30 September 2010

Hellboy Vol. 6 – Strange Places


I’ve decided I’m going to write about each Hellboy trade paperback that I buy after I read it from now on, because they’re great. To summarize what’s come before this one, Hellboy is a demon who came through a portal opened by Nazis and now he’s trying to be a good guy, but his apocalyptic destiny keeps on creeping up on him and getting him very annoyed. He’s fought a lot of mythical creatures and spirits and always had a witty tagline.

Each volume usually has two or more stories of varying length. This one has two, the second of which includes an epilogue and sketches from a couple of aborted attempts. They’re both excellent, and I think I may have enjoyed this volume more than most of the others for its simplicity and foreboding.

The first story, The Third Wish, begins with a trip to Africa and the introduction of a possibly ancient witch doctor who pushes Hellboy into an undersea adventure inspired by the same story on which Disney’s The Little Mermaid is based, only way darker and shorter. He’s dragged into a cave by Ursula’s counterpart, the Bog Roosh, who is basically a giant fish/eel with boobs. Actually it was a trio of mermaids of some relation to her that brought Hellboy to the cave, and in seeking reward they pretty much all manage to get murdered through Roosh’s manipulation of their wishful intentions like some sort of evil djini. Hellboy’s not a fan of that so he brings out his right-hook and does a little damage. The doomish part is brought into the picture through Roosh’s claim that she needs to destroy Hellboy to prevent the apocalypse, which just makes him madder because although he doesn’t want to accept his destiny, it’s beginning to wear him down.

The second half is more explicitly about the great evil that he is meant to bring to world. The Island is a desolate ship graveyard full of strange castles and skeletons, one of which was once a prophet of the Ogdru Jahad (the giant slug-bug monsters in space), and it just so happens he’s waiting for some blood to spill on the ground and wake him up, and Hellboy unfortunately obliges. There’s then a pretty lengthy discussion on the origin of Earth and the Ogdru Jahad and Hellboy’s supposed failure to embrace his future. Of course he ends up kicking ass and goes home but it seems like he doesn’t have a whole lot of hope left. The epilogue is a discussion amongst several observing spirits/ghouls about the doom that continues to approach to to Hellboy’s refusual to die, and then we’re treated to some awesome sketches and stuff.

Mike Mignola’s writing is consistently engrossing. The voice of Hellboy is always a great contrast to the stuffy olde-english way in which almost all of the other characters speak, although their language always makes for delicious prose, like “Little fish, little fish. Pretty as you are… oh but I will make of you such a horror.” Love this stuff.

22 September 2010

The Town


I’ve never been to Boston. I don’t know anybody who grew up there. I don’t really know much about the place, or have any desire to go there. I think maybe after seeing this movie I have even less interest in visiting the city by the bay.

This is the second film Ben Affleck has directed, the first being Gone Baby Gone, which I haven’t seen yet. Supposedly it’s much more of a laid-back indie film than this, which is meant to be a sort of thriller-blockbuster. It’s also based on a book which I haven’t read. The only reasons I had any interest in seeing it were that Jon Hamm (the fantastic lead-asshole of Mad Men) has a pretty prominent role, and it’s been getting pretty good reviews. The previews with the weird masks were pretty cool too I guess. So after a few aborted attempts over the last few days I finally got to the theater last night and sat down in front of the big screen for a couple hours.

The story focuses on Affleck’s character, who is portrayed as the “good guy” whose life of crime has been forced on him by a sort of bank-robber caste-system. He is of course in possession of a heart of gold and wishes to “leave this whole (censored) town in my reah view,” an idea of which his other caste-members aren’t too fond, especially Jeremy Renner (the wild-card with too many bullets to keep in his clip). So leading up to his exodus, he has to do a few more jobs, and his gold-laden heart leads him to befriend and be-love one of his bank-manager victims because she’s hot. This is a bad idea generally. The rest of the movie is the continued efforts of Affleck to end his robbing career and leave with the hot chick, involving a few more robberies, a couple shoot outs, and one or two chase scenes. Then it ends rather stupidly and I walk out of the theater a little disappointed.

It’s not that bad really, I just couldn’t connect with the characters. This is a problem I seem to have once in a while with crime-related drama; I can’t make myself love people who make stupid life choices and disrupt the machine of everyone else’s lives, unless the performance is something outstanding like Heath Ledger’s in The Dark Knight or something. At least I think that’s how it is. Sad to say that the acting in this movie just isn’t that spectacular. Not even Jon Hamm did that good of a job, though I think that’s a fault of the script. The action scenes were pretty cool but since I didn’t care whether the characters lived or died they weren’t as gripping as they could have been.

I’m still going to watch Gone Baby Gone at some point, but I can’t say this movie has made me love Ben Affleck the Director.

16 September 2010

Crazy Heart


The Big Lebowski is one of my very favorite movies. If it wasn’t for that I very likely would’ve had no interest in seeing this one, which of course stars The Dude (Jeff Bridges) as “Bad” Blake. It did win Best Original Song and Best Actor Oscars last year, which I suppose might’ve gotten it on my radar, but I’m not the biggest fan of country music; I don’t mind a bit southern twang but country itself is just one of those things that I wasn’t indoctrinated to love. Still, this movie might have just endeared the style to me a bit more.

It’s the story of an old musician whose career has passed the downturn and is currently wallowing in booze. This is a pretty common tale, I’m led to believe, but it’s still a good enough base to make a semi-tragic romance out of if you’ve got good actors and all that stuff, which this movie does. You’ve got the aforementioned Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and a bunch of other great character actors all giving outstanding performances. Gyllenhaal plays the love interest as a hopeful reporter who interviews Bad Blake; Blake has very little interest in the interview though, and it seems she doesn’t care all that much either because the romance bit starts off almost too easy. It all goes past the one-night stand routine and then the alcohol starts screwing everything up. Eventually it becomes a story of attempted redemption and acceptance. It’s not a feelgood movie really, but it’s not a total tragedy either, which makes it more than okay in my book.

It’s a pretty beautiful movie both visually and sonically. There’s a fair amount of driving in Texas / New Mexico landscapes, and nicely atmospheric musical sections featuring well-written country songs performed by talented musicians. Frequent song breaks don’t always work for me, as was recently evident in the HBO show Treme; I got bored with most of that pretty quickly. Here though they’re a bit more abbreviated and at least to me they seem more necessary. They play a major part in the story of Blake’s decline to patheticness. My one complaint is that the music sections are always about twice as loud as the rest of the movie; I ended up just keeping the volume down and turning on the subtitles.

Possibly the best part of the movie for me though was the first scene with dialogue; it’s in a bowling alley. Those who’ve seen the film I mentioned in the first paragraph will know of the significance. This time The Dude is wearing the cowboy hat though, and he’s definitely not abiding.

14 September 2010

THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD™ and Other Curious Objects

amazing screw on head

I’ve been collecting Mike Mignola stuff for a somewhat respectable while now, and yet I haven’t written a thing about it. That’s kind of indefensible because Mignola is the metaphorical knees of the bee. This is particularly evident in the collection of shorter, but very entertaining/beautiful stories. I picked up the hardcover at a local comic shop because I couldn’t not buy it once I saw it.

The main story is of course THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD, which was the basis for a TV pilot episode that never aired but was totally awesome (Netflix that sucka). Only this one story was written and Mignola says in the story notes that nothing more will be, as he doesn’t have anything else. That’s a real shame. It focuses on the title character who is essentially the head of a robot who can screw himself into a bunch of robot bodies for various tasks, and takes orders from Abraham Lincoln. He’s pretty much a secret-agent dude in the same sort of way that Hellboy is aside from not really having a dark origin. He goes around fixing supernatural problems. In the story, his target is Emperor Zombie, who was a master of ancient languages. This matters because of reasons you should find out by reading/watching the issue/episode. It’s much more of a comedy-based venture than Hellboy and most of Mignola’s other works, although it has about the same level of fantastically doomy stuff that makes it so damn interesting. Very fun but sadly brief read.

The collection includes five other very short stories, one of which isn’t really even a story, but they’re all great. The Magician and The Snake is particularly interesting because the writing credit is given to Mignola’s seven-year-old daughter. Those who read Axe-Cop know this can mean very awesome things. It’s a pretty sad story; melancholy coupled with the non-sequitur consciousness of a child is a great combination. It got the Eisner award for Best Short Story in 2003.

The rest of the book is filled out with stand-alone drawings and sketches related to the stories. Mignola’s art is a very different sort of thing, lots of black and seemingly simple shapes used in concert to create all kinds of atmosphere. I can’t saw I always like it, but there are so many frames that just pop so sharply that it makes me feel like no other style would work for his stories.

09 September 2010

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Seasons 1 & 2


I don’t often write about individual season for TV shows, but recently it’s gotten a bit easier to make myself write about things, so why the hell not? I’ve been meaning to start watching this for a while now and thankfully a friend had all the DVDs available for lending, so I didn’t have to pollute my Netflix queue. Now that I’ve gotten through the first two seasons, I have thoughts; not many mind you, but more than usual.

The first season is only seven 22-minute episodes, and I got through them very quickly, but this is because I was watching them with my friends while playing board games, so my attention wasn’t that dedicated to it. Still, I could tell it was very funny and got the gist of the plots. It centers around three guys and a girl who own a bar somehow. All four of them seem to be self-serving morons of some degree. I don’t always like asshole characters, but they’re done right here, and I’ve fallen in love with all of them. Each episode is pretty much self-contained and involves some idiotic caper that starts perhaps somewhat innocently and gets blown completely out of proportion by “The Gang’s” propensity to do everything completely wrong in order to gain something from it. I’m pretty sure they never really learn anything from their mishaps.

The second season is basically the same, except it’s ten episodes and Danny DeVito’s in them. According one of the extras on the third DVD, DeVito was only available for 20 days of filming, so all his parts were done first; this meant that all 10 episodes had to be written before principal photography. Considering the actors are the writers, this is a huge deal. I have massive respect for these guys, especially in light of the genius that is Season 2. I enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first. DeVito’s ridiculousness fits in perfectly with the rest of the cast’s antics. Every episode seems to get consistently funnier.

One of the coolest things is that the show looks like it’s almost entirely adlibbed, but it’s not. Sure there’s a fair amount of improv but for the most part everybody follows the script while making it all feel perfectly natural, which makes it even easier to laugh at these people who are pretending to be idiots. Good show. Not sure I’ll be able to catch up with it before the Season 6 premiere next week, but it’s good enough to maybe get me there in time.

07 September 2010


It occurred to me recently that I’d seen all but one of Chris Nolan’s full-length movies. Thusly I put this movie in my Netflix queue and waited breathlessly, which led to asphyxiation and subsequent death. I got better though.

While suffocating, I read up a bit on the movie that I would watch after my resurrection. It’s actually one of those gol dang remakes, this time from Norway. I know nothing about the original other than that. This new one from 2002 stars Al Pacino and Robin Williams, so it can’t be that pointless. It starts out much like Twin Peaks in that a girl has been found dead in a small town, and some outside investigators come to figure out whodunnit. Then some guy gets shot in an inopportune fashion and Al Pacino can’t sleep. By the way, it’s set in Alaska during the 24 hours of light thing, which exacerbates his problem. Robin Williams comes in later and becomes a sort of rationalization for past events, both Pacino’s friend/advisor and adversary. It’s a bit of a weird relationship, and it kind of fits with the atmosphere of uncertainty brought on by sleep deprivation. Meanwhile, Horseface McGee (Hilary Swank) (actually she’s not that bad looking) is looking into said unfortunate death from the beginning, and becomes a half threat/half distressed damsel in the process. Then people shoot each other and it’s over.

I have to say this is the least entertaining Nolan movie. Both Pacino and Williams put forth solid performances, but the insomnia element just doesn’t grab me as much as the memory loss from Memento or the (spoiler removed) conceit from The Prestige. The murder-mystery part is not made mysterious at all. Honestly I just don’t have a lot of empathy for Pacino’s plight either. I’ve seen a lot of complaints that Nolan’s style is too clinical and emotionless, and I think it’s the most evident in this movie; Pacino is the only one with emotion, but it doesn’t really show that much. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just kinda boring.

05 September 2010



Probably my first “Mexploitation” movie. I don’t think a whole lot of those exist.

It’s based on a fake trailer that was attached to the Grindhouse movies, starring the omnipresent character actor Danny Trejo. The trailer made it look like a straight-up exercise in badassery with little in the way of plot or story, just explosions, babes, and killing. The response to the trailer itself was quite warm, so Robert Rodriguez decided to make a movie out of it. I guess he figured it would be too hard to keep it at the insanity level of the trailer for 105 minutes so he dug up a plot and started piecing it together.

It ended up as something of a commentary on illegal immigration and the current stupidity surrounding it. I’m not sure if this made it stronger or weaker, as I haven’t really been at all emotionally involved in that mess, and I still don’t really care much after seeing this movie. It gave Machete a reason to go around wreaking havoc I guess so it works well enough.

The action varies in quality. There are some pretty wacky scenarios, including a weed-whacker and improvised swinglines, that helped to keep it from getting too brutal to handle for some, but again I’m not sure if they added or detracted from the feel I was looking for; they certainly made it less than what the trailer seemed to be portraying. They actually built the film around recycled scenes from the trailer, which I guess makes sense since trailers are pieces of movies; they just did it backwards. The thing is this loses some of the fluidity because they couldn’t quite match the intensity of the smaller-scale trailer with the budget they had.

Still, Danny Trejo is awesome, and the Jessica Alba / Michelle Rodriguez duo was pretty smokin’. Steven Segal I could have done without. Jeff Fahey, now pretty well-known after his stint with Lost, played a pretty despicable character very well, and Robert De Niro succeeded in personifying the stereotypical conservative republican politician. Even Lindsay Lohan had an okay role although her acting talents weren’t the highlight.

Altogether it was a fun romp in a somewhat flawed film; you might dismiss the flaws as being intentional for the kind of movie it is, but I’m not sure I can.

02 September 2010

The American


Not sure why I thought this would be an action movie. I guess I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the trailer, even though I thought it made the film look pretty good. Turns out there’s very little action, but that is not in the slightest a bad thing.

This is a a slow paced romantic tragedy in the trappings of a thriller. George Clooney plays a somber secret-agent-like fellow, although he doesn’t really seem to be your traditional James Bond type at all, aside from his tendency to attract beautiful women at every turn. This turns out to be his problem. He can’t stop it with the ladies, and they keep cramping his style. The focus on his tortured romantic side makes me think this movie was made largely for women, but then there are many man-pleasing moments too so mostly it was probably just made to be a good movie.

There are some actiony-bits here and there, and they’re done very well. I want to compare it to The Bourne Identity, but I think that’s just because I love it so much; it’s not really that similar. This is a slow, beautiful film with lots of heartache, mistrust, self-doubt, regret, and an ending befitting everything previous. I think I can say this is the best Clooney movie I’ve seen.

01 September 2010



I knew pretty much nothing about this movie until today. I had seen the very odd-looking poster, and just recently learned that the Scott Walker song The Electrician was used in the film, and that got me interested enough to check it out. I had figured it was another boxing movie like Cinderella Man or something. The Netflix description got me a bit more interested, saying it was a non-fictional story of a notorious prisoner with a deranged persona. Crazy people always make for entertaining movies.

Charles Bronson, born Michael Peterson in 1952, was (is) a sane man. However, he was still nutty. He felt that he should be important, and his method of getting there was physicality. He didn’t feel that he needed to do this in the traditional means; he should rocket to the top. The quickest way to do this would be to bash in every skull in sight, seemingly. Obviously this got him locked up in short order, but he didn’t have much of a problem with that. Prison was his playground, his gymnasium. He’s so far ended up spending 34 years in the clink, 30 of them in solitary confinement.

Anyway, the movie paints him as a fascinatingly resilient character. He narrates the movie in a sort of comedy show dream-sequence interludes between major events in his imprisoned and briefly free-roaming life, putting on a riveting performance of sudden mood changes and sarcastic storytelling. In the reenactment bits he’s often stoic when not pummeling people, with occasional outbursts; at other times he’s a perfectly likable guy who just isn’t very good at carrying conversations. A number of probably gay dudes give him advice or try to help him along the way (it’s a bit odd how they’re all like that). Eventually he starts drawing pictures as an outlet of sorts, which leads to a very strange artsy hostage situation near the end of the film. Then it ends.

Of course the story goes on for Bronson the man, who is still serving a life sentence and keeps stirring up trouble from time to time, while managing to release several books, convert to Islam, renounce Islam, have his art shown in a gallery, and continue to be pretty happy about everything. It’s a weird story but the movie makes it a very entertaining one.