Monday, March 18, 2019

Short Attention Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I've been down with Spidey for about as long as I can remember, and I'm a 40-year-old dude who still rocks comics.  Bonus points: the one mainstay on my pull list has always been The Amazing Spider-Man.  With that in mind, I believe I can speak with some authority when it comes to the webhead.  My expertise extends beyond the comics and also applies to the movies, to include the appropriately obscure.  Of course, I've seen all the mainstream ventures, but I didn't stop there.  Seriously, have you ever gone on a quest to track down every episode of the 1977 television series starring Nicholas Hammond--and forced yourself to watch them all?  Dear lord, I hope not.  I like to think that I paid that tab for all of us.*  Anyway, I say all that to say this: I was a bit unsure about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and my unease may have increased in light of all the incredible praise heaped upon this 2018 animated adventure.  Surely, I thought, it can't be that good.  Listen up, peeps.  It's that good.  It's freaking epic.  It rocks.  I didn't like it, I positively loved it.  The animation is unique but brilliant, the voice performances are perfect, and the soundtrack is nothing short of superb.  Most importantly, the direction courtesy of Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman is amazing, and the screenplay from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman is spectacular.  They weave a mesmerizing web of rollicking action and heartfelt drama that elevate this into the upper stratosphere of comic book movies.  Look, I drooled over Infinity War with the rest of you, but Spidey snuck in like a thief in the night and rocked the Casbah with this vivid and thoroughly entertaining smash hit.  I do not believe I am taking things too far when I dub this the best Spider-Man movie we have seen to date, and I enjoy all of the previous efforts, even Spider-Man 3**.  I rate Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming as among the best comic book adaptations ever produced.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse surpasses all of these adventures starring the wallcrawler we hold so dear.  Guess what?  I'm not stopping there.  No, I would like to take things even further, to be honest, and I'm here to declare this one of the best superhero movies out there.  In terms of craftsmanship and quality, it is on par with the best of the lot, to include the previously-mentioned Infinity War, as well as other legit classics in that realm, movies like Logan, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Superman II.  I can't recommend this one highly enough, and it is a joy to encounter something that is equal parts diverse, inclusive, and splendid.  I want to thank everyone involved for taking my favorite superhero to new heights.

*For the record, they're kinda fun, and I give the makers of the show props for trying really hard.  That's probably too kind.  Okay, okay.  Let's be real here.  The show was so hokey that it flirts with comedic glory.

**Shoot me if you must.  It's true.

Final Grade: A+


This wonderful feature succeeds partly by inviting lots of takes on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the party, but mostly because it nails each and every one of them, and allows them to participate in a marvelous story.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Curse of Chucky (2013)


Short Attention Span Review - Curse of Chucky (2013)

We're getting a new Chucky movie, and by that, I mean a reboot, not a continuation of the series as we know it.  I share Jennifer Tilly's thoughts on the matter, and lest you're unaware: we're not too keen on the idea.  Honestly, between 2013's Curse of Chucky and 2017's Cult of Chucky (and talks of a tie-in series from the man behind this franchise, Don Mancini), I see no need to do something new and different here.  Now, I enjoy these movies, but I'm not necessarily what I would consider a diehard fan.  Still, as a guy who digs horror, this does feel like hallowed ground for a few reasons.  First off, they're revamping Chucky himself.  That's a terrible fucking idea.  Secondly, they're looking for an "A-list talent" to try and fill Brad Dourif's shoes where the voice of everyone's favorite sadistic doll from hell is concerned.  The phrase "good luck with that" comes to mind.  Anyway, I'm going to push my little tangent here aside (sorry, but not really sorry at all) and review this 2013 chiller for you.  It is not a reboot at all, but something of a restart, taking the story in a new direction without severing any ties to the pictures that came before.  The tone is a fairly significant departure, with this being more of a sinister and spooky tale largely devoid of the zealous lunacy that we saw in the last few entries.  In that regard, it is a lot closer to Tom Holland's killer venture that started the ball rolling, though I would argue that Curse of Chucky is even more subdued, and plays a little more like an old school shocker.  It slowly builds to a crescendo, and even though we all come to this particular party knowing just what to expect, Curse of Chucky takes its time getting to the good stuff.  After all, the family at the center of the tale doesn't know that the doll young Alice is so taken with is a supernatural vessel for one vicious son of a bitch's tainted soul.  Mancini surely understands the lay of the land, and he handles Chucky's malicious exploits with great skill; the design and effects are on point, and the character's behavior is just what fans are hoping for.  Mancini's greatest feat may be pairing Brad Dourif's unbelievable performance with the ominous nature of the piece.  Brad isn't the only Dourif who shines in this outing, as his daughter Fiona excels as our lead.  Her part is both complex and endearing, and Mancini encourages us to really invest in this strong-willed heroine as he puts the screws to her in a big way.  While I won't rate this as the best of the lot, it is a welcome addition to a legacy that remains potent better than three decades after Chucky hit the scene--a legacy that need not be refashioned for current audiences when all the necessary parties are still fully capable of delivering the goods.

Final Grade: B-

Non-Spoiler Alert: Chucky is still one mean little bastard.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Powerful Pages - Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (1974)


Powerful Pages - Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (1974)

Man, I miss Elmore.  He had such a gift for telling gripping stories populated with vivid characters.  He did so by painting incredible pictures with as few brush strokes as possible.  Mr. Majestyk is a perfect example of his style, lean but provocative, fast-paced but detailed, a dramatic confrontation that is never dull and consistently defies expectations.  Majestyk himself is an ideal hero in the Leonard mold, a stoic type with a willingness to strike hard when given no alternative, as well as a deliberate man with a code he will not violate.  Frank Renda, the villain, is another classic Leonard creation, a nuanced tough guy who is both deeply flawed and wildly dangerous.  Majestyk is a melon farmer while Renda is a contract killer, and their little war is as entertaining as it is unlikely.  As with any of the author's works, the dialogue sizzles, and every word brings us closer to a reckoning.  While my efforts here may lead the uninitiated to imagine a cartoonish machismo extravaganza masquerading as a novel, that would be grossly inaccurate.  Yes, Elmore liked to spin yarns about tough guys caught up in even tougher situations, and he had a real knack for one-liners and unexpected laughs.  He also had an unbelievable feel for his medium coupled with a pretty sound grasp of human nature, thus his writing is also insightful and moving.  Don't confuse brief with shallow, and please understand that guns-blazing action and potent drama can occupy the same space.  And if you don't believe me, hell, go ahead and ask Mr. Majestyk.  It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I think it was one of Leonard's best.

Final Grade: A

Monday, March 11, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)


Short Attention Span Review - Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Q works for a few reasons.  As many have pointed out before, the most significant boost comes from Michael Moriarty, who just acts his ass off.  In the midst of a campy horror movie with a flying monstrosity and killer cultists, Moriarty lets it all fly, and his performance is positively Oscar-worthy.  There is no way that previous statement won't come off as hyperbole, but it's totally true.  Moriarty does some Daniel Day-Lewis method shit and slays his role as a petty crook who is both a coward and a dreamer who won't shy away from a big play.  Another key to this cult classic's place in the hearts of horror fans is that while it does contain a flying serpent and those bloodthirsty cultists, that's not really what it's about.  It's mostly about the characters, to include Moriarty's ambitious thief, David Carradine's inquisitive detective (he's equal parts tough and thoughtful), and Candy Clark as Joan, the woman who loves Moriarty's Jimmy Quinn and also despises him.  Cohen's direction and witty script (there are some top-shelf lines in this one) are also winners, but that won't surprise anyone who digs his work.  The effects are sinister where the cultists are concerned and downright hokey where the titular terror is concerned.  This flying fiend is captured via stop motion a la Harryhausen, making this both a kooky frightfest and a love letter of sorts to the creature features of the 50s and 60s.  Q is a strange dish, and it surely registers as junk food, but it remains tasty after all these years.

Final Grade: B


Yes, it's a goofy monster movie, but the praise often heaped upon Moriarty's jazzy performance is wholly warranted.  He should have gotten an Oscar.  I'm dead fucking serious right now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Venom (2018)


Short Attention Span Review: Venom (2018)

Because Tom Hardy, that's why.  What else could it be?  Venom is not a great movie, oh no, far from it, but it is way better than it has any right to be.  Why?  Please revisit that first line, good people.  It simply has to be Tom.  Tom is invested.  The script is an exercise in contrived mediocrity.  Tom is quirky.  The direction is so bland it makes vanilla seem like the most daring of flavors.  Tom is funny.  This is a movie about Venom with no real ties to Spider-Man whatsoever.  Tom is exciting.  Both the special effects and the choreography for this film could accurately be described as run-of-the-mill for the industry at large--and may even rate as subpar if compared to most films repping the current superhero craze.  Tom is unpredictable.  Venom is a by-the-numbers comic book adaptation that has more in common with Catwoman or Spawn than anything Marvel has produced in the last decade.  Despite my love for Tom, when you do the math here, it should add up to a lousy review, right?  Wrong.  Because Tom Hardy, that's why.  Venom should rate as an insult to webheads like me, but Tom's gonzo performance makes it a curious success.  There are moments when he seems to be channeling vintage Jim Carrey, I shit you not, and while I can't say that I agree with all of the choices he makes in this role, it is his schtick that makes this rabble worthwhile.  I'll also give props to the sound design where the symbiote's voice is concerned, and the only thing the filmmakers do that matches Hardy's zeal: centering this tale on the relationship between a strange man and a much stranger creature.  And the fact that heads are bitten off is never a turnoff for yours truly.

Final Grade: C+


It's a love story, really.  A love story about a boy who meets a parasite.
Like when Kurt met Courtney, only this time the parasite is from another planet.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Monster Jams: My Diligence - Sun Rose (Released 1/30/2019)


Monster Jams: My Diligence - Sun Rose (Released 1/30/2019)

Terrible name, gnarly Belgian band.  Some might bill this as stoner rock or some variety of progressive rock, but I'm not really sure where it fits.  I don't particularly care either--I'm not too keen on this whole label craze with what seems like a zillion different little niches where sub-genres of music are concerned.  In this case, I'm totally cool with filing My Diligence under rock and taking it from there.  These guys are aggressive, with driving riffs, a steady beat, and some serious cohesion keeping the sound exquisitely forceful and equally tight.  The vocals, however, are subdued if not lethargic by comparison, though the melodies are sweet and the grooves pair nicely with the band's emphasis on momentum.  The precision involved is ruthless, and even those who don't favor the sound should be able to acknowledge the talent involved in crafting this music.  The contrast on display yields a surprisingly smooth output that never veers off course while blancing catchy harmonies against a potent dose of adrenaline.  Maybe it's a weird marriage; it doesn't matter, what matters is that it works.  Standout tracks include "Resentful,""Backstabber," and "Lecter's Song."  I'm not sure that anything included in this release is truly explosive, but there are no misfires.  Sun Rose is a thirty-eight minute foray into a hypnotic sound that will not necessarily blow your mind, but it will take you to some unique places, and it will leave you wanting more.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, March 4, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Paranoiac (1963)


Short Attention Span Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Typically, when we fright fans think about Hammer, we recall Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee duking it out in their classic takes on such notable horror staples as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy.  It is easy to forget that the studio also produced a number of remarkable features that run the gamut from eerie thrillers to subdued chillers.  Paranoiac is a 1963 picture directed by Freddie Francis, starring a young Oliver Reed at his unstable best.  Reed smirks, schemes, sweats, and twitches his way through this stunning black and white composition that stands somewhere between Psycho and a devilish whodunit.  The cinematography is crisp and compelling, the score is dark and somewhat insidious, and all of the characters aside from Janette Scott as Eleanor Ashby are harboring dark secrets that slowly come to light.  As the movie nears its dramatic conclusion, the shocks come fast and furious, and there are a few terrifying moments embedded in what is mostly a stark and calculating mystery.  Paranoiac is a fun film to revisit, and it remains suspenseful and ominous even in this modern era of dazzling effects and heightened immersion.  It is a throwback, yes, but it is a throwback to a time when there were no big scares courtesy of CGI delights, a time when filmmakers worked hard to terrify audiences with sinister plots and impeccable craftsmanship.  Such ventures often age well, and that is surely the case with this 1963 spookshow.

Final Grade: B+


Paranoiac is creepier than one might suspect--this mask design is pretty chilling for a 1963 thriller.