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.

The List for 2013

IMG_20130101_121029About a quarter of the way into last year I decided I was going to watch all of Stanley Kubrick’s movie in chronological order – a decision based largely on my purchase of a Blu-ray box set containing nine of his fourteen movies. That led to another idea, a “Why stop there?” sort of thing, where I would give myself a reason to watch some movies I had always intended to watch, but never had. Some of them were essential to my education as a movie buff. Some I had bought (in many instances, years ago) and never watched.

That first attempt was divided into two lists, which made sense at the time. There were Quality Movies and there were Disposable Movies, and there were some that should have been on the other list, blah blah blah. I’m not playing that game this time, but I’m still sticking with the insanely arbitrary 30 for each, with a grand total of 60 for the year. I’ll once more have a master page with links as I review them (and yes, I’m aware there’s some reviews to still be written for 2012).

First off, my shame: Heavenly Creatures got pushed to 2013, so the List is really sixty-one movies long. I tried to watch it during my end-of-year push, but I just couldn’t get into it. I’ll attempt to try again later (and yet I managed to muddle through garbage like Sucker Punch. Go figure).

28 Days Later – got praised to me before it even opened. The problem here is, I was sick of zombie movies as long ago as 2002, and even a “thrilling new interpretation” couldn’t excite me. Needless to say, the zombie market hasn’t gotten any less crowded in the intervening decade, but it’s time to suck it up and watch it.

30 Days of Night – Guess what I was sick of before zombies? What, you don’t remember the Great Vampire Movie Glut? I do. Still, let’s get this done, maybe get it off my shelf.

The American Astronaut – It’s discomfiting to be known as a cult movie specialist and then find out there’s a cult movie you’ve never heard of making the rounds. I picked up the DVD when it was released, and now lookie there, it’s upwards of sixty bucks on Amazon.

American Movie – once more, picked up on release day, May 23, 2000.The buzz for this at that year’s B-Fest was great, everyone was looking forward to it. Me? As you may be aware, I have a low-budget horror movie in my past. Maybe I’m afraid I’m going to see myself in this documentary. Like a lot of movies on this year’s list, it’s time to put aside the personal and just watch the damned thing.

The Arabian Nights – The third movie in Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life”, recently released in a Blu-Ray set by Criterion, and given to me by my wife, because she rocks.

Around the World in 80 Days– This is the massive Michael Anderson/David Niven version, not the Jackie Chan version. I saw that one, and can only remember that Sammo Hung shows up as Wong Fei-hung.

Attack the Block – yeah, I know, WTF is up with me not waiting ten years to see a movie.

Ben-HurOkay, how about 54 years? Is 54 years sufficient? I know I’ve seen the SCTV version, but only bits and pieces of the real thing. Such a massive undertaking – and I mean just to watch it.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – I know. Inexcusable.

Black Narcissus – Another in my continuing education series. When Patton Oswalt drops a reference to something, you watch it!

Bloodthirsty Butchers –  I have a fever, and the only cure is more Andy Milligan threadbare period thrillers.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – Honest to God, I’ve had this DVD for 11 years. I don’t think I can be blamed for letting it go this long, but jeez.

The Bridge on the River Kwai – I’ve seen this one, but like so many other movies, I was very young, and it was on TV. Time to re-watch it without commercial interruption or cuts.

The Canterbury TalesSecond movie in the “Trilogy of Life”. Have I mentioned my wife rocks?

Children of Men – Honestly, I have no idea why this has taken so long. I think it came out during my seven-year obsession with City Of Heroes, which soaked up my evenings and weekends..

Crank 2 – It took a podcast to get me interested in the Crank movies. Having now seen the first, I need to see the second.

Cronos – Well, obviously I was waiting for the Criterion Blu-ray to watch this one. Obviously.

Dangerous Seductress – I actually started this piece of Indonesian weirdness once, then put it aside for a time when I could more leisurely drink in the strangeness. That time is now.

The Decameron – First movie in the “Trilogy of Life”. Just checked, and yes, my wife still rocks.

The Descent – Okay, primary reason I’ve been putting this one off? My own severe claustrophobia. This one’s going to be tough, but so many serious horror fans bring it up, I need to finally watch it.

The Devil Commands – Or, on the other hand, I can watch this Boris Karloff thriller instead. Had this around since the early days of DVD.

Diabolique – I remember seeing what I thought was a British remake starring Michael Gough in my youth; since I can’t find any verification of such a thing, maybe I saw an English dub of the original? I’m confused.

Godfather Part III – Yeah, it’s time to tackle this one.

Good Night and Good Luck – Big Murrow fan.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stoneand here’s this year’s big project. I have only ever seen this first one. All the rest will be first views.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows pt. 1

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows pt. 2

Heaven’s Gate Yet another gift from my wife. I begin to suspect she’s giving me three hours-plus movies just to get me out of her hair.

Human Lanterns – I have a bootleg VHS of this in a box somewhere, as it was fairly infamous during the big Asian Discovery phase of the early 90s. Now I have a legitimate domestic DVD release. How times have changed.

Intercessor: Another Rock’n’Roll Nightmare – Yes, we’re back to my old stomping grounds here. I kinda liked the first movie, have heard nothing but bad about this sequel. Not just bad. Pining-for-Andy-Milligan bad. That bad.

The Island of Dr. Moreau – Speaking of bad. This is the Frankenheimer/Brando version. Can it be worse than the Taylor/Lancaster version (which was dreadful)? Guess I’ll find out.

Kagemusha – Hit the theaters in another period where I was perpetually broke (eg., most of my life, but that’s another story). Found the Criterion disc at Half-Price Books. Life can be good.

Lady Terminator – More Indonesian lunacy, bought years ago on the basis of its reputation.

Land of the Dead – Did I mention my decade-and-more moratorium against zombie movies? Even ones directed by George Romero?

The Last Temptation of Christ – Main reason for ambivalence: I’m not a Christian. I’ll try to give out some warning, so Fundamentalists can picket my house while I watch it.

Man Bites Dog – Been wanting to see this for a while, and finally remembered that fact during a recent half-off Criterion sale.

The Most Dangerous Game – See Man Bites Dog, above.

Mulholland Drive – Another victim of the City of Heroes time suck. I miss playing with my friends, but I enjoy having the time to actually watch movies like this again.

Network – Is one of those movies I know I saw, but remember nothing about.

Night of the Hunter – Absolutely no excuse. None.

Point Break – This one, I think, was due to the reverse elitism I developed in high school and have been struggling with ever since. If it’s that popular, it can’t be any good, right?

The Red Shoes –  Thank you, Criterion half-off sale.

Road to Perdition – I was all set to ignore this until I found out it was a Lone Wolf & Cub homage.

The Searchers – I’m no longer willing to watch movies on commercial TV (haven’t been for a while, really), and don’t want to pay for cable for two channels. This is out on cheap Blu-ray? It’s time.

The Seventh Seal –  rented this on VHS at least once. Not sure why I didn’t watch it then. Another Criterion sale buy.

The Shootist – Came out my first year in college. Hell, I’m not even sure how I ate that year.

Showgirls – I am allergic to Joe Eszterhas. Perhaps Paul Verhoeven will form a sufficient buffer. Still, I’ll take my shots so I can catch up on nearly 20 years of jokes.

Shutter Island Let’s see how much longer I can avoid spoilers.

The Sting – Remember that reverse elitism I referred to back in Point Break? Here’s Exhibit A.

Synecdoche, New York–  Ebert raved about it. So did a bunch of other people. Something like five bucks at a Blockbuster used sale. Sold.

The Third ManA confused friend asked me why this movie was so revered. My response is I’ll have to watch it before I can tell you. He’s still waiting.

To Kill A Mockingbird – I acted in a theatrical version of this back in ’74, when the only way to see it was on TV (where it never seemed to play in the South. Go figure). Anyway, I now own my very own copy. I played Nathan and Boo Radley, before you ask.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture – This is another exploitation flick with an extreme reputation, and once I finally see it, I’m probably going to be disappointed. But I can’t really talk about it until I’ve seen it, can I?

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – I know. Shut up.

Vertigo – See Treasure of the Sierra Madre, above. PS. Shut up.

I’ve never felt a lot of pressure to watch Hitchcock, which seems unusual, because I really love Psycho, which is, admittedly, his version of a crappy little B-movie. It’s likely that reverse-elitism at work again, partially. Hitchcock is doing just fine without my accolades, I felt the need to shine the flashlight elsewhere. It’s also emblematic of my relationship with the Beatles – my contemporaries were constantly playing their music, for some reason I felt the need to play other peoples’ music, to champion a less popular sound.

But last year, one of my favorite discoveries was Chris Marker, and his La jetee and Sans soleil are so obsessed with Vertigo, and so many writings use it as a cinematic touchstone, I felt it necessary to put it on the list. For educational purposes, you know.

Now to wrap up the reviews for the End of Year movies so I can start watching movies again.