What We’ve Been Reading
Christopher’s Reading List
Chew – John Layman & Rob Guillory
Chew is a comic series from John Layman and Rob Guillory that is truly unlike any other series you’ll see. It tells the story of Officer Tony Chu, an officer of the Philadelphia PD with a special ability: anytime he takes a bite of something, he receives a psychic connection to its life. So, as pointed out many times throughout the series, if he takes a bit of an apple, he can see the orchard where that apple was grown, what kind of pesticides were used in farming it, or what the weather was like when it fell of the tree. Or if he takes a bite of something a little more carnivorous, he can see something else entirely.
Beyond Chu’s own unique ability, though, is a wonderful absurd world he fits well in to. The Earth has recently experienced an epidemic of a rare bird flu that has resulted in the banning of chicken. As a result, departments like the FDA and USDA are promoted to almost limitless powers of the government, acting as CIA or FBI agents, investigating food-related crimes. From there we’re introduced to other people with abilities similar to Chu’s own, cybernetically enhanced cops, “Vampires”, and a revolution led by luchador-inspired chicken with a bloodlust, Poyo.
It’s an irreverently funny story, with endless creativity and imagination, and if you haven’t checked it out I highly recommend it. Especially now that it has recently ended and is nicely collected in various trade paper-backs for your perusal.
What We’ve Been Watching
The Day the Earth Stood Still – This 1951 classic is something I’ve owned on DVD for…well, over a decade at this point, and still haven’t watched. I finally pulled the trigger and cannot believe I was dumb enough to wait that long. The film is a mixture of corny effects work, cheesy dialog, and sincere themes and meaning. The entirety of it stems from a desire to combat the threat of nuclear war and today this idea still holds up, the thought that we’re affecting things beyond our range of control via nothing but fear still prevalent. It’s a gorgeous movie and hey, if you’ve got nothing better to do then it’s streaming on Netflix.
The Corpse Bride – When Tim Burton is on he’s on, you know? Before his Alice crap, before he fell to making iffy films with Johnny Depp in white makeup he…well, he made movies that had Johnny Depp in white makeup but they were worth watching. This, however, is one of his forays into animation that work out so well for him, the ideas and visuals able to expand into the macabre while still feeling family friendly. With this, he put together something adorable and magical while still being gross and creepy, just how he likes it. The discussions of marriage, of complicated interpersonal relationships, and how they make us feel trapped or safe can all be gleaned from the film but at it’s core the film is about a love triangle and it sticks to its comedic tones. I love this one, always forget that it’s out there and revisit it on occasion when I remember there’s a special little claymation film out there just for me.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Yup, I went on a Burton kick for a couple of days there. I saw this 4 times in theatres when it was first released, and I stand by that period of my life. I don’t like musicals all that much but when something wonderful comes along it’s hard to ignore. This, like La La Land, was one of those instances for me. When I saw this I was not really captivated by the beautiful costuming or set-work, nor the special effects. What really caught me was two things – the fact that these performers really can sing this songs well, and the fact that they got away with this! They’re literally singing about murdering people with shaving razors and baking them into meat pies, it’s unbelievably gross and weird and hilarious. The nonchalant way Carter offers to let Depp “try a little priest” had me rolling. I’m so glad that Netflix has gotten ahold of several older Burton films because I’m having a lot of fun with this.
Inception – I went on two kicks this week and the other was Nolan. Dunkirk is just a couple of weeks away and it was time to revisit some of his non-Batman films. This one isn’t his best, but it might be his most entertaining. A masterclass in editing techniques, decent-to-great performances from everyone involved, and a tight script that manages to deliver oh so much exposition without feeling like it is insulting you, this one is really impressive just for what it is. I saw this opening weekend when it first came out, immediately after a rough breakup, and I have to admit that it got to me a bit. The whole thing is kind of personal to me and I tend to steer clear of this one on a regular basis but I wanted to give it another shot and found that it really does it for me this time around. It’s not perfect, it’s too full of exposition, but holy hell I love this one.
Interstellar – This is my favorite Nolan film. That’s right, fight me! No for real, this and The Prestige are the two I love the most and I can’t stop revisiting this, sharing it, and listening to the score (Zimmer knocked it out of the park on this one). Nolan got a lot of flack for his heartfelt ending but I loved it, the way it really put him out there and was, perhaps, the most openly sentimental thing he’ll ever do. The epic scope of it, the near perfect pacing, and the almost-self-indulgent run time threaten to derail it at every turn but Nolan manages to find the balance between all of these things. This is also, almost image for image, the best-looking film he’s pulled off to date and most frames in space could be hung as art. I know the flaws, I know the issues, and I still revisit this one because it hit all the right notes for me.
Beetlejuice – The Burton binge continues! This is such an odd and fun little movie, with Michael Keaton just freaking going for it. The setpieces, the costuming, everything here is so very Burton that it’s hard forget. I’d also forgotten that this is where my weird crush on Winona Ryder developed (and, well, crazy women in general). She’s great in this, as are Alec Baldwin and Gena Davis, and everyone just has fun with it. No one was doing anything magnificent or dramatic, they all just came together to make this goofy little movie with a crazy man obsessed with stripes at the helm and the results are one of the most fun movies in the director’s set.
Mars Attacks! – Ha, I love this movie. There’s nothing deep or heavy involved, nothing poignant or even particularly interesting, but Tim Burton’s homage to crappy sci-fi B-movies past is something to see. At an hour and forty minutes it feels overlong but somehow you’re never bored, never left wanting. Don’t go in expecting anything clever, just sit back and enjoy the mess, you know? Very few movies like this nail Americana so perfectly but when you’re shooting in Vegas, in DC, in Arizona, and in Kansas, you really see those places and feel like this is happening across the country. There are so many storylines that rarely intersect that it’s hard to even need to see the whole thing. This is one of those few, wonderful movies that I can drop in at any part of and just crack up for a bit but watching the whole thing, beginning to end, is a great way to kill a couple of bored hours. Few films in Burton’s set are this much fun and I just can’t get enough of this one. I’d almost forgotten about it, having not come acrossed it in years, but I grabbed a copy for my Burton binge and I couldn’t be happier that I’m pausing on this note. What a fun thing.
Frankenweenie – Restraint is something that doesn’t always show through in animation, the format itself allowing for bombast and insanity that just can’t be gotten away with in live action film. We saw Burton do it with Corpse Bride, one of his better films in the last decade, and we got to see it again in 2012 with Frankenweenie. An oddly basic premise and animation that looks like it comes right out of one of his books of poetry mix for a sweet little play on the Frankenstein mythos, and Burton keeping it simple is the trick. His recent live-action films are all about how much makeup he can pancake on Johnny Depp, how many weird accents he can give his characters, and how many stripes he truly can fit on a costume. This little film, though, becomes about the frustration of a small town with moving forward, about the dangers of meddling with things before you understand them first, and most importantly it’s about one thing – a boy and his dog. Anyone who’s lost a beloved pet can relate this this one, the sadness when they’re gone for good mixing with the desire to have them back, and it’s a really adorable film about death that honestly more children need to see. The subject matter really does work well to teach children about these things, much like the hidden meanings in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. If you haven’t seen this in awhile it’s worth a rewatch, and if you’ve never seen it….s’wrong with you?
Edward Scissorhands – This is, for me, the ultimate Burton film. What he does here is relatively simple – an outcast falls for a fairly normal girl. Kind of softballing it in there, right? Where the magic comes from is the mixture of comfort and critique surrounding suburban life. These weird, lovingly paranoid people put Edward through everything from uncomfortable family dinners to torch and pitchfork mobs, even sexual assault becomes part of the mixture of emotional battery that the boy goes through and Johnny Depp pulls off one of his most restrained and brilliant roles by relying on the depressingly deadpan delivery that he never quite achieved in future roles. Winona Ryder gets to play off of him by just…well, being a pretty teenaged girl and it works in ways that comes from letting the simple things play out between the two leads. This is heightened, but it’s a heightening of things we already see on a regular basis. It’s life a lot of people knew growing up, and that’s what makes this film hit so hard. There’s a wonderful beauty in it that I miss in Burton, and desperately hope that he can one day recapture.
Baby Driver – I’m a huge Edgar Wright fan. There are tons of video essays detailing exactly what makes him so special better than I ever could, his humor, visual storytelling, unique break-neck editing style, and pop-culture sprinkles with gooey-heart in the center all add to what makes a new release from him something special. So having listened to the soundtrack non-stop leading up to the film, and re-watching his classics in anticipation, there was no way this film could match what I’d built it up to be in my head. But it did. No doubt the heaps of praise mounted on this film will lead to inevitable backlash and the dreaded “over-hype”, but it’s a film that deserves that initial rush of praise. It’s bubbly and dancey in it’s action, playing out like musical numbers with gunshots as percussion and revving engines and squeeling tires infused in to the soundtrack. The music is in the films DNA and does wonders for putting us in the mindset of protagonist Baby, played by Ansel Elgort. It’s not a film without flaws, but it’s hard not to brush many of them off from sheer adrenaline and unadulterated joy at what plays out on screen.