Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Of 2012

Another year in fear is ending so it's time to drum up a list of the best films of the year. Not such a tough task this year as 2012 wasn't short on decent genre films. My top five, plus a handful of honorable mentions, are over at Shock Till You Drop now. My extended thoughts on each film are at Shock but the titles are Cabin in the Woods, Dredd, The Pact, Prometheus, and Excision - all fine films in my book, even if I have a couple of critical qualms here and there.

A couple of 2012 films that I liked but failed to mention in my Shock piece are The Woman In Black and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The Woman In Black was on the tepid side but it was still a solid slice of supernatural hokum. If nothing else, I'll always hold it in great affection as the first big screen horror movie that I took my son to. As for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it was roundly derided by virtually everyone but I love that such a goofy subject was afforded such a lavishly produced film. I dig it when big expensive genre films that have absolutely no business being big expensive genre films (not if the people putting up the money ever expect to see it back, that is) get made and AL:VH is the best example of that in awhile. It's 100% sincere - a full-on action horror film without any tongue in its cheek, no matter how ridiculous it becomes, and I'm all for that.

All in all, it was a good year - but I have a feeling that 2013 will be an even better one. See you next year!

Superiority Complex

WARNING: We're going into full nerd mode here in talking about comic book shit. Proceed at your own peril!

Comic book history was made this week by Spider-Man scribe Dan Slott as he did the seemingly unthinkable - sending Peter Parker's soul or consciousness or whatever to that big ol' web in the sky while placing the brain waves of his long time arch nemesis Doctor Octopus in Peter's body.

It's the culmination of a storyline that had Ock on death's door for a few years in our real time but mere months in comic time. His body a ravaged, soon-to-expire husk, Doc Ock concocted a last ditch scheme to switch bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker emtombed in Ock's dying body while Ock himself gained a new lease on life as Spider-Man.

Issue #700, where Peter makes a desperate final effort to switch back and fails, is touted as the final issue of Amazing Spider-Man, making way for the debut of Superior Spider-Man #1 next month. Fan outrage has naturally occured with many fans apoplectic over the change. On the surface, it's definitely a shock...but a skillfully executed one that promises an intriguing new status quo.

As a longtime Spidey fan, I have to say I love the audaciousness of this move. I know some fans are crestfallen at the thought of Spidey not just losing to Doc Ock but having his entire identity co-opted. But there are a few reasons why I'm welcoming the Superior era of Spidey.

1) You Can't Make An Omelette Without Breaking A Few Eggs
As with any long-running comic character, Spider-Man's greatest foe is stagnation. After 50 years of web-swinging, Spider-Man is more than due for a giant shake-up. Other status quo-shattering events have rocked Spidey's world in the past but never like this. The last big change for Spidey was the evaporation in 2007 of his longtime marriage to Mary Jane Watson via the malefic manipulation of Mephisto but while that led to a fine new era of Spidey comics, branded as a "Brand New Day," the removal of the marriage felt like exactly what it was - a revising of continuity in order to get the book in line with where the editorial team felt it needed to be. It led to good books, ones that recaptured the soap opera-esque Spidey vibe of old, but it came across like an effort to turn the clock back on Spidey, erasing the "mistake" of the marriage, rather than moving him into new territory. This, however, is the real Brand New Day.

2) Everything Old Is New Again
Having Ock in Peter's body trying to be the "Superior" Spider-Man offers a whole new way of looking at the world of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Ock may be trying to do good now but he's still an arrogant ego-maniac and his interactions with Spider-Man's cast of friends and foes is going to be entirely different than it has been previously. It doesn't take long to see the possibilities. For instance: how will Peter/Ock deal with having the other geniuses of the Marvel U like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Reed Richards now as allies and colleagues rather than as adversaries? Will he be competitive with them in a way that Peter never was? Will he see them as professional rivals or will his mad scientist soul be changed by having these people now include him as a valued peer? Mostly, though, I'm excited by the potential run-ins with Spidey's rogue gallery. The idea of Ock going head-to-head with Norman Osborn is enough to give me nerd shivers of delight. We've seen Spider-Man and The Green Goblin fight many times over the years but never like this. It can't help but to be epic.

3) Slott's Lasting Legacy
Dan Slott has been the sole writer on The Amazing Spider-Man since November of 2010, after several years of being part of the revolving group of writers that formed a relay team of sorts during the Brand New Day era. Slott's solo stint on Spidey has been admirable, full of smart, rollicking adventures that have showcased Slott's love of the character. It's been exactly the kind of Spidey book you'd expect from a fan who got the chance to write the expoits of his childhood hero. It's always been a good run but at the same time it's always felt This doesn't, however. This is an overturning of the apple cart that feels like Slott is out not just to be the momentary caretaker of Spidey but someone who is going to leave a lasting mark on the book. It was easy to see the influence of past Spidey runs on Slott's ASM issues but with the Superior Spidey era, Slott is venturing into fresh territory. This is going to be where he really makes Spidey history and I'm excited to see it. It also doesn't hurt that Superior Spider-Man's rotating roster of artists are among the best in comics today - Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli.

4) It's Comics, Man...No One Ever Really Dies
Finally, anyone who's actually agitated by these changes should remember that Spider-Man is not the first iconic superhero to meet what looks like a permanent end. Superman, Batman, Captain America - they've all bit the dust before and returned down the road. And in every case it was a fun journey to take. I'm sure this new Superior era of Spidey is well mapped out for the next year or two at least and I bet part of that plan involves Peter Parker. If it doesn't, oh well. I'm just eager to see where this new direction leads with no need of assurances on when or if it's going to end. So for now, make mine Superior.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cancelling The Apocalypse: Looking Ahead To 2013

2012 was touted in advance by the geek community as being The Greatest Geek Year Ever and with movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Prometheus due to be released, how could it not have been? On paper, 2012 looked absolutely massive. In reality, it turned out to be just another year, filled with the usual ups and downs. All of which only makes it easy for 2013's more outwardly modest line-up to not look like a disappointment in comparison. Who knows - maybe it'll actually top 2012 when all is said and done.

Coming up with a list of which movies I'm most excited to see in 2013 was easy but as opposed to years past, I reduced my number of picks from my usual twenty to thirteen. Looking back at past lists, I always tended to get over enthusiastic and overstuff them with titles that never ended up coming out that year. Just from my 2012 picks alone, we're still waiting to see Lords of Salem, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Dracula 3D, World War Z, Maniac, John Dies At The End and You're Next (almost none of which I still give a rat's ass about seeing) so I figure that this year I'll stick to stuff that has a firm guarantee of actually coming out in 2013.

Here's my picks:

1. The Evil Dead
The announcement that Sam Raimi and co. would be remaking their own seminal splatter film was greeted with the expected howls of outrage by the fan community. But now that some footage has been seen via trailers, the mood has shifted dramatically. And rightly so as it looks freaking good. Consider me excited.

2. Pacific Rim
As much as I like Guillermo del Toro, I always find that I enjoy interviews with him and hearing his thoughts as a fan more than I like his actual movies, which always fall just a notch or so short for me. I'm hoping that Pacific Rim will be one I really love, though. Giant Monsters vs. Giant Robots seems like a can't miss proposition.

3. Curse of Chucky
Jason and Friday the 13th will always have the top spot in my heart as far as horror franchises go. Nothing can trump my sentiment for that series but Chucky is right in there at #2. I'm a freak for all things Chucky so I'm overjoyed at the prospect of his return - especially with the promise that Curse of Chucky will bring the series back to its scarier roots.

4. The Conjuring
Some people loved Insidious, some people hated it. I really dug it myself so I'm very game to see James Wan tackle another supernatural shocker. Early word is that this is his best film to date so we'll see.

5. You’re Next
This home invasion tale is a hold over from last year's list but it looks like Lionsgate will be putting it out in August so fans can finally check this one out.

6. Stoker
I don't know how much of a full-on horror movie this will be but the trailers look creepy as hell and it's directed by Oldboy director Park Chan-wook so my interest is definitely piqued.

7. Mama
I tend to like the films that Guillermo del Toro produces a bit more than the ones he directs so that gives me plenty to hope for with this eerie-looking offering.

8. John Dies At The End
Another hold-over from last year's list, I'm super excited by all the advance praise that this funky-looking Don Coscarelli film has gotten from its festival screenings. This is actually coming to On Demand or whatever before the end of the year, I think, but what the hell - let's just call it a 2013 release anyhow.

9. The Quiet Ones
I greatly enjoyed The Woman In Black. It didn't set a new bar for horror or anything but it was a solidly made ghost yarn that reestablished the Hammer brand more effectively than the newly refounded studio's other recent efforts. I'm hoping that they'll have a strong follow-up to TWIB with this supernatural tale set in the '70s.

10. Warm Bodies
The trailer sold me on this one as I had no prior interest in this zombie love story. But it looks genuinely quirky and interesting so I've got my fingers crossed that it'll actually be good.

11. Ouija
Not much is known about this yet but I'm interested because this went from a big budget project that, I believe, was meant to be a more family-friendly action adventure to a very low budget project under the banner of Blumhouse Productions and I'd like to think that means that this film is going to be what it should've been from the start - a scary movie. With its October release date, this should be angling to be the next big Halloween franchise - especially with Blumhouse's Paranormal Activity films starting to flag a bit at the box office.

12. Bates Motel
I'm putting a TV show (due to air on A&E) on here just because I'm a major Psycho-phile and I'm curious to see how this "prequel" shapes up. I'm not sure that we needed any more of a backstory to Norman and his mother than we already saw in Psycho IV: The Beginning (and even that was not-so-necessary) but I'll definitely give this show a shot.

13. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
Landing at an appropriate #13 is this eagerly anticipated look at the Friday the 13th series, inspired by the indispensible book by Peter M. Brake. An earlier F13 doc, My Name is Jason, just didn't satisfy so hopefully this new one will be more along the lines of the amazing Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. Elsewhere on the documentary front, I'm also hoping that Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films will make its bow in 2013.

Finally, it's landing off the list because I don't know if it's a 2013 release or not but I'd like to state my anticipation for Mockingbird, the long overdue follow-up from The Strangers director Bryan Bertino. I think it's crazy that it's taken five years for us to see another movie from this guy. Hopefully it'll still only be five - and not six or more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Feel Free To Not Read This

As a preface, let me say this: the following will not tell anyone anything they don't already know, educate them in any way, or sway them from that which they already believe. Given this, I encourage readers to simply ignore the below and come back when I start talking about movies, comics, or other trivial but very much-needed diversions again.


Recent events have left me numb, with little more to say or feel about what goes on in this world. It's awful to the point of absurdity that in the wake of children being gunned down in their elementary school classroom, a crime so heinous that it leaves a vacuum in one's soul just to hear of it, the next thought is to start to dread the next national atrocity. Because, inevitably, we know that something even more abominable and previously unthinkable than the shootings in Newtown will occur. None of us, and none of our predecessors on this planet, have ever lived in a safe world but come on - it's enough.

I'd like to hope that stronger gun control and increased care for the mentally ill will occur as a result of this but there are so many people who want to obstruct any kind of change, due to whatever their own beliefs are, that altering the path we're on - no matter how destructive that path may be - is next to impossible. Ideally, our social media age would lead to a greater national dialogue on tragic events and allow us to quickly reach a common consensus on how best to move forward as a people but outlets like Facebook and Twitter only show how divisive we've become. Maybe I'm part of that divisiveness myself but honestly - how can you sanely respond to anyone who thinks that the solution to a school shooting is to have more guns in schools? Most clear headed people do not want to be forced to live in the Wild West. We shouldn't have to ask our teachers to become armed guards in order to feel that our children are safe. To the maniacal, almost sociopathic, defense of the 2nd Amendment, past all point of reason...what can you say to that?

The mother of the perpetrator of the shootings in Newtown was a gun enthusiast and reportedly a doomsday survivalist - someone who would've balked at any legal effort to limit her guns because, surely, she would need every gun and every last bullet to defend her home when the government showed up on her doorstep to take away her freedom but yet the only real threat to her home and her life, one that wasn't fabricated in her own mind and likely acerbated by rightwing media, was the mentally ill child that she trained in the use of deadly firearms and who shot her in the face as she slept.

I usually feel a pang of empathy for the parents of the shooters in cases like this because raising a child is not easy nor is it an exact science and children can, despite their parent's best efforts, slip into their own darkness. But I do not feel that sort of empathy in this case. I just don't. That this woman thought it would be smart to give her mentally ill son, one who reportedly couldn't feel emotional or physical pain, access to and training in automatic weapons shows such a cataclysmic lack of judgement that my only thought towards her is to regret that so many others had to pay for her mistakes.

Saying that guns don't kill people and that anyone out to do harm will find some other means if guns aren't available just doesn't cut it. It's not acceptable to just say that these things will happen regardless so therefore it's pointless to do anything to attempt to prevent them. If we can make it a little harder for innocent people to be gunned down as they go about their business in theaters, in malls, in schools, and so on then it is evil not to do so.

I've said more about this subject than I'd planned to. I really didn't want to comment on it at all, in fact. But before moving on to other business, I felt compelled to - if only for the opportunity to vent. As the father of an elementary school age child, it's simply gutting to consider what happened in Newtown. What the people of that community are going do they begin to cope with it?

That's all. For those who might've read this, thanks for indulging me. We'll gather on a more upbeat note next time.