July 5, 2012

Johnny Depp is hilarious

How can anyone not love Johnny Depp? He's just brilliant in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, hamming it up at every possible opportunity, putting on mustaches and accents, playing up the weirdness and freakiness at every turn. He's a blast and well worth watching the movie. He has a fake arm that he puts on while sitting at tables so he can hold a gun under the table with his real arm. He changes sunglasses and outfits each chance he gets, even wearing a CIA agent tshirt and a fanny pack in one scene - funny because his character is a CIA agent on an undercover operation. When he turns into a blinded gunfighter at the end, his character's arc is beautifully complete.

Admittedly, the rest of the film has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's over the top and ridiculous and an absolute blast throughout, but it's clear that Robert Rodriguez is having a hell of a lot of fun with all his high-profile friends. Makes for a fun capper to the trilogy that got Rodriguez's career started. Worth checking out, but I wouldn't start with this one. I'd end with it.

I still need to make puerco pibil, though.

Moonrise Kingdom - We're going to have to redo my rankings of my favorite Wes Anderson films, because we may just have a new clubhouse leader.

Every note of this film feels like a Wes Anderson film. The framing puts the characters dead in the center of the frame. There's an unexplained injury to a character (lazy eye's patch here). One set plays like a dollhouse with the camera tracking across and up and down through the rooms and stairwells. Children are oddly precocious. Colors are unnaturally saturated. Quirks are more common than normalcy. We look down from above on the characters. The film is gorgeous, and every scene is beautifully stylized. And there's Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, too.

What places this film among Anderson's most successful are the two strangely charismatic leads, both here in their first acting roles. The male lead, a deserting Khaki Scout, and the female lead, a troubled girl whose lawyerly parents don't know how to raise her and who goes berserk at times, absolutely carry the film and deserve every bit of praise that they get. These two actors are perfectly cast here as twelve-year-olds in love and willing to run away from their whole worlds for the chance to be together and eventually find themselves saved by their communities - Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and all the Khaki Scouts most especially.

Anderson has crafted another masterpiece, and I give this one my strongest recommendation. Beautiful, brilliant, touching film.

My favorite Wes Anderson films...
  1.  Moonrise Kingdom (4 stars)
  2. Fantastic Mr Fox (4 stars)
  3. The Royal Tenenbaums (3.5 stars)
  4. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (3 stars)
  5. The Darjeeling Limited (1.5 stars)

Catching Fire - Two books down, one to go in the Hunger Games  trilogy. I'm happier with the direction the story is going than where this book started. This book opens with Katniss back in District 12 as a winner of the Games, living a life of relative luxury and about to go on her victory tour of the various Districts and the Capital. Complications abound, however, as the President shows up to inform Katniss that her final Games act - showing up the Capital - wasn't appreciated and that she needs to make things right on her tour. Bit by bit Katniss finds out that there's more to President Snow's anger is based more on the titular catching fire throughout the Districts, something that Katniss finds out through drips and drabs overheard or seen by accident.

This first part of the story frustrated me as it took place mostly inside Katniss's head, narrated with her uncertainty and lack of satisfaction at the costs that have come with the phenomenal rise in her family's living standard. Yes, her prosperity comes with great costs, but her family never has to worry about going hungry again. They have a large house, and they can help lots of people in their community because of Katniss's success in the Hunger Games. So, of course, Katniss is miserable - in a way that so many teenage girls must love reading but that drove me nuts.

Once the next Hunger Games - with Katniss and Peeta back in the arena - kicks back into action, the book rolls along much more tightly, trading internal monologue and strife for external action and struggle. The layout of the new arena and the ways that Katniss and her team fight the arena - much more than they fight their opponents - is fascinating. I enjoyed the second half of the book far more than the first half. On balance this book was less fun than the first for me, but it does move the story along well, giving us a believable reason for the entirety of Panem to be on fire and to see Katniss as their symbol of revolution by the end of the book. Hopefully the next book will take place outside of Katniss's head.

Superman: The Black Ring (vol 1) - For a Superman volume where Superman doesn't appear even once, this is a pretty spectacular read.

Lex has been touched by the Rainbow Bright power rings. He got an orange one - greed, avarice, wanting - and has been changed by the experience. He's still brilliant and charming, always a half dozen steps ahead of any adversary - Mr Mind, Gorilla Grod, Vandal Savage, even Neil Gaiman's Death - that he meets in this volume, but he now has a goal other than destroying Superman. He wants to have the power of the black rings, power which seems have been spread around the planet. While Superman walks the world, Lex is scouring the world to collect the black rings' power and make himself immortal and unstoppable.

The creepiest addition to the Lex Luthor mythos in this volume is Lex's new robot Lois Lane assistant/sidekick/love doll. She matches Lex's intelligence and questions his decisions, forcing him to justify his choices - to her and to the readers along the way. There is no explanation given in this volume as to where 'Lois' came from, so I'm hoping that her creation was dealt with in a previous volume. If not, her introduction - as Lois with no initial mention of her robotic nature - is more than a little unsettling.

The exploration of Lexi's desires - to be Earth's heroes, to save Earth of his creation/people/leading, to have his own Lois Lane, to defeat Death - makes for an interesting and fun read. I'm hoping PLCH gets the second volume.

Captain America: A Man Out of Time - meh...this is ground that has been tread numerous times before. Sure it's well done here, but it's nothing novel. Skim it but don't give it much time.

Captain America: Two Americas - again, meh...we've just gotten Steve Rodgers back, and he's questioning whether he should ever pick up the shield again with Bucky doing a good job in the role. Then Bucky has to put down one of the former job holders.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl - meh...we all know that Bruce Wayne is coming back. All of this piddling around with 'who's going to be Batman' feels pointless. And now that we've gone New 52, it's even more pointless. I could put up with that, though, if we got a good story along the way. Instead we get sloppy artwork, poor dialogue, and painful reading.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants: Mutants vs Vampires - blech...I look forward to the time when there isn't a vast, over-arching storyline through all the X-books. Because this collection grabs from each of the X-books, we get wildly inconsistent artwork and writing. These aren't the main storyline books, even. Nope, these are ancillary fill-in books meaning that unless you already know the storyline, you aren't going to get more then glimpses of it here. Stay away

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