Devin R Bruce is a friend to Variant Edition and to all good-hearted creatures who roam the Earth. In each installment of This Column Has Seven Days, Devin discusses his favourite pop culture experiences of the past week in an effort to share the joy of an overlooked gem, an old favourite that’s bubbled up to the surface, or a classic work that he’s finally gotten around to. Comic books, movies, television, novels, podcasts, music, Old Time Radio: there’s something for everyone. Here’s what he’s been up to this week.
This week I finally got around to reading my copies of the first three The Mask miniseries (also collected in The Mask Omnibus Volume 1) and I kicked myself for waiting so long. With The Mask, writer John Arcudi and artist Doug Mahnke took a sliver of an idea and ran with it, creating a brutal, funny, and wildly creative series of books. Yes, these are the stories the Jim Carrey movie is based on, and yes, they’re far more brutal and horrific than that movie could have ever been. These stories are little more than opportunities for Arcudi to come up with hilarious scenes of carnage that Mahnke renders with style to spare. The reader can actually see Mahnke’s style getting better and more self-assured with each issue, which makes the gags that much more fantastic. There’s a fun in all the mayhem that reminds me of old Jack Cole Plastic Man stories, except with a lot more murder. These first three stories in the saga of The Mask are classics in black humour as well as groundbreaking works in the careers of their creators. They’re so good that I’m already re-reading them and laughing just as loud and as often as I did the first time. Highly, highly recommended.
I am a big fan of the “acclaimed middle-aged actor turned action movie star” experiment that has cropped up in the last decade or so. It hasn’t always led to high quality movies (I think Liam Neeson could have stopped after the second Taken movie, probably), but it did give me Denzel Washington messing up a whole lot of Russian mobsters. In The Equalizer, he plays Robert McCall, a widowed retiree with obsessive-compulsive disorder who works at a big box chain hardware store. He is well-liked by the people who know him, including a teenage prostitute that frequents his regular diner (Chloë Grace Moretz). When she gets put into the hospital by her pimp, McCall goes to a local restaurant owned by the Russian mob to essentially buy out her contract. The mobsters don’t take too kindly to that, and then we discover that our unassuming retiree is a former black ops soldier who takes out five thugs in less time it took me to type this sentence. This doesn’t sit well with the top brass back home, who send in an enforcer (Marton Csokas) to deal with this interruption in their business. That’s when things get really bad. The script’s a little thin, but director Antoine Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore make the movie look gorgeous, whether it’s a simple shot of Washington walking down the street in the middle of the day or the film’s climactic final confrontation in the hardware store (naturally). And Washington’s mesmerizing, as he typically is, lending a real gravity to his role that the script doesn’t really deserve. The Equalizer delivers on action, style, and performance, and made me remember just how amazing a performer Denzel Washington really is.
Based on a slice-of-life manga by Masayuki Kusumi, Netflix’s Samurai Gourmet is an oddly charming gem. The thrust of the first episode is as follows: Takeshi Kasumi, a retired salaryman (Naoto Takenaka) is at a loss for what to do with his days now that he’s not at work. He wanders into a restaurant at lunch, thinks about ordering a beer, and then chides himself for even thinking about it. Then he imagines a samurai ordering sake with his lunch, realizes he’s in control of his own life, orders a beer, and enjoys his meal. In the episode, the viewer is treated to long shots of food being prepared, and Kasumi eating and enjoying his food. And that’s it. Old man learning how to make his way in his new life and enjoying food. I find it absolutely captivating, in part because Takenaka is such a charismatic screen presence, and in part because the food looks so good and I want to eat all of it. I know it sounds strange, but I strongly encourage everyone reading to check out the first episode. It might not be for everyone, but it’s got to be for someone. And maybe it’s you.
This week I watched and ranked all five of the Mission: Impossible movies, and in case anyone was wondering, here’s how they break down, from worst to best:
- Mission: Impossible II. A movie that starts off promising in a “fun bad” way but then collapses into a disjointed mess of John Woo cliches. I love John Woo but this movie is bad, bad, bad.
- Mission: Impossible. Decently paced and shot but the story is really flawed. I don’t want to give away the plot but it’s a real kick in the pants to anyone who liked the original television series. Still, it has Jean Reno and Emilio Estevez in it so it can’t be all bad.
- Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation. Fantastic stunts and gorgeous cinematography can’t distract me from the fact that Tom Cruise’s character basically becomes an unstoppable Terminator who beats the bad guy by Tom Cruising really hard. That really gets stuck in my craw. Otherwise it’s a solid thrill ride.
- Mission: Impossible III. Suffers a little bit from J.J. Abrams’ love of having lights shine directly into the camera, but the cast is top-notch, including Philip Seymour Hoffman as the most terrifying villain in the entire series. It also gets points for a great action sequence on a bridge, and also Maggie Q.
- Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Visually dynamic, with a perfect blend of stunt set pieces, high-tech schemes, and Simon Pegg one-liners. Also features Tom Cruise running very quickly after a botched operation leading to the Kremlin blowing up, which is great on so many levels.
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That’s going to wrap things up for this week, my friends. Until next time, be like Takeshi Kasumi and take time to find big enjoyment the little things. I’ll see you in seven days.