The great thing about Guillermo del Toro–what makes him so endlessly interesting as a writer and as a director–is that he never forgot what it’s like to be a kid. He’s got all these years of filmmaking experience and accumulated knowledge on a vast array of obscure subject matter, nestled alongside the uninhibited creativity of a precocious child. I can’t decide if that sounds insulting or not, implying that a grown man has a kid brain, but I’m sticking with it. There’s just no other way to describe it. Nearly everyone has an amazing mind as a child, and it’s only after years of exposure to words like “impossible” that those parts of the brain die off and we resign ourselves to the mundane. Del Toro somehow held on against all odds, and like Billy Batson and Captain Marvel now enjoys a full and equal creative partnership with his inner child. Pacific Rim is the latest fruit of that unique work ethic, a wholly unironic film about giant robots punching giant monsters for the survival of mankind. And I want to you to know that I’m being completely serious when I say that it’s pretty much a masterpiece.
I don’t have cable, and I probably never will, at least under the current business model. As much as I’d love to have access to HBO, AMC, and maybe three other channels, I’m just not willing to pony up that kind of cash for the privilege of accessing several dozen reality TV and sports channels alongside those precious few I’d actually watch. I wait out the seasons and buy discs instead–so many discs–and like many others in this brave new era of cable-cutting I also rely heavily on streaming services. It used to be I could get by on just Netflix, but my insatiable hunger for films and quality cable dramas soon saw Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus added to my list. Even so, it all comes to under $30 a month and I assure you I get my money’s worth. Each app feels like it serves a special purpose, and I enjoy a wide variety of current and classic entertainment. Like all good things though, it’s all coming to an end.
In 2003 Mattel launched a line of 7″ scale figures featuring Batman and an assortment of villains and allies, all of varying degrees of quality and complexity. This line then began to be alternated with waves of Superman figures, before finally giving way to the DC Universe Classics line: Mattel’s answer to the competing Marvel Legends figures, and a series that would become legendary for inspiring customer frustration. It seems we’ve now come full circle, and Mattel’s once again has a collector-oriented line focused entirely on the residents of Gotham City, entitled “Batman Unlimited”. I was heavily invested in all the lines that led up to this one, buying almost every single figure for around six years, until I eventually had to sell the bulk of my collection. Even though I do still have a modest shelf of Batman toys, thus far the Unlimited line has not really piqued my interest. The figures are expensive, there are only around three released at a time (taking any and all fun out of sifting through the pegs at the store), and I generally just try to be a little more careful with my purchases these days. Today, however, “responsible” lost a critical battle with “fanboy”, and I walked out of Target with a brand new figure based on pre-crazy Frank Miller’s magnum Batman opus, The Dark Knight Returns.
As a musician, Rob Zombie has carved out a genre all his own, and every new album he releases is, for lack of a better word, an incredibly “safe” buy for me. His back catalog doesn’t really have any low spots as far as I’m concerned, and when he made the transition into filmmaking part of me was hoping for more of the same. And really, things got off to a pretty good start. House of 1000 Corpses certainly had its issues but at the end of the day it feels like it’s just for me. It’s a long-form music video with some pretty great performances out of Bill Moseley and Sid Haig, tons of memorable dialogue, and a few truly impressive scenes (the backyard execution, for one). And it spawned the vastly improved sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which so far is one of my favorite horror movies of the 21st century. Then he started remaking Halloween films and I stopped caring. The original Halloween was a perfect one-and-done horror story; it didn’t need its sequels, much less a remake. Much less a sequel to the remake. So when Zombie started leaking casting info and images from his newest film, The Lords of Salem, I really wanted to be on board. I didn’t get the same strong sense of concept that I did with his first two efforts, but it wasn’t Halloween 3 and it wasn’t aping any of the well-worn trends that have caused me to take a step back from the horror genre as of late, so despite any minor reservations it really felt like something to get excited about.
At 10:47AM this morning, I got a text message from a friend of mine saying “on a side note, Nintendo just announced EarthBound for the Wii U Virtual Console.” I’ve known people that have waited over thirteen years for this news, from all the way back in the days of the Nintendo 64, so for those of you who haven’t played EarthBound or haven’t played it in a while, I figured now would be the perfect time to cover what my favorite part of the SNES era was: the dialogue. As I grew older, I started to appreciate the art of writing, I believe, in part because of the dialogue in EarthBound and other SNES games. There’s a certain art and character to dialogue, and who knows, maybe I wouldn’t be a writer today without these games introducing me to a whole world of literacy. Let’s check out some dialogue from EarthBound and nine other RPG-type games that aren’t EarthBound, as a fun retrospective:
Danny Boyle is a squirrelly director to try to pin down. In 1996 Trainspotting made me fear hard drugs and heroin in particular more deeply than anyone has ever feared anything, in the history of fear. 28 Days Later came along and was a brilliant “zombie” movie while simultaneously probably wrecking the zombie movie subgenre for years to come. Then, after a handful of great films across a wide variety of genres, the Academy finally backs a truck full of Oscars up to his front door for Slumdog Millionaire, and I just…I might be in the minority here, but I hated that movie. I made it through, but only via sheer force of will. 127 Hours was an incredible experience which threw me firmly back into Team Boyle, but it’s hard to deny that, compared to his other work, it felt like the product of someone who had tasted gold and wanted more. I started to long for the old days, a feeling that finally seeing Shallow Grave solidified. What I’m trying to say is that as a subscriber to the auteur director theory, Danny Boyle renders my belief structure difficult and uncertain at times. He maintains a strong visual style which I adore, but his project choices have such an element of randomness to them that I’m never quite sure how excited I should be about his next release. Anyone else occupying the same fence as I do would be well served to go out and grab a ticket to Boyle’s newest film, Trance.
When I first heard the news of Roger Ebert’s death, 12 hours ago as of the time I’m starting this article, my immediate reaction was that this was going to be the hardest article I ever had to write. Then after reading a handful of pretty eloquent tributes/obituaries from around the Internet, I decided I wasn’t going to write one myself. I felt like everything that could be said had been said, much of it by better writers than myself. I thought I’d save myself the experience of being at the computer at 4am, halfway through a bottle of wine and trying to maintain enough composure to write about something that affected me deeply enough that I feel like I’m still trying to process it. Then I sat down and wrote a few pages of a screenplay for a homework assignment that about five other people in my class will do and even fewer will actually care about. Later on I watched a pretty great documentary called These Amazing Shadows, about the process of preserving and inducting movies into the National Film Registry. As I watched the credits roll on that, I realized I wasn’t escaping this article. There are few things in this life that make me as happy as not only watching movies, but also discussing them with everyone I possibly can, and to that end I owe a great deal to Mr. Ebert. I’ll sadly never get to tell him that myself, but at the very least I can tell a bunch of other people about it.
On the scale of toylines that get turned into movies, 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra fell somewhere between Michael Bay’s first two Transformers movies. It was slightly more of an incoherent mess with no regard for the source material than Transformers, but at least managed to not be an offensive and racist mess like Revenge of the Fallen. Mostly, it just made me sleepy. I actually fell asleep on my first two attempts to watch it, not getting all the way to the end until the third try. Like how you hear about mental techniques designed to help people withstand torture, I think my body has just been conditioned to shut down during Stephen Sommers movies. Even with a new director I was wary about a sequel, but the fact remains that way back at the tender age of 19, my very first tattoo was a Cobra insignia. I’m immensely fond of the original cartoon and the surprisingly well-written 80’s comic book series, and truly believe that somewhere in there lies the potential for a great series of films. When it comes to fulfilling that potential, GI Joe: Retaliation doesn’t quite get there, but it’s definitely aimed in the right direction.
Every console generation, for me at least, carries with it a handful of vivid memories that stand out above the rest–experiences that remind me how great of a hobby video games can be even when so many executives and shady developers are out to prove otherwise. For the current cycle of consoles one such landmark moment came in 2007, after swimming through the flaming wreckage of an airplane to find a lighthouse. Greeted by a large red banner proclaiming “No gods or kings. Only man.”, and accompanied by a violin rendition of “Beyond the Sea”, my first trip to the decayed underwater paradise of Rapture is a moment I’ll never forget. Lots of great games have come and gone since, but for me nothing has ever lived up to the sense of wonder I felt playing through Bioshock for the first time. Bioshock 2 was better than its reputation, even if it did suffer from retread syndrome and detached, arbitrary multiplayer features. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t really recapture the magic. So I kept a cautious eye on the development and seemingly endless delays of the third entry in the series, hopeful but all too aware of how quickly the gaming industry can disappoint its fans.
Stoker is the US directorial debut of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, best known in this country for his “revenge trilogy”, comprised of the thematically similar but otherwise unrelated films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. I’m a big fan of those three titles, as well as his contribution to the anthology film Three… Extremes, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how he’d handle a more low-key American thriller. But the trailer grew on me each of the four times or so that I saw it in the theater, and despite Fox Searchlight’s baffling strategy of following up heavy marketing with a whisper-quiet limited release spread out over an entire month, we finally managed to find a theater nearby that was playing it. Was it worth the wait and/or effort to see? Read on and find out!