SQOG - the Sasquatch Blog (May 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.****

April 2011 posts

 

-Tuesday, May 31st, 2011: Book: HUNGER GAMES #3 - Mockingjay

MockingjayMore than the other books in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, the final book, MOCKINGJAY is for grownups. It is a harsh and brutal depiction of war and the suffering of survivors. There is no HARRY POTTER “All is well” ending here. Even years after the war between the Capitol and the Districts, the main characters in MOCKINGJAY are still damaged and struggling. There are such terrifying things that happen in this book, it is hard for me to imagine many young readers enjoying this. I can see why many view this final chapter of the trilogy as a failure, but I see it as the inevitable end to a series set in a terrifyingly brutal world. And if it weren’t for some of the dull and repetitive chapters that take place in District 13, I would rate this book as the best in the trilogy. Alas, as harsh and true as MONCKINGJAY is, it’s just not that fun to read. I really find it fascinating what is done to Peeta. By brainwashing him and twisting all of his memories so that he is horrified by Katniss, the District and the writers turn him into a twisted mirror for Katniss to stare into. Katniss is not a likable character, and Peeta gives voice to her and the readers’ doubts. Katniss does jerk Peeta and Gale around, refusing to commit to either one while also behaving in the most juvenile way possible when they are around. And Katniss is a wreck here, she spends nearly the entire book drugged up so she can cope with the horrors that she has witnessed. There was a revealing passage about Katniss, once Peeta returns, when she realizes that if their positions were reversed, Peeta would never give up on Katniss. At this point, she is angry at him and refuses to see him. It’s a slap to the face, how immature she is acting, and it finally motivates her to see him again.

There are some stunning moments in the book, unfortunately the ones that most stick out to me are the shocking and grotesque ones. As Peeta recovers, he plays a game with his comrades, ‘Real or not real,’ where he tries to figure out which of his memories are accurate or Capitol-planted lies. He stops for a moment, looking at one of the Avox cameramen near him, and tells a chilling story of a memory he has of two other Avoxes, both whom we have met in the previous books, being tortured to death near his cell. It is an awful story, describing a horrid end to two minor characters that deserved better. Everyone around Peeta is schocked into silence until Boggs, the squad leader, chokes out, “Real.” Later, there is a wonderful moment, which I think is the time where Katniss finally decides on who she wants, when Peeta is being pursued by the mutts and is in danger of slipping back into his Capitol-controlled mannerisms. Katniss crouches before him, gives him a big full kiss and repeats one of the phrases they said to each other from the first hunger games, “Stay with me.” This works, he regains control and whispers back the same answer, “Always.” Big, romantic moment, surrounded by death, kinda wonderful. I mentioned how I always liked the little mentions of future tech in these books, well MOCKINGJAY revels in examples of new technologies. The terrifying variety of traps that the pods spring upon Katniss and her squad are cunning and cruel. Barbed-wire nets, suffocating black fog, knife balls, skin-melting lasers, meat grinders, mutts, and a trap-door to hell. The pure ingenuity in these pods is amazing. Honestly, some of the pods reminded me of games we would play as children. You know, “…and suddenly, the floor beneath you is lava,” type games. And that gives this run-and-chase sequence through the Transfer a whole new level of disconcerting familiarity.

Once the squad has reached a safe point, Peeta and Gale have a fascinating discussion about Katniss that throws more light on her true intentions: that she will pair off with whomever she thinks will help her survive. Cold. And the final turns of the story are tremendous; the double-exploding parachutes that kill so many children, and Snow’s rocking revelation about who dropped those parachutes. These are major twists in the plot that do so much to deepen the complexities of the story-telling. No longer is Katniss on the side of Good squaring off against Snow and the forces of Evil. They are both fighting from positions of Grey, which serves to leach away the triumph from the Districts’ victory. And this is killer material; I love that twist, that we need to question the tactics of war and how we reach victory. Katniss needs to take a hard look at Gale and his sanctioned terrorist fighting methods as much as she needs to condemn Snow. This culminates with Katniss shooting dead the new ruler of Panem, President Coin, and it was really the only place the story could go. I mean, this is a Young Adult novel that is swimming with pessimism over human nature, saying that ‘peace’ doesn’t really exist, it’s just downtime between wars. Wow. That’s dark.

And so ends the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. As I reached the end of these books, I was reminded again just how odd these books are. The main characters are written simply, sometimes almost juvenilely, like the leads in a TWILIGHT novel, yet the world they are placed in is a violent and adult place that arguably is too mature for a young teenager to read about. Yet these books are marketed as YA novels. I mean, what it boils down to is that these books are about children murdering each other for sport. And yes, obviously the books go to great length to show how shocking this is, but the fact remains that this is a trilogy of childhood murder. And how about the movie adaptations? Will they be rated ‘R’? Do we want a series of movies out there about children being murdered for sport to be rated ‘PG-13’? I think these books stick a big toe into the very treacherous waters of media responsibility. If these books are marketed to the tween audience and anyone 13+ can see the movies, I feel like that is pushing it. And don’t tell me that books can’t warp young minds. I remember reading AMERICAN PSYCHO at the old age of 18 and the depravity and violence of that book made me think that I was going insane for a bit. Imagining those horrors made me feel like I was unlocking a door in my head that I might not be able to shut. The HG trilogy is still a far cry from the horrors of AP, but it’s something to talk about. Or maybe it's like the last words of MOCKINGJAY, "But there are much worse games to play." Maybe I’m just an old man yelling at windmills and those darned kids with their low-cut baggy jeans. I should stop. This is not great literature here, but the HUNGER GAMES trilogy is entertaining and has some transcendent moments of beauty and human insight. I do look forward to the films of this trilogy and just hope that they can do justice to those stunning moments.

 

-Friday, May 27th, 2011: REIGN OF FIRE - Matthew McConaughey

Napalm Dragons Van ZanOK, I know Matthew McConaughey gets a lot of crap these days, and for the most part, rightly so. His recent movies, which mostly seem to pair him up with Kate Hudson, are just awful. They exist merely as cinematic excuses to show off the McConaughey Abs which, to his credit, are pretty spectacular. He seems like he coasts through this life, without a care in the world, a charming Southern accent and an Airstream trailer his defense against the legions who would hate on a lazy millionaire. It’s an ingrained American trait; you work hard throughout your life and you will be rewarded. It goes against what we think of as the ‘path’ to see someone seemingly just fall into fame and fortune. We revolt against this, because if someone can be lazy, coasting on their genetic good looks, and still become rich, than why are we working so hard? Even though we are constantly told and taught throughout our lives that the world is cold and brutal, we need to believe that life is logical and fair or we slip into depression and anarchy. In his own small way, the career path of McConaughey goes against everything our society believes in, hence the level of vitriol raised against him and the public’s fascination when he was caught smoking pot, naked, while playing bongo drums. Our envy runs hot. Of course, I'm sure this is all a well-crafted publicity image crafted by the hundreds of PR experts under McConaughey's employ. I hope he does indeed work as hard as his job as he does on his abs. But McConaughey hasn’t always played it safe, or at least, his PR team once tried to craft a different image for him. One need only look at his insane character, ‘Denton Van Zan’ from REIGN OF FIRE, to see how crazy this actor can get. And yes, even as Van Zan, McConaughey's shirt does come off distrubingly often, despite the fact that everyone around him are wearing parkas.

Oh man, how can you hate on REIGN OF FIRE? Way before monster/comic/concept movies came back into vogue, this odd little movie made it out into the multiplexes in 2002. This movie belongs 8 years later, sandwiched between the CLOVERFIELDS, LORD OF THE RINGS, and DEEP BLUE SEA. Pure B-movie Mad-Maxian awesomeness. You can certainly tell that they were on a limited budget, which is why we have to spend so much time with the boring English refugees. But once Van Zan rolls into town, it is on. No matter what you can say about the rest of the film, the entire plot idea of using skydivers to take down dragons with big nets is ludicrously awesome, and also kind of brilliant. Just think about it, what an insane job for someone to volunteer for! The idea that people are actually sky-catching dragons instantly communicates through action, not words, how dire the situation is for humanity. But let’s get to Van Zan. McConaughey plays this cocky, bald, cigar-chomping American dragon-slayer like a sentient shot of testosterone. He pushes this character so far into parody and cliché that he comes out the other side an actual full character. And believe it or not, McConaughey is working hard here. Look at the scene where he insults the English (at 3:25 in) after losing a bunch of his men. Van Zan is living on the edge, and McConaughey piles so much mentally unstable energy into his lines, so much heaped disgust, that it is completely mesmerizing.  I also love the scene where he gets in a fistfight with Christian Bale (at 3:25 in). It’s such a cliché to have Van Zan bellow out shit like, “Now that’s the kind of passion I need!!” but McConaughey growls out these lines like he has been gargling gravel. It’s so far over-the-top, it’s cool again. And look how he strides away from the fight, like a lithe hooded cobra. And finally, his death scene (at 30 seconds in). Van Zan and his crew are attempting to take down the King Dragon with explosive arrows. When he misses with his arrow, Van Zan just hurls himself into the air, 20 stories above the ground, attacking the dragon with an axe. How was that supposed to end well?! An appropriately insane ending for this character. So yes, give McConaughey crap for the sell-out manner in which he currently makes his money, but let’s appreciate a couple nutso characters he has given us, especially, at the top of the pile, Van Zan, the balls-deep craziest dragon slayer ever seen.

 

 

-Thursday, May 26th, 2011: COUGAR TOWN - Grayson & Laurie

Grayson/Laurie One of the amusing titlesIt’s probably not too popular to say that I like this show, but COUGAR TOWN is a damn funny show. It’s weird, random, and energetic, with a comforting sense of family that has grown over the past two seasons. The argument can be made that it is not nearly as good as the show that precedes it, MODERN FAMILY, but I wouldn’t know, as I have still yet to start on the MF train. All I know is that CT is a breezy, light, and perfectly enjoyable way to spend 30 minutes. By this point, all the characters have gelled together and I particularly love how inappropriate the title of the show has become. In the opening credit sequence each week, the creators constantly harp on how bad the title is, dropping in little bon mots like, “Titles are Hard,” “We Should Call it Wine Time,” or “We should have live cougars on ….” Surprisingly, the least interesting character at the moment is Courtney Cox’s ‘Jules’. All her friends are hilarious, from Andy’s sexy-odd confidence and Bobby love to Ellie’s caustically hilarious one-liners. But there are two actors in the show who are really hitting their stride and delivering some hilarious performances every week.

First off is Josh Hopkins as the bartender, ‘Grayson.’ He used to be this closed-off, jail-bait player, but since Grayson has started seriously dating Jules, the Cul-de-sac Crew have slowly been loosening him up, to the point where he has become just as weird as the rest of the group. There were a couple moments late in this season that were classic, need-to-rewind-that jokes involving Grayson. In one episode, he had Lou Diamond Phillips in his bar, but was trying to act really cool and removed. But as soon as Phillips turned his back, Grayson erupted in this silent orgy of excitement, complete with fist pumps, finger-points, and imaginary high fives. But of course, as soon as Philips turned back around, Grayson had transformed back into the cool, detached, unimpressed-by-celebrities bartender. Just good, solid physical comedy. I also love it whenever he mimics the laid-back speech manners of Jules’ son, Travis, and when he finished the Elmo song a few episodes ago in a boisterous falsetto, that just cemented my admiration for Grayson. I also like what they have done with his back story. Grayson was coldly abandoned by his wife a few years back and that destroyed him. Now he is back in a committed relationship and is really truly ready to have kids. It’s nice to see the man in a relationship excited to procreate, rather than the other way around. It is bringing tension to the Jules/Grayson relationship, but its being handled in a surprisingly mature manner. Even while Jules is taking gulps from her gigantic-sized wine glass, Big Carl (RIP Big Joe!), and the rest of the crew is creeped out by chalk children.

Even more so than Josh Hopkins, Busy Phillips is killing it as the group’s young, outlandishly trashy Valley girl, ‘Laurie’. I remember Busy from way back as one of the stars of FREAKS & GEEKS. I can’t remember it too well, but I do recall that she had some fantastic scenes in that show as the bitchy high school girl. There was one scene in F&G where she was pretending to come on to the lead kid, and it was a tremendous performance in that you could see how well her character performed the ‘role’ of hot and mean high school girl. It was a revelatory scene, announcing that Phillips was someone to keep an eye on. Then, she disappeared for a long time. Yeah, she did DAWSON’S CREEK for a bit, then an odd short stint as the pregnant next-door neighbor in TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, but nothing major. Well, Busy is back! Laurie is such a personality; a strange mix of dumb, crafty, hot, and loyal. Her love/hate relationship with Ellie is one of the show’s strongest dynamics, and the revealing morsels of her messed-up, drunken frat-fighting history are just awesome. She had this one moment a couple episodes where she was attempting to describe a situation to Jules, saying, “It’s like when you hook up with a dude and you wake up the next morning and he’s gone and there’s just a note on your pillow that says, ‘Last night was fun. Call me next time you’re in Tampa.’ And you’re like what? I’m in Tampa?!” You kind of have to see Busy perform this. I love that long pause after she says “And you’re like what?” The audience just has no clue as to where this odd duck character is going to go from there, and her close to that line is possibly my favorite Laurie moment so far. COUGAR TOWN will never go down in my entertainment books as the best of anything, but it is reliably funny, odd, and comforting. Its unchallenging television, with likable characters and a supportive family dynamic. I don’t always need darkness, mythology, and drama. I will keep DVRing this show and always be on the watch for the Lou Diamond Phillips approved version of PENNY CAN!!

 

-Wednesday, May 25th, 2011: TARTAKOVSKY STAR WARS - Mace Windu

Bad-ass MaceAs much as everyone is hyped about the HANGOVER 2, I am buoyed by the fact that it seems like just as many are excited about KUNG FU PANDA 2 (Skidoooooosh!) which also opening this weekend. The reviews for KFP2 are surprisingly good, and I hope they dazzle us with just as much inventive action and Jack Black humor. Somehow, Jack Black is so much more palatable when animated as a giant panda, speaking in awestruck geek tones about the wonders of kung fu. The visuals were a blast in the first one, and none more evocative than the prison escape by Tai Lung. But I also loved that the tone was never heavy. Like the final fight, where Po is actually having a blast with his blubbery invulnerability and the music is mostly jaunty and fun. Not every finale fight needs to be world-threateningly dark and grim. Plus, every move and visual is so clever, the music just plays into how much fun the audience is having. And there is just no one better to voice a villain than Ian McShane (“He’s a panda-you’re a Panda!!”). Anyways, there were a couple reviews of KFP2 that spoke about how awesome the animated actions is, comparing it to the action in a certain episode of the first series of STAR WARS: CLONE WARS cartoon shorts that were done in 2003 by Genndy Tartakovsky. Quite a segue, I know. I thought these short cartoons were excellent when they came out. At the time, this was the first ‘new’ material that we were getting from the STAR WARS universe that wasn’t the awful prequel films. It was so refreshing to see STAR WARS material tackled from a different artistic approach. Tartakovsky is most remembered for his cartoon series, SAMURAI JACK, which was masterful in its minimalist approach to dialogue. The best of the SW shorts, the Mace Windu episode, is very similar in presenting an action scene in a new and exciting manner.

Wow, does Mace Windu come off as a bad-ass in this short! Makes one pissed off that he was killed so easily by an old man in the prequels. The lines are simple and angular, allowing one to focus more on the plot. I love the simplicity and brazenness of the Droid weapon. It is just a big damn pneumatic piston that slams the ground and everything beneath it into pulp. But I love the dichotomy of animating a ridiculously unrealistic hammer weapon with the completely realistic and awesome dirt shock wave that expands outwards away from the weapon’s ground zero. By infusing a small touch of reality in the consequence, it is that much easier for an audience to accept the audaciousness of the cause. That said, its when Mace Windu eventually really goes to town at about 3:00 in, that the short takes off. Tartakovsky is so good at the pauses in the action. Think about the half second before the droid’s hammer crashes down. Or the way Windu’s eyes move for a second before he engages in battle. I know that one of George Lucas’ problems with the STAR WARS world as a whole was reigning in the capabilities of the Jedi Knights. Make them to powerful and skilled with the Force, then it becomes hard to imagine that they were beaten in the first place. Well, Tartakovsky’s Mace Windu is exactly that kind of god-like powerful being that Lucas had to fight against in order to create a theoretically possible world. I mean, Windu basically takes down an entire army singlehandedly here! But his cool cape gets ragged, so he's totally vulnerable. Right? I understand the point about limiting the Jedis’ powers, but man is it fun to see this short cartoon just go off the rails. My favorite moment has to be at about 4:30, when Windu instantaneously removes all the bolts from a drone, causing it to collapse, then he uses the bolts as shrapnel to shred more approaching drones. And he does most of this while missing his lightsaber. The end is a little hokey, with the boy and the water, especially with that banal music, but I liked how we saw the boy’s hair ruffle, and then looked to see Windu already in mid-pounce, descending like a bird of prey onto the battlefield below. Even though this action sequence was created only about 8 years ago, I feel like it really laid the groundwork for much of the action we see in cartoons today. And if KUNG FU PANDA 2 can give me even a taste of the Tartakovskian epic sweep in its battle scenes, well then damn dude, I am in!

 

-Tuesday, May 24th, 2011: Book: HUNGER GAMES #2 - Rising Fire

#2 Huh?I was all set today to write a nice post about the most memorable moments of the 2nd HUNGER GAMES book, CATCHING FIRE, but then this news came out today. Lenny Kravitz will be playing ‘Cinna,’ Katniss’ noble stylist, in the HG movie. WHA??? The sexy smooth ‘American Woman’ rocker is going to play one of the book’s most humble, moral, and beloved characters?! I’m just not getting this. I feel like there was a mistake in the news release, like Stanley Tucci was supposed to play ‘Cinna,’ and that we’ll all have a good laugh once this is figured out. The image that I have of Kravitz from his music and interviews is that this is a guy all about ego and id, all posturing testosterone. And he has only done one movie before this, so I am not confident that he will be able to act out a role so different from his public persona. Now, I did think he did a pretty nice and subtle job in his few short scenes in PRECIOUS. But even those scenes, where he was playing a decent and supportive nurse, were still all about the sexual magnetism that he casts about him. Cinna is nothing like that! I guess I have to trust that Gary Ross sees something in Kravitz that is not apparent to the rest of us. Fine I guess, its just that even if Kravitz steps to the plate and delivers a compelling performance as Cinna, his performance is still going to feel like stunt name casting. Why not get someone new, someone that can be Cinna without any outside baggage, and without singing the inevitable HG theme song over the credits. Hmmm, very confused here.

Ignoring the strange bit of casting news, I do enjoy CATCHING FIRE and think that it has some of the strongest moments in the trilogy. Plus, that island-clock hunger game arena set up for the Quarter Quell is insanely cool. There are a few moments that really touched me in this book, and I like how they range from small to big to small, demonstrating a variety of tones that Suzanne Collins strikes. In the opening chapters, Katniss’ prep team comes to prepare for her tour of the districts. At one point, Katniss’ damaged and withdrawn mother comes into the room saying that Cinna asked her to show the prep team how to do Katniss’ hair. She shows them how to do the elaborate hairstyle that she did for Katniss on the day of the reaping. Though the team is pure-bred Capitol elitists, they stare with wonder at the hairstyle the mother designs. Admiration for talent and skill can cross class lines. What a wonderful and caring thing for Cinna to do, honoring Katniss by allowing her mother to feel useful and talented in the eyes of the design team. Later in the book, I love the big buildup of unity that the tributes show in their interviews, culminating in the lovely and stunning moment when Katniss twirls in the Cinna-modified wedding dress and the dress burns away, transforming her into the mockingjay. What an evocative moment, one that should look tremendous on film. I said that was the culmination, but really, the chapter just keeps upping the stakes, with Peeta ‘revealing’ that Katniss is pregnant, and finally, the brutal beating of Cinna as Katniss is lifted into the arena. These scenes fly by in a rush, there is so much happening and such an exhilaration as we fly headfirst into the games with Katniss’ great line, “This is no place for a girl on fire.” This is all heavy, world-breaking stuff, as we realize that the Capitol and thw Districts are truly going to war.

Finally, I love the little moment in the arena, when the female morphling sacrifices herself to save Peeta from the murderous monkeys (can’t believe I just wrote that!). Peeta sits on the beach with the dying waste of a woman and tells her about his love of painting. We haven’t seen much of these drug addicts from District 6, in fact, the only thing made clear about them is that they love paint and camouflage. Peeta shows such mercy for this stranger, describing how it feels for him to paint sunlight on white fur or how hard it is to catch the subtlety of a rainbow. He enables the morphling to die warmly wrapped up in images of her passion, and the last thing he does is compliment her on her flower finger painting. What a tender moment, surrounded by death, killer mist, and pissed-off monkeys. The pure heart that Peeta displays here made me even angrier at Katniss for refusing to return his feelings. She isn’t good enough for him, not by a long shot. As I mentioned in the last blog about the HG books, I love the future tech that is peppered throughout these books, and we get more cool new stuff here. Those different trials in the ingeniously torturous water arena are insane; the killer mist, psycho monkeys, and that terrifying chapter spent trapped with the screaming jabberjays. And we never find out what chewed up one of the tributes in the jungle, as Finnick says, “Probably something with pincers.” Shudder. The ending is a little rushed, really an abrupt cliffhanger, but what comes before is so good, I just don’t care. But I love those moments above, its those sometimes little details that give the books heart and make you yearn for these characters’ survival. These moments really brought this book home for me, and easily make this my favorite book of the trilogy.

 

 

 

-Monday, May 23rd, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - P4

Freaky Mermaids Tweedle-Dum & DeeWell, that sucked. I don’t hold the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films up to rigorous film standards, not at all, but the latest entry in this series, ON STRANGER TIDES, was just missing so much of the fun. None of the sequels hold a candle to the 1st film, but I still loved the whimsy and overall strangeness that Gore Verbinski brought to the 2nd and 3rd films. Yes, DEAD MAN’S CHEST and AT WORLD’S END both had ridiculously complicated plots and near-incomprehensible mythology, but they still had the scoundrel-y feel of epic adventure epitomized by the oft-repeated refrain, “Take everything, give nothing back!” And they were still creative. Can anything compete for pure oddity with that rock crab scene in the 3rd film? Or the Keaton-esque hijinks in the wheel-fight scene in the 2nd film? Hell, I even started to give a damn about the Will/Elizabeth romance with that wonderfully romantic ’10 Years Later’ epilogue in the 3rd film. In addition, that wonderful ‘eye-of-storm’ death sequence for the Lord Beckett in #3 was stunning.

But if I had to sum up the feel I got from the 4th film, it would be: Small. These films should be big, bold, brash, and unapologetically weird. This one had none of those qualities. I still enjoy watching Johnny Depp mince his way through this role, and Geoffrey Rush’s ‘Barbossa’ is the true unheralded hero of this series, so I loved the scenes that were all about these two characters and the predicament they would get themselves into. But man, how much cooler would Barbossa’s leg story have been if that had been filmed for the opening of the film. The scene would have established Blackbeard as a palpably evil presence from the first frame. I mean, he made one of our lead characters cut his own leg off, how badass could this pirate be! For the most part, the action scenes all fell flat. I mean, take the fight between Jack and Angelica in the kitchen. All I could think about during this scene is how much more entertaining the choreography was when this was a fight between Jack and Will in the 1st film. The movie tried to introduce a new Will/Elizabeth romance with the missionary and the mermaid, but since that relationship moved so ridiculously quickly, there was never any time to feel for the two characters. The locations didn’t stun me like they did in the last three films; it felt like there was a very limited budget for helicopter camera work.

OK, I’ve shit enough, but there was one thing that worked awesomely well in this movie: the mermaids. That was the one exciting action scene because it was new and creepy. I loved that scene with the men in the dinghy, waiting for the mermaids. They didn’t see the first mermaid come out of the water; suddenly she is just perched on the side of the dinghy, beautiful and inviting. Then the other mermaids come up and I loved that shot of all their tails slowly treading water beneath the dinghy. The music is used to creepy and awestruck effect in this scene and you can see how the men could fall for these deadly beauties. Then the action starts and it is brutal. The mermaids have this sticky rope stuff that they spit out and use to coil the men in to their deaths. Then, the mermaids actually take out an entire freakin’ ship! Wow, I had no idea they were that strong an enemy, and it was and even more powerful moment to have the massacre occur at a distance from the main group on shore. Plus, it’s a great moment for Barbossa. He sees his ship go down, but convinces his men that the screams of the dying shipmates are just the calls of seagulls. Spine-tingling. There was also a cute moment right at the end when it looks like Jack and Angelica are about to kiss, then the score music abruptly stops and Jack runs away. I liked how the music played a large part of that moment. Otherwise, this was a sad and dull entry into the POC series, and I can only hope they find some inspiration for the next adventure. And there will be a next adventure, mostly because in one weekend, PIRATES 4 made $250 million overseas!! I know foreign box office is every studio’s greatest weapon, but damn, I have never heard of a single movie making that much money outside of the US in one weekend. This little fact was eye-opening for me, and should accelerate the studios’ march towards foreign markets.

One note about this movie, I am slamming P4, but I don’t want to come off like I am slamming the director, Rob Marshall. I worked closely with Rob for a couple years when I was his assistant on MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. He is a strong filmmaker with a passion for crafting projects to his own creative vision. Quotes like “Marshall has a singular knack for stripping this film of even its most basic propulsive interest,” from Entertainment Weekly and “Marshall: who specializes in turning well-loved pieces of popular art (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Nine“) into tedious, literal-minded prestige movies,” from The New York Times, are just unfair. The PIRATES movies are assembly-line constructions, made by committee, geared towards eliminating the auteur behind the scenes while still holding him accountable to the public. Except for the mermaid sequence, I just don’t feel Rob’s hand in any of the major scenes, and while he isn’t blameless for this tepid piece of cinema, he certainly isn’t the only one responsible. Here’s hoping his next film allows Rob’s voice to truly come through in a film that he is both passionate and suited to make.

 

 

 

-Friday, May 20th, 2011: BATMAN - TDK & TKDR Picture Tease

Tom Hardy as BaneTHE DARK KNIGHT RISES started filming this week and obviously, when you are making a sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time, any news from the production is treated like the moon landing. I’m an enormous fan of THE DARK KNIGHT, despite its flawed climax, and I can’t wait for the final chapter in the Nolan trilogy. TDK was kind of a cosmic convergence between a stunning script, a passionate director, a unique soundtrack, and a once-in-a-lifetime posthumous performance by Heath Ledger. The script is complex and nuanced; I am still amazed how it really felt like Gotham was an entire city under siege. It was epic and scary that all of Gotham would be held hostage by one brilliant madman. And I particularly loved how the script refused to tell us the Joker origins. It would have been so easy to include backstory, but I love it how he has different stories about his facial scars, it feels scarier and more epic that the Joker has no history and is just a malevolent force that he will always just be there.  After setting the stage with BATMAN BEGINS and getting all the world introductions out of the way, Nolan really cut loose here. He was able to dive into the darkness that his films so often play with, with an unlimited amount of money and studio support. I always look at that one shot, of Joker driving the police car with his head out the window. The sound is turned down; it’s just the moody soundtrack and this look of peace on the deformed face of a murderer. To me, that is Nolan’s money shot, the shot that got him on board for a trilogy of Batman films. The music by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer is new, I especially like that rising guitar growl that is just so perfect in the tense scene between Joker and Rachel at 1:50. It’s hard to watch, but the music, that squirmy move from Gyllenhaal, and that ever-circling camera really tightens the screw. Ledger’s performance is just mind-altering. It’s campy, but since the Joker is such a realistic and terrifying threat here, the theatrical nature of the performance so works. And I literally cannot see Heath Ledger in this role. Seriously, my mind can’t quite connect the fact that this is the same actor from 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, A KNIGHTS TALE, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and THE PATRIOT. Just doesn’t compute. He buried himself so far into the depravity of Joker that the actor just ceases to exist on-screen. Even in that brief flash in the street where Joker is no longer wearing his makeup, I still can’t get my mind to wrap around the fact that this is Heath Ledger. And in the scene where Joker has taken a Batman-wannabe hostage and his videotape is playing on the news, when Ledger grunts, “Look at me,” to his hostage, I was terrified. That deranged voice doesn’t sound human, like its coming from the depths of hell, and I actually whipped around in the theater to look behind me, the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I felt like that voice tapped into that caveman flee-the-big-freaking-tiger instinct in my brain. Stunning work. The only problem I really have with the movie is that final confrontation with Two-Face. Two-Face is too big a villain to die at the end, there is so much more to explore with his duality. I love the dialogue in that scene, between those three Gotham pillars: Batman, Dent, Gordon. Epic city-wide shit is going down here, conversations about how Gotham can recover when its White Knight, the one considered to be “the best of us,” is tarnished. I’m not quite sure what I am trying to say here, just that the climax felt rushed and inadequate. I think more people would have a problem with this climax if the film didn’t close out with such a kick-ass sequence. Batman, a fleeing fugitive, driving his Batcycle into the light as The Dark Knight. Oooooh, I still get shivers!

But back to Bane. TDK had a fantastic viral marketing campaign that slowly revealed the villains of its plot. And TDKR is following the same playbook. Now, I still don’t think any picture could top the Joker reveal last time around. That sloppy makeup and the facial scars caused fandom to erupt in a joygasm. This pic of Bane is not as game-changing, but it still continues to follow the Nolan credo that these movies exist in a ‘real’ world. It’s stark and simple, and I like that. Now, I’m still not sure how Nolan is going to integrate Catwoman into a realistic Gotham, but I trust him enough to know that he will. But look at those insanely bulging muscles, that skeleton-grip facemask, the freaky baldness on Bane. This roided-up behemoth is the stuff of nightmares. Frankly, he looks like a lifetime-imprisoned child molester. As the first reveal, I think this is pretty good. I think its simplicity is trying to get the fans to settle down a bit. There is no way Nolan can top himself here, yet the fans expect something transcendent. In all reality, we’ll get a better RETURN OF THE JEDI. By paring Bane down, I think Nolan is just trying to send a message that he will be working in the same universe, but that we should lower our expectations a bit. Joker is a feast of a character for a movie to play with. And even though Batman’s gallery of villains is arguably considered to be the best and most varied in all superhero comics, no one can touch the combination of Ledger/Joker. So, while I’m still super excited, I get it. I just want another play in the Batman hay with a passionate director and an adequate screenplay that wraps up this trilogy. That’s all I ask!

 

 

 

-Thursday, May 19th, 2011: KEVIN RANKIN - Everyone's Character Actor

Rankin on TRAUMA Rankin smile on FNLI sat down the other weekend to a long overdue day of television viewing. It was a glorious day of ass-fattening Triscuits, bree, and milkshakes, and you need one of those days every now and then. I was flipping over a wide variety of television shows that day and I must have seen Kevin Rankin in about half of them. Seriously, this guy is the ultimate modern television character actor. Look at this partial list of shows that he has guest starred in: BUFFY, NYPD BLUE, OC, WITHOUT A TRACE, SIX FEET UNDER, BONES, CSI, GREYS ANATOMY, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, JUSTIFIED, TRAUMA, BIONIC WOMAN, BIG LOVE. There are more, but wow, here is someone who likes to work! I like Rankin’s style. He mostly tends to play scruffy, low-class Southern trash characters, but he has certainly expanded that repertoire over the years. He keeps trying to get a steady television job, but his shows keep getting cancelled. I thought he was the best part (which isn’t saying a whole lot) of BIONIC WOMAN as the hilarious ‘Q’ of the spy agency and he was excellent as the gay ambulance driver in the beautifully-shot though dreadfully plotted TRAUMA. I especially liked his character in the latter series; he was a loud-mouthed but loyal adrenaline-spiked nutjob who fed off the rush of ambulance driving. I’m not sure that it was a sustainable character, but he certainly made an impression in a role that was different from the ones he usually plays. And when he popped back up in JUSTIFIED this season as ‘Devil,’ well, it just made the finale of that show all the more satisfying knowing his devious character was involved.

But what I and hopefully most people remember Rankin from is his role as the wheelchair-bound ‘Herc’ in the excellent first season of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. When Jason Street is crippled, he and Herc form an uneasy friendship in therapy as Jason attempts to join Herc on his wheelchair basketball team. Herc really pushes Jason, reminding him that, yes, his life has completely changed and he can’t expect his girlfriend to stick around for him, that life pretty much sucks. It’s a delicate balance that Rankin strikes with Herc, he can’t be too cruel, but he cares enough about Jason to try and help him through patches that maybe Herc didn’t handle very well himself. In the 8th episode I think, “Crossing the Line,” Herc and Jason have two amazing scene that depend all on Rankin. The first is in the hospital hallway, and Herc is haranguing Jason about his girlfriend and how he is going to lose her. They bang each other’s chairs and fall over in the hallway. Jason asks if Herc knows a secret way to get back up. Herc snidely responds that he does, then starts hollering for the orderly. They both start laughing, splayed on the ground, bellowing the orderly’s name. It’s subtly uplifting moment, both of them finding a little bit of levity even though their broken bodies are crumpled on the ground. Later in the episode, Herc and Jason are on opposite teams in a game of wheelchair basketball. It gets brutal, and the two guys are getting really intense and competitive. Jason scores a goal and mockingly throws the ball and it bounces off of Herc’s head. Herc looks around, pissed, and sees Jason laughing, not in a mocking way, but with joy. This is Jason’s first triumphant moment since he was paralyzed and he is momentarily exultant. Herc sees this and his face instantly changes and now he is laughing along with Jason, joining him in a fleeting moment of triumph. Rankin does this change so well, showing the depth of feeling and worry that he has for Jason. He’s above petty competition and knows that a victory for one of them is a victory for them all. And I love it how the rough visuals of FNL rack into a great focus on Herc's face just as he starts smiling, stunning direction there. These two moments are what really sucked me into FNL for the remainder of the series. I do wish Kevin Rankin could finally find a stable television series to join, but as long as he continues to give us characters as deep and rewarding as Herc, I’ll watch him anywhere, in any show he does.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, May 18th, 2011: CASINO ROYALE - Parkour Fight

Not THE stunt, but still awesomeThe 1st Bond re-boot with Daniel Craig, CASINO ROYALE was on the other night, and damn this is a great action movie. I was a little confused in the first place that they decided to reboot Bond. The last Brosnan Bond film, the one with ice and Halle Berry, was the highest grossing Bond film in history. Yes, the reboot allows us to go back to origins and establish a bit more rugged/realism feel, but I love that the tone remains relatively light and sexy. Because that is the key to Bond. It can never be as serious as BOURNE, which I think was part of the problem with QUANTUM OF SOLACE, a film that I absolutely detest for what it did to Bond. Seriously, I truly hate QOS, it ditches every wonderful thing from CR, and also introduces freakin’ shaky-cam fights. Anyways, CASINO ROYALE keeps things fun even during the bullets, broads, and bloodshed. Martin Campbell also directed the previous Bond re-boot film, GOLDENEYE. Even though these movies are wildly different films, I still think they are both the most successful Bond films of their era. Campbell just has a great sense of real action and the fun sexy Bond we come to the theater for. I love that CASINO ROYALE takes a timeout for an extended poker game (albeit, with plenty of action during the game), and that it shows Bond being his usual witty, and playful self, especially in all those sequences set down at the resort in the Bahamas. It is so much fun to watch Bond show up at a ritzy resort with just a cell phone and a crappy rental car, and then leave a few days later with an Aston Martin, a hot girl, and the information he was searching for. Daniel Craig is fantastic in his lighter moments, he is reckless and over-confident, but completely magnetic. He’s ripped beyond belief and strangely comedic and unhinged in his gruesome torture sequence. Craig in this film is that rare thing all studios search for: A man that women want to sleep with and guys want to be. In QOS Craig is a damn robot. The reboot starts with how he becomes a 00 in a great black and white prologue, but it really hooked me by introducing the audience to an entirely new form of action with the crane parkour chase.

We’ve all seen the videos of parkour, or free running, a weird kind of sport invented by the French, where people run around and find creative and rhythmic/organic ways in which to climb/jump obstacles. Not the best explanation. You’d have to watch Michael Scott explain parkour to truly understand it. Anyways, it is a cool-looking urban sport and the stunt guys on CASINO ROYALE decided to try something new and incorporate this form of movement into their Moroccan fight sequence. They hired a famed free-runner, Sebastien Foucan, and cast him as the bomb-maker, then fashioned a chase between Bond and Foucan that moved in all directions through a construction site. It is truly an exhilarating sequence; it’s physical and beautiful while also being tense and jaw-droppingly awesome. I love that even though Foucan is superior in speed and mobility to Bond, Bond is able to use wits to catch up to Foucan. When Foucan climbs wires to the top of a crane, Bond jump on a wire elevator to take him to the top. Foucan shimmies through a high hole in a drywall, while Bond just smashes through the wall. I mean, that is the essence of Bond right there; he is never as big as the Big Bads, but he can always out-smart them. And all this action in the crane chase is done in reasonably long takes, no smash-cuts to deceive the audience. The most impressive thing in here is the crane jump at 4:50. How on earth did they do that?!? In a held shot, Foucan jumps down from one crane to another, then jumps from the crane to a small building. It is an incredible shot, and I can only deduce that there must have been even higher cranes above the stuntmen that kept them wired somehow. Boggles the mind. Bond does as best as he can to follow, but gets a lot more beat up than Foucan does, and once again, that plays into Bond’s character. And none of this comes off as silly or superhuman somehow, it all looks possible. I’m mostly referring to the parkour work in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, which looked so fake and wire/CGI-assisted that the audience that I was with burst out laughing every time the ‘parkour-guy’ showed up onscreen. I always love when the big-budget action movie guys actually stretch their minds a little bit and try something creative. They all specialize in cliché, because that’s what worked before, but every now and then, something new happens and breathes fresh air into tired action. Well done to the stunt teams on CR for trying something new and dangerous instead of filming a rote action scene that they could have done in their sleep. Great action, great movie, and a hell of a well-done reboot.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, May 17th, 2011: SMALLVILLE - Series Finale

CoolWheeeee, and so begins television finale season! A time where series cast off the filler stalling techniques used to stretch a story over 24 episodes and get to the good stuff. A time when writers get to right cliffhangers and death, a time when shit actually happens! I could argue about how restrictive the season format developed in network television has become; how all the momentous moments in network television are now only supposed to happen during sweeps in order to garner the best ratings. But now is not the time nor place, though I continue to get more and more impressed by Joss Whedon and his BUFFY 2nd season episode ‘Passions,’ an episode that shockingly killed off a major character during the February network doldrums of 1998. Tangent, okay, back to series finales! As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, SMALLVILLE has had a creative resurgence in Season 10, enlivened by a set end-date that has allowed the show runners to pace out the steps that Clark Kent takes to finally emerge as Superman. The love story between Lois and Clark has been fun and poignant, mostly because Erica Durance’s performance as Lois Lane has been so incredibly good and spot-on. It doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning as well and had an unforgettable entrance into the show back in Season 4. I’ve slogged through some pretty crappy times with this show. Once Michael Rosenbaum’s ‘Lex’ left the show, SMALLVILLE lost some of its most important storylines about how your upbringing defines who you become. Without Lex to exist as Clark’s dark mirror, the show lost much of its epic sweep. And the endless drawing out of the Clark/Lana Lang relationship resulted in countless wasted television hours. I feel bad for Kristin Kreuk, the actress who played ‘Lana Lang,’ because her character has been rightly vilified by nearly all the fans of this show. Her character was anything the writers needed her to be week to week, resulting in more of a basket of character traits instead of a fully-drawn character. Annoying.

But finally, the 2-hour series finale of SMALLVILLE. Wow, this thing was corny, epic, romantic, and juvenile all at the same time. To steal the words from another critic, it was goose-bumpingly geektastic! There were moments that were breathtaking, that truly touched into the enduring saga of the best Superman tales. And some that exemplified the worst clichés of WB teenage drama. In short, pretty much a microcosm of the 10-year show itself. I loved how the writers managed to bring the big fan favorites back; Lex and Lionel, Martha and Jonathan, Chloe, Jimmy Olsen (or his brother), Perry White, though fortunately no Lana! Ultimately, the Big Bad of the season, Darkseid, was a complete bust. He was just a vague smoky presence, shades of LOST’s MIB. Oliver took out Darkseid’s powerful 3 acolytes with nothing more than an easy arrow shot, Lionel and the planet Apokolips were defeated when Clark basically pushed them over, and the humanity’s dark Omega signs were erased because why again? Because Apokolips moved away and the entirety of humanity became pure people? Confused. No, I was much more interested in Lex and Clark, and the scene between the two in the ruins of the Luthor mansion was fantastic. It reminded me of the good old days between these two, and the way Lex promised to be Clark’s enemy all while he was persuading Clark to stand up against Darkseid was fittingly twisted and tragic. And I was heavily invested in Lois and Clark. I loved how Lois read Clark’s vows in the middle of the Daily Planet bullpen, everyone was brushing by her, but she was lost in her own little world when she read Clark’s words. Having her sit right up and say, “I’m an idiot,” while Chloe gave thin wonderfully pure smile from off-stage was fantastic. I liked the scene between Clark and Lois and the door, especially watching Tom Welling’s face change as he read Lois’s red-penned vows, but I was distracted by the extraneous Michael Bay-like camera movement. The scene is about emotion guys, we don’t need to spice things up here, let the actors act! I had also forgotten how much Annette O’Toole and John Schneider had brought to the table as Clark’s parents. It was fitting that the shoe-horned in Jonathan Kent, even if he was just a ghost, but I was unexpectedly touched by a small Martha moment in the church scene. She sits down in her pew, a big empty spot next to her where Jonathan should have been. Martha looks over quickly and does a really small thing with her face. It looks like she has this moment a million times a day when she is reminded of her dead husband, hit suddenly with a small amount of both hot pain and warm memories. It’s a really quick bit, but I was struck by Martha’s grief and strength here. A subtle moment in a bombastic finale.

Moving Clark towards his transformation into Superman was adequately handled. It was a little strange how Clark had his breakthrough moment with his father all in the space of a split-second after being hit by Lionel/Darkseid. What caused Jor-El to reveal all in that moment? Either way, it was nice to have Clark go through his memories of the last 10 years, to realize that he is a stronger man when remembering where he came from, and it’s this realization that allows him to fly. Combined with the strains of John Williams’ iconic score, this was all still very awesome and spine-tingling stuff. Now, from what I have read, it seems that it there is a very fine legal line that SMALLVILLE was walking in terms of its ability to show Tom Welling in the Superman outfit. We as the audience desperately want a big heroic full-body shot of Welling as Superman, a culmination of a 10-year tease, but we don’t get it. And that shot is missed. We see Clark in facial close-up or from a distance, but it’s not the same thing. Understandable that it’s a legal issue, but damn. Though I really loved the moment between Lois and Clark through the plane window, when Lois is seeing Clark as the embodiment of the hero she always knew he would be. Durance sold the hell out of that. And while I thought the 7 year flash-forward was an interesting idea, the problem is that it brought up too many questions! Why on earth has it taken 7 years for Lois and Clark to get back to the alter?? Is Oliver still around, or is he dead? But great call-back to an earlier season when Lex saw his future as president. And that wonderfully cheesy, but smile-inducing last shot of Clark walking in slow-mo across the Daily Planet roof, ripping off his shirt to reveal the Superman logo as the music kicks in. I was grinning like a fool, rolling my eyes, but still thinking oh mighty balls, YES! Oh, and Tess died, though it was really kind of an afterthought for an ill-defined character (even though she has had some pretty good Season 10 moments, one that I’ll revisit sometime soon). Never remotely boring, mostly fun as hell, corny, and epic, the SMALLVILLE series finale was a fitting end for a 10-year series. This was never a show I deeply loved, but under the cliché and cheese, there were always some wonderful moments that could send a shiver down your spine. I often thought about quitting this show, but there is just something so comfortable and familiar and wholesome about SMALLVILLE and the Superman mythos, that I kept coming back. And I’m a sucker for trashy slo-mo fight scenes(check out Clark’s kick-ass upright fist punch at 1:35). I’ll miss parts of the show, but it was time to end. And what better way to end a show than with possibility; with Lois and Clark’s biggest adventures yet to come.

 

 

 

-Monday, May 16th, 2011: Book: HUNGER GAMES #1 - Silence

#1Is this the first book I've written about here?? That's embarrassing, I used to be such a big reader when I was younger, but work, friends, etc, take up the time. But last weekend I went through a really crappy airport situation at JFK, literally dozens of hours twiddling my thumbs, so I went back and burned through the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I know, I know, these Stephen King ‘The Long Walk’/BATTLE ROYALE-ripoff YA books don't really count as novels, but I did forget that there are actually quite a lot of potent moments in their pages. I'm not a huge fan of the love triangle between Katniss, Gabe, and Peeta. Way too TWILIGHT-y for my taste. Katniss is just so clueless about the boys in her life, and the triangle is filled with just enough drama to fill one book, not three. It gets old very fast. Despite her inability to figure out something fairly simple, Katniss is a wondrously complex and cool character. What I love most about Katniss is that Suzanne Collins never shies away from how damaged Katniss becomes. By the 3rd book, there are times when Katniss is a barely functioning mental patient. These books are simple. There is no complicated narrative binding like there is in HARRY POTTER, everything is presented rather bluntly. But sometimes simple can evoke powerful emotions. As is often the case, the first book is the most solid and complete. It tells a full tale, and could have stood on its own as a one-off in a strange, kind of familiar world. Even if Collins isn’t trying to break new boundaries in terms of plot or relationships, it helps that she is quite creative when it comes to the future technology. I love the cool technology treats that Collins peppers into the plotline. In this first book, the tracker jackers, mockingjays, and mutts are terrifying concepts because it’s not too much of a stretch to see bio-weapons like these developed in our lifetimes. In a similar way, I love the description of the dress that Cinna makes for Katniss. Is her costume really that different than a Lady Gaga outfit?

I had forgotten how strongly the first book starts. There isn’t a whole lot of information given about the 12 Districts and the Capital here, but the stakes are already high and the Reaping carries with it a heavy tragedy. Already, in the 2nd chapter, the seeds are being laid for the rebellion. The best part is when Katniss volunteers to go into the Hunger Games in place of her sister, Prim, and the Effie Trinket asks for a big round of applause from the audience. There is dead silence, “…they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.” Then the crowd does their traditional but funereal 3-finger salute to Katniss. Then Haymitch drunkenly stumbles off the platform, breaking the tension. Looking back, Haymitch doesn’t look so bumbling, in fact, his drunken fall might have saved the village from some serious Peacekeeper rage. It’s a very moving cinematic moment and I can imagine that Gary Ross will nail this scene with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the film adaption.

There are many other great moments in THE HUNGER GAMES #1, but this first example of empathy and rebellion is the one that sticks with me, even more so than Rue’s death or Thresh’s mercy. Speaking of Rue’s death, a few months ago, a production company filmed that scene to create a reel for a few no-name actors. It’s actually not too bad, you can check it out here. The visuals are clear and immediate. But I hope that Rue’s theme will be more evocative, and that there will be more of a melody to Katniss’ song. Plus, ugh, we don’t need a modern rock song to punch up the scene and tell us precisely what to feel. Give an audience some credit. I have some parts of the other 2 books I will soon get to. Especially regarding my (and most people’s, I would expect) favorite character, the brilliant and noble Cinna, Katniss’ wardrobe designer. I don’t think his role has been cast yet in the film, I was surprised that Stanley Tucci was cast as Caesar because I thought he would have made a great Cinna. Probably a little too close to his DEVIL WEARS PRADA role.

 

 

 

-Friday, May 13th, 2011: HE-MAN - Best of 80s cartoons

BulgyI was looking back through some old pictures the other day and came across one of myself dressed like HE-MAN for Halloween. Man, I loved He-man when I was a kid. There wasn’t an accessory that I didn’t have; Castle Grayskull, Skeletor, Cringer, Man-at-Arms, and yes, I even had Orko. I remember running in the front door when I would get home from school and plopping down in front of the tiny television up in the kitchen. Then I would unwind a Fruit by the Foot and enter the magical world of Eternia. I found the opening credits here, and those first couple ring notes of that FILMATION logo took me right back. To me, those notes were as much part of the He-Man universe as the theme song. And what a theme song! That intro is pure 80s awesomeness! You just don’t get many opening intros to TV shows anymore where the main character actually introduces himself to the audience. I always wondered why He-Man was guarding the secrets of Castle Grayskull. That place looked more like Skeletor’s lair, I was always confused by that. I loved that echo-y big line, “I  Have  THE    POWER!!!!!” I would run around in a Speedo imitating every single move he would do in this intro. I even remember imitating the little head bob he does when he says, “The most Powerful Man …” I’m amazed that I actually wasn’t that scared of Skeletor. I mean, I was scared of every other damn thing when I was a kid, but even though a skeleton is scary, his voice was just too whiney to inspire even childhood fears. I was a bit too young to be attracted to girls, but even then I knew that the Sorceress looked pretty damn good in that skin-tight owl outfit! But really, what the hell is Orko?? I think I just accepted that there was a sentient floating blanket that was really bad at magic always hanging around He-Man, who sometimes had a suspiciously similar-looking girlfriend. I seem to remember that at one point, he actually took his hat off, but we only saw his shadow, so we still have no confirmation that Orko isn’t just a set of floating eyeballs. And is he so stupid that he needs the first letter of his name plastered on his shirt? Does he not do laundry? Now She-Ra was never for me, I liked my superheroes pure Eternian beefcake. They did do a Dolph Lundgren movie of HE-MAN back in the day, with Frank Langhella(what?) playing Skeletor. Pretty awesomely bad. And there used to be a lot of rumor that John Woo was prepping a version. No way man, let's keep the awesome 80s cartoon, I don't need any more than a hand-drawn He-Man, his wacky team, and his too cool treadmill-mobile. Nothing particularly deep about this post, it was just fun to take a step down memory lane and remember that simple and sugary feeling of running home after school for candy and cartoons.

 

 

 

-Thursday, May 12th, 2011: NETWORK KILL ZONE - 2011 Upfronts

Put her back on TV now!! The Big BoysWell, I feel like there needs to be some commentary on the television network upfront news that has been going on recently, considering how much it affects the programs that I watch. Basically, this is the time of year when all the networks announce which shows they will be cancelling, renewing, and sending to pilot. It’s always an exciting time for us fans, even the ones who have been so burned by cancellations in the past. The first big news was what has now been dubbed the ‘Fox Bubble Bloodbath.’ Fox had 5 ‘bubble’ shows in its lineup (CHICAGO CODE, LIE TO ME, HUMAN TARGET, TRAFFIC LIGHT, BREAKING IN). ‘Bubble’ means that the show hasn’t been doing well in the ratings and has as much a chance of being cancelled as it has of being renewed. Fox cancelled all of its bubble shows, which is almost unheard of. Hopefully, Fox has some incredible pilots in the pipeline; otherwise the diseased reality shows will fill in those gaping schedule vacancies. None of these cancellations really bothers me, I just can’t stomach medical/lawyer/police procedural shows (except CASTLE, and that’s only because of The Fillion). But I did know some people who were big fans of CHICAGO CODE. Oh well. Thank goodness FOX picked up the JJ Abrams/Hurley/Alcatraz mystery drama. That easily sounds like the most interesting pilot out there, but there was some serious talk about it not making the cut. I would have been cranky.

Then the really big news this week, NBC is not moving forward with the Adrianne Palicki/Aaron Spelling-led WONDER WOMAN series. Wow. I heard NBC dumped a ton of money into this pilot, so I am surprised that they wouldn’t at least give it a shot. Though judging by this set pic, there was only one thing on Spelling’s mind when he was making this pilot. Wait, make that 2 things. Really, that outfit looks so terribly kitschy. NBC also dumped THE EVENT and L&O:LA. Thank the networks I don’t have to keep watching THE EVENT now. It sounds silly, but since I have invested so much time into this awful, makes-V-look-good show, I feel like I have to see it through to the dreadful end. For curiosity’s sake and for the hail-mary possibility that they might do something cool in the end. Sometimes being a completist can really be painful. NBC did pick up CHUCK for a 13-episode final season, which is a great idea. I will catch up with CHUCK during the summer, because even though it is fairly light piffle, it is always fun, there are some moments of surprising emotion, Jayne is the man, and their hot slow-mo musical store entrances are frequently hilarious. But good for the networks in putting an end date to this show. It has had way too many seasons of being on the bubble, now that it has enough episodes for syndication (where the real money in network TV lives), let the show end with dignity on its own pre-arranged terms.  

ABC dumped BROTHERS & SISTERS, V, NO ORDINARY FAMILY, DETROIT 187, and OFF THE MAP. Again, all fine with me. I did watch V, but that flamed out spectacularly. I considered NOF, because Darla was in it, but just couldn’t bring myself to be interested. And D187 had a really passionate following; I am surprised to see that go. Looks like ABC is putting all its money into CHARLIE’S ANGELS, and with the SMALLVILLE showrunners on that, the show really could go either way. CBS picked up the JJ Abrams/Nolan PERSON OF INTEREST which stars Michael Emerson from LOST, so I am there! Good season for JJ. Finally, it looks like the Sarah Michelle Gellar RINGER series will head to the CW, her old BUFFY stomping grounds. Hopefully that can bring SMG back from the hellhole that her movie career was banished to.

It’s hard to dredge up commentary on these network moves. Since we honestly can’t predict how well any of these shows will turn out and can be reasonably confident that half will be cancelled after airing an episode or two, the networks are still blameless. We can’t make a judgment on whether they passed up truly ground-breaking show to go to the easy remake, we’ll only know come fall. But its still fun to contemplate and guess which series will be my new JUSTIFIED and which will be my new THE CAPE (shudder).

 

 

 

-Wednesday, May 11th, 2011: GLEE - Karofsky

Gay KarofskyEven more than usual, GLEE is just steadily becoming this crazy rollercoaster ride of a show. Each episode tries to do so much; at the same time it can be revelatory, stupid, incisive, farce, fun, and sometimes just plain weird. But never ever boring. I wish I could say that the writers have just given up on presenting the GLEE world as anything approaching reality, but sometimes the show is capable of hitting with a real potency. I was reading a review the other day about GLEE that says that we watch this show for the ‘glimmers,’ the transformative moments that come around every now and then. And I’d agree with that assessment. When the writers throw so many ideas/characters/themes at the wall, some of it has to stick; it’s just the law of averages.

The only storyline that has managed to maintain any semblance of continuity and evolution is the Kurt/Karofsky bullying plot. Gay bullying is still a hot topic in the country and the issue is clearly close to Ryan Murphy’s heart. For those who aren’t aware, the storyline has been that Karofsky (an alpha male football player, but also a closeted homosexual) was so repulsed by Kurt’s homosexuality, that he physically threatened Kurt, forcing Kurt to transfer schools. The glee club reacted strongly, attacking Karofsky, but even though he may have softened slightly towards the glee club in general, he never backed down off his anti-gay views. Recently, as part of a complicated scheme to win Prom Queen/King, Karofsky and closeted lesbian Santana convinced Kurt to return to their school if Karofsky apologized and led and a school police force to protect Kurt. Karofsky ‘apologized’ to Kurt, but neither of them expected things to really change, but they both got what they needed. Now, I have read a lot of comments online that are upset that Karofsky hasn’t come out yet to the school, and I don’t agree with that at all. For an insecure but popular high school football player to come out as homosexual would be a terrifying life change and only the most mature and self-confident people could make that kind of change. And Karofsky is far from mature. In real life, I find it hard to believe that a kid like Karofsky would ever come out. Kurt once predicted that Karofsky would wind up dreadfully unhappy and married with kids, and sadly, I do think that is what would actually happen. Kurt is becoming a bit too stereotyped and saintly recently, which is what happens when a character becomes a social message. But I think that the message of homosexual tolerance is important enough that I am fine with Kurt’s rough edges being sanded. As long as he becomes a full character again sometime down the road.

Anyways, in this last episode, ‘Prom Queen,’ there was a tremendous scene between Kurt and Karofsky that may be a perfect finish to Karofsky’s arc. As part of his protection detail, Karofsky escorts Kurt to his class. Kurt mentions that he hasn’t been harassed all week and that maybe people have become more tolerant while Kurt was gone. Karofsky is dubious, but he stops Kurt before he goes into class and makes a true and heartfelt apology. He starts crying a bit as he stammers out, “I am so freaking sorry for what I did to you.” I loved this. This moment had to come, Karofsky isn’t a black-hat, he’s just a confused kid, and as he gets to know Kurt as a person and not just as ‘gay,’ it is inevitable that he would start to feel the horror of what he did. And the look on Karofsky’s face; that is exactly what he is feeling, utter shock and shame that he was even capable of behaving like that towards this human being. I like how his apology isn’t verbose or articulate, just a guttural reaction by an appalled child. That’s real, that’s wonderful, and it’s amazing to me that scenes like this can fit into the overstuffed GLEE piñata. Well done Max Adler, for having the courage to embody such a hateful character still capable of mercy and subtlety. Oh, and really quick, when Artie tried to serenade Brittney with “Isn’t she Lovely,” and Brittney reacted with a big smile, whispering “Oh my God,” that moment was awesome. Pure, honest, and joyful, this is how anyone would actually react if they were serenaded in a high school classroom. Can’t tell if it was Brittney or Heather Morris reacting, but I don’t care.

 

 

 

-Tuesday, May 10th, 2011: LONELY ISLAND - Bolton

Jester of TortugaAwesome. The Lonely Island guys started as such a one-note SNL side show. But it is quickly becoming clear that they are not just coasting on white guy rap video parodies. Though each of their videos share similar beats and raps, they tweak the formula just enough each time to make them unique. Their first video was the ‘Lazy Sunday’ Beastie Boy parody about Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell going to see the ‘Chronic-what-cles of Narnia’ It is still hilarious and I think these guys could have just coasted on that brand of parody for quite awhile. I still think their most successful songs are the Justin Timberlake/Samberg 2-parter ‘Dick in a Box’/’Motherlover’. I remember growing up in the 90s and always hearing this kind of beat from bands like Boyz 2 Men, Warrant, Mr. Big, and a whole host of other bands in that awful music decade.  They do a lot of smaller ones too, and I get a big kick out of the Shy Ronnie videos (especially with Rihanna carting off John Hamm in the second one) and the weird experimental ones about spitting grapes.  Then there were the two insanely big catchy hits: ‘I’m on a Boat’ w/ T-Pain and ‘I Just Had Sex’ with Akon. I love that both of these videos make me like these rappers more; T-Pain singing about f#*&ing a mermaid and Akon auto-tuning manure are just hilarious. Real credit has to be given to the 3 LI guys: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. These songs are so catchy, it is apparent that they care just as much about the music as they do the comedy. Anyone who can rhyme ‘nautical themed pashmina afghan” deserves an Emmy, and the amount of joy that everyone has on their faces during ‘Sex’ (not to mention the awesome Lively/Alba cameos) is contagious. I wonder how many dudes out there in college threw on the ‘Sex’ song after doing the deed with a particularly attractive co-ed.

Now we have ‘Jack Sparrow’ with Michael Bolton. And again, this parody moves slightly differently than the others. In a way, the Lonely Island guys are parodying themselves. The joke is that the LI guys are doing another rap parody song, but Michael Bolton keeps screwing up the song with his obsession with the PRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movies. The LI guys keep trying to rap the song back to clubs and hot girls, but Bolton keeps jumping in as a pirate, or Forrest Gump, or Erin Brockovich, or even Tony Montana from SCARFACE. I like that the LI guys are self-conscious enough to know that the rap parody is what they are best known for. It’s hilarious to see how pissed off the guys get, but even better to see how Michael Bolton totally commits to the ridiculousness. His best faces are when he jumps in the club in a pirate hat, sets the bird free as a pirate, and poses with the box of chocolates as Forrest Gump. And I never, in my wildest imaginings, ever thought I would hear Michael Bolton sing, “This whole towns a pussy, just waiting to get f#*$ed,” while holding a machine gun burping fire with a mountain of cocaine on his face. Bravo Bolton! You are no longer a no talent ass-clown. Though, my guess is that if you once had this haircut, you need to have a sense of humor! And congrats to the LI boys for continuing to create riotous and catchy videos for us to enjoy at work.

 

 

 

-Monday, May 9th, 2011: SUMMER MOVIES - Thor & Fast 5

Arms a ripplin'TitansAll right, let’s get this summer movie season started! Yes, I studied all I know about film back in NY, but that doesn’t mean that I am some beret-wearing cinema elitist. I do enjoy experimental films and foreign cinema, especially when covering Kieslowski or Kurosawa. But damn do I love me some splosions! And since summer starts earlier every year, we already a week into the Summer of Orgiastic Spandex Delight. And I do mean the spandex part, how many superhero movies can be fit into one summer?! THOR, GREEN LANTERN, XMEN, CPT. AMERICA, plus major events like HARRY POTTER 52, TRANSFORMERS: Chicago Burning, HANGOVER 2, FAST 5, and PIRATES. The 10-year old boy inside of me is giddy. And let’s be honest, so is the 31-year old boy. First up, I had a lovely action sandwich this past weekend with THOR and FAST 5.

Now, I know nothing about Thor (except that I had a muscly best friend named Thor growing up), so I went in to this movie as a neophyte. Right off, I cannot believe the transformation of Chris Hemsworth from the skinny-ish ‘Kirk’s father’ in STAR TREK into the bruiser title god in THOR. Woah, that’s lot of nights crying and beating your fists bloody against a locked refrigerator. He makes this movie though. Hemsworth is so manly and charming and rogue-ish in this role, it is impossible not to root for him, even when he is acting like a spoiled brat. Some of the reviews brought up how lame the Earth-bound humor is with the God-out-of-water scenario, but since there were only a couple scenarios that had that humor, I liked it a lot and thought it was an essential counter-balance to the heavy Shakespearian scenes on Asgard. I found the editing choppy though, and to me, the action never topped that first fight with the Frost Giants and Thor in all his hammer-wielding glory. Add in the Warrior 3 and Thor ramming a hole through the throat of a monster, and this scene lived up to my expectation of seeing a god fight with a big-ass hammer! I really liked the design of the Destroyer, he was like a really pissed off chrome teapot, but that fight and the Thor/Loki fight were letdowns compared to the earlier brawls. The love story was an afterthought, but well-done on casting Natalie Portman in there. Her energy and acting talent raised a paper-thin character up to at least a semblance of dimensionality. It was a fun and adventurous movie, I really have no ill will towards it, just didn’t ring my bell and other than having the image of Hemsworth’s abs disturbingly lodged in my skull, I didn’t remember much of it the next day.

FAST 5 on the other hand rocked hard, often, and furiously! I read a review the other day that said “There is so much testosterone in this movie that even women in the audience may leave with a mustache.” So true. I always loved the excess in the FAST & FURIOUS films, and started to hate them when they got too realistic. I may be the only one who liked FAST 2, the unintended eroticism between Paul Walker and Tyrese was hilarious and it was unapologetically ludicrous. And I didn’t much like the last one; the stuff with Letty’s death was too much of a downer. For FAST 5, it looks like the director took the one good part of the last movie (the barrel-rolling truck from the first scene), and made a movie out of it. Jettisoning a lot of the car-world plotting, Lin turned 5 into a low-rent OCEAN’S 11 heist flick and damn does it work! I loved getting all the old gang (Vince, Han, Tej, Gisele) back from the other movies, it fed into the theme of family that Lin was trying to build with Mia’s pregnancy. And I liked how much of the flick was just about these crazy characters just bouncing off each other. And in a brilliant move, in comes Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a freak of a bounty hunter. Johnson is ripped beyond belief here, one of his arms is bigger than both my legs put together. And I couldn’t stop laughing at how much sweat was always dripping off his face and chrome dome. The action scenes don’t disappoint, they just keep escalating. From the train/river jump, to the parkour roof chase, to the Diesel/Rock showdown, to the insane bank vault heist, things just kept getting bigger. And not to slam CGI, but all the practical car effects here made you FEEL the impact of tons of metal smashing into concrete. And don’t get me started on the women. That one scene with Han, Gisele, and the butt/handprint was jaw-dropping. I liked the ending with everyone finding some kind of peace (amazingly, an Asian sidekick character gets the girl! When does that ever happen?!). And the credits teaser with a surprise celebrity appearance and a ghost from the past perfectly sets things up for FAST 6. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that FAST 5 is a great movie, but summer movies are a whole different breed from regular films. I judge summer movies like rollercoasters; the speed, the thrills, the juice. And in my opinion, even though there is a boatload of competition rushing in, FAST 5 is going to be really hard to beat in terms of pure ball-shaking awesomeness!

 

 

 

-Friday, May 6th, 2011: FRINGE - Birth & Death

Lincoln LeeWhat a crazy cool year FRINGE has had! I’d say that after BREAKING BAD, there has been nothing on television this year as exhilaratingly plotted as Season 3 of FRINGE. I have always enjoyed this show, mostly for how the fringe science acts as a feint, while the real aim of the series is to explore the complex emotions of our lead characters. In that emotional sense, FRINGE is very close to LOST, which makes sense, both being the brainchild of JJ Abrams. But in the first couple seasons, it was always the material with Walter that most touched me. I find his plight so tragic and compelling; it just makes for a wonderfully kooky and emotive character. His partner, William Bell, actually cut parts out of Walter’s brain, tempering Walter’s brilliance with doubt and injury. But once we are presented with Walternate, a man who never endured that ordeal, we realize that Bell’s surgery allowed Walter to learn empathy and humbleness. And that is just so tragic; that for Walter to be a good man, he must exist in this permanent state of brokenness. There is a wonderful scene in the 1st season episode, ‘The Road Not Taken,’ that shows how sorry Walter is for the things he has done to Olivia and other children like her back in the 70s. Olivia confronts Walter alone in a coffee shop. She has just found out what Walter has done to her and is rightly furious. She takes her anger out on Walter. And Walter just crumbles. All the emotions play out on John Noble’s face; the regret, the guilt, the shame of what he did in the name of scientific hubris. He can’t really ever make it right, but seeing him try to apologize to Olivia was just a wonderful moment of heart-rending emotion that really moved me. John Noble’s performance in that scene is really something tremendous.

With Seasons 2 & 3, the writers introduced the concept of an alternate world, with the same characters existing in a slightly different world. In those other reality, zeppelins have replaced planes, coffee is a rarity, and the Twin Towers are still standing. In a couple instances, we have spent entire episodes in the alternate world, investing in the characters over there. There is still an Olivia, a Walter, a Broyles, and an Astrid. The back-and-forth between universes has been a blast, establishing credible mirror/doubled characters that explore all the facets of both. It’s so strange when I think about it, how I can care a great deal for Olivia and her struggle to love Peter, but still also care for pregnant Fauxlivia, an alternate universe version of Olivia, who is the same, but oh so different in how she manifests her passion and intensity. It’s the same character, only different in the choices she has made in her life. All the other doubles are fascinating as well. Especially the differences between ‘our’ Walter, who is still so fragile and brilliant, and Walternate, whose cold and calculating exterior hides rage and betrayal. The actors slipped into their alterna-characters so easily, I keep forgetting to praise the wonderful variations they are playing. Everyone is breathing life into old characters and it must be exhilarating for them to play!

As the battle rages between both universes and things come to a head, the writers make sure to tie all the crazy sci-fi to identifiable human emotion. This brings me to a wonderful scene this season, the birth of Fauxlivia’s child, which played out in episode 18, “Bloodline.” First off, for the rest of this post, I will be referring to the alternate Olivia, as just 'Olivia,' because ‘Fauxlivia’ sounds fake and disrespectful to a real character. Early in the episode, pregnant Olivia is at her doctor’s office getting tested for an inherited genetic disease that kills mothers as they are giving birth. This disease killed Olivia’s sister in the alternate universe, and there is a 3 in 4 chance that Olivia has the disease. While she is waiting for the results, Olivia is kidnapped and her pregnancy accelerated, so she finds herself in a convenience store about to give birth in the arms of Lincoln Lee. Lee is Olivia’s boss in the alternate world and it has been very clear for some time that he is in love with her. He is a decent and intelligent man, and he knows that Olivia has indeed contracted the same disease as her sister. When Lee is holding Olivia in his arms as she goes into labor, Olivia asks him if he has talked to her mom and gotten the test results. He just stares at her, his eyes red, just staring, with a strained smile on his face. Olivia gets it, and has this wonderful reaction that communicates her acceptance and determination to see this through. She gives a little smile and rolls her eyes, like how can the world screw her life up more? Olivia gruffs out how scared she is and watching Lee’s face just disintegrate into tears as he expresses his love for Olivia and the baby is born is just heart-breaking. Then Lee laughs in relief when he hears the baby’s first cries. It’s this moment that is both elation and devastation and what an ironic duality to play with in a mirror universe. Television birth can be an easy cheat to elicit audience emotion, but twice this year, in LOST and now in FRINGE, writers use the vested emotion in this cliché to explore variation and nuance. Exploring the depth of emotion Lee has for Olivia and just how close the emotions of despair and elation can sometimes be. And even though Olivia does survive the birth, due to some sci-fi trickery, it doesn’t lessen the strength of the connection between Olivia and Lee, nor the naked love that transforms Lee’s face. The performances are transformative and the moment is so powerful, what a great freakin’ scene of television!

 

 

 

-Thursday, May 5th, 2011: JUSTIFIED - Finales & Apple Pie

This is the hard partWhew! And so ends another excellent season of JUSTIFIED. What a great episode, satisfying in such a different way than the finale of Season 1. In addition to the families Givens and Crowder, the four Bennetts (Mags, Dickie, Doyle, and  Coover) added an irresistible level of deceit and betrayal into the mix. Even though there was plenty of action, neither Boyd nor Raylan ever fired their guns, which is amazing in of itself. We wrapped up Loretta’s storyline, had some movement with Winona, got Art back in the game, set Boyd on a new path, and never once felt rushed. I’d like to say that the motto of this show is Boyd’s phrase a few episodes back about the ABCs of committing crime: Always Be Cool. But JUSTIFIED is so much more. It keeps the twisting coolness of Elmore Leonard’s source story, but Graham Yost builds complex characters and relationships on top of that. Furthermore, it allows some fantastic acting, as especially shown in the final scene between Mags and Raylan.

But first, there was so much else to love. What a great way to defuse Winona’s news about her pregnancy by having that conversation take place in the bathroom where Raylan is just about to piss. Loved the GODFATHER-like parallel editing between the parley in the church between Boyd and Mags and the carnage occurring elsewhere. I loved the exchange when Dickie tied Raylan upside down in a tree and started beating him with the baseball bat. I had to rewind it a couple times to catch how Raylan starts laughing after he says to Dickie, “Go back to part about you reading.” Boyd comes in to save the day, and it looked like Raylan and Boyd were on the same side again, but Raylan needed Dickie alive. Raylan asks Boyd to let Dickie go, even though he had just shot Eva. “Are you asking me or telling me?” Boyd asks. Raylan responds, “Makes you feel better, you can tell people I asked.” Bad ass. But this was all gravy to maneuver Loretta into avenging her father’s death at the poisoned hands of Mags. First off, it scared the hell out of me to see Raylan go down in that hail of bullets. And then that shocker of Tim’s bullet right through Doyle’s forehead, wow! But Givens/Bennett feuds were suddenly put on hold to talk a girl out of following the same path as Mags and Raylan. Mags was beautiful there, just releasing the truth, even in front of the Marshals, if it would save Loretta’s future. And that tender quiet line from Raylan, “Ask yourself what your daddy would want you to do.” To which Loretta heart-breakingly responded, “I want him to be here to tell me.”

And finally that last scene with Mags and Raylan, both holding bullets, saddened and sobered by what nearly happened. Everything before then had been real for them, but observing how they almost corrupted an innocent child woke them both up. It made them realize the real cost of their warfare. What lives could Raylan, Dickie, Doyle, Helen, and the rest have had if they hadn’t been ensnared by this feud? It made sense for Mags to want to leave, sure she had just earned a ton of money, but everything that really mattered was gone. She had no sons, her adopted daughter nearly killed her, and her hometown hated her. And ending the feud with Raylan, I loved that Raylan sat there with Mags as she died, her tough reading of the line, “This is the hard part,” as she suffered through the worst of the poison. And that mournful, world-weary way she died, “Put an end to my troubles. Get to see my boys again. Get to know the mystery.” And Raylan can find sympathy in himself for this drug-dealing crime boss. Tom Olyphant played with wonderful facial expressions of distrust, pity, and finally mercy. Even in enemies, there can be mercy, and on the brink of the abyss, Mags can still find comfort in the hands of the man who personally killed one of her sons. Mags, you will be missed, and the JUSTIFIED hiatus is not one that I am looking forward to.

 

 

 

-Wednesday, May 4th, 2011: SEARCH & RESCUE - A Trevor Short

My little war shortAs I said in a previous post, I was at a concert last Sunday when bin Laden was killed. It was an Explosions in the Sky concert at the Fox in Oakland. Whew, I had forgotten how much I loved this band. Their songs don’t have words, it’s all rock orchestral I guess you could call it. They are probably best known for their song, ‘Your Hand in Mine,’ which plays during the opening credits of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. Their sound can be epic and evocative, but also very intimate and heart-breaking. I always found it inspiring. I used to do so much driving around California, just exploring deserts and canyons, ghost towns and dry lake beds, I was just drinking in the immenseness of those wide spaces. And Explosions was my driving theme music. Well, I walked into the concert the other night, and they kicked off with my favorite track of theirs, ‘The Only Moment We Wore Alone.’ You know how cool it can be when you are at a concert where you know every lyric, every beat, every guitar lick of a song, and this was exactly that. It’s just orchestral, about 10 minutes long. But I remember coming across this song while driving fast by the Owens Dry Lake Bed, in the shadow of Mt. Whitney, and an entire short film script just came pouring out of me. Characters, themes, plot, images, an ending, it was all just there, hiding between the notes. And like many of my script ideas, it got lodged in my brain, like a splinter, and I could only get it out by making the damn movie.

What resulted was a short film called SEARCH & RESCUE that I shot in December of 2009 with some old actor friends, Nigel Campbell and Kathleen Mulready. It’s not particularly good, but the music just brought me back to that crazy December. The long days and production nightmares, the non-existent budget, or blood problems, location snafus, the endless editing, and the wonderful sense of completion when I finally compressed that final version. It was about a couple, Cole and Molly. Molly went away to join the military and fight in Afghanistan, leaving Cole behind, working in San Francisco. One day, an officer comes to their home and informs Cole that Molly has been killed in action. The short film is about the few things Molly has left behind, it’s about how Cole starts to imagine the ways she died, it’s about how their relationship grew, and finally, it’s about how Cole might find a way to recover. Oh, and the film also has no dialogue. I know, I know, it sounds like a haughty film student-like experiment, and really, it often plays just like that. But I just wanted to try something that had heart and emotion, yes, even though it is wildly overplayed at times. And I think there are parts that work; I like some of the war sequences, and parts of the final rush, and whenever it quiets down. Looking back, I can see all the mistakes and the inexperience, and how much better I could have been. But I was still smiling during that entire song at the concert. And even if the final product couldn’t compare with the movie I had made in my head, I'm still damn proud of it. We all find a way to do what we love, somehow, even if the majority of our days are filled with uninspired necessity. I'll never be a great writer or a great director, but these little projects keep the fires burning, and it was wonderful for one moment, to be reminded of my passion by some talented musicians on a historic night.

 

 

-Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011: TREME - Tough Love, Chef-style

Kim Dickens HBO's TremeTREME is a tough show to love. It never really goes anywhere, instead of driving plots, we tend to just sit with characters and see what trouble they get themselves into. The show isn’t exciting, but it does focus on subtle shades of character, tremendous acting, and awesome music. Those are the things that pull me back, and why I am still watching the show in its second season. With so many characters, and with the focus being all about those characters, it’s easy to have favorites. In the 1st season, I couldn’t stand John Goodman’s character. First off, he was so tremendously overweight, it became distracting. Each line was wheezed out, and he looked like he was already one step into the grave. Second, I couldn’t stand his personality. Yes, he made some potent points about the government’s lack of interest in rebuilding New Orleans, but he had no interest in actually helping the area recover. He just wanted to complain and lament the ‘good old days’. Even though he could see, first hand, how hard the locals were working to bring the city and its traditions back, he was ultimately a coward. Because he missed ‘old’ New Orleans culture, he decided to commit suicide, leaving his loving wife and daughter behind. What an ass. I like other characters much more, such as Antoine, the struggling trombone player and the Melissa Leo and Steve Zahn characters (though damn is Leo’s daughter becoming a snot!), but my favorite has always been Kim Dickens’ struggling chef. I’ve always like Kim Dickens as an actor, hell, anyone who was in DEADWOOD gets an automatic pass from me. But her storyline in TREME is the most traditional of all the leads, so I’m not sure what that says about my television-viewing habits. Am I so unwilling to try new ways of character exploration? Or are the traditional ways of character motivation and direction still the best ways to connect to audiences? As always, I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the extremes.

Anyways, at the end of season 1, Kim Dickens’ character, Janette the chef, decided to move to NY to continue her culinary career. So far in season 2, we see Janette harried and exhausted, working in the kitchen of a famous restaurant, slave to the whims of a pompous chef, Enrico Brulard. All the kitchen workers are terrified of this guy; he flies into wild tantrums at the slightest mistake and can destroy a chef with one disdainful glare.  The character is a caricature, which doesn’t seem to fit into the stark reality of TREME. But in the 2nd episode of this season, Brulard and Janette have a wonderful scene together that shows why Brulard is the way he is. Brulard is sitting, silent, staring at the dishes presented to him. A waiter informs him that the dishes are taking forever to make and that the dinner patrons are starting to leave. Brulard slowly walks over by Janette. He quietly begins to talk to her about how to correctly sear salmon. He grabs a pan and lovingly spoons sauce over a sizzling salmon filet, rhapsodizing about the proper care salmon needs to bring out the juiciest flavors. We get wonderful close-ups of the cooking food and Janette is entranced by this lesson. Brulard finishes his filet, delicately dabbing sauces and vegetables on top of the entrée to make a masterpiece. The kicker to the scene is that once Brulard gives the salmon dish to the waiter, the waiter informs Brulard that the patrons that ordered the salmon dish have left the restaurant. Brulard looks down in disappointment at his wasted master dish. Janette looks at him with pity and we feel the same. It’s a very quiet scene in the middle of a busy kitchen, but it is powerful. TREME likes to have the scenes between characters develop and grow, and doesn’t often indulge in small moments. It seems more interested in a scene’s over-arching emotion. But that sometimes makes the small touches all the more devastating. I’ll keep watching.

 

 

 

-Monday, May 2nd, 2011: OSAMA DEAD - U.S. Reaction

OWow, pretty amazing stuff. Almost 10 years later, we got the guy, and just in time for network sweeps. I was at a concert in Oakland when I heard the news, and it was a little hard to focus on the rest of the concert. As the nation goes into full-on patriotic celebration mode, talk-show hosts go ballistic, and Obama’s ratings skyrocket, I want to take just a second to think about this. Look, even though I was in NY for 9/11 and saw the buildings fall from my dorm roof, I didn’t know anyone personally in the buildings or on the planes in DC or Pennsylvania. I saw people staggering through Washington Square Park for days after, still sooty and broken. It was a crazy time, it felt like we were about to start sliding down a cliff into apocalypse. Like this was the first slippery step. And I remember walking around campus, trying not to think about how I just watched hundreds of lives get snuffed out in a few seconds, and the only thing that kept coming to me was that they were probably never again going to show that Simpsons episode where Homer visits NY and the twin towers. And 10 years is a long time, sharp blades of anger grow dull, especially for most of the nation who are people like me; people who had no personal connection to those who died.

What bothers me is the celebration mode we are in. I mean, the news was showing people dancing around in the streets like they just won the Super Bowl. I can understand the families and friends of lost 9/11 loved one celebrating, they deserve that release, but what about the rest of us? Have we earned the right to rejoice in a person’s death? What does that say about our morality? About our respect for the sanctity of life? Look, I have no problem with our nation killing bin Laden. I don’t even really care if he had surrendered to our troops when we shot him. He, as part of a conglomerate organization, murdered thousands of our citizens and he needed to die. And Al Qaeda is not gone; the nature of guerrilla organizations allows replacement leaders from different cells to quickly take power. But back to us, it’s our reaction that scares me. I would have no problem if our reaction was cold, quiet satisfaction; an acknowledgement that yes, to rejoice in death is wrong, but in this case, temporarily, I am going to choose wrong. But don’t be gleefully wrong. I’m not sure if I am making any sense here. I dug up a Martin Luther King Jr. quote, I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." OK, a little simplistic maybe. Mankind is so full of darkness and temptation, responding with love is a little naïve. But can’t we react with temperance and restraint? Acknowledge our excess and sin? I guess we will see over the next few weeks, month, and years, as we get the inevitable books/movies from the architects of this strike and the members of Seal Team 6.

Roosevelt was denied his victory when Hitler committed suicide. Obama will be feeling this victory for awhile. It is a pointless and offensive argument, but can we be comparing the Holocaust to 9/11? Is that something we can do? Agh, you know what, this is an entertainment blog, so I’m just going to stop. In the meantime, enjoy how, about 5 years ago, Stewie Griffin defeated Osama bin Laden with a rubber chicken.