Thursday, June 26, 2014

Superman #32

Superman #32
Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson

Geoff Johns has a pretty strong Johns-ian start in this issue.  I'm not going to say anything quite so outrageous like Geoff Johns really "gets" the character, because I have no idea what that even really means anymore, but the issue is heartfelt and entertaining, with Johns really working to get at the "humanity" (see: "loneliness") of this iteration of Superman.  I say "iteration" because who even knows when this will all get reset and we get another, slightly different Superman anymore?  It's gotten to a point where following the story lines of your favorite superheroes is a largely futile pursuit, and to me it makes more sense to just take stories in the context of the writers'/artists' larger body of work.  So how does this stack up in Johns's long list of superhero comics?  It's pretty good and everyone kept their arms.  There's also some pretty reckless child endangerment to keep it exciting.  I'm sure it'll be fine.

Anyway, the big draw here is John Romita Jr., of course.  I think this is his first time working on a DC book or something like that?  That can't be right, can it?  JRjr has been around forever!  I guess that forever has been spent with drawing the shit out of everyone in the Marvel universe, though, so he's moved his considerable talents over to the other side of the fence.  Apparently when you're sick of drawing the same superheroes everyday, you just say fuck it and, uh, draw... other... superheroes.  Which is fine by me, considering the last time I remember JRJr doing something outside of the big two's superheroes he churned out something called The Gray Area, which didn't exactly catch on.  I mean, if you want a superhero book why not go with JRjr?  That guy's great for this stuff.  Check out Superman punching out Titano, the giant gorilla that has Kryptonite inside him for some reason (or is he a robot gorilla now? is that new? sorry, not up to date with Titano news either, I guess).

(shoutout to Entertainment Weekly for that tight watermark. PROTECT YA NECK.)

And it's not just the bombastic shit that JRjr does either.  Bars, offices, Clark Kent's sad little apartment.  It's all there in that blocky, straight-line style of his, and it's dope because everything feels chunky and heavy and real.  Like the way JRjr draws all of these whatever city locations makes it feel like real places in a real city, like maybe there's an actual map to these places somewhere in JRjr's tequila soaked brain.  Same goes for the characters we get in this issue.  Different sizes, different shapes, they all look like distinct people populating this chunky, heavy city.  Superman in particular looks like a pretty beefy, yet mobile dude (a shame they still can't do anything about that awful new liney mandarin collar costume, though).  Clark looks like a guy roughly the same size of Superman, but he couldn't possibly be Superman.  I mean, would Superman, the best dude on the planet, wear some bullshit like glasses and a backwards snapback (ugh, even worse it looks like it could be a velcro-strap)?

Having John Romita Jr. and trusty ol' Klaus Janson backing him up with inks and colors is a great move for this Superman book, and I'm hoping DC can manage to keep this art team sticking around for a while.  JRjr and Klaus are dudes who've been around a while, though, from a time when if you missed a deadline, Jim Shooter or somebody would just take a shit in every spinner rack in America and put your tardy-ass name on it as punishment.  And you know what, if they can't make it on time, that's none of my goddamn business.  Comic fans love to get on these guys's case when their stupid comic is late, and I think that's bullshit.  These artists have to put together all these pages every month on top of all the other bullshit that you have to do just to exist as a human being on the planet earth.  Sorry your comic was late and you couldn't spend your precious four dollars on this bullshit this week.  I'm sure there are people who have legitimate gripes with people missing deadlines, particularly the people whose jobs are actually made tougher when those deadlines aren't met, but on the fan/consumer end of things, what does it even matter to you?  Whoops I got off track by this stupid fucking straw man I just invented in this paragraph.  Sorry.  Blogging about comics is stupid sometimes.  What I was meaning to get at was that I like JRjr and I love Klaus Janson, and I hope DC gets to keep them on as a consistent art team.  It's always good for DC when they get some artists that aren't forced to stick with this god-awful house art style that DC seems to have been developing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

2014 Movies: Two Musicals!

Grease (1978) Randal Kleiser
It's fucked up that we just hand this movie to America's children without even thinking about what's on it. I'm no puritan trying to save kids from raunchy teen sex comedies or anything; I'm just more concerned about the fact that this funny movie is being wasted on ten year olds who just won't get it. For instance: there's a line in the "Grease Lightning" song where Travolta sings something like "You are supreme / The chicks will cream" and man, I just didn't get that. My ten year old brain reconciled this by deciding that the lyric was "every chick's dream" and that Travolta was a mush-mouthed singer. What I'm getting at is that this movie is worth a revisit as you get older, wiser, and more willing to laugh at how dumb teenagers are. I had a great time rewatching this and I enjoyed just how dumb and mean some of the songs were, and not in the way that you rewatch this movie when you're like 18 or 19 or 20 and you're obsessed by how "fucked up" everything you watched as a kid really was. (Yeah man I guess Rocko's Modern Life was fucked up. If you think about it, Fern Gully is pretty fucked up. Have you noticed how fucked up Land Before Time was, like as a concept?) The best part this time around was probably realizing just how cruel that "Beauty School Dropout" song is, and seeing Frankie Avalon just being a prick to Frenchie via beautiful, dreamy music. It's not a good movie, but it's the kind of movie that'll always be good for laughing at yourself and how dumb you used to be.

Les Misérables (2012) Tom Hooper
I was not prepared for how in your face this movie was going to be. Everything feels massive, and all the actors are just fucking belting out these desperate songs. It was pretty overwhelming, but for as many parts where it felt like I was knocked on my ass by the sheer force of will of this movie, there were long stretches where I could not be bothered to give a shit, particularly when Hugh Jackman is just sort of singing on his own and feeling sorry for himself. The best shit is when EVERYBODY is singing as if these songs could topple the Bourgeoisie and the Aristocracy and the King or whoever and anything in this whole goddamn universe that's ever made anyone feel like less than what they are, and when that happens, when all of these people are taking you through every point of the emotional spectrum, you kick yourself because all you can think about is how now you get why Hathaway got that Oscar -- she's the only one who was able to do exactly that without the entire French Revolution singing back up.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

2014 Movies: We Should All Just Believe In Ourselves

Lords of Dogtown (2005) Catherine Hardwicke

Kind of a strange experience, I think. The movie is pretty cohesive, but I'm trying to remember what exactly happened and it all sort of feels like a dream. Everyone talks with these very strange affectations, and it's just kind of distracting because I've heard all of these guys speak in the Dogtown and Z-Boys documentary. I've heard what they sound like and it certainly isn't anything like whatever Emile Hirsch was trying to do. Just seemed like a strange choice, and even Heath Ledger just barely pulls it off. My main problem with this movie is a similar problem I had with Stacy Peralta's Z-Boys: I just didn't feel like I had any idea who Stacy Peralta was when he was skating. This is especially a problem with this movie, considering he's one of the main characters. The plot about Stacy Peralta not being initially accepted by the Z-Boys crew feels like it was made to service the movie drama, as I'm pretty sure no one on the Z-Boys had anything against him aside from the usual competitive trash talk between good buddies, but then again we didn't learn too much about Stacy Peralta in Dogtown and Z-Boys either, did we? I think I would be really into seeing a movie about this crew and this era made by somebody who isn't Stacy Peralta. He may be too close to his material, and he increasingly seems to me like he's more interested in protecting the legacy of his crew instead of giving us a true look at these people. It's understandable, but I just want to know who Stacy Peralta, is I guess. I want to know who all of these people are.

Magic Camp (2012) Judd Ehrlich

A documentary about Teen Magicians going to a week-long Magic Camp. It's not as fun as J Clay Tweel's Make Believe, but Magic Camp feels a bit weightier, focusing on some real problems in these teens' lives and even problems in the magic community. It's good and it's manipulative, but it does make you do a little bit of work in that most of the kids' problems aren't explicitly stated and you have to kind of make your own inferences. However, it's not a lot of work since all the clues and all the signifiers of teens with problems are right there in front of you. (There's a joke about misdirection here, I think, but what kind of monster do you think I am to subject you to that?) All that work you're doing to figure out each kids' story inevitably translates to worrying about these kids, particularly the one kid who dropped out of high school to do magic. When we meet him, we see his act and it's pretty impressive, but then we find out that he just dropped out of high school to pursue a career in magic, and then we see him do the act again, and it becomes much less impressive as the movie goes on, particularly when all the teachers are pointing out how he's just kind of coasting by with minimal effort, and when he spends most of the movie talking about how he doesn't have an ending for his act and he doesn't seem to be actively bouncing ideas around for his big finish. The movie ends with him getting a job delivering groceries to old people or something, and it's just worrisome watching this kid's life get derailed because he believes in magic.  
Then there's the girl who's being held back by some of the teachers because they think that girls should only be assistants and not magicians. She's frustrated because she's at this point in her fascination with magic where she's realizing that magic as an industry suffers from a deeply rooted sense of misogyny. It's sad to watch, but I guess ultimately not as worrisome as the high school dropout since that girl's probably going to be fine. She's going to get her drivers license and realize that magic sucks and weed is cool and then she'll fuck around with improv for a few years and probably have sex with other improvisors and like one guy who's too old for her and then she'll move on and get really into twitter or something, I don't know. My point is that she'll be fine, she seems like she's smart enough to figure out it's time to bail when you realize even your dumb dorky self is (and always has been) too cool to hang out with teenage boy magicians.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) J.J. Abrams

I don't think I'd seen anything with Benedict Cumberbatch aside from tumblr memes, so it was kind of exciting to see what all the fuss is about I guess. Oh wait! I think he was in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? I can't remember what he did in that movie, but I remember liking that movie a bunch. It was just so slow and British, but in a good, compelling way. Anyway, I'm obviously stalling here as I try to remember what happened in Star Trek: Into Darkness, but I think I was fine with it? I remember finishing the movie and thinking "Oh, well I guess it wasn't as bad as everyone said it was supposed to be." I don't know. The action bits were pretty exciting, I guess, but overall it just felt like a joyless retread. Every character seems to have learned nothing from the previous movie, so we get to see them go through the same character arc again, but like with thirty percent more scowling. The fun of it just seems to have been sucked out, which is disappointing because I think that previous one did a good job of conveying that feeling of reckless space adventuring that you'd expect from a dickhead captain jock and his crew. Oh I did like Peter Weller as that hawkish Starfleet commander. As Peter Weller's gotten older, he's gotten to look more like an evil version of Patrick McGoohan, and I think that's awesome.
BONUS! A fun game that Tessa made up: whenever Karl Urban is onscreen, hold up your hands so that the top half of his face is covered, and pretend Judge Dredd is yelling at Chris Pine.

The Countess (2009) Julie Delpy

Kind of boring for a movie about the Blood Countess, which is a shame. The violence is pretty shocking and gruesome, but the rest of the movie is such a slough that it makes seeing peasant girls getting put into Iron Maidens just seem like a desperation move to keep our interest. Oh, I guess one neat thing is learning how much the story of the Blood Countess influenced the bad guys' devices at the end of Blade? (I'm like half joking about that.)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

2014 Movies: My expectations are mostly met and in one instance, surpassed

Party Monster (2003) Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

An ugly movie about an ugly murder. I think Tessa was telling me that this was shot back when people just started fucking around with digital, unsure of how to use it correctly and effectively? I kind of hated this movie, and I think most of that is based on just how ugly it looks and how it's mostly incoherent, but not in a stylish way? Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin made some odd choices in their performances too. It seemed like they were trying to do something campy with their performances and voices, but they just missed the mark. Camp is a difficult thing to achieve because even being a little bit off tips you into the realm of the unfunny or self-serious that camp works so hard to undermine. I guess it was wrong of me to think that a movie about a grisly murder starring Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin would be at least something to see and experience, but I'll go ahead and file this under "Mistakes, Understandable."

Pain and Gain (2013) Michael Bay

Oh man, I was not prepared to enjoy this movie as much as I did. For a man who's crafted an oeuvre rooted almost entirely in coked out, over the top action movies, Pain and Gain is the coked out-est of them all, a true opus in cocaine twitch-directed movies. Bay looks like he's trying to pull off a Michael Mann-style Miami crime movie, except the movie centers around three big guys with more guts and ambition than brains, an idiotic and short-sighted plan, and the movie is directed by Michael Bay. AND IT WORKS! Every performance is so strong and funny. I love Wahlberg whenever he's playing a meat head with a dream, The "Dwayne Johnson" Rock is like a very funny mountain, and Anthony Mackie has this completely different kind of weird funny that seems rooted in being completely ignorant of personal boundaries and social cues. Subtlety is not an essential tool in a movie of this sort, so Bay doesn't even really try to pretend. It felt like the full movie version of one of those heavy-handed "satirical" movie posters you'd find in a Grand Theft Auto game. As the plot moves on, you just get caught up in what's gonna happen next with these idiots, and you're nodding along to this message of working hard and taking what's yours (it's a lot like a more enjoyable The Wolf of Wall Street in that sense), but then the movie takes this pretty dark turn and you're questioning whether you should feel guilty about enjoying yourself so much for the past hour or so. The real-life story of these guys is awful and horrifying, but Bay et al push it into an over-the-top comedy that gives you that option to tell yourself that much of this story on screen is exaggeration so you don't have to feel awful about rooting for these murderous idiots.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Bryan Singer

My expectation for this movie was that this was at best an entertaining clusterfuck that I wouldn't mind, but I think I left feeling like it was a clusterfuck that I ended up liking enough. It was a very "X-Men" movie, and by that I mean out of all the X-Men movies, I feel like this one was the closest in capturing the feel of reading an X-Men comic. I don't mean like faithfulness to the source material or anything so bland, I mean that feeling you get when you're reading X-Men comics. It was exciting and fun and goofy and something to get lost in, and there are points where the storytelling is just kind of sloppy and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and it feels like half of the film is somebody explaining what's going on to somebody else, but you've happily resigned yourself to rolling with it and having a good time, wondering how it's all going to end. It was fun. It had problems, sure. But who cares about problems in an X-Men movie anymore?

The Purge (2013) James DeMonaco

Not a great one, but definitely not as bad as I was expecting. I feel like it would've made a pretty cool episode of The Twilight Zone. The problem is that it's a feature-length movie and it sort of runs out of steam, but there is definitely a good hour-ish stretch where it's pretty suspenseful and scary. I don't know, man. I guess there's something to be said about a movie that manages to stay compelling for any stretch of time even after they introduce that stupid baby doll surveillance camera on wheels as a major plot element, but the problem is that this is also a movie that has a stupid baby doll surveillance camera on wheels as a major plot element instead of giving us the near-future race/class war that the expository news pundits propose to us in the beginning of the movie.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 Movies: I guess this one's about identities?

She's The Man (2006) Andy Fickman
This was a good one from back when it was fashionable to make a teen movie based on a Shakespeare play. It was a time when Channing Tatum was probably half the size he is now, and when Amanda Bynes was still full of such laughter and promise. There are a lot of surprisingly on point jokes, and the movie is really snappy, like to the extent that it feels like a good chunk of this movie takes place in a montage. Amanda Bynes's dude voice is just so strange and awful.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Wow a totally competent and enjoyable Marvel movie! There's a lot of good writing about this one out there, so I'll just say I liked the political thriller and you can't trust anyone vibes enough that I didn't even really mind that its end message seems a bit confused or misguided. But then, who really cares about the political messages behind these things as long as the fights look good? Marvel has traditionally been aggressively middle of the road in terms of their politics, and this one is a good example of looking like you have something to say, without actually taking any sort of meaningful stance. Whatever, I thought that fight on the freeway was pretty dope.

Thor: The Dark World (2013) Alan Taylor
I don't even really remember what this one was about really. I know I watched it, but it's just like this empty space in my mind. And wow is Natalie Portman boring and unessential.

Josie and the Pussycats (2001) Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan
This is a genuine gem of that late 90s, early 2000's teen movie golden age. Very funny and sharp jokes at the expense of teenagers and capitalism. Pretty exciting whenever a movie openly mocks its audience, even more exciting when the movie can convince you that its laughing with you.

Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001) Stacy Peralta
A pretty good movie about the formative years of skateboarding, but I think it suffers from Stacy Peralta not really trusting himself yet as a filmmaker/documentarian. There are a lot of gimmicky and distracting transition effects, things like that, that he moved away from by the time he made Bones Brigade. There's also the problem of just straight interviewing his own friends on the Z-Boys team. The Z-Boys, amazing pioneers of skateboarding that they undeniably are, are unfortunately not the best at storytelling. Each interview sounds pretty much the same: "We were the only ones doing this, everyone else hated us, we were all best friends, this meant a lot to us, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta were amazing, etc." There's not enough about some pretty crucial things, namely the Z-Boy that apparently disappeared in Mexico, Jay Adams's prison time and addiction problems, and who Stacy Peralta was as a skateboarder. That last omission about Stacy himself is particularly frustrating because we get a lot of hype from everybody interviewed saying that Stacy was one of the best, but we don't really get any particulars, perhaps because they were reluctant to be too complimentary in front of Stacy or because Stacy was trying to be modest. Either way it feels like a big piece is missing from the story.

Single White Female (1992) Barbet Schroeder
An erotic thriller about a shitty roommate -- but it's not the shitty roommate you think (at least the way I was watching this thing)! Jennifer Jason Leigh is set up as the obsessed stalker/murderer roommate, but Bridget Fonda is pretty shitty too. JJL has obsessive tendencies, something about a twin she had that died or she murdered or something, and Fonda, not knowing this, brings her in to be her roommate to sort of pick herself up after a pretty bad breakup with her terrible cheating boyfriend. JJL gets a bit clingy and does some questionable things, sure, but it makes sense when you consider that if she didn't take some kind of action, Fonda would've gotten back with her shitty boyfriend and they would've moved in together, leaving JJL to try to figure out their Soho rent situation ON HER OWN. I don't even think JJL had a real job, and even though Soho was probably kind of shitty back then, shitty Manhattan neighborhoods aren't cheap. Anyway the real estate questions really affected me, more so than, I guess, the murder. Oh, this movie also features Stephen Tobolowsky as a sleazy rapist, so I guess there's that.

Backdraft (1991) Ron Howard
I'm not sure I have a whole lot to say about this one. Have Ron Howard movies always been this tedious? I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen any movies of his besides Apollo 13 (and I was down with Apollo 13, for the record), but I'm drawing a blank. Well, Backdraft works like a totally paint-by-the-numbers human drama. Nothing too surprising or exciting happens, really, which is a shame considering the movie's all about fires. I thought the bits where Deniro does his fire forensics examinations were pretty cool. It's a shame we couldn't have Keanu instead of a lesser Baldwin, but Billy will do in a pinch. Kurt Russell gets to play his own dad in the flashback sequence, and it's basically just him with a mustache, which I think is a tool that more movies should consider.