Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 Movies: Whoops!

YIKES I haven’t written about movies in a little bit over a month, so I’m way behind, and I’m gonna cheat a little bit by trying to make these as quick as possible because I think I watched a pretty sizeable amount this past month.

D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994) Sam Weisman
Why didn’t they just get Keenan’s hockey team to play in the Pee-Wee Olympics instead of these selfish dorks from Minnesota?  This is one of those movies that will be near and dear to kids who grew up with this movie and got into Anaheim hockey for like a week because of The Mighty Ducks.

She-Devil (1989) Susan Seidelman
I had no idea this movie existed, but I’m glad I live in a world where there is a movie where Roseanne systematically destroys the life of her ex-husband and Meryl Streep is caught in the crossfire.

Kung-Fu Panda (2008) John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Any movie where you can get Ian McShane to self-aggrandize for children is tops in my book.  The action sequences were very slick, and I think this movie is hilarious.

Now You See Me (2013) Louis Leterrier
What an entertaining mess!  The movie is structured around this idea that these solo magicians learn to work together as a team, but the entire process of them learning to work together looks to have been left on the cutting room floor as the movie almost immediately jumps from the “they’ve heard of each other and they hate each other” phase to the “we’re a team and nothing’s going to break us apart” phase.  Dave Franco’s character almost seems like a post-production after thought.  His lines are unessential and tacked on, which I guess fits pretty well with Dave Franco.  Heh. Dave.

Magic Mike (2012) Steven Soderberg
I’d seen this one before, but whatever, I love this movie.  This is the one that completely sold me on Channing Tatum.  Soderbergh makes it look like a Soderbergh movie, which I tend to like.  McConaughey is being McConaughey, and when we finally get to see his act, it’s like Soderbergh is doing what McConaughey’s character monologues about in a scene where he’s teaching the new kid how to dance: something about teasing the crowd just the right amount before you thrust your cock at them.  I’m sure that also extends to life and grander things somehow.

Jawbreaker (1999) Darren Stein
This movie is like the halfway point between Heathers and Mean Girls and it’s nowhere near as good as either of those movies.  There are some very funny moments and a great Marilyn Manson appearance, but it mostly felt like a waste.

Thelma and Louise (1991) Ridley Scott
This is one of those movies where I was more familiar with the endless parodies than I was with the actual movie, but man, I really enjoyed this one.  I love that Thelma and Louise are sort of reflections of each other, and I love Thelma’s liberation comes when she realizes she loves doing crimes.  All in all a very manipulative-ass movie, but I was very much along for the ride.

Rollerball (1975) Norman Jewison
I can’t believe anyone felt they needed to update this movie.  It looks so brutal, and I think the idea behind a remake was to give it cool, modern special effects or whatever, but I’d imagine that CG effects would really just make it look less violent somehow.  How many people got injured in filming this thing?  I hope it wasn’t a lot, but I sort of hope a couple of people got hurt because I’m selfish.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Francis Lawrence
I liked the first one, but I liked this one so much more.  It’s bigger, it looks better, the stakes seem higher, and everything looks more dangerous.  My main complaint is that the actual event of the Hunger Games is completely uninteresting to me.  I like this awful dystopia that these teens have to take down through their celebrity, and I felt like the movie just kind of took a boring halt as soon as the games portion started.  I also think Katniss is not very likeable and pretty boring, but it works because the movie acknowledges this in that the movie just sort of happens to her and all of the characters involved know that they have to work around her to get anything done.

Gattaca (1997) Andrew Niccol
This was one of those movies that I really liked in High School, but I also liked a lot of stupid shit in High School, so who knows?  Upon a rewatch, though, I think it held up.  This movie gets by largely on an interesting, if at times traditional, sci-fi premise, but Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman, etc. are great.  The look of the movie is that pleasant sort of beige that makes it look like it’s happening in a future that takes place in a really nice hotel lobby, and I think that works for this sort of thing.  Andrew Niccol went on to direct In Time so he’s definitely got a thing for high-concept one-liners, but Gattaca is an actual good use of this one-trick pony.

Slapshot (1977) George Roy Hill
Man, this was a fuckin’ sports movie, and I loved it.  That scene when the Hanson brothers first take the ice is so awe-inspiringly violent and funny.  Paul Newman’s a total creep just like most everyone else in this movie, and it’s great, but I was a bit confused as to who this movie wanted me to side with.  Like, everyone seems so intent on labelling The Chiefs as a bunch of goons, but everyone who’s doing this is also an asshole.  Is everyone an asshole, then?  Safe bet is yes.

Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock
Another one where I’m more familiar with the endless parodies, and again another one I enjoyed.  Jimmy Stewart’s sort of a smirking piece of shit, which works because he’s a famous photographer, and I tend to think famous photographers are smirking pieces of shit more often than not.  But that’s just me.  I liked the movie, but I think I was watching it wrong, because I was operating under the assumption that there was no way Jimmy Stewart’s suspicion about his neighbor being a murder could have been right, and with that bias in mind, I started watching this as something more along the lines of an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia than a Hitchcock thriller.  In retrospect it was absolutely foolish of me to think that someone wasn’t murdered in a HITCHCOCK movie.

Nurse 3D (2013) Douglas Aarniokoski
Now this was an amazing trash movie.  It is a movie that is absolutely no good, but it’s so fun to watch.  Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock gives a typically self-serious horror movie performance that you get from hot people who think trash like this is their step up into the next phase of their career (and they’re not always wrong), and Corbin Bleu does a similar thing except maybe the stakes are higher for him because he’s still in that phase of trying to make everybody forget that he was a Disney Channel star?  Whatever, this movie is really just a canvas for Paz De La Huerta to display her, um… idiosyncratic… talents.  Every line is this weird slur of a phrase, ending in a tiny inhale of breath that makes her seem like the worst possible caricature of a Marilyn Monroe impression, BUT IT’S GREAT.  The dialogue is campy and awful, and it comes off sounding like the writer just put in his first draft of a lower-division writing class to impress his peer review group with how edgy and sexual he can be.  The characters curse like high schoolers on a packed train, desperate for you to notice them, and the violence, while not as plentiful as I was expecting, is very much over-the-top and gory, taking full advantage of my favorite use for 3D technology, silly shit getting thrown at your face.  I’ll leave you with the first line of the movie, from Abby’s (Paz De La Huerta) inner monologue: “My name is Abby Russell, and I look like a slut.”  If you don’t hear something like that and get immediately excited for the next hour and twenty-ish minutes of your life, I’m not sure I can do anything for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

a page from Daredevil #193

I bought a few old Daredevil comics last weekend, and this particular action sequence from Daredevil #193 by Larry Hama and Klaus Janson really jumped out at me, so I figured I'd talk a bit about it here.

The set up to this scene isn't so important, it's just Daredevil getting up to beat up a couple of goons, pretty standard stuff.  However, what I think immediately sets it apart is that the five wide panels maintain one consistent, cropped view of the action.  The view stays close to the ground level, perhaps meant to give us the feeling of some kind of cowering bystander witnessing the action from a hiding place, holding our breath and hoping we don't get drawn into the action.  While some artists may have chosen to use a more dynamic perspective to draw you into the action, Janson opts to keep this view throughout the fight as a way of distancing us from the action, making the fight impersonal, and effectively allowing us to better appreciate the motion and movement of the fight.

The fight is quick as these are just ordinary goons meant to showcase our hero's fighting prowess.  I'd say the amount of time that passes from panel one to panel five is probably a couple of seconds, but because of Janson's usage of wide panels for the length of the page, he's able to make it feel like a longer span of time.  The five wide panels encourage our eyes to move along the width of the page, each time focusing on what is happening to each of the four characters on the page.  The use of a blank yellow background ensures that the eye focuses solely on the contrasting red and green figures in each panel.  So what happens is that within each wide panel, we get several smaller beats of action that would probably even work as panels of their own.  If Janson were to use an arrangement of smaller panels, however, I think the action would feel much quicker and more frantic.  What we get by keeping these beats within one panel is something more measured and deliberate, a pacing that is more confident and in control, reflective of the way that Daredevil easily dispatches these three men.

The best instances of multiple action beats within the same wide panel occur in panels two, three, and four.
Let's break it down right quick:

Panel 2 -- DD THOK!s Goon #1 and we catch the follow-through of his billy-club as Goon #1 is knocked off his feet.  The posture of Goon #2 suggests that he got startled by watching his buddy get THOK'ed right in front of him, but his legs ignore his brain and he keeps on moving, determined to get the jump on DD.  Goon #3 meanwhile is a couple steps behind, slowing down after seeing how hard DD's just hit this guy.

Panel 3 -- By the time Goon #1 hits the floor, DD has completed his wind-up in anticipation of Goon #2, now running headlong at our hero (see also: "cruisin' for a bruisin'").  Goon #3 has come to a full stop, and because we can't see anyone's face we can only imagine the sort of "No way man, I don't get paid enough for this" face he's making.

Panel 4 -- Goon #1 is out cold.  We catch DD at the end of the follow-through of his backhand as he knocks Goon #2 right off his feet with a THOOM.  Goon #3 has turned tail and started running in fear.

A lot of action is happening simultaneously in these panels, but while we are taking them in all at once, it never feels overwhelming because Janson's choreography is so clear.  The wide panels fit in all this quick action and work to stretch out our own perception of time.  It's interesting that Janson chooses to depict the moments after the impact rather than the actual moment of impact.  It's an old Alex Toth-style trick to never explicitly depict the actual moment of violence, but rather its after effects as a way of encouraging the reader to get in on the act.  This could also explain Janson's choice to keep the same cropped perspective with more emphasis on the body than the face.  The distance keeps us away from the fight, but the cropped view that focuses on the moment right after the damage is done works to bring us in, forcing us to imagine what it looks like when Daredevil gives a couple of dudes some brain trauma.

The rest of the comic is okay too.  Daredevil goes on a cruise that gets robbed by stage magicians.

Review: Vandroid #1

Vandroid #1
Dark Horse Comics
Tommy Lee Edwards, Noah Smith, Dan McDaid, Melissa Edwards

Vandroid is the comic adaptation of a screenplay for a fictional movie whose reels were supposedly lost to a fire that burned down an equally fictional grindhouse movie studio in 1984.  It’s a story about a washed up mechanic and his scuzzy business partner who unwittingly unleash a dangerous android into the world.  The fictional movie studio back-story is nonessential, but it’s a great added layer to the sort of retro-future, video store atmosphere that the creative team is trying to evoke.  Vandroid perfectly captures the fearful wonderment I’d feel as a kid when I’d walk down an aisle of the video store and stare at lurid VHS covers for movies my dad would never let me rent.  These VHS covers were a lot like an updated version of pulp mystery novel covers-- sexy, dangerous women and some hungover tough-guy with a weapon who was definitely not Superman.  I’d stare at those VHS covers and they’d be burned into my mind, leaving me to just imagine what could’ve possibly been contained on those tapes.

Tommy Lee Edwards and Noah Smith’s 80’s cult movie plot pairs well with Dan McDaid’s art and Melissa Edwards’s colors.  Together they create a world that exists in the murky back alleys of a radically cool, very-1984 Los Angeles.  McDaid’s figures all carry a substantial sense of weight underneath a layer of griminess from M. Edwards’s colors, effectively adding a mood of menace to an admittedly goofy premise.  Moreover, McDaid’s excellent sense of timing and well paced violence play the premise straight while never venturing into the territory of the self-serious.  Vandroid has a sense of humor about itself, but T. Edwards and Smith are firmly rooted in paying homage to the 80’s cult genre style, being careful to distance themselves from parody.  Vandroid is given to us earnestly, but it can feel lumbering at times, with several instances of unsubtle exposition being delivered to get us caught up.  However, I think this is again where the added layer of the burned-down movie studio backstory works to sort of justify these flaws in the narrative, or at least to place them within the context of the world.  Vandroid certainly feels like something of that era of cult movies, like you could see the Vandroid movie sitting on the shelves alongside stuff like Escape From New York, The Toxic Avenger, or Return of the Living Dead.  My worry is that this could be a crutch for the creators, but I think everyone involved in this comic shows an enthusiasm for both their work and the influences they are so happy to wear on their sleeves.  It’s an enthusiasm that carries over to the reader as well.  It isn’t 100% perfect, but I’m too busy having fun reading Vandroid to care.