25 March, 2014

I Guess Jack Reacher is Pretty Good?

Jack Reacher is the type of action movie I can watch and enjoy with my parents.

It's simple, straight-forward and is wrapped around the same kind of familiar, procedural drive that a good Law and Order episode has. All the while it delivers the kind of justified violence that you don't have to think about for longer than the length of the scene. It's good fun and, as Mark Kermode might describe it, is perfectly fine "Tab A into slot B fair."

It's an average movie with some truly excellent moments. The car chase in the middle is excellent, so is the comic turn of most of the film's goons. Then there's Werner Herzog, collecting more money for three days of shooting than he probably has for his last three films combined (and that's a cause worth supporting). There's a lot worth liking in this film. And it's on Instant Watch. What are you doing for two hours that's so important*?

At the end of all of this, beyond whether or not it's actually a good movie or if it contributes anything to the human experience besides a mild distraction against our inevitable oblivion, Jack Reacher is a film that is paying the mortgage of the guy who wrote and directed The Way of the Gun**.

That's a cause worth supporting. The Way of the Gun is one of my favorite, little underseen movies***. I think it made all of fifteen dollars at the box office and thanks to cult heroes like Ryan Philipe and that one teacher from Boston Public (you know, the one that kissed the hot chick who wouldn't wear a bra?) it's never really burned up the midnight movie circuit.

It's a brutal, mean little movie that has the energy of a Tarantino movie and the kind of gritty violence that Sam Peckinpaugh, for all his faults, had perfected. It also has bar-none one of the best gunfights in movie history. As much as the movie might be a bit too clever and a bit too self-aware, it's worth seeing, if only, for the fantastic showdown at the end. It combines all of the realistic geographic intensity of Heat with the fun of an old fashioned Wild West shoot-out. In a perfect world we'd see more of this type of scene, but because less people saw it than populated Andorra, we got berserker editing and slow-mo instead. Because the world is a son of a bitch.

I also spent a New Years Eve watching The Way of the Gun watching this with a girl instead of actually doing anything fun. I'm not saying it wasn't a good choice or a proud one in the long run, but that should be a testament to how much I like that movie. Or how much of a mess my own life is. Maybe both.

By the way, I'm still looking for the jacket Benicio Del Toro wears at the end of the movie, so if anybody has any ideas as to what it is, send them my way.


I do a podcast called White Guys, Square Glasses. . . which will be changing its name to A Quality Interruption very shortly. WGSG/A Quality Interruption is a podcast about movies. Cruz and I focus on a single film for about an hour, picking it apart, and often getting side-tracked by our dopey ideas on narrative theory. It's a good time. Our newest episode is about Near Dark, another little Peckinpaugh-esque blast of darkness and horror.

I wrote some comics. You can pick up the stories I wrote in two anthologies: Old College Comics Presents and The Freshman Fifteen. It's got my stories, along with the entries of a whole lot of other, often more talented, people. It's good fun and you're supporting indie publishing. Buy one today!

I am also on twitter.


*Also, Rosamund Pike is both talented and incredibly attractive! And we're supposed to believe that Richard Jenkins somehow had a hand in producing her!

**Christopher McQuarrie is writing and directing Mission: Impossible 5? Fuck yeah. Good work, Hollywood.

***I even wrote about it way back in 2008 for my college paper. There's a Two Girls, One Cup "joke" on the opposite page. Lord. Were we ever that young?

19 March, 2014

A Thought on Iron Man 3

I just finished Iron Man 3 and I've got one burning question about the climax of the movie:

Did Tony Stark just kill a bunch of disabled veterans?

I mean, I don't want to throw a damper on the whole movie, but that is what his big move was, right? That was the entirety of the climax? To take out as many amputees as possible? I can't say that I've ever seen a movie rely on the death of so many Purple Heart winners, so I guess this movie does have that in its favor.

As far as the rest of the film goes, I feel the usual wave of emotions that come with accetable superhero films: It could have been cut by twenty minutes. It's nice to see that much fan service. Their one use of an R-rated cuss word was pretty solid (does "pussy" count?). At least one of the villains was excellent. And at the end of all of this it had a story-- one that made sense, too and not in a "It's a comic book movie" kind of way. It's a big comic book movie and it delivers exactly what it's supposed to.

Iron Man 3: It's thoroughly okay!

The next movie on my slate is going to be The Limey. I have this inkling that I am going to feel very different about that movie.

17 March, 2014

One of the Good Ones

There. There you go. I finally saw something that I liked. Or, more accurately, I finally saw something that was good. And in the theater, no less! I hope you're happy!

Actually, that isn't strictly true. I saw Redline, Near Dark, and Battle Royale recently, but we're not here for them. Or about Night Watch for that matter.

We're here to talk about The Grand Budapest Hotel.

As easy as Wes Anderson is to poke fun at, he is also a director that is is hard to be snide about. He's an artist who is making the exact kind of art that he wants to make-- and most of the time, it's really quite good. Even if it isn't, he's made some of the best movies of the past fifteen years. And even if that isn't true he made Rushmore, a movie I carry around with me with all of the affection of a childhood blanket. I don't exist as the person that I am without Rushmore. I'm not the movie fan that I am without that movie. I guess The Royal Tenebaums ranks up there as well. It's one of the few moments of lesbianism that I've witnessed with my mother. . .

But anyways. . .

A few years back I described Django Unchained as a Quentin Tarantino movie and I feel safe in repeating that sentiment by saying that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson movie. It's an intricately constructed film, driven by particular ticks and a kind of subject matter that only Wes Anderson and a bunch of dead people truly loved. His tastes vary in their effectiveness. Sometimes his ticks add up to nothing more than fodder for a parody video and other times he makes Moonrise Kingdom.

His films are consumate works of art, regardless of their quality. Mark Kermode compared The Grand Budapest Hotel compared with a pastry box and to a grandfather clock, but his best works-- and this film-- are more than just a collection of finely oiled gears**.

The best parts of the film are the portions where we forget about the machinery and see something else beneath the surface. These moments are so fleeting they almost seem like mistakes.But we're looking at a Wes Anderson movie so we know that these moments are anything but mistakes. In the moment, though, we aren't thinking of what was meant to be there or what wasn't. Instead we see that these fast talking, quirky characters aren't just "characters." We see that they're people suffering from the same kind of loneliness and alienation that people like Max Fischer or Royal Tenebaum suffer from. Hell, that's what defines them.

It's the light at the edge of the frames that elevate this movie. His movies aren't machines, they only have the appearance of machinery. Behind all of the exacting camera work and the chapter titles and the oh-so-specific dialogue is a beating heart, there is affection. It's something that his worst movies forget about and it is something that his best movies have right out in the open.*** The Grand Budapest Hotel reconciles these two aspects. It doesn't quite have the melancholy of his best works, yet it does manage to remain interesting without losing sight of the human beings on screen.

I wish that instead of honing his craft down to one particular style to the point where he (hones it down to a diamond) he would expand in his artistry. That, like Martin Scorcese, his style would change and evolve and he would try his hand at new things.

Though, that's silly.Wes Anderson isn't interested in making different movies, nor should he. He is interested in making Wes Anderson movies. Going off of The Grand Budapest Hotel, that is a perfectly fine way to go.


I do more than write bad movie reviews. I also write bad comics. At Old College Comics we're selling two volumes of anthology comics, where I am but one writer amongst a collection of some very talented friends of mine. We're also now on iTunes and Kindle, if you're over the whole physical medium thing.

I also do a cruddy little podcast called White Guys, Square Glasses. My friend Cruz and I talk about films there. These week we talked about Battle Royale. There's also a blog for the show if you're interested in checking that out. I just started updating that thing again. Because I guess I care again.

And, what the hell, here's my portfolio. The thing is ancient, but I figured why not link all of the blogs I'm in possession of? Right?


*Mark Kermode is an intelligent man.

 **Maybe it might be more accurate-- if completely insane-- to describe his movies as "well oiled books." Maybe.

***Best: Rushmore, Royal Tenebaums, Moonrise Kingdom. Worst: Fantastic Mr. Fox.

09 March, 2014

Donnybrook: No Longer Just the Misremembered Name of a Country Singer

Donnybrook isn't a good book. Go read Crimes in Southern Indiana instead. If I had stopped there, I would have been a happier man and I wouldn't have to write this screed. But that is a road not taken. Here I am. Angry. Bitter. And with the knowledge of so much wasted time burning at the back of my skull.

Donnybrook is never seemed like a book that would suffer from being too classy. It certainly begins with a fine impression. When we first meet each of the principle characters (a desperate, if well meaning good ol' boy-cum-family man, a troubled cop with a tragic past that doesn't matter, and a guy named 'Chainsaw'), we meet them doing what they do best. They are robbing, shooting, and cooking their way off of the page and into our hearts. The lives of these men is a hard-scrabble life at best. Life was never easy for these folks, especially not in this economy (a fact, I feel like we were told more than once, but maybe I am just misremembering my own questionable works of fiction). As a beginning, it's strong.

This all sour as soon as the plot begins in earnest. That is to say, it goes sour as soon as the lack of a plot develops. Because Donnybrook is not so much a story as it is a series of scenes cut at their most interesting point and inserted somewhere else. It is a technique that reminds me of the kind of movies we got in the 90's after Pulp Fiction had its moment in the sun. And like that great glut of movies, this story is found lacking. Instead we are reminded of better stories-- stories like the kind that made up Frank Bill's last book.

As a story, Donnybrook is nothing but smoke and mirrors. We bounce from scene to scene before we can get bored or notice that this scene makes no sense. Smoke and mirrors posing as a structure can still hold an audience captive, but the the bits between the smoke and the mirrors have to be interesting. Unfortunately, in this case, they are not. Instead we are given men named Chainsaw and a Chinese man named Fu, who might be the only named character of color in the entire book (though, luckily, minorities are spared the vomit-coated brush that Bill paints all of his white characters with). The Chinese man is named Fu. Do you want to guess what he is an expert in? I'll give you a hint: He doesn't own a restaurant and he doesn't run a laundry.

It is that special combination of gritty and trite that eventually tipped me over from mild boredom to full blown anger. I cannot pin point when this happened. It might have been when the back-country soothsayer was introduced. It might have been when I said "Fuck you" into the book. The two events might have been related. Of this I cannot be sure.

As a target of my annoyance, I eventually fixated on how taudry the book is, on how fascinated it seems to be with the most ugly things in the world. I became annoyed because it put a spotlight on these things not to tell a story or to make a point, but to show them because it could. These things are there to get a rise out of me for lack of anything better.

We couldn't get characters that we can have empathy for or enjoy the company of. Instead, like some smelly, drunken Richard Stark charicature, we get action after stupid, crap-slick action. An attempted rape? Sure. A racist cripple? Yeah, okay. Haven't seen that in a while. Another scene in a bar? I've never been to Indiana before, but I am willing to believe that it is made up solely of bars. Children literally biting the ankles of a terrible cop? Go on. What about underage prostitution? Toss that in there too! Secret incest family? Sure. What the hell!  It worked for that broad who wrote The Flowers in the Attic and she got at least two movies out of the deal!

Towards the end of the book there's a description of prize fighters huffing spray paint and I had to wonder, with so many other drugs readily available, why they would bother with such lame high school shit? Are they art major drop outs? Is Frank Bill including these scenes because he's playing a game of white trash bingo with himself? Do I actually care?

In black and white, as a list, these things all sound kind of cool. Even making fun of it, I have this thought in the back of my head that I missed how cool they really were. There is no reason that these horrible thing can't be fun ("fun" being, perhaps a relative term. . .).  We want to read about crankheads and bare knuckle boxers, to be enticed by a story, and to believe it if only for the beauty of the prose.

Writers like Cormac McCarthy, Jason Aaron, Garth Ennis, and sometimes even Nick Cave understand how to do this. These are men who write about violence, often in the same kind of back country that Bill sets this story in. They are different from Bill because they know how to forge these horrors into a story. Frank Bill puts forth these ideas like your cat puts forth a dead rat. There is no poetry to it.

Again: The problem is not the inclusion of these things. The problem is that all of this dope snorting, face punching, bear-trap snapping nonsense isn't attached to anything worthwhile. It's just stuff. It's just an ugly pile of stuff. It's a drunk man showing up at your door with a sack full of broken glass saying that he brought you a new window. It's exactly that.

The reason for all of this praise is likely down to Frank Bill being an example of the American dream. He's a guy who came out of nowhere, with his own voice, who wrote a book that, despite its flaws, does violently clip the reality of modern America. He is also a guy who seems like he would drive straight to Missouri and kick Daniel Woodrell's ass if he didn't get a good blurb out of the man.

Crimes in Southern Indiana might not be a great book, but it is a good one. It's solid as a rock. It has a unique voice and does suffer from the kind of sawed-off fragment sentences that litter Donnybrook ("Butted the hot barrel through Dote's hand" and "Released the man's arm. Listened to him grunt and thud into timber" are the kinds of sentences that seem to exist solely as a bloody-minded challenge to any copy-editor who will take them on).

Each chapter in Crimes is not so much a short story as it is a sharp slice through a brutal America. There is something tangible about those stories. And even if you don't quite believe them, they do not overstay their welcome. They are notable for being good stories about brutish things.

Donnybrook has all of the same energy as Bill's first book, yet this energy is going in all of the wrong directions. Instead of taking the kinds of scenes that made Crimes stick out and building a bigger world out of them, they are chopped up, tossed around, and garnished with a sprig of pubic hair. Its length, like its violence, exists merely to exist. It's a shame, because any writer that is this fascinated with having people step on fox traps is a guy who should be actively encouraged to write more. He seems like he should be my kind of writer.

All of this made me think of Mr. Rogers. Besides his impeccible sense of style, he a man who exists as a complete contrast to modern America. He is quiet and kind and has a kind of unimpunable sincerity that I find utterly baffling. Writing this review made me think of this quote:
I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. - See more at: http://www.current.org/1969/05/i-give-an-expression-of-care-every-day-to-each-child/#sthash.Gf56XCaO.dpuf

I think it is much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger-- Much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.

I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. - See more at: http://www.current.org/1969/05/i-give-an-expression-of-care-every-day-to-each-child/#sthash.Gf56XCaO.dpuf

I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger — much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. - See more at: http://www.current.org/1969/05/i-give-an-expression-of-care-every-day-to-each-child/#sthash.Gf56XCaO.dpuf
Mr. Rogers wrote a perfect review of this book before Frank Bill was even born.


I wrote some comics! I have two stories and they are collected in both Old College Comics Presents and The Freshman Fifteen (You can buy them here). They're all made by a collection of friends who like writing, who like comics, and do not have a patience for waiting for somebody else to publish their work. We're a little indy upstart and every single purchase lets us know that we're doing something right.

I also do a podcast called White Guys, Square Glasses. This one don't cost you anything but time. Which, to be fair, is something that you can't get back, so I don't blame you for not wanting to spend an hour or so listening to two dingbats ramble on about The Hunt for Red October or Danny Trejo's upcoming (fictional) magnum opus.

And while you're at it, why not follow my twitter?

06 March, 2014

The Only Other True Detective Theory That You Have to See

I was skeptical, but I'll tell you, now, after seeing this, my eyes are wide open.

There's no coming back from this, people. It's all out there now.

05 March, 2014

I'm Sure There's a French Phrase for The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises feels like a man's final movie. It's no secret that Hayao Miyazaki is a fan of aeronautics. You can see it in everything from Porco Rosso to Laputa to Kiki's Delivery Service. It is no wonder that The Wind Rises is the work he would choose to round out his storied career. It is a movie with a singular vision, one driven by a man with enough influence, talent, and respect to make exactly the kind of movie that he wanted to make. It feels like a movie a man would make knowing he would never have another chance.

It is also a movie so long and so dull that it can only be explained by passion of a single man at its helm. No group of people would willingly make a movie this listless without a genius at the helm. Even an accident would have made something more lively than what I saw.Knowing that makes this all the more the bummer.

Either in order to make sense of The Wind Rises or to keep my brain from shutting down, I started thinking about Dr. Zhivago. They're both historical films, they both share a grand scale, and they're both bound by doomed romances. Most importantly they are driven to complete a singular life's work. David Lean's film is also a movie where a great many things don't happen for a long period of time. If I remember correctly the climax of the film is Omar Sharif writing a poem in a cold house. It's not exactly helicopter explosion city.

Yet, Dr. Zhivago has something that The Wind Rises does not. David Lean's turn at a mystical artist has emotional stakes. It has conflict that is both personal and historical. It's a movie that is weighed down with a sense of doom from the very first scene (even if we don't know a thing about the Russian Revolution). Even if we do not care about the plight of a mystical poet and his failed romances, we do care about his family and the women he loved because there are horrible consequences lurking in the back of every twist of the plot.

The Wind Rises has none of this. It's a drama with no real stakes, which is to say that it is a drama with no drama.

Our hero sleepwalks from scene to scene until he overcomes each and every obstacle merely by sticking around long enough. By the end I am not left with a sense of Jiro's life or accomplishments. He moves from one scene to another with little connection between the two. Plot threads are forgotten. Others are half-heartily followed through on. There is no resonance, instead I am overwhelmed by the thought that like Jiro, I should have fallen asleep.

It's strange because the techniques at play in this film are not any different than Hayao Miyazaki's other films. With the exception of maybe Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke, most of his films do not have a sense of being driven forward. His movies tend to unfold calmy and quietly. Spirited Away in many ways does have a driving conceit at the center (the fear of losing ones parents and one's memory), but it also has one of his most incidental plots. It also might be his very best.

The idea of a film without a story, a film that is told in a seemingly lilting, meandering format is on perfect display in his first great film, My Neighbor Totoro. Roger Ebert's describes the movie as"is based on experience, situation and exploration—not on conflict and threat."

My Neighbor Totoro works because we are invested in the world. We're invested in the characters. We want to see where they're going, even if that means watching them do something as simple as plant a garden. Or wait in the rain. We are care about the movie because it's fun to look at, but we also care about the characters. It's a fully realized film that is bursting at the seams with life in its 86 minute run.

The Wind Rises rare bit of life occur in Jiro's lengthy dream sequences. It's telling that the most affecting moments of the film are those that are completely untethered from reality.

These dreams are moments of pure beauty. They remind you of the great talent that Hayao Miyazaki possesses. They show that his vision and passion can work together to deliver a kind of visual showcase that nobody else in film can. It was enough for me to think to myself "I think I love this movie" during the first twenty minutes of the film.

It was not to last. It does not last because the rest of the film gets in the way. Jiro's non-trials with plane building. His rather uneventful world tour. His romance that, after courting, has all of the passion of a bowl of fruit. We have moments of wonder sandwiched in between these long periods of tedium. And then we finally return to Jiro's dreams. Finally.

This isn't a spoiler, but the final scene, like the first scene, takes place in a dream. It is a scene where Jiro reconciles his dream with his reality. It is where the two concepts meet and he, we must assume, comes to another epiphany. This time, though, instead of thinking of how much I love Miyazaki and how much I want to go on a journey with him about planes and about the kind of men who want to fly, I am annoyed at how long it took us to get here. It is not a scene that is connected to anything that matters. It wasn't until later, that I thought about this movie and why I have taken against it that I realized that the dreams have to matter as much as the dreamers.

Slapping around what might be the last work of a great director doesn't lift my spirits. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but the older I get, the less fun slagging off things has become. I want things to be good. I want good directors to make good movies. Rambling on about how the emperor has no clothes is not the fun hobby that it once was. It's all of the fun of jousting windmills but without any of the idiotic nobility.
Looking back on the legacy of Hayao Miyazaki, I think he has the right to make a bad movie. If anyone is allowed to say whatever they want, good or bad, it is Hayao Miyazaki. He's earned it.

The Wind Rises seems like a movie shaped by passion-- Passion for the material, passion for the time, and a passion to say something that maybe his lighter films could not say. It is a shame that this passion doesn't translate into a better film.

The Wind Rises stands as a testament to the magnitude of Miyazaki's legacy, yet ultimately exists apart from it. Its rare moments of wonder only remind us just how wonderful of a career that he has had, of what a wonderful man he must be.


It is at this point that I open myself up to severe criticism. You can do so by visiting Old College Comics and buying one of the anthologies I worked on. For better or for worse, Hayao Miyazaki's fantasy works were huge inspirations for me and my silly viking comic.

I also do a podcast called White Guys, Square Glasses (for some reason) with my friend Cruz Flores. We recently shifted the format to be about one movie a week. This last week we discussed Goon. Next week will be. . . The Toxic Avenger. Ugh. I'm dreading that one. The Wind Rises will not be one of them, but I'd like to think that there will be a future podcast about one of his other films. You know, One of his good films.

Here's my twitter, too.