The Outlaw Josey Wales
One of the first postmodern Westerns that arrived 10 years after Clint and the Italians had brought the genre to its climax, Outlaw explores a taciturn post-Confederate gunslinger on a monomaniacal pursuit for vengeance.
The Outlaw Josey Wales is movie poster first and film second. Playing like a greatest hits of Clint’s (at this point, pretty storied) career, here we find a basic revenge structure embroidering a variety of run-ins and sit-downs. Clint is magnetic as always, the sneering squinting gunslinger, but we get almost nothing as to what crucible really makes a man like this. Unsurprisingly, he has modern 70’s sensibilities, tough masculinity but a strong sense of justice and live and let live attitude. So yeah this post war confederate who upended his life to fulfill a bloodpledge murder is also a social progressive. Putting aside the discordant elements that creep into a genre that was pretty past its prime in 76 (and a million times oversaturated), the shooting is stirring and revenge does have its kicks. However much like the omnipresent sneer looms over us without words, so too does the action “just happen”, for the most part staged in ambush blitzes where Clint rides through a crowd guns blazing and just winning. Its most interesting bits are entirely adjacent to the main revenge thread; Josey runs into several native Americans during his travels and is the first cowboy I’ve ever seen trying to figure out how to make peace with them. Beyond that, Outlaw’s gunslinger style is so all consuming it’s hard to imagine Josey having any thoughts at all in his head. It was probably a nice salute to a dying genre in ‘76 but unless you’ve already seen all of the dozens of classic Westerns that did this better already, there’s not much point to it.
- Feels sort of archetypal - every character serves a quick, quaint purpose for the story and then exits shortly.
- Josey Wales is an idea more than a person, he’s a hypercompetent assassin but there’s not really any hint as to why he keeps coming out on top
- Actually deals with the native American situation, usually tribal folk are window dressing in Westerns but Outlaw has a smart, modern native American who can comment on the situation
- Clint is good at what he does, his silent brooding killer is as iconic a picture of the movie old west as you can find
Clint takes up the gun with panache but no one can be bothered to remember the words this boisterous ballad.
The Man With The Iron Fists
A classic kung fu film about finding martial revenge against a corrupt gang, but with very modern influences from its creators RZA and Eli Roth.
Ironically, the bad kung fu flicks from the 70s often inspire a lot more loyalty than the great ones. For a certain generation, Billy Jack and Master of the Flying Guillotine probably take up more headroom than modern punchers like Ong Bak and John Wick could ever hope to. Enter RZA, an iconic self-made man, who has shepherded this passion product into existence as a love letter to the weird over the top type of kung fu movies that you breathlessly describe to your friends after a couple beers. Case in point, one of the characters has his two hands gruesomely replaced with heavy metal strikers. This isn’t really the film to dwell on the loss of your appendages though, this is a set piece machine that crams as many weird Crouching Tiger like styles in as possible. Diminishing the effect slightly, it’s unclear whether anyone is actually a master of their respective styles or if they just picked a weird knife out at the mall and it was ride or die time. Further amplifying the dissonance, this is definitely an Asian set movie but is unbelievably Western in viewpoint and attitude. Very much the core of that attitude is the classic Western philosophy of the value of self-autonomy, making your own luck. Each of the martial artists in this film establishes their own autonomy and bends the rules around them to suit them, using strength and violence. The logical end though of course for a system predicated on violence is a blood bath, as there’s always someone stronger around. Near the end RZA smashes weapons in his shop, as a way to try to stop this cycle.
The cast has a bunch of famous Westerners (in which I count Lucy Lui, even though she does a good job here) and the town-clan-government triangle that drives the plot is observed about as well as a foreigner in town for a day might gather. Being light on plot is no crime in a kung fu film, but it does spend quite a bit of time trying to set up emotional stakes for its revenge climax and it doesn’t earn them. You can’t cut off your fists and punch bad guys to death and also grab cake and eat it too.
- Crosses the camp line into thoroughly ridiculous.
- Many performances but chiefly Russel Crowe’s which I would characterize as “sweaty” - feels like everyone but Lucy Liu read their lines for the first time moments before each shot.
- Captures the kind of campy gory fun that a certain strain of Chinese kung fu films can strike, with the weird surreal production of something like Tai Chi Zero.
- The style/type combat is creative and entertaining…you’ll see a lot of unique weird combat styles that are all distinct from each other.
A creative echo of the zeny kung fu genre that doesn’t completely emerge from imitation
A conspiratorial lawyer drama from Tony Gilroy that rests entirely on George Clooney’s acting chops.
Michael Clayton is exactly the kind of adult drama which is probably shriveling in modern cinema. No one at the major studios is all that interested in spending 20-40 million making a high powered cast centric drama anymore in 2022, especially when the competition is micro-budget indies that hit the same notes (complete with A-list actors art slumming), or sleek 5-10 million streamer movies which do a good B+ impression of the real thing. Michael Clayton is a relic then, it even has a supporting role for Sidney Lumet, another classic artifact who was an occasional actor and one of our best directors of great dramas. In this film Clooney’s eponymous lawyer is drawn into a personal struggle with the morals of his company after he covers up a few too many problems and it begins to take a toll on him, coming to a head while he’s chipping away at probably the biggest most nefarious case of his career. It’s a grand ole drama with nice suits, a serious blue tint, and sharp conference rooms full of sharp looks. Let’s not let nostalgia serve us rose colored water while the lawyers keep the clock running though. In many ways, Michael Clayton is an exhibition of many of the aspects that tired the genre out. Clooney’s lawyer is affable, clever, and apparently a degenerate gambler and corporate stooge? Some aspects we see for ourselves and others we are handed by the plot. Another less than charming late 90’s holdover that made it to this late stage drama is reliance on the wisdom of the fool, a trope in which there is a crazy person who is able to see through all the artifice of society. This movie’s fool so neatly mirrors Clooney’s supposed internal state that his journals play as monologue narration, lazily describing what Clooney will not admit to himself about the negatives of running interference for soulless corporate malfeasance. It is however effective in it’s main messaging, which is about how many many people share the blame and keep the wheel’s greased when little guys are getting screwed or killed by an organization. Everyone deflects their tiny bit of shame and makes the whole operation possible.
Michael Clayton’s stakes are sufficient, but in this film we never see anyone really struggling or in pain, none of the real victims get screen time. Their stand-ins are perfectly coiffed Clooney and an angelic farm girl, both of whom get to look mildly perturbed at the direction life is taking. It’s still watchable, it’s actually expertly edited and the dialogue is sharp so it’s compelling the entire way through. The main yarn of corporate perfidy behind a lawyer snarl is also as relevant today as 20 years ago, though thoroughly unsurprising. It’s fun to see Swinton and Clooney do what they do, just don’t expect your feelings to match the tone you’re getting pummeled with.
- Watching this in 2022, it’s somehow unbelievably quaint that anyone would be shocked that a company would murder people for a coverup
- Even though the crisis is clearly internal and systematic, we’re not privy to the actual emotional dominos of Clooney (or anyone else really), who is presented as a rough talker but is still affable from the get go.
- There’s lots of big quotable lines thrown around ; this is the kind of thing we lose when these heavy hitter dramas don’t get made much anymore
- The look on Clooney’s face when his car “breaks” for good is pretty classic
The Firm but with a jerky Clooney and two refrigerator repair men looking thugs
From the maker of last digest’s Offspring Fling, another game of the 2010’s indie wave, this time asking you to manage recording and printing snapshots of platformer elements to make it through puzzle levels.
Snapshot loosely follows the journey towards enlightenment of a lone camera clicking robot that seems to be the last autonomous thing left on Earth. That's pretty much all window dressing though for the indie puzzler’s central mechanic, which is hovering a picture frame over the screen with a mouse and “saving” a copy of whatever you click, while running around and jumping with the keyboard at the same time. Puzzles start with moving crates from one end of the level to another and eventually ask you to make impromptu staircases out of debris and time pasting tilted wind tunnels to shoot yourself at 45 degree arcs over obstacles. Figuring out how to manage your buffer of snapped items and maneuver with them when they pop out can get pretty cerebral. Lots of things can hurt and kill you (including that vilest of enemies, the open pit), and it's also very likely that you will bobble the key you need to progress over a cliff’s edge, but restarts are just a button press away and most levels only boil down to one or two major obstacles or ah-hah moments. Although it is very fiddly, this ease of use kept me coming back to one of the few games where I saw the time and collection challenges and immediately went for them. It was actually more fun to play the levels with the challenge constraints, which is a pretty rare thing. Ultimately the story is a snooze and the assets you blow through never rise to great heights, but the snapshot system is so freeform and plastic that you feel like you can do anything. At one point I figured out how to time pasting an object in the air so I could jump off of it again in the microseconds before gravity sped it into a fall. I got a feeling of competency and power at that moment which is unequaled by murdering 1000 baddies in some AAA game. Snapshot is interesting because it challenges our perspective on time, space, and momentum, allowing one to shift the reference frame for any or all of the three with a photograph.
- In many ways Snapshot becomes enslaved to its own paradigm. It introduces a new concept per world and then ditches it, never really exploring its own ideas or how they could synergize (or allow even more outside the box solutions).
- The story is very 2012 style ephemeral…it shows how much Braid had an edge back then
- Sort of fiddly (solving a puzzle by getting yourself to launch the right way is usually a “thank god that's over” moment) and it occasionally bugged out on me - both common traits of 2012 indies
- Really consistent design philosophy, the world and puzzles are very well constructed
- Instant restarts and benign/non existent resource management so you can just try things out right away instead of being artificially limited
- The way you superposition snapshots with the mouse while trying to mario through obstacles is very creative…this is one of the few games that fully use the PC control scheme.
While light on complexity and only mildly fun, the combination of framing and platformer elements is extremely unique
God Of War
The fourth main game following the rageaholic jerk/greek-deity, this time after a sobering timeskip that has wizened Kratos up a bit and dropped fatherhood in his lap as he treads among the Norse gods.
God of War has come a long way since its origins competing with Devil May Cry for the cinematic ps2 button smasher crown. The three prior games are a treatise about how games are for adults now, except with a series of adult criteria decided on by a 14 year old. There’s fucking, fighting, and RAGE, but we’re a little light on characterization with everyone involved slotting right into the “Insane Asshole” arctype. It wasn’t a bad fit for Greek mythology, which has a major theme of divine indifference to the victims of their decisions, but it was also somewhat repellant. This update accepts everything that happened in the prior games but actually makes the move into that PS4 Sony era true adult entertainment bubble, which this time involves long conversations (and god forbid, silent tension), subtle interactions, and murky morality. This type of revision seems to be enough to compel the game makers to take back the main moniker with no subtitle. This is the new God of War, and he’s got pathos.
It all works really well, actually. Ditching his youth literally and figuratively, Kratos has left wartorn Greece and actually settled down and had a kid. The kid respects and fears him but doesn’t especially like him. The wrinkle is Kratos settled in Midgard, the realm of man looked over by the Norse pantheon (think Odin, Thor, etc), and as Kratos is apt to do, he gets drawn into a conflict as the interloper. Midgard is kind of going to hell in a handbasket anyway, so father and son set out on a journey to learn more about the world and each other, instigated by a death in the family. Watching Kratos figure out how to be a dad is extremely compelling. He’s like a 50’s dad, he doesn’t have the tools or shared viewpoint to actually reach his son, but unlike a 50’s dad it’s clear he does pay attention to his son’s development and wellbeing. It’s all garnished with a very consistent, deliberate interpretation of the Norse mythology that is truly awesome. Meeting the World Serpent and walking among the corpses of Frost Giants are just a few of the well-studied spectacles. I actually feel like I learned some stuff, the myths and stories are woven into the gameplay through both major events and campfire style storytelling.
To fit with Kratos’ heavier emotional weight, the combat has also been made chunky. Blocking has replaced dodging and zoning for the most part, and a rock paper scissors attack system lets you cerebrally approach clearing the enemies rather than whittling down the crowd. Encounters are usually small puzzles now where you have to figure out how to handle aggression from multiple targets, keeping an eye on the big nasty so you can counter their huge attacks while quickly stunning and dismembering the small fry. It’s actually kind of hard, requiring full utilization of your kit, in a way sort of a fusion of the old God of War and the Arkham games’ style of combat. Kratos grimmly going to town on whatever is in front of him with a woodcutter’s axe covered in runes also fits the visual theme very well. That fits with the major strength of this game, which is doing that unique Sony AAA magic to create a place and characters which are really well defined and fully, believably explored. There’s some nits, but mostly the designers held back the Ubisoft-ication that all open world games are vulnerable to now. It’s surprising but Kratos calmed down enough to take us on a really stirring journey.
- I’m not sure open world actually helps at all here. It makes the world feel large and then suddenly small as you reach the edges of it.
- There’s an awful lot of inventory and numbered elements to track which I don’t think change the game in any meaningful way.
- With a title like God of War you probably aren’t shocked that murder is on the table, but its never made exactly clear why all the forces of the universe are trying to tear you and your kid apart.
- Amazing setpieces - always a trait of the series but somehow still stunning in 2018. The world serpent is one of many sights to behold.
- Reworks the spammy ps2 combat systems into a chunky strategic resource brawl, requiring attention and decision making rather than mindless slashes and dodges.
- Pretty great story, makes really good use of the Norse mythology but unifies it into its own well defined landscape
More of a refinement of the Sony Big Game ™ than a revolution, but it’s really great at everything it does and is packed to the gills with amazing spectacles and interesting character moments
One of the first new comedies of the pandemic age, a Tina Fey joint following a newly elected billionaire mayor of Los Angeles replete with tons of hyper specific references
Snark and Los Angeles are natural bedfellows - the forever home of so many stray actors is often pretty farcical and unlike New York and San Francisco, the war on the poor hasn’t succeeded yet so it’s still a pretty good melting pot (not to put too fine a point on it but it’s interesting to note that NYC is one of the few places where the percent of white people has gone up over the last decade). Sunny Los Angeles is of course full of self obsessed neurotic success chasers, and Mr. Mayor doesn’t disappoint, with a cast of eclectic weirdos who fill lots of little niches (including some fun 30 Rock cameos). Leading the pack is Ted Danson’s rich businessman who’s ready to try to rationalize his way through a million problems. Danson is always fun in everything he’s in and his can-do spirit helps buoy the political drama’s endless conflicts, keeping Mr. Mayor more light and joke focused compared to the miserable hole that shows like (the great) Veep often wallowed in. Those jokes are incredibly niche though, one memorable cutaway is about how fucking fast our buses whip through the city and its communicated without comment, just a look over a half second. There’s a ton of “if you know, you know” situations in this show so it’s actually a little surprising it just made it to two seasons before being summarily canceled. It’s too bad, because it was finally getting to an interesting dynamic between the Mayor and Holly Hunter’s career politician who had gotten sidetracked from the fervor of her youth. Their tension belied the tension present throughout the greater Los Angeles area, wherein a lot of people with not much common ground somehow make it work year after year, sometimes through cooperation and sometimes through spite.
- If you’ve ever seen a Tina Fey comedy you know you’re in for some pretty broad characterization with zany traits all around
- Ted Danson is easy to like but I don’t really like the powerwashing of our latest endemic of billionaire politicians
- If you happen to live in LA or know anything about it, Mr. Mayor makes incredibly specific jokes about the city which are a treat coming from an industry that mostly ignores its own home
- All of the main cast are game and pretty funny, able to stretch the material and sell the zillion references winningly
A hyper specific hyper aware zany jokefest about the good ole City of Angeles.
A Starz show about wanna-be Hollywood types working for a catering company, which just so happened to star and guest star a LOT of soon to be famous people like Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, and Martin Starr.
It is deeply ironic that so many famous actors were inches away from their big break during their time on Party Down, because it is really an ode to all the pain and resentment of being an unsuccessful actor trying to survive. Set once again in Los Angeles, Party Down leaves the melting pot behind and spends most of its time in the after parties and mansion hosted shindigs of a certain class of neurotic and ostentatious -but successful- clientele. The trying to make it Hollywooders of Party Down are basically forced to eat crow as they play servant to people they are insanely jealous of. It’s no secret that the Los Angeles service industry is run on the backs of transplants with a dream, and Party Down captures all aspects of that spectrum. There’s Ken Marino who’s pretty much given success up and is trying to thrive in his niche, there’s Martin Starr’s hard scifi writer who has become bitter and cynical as a defense mechanism against repeated failure, there’s your more standard young hopefuls, and then there’s Adam Scott’s downtrodden Henry, who has had a taste of stardome with a super popular commercial but now is right on the edge of giving up the dream. The whiplash wouldn’t be half as entertaining if the crew didn’t take out their frustrations on each other, often pranking each other or trying to get up a half head’s length by tearing everyone else down with razor sharp tongues. It’s a paean to the truth of working a miserable job - misery loves company. Things get a bit loose in the second and final season where the setup of the party becomes more than half of the show, but it also finds some through lines with a bit of romance and a lot of angry asides. Watching the caterers rip into everything in front of them while half-trying to keep the boat afloat is a perfect recipe for comedy.
- Pretty nihilistic about the omnipresent grossness of the industry, which isn’t all bad but sometimes uses that machismo as a punchline in ways that haven’t aged well (women are just sluts etc)
- Ken Marino is all over the map in season 2.
- The core cast is shockingly good, one of the first comedies to really nail that workplace frenemy vibe
- Hollywood is a sad place and Party Down perfectly captures what it’s like to try to work through that while ignoring it somehow
- Unbelievably quotable
The classic caterer comedy
Wolverine and the X-men
For a brief time, Wolverine was pulling double duty headlining two books - the first is a zany update to the New Mutants, with Logan as the new headmaster of the X-Men School teaching fresh young students.
To be frank, most of this book is based on subverting the seriousness of the mainline X-men universe. A new class of kids has survived whatever the last arc is (it’s comics so it doesn’t matter), giving these writers an excuse to make a big explosive high school drama that looks like Adventure Time vomited on an X-book. The writing follows suit, full of anything goes 2-3 issue arcs that seems to be formulated with the line “wouldn’t it be funny if…” as the guiding principle. There’s a charm to the new X-class, a bunch of petulant teenagers trying to find their footing in a post mutant world, but they are completely unmoored. Their teachers change every 15 seconds, they’re sent to a new setting every 10 seconds, and the bad guy changes every 5 seconds. It’s a decent diversion but mostly it reads like a MAD magazine parody of the real thing; slightly funny but inessential and overlong.
- The sitcom adjacent tone is really good at striking a “nothing really matters” note
- Complete whiplash with the general tone of the Marvel Universe at the time
- Everyone speaks and acts exclusively in cliches
- The central idea of a bunch of scamps breaking through to rough papa Wolvie is good fun
- This is a colorful imaginative book…we even have some Star Wars type aside for a bit
- Wrings some reasonable fun out of the idea of Xmen Hogwarts
A colorful X-comedy run that doesn’t really connect many dots
The other Wolverine project, a dark black-ops take on the mutant world which specialized in revisiting loose threads (and murdering them).
The Age of Apocalypse was an interesting turning point in the X-men universe. Rather than just promising a dark future, the Age run showed a locked in world where the X-men had failed and the world was over. It was a nihilistic and cynical place, full of betrayal and genocide. Not very cheery in other words, and a stark contrast to the many many big events in other comic books which often threaten reality itself but always wrap up with some quick thinking and some self sacrifice before things really get too bad. Maybe a dead hero or three. X-men at it’s best worked because of the edge shown in Age of Apocalypse, a willingness to accept that even with the best intentions things often don’t work out and you might even be part of the problem. Now, I don’t mean to say this is the perfect vector of comic entertainment - it’s closely related to when X-men are at their worst ; when everyone on the team is wrapped up in some personal trauma and no one can get any better. But mixing just the right amounts of these two often gets us something sublime.
Uncanny X-Force uses a lot of both but manages to keep the personal characterization clipping along while couching the world threatening crap in a delightful amount of X-men history. Age of Apocalypse itself even makes a cameo (Marvel has decided these alt futures are alt realities good for tourism in the 00s). Given all these loose threads, Wolverine has decided to start snipping. The team is composed in-media-res of ex-hitman superstars (Deadpool, Psylock, FantomX, Archangel), and their tactic of choice is usually start ganking. It’s not just Sin City out there though, the team runs into some pretty serious moral quandaries with every step they take, including a trolley problem and some issues with enabling the baddies inadvertently. It’s a fun murderous rollercoaster. The fact that this Wolverine was basically the same temporal character as the gruff sappy one in the book above gives me some unbelievable whiplash. Thankfully you can ignore that book and focus on the costs of doing business in a world saturated with armageddon level threats popping up everytime someone hits puberty. It’s slickly drawn and painted too, capturing that 90’s edge with the updated modern panel pop. This self contained chronicle of mayhem is the X-book to beat from its early 2010’s era.
- The team member synergy is a little weak, everyone seems to be doing their own thing and the story will randomly zoom in on them
- Every storyline is of the “end of existence” variety, which dissipates tension when done too much
- It’s hard to believe these characters have internal worlds, as much as the book insists, when they never take off their costumes or even sit down
- A really rousing tour of the 90’s X-Men history, bringing up far reaching consequences from several fan favorite arcs
- Brings up the actual squeamish moral quandries that would exist in a world where anyone could casually be a nuclear bomb
- Captures that 90’s edgelord energy that made X-Men so fascinating and won them the decade
Wolverine finally getting to do that thing he does that isn’t very nice