This week I find myself captivated by a Japanese genre from the 60s, a sitcom set in the 70s and a podcast that spans all decades to bring listeners a variety of must-see films. That’s right, this week I’m obsessed with tokusatsu, That 70s Show and the Pure Cinema Podcast! Continue reading My Favorite Things This Week: Tokusatsu, That 70s Show & Pure Cinema
It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.
The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.
Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray
Battling Boy (First Second)
Written & drawn by Paul Pope
I’m not nearly as familiar with Paul Pope’s work as I’d like to be. I know I read either 100% or Heavy Liquid while at Wizard, but can’t remember exactly which one. I do know that he blew me away with Batman: Year 100 and loved staring at his Adam Strange installments in Wednesday Comics. So, when I heard that he had a superhero-esque graphic novel coming out and that our library had it in the system, I was very excited to finally give the results a read.
Battling Boy is set in a world where extra-dimensional beings head to other planes of existence to prove themselves when they reach a certain age. The title character is one such kid whose Thor-like dad drops him off in a monster-ridden world with a series of power-infused T-shirts and a cape. It’s good timing because the place’s science hero Haggard West has just been dispatched leaving his daughter Aurora to pick up the slack. I don’t want to get into too many details because that’s all part of the fun, but our hero, while super powerful, does deal with a lot of more common questions like “Should I just have my dad take care of things?” and “Should I tell these people I have no idea what I’m doing?”
This first volume sets up a really interesting world that I’m psyched to return to, especially because Pope’s artwork is just so…Popian? Papal? This guy’s style is so much his and a part of him that I’m down for reading anything he puts out.
The Rise of Aurora West (First Second)
Written by Paul Pope & JT Petty, drawn by David Rubin
When I first got The Rise Of The Aurora West from the library, I was surprised for a few reasons. First, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t a pure Pope effort and second, I was unaware it’s a black and white manga-esque offering. After just a few pages, though, I didn’t mind either perceived problem. Rubin’s art is very much in line with Pope’s, so it feels like it’s all part of the same thing even sans color.
This story actually takes place before the events of Battling Boy, chronicling the adventures of Aurora and her attempts to figure out what happened to her deceased mother and what it may or may not have to do with her imaginary friend.
In a lot of ways, this book actually felt a little more focused and on-point than the previous book which had a kind of fever dream quality to it not uncommon in Pope’s work. Part of that might be that I’m just used to what this world is about and part is because this book focuses solely on Earth and not the extra-reality zones Battling Boy is from. I also appreciated that, after being introduced to these characters and this place in the first volume, I got to learn even more about what happened to this world. There are still plenty of more mysteries to be had, which is why I’m excited to keep reading whatever else comes out in this series.
Last fall a buddy of mine sent a few Blu-rays he got through his work my way. I’m always super appreciative when people do nice things like this because, unless I hit a really good sale, I’m probably not going to get my hands on a great many things. In that package was a little movie called Q: The Winged Serpent directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) and starring Michael Moriarty (Troll), Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). I was sold solely on Moriarty’s involvement who I had just seen in The Stuff and, as it just so happens, that film was also directed by Cohen, so I guess they bring out the best in each other because I love both of these movies, like hard.
Here’s the basics, as best I can remember them. People in New York City are dying and going missing. The police don’t know why, but it’s because there’s a giant flying monster eating them. Moriarty plays a wheelman dragged into pulling a jewelry heist that goes south. On the run, he winds up in the top Chrysler Building which just so happens to be the monster’s nest. Meawhile detectives played by Roundtree and Carradine are trying to figure out what’s going on. In the process, Carradine becomes convinced that it’s not only a big monster, but also the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzlcoatl.
One of the many elements I love about this film is the fact that Moriarty’s character is so important to how this story plays out. This isn’t the story of a down on his luck hero finding the threat to the city and bringing it to the attention of the authorities. Instead, Moriarty uses the monster to take care of two guys trying to shake him down and he only tells anyone in the local government about what’s going on until after he’s made a deal to get a huge pile of money and pardons for all crimes, even the ones the NYPD might not know about (a “Nixon-like pardon” he says). Since he’s a sneaky, shifty dude, the movie goes places it wouldn’t if this were a more typical Hollywood tale.
For his part, Moriarty really carries this movie. He pulls off this oddly alluring synthesis of charming, down-on-his-luck and bad that works so damn well. You might like him because he can play the piano so causally, but then you hate how he treats his long-suffering girlfriend. Then, at just the right point, he reveals a piece of his personal history that doesn’t excuse his behavior, but might explain it. That’s another major plus for this film, Cohen reveals bits and pieces of Moriarty’s character when they’re necessary, not before. In that way, it’s a really great example of delving out information at just the right time.
It might sound like I’m going overboard about this strange monster movie from the early 80s and maybe I am, but I still think it’s got a lot of greatness held within. However, it’s not perfect. The special effects don’t look so hot these days. From animated shadows to poorly composited images, there’s a lot for the modern eye to pick apart, but for me that was all part of the film’s charm. It did the best it could at the time and probably looked pretty darn impressive in 1982. I thought the actual Q monster looked pretty solid when it was on screen and there were plenty of dizzying aerial shots of NYC (maybe too many) that acted as monster perspective shots.
Now that I think about it, I think I might like this movie because it’s a combination of two of my favorite films without directly ripping them off. On one hand, all the perspective stuff reflect’s John Carpenter’s Halloween where he puts us in the killer’s perspective for chunks of time. Since we’re dealing with POV on a completely different level, it doesn’t feel like a direct lift. On the other hand, there’s a lot of “you don’t get to see the monster JUST yet” elements taken from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Around the time I watched Q, I heard a lot of people saying that the latest Godzilla was like Jaws in the city, but it’s a dynamic that worked well given the setting and time of this film.
Also, like both of those admittedly much better films, Q also makes the locale a huge part of the film. Cohen and company made such good use of the Big Apple that it practically oozes all over ever frame. Obviously, the Chrysler Building plays a huge part in the proceedings, though how accurate the film is or whether they actually filmed inside, I don’t know, but those swooping arial shots also firmly cement the fact that we’re dealing with NYC. There’s even a scene shot at Columbia which I only knew because I’m familiar with another film that made such good use of New York City, Ghostbusters.
At the end of the day, Q: The Winged Serpent benefits from a great many positive notes. Moriarty is stellar, Carradine and Roundtree are great, the setting is perfect, the story works specifically because of the characters involved, the monster looks pretty good and presents a definitely threat and it’s got a pretty well thought out mythology. For all those reasons and more, I fully recommend checking this movie out.
Halloween’s the best you guys! I’ve been able to watch more horror flicks than I expected considering our toddler staked her claim on the TV long ago. Still, I’ve been able to go back and watch some old favorites and also check out a few new films like the amazing Sinister.
A few weeks back, after earning a few extra bucks at NYCC, I decided to splurge on some Scream Factory Blu-rays. I snagged The Burning and From Beyond on sale. A subdivision of Shout Factory, Scream is a horror centric imprint that goes all out when it comes to special features, extras and great looking transfers. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Burning (1981), The Mist (2007) & From Beyond (1986)
Two quotes made this spot perfect for Toy Commercial Tuesday: “You can control his ugly tongue!” and “You can launch Godzilla’s claw!” Now, I’ve seen my fair share of terrible thunder lizard movies and I don’t remember his tongue coming into play that much or his hand leaving his body. Still, this Mattel Shogun Warrior toy looks pretty cool. The whole big robot thing was a few years before my time, but I wish someone had passed me some of those crazy toys when I was a kid. How cool would it have been to have my G.I. Joes or Spider-Man toys face off against them?!
Before jumping into my review of Pacific Rim, I want to talk about two things running through my mind as I was heading into the theater Saturday evening. First off, I’d been reading a lot that week about how this movie was going to tank. That’s one of the downsides to having a gig in the entertainment industry, you’re constantly inundated with the business-y side of Hollywood, the kind of stuff most people don’t really care about. The problem, though, is that sometimes the projections about how well a movie is going to do leading up to its release wind up poisoning the well a bit for the people who do pay attention to these things. “It’s not going to do well? I’m not gonna go.” I don’t have a solution for those aside, but the news bummed me out. Did it have something to do with Despicable Me 2 and Grown Ups 2 doing better over the weekend at the box office? Maybe. Then again, those more family friendly movies were going to be big no matter what.
The other thing rolling through my head was, “THIS is going to be what I always wanted from a Godzilla movie.” As a kid, I loved the bits and pieces of giant moster flicks I’d catch on TV, but when I finally turned 16 and started getting tapes by the backpack-full from Family Video I discovered something rather unsettling: a lot of those movies (like Gamer vs. Viras) are super boring. All you really want is guys in rubber suits fighting over a cardboard city with toy tanks shooting at them, but what you get is a little bit of that with a lot of scientists talking about how to stop the monster. Yawn.
I figured that a director like Guillermo del Toro would be able to figure out a way to balance the giant action with the smaller character moments and that’s what Pacific Rim delivered as far as I’m concerned. The story takes place on an Earth in which an inter-dimensional portal has opened up in the ocean. Said portal spits out giant monsters — dubbed kaiju — that humanity has to fight. The human race took on the first one with conventional weapons, but eventually built gigantic robots called jaegers to handle the menace. The jaegers are so big, though, that you’ve got to meld two minds to run them. Two pilots — usually relatives — literally link minds to drive these things and fight the baddies. Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket is a one-time jaeger pilot who winds up working for his old boss Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and new co-pilot Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) to try and put a stop to this nearly decade-long menace once and for all. There’s a whole heckuva lot more going on, of course, but I don’t want to get too spoilery (yet).
Guys, I loved this movie. It delivered exactly what I wanted and even a little more. The robots versus monsters scenes were fantastic with everything from spinning blades and swords to battleships coming into play. But there’s also a real sense of menace to the film. They got pretty good at taking on the kaiju for a while as Becket tells us in the opening monologue, but then things got crazier with bigger, more dangerous monsters attacking. A pair of scientists played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are doing their best to figure out what’s going on, but in the meantime you get the sense that the world is hanging in the balance. Some politicians have decided to bury their heads in the sand and try a fairly foolish means of defense (which might seem a little insane, but I bought it enough), but luckily for earth there are some very brave men and women from all over the globe working together to put a stop to it.
As a kid I always wanted to cut out all the boring stuff with people and just watch the fights, but in this one, I thought there was a good deal of humanity interspersed throughout. Sure, a lot of it’s the kind of stuff you’d expect. A leader who considers his image more important than his well-being, a cocky fighter unsure of why the hasbeen and rookie have been brought in, a person who hates the kaiju for destroying their family (that flashback scene kicked me in the gut, I’m such a wuss when it comes to kids in films these days). But when those characters are played well — and I thought they were for the most part — a bit of new life is breathed in. Plus, even if you don’t dig the, you wait a little bit and a robot rips a monster’s tongue out, so it’s cool.
There were a few elements of the film that didn’t sit particularly well with me. Minor SPOILERS follow. I enjoyed Hunnam’s performance, but the way he spoke was kind of distracting. The actor is from England, but he sports one of those accents that doesn’t sound like it truly belongs on either side of the pond. I had a similar complaint regarding Freddie Highmore’s performance in the first episode of Bates Motel. I’m not sure if this is just how he talks or how he was directed to speak, but it was distracting. I also wondered why the manner of defense against the kaiju was so segregated. You’ve basically got the jaegers and a giant wall, but the two are almost completely unrelated. Wouldn’t it make sense to have cannons that can do the same thing that Gipsy Danger’s fists can? They’ve been fighting these monsters for 6 or 7 years and no one thought of building up the borders in a different way?
But those are fairly minor quibbles. On the whole, I thought the story had a lot of fun, new elements that made sense and also had fun with sci-fi elements. The mental handshake stuff was cool and how can you not love ridiculously gigantic robots being built in even bigger bunkers driven by two people? The basic concepts get thrown at you pretty early in the movie, so if you’re not on board with the movie science, then you might want to skip the whole thing altogether. As it is, I enjoyed seeing a big budget spectacle that wasn’t based on anything but writer Travis Beachum and del Toro’s imaginations. I was far from disappointed by this film and would recommend anyone who though the trailers looked cool to go check it out.
Okay, SUPER SPOILER TIME. This is so SPOILERY that I’m putting it after the jump if you happen to be reading this post on the main page. If not, you’ve been warned. Continue reading Pacific Rim Is Awesome