Thursday, April 30, 2015

Stupid Arguments for $1,000: The Social Issues Riot vs. The Sporting Event Riot

Could we please stop comparing riots involving people who are upset about social issues to riots involving people who are upset/happy about sporting events? The only thing those scenarios have in common is that in each case the people who are rioting are idiots. I have no problems with a protest. I don't care if people have a parade or a party. Only a fool wreaks havoc and destroys things or hurts innocent people out of anger or joy.
I will also point out that when I've seen coverage of people rioting after a sporting event, the general vibe of the report was something akin to "look at these dumbasses" and not "check out these merry people showing their enthusiasm for sports. Hooray for them!"

The Intangibles by Monte Dutton

Yesterday I finished The Intangibles by Monte Dutton, a fine book that had me hooked from the start.  I read the last third of this compelling drama in a single sitting, eager to reach the conclusion--which was tense, exciting, comical, and heartbreaking.  That's quite an accomplishment.  It wasn't all that long ago that I reviewed Monte's novel The Audacity of Dope, and I'm officially going to label myself a fan of his work. 

In truth, the prose was much cleaner in The Audacity of Dope and if I wanted to give someone the best example that I could of Monte's writing, I would recommend that one.  However, I enjoyed The Intangibles more.  It was very raw and very personal, and though it got a little muddy at times, the characters and the story spoke to me on a deeper level.  The Audacity of Dope was a slick and entertaining ride that dealt with complex themes in a lighthearted way.  The Intangibles takes a similar approach to themes that are more complex and a bit harder to wrestle with.  There are a great many laughs to be had while reading this one, but it also boasts some genuinely wretched people and some truly despicable schemes.

The book is set in 1968 and depicts the impact of integration on the people of a small town in South Carolina.  Much of the story centers on the local high school, where a pair of determined and thoughtful football coaches work to bring their team together.  In the process, they may just bring the community itself together, though there are those who are working just as hard to prevent that from happening.  The tale reaches well beyond the football field, following the lives of several players and their friends and relatives as they come to terms with the changing times--or, in many cases, as they fail to do so.  It is possible that there a bit too many characters involved and sometimes elements of this saga that deserve more attention seem a bit rushed.  Yet life can be equally overcrowded and abrupt, and as such, it is likely that some of this novel's flaws contribute to its authenticity. 

There are meditations on more than race relations, as religion, sex, politics, and drug use and abuse play pivotal roles in the way the characters and their relationships develop.  As with any worthwhile drama, there are struggles, triumphs, shocking developments, and tragedies housed within the pages of The Intangibles.  It is clear throughout that Dutton is writing about things that matter to him, and one has to think that his personal experiences played a significant part in bringing this story to life.  While the end result may be a bit overwrought in some places and a bit jarring at times, it is a potent and meaningful story with a lot of soul, and it is surely worth reading.  The journey is enlightening and the climax is a stunning example of Monte's wit and talent. 

You can purchase a copy of The Intangibles here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Protest is Good, Riots Pretty Much Suck

I try to stay away from social issues (as well as politics and religion) because those are things that I'm passionate about that DO NOT sell books.  Yet sometimes I feel the need to speak out, and the recent events in Baltimore and much of the social commentary I've seen regarding such events makes this one of those times.  Keep in mind, I'm just some guy who writes books and makes movies, so I could be wrong about any or all of this.  Regardless, for those who are interested, these are a few things kicking around in my brain as I watch Baltimore burn:

I think that there is a need for protest.  I do believe that America has a serious issue in regards to how the police is treating civilians in 2015, and no group is more at risk than members of the black community. 

I also think that officers of the law have one of the hardest jobs on the planet and for every three scumbags in blue, there's at least one worthy soul.  Maybe the scales are balanced, maybe the lousy cops are even outnumbered by the good guys, but I'm not sure.

I think that a dignified protest sends a powerful message--particularly when the amount of people participating is a massive figure.  A multitude of wronged people respectfully expressing their frustration is a driving force for reflection and change.

I also think that it doesn't take many idiots who prefer a good old-fashioned riot to totally change the narrative.  Willful destruction and violence, as well as theft and brutality, serve no real purpose in such a scenario, unless that purpose is to degrade the efforts of those engaged in a peaceful protest.  While a peaceful protest can change minds, I believe that riots and rampant mayhem only reinforce the various prejudices that cause some members of our society to feel that the mistreatment of other members of our society (be they black, poor, or anyone who isn't wearing a badge) is warranted.

I think that many of those fools who are turning to violence and petty crime think they are cranking up the volume on the message being delivered when in fact they are simply drowning it out.

I believe the media sucks.  I hate the media.  I blame the media for many of our problems.  Yet I don't necessarily blame the media for focusing on rioters as opposed to protesters.  Generally speaking, no matter how large a group is, and no matter what the group has gathered for, if a small contingent of that group engages in bad behavior, that will always be the story.  It makes the actions of those selfish souls that much more disappointing.  I can't believe I'm going to bat for the media here, but a dignified display of unity will never generate more headlines than some asshole setting something on fire or smashing something.  That's not the world we live in--and maybe the media deserves a lot of the blame for that, but I digress.

I don't believe in taking shit.  As a society, I believe that we should stand up to bullies.  Yet I don't think that it makes much sense to bully someone else if we are bullied.  Punch the bully in the eye and I applaud you.  Punch some random soul in the eye and you just became another bully. 

I believe that this shit is very complex and there are no easy answers to many of the problems we currently face as a society.  I don't believe that destruction is going to provide any meaningful answers at all.

I believe that I would rather be blogging about a horror movie, yet I don't believe that ignoring situations such as the chaos unfolding in Baltimore is worthwhile.  We need more people trying to have rational discussions about the issues that led to this dismay and looking for legitimate solutions.

To sum this up, I believe that police reform is necessary and I applaud anyone engaging in a respectful demonstration toward that end.  I do respect many officers of the law (who are already doing a fantastic job) as much as I am disgusted by those cowardly public servants who would tarnish their office.  I am also every bit as proud of those peaceful protesters as I am disgusted by those selfish individuals who would use an occasion like this to wreak havoc and distract from their peers who are going about this the right way.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Top 5 Main Themes from John Carpenter Movies

It's no secret here that I'm a fan of John Carpenter.  He could be my favorite director, though I can never fully determine whether I would put him atop my list over Walter Hill and QT.  Regardless, I treasure his work and I've frequently raved about Carpenter's scores, most of which he composed himself.  I decided to take a look at his filmography and rank my Top 5 Main Themes from his pictures.  I'm not calling it my Top 5 John Carpenter Main Themes because one of my favorites is from The Thing, and that particularly nightmarish bit of music was composed by the impeccable Ennio Morricone and not Carpenter himself.  Of course, that is the only piece of music on this list that Carpenter isn't responsible for.

Top 5 Main Themes from John Carpenter Movies

 5) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Like many Carpenter efforts, this theme seems a bit simple in that it is only comprised of a few layers, but the way these elements are layered together and the effect that they combine to create are anything but simple.  Bonus points: Carpenter claims that budgetary concerns dictated that this theme (and in fact, the entire score for Assault on Precinct 13) be composed in a single day.
Assault on Precinct 13 theme on YouTube

 4) Big Trouble in Little China (1986)Much like the movie itself, this theme is cheeky and full of energy.  If there's one theme on my list that others may swap out for another Carpenter gem, this is probably it, but I love it.  I offer up my sincerest apologies to the Escape from New York theme.
Big Trouble in Little China theme on YouTube

 3) The Fog (1980)
Eerie and intense, this is the epitome of a horror movie theme.  I'm inclined to think that it may in fact be Carpenter's creepiest composition.  It's so haunting, so melodic, . . . so damn awesome.
The Fog theme on YouTube

 2) The Thing (1982)
An ominous masterpiece that reeks of doubt and doom, the theme for The Thing builds the perfect mood for the movie.  In truth, this sounds more like Carpenter's work than Morricone, but Ennio was at the wheel and contrary to some reports, Carpenter didn't tell him what to do.  They didn't even speak the same language.
The Thing theme on YouTube

1) Halloween (1978)
Intense, iconic, and still imitated, the main theme for Halloween has to be viewed as one of the best themes of all time.  Sure, there are richer pieces of music to be found throughout the motion picture landscape, deft and nuanced works of art with a higher pedigree.  Yet this riveting theme is right up there with the very best of them in terms of impact and popularity for a reason.  It's pitch-perfect. 
Halloween theme on YouTube

Saturday, April 25, 2015

#JokerLeto, I'm Not Sure I Can Dig You (Alternate Title: Joker or Juggalo?)

When it comes to early looks at various elements of production design for movies, I try to be a "wait and see" kind of guy.  So many things can change and some things wind up looking a lot better on the screen than expected.  Hell, sometimes images leak or get thrown out there and shit that looks really dope comes across as totally lackluster when the movie finally arrives.  Having said all that, and with my Bat bias* thrown to the wayside, I'm not feeling it.  You know what?  I think Jack was the best, and I've got Cesar Romero higher on my list than you guys do.  Yet I'm not some crusty old dude who hates the new stuff.  I didn't hate the idea of Ledger in the role like many of you did.  I thought he would make it work.  I didn't dislike the initial images that I saw of him in character.  Can you say likewise?  But--you knew it was coming--I have to be honest here, kids, I'm not feeling this shit. 

Please let the joke be on us.  Get rid of the grill and the tats and maybe we can talk.  Until then, it's just not happening for me.  Now, I'm still buying Leto.  I think he's talented enough to make it work if they trot him out there looking like Ronald McDonald and have him rap with the Fresh Prince over the opening credits.  He'll kill it, I'm putting money on it, but the production team doesn't have to make it hard for him.  Personally, the tats just don't do it for me, but some of these are downright ridiculous.  The "J" tear?  Do what?  The smile?  The "HaHaHa" tats?  "Damaged" on his forehead?  Are you dead fucking serious right now?  He looks more like some Joker-obsessed scene-kid than the Joker himself.   

I'm seriously hoping that this is a trial run and not a finished product.  I'd rather not see the Joker covered in tats, but it might work better with tats that weren't so self-referential and dopey.  And let's drop the grill.  Come on.  I look at this, and I imagine the production team trying different things out while some dude with a lot of influence kept saying "It's getting better, but we still need more Flavor Flav."  Like I said earlier, I'm still down with Leto in the part, but I'm asking nicely: can we please avoid saddling him with a silly look? Yeah, it will generate a lot of short-term buzz, but it will probably yield a lot of long-term "we shit the character design bed" guilt as well.

*Honestly, I'm a comics guy, so it's not like I hate Batman or anything.  He's a cool character and he has a nice rogues gallery.  Some of you motherfuckers, though, wow.  The craziest and goofiest Spider-Man fan on the planet is a very normal cat when compared to roughly 40% of Batman aficionados.  Those dudes who are always ready and willing to tell you at length about how Batman could defeat _________** with enough time to prepare give the rest of us comic book lovers a bad name.

**Just fill in the blank.  It could be another comic book character.  It could be Godzilla.  It could be a black hole, an earthquake, . . . it doesn't matter.  These people and their Batman worship will never bow to reason.

"Jimmy's right, I did it better--and I didn't even shave my moustache!"

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fun with the Family @ Olsen Park in Wilmington, NC

Since we've moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, we've been able to do so many cool things with the kids that they wouldn't have gotten the chance to do back in lowly Ridgeway, Virginia.  If you were to ask my children what they like most about life on the coast, however, they might not lead with the Science Expo at the aquarium or the guided tour of Fort Fisher.  They might lead with the beach, but there's a good chance that they would reference the awesome parks that we have grown fond of visiting.  Today, they got the chance to play at Olsen Park, where a new standard may have been set for playgrounds.  I could go on and on about the great facilities and that wicked cool playground, or I could share some of my photos of the wacky Waylands in action. 

Yeah, let's do that.

Our magical little muffin didn't know where to begin.

Ash has never met a swing he didn't like,
but this one was a bit cooler than most.

Mama Kris and Baby Kass enjoyed the slide.
The Wayland Sisters were all over the place, making friends and having fun.
Dr. Suess would say something like this:
"They climbed things here,
They climbed things there,
They climbed things everywhere."
Not to be outdone, Ash made friends and climbed stuff too.

Taryn takes a break from climbing to ham it up for the camera.
Muffin see, Muffin do.  Look at Kassie climbing too!
(I'm still feeling a little like Dr. Suess)
Kass and I stopped having fun long enough to take a Selfie.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Pumpkinhead (1988)

Pumpkinhead is a horror film that never really got its due.  I'm not sure that the property lends itself well to the notion of a series, so maybe it's not all that surprising that a pair of toothless sequels have probably hurt this curious monster movie's appeal.  Yet it has a fanbase; many genre aficionados treasure the fantastic creature effects c/o the legendary Stan Winston, who also directed the picture. Yes, Winston's direction wasn't quite on par with his effects wizardry, but that's not akin to saying that he mucked it up.  He did a good job as director and he was working with a nifty screenplay.  He was also given quite the assist in making a startling motion picture by his star, Lance Henriksen, who gives one of his best performances in Pumpkinhead.  Just in case there's someone reading this blog who isn't in the loop, let's tell it like it is: Lance Henriksen is awesome.  Saying that a movie features one of his best performances is a big deal coming from me.  I'm a huge fan of his work (I went to see Man's Best Friend on opening night and I quote Bishop almost as much as I quote Hicks or Hudson) and I truly appreciate the stellar job he did with this material.  I enjoy the gruesome story, but it is a bit predictable and the movie could have been rather forgettable in spite of the tremendous creature effects with a mundane performer at the wheel.  Lance elevates this one into a dark morality play that is frequently as dramatic as it is terrifying.  This fright flick is riveting from start to finish, and it doesn't waste a lot of time, packing a wealth of thrills and chills into a lean 86-minute runtime.  With Pumpkinhead, one of the best effects artists ever and one hell of an actor delivered a fierce creature feature with bite--and heart.

Final Grade: B

The effects are great, but Lance's performance is even better.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Conan the Barbarian (1982)

There are only a handful of movies that I enjoy as much as Conan the Barbarian.  I'm a fan of Arnold, I'm a fan of action movies, and I'm a big fan of Robert E. Howard's mighty Cimmerian, so this shouldn't be breaking news.  Yet I think that anyone who enjoys an entertaining and energetic film should be able enjoy this smash hit from 1982 whether they have an interest in any of those things or not.  Expertly directed by John Milius, well-scripted, and bolstered by some truly fabulous sets, this is a remarkable motion picture.  Yes, there are some considerable alterations to Howard's vision, but many of these changes benefit the movie and none of them detract from it.  I have been a fan of this character for a great many years, and in my personal opinion, the differences that spring up in his adventures on the big screen, the printed page, and within the realm of comics have seldom diminished his charisma.  Conan is such a rich creation that it's difficult to modify him to such an extent that he loses his luster, though later film efforts would succeed in doing just that.  This stellar Schwarzenegger vessel is a real winner that may be the finest action yarn depicting a quest for vengeance that has ever been produced.  The cast is magnificent and the action sequences are rousing, realistic, and impressive to behold--a daunting trifecta, to say the least.  The plot is well-constructed and seldom has such an intriguing character been so free to roam.  The poster doesn't lie, for we see Conan enslaved as a child, forced to become a pitfighter when he comes of age, and he later earns his keep as a thief before emerging as the warrior he is destined to become.  Unlike many of the pictures that populate such fantastic realms, Conan the Barbarian isn't a whimsical effects show but rather a dark and gritty saga ripe with brutality and dismay.  The score courtesy of Basil Poledouris is a vibrant masterpiece that only adds to the movie's incredible power.  In fact, it may be my favorite score ever, and it's surely my favorite score by anyone other than John Carpenter.  Director John Milius is a woefully underrated figure in the motion picture industry and Conan the Barbarian is surely his greatest achievement.  I'm gushing a bit and I know it, but I just don't know how else to put it: if you truly want to know what is best in life, you must watch this movie.

Final Grade: A+ (it's better than Stygian Black Lotus)
As Conan, Arnold delivers perhaps the best prayer of all time.
Conan's Prayer
Crom, I have never prayed to you before.  I have no tongue for it. 
No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad, why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many.  That's what's important.
Valor pleases you, Crom, so grant me one request.  Grant me revenge.
And if you do not listen?  Then to hell with you! 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Interstellar (2014)

Surprise, surprise--Christopher Nolan has delivered another stirring picture!  Seriously, Nolan producing something mesmerizing is almost old hat at this point.  Interstellar is only his latest riveting motion picture experience, and while it doesn't represent his best work, it's still one hell of a film.  Thoughtful, emotional, bold, exciting, and challenging, this sci-fi epic is a fine example of the power that high-caliber cinema can yield.  Nolan has always placed incredible talents front and center in his work and that makes this a bold statement, but for once I believe that the greatest strength of this movie was not the gifted director who I'm praising but the star I'm about to start praising.  Mathew McConaughey is on some kind of a roll right now, and while this isn't his best work either, the charm and grace he brings to Interstellar is a fantastic treat to behold.  The best thing about McConaughey is his ability to convey so much and get an audience so invested in such a natural manner.  Many thespians go to elaborate lengths to generate a response, but McConaughey reminds me a bit of the legendary Henry Fonda in that he can dominate the screen with such ease that it seems downright effortless.  There's a feeling that such a performer could walk in a room, pick up a script, read a line once, and then deliver it with remarkable authenticity.  It seems like child's play.  Regardless of how nonchalant his approach may appear to be, McConaughey's work here is impeccable and his performance is nothing short of captivating.  He is joined by wonderful performers like Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine, as well one major surprise, and the acting is top-notch across the board.  The plot is complex yet entertaining, and like many of Nolan's films the less you know going in the better.  The effects are fabulous and the science is very convincing--though I would be one of the last people to know if they were totally defying the laws of physics and such.  The score is superb, which is what we've come to expect from Hans Zimmer, particularly when he works with Nolan.  In closing, Interstellar covers a lot of ground that previous science fiction films regarding space travel have covered, but it never feels like an imitation.  It's fresh, surprisingly sentimental, and very rewarding.

Final Grade: A
Once again, Nolan delivers an emotionally charged mindbender.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Frogs (1972)

Frogs is silly, but that probably doesn't need to be said.  It's a movie called Frogs, after all.  No one should expect high art from a film about killer amphibians.  Surprisingly, Ray Milland was available for this flick, and he's joined by actors like Sam Elliot and Adam Roarke in a campy spectacle that takes itself a bit too seriously to be as fun as it probably should have been.  It's still entertaining so long as you like cheese more than you like wine, but in spite of a ludicrous premise and some less-than-inspired writing, this isn't one of those "so bad it's good" laugh-riots that I frequently recommend.  No, it's kooky, but it's also a bit somber and some might even find Frogs to be rather dull.  I enjoyed it largely because I'm a sucker for stuff like this and I liked Sam Elliott's super-cool approach to playing the lead.  Milland might get top billing, but Sam's the hero.  He makes it look easy--dude is every bit as chill when he has to do battle with pissed off water moccasins as you or I would be while making a sandwich.  Though the title might lead you to expect an avalanche of frogs wreaking havoc, that's only a small slice of the pie.  Members of the cast also fall prey to spiders, snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators along the way.  Apparently someone thought Frogs was a more inspiring title than Swamp Creatures on the Rampage.  The frogs do act as upper management while man suffers for his crimes against the environment and their ghastly croaking could easily be mistaken for the film's score.  Yes, it's another eco-friendly fright flick from the 70s (I love those!) as well as a man vs. nature throwdown (I love those too!), so the fact that I have a soft spot for this oddity should come as no surprise. 

Final Grade: C
Killer frogs?  Sam Elliott ain't go no time for that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Prophecy (1979)

Billed as "The Monster Movie," Prophecy strives to be just that.  Alas, the effects don't quite live up to the hype, but this bold creature feature still manages to entertain.  This is largely due to the presence of several quality performers  and a terrific director.  Prophecy also boasts a nifty plot, so while the creature design is a bit of a disappointment, the movie itself is easy to recommend.  Besides, it's not the worst creature design ever, and there's enough fright and suspense in the mix to keep horror fans rooted to their chairs until the gruesome finale.  Now, director John Frankenheimer wasn't exactly at his peak here, but he still managed to generate a lot of intensity and dread with Prophecy.  There are also a few pertinent themes interwoven with the screaming and the bloodshed, to include ruminations on humanity's crimes against the environment and futility born of bureaucracy, but Frankenheimer doesn't let these elements get in the way of a good time.  The cast, including Talia Shire, Robert Foxworth, and Armand Assante, among others, make the most of the material.  Surprisingly enough, the three capable leads I just mentioned offer up some of their best work in a movie that requires them to square off against a dude in a rubber suit in the closing reel.  The score is perfect for a horror flick like this one and there's a lot of gore sprinkled throughout the proceedings.  True story: I have a crazy uncle (doesn't everyone?) who has dubbed Prophecy his favorite movie.  Now, I can't go nearly that far, but I do enjoy it and I'm certain that anyone else who responds to phrases like "creature feature" or "monster movie" the way that I do will have fun with this one as well.  Truthfully, if Katahdin (the beast of legend/freakish mutation that hunts our merry band of heroes) was a bit more convincing, this movie might have achieved epic status.

Final Grade: C+
Despite being a beast born of folklore, Katahdin is having a less than stellar day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Razorback (1984)

Short Attention Span Review: Razorback (1984)

 This outlandish Aussie horror flick from the 80s is a twisted man vs. nature flick with an ample dose of man vs. man thrown in for good measure.  The titular terror, an enormous wild boar with a taste for blood, is seldom glimpsed despite being the most fearsome villain in the piece.  However, a pair of despicable lowlifes, the Baker brothers (played by Chris Haywood and David Argue), are almost just as vicious and enjoy a wealth of screen time.  The script is a bit hokey and the film is surely padded a bit here and there, but gifted director Russell Mulcahy hit the scene in style with this underrated shocker.  His daring approach elevates a cheap horror film into something more, a surreal adventure that escapists will probably enjoy more than gorehounds.  The score is just as compelling as the cinematography and there are several memorable sequences.  Many of the most potent moments of the film are centered on Bill Kerr in a supporting role and not Gregory Harrison, whose Carl Winters is a rather mundane lead.  The effects are a bit subpar, though Mulcahy's wise decision to allow viewers to see the massive boar for no more than a second or so at a time enhances the experience.  The picture may have fared better if the plot had focused more on Kerr as Jake Cullen, a  vengeful hunter whose grandson was killed by the giant razorback in a sensational opening.  Yet Razorback still emerges as a fearsome and vivid spectacle despite a few shortcomings and a wooden leading man.

Final Grade: C+  

Note: giant razorbacks are neither cute nor cuddly, but they can be sneaky.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Daredevil (2015) - Series Review

Marvel's Daredevil, currently available on Netflix, is sensational.  Those who have enjoyed this unique character in comic book form over the years know just how rich this property is, but those who only knew of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen by virtue of the misguided 2003 theatrical release may be surprised to hear this.  Rest assured, Marvel didn't send Matt Murdock and company to Netflix because they had concerns about Daredevil's viability.  No, apparently they did it to give him a bigger presence in their imprint.  Thirteen episodes (roughly sixty minutes each--and all of which are available now) allow Charlie Cox and the rest of the cast to dig deep and deliver a stirring series that establishes Daredevil as one of the most exciting and dramatic creations the house of ideas has to offer.

I'm a big fan of comics, and Frank Miller's work with Daredevil surely ranks among the best stuff that I've ever had the pleasure of reading.  Anyone who feels the same way will be thrilled to learn that his stellar run with the character is well-represented here, both in terms of presentation and plotting.  The story is appropriately grim, yet it is also engaging and dramatic.  Most importantly, it's action-packed and the fight scenes are tremendous.  There are a number of battles contained in this series that are among the best throwdowns we've seen in a Marvel production, to include movies like The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Yes, it's true--this Daredevil kicks ass.  And, just like in the comics, he also gets his ass kicked a lot.  There's as much (if not more) screen-time devoted to Matt getting doctored up and trying to explain his various bruises and lacerations as there is time devoted to the brutality that yields all this damage. 
Obviously, the casting is critical for a venture of this nature, and Charlie Cox is a perfect fit for the part of Matt Murdock/Daredevil.  Like many of Stan Lee's greatest creations, it's entirely possible that this hero's civilian endeavors are more important to the tale than the stuff that happens when he dons a costume and squares off against his enemies.  Cox never falters and he benefits from a rich part that presents him with a lot of tough decisions to ponder and a wealth of emotions to portray.  In the end, Matt Murdock emerges as one of the best-defined characters presented in any of Marvel's film and television ventures, and Charlie Cox seems like a legitimate star.  There are a great many reasons that this series works, but none are more integral than Cox and his winning performance.
He's backed by a number of worthy players who all benefit from compelling parts and detailed storytelling.  Honestly, after watching this show audiences will be far more familiar with the supporting cast of Daredevil than major characters who have graced the big screen in Marvel's cinematic universe--characters like Hawkeye and Falcon, among others.  Perhaps the biggest winner in this regard is Vincent D'Onofrio.  Not only does this amazing talent literally transform into the Kingpin (like, not only does he look like he was plucked from the pages of the comics down to the lines on his face, but how did he know what Wilson Fisk always sounded like in my head?), but Loki is the only other villain who has played such a major part in Marvel's live-action escapades.  The way this villain is fleshed out was superb and the rage he displayed whenever he lost his cool was truly frightening.  Elden Henson also did a fine job as Matt's sidekick, Foggy Nelson, and Toby Leonard Moore was also a big find as Fisk's right hand of doom. 

Honestly, everyone did a great job, to include Vondie Curtis-Hall as Ben Urich and Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page.  Rosario Dawson was as beautiful as ever in the role of Claire Temple (though I wish she had been given the opportunity to do more badass Roasario Dawson stuff) and Bob Gunton was nice and slimy as Leland Owlsley--a mundane but entertaining take on Marvel's B-rate villain The Owl.  I wish there had been more of Scott Glenn as Stick, but he was a great choice for the part, and John Patrick Hayden brought a lot of heart to the part of Matt's father, Battlin' Jack Murdock.  All things considered, the casting was top-notch, and the writing made the best use of all these incredible talents. 
A great cast, lots of action, and a fast-paced show with a lot of heart--what's not to love?  I can't think of anything this show didn't do well.  Maybe the only complaint I could muster is something that most won't agree with and it could be a bit of a spoiler.  So, yes, SPOILER ALERT and all that, skip the rest of this paragraph if you're worried about such things, but I liked Daredevil's "black pajamas" look so much that when he finally put on his actual costume I was a bit disappointed.  Honestly, they did a nice job with the outfit, but it just didn't work as well for me on-screen as his simple black get-up did.  This may sound downright blasphemous, but when I saw Daredevil in his official costume, well, that's the only time this show reminded me of that 2003 disaster starring Ben Affleck.  Let me soften the blow a bit by stating once more that I liked the red suit and they did a good job with it, but it just didn't thrill me as much as the black look did.  Maybe that's just me.

In closing, this show was totally awesome.  This was the adaptation that fans of the character deserved, and it looks like the Marvel shows coming to Netflix have a very bright future.  I loved the nods to Iron Fist in this series, and given that he's one of my personal favorites, I'm salivating at the prospect of seeing him get this sort of treatment.  If you dig comics, or movies based on comics, or badass shows in general, do yourself a big favor and watch Daredevil on Netflix.

Final Grade: A

Friday, April 10, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Bait (2012)

Bait is just your average "great white sharks terrorize shoppers at the grocery store" movie, and while that particular sub-genre is overpopulated, this one manages to stand out.  Okay, so just to be clear, I am kidding about there being more than one of these absurdities, but I'm not kidding about Bait being a movie about people being terrorized by great white sharks at the grocery store.  Despite this ludicrous premise and an opening that is 100% terrible, the movie somehow works.  First off, the opening is awful.  I'm still not quite sure why I didn't turn Bait off after that bullshit, but I'm glad I didn't.  The picture that follows is gleefully idiotic, but it is also ferociously entertaining.  And after that opening convinced me that the special effects would be inferior to the great white carnage I used to enjoy while playing Jaws on my NES as a child, the rest of the movie benefits from superior effects work.  {Clarification: the term "superior effects work" as used in the previous statement applies to the effects seen in the opening reel of Bait as opposed to special effects in general.}  So, how did the sharks wind up in the grocery store?  See, the store was flooded during a tsunami, and as is so often the case when tsunamis occur, a pair of large great whites wind up trapped in the flooded supermarket.  Now, in addition to the presence of a pair of bloodthirsty sharks, there are number of interesting characters involved in various situations that could yield entire movies of their own stuck in the flooded store.  Among them are a brokenhearted dude and his former flame (I shit you not, their romance fell apart after he failed to save her brother from a shark attack in that totally inept opening scene), a sympathetic robber and his sadistic accomplice, a cop summoned to arrest a shoplifter who just so happens to be his daughter, and so on and so forth.  Truthfully, Bait should sink like a stone under the weight of the absurd premise and all the ridiculous contrivances that spring up throughout its 93 minute running time.  Yet it somehow gets the job done.  It's fun to watch and you will actually wind up liking some of these ridiculous characters and pulling for them as they struggle to survive in these ridiculous circumstances.  Julian McMahon (a guy who should have become a legitimate star and instead pulled hard time on Charmed and received third billing in Bait) does a great job as the sympathetic robber and deserves a lot of the credit for grounding this ludicrous yarn.  Kimble Rendall deserves some praise for holding this thing together as a director, and given how it turned out, I'm almost willing to pardon him for that opening.  Russell Mulcahy, the guy who gave us Highlander and Razorback (What? I like Razorback) helped out with the script.  I'm feeling generous, so I'll even point out that the effects team that totally shit the bed in the first ten minutes of the movie held it down when it mattered most.  In the end, I'm not sure how it happened, but in this silly movie with a woeful beginning wound up being an entertaining ride that I'm going to recommend.  I might even give it a "B." 

Final Grade: B-

It's hard to determine if it's the realism or the subtlety that make Bait so entertaining.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

El Rey Network, I Think I Love You

It's official: I have fallen for the El Rey Network.  Seriously, I'm starting to think that Robert Rodriguez dreamed this station up just for me.  Giallo flicks, spaghetti westerns, and kung fu treachery--hot damn!  Seriously, check out Thursday's theme:

What's not to love?  Now, some of you may not dig kung fu flicks as much as I do.  I don't know what the hell's wrong with you, but it's true--some people don't really care if honkies from the CIA interrupt their kung fu.  The rest of us dig Thursdays on El Rey.  In truth, if you like cool movies, this channel has you covered whether you dig kung fu or not.  Cult classics are the norm and there are gory horror flicks like City of the Living Dead running when Mad Max isn't ripping down the asphalt in The Road Warrior.  Hey look, it's Taxi Driver!  Like I wondered at the start of the paragraph, what's not to love?
So what's happening on El Rey aside from all the groovy movies?  Well, there's Lucha Underground, for starters.  I dig the wrasslin' and let me assure you, you've never seen wrasslin' like this.  The environment, the atmosphere, the moves--Lucha Underground is a wicked ride.  If you don't like wrasslin' you may actually dig this, and lifelong fans of suplexes and DDTs may just lose their minds watching this shit.  It's insane.

Of course, there's more.  I really dig watching Rodriguez sit down with other directors and talk shop on The Director's Chair.  You know that I had a blast watching John Carpenter dish on his biggest hits and share his thoughts on the film industry in general, and the two episodes devoted to QT were equally compelling.  There are other programs and even the ads and promos are nifty given that they have a distinct grindhouse feel. 

I just discovered El Rey a few weeks ago, so I know that I'm late to the party, but I'm quickly becoming this channel's biggest fan.  Do yourself a favor and tune in!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: White Line Fever (1975)

I'm a big fan of a sub-genre that I lovingly refer to as "movies on wheels" even though I'm not as keen on the modern fare.  It's not that I want to endanger stunt drivers, but CGI shenanigans are no much for legitimate vehicular carnage.  Regardless, there are some wonderful pictures from the 60s and 70s which feature determined heroes waging war behind the wheel.  White Line Fever scores a bit of a 70s trifecta as it deftly interweaves a movie on wheels with a trucker flick and a vigilante yarn.  Individually, these themes were very popular at the drive-in, and they mix well in this fast-paced action flick starring Jan-Michael Vincent as Carrol Jo Hummer--which is surely either the best or worst name anyone could dream up for a heroic trucker.  I always thought JMV was a worthy performer and this might have been his best role.  His rig, the "Blue Mule" is also deserving of props, and Kay Lenz was a perfect fit for the part of the blushing bride--or something like that.  Slim Pickens, R. G. Armstrong, and Dick Miller join Martin Kove in rounding out the cast, which is a fine assembly of actors and actresses.  The score is a sound example of the honky-tonk boogie that fueled pictures like White Line Fever and the script is easy to fall for despite its contrived nature.  The Arizona scenery is fantastic to behold and the various car chases, shootouts, and fisticuffs that drive the film are executed well.  There's also a potent dose of drama in the mix, and anyone who likes a story about a determined individual sticking it to the man will enjoy Carrol Jo Hummer's tale as much as I do.  It's not perfect and it may not be easy to find, but I think White Line Fever is one of the finest movies on wheels to race across the silver screen.

Final Grade: B+
Carrol Jo shows us the proper way to handle being pulled over by the police.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Road is Jericho (2015)

Hello, my name is Jimmy and I'm a Jerichoholic.  I enjoy wrasslin' and there are many superstars past and present who I have cheered for, but Jericho is the bee's knees.  Thus, I was pretty damn excited when I scored The Road is Jericho on Blu-ray.  First off, be sure to pick up the Blu-ray if that's an option for you.  7 hours of material on DVD is cool, but 8 and a half hours on Blu-ray is better.  Secondly, while it is true that most of Jericho's most celebrated matches were contained in the first set, dude has epic matches to spare.  This is a nifty collection that spans much of Jericho's career and features several of his finest rivals, to include the Rock, Shawn Michaels, Rey, and HHH.  His most recent rivalries with CM Punk and Bray Wyatt also made the cut by virtue of a Chicago Street Fight and a good old-fashioned cage match, and the best match in the set may be a no-frills but lengthy bout against RVD on RAW that is an absolute showstopper.  Understandably, there's no mention of Chris Benoit and none of Jericho's legendary matches with him are included, but Jericho's legacy is strong enough to survive despite the absence of what may have been his strongest rival.  My favorite Jericho match, a "Last Man Standing" showdown with HHH from Fully Loaded in 2000, is still missing in action, but lo and behold, the match with HHH that is included in this collection actually sees Chris emerge victorious.  Despite the presence of so many notable superstars and so many incredible matches, the real highlight of The Road is Jericho has to be the segments where Jericho discusses his career and the various matches included in the set.  Chris is very candid, funny as always, and dishes out lots of cool tidbits about himself, his opponents, and the wrestling business.  The Road is Jericho will definitely thrill any Jerichoholic, and any true wrasslin' fan should find something to love in this terrific set.

Final Grade: A
The "best there is at what he does" may be absent from the WWE at present,
but his second collection of matches is sure to break the walls down.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Fire and Ice (1983)

There was a time when animated features weren't just for kids.  In fact, many countries still produce feature-length animation for mature audiences.  In the late 70s and early 80s, Ralph Bakshi was at the forefront of such cinema here in the states.  In my opinion, his finest offering was Fire and Ice, the groovy cartoon that emerged when Bakshi teamed with legendary artist Frank Frazetta to dream up an action-packed fantasy.  While it brings nothing groundbreaking to the table in terms of plot, the story is serviceable and the characters (Darkwolf in particular) are memorable.  The animation still ranks among the best that I've ever seen, with some exceptionally nimble rotoscoping yielding some sensational setpieces--to include several ultra-cool slow-motion sequences.  The backgrounds are stellar and the color palette is perfect for a fantasy epic.  Anyone with a taste for this type of material will have a blast with Fire and Ice, while those who don't like swordplay, dragons, or cartoons probably won't have a change of heart while watching this one.  Running a mere 81 minutes, Fire and Ice is brisk and lively.  It's glorious to look at, easy to follow, and it is overflowing with adventure and excitement.  There has been some discussion about a live-action adaptation of this piece courtesy of maverick director Robert Rodriguez and I can only hope that there is some substance to those rumors.  If not, at least I still have this kickass cartoon to enjoy.

Final Grade: B+
Conan + Batman = Darkwolf, who is appropriately awesome.

Short Attention Span Review: Killer Joe (2011)

I greatly enjoy many of William Friedkin's films.  The Exorcist is an iconic horror film, and I'm equally fond of his most underrated picture, Sorcerer.  In truth, I typically have a hard time recommending Sorcerer because it's so grim that I know that many probably won't enjoy it despite the fact that I believe that it's a genuine masterpiece.  With that in mind, let me start this review by saying that Sorcerer is about as merry and heart-warming as Annie when compared with Killer Joe.  Seriously, this is one nasty movie, and it gleefully takes vulgarity to new heights.  Or should it be lows?  It doesn't matter--the point is simply this: there are times when this movie is surely as grotesque and revolting as anything you're apt to see that is worth watching.  Yet it is also a superb effort bolstered by fabulous performances, flawless direction, and remarkable cinematography.  The script (adapted by Tracy Letts from his play) is also a major achievement in that it keeps you riveted even though the cast of characters is mostly unlikable and the story that unfolds is a wicked descent into utter depravity.  It's really Mathew McConaughey's show, and he sizzles throughout, totally owning a part that would have brought many gifted performers to their knees.  He is vicious, charismatic, insane, and extremely entertaining.  The rest of the cast (including Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and her beaver pelt, and Thomas Haden Church, who join forces to portray what may be the stupidest family in the history of the cinema) are also down for this darkly comedic ride.  The ending is truly marvelous--I'm tempted to say that it may be the finest abrupt ending that I've ever beheld.  It's a perfect spot to close the show out even though it comes during the most striking moment in the film and leaves you with a couple of potent questions to ponder during the credits.  In closing, if you can stomach it, you're going to be rather amazed by Killer Joe.

Final Grade: A
You will never look at a drumstick quite the same way after watching this one.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Batman - The Dark Knight Returns (2013)

Comics are all the rage these days and that certainly pleases geeks like me.  I'm more of a Marvel guy personally, and while they've owned DC at the box office, the animated movies that each publisher produces have been a different story.  The animated version of Frank Miller's epic The Dark Knight Returns may be the highlight of DC's animated glory and I'm eager to recommend it to you guys.  First off, Batman typically wins people over because he's gritty and determined, not because he has cool superpowers or wears a colorful costume.  Rest assured, he's never been grittier.  This tale concerns an aging yet formidable Bruce Wayne, who has actually spent a decade as a normal reclusive billionaire, having put his crime-fighting efforts on hold.  Those ten years haven't been kind to Gotham, and while Bruce becomes Batman once more to battle a ruthless gang known as the Mutants, he soon finds himself waging war against a couple of his biggest enemies--and his most powerful ally.  Of course he'll catch up with Jim Gordon, who is also nearing his end as a protector of the innocent, and there's a surprising new Robin in the mix to spice things up.  The action is vicious, the voice-acting is sublime (Peter Weller is a perfect choice for the caped crusader), and the animation is crisp and exciting.  There are some deviations from Miller's work, but the animated film that emerges is still a fine representation of his groundbreaking tale.  Originally, this was released in two parts, but I watched the deluxe edition that combines the two into a seamless but massive 148 minute extravaganza.  Batman - The Dark Knight Returns is incredibly violent and I'm honestly a bit surprised that they managed to score a PG-13 rating for this release.  Shocking though it may be in many aspects, it's also a fun ride.  It's fast-paced, it's satirical, it's laced with black humor, and it offers fans a chance to witness gruesome and conclusive confrontations with Two-Face and the Joker, as well as a bone-jarring showdown with Bats squaring off against Superman.  This is an easy title to recommend to mature viewers who enjoy stellar animation, comic book superheroes, or Batman in particular.

Final Grade: A
The Batman/Superman throwdown is the main attraction and it doesn't disappoint.