Contraband

Contraband probably should be just that as it isn't a very good film about a former crook who, due to family obligations, has to make one last score. Guess how it all turns out?

Focus

Nicky and Jess are two con artists who meet again after three years apart (due to Nicky fearing that being in a relationship with Jess will make him soft). So now the question is will Jess disrupt Nicky's con or--oh, whatever, it's a movie that thrives on twists and not knowing who is telling the truth. It's fine if you have nothing else to do and I wanted to see who was going to play Harley Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad movie (it's Margot Robbie AKA Jess and she is amazing looking (I guess she can act too)).

La Perdida - Jessica Abel

Unfortunately, I didn't care for this impressively long book about a young woman, Carla, who moves to Mexico to establish some connection to a largely non-existent part of her heritage. The problem was that with one briefly appearing exception of Carla's little brother, Rod, every single character in this story is a completely immature, moronic, loser. It's really hard to keep reading about a story filled with these idiot wannabe Marxists, writers, DJs, whatever. And it takes 150 of the 250+ pages before a plot really begins and by that time I really don't care what happens next despite how exciting and intense it should be. I also felt that Abel's early use of subtitles for the spanish didn't really work for me, just have it in english and let me know what parts are suppose to be spanish. Sorry, but if I knew anyone like any of these characters I would just ignore them, so don't make me read about them. 

Stumptown: The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini) - Greg Rucka

I liked this comic better when it was an episode of The Killing or done by Ed Brubaker;  okay, that's not fair, but it does seem very much like a desperate attempt to create a TV pilot done in the style of Brubaker. I'm sure a ton of people will love this comic, but I am not one of them and here's why: this story is about a woman named Dex, who by her own account is a complete and utter loser; she drinks too much, gambles foolishly, can't get into a relationship (doesn't even know her sexual orientation (but that's really just Rucka trying to be sexy)), flirts shamelessly with anyone she wants something from, and does not seem to be particularly good at her job, which is being a private investigator. We are supposed to like her though because of two things: she takes cares of her mentally disabled little brother (although not particularly well as throughout the story there's ample opportunity for the bad guys to use him as a bargaining chip (why they don't is simply beyond me)), and because she is sassy (although I don't think it's sassy so much as absolute stupidity when you mouth off to people who just attempted to murder you and obviously would have no problem trying again or at the very least raping and/or maiming you). The plot itself is that Dex (who lives in the world of The Killing) has to find a missing girl--the subtitle gives some basic information on that, but makes it seem like a joke, which is another problem I have with the comic as it wants to be dark and serious but obviously thinks everything is a joke. You want to write a crime comic? Fine, and I'm happy for it, but have it make sense. stumptown

12 Angry Men

They actually aren't all angry, but this makes for a better title. I read the play back in eighth grade and finally got around to watching the movie. It's about a group of jurors charged with finding an 18-year-old guilty or innocent of the murder of his father. Wonderful acting, dialogue, characters, and suspenseful buildups, along with some very strong visuals (watch how the camera pans for long periods, rather than modern techniques of cutting back-and-forth between characters). A fascinating take on what takes place in a jury room and in the mind of jurors. 12 angry men

Capote

After reading In Cold Blood (and seeing the movie version) I was fascinated with how Truman Capote was able to accumulate such vast detail about the 1959 Kansas murders. With this movie, based on a book, I now understand how: the incredibly charming and brilliant writer ingratiated himself into the lives of just about everyone involved in the horrific murders (from townsfolk, to detectives, to killers), a fact completely missing from the so-called documentary fiction that Capote wrote. The truth, apparently, is that Capote was a manipulative bastard who used people heinously. This is not to say he didn't later regret his actions, as they tormented him enough to cause permit writer's block. This is not exactly a fast-moving film, and if you do not know the story behind In Cold Blood it is pointless to watch, but the acting is amazing and insight important. Capote

C.O.W.L. (vol 1): Principles of Power - Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel

Similar to Powers and Top 10, the series is about a Chicago law enforcement division, staffed by super powered and unpowered individuals, focusing on fighting supervillains. The added twist is that this world takes place in 1962, and has more of a grittier feel and deals with issues like labor relations--which makes sense since the acronym stands for Chicago Organized Workers League--(and a little bit about women's rights, but surprisingly nothing about race). The genre is not a favorite of mine, but it is enjoyable, with interesting characters, and good--if not necessarily original--plot. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of Rod Reis's art and some of the coloring bothers me although both points are rather subjective. It's definitely worth looking at. COWL

Joker - Brian Azzarello

I really enjoyed this take on the Batman villain, the insane Joker, as told by a henchman. Azzarello does a nice job with small details, such as keeping timeframes out of the equation, as well as larger ones, such showing how someone might be enraptured into a sociopath's world. I did feel the ending just sort of happened and thus was disappointed with that. Jeff Bermejo's art created "realistic" depictions of the usual suspects with a harsh horrific style that was perfect for this work. 

The Punisher (vol 10): Valley Forge, Valley Forge - Garth Ennis

I liked this collection, probably because it didn't have Ennis's  typical Punisher tropes (see here). Instead it is a story that has been building involving a group of generals that have been deep in very shady actions who decide to deal with their vigilante problem by sending Delta force after The Punisher. The tale deals with concepts of honor and loyalty and the decline in American values (and I'm not talking BS like letting gays in the military, although there are a lot more long haired guys in Ennis's special forces than I would figure). It was a solid tale of deceit and revenge. See what happens, Ennis, when you give up on cliches?

Tekkonkinkreet

Seriously? Perhaps the most sensible part of this movie was the title. Beautifully animated yes, but this interminable story about punk criminals in some crazy city was torture to watch. Other than using it at Gitmo I have little to say as I've wasted enough time on it.   

Two Gun Hart: Lawman, Cowboy, and Long-Lost Brother of Al Capone - Jeff McArthur

Second generation Italian immigrant, horse rider/ acrobat/ boxer/ wrestler/ circus performer, music lover, blue collar worker, honored Veteran of World War I, Nebraskan Marshall, agent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, temporary bodyguard to President Coolidge, delusional and intractable in seeing the world in anything but black and white, idolizer of movie star Cowboys, perjurer, and flamboyant enforcer of the 18th amendment, are all terms that could be used to describe Vincenzo Capone, or Richard Hart, or one of the other names he (and others) called “Two Gun,” but if you called him anything at all—and that is extremely doubtful for anyone prior to reading this book—you would have called him the big brother of Al Capone: the most notorious Prohibition gangster of them all. This is a story so unbelievable, so incredible, it can only be true. The author does a fantastic job painting a vividly detail portrait of a man most could not even have imagined existed. Seamlessly written, the author takes the life of Richard “Two Gun” Hart and breaks it down into digestible chunks, brilliantly illustrating the people, times, and events that surrounded, influenced, and shaped the “other” Capone. This is not simply a book one reads, so much as devours, and not alone, as I constantly felt the need to share in the discoveries of the book, reading passages to friends and family alike just to see the shocked and thrilled expressions on their faces that must have mirrored my own. Even people who lived to the times discussed, were still taken aback in disbelief. It is disappointing that the citations to clarify the many fascinating historical events are broadly listed at the end only, making it difficult to allow the reader to separate and make their own opinion about some of the speculations that the author engages in on occasion (for example, he continues with the faulty notion that a cow caused the great Chicago fire), although not without circumspection and insight. It additionally could be argued that the author is too reliant on integrating information about the criminal Capones with that of their long lost brother (who is, after all, the centerpiece of the story), a fact that he touches upon at the end, although the vast majority of it is clearly necessary to broaden the understanding of “Two Gun.”

The story is historically fascinating, poignant and deeply moving; a true adventure tale that speaks to the American character. It is a story about immigration, American values (and their mercurial manifestations), the (im)possibilities of (re)defining oneself, and family—for better or for worse. I can't imagine someone not wanting to read this book. Find out more about the author and his works here

Better Call Saul

I didn't think I’d care much for the spinoff of Breaking Bad, which takes place after that series ends but is a prequel giving the story of the shady attorney, Saul, (best line in Breaking Bad “you don't need a criminal attorney, you need a criminal attorney”), and yet even though I've only seen a couple of episodes, I am greatly enjoying seeing how Saul became the man he is (or “was”? it's tough with the time flow). Strange, considering the lack of suspense that prequels have, I suppose that is a credit to the writing and acting.  

The Punisher (vol 8): Widowmaker - Garth Ennis

I liked this collection about the vigilante, The Punisher, better than most. Probably because Ennis had to work with his secondary characters to make them have motive and personality to explain why one group of women are getting together to take out The Punisher, another woman who appears to be crazy is tailing them, and a cop who should be a hero is caught up in the middle of it. Still, typical Ennis Punisher stories have to have the following: black people speaking Ebonics, women have to be almost exclusively crazy and/or slutty, rape victims, most of the backstory has to be given in exposition, and there must be a major body count. 

The Punisher (vol 7): Man of Stone - Garth Ennis

The Punisher goes to Afghanistan for no real reason and is hunted by a Soviet war criminal general for no real reason. In the center of it all is a crazy, corrupt, ex-CIA guy and his crazy ex-wife (both from prior collections). The thing that's getting to me is this: why? In Marvel's world, the heroes are 5-10 years from their inciting incident, but the vigilante, Castle, has been killing criminals for 30--which makes him easily in his 50s. Yet reading Ennis's collections I do not get any true motive. His family is long dead, and he's killed their killers, and killed several thousand other killers (and The Avengers are where?), but he does not seem to care about people at all. The whole "I don't want to get close to anyone again because I'm too big a baby to risk getting hurt again" just doesn't hold. This title needs to be more than violence.

The Punisher (vol 6): Barracuda - Garth Ennis

Largely an exercise in class differences. Lower class badass and black guy, Barracuda, is sent to take out the vigilante The Punisher after he starts to interfere with the lifestyle of the rich and famous a la Enron situation. I do not like how easy it is for the giant and famous Castle to blend into the background, or how micromanaging the bad guy Harry is (just didn't seem to make sense), or how blacks are depicted as so low class compared to whites, or how the only women depicted are sluts, or how Ennis can possible think that a person can undergo gang rape sodomy and not have to go to the hospital. What does this say about Ennis as a person? 

Captain Philips

I knew all about this story from a TV documentary about it, so I was in a position to poke holes in the whole thing, such as non-existant relations that developed over the course of the movie between characters, but you have to understand that it is a film and certain plot developments are considered needed. In sum, the story is about a captain (named Philips if you can believe it) that has his cargo vessel hijacked by Somali pirates. It's interesting to see how hostage situations can deteriorate when a group of poorly trained individuals with guns and drugs are met with a situation beyond their control. I would like to know more about the details on how various parties implement tactics based on training and situations, and the movie does give some of this, but not enough to make me understand the hows and whys. Probably too long of a film, although very interesting at points, and took longer than portrayed on film, which I think undermined the story and why I suggest you look at the documentary (perhaps instead of?). It really annoyed me that the subtitles were so small. As an aside, it is interesting that the US will spend millions on an operation to rescue one man--and I am not saying they shouldn't!--but the idea of spending a faction of that price to save the lives of poor America is considered insane.

Daredevil (vol. 1) - Mark Waid

The blind vigilante with heightened senses is back and trying to put his life back together after being outed as a superhero. Waid does some nice twists for the character having him take on villains that make perfect sense for him to fight even if I've never seen it before (don't worry, I won't spoil it). I can't say the writing is great, but considering the nonsense that authors have been forcing on DD for so many years now, it is great to see him doing some actual, generic, crime fighting. 

The Punisher (vol 4): Up Is Down And Black Is White - Garth Ennis

Homicidal maniac mobster Nicky Cavella decided he's going to be the one to kill the homicidal maniac vigilante The Punisher by first pissing him off by pissing on the corpses of his family. Naturally, The Punisher doesn't take kindly to this and the body count piles up. In the middle of all this comes some faces from the past to help ol' Pun out. The problem with this story is that it tries to make a statement about our pasts catching up with us and how things rarely turn out as we expect, but this message is largely told to us point blank. I feel for a theme to be successful it needs to come across naturally and not through exposition. 

American Hustle

A con man and his con man girlfriend and his con man wife all team up with a con man FBI agent to take down some con men politicians and some other con men. Con within cons take place in this movie with great action, plot, acting, characters, and intensity. Really enjoyed it, although it did end too abruptly and made me feel like I missed something even if I didn't. Maybe that's the art of the con.