SQOG - the Sasquatch Blog (March 2011 posts)
****All the posts below are bigtime SPOILERS if you haven't seen, read, or heard the entertainment I am talking about. Look at the post heading for the day and decide if you want to be spoiled on that topic or not.****
February 2011 posts
-Thursday, March 31st, 2011: HP6 - The Adults
Everyone is counting down, breath held in anticipation for the closing chapter in the HARRY POTTER series this summer. No matter where you come down on the HP books or the movies or the entire phenomenon, you can’t argue that this is an event. We’ve seen these kids grow up, seen them mature in front of our eyes, on the screen, into young adults. It is quite fascinating to take a look back, remember how little they used to be and how much younger we were as well. I remember going to see that first HP1, back as a junior in college in 2001 with a good friend. I had finished the released books(1-4) on a scary long 22 hour plane trip from Amsterdam to Sydney. I’m a fast reader, but that was ridiculous. I loved the way each book finished, gathering all the little details dropped in the early pages and using them to drive the plot to its climax. It’s hard to explain, but you feel so smart and satisfied when you finish each book, as if your personal recollection of the smallest detail allowed the characters to emerge unscathed from the climax.
Cinematically, I haven’t been the biggest fan. Of course, each film is a must-see, but I still don’t think that anything has touched the 3rd movie, the Alfonso Cuaron-directed PRISONER OF AZKABAN. That movie made the HP world lived-in, dirty, weird, and finally magical, in a way that the safe first two installments did not. It was the first step into the dark world that the HP movies now take place in. To an extent, I feel like all the films that have come after the 3rd are just copying the look Cuaron already pioneered for the series. As fun and epic as these films are, an argument can easily be made that these films have squandered the best adult cast ever brought together for a film. It feels like every famous adult British actor has appeared in this series at one point or another, with only Alan Rickman leaving any distinct mark. I mean, of course I get it, the books are about the kids, but wow I just wish there could be more for the adults to do.
Over the weekend, HP6: THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE was on TV, and there was one scene that really punched home for me how wasted the adults are in these movies. It’s the scene near the end when the faculty and students of Hogwarts gather around the fallen body of Dumbledore, the ominous Black Mark screeching above them. Harry cries on Dumbledore and Hermione has a tear roll down her cheek. But I wasn’t affected by the emotions of the kids. Most of me is clinically thinking, “Good acting job by both Radcliffe and Watson, well done.” But then, for just a short shot, we see Maggie Smith’s ‘Professor McGonagall.’ Her face is so sad, her eyes glazed, she looks completely lost. This stern old professor is suddenly scared and vulnerable, and to me that was more terrifying and emotional that the acted tears of children. She gave Dumbledore’s death so much weight. And she lifts her wand to inspire the rest to banish the Dark Mark, it’s like the weight of the world is on her wand. I can see that having all the wands light up like a KISS concert to banish the Black Mark is a bit corny, but Maggie Smith just sells the hell out of it so that whole sequence is amazing. And cynically, I know that is exactly why the HP producers cast these big British actors, because even if given no lines and a wafer-thin character, actors like these are so talented that they can earn audience empathy with nothing more than a look. Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, John Hurt, Gary Oldman, Jim Broadbent, Jason Isaacs, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda Staunton, Emma Thompson, and so many many more. I feel like the adults are the secret weapon of the HP films, the subtle strong backbone that holds up the lesser performances of the lead characters. It’s a reminder of how incredible these movies could have been if the adults had been given more to do.
-Wednesday, March 30th, 2011: ARMY OF DARKNESS - Better Ending
You know, there are times when I am so wrong, it’s scary. A few weeks ago, I was posting about SPACEBALLS, and how, next to ANCHORMAN, it is probably my favorite movie to quote. Well, hold the phone, how could I possibly forget the unforgettable quotes of Bruce Campbell as ‘Ash’ in ARMY OF DARKNESS. You can check out this clip for some great quotes from the movie, though this compilation is long enough to actually be most of the movie. But I want to get onto a specific part, so I’ll just mention a few of my favorite parts that I am digging right now. Right after Ash punches the guy at :30 in the above clip, I can’t get enough of the way he goes, “Wh-Who wants some?” Such an awesome delivery. Then, at 1:32, I love how the camera bobs a little when Ash says, “This is my BOOMSTICK!!” It’s like the camera itself is scared of the shotgun. And my favorite line right now, at 2:52, “It’s a trick. Get an axe.” And possibly the coolest shot of the whole thing, at 3:00, when Ash shoots the demon over his shoulder and shudders with demented manly pleasure as he clutches the shotgun down in front of him. Plus, I love how the priest just moves right in and continues talking about the Necronomicon like nothing happened.
OK, OK, but I want to move on to the ending. Now, from what I have hear, the director, Sam Raimi, fought the studio really hard because he wanted to use his original ending to the movie. This is the ending where Bruce Campbell takes 1 too many drops of the sleeping potion, falls asleep in the cave, and wakes up with a beard, far into the future, when everything has been bombed into oblivion. The studio thought this ending was too bleak, so they forced Raimi to tack on a more crowd-pleasing ending where Ash gets back to the S-Mart in modern times and defeats a Deadite in the mall aisles. Both Raimi and Campbell hated this idea and went along very reluctantly. Now see, I agree with the studio, I think the ending at the S-Mart is so much better! The futuristic original ending IS too bleak for this movie. ARMY OF DARKNESS is a ridiculous, over-the-top, gag-fest with awesome taglines, ludicrous camera angles, and bad puns. In short, it is tremendous fun! The original ending feels like it is from another movie. The S-Mart ending fits much better tone-wise with what has come before. Plus, it has an awesome manly last line to send the audience into the night.
Plus, The S-Mart ending has 2 of the best lines, “Come get some,” and “Hail to the King, baby.” You know sometimes you see action sequences of such mind-blowing awesomeness, you find yourself grinning ear-to-ear? Or some creative trick of artillery that makes you chortle and let out a man-yell at the screen? Well, there is a moment just like that in the S-Mart ending. Right after Ash gives his “Ash. Housewares” line, and cocks his gun, he throws the gun in the air and jumps on a roller cart. He catches the gun, and in a moment of high-speed movement, he brings the gun down and instantly fires off, like, 30 rounds. What an awesome manly moment of pure gun porn, it’s hard not to smile at the cartoonish yet so cool manner that Ash empties that shotgun. I finally found a clip of that moment here at 10:10.
It works better when connected to the rest of the sequence, but it is just so cool. Look, I get it. No one wants the studio messing with their work, their baby. And I’m not sure what led to the S-Mart ending. Was Raimi pissed at the studio and so tried to make the S-Mart ending really over-the-top, thinking the studio would reject it? Was the S-Mart ending a parody of the movie that had come before? It sounded like a really uncomfortable situation that developed between Raimi and the studio, but you got to admit, it resulted in one hell of a kick-ass alternate ending. Hail to the king, baby!!
-Tuesday, March 29th, 2011: RANGO - Damn fine Western
I’m a sucker for Westerns, so even if it’s a non-Pixar animated Western starring a lizard, I am totally there. But wow, RANGO was so much better than I expected! It’s beautiful and odd, adhering to every Western cliché there is, but looking at everything slightly askew. And sometimes I forget that Johnny Depp is one of the best chameleon-like actors around. Rango the lizard has a downright weird and compulsive personality that has everything to do with Depp’s performance, but is still miles different from Captain Jack Sparrow. And the vision that Gore Verbinski has for the animated Western world is creepy. The frame is constantly filled with extreme close-ups of scummy and disgusting creatures, yet still the movie is selling itself as a child’s adventure. I’d say it’s far from it, which is fine, it feels like everything in the movie is primarily for adults anyways. This is also the first animated film from ILM and this infusion of fresh CG artist is strongly felt.
There are two sequences that I found amazing, in two completely different ways. The first is the canyon/wagon chase which is the most thrilling sequence I have seen so far this year. Rango and his posse are trying to re-capture their precisous jug of water from the hordes of skuzzy rats. They race down the canyon when they suddenly realize that the rats are flying in to shoot at them from the backs of giant bats. And as the perfect musical accompaniment, one of the flying rats is playing ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ on a banjo. The wild chase that ensues is part-STAR WARS trench chase and part-INDIANA JONES aerial dogfight, it’s a creative and heart-pumping sequence of diving bats, sprayed bullets, and there is even time enough for a funny quiet moment when Rango’s gets pulled up into the air and for a second he sighs in contentment at the sensation of flying. Much like the exhilarating actions sequences in my favorite Pixar movie, THE INCREDIBLES, this canyon chase in RANGO is giddy with ingenuity.
The second moment takes place in the spacey 2nd act of the movie. Rango has been exposed as a phony and he is banished from the town. There is this wonderful scene where he walks across the dangerous highway at night, to these lonely guitar strums that feel picked straight from Explosions in the Sky. It’s lovely to see such danger set to such a gentle and mournful soundscape. When Rango starts talking to the armadillo on the other side, the armadillo asks Rango to take a second and look at the beauty of the desert. Rango looks out and sees the salt flat desert and the shadows of clouds racing along its surface. The image is stunning. I might be a bit biased here. A few years ago, I used to be a desert buff. Every chance I got, I loved exploring Joshua Tree, the Mojave, Death Valley, and the Owens Lake Bed. I would camp under the stars and walk into deserted ghost towns in the day. I found it all so romantic, so Manifest-Destiny. The harsh melancholy and mystery of a dilapidated and dead ghost town like Cerro Gordo, the lonely expanse of the cracked earth at Trona, the discovery of a perfectly silent moment in the rock formations at the Alabama Hills in the shadow of Mt. Whitney. For some reason, out there, I find that all the lines between reality and fantasy and history and nature are a lot more blurry. That kind of landscape fascinates me, it’s not hard to imagine why I was such a fan of DEADWOOD. So that moment taken by RANGO, to just take in the majesty of the desert, really hit me. Plus, the moment was followed up by a Timothy Olyphant cameo that was a perfect reminder of all that I loved about those old Western films; THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, SHANE, etc. RANGO isn’t a big movie, but it’s an odd movie that appreciates facets, romance, and breadth. And it completely won me over. And it was sooo much better than the visually stunning, but ultimately empty and nonsensical movie I saw right after, SUCKER PUNCH. I'll stick with RANGO, thank you very much!
-Monday, March 28th, 2011: STICK IT - That's right, STICK IT
Oh man, what is wrong with me?! I was flipping channels around last night and landed on this cinematic jewel, and actually got a little bit moved. It is very hard for me to admit, but I actually saw this one in theaters with a friend on a ‘Terrible Movie Tuesday’ outing in LA. Essentially it’s BRING IT ON set in the world of gymnastics, which such a huge stretch past cheerleading, I know. It stars that girl who was in HEROES for a little bit, Missy Peregrym. Which is a very unfortunate name. Almost as bad as the actress who plays the witch in CENTURION, Imogen Poots. Take a second to imagine Imogen’s cruel cruel parents. Anyways, STICK IT also stars Jeff Bridges as the gymnastic coach. Yep, that’s right, Oscar Winner Jeff Bridges. And the funny thing is that he isn’t sleep-walking in this role or cashing the check, he really seems to be having fun here.
So most of the movie is about the stock stereotype ‘rebel’ girl, Haley, bringing some of her brash style to the conservative world of gymnastics. Never mind that her only idea of rebelliousness is to show the ‘Rock on’ hand gesture every opportunity she gets. Never mind that the end meet makes literally no sense. It’s so funny that teen rebellion has become so safe these days, its hardly ever portrayed as anything more risqué than a lip ring and an old rock T-shirt. But, I think I was most impressed by the cast just running full-speed with this ridiculous script. This is the kind of movie that has quotes like, “Are you sure? I’m so sure, I’m practically deodorant, ” or “Hey! Miss Rebel Without Applause!” Or here is one of the taglines of the movie, “It’s not called gym-nice-tics!” This is the kind of movie where everyone goes prom dress shopping and ends up doing floor exercise routines through the mall in their dresses. It’s strange to see a movie mock generic sports clichés and then play right into them a couple seconds later. Really, I mean, at one point, the ‘evil’ cheerleader comes up to Hayley and says “Game over,” and Hayley laughs in her face at the ludicrousness of the line. Which is funny. Then right after, Hayley pumps up her team using vernacular just as hackneyed, "Don't just bring it. Stick it!"
I'm being mean, it's not actually that bad. But I'm also not going to explore the creepy side of this. A movie that has so many ass/boob shots of just-barely 18 year old women, walking around basically in tight swimsuits, directed by a woman, is just begging for a feminist analysis by someone far more incisive than myself. I mean, how many adults find these women athletes attractive and is that awful and creepy or natural? Yeah, not going to get into that. But still, there was this one moment late in the movie that kind of got to me. It’s the final meet, and all the girls are choosing who wins each event by having everyone else get disqualified. It’s kind of a harsh slam on gymnastics scoring rules, and I was kind of surprised to see real actual US gold medal gymnasts, like Nastia Liukin, playing cameos as girls who refuse to obey the judges. Interesting. Anyways, Hayley gets up to do her floor exercise, she gets serious, it’s the big moment of redemption, blah blah blah, when Jeff Bridges comes up to her. And he starts to say how proud he is of her. And Hayley starts to back away, because she doesn’t want to hear it, she pleads with him not to say that to her. So Bridges shuts up and tells her to nail the routine. But both characters know what he meant. I don’t know whether it was how good Jeff Bridges was in conveying his pride or how scared Hayley looks at being hurt again, but it was a wonderful moment. And so, even in a silly cotton-candy weight movie, there is a moment of beauty, and that’s what I love movies for. The one flash of gold amidst all the crap. And more often than not, this blog is all about finding those little moments, those nuggets of gold.
-Friday, March 25th, 2011: THE OFFICE - Proposal
Awwwww, how cute and perfect was Michael’s marriage proposal to Holly last night?! That was just wonderful. The episode started with some typical Michael hijinks, for instance, he wanted to write out his proposal in flaming gasoline letters in the parking lot while being covered in gasoline. Pam wisely saved him from being burned alive. I really liked how Pam dragged Michael into a conference with Jim and Oscar to make sure he proposed in a good and safe manner. When she said that they were all family, it felt like Pam was really starting to come around to that idea. Of course, part of why she said it was to mollify Michael at that moment, but she seemed to mean it to, like Michael’s insistence of them all as a big family is starting to be true. They re-told the story of how Jim proposed to Pam and it was funny that the story by itself is kind of lame, but in the moment a few seasons ago, that proposal was gloriously romantic. And Pam’s curse at the sight of Michael’s gargantuan diamond ring (3 years salary, right?) was perfect.
I loved Michael walking Holly around the office and remembering all his favorite episode moments with her. Where they first kissed, where he said she loved her, where he used to watch her from the water cooler. Of course, there had to be some awkward times in there too, so we had the moments when Michael told Holly he had herpes, or when Holly found out that Meredith was sleeping with a client. It was great that Holly’s face revealed that she was still pretty non-plussed about the whole Meredith issue.
Then they walked into the break room and the whole Office staff was there holding candles. I loved Michaels’ line to Holly here, something like, “This is the hardest part of our relationship right here. Everything from here on is smooth sailing.” Then each guy in the office proposes to Holly so that she can turn them all down. I loved it how this whole scene was so quiet. No soaring string instruments, no sweet laugh track, just the humor and the emotion. Yes, the scene had to be like that to maintain the documentary feel, but still, I really liked the easy realism of this whole sequence. The staff peeking through the shades was cute. And then, of course, in case things were getting too sweet and sappy, the fire alarm went off, dousing everyone while Michael proposed in his best Yoda-voice. And Holly, being the sweet and nerdy character she is, so well embodied by Amy Ryan, says yes in her best Yoda-voice. Aww, but then it’s a wonderful moment when Michael and Holly are happy beyond belief and the rest of the Office stands stunned, crushed and hurt in the rain in response to the news that Michael is leaving. I love it when the format of this show allows us to really get into the emotion of a scene. The audience isn’t being manipulated into feeling something because there is no laugh track or music, it’s just heightened reality, and it’s wonderful to see that we can still be affected by things so mundane. I wish this had been Steve Carrell’s last episode, because I’m not sure they can top that romance and conclusion of Michael and Holly in the office annex kissing in the rain, surrounded by family, and ready to start their funny little lives together.
-Thursday, March 24th, 2011: DESPERADO - The Buscemi Story
Ah, Robert Rodriguez, where have you been lately? I know he is responsible for the single greatest movie quote from 2010, “Machete don’t text,” but I miss his more grounded, non-grindhouse flicks. DESPERADO was on TV the other night and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the more leisurely pace of the movie. He obviously didn’t have a lot of money here, and while some of the storytelling is ridiculously pulpy (like why build up the henchmen kid with the broken leg just to see him die a little bit later??), some of it is glorious. Like, I had completely forgotten about that scene when Antonio Banderas, having just been shot in the arm, stumbles along against a wall, painting his blood across the wall in beautiful patterns. While I love the machine gun and bazooka guitar cases, I really loved the long story-telling sequences.
The first scene is the best, when the movie starts flat out with Steve Buscemi entering a bar run by Cheech Marin. And this character is all Buscemi; a nerdy, motormouth dweeb. He comes into this local bar and orders a crappy beer, which is hilarious all by itself because of the belching noise the tap makes when it disgorges its piss-colored beverage. Then Buscemi spins this long tale about how El Mariachi took out a bar of thugs in a nearby town. Rodriguez shows the carnage that happened in a heightened reality that fits the legend that Buscemi is imparting. I really admire directors who take the time to use this conceit. Instead of having straight-up cartoony action, having a character tell the story of an action scene gives the film license to be bombastic and ridiculous. It’s like one of my favorite episode of BRISCO COUNTY, where the entire episode is told as a bedtime story from a father to his son. All the action, all the dialogue in that episode is all just a little more outrageous than normal, but since the episode is framed as a bedtime story, the creators have earned the right to do that.
Anyways, DESPERADO uses the Buscemi story brilliantly. I love the way they describe El Mariachi as he walks into the bar, “It was as if he was always walking in a shadow. I mean every step he took towards the light, just when you thought his face was about to be revealed, it wasn't. It was as if the lights dimmed, just for him.” Very cool. And the architecture of the bar, with hundreds of antlers along the walls like spikes in a gladiator pit, was like nothing I had ever seen before. Then the violence kicks in, with massive unwieldly guns and bodies flying like lightweight confetti all over the bar. These guns don’t just fire; they explode with gouts of flame and smoke. And Buscemi has his both his audiences enraptured. Then comes the greatest pulpy moment, the geekgasm shot. In the story, El Mariachi notices Buscemi and slowly walks up to him. El Mariachi reaches his hand up to his face, pushes his hair back, and brings forward from behind his head a massive pistol, clicking back the hammer ominously. So wait a minute, he had a 4 pound pistol taped to the back of his neck the whole time?? Doesn’t matter, we are being told a tall-tale, it makes sense for Buscemi to exaggerate the images. I love that shot, very Tarantino-cool, but especially the way the legend is built through Buscemi’s brassy story. The movie moves into more traditional plots after that, but can never equal the charm and raw filmmaking chutzpah of that first scene in the bar.
-Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011: Music: TEN YEARS AFTER - 'Change the World' & Tropic Thunder
So last night I went to this charity thing for the Japanese tsunami and it was a cool idea. The restaurant donated 70% of all money it made last night to Red Cross to help the Japanese. Basically, it’s a license for everyone to get really drunk and eat their butts off, but pass it off as donating to charity. Kinda brilliant. So when I got home, many hours later, many beers later, I flipped on the tube and watched a good chunk of TROPIC THUNDER. This movie cracks me up, it really does. Plus, I have been on a couple big movie sets out in the middle of nowhere, dealing with big egos, huge amounts of money, and tight deadlines, so I get a certain kick out of seeing those runaway productions lampooned. There is just so much really weird crap going on, it’s hard not to like. I mean Tom Cruise, hilarious, with a Golden Globe nomination, what?! Steve Coogan making a complete ass of himself. Nick Nolte being crusty. Some of the best fake trailers I have seen with a lot of celebrity cameos. And of course, Robert Downey Jr’s ridiculous Oscar-nominated performance as Kirk Lazarus/Lincoln Osiris, a white dude playing a white dude playing a black dude.
Obviously this is a silly parody movie, but the things that Downey does in this role are astounding. There are only a couple roles I can think of off the top of my head where I can’t picture the actor at all in the role. Like, if I see the actor in a TV interview or something, I literally can’t see them playing a certain role. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well. For example, Heath Ledger as Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, I can’t see any bit of Ledger in that character, the Joker is a completely separate person than the Heath Ledger I see in interviews. Same here with Downey. When he takes off his hair and contact lenses late in the movie, I still can’t see any of Downey in the Osiris character, it’s incredible! Also, I was amazed how much controversy surrounded this movie. The flap over a white guy in blackface was nothing compared to the ire raissed over the talk Downey and Stiller have about how to play a retard in movies. Do people just not have a sense of humor?? The whole point of that speech is to mock the process an actor goes through, to mock the characters themselves, and to poke fun at the entire movie awards system. In no way does this speech actually target any mentally-handicapped people. It’s just pointing at the manipulative way that films use mentally-handicapped people to elicit audience emotion and to garner awards. Oh well, at least the Academy got the joke.
I am very slowly rambling to my unrelated point here. It’s an obvious observation, but I love how music can completely change the tone of a scene. In TROPIC THUNDER, right after the director explodes and the guys start walking into the jungle, Downey throws his shotgun on his shoulder and takes a long scary look around him. Right at this moment, the awesome opening guitar riff of ‘I’d Like to Change the World’ by Ten Years After kicks in. And somehow, the song gives the shot a little weight. This silly scene in a silly movie suddenly has some heft and fear and apprehension, for a second, I saw Osiris as a real character and was worried for him. How did the filmmakers do that?? It was a shocking realization for me to notice how well that visual and song choice manipulated me into caring for the character. Which, if you want to take that further, is a subtle commentary about aural cinematic manipulation. In a romantic movie, the strings on a soundtrack swell when the director wants us to cry for the couple. In a scary movie, we are terrified when the violin suddenly screeches when the killer leaps from the dark. And just in case the audience doesn’t know who the bad guy in a movie is, the music gets dark and broody so we know, without a doubt, that this dude is bad. I’m always fascinated by that kind of manipulation, because even if I know I’m being forced to feel something in a film, I still experience that feeling. I find that interesting, and a clever way to insert an enormously compelling song that will never go out of style.
-Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011: VALHALLA RISING - Viking Acid
OK, I can see why people aren’t in to independent cinema if what they get is this movie and RUBBER. These great and awesome ideas that couId be such fun are brought down in a wave of pretentious cinematic philosophizing. I was really excited to see this small, cheap movie starring Mads Mikkelsen (the bad guy who cries blood in CASINO ROYALE) as One-Eye, an ass-kicking FIGHT CLUB-like Viking. People kept saying to stick with the plot here, the payoff is worth it. BS, it’s not.
The story is told in chapters, and the first chapter is the most entertaining by far and, in my opinion, the only one worth watching. We meet a band of men, somewhere in foggy Scotland who have caged a man named One-Eye so that he can be their gladiator in these vicious death matches in the mud. These death matches are beautifully filmed. One-Eye is tied by a neck leash to a pole in a muddy pit in a foggy valley, fighting off the men that other tribes set against him. Not to self-promote, well ok, to self-promote a little bit, this reminds me of the duel I put into my short western film a few years back, THE SUNKEN WARRIOR. In that short I had combatants fight with clubs, buried up to their waist in a dry lake bed. And no matter how badly my short film turned out, no matter how nonsensical my script, at least it had a story. Anyways, One-Eye always wins his battles, and it becomes clear that all the tribes are afraid of this unkillable death machine. They think he is risen from Hell, and to be honest, given his red-tinted flash-forwards and his complete lack of dialogue, there is a good chance that he IS a demon from Hell. Anyways, this opening chapter is the best, but it can be gory. If you don’t want to see One-Eye reach into someone’s torso and pull out their intestines, don’t see this movie. But along with the savagery are beautiful images. There is one moment where One-Eye snaps a man’s neck with his rope and the composition of their fight against the dark valley is stunning. Also, late in the film, when one character decides to sit and die on a hillside, the blue sky and horizon laid out in front of him is astoundingly beautiful.
So why oh why didn’t the creators of this film stay with the simple story set up by the first chapter?? It all goes wrong once One-Eye breaks free of his captors and along with a kid who follows him along, runs into Christian soldiers. They convince One-Eye to travel with them by boat to the Holy Land. This results in 30 minutes of the most boring boat ride you can possibly imagine. It’s a whole lot of scenes of dudes sitting around in a mist, staring at each other morosely, broken only by One-Eye’s weird red flashes of his own face. When they finally reach a land they don’t recognize, and come under arrow attack by unseen assailants, things get weirder. The soldiers start losing their shit for no real reason. Characters disappear then reappear in later scenes with no one ever realizing they were gone in the first place. They all become obsessed with mud. It’s all very weighty, and I’m sure its all supposed to be some grand meditation on colonial imperialism or manifest destiny or mankind’s bestial nature, but I just didn’t care because I was so bored! Everyone eventually dies except One-Eye and the kid, and I think the ending(spoiler) was supposed to be meaningful and poignant, with One-Eye voluntarily allowing the finally-seen Indians to beat him to death to protect the boy, but there was never any real sense of a relationship between the two so the finale just landed with a dumb thud.
Honestly, we all bemoan the mainstream movies made over the summertime and wish we could get some intelligent filmmaking into theaters. But if this is what independent cinema is offering; lazy and pretentious metaphorical filmmaking that can’t be bothered to have a plot, well, then let’s stick with TRANSFORMERS 3. I know that sounds harsh, but this film was really disappointing to me, and though some of the visuals are stunning, and the first chapter could have been used as a kick-ass short film, the film is a waste of space. It’s like they wanted to be Terrence Malick with their stunning images and nebulous storytelling, but unlike Malick’s best work, the creators of VALHALLA RISING have nothing to say, even though they pretentiously insist that they do.
-Monday, March 21st, 2011: Music: THE HEAVY - 'Short Change Hero'
I was tooling around the other day, and found a trailer for the new videogame, BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY. I am not much of a fan of videogame trailers that actually use gameplay footage. Like the recent DEAD ISLAND or GEARS OF WAR trailers, I prefer that the trailers take an artistic look at the material presented in the videogame. Otherwise we get this frame-y, awkward BATMAN video that wastes a perfectly good idea. Because I agree with the EW writer, this is an unexpectedly funky song to pair up with BATMAN, and if we had some footage created for the trailer, they could have made something really awesome. There are a couple moments, mostly when the gameplay footage shifts into slow-motion, that the awe is earned, but otherwise, the graphics look like they are a decade out of date.
But at least the trailer introduced me to this great song! Wow, I downloaded this one over the weekend and it is slinky skunky sexy good. I don't know much about this band, THE HEAVY, other than that they did that catchy Super Bowl KIA commercial song, 'How You Like Me Now.' But this is so much better. I usually like songs that create an atmosphere, and this one reminded me of the songs from BLACK SNAKE MOAN; those great dirty, sweaty songs that felt like they were being played on a sticky beer-stained floor in the middle of a thunderstorm. I’m usually not a big fan of the drawn-out overtures to modern songs, they are usually kitschy and just used to make a track fit a pre-arranged length, but I thought it worked here. It feels dangerous and murky and funky. I could see it fitting right in somewhere on TRUE BLOOD and hell, maybe it already has. I always love the songs that make you want to shoot a music video for it on the spot, the beats and the lyrics unlocking images and plots in your head. They make you feel creative and when you are stuck behind a desk most days, that feeling is worth the world.
-Friday, March 18th, 2011: V - Batshit Crazy Finale!
HA! Now that was a hilarious night of television! It seems that the writers and creators of ‘V’ just collectively threw all their developing plotlines in the trash and said, “Screw it, let’s just kill everybody.” This seemed like a Big F-U to the network trying to cancel their show, like a dare for renewal. Because there seems to be no way they can bring back any semblance of plot or storyline to this show. I’ve written before about this show and just how goddawful it is, seriously, half the time I just sit in front of the tv, slack-jawed in amazement at the level of cluelessness exhibited by the writing room. But that element can also make it so entertaining. Like in the finale last night, every time it slows down a bit, the writers just start throwing gore in, just to mix it up, without paying even token notice to logic or reason. You know what all this reminds me of? Those Quentin Tarantino trash movies, PLANET TERROR/DEATHPROOF; schlocky, gore-filled pun fests with terrible dialogue and even worse characters. Except Tarantino was lampooning those types of movies. V really IS that type of production!
But let’s talk about the deaths. First off, Queen Diana gets a lizard tail through the chest from Anna, in front of the entire population of the Mothership. Now, how the hell did Anna sneak up on Diana in a wide-open space, with hundreds of V’s watching the room?! Diana was trying to get everyone to revolt against Anna, you would think that ONE person might have gasped as Anna took the 2 minutes to stride up behind Diana?! So what was Diana in the story for?? Whatever, it resulted in an awesome line when Anna whipped back towards her daughter, Lisa, and spit out, “Now THAT’S how you kill your mother!” Ha!
Then Ryan got the weirdest pansy death. His whole storyline for 2 years has been that he will do anything to protect his daughter. Then, when he goes to save his daughter from the V mothership, his daughter casually wraps her lizard tail around Ryan’s throat and breaks his neck. That’s it?! 2 years of defending his daughter to just to get snuffed out so easily his 12-year old little lizard progeny? That’s cold, man.
Then the crazy just gets crazier. Anna replaces Lisa with a Lisa-lizard-clone who goes to find Tyler to sleep with him and get his seed. Meanwhile, Anna has captured the real Lisa and forces her to watch Lisa-clone and Tyler having sex. They finish, then Lisa-clone opens her mouth full of scary lizard teeth, chomps down on Tyler’s throat, and rips out his jugular. Ha!! Look, no complaining from me, Tyler was possibly the most annoying character on television in the last 5 years, so yes, I might have done a little Tyler-is-dead dance.
So that’s all the death. In addition, a whole other resistance group appears out of NOWHERE. Like, where were these guys the past 2 years when the 5th Column was bumbling its way through failed plan after failed plan?!? Oh man, then poor Father Landry. Early in the episode, he has this kind of nice line about how when he looks up into the sky, he wants to see God, not the Vs. I should have known that would come back around. Because then, when Anna Blisses the entire world, we see Father Jack staring up in wonder at the V ship. Poor guy, that sucks. Then Erica comes up to try and snap him out of it, and the show ENDS! That’s it!! So 3 main characters are dead, the world is brainwashed by Anna, Erica doesn’t know her son got chomped, the tight-black-tshirt guy left for some reason, and Father Jack is worshipping the Vs. I guess the Vs won and maybe we were supposed to be on Anna’s side the whole time. After all, Anna was the most interesting character. Honestly, this was such a terrible show, but it was still so much fun to see it go out with a big bloody WTF bang.
-Thursday, March 17th, 2011: STAR TREK - Klingon Interrogator??
Just a strange fact for today. I was noodling around the internet, researching a post for another day, and found myself on the IMDB page for Victor Garber. Probably best known as Jennifer Garner’s father on ALIAS, maybe you know him as the professor in LEGALLY BLONDE, or the builder of the titular ship in TITANIC who goes down with the ship closing the face on the mantle clock. Anyways, I met him once in NY at the premiere party for the final season of SEX & THE CITY (that was hard to write), and he was just the nicest guy to me. He certainly didn’t have to be, I was a lowly assistant and had some major railroad braces on at the time. I’m tangent-ing here. OK, so, on his IMDB page, I found this in his acting credits:
2009 Star Trek
Klingon Interrogator (scenes deleted)
Really?!? How much cooler is he to me now that I know he volunteered to put on all that crazy Klingon forehead makeup for probably a 1/2 day shoot, split-second scene, in a franchise re-boot?! I guess he’s a fan, and obviously he has worked with JJ Abrams before, but I just found that really interesting today. And while I was looking up his resume, I had totally forgotten that he starred alongside Tom Hanks in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. Remember that great scene where Garber and Hanks are mock-crying over the grenade scene in THE DIRTY DOZEN? Great scene, I especially love it right at the end when Rita Wilson starts laughing, even though the guys are mocking her, cause its just so cute. This man is an awesome dude. Well done, Mr. Garber, for loving movies enough to play a Klingon in a deleted scene, well done!
-Wednesday, March 16th, 2011: FIREFLY - Stop it!
Seriously, we have got to stop torturing ourselves people; the show is Never. Coming. Back!! Yes, I am talking about the cancelled western/sci-fi FOX television show FIREFLY, which was created by Joss Whedon and starred a pre-CASTLE Nathan Fillion in 2002 . The show only had 14 episodes, 4 which weren’t even aired, yet it spawned a massive fan-base that call themselves ‘Browncoats.’ Every few months or so, there is a small tidbit of news about FIREFLY that whips the fans into a delusional frenzy, everyone hoping against hope that the series will be brought back to television. Most recently, there was an interview done with Nathan Fillion by Entertainment Weekly and he said, and I quote, “If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.” That’s it. That is all that was said. Suddenly there are Facebook pages devoted to raising money, writers throwing their support behind Fillion, there is hope that all the actors will return and Fox will suddenly realize they have a hit on their hands…
Bullshit. Look, I am an enormous fan of FIREFLY. I love this show like I loved BUFFY, LOST, and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, that is, far far too much! At some point, I imagine that I’ll probably blog about each episode and what they mean to me. What sets FIREFLY apart for me, is that I found this show on DVD at a really dark time in my life. I was depressed and recovering from surgery and dosed on pain pills. FIREFLY was like a burst of light searing its way into my heart. Even though my jaw was wired shut, I could still laugh and cry and watch, enraptured, as this merry band of thieves fought and loved in their world. There were so many moments that made me want to leap out of bed and film something that could touch someone the way this was touching me. This series is important to me and I don’t want to waste what it’s given me with dashed hopes.
Now here is how I understand everything. I could be wrong on all this, but from all that I read, I don’t think I am: The big problem, that people don’t get, is that the rights to FIREFLY are not for sale. The Browncoats are pointing at the TERMINATOR series which just sold its rights for $30 million. Big difference. The rights owners for TERMINATOR were bankrupt and needed cash. The owners of FIREFLY rights, 20th Century Fox, will never go broke. Plus, it is a complete Catch-22. The more interest and money that fans raise for the show, the more tightly the studio will grip the rights. Why would they sell something that has such a strong army of potential buyers who will still purchase the umpteenth re-release of FIREFLY in 20 years??
OK, so let’s discuss the less talked-about option: Convincing FOX to bring the series back. After all, they brought FAMILY GUY back, right? No. Never happen. Even if Fox was somehow convinced to bring back such an expensive show, they could never afford to bring back the original crew. Whedon is directing major Hollywood movies, Fillion is CASTLE’s cash-cow, even some of the others have steady television gigs. No way that Fox would pay more than they originally did back in 2001 to get everyone back. They would recast. Do you want to see a Mal Reynolds played by anyone other than Nathan Fillion? I think I speak for all fans with an emphatic “F*%# NO!!!”
So what about the option that no one is talking about: Get another movie going. When they saw how well the FIREFLY DVDs were selling, UNIVERSAL paid a crap-load of money to buy the movie rights of FIREFLY from Fox, but still give Fox an enormous share of the film’s profits. UNIVERSAL figured this was a great move as interest in the series had never been higher. Yet, the movie came out and pretty much bombed. A reported $40 million budget plus, plus let’s say, $10 million in marketing, gives you a $50 million price tag, not including how much UNIVERSAL paid for the movie rights. SERENITY made $25 million at the box office. That hurts, UNIVERSAL got burned. Yes, SERENITY continues to sell well on DVD, but that doesn’t make back your millions. Try making a sequel with a studio that you put in the red. Not gonna happen. Maybe, maybe if Whedon came off of AVENGERS a hero and said loudly that the only thing he wanted to do was a SERENITY sequel, people would listen. But Whedon got really hurt in all this too. He had his baby cancelled. He moved on and rightly so.
This post is getting really long, but this is something I feel very strongly about. The studio and the creators know the fans will always be there for FIREFLY. Let’s stop blowing one off-the-cuff Fillion remark into a hopeless campaign. It just hurts too much every time it all falls apart. Let’s enjoy what we got and thank the Lord Whedon above that we got our storylines wrapped up in SERENITY, because frankly, it was a miracle that the movie was ever made. Which brings me back to yesterday. Entertainment Weekly, awesomely, has always been a magazine obsessed with all things Whedon. This article was kinda wonderful to read yesterday, and it eloquently puts into words all that I clumsily try and say about this show.
‘Bushwhacked’ was never my favorite episode, but I remember some beautiful moments. I always found the scene talked about in the article, with Simon and River clinging to Serenity, to be so very sad. That the only place River can find her smile, find peace, is in a vacuum. Yes, its beautiful out there, but space is death. And that sequence of cuts between River’s smile, the vastness of space, and Simon’s worried face is a hauntingly beautiful montage of aching melancholy. But I also always was moved by the moment when River enters the smuggler ship. I loved how she was always barefoot in the show, taking in the tactile feel of Serenity. When she goes through the smuggler’s airlock, the air fans her skirt around her and she looks like she is gliding, dancing into the ship. Beauty touching down upon a cold metal grate. It’s such a little moment, but breathtaking all the same. Okay, I’m done today, exhausted, frustrated, but still so very happy to have this show with me.
-Tuesday, March 15th, 2011: GLEE - Sexified
I’ve written about this show elsewhere; about my love/hate relationship with the stories, but my absolute die-hard love of certain moments and especially the songs. I was a musical kid, in plays and choirs and a cappella groups from grade school through college, so I get the rush of performance that this show depicts. Whenever this show gets right that pure glee that can only be found in song and on stage, it hits me hard. But the storytelling can be so scatter-brained, its so frustrating! But I’m not going to get into it here…
Anyways, there were such wonderful moments in last week’s episode, S2E15, 'Sexy,' that I had to write about them. First off, I think Gwyneth Paltrow is fun on the show, but I don’t think she is the end-all-be-all of GLEE guest characters that many online critics make her out to be. And honestly, all my moments in this episode have nothing to do with her. First up, when Britney tells Santana that she has a bun in the oven, but not to tell Artie, there was a hilarious one-take shot of Santana whipping around and immediately telling Tina, who told Puck, who told Zizes, who told Artie. All in one-shot, all in about 10 seconds. And Zizes yelling over her shouted to Artie, “Now you’re a Baby Daddy!” was awesome. Next best is Rachel’s face in the picture on this page. Britney is telling everyone about how she thinks she is pregnant because a stork is building a nest on top of her garage and that is Rachel’s reaction. Perfect, I was laughing so hard I had to go back at least 3 times.
Next: Holy Wow, that Warbler cover of ‘Animal’ kicked so much ass, it was one of those frequent GLEE musical numbers that just sends shivers down my spine. Plus, I still enjoy that song, it was on rotation constantly when the Giants were kicking ass in the World Series last year. Next: On the performance of ‘Afternoon Delight,’ Puck gets really into it, which was just perfect. This kid is the King of nooners, so I thought it especially hilarious to see how suggestive he got with that song. Next: And even though Santana’s lesbian thing literally came out of nowhere, the actress really nailed the scene where she tells Britney how much she loves her. We know this won’t go well, but damn, what a powerful reveal about Santana.
Finally, the writers continue to nail the relationship between Kurt and his father, Burt. It is such a wonderful thing to show on network television, just how uncomfortable Burt is with his gay son, yet how much he loves him too. When they have ‘the talk’ about gay sex, the scene is everything it should be: awkward, tender, and affirmative. Burt stumbles through a beautiful speech about how sex affects someone emotionally, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. About how sex is all about self-esteem and exposure. He talks about the difference between how guys and girls look at sex. Finally, he says just the right thing, the words that he had been searching for throughout the whole scene, “Don’t throw yourself around like you don’t matter. ‘Cause you matter, Kurt.” What a freakin' role model Burt is, for parents, for kids, for everyone. All these wonderful moments in this episode and none of them had to do with Gwyneth who was the primary focus of the episode. You think the GLEE writers over-stuff their episodes much!?
-Monday, March 14th, 2011: PAUL RUDD - Totes McGotes!
Let us all take a moment on this rainy Monday afternoon to stop our work and appreciate that moment when Hollywood finally discovered that Paul Rudd is funny. I mean, I remember this guy being the definition of ‘movie wallflower’ when I was younger. He was the bland boyfriend in CLUELESS and even though he only had one movie in which he was a girl’s gay best friend (OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION), I feel convinced that there were 10 more movies in the 90s where he played that exact same character. Then along came WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, where Rudd played the supreme douche of the summer camp. It’s an okay parody movie, but he was absolutely the best part, whether he was playing the air guitar in a windstorm or being the asshole boyfriend every girl has dated. It seemed that breaking bland and playing a prick finally unleashed the inner Rudd.
After playing Phoebe’s finace for a couple years on FRIENDS, Rudd started to really breakthrough, especially when he played ‘Brian Fonata’ in ANCHORMAN. I can’t get enough of the Bri Man! Here he is leaping into the air with girlish glee at the thought of new suits, nicknaming his balls ‘James Westfall’ and ‘Dr. Kennth Noisewater,’ and telling us how his cologne works ‘60% of the time, everytime.’ Which doesn’t make sense.
But why stop there? The Ruddinator continues his streak of awesomeness. I loved him in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, especially the ridiculous scatting he does in the ending sequence, here, at 2:38. But he’s also really good at playing really small funny moments as a normal character. Like in KNOCKED UP, he plays a regular over-worked husband, but the little digs and quips in his dialogue are still hilarious. I have to give a special mention to the Ruddinski in I LOVE YOU MAN. His character is a perfect parody of every bromance that guys have when under 35 years old. We talk in ridiculous shorthand to each other with nonsensical nicknames and too much testosterone. His character just doesn’t get how to participate in that bro code, and his successive line of failures makes me think about how many times I have failed the bro code. Like when you are trying to nickname someone on the spot and all you can come up with is ‘Joban.’ Or when you are trying to say bye to a dude on the phone and you start saying, “Catch you on the flip…’ but then you don’t want to finish such a lame saying, so you mutter a bit and end up trailing off with something like, “Catch you on the flip..flippity flop, my main man!” And its so sad. Hard to explain, but he nails it. And who doesn't get a kick out of Rudd 'slappin the bass!' Whew, that's a lot of links today, but on a dreary Monday, the possibility of more Rudd in one’s future is like a beacon in the fog.
-Friday, March 11th, 2011: SPACEBALLS & Auto Correct
When I was a freshman on the high school swim team in Minnesota, there was a senior swimmer named Yul, who in our freshman book of ‘cool,’ may as well have been God. He was just one of those popular, funny, athletic, decent guys that you admire and hate in equal doses. Well, one of his most endearing traits is that he would never stop quoting Rick Moranis’s ‘Darth Helmet’ character from SPACEBALLS. I remember one day, our swim coach, Todd, was pissed. He had just come back from an intense meeting about whether the swim program should be disbanded or not. He said that the committee didn’t really listen to him, they only listened to another coach. There was dead silence for a minute. Then Yul pipes up from the far swim lane, “Hey Todd! Did he go over your HELMET?!” It was so perfectly timed, Todd and the rest of the team were just howling.
Is there a more quotable character in film history than Darth Helmet? For my money, only Ron Burgundy gives him a run. I love the scenes with him playing with his dolls, the ‘who’s-on-first’ routine when they start watching SPACEBALLS: THE MOVIE, Ludicrous Speed, ‘the oldest trick in the book’, ‘I’m surrounded by assholes,’‘…because Good is dumb’, and of course, the all-time classic, “We ain’t found shit!” This movie was on the other night and I just had to watch it all the way through, quoting most of the movie along with the characters, a big silly grin on my face. It reminded me of grade school sleepovers, state swim meets, and numerous attempts in the pool to do that ‘bleeps and the cheeps’ routine. Rick Moranis was never this good again. And I totally forgot that at the end, the serious actor, William Hurt, reprises his role from ALIEN as the first person ever to have an alien burst from his chest. What a good sport!
On a side note, this DamnyouAutocorrect website had me laughing so hard yesterday that I spewed water on my computer screen. My boss thought I was having some kind of attack. Seriously, I haven't laughed that hard in a really long time. I think my favorite part of these isn't just the spelling errors, but the responses of the people getting the mistaken texts. This has got to be my favorite.
Serious note though: On a day of such tragedy, when we can do so little from our cubicles and homes except stare in horror at these images from Japan, a good hard laugh can be a release. A way to clear your mind, for just a minute, of pain and death and loss. To be thankful that these kind of events still hit us so hard and hope that the day never comes when they don't.
-Thursday, March 10th, 2011: THE OFFICE - Halloween
Look, we know THE OFFICE has been on the wane for the last few years. While there are still some classic moments thrown in there, the show doesn’t quite know what to do with married, child-rearing Jim & Pam, and the situations that Michael gets himself into are getting increasingly unrealistic. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch the show every Thursday, but the Michael/Holly storyline hasn’t really won me over this year like I thought it would, and the killer smaller characters continue to be neglected. See, I would think that when the show is running low on ideas, now would be the time to further explore some of those smaller side characters. Like, let’s have a ‘Kelly’ episode, or more Darryl, or tons more of Erin. If there is one thing I have been happy about these past few seasons, it has been the introduction of the new receptionist, Erin, played by Ellie Kemper. I may be in the minority on this, but she just cracks me up. She is kinda dumb, in a sweet Midwestern way, but she is just so odd and random, I find her instantly endearing. One of my favorite running jokes this year is how Erin just doesn’t get what is so cool about Holly. And that makes sense considering Michael is a father-figure for her, but it always results in some really funny scenes.
Last night, they played a repeat of the Halloween episode this year, S7E6, ‘Costume Contest.’ Erin wears a normal black dress for the costume party and this hideously-scarred horror mask. I have no idea what she is supposed to be, and I don’t think she has a clue either. At one point, Michael is giving a speech in front of reception and Erin is in the back and I was laughing so hard at what she was doing, I couldn’t catch my breath. First, she couldn’t turn off the phone and was getting frantic, so she ended up sitting on the phone to get it to shut up. Then, when Michael is talking, she keeps tilting her head, like she either can’t hear him, or she’s trying to peer out at him through her one good mask eye. She just looks ridiculous, and it’s just so funny that she is not the focus of the shot, Michael is, Erin is just in the back doing this hilariously subtle stuff in a mask. It’s possible that I’m the only one who thinks this is so damn funny. After all, I do consider Tom Cruise’s most persuasive and humorous acting to be when he had that mask on in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, so there is precedent here. Anyways, I am so happy with Ellie on THE OFFICE, I wish they would use her more, but mostly just appreciative that the show can still get me crying with laughter on a lazy Thursday evening. You can see the episode on HuluPlus, if you do, that Erin mask scene is at 7:15, but do yourself a favor and watch the whole episode. You'll get a great Stanley cold open, a WOWser of an Angela costume, Gabe's PokerFace, and lots more masked Erin.
-Wednesday, March 9th, 2011: RUBBER - Hmph
Damn. I was so excited to see this movie. I’d been reading about it for 6 months now, hearing great things, but unfortunately, it is just not that good or even fun. If you don’t know what I am talking about, watch this trailer. Cool, huh?! How many movies do you get to see about a homicidal sentient tire that can make heads explode? With that April 1st release, I can see why people thought it was an early April Fools joke, and you know, maybe that would have been a better idea if it had just stayed a trailer. I was hoping for some fun, crazy exploitation-style film and what I got was a student art film that was hella confusing. It got off to an interesting start with a local sheriff directly breaking the 4th wall and talking to the audience about the theme of the film, “No reason.” Then we pull back a bit and see that he is talking to a crowd of people gathered to watch the tire and his adventures through high-powered binoculars. This crowd comments on what happens, and I was fine with that, an interesting commentary on the voyeur aspect of an audience. But then comes along a poisoned chicken, an apparently irresistible eau claire, and an extremely bizarre scene where the sheriff abruptly asks the movie itself to stop. What the hell?? I am fine with randomness, but at least follow a thread, a line of logic through your own film. Why did the assistant eat the food he poisoned? What happened to the sheriff who was supposedly the main character? Would a son really put a roadkill bird on his dad’s pizza? Why didn’t they blow the dynamite mannequin when the tire was only 2 feet away?
Everything with the tire worked. Its awakening scene was cool and as it learned, it certainly gained a personality. At the beginning at least, the tire doesn’t seem to be malicious, just curious. After all, a tire was made to roll, I think it would be natural for a tire that gains sentience to want to roll over things and it is not a stretch to see how it could become homicidal. (I just read back that last sentence and could not stop laughing at myself. Oh dear. I liked how the tire became kind of a pervert, spying on that girl in the shower.(spoiler) And the last shot of the re-incarnated tire rolling into LA with dozens of sentient tires behind it was awesome; I want to see that sequel now! I realize it sounds fun the way I describe it, but it was just mostly confusing and slow. The effects were extremely well-done, and I always love desert landscapes. In fact, I have been to a lot of the locations used in the movie, all located in the Lancaster Valley north of LA. It just could have been so much more fun and so less pretentious!
-Tuesday, March 8th, 2011: OLD SPICE GUY - Behind-the-Scenes
This clip blew my mind this morning. Granted, that’s not so hard to do on a Tuesday morning, still reeling after a weekend of wine-tasting, but still. So, Old Spice is releasing a new OS Guy commercial, and to celebrate the latest blast of OS manliness, they released a video of how they make these videos. First, check out the released OS commercial, this isn’t my favorite one, but it has all the quick scene changes that we have come to associate with The Old Spice Guy. Now, check out the behind-the-scene video.
I had no idea there was so many practical effects used in these commercials, I assumed that it was all CGI! I can’t imagine how many takes these commercials have, and this one actually seems to be a little less complicated than previous commercials. And poor Isaiah Mustafa, it must be hard to concentrate and be manly when you are miming the breastroke in mid-air while getting your pants constantly torn off by wires. Despite how often it is used, there is still such a stigma to the use of CGI in entertainment. Since it is all based on a computer, an audience immediately stigmatizes the CGI process as ‘lazy.’ You know what I mean? No matter how gifted the CGI artists may be, no matter how many hours they put into their labor, all we think of is a big fat guy sitting at a computer, spilling Cheetos over his gut with a candy bar stuck in his mouth. We see ‘Nedry,’ the computer programmer from JURASSIC PARK, and that’s not really fair. We applaud commercials that are old-school, practical-effects jobs because we can see the labor, the sweat, and the ingenuity that went into the making. For example, here is a practical-effects car commercial from a couple years back that took over 600 takes to get right.
This was a highly praised commercial and you can see why. CGI feels like cheating, like it somehow goes against the old American work ethic of hard work and ingenuity with a sweaty brow. Maybe it’s about supporting the underdog, as CGI is almost completely eliminating the need for practical effects and the wizards who put them together. I’m getting way off topic here, but I just wanted to question why, when I saw that the OS Guy behind-the-scenes video uses mostly practical effects, I found myself nodding and muttering, “Good for you. Good for you.”
On an unrelated note, there is a lot being said today about Universal cancelling Guillermo del Toro's passion project, MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. There is a great article about the mindset of studios these days and what the smart money says they should be releasing. It makes a lot of good points about how the cancellation of this project isn't really a Universal Studios problem, but an issue with the conformity of the industry itself. Interesting stuff. I'm in line with a lot of these ideas, though I don't think its quite that bad yet. Check the article out here.
-Monday, March 7th, 2011: CASTLE - Nuclear Victory Dance
Wow, what a thrilling two-parter for CASTLE last week! I really liked how the stakes escalated in this chase for a dirty bomb in Manhattan, it heightened a lot of the emotional stakes among the cast and even allowed a few minutes to humanize the cold Adrian Pasdar FBI agent. Really, I thought Pasdar was better and more of a real character here than he was over all his interminable seasons with HEROES. And the conclusion was intense! Yes, I realize that the writers aren’t going to kill off their lead actors, but they pushed it right up to the last second and the bomb defusing played perfectly into Castle’s character, it was hilarious!
So, specifically, I am talking about the second half of the 2-parter, S3E17 ‘The Countdown.’ There are a couple great scenes in here. I loved the freezer chat at the beginning; it was sweet and allowed us to see the depth of feeling that Castle and Beckett share. Second great scene was when Castle warned his mother and daughter to get out of NY, but that they couldn’t tell anyone else. He is stern and immovable, a new shade of the Castle character. Third great scene was the epilogue when Castle is building up to ask Beckett out to celebrate when he suddenly stops and says he should go home and get some rest, then he leaves. Beckett is confused, it was the perfect moment to take advantage of their shared experiences, to get some drinks and move their relationship forward, but then her boyfriend comes up and hugs her from behind. What a neat way to block the scene, to give the audience a little misdirection by not showing us that Castle saw the boyfriend behind Beckett.
But the best bit, by far, was the disarming of the dirty bomb. So, the bomb’s countdown nears zero, our leads embrace and it looks like curtains for our heroes, when Castle leans over and rips out all the bomb cords, stopping the countdown. A perfect blunt, naïve, shot-in-the-dark Castle move that actually works, because at that point, it wouldn’t have mattered if he was wrong. Then Castle does a little victory fist pump which is pure Nathan Fillion awesome-ness and something I needed to rewind a couple times. He ends the little dance with a vigorous bomb point-down and that just capped off a great night of Fillion-tertainment! The whole sequence is great, but nuclear victory dance is at 2:55. And for the really short, looped version, see this.
-Friday, March 4th, 2011: OSCARS 2011 Review, 5 Days/5 Movie Moments: THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Man, what a tremendous film this is! I saw this really late, like, the morning of the Oscars, plus it had the distinction of being the first movie I have downloaded from the Playstation Store on my PS3. Thank you PS3. The movie continues the great tradition of Aaron Sorkin-written projects, it makes language sexy. That opening scene between Erica (Rooney Mara) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is exhilarating. The give-and-take, the random topic changes, the subtle barbs, and finally, the inevitability that this is going to end with Mark alone. Much like BLACK SWAN, this movie announces itself. I don’t particularly care how much of the tale is actual fact, I just appreciate that Fincher and his team made the founding of an internet company interesting and worthy of an excellent feature-length film. Apparently, Zuckerberg actually had a girlfriend throughout the entire time period depicted in the movie, which would change everything the movie is trying to say about him. But fine, no problem, let’s call it a fictional re-telling. At first, I wondered why Fincher would choose this film to direct, it doesn't seem to fit into his history of dark and serious filmmaking. Wow, was I wrong. He takes the story framework and ratches up the vengeance and the emotions of these petty geniuses to form another dark passage in his cinematic explorations.
There are two scenes in this that really impressed me, one technical and one emotional. The first is that awesome rowing regatta scene. Using some strange selective focus techniques, vibrant color, fast frame rate, and Trent Reznor’s manic interpretation of Edward Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ Fincher transforms a soundless race into a breathtaking sequence. I love those great wide-angle close-ups on the rowers, and the fast tracking camera. I’m not sure what Fincher was going with here, but the scene is instantly memorable. And a whole lot of giddy fun.
Second scene is the big confrontation between Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) and Mark in the Facebook offices. Eduardo is rightly pissed that Mark is forcing him out of the company, so he destroys Mark’s computer, then he launches into a speech about how he always been Mark’s only friend. What I love here is the look on Mark’s face during all this. Now, I am usually really annoyed by that actor, Jesse Eisenberg, he seems to always play the same neurotic, mumbling nerd. That’s why this role is so perfect for him; it takes his usual on-screen presence and makes it nasty. But as Eduardo is screaming at him, Mark’s face keeps changing. He is definitely angry and offended, but he also looks like he is in pain. It’s one of the only times we see Mark revealed. Because he knows that Eduardo is speaking the truth, they were best friends, and Mark is feeling shame at what he did to his friend. But in a crowded office with Sean Parker standing over his shoulder, Mark can’t afford to show anyone. It’s a wonderful bit of non-showy acting from Eisenberg, he’s feeling sorry, but he’s still angry, and above all, he still feels compelled to act like an asshole. And there is no doubt in my mind that Andrew Garfield should have been nominated for Supporting Actor, he is fantastic here. Check out this clip, especially the end when it looks like Mark is going to say something and we have no idea what he might say. Will he scream at Eduardo for staying in NY? Will he apologize? Will he beg? I love that we’ll never find out. This scene leads into the lovely and lonely finale with Mark in an empty room, updating his Facebook page to see if his old girlfriend has accepted his friend request. What a great film about a unique topic: What drives a 22-year old billionaire CEO after he’s reached the top? Who loves him anymore?
-Thursday, March 3rd, 2011: OSCARS 2011 Review, 5 Days/5 Movie Moments: BLACK SWAN
I think I might start a petition to get Darren Aronofsky committed, this man has created the strangest and most deranged mainstream movies to come along in a long time. I saw REQUIEM FOR A DREAM back in college, thought it was great, will never see it again. THE FOUNTAIN was so fantastically weird, I’m amazed it ever passed studio inspection. Now THE WRESTLER was pretty straightforward, which was a relief, plus I thought it was an excellent film about a strange and sad world. But with BLACK SWAN, we are fully back into crazy-ass Aronofsky land, and wow, what a rush this film is! In a similar fashion to THE FIGHTER, this film is messy. The mixture of drama/horror/dance sometimes throws scenes way out of wack. Like the scene where Natalie Portman is, uhm, exploring herself in her bedroom, when she suddenly realizes that her mom is sleeping in the room with her. The film reveals the mother like its Freddy Krueger jumping out of the closet. I’m not sure the filmmakers intended for that scene to elicit laughter, but it certainly does. Like many of the other best films of 2010, this film really punches its ending. The build to Nina’s transformation into the black swan is terrifying, thrilling and sinister, it feels epic and my heart raced along with the scene to the tragic climax. The film is all about passion and excess, the over-the-top operatic moments. Aronofsky always works with Clint Mansell to figure out the music in his films. Each Aronofsky film has a stunningly beautiful and different soundtrack, and here is no different. Despite being based on the ‘Swan Lake’ music, Mansell manages to build his own unique orchestrations on top of the original music template. As the titular dancer, Natalie Portman is just incredible in this, her character is so small and desperate and raw, and I’m not sure how an actress could ever disconnect herself from playing ‘Nina’.
My favorite bit though is Nina’s dream dance, the very first scene of the movie. It’s a stripped-down introduction to the breathtaking intimacy that Aronofsky achieves in the ballet sequences. Nina dances as the white swan in a lonely spotlight, and we push in close on her face, her feet, weaving around and with her as if we were in another dancer’s body. The music is quiet and we can hear the effort of ballet. Nina’s shuffling feet, her belabored breathing, and then something dangerous starts to circle her in the dark and she starts gasping. Then the dangerous thing seems to be a part of her for a few seconds, until she finally wakes up. This dream serves as a short film of the feature film, it tells us everything we need to know about what’s to come. This scene is quiet and disturbing, but it’s still an announcement, a gauntlet thrown. Telling us that yes, there will be beauty in the film, but we are also gonna throw some crazy shit your way, so be ready. It's an unconventional start to a film, but it pulls us in immediately, we are there, ready to see what happens to this porcelain ballerina. I can't put into words how excited I am for Aronofsky's sure-to-be insane interpretation of WOLVERINE!!
-Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011: OSCARS 2011 Review, 5 Days/5 Movie Moments: THE KING'S SPEECH
I enjoyed this film far more than I expected I would. Not Best Picture of the Year-level enjoyment, but it was tender and very well-made. Normally, I’m not much of a Merchant -Ivory/English-aristocracy kinda film guy, but I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job of making the story vibrant, emotional, and immediate. The director, Tom Hooper, made some very interesting choices in terms of filming. It’s hard for me to put into words, but some of the shots felt like they were from an art film. Notice the framing of Bertie (Colin Firth) in the therapy sessions. He fills up only a small lower corner of the screen, with most of the frame devoted to the colorful wall behind him. It’s a strange choice in a major motion picture. In other shots, particularly when the King is stuttering, we are uncomfortably close to his face. Most studios would dictate regular framing; ie. put the movie star in the middle of the frame, medium shot, for every shot of the movie. Or the strangeness of the confrontation scene between Bertie and Lionel in the gardens, it was so bright and blown-out. Also, all the rooms in the film feel abnormally tall and narrow. I read an interview with Hooper where he attempted to explain these choices. He talked about trying to echo the tightness of Bertie’s throat with the narrowness of the rooms, and how the stutter would completely usurp the King’s presence, much like the colorful wall dominates Bertie’s presence in the therapy sessions. Fascinating to see a director try for that kind of subtle intent. I’d still argue that, stacked against the other directors this year (Aronofsky, Fincher, Nolan, Boyle, Russell), there is no way Hooper should have won the Directing Oscar.
The final speech in the movie is beautifully done, a model in effective editing, but my favorite moment from the film was a much smaller one. The first time Bertie and his wife go to see Lionel Logue, a young boy leaves a previous therapy session and stutteringly welcomes the royalty in. As the young boy struggles to get through the introduction, the camera cuts to Colin Firth’s face as he watches the boy. Firth doesn’t do anything overt, but he does have the most amazingly expressive eyes. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I felt like he was suddenly laid bare to the audience. I could see him silently encouraging the boy because he was seeing himself at that age; a hopeless stutterer, incapable of simple conversation. I could see pain at the memory of his younger self, fear that the boy wouldn’t make it through the introduction, and enormous sympathy for the boy and the trials to come. It was a quick shot, but beautiful and subtly played by Firth. Even more than his emotional breakdown with his wife, it was that quick shot of Bertie being faced with a ghost of his younger self that triggered a wave of empathy and remorse for the King’s situation. What a wonderful moment, I’m glad I was paying attention or I might have missed it!
-Tuesday, March 1st, 2011: OSCARS 2011 Review, 5 Days/5 Movie Moments: INCEPTION
I’m feeling like Christopher Nolan can almost do no wrong at this point, I mean, this guy is just firing on all cylinders. And based on the love he received in the speeches given by INCEPTION Oscar winners, he really is the prime motivator in all his films. Personally, I prefer THE DARK KNIGHT or INSOMNIA to this film, but the difference is slight. I won’t get into the whole dream-or-not argument about INCEPTION, but suffice to say, I thought it was fantastic. It is a complicated, loopy idea, but the film does a tremendous job of giving you just enough information to make it feel like it all makes sense. The score is lovely, the action is unique, and there are shots of such beauty in this film that I have never seen nor imagined before. However, I still feel like the heart sometimes eludes Nolan. His films can sometimes be cold. And despite the emotion between Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), and the father-son relationship between Cillian Murphy’s character and his father, I still wasn’t moved by those relationships. It’s possible I might have been too involved with the visuals and the plot of the film to give enough attention to the relationships.
Anyways, there are some amazing scenes in the movie. The hallway fight scene is breathtaking and the editing of the '4 kicks back to reality' sequence is wholly deserving of the Editing Oscar. But I was most moved by the ending of the film. I can see why there is controversy, and to be honest, I am not a huge fan of the ending myself. I like ambiguous endings, but I would have liked to have the camera stay on Cobb instead of moving to the totem top. Cobb is the heart of the film; let’s end on him, not the plot gimmick. Wouldn’t it be just as cool if the camera stayed on Cobb as he walks out of focus toward his children and we only heard the top still spinning? But what really knocked me back was what the ending says about Cobb. He spins the top, sees his children playing in the yard, and turns away from his totem. Cobb doesn’t care anymore whether he is in a dream or not, and I found that statement powerful. After spending so many years in limbo with Mal fighting to get her out of there, it’s his kids that truly hold sway on Cobb’s heart. The children, not Mal, are his breaking point, and if he can be with them again, nothing else in the world matters. Cobb completes his journey and finds out what he loves more than truth, and that’s kinda wonderful.