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.
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)
Got to sub for Anne Moloney on my pal Bill Mudron's "Boy Howdy Podcast." Show description:
Anne’s visiting family in Texas this week, so Mike Russell steps in to chat with Bill about 2012′s crop of movies. Also on the menu: the future of the "Star Wars" franchise, and whether or not we may’ve already seen a glimpse of Khan in the "Star Trek Into Darkness" trailers.
It's two-and-half hours long, so, you know, apologies in advance.
So here's the video of the final "Cort and Fatboy" show -- recorded Friday, Dec. 7 at the Bagdad Theater in front of a live audience.
Starring Cort, Fats, Robert Wagner, Lisa and Brian Wood, Leia Weathington, Big Jim Willig, Ryan Fleming, Jefferson Smith, Erik Henriksen, Courtenay Hameister, Byron Beck, David Walker, and yrs. truly. Video by Doc Normal and his camera crew.
You can find video and audio versions of the show and (buried in the comments) a downloadable PDF of my slideshow right here.
So the Friday, Nov. 30 "Cort and Fatboy" podcast was my final sit-down in our studio space above the Roseway Theater. Instead of getting all maudlin about how much I loved being on their show most Fridays for six-and-a-half flippin' years, we just talked for 90 minutes about movies, Coppola, Wes Anderson and for some reason "Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor."
Poster design by The Thomas Wilson.
So yeah, Cort Webber and Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts have decided to end their five-day-a-week podcast, on which I've appeared most Fridays for the last six-and-a-half years.
I've definitely had some of the Emotions about the announcement. The show changed my life in lots of big and small ways. I'm really going to miss the Midnight Movies, and the show introduced me to pockets of Portland I never would have encountered otherwise.
But I also understand the boys' logic: Better to go out like "Bloom County" than "Peanuts."
Anyway. We're closing out the show on Friday, Dec. 7 with a big fat live performance at the Bagdad featuring all the regular guests. And I'm holding a going-out-of-business sale.
As a thank-you to listeners, "Cort and Fatboy in: The Secret of the Buried Unicorns" -- the world's first and maybe only podcast tie-in storybook -- is now just THREE LOUSY BUCKS at my online store. Made my money back on these a while ago, and there are fewer than 100 left, so if you ever wanted one, now's the time.
Movie review for The Oregonian. The sketches were (hastily) drawn in my reviewer's notebook during the Wednesday screening.
The quick version:
If you're totally in the bag for the "Twilight" movies, you're probably going to love "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2."
It's funnier and a lot less padded than "Part 1," it's got a surprising amount of barmy action, it nicely juggles a huge cast, Michael Sheen is a riot, and, without spoiling anything, fans of the book are going to freak the hell out (in a way that was hilarious to behold in a crowded theater on Wednesday night) over some bold tweaks in the third act.
(If you're part of that huge subculture that obsessively loves to hate the "Twilight" series, you'll probably dig it, too, for different-yet-similar reasons.)
The long version is a bit more complicated.
I'm not exactly in the target demo for Stephenie Meyer's vampires-and-werewolves-romance series, but I certainly haven't hated all the films. Visited the muddy vampire-baseball set in 2008 and found everyone delightfully nice. Saw the movie a year later and found it an overheated mess, mostly held together by Kristen Stewart's performance. Thought "New Moon" was a massive, tone-setting improvement over its predecessor -- adding humor and warmth and character and some semblance of logic while putting me squarely on Team Jacob. "Eclipse" was an inoffensive wheel-spinner that starts and ends in almost exactly the same place for the characters. The only "Twilight" movie I loathe is "Breaking Dawn - Part 1," which will age horribly. It felt like 13 hours of dull wedding followed by 15 hours of bad honeymoon followed by 50 hours of K-Stew turning freakishly skeletal and having the most unnerving CGI-faced baby in movie history while everyone else fretted in an upscale living room.
Overall, I admire the impact of the series more than I've admired its particulars. It's terrific that the success of the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" series has finally shown Hollywood there's an audience beyond teenage boys for action-packed genre entertainment. It's maybe less terrific that Bella Swan is a passive, boring Mary Sue -- a character praised as beautiful and funny and charming by everyone around her despite never actually doing or saying anything interesting.
It's even less terrific that Bella defines herself almost entirely through the dudes she torments and lusts after and thinks she needs. (By contrast, Katniss Everdeen is a vastly more interesting and powerful heroine simply for not needing anyone but herself.) Film writer Drew McWeeny dives deep into the ways Bella is a terrible role model for girls here, if you're interested.
Also, most of the films in the series have followed an increasingly wearying pattern: Everyone showers Bella with unearned praise, followed by lots of repetitive, "Archie"-comic-level teen angst and sexual repression, until a climactic face-off ends in a truce until next time.
That's the best thing about "Breaking Dawn - Part 2": It finally breaks that narrative pattern and moves the story toward an over-the-top resolution. Bella's still a bit of a blank, but at least now she's a bit of a blank with superpowers.
In the new film, Bella is a freshly minted vampire with a weird baby, an understanding significant other, a steamy sex life, huge appetites and unchecked strength. Instead of moping and uttering endless variations on "That's really pretty" like she did in previous films, Bella now zips through the woods like a red-eyed Bionic Woman and punches rocks and arm-wrestles and kicks werewolves and tackles her husband. (She also hears and smells everything in microscopic detail -- which the movie treats as incredibly cool but just seems like it would get excruciating in a hurry.)
The love triangle with vampire hubby Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and ab-blessed werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) is also, finally, off the table -- for the hilariously insane and more-than-a-little-creepy reason that Jacob has "imprinted" wolf-style on Bella's CGI-faced baby Renesmee and refuses to leave her side. Much-older men fixating chemically on much-younger women being a motif in this series, apparently.
(If I have one serious beef with "Part 2," it's that Jacob gets sidelined the way Han Solo got sidelined in "Return of the Jedi," robbing us of some much-needed smirks. But at least we didn't have to watch another scene of Bella giving Jacob a big sad hug before telling him to get lost.)
Meanwhile, the Volturi vampire leadership (headed up by Michael Sheen in full-camp mode and enjoying every single tongue-flicking second of his paycheck, all while flanked by a dead-eyed Dakota Fanning) has learned of Renesmee's existence. They think she's not just an unnerving trip into the Uncanny Valley, but also a threat to vampires everywhere -- and look to be headed to Forks to wipe out the entire Cullen clan.
So the Cullens gather a ragtag group of vampires from around the world -- many of them dressed in unsubtle "It's A Small World"-caliber regional costumes (i.e. the Irish vampire wears a cute little Irish cap, etc.). The remainder of the film feels uncannily like a magazine-spread variation on an "X-Men" movie, with everyone prepping their special powers for a big showdown in the snow. All of this is intercut with more helicopter shots of forested backcountry than all the "Lord of the Rings" movies put together.
Director Bill Condon ("Kinsey," "Gods and Monsters," the excruciating "Breaking Dawn - Part 1") and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg do a fair job of keeping the tone brisk and good-humored, staging the action clearly, and helping the audience keep track of the film's approximately 574 million supporting characters -- no easy feat. The in-the-bag Wednesday-night audience was eating this up. Also and again, without spoiling anything, there's some cleverness in the structure of that third act, and the movie closes in a sweet, big-hearted way that fans will love.
For an outsider like me, though, the chief pleasure of any "Twilight" movie comes when the filmmakers joyfully embrace the fever-dream absurdity of a story about hunky shirtless wolfmen and high-fashion vampires being forced to get along in the woods and fight a bunch of undead, absurdly dressed Italians just because everyone thinks the most boring girl in Forks is pretty. No one joyfully embraces this absurdity better than Michael Sheen. The actor finds a ridiculous-yet-perfect way to deliver every single second of his performance as head of the global vampire council -- whether he's taking of his cloak to reveal his marching-band outfit or rolling his eyes or clucking "I will collect every FACET of the truth!" or offering up a bizarre laugh of revelation or doing something weird with his tongue. He's all over the film's finale. It's fantastic.
(115 min., rated PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity) Grade: B-minus
'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2' (The Oregonian, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012)
Catching up with some recent podcast appearances:
• During the Friday, Nov. 16 "Cort and Fatboy" podcast, I sort of went off on "Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2," sorry. Also: Bond, competing "Prometheus" scripts, the Internet cottage-industry economy, and a liquor-store beef. Show-notes in the comments.
• On the Friday, Nov. 9 "Cort and Fatboy," we talked about "Skyfall" (which is pretty damn terrific) and riffed on a variation of The Avengers made entirely of comic-strip-characters (Hagar the Horrible as Thor, Billy from Family Circus as The Hulk, etc.). We may have also reminisced about the long, winding, multi-building history of the show.
• The Friday, Nov. 2 "Cort and Fatboy" deals in Huey Lewis, bad dancing, James Bond, the Disney/Lucasfilm deal, and vague-tweeting -- this last topic for reasons detailed below...
• On Thursday, Nov. 1, we also recorded our final "Midnight Movie Commentary," this one for "Back to the Future." Featuring Cort, Fats, Dave Walker, Erik Henriksen and yrs. truly. What's that? "Final," you say? Well, fun fact: Immediately after we finished recording this, Cort and Fats informed us that they were canceling their show. More on the live Dec. 7 series finale here.
• Oh, and finally, if you go in for that sort of thing, the v. nice Colin Marshall interviewed yrs. truly about my "CulturePulp" non-fiction comic, fan cultures, "The Sabertooth Vampire" and more for his "Notebook on Cities & Culture" podcast. In a hilarious ironic twist, I spend a bunch of the interview talking about my history with "Cort and Fatboy" and the communities to which it introduced me.