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View From The Brig(gs): “12: (Not Especially) Angry Columns”

Summer drags on, which means I watch lots of emails go by.

Mostly lots of screaming about film-related paperwork.

Oh, let me tell you. The life of independent movie-making is so much fun.

This week, I noticed that genre screenwriter/comic book author Steve Niles has a new imprint out, Breath Of Bones, from (surprisingly) my old friends at Dark Horse. From one of its covers, it seems to be about hey! a Jewish Golem in World War II that’s fighting Germans.

I immediately felt a giant swell of sorrow for Steve, as I suppose he must live in a cabin somewhere in the woods without internet access, given most screenwriters would have read the trades and various genre movie information pages over the past several years and known that Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz and myself had been putting together our movie PANZER 88 for quite some time.

Which by a strange quirk of fate, also features a Jewish Golem in World War II that’s fighting Germans. Subject for further conversation…

SO, WE ALL KNOW WHAT SUMMER MEANS

Yes, that’s right. It’s bloated movie season. Once upon an age, that meant hunkering down in a darkened theatre with a big “Show Me!” grin on my face. These days, it’s more weary resignation in dragging my heels there to see what drearily-conjured bombast is going to be depressing me. (Oh, and when I was a kid, I hated wearing spectacles to the cinema and longed for the day I could wear contact lenses, which was a joyously revelation. So, guess what? Yeah, you’re right. Now I have to wear crappy 3-D glasses for films, which adds approximately Minus Thirty Hit-Points to my enjoyment.)

The primary subject of my ire this time, is Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, currently earning Warner Brothers a lot of money. You can see more of my comments on this movie in the Forces Of Geek Roundtable my various colleagues and myself here observed on the picture. I like the majority of Snyder’s movies, and this was my most anticipated film of the year. Good performances from Cavill (I really want to see what he can do with better material), Crowe, and Costner; but the movie despite a few nice flourishes was merely an unexciting CG spectacle for me. It won’t be in my “Best Of The Year”. And that 3-D was utterly pointless. AGAIN.

Happily, there was one big budget action thriller that didn’t disappoint: in fact, it took me completely by surprise. I caught up with this one on video, but wish I had watched Olympus Has Fallen at the cinema. Although I love action movies, I’m generally down on them as 9 times out of 10 they’re not very good. Having said that, I really thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and it’s without a doubt the best action movie I’ve seen this year. (Although Jack Reacher had more inventive cinematography and better characterization).

Gerard Butler (who also served as a producer on the movie) is the in-disgrace Secret Service man who finds himself in the thick of the action when ambiguously-Korean terrorists take control of the White House. Butler’s character could have been a bit more ballsy dialogue-wise; although you could make the counter-argument he pretty much portrayed a Secret Service guy. Regardless: Olympus Has Fallen did something that most of the other movies this summer couldn’t: it was actually fun.

While forehead-smackingly obvious Olympus is not much more than Die Hard In The White House, it would have been a more effective script if in the several instances where they did lift Die Hard plot points, they hadn’t done it so blatantly. And if Conrad Hall had only shot this on anamorphic, instead of Super 35mm, how much better would this have been! (There was also some of the most poorly-rendered digital aircraft I’ve ever seen in films, recently: I’ve seen TV effects better than some of the aerial sequences in this.)

Criticisms aside, see this. It’s entertaining, and Butler hasn’t been this good in a while. I’m almost shocked to say, that for pure entertainment value, this one may likely be in my “Best Of The Year”.

And it kicked the crap out of the appalling A Good Day To Die Hard.

I finally got to see Brian Helgeland’s baseball movie 42. It’s a curious thing: I’m not at all interested in watching organized sports of any kind, but even a poor movie about baseball will hold my interest. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here: 42 is a very, very good movie which I really enjoyed it a lot (Helgeland, on a good day, can usually hold my interest). If you’re American, you’ll likely know more about the plot than me, which centers around the 1946/1947 struggles of black baseball player Jackie Robinson, who wore the titular jersey number 42 (obviously, the answer to Life, The Universe, And Everything). There are good performances throughout this film (the awesome Alan Tudyk is horrifyingly mesmerizing as racist manager Ben Chapman), but I want to single out a staggeringly great performance from Harrison Ford, as the implausibly named team executive Branch Ricke: maybe the best performance Ford’s ever given.

Surely he’ll get an Oscar nomination for this, if there’s any justice. Beautifully shot (and on a Red Epic, no less!), this movie comes highly recommended from me.

This one comes with subtitles: Populaire is a new French romantic comedy from first time director Régis Roinsard.

This is a really, really terrific movie, and Roinsard is, I think, going to be a name to watch. Set in the 1950s, it’s about a girl (Déborah François, whom I’m now madly in love with, and is just a wonderful actress) from a tiny French town, and who dreams of being a secretary. Romain Duris (who looks like a cartoon version of Maximillian Schell in some shots, and has a weird sneer that makes me want to slap him) plays the guy who hires her and puts her in a speed-typing competition. The art direction and camerawork in this movie is perfect and charming, and I didn’t want this film to end. Highly recommended (although there’s a fully naked sex scene later on that sort of pops the charming bubble on the movie a bit).

I also managed to catch up with The Place Beyond The Pines. I’m not much for squalid crime thrillers, or drug thrillers, or wretched teen yoof films, so I’m clearly not the target audience for this. I thought the second half, with Bradley Cooper’s cop, was more interesting than the first half with Gosling’s monotone crook. The film is done well enough for what it was, but it wasn’t for me. You may enjoy it.

Also in the squalid crime category was Spring Breakers, a story of nubile and braindead college kids who embark on a life of crime. I got 10 minutes into it, and couldn’t take any more. I fast forwarded through the rest, which for me is pretty much a cardinal sin. Please: if you like quality filmmaking, avoid this thing, for the love of God.

Given that I don’t care for crime flicks, I also saw the veteran mobster flick Stand Up Guys. Walken, Pacino, and Arkin basically do their phone-in performances in this one. Pacino comes out of jail, and they have various adventures and there’s a price on Pacino’s head. And that’s pretty much it. Wacky English actress Lucy Punch has a small standout role as a brothel owner. Stand Up Guys took me a while to warm up to it, but I think I liked it. It’s undemanding entertainment.

I also watched Vive La France, a new French comedy movie. If you took The Dictator and Harold And Kumar Escape Fom Guantanamo Bay (which is way, way funnier) and smushed them together, this would…not really come close. It’s about a pair of suicide bomber terrorists (yes, you heard me right…this is a comedy) from a fictional Middle Eastern country (although “Islam” is never mentioned), who head off to blow up the Eiffel Tower.

Vive Le France is mildly amusing in places. You can’t help but wonder though that if France had suffered a terrorist attack of the scale Britain and the U.S. has, they’d be making such a “funny” movie. The very long-legged Isabelle Funaro made a lot of the running time bearable, as did Jose Garcia who looks remarkably like Robert Downey Jr in comedy makeup. See it if you have nothing better to do.

As I did last time, I watched an Edgar Wright movie as a palate-cleanser, and also to sate my hunger while I wait for The World’s End, I re-watched Shaun Of The Dead for the bah-zillionth time. Wright has yet to direct anything poorly: he’s three-for-three so far, and I’m hoping that World’s End will ratchet that up one. Shaun is pretty much the perfect movie, and I seem to spot something new every time I give it a spin.

There’s a lovely “You’ve Got Red On You” Shaun cricket bat t-shirt I have to grab over at tshirtgk.com, although my favorite current shirt over there is a shirt inspired by Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio podcast film review show, done in the style of the old British Board Of Film Certification logo.

If you’re a film fan who needs something new on your chest (from Highlander to Blade Runner and The Exorcist) fast in time for Comic Con, check out his site.

SLABS OF BOUND DEAD WOOD

As I mentioned, I’m teasing out what’s left of my hair by putting this supernatural WWII movie together, so much of what I’m reading at the moment has to do with Matters Film Oriented. (If you’re interested in viewing my summer reading list, and those of my other Forces Of Geek comrades, take a look here)

However. I finished a book! Yes, I eked-out the time to polish off The True Adventures Of The World’s Greatest Stuntman, the cheerfully modest title from the titular British stunt chap and all-round nice fellow Vic Armstrong (I would say “apparently nice fellow”, but an ex-girlfriend of mine was a storyboard artist who would seize any opportunity to badmouth whomever she could, and she used to say lovely things about Vic, so I guess you can take this as gospel.)

Many years ago, as a film obsessed brat, I snuck on the backlot of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, and crouched concealed and quivering in the Elstree undergrowth as I watched Vic (at least, I think it was Vic) as Indiana Jones dangle from a fake giant rockface and battled Mola Ram. (This stunt utilized Vic’s “fan descender” rig mechanism invention, for which he won an award). If there’s one criticism with this tome, it’s that Vic seems to like everybody he’s worked with, even the ones who have clearly been colossal pains in the neck. Although can that really be a bad thing: why wouldn’t you want to work with someone with such a rosy outlook on life? And, Vic has worked or met with pretty much everybody: from Spielberg and Kubrick and Cameron and Lean on-down (I’m only mentioning the directors here, but the array of Vic’s actors stories are likewise plentiful), and has great anecdotes to recount about all in the bargain.  This is a breezy and likable read, and gives you a nice insight into the world of people who get paid to do the kind of crazy James Bond hijinks (and, yes: Vic did those, too) most of us wouldn’t wish to attempt in a million years.

Okay, I lied. I read TWO books. By a curious coincidence, I also re-read Kenneth Branagh’s nearly 20 year old autobiography Beginning, which he penned at the terrifyingly youthful age of 28 (critics at the time lambasting him for his hubris).

Most of this was written as he was editing Henry V, his cinematic directorial debut, and the latter chapters cover shooting this movie (including the stunt scenes, which by that aforementioned coincidence was handled by the aforementioned Vic Armstrong.)
 
Again, another interesting book for those starting a career on stage or film…especially if they happen to have their first movie as a director looming. (Ahem…)

Branagh has talked recently (maybe jokingly, perhaps not) about doing a second book entitled Middle.

I hope he does. His writing style is engaging, and it would be fascinating to hear about the many ups and downs he’s had since this first publication.

I, personally, came close to making a period version of War Of The Worlds with Branagh in the mid ’90s, but we were thwarted by a rights situation with musical producer Jeff Wayne. Oh, what could have been…

PANEL PINS

I’m going to kick of with Marvel this week. (“You always kick off with Marvel!” I hear you complain. Well, tough. I sent off for a FOOM! Membership Kit as a kid. That’s the way it’s going to be.)

Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four #9 was a really marvelous piece of work.

An angst-ridden Thing goes back in time with Mister Fantastic to his college days, convinced that he is responsible for the lab incident that begat Doctor Doom. Of course, it all goes…a bit awry. This was maybe my favorite read of the week. When the Fantastic Four is cooking, it warms the cockles of my shriveled, blackened heart.

Mark Waid’s Age Of Ultron #10AI was a fantastic step back in time to the history of Hank Pym’s childhood, as present day Hank is on the crossroads of attempting to come to terms with the fact his creation of Ultron almost destroyed humanity. I loved this issue, and it’s definitely one of the better comic books I’ve read of-late. Big thumbs up.

Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis’ Age Of Ultron #10 (How’s that for confusing, Marvel? Work on your indexing, please!) was another engrossing time-travel read. Hank Pym sends some information back to himself to combat the Ultron Menace, and of course causes shivers through the Multiverse. As a big fan of Star-Lord, I was amused that Marvel are taking every opportunity to shove cameos from Quill and the previously niche Guardians into every comic book they have now, in prep for the impending Guardians Of The Galaxy movie.

I loved Kathryn Immonen’s Sif-On-Beta Ray Bill action in “Journey Into Mystery #653”, as Bill is trying to find his kidnapped lost lady love Ti Asha Ra (a strange female construct gifted to Bill from Galactus). After Bill’s cameo last issue, it was a delight to see him front-and-center this time. But Valerio Schiti’s fluid artwork is the real joy, here.

Schiti has such a wonderful sense of space, that you can sense the characters’ body language moving just fractionally from panel to panel. It’s marvelous stuff. And, as Bill is one of my favorite characters in the Marvel pantheon, I’m deeply appreciative of Schiti’s skills.

In Nova #5, Space Cat Titus has followed Nova-to-be Sam Alexander back to Earth to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier before his Chitauri Space Whales (yes, those same guys from The Avengers movie) attack Earth. There’s a little bit of an outer space melee (as if you hadn’t guessed) before Sam has a little pow-wow with the cutesily-drawn Watcher (and, really: you should see him in this comic book. He’s adorable.)

This has been a sweet little book, and in a world (I suddenly heard that movie trailer voice) where you can’t show kids comic books anymore because they’re too violent, this is one I wouldn’t feel too bad putting in the hands of an 8 year old. Jeph Loeb did a nice job with this issue, and helped restore my faith in humanity.

When a comic book barks “Ruff Ruff Ruff” on the cover, you have to wonder what is going through its demented little mind. And Mat Fraction and David Aja’s “Hawkeye #11” does it by telling the entire story from the limited vocabulary point of view…of Lucky The Pizza Dog, Clint Barton’s animal rescue. You need to see this one. Seriously. It’s out there, but in a cute way.

Matt Hollingsworth’s panel layouts nicely achieve Lucky’s simplistic way of thinking, and dialogue is sparse and often unintelligible…yet, you still understand every nuance of the story. If you’re in the mood for something different, this one’s for you.

Brian Michael Bendis scores wonderfully this week with Guardians Of The Galaxy #4. After their rescue by Groot last time, the Guardians are partying down with Tony Stark (who’s along for the ride). When Thanos’ daughter leaves a slightly shell-shocked Tony the next morning (priceless, and worth the comic’s purchase price all on its own), we discover that Spartax troops and bounty hunters are on their trail.

Efficient and fun, and liked it a lot.

Dan Slott’s Superior Spider-Man #12 was a solid (although not outstanding) installment to what has been a fantastic series so far. The Spider-Slayer, Alastair Smythe, has escaped from the hi-tech prison “The Raft”, and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson has endorsed the body-swapped Spidey (Jameson doesn’t know he’s really Otto Octavius) carte-blanche to seek out and eradicate Smythe. There are a slew of other super-villains on the loose here, including the Scorpion, but this seems to be a filler issue until the next helping of pyrotechnics. Good stuff, regardless.

What Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers #7 lacked in firepower, it more than made up for in Machiavellian skullduggery. Wakanda and Atlantis seem poised for a bloodbath with one another, and everybody is meeting everybody else to try and talk sense (including an interesting dinner party with Reed Richards and Doctors Doom and Strange.) An absorbing read, with some interesting wordplay.

Nick Spencer’s Secret Avengers #5 was a good issue in a mixed bag of a series. Hawkeye and Black Widow are sent off to A.I.M.’s island headquarters (of course!) with “extreme prejudice” orders on the terrorist enclave’s leader. Except, of course, that Clint politely reminds everybody that he doesn’t do terminations. And then it becomes a pressure-game to get him to do it.

It’s interesting to see that the Marvel Universe is really tipping S.H.I.E.L.D. into being an amoral C.I.A. I can only wonder what Marvel’s long-term planning here is.

Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk #9 has Hulk (with Daredevil tagging along playing Jiminy Cricket) acting for S.H.I.E.L.D. in taking down some European weapons dealers with super-advanced weaponry. Pretty decent mega-powered James Bond-ian action in this installment.

Okay! Across now to D.C., in the month when its Man Of Steel is released. Which is particularly upsetting to me, as this time around, there’s not a single Krypton-affiliated title making this list. What happened, D.C.? Shouldn’t you have been putting something special on the comic book store shelves this month, to grab all those kids out there who’ve rushed out in glee after…watching two-and-a-half hours of angst destruction?

Well. It’s the thought that counts.

Anyway. Jeff LeMire’s Animal Man #21 proves there is definitely life in this title post-Rotworld.

While Buddy Baker searches for missing animals in Downtown L.A., his supernaturally-attuned daughter Maxine is laying down some otherworldly ground rules with the Parliament Of Limbs and getting her own way. Great title: one of the best this week.

Red Lanterns #21 kicks-off with Atrocitus discovering a “traitor” in his midst, which turns out to have been a Green Lantern spy. Now in control of the Green Corps, Hal Jordan enlists an unlikely ally in the form of Guy Gardner. Gardner, understandably, isn’t very happy about the idea of potentially trying on a Red Lantern ring. But after a power-depleting sluggathon with the Red behemoth, where will Guy be next time around? Tremendous fun…perhaps the most enjoyable of the Lantern titles this week.

Justin Jordan’s Green Lantern: New Guardians #21 has Hal Jordan trying to convince White Lantern Kyle Rayner to side with the New Guardians in the aftermath of the Oa collapse, but Kyle is having none of it. Meanwhile, an anomaly is growing on the edge of the galaxy. It’s all big silly space opera fantasy, but it was an undemanding read and I enjoyed it.

Christy Marx’s Birds Of Prey #21 was a wall-to-wall fistfight, basically, with Talons leaping around all over each other. I can’t fault it for that, as it did what it did well.

Peter Tomasi’s Batman And Batgirl #21 was an interesting read, and that was all I needed from it. A downbeat Batman (“Is there any other kind?” I can cynically hear you ask) who is being painted by Gotham P.D. as being out of control is confronted by Batgirl.

Justin Gray did something amazing with All Star Western #21: actually make me give a damn about this title for a whole issue! Booster Gold and Jonah Hex fall off a precipice in the Old West, and when Hex comes-to, he’s what in appears to be the Frank Miller Dark Knight mutant future.

Well, okay then! Sometimes it does pay to slog through the dross just to get to a gem.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato divvy-up the Writing/Drawing thing with The Flash #21. Although the art is a little loose, this one had some of the most striking page layouts I’ve seen this month.

The plot has Flash chasing Kid Flash all around the world to try and discover who is murdering people connected to the Speed Force, and ends with the revelation of Reverse Flash (in a natty Black/Red outfit, rather than the slightly embarrassing Red/Yellow one). Light and, er, “zippy” fun…

Justice League Dark #21 finishes off the “Doctor Destiny” storyline, with a big team beat-em-up (including a gust appearance from The Flash) on the half “Mars Attacks”/half Cryptkeeper skeletal son of Xanadu. There’s a nice little trick moment where Swamp Thing accesses the mindscape from the woodwork of the League’s possessed house, and Deadman enters it. Hey: leave me alone. These things make me happy…

IN A WORLD WHERE THE FLICKERING CATHODE TUBE IS NO MORE

The adaption of Stephen King’s Under The Dome, the story of a small town that suddenly finds itself contained by a weird invisible forcefield, has just hit. I liked the book, although I was painfully aware that it borrowed heavily from not just The Midwich Cuckoos (later filmed as Village Of The Damned, and then ripped off further in the Jon Pertwee “Doctor Who” adventure The Daemons), but from King’s own superior The Mist.

As far as the first episode of the TV version itself went, I’m enjoying it more than the book (heresy!), so far. I heard something to the effect that if this is a hit, they’ll spin off further seasons. I can’t imagine how or why they’d want to do this, which I can only imagine would be a mistake. It’s an encapsulated (if you’ll pardon the pun) story, and is what it is. Oh, well. I hope you noticed that one of the kid’s dog is named “Truman”, presumably after the entrapped Jim Carrey in The Truman Show.

Hannibal also came and went for its first season on the small screen. I liked it a lot, and look forward to its return. I love Lawrence Fishburne, so it’s always a delight to see him. (I originally wrote the lead in what’s hopefully going to be another upcoming project of mine MORTIS REX for Fishburne, and he wanted to play the part…and then we lost him to C.S.I., which pretty much stalled the project and is the reason I’m now casting PANZER 88.

Sadly, although MORTIS REX has just undergone a change in producers these past few weeks, I feel Fishburne is now too old for the part.) I have even more love for Mads Mikkelson, who seriously can do no wrong. If you’re not into foreign language films, you’re doing yourself a disservice, as Mikkelson has a tremendous repertoire out there his English language films have barely scratched. And Hugh Dancy, who I’ve never really warmed-to prior to this, is tremendous as Will Graham; I’d go so far as to say that he’s the best onscreen Will Graham there’s been, but I wish the writers of this show would give him something to do other than being on the edge of jittery brain-afflicted dementia all the time. (Although, with that medical condition, admittedly it’s difficult to stray too far from the path.)

Having Gillian Anderson appear as Lecter’s own personal psychiatrist in the show was just the icing on the cake. I swear, that woman isn’t just aging gracefully: she seems perfectly preserved in amber. And the show is nicely shot, and there’s a surprising calibre of directors from the silver screen behind it. Hannibal is, I fear, a little bit too gruesome for the small screen, and there’s a whole moral debate to be had about that. But, that’s for another time.

Talking of foreign language, Britain’s Channel 4 just began showing the French TV show The Returned, or Les Revenants as the original title more accurately describes it. The plot is simple: in a small town that decades before suffered a dam burst which flooded the area, the deceased begin to return to their homes looking not a day older than when they “vanished”, and without any recollection of how they got there.

There’s some terrific acting in the show, and I remained puzzled through all eight episodes where the pot was ultimately going. I won’t give it away, and although I think the conclusion was ultimately satisfying, I’d hoped for more. Part Twin Peaks, part Carpenter’s The Fog, you should check this out.

On a bit of a real world sad note, American author and screenwriter Richard Matheson (son of Norwegian immigrants) died on June 23rd, aged 87.

His book I Am Legend has been filmed three times, although my own personal adapted favorites of his are the Christopher Reeve time travel romance Somewhere In Time (from his story Bid Time Return); his episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, directed by George Miller); The Incredible Shrinking Man (a favourite as a youthful space cadet); and a little thing called Duel that was helmed by some fledgeling whippersnapper named Steven Spielberg. (I remember watching this on TV as a kid, long before I saw “Close Encounters”, and being enthralled even then by Spielberg’s storytelling.)

The list of Matheson’s quality output is long: go Wikipedia him, or whatever you kids do nowadays…maybe even press “play” on something, or transfer it to your iPad.

That’s it for this time, twinkletoes. Live Long, And Proselytize…

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