End of 2012 Review Clearance Sale

Freeman's Social Me   Zeebly-181430So one of those social analyzer apps for Facebook took my feed and decided that 57% of my posts were about photography. This was news to me, until I realized that it looked at all the posts from a period when I was very active on my Tumblr, putting up movie posters. If you’re familiar at all with Tumblr, each of the Twitter/Facebook posts starts with “Photo:”. So this is a fabulously gullible piece of analysis software. And that makes its further judgement of me, that I am “organized”, even more suspect.

I came to that decision when gazing at that result on my home computer, which, honestly, sits on a desk that looks like a 10 year-old boy’s room. It resembles a bear’s warren, more than anything else. Infrequent organizing binges only push the entropy back to the edges. But there are portions of my life that bear the marks of some sort of order, and the fact that I published my List of Must-See Movies for 2013 a mere day ago, and I’d really like to start on that, but I feel I can’t bears that out. I still need to write about stuff from last year.

Wait. I guess that’s some strange sort of honor, not organization.

Anyway, let’s get that out of the way.

amazing_spiderman_ver5The day after Christmas most of the Crapfest gang had a gaming session that finally wrapped up a storyline we’d been trapped in for several months, and once that was over, Dave had received from Netflix The Amazing Spider-Man, so I got to see it without paying for it, yay.

I’m not a big Spider-Man fan, but it was impossible to be a comics fan and not have some spider-knowledge. The character is a lynchpin of the Marvel mythos, and back in the day when comics cost less than a dollar – hell, I can even remember when they were ten cents – I, or my friends, would pick up those Marvel Tales reprints of the early run of his stories. I read friends’ copies of the comic, and they read my X-Men. I have the Marvel Essential phonebooks. But I was not inclined to rush out and see the second reboot of the character in a decade.

Turns out I knew quite a bit more than I credited myself, because the deviations from the paper canon were glaringly obvious to all of us, and we confirmed each others’ misgivings. Spider-Man’s origin was retconned to fit some sort of over-arching storyline about Peter Parker’s parents (unresolved by movie’s end – talk about being confident of a sequel!). J. Jonah Jameson is nowhere in sight. We’ve got Gwen and Captain Stacy, but Gwen is in on Peter’s secret (hell, half of Manhattan seems to be by movie’s end), and the Captain only catches on late in the game – the opposite of the comics. Well, maybe not the Ultimate line of comics, which seems to be informing all of Marvel’s movie properties, but aaaaaaaaaa this is one of the reasons I don’t really regret giving up on new comics from Marvel and DC.

My major problem with the movie – besides the largely unnecessary, time-wasting reboot – is that Peter Parker is already a cool skateboarding dude who wears hipster glasses. Andrew Garfield does well playing the dork, but the starmaker machinery is trying really hard to layer the Twilight gloss over the character. The movie does absolutely nail the smart-ass Spider-Man, though. And it’s more than a little refreshing to have the bad guy actually go to jail at the end of one of these things. Overall, didn’t hate it, kind of enjoyed it, really. Even if it did have more endings than Return of the King.

Dredd2012PosterOn the other end of that reboot spectrum is Dredd, which feels remarkably faithful to its source material. The British comic book superstar had been done on film once before – we all remember Judge Dredd (95) with Sylvester Stallone, right? Even though we took drills to our brains like James Lorenz in Frankenhooker to purge the memory, right?

Casting Karl Urban as Judge Dredd was a good first move. Reading a news report that Urban confirmed the helmet never came off was even better (Urban’s chin acting was exceptional). There was a lot of Dredd being republished in trades in the 80’s, and I had a good supply of them. Even when Dredd was cracking rocks on the prison planet, he still had that damned helmet on. Olivia Thirlby as Psi-Judge Anderson? Cool.

The temptation to do one of 2000 AD’s major arcs must have been overwhelming – there are stories that director Pete Travis was prepping Judge Death and Cursed Earth adaptations – but the decision was made – rightly- to go with a smaller concept for the first movie. Over-complication was one of the things that killed the Stallone Dredd (Well, that and Rob Schneider. And taking off the helmet. And Dredd smiling. And…). Dredd takes Anderson on a field test that turns out to be a much bigger job than the first call implied when the drug lord who’s basically taken over the massive apartment tower (ex- Sarah Connor Lena Headey) locks down the entire building and commands the many gangs calling it home to kill the Judges.

Wait… wait a minute. Isn’t that the plot for The Raid: Redemption? Well, yes it is, but looking at the amount of post-production that had to be done on Dredd, it can only be bizarre coincidence. I think it speaks more to the elegant simplicity of the plot, a sort of ramped-up Die Hard motif. But there are times that the convergence between the two movies is positively uncanny. Needless to say, Dredd has far less martial arts – as in next-to-none – and a whole lot more firearms making bloody messes of bad guys. The macguffin of the piece – a new aerosol drug called “slo-mo” that seems to make time almost stop – provides a lot of chances to use a super high-speed camera to often beautiful (and more often extremely bloody) effect. I liked Dredd.

I’m also going to be an absolute stick-in-the-mud and mention what a pleasure it was to watch a movie that clocked in at only 95 minutes, a definite rarity this holiday season.

By which you can assume I also saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Django Unchained. I loved them both, haters can get stuffed. I tend to shy away from reviewing movies still in theatrical runs, and this time is going to be no different. No need to add to the ocean of digital ink being spilled on both of those.

Quentin-Tarantino-Jackie-Brown-One-Sheet-Poster-High-Resolution-x1200But for my last two movies on The List, I had reserved two I had heard universally good things about, and the first was Jackie Brown, the Quentin Tarantino movie I had managed to avoid watching for fifteen years. I am a Tarantino fan, so exactly why this happened is confusing. Anyway, that little anomaly is taken care of now.

Just in case you’ve forgotten (1997 was a long time ago, I know) the title character (Pam Grier!) is a stewardess so down on her luck she’s become a money courier for an up-and-coming gun runner (Samuel L. Jackson). She winds up waging a battle of wits with him, the Federal agent after him (Michael Keaton) and the gun runner’s less-than-college material lackeys (Bridget Fonda, Robert DeNiro), aided by an honorable bail bondsman (Robert Forster), who is understandably smitten by Jackie because, after all,  she’s Pam Grier. Great cast, great movie. I love that, when we get to the final, complicated phase of Jackie’s plan, Tarantino does the same thing Kubrick caught so much shit for doing in The Killing, fracturing time and repeating the scene over and over from different characters’ viewpoints.

Jackie Brown is based an an Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch. Leonard writes novels like Tarantino makes movies: good solid stories with an amazing cast of vivid characters. It seems almost inevitable that a combination of the two should pay off big. Folks that have soured on Tarantino often point to this as the last of his films that they liked; they wanted Kill Bill et al to be Jackie Brown II or another Leonard novel. That would have been cool, admittedly, but Brown was Tarantino’s third crime movie. I don’t blame him for moving on. I haven’t bought any Peter Gabriel albums since So because I wanted every album to be Security. Selfish of me, I know. Artists must grow.

The worst thing about seeing Django one day and Jackie Brown the next was I wanted to just spend the rest of the year watching Tarantino movies, but I still had to watch The Hurt Locker.

hurt_locker_ver3I don’t follow the Academy Awards with any consistency, and I rarely have a dog to hunt in the competition, but the trailers for Hurt Locker had grabbed me, although not enough to put down ten bucks and my aversion to theater audiences to see it.  I was happy to hear it won, and won big. I’ve liked Kathryn Bigelow since Near Dark.

James Cameron, Bigelow’s ex-husband, said that Hurt Locker is this generation’s Platoon, and that’s a comparison that sort of holds up. Platoon is a story, about two sides vying for Charlie Sheen’s soul, while Hurt Locker tries for a more documentary feel. Far more episodic, where Hurt Locker really succeeds is in keying the viewer in to the paranoid worldview necessary to survive in a occupation where every bystander may be the enemy and any normal-looking item a bomb. I like it better than Platoon because I don’t care for Charlie Sheen, and could care less what happens to his soul.

Locker follows an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit just after the Iraq War. Losing their team leader in the first ten minutes, they find the replacement (Jeremy Renner) to be an adrenalin junkie who eschews the use of their remote-controlled robot to check out the bombs in person. The unit has less than a month left in their deployment, and are only too aware that Renner’s antics put them increasingly in harm’s way.

There is an attempt to inject a story into the movie about three-quarters of the way through, which goes nowhere, probably a metaphor for the war itself.  Otherwise the movie is simply a record of the various screwed-up situations our three soldiers find themselves in, day after day. It’s a remarkably tense experience, aided by little tricks like giving you Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes and then killing them within ten minutes. Yet the most remarkable image remains Renner, back home after his tour, standing bewildered at the boggling kaleidoscope of choice in the cereal aisle of a supermarket.

There. Now I can start watching movies again.

3 Comments

  1. I think your comment on those of us who have soured on QT is a more than a little unfair. What I want more of is actual characters in something that isn’t just QT going “AND I LIKE THIS…AND THIS…AND THIS THING…AND HERE’S 15 of MY FRIENDS…and…” which is how his movies have felt to me since. With the exception of Death Proof, which, though I didn’t like, I have to admit wasn’t that…it was wall to wall QT talking to himself through his characters.

    • Well, if I was unfair, it was in stating ALL who have soured on Tarantino soured in the same way. I don’t share your feelings, but they’re better articulated and reasoned than most.

      • Looking at them, they still seem pretty emotion based and inarticulate, but thanks for being polite! I tried to stay polite but looking back, I clearly failed. I actually thought a lot about your post while driving home yesterday and to work today, and the conclusion I came to was that you’re probably dead on the money with your comparison to how you feel about Peter Gabriel. QT has moved on to doing something else, and it just doesn’t grab me in the same way as his earlier work does. I’d say the same for Wes Anderson, actually, where I want every movie to be Rushmore, but it just can’t be Rushmore. With Anderson I’ve had a better time coming to terms with it, and since The Djarling Limited, at least, I’ve been able to simply watch his films and enjoy them for their own merits and faults and not simply that they’re “Not Rushmore.” It’s happened with more mainstream directors as well. Do I get mad at Spielberg because every film isn’t Raiders? I’m not a huge Spielberg nut, but I have enjoyed at least some of his recent output. I should do Quentin the same courtesy. I think a large amount of my hostility comes from things he says in interviews and the intensity his fans worship him with, and the fans are, at least, not his fault.

        I also thought about what happens if an artist *doesn’t* change, and that can be as bad or worse. I think of John Woo, whose every tic is known to the audience and mocked mercilessly now.


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