19 December, 2013

You know you're going to get burnt hanging out with a guy named "Digger"

Over the past few months, George V. Higgins has become something of a hero of mine. His books, like Donald "Richard "Insert Game of Thrones Joke Here" Stark" Westlake*, have a the apperance of being fascile. They seem to write books that just happen. They aren't labored over and they aren't pulled out of the author by pliers. They unfold, naturally, invisibly, and, more importantly, as worthy and interesting works of art. For a guy that wants to get paid to write that is a very appealing concept.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a perfect crime book and while The Digger's Game is a fine book, it doesn't quite reach the heights of Higgins' premiere novel. But maybe that's just because I can imagine Robert Mitchum delivering dialogue in the case of Eddie Coyle. Nobody can compete with that kind of talent.

Part of me suspects that it was written before The Friends of Eddie Coyle  and only came to be published after Higgins' initial success. As I understand this Higgins' career, that's entirely possible. It's also encouraging. The Digger's Game doesn't move as blithely as Higgins' first (published) novel, but it does share a lot of its positive qualities. There is enough shared blood to make Higgins' sophomore novel worth reading.

The first half of the book drags through the titular Digger's problems with, well, everyone, and his bookie's own set of problems. That goes on for a while. There's no real shape to it and its shapelessness doesn't have the same appealing qualities that The Friends of Eddie Coyle or the film Killing Them Softly has. When the novel kicks into high gear and we do get the crusty, complicated bits that made Eddie Coyle so much fun. The world of the entry-level criminal in Boston is an interesting one and The Digger's Game is best when it gets into all that.

After all, who doesn't like a couple of fat drunks talking about stealing fur coats in a dingy bar? Isn't that what we show up to this sort of thing for? Higgins' skill with dialogue is on full display in every scene and it's best when the dialogue is in service of the story at hand. . . or in service of everything else but the story, as many of his characters seem to be worrying about everything but the main story.

In one scene the Digger is more interested in commenting on a baseball game on the TV than he is with negotiating with his loan shark. It's a great detail and even without the rest of the scene, we know exactly where these two characters stand. It's the type of detail I'd like to rip-off. It's the type of detail that shows that, beyond dialogue, Higgins is quite the writer.

In George Higgins' world, and I imagine in the real world, organized crime is more a game of scraping by and bullshitting than it is one of high living and elaborate gunfights. The men of his world live at ground level and they're struggling to stay there. It's closer to my world than The Godfather is. Most of the people I spend time with are at the bottom wrung and, like the Digger, the few people I do know that live on a plinth, I find to be confounding.

The Digger's Game is a book well worth reading and, despite the cover's insistance, it has never been made into a movie. Someone should get on that.Hey, Affleck. Either one of you. Get in on this one. It might get you another Oscar. Because people love this shit.

*Darwyn Cooke just released his adaptation of the Stark novel Slayground, which details Parker's life and death struggle against mobsters in an amusement park after dark. This exists and some people still read bullshit about 

Consider for a moment

Consider for a moment the last Planet of the Apes movie's trailer. Consider how terrible that thing was. Dr. Stoner finding "The Cure." An ape jumping at a helicopter for some reason. Amorphous Inception sounds. Then remember how great that movie was.

By my math this should be the greatest movie of all time.

25 November, 2013

Child of Gluck: A mediocre review of a mediocre movie

Remember this poster? Well, this is at least better than The Savages.

Cormac McCarthy stories are almost guaranteed to bum you out in some way. From main characters being brutally murdered to people losing their innocence, his stories don't tend to comfort. In his universe hope is something to be extinguished. This is no less true of The Counselor, crime film that has more in common with a Greek tragedy than it does with film noir. Of course, that's the shame of it. It isn't trashy enough for noir and it isn't finely tuned enough for tragedy.

I went into this with no little anticipation. McCarthy is my favorite author and Ridley Scott is high in the running for my favorite director (despite his recent run of middle of the road features). Toss in an excellent cast on top of that and you have every reason to believe that this is going to be one of the best movies of the year. How could it not? As it turns out this particular Cormac McCarthy story bummed me out in a new and terrible way.

Sorry. I was just sighing there. Give me a moment. Alright. Let's get to it.

"Congrats! We get paid for this no matter what our Fresh Rating is!"
It's a film of interesting parts and interesting people that is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Somehow throwing all of these people together does not add up in any positive way. We look at McCarthy's name and Fassbender's face and we're only reminded of how much this film lacks. This collection of talent only mockingly reminds us of what could have been.

As much as The Counselor is a reflection on Classical tragedies or maybe the Drug Wars or maybe even the human soul. Or maybe it's just a bunch of assholes hoping that if they talk long enough they'll get to the point. In Blood Meridian this works. In No Country For Old Men this works. And even in Blade Runner you get the sense that somebody, somewhere, either on screen or off has something of note to say.

The film makers don't seem to know what the film is about, so how is the audience supposed to know? In opaque thrillers like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we're given insight into a world that is completely unknowable to us, yet retains a dramatic spark because somebody in the play does. We're invited to discover what is happening along with the characters. In this case I don't even think the characters know what they had for breakfast. But they sure as hell want you to think that they know.

Maybe the problem isn't that the characters don't know what is going on. It's not their fault that they have no clue what is going on, it's the film makers. They want to make this work of high tragedy with all of the markings of trash pulp and, in the end, it doesn't end up satisfying either genre. Then again, looking at the talent, maybe they did know and they went ahead with it anyways. Now that's a scary thought. . .

All of these concerns aside, the problem real problem of the film is that The Counselor, if it is about anything, it is a movie about furniture.

With every new scene we are treated to a new set, impeccibly shot and designed and with every scene we're treated to another piece of the Herman-Miller collection. Or a French press. Or a computer. Or a cool bar. Or something that you're paying attention to instead of the story. And, oh hey, is that a motorcycle? Cool.

And that isn't a metaphor for the vacuousness of these people's lives. It isn't some sign of their misgotten gains. It isn't a plot point. It isn't mis en scene, for God's sake. It's the movie. It's a series of chairs and tables occasionally broken up by some fool whining endlessly about whatever new nonsense has kinked up their life. And then it goes on for two hours like that and then it ends and you realize that Cameron Diaz must have photos of somebody somewhere.

The movie's fixation with mid-century modern, while laudable is a sign of the film failing on just about every other level. Furniture shouldn't be something I am staring at. Characters should be something I am staring at. Unless I'm autistic and, in that case, that's just how my brain works. In this case I'm just bored. And a little bit angry.

Blade Runner is a movie that I can watch endlessly and, even having seen it probably twenty times, is a movie that still yields little details hiding in the background. It's the perfect example of a world that is fully realized, a world that feeds into the story as the story feeds into it. There isn't a hard line where the plot starts and the set begins, it is all a part of a piece and, like I said with Gravity, that is an incredible sight to see. When it works it is amazing. When it doesn't, it's Avatar.

Ridley Scott, at his best, can design these worlds and make them real in a way that George Lucas once knew how to do and Stanley Kubrick went insane attempting. Even in his less successful films (Kingdom of Heaven leaps to mind), he creates a world with real weight and texture.
A vision of a much better movie.

This isn't even Ridley Scott at his worst. I don't know what this is. It is polished mush. Not a turd, it isn't terrible. Despite how hilarious a scathing review can be, it isn't bad. It's worse than that. It's a shining, grey mess that the man who directed Black Hawk Down and Alien and Thelma and Louise should not be capable of creating.

After doing my time with The Counselor, I feel as though I've picked this movie clean of any hidden detail. And the details I've found are unremarkable in all aspects except for how unremarkable they are.

I have the Mark Kermode go-to line about a movie of this nature. That "There's a good 90 minute exploitation movie in there" and as much as I think there's truth in that line, I don't think there is in this case. There is something fundamentally wrong with this film and it cannot be solved by trimming it down. It was perhaps rotten at birth and should have been drowned at the earliest possibility. A lot of heartache and dollars could have been saved that way. Instead we have a fully grown monstrosity to deal with and we have to wonder to ourselves "How could this have gone so bad?"

The Counselor doesn't sadden me because it's awful or because of a widespread series of failures. It saddens me that the collective talents of Cormac McCarthy and Sir Ridley Scott and many others made a work of art that merits the phrase "It's alright."

Who saw that coming?


This was made for 25 million dollars? Alright. I am slightly more okay with this movie now. Slightly. Guardedly. Shamefully.

After walking out of this, I was left wanting a new, good McCarthy movie that I almost want to see Child of God. You hear that? Jesus Lord. The Counselor has wanted me to seek comfort in the arms of a necrophiliac tone poem adapted by a guy who could barely read a cue card at an awards show.

I'm still going to buy the screenplay. I have a collection to keep up. At the very least, it's always nice to have a cautionary tale that is concrete.

Maybe someone out there will pull a reverse No Country For Old Men and take an average movie and adapt it into a good book. SD Perry, you still working? I think we got a job for you.

I hate Salon, but this review is a delight.


I just had a comic printed! It's 40 page comic that features a new, 22-page story, along with a ten pager that came out last year in the Freshman Fifteen. It's cheap. It's easy. It's fun and it keep me from dialing that assisted suicide guy that I found on Tor for one more month. It's not on Graphically yet (the old one is), but, in the mean time, think about it, won't you?

I also do a podcast with my friend Cruz (and, formerly, my friend Joe). It's called White Guys, Square Glasses and it's a lot of fun. I think so, anyways. If you like laughter and ribaldry and dirtbags sounding off about movies and stuff, maybe give it a listen? Or at least subscribe to it on iTunes and never listen to it. Either way, we win.

15 November, 2013

Bottom of the World

When Bioshock Infinite came out there was quite a lot of talk. There was praise, there was debate, and there was also a lot of misplaced umbrage. It was a game worth considering, though, for many reasons. It was big, beautiful, and it was trying, if not succeeding, at a lot of very big, very weird ideas. Burial at Sea: Episode 1 will give birth to no such debate.

On the whole Burial at Sea is. . . alright. It's Rapture, it's vigors plasmids, it's Elizabeth and Booker on a new adventure (but not really), and Sandor Cohen shows up, and it isn't much else than that. By featuring these characters and featuring this world 2K has created a world that seems to say "Hey, here I am!" and not much else. Good for it. After the explanation of the title "Infinite" to go back to a city (albeit a well loved city) is anti-climatic to say the least.

While this incarnation of the Elizabeth/Booker/Comstock relationship has a particularly brutal origin, it fails to do anything with it (again: this only gets worse when you consider where our heroes were left at the end of Infinite). By the time the big twists of Episode 1 are are made, the game is over and you're left with a distinct sense of confusion. Why is Elizabeth here? Why is she kind of a bitch all of the sudden? Where are the twins in all this? Why is this so by the numbers?

It happened. It's over. The end. See you next time! (Because you know you are going to play the next episode and that's one of the more frustrating things about this DLC. They've got you and you know it.)

Though, the game isn't an abject failure. The combat is still enjoyable (and with samurai warriors, for some reason) and Rapture, as overplayed as it might be, is still a beautiful, amazing place. One side-quest even hints at the highs experienced in Infinite. In this quest, you're made to follow a man who, after designing the department store/prison that the action takes place in for Andrew Ryan, was then abandoned by his employer to the men he sought to condemn. It's the old Bioshock chestnut of "It wasn't supposed to be like this!" Yet, like Rapture's art deco designs and Big Daddies, it's an old tune that works. And it works in this case because that trope is played well all the way to its conclusion, which reminded me of one of the more tragic quests you would get in a Fallout game.

Of course, that mission comes to an end about half of the way through the main game, leaving you with three or four other storylines that don't seem to go anywhere (or do they? And do I care?).

Burial at Sea: Episode 1 fails to deliver either the highs or the lows that the game proper delivered when it first came out. It even fails to match the quality of Bioshock 2's much lauded DLC, Minerva's Den. As much as Minerva's Den played and looked like an expansion pack of a better game, it had a complete story that was worth seeing to the end. They tried to do something with this second-tier sequel and they succeeded. In this case, what we have is  an episode that doesn't work because it failed to reach for something bigger, weirder, bolder. It just aimed for the expected and it hit it. What were are given instead is something that is acceptable, pallatable. And I suppose that isn't the worst thing in the world.

(Also, what's the proper title for this DLC? Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 1?)

25 October, 2013

Shotgun Blast of White Trash

Killer Joe is not so much a crime film as it is a kaleidoscope of scum. And not your average scum, either. The kinds of scum that walk the earth of Killer Joe need to be scrubbed from the earth with chemical fire. If there was ever a film that would make you want to take a shower, this is the one.

A more snide director would look down on the target family of the film and a more exploitative one would look up to them, but Freidkin is far more intruiged by looking at them dead in the eyes. It isn't that he avoids judging them, it's that there'd be no point to it. It'd be like explainingthe meter of a sonnet to a pig eating a boot. Morality and judgement would be wasted on this family, and for that they are sort of likable. Sort of. In the same way dive bar vomit might have a kind of charm. We like them enough to see what horrid shit-pile they'll roll into next.

I was talking to a friend of mind and she said that after a certain point, she just stopped watching Kiler Joe. This strikes me as a sane response to this movie. For the rest of us, the ones who want to see humanity at its Biblical worst, this movie is the movie for you. Just, you know, make sure you have a luffa handy.

A scene that does not stick out in Killer Joe.
All of this is tied to together by Matthew McConaughey's titular character, a merciless man who seemed to have missed his calling as either a cult leader or a super-soldier made out of the husbands of 1970's porn actors. He's clean and competent and for that, he acts as a welcome respite from a universe that really needs a bath. Or a wetnap, at least.

Not to get off topic here, but it kind of reminds of The Great Gatsby. Yes, that The Great Gatsby. Now stick with me here.

To me Tom was always the least terrible of any of the character (which in the context of The Great Gatsby means that he least resembled a weapon's grade goat asshole). Sure he drank, cheated, had strong feelings about the dominance of the white race, and hit his wife, but at least we knew where he stood. There was something honest about him. Myrtle is run over he's the only one who seems to feel bad about it outside of how this dead body was going to eat into this mid-morning squash session. He's capable of love, while everyone else, from Nick to Daisy to Gatsby himself are self-obsessed, vapid bores who think that not having a soul can be made up for by having a really great head of hair.

This is what makes Killer Joe a kind of hero of the film. He's the most insidious and violent, yet he's the only one with any measure of honesty or competence. Everyone else is exactly who they appear to be (with one, notable exception). You sort of root for him, as much as you can root for a murderous, border-line sex criminal. That, if anything, indicates just what a morally bankrupt film that Friedkin and Letts have constructed.

As disgusting as this movie is, in the end, it manically and brutally wraps everything up with such suddenness that you feel as though someone was fucking with you the entire time, and instead of it being a moment of annoyance, there's this sense of pleasure that you've been fucked with by somebody who is really, really good at it. Killer Joe feels like what would happen if the Jackass guys were really into committing crime. I don't know that there are many other experiences like that in film.

As it turns out that's a good thing.

12 October, 2013

"In Space Life is Impossible"

"In Space Life is Impossible:" 

A review of Gravity.

From the first moments to the very last shot, Gravity doesn't let up for a single second.As I write this, my stomach is in knots, my heart rate has only gone down just now, and I think I almost tore my handkerchief in half. If my sweaty palms are any indication, Gravity is a very accomplished film. If you want a movie that feels like a 90 minute panic attack while hand-cuffed to a rollercoaster, this is the movie to see.

It's kind of hard to believe that Gravity is the only film Alfonso Cuaron has made since Children of Men. Considering how Children of Men combined a pulp adventure story with a Biblical allegory, while at the same time quietly redefining cinema, a gap of seven years isn't just conspicuous, it's depressing.We have an answer in Gravity. Apparently this is what he was saving it up for.

The anxiousness and thrills that Gravity delivers are entirely down to how impeccably well constructed it is. We saw how well he could wield a camera and construct a scene in Children of Men and with Gravity we see that same talent turned towards a film that is much more sparse, yet somehow bigger. Children of Men is a film about a particular kind of world, while Gravity is a film about the vastness of the universe and just how large a human being can feel.

It's a film that is so consummately constructed that not only does the 3D work, it actually adds to the tone of the film. The use of 3D gives the film a sense of dimension and space that a 2D film doesn't have, while at the same time only calling attention to the 3D for a greater effect. Maybe I'm saying this because I was so impressed with the movie that I didn't let the 3D get in the way, but I'll be damned if I didn't feel that it made the movie somehow bigger. If stereoscopy is a gimmick, then I can live with that gimmick if it means we get more movies like Gravity.

The 3D seems as cinematically important as Cinerama is to 2001: A Space Odyssey.* The Cinerama simply makes 2001 bigger. It doesn't change the film, yet it transforms it into a greater film. The same is true in Gravity's case. The sense of scale and space that this movie uses to tell a story isn't possible 2D. The greater triumph, though is, even if that isn't true, it feels like it's true.

I mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey, not because they're both movies about space (though, that helps), but because Alfonso Cuaron's cinematic eye is no less dynamic or exacting than Stanley Kubrick's was in his own epic. These are men who understand how to use the movie in its most basic, primitive sense. That is why both of these stories exist primarily without words. They can hold our attention without having to talk to us or tell us what is happening. While they each include simple, yet important character interactions, their triumph is the use of film's most primitive tools-- sound, colors, motion-- to tell us things that, in many cases, simple words cannot. This strong, directorial hand is why 2001 is still studied and debated today. This is why Gravity carries so much weight with so few words**.

Cuaron gives you an ending and a sense of awe that you can only earn after ninety minutes of fear and trembling. He doesn't ever need to tell you what you're supposed to feel. You simply know. You know, because that is what movies are supposed to do. As much fun as Gravity is, it also feels like arriving at some sort of fundamental truth. In that sense, it is the complete opposite of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It is in these grand strokes that the movie shows its brilliance. There is nothing complicated or difficult to understand, yet this is deceptive in a way that makes movies so great. For all of the craftsmanship that went into this movie, it all disguises itself in service of this story. It's a magic trick. You don't see the years of work that went into it, the failures leading up to it, or the simple slight of hand that makes it all possible.All you see is the trick and all you feel is a sense of wonder, the knowledge that you just saw something that is impossible.

All of this is in service of telling a story, one about a person's desire to live. It isn't about the physical facts of the matter, it is about emotional reality of these characters. What they feel is no less real than the laws of physics that this movie is so (seemingly) concerned about. It is as simple and as profound as all of that. In that sense, it is like 2001: A Space Odyssey, because they're both about the wordless wonder that a great movie provides. There is a symphonic, wordless well beneath all of this that I cannot quite put into words, nor would I want to if I could. But I think I love this movie.

I'm still shaking and maybe that isn't the most objective way to review a film. I don't really care, because this is how I feel about Gravity. For as much fun as I had watching the movie, what I know is true about this movie is what I felt walking home from the theater, wide eyed and rubbing my head with both hands amazed at what I just saw. That experience is something that I cannot write here. What I can write, in whatever meager way, is that this movie has made me feel in a way and with a strength that I have not felt in a long, long time. Movies are great. Being alive is great and all I want to do write now is to sit here a while. I want to sit here and take deep breaths and try to take in what I just saw.

I am going to sit here a long while.


My friends and I are working on a follow-up to our first comic book anthology. Naturally, that means we have a  Kickstarter going. Any little bit helps and, hey, if you're actually interested in the project, that's even better. I'm really looking forward to getting this thing out in the world, but, yes, we do need your help. 


 *Which is to say that you have not actually seen 2001: A Space Odyssey until you've seen it in Cinerama. It's like when you take off your sunglasses after wearing them for a long time and wondering if colors were always this bright).

**There, I fixed the worst sentence I've ever written! Happy now!?

07 October, 2013


Or why seeing this woman chopped up and eaten is the most fun I've had on TV in years.
There's just something about serial killers that gets me going. Unlike with a lot of things, I know that I'm not alone on this one, either. It's why we have The Killing, Dexter, The Following, and the Millennium Trilogy. It's why Seven is so well respected and copied or why we still make movies about the Zodiac Killer. . . Or why David Fincher has a career, really. Human beings are drawn to the morbid. With Hannibal we are shown the madness of serial killers without having to deal with its grotesque realities. It's gory fun from a distance.

Or, well, maybe not "fun" exactly. . .

Hannibal, as a show, strikes a particular nerve, one that is deep seated in our psyche. It combines our basic, human love of bizarre, incomprehensible violence with a basic, artistic skill. It is titillating without being exploitative and, whatever it is, at the end of the day it is a well shot, well written, and well acted work of art. There is madness, yet there is a method to it. These things combine into what I would like to call "good TV."

Despite the fact that Breaking Bad is  over, there's plenty of good TV out there. We have other FX and HBO shows and even Showtime have their own quality shows. Hannibal being good though, isn't what makes it exceptional. Neither is the gore. Or the half-nakedness. What makes it interesting is how it treats relationships in the midst of abject grotesqueness.

Episode 2: Living Diabetic Mushroom People.

Weird or unusual sexuality and gender identity has always been an integral part of Thomas Harris' mythology. Buffalo Bill was a hyper-cross-dresser, the Tooth Fairy was a  homophobe with mommy issues, and then there's the guy without a face in Hannibal who can't get off unless he's abusing somebody. Even Hannibal Lecter himself eventually became the lover of Clarice Starling (after a bit of brain-washing-cum-psychotherpay), which is a far weirder pairing than anything else on the Kinsey Scale.

I'll let you mull over that last development while I go out to get a glass of water.

Still there? Alright.

Psychosexuality is integral to Harris' work.These stories are about human extremes and if you look at many serial killers in reality, they have some very unsettleling corollaries.

Evil in his world still boils down to the baddies being some sort of crazed gay person. There isn't a straight male in the bunch. . . or any sort of female for that matter, now that I think about it. Harris' vision of sexuality and psychopathy is much richer and more complicated than the type of queer baddy that you get out of 1970's exploitation movies or, you know, some contemporary opinions of the community. Yet, at the end of the day, queer characters are ultimately still the people who need to be solved.
So damn pleased, aren't ya?
Hannibal, for better or for worse, moves around these problems, if not entirely beyond these problems. It's concern is not with sexuality or about how we see ourselves, but about the connections we have with one another.

The horror in Hannibal is about relationships. It is about relationships between fathers and daughters, between friends, between bosses and employees, between doctor and patient, and between men and women. It's about boiling human interactions to their most basic and then turning that into something extreme and upsetting. It's one thing to say that schzoid, gay crossdressing Nazis are weirdos, but the American atomic family? That's slightly more challenging. It is also something we can relate to without having to judge it. Watchng "Ceuf," I can see why NBC might have blanched at broadcasting it. There is something far more unsettling about people trying to love each other and failing than about somebody who just has a problem with tabloid journalists.

At the very least, we all understand that continuing to portray ax murderers as repressed homos with mommy issues is a played out trope. If that isn't good for society, it is good for the artform. Even though it doesn't feature any queer characters, as such, it doesn't feel the need to single them out as grotesques. Personally, I think that the Harvey Firestein school of thought which is that “Any exposure is good exposure.” If that's the test one applies to Hannibal, then it fails (though it does pass the Bechdal Test).

You'll never guess what the secret ingredient is! (It is people.)
Despite its heritage Hannibal pulls off the psychological procedural in a way that works and doesn't feel as though this is something that has done before. It's a great parlour trick and what's more is that however much it is a trick, it is one backed up with solid writing, carefully laid out camera work, and some excellent acting. It exists to show all of the other shows on TV, the ones indebted to Silence of the Lambs, how this sort of thing is done.

This program could have easily just been a re-hash of other programs in the past. It could have been a cash-in and it also could have leaned into the older, more troubling parts of this series' canon as a way to generate controversy or attention. Yet, despite the odds, somebody managed to make an intriguing program about one of the most parodied pop culture icons of all time. That's exciting. Hannibal isn't new, it just feels like it. Maybe that's because it's so well done.

Season 2 should be a real blast. Or, well, not a "blast" exactly. . .


(My friend Cruz and I did an episode of our podcast about the show. There might be some crossover between here and there. Give it a listen, won't you?)

(Some other friends and I are making a comic book anthology. If you can't give on our Kickstarter, tell a friend, or better yet, buy a copy of our previous anthology. Or even better yet give to our Kickstarter, tell a friend, and then a buy a copy. Everybody wins!)


A) Goooooooddamn is this show gory. How the fuck did anyone ever get away with this stuff? And on network TV!

B) Years and years ago I wrote a top ten list of serial killers. It is not as good as I remember it being.

C) Lance Henrikson appears in an episode as, you guessed it, a psychopath. Considering the story arc Will is going through, and considering that Henrikson played Frank Black, an FBI profiler on Millennium, this means that the series is smart enough to get post-modern without calling attention to it. Good for them.

26 September, 2013

I've been saying this shit for years!

(Author's Note: In preparation of a bit of writing on Hannibal, here's something about a show that I have previously ranted about. I don't think anyone listened that time either.)

People need to be watching Foyle's War!

Besides Foyle's War being a well made and well researched procedural set during WWII, it also very obviously draws from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Speaking of brassy gals from the second world war, Agent Carter of Captain America, from her design to her character, is also cribs from the same source material as Foyle's War. Considering that Agent Carter is going to have her own TV show, you should get caught up on these things if you want to remain ahead of the pop culture curve. I say this for your own sake, not for mine.

To summarize: I have an essay in the works. Furthermore, Foyle's War-- which you can watch on Netflix and Amazon Instant-- is quite good. I mean, its wigs aren't as good as Downton Abbey's wigs, but then again, whose are?

22 September, 2013

The War of All Against All: A review of Fury: My War Gone By

Editor's Note: Alright. I lied. My next piece wasn't going to be about how I liked Wonder Woman. That's coming. I swear. Also, having Breaking Bad on in the background as I edit is doing nothing for my grammar.

Josh Flanagan of iFanboy believes that Fury: My War Gone By is the best book Ennis is written since Preacher. I don't know if he's right. I do know that if he is wrong, he isn't far off the mark. However Fury lands in the pantheon of comic books, Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov's run on Marvel's Max inprint is one of the most original and well executed comics that I've seen in a long time. It is a book that is well worth arguing about.

My War Gone By is a book about a lot of things. It's an analysis of America's track record during the Cold War. It's a meditation on the kind of men that fight the wars we don't have to see. And, utlimately, it is a tract about Garth Ennis' own opinions about his adopted country's spotty history. Despite all of its seemingly highfalutin ideas, it is still, ultimately, a thrilling action book.

The first volume was a journey through the beginning of the Cold War through the eyes of four people-- the quiet American, Agent Hatherly, the All-American spitfire (name) Defazio, the corrpulent and corrupt Senator McCluskie, and, naturally, Colonel Nick Fury, a gladiator that was born in the wrong millenium.We see each of them course through the beginnings of the modern era, from Indochina in 1955 to the failure of the Bay of Pigs.

The second volume is that car crashing head first into a brick wall.

The world of Nick Fury is a cynical, mean one and it's only natural that it all culiminates in heartbreak for everyone. After all, it isn't as though the real world walked out the Cold War feeling better. It's a counter-point to the self-assured jingo of Black Ops, yet it also isn't so naive to believe that there aren't good people out there or that there aren't good people out there in the world. There are people worth fighting for. It's just that this book isn't about those people. They've got nothing to do with the kind of wars Nick Fury fights or the kind of mess that a certain segment of America has made for itself.

It'd be fun to fight against the worldview this book espouses, but Garth Ennis' dialogue would just grind you into dust for the effort. He's a man who knows his history and, as much as Nick Fury, he is a man who has opinions about it. At the very least, he is a man who can see these opinions and find a home for them, even if he doesn't quite believe them. While the shape of the world might not be as much of a horror show as the one Ennis describes, it certainly is the world that men like Nick Fury have made for themselves.

As much as this book is for war history nerds, it also does a far bit of fan service to the continuity Ennis created on his run on Punisher (or runs, really). He does so by featuring a young Frank Castle in Vietnam, hired to kill a Vietnamese general that featured in the last book. (Fresh from his days in The 'Nam, I presume).

Ennis' Punisher MAX run is an interesting one for a lot of reasons and I could go on about it for days. The one that is most relevant to My War Gone By is how he treats the Punisher as a supporting player. There are tons of bad Punisher stories. He's a hard guy to write. Ennis avoided that pitfall by taking a fundamentally uninteresting character and making him interesting in the same way that Ian Fleming made Bond interesting (an appropriate way to go about it considering that the best known incarnation of Nick Fury was a rip-off of 007).

Ian Flemming avoided Bond looking like the bore that he is by filling the world around him with interesting people and things. In this case, he takes the inverse route, by attaching the taciturn Frank to the philosophizing Fury.  Fury is accented not by the Punisher's lively personality, but by his stoicism. Frank, more or less, tempers Fury down to his most basic personality trait: Action.

This is most clear when the men go to work on the North Vietnamese Army. You see that they're not movie action heroes or buddy cops, they're men going to work. There we see the interact less like to men and more like pieces of some great murder machine. Fury and Castle respect each other, but they aren't getting beers together after a mission. They are not men who bro-out.They work together like two pieces of the same machine. They each know what the other needs and you can see that on the page.

He also includes one his more horrific villains, the Barracuda, a man with all of the sensitivity of a rabid pitbull. It's nice to see the Barracuda pop up again (along with at least one of his comrades from his eponymous mini-series). Though, these touches work because they add something to a story.As much as I would have liked to have seen him delve further into this world he set up, these characters appear because they add something to this world that Ennis has fashioned. Besides, if one could choose a face for a Latin American death squad, it would be the Barracuda's.

As great as Ennis' characters and storytelling are, these things come alive because of the work of Goran Parlov. The two have worked together previously the mini-series Barracuda and on several Punisher stories (most notably in Ennis' final two story arcs).

Parlov is a man who understands comic books as well as Ennis and it shows in the work they've done together.He has all of the exactness of a draftsmen along with the energy of a cartoonist.Yet these two styles never compete, never conflict with one another. It's the kind of invisible storytelling that I appreciate the most. It's a balance that shows the man's talent.

There's a line from Band of Brothers (in fact, it is the final line of the show), where Major Dick Winters replies to the question "Were you a hero?" and he replies, "No, but I served in the company of heroes."

My War Gone By is the dark corollary of that statement. Fury lives in a world where all of the heroes he knew are dead.It is a world where the men in the trenches never get to be something that noble.  What we're left with is the wreckage, the broken pieces left all over the world and the sense that we've got to put them back together. It's what he's left with. Life in this world is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. For his sins, Fury gets to live in it.

Fury: My War Gone By feels like the culimation of something Ennis has been trying to say for the past ten years. You see it in his work on Battlefields and on the edges of Punisher MAX. In this book Ennis' views on war and warriors and on the legacy of men like Colonel Nick Fury are on full display. They're vivisected and splayed out for you amusement.

Like Ennis' work on Battlefields and War Stories, Fury: My War Gone By has something to say about history, war, and the people who fight them. So does Nick Fury. It's much more than a fun action book, yet, at the same time, it doesn't believe that you should be lectured or that it knows better than you. Ennis and Fury know better than that.It has opinions, it has beliefs, it just doesn't know what the answer is. Is there a greater idea to put Band of Brothers in stark relief than that?

13 September, 2013

The review after this one is about how I liked Wonder Woman, I swear

I've read some bad sci-fi in my dad. I mean real bad. Horrid stuff. Stuff that probably took years off my life and can probably be blamed for not getting into a real college. This is not as bad as all that. It just isn't very good.

Leviathan Wakes is a fast-paced, straight forward book that sets up a recognizable future. It's unburdened with explaining technology or new religions or scientific breakthroughs or the million other mythological sticking points that these books like to fill their pages with. The solar system of Leviathan Wakes is normal to the point of being mundane. While it resists the urge to focus its attention on a space pirate or a grizzled special forces veteran, it doesn't include anything interesting to take its place. For a lack of a better term, this book is focused on people on the ground level. Normal people. It's just that these characters, at their core, are not very interesting. And neither is their grand adventure. And neither is their world. It would any of these aspects failed, the book would be a problematic read. That all of them have failed is much more troubling.

There just isn't much more than that.Towards the back third it picks up and gets weird, but the journey there is a bit of a slog, rife with uninteresting main characters and dialogue that fell out of the notes a high schooler doodled in his syllabus margins.

There might be plenty of science fiction that is worse than Leviathan Wakes. There is also a lot of stories much better than this one. Go read one of those.

But apparently I'm the crazy person for not liking this book. Oh well. I'm reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle now. So, the joke's on everyone else.

And now, the chaser:

If I bitch about things too much, it's out of the honest belief that they should be better. There was a time when I'd burn a lot of calories being worked up over this sort of thing. Time has gentled my condition. I wish that had happened sooner. I could have used those calories.

Science fiction is a grand, ol' genre and it isn't these rare exceptions or these odd bits of magic that prove that they can be wonderful. You know this. I know this. The American people know this. Edgar Wright should know this, but he's got a really good song that we need to hear, so maybe he'll show up later.

So, here's a brief list of science fiction things that are better worth your time than Leviathan Wakes:
Dune: Messiah.
This trailer for the 23rd re-edition of Dune.
The Santaroga Barrier.
Most random Twilight Zone episodes.
Blade Runner.
The Man in the High Castle.
East of West.
Looper. (A movie I didn't like, but everyone else did and, hey, at least it tried.)
Attack the Block (apparently. I haven't seen this. Someone kidnap me and make me watch it, okay?)
Bioshock Infinite.
District 9.
Star Trek no colon Into Darkness (you know, if you like your science fiction to be of the running and jumping variety).
Blade Runner.
Total Recall.
I don't know, a lot of things.

I don't hate things. I don't even hate Leviathan Wakes. I just wish that things that could be good, should be good. Right? We can all agree on that, at least.

30 August, 2013

Oh no.

No no no no no.

This bodes ill.

26 August, 2013

Back on the horse. . .

If there's anybody out there that reads this thing: I am sorry for not updating more. I'd like to say that it was a busy couple of weeks, but. . . that'd be a lie. I just got lazy. Sorry.

But I did see The World's End and. . . man, I cannot say that it is a very good movie.

I wish that was a good movie. I wish that it didn't remind me of how brilliant Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead are. I wish it didn't make me want to watch a good Twilight Zone episode. I almost even wish it was a bad movie, because then I could feel something besides disappointment.

I'm not even angry, because it isn't a though it's bad. It does have some pretty good jokes and even if it might not be the best directed movie in the world, it certainly has a lot of directing. It's also nice to see Eddie Marsan play something other than "goonish" or "menacing." Many people seemed to enjoy the hell out of it. I wish I was one of them. It'd be nice, because, man, what a bummer. It's a strange thing to say knowing I

Thinking about it now, I don't think I went into it with any real expectations. I know I like Edgar Wright and I certainly enjoy Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The ad blitz and fanboy orgy that preceded the release of Scott Pilgrim left a bad taste in my mouth. If anything the odds were in this movie's favor. Somehow this movie managed to nail my lowered expectations. It's a weird feeling to have.

Maybe not getting drunk and watching movies has taken some of the sport out of it. Or it could be that I'm just tired of watching movies about random sci-fi junk. Maybe I just suck now. Like, suck real hard. Suck in a bad way, you know? It can't be that simple, though.

I don't think it's either of those, but I do know that I'm a different guy than when I saw Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The difference with those movies and with this movie is that I didn't care what happened in The World's End. Shaun of the Dead sets up its stakes very well. You know these characters, you know this situation and, getting away from the bare minimum stuff, it has a spark and a life that I can't quite put to words. Hot Fuzz doesn't have the same impact, because the creative team is a known quantity at this point, but it still manages to craft a funny world where even if you don't buy into the antagonists, you do buy into the characters. The World's End doesn't have that. It isn't a very good buddy movie and it isn't a very good science fiction movie. There are some pretty good laughs tucked into the film, though. That helps. That helps quite a bit.

But, man, I don't know. I don't want to complain about this movie, because, again, it isn't terrible. There is nothing wholly objectionable in this film. Yet, having it sit with me, I can't help but feel that it is a movie that is merely okay. Knowing who made it and what went into it, isn't that so much worse than it being out and out terrible?

SIDE NOTE: I'm hoping this is one of those movies that I realize years later that I was wrong about. Probably not. But it's nice to be wrong some times, isn't it?

SIDE SIDE NOTE: And on another note, since we're all cool here, can we all just admit that "The World's End" is a bad title?

08 August, 2013

I told you! I don't want this!

I only want to live in a world of garbage!

Take your good looking movies and go! Just go! Off with ya!

04 August, 2013

"More fuck-up than shoot out" sound about right. . .

I rented Savages because I was really in the mood to see some good, old fashioned brutal violence. I wasn't looking for intellectual stimulaiton or anything that would risk stirring my emotions. I just wanted to see some cartels-- OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WITH JON TRAVOLTA'S HEAD

Savages is a movie that doesn't know what it is supposed to be. On the one hand it seems to want to position itself as a kind of light, poppy caper and on the other hand it wants to be a movie about doing business with professional decapitators. These are two completely different tones and in this case the film makers have failed to mix them together properly. It's not pulpy enough to be fun and it isn't serious enough to hit you where it hurts. This is made worse by the fact that the high school, drug culture jerk-off fantasy works about as well as the gritty level narco-drama.

Traffic this ain't.

This poster is by far and away the coolest thing about the movie.
If there's a line that universally measures the tone and pitch of a movie, on the one end it would have The Hudsucker Proxy and on the other hand there is No Country for Old Men. If Savages had to fall somewhere near No Country for Old Men. Then it would do a pump fake, make a run for Hudsucker, then trip right before it got to comedy, but then doubled-back, lost its nerve ten yards short of the goal line, and then have a seizure. At that point you wouldn't be able to figure out if this is serious and you should get help or if it's just part of the movie or if you should care at all.

Anyways, the point is that the Coen Brothers are very good at directing different kinds of movies and they're very good at mixing things together in a way that feels both new and, somehow, classic. They have a wide range of interests and skills and even when they stumble with a movie like Burn After Reading, at least it's interesting. At least they're swinging for the fences.  At least they have a clue what they're doing.

Other movies I should have watched instead include: Days of Heaven, The Sand Pebbles, and Lolita.
Then the movie references the ultimate version of this film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is a reference that only serves to remind you of a much better film.Envoke a superior film at ye peril. I mean, Prometheus does this, a movie with some profound problems, but it only illicits the memory of Lawrence of Arabia, a movie that is so completely different from Prometheus that it almost (almost) doesn't matter. Then again maybe Oliver Stone thinks that kids today don't know what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is and he thinks he's showing off. He seems to think that's the case with Iraq.

Butch Cassidy et al. is the exact sort of film that you shouldn't bring up in your film. Ever. Especially when what you're doing is a lesser version of the film you're quoting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the movie that Savages wishes it was. We all know and love that movie.  It's a movie with an incredible lightness of touch. With the exception of the bicycle scene, it never brings you out of the world it has set-up. It is one of the great pieces of cinema and even forty years later, it still feels and fresh and original as it ever did.

The problem is that Oliver Stone has the lightness of touch of a gorilla that has recently discovered needle drugs. He can't combine comedy and action or grit and froth. It's not what he does. Subtlety is not one of his strong suits. He's a director that goes loud and in one direction. For better or for worse that is what he does. Except that with Savages, the direction he has gone in is a grandpa trying to understand what Justin Bieber is and why she has a Twitter.

Besides Stone's disconnect with classic films, he doesn't seem to understand the modern world, either.
There's just something that uncompelling and sad about a famous leftist filmmaker trying to a movie about contemporary issues, especially when you consider the things he seems to be commenting on were old news five years ago. I mean, for fuck's sake, he's got a scene that involves Mexican gangsters watching The Hills.

Then the movie also throws in a rape for no reason and it has an ending that revolves around multiple suicides (that really isn't a spoiler). For those keeping track at home, rape and suicide are just about the laziest thing a writer can do to give a story weight. Then there's the fact that it is just plain leery.

If you want to write about rape and/or suicide, let me give you some advice: Don't. Please.

BEHOLD! The face of evil!
The most compelling thing about the movie is its view on evil. It doesn't exist as a preening Scarface-type. Instead, evil presents itself as either in a workman-like manner (as in Benecio Del Toro's character) or in the form of Salam Hayak's evil Anna Wintour. The movies view is that despite all of the drugs and the exoticism still bases its villains in a world that is incredibly mundane. They worry about their family and getting their job done and keeping their world together. They aren't out to hit the city with Joker gas or make a Bond villain speech in the war room. Sure it's a real world three or four steps removed from the realities of Mexico's current war on drugs, but it is one familiar to Americans.

It's odd, because Del Toro's character seems like he might exist somewhere on the planet Earth, which is something that cannot be said about anyone or anything else in this movie.

Then again, it goes out of its way to set our white boy drug dealers as real nice guys. They're positioned as a combination of Robin Hood and Bob Marley. Sure, they're drug dealers, but they're good guys, so it's okay to like them! I don't want to like them. What I want is to see a good movie. Do you ever think that Billy Wilder ever worried about whether somebody was going to like one of his charaters? Or John Huston? Or anyone who knows what they're doing? What a waste of energy. If they're worth liking, the audience will like them, they don't need to be told that they're good guys first. The same goes for the bad guys. That's what works the best in the movie: The bad things.

Over a thousand words and I didn't mention these fucking dreads once.

*Blake Lively is a great set of skin and hair and not much else.

*"No, waiter, I'm sorry, I ordered the Hollywood Movie Star, this is Taylor Kitsch. Please send it back."

*I really want to watch Way of the Gun right now. Wash the taste of this Savages out of my mouth. Also, that is another movie that quotes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that isn't completely overshadowed by it.

*The word isn't "IED," the word is "bomb." All bombs are improvised. We've been using that word for a long time and nobody ever got confused as to what a bomb was. We were doing just fine without a goofy acronym. Further more, what kind of a fucking Navy SEAL says "We'll set up a few IEDs?" No Navy SEAL, that's who. Actually, no human. Even terrorists or insurgents wouldn't use the phrase "IED" while planting an IED.

*Nobody seems to live in any of the houses in this movie. I have never seen 20-something stoner's love den that well kept. I've seen model houses that are bigger messes than the places in this movie.

*A coked up lawyer making sushi at home? Does Oliver Stone think it's still 1985? Does he have that thing Liz Lemon's brother has?

*"There's a reason it's called a highjacking." Fuck you.

*"I get orgasms, he gets wargasms." Fuck you.

*"Every business has an origin story." Fuck you. EVERYTHING has an origin story. That is a nothing statement.

*"Just because I'm telling you this story, that I'm alive at the end. Yeah. It's that kind of a story." Fuck you. What does that even mean? Alright. I'm calm. Now imagine an alternate world where William Holden was forced to say that and now feel bad for everything in the world.

*"My ex-wife used to call me 'Sushi.' Cold fish." Fuck y-- Oh, wait, wrong monologue.

*"Savages." Fuck you to Hell.

"If your definition of a friend. . . "

". . . Is someone who tells you that a trailer for a Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott movie has been released, then you have no friends."

What the fuck, guys? Why were you holding this from me?

02 August, 2013

Stop Trying to Get Me to Care about Movies, Movies!

Gaaaaah. I think I want to see this. Damnit. It's like a cluster of everything I want to see in a movie. It's like they know.

01 August, 2013

Sometimes I Do a Podcast

In twelve months, my partner Cruz and I have done twelve episodes of our podcast, White Guys, Square Glasses (which I started with Joe, who had to dip out because he decided to start a family or some gay bullshit like that). As crazy as it is to imagine that we made that change over a year ago, it's also crazy to imagine that we've been that lax about releasing our shows. It's shameful. Then again, being employed will do that, won't it?

Anyways: A new episode. This one is about how I went to jail. The subtext is that I'm a fucking asshole.

Listen, would you, please? Maybe subscribe to it? I don't know. Go live your life. I can't do it for you.

26 July, 2013


A review of Pacific Rim (2013)

Back in the day, around about 1940-something the term “blockbuster” was invented. As the Royal Air Force wasn't super concerned with film at the time, the word was attached to the biggest bombs they had. These things weighed at least two tons and, as you can imagine, were believed to be powerful enough to destroy an entire city block. Bad news for Jerry, but what a turn of phrase!

Pacific Rim is a blockbuster in the best way possible. It's a loud, monstrous thing that does exactly what it is intended to do and does exactly what we want it to. In a summer loaded with stillborn star vehicles and limp re-boots and a sequel that I guess only I liked, it's good to see that a blockbuster doesn't have to choose between being big and being good.

Pacific Rim works because it launches into its ideas with such sincerity that you never for a second pause to laugh at it or wonder about the feasibility of an intergalactic robot war. It isn't cynical or ironic in a way that you don't see in special effects movies very often any more. It doesn't apologize for being a movie about pretty people in giant robots duking it out with intergalactic monsters. You're worried about other things than how realistic this all is by the time the narrator finishes his first sentence.

It's Robot Jox* mashed up with Neon Genesis Evangelion through the lens a man who has clearly watched way too many WWII movies. In short, it's everything a twelve year old ever wanted to see in a movie It isn't what people think a 12 year old wants to see. It isn't what they are told that they want to see. It isn't what they end up seeing because nothing else looks good. This is the movie that every 12 year old ever wanted.

It's a film wrapped in a love and a care of a subject matter, but it also wants to make a good movie. It moves beyond tribute and pastiche and actually manages to become a movie that is fantastic on its own merits. It makes me want to go watch more movies, because it's a film that reminds you just how wonderful this medium can be. I think I should feel very silly saying this about a giant monster movie and yet I still feel like an idiot. I realize this is a problem with me. This clearly isn't a problem with Guillermo Del Toro, who seems to be about a confident of a hand behind the camera as there ever could be.

This is a movie that is as good as you remember Godzilla versus Biollante being.


Ugh. I just remembered that Jobs was one of the trailers before the movie. Jeezus does that looks like it's going to be a shit show.

The trailer contains the whole arc of the movie. The reveal of the iPad is meant to look like this epic, spellbinding moment, an event of human triumph over conformity expect that it's a multi-millionaire revealing a fucking gadget.

I blame The Social Network for this.

Not pictured: The dog's name.

On the very same flagship film program that Del Toro was interviewed in Simon Mayo mentioned that this film gave him the vibe of an old WWII flight movie and in a general sense it reminded him of the feeling the people of England had during the Blitz. Del Toro copped to as much. He said that he was obsessed with that era, but you don't need his quote on this, all you have to do is look at his filmography.

This idea is embedded in the very design of the movie.When describing the jaegars, he said that Cherno-Alpha was a walking T-Series tank. Now, that's like saying that he's a walking Sherman tank or a walking Spitfire or, I don't know, a walking M1 helmet. For those who don't know what any of that means, it means that Cherno Alpha is a kinetic icon. It's a walking monument.

The T-series tanks are one of the biggest factors leading to the USSR winning against the Nazis. While the German were busy having guys like Porsche mold and design their tanks, the Soviets were busy slapping together tanks in converted tractor factories. Besides the fact that the USSR had an unparalleled labor pool and a ruthless despot that was willing to smash them against whatever obstacle necessary, it was pieces of engineering like the T-34 that turned the tide against the Germans. Plus, a tank makes a much better icon than a commissar shooting deserters and their family because they fled the Hun.
The other big Soviet icon that stands out to me is the “Wall of Life” mentioned in the beginning of the film. This is a direct reference to the “Road of Life” that ran over Lake Ladoga during the Siege of Leningrad.

Truckers (and sailors and pilots) ran all day and night, braving thin ice and German defenses to relieve the besieged people of Leningrad during their nine-hundred days of Nazi encirclement.

In one scene, in our hero (I just realized that I don't know his name. You know the one, he was in Undeclared), has a wall of photos in his room. There is his brother and kaiju and whatever else that makes up his past but, my eye went to the one I know, the one I knew was the point of the scene: The Motherland Calls. The statue was built as a memorial to the defense of Stalingrad, one of the bloodiest, longest battles in history. It's an icon to the spirit of the USSR and to anyone else who had their back up against the wall because of an incredible evil.

These seemingly little touches are what makes the film greater than the sum of its parts. It's the little references like this that show that Del Toro knows what he's doing and that he has an affection for it, and that he doesn't need to cram it down your throat. It's all there on film, all you need to do is look for it. But you can also just look at the alien dinosaurs gets punched and that's cool too.

Oh, also it's probably named after a nuclear disaster and has a cooling tower for a head. So, you know, subtext.

Part of me has come to accept genre movies, to legitimately accept stupid, silly things. As much as I love “serious” movies, that doesn't mean that I have to then dislike something else. This is not a zero sum game and Roger Ebert was the expert balancing fine art with fine froth.

I watched the Seventh Seal probably because of him. I love The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as much as I do now because he loved it so much. I watched The Proposition and read Blood Meridian because of him. And I love explosions because he said that's okay. And I also hate explosions in equal measure because he said that's okay, too. It's all okay. I don't have to choose.

He has a list on Criterion of some of his Great Movie and on the other hand he actually enjoyed Speed 2: Cruise Control. He wasn't ever a rube, though. Some of his most enjoyable work was when he used his Pulitzer as a blugeon to shame sod-bustingly stupid films like they were paying for it. Quietly, though, Ebert's strength to me was how well he could sell you on his opinion, no matter how much you actually disagreed with it, you'd read his review and go "Well, I can see that."

Mark Kermode, my favorite living film critic, is your excitable friend at a party talking to you about HOW HAVE YOU NEVER LISTENED TO JESUS OF COOL, whereas Ebert was a guy just talking to you across two cups of coffee at a diner. By the end of the conversation, which he would be leading the whole time, despite your best efforts, you'd walk out either agreeing with him or having been coached into knowing better than you once did. He had an underlying decency in him that a lot of people just cannot muster. That goes for everyone, not just film critics.

I honestly wish he could have seen this movie. I honestly wish I could have read what he said about this. Whether I agreed with him or not, I know he would have been right in his own way. Really, though, as much as I used him as a recommendation guide or a taste maker or anything else, I really want to hear that I am right. I love this movie. And I wish that he could have loved this movie too.

I don't know if that's incredibly sappy or incredibly self-centered or just plain dumb. All I know is that considering how so much of this week has gone, I think we could use more of the good people and Roger Ebert was most certainly one of them.


Pacific Rim works on its own as a film and one of the main reasons it does so is that it is pulling from a much larger body of works than the mere monster movie. World War II as a genre and as a moment in history obviously weighs heavy in this movie's influences, but so does Japanese anime and the Japanese monster movie (I mean, it takes the word "kaiju" from the eponymous genre. So,yeah, duh).

There's something slightly odd about that because the original animes and giant robot movies that this movie is inspired by comes out of the consequences of World War II.

The Japanese were living in the shadow of some existential terror that they couldn't exactly put a name to. Nobody wanted to make a movie about how their new friends the Americans bombed the shit out of them. I'm also sure that nobody wanted to watch that sort of movie. I mean, we did the same thing, but we had the pleasure of having won, at least.

So what did they do? Atomic monsters. Giant robots. These things were meant to be entertainment, first and foremost, but they were also a way to tell a story about a time that no one really wanted to talk about, at least not directly. And they're not alone. We made The Day the Earth Stood still. Jack Finney made Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In that way Pacific Rim carries on the allegorical energy of those works, as well as the aesthetic energy. It carries on in the tradition not only of Japanese science fiction, but big idea science fiction in general. In that way, it's more of a traditional science fiction film than is Star Trek No Colon Into Darkness.

Beyond Gigantor, the particular anime that I am reminded of is "Cannon Fodder," one of the shorts in the film Memories.The world of "Cannon Fodder" is very basic: The life of every citizen is geared towards producing, servicing, and firing shells. That is it. Go to sleep. Wake up. Work on the cannons. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. There is nothing else. There isn't even an enemy that we know of, there's just this Gormanghast/Airstrip-One-like city-state that solely exists to maintain a tradition for the sake of itself.

When I saw a bunch of dudes in jumpsuits flying down ladders I figured out that I was watching Cannon Town realized in live action. And I'm not sure if that's intentional or not. I'm sure it is intentional. Guillermo Del Toro is a pretty sharp guy, I'll give him at least partial credit.

Pacific Rim, notably, is not a dystopia and it's not an allegory. It's a messed up world with a lot of serious, horrible problems, but it isn't a world that has given up on itself. It isn't a place that hates its people. It is still a place worth fighting for and a place in which you can invest your emotions. The world of Pacific Rim, its Wall of Life and its high death toll and all is a place worth calling home. It's a place that is worth fighting for.


The title of this entry is taken from something I heard listening to Mark Kermode. He was quoting Mark Robinson speaking on his movie Earthquake. I can't think of a better way to describe the pacing and tone of Pacific Rim than that.So, good work, Dr. Kermode. Thanks for taking that away from me.

For whatever flaws Pacific Rim may have, you can't fault it for its ambitions. It is an attempt to do something new, even if it is heavily based on the works of the past and as far as world building goes, Del Toro might be on par with Ridley Scott. Besides all of the set dressing and the references directed at a time and place that only jerks like me are that interested, what remains is what a blockbuster should be (besides, of course, the massive financial success. You know. That ol' thing).

If I had written this a few months ago, I think I would have tried to position this film as a genre movie that delivered. And it is that. Saying that "I got what I wanted out of it" makes it sound like it's a whore or something. It makes it sound like it is a trifle. It's more than that, though, because the more I think about it and the more I look around, I realize that making a good genre film is fucking hard. It takes a lot of time, talent, and energy to spin something like robots and monsters into a worthwhile feature and Del Toro certainly has that.

Top to bottom, from stratosphere to oceanic trench, Pacific Rim is a delight. Go see it in the theaters. Go see it now. This is the kind of city destroying spectacle that should be encouraged.

Wasn't that bumper music for Love Line? I think it was. . . 
*I watched Robot Jox on TV way back in (YEAR) and again on a rented video, so I'm not mentioning it solely because Red Letter Media had a go at it, but I am definitely mentioning it because Red Letter Media had a go at it and that's what I like to do. I was into Robo Jox before it was uncool.

SIDE NOTE: Here's another perspective worth reading on. As much as criticism is about rolling around in your own words and feeling satisfied, I think this bit of writing gets to something we (I) forget about sometimes, which is that movies are meant to be watched. Film is a visual medium and as much as I think I could wax on about that for a really long time, I'd be missing the point. What the above article points out is that Pacific Rim, and film in a broader sense, is as much about conveying story and information on a visual and kinetic level as it is about telling you things through language. The best example of this that I can think of (especially when it comes to sci-fi) is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is as primal of film story telling as you can get, as well as probably being one of the most sophisticated pieces of art in this particular visual medium. Go read that thing.

  James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and an enemy pilot. You can follow him on twitter.

Guys. . .

We did it.


25 July, 2013

Friends that have more talent than I do Part LXVII of MMLVIII

My friend Anthony directed this. You should watch it. For your own good, I mean.

20 July, 2013

Watch this, I'll tell you in a second

Watch it all.

Okay. Is it just me or does he look and sound like a Nick Kroll character without any of the punchlines?

04 July, 2013

Let's Rap About Fast Five

Thanks to my friend Rachel (and about a dozen other caring people) I was made aware of one of Criterion's 50 Percent Off Sales. After deliberation that's probably lasted a year or so, I decided to purchase one of Stanley Kubrick's lesser known masterpieces Paths of Glory. It arrived this week so, naturally come Saturday night I watched Fast Five.

And let me tell you that Fast Five is quite a movie.

There has been a lot dedicated to this particular moving picture, from How Did This Get Made to Jordan, Jesse Go! to Giant Bomb as well as quite a few others (like my friend who shall remain anonymous who works in the JET program who showed it in his class to, I don't know, teach kids about American euphemisms). Knowing that I am not going to waste your time blathering on just how good or bad it is. It is. It's pretty bad and it's pretty good and in the end it has some of the craziest car sequences that you will ever damn see.

So, anyways, Fast Five, what is it? Who is it? What make car go? Who is rock? Why make crime? These are all good questions and I hope to answer them in turn.

This movie stars a bunch of people, only one of them is Vin Diesel (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) and only another one of them is The Rock (The Rundown, DOOM), but most of them are pretty and at least one of them is Paul Walker (Flags of Our Fathers, That Movie Where the Guy Gets Shot With a Shotgun in the Trailer and Flies like a Million Feet).

Nothing about what this movie is makes sense to me and that's sort of the magic. This all starts with the cast. You've got one of the leads,Vin Diesel, who was once known for being something of an indy breakout actor in the late ninties and early two-thousands who then ended up in the Riddick films-- excuse me-- the Riddick Saga and then finally scoring his much sought after yacht fund with the Fast-cum-Furious flicks.

In Fast Five he play a fat guy who everyone in this world is too polite to call "chubby and kind of old and sad," which naturally means that he's a deadly criminal who is really good at cars and, like everyone else, really good at showing up or having people show up at the exact right moment to save the day. Also, he's really good at cars.

Then there's Sir Paul Walker. In this movie he plays a white guy with a t-shirt with a hot girlfriend/baby-mamma (SPOILER!!!). Despite common belief Paul Walker is not the same person Stephen Dorf. In this movie he plays the white guy that doesn't seem to offend anybody by appearing on screen. He's also important because he's the one guy in this movie that we're 100% sure is full-blooded honky.

Then there's the Asian Guy (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast and Furious 6). His purpose is to bone Tall Natalie Portman. His job in the crew is supposed to be to blend in and be an everyman, which he proves by being Asian man in Fast Five that drives a car super well and is inserted into this film with the specific purpose of boning Tall Natalie Portman. You know, a real everyman. He also, like, looks at a thing once and maybe understands what they are once, which I guess makes him a super-valuable heist team member or a guy with Asperger's. Not exactly justifying his placement on the crew, but then again he does get up in Tall Queen Amadala, so I can see why one would fly two thousand miles on such short notice.

Tall Natalie Portman is their "muscle," whatever the fuck that means. I mean a good half of their crew is yoked to the point of being a poster on the wall of a confused male teenager's wall, but she's their muscle, because I guess they said so. She is notable for not providing muscle at any point in the entire picture. But she does manage to pull the palm print of a criminal off of her ass. Like Asian Guy, she is just kind of there. And that's well enough because the men are just sort of there, as well. Everyone is just sort of there. Black. White. Asian. Latino. Miscellaneous. We are the United Colors of Pointlessness.

Because someone has to make those cars go.

Two dudes just chilling straightly.
The LGBT community is completely unrepresented in this movie except in subtext-- but I'll get to that in a second here-- because gay people require a level of complexity that is simply beyond this movie. The proof of this is that straight people are barely even there. Unless you can do something with a car in this movie (getting married, passing, or whatever else), it doesn't appear as anything more complex than something that could fit on a Post-it.

Then again, I complain a lot about how movies go out of their way to say what's going on. It's why I think Downton Abbey is such a big hit, because nobody ever says what they want or what they're thinking and that simple technique is drama. So, with that said I don't know that we need to establish any homosexual characters when one of the big draws of this film is two sweaty, bald men grappling with each other.

The Fastiverse is a sexless, hateless universe that exists to drive machines with no feelings about your hormone treatment, the president's birth certificate, police brutality, or anything else. In many ways it's as old fashioned of a movie as there is, yet it is rife with Hispanics, the ethnically ambiguous, black people, the casually bilingual, and Asians and dead people and everyone else and none of that matters because they're all here to drive cars real quick like.

To me that is amazing. Fast Five, like the guy in Shine, has somehow managed to allow both some of the most secretly progressive ideas into the film and, yet, manages to make none of them an issue by making their ability to make cars go fast more important. Can you make a car drift? Go get married. Can you make this car jump this ramp? You qualify for a tax deduction. Can you make this car go real, real, real fast? Good. Because I'd be proud to have you as my neighbor.

It works because the film has no idea what it's doing. Hell, for that matter, it isn't just post-racial, it's post-human.

Don't worry they're fine. They landed on some poor people.
It's a thing that is everywhere. It's what society is built around. It's what we got in our hearts. It's what pirates hide and children giggle about. What I'm talking about is butts.

We like butts. We love butts. Some people-- often boring people-- want to look at butts. We were bred to do this.

More than that, it's what we want to see in movies right next to nice beaches, gothic manors, gothic manners, space, and sweet rides. As much as that is what we want to see and as much as that can go south, Fast Five is rather demur. Like James Bond movies, though, this movie can be shocking just how quaint it can be about the human body.

While it does have the obligitory ass shots and bikini clad babes that come from shooting a movie Rio de Janero it is a movie that is, importantly, shot in Rio de Janero. That's how people dress over there. It's a beach town in a hot and humid location and it's Brazil, I'm pretty sure even the president wears a bikini. There's a certain amount of casual half-nudity that comes with the territory.

So, in a movie in which Riddick and Paul Walker swing a bank vault into roughly a thousand cops and where Americans can storm into a former colony and shoot everyone that can be shot, this movie still has some sense of semblance of decency about showing a woman's breasts. Or, yeah that ass. Or, God help us, front cleavage.

Is it there, yeah? It's kind of weird when you see it, yet it doesn't ever treat any of the female characters as a nice ass except in the case of one very silly plot point. Women in this film are mothers, sisters, wives baby mommas, drag racers, cops, commandos, and, yes, damnit, career women. There is a franchise in which women are having it all and it isn't directed by Tina Faye.

As bad or as good as it is it could have been so much worse and it isn't and when you consider pornographic bilge like Transfomers 3, you should realize that this is a pretty good case that our society might not completely and utterly hate women. It might be that we like them and we want them to hang out with us and help us, and, yeah, it isn't exactly Waitress, but, then again, what is?

It is meathead cinema at its pinnacle and it still doesn't treat women like pieces of meat. Sure, they're still hot and super capable "professionals" with nothing to do in their lives but rob banks, but they aren't these objects of desire or points of leverage for the plot. They're women. They get shit done. In that sense they're just like the men. There's no equivocation, there's no discussion, there's just chicks in cars moving the plot along.

And they make the cars go vroom real good, so what other qualifications do you want?

In 2011 you will believe man can walk. . . real slow while looking into the middle distance.
People in this movie are cogs to movie the plot along to the next bit of fetishism. I was trying to describe this feeling to my friend Kevin and the best parallel I could come up with was a body builder talking about his hobbies. He says he's into French cooking or gardening or going to the movies, but we all know what his real passion is: It's body building. We all know where the heart of Fast Five is and it isn't in what people feel about fatherhood.

Because as much as Transformers is about selling toys to people or Pirates of the Caribbean is about selling illeteracy, this movie is just about cars. These cars do things.They get results. More importantly cars are really kind of rad.

Fast 6 has come and gone and it's basically a preconceived notion that this series will go on, hopefully, forever. I just want to put my foot in the door now with what I think Fast 8 (AKA Hard Eight With Cars This Time) should be--

Looks like we've got to bring in another driver, the best there is. One I've been trying to forget about. . . UNTIL NOW.

Who's that?

A ghost.

A SHELBY VIPER drives TOWARD THE CAMERA and drifts a few inches from the camera. A driver emerges from the driver's side door. He is wearing a helmet. He removes his helmet to reveal:

CGI STEVE MCQUEEN (as played by Army Hammer).

I heard you guys needed a driver.











Come on! You know you want it!
I could apologize forever about this dumb, dumb, DUMB piece of cinema (and I do that a lot), but you know what? I don't care.

For once I'm free of all of the shame and irony and anything else you could make me feel about liking something this colossally stupid. I could talk about how cars are in America's DNA as deep as guns or unsolicited flag waving (I saw several American flags waving during a report of the announcement of the new Pope, so there you go), but in the end the reason I am talking about this movie is simple: I had fun.

You should have fun, too. That's why we watch movies. Maybe that fun is different sometimes and maybe we all have different ideas of fun, but we movies don't move us because we hate them. That's fun sometimes, yeah, I'll admit. That isn't what keeps us coming back. Sometimes it's a great piece of storytelling, something emotionally effecting, or great acting or all three. Sometimes its dumb people driving cars. Sometimes that is all that it has to be.

Fast Five did what it wanted to do. It made me have fun watching cars go over, under, and around things that cars should try their hardest to avoid for insurance reasons. It's why I watched Bullitt, it's one of the primary reasons why I love Ronin, it's why French Connection is burned to brightly in my mind, it's a dozen other films that made me remember them. It's the fact that Fast Five, for all of its many blindingly obvious faults, is a movie that uses machinery in novel ways to make something worth seeing.

You don't need me to tell you that that is a pretty good movie.