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The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

June 17, 2015

comic pileLongtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Read more…

The Chronological Carpenter: Escape From New York (1981)

June 16, 2015

escape-from-new-yorkGood golly, has it really been NINE months since I posted about a John Carpenter movie? Well, after checking out 1980’s The Fog last fall, I actually watched the next two films in relatively quick succession (for me at least). But, I never got around to writing about those films: Escape From New York and The Thing. I wanted to get back on this train, so I watched Escape again and here we go.

escape from new york poster 1The first thing that struck me about this film is the scope. All of Carpenter’s movies revolve around strange things happening in the real world (masked killers, ghost pirates, stalkers and voodoo gangs) which create these smaller, twisted realities. But, with Escape, he’s creating a whole world. The Big Apple has been abandoned, the island has been walled off and turned into a prison. On top of all that set dressing we also have characters who all feel like they’re as lived in and sometimes legendary as possible.

And a lot of that comes from Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Snake Plissken. The man doesn’t say much, looks cool and is known by EVERYBODY (even if he’s shorten than expected). He’s also got a deep history hinted at but never fully delved into. This is a nice trick that’s played in comics when it comes to characters like Punisher, Wolverine and John Constantine where we’re impressed (and possibly scared) by them because just about everyone else is. Russell fills the role with his own presence and created an iconic character who continues to inspire comic books and toys to this day.

escape from new york poster 2Adding to that, you’ve also got the denizens of New York, one of the strangest groups of people this side of Thunderdome. Creeps, weirdoes, evil geniuses, murderers and Cabbie? Seriously, why is Ernest Borgnine in this place?! He seems so nice (except for when he ditches everyone). Questions like that might not come the first time you watch the film, but pop up the more times you check it out which broadens the world.

On the surface, it might seem like Escape is an outlier in Carpenter’s filmography because there aren’t any supernatural forces at work, but if you look a little deeper you’ve got the clear influence of westerns (lone gunman with a reputation entering a place and getting the job done), the concept of being trapped by something nefarious and Carpenter’s growing cast of actors who appeared in several of his movies like Russell, then-wife Adrienne Barbeau and Halloween‘s Donal Pleasence as the president (who gives a great latter day Loomis performance here).

 

As much as I like this movie, I have a weird relationship with it. As it turns out, I think I actually watched the sequel Escape From LA first back in high school, so there are huge portions of that movie that live in my brain because that was back when I could absorb the most information. Because of that, I kept wondering when the map seller would show up or when the basketball scene would happen. The other problem is that I seem to fall asleep during this movie more than any other. I don’t know what it is, maybe the music or the subdued performances from many of the cast members. More likely, it’s the fact that I can barely stay up past 11:30 these days. Whatever the case, I’ve started this film more times than I’ve finished it and yet I still love the opening 20 minutes which sets everything up so well. I’d love to see this one on the big screen to really feel the full force of this huge, sprawling and yet subtle at times world that Carpenter crafted.

You might be expecting me to move on to The Thing next, but that won’t be the case. Much like with Halloween, I love that horror classic a lot and, as I mentioned above, watched it not too long ago. I find its best to not overdo it when it comes to favorite horror movies because they can lose some of their power if you’re TOO familiar with them. I think it’s also safe to say that I don’t have much in the way of unique thoughts on the masterpiece of stranded, paranoid beauty he created there (plus I wrote about it a bit back in 2011). That means I’ll be moving on to Christine in the near future!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Gizmo From Gremlins

June 2, 2015

After watching the commercial the first time, I wasn’t fully convinced that any of it was real. I mean, sure, the 80s were corny, but a full-on theme song about the rules from Gremlins (one of the greatest films of all time)? That seemed like too much to be believed (as did the fact that the plush looked like the love child of a Chihuahua and a dust bunny), but according to the least amount of research possible, it all appears to be legit.

Okay, so it’s real and I guess it would have been pretty cool if you were a kid back when the movie came out, but I definitely prefer the plush Gizmo that NECA made a few years back. In addition to actually resembling the character, it doesn’t look like the kind of thing your cheap uncle found in the parking lot of the mall after a rain storm.

Added bonus: after three viewings, the song really grows on you. Can we get a full version, dance remix and then a stripped-down folk cover please?

Big Bot Double Feature: Robot Wars & Crash And Burn

June 1, 2015

robot wars posterSeveral years back I was in the enviable position of being on Shout Factory’s PR list thanks to working at ToyFare. Because of that, I got a lot of interesting DVD sets, some of which I haven’t even watched yet. The Giant Robot Action Pack featuring Robot Wars and Crash and Burn is one such selection that I decided to finally watch over the weekend and I was surprised at the results.

I’ve actually tried to watch Robot Wars — directed by Albert Band and released in 1993 — a few times, but never really made it through for various reasons. This time, I was set to watch the film and actually succeeded. A kind of sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox — which is also getting the Shout Factory treatment — this movie takes place in a future world where one scorpion-like robot carries people from a protected city to one that was abandoned and preserved in 1993. After terrorists take over the robot, it’s up to our brash hero, his co-pilot, a reporter and an archaeologist to find another robot and save the day.

Though the title is pretty misleading — two robots fighting does not a war make — I had a lot of fun with this film. The stop motion on the robots looks better to my eye than the bad CGI that would be used today and the characters, while broad and oftentimes goofy, are charming and fun to watch (it wasn’t until this latest viewing that I realized the reporter is actually Lisa Rinna in an early role).

While this is far from the best giant robot movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate that everyone involved seemed to be doing their best and trying to create something fun and interesting. Full Moon would sometimes swipe heavily from other projects, but this felt pretty original to me. That might not sound like the most thrilling endorsement, but it went pretty far for a low budget 90s sci-fi action film. It helps that my experience with huge robots doesn’t extend much past loving Transformers as a kid and loving Pacific Rim.

crash and burn posterThe other film on the set — Crash And Burn — is another kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Robot Jox (they were marketed as such overseas, but share nothing in the way of continuity). This one actually really surprised me because it was such a mix of genres and movies that I love.

It starts off with a guy on a futuristic motorcycle traveling through the desert to visit a factory-turned-TV studio run by a rebellious old man who rails against the corporation that runs everything (and also employs the motorcycle driver). Once there, we meet an eclectic cast of characters that includes Bill Moseley, the old man’s granddaughter played by Dark Skies‘ Megan Ward, blowhard talk show host and a pair of women who…are there for some reason. Soon, an important character is murdered and the search is on to find out what happened. It just so happens to involve killer (human sized) robots and a huge robot outside that doesn’t work (BUT IT WILL!).

So, with this one movie you’ve got the seclusion of the desert with the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland-type set up mixed with the group-of-stranded-strangers motif (because there’s a radiation storm of some kind) plus the whodunnit mystery (though it’s pretty clear who the killer is if you pay attention to footwear), the someone-isn’t-who-they-seem thing AND THE ROBOTS.

Let’s jump into SPOILER TERRITORY for this graph because I don’t want to ruin an old movie I do actually want you to check out. I tried to paint with broad strokes above, but here’s the deal. If you happen to notice the murderer’s ridiculous boots and then wait about five minutes until you see the cast together once again, you’ll know who the murderer is. Of course, it’s not revealed until AFTER they do a take on the test from The Thing that doesn’t quite go as planned. But once the killer is revealed, it’s a damn delight to watch him go absolutely bonkers, knock off a few randos and then have a big fight at the end that eventually involves the big robot.

All in all, it’s a perfectly crazy movie. While I appreciated Robot Wars for being better than I expected, Crash And Burn actually surprised me by being more aware of what it was and playing with the audience before finally giving them what they wanted in ways they might not have known that they wanted it. I can’t think of another movie I’ve watched recently where I had little-to-no expectations and yet was so pleasantly surprised.

We Want Action: John Carter, Edge Of Tomorrow & Jack Ryan

May 28, 2015

john_carter_ver2 I’ve been pretty tired and/or busy lately. Between work and the kids, the days are pretty full and I get awfully sleepy by the time evenings roll around. This is a bummer for me because I like to stay up and watch movies at night, but that’s been more of a piecemeal process lately. However, I’m still trying to take in new films like this trio of more recent big screen offerings.

Let’s start with Andrew Stanton’s 2012 film John Carter from Disney. This adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ space traveler didn’t do so hot at the box office and I think I know why. First off, the well seemed to be pretty solidly poisoned before the movie even came out. I have no idea why that is, but I was heavily in the movie coverage thing for Spinoff when this film was coming out and there seemed to be a lot of pre-press about how it was going to fail. I don’t know why and this might sound conspiratorial, but it seemed to me like someone didn’t want the movie to do well and then it didn’t.

But, that’s not all. This isn’t an easy film to understand and, for me, that’s not a knock. You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on and do a little thinking yourself to keep up with this tale. It’s not all laid out at your feet, which I appreciate because too many movies spell everything out so there’s absolutely no place for confusion. I don’t mind working for my entertainment and actually think better of the projects that make me get into that headspace.

This isn’t just a thinking person’s sci-fi action film, though. It looks rad. The aliens are fantastic and the action sequences are on point. I’ve read maybe a quarter or a third of ERB’s A Princess of Mars and it seemed like Stanton and company took what’s a fairly dry, clinical narrative and gave it a bit more heart which I appreciated (I actually stopped reading because that old school style of simply listing everything weird that’s happening gets real old for me real fast). All in all, I give this one a big thumb’s up and hope more people discover it at home. It’s too bad we’re not going to get more of this world…at least for a while.

edge of tomorrowAs I move on to talking about Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, I’m realizing that all three of these movies were adaptations. This one is probably the least well known because it’s a manga (which I haven’t read, for what it’s worth). Basically, aliens are invading earth and humanity uses mech suits to fight them off. Tom Cruise plays a self-serving PR guy who gets unceremoniously recruited to the front lines where he kills one of the creatures which gives him a kind of Groundhog Day-like ability to keep living the same day over and over again. He gets in contact with Blunt’s super soldier character who had a similar experience and starts training like crazy, dying constantly along the way.

The story has a pretty high concept and some specific rules about how you get and lose these powers, but again, I don’t mind learning these fairly outlandish details as they’re presented. I was much more interested in Blunt’s character than all that anyway. She’s such a cool, shrewd character who, in a way, knows what’s going on, but in another is completely in the dark because she has no idea how many times Cruise has come back and tried any number of alternative methods. While he’s falling for her over and over again, she’s basically meeting him for the first time every day (and killing him a number of those times).

So, if you can buy into some bonkers rules and like Tom Cruise evolving from brash douche to war hero, then give Edge Of Tomorrow (or as it was retitled upon home video release KILL. DIE. REPEAT.) a shot.

jack ryan shadow recruitFinally, let’s talk a bit about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, based on the character seen in Tom Clancy’s novels. This particular story doesn’t come from one of those books, instead giving the CIA operative an updated origin story for the modern era starring Chris Pine. The idea here was to start a new franchise, but apparently the film didn’t do to well and those plans have been put on hold, but I thought this was a gripping thriller that kept my attention the whole time.

Ryan starts off as a finance wiz who joins the military after the events of 9-11. While serving, his helicopter gets blown up, but he survives to meet and fall for Keira Knightley in a hospital. While getting better Kevin Costner appears and offers him a job as a covert financial analyst for the CIA. He soon comes upon Kenneth Branagh, a Russian whose machinations include a massive terrorist attack that will topple the world economy.

As much as I love James Bond movies where our hero is super experienced in all things espionage, I kind of liked seeing someone like Ryan in his early days. He’s got the training and does okay when he gets attacked early on, but Pine also conveys how overwhelming some of these experiences are. It would have been cool to see his version of this character evolve over a series of films.

Of course, Jack Ryan has been in a series of movies like Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum Of All Fears. I don’t think I’ve seen any of those movies, so I wasn’t spending the whole run time comparing Pine to Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck which was cool, but I am interested in going back and check them out.

 

Halloween Scene: Housebound (2014)

May 21, 2015

HouseBound_Poster_11_Alt2As an avid listener of my favorite horror podcast Killer POV, I hear about a lot of movies that sound cool. That’s where I heard about You’re Next and Resolution, both of which were awesome. The only problem? It’s hard to keep everything straight, especially because they’re usually talking about films they’ve seen at festivals or screenings and it takes a while for them to show up on Netflix. Luckily for me, I remembered them talking about Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound and then the movie popped up on Instant, so I gave it a watch yesterday and really enjoyed it.

Here’s all I knew about the film: a troubled young woman gets sentenced to live in her mom’s house for several months which may or may not be haunted. Also, it mixes in healthy doses of comedy with the scares and has a particularly Kiwi sensibility. Really, that’s all you need to know. Go watch it, then read the rest of the review, because going in blind is the best way for this film.

Okay, have you seen it? I’m not looking to spoil the whole thing, but I love how this movie plays off, not just the thoughts and superstitions of the people in the story, but also my own experiences as a horror fan. Like anyone, I’ve seen my share of haunted house stories, so even though I don’t believe in that kind of thing in the real world, I’m totally open to it happening in the world of this movie. So, that being the case, I found myself buying in to what I was presented because that’s part of the game. The way that Johnstone and the actors played with those expectations and yanked me around was just fantastic.

We’re in definite plot SPOILER territory with this paragraph, so consider yourself warned. I also loved how basically everyone in this movie is wrong about something. Theories are floated as if they’re fact, seem plausible and then get smashed by someone coming along and telling the truth. I love when stories do that because far too after then hero knows more than they need to just to get to the end. I also really enjoyed the Eugene reveal. It’s such a cool idea how he could be mistaken for something supernatural. Plus, I’m a sucker for reinvisioned gothic haunted house tropes being worked into modern stories.

Okay, no more spoilers. I really enjoyed this movie and think you should check it out immediately. Go! Now!

Jason Aaron Is Awesome

May 20, 2015

GhostRiderOmnibusJasonAaron Jason Aaron’s one of those comic writers whose career has interestingly intersected with my career as a writer about comics. When I first started at Wizard one of my buddies and an editor at the magazine was huge on his Vertigo series The Other Side. I didn’t read that one, but I did check out the Ripclaw one-shot he did as part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season not too long after that and the first few books in his Scalped series.

The first of his works that really captivated me, though was Ghost Rider. But it wasn’t until my second attempt at reading it. As I’ve written, I love the down-and-dirty, grindhouse-y tone of that book and the wild places he took it. I assumed for a while that that was pretty much his wheelhouse, but as I’ve learned recently from branching out into X-Men: Schism, Wolverine & The X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Thanos Rising, Incredible Hulk, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and Thor: God Of Thunder, this guy has more tricks up his sleeve than all the magicians in Vegas. Read more…

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