebody at legal realized that the license to this book was going to expire next month and that they gotta move, move, move or IDW is going to eat their lunch. Mixing vampire bikini babes and the kitchen sink funk of Alien should have been a slam dunk. At last it seems like it would.

There is a movement online about how artists should receive more credit for their work in comic book reviews. Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey are the most prominent people heading this opinion, and I am in agreement with them. The artist is as critical to the work, if not more, than the writer, and too often we cast them aside as supporting players in their own work.

It is with that in mind that I tell you that Javier Garcia-Miranda's art is very much not good. Well. That's mean. Maybe he gets better. I don't know. Looking at some of his line art seperate from the comic, he seems to be great at details, but fails when it comes to drawing dimensions. From what I have seen, his work is stiff and sloppy. Inklight Studio's coloring doesn't help, either. The best that I can say about it is that it is extant.

Gabriel Hardman's covers are pretty good. Unfortunately, that brings me to my next point: Corrina Bechko wrote this comic. Possibly under duress. But she wrote this damn thing. The work her and Gabe did on their Planet of the Apes run are some of my favorite comics, licensed or otherwise, in the past five years. She's done good work. She continues to do good work. Aliens/Vampirella is not good work. It's the most basic slot A/tab B schlock that I've read in a long time, which is amazing because Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes had an ape prison and that was awesome. That ape had an eyepatch, man. That was cool.

Alien Meets Vampirella should be a horror convetion punch out. It should be a drunken scrum at a bar in blade. It should be crazy! It should be fun! It should not be what it actually is, which is dull! This is made worse by the fact that I have read awesome-- repeat: AWESOME-- comics from Corrino Bechko. This is not one of them. That's a bummer.

Go read Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes instead. That book is great.

And then again, maybe it picks up after issue three. I'll let you know. So far it has all the joie de vivre of a bus ride to your grandman's funeral. At least it wasn't AvP: Fire and Stone.

BEST MONSTER: I only ever saw your standard gauge xenomorph. Hardly worth writing home about. 

I give the three issues of Aliens Versus Vampirella TWO FACE HUGGERS OUT OF FIVE. Ugh. God. Off to buy the trade, because fuck me, right?

Oh, and Exile of the Planet of the Apes was solid as hell, too. Not quite the same without Gabriel Hardman's art, but that's okay. Nobody's perfect.

ARCHIE VERSUS PREDATOR #1-4
I'm telling you. This book.

Archie Vs. Predator came out of left field. When it was announced, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was another half-assed mash-up premise, drummed up by the lowest of marketing goons to fool idiots (like me) into buying books.

I was wrong. I was so wrong.

A younger, less worldly, less tolerant James Kislingbury would call it a book that was “better than it has any right to be.” That's foolishness. Over the past few years (or, now that I think about it, decade) Archie Comics, as a company, is pumping out some fine books. From regular Archie to Afterlife with Archie to Jughead, Archie Comics is cranking out some solid books with solid talent. They're out there doing weird stuff and taking risks, and more than that, they're delivering.

Archie Vs. Predator should not have been a surprise. It, in so many words, is incredible. I realized about half of the way through reading this book that, the reason it worked wasn't because it was goofing on Archie (which is easy) or the Predator (which is deserved). What makes it work is that Archie, as a comic book and as a cast of characters, are as rock solid as anything Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or anyone else is putting out.

This book.
There's a reason people are still out there writing Seinfeld scripts. It's because when you end up with a strong cast of characters, you can basically set them in any situation and an interesting story will unfold. As unfamiliar as I am with the bulk of the Archie universe, it's clear to me that this is the case with these characters. As silly as the premise might be, the characters hold up, and as an audience we're willing to go along with it, because we care about these people and we want to see where the artist and the writer go with it.

This also made me realize what so many of the Aliens and Predator comic books are missing, which is something to latch onto. It's not enough to just throw a monster at the audience. You have to have stakes and you have to give the audience something to hold the entire endeavor together. Predator or not, what makes this book work is the Riverdale gang.

Lastly, the book has no qualms about brutally murdering its beloved cast of characters. Jughead, Sabrina, that one jock guy, the black chick, the gay dude. All of them. Dead. Wasted. It's not a spoiler. It's just awesome. As you move through Archie Vs. Predator, you start to wonder how they got away with this and by the time you finish it, you're left wondering how they did it. We don't deserve a book as good as Archie Vs. Predator. I know I don't. And the Predator certainly doesn't. . .
I'm telling you!

ELLEN RIPLEY PRIZE FOR DISTINGUISHED MONSTER: I'd say what it was, but it's literally the final sting in the story. It's. . . Man. It's really good. It's the last panel and it is so worth it.

It should come as no surprise that Archie Vs. Predator receives the ever elusive FIVE OUT OF FIVE FACEHUGGERS.

So, good for Alex di Campi, Fernando Ruiz, and Rich Koslowski. You people done did it. Ya nailed it. Now run. Run as far and as fast as you can from this franchise. Hide. It will never be as good as what you did here. SAVE YOURSELF.

NEXT TIME ON JAMES AND LIFE AND DEATH:

Currently there are two series out, each under the "Life and Death" banner. This time around Dark Horse wisely decided to keep the books unconnected (so far, anyways). And, so far, the results have been fairly successful. For the first time in a while, my excitement for these books persists after I've read them.

The two books are Predator: Life and Death by Dan Abnett, Brian Albert Thies, and Rain Beredo. Three issues of it have been released so far. The final issue is due out June 1st. I'll have a review of the first three issues out soon.

The next book is Aliens: Defiance (which, in my mind makes it Aliens: Defiance: Life and Death) by Brian Wood, Tristan Jones, and Dan Jackson. Only one issue has been released so far (as well as a short story available in Dark Horse's release for Free Comic Book Day). I'll have a review of that up soon, as well, but I'll leave you with this: The first issue blew my doors off in a way that I didn't think a licensed book still could. Check it out. I'll meet you back here in a week or two.

2016 might actually be a good year for xenomorph nerds like me. We don't deserve it, but hey, stick around long enough, anything can happen, right?


James Kislingbury is a writer and a podcaster. You can buy the book he worked on with his dad here. You can donate to his podcasting endeavors here. You can contact him at penguin dot incarnate at the gmail dot com. And, yes, he is aware that his email address sucks. I'm also willing to forgive Corrina Bechko if she pens a really good Aliens on the Planet of the Apes story.

08 March, 2016

EL ABRAZO DE LA SERPIENTE

A Review of Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
by James Kislingbury

At this point Aguirre: The Wrath of God is probably hard baked into my soul. Like a lot of movies that I watched at a certain time and like a lot of other movies that I watched when I thought I was writing real important screenplays, it's always there.So, any time you say that there's a foreign language film about Amazonian madness, I'm there. It's that memory that pointed me towards Embrace of the Serpent. That and the knowledge that I hadn't seen a real art house movie in the theaters since. . . God only knows. I needed to see something weird. I needed to see something that reminded me of how I felt about Aguirre, even if it was superficial reasons.

As far as metaphysically harrowing and art house films go, Embrace of the Serpent is exactly what I needed.

Embrace of the Serpent doesn't feel like a lot of films that I've ever seen. Or, well, any really. And I've seen some weird crap in my time. First of all, it's a film shot in 2015 that's in black and white. Typically that comes off as an art house pretension or a statement of some sort. Here is feels integral to the story. This world simply is black and white, and, of course, since it's a movie that deals with dreams, psychosis, and the metaphysical, shooting it in black and white leads naturally to a certain kind of punch line.

Beyond how it looks, its cadence is odd. Its structure, while split like a lot of Western film, it doesn't feel a though its splitting up these stories according to traditional editing rules. It splits its time between a story in 1909 and sometime in the 1940s,with each story sharing setting and the shaman Karamakate. Instead of moving back and forth at a rapid pace, its a film that is willing to let long strings of scenes play out their course until we are brought back to the past (or forward into the future. . . which is also the past) and the cycle begins again.

I dare say, it feels like a South American film. Whatever that might mean. It reminds me of taking my Latin film class in college. Or at least it reminds me of what I remember of that class. Of how I was told that not everyone tells films like Hollywood wants them to be told.

Most of the film is from the perspective of South America's indigenous people. While I'm no expert on that subject (nor do I have the energy to pretend to be), it's interesting to see a movie that emphasizes the South Americans over the Spanish or the Portugese or any other European.That means something. That alone might be why it feels so unusual to me. Yeah, there are two white people and, yeah, they are our ticket into this world, but they're, well, assholes. They're interlopers from the outset and the only concrete takeaway from this movie is that white people, when given the opportunity, will always make things worse. It's a movie about a people that need to be educated and, for once, that group of people isn't the natives.

I don't know. Sorry. It's a movie that seems unadorned in any meaningful way. It isn't precious or showy and yet there is clearly something deeper beneath this film. It's trying to tell a story that reflects its geography and its own history rather than the history of film or the history of, well, Western colonialism. In that way my comparison (and anyone's comparison) with Aguirre is idiotic. It isn't a movie that uses the Amazon as a setting, it's a movie that is about the Amazon by people from South America.

Or maybe, without overextending myself, it feels like a film by Ciro Guerra.


At a length of 125 minutes, Embrace of the Serpent certainly takes its time. I can't say that I wasn't wondering when it was coming to and end. I suppose part of that is down to the fact that it didn't seem to be leading to any sort of traditional climax. It was about a mystic teaching two sick men how to see the world, which isn't exactly your normal heroes journey. That's part of the appeal of the film, though. It takes its time and, while you might be confused or antsy, the film doesn't ever seem to lose its way. In those moments, it still manages to be fascinating. It still manages to fill those still moments with meaning and dread.

It sometimes feels good to break away from traditionally structured films. As much fun as Deadpool might be or as well made as The Witch is supposed to be or as reliable as the Coen Brothers might be with Hail, Caesar, movies like The Embrace of the Serpent have their place, as well. It isn't so much odd as it is unique. It's a film that has a specific purpose and perspective. It's the kind of film that makes people fall in love with film. It's an affecting, insane journey that's better than any other "psychadelic" film that I've seen in a long time. It's beautiful, terrifying, well thought out, and has a half hour jag into an insane Amazonian cargo cult. What the hell else do you show up to movies for?

James Kislingbury is a writer. He has a movie podcast called A Quality Interruption. He worked on a saloon book with his dad called American Saloons, Bars, and Cigar Stores.

11 January, 2016

Ashes to Ashes

The concept of David Bowie dying, at its core, is total bullshit. It's literally incomprehensible to me.

I discovered David Bowie late in my life. I don't think I ever listened to him beyond the rare bits of "Rebel Rebel" that came on the radio. For a long time, he was one of these artists I had heard about that faded into the white noise that was the American classic rock catalog. Bowie was something dinosaurs and weirdos talked about. Now Zeppelin, there was a band. . .

That was wrong of me.

The Venture Bros. changed that. Wes Anderson helped, too.

Actually, now that I think about it, Zoolander might have been the first time I ever consciously thought "Oh, that's David Bowie."


Looking at how packed my iPod is, how many albums I've bought, how many references I've made in my writings, or the things I've been inspired by, it's hard for me to think that there was a world where David Bowie wasn't in my life. And now there is.

Calling the man a talent or an icon or whatever seems to sell short what he did. It packages up too neat for me, and besides, there are plenty of smarter people out there doing a better job of that than me. I just look at the man and his work, flaws and all, and I have to marvel at them. After all, how many world heroes are there running around that successfully went through a phase as a Nazi?

That's the power of Bowie. At least it is to me. 

As an artist, as a kook, as a fascist, as an actor, as a collection of all of these things. While he might be dead, David Bowie will stay with us. As we all mourn the man that was, we can mourn him together. We can remember the moments he enlightened, the parts where he inspired us. It's a cliche, but you don't know what you have until its gone and there was so very much David Bowie left for us. People like this don't come around very often and as terrible as it is for somebody, even somebody that we have never met, to leave us, they never truly go away. There's a piece of them inside of us that can't ever go away, that death can't ever take from us.

They have left us with so very much.

And without being glib, without being cute-- Let's end this on a high note. Glum is not what Bowie brought to the table.



06 January, 2016

Alright Ramblers, Let's Get Rambling

THE HATEFUL EIGHT REVIEW
By James Kislingbury

I've put a lot of calories into telling people why most of Tarantino's movies are garbage. Kill Bill 1 is fun, but too long and too closely resembles a feature length music video. Kill Bill 2 is too long and no fun. Death Proof watches like a practical joke. And Inglorious Misspellings* watches like the deleted scenes of a film that never got made. While his first three films are classics for varying reasons, after ten years of watching an artist wander in the wilderness, I realized that I couldn't follow him any more. I was going to go watch movies that had stories.

Then Django Unchained came out. It felt like a maturing of Tarantino's fixations. While all of the quirks that he usually overindulged were still there, he managed to wrap them all up in a film that was full of characters and had a compelling story. It had a drive and a direction that, after the box office failure of Jackie Brown, he seemed to resent. Yet, as much as I loved that movie, I also realized that this was something he could easily backslide from. He followed up Jackie Brown with Kill Bill. The same might be true of moving from Django Unchained to The Hateful Eight.

It is with no little energy (and no little relief) that enjoyed The Hateful Eight quite a bit.

Well, maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word. I enjoyed Mistress America. The Hateful Eight, I endured. It's a movie that almost demands that you loath it. It indulges in all of QT's worst fixation (short of women's feet), yet, in the end, it's a film that comes together as a satisfactory whole. It is not a movie without faults and it is certainly one that I wouldn't begrudge anybody for loathing, but, damnit, I liked it. I really, really liked it.

That makes me a bad person, doesn't it?

First and foremost, as with all of Tarantino's post-Jackie Brown movies, it is too damn long**. Like Bruce Dern's old timer, it's even satisfied to go nowhere. The first 90 minutes of the film are jam packed with long stretches of nothing. Here's a scene of expostion. Here's a long take of people hammering spikes into the ice that will not come back at all. Here's another scene of folks jawing on about a whole lot of nothing (that will also not come back in any way, shape, or form). Beneath the grizzled visage of The Hateful Eight, is the sharp face of a Agatha Christie chamber piece, yet it insists on indulging in its

The worst example of this is how we have to watch a board get nailed into a door frame at least five different times. We watch it. Every. Single. Time. We get it, QT, it's kind of funny. The first time. Now you're just fucking with us. Go back to filming women's feet if this is how you're going to be. This movies doesn't so much need an editor as it needs a pathfinder. A large, ugly man with a machete. Possibly Machete. QT can probably get him for a song.

The other problem with the structure of the film is that its story is bound together with the same gossamer threads as a good Three's Company episode. It's premise makes little sense and as the film carries on, its plot thickens, and its stakes get raised, it make less and less sense. The story requires that Daisy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the bounty which the entire film revolves around stay alive, but. . . Why? The Hangman (Kurt Russell) isn't a particularly upright man. So why is she still alive? This is stretched even thinner when we realized that almost everyone has a vested interest in her dropping dead. Yet, she doesn't.

Why? Because the sitcom requires it. This conceit is a cause for monologues and ultraviolence. The worst of the film seems to act upon this urge. Don't think about the logic, don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain, look over here. We've got the guy from Justified doing a caricature of Barney Fife and that's pretty cool, right? RIGHT?

Unlike his worst films, though, it never tips over. It knows where it's going, even if it takes the long way around. Through some switchbacks. And then backtracks. Then takes a nap. Then decides it would just be easier to go the easy way after all. No, not that easy way. Come here, I'll show you. It's not like you didn't clear your schedule for the next three hours.

I mean, how many goddamn times do I have to see somebody put a hammer to a nail? They don't even hit their thumb! Not once!

The Hateful Eight is also loathsome in that it makes me find common cause with Spike Lee. I don't feel like that's ever a good sign. This time, though, I get it, Spike. You were right. Tarantino loves using the word “nigger***” too goddamn much. Motherfucker is in love with it. Straight up. The dude gets off on it. Dude wants to fill a hot tub full of it and lather himself up good with it. He loves making other people say it, too. He loves making other people say it to his friends. He has to. Otherwise, he's an idiot and he isn't that. Of all of the things our dear director might be, he's not dumb. That might make it work.

Me twenty minutes into the film.
Which makes me wonder: Does he actually know what this word means? Not that I get it. I'm a dumb white dude. But, man, I feel like Spike Lee has got to have a handle on this, right? Spoil sport, though he may be? Does Tarantino think he's making a point? Or does he want to shock us with it? You know, prove a point, man. Frankly, I could give a fuck. It's exhausting. What is more is that it is boring. It's your dumb punk rock friend in high school pushing another safety pin into his ear. Except that he's a grown man. And the safety pin is a racial slur. Real cool, Darryl. Now shut the fuck up and see if your brother can buy us beer.

The first n-bomb drops about ten minutes into the film and never lets up. Ultraviolence, “bitch,” and some really good sexual assault occurs between the opening and closing credits, yet the n-word is there. Always. Ever present. Every scene. Oh, and the next one? It's got even more of them. And it's needless. It's there to prove a point that we already understand. It's there as a replacement for actual dialogue about America or about the cultural landscape in the post-Civil War climate. It's just the n-word. Again and again and again. It's not clever or cute or funny. It's a racial slur. It should mean something. Otherwise, it's an aesthetic adornment that comes at the cost of actual meaning. That's probably not something an artist should aim for. I don't know that being the Goodfellas of the n-word is a goal an artist should aspire to, either.

A friend of mine went to the reading of The Hateful Eight and when the first use of nigger occurred, Tarantino interrupted and pointed out that this was the first time it would occur in the story and that there would be 200-something more. The audience laughed at this. My friend looked around at this parliament of honkeys, their mouths agape in laughter, and had visions of the climax of Inglorious Bastards. At that exact moment, they'd be right to blow us up, he said.

It never lands on the ear the way it's supposed to and my annoyance of it only abated because, I think, I was numb to hearing it after the first two hours. Then again, maybe that's the point. Actually, like the drawn out nothingness that makes up the first half of the film, I'm fairly certain it's supposed to be alienating. Then again, maybe like a lot of QT's more clever points, maybe I don't give a fuck.

Flaws aside, The Hateful Eight's strengths do more than outweigh or outshine its manifold problems. The films problems are things the rest of the film treads upon and moves past. It says something about the quality of the rest of the film that I can ignore something as distastful as the needless use of racial epithets. Then again, maybe the joke is on me.

Somebody give this motherfucker a sequel.
No, not you, Eli. Never you.
I guess this is also helped along by the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is in prime form in this movie. His role as the bounty hunting Major Marquis Warren almost feels like an apology for making him the villain in Django Unchained. Warren is, to borrow a phrase, a bad motherfucker. He's cool. He's collected. He's got the best outfit. And, unlike everyone else in the movie, he actually seems interested in doing his job (which, when another character remembers that they also have a job to perform marks the point where I became fully invested in the film).

The best monologue in the film also belongs to Jackson. I won't spoilt the surprise, yet, as horrific as the story is, I can't help but laugh at it. I'm still laughing. I'm laughing because Samuel L. Jackson is laughing and who am I to disagree with him? He's a really good actor, as it turns out.

As it is with the best of Tarantino's movies, The Hateful Eight is a film about characters. It is about people in a premise, not a premise that requires people. The conceit of the film, thin though it may be, never overcomes the basic human drama that exists between these characters that Tarantino and his actors have crafted. As the film goes on, the story becomes less about being a mystery or a western or an exploitation movie and more about the dynamics of these characters. Their loyalties shift. Their needs shift. Their desires conflict. And then a lot of people die poorly. It's a hell of a lot of fun. Or, well, you know, "fun."

Tarantino's best movies, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, aren't about showing off (necessarily), but about people, characters, and place. His worst films and his most absurd overreaches have always been about being as loud and flamboyant as the Weinstein brothers will allow him to be. Some artists need a tether. I don't know that Tarantino has ever had one. Maybe that's the appeal. Who else is going to make a movie like this? Who else can piss off this many people and make this much money with a movie? That's fun. That's exciting. I just kind of wish I didn't have to imagine QT writing his screenplays with one hand because he was jerking off with the other.

Oh, also, Ennio Morricone does the score for this film. ENNIO FUCKING MORRICONE! He finally got him! Tarantino finally completed the loop!

There's a better, leaner, less needlessly dispicable film beneath the surface of The Hateful Eight. That movie would not be a Tarantino movie, though. For better or for worse, this is what we have. As obnoxious as the man may be either on screen or off (or in this case, in a voice over), he's making the films that he wants to make. Like George Lucas, plenty have tried making movies like him, but none have succeeded. It's nice for me to be on the side of the argument that actually had fun with the damn thing.

The Hateful Eight is a better movie than it has any right to be. It's a better movie than most movies have a right to be.

It's a fine movie to round out 2015's Oscar season-- That is if you really want to spend nine hours watching cowboys be the absolute worst to each other. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then The Hateful Eight is the movie for you.

James Kislingbury is a writer. Ostensibly. He also podcasts about movies. You can support his podcast here. But you won't. Also, buy his dad's book about old time saloons from here. Writing on his own blog means he can have whatever byline he wants. 


*There is no way I am looking up how to spell that film's title “correctly.”

**Yes, Death Proof included. Also, did you know that he went back and added scenes to the movie? If I recall correctly it was so it could be a contender at Canne. Ugh. As if QT couldn't be any more pretentious, the additional scenes were also black and white. Looking back on it, I think this was the exact moment that I realized that this director was just a man and, also, fuck this man.

***Sorry, but we're all adults and I'm not going to talk about it without saying it. I don't have a problem with hearing it and I don't have a problem with it in movies. Again, I'm a big boy. I take issue with how this film handles it. Me. The middle-class white dude in his 20's. You know. The arbiter of what is offensive or not. I mean, I did go to college. . .

27 December, 2015

11 World Dictators That Had Problems With The Force Awakens

11. Francois "Poppa Doc" Duvalier


10. Benito "Il Duce" Mussolini


9. Idi "BYOB" Amin

8. Muammar "Momar" Gaddafi

7. Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier

6. Joseph "Iron Joe" Stalin

5. Phillipe "Le Bristles Stache" Petain

4. Robert "Bobby" Mugabe

3. Kim "Il Communication" Il Sung

2. Pol Pot


1. Adolf "Hitler" Hitler

02 November, 2015

November Road Trip Spookaganza Part I: Pasadena to Cambria

When I told my old lady that I was going to take a road trip without a plan she looked at me like I should be in a home. But I don't know how else to do it. Whenever I went on trips with my mom and dad and when I went on trips alone with my dad especially, that's how it appeared. We drove as far as we needed to for that day, then we stopped and stayed at whatever place seemed right. Sometime you got bad ones (like the Blue Gum Motel, which I remember for being particularly crappy and for having the remake of Diabolique on the TV) and sometimes we ended up at the Grand Union. That is how we do.

That's more or less how I'm traveling. And, admittedly, I'm pretty darn bad at it.

There is a shape to it, at least. I'm taking two weeks off of my dead end job. I'm going to see the sights. I'm going to get drunk. I'm going to spend way to much goddamn money. Most importantly, I am going to write. It's been a year and two days since I started my novel. It might be wishful thinking, but it's about time I finished this son of a bitch. A roadtrip up the Pacific coast seemed like the thing to do.

This, by the way, is the most driving that I've ever done. On my last big roadtrip, I don't think I touched the wheel once. A few years before that I went on a trip up to San Francisco with my dad and I maybe drove once or twice. Here, though, it's ridiculous. It's all lower back pain and paying attention and hoping, god forbid, that you don't need help. And that's travelling, too.

I don't know how many years ago, but my dad and I went on a trip and the car broke down on the first day. I think it was somehere outside of Sulvang that something blew out on the car. We had to get towed by about two hundred miles to Pasadena. It was only eleven at night, but that seemed so late to me at the time, especially considering that I was crammed between my dad and a tow truck driver for what felt like a trillion hour.

There will be no such bullshit this time around.

So far it's been real nice. No real traffic. The only thing I could bitch about-- and I won't, because it's great-- is that it was raining.

The only stop I made was in Solvang because it has Split Pea Andersen's, an obligitory stop on a California road trip if there ever was one. I'll tell you, though, that place is a lot less grand in real life than it was in my memory. Not that it was bad, but there was a grandiosity to the place in my head that couldn't be matched by its acutality. The further I get into my real memory that harder it is for me to picture the fake place. But anyways. . .

I stopped for the night in Cambria, a cute little town off of the 101. I was treated with a double-rainbow as soon as I got into Cambria, which, I gotta say, it still pretty fucking impressive. I mean, I can't remember the time I saw a rainbow this strong.

I mean, rainbows are still pretty cool, right? (By the way, you can see it here.)

Also, I just realized that Cambria has nothing to do with pre-historic times, but with Wales. Which means, as I understand it, that the Pre-Cambrian and the Cambrian Era are just named that because some asshole found some cool rocks there once, which basically proves that white people are the worst (that is if you consider the Welsh to be white, which, if you're any sort of racist, you do not).

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, travel. That. It's cool. It's good to be out. Doing stuff. Wasting money. It's relaxing. Knowing that my shit-ass job won't be stepping on my neck for at least the next two weeks. That's. . . That's nice.
 
Now, if you'll excuse me, The Grand Dictator is on TMC right now, which means that I have obligations elsewhere.

OH AND BY THE WAY

My dad, "Waldo" to his friends and "Waldo" to his enemies has a book. It's about pre-Prohibition saloons, bars, and cigar stores. It might not be your thing, but I'm really just trying to work the SOE game right now. If you're into that sort of a thing, check it out. If not, still check it out. You can see it all here.

20 October, 2015

Design in Force

By all accounts The Force Awakens looks like it will be a good film. The new trailer seems to be one more exhibit proving that it will be a good film. Time will tell, yet, like most of the world, I am hopeful. The Force Awakens has every reason to be a good movie.

This, however, is a godawful.


What in God's holy name is that?  Star Wars: Laser Fuck? Are they at war with symmetry? With graphic design? Will this Star Wars finally complete the promise of the second Matrix movie by having a rave in every movies? Is the Galactic Empire centered around you not knowing exactly where to look? What the fuck is this shit?

Of course, it's a modern movie poster. This is what they look like now. You plop down enough money for a special effects franchise, you're going to get a poster full of people's heads looking mildly concerned.

Just go look up any of the Marvel movies that have come out in the past ever and tell me that I'm imagining it. I know one of you will and I'm here to say that you're a naysaying asshole.

THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME AND THEY ALL SUCK.

STOP IT ALREADY, WILL YA?

You know what had good posters?

This movie.





And this one.

And this one.




I bring it up, because it's an ongoing problem. Not so much a trend as the shape of our world. For whatever reason, at some point, movie posters have become terrible.

I also bring this up because I can't help it. I just care too much.

This has been spoke of by smarter people with a deeper understanding of graphic design and art history (and don't forget this link, either). But if someone as dumb and poorly educated as myself can see this, I don't see why somebody with 300 million dollars in their pocket can't. Or maybe they can and they just don't give a shit. I mean, it makes sense.

There are plenty of bad movies with good posters and there's plenty of good movies with bad posters. The Force Awakens will probably fall in the latter camp, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth talking about, if only for a few minutes. The art our culture produces is a direct result of who we are. If we're producing bad art, it's because we like bad art. If bad art, is ugly art, hell, if racist or sexist art sells, then that is a direct reflection of where we are. A bad poster or a series of bad posters isn't as bad as, oh say, the career of DW Griffith, but it still means something. It all means something. It's art. That's what it's supposed to do.

I'm not sure what the solution is. It isn't as though I'm going to "punish" Disney by not seeing their new Star Wars movie. I know you aren't, either. But as a culture, we should be better about what we look at and what we consume. Maybe it's a stretch, but I think that we can have an appreciation of the finer points of art and still enjoy laser fights. The Force Awakens will easily make a billion dollars. We know that. Most of this country is going to see this movie in one form or another. If we're going to see this movie, then why can't we also have a better understanding of aesthetics, of art history, and the knowledge that a bunch of floating heads over a bunch of colors is bad design? It's not like we have to choose.

Also, am I really expected to believe that Drew Struzan was so booked that he couldn't crank one out for us?

Oh.

16 October, 2015

Mark Watney of Mars

A Review of The Martian (2015)
by James Kislingbury
The past decade or so of Ridley Scott's career has not been the greatest. Since the early 2000's successes of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, his output has been one long run of questionable films that range from the half-baked, the butchered, the confusing, and the downright awful. During this period, his technical skills only seemed to remind us that he once seemed capable of making good films. And then we remembered that his last unqualified good film came out around ten years ago.

The Martian, thankfully, defies this trend. It's the best movie Ridley Scott has turned out in a decade.  It's fun, it's light, and despite lacking the depth of his best works, it's an eminently watchable film. Considering the amount of calories I've wasted defending Kingdom of Heaven and Prometheus, this is exciting for me.

The Martian is about Dr. Mark Watney, hunk and space botanist, who is stranded on the red planet after a freak storm. From there, it's a series of duct-tape drama, self-surgery, and, back on Earth, an oddly gripping story that revolves around resource allocations (that and conversations about how people should just, like, try harder). It's more Robinson Crusoe than it is Enemy Mine, more Apollo 13 than it is, uh, Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

It's tackles the science fiction genre in a way that I don't think I've ever seen. Namely, it's a movie that is about actual science. Films in this niche have always dabbled with this sort of thing. Interstellar jumps most immediately to mind and 2001: A Space Odyssey jumps most unfairly to mind (as though anything should ever be compared to a Kubrick movie, for good or for bad). Those films only use the science a starting point for the drama. With The Martian, the science is the drama. It is the end all, be all of the film. It's a film without a villain, where doing long division is more important than bravery.

For the most part it works. Seeing a guy, step-by-step figure out how not to die is pretty intriguing. You know, that's cool. The problem comes from the fact that there's no real emotion in the film. It's a long line of problems that need to be solved and smart people doing bloodless math in their heads about how it gets solved. I mentioned it in my podcast, but later on, I thought of United 93 and the thrills Paul Greengrass manages to eek out of bureaucratic procedure and couldn't help but realize that I've seen it done better than it was in The Martian.

The Martian is a perfect title, because nobody in the film ever seems to act like a human being. People assemble into rooms, assess a problem, and then all go to their respective corners like no collection of human beings in charge of multi-billion dollar programs would ever do. It's a movie where Jessica Chastain is stoic. I don't know about you, but stoic is not why I show up to a Jessica Chastain picture.

The film seems more interested in maintaining momentum than it does in creating individual moments where characters can be confused or upset or indecisive. Human beings don't fit into alegebra, so the film moves right past them.

As lacking as the film is in emotion or any sort of attachment, it does have its moments here and there. You have Donald Glover taking the set of skills he honed in Community to be the most obvious quirky scientist this side of The Big Bang Theory (which, like JPL, is also in Pasadena). Then there's you have Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels dueling in a series of industrial offices over who can appear the most affably schlubby without tipping over into "I have a puppy in my van" territory. Most importantly, you have a montage set to David Bowie's "Starman," which is important if only because it is only the third most obvious David Bowie song about space and someone deserves credit for that coup. Then, after these moments, the story kind of slides back to its steady, unwavering tale about a dude trying to figure out how he can, oh boy, "science the shit" out of his space car.


Beyond the drama and beyond its technical achievements, The Martian deserves viewing, because it speaks to the importance of space exploration. Between the various disasters that have plagued our space program and the various earthbound horrors we've witnessed over the past decade or so, we've lost our ability to stare at the stars and wonder what could be. We've forgotten what they mean. The Martian steadfastly ignores this sort of cynicism. Like its drama, there's no place for it. Space travel is an incredible achievement. It is something that represents the best of our race. In this film it isn't some asshole's talking point about how we should spend that money feeding people in America instead of sending people to space (as though we have to choose). Going to space is, in a very real way, the best we can do as a species. If this film can put us right on the importance of space exploration, to get us wondering about what could be, then The Martian will have done its job.

Imperfect as it may be, The Martian is one of the smartest blockbusters to come out since, well, Interstellar. It is a film that, despite its failings, manages to strike a balance between hard science fiction and populist entertainment. It's, you know, pretty cool for the most part. As many better films of this sub-genre as there are, there are few that are as well produced as this one and even fewer that are as technically accomplished. The Martian is a respectable, enjoyable film that is also about as overflowing with human feelings as the planet it depicts.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and an Explorion. 

04 October, 2015

Zero Narc Thirty

A Review of Sicario (2015)
by James Kislingbury

I've been burnt by films like this before.
The Counselor leaps most readily to mind. It had a perfect cast, a great director, a screenplay from the English language's greatest living writer, and it was a disaster. Top to bottom blegh. A front to back conveyor belt of vomit and fish heads that is was so perfectly constructed, you almost have to wonder if Ridley Scott was entering into some kind of a Fat Tuesday-like purge of his baser artistic instincts. More recently True Detective Season 2 pops to mind, but the less energy spent on that thing the better.

I say this because expectations can be a terrible thing, especially when your expectations are not only not met, but pulled forcibly from your arms and thrown into a well. Even when a film is good, your expectations can often sabotage your appreciation of that film. "Well, it could have been better," you say, walking through the parking lot, glumly talking to no one.

Sicario defies this tradition. It's a fantastic film, one of the best I've seen this year. It is a film that not only meets my impossible to define, solipsistic expectations, but it, more importantly, it is a film that is as good, if not better, than the collection of talent behind it. The end result is a film that is as horrifying and compelling as anything you will see in 2015.

A shorthand description of Sicario would pit it as Zero Dark Thirty* meets The Counselor (but if The Counselor was good). It's a nihilistic procedural that collides with reality. In this case we follow FBI door kicker Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) as she is recruited into the War on Drugs. The film also stars Josh Brolin as a suspiciously laconic OGA spook and Benicio del Toro, who seems to have channeled all of his typical scenery chewing into being as imposing as possible. Along with Macer's partner played by Daniel Kaluuya**, the team charges headlong into the underworld of Mexican (and American) crime.

As you can imagine, things go poorly for everyone.

This is a movie that begins with the discovery of over forty bodies packed into the drywall of a cartel-owned house. It doesn't let up from there on out. Sicario is a film that manages to use this setting without exploiting it for shock value. The desecrated bodies that hang from Ciudad Juarez's freeways are not titillation, they're facts of life.

Few movies embraces Werner Herzog's concept that "The poet must not avert his eyes" as well as this one does. To show what the current war on drugs looks like is sure to turn off many and hopefully piss off a lot of other people, but it's a vision that works. The story requires its characters to walk through this underworld and, like us, they walk out changed. And maybe not for the better.

One of the reasons Sicario stands out as a film about drugs is that unlike Savages or Scarface, it's a movie that nails the double-think of the War on Drugs. In order to beat brutes, we must become brutes. In order to stop crime, we have to let it carry on. In order to bring things to light we have to hide them. It's a film with all of the glamor and sheen of a head on collision. And each collision is couched inside of a thrilling, perfectly put together action sequence. You can have your nihilism and eat it too.

It reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty, not because of the driven female lead or the deadly bearded men running around in military kit. Both are films that steadfastly refuse to give you an answer. It simply shows you. These are the facts. Here is what a human being suffocated and stuffed into a wall looks like. This is what your government is willing to do for the sake of. . . justice? This is what happens to a man who has lost everything. No judgment, no music cues, no twists just the facts. It isn't a film that is looking to meet you half-way, which is why I like it so much.

Another bit of grounding in the film is Emily Blunt's performance. I would say she was a revelation if it wasn't already clear that she's one of the coolest actors in the business. She's the female Tom Hardy, which is to say that Tom Hardy is the male Emily Blunt and that I would watch them both in any movie that they appear in. Also they should both be James Bond***.

If you haven't seen her in Live. Die. Repeat, All You Need is Kill, The Edge of Tomorrow, you should. It's the best video game movie ever made and she's the best thing about it. Sicario is a very different kind of a film, but she carries it in the same way that Tom Cruise carries The Edge of Tomorrow. She has charisma. As bad as things get in this movie, as abused as she may be, you want to hang out with her while she is going through this. As much as she carries you through this film, she also carries the burden of the story in a way that is somehow mundane to the core, yet heroic in a way that all lost causes are.

Drugs are all around us and as a culture, as a species, we still don't seem any closer with grappling it today than when we did, well, ever. Beyond being entertaining, Sicario is a way to digest this complex subject in some way. That's what great art does. It leaves us with something more interesting than answers.

Twenty minutes into Sicario, we see Blunt's Kate Macer washing the results of a particularly brutal SWAT raid on a house. That is a thesis statement of the entire film. It's what you'll want walking out of the film or maybe you'll agree with Kate later in the film “I need a drink.”

Amen to that.

Sicario isn't exactly a fun movie. It's packed with tension, it's thrilling in places, and even manages a few laughs, but it isn't fun. It doesn't provide answers or edification. It points its lens at the Abyss for two hours and let's the camera roll. Sicario deserves to be seen, not because it's an uncompromising look into the War on Drugs, but because it manages to be, on the one hand, suffocating and heartless, and on the other, completely and utterly gripping. It's a film that needs to be seen. No, it's more than that. Sicario a film that needs to be witnessed.

FOOTNOTES

* Coincidentally, Kathryn Bigelow produced a documentary about the border and vigilantism called Carteland this year. Obviously something is in the air and it's not just Don Winslow, who I imagine burns his typewriters after every novel to "free the demon.

** Oh, he's British? Of course he's fucking British.

***And also Idris Elba. Rotating Bonds. Can you dig it?

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and DAREs to be drug free. You can check out his podcast A Quality Interruption here. You can support his creative endeavors on Pateron here. You can follow him on Twitter here. There are no wrong answers here.