Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best (and Worst) of 2010

by Peter Enfantino

FICTION

I read the latest Lee Child (61 Hours), which was just like the last Lee Child: great set-up, so-so mid-section, and one-man wrecking crew climax. It doesn’t add up to a great read, unfortunately. It was, however, a classic compared to Stephen King’s latest train-wreck, Full Dark, No Stars, which saw the former storyteller recycling and regurgitating the same old clichés. Ând jeesus if he doesn’t love those italics or I’m a cockadoodie. “Big Driver,” the second of the four tales in the book reads like the novelization of some bad slasher franchise sequel relegated to 2 A.M. telecasts on Showtime. Could this really be the same guy who gave us Salem’s Lot and Pet Semetary? Does he have anything left in the tank after previous disasters, Cell, Duma Key and From a Buick Eight seem to prove otherwise? Most important of all, which draft of “Big Driver” did author Suzanne Collins read when she called this tripe “fast-paced, beautifully plotted” and “gripping” on Amazon? I had held out hope that one more great book would come from King, but I’ve given up now. You really can’t go back.

FILMS
I used to see a movie a week at my local multiplex or art house. There were times when I had to make hard choices. The hard choice now is whether I want to add Iron Man 2 or Hot Tub Time Machine to my Netflix queue when they become available. I saw no new releases at the cinema this year for the first time I can remember. Judging by what I finally did see on dvd, I didn’t miss much. From bloated, boring blockbusters (Iron Man 2) to overrated indies (Winter’s Bone), 2010 was, but for a few flicks, a desert wasteland. I thought Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski, was a flawed but enjoyable thriller that showcased Pierce Brosnan’s new-found acting abilities (discovered around the time he starred in The Matador) and a nice turn by Ewan McGregor. The American proved that George Clooney can make an entire film without his trademark smirk and, aside from a rushed, incomprehensible climax (so who’s shooting who and why?), kept my interest.

In Salt, Angelina Jolie does Bourne in a good way. From start to finish, no brain food (in fact, it’s amazingly dumb in several spots) but great comic book action. Frozen was nothing more than Open Water at a ski resort but, if this film is any proof, there’s nothing wrong with that. Two Afflecks provided thrills of different sorts this year: Casey did his best with the unenviable task of bringing to life Jim Thompson’s greatest creation, sheriff Lou Ford, in director Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me. I admired Winterbottom for not sugar-coating Thompson’s violence but hated his wrap-up. Brother Ben Affleck turned writer Chuck Hogan’s heist novel, Prince of Thieves into The Town, with an Oscar-nom worthy Jeremy Renner and edge-of-seat pacing. Affleck may only have a problem with one subject he turns his camera to: himself. There are a few too many “is this my best side?” shots in the flick. The plot is derivative of Heat but I can’t argue that the heist sequences are some of the best in years.

The best film I saw this year was Inception. Up front, I’ll say I came to this with heightened expectations based on director Christopher Nolan’s track record (four of his five “pro” films are favorites of mine) but oftentimes that can work against an artist. Not here. The experience is like being on a Disneyland ride you’ve not been on before. You’re not sure whether it’ll go up or down or sideways. Inception goes in all three directions, sometimes at the same time. Dreams within dreams within dreams…

DVD

Since I don’t go to the movie theater anymore, I rely on my dvd player for new cinematic experiences. I saw several documentaries this year that I’d recommend. I’m a sports nut (in particular, the NBA) so ESPN’s 30 For 30 series of sports films, which continues to present stellar work by established directors, is eaten up around my house like M&Ms. In No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson, director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) revisits his home town (and that of Iverson) 16 years after a controversial brawl left the town racially divided. Muhammed and Larry shows the damage one more big fight did to Ali and what a class act Larry Holmes remains to this day. The first 15 films are available in a nice box set. If you want to know more about such legends as Reggie Miller, Len Bias, Jimmy the Greek, and Ricky Williams, here’s the place to start.

Acclaimed by many fans (this one included) as one of the two or three best TV-horror films of all time, it took years and many false starts to replace out grey market boots with a nice copy of Frank deFelitta’s ambiguous thriller, Dark Night of the Scarecrow. Is it a supernatural presence haunting a group of old men who have committed a vicious murder or is it all just red herrings? I won’t spoil the surprise.

Another long-awaited dvd was the massive Thriller box-set. If not for the handful of classy, atmospheric mini horror films, pick it up for the dozens of informed, engrossing, and most notably, critical commentaries. Image did a fabulous job with this set.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage takes us down memory lane with the Canadian power trio. Long ignored by music critics and beloved by millions of fans, Rush come off as three really nice guys you wouldn’t mind having over for dinner some time. Try saying that about Axl Rose or Gene Simmons. The section of the film covering the death of drummer Neal Peart’s wife and daughter is genuinely stirring and you can’t help but root for Peart as he attempts to find his way back to the surface while taking a several-months road trip on his hog. Though you may not come away liking their music any better, you may discover a begrudging respect for these hard-working zillionaires.

George Hardy, the star of Troll 2, the subject of Best Worst Movie, may be the funniest dentist I’ve ever encountered. Hardy, as a young man, starred in the execrable Troll sequel and then got on with his life. Twenty years later he’s bowled over by the response the film is getting at Midnight screenings. Rocky Horror it’s not, but for some strange reason droves of people turn out to experience its idiocy. The new fame is not lost on Troll 2’s child star, Michael Stephenson, who picks up a camera and decides to follow Hardy around on a Troll 2 tour. Hilarity follows. Hardy’s trip to an autograph show, where he rents a booth and tries to drum up interest in Troll 2 memorabilia will make you alternate between wincing and guffawing.


TV ON DVD

Thank god for the continuing success of Tv-on-Dvd. Several shows I wouldn’t have the chance to catch come up on my radar thanks to this medium. Friday Night Lights (Season 4) continues to be the best football show not about football that no one watches. Such a shame that many won’t give it a try because “they don’t like football.” FNL is about football as much as Breaking Bad (Season 2) is about cooking meth. It’s there but it’s usually in the background. The characters are what keep you coming back. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Season 7), for me, remains the sharpest and wittiest show ever on TV (the only show that comes close is Frasier). Many of the situations Larry David finds himself trapped in each episode have plagued us. We just don’t have the skewed perspective on life to think it funny at the time. Larry shows us why it’s funny that a blind guy worries about his girlfriend’s looks. As for Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (UK-Season 2): I hate reality shows, always have, but Ramsey’s trips to failing restaurants and his dealings with their bumbling owners and egotistical chefs has me spellbound. I don’t feel the same about Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen, wherein he spends the better part of an hour telling young chefs they’re f(beep)ing idiots and their food is shite. If I wanted that kind of nastiness, I’d watch American Idol.

REFERENCE WORKS

Most of the reading I do is non-fiction. I particularly like studies of forgotten or cult films, fiction and comics. This was a banner year for my kind of read.

The size of a phone book, Gathering Horror (Phrona Press) by David Horne is filled with so much information about the Warren Publishing Empire that another such book will never have to be compiled. I was involved with two Warren projects of this scope over the years. Both were abandoned after a lot of hard work. This book dwarves those projects. The only thing that upsets me is that there’s no mention of the appearance of my name in two, count ‘em two, Mystery Photos.

I reviewed The Horror The Horror (Abrams) by Jim Trombetta and Four Color Fear (Fantagraphics), edited by Greg Sadowski in depth here. Two very good compilations of horror comics from the pre-code 1950s. Trombetta’s psycho-logy-babble at times is suspect but that’s not why we should pick these up. It’s all eye candy The Weird World of Eerie Publications (Feral House) by Mike Howlett is the long, lusty, and usually sordid history of Myron Fass’ Eerie Publications, most famously responsible for the gruesome black and white comic magazines of the 1960s and 70s that made beheadings, disembowelments, and especially women with big tits and ripped cheeks the fashion plate for my generation. The reality of titles like Witches Tales, Weird, and Horror Tales is that they’re more fun to read about than to actually read. Howlett takes us behind the scenes from the very beginning to the hazy end with stops on the way to show us the girlie mags, UFO tabloids, and True Confessions (“My Vagina is my Nursing Aid!”) that Fass found time to staple together while overseeing his horror empire. It’s a fabulous, fascinating read that gives me hope we could see book-length spotlights on other horror publishers (Harvey please!). The best book of the year.


AND… My “Best Event” of 2010

The Rolling Stones

Nearly 50 years after taking a stage for the first time, The World’s Greatest Rock n Roll Band (and they are that, make no mistake) are once again masters of the media. First to roll out was the remastering/plundering of the legendary Exile on Main Street, complete with a second cd of unearthed tracks (albeit with a help from a very 2010 Mick Jagger). These aren’t the kind of “extra bonus tracks” most groups tack on to remasters (previously released b-sides, alternate takes, blahblahblah), but the kind of hot funk and bluesy riffs that made The Stones a radio staple back when there was such a thing as radio. “I’m Not Signifying,” “Plunder My Soul,” and especially “Pass the Wine (Sophia Loren),” should all be in heavy rotation on your ipod. Two dvds followed: a “Making of” doc, Stones in Exile, details the trials and tribulations of being a Stone in England in the early 70s: rich but without “a pot to piss in” thanks to an ungodly tax rate; and the long-awaited re-release of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones, a concert showcase filmed during the Exile tour, a tour that would set the standards for the excesses and debauchery of rock ‘n’ roll and, arguably, the last time The Stones were a great live band (before they became lazy and let props and lighting do their work for them). To top off the year, we get Keef’s masterly and scholarly autobiography, Life. Who knew this guy was more than just a pretty face?

Will we really pay this much attention to Jay-Z, Eminem, or Lady Gaga in 40 years?

15 comments:

Todd Mason said...

By me, the best film I saw in a theater this year so far (!) has been WINTER'S BONE. Not perfect, but I liked it...the worst was still OK, the cliched but well-mounted BLACK SWAN. Didn't see INCEPTION, KILLER, THE TOWN or TRUE GRIT yet. Did see SALT, which falls toward the middle of my range, along with the Salander tv films.

My favorite juxtaposition in re: the Stones: the FRESH AIR (NPR) repeat package that paired interviews with Brian May and KR as 2 Great Rock Guitarists. Yes, they're both rich.

David Horne said...

Thanks for the kind words, Peter--I'm truly honored to make your year-end list. But I'm curious--are you talking about two Mystery Photo appearances in ADDITION to FM issues 141 and 143? You're listed for those two on pages 193 and 195. See, I wouldn't leave you out!! (Happy New Year to you and yours!)

Peter Farris said...

Your description of Inception as a virgin trip on a ride at Disney Land is so damn perfect.

I thought Winter's Bone was the best film I saw in theaters all year, thinking afterwards how refreshing it was to see a film with a) no star power to ruin it and b) clearly made outside the studio system. I won't claim it as perfect or a masterpiece but there's not a false note to be found and it captures the novel in a way that most adaptations don't.

Ghost Writer was really thrilling and classic Polanski, and I want to thank you for reminding me it actually came out in 2010.

Walker Martin said...

Thanks for mentioning GATHERING HORROR Peter because I didn't know about it at all. I went to amazon.com and they didn't have it listed, so I tried google.com and ran into comments about it being no longer available due to a print run of 300 copies, etc.

Then I tried ebay and ordered a copy. Lucky the internet is around.

I go to very few movies but I did see TRUE GRIT since I like westerns, the Coen Brothers, and Jeff Bridges. Admission was $9.00 and popcorn $6.75. Wish I could break the popcorn habit but I've been buying a bag every movie since I was 9 years old. Must be a couple thousand bags which should result in an overdose one of these days.

John Scoleri said...

My 2010 list will go up this weekend, and while there is little overlap with Pete's list, one thing we're in complete agreement on is Gathering Horror. David has done an amazing job, and as the word of mouth continues to spread, the remaining copies are going to all but disappear!

The Maverick said...

On the sports documentary front, I just happened to pick up "Facing Ali" - it was the "something different" selection at the bazaar - and was very impressed by just how good a documentary it was.

It is a "must queue" if you haven't seen it already!

Peter Enfantino said...

David-

If I'm listed in the Mystery Photos for 141 and 143, you have really uncovered a mystery since I never submitted my name for those. My name was in 122 and 124. Not to worry. Your book is the best reference tool to Warren that will ever be published. Will you, perhaps, turn your attention to any other subjects or is this a one-off? The Marvel magazines are ripe for picking!

Peter Enfantino said...

Todd and Peter Farris-

I really wanted to like Winter's Bone as I had heard so many great thiings about it on several podcasts I listen to but, in the end, it was nothing special to me. I kept waiting for something to happen. I had the same problem with last year's indie darling, Trick or Treat, which was nothing but a compilation of old EC and Warren cliches.

David Horne said...

Alas and dang, I guess I did miss your name in FM 122 and 124--I just checked those issues, and there you are. I'll add that to my growing corrections list. However, I double-checked 141 and 143, and there IS a Peter Enfantino listed in both of those (in one case as Peter Enfantino Jr.). So I'm HALF right--you don't have to throw away the book yet! (By the way, although you have four, I got there first--I'm in the FM 61 Mystery Photo list.) I don't at the moment have any further plans--the Warren book came out of my particular passion for that series and the handy giant collection I have right here for reference. But I rule nothing out . . . .

Jack Seabrook said...

The best book I read in 2010 was I, Claudius by Robert Graves. As for movies, I also liked Ghost Writer, along with Shutter Island, which came out at the same time. Hereafter was also very good. The worst news of the year was the end of the Hard Case Crime paperback series! And a big disappointment was the return of Neal Adams to comics--I made a special trip to the comic book store but after flipping through the first couple of issues I left without buying. New comics are no fun anymore--which is probably for the best at age 47.

Walker Martin said...

I read I, CLAUDIUS a few years ago and enjoyed it alot. Robert Graves' also did a good sequel. By the way, the BBC mini-series starring Derek Jacobi is one of the very best dramas ever done for TV.

John Scoleri said...

Jack - I agree with you 100% on HCC. And shame on Leisure for trying to pull a fast one on their subscribers by sending them 'different' novels each month without even mentioning HCC was kaput.

Similarly, the end of the Gabriel Hunt series was a big disappointment, as I would have kept buying those for the Orbik covers alone. As more expensive trade paperbacks, I'm not so sure.

And comics? I could see getting excited about buying more if they weren't $3-4 a pop! You want a surefire way to kill your market? Cut out new readers in the form of kids. Can a kid afford to read Spider-Man (any one of the myriad of titles) when each monthly issue is going to take a big chunk of their allowance? I guess all Marvel really needs to do is sell the toys, movies and DVDs these days. No one cares where the stories actually come from...

Ultimate Tactical Warrior said...

Jack, thanks for confirming my suspicion, but it's sad to hear about Hard Case Crime. I knew something was amiss while I was shopping at various book store chains and noticed that the Mystery section no longer displayed those little beauties. I never had the heart to look them up at their website to see if they were shut down.

Peter, thank you for making me aware of the Ali/Holmes documentary. Sounds like something any boxing fan would love!

Ultimate Tactical Warrior said...

I'm not sure what your guys tastes are for comics (except horror), but I'd like to recommend Marvel's Taskmaster mini-series. It was pretty fun and one of the villains was Hate-Monger aka Hitler, whom some will remember from Fantastic Four and Marvel Super-Villain Team-Up.

For the coming new year, check out the "Kill the Irishman," trailer on youtube. The movie looks like it might have the potential to be really good, or really bad. It's based on an Irish vs. Italian mob war that actually occurred in 1970's Cleveland.

Jack Seabrook said...

UTW--just watched the trailer and it does look pretty cool. The 70s vibe and Walken may be enough to get me to buy a ticket! And John--when comics hit 40 cents I said enough is enough!