So I've been working with an economist on a script for an educational comic book. Adrian Wallace is handling art chores (and killing it, BTW). Here's a preview page, posted with permission. Click to enlarge.
Longer cut of a movie review in the Friday, Jan. 18 Oregonian....
Quality-wise, the crime drama "Broken City" lives in a frustrating mid-range area: It's too complicated and competently crafted to totally dismiss as junk -- but it's also nowhere near sharp enough to work as the serious grown-up detective movie it clearly wants to be.
The story (as scripted by first-timer Brian Tucker and directed by Allen Hughes) at least has the promise of bite, introducing a trio of characters slopping about in the murkier areas of New York governance. A disgraced NYC cop (Mark Wahlberg), on trial for gunning down a bad kid under suspicious circumstances in the projects, gets a break from the mayor (Russell Crowe) and a police captain (Jeffrey Wright).
Cut to seven years later. Wahlberg is on the wagon, struggling as a two-bit private eye, with an actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) and a wisecracking secretary (Alona Tal). The mayor -- in danger of losing an impending election to an idealistic challenger (Barry Pepper) -- hires Wahlberg to spy on the mayor's possibly unfaithful wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). From there, it gets complicated.
Or rather, it only gets half-complicated. And because the movie's complicated stuff feels at odds with its uncomplicated stuff, it leaves "Broken City" feeling deeply mediocre.
True to the genre (and no, I'm not really spoiling anything), Wahlberg's shamus stumbles onto a larger corruption. It's a fairly convoluted scenario involving lots of players, betrayals and pieces of paper. And even on coast, the all-star cast is certainly up to the task; it's fun to watch Wahlberg and Crowe fence a little.
But then every so often the filmmakers will drop in something that's insultingly simple-minded by comparison. Lame '80s-TV-caliber detective work. Rote action beats. The do-gooder mayoral challenger literally having the last name "Valliant." Wahlberg and Martinez suddenly having an out-of-nowhere problem spurred by something stupid because the story needs Wahlberg to be embittered and hard-boiled and fall off the wagon, or something. (The scene also suggests that Wahlberg's character has no idea what being an actress entails, seven long years into his relationship with one. Seriously?) Also, the character interrelationships get so dense you'd think there were about six people living in New York City.
But mostly, the problem is just that the dialogue is on-the-nose and not nearly as sophisticated as the story's ambitions. There's a lot of this:
Wright: "It appears he wants justice."
Mayor Crowe [grinning evilly]: "Well, nobody gets that."
Or this painful bit of "banter":
Martinez: "When you going to stop coming home looking like a slice of bloody meat?"
Wahlberg: "I thought you liked bloody meat."
Martinez: "I'm a vegetarian."
These bouts of mild dopiness result in a workmanlike drama with less-than-total command of its tone. And thus a corruption-damning actor's showcase becomes something you dismiss with a shrug.
(109 min.; rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence) Grade: C
'Broken City' (The Oregonian, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013)
Here's the free "Jaxxon's 11" Vol. 1 ebook (PDF, 10 MB). And here's the explanation.
In 2003, I had a very silly idea for a comic:
Resurrect the most ridiculous character from the 1970s Marvel "Star Wars" comic books -- a seven-foot-tall green rabbit named Jaxxon -- and have him recruit a middle-aged Han Solo for one last heist.
As a joke, my then-co-worker David Stroup and I hammered out a story while driving back from a coffee shop. (This isn't quite as out-of-the-blue as it sounds -- the coffee shop was two blocks away from the offices of Dark Horse Comics, and we'd just been chatting with one of their editors.)
A few weeks later -- also as a joke -- we pitched it as a webcomic to the world's biggest "Star Wars" fan site.
Sixty-odd pages later, "Jaxxon's 11" remains the single geekiest act of my public life, and that is saying something. I wrote the script, packing it with references to the original Marvel "Star Wars" comics (which I purchased and, between occasional bouts of wincing, read). David added his own gags and drew the pages with a lunatic attention to detail.
Both David and I went through major career changes in 2004. Even though we have a full story outline, progress is sporadic at best. In 2011, I collected everything we'd done so far as a free 72-page ashcan and gave it away at the Stumptown Comics Fest. Now you can download that ashcan as a free PDF.
If you like this sort of thing, I suspect this is the sort of thing you'll like.
Jaxxon's 11, Vol. 1: Eleven Against A Casino! (PDF, 10MB)
DISCLAIMER: For personal and professional reasons too boring to recount, at this writing I have yet to see ANY of the big awards-season movies -- you know, the ones making every other movie reviewer's year-end list of favorites. This includes stuff like "Zero Dark Thirty," "Lincoln," "Amour," "Holy Motors," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Django Unchained" and WAY too many of the films on this list.
I'm catching up with those flicks as fast as I can. But I liked (and frequently loved) these. Links go to my reviews.
You could argue that Wes Anderson's entire career builds up to this masterful comedy about an island of sad adults thrown into upheaval by a runaway-tween romance. It's funny and melancholic and storybook-beautiful -- and features some of Anderson's strongest use of music and actors.
If you thought "There Will Be Blood" was too cuddly, you'll be pleased to hear Paul Thomas Anderson stares hard into the abyss in his sixth feature -- the abyss being the tortured face of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a wounded animal changed by a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in ways the cult leader didn't quite intend.
The year's most disturbing horror movie was Ben Wheatley's freaky tale of two contract killers who take on a series of hits that lead them to increasingly weird places. The dream-logic, gets-inside-your-head vibe might best be described as "The Shining" meets "The Wicker Man" meets David Lynch, but with more gunplay. (Also, the film really rewards a second viewing, during which I suggest you look for all the oddly placed King Arthur references.) "Kill List" made me feel like I was getting pithed while I was watching it -- but in a good way.
The Wachowskis boldly jumped right off the cliff adapting a supposedly unadaptable novel -- and the result is a surprisingly beautiful, densely edited, provocative and huge-hearted movie about love and tolerance across the centuries. (Had a long discussion about the movie and its attendant controversies on this podcast.)
The Avengers / The Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon gave us the genre double-feature of the year: He wrote and directed Marvel's wildly entertaining pop superhero team-up and co-wrote a low-budget horror comedy that brilliantly deconstructs horror tropes. Bring on "Much Ado About Nothing."
Damsels in Distress
Writer/director Whit Stillman returned with his first feature in 13 years, and gave us something sort of awesomely barmy: He tries to marry the deadpan comedy of manners you'd expect from the director of "Metropolitan" with dance numbers and a bunch of cartoony slapstick. I loved the attempt and how completely personal and '90s-indie-film-sloppy it felt.
Writer/director Rian Johnson ("Brick," "The Brothers Bloom") once again stuffs as many ideas as possible into an alternate-reality thriller -- this time mashing up "Terminator"-style time travel, telekinetic horror and a generational conflict involving the same self-centered guy at two different ages. Joseph Gordon-Levitt embodies a young Bruce Willis without ever resorting to caricature.
21 Jump Street
If you had told me a year ago that the breakout comedy performance of 2012 would involve Channing Tatum jumping through a gong while yelling "Fuck you Miles Davis!," I would have laughed at you. This year, I laughed at him.
Speaking of Chatum: This semiautobiographical story about his male-stripper days needed a trip to ending school, but damn, it gets so much right in its first two-thirds. There's the perfectly captured reckless tone of shouted nightclub conversations. The tiny funny human interactions between Alex Pettyfer and Cody Horn and Channing Tatum and pretty much everyone. Olivia Munn's casual don't-ask-too-many-questions ruthlessness. And good Lord Matthew McConaughey, mercilessly mocking his star persona in a year full of career-reinventing character performances for him (including this, "Killer Joe" and "Bernie"). Welcome back, Wooderson.
With the help of grade-A filmmakers (including Sam Mendes and Coen Brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins) and a script with some dramatic teeth, Daniel Craig's James Bond finally gathered all the classic Connery trappings -- from Q to the gadget-laden car -- in a way that honored the 50-year film series' history while also completing the series reinvention started with "Casino Royale." The hall-of-mirrors sequence -- in which Bond stalks an assassin while sillhouetted in a neon-bathed Shanghai skyscraper -- was basically Deakins pornography.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Writer/director Stephen Chbosky, adapting his 1999 novel, crafts a big-hearted, delicate comedy-drama that nails the early '90s while celebrating the friends and mentors who guide you through assorted high-school traumas.
The Queen of Versailles
I went into "Queen of Versailles" thinking I was going to have a fun schaden-chuckle at the expense of buffoons living inside a bubble of obscene luxury. Not so much. Lauren Greenfield's documentary meets workaholic time-share king David Siegel and his shopaholic trophy wife Jackie as they're about to build the biggest house in America. But then the economy collapses. Siegel's business suddenly provides a metaphor for what binging on subprime mortgages did to the U.S., and you can't help but feel for the generous-but-deluded couple, their kids, and especially their employees and immigrant live-in help as everything starts to crumble. The whole thing ends up being almost unbearably poignant.
The best bleakest scene in movies this year was Liam Neeson yelling at the heavens in a freezing river and then muttering, "Fuck it, I'll do it myself" during a key moment in Joe Carnahan's expectations-subverting existential survival adventure.
The best new idea wrung out of the found-footage genre was a found-footage superhero movie. It's also probably the best riff on "Akira" we'll see committed to film. (Bonus viewing: "Chronicle" screenwriter Max Landis' drunken riff on the Death of Superman.)
Laika is now batting two-for-two with "Coraline" and this gorgeously animated zombie comedy. Loved the way the zombies were used to comment on both sides of the dangers of mass hysteria. (Full disclosure: My biological father helped build the practical sets on this flick. He did a kick-ass job.)
Gina Carano brought a stunning MMA physicality to the year's leanest-and-meanest action flick. (Bring on her and The Rock in "Fast Six," I wrote 100-percent unironically.)
The best stupid time I've had at the movies in maybe years. A lost 1987 martial-arts flick that makes every lunatic amateurish creative choice with such energy and raw enthusiasm that it becomes what film writer Jeremy "Mr. Beaks" Smith rightly called "a psychotronic masterpiece." Rediscovered and redistributed by Drafthouse Films, it destroyed the crowd at the Hollywood Theatre in late 2012 -- standing ovations, howls of enthusiasm, you name it. If it returns, make an effort. If you rent it, bring like-minded friends and a six-pack.
... goes to Red Letter Media, for utterly demolishing the year's most disappointing movie, "Prometheus," by just having one guy sit in a room and ask another guy questions for four minutes.
Mike Russell's Top 10 Movies of 2012 (The Oregonian, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012)